On a proposed argument for theism

James asked:

A friend proposed the following argument (which he asserts is a syllogism) as evidence for Theism.

1. Time has not been found to be a solid, liquid, or gas. Neither is it a form of radiation or energy.

2. It is absolutely necessary for the world to have come into existence and its continued existence as we know it.

3. Insofar as time possesses qualities unlike any other phenomena and shares qualities with the Christian conception of a deity it is positive evidence that believing in such a God is a reasonable proposition.

The author of that argument claims to be an expert in science, philosophy, and logic. We agreed to consult an expert.

Please feel free to be blatantly honest and direct in your critique. No need to mince words.

Please note, we’re not arguing whether or not it is reasonable to believe in God. Only about the validity and soundness of this argument.

Answer by Jürgen Lawrenz

In order to qualify as a syllogism, your 3 points would have to put at least one proposition that is universally accepted. Point 1 in this argument is merely a negative and consequently does not qualify unless you wish to prove a negative as the outcome. Further it is inadmissible since it is incomplete – for the negative to hold you would have include all possible arguments of what ‘time is not’.

Next, Point 2 is already questionable: Not everyone, neither scientists nor philosophers, are agreed that the universe had to come into existence. It is entirely possible that the universe is just a brute fact and eternal in the sense of cycling infinitely through various states of existence. The steady state conception of the universe is a case in point.

Further: It cannot be demonstrated scientifically that the universe as we understand it is ‘all there is’. What we know of it may well be just a little corner of activity and heat. You should consider in this context that being able to detect energy is our sole means of establishing the existence of something. If there is no energy, then we are reduced to guessing – in other words to intellectual games.

It follows that Point 3 is an untenable conclusion from the incomplete negativity of Point 1. Whether time does possess any qualities at all is merely a debating point and wholly dependent on the cosmological paradigm that one or the other speculant espouses. Hence it cannot be said to share any qualities whatever with ‘God’ – and I note here that your ‘syllogism’ makes no effort to define what the term ‘God’ represents – as if it was self-understood. The Christian conception itself is not a single one, but a variety and depends on the theological particulars of the various creeds.

Philosophers have warned us repeatedly: Logic can prove things that exist, but not confer existence on matters that exist in logic alone. But your proposition is neither a logical chain nor even a plausible succession of propositions. Hence your syllogism fails on every count.


Answer by Stuart Burns

The easiest way to critique this argument is to address each clause in turn.

1) I think get your point — you are listing all of the known possibilities that you think time might be categorized as. But your premise is flawed because you left out ‘plasma’, and also ‘geometric property of space-time’. There may be other ‘obvious’ categories that should be included, but I can’t think of them off the top.

2) I do not agree that it is necessary that the world came into existence. To assume such is to preclude the possibility that the world has always existed (ie. is infinitely old). And I cannot figure out what role the clause ‘and its continued existence as we know it’ plays in this premise. It is, at the very least ungrammatical. Perhaps you might expand on the thought? I might make a guess, and guess that you are trying to capture the thought that the continued existence of the world (‘as we know it’) requires time. With that, I have no problem.

3) This step contains a whole plethora of debatable assumptions, and unsupported assertions.

(a) You have not provided any support for the assertion that ‘time possesses qualities unlike any other phenomena’. Nor have you provided any support for the assertion that time is in fact a phenomena (possessing qualities). A ‘phenomenon’ is any observable occurrence [Macmillan Dictionary Online]. You have ignored the possibility that time is but a manifestation of the geometry of the 4 (or is it 11) dimensional space-time manifold. And you have ignored the possibility that time might be an ‘artificial construct’ like a center of gravity. In neither of these cases would time be a ‘phenomenon’ in the sense you need here.

(b) You have not provided any support for the assertion that time ‘shares qualities with the Christian conception of a deity’. Given that the qualities customarily associated with the ‘Christian conception of a deity’ are both highly debatable and mutually contradictory, many of which are unproblematically not qualities normally associated with time, it behooves you to provide some support for this assertion.

(c) What ‘positive evidence’? No evidence (positive or negative) has been provided. You have provided no evidence, assumptions, or even claims for what time is, or of what properties it might have. You have provided no evidence, assumptions, or even claims for what ‘such a God’ is, or of what properties she might have.

(d) You have not provided any criteria for what would count as being a ‘reasonable proposition’ to believe, or what factors would motivate a belief in such a ‘reasonable proposition’.

Now, admittedly, some of the missing elements of this argument may be treated as ‘standardly acknowledged background’ depending on the rest of the argument. But given the fact that the argument is being advanced to prove such a contentious conclusion, it demands more than simply unsubstantiated assertions to back it up. Which is more likely – that the author has discovered an argument that has eluded the brightest philosophers for many millennia, or that the author has made a factual or logical error? The overwhelming likelihood of the latter possibility demands a more detailed specification of the argument than you have provided here. If the author is in fact right, and the fully detailed argument is both valid and sound, he will have to prove it.

The author you mention may be an expert in science (although you provide no evidence of that), but he is certainly not an expert in logic or philosophy. If he had any familiarity with either, he would recognize that the argument as stated here is neither valid nor sound, nor an example of any of the 24 valid syllogism types. The argument is invalid because the conclusion is a non sequitur – the conclusion could be either true or false, but the argument is fallacious because there is a disconnection between the premises and the conclusion. The argument is unsound because at least one of the premises is not true. (In fact, I think all of them are false. But all that is required to render the argument unsound is that only one of them is not true.)


Reply by Helier Robinson

First of all there are two kinds of time: time as a dimension, and passage of time. The first is static, like a line, and the second our sensation of time passing, as if we are travelling along that temporal dimension. Many believe that passage of time is an illusion because of the difficulties that arise with it, but no one has been able to explain why we have such an illusion. It is fairly safe to say that problems with time give scientists and philosophers more trouble than any other problem. Which kind of time is your opponent talking about?

The nearest we can get to saying what time is, is to say that it is relational. Before and after are terms of temporal relations, and duration is a relation having earlier and later as its terms. So there’s no dispute that time is not a solid, liquid, or gas, a form of radiation or energy.

Are you sure that it is absolutely necessary for the world to have come into existence and its continued existence as we know it? The evidence for the big bang is very good, but ‘absolutely necessary’?

Concerning point three, what are the qualities that time possesses unlike any other phenomena, and what are the qualities that time shares with the Christian conception of a deity? Without more detail, this third paragraph does not make much sense.

Concerning the validity and soundness of the argument, it certainly is not a syllogism, which is an argument consisting of two categorical propositions and a categorical conclusion, with just three terms in the three propositions: the major term (the predicate of the conclusion), the minor term (the subject of the conclusion), and the middle term(which occurs in each premise). The argument you give has two propositions and a conclusion, but otherwise it is not a syllogism. In fact it has so little logical structure that it is hardly an argument at all. Perhaps you have done an injustice to your opponent by presenting it badly; if he feels so, ask him to rephrase it and send it back to us.


Answer by Shaun Williamson

James don’t worry about us being blatantly honest. Your friend doesn’t know what a syllogism is.

1. Is certainly true but who would ever think that time was a gas or a solid. Time is an abstract concept, it is not a physical thing.

2. Is nonsense but if it were true then we would not need the concept of a god who created the world. It the existence of the world is necessary then we don’t need a god to create it.

3. Time doesn’t share any qualities with the Christian concept of god. Time is an abstract concept, god refers to an individual being who may or may not exist.


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