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Peter van Inwagen
November 25, 2008, 9:40 pm
Filed under: Philosophy

Here Peter van Inwagen describes the pre-theoretical, inarticulate sense of the world’s dependance on God which gets cashed out formally in each of the many versions of the cosmological argument to God.  (Actually, here he is describing his transition from an atheist sense of things to a theist sense of things.  Interestingly, he finds he cannot pinpoint the exact point of transition.)  The thing to notice is that the formal arguments are merely attempts at rendering explicit what is known tacitly or inarticulately.  Finding a problem with one of these formal arguments (say, they are based on out of date physics/cosmology) does nothing to defeat the inarticulate sense of things which precedes them and undergirds then.  In this way, it seems to me that the cosmological argument to God is multiply realizable—articulable (partially and imperfectly) in whatever language or theoretical framework that happens to be our best.


First, I can remember having a picture of the cosmos, the physical universe, as a self-subsistent thing, something that is just there and requires no explanation. When I say a “having a picture,” I am trying to describe a state of mind that could be called up whenever I desired, and which centered round a certain mental image. This mental image–it somehow represented the whole world–was associated with a felt conviction that what the image represented was self-subsistent. I can still call the image to mind (I think it’s the same image) and it still represents the whole world, but it is now associated with a felt conviction that what it represents is not self-subsistent, that it must depend on something else, something not represented by any feature of the image, and which must be, in some way that the experience leaves indeterminate, radically different in kind from what the image represents. Interestingly enough, there was a period of transition, a period during which I could move back and forth at w ill, in “duck-rabbit” fashion, between experiencing the image as representing the world as self subsistent and experiencing the image as representing the world as dependent. I am not sure what period in my life, as measured by the guideposts of external biography, this transition period coincided with. I know that it is now impossible for me to represent the world to myself as anything but dependent.


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