Saturday, August 13, 2016

Hinman's Argument from Organizing Principles

Victor Reppert has posted an argument for the existence of God by Joe Hinman that strikes me as unbelievably vapid.  I would love to go to Hinman's site and debate with him, but ever since I criticized his book, I have been banned from from about a half dozen sites that he is associated with.  Pity.  The argument goes like this:
1. Any rational, coherent, and meaningful view of the universe must of necessity presuppose organizing principles (Ops)
2. OP's can be summed up in the TS, the transcendental signified.
3. Philosophical Naturalism rejects the transcendental signed.
4. Therefore, Philosophical Naturalism fails to provide a rational, coherent, and meaningful view of the universe.
5. Minds organize and communicate meaning

6. Therefore universal mind, offers the best understanding of TS

7. Concept of God unites TS with universal mind therefore offers best explanation
rational, coherent , and  meaningful view.
This argument is built around the concept of the "transcendental signified", which is nothing more than a theistic assumption masquerading as a sophisticated philosophical concept.  It is the idea that there is a center around which everything else is structured.  The center itself exists independently, and serves as the source of meaning, or the "organizing principle" that everything else is based upon.  The thing that best exemplifies the concept of "transcendental signified" is God.  In fact, I have a hard time thinking of anything else that would qualify.  There may be organizing principles for various things, but most of them don't seem to qualify as transcendental.  So this idea is really just a theist's way of defining God into existence.  See a discussion of "Transcendental Signified" here.

Statement 1 of the argument is somewhat ambiguous.  Does it mean that the universe itself must be based on organizing principles, or does it mean that a conceptual view of the universe is based on organizing principles?  I might agree with some form of the latter, but certainly not with the former.  In building a conceptual model of our world, the mind seeks out patterns and regularity, so it's fair to say that there is an organizing principle in the mind that recognizes structure, but not that there is some rational organizing principle in nature that causes the universe to be structured according to a pre-existing concept.  The laws of nature may be mindless brute facts, and the structure that we observe can be explained in terms of mindless forces.

In statement 2, Hinman tips his hat toward the notion that the "transcendental signified" is the mind that conceives the organizing principles upon which the universe is structured.  While it is true that one can explain the universe this way, it is not true that one must explain the universe this way.  There is absolutely no evidence that the universe was built on rationally conceived organizing principles.  A naturalist view would hold that there is no intelligent force that purposefully conceives the laws of nature and enforces them.  Instead, we observe the regularities of nature and formulate the laws of nature in our own minds as after-the-fact descriptions of what is observed.

There is no disagreement about statement 3.  There may well be something that exists outside the bounds of our universe's space-time, but we have no reason to think that there is any kind of mind involved in the creation of the universe.

Statement 4 is simply false.  What Hinman seems to be doing here is conflating two different views of the organizing principle as I described in the discussion of statement 1, above.  A naturalist can certainly have a rational view of the universe.  But that view doesn't imply that the universe was built upon a pre-conceived rational concept.  For a naturalist, the organizing principle is in the mind of the beholder.  It is just descriptive, and has no causal power.  The naturalist's denial of a rational force that causes the universe to be built and organized is simply a recognition of what is empirically observed, and what is not.  What is irrational is to assume in the absence of any supporting empirical observation, that a rational, purposeful transcendental force exists.

Statement 5 is undisputed.  Yes, minds are the source of meaning.  Meaning can be understood as the relationships between concepts, and concepts exist in the mind.  A concept that has no relationship to any other concept is devoid of meaning.  Minds also translate concepts into language, which enables communication.

I also wouldn't disagree with statement 6, but I would add that in keeping with Statement 3, I don't agree that the TS exists.  So while a universal mind might be the best way to explain the TS, it doesn't follow that a universal mind must exist.

Statement 7 is a non sequitur.  It would be true only on the assumption that this "transcendental signified" is real.  Since I don't buy that, I have no logical reason to assume that God offers the best explanation for anything.  As I explained earlier, naturalists can and do have rational concepts and views of the universe.  They just disagree that the universe must have been organized and built by a rational mind.  This is Hinman's assumption, but he offers absolutely no justification for the idea that it must be the case.  Instead, he conflates observation-based descriptive organizing principles in the human mind with prescriptive laws in the mind of God that have causal power in nature.

This points out a common problem among theists.  Their arguments are often based on assumptions that can't be proven or demonstrated.  In many cases, they take these assumptions for granted, and don't bother to acknowledge that an assumption is being made.  They draw conclusions based on these assumptions.  Then, they proceed to declare that the naturalist is irrational because he doesn't make the same assumptions and doesn't arrive at the same conclusions.  Hinman is guilty of this in spades.


  1. Thanks for this analysis. Frankly, when I read the OP, I couldn't make heads or tails about what was being said - it was all gobbilygoop to me. Your analysis at least makes clear what the arguement was saying, even if it is unsound.

    1. Thank you. I'm not sure if Joe simply fails to explain clearly what he means, or if he thinks we should all be familiar with his terminology, or if he's trying to be impressive by using it.

  2. The irreconcilably problematic nature of the theist's notion that the universe must have been organized and built by a rational mind, is the hoary old chestnut of 'intent'. It is the idea that their god had the 'intention' of creating not any universe, but this universe.

    Dennett explains it:

    "Here is how it works: first you decide to treat the object whose behavior is to be predicted as a rational agent; then you figure out what beliefs that agent ought to have, given its place in the world and its purpose. Then you figure out what desires it ought to have, on the same considerations, and finally you predict that this rational agent will act to further its goals in the light of its beliefs. A little practical reasoning from the chosen set of beliefs and desires will in most instances yield a decision about what the agent ought to do; that is what you predict the agent will do."
    — Daniel Dennett [The Intentional Stance]

    The irreconcilable aspect of Hinman's proposal is that he, along with countless theists over a couple millennia of christian scholarship, have failed to demonstrate one wit of evidence that the universe was intentionally created; and for what purpose.

    Hinman's assumptions, and as you so clearly show, Skep, are just that, assumptions, are founded in christian Apologetics, not philosophy and most definitely, not science.

    1. I find it amazing that Christians can make such obvious assumptions and not even recognize that they may not be true. Then they make their theistic arguments proving that God exists, based on what they have assumed.

    2. "Then they make their theistic arguments proving that God exists, based on what they have assumed."

      That is the archetypal nature of christian Apologetics as an explanatory modus.