No one won the Copleston-Russell radio debate. Discuss – sample essay

No one won the Copleston-Russell radio debate. Discuss

This part b answer was written in 15 minutes under timed exam conditions.

To the untrained philosophical ear the clear winner of the debate will seem to be Copleston. Russell’s denial that the terms “universe”, “necessary”, “contingent” and “existence” have any meaning seems to be too far-fetched. Copleston feels the question of where the world came from is legitimate. It seems counterintuitive to argue otherwise. We see things pass out of existence and come to be, so feel Copleston is right. Aquinas and Leibniz support this view that the universe is ultimately unintelligible without God. However this feeling is not based on logic and it doesn’t mean that Russell is incorrect. The biggest hurdle to overcome is Russell’s claim, which David Hume made centuries before him, that there may very well be an infinite regress so that the universe is ultimately without explanation. Yet Craig and Mackie are clear that the term “infinity” can have no meaning outside of a priori logic. It simply doesn’t make sense to argue that there is an infinite number of library books or carriages without a train to pull them. So it seems as though Copleston would be seen as the winner. Yet this rests on one major assumption: that the universe is a thing or object.

Russell follows Hume’s attack with the fallacy of composition. If the universe were not seen as a thing/object then there would be no need for the principle of sufficient reason. Mary Midgley suggests that “matter” is elusive and poorly defined. This is where Copleston’s argument falls on difficult ground, as it appears that Russell’s logic takes over. Copleston wants to state that the universe is ultimately intelligible but this relies on the enlightenment assumption that the universe is fundamentally knowable which appears difficult to accept in the light of modern quantum physics. If the universe has no beginning because of some mysterious quantum explanation then Russell is right not to accept Copleston’s logic on the fallacy of composition. The nature of contingency is far from certain because of the quantum world, a point which Russell identifies. This would imply that to place the weight of an argument for the existence of God upon the essence of contingent things is too great. It could be argued that Russell has beaten Copleston at this point.

Finally the claim Copleston makes, that if we are to understand the nature of contingent objects (which we have already demonstrated is          questionable) then we would come to a necessary being, cannot be defended as there may be an alternative explanation which is beyond our epistemological limits as Hume suggested. Ultimately Russell can be seen as the victor but only the philosophically literate would be able to pick up on the subtleties of his argument without him appearing dogmatic.

 

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