Jason Dulle

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Could the Universe be Metaphysically Necessary?
« on: November 13, 2009, 01:47:26 pm »

The Leibnitzian Cosmological Argument (LCA) argues that the universe is contingent, and thus it requires an external cause whose existence is metaphysically necessary. As WLC points out, one way to rebut the argument is by denying that the universe is contingent; i.e. that it is metaphysically necessary. If the universe exists by a necessity of its own nature, then the LCA fails.

WLC counters this rebuttal with the following defeaters:

1.       If the universe were metaphysically necessary, we would not be able to conceive of a different kind of universe existing.  This is preposterous, however, for we can imagine all sorts of different kinds of universes existing, or even no universe at all.

2.       What is metaphysically necessary about our universe?  It cannot be the macroscopic objects of our universe, because they have not always existed.  It cannot be the fundamental building blocks of matter (quarks) because we can conceive of the universe being constituted by different building blocks, or a universe in which the existing building blocks are differently, or a universe containing a different number of quarks than our universe, or a universe governed by different physical laws.

While I would agree with WLC’s assessment, couldn’t the same argument be used against God’s metaphysical necessity?  After all, we can conceive of God’s non-existence. We can even conceive a world in which the greatest being is not a maximally great being, but just a really great being. As Alvin Plantinga has pointed out, while God’s existence is metaphysically necessary, it is not self-evidently so.  But couldn’t the same be said of the universe? Couldn’t it be that it is metaphysically necessary, even though it is not immediately self-evident to us?

I recognize that we can point to scientific and philosophical reasons to think the universe is temporally finite, and thus not metaphysically necessary. But if we did not have such evidences, and we presume that the universe is eternal, how would you respond to this challenge?


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Randy Everist

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« Reply #1 on: November 13, 2009, 02:00:06 pm »
I would respond by saying we have no reason given why it's not possible that the universe does not exist. For instance, the universe being made up of quarks, for example. We don't have any reason to believe those quarks are necessary. The whole of the universe can only itself be necessary if it is not contingent, for a definitional help. Contingency in existence is reliant upon something. The particular universe we have is dependent on the quarks; only if the quarks were themselves necessary could we say the universe seems necessary.
In contrast, I would say we have at least some reason to believe God's necessity.
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Jason Dulle

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« Reply #2 on: November 13, 2009, 04:38:24 pm »

But neither did we have any logical reason to think God's existence is metaphysically necessary until after the ontological argument was formulated.  Couldn't it be the case that quarks are metaphysically necessary, but science and/or philosophy have not discovered how or why they are?  Given an eternal universe, why think that quarks are contingent?  Why not think that their existence is just a brute fact (as an aside, does metaphysical necessity rule out the idea of something being a "brute fact"?)?  


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Randy Everist

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« Reply #3 on: November 13, 2009, 10:25:41 pm »
jasondulle wrote:

But neither did we have any logical reason to think God's existence is metaphysically necessary until after the ontological argument was formulated.  Couldn't it be the case that quarks are metaphysically necessary, but science and/or philosophy have not discovered how or why they are?  Given an eternal universe, why think that quarks are contingent?  Why not think that their existence is just a brute fact (as an aside, does metaphysical necessity rule out the idea of something being a "brute fact"?)?  

I would say a brute fact does not imply metaphysical necessity. For wouldn't Pruss' Big Contingent Conjunctive Fact simply be a brute fact? That is, it is just true because all of its conjuncts are true? By definition, it is indeed contingent.

But in any case, it would be gratuitous to say, "let's ignore the implications and/or evidence in favor of a possible future discovery." Of course, if such a discovery were made, we would have to follow the evidence.

Now, as to why we would think the quarks are not necessary: on an eternal universe, the quarks may indeed be brute facts just they way they are: but as I said, that is not necessity. Necessity is only that it is impossible to not exist. The quarks then would have to be the way they were and could not be another way. Now if the universe is eternal, then the quarks are existentially necessary; that is, they do not depend on anything else for their existence. So I suppose I have no answer in that sense. But the quarks could have been arranged differently, or such to where the universe is vastly different. Even on an eternal universe, that doesn't give us any reason to believe our universe is the necessary one.
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Could the Universe be Metaphysically Necessary?
« Reply #4 on: November 16, 2009, 03:09:23 am »
The problem with this objection to God is by definition he is necessary.  So, if you conceive of a God with different properties you are not concieving of God.  If God exists, he exists necessarily.  

Also, it is impossible to conceive of God non-existing.  He is a necessary being.  This of course brings up the ontological argument.

1.It is possible that God exists.
2.If it is possible that God exists, God exists in a possible world.
3.If God exists in a possible world, then God exists in all possible worlds.
4.If God exists in all possible worlds, then God exists in the actual world.
5.If God exists in the actual world, then God exists.
6.Therefore, God exists.

So, you are not really conceiving of God when you conceive of him not existing.

Given that the universe actually exists, it would be question begging to say that the concept of the universe is of a necessary being.


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Jason Dulle

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« Reply #5 on: November 16, 2009, 02:10:34 pm »

Theonlyway2truth,

According to WLC, the universe--even if it was eternal--can’t be metaphysically necessary because we can conceive of a different kind of universe, or no universe at all. But can’t we do the same of God?  Can’t we imagine God having different properties than He does, or not existing at all? You say no.  You say God is necessary by definition.  As far as I am aware, the only rational argument for God’s metaphysical necessity is the ontological argument (and perhaps the Leibnitzian cosmological argument as well). But before those arguments were developed, I don’t know how someone, using reason alone, would come to think that God must be metaphysically necessary if He exists at all. Indeed, if it was so clear that God’s existence is metaphysically necessary, there would have been no need to develop such arguments in the first place!

So why couldn’t the defender of a metaphysically necessary universe argue that just like the metaphysical necessity of God’s existence is not prima facie apparent (apart from rational argumentation), so too the metaphysical necessity of the universe is not prima facie apparent, and yet true nonetheless? I don’t see how you answered this question.  You simply provided an argument for God’s necessity, but not one against the universe’s necessity.

To say it is impossible to conceive of God not existing seems too big a claim to make. Not only can I conceive of God’s non-existence as a theist, but atheists conceive of God’s non-existence all the time. While I would agree with you that God’s existence is necessary as evidenced by the ontological argument, it is not self-evidently necessary. The truth that God exists is necessary in the sense that the truth “the sum of all angles in a triangle is 180 degrees” is necessary = while necessarily true, a person could be completely ignorant of this fact because it is not immediately self-evident. It is only evident once it has been discovered. It is not self-evident like the laws of logic, which are immediately known to us and cannot be denied without self-contradiction.  The fact that God’s existence is not immediately self-evident to us like the laws of logic are is what makes it possible to conceive of God’s non-existence.


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Randy Everist

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« Reply #6 on: November 16, 2009, 02:38:09 pm »
It seems, fundamentally, you're saying any reason we have to accept God's metaphysical necessity as true can be applied to the universe as well, and any reason against the universe's metaphysical necessity can be applied to God's as well. Let me try my hand one at a time, and we'll see if I've grasped the issue correctly.

It seems that a cause, at the very least, is a necessity. For there must be a first cause, itself uncased, which makes the said cause necessary in existence. It would also be metaphysically necessary, for nothing could come without it, and the cause itself could not be differently than it is in certain essential properties (timeless, physical). Now, this is primarily an inductive argument, but a strong one (since what reason have we to believe in "other time" and the like). Apply it to the universe. We cannot say the universe did not have a cause, and we cannot say the universe could not be different in its properties. We don't even have an inductive argument for such to be true (or at least, it is not nearly as strong). These are just my thoughts, but it seems far more reasonable, in the light of everything else, to recognize a God as metaphysically necessary and not a universe.

Of course, I think Craig even asserts that, technically, there could be other uncreated objects along with God in necessity, and it wouldn't disprove God at all; but he agrees the orthodox view is that it is God alone who is necessary sans creation.
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Jason Dulle

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« Reply #7 on: November 19, 2009, 12:34:05 pm »
RandyE,

Yeah, pretty much.  The strength of the Leibnitzian cosmological argument depends on the claim that the universe, though eternal, is contingent. Why think it is? According to WLC it’s because we can conceive of the universe being different than it is, or not existing at all. But if that proves the universe cannot be metaphysically necessary, then how can we claim that God is metaphysically necessary given the fact that we can conceive of God’s non-existence, or as having different properties than He has?  Wouldn’t that prove that God cannot be metaphysically necessary as well?

I think your insight about the First Cause is a good one.  If there is a First Cause (typically identified as God by definition), it would seem to be metaphysically necessary (would it simply be factually necessary, or logically necessary?), even if we could conceive of the First Cause as possessing different properties than He may in fact possess.

What we could not do, however, is conceive of His non-existence as I had previously indicated, because that would entail a logical contradiction: “Necessarily there is a First Cause, but I can conceive of the First Cause not existing.”  That is the same as saying “Necessity is not necessary.”  While one can conceive of what they think is God’s non-existence, they are only able to do so because they are ignorant of God’s “necessary-making” property, namely the property of being the First Cause.  It seems we are back to the issue of God’s metaphysical necessity being true, but not immediately and self-evidently true.  God’s metaphysical necessity is only obvious once one reflects on the kind of properties God must possess.


You said the universe cannot be metaphysically necessary because “We cannot say the universe did not have a cause.”  I think you are presupposing a temporally finite universe, but as I said in my post, I am assuming an eternal universe (because that’s what the Leibnitzian cosmological argument assumes). If the universe is eternal, I see no need for, or room for a First Cause. There is no “first” in an infinite universe.  For any X, one can find a temporally preceding cause for X ad infinitum.


So now that I think about it, your argument for God’s metaphysical necessity (on the basis of His being the First Cause) can only be made in conjunction with the kalam cosmological argument. If the universe is eternal as my question assumes, it is powerless to demonstrate God’s metaphysical necessity. If the universe is eternal and God is metaphysically necessary, then there must be some other necessary-making property besides being the First Cause.  I find all this ironic given the fact that WLC says one of the advantages of the LCA is that it gives us a metaphysically necessary being, whereas the KCA does not. It seems to me that the reverse is true!  Since the KCA demonstrates the need for a First Cause, it is the KCA that demonstrates God’s metaphysical necessity, not the LCA.

So my question remains as to why we should think an eternal universe cannot be metaphysically necessary (even if only factually necessary as opposed to logically necessarily) merely because we can conceive of it being different or not existing, when the same could be said of God. It seems like special pleading.  If the property of being the First Cause is the only necessary-making property, then the LCA does not prove that God is metaphysically necessary because it does not prove that God is the First Cause.


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Jason Dulle

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« Reply #8 on: November 19, 2009, 12:37:49 pm »

RandyE,

I had some additional thoughts I wanted to explore with you in regards to God’s being a metaphysically necessary being because He is the First Cause.

While I think this line of argumentation proves that God is metaphysically necessary, it does not necessarily rule out the existence of other metaphysically necessary beings.  To say a being possessing property X is a necessary being does not rule out the possibility that a being lacking property X may also be metaphysically necessary unless two things can be demonstrated: (1) property X is a necessary property of metaphysically necessary beings; (2) only one being can possess property X.  Otherwise, it could be possible that several properties are necessary-making properties, any one of which can make a being metaphysically necessary if that being possesses even one of them.  So if properties X, Y, and Z are necessary-making properties, then if being B1 possesses property X but not properties Y or Z, he is metaphysically necessary.  Likewise, if being B2 possesses property Z but not properties X and Y, he would also be metaphysically necessary.  Both beings would be metaphysically necessary even though neither possesses the same necessary-making property.

But is (1) plausible, or are there multiple necessary-making properties?  Personally, I can’t think of any.  What property could make something metaphysically necessary other than the property of being the First Cause?  One might offer the property of eternality, but that property seems to be a logical correlate of the property of being the first cause (A entails B), not a second, independent necessary-making property—for while the First Cause must be eternal in order to be the First Cause (if it weren’t eternal, at best it could be the Second Cause), the converse isn’t necessarily true.  A being could be eternal without being metaphysically necessary, and thus I would not consider the property of being eternal as a necessary-making property in addition to the property of being the First Cause.  It seems, then, that (1) is plausible.  But what about abstract objects? Platonists would consider abstract objects like numbers and the laws of logic to be metaphysically necessary.  If Platonism is true (I’m not convinced it is), there exists a potentially infinite number of metaphysically necessary beings, none of which have the property of being the First Cause.

What about (2)?  If the only necessary-making property is the property of being the First Cause, and there can only be one being with that property, then ipso facto the universe could not be metaphysically necessary (unless a case could be made for identifying the universe as the First Cause).  But why think only one being can have that property? We can conceive of there being more than one metaphysically necessary being who, together, exert causal influence as the First Cause.  But given Ockham’s Razor, there is no need to multiply entities beyond what is needed for an explanation, and multiplying the number of First Causers seems to do just that.  So while it may be logically possible for there to exist more than one First-Cause, there is no need to postulate more than one.  And yet, that in itself does not preclude more than one.  

And if (1) is false, then there could be many metaphysically necessary beings, but perhaps only one of which has the property of being the First Cause.


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Randy Everist

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« Reply #9 on: November 19, 2009, 12:57:38 pm »
jasondulle wrote:

RandyE,

I had some additional thoughts I wanted to explore with you in regards to God’s being a metaphysically necessary being because He is the First Cause.

While I think this line of argumentation proves that God is metaphysically necessary, it does not necessarily rule out the existence of other metaphysically necessary beings.  To say a being possessing property X is a necessary being does not rule out the possibility that a being lacking property X may also be metaphysically necessary unless two things can be demonstrated: (1) property X is a necessary property of metaphysically necessary beings; (2) only one being can possess property X.  Otherwise, it could be possible that several properties are necessary-making properties, any one of which can make a being metaphysically necessary if that being possesses even one of them.  So if properties X, Y, and Z are necessary-making properties, then if being B1 possesses property X but not properties Y or Z, he is metaphysically necessary.  Likewise, if being B2 possesses property Z but not properties X and Y, he would also be metaphysically necessary.  Both beings would be metaphysically necessary even though neither possesses the same necessary-making property.

I think the property of necessity is that it does not rely upon anything else for existence, or that it must exist. I'm not sure if those are two different properties, or if they simply are single-property descriptions of two different things (metaphysical necessity in the first and logical necessity in the second). I lean towards the latter. These are great thoughts, btw!

When discussing metaphysical necessity, I think we can rule out abstract objects. After all, the numbers themselves don't actually exist. However, I think numbers are logically necessary. Since, if LCA holds, everything has an explanation of its existence, and, coupled with kalam, everything that begins to exist had a cause, it seems God is the only actually-existing being that is also metaphysically necessary. Perhaps I am wrong, but it seems that way.

We can conceive of there being more than one metaphysically necessary being who, together, exert causal influence as the First Cause.  But given Ockham’s Razor, there is no need to multiply entities beyond what is needed for an explanation, and multiplying the number of First Causers seems to do just that.  So while it may be logically possible for there to exist more than one First-Cause, there is no need to postulate more than one.  And yet, that in itself does not preclude more than one.  

And if (1) is false, then there could be many metaphysically necessary beings, but perhaps only one of which has the property of being the First Cause.



I think you've hit the nail on the head as far as why the universe is not metaphysically necessary! Your last few sentences, I think, reflect Craig's thinking on why the kalam does not give us the metaphysical necessity of one God. Coupled with the LCA, I think it creates a powerful argument that there is one God who is metaphysically necessary, and Ockham's razor shaves the rest sans any evidence. I get what you're saying though.
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Jason Dulle

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« Reply #10 on: November 19, 2009, 05:02:12 pm »

I wouldn’t say “not rely[ing] upon anything else for existence, or that it must exist” is a property of necessity. Those just seem to be definitions of “necessary.”  My question is what properties are required of a being in order for it to be necessary: a being that does not rely on anything outside itself for its own existence; a being that cannot not exist?

If the universe is temporally finite, thus allowing for a First Cause, I would say the property of being the First Cause is definitely a necessary-making property. But what other necessary-making properties might there be?  Since I don’t think it’s intelligible to speak of a First Cause given an eternal universe, there must be some other necessary-making property that would make God a metaphysically necessary being, while at the same time disqualifying the eternal universe from being such.  

When it came to numbers, you distinguished between metaphysical necessity and logical necessity. What do you see as the distinction?  And are you a nominalist? If so, me too. While I (we) would deny that numbers actually exist, Platonists would claim they do. So would that mean Platonists would say numbers are metaphysically necessary?  I would think so.

You said I hit the nail on the head as to why the universe is not metaphysically necessary, but I’m not seeing the nail. J The only nail I can say I hit is the nail that says “if the universe is temporally finite there must be a First Cause, and a First Cause is metaphysically necessary while the finite universe is obviously not (since it began to exist).”  What I have not hit is the nail that shows why God is—and the universe is not—metaphysically necessary, if the universe is eternal.  Because if the universe is eternal, I see no room for a First Cause.  And since the property of being the First Cause is the only necessary-making property I know of, I don’t know what could make either God or the universe necessary, given an eternal universe. I don’t know of any good reason to think the universe cannot be metaphysically necessary. If it could be metaphysically necessary, then there would be no reason to go on to posit the existence of God as the universe’s explanation.

Thanks for taking all the time you have to dialogue with me on this. I’ve been wrapping my brain around this so much, and haven’t been able to untangle it. You are helping me through the process!  I really want to get this straight because these questions have recently lessened my confidence in the LCA. And yet I believe the argument is correct. I have a deep intuition that the universe cannot be metaphysically necessary, but I don’t know how to prove it rationally. And if I can’t do that, then I can’t prove the necessity of looking beyond the universe for the necessary being we call God.  While I know the philosophical and scientific evidence renders the idea of an eternal universe untenable, I want to be able to show those who insist otherwise that even on their own view, there must be a God; that the universe does not need to have a beginning for there to be the need for a transcendent explanation of the universe.


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Triptych

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« Reply #11 on: February 08, 2011, 12:14:35 pm »
I'm lost on this one lol

How does the mere ability to concieve of a different universe, or our universe not even existing at all, show that the universe is NOT necessary.  I'm sure I'm missing something here.  Couldn't it be that, just because we can concieve of it, doesn't mean that it isn't?  How does concieving of a different universe PROVE that it is not metaphysically necessary?
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Jason Dulle

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« Reply #12 on: February 08, 2011, 12:58:23 pm »
IceKnight366,

That's a good question.  When we are talking about necessary beings/truths, we are talking about things that must be true in every possible world.  If there is a possible world in which X is not true, then X is contingent, not necessary.  For example, we can conceive of a world identical to this one, except for the fact that Al Gore won the 2002 presidential election; therefore, the truth that George W. Bush became president of the U.S. in 2002 is a contingent truth.

But there are other truths that we cannot possibly conceive being absent from any possible world.  For example, the truth that A is A.  This is a necessary truth that must be part of any conceivable world.  

So what about the physical constituents of this world?  Is there anything about their nature that renders their absence from other possible worlds inconceivable?  No, we can conceive of possible worlds in which there is no matter, or worlds in which the fundamental constituents of matter are different.  And thus we have good a priori reason to doubt that our universe is a necessary being.  Just as the burden of proof would be on anyone who wants to claim that "A is A" is not a necessary truth since this seems inconceivable, the burden of proof is on the one who wants to claim our universe is necessary since it is easy to conceive of a possible world lacking the physical truths that define our world.  

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« Reply #13 on: February 13, 2011, 05:25:29 am »
I am unsure what would motivate the belief the universe is metaphysically necessary. Then again, I am sceptical about almost all modality, so for all I know the universe might be metaphysically necessary.

I do not think Craig's defeaters here are any good (although I have not read these from him directly, so perhaps something got lost in translation). That we can conceive otherwise does little to defeat some claim that []X. God would seem to be the obvious counter-example: that we conceive that God does not exist in this universe does nothing to militate against "God exists" being necessarily true or false.

Further, our "Universe is metaphysically necessarily" proposer need not say that this sort of universe (quarks, physics and all) is necessary. They need only say that some sort of universe is necessary. I find it fairly hard to conceive of a state of affairs in which nothing obtains. So if you thought conceivability (or not) gave you good access to metaphysical modality (I do not), then this would be a good port of call.

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Jason Dulle

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« Reply #14 on: February 15, 2011, 06:46:04 pm »

Thrasymachus wrote: That we can conceive otherwise does little to defeat some claim that []X. God would seem to be the obvious counter-example: that we conceive that God does not exist in this universe does nothing to militate against "God exists" being necessarily true or false.

I am not a specialist in modal logic, but as I understand it, conceivability is not thought to be a definitive test of modality, but rather a good indicator.  As it pertains to God, I’m not sure we can conceive of God not existing if we properly understand what God is.  But even if I agreed that we can conceive of God’s non-existence, this would only mean that it is possible to conceive of the non-existence of at least some metaphysically necessary beings (but clearly not all, such as logical and mathematical laws).  If that could be true of God, then perhaps that could be true of the universe.  But I would still have to ask what in the universe (or what about the universe) is metaphysically necessary?

Thrasymachus wrote: Further, our "Universe is metaphysically necessarily" proposer need not say that this sort of universe (quarks, physics and all) is necessary. They need only say that some sort of universe is necessary. I find it fairly hard to conceive of a state of affairs in which nothing obtains. So if you thought conceivability (or not) gave you good access to metaphysical modality (I do not), then this would be a good port of call.

 

This sounds like the argument Bede Rundell makes.  He argues that it’s metaphysically necessary that some contingent thing exists, but not that any particular contingent thing must exist necessarily.  In other words, necessarily some contingent thing exists, but no necessary thing exists.  Different contingent things can exist in different worlds.  Rundell’s logic is that it’s necessary that some contingent being exists, and if none of the other possible contingent beings do, then the only contingent thing not found to be non-existent necessarily must exist.

 

I’ve heard Craig comment that this objection is brilliant, but flawed.  He cites Alexander Pruss’ rebuttal.  Pruss argues that if necessarily, some contingent being must exist in every possible world, even if that contingent being is different in each possible world, then what Rundell is arguing is that if you name an infinite number of non-existent entities minus X, that entails that X must exist.  But it makes no sense to think a conjunction of claims about the nonexistence of various things can possibly entail that X exists.  For example, the conjunction of claims that there are no flying pigs, centaurs, poka-dotted zebras, ad infinitum could not possibly entail the existence of George Bush (assuming he was the only thing left not named, and not found to be non-existent).  And yet if Rundell is right, if it is necessary that a contingent being exists, and none of the other one’s do, then the only contingent thing left (not listed) necessarily must exist.