William S. Hatcher (1935–2005) was a mathematician, philosopher, educator and a member of the Bahá'í Faith. He held a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland, and bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. A specialist in the philosophical alloying of science and religion, for over thirty years he held university positions in North America, Europe, and Russia.
Although he made significant contributions to the fields of mathematics and philosophy, he is perhaps best known for developing a new proof of God's existence based on first-order logic and for his work towards a transcultural system of ethics.
In his books Love, Power, and Justice, and Minimalism, Hatcher attempts to prove God's existence while addressing many of the criticisms raised against previous theistic philosophers. While Hatcher admits that his argument does not establish the existence of any particular religion's God, he asserts that it does support the existence of a God that he defines as a unique, universal, and uncaused cause.
The axioms are that:
P1. The principle of sufficient reason: All phenomena are either self-caused (i.e. A->A) or other-caused (B->A; B is not equal to A) but not both. Put another way, this principle says that the question "why?" is always meaningful. Everything happens for a reason.
P2. The potency principle: If A -> B then for all C element of B, A -> C. In other words if A is the cause of B then A is the cause of every part of B. There are several notions of causality in philosophy. Hatcher's notion of causality is total causality; i.e. it is not the straw that breaks the camel's back but the 1000 straws before it, the camel, gravity, and so forth, that give rise to the camel breaking its back.
P3. The principle of limitation: For all A, where A is an element of B, B -> A does not hold. This says a system (which Hatcher represents as a set) cannot be the cause of its own components. Hatcher justifies this by explaining any system has (1) form (the parts) and (2) function (the relationship between the parts). A car (the system) cannot be the cause of its own steering wheel (a part), because the car does not even logically exist until the steering wheel exists. Thus the car's existence cannot precede the steering wheel's existence.
Hatcher shows that the logical outcome of these 3 axioms together with the above noted assumption are the existence of a "unique, universal, uncaused cause."
Throughout this work, Hatcher strives to make his assumptions (his axioms) and modus operandi (first order logic) explicit. Unlike many proofs of God (beginning with the proof advanced by Aristotle) Hatcher's proof does not appeal to the absurdity of an infinite regression of causes. Hatcher argues that because his proof is formulated in first order logic one must invalidate one or more of his three empirically grounded axioms to refute it. At the same time he shows that doing so is difficult as it commits oneself to beliefs not commonly accepted in the scientific community such as the existence of non-causal systems (something not observed to date).
In Love, Power and Justice, Hatcher outlines a system of ethics based on the principle that there is a universal human nature. As evidence, he outlines how all new born children will respond positively to love, and negatively to cruelty and hate.
Hatcher also speaks of intrinsic and extrinsic value. Extrinsic value is not a property of the object itself but is a socially conferred value; for example, the value given by society to money. Intrinsic value on the other hand stands inseparable from the object itself. Whereas extrinsic value can be determined by observation, intrinsic value is discovered upon reflection. Hatcher believes that human beings have intrinsic value, similar to the Kantian notion of our humanity. He says that unless we discover our own intrinsic value, we will seek it elsewhere through means such as competition.
Work and achievements
Hatcher was the author of over fifty monographs, books, and articles in the mathematical sciences, logic and philosophy. Among the publications of which he is author or coauthor are:
- The Foundations of Mathematics (1968)
- Absolute Algebra (1978)
- The Science of Religion (1980)
- The Logical Foundations of Mathematics (1982)
- The Baha'i Faith: The Emerging Global Religion (1984)
- Logic and Logos: Essays on Science, Religion and Philosophy (1990)
- The Law of Love Enshrined (1996)
- The Ethics of Authenticity (1997)
- Love, Power, and Justice (1998)
- Minimalism: A Bridge between Classical Philosophy and the Baha'i Revelation (2002)
Relationship to the Bahá'í Faith
Dr. Hatcher discovered the Bahá'í Faith while a student. He enrolled in the Bahá'í Faith in 1957 following which he wrote a letter to the Yale faculty explaining to the Yale Divinity School, his reasons for declining to enroll at the school where he was recently admitted. He spent the decades that followed in dedicated service to the Baha'i community and its administrative development, at the local and national level, in the United States, Switzerland, Russia, and Canada.
He served on National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Canada (1983–91) as well as on the inaugural National Spiritual Assemblies of Switzerland (1962–65) and the Russian Federation (1996). He lived in Russia from 1993 to 1998. He was also a founding member of the Association for Bahá'í Studies.
In a message of condolence, the Universal House of Justice (the international governing body of the Bahá'í Faith) said that "The Baha'i world has lost one of its brightest minds, one of its most prolific pens ..."
- Reprint of open letter to fellow students on conversion – Pamphlet copyright 1965, National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States of America, Baha'i Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Illinois
- The proof can be downloaded here.
- Pokorny, Brad (2003-06-26). "Creating a new school of thought". Bahá'í International Community. Retrieved 2006-08-27.
- Bahá'í World News Service (2005-12-27). "Prolific author hailed for his penetrating insights". Bahá'í International Community. Retrieved 2006-08-27.