Saturday, July 16, 2011

So you think you understand the cosmological argument?

Most people who comment on the cosmological argument demonstrably do not know what they are talking about.  This includes all the prominent New Atheist writers.  It very definitely includes most of the people who hang out in Jerry Coyne’s comboxes.  It also includes most scientists.  And it even includes many theologians and philosophers, or at least those who have not devoted much study to the issue.  This may sound arrogant, but it is not.  You might think I am saying “I, Edward Feser, have special knowledge about this subject that has somehow eluded everyone else.”  But that is NOT what I am saying.  The point has nothing to do with me.  What I am saying is pretty much common knowledge among professional philosophers of religion (including atheist philosophers of religion), who – naturally, given the subject matter of their particular philosophical sub-discipline – are the people who know more about the cosmological argument than anyone else does. 

In particular, I think that the vast majority of philosophers who have studied the argument in any depth – and again, that includes atheists as well as theists, though it does not include most philosophers outside the sub-discipline of philosophy of religion – would agree with the points I am about to make, or with most of them anyway.  Of course, I do not mean that they would all agree with me that the argument is at the end of the day a convincing argument.  I just mean that they would agree that most non-specialists who comment on it do not understand it, and that the reasons why people reject it are usually superficial and based on caricatures of the argument.  Nor do I say that every single self-described philosopher of religion would agree with the points I am about to make.  Like every other academic field, philosophy of religion has its share of hacks and mediocrities.  But I am saying that the vast majority of philosophers of religion would agree, and again, that this includes the atheists among them as well as the theists.

I’m not going to present and defend any version of the cosmological argument here.  I’ve done that at length in my books Aquinas and The Last Superstition, and it needs to be done at length rather than in the context of a blog post.  The reason is that, while the basic structure of the main versions of the argument is fairly simple, the background metaphysics necessary to a proper understanding of the key terms and inferences is not.  It needs some spelling out, which is why Aquinas and The Last Superstition each devote a long chapter to general metaphysics before addressing the question of God’s existence.  The serious objections to the argument can in my view all be answered, but that too can properly be done only after the background ideas have been set out.  And that too is a task carried out in the books.

I will deal here with some of the non-serious objections, though.  In particular, what follows is intended to clear away some of the intellectual rubbish that prevents many people from giving the argument a fair hearing.  To get to the point(s), then:

1. The argument does NOT rest on the premise that “Everything has a cause.”

Lots of people – probably most people who have an opinion on the matter – think that the cosmological argument goes like this: Everything has a cause; so the universe has a cause; so God exists.  They then have no trouble at all poking holes in it.  If everything has a cause, then what caused God?  Why assume in the first place that everything has to have a cause?  Why assume the cause is God?  Etc.

Here’s the funny thing, though.  People who attack this argument never tell you where they got it from.  They never quote anyone defending it.  There’s a reason for that.  The reason is that none of the best-known proponents of the cosmological argument in the history of philosophy and theology ever gave this stupid argument.  Not Plato, not Aristotle, not al-Ghazali, not Maimonides, not Aquinas, not Duns Scotus, not Leibniz, not Samuel Clarke, not Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, not Mortimer Adler, not William Lane Craig, not Richard Swinburne.  And not anyone else either, as far as I know.  (Your Pastor Bob doesn’t count.  I mean no one among prominent philosophers.)  And yet it is constantly presented, not only by popular writers but even by some professional philosophers, as if it were “the” “basic” version of the cosmological argument, and as if every other version were essentially just a variation on it.

Don’t take my word for it.  The atheist Robin Le Poidevin, in his book Arguing for Atheism (which my critic Jason Rosenhouse thinks is pretty hot stuff) begins his critique of the cosmological argument by attacking a variation of the silly argument given above – though he admits that “no-one has defended a cosmological argument of precisely this form”!  So what’s the point of attacking it?  Why not start instead with what some prominent defender of the cosmological argument has actually said?

Suppose some creationist began his attack on Darwinism by assuring his readers that “the basic” claim of the Darwinian account of human origins is that at some point in the distant past a monkey gave birth to a human baby.  Suppose he provided no source for this claim – which, of course, he couldn’t have, because no Darwinian has ever said such a thing – and suppose also that he admitted that no one has ever said it.  But suppose further that he claimed that “more sophisticated versions” of Darwinism were really just “modifications” of this claim.  Intellectually speaking, this would be utterly contemptible and sleazy.  It would give readers the false impression that anything Darwinians have to say about human origins, however superficially sophisticated, is really just a desperate exercise in patching up a manifestly absurd position.  Precisely for that reason, though, such a procedure would, rhetorically speaking, be very effective indeed.

Compare that to Le Poidevin’s procedure.  Though by his own admission no one has ever actually defended the feeble argument in question, Le Poidevin still calls it “the basic” version of the cosmological argument and characterizes the “more sophisticated versions” he considers later on as “modifications” of it.  Daniel Dennett does something similar in his book Breaking the Spell.  He assures us that the lame argument in question is “the simplest form” of the cosmological argument and falsely insinuates that other versions – that is to say, the ones that philosophers have actually defended, and which Dennett does not bother to discuss – are merely desperate attempts to repair the obvious problems with the “Everything has a cause” “version.”  As with our imaginary creationist, this procedure is intellectually dishonest and sleazy, but it is rhetorically very effective.  It gives the unwary reader the false impression that “the basic” claim made by Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, et al. is manifestly absurd, that everything else they have to say is merely an attempt to patch up this absurd position, and (therefore) that such writers need not be bothered with further.

And that, I submit, is the reason why the stupid “Everything has a cause” argument – a complete fabrication, an urban legend, something no philosopher has ever defended – perpetually haunts the debate over the cosmological argument.  It gives atheists an easy target, and a way rhetorically to make even their most sophisticated opponents seem silly and not worth bothering with.  It‘s a slimy debating trick, nothing more – a shameless exercise in what I have elsewhere called “meta-sophistry.”  (I make no judgment about whether Le Poidevin’s or Dennett’s sleaziness was deliberate.  But that they should know better is beyond question.)

What defenders of the cosmological argument do say is that what comes into existence has a cause, or that what is contingent has a cause.  These claims are as different from “Everything has a cause” as “Whatever has color is extended” is different from “Everything is extended.”  Defenders of the cosmological argument also provide arguments for these claims about causation.  You may disagree with the claims – though if you think they are falsified by modern physics, you are sorely mistaken – but you cannot justly accuse the defender of the cosmological argument either of saying something manifestly silly or of contradicting himself when he goes on to say that God is uncaused.

This gives us what I regard as “the basic” test for determining whether an atheist is informed and intellectually honest.  If he thinks that the cosmological argument rests on the claim that “everything has a cause,” then he is simply ignorant of the basic facts.  If he persists in asserting that it rests on this claim after being informed otherwise, then he is intellectually dishonest.  And if he is an academic philosopher like Le Poidevin or Dennett who is professionally obligated to know these things and to eschew cheap debating tricks, then… well, you do the math.

2. “What caused God?” is not a serious objection to the argument.

Part of the reason this is not a serious objection is that it usually rests on the assumption that the cosmological argument is committed to the premise that “Everything has a cause,” and as I’ve just said, this is simply not the case.  But there is another and perhaps deeper reason.

The cosmological argument in its historically most influential versions is not concerned to show that there is a cause of things which just happens not to have a cause.  It is not interested in “brute facts” – if it were, then yes, positing the world as the ultimate brute fact might arguably be as defensible as taking God to be.  On the contrary, the cosmological argument – again, at least as its most prominent defenders (Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, et al.) present it – is concerned with trying to show that not everything can be a “brute fact.”  What it seeks to show is that if there is to be an ultimate explanation of things, then there must be a cause of everything else which not only happens to exist, but which could not even in principle have failed to exist.  And that is why it is said to be uncaused – not because it is an arbitrary exception to a general rule, not because it merely happens to be uncaused, but rather because it is not the sort of thing that can even in principle be said to have had a cause, precisely because it could not even in principle have failed to exist in the first place.  And the argument doesn’t merely assume or stipulate that the first cause is like this; on the contrary, the whole point of the argument is to try to show that there must be something like this.

Different versions of the cosmological argument approach this task in different ways.  Aristotelian versions argue that change – the actualization of the potentials inherent in things – cannot in principle occur unless there is a cause that is “pure actuality,” and thus can actualize other things without itself having to be actualized.  Neo-Platonic versions argue that composite things cannot in principle exist unless there is a cause of things that is absolutely unified or non-composite.  Thomists not only defend the Aristotelian versions, but also argue that whatever has an essence or nature distinct from its existence – so that it must derive existence from something outside it – must ultimately be caused by something whose essence just is existence, and which qua existence or being itself need not derive its existence from another.  Leibnizian versions argue that whatever does not have the sufficient reason for its existence in itself must ultimately derive its existence from something which does have within itself a sufficient reason for its existence, and which is in that sense necessary rather than contingent.  And so forth.  (Note that I am not defending or even stating the arguments here, but merely giving single sentence summaries of the general approach several versions of the arguments take.)

So, to ask “What caused God?” really amounts to asking “What caused the thing that cannot in principle have had a cause?”, or “What actualized the potentials in that thing which is pure actuality and thus never had any potentials of any sort needing to be actualized in the first place?”, or “What imparted a sufficient reason for existence to that thing which has its sufficient reason for existence within itself and did not derive it from something else?”  And none of these questions makes any sense.  Of course, the atheist might say that he isn’t convinced that the cosmological argument succeeds in showing that there really is something that could not in principle have had a cause, or that is purely actual, or that has a sufficient reason for its existence within itself.  He might even try to argue that there is some sort of hidden incoherence in these notions.  But merely to ask “What caused God?” – as if the defender of the cosmological argument had overlooked the most obvious of objections – simply misses the whole point.  A serious critic has to grapple with the details of the arguments.  He cannot short-circuit them with a single smart-ass question.  (If some anonymous doofus in a combox can think up such an objection, then you can be certain that Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, et al. already thought of it too.)

3. “Why assume that the universe had a beginning?” is not a serious objection to the argument.

The reason this is not a serious objection is that no version of the cosmological argument assumes this at all.  Of course, the kalām cosmological argument does claim that the universe had a beginning, but it doesn’t merely assume it.  Rather, the whole point of that version of the cosmological argument is to establish through detailed argument that the universe must have had a beginning.  You can try to rebut those arguments, but to pretend that one can dismiss the argument merely by raising the possibility of an infinite series of universes (say) is to miss the whole point.

The main reason this is a bad objection, though, is that most versions of the cosmological argument do not even claim that the universe had a beginning.  Aristotelian, Neo-Platonic, Thomistic, and Leibnizian cosmological arguments are all concerned to show that there must be an uncaused cause even if the universe has always existed.  Of course, Aquinas did believe that the world had a beginning, but (as all Aquinas scholars know) that is not a claim that plays any role in his versions of the cosmological argument.  When he argues there that there must be a First Cause, he doesn’t mean “first” in the order of events extending backwards into the past.  What he means is that there must be a most fundamental cause of things which keeps them in existence at every moment, whether or not the series of moments extends backwards into the past without a beginning.

In fact, Aquinas rather famously rejected what is now known as the kalām argument.  He did not think that the claim that the universe had a beginning could be established through philosophical arguments.  He thought it could be known only via divine revelation, and thus was not suitable for use in trying to establish God’s existence.  (Here, by the way, is another basic test of competence to speak on this subject.  Any critic of the Five Ways who claims that Aquinas was trying to show that the universe had a beginning and that God caused that beginning – as Richard Dawkins does in his comments on the Third Way in The God Delusion – infallibly demonstrates thereby that he simply doesn’t know what he is talking about.)

4. “No one has given any reason to think that the First Cause is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, etc.” is not a serious objection to the argument.

People who make this claim – like, again, Dawkins in The God Delusion – show thereby that they haven’t actually read the writers they are criticizing.  They are typically relying on what other uninformed people have said about the argument, or at most relying on excerpts ripped from context and stuck into some anthology (as Aquinas’s Five Ways so often are).  Aquinas in fact devotes hundreds of pages across various works to showing that a First Cause of things would have to be all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, and so on and so forth.  Other Scholastic writers and modern writers like Leibniz and Samuel Clarke also devote detailed argumentation to establishing that the First Cause would have to have the various divine attributes.

Of course, an atheist might try to rebut these various arguments.  But to pretend that they don’t exist – that is to say, to pretend, as so many do, that defenders of the cosmological argument typically make an undefended leap from “There is a First Cause” to “There is a cause of the world that is all-powerful, all-knowing, etc.” – is, once again, simply to show that one doesn’t know what one is talking about.

5. “The argument doesn’t prove that Christianity is true” is not a serious objection to the argument.

No one claims that the cosmological argument by itself suffices to show that Christianity is true, that Jesus of Nazareth was God Incarnate, etc.  That’s not what it is intended to do.  It is intended to establish only what Christians, Jews, Muslims, philosophical theists, and other monotheists hold in common, viz. the view that there is a divine cause of the universe.  Establishing the truth of specifically Christian claims about this divine cause requires separate arguments, and no one has ever pretended otherwise.

It would also obviously be rather silly for an atheist to pretend that unless the argument gets you all the way to proving the truth of Christianity, specifically, then there is no point in considering it.  For if the argument works, that would suffice all by itself to refute atheism.  It would show that the real debate is not between atheism and theism, but between the various brands of theism.  

6. “Science has shown such-and-such” is not a serious objection to (most versions of) the argument.

There are versions of the cosmological argument that appeal to scientific considerations – most notably, the version of the kalām argument defended by William Lane Craig.  But even Craig’s argument also appeals to separate, purely philosophical considerations that do not stand or fall with the current state of things in cosmology or physics.  And most versions of the cosmological argument do not in any way depend on particular scientific claims.  Rather, they start with extremely general considerations that any possible scientific theorizing must itself take for granted – for example, that there is any empirical world at all, or any world of any sort at all.  

It is sometimes claimed (for example, by Anthony Kenny and J. L. Mackie) that some of Aquinas’s arguments for God’s existence depend on outdated theses in Aristotelian physics.  But Thomists have had little difficulty in showing that this is false.  In fact the arguments depend only on claims of Aristotelian metaphysics which can be disentangled from any outdated scientific assumptions and shown to be defensible whatever the scientific details turn out to be, precisely because (so the Thomist argues) they concern what any possible scientific theory has to presuppose.  (Naturally, I address this issue in Aquinas.)

Of course, many atheists are committed to scientism, and maintain that there are no rational forms of inquiry other than science.  But unless they provide an argument for this claim, they are merely begging the question against the defender of the cosmological argument, whose position is precisely that there are rational arguments that are distinct from, and indeed more fundamental than, empirical scientific arguments.  Moreover, defending scientism is no easy task – in fact the view is simply incoherent, or so I would argue (as I have in several previous posts).  Be that as it may, merely shouting “Science!” doesn’t prove anything.  

7. The argument is not a “God of the gaps” argument.

Since the point of the argument is precisely to explain (part of) what science itself must take for granted, it is not the sort of thing that could even in principle be overturned by scientific findings.  For the same reason, it is not an attempt to plug some current “gap” in scientific knowledge.  Nor is it, in its historically most influential versions anyway, a kind of “hypothesis” put forward as the “best explanation” of the “evidence.”  It is rather an attempt at strict metaphysical demonstration.  To be sure, like empirical science it begins with empirical claims, but they are empirical claims that are so extremely general that (as I have said) science itself cannot deny them without denying its own evidential and metaphysical presuppositions.  And it proceeds from these premises, not by probabilistic theorizing, but via strict deductive reasoning.  In this respect, to suggest (as Richard Dawkins does) that the cosmological argument fails to consider more “parsimonious” explanations than an uncaused cause is like saying that the Pythagorean theorem is merely a “theorem of the gaps” and that more “parsimonious” explanations of the “geometrical evidence” might be forthcoming.  It simply misunderstands the nature of the reasoning involved.

Of course, an atheist might reject the very possibility of such metaphysical demonstration.  He might claim that there cannot be a kind of argument which, like mathematics, leads to necessary truths and yet which, like science, starts from empirical premises.  But if so, he has to provide a separate argument for this assertion.  Merely to insist that there cannot be such an argument simply begs the question against the cosmological argument.

None of this entails that the cosmological argument is not open to potential criticism.  The point is that the kind of criticism one might try to raise against it is simply not the kind that one might raise in the context of empirical science.  It requires instead knowledge of metaphysics and philosophy more generally.  But that naturally brings us to the next point:

8. Hume and Kant did not have the last word on the argument.  Neither has anyone else.

It is often claimed that Hume, or maybe Kant, essentially had the last word on the subject of the cosmological argument and that nothing significant has been or could be said in its defense since their time.  I think that no philosopher who has made a special study of the argument would agree with this judgment, and again, that includes atheistic philosophers who ultimately reject the argument.  For example, I don’t think anyone who has studied the issue would deny that Elizabeth Anscombe presented a serious objection to Hume’s claim that something could conceivably come into existence without a cause.  Nor is Anscombe by any means the only philosopher to have criticized Hume on this issue.  I’m not claiming that everyone would agree that the objections leveled by Anscombe and others are at the end of the day correct (though I think they are), only that they would agree that it is wrong to pretend that Hume somehow ended all serious debate on the issue.  (Naturally, I discuss this issue in Aquinas.)

To take another example, Hume’s objection that the cosmological argument commits a fallacy of composition is, as I have noted in an earlier post, also greatly overrated.  For one thing, it assumes that the cosmological argument is concerned with explaining why the universe as a whole exists, and that is simply not true of all versions of the argument.  Thomists often emphasize that the argument of Aquinas’s On Being and Essence requires only the premise that something or other exists – a stone, a tree, a book, your left shoe, whatever.  The claim is that none of these things could exist even for an instant unless maintained in being by God.  You don’t need to start the argument with any fancy premise about the universe as a whole; all you need is a premise to the effect that a stone exists, or a shoe, or what have you.  (Again, see Aquinas for the full story.)  Even versions of the argument that do begin with a premise about the universe as a whole are (in my view and that of many others) not really damaged by Hume’s objection, for reasons I explain in the post just linked to.  In any event, I think that anyone who has studied the cosmological argument in any depth would agree that it is certainly seriously debatable whether Hume draws any blood here.  

In general, critics of the cosmological argument tend arbitrarily to hold it to a standard to which they do not hold other arguments.  In other areas of philosophy, even the most problematic views are treated as worthy of continuing debate.  The fact that there are all sorts of serious objections to materialist theories of the mind, or consequentialist views in ethics, or Rawlsian liberal views in political philosophy, does not lead anyone to suggest that these views shouldn’t be taken seriously.  But the fact that someone somewhere raised such-and-such an objection to the cosmological argument is routinely treated as if this sufficed to establish that the argument has been decisively “refuted” and needn’t be paid any further attention.

Jason Rosenhouse plays this game in his response to my recent post on Jerry Coyne.  Writes Rosenhouse:

Feser seems rather taken with [the cosmological argument], but there are many strong refutations to be found in the literature.  Off the top of my head, I found Mackie's discussion in The Miracle of Theism and Robin Le Poidevin's discussion in Arguing for Atheism to be both cogent and accessible.  

Does Rosenhouse really think that we defenders of the cosmological argument aren’t familiar with Mackie and Le Poidevin?  Presumably not.  But then, what’s his point?  That is to say, what point is he trying to make that doesn’t manifestly beg the question?  After all, what would Rosenhouse think of the following “objection”:

Rosenhouse seems rather taken with the materialist view of the mind, but there are many strong refutations to be found in the literature.  Off the top of my head, I found Foster’s The Immaterial Self and the essays in Koons’ and Bealer’s The Waning of Materialism to be both cogent and accessible.

Or, while we’re on the subject of what prominent mainstream atheist philosophers have said, what would he think of:

Rosenhouse seems rather taken with Darwinism, but there are many strong refutations to be found in the literature.  Off the top of my head, I found Fodor’s and Piatelli-Palmarini’s discussion in What Darwin Got Wrong and David Stove’s discussion in Darwinian Fairytales to be both cogent and accessible.

Rosenhouse’s answer to both “objections” would, I imagine, be: “Since when did Foster, Koons, Bealer, Fodor, Piatelli-Palmarini, and Stove get the last word on these subjects?”  And that would be a good answer.  But no less good is the following answer to Rosenhouse: Since when did Mackie and Le Poidevin have the last word on the cosmological argument?  

“But that’s different!” I imagine Rosenhouse would say.  But how is it different?  This brings us to one last point:

9. What “most philosophers” think about the argument is irrelevant.

Presumably, the difference is in Rosenhouse’s view summed up in another remark he makes in his post, viz. “There's a reason most philosophers are atheists” (he cites this survey as evidence).  By contrast, most philosophers are not dualists or critics of Darwinism (though in fact the number of prominent dualists is not negligible, but let that pass).  Now if what Rosenhouse means to imply is that philosophers who have made a special study of the cosmological argument now tend to agree that it is no longer worthy of serious consideration, then for reasons already stated, he is quite wrong about that.  But what he probably means to imply is rather that since most contemporary academic philosophers in general are atheists, we should conclude that the cosmological argument isn’t worth serious consideration.

But what does this little statistic really mean?  I’ll let Mr. Natural tell us what it means.  Because Rosenhouse’s little crack really amounts to little more than a fallacious appeal to authority-cum-majority.  What “most philosophers” think could be relevant to the subject at hand only if we could be confident that academic philosophers in general, and not just philosophers of religion, were both competent to speak on the cosmological argument and reasonably objective about it.  And in fact there is good reason to think that neither condition holds.

Consider first that, as I have documented in several previous posts (here, here, and here) prominent philosophers who are not specialists in the philosophy of religion often say things about the cosmological argument that are demonstrably incompetent.  Consider further that those who do specialize in areas of philosophy concerned with arguments like the cosmological argument do not tend to be atheists, as I noted here.  If expertise counts for anything – and New Atheist “Learn the science!” types are always insisting that it does – then surely we cannot dismiss the obvious implication that those who actually bother to study arguments like the cosmological argument in depth are more likely to regard them as serious arguments, and even as convincing arguments.

Now the New Atheist will maintain that the direction of causality goes the other way.  It isn’t that studying the cosmological argument in detail tends to lead one to take religious belief seriously, they will say.  It’s rather that people who already take religious belief seriously tend to be more likely to study the cosmological argument.  Of course, it would be nice to hear a non-question-begging reason for thinking that this is all that is going on.  And there is reason for doubting that this can be all that is going on.  After all, there are lots of other arguments and ideas supportive of religion that academic philosophers of religion do not devote much attention to – young earth creationism, spiritualism, and the like.  Evidently, the reason they devote more attention to the cosmological argument is that they sincerely believe, on the basis of their knowledge of it, that the argument is worthy of serious study in a way these other ideas are not, and not merely because they are predisposed to accept its conclusion.

The objection in question is also one that cuts both ways.  For why suppose that the atheist philosophers are more objective than the theist ones?  In particular, why should we be so confident that most philosophers (outside philosophy of religion) are atheists because they’ve seriously studied arguments like the cosmological argument and found them wanting?  Why not conclude instead that, precisely because they tend for other reasons to be atheists, they haven’t bothered to study arguments like the cosmological argument very seriously?  The cringe-making remarks some of them make about the argument certainly provides support for this suspicion.  (Again, I give examples here, here, and here.)

And there is other reason for suspicion.  After all, as philosophers with no theological ax to grind sometimes complain – see here and here for a few examples – their colleagues can too often be smugly insular and ill-informed about sub-disciplines outside their own and about the history of their own field.  And like other academics, they can be unreflective, dogmatic, and uninformed in their secularism.  Here too you don’t have to take my word for it.  Many prominent secular philosophers themselves have noted the same thing.  

Hence Thomas Nagel opines that a “fear of religion” seems often to underlie the work of his fellow secularist intellectuals, and that it has had “large and often pernicious consequences for modern intellectual life.”  He continues:

I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.  It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope that I'm right in my belief.  It's that I hope there is no God!  I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that.  My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time.  One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about human life, including everything about the human mindThis is a somewhat ridiculous situation… [I]t is just as irrational to be influenced in one’s beliefs by the hope that God does not exist as by the hope that God does exist. (The Last Word, pp. 130-131)

Jeremy Waldron tells us that:

Secular theorists often assume they know what a religious argument is like: they present it as a crude prescription from God, backed up with threat of hellfire, derived from general or particular revelation, and they contrast it with the elegant complexity of a philosophical argument by Rawls (say) or Dworkin.  With this image in mind, they think it obvious that religious argument should be excluded from public life... But those who have bothered to make themselves familiar with existing religious-based arguments in modern political theory know that this is mostly a travesty... (God, Locke, and Equality, p. 20)

Tyler Burge opines that “materialism is not established, or even clearly supported, by science” and that its hold over his peers is analogous to that of a “political or religious ideology” (“Mind-Body Causation and Explanatory Practice,” in John Heil and Alfred Mele, eds., Mental Causation, p. 117)

John Searle tells us that “materialism is the religion of our time,” that “like more traditional religions, it is accepted without question and… provides the framework within which other questions can be posed, addressed, and answered,” and that “materialists are convinced, with a quasi-religious faith, that their view must be right” (Mind: A Brief Introduction, p. 48)

William Lycan admits, in what he himself calls “an uncharacteristic exercise in intellectual honesty,” that the arguments for materialism are no better than the arguments against it, that his “own faith in materialism is based on science-worship,” and that “we also always hold our opponents to higher standards of argumentation than we obey ourselves.” (“Giving Dualism its Due,” a paper presented at the 2007 Australasian Association of Philosophy conference at the University of New England)

The atheist philosopher of religion Quentin Smith maintains that “the great majority of naturalist philosophers have an unjustified belief that naturalism is true and an unjustified belief that theism (or supernaturalism) is false.”  For their naturalism typically rests on nothing more than an ill-informed “hand waving dismissal of theism” which ignores “the erudite brilliance of theistic philosophizing today.”  Smith continues:

If each naturalist who does not specialize in the philosophy of religion (i.e., over ninety-nine percent of naturalists) were locked in a room with theists who do specialize in the philosophy of religion, and if the ensuing debates were refereed by a naturalist who had a specialization in the philosophy of religion, the naturalist referee could at most hope the outcome would be that “no definite conclusion can be drawn regarding the rationality of faith,” although I expect the most probable outcome is that the naturalist, wanting to be a fair and objective referee, would have to conclude that the theists definitely had the upper hand in every single argument or debate.

Due to the typical attitude of the contemporary naturalist… the vast majority of naturalist philosophers have come to hold (since the late 1960s) an unjustified belief in naturalism. Their justifications have been defeated by arguments developed by theistic philosophers, and now naturalist philosophers, for the most part, live in darkness about the justification for naturalism. They may have a true belief in naturalism, but they have no knowledge that naturalism is true since they do not have an undefeated justification for their belief.  If naturalism is true, then their belief in naturalism is accidentally true.  [“The Metaphilosophy of Naturalism,” Philo: A Journal of Philosophy (Fall-Winter 2001)]

Again, Nagel, Waldron, Burge, Searle, Lycan, and Smith are not apologists for religion.  Apart from Smith, they aren’t even philosophers of religion.  All of them are prominent, and all of them are “mainstream.”  They have no motive for saying the things they do other than that that is the way things honestly strike them based on their knowledge of the field.

But scientists shouldn’t get smug over lapses in objectivity among philosophers.  For at least where philosophical matters are concerned, many scientists are hardly more competent or objective, as we have seen in an earlier post, and as the embarrassing philosophical efforts of Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking illustrate.  And if you think even their “purely scientific” pronouncements are always free of anything but good old tough-minded “just the facts, ma’am” objectivity… well, as Dawkins will tell you, you shouldn’t believe fairy tales.  Biologist Richard Lewontin let the cat out of the bag some time ago:

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural.  We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.  It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated.  Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.  [From a review of Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World in the New York Review of Books (January 9, 1997)]

But here’s the bottom line.  The “What do respectable people say?” stuff that Rosenhouse, Coyne, and other New Atheists are always engaging in is juvenile, and futile too, since they are never able to tell us what counts as “respectable” in a way that doesn’t beg all the questions at issue.  It is amazing how much time and energy New Atheist types put into trying to come up with ever more elaborate excuses for not engaging their critics’ actual arguments.  If that alone doesn’t make you suspicious, then I submit that you are not thinking critically.

Addendum: For two followup posts in reply to Jason Rosenhouse, go here and here.

473 comments:

  1. Exceptionally brilliant!

    Thanks for posting!!

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  2. A quote from Bertrand Russell, of all people, accurately sums up 90% of the comments over on Coyne's blog: "A stupid man's report of what a clever man says is never accurate because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand."

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  3. Amusingly, while commentators in the one Coyne thread are trying to deny causation - no first cause if no causation! - commentators on another Coyne thread are exalting causation in order to deny free will.

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  4. Specifically, they deny philosophical definitions of causation, since to them it's all mere "Theobabble." Causation is just so mysterious, you know! Can't be tied down to definitions!

    Even if one points out that Aristotle wasn't a theologian, it still doesn't matter, since "Aristotle and Aquinas were idiots."

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  5. Thanks again Ed for shining brilliant light on the vast caverns of the intellectual void found in the thinking of the "new atheists". May you continue to teach the truth and challenge the shallow defense of atheism.

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  6. Also:

    Atheists who deny free will while decrying past actions of religious institutions (as if to say: "Those events in human history should not have happened!") and declaring that the "religiose" should not be holding the Bronze Age beliefs that they currently do, are really an interesting bunch.

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  7. Hi Ed,

    I don't think Robin Le Poidevin is an atheist any longer. I believe he has converted to agnosticism.

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  8. As Aquinas writes, "...by no demonstration can it be proved that the world did not always exist...and it is useful to consider this, lest anyone, presuming to demonstrate what is of faith, should bring forth reasons that are not cogent, so as to give occasion to unbelievers to laugh..." Summa 1,46,2

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  9. Great post Ed, though the gratuitous use of italics suggests that you were getting a bit frustrated by Coyne and Co.

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  10. As Aquinas writes, "...by no demonstration can it be proved that the world did not always exist...and it is useful to consider this, lest anyone, presuming to demonstrate what is of faith, should bring forth reasons that are not cogent, so as to give occasion to unbelievers to laugh..." Summa 1,46,2

    This is amazing.

    The Dumb Ox, always delivering

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  11. Hi Ed,

    Great post. I gave your book a plug over here:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com/
    intelligent-design/
    no-good-theology-you-say-oh-yes-there-is/

    Re the cosmological argument: I believe that Descartes and Spinoza did posit a self-caused Deity. Of course, their versions of the argument are greatly inferior to those propounded by medieval philosophers.

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  12. To this atheist, it seems like this argument is a tautology combined with a bait-and-switch.

    The tautology is to define god as "a cause of everything else which not only happens to exist, but which could not even in principle have failed to exist." If you define god as something which necessarily exists, you've won the argument by definition, congratulations.

    But aside from that, this sort of abstract first cause, ground of being, The Absolute, or whatever you want to call it, is a long way from what people mean by the term "god". It isn't very much like a person, for one thing, let alone one concerned with human morality and the other things generally attributed to him.

    This argument is made at some greater length here.

    I think the disconnect between these two meanings of "god" is going to mean that there will be no meeting of minds between you and the gnu atheists. Even if you manage to convince one that the cosmological arguments are sound, the god they prove is not the same god that they so strenuously disbelieve in.

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  13. "It isn't very much like a person, for one thing..."

    oh boy.

    i can already hear BenYachov's response in my head.

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  14. mtraven: "If you define god as something which necessarily exists, you've won the argument by definition, congratulations."

    I believe you are proving Dr. Feser's point with this remark.

    Cosmological arguments do not *assume* that God necessarily exists in the premises (which would obviously be question-begging). Rather, it is the *conclusion* of arguments such as Aquinas's 1'st Way that God must exist. If you are not aware of this, and if you are not able to recognize the distinction between assuming something to be the case and attempting to demonstrate something to be the case, then I don't see how you could possibly have made any honest attempt to understand the arguments you criticize.

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  15. @mtraven,
    Do you admit that logic entails a being whose essence is his existence, ala Pure Actuality? If not, why not. There are plenty here who could most likely answer your questions.

    The link you give is a wonderful example of scientists writing on topics outside of their own and the common mistakes they fall into when they attempt such a task. It would be similar to me stumbling around a chemistry lab...not a pretty picture.

    Anyways, Aquinas devotes literally hundreds of pages to what God as Pure Act entails. You may want to read it, look at the objections he makes to his theses (some of which atheists attempt to make all the time), and look at how he uses reason to overcome them.

    In the end, you will find that Pure Act is goodness itself, love and has the ability to reveal himself personally (ala the Christian doctrine of the Trinity). Of course, you may not be willing to put the effort into doing the actual study, but I think you will be more than satisfied if you do.

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  16. Nice post, Ed. I'm looking forward to the responses. There is no position so absurd or incoherent that someone with the motives Nagel outlines will not at least pretend to defend.

    To take just a few examples:

    Human rationality incompatible with materialism? Deny it!

    Secondary qualities immaterial? Oh well, they don't exist either!

    And obviously free will must be eliminated:

    (1) If materialism is true, then a) only matter exists and b) matter is governed by the laws of physics and nothing else.
    (2) A law of physics is either stochastic (based on randomness) or deterministic (based on rule).
    (3) So if humans can make rational choices, which are neither determined by rule nor random, then materialism is certainly false.
    (4) Humans can make rational choices.
    Therefore, (5) materialism is certainly false.

    No problem: just deny (4).

    Numbers, the language of physics, don't fare any better:

    (1) If there were no material objects, then the number of material objects would be zero.
    (2) Numbers aren’t just ideas in our minds, because mathematical truths (e.g., ‘317 is prime’) would still be true if there were no human minds.
    (3) So numbers cannot be identified with anything either material or mental.
    Therefore, (4) materialism is false.

    And, using only materialist premisses, it's easy to show that beliefs go the same way:

    (1) If beliefs are anything, then they are brain states;
    (2) beliefs exhibit original intentionality;
    (3) no physical state, and thus no brain state, exhibits original intentionality;
    Therefore, (4) there are no beliefs.

    Remember Quine's remark that what cannot be explained by materialism must be 'repudiated'? That was an apt word, for it comes from L. repudium, ‘divorce’: materialism is the divorce of the human mind from reality.

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  17. >But aside from that, this sort of abstract first cause, ground of being, The Absolute, or whatever you want to call it, is a long way from what people mean by the term "god". It isn't very much like a person, for one thing, let alone one concerned with human morality and the other things generally attributed to him.

    Somebody call my name? Let the bashing of the false Theistic Personalist "god" begin for the glory of the One True Classic Theistic God.

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  18. @ranger -- I'm afraid that "Do you admit that logic entails a being whose essence is his existence, ala Pure Actuality?" reads like pure gibberish to me.

    Now, unlike some I will admit the possibility that it is not actually gibberish, and might make sense if I read hundreds of pages of Aquinas, or took enough drugs, or something. I've had the experience in other cases of pulling some sense out of texts that initially seemed like nonsense.

    But in those cases, I would be hard-pressed to say anything was proved. At best, I feel like I've got a glimpse of how an alien mind operates.

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  19. God is not a human person. God is not unequivocally compared to a human person & ctratures. Nor wholly equivocally but analogously. God is not a disembodied human mind with unlimited magical powers. God is Being Itself & Existence Itself. God is not another being alongside other beings.
    God is not Q from Star Trek or the Organians for that matter.

    The New Atheists have to deal with the God there specific targets of Criticism believe in not the one they wish they believed in.

    Feser is a Catholic, an Aristotelian/Thomist and a philosopher and a Classic Theist!

    So deal with his beliefs has he holds them. Not as you wish he held them just because the Gnu=Atheists have this one size fits all set of Pablum polemics.

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  20. mtraven,

    What do you mean by "prove" because FYI we have all heard the Scietism Shtick before.

    http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2010/03/1174

    http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2010/03/1184

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  21. >>"I'm afraid that "Do you admit that logic entails a being whose essence is his existence, ala Pure Actuality?" reads like pure gibberish to me. "

    That's probably because of your psychologically deep-seated empiricism and materialism - which are both neither deductions of logic nor facts of experience, but are pure metaphysical and epistemological prejudices. Put another way, they're nothing more than subjective moods.

    Excise those unargued presuppositions, and the world may start looking much different to you than it did before.

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  22. Excellent, excellent post!

    I wonder what is wrong with inductive cosmological arguments, though. Swinburne, say, gives one and is very careful in arguing that this is not god-of-the-gaps reasoning, since the data to be explained cannot even in principle be explained by anything in science (it´s 'too big' for science to explain). Maybe thomistic arguments lose their force if they are presented inductively, but surely one can make a cogent Leibnizian/Swinburnean cosmological argument inductively?

    One more thing. I have one worry with the first two Ways. I´m a non-causal libertarian about free will (Stewart Goetz, among others, have defended this in detail). So for me 'a choice' is an essentially uncaused event, explained teleologically in terms of reasons or purposes. Is this compatible with 'whatever moves is moved by another' or 'whatever is contingent has a cause'?

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  23. I guess it shouldn't be surprising that you are unfamiliar with basic philosophical terms. I'm not going to suggest either hundreds of pages of Aquinas or loads of drugs at the moment, but I will recommend very highly pages 27-119 of Dr. Feser's "The Last Superstition," or pages 8-130 of his book "Aquinas." You might particularly be interested in pages 120ff discussing the "divine attributes."

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  24. "This gives us what I regard as “the basic” test for determining whether an atheist is informed and intellectually honest. If he thinks that the cosmological argument rests on the claim that “everything has a cause,” then he is simply ignorant of the basic facts. If he persists in asserting that it rests on this claim after being informed otherwise, then he is intellectually dishonest. And if he is an academic philosopher like Le Poidevin or Dennett who is professionally obligated to know these things and to eschew cheap debating tricks, then… well, you do the math."

    I seem to have encountered yet another alternative:

    "Feser goes to extraordinary lengths [In "So You Think You Understand the Cosmological Argument?"] to whip his "They didn't say 'Everything has a cause'; they said 'Everything that begins to exist has a cause" strawman.
    Anyone with enough brains to read this can see that it's just a way of rigging the game to allow the "uncaused" to be legitimized.
    It's semantics; plain and simple rhetoric."

    As you can see, the new alternative is that he just may have no idea whatsoever how arguments really work. Indeed, as I read comments by many New Atheist types, this is precisely the impression I often get -- "This fellow doesn't even quite understand what an argument is and how it functions."

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  25. @Eric: That's exactly my impression. I'm reading their comments and thinking, oh my goodness, these people really cannot think. The only thing they know how to do is express themselves and repeat new atheist talking points. I'd tell them that they need to learn the difference between reasoning and self-expression, but they'd probably just tell me I was giving a "Courtier's Reply".

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  26. 'these people really cannot think'

    As Anscombe noted: 'corrupt minds cannot be reasoned with'.

    They're so full of bullshit that you just have to wait until they vomit: http://www.leaderu.com/real/ri9801/budziszewski.html

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  27. Thomas,
    I don't agree with everything in the work, but Herbert McCabe is very clear on the Thomistic understanding of free will in his "God Matters.". You may want to check it out.

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  28. This is an excellent post.

    The thing is, even though I disagree with you that the Cosmological Argument works and agree with atheists -- I'm a theist -- that the Cosmological Argumen (even if it worked) wouldn't get you a personal God, I wouldn't just say that it hasn't been established, thus running into the issues with those pages of proofs. I'd argue that it can't get there IN PRINCIPLE, just by the nature of the argument. And while I consider it insufficient, I consider it interestingly insufficient and probably the best argument.

    It amazes me how so many people just dismiss an argument and an arguer because it isn't absolute proof.

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  29. @BenYachov -- "prove" as I used it just means "present a very strong argument". My point was that even if I stretched myself to understand what you mean by "pure actuality", it isn't going to help in providing proof of anything, because those terms don't have a strong connection to any reality for me.

    I'm not sure where you get the accusations of scientism from. If you read my blog you'll find that while I have a scientific background I'm probably one of the least scientistic scientists you're likely to meet. "Proof" does not have to be scientific, in fact the paradigmatic proofs are mathematical and have nothing to do with empiricism. Proofs about numbers make sense (to me) because numbers are real (to me); proofs about pure actuality do not. But numbers are not physical.

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  30. Aaron,

    "Cosmological arguments do not 'assume' that God necessarily exists in the premises (which would obviously be question-begging). Rather, it is the *conclusion* of arguments such as Aquinas's 1'st Way that God must exist."

    Not exactly. Aquinas "concludes": Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.

    This so-called thing that everyone "understands" as God is not a conclusion, it's an "understanding" -- that is, it's an assumption. It's cheating. It's quietly moving your axiom into the conclusion. Yes, it's question-begging.

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  31. Ed,

    Another great and enlightening post. But I do have a question:

    You point out that none of the best known proponents of the cosmological argument assert that "everything has a cause." I have not read Leibniz first hand, but I notice that the Stanford Encyclopedia quotes Leibniz as follows: “no fact can be real or existing and no statement true without a sufficient reason for its being so and not otherwise (Monadology, §32)”

    Are you saying that no major proponent of the argument asserts that that everything has an efficient cause? Or are you saying that none of them asserts that everything has an explanation in the sense of a sufficient reason?

    And if you are saying the latter, then what do we make of Leibniz's statement of the argument?

    Again, great post. Thanks.

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  32. djindra: Odd you should condemn an argument as "question beginning," which is a judgment that applies to all arguments that exhibit the properties of question-beginngness. Thus, you do believe in universals after all.

    Untenured says, "these people can't think," and you adequately demonstrate that truth.

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  33. "This so-called thing that everyone "understands" as God is not a conclusion, it's an "understanding" -- that is, it's an assumption. It's cheating. It's quietly moving your axiom into the conclusion. Yes, it's question-begging."

    Here's what Dr. Feser writes in THIS VERY POST:

    "Aquinas in fact devotes hundreds of pages across various works to showing that a First Cause of things would have to be all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, and so on and so forth."

    I actually think that this is a quote from an earlier post, in which he actually adresses this exact point. I can't blame you for not reading every post on this blog, but I am amazed that you missed this in the very post you are responding to.

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  34. Found it:
    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/10/warburton-on-first-cause-argument.html

    The next time you say that someone doesn't have an argument, try actually reading the arguments.

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  35. This post is all bluster. But I'll first mention a neat little trick up Feser's sleeve.

    We are told the cosmological argument does NOT rest on the premise that “Everything has a cause.” Then the following is asserted: "People who attack this argument never tell you where they got it from. They never quote anyone defending it. There’s a reason for that. The reason is that none of the best-known proponents of the cosmological argument in the history of philosophy and theology ever gave this stupid argument. Not Plato, not Aristotle, not al-Ghazali, not Maimonides, not Aquinas, not Duns Scotus, not Leibniz, not Samuel Clarke, not Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, not Mortimer Adler, not William Lane Craig, not Richard Swinburne."

    Then Feser dismisses poor Pastor Bob.

    But Pastor knows more than Feser will admit. Pastor Bob has read this obscure thing called the Bible. I wonder why Feser feigns ignorance when Pastor Bob can clearly tell you where the "stupid" version of the cosmological argument is found. Pastor Bob will do better than quote some mere human defending it. He'll recite the word of God.

    Now Pastor Bob may be reading more into his Bible than he should. But that's a different matter. What does matter is that he has a bigger flock than Aristotle and Aquinas. And Pastor Bob's flock repeats his argument, not Aquinas.

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  36. Matthew G,

    I didn't miss this:

    "Aquinas in fact devotes hundreds of pages across various works to showing that a First Cause of things would have to be all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, and so on and so forth."

    Aquinas can devote hundreds of pages in a failed attempt to show "a First Cause of things would have to be all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, and so on and so forth." But a tedious series of question-begging and/or dubious maneuvers does not fix the original problem.

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  37. ROFL @ this djindra troll. Now this dumb schmuck thinks "Pastor Bob" will recite "everything has a cause" from the Bible.

    Reeaaally now.

    This chap is precious, no doubt he listens to some low class eastern European trance and smokes copious amounts of weed, I think I can get pastor Bob to recite that as proof as well.

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  38. Thomas Aquinas,

    "Odd you should condemn an argument as 'question beginning,' which is a judgment that applies to all arguments that exhibit the properties of question-beggingness. Thus, you do believe in universals after all."

    You are confused about what I believe. I don't believe in the reality of quasi-ontological "things" called Universals or Forms, or Essences. I do believe in categories that we define in our heads and I believe nature develops categories of things we can then classify.

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  39. Anonymous,

    I expect ad hominems from those who have no confidence in their arguments.

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  40. djindra, you are a disgrace to atheists like me, please stop, you are embarrassing.

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  41. Uhhh...have you actually read the hundreds of pages (or even tens of them) that actually attempt to demonstrate this, or are you merely assuming that they must be tedious and question-begging?

    It's also strikingly ignorant that you attack the argument as it appears in the Summa: the Five Ways were never meant to be exhaustive logical demonstrations, they are mere summaries of arguments put into a theology handbook for people who were already theists. If you want to attack the cosmological argument, go after the form of it that Aquinas addresses to the unbelievers where he doesn't assume anything.

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  42. >I'm not sure where you get the accusations of scientism from.

    I didn't accuse you of anything. I merely want to know what you define as proof.

    >Proof" does not have to be scientific, in fact the paradigmatic proofs are mathematical and have nothing to do with empiricism. Proofs about numbers make sense (to me) because numbers are real (to me); proofs about pure actuality do not. But numbers are not physical.

    Excellent that is progress. But can proof be philosophical?

    Again how do you define proof?

    Cheers.

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  43. Eric B.

    "Uhhh...have you actually read the hundreds of pages (or even tens of them)"

    Yes. More than ten, less than thousands.

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  44. Anonymous,

    I consider your opinions irrelevant.

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  45. I'm conflicted over djindra. He's a troll and won't give you a rational argument nor will he argue in even the most basic honest way. So he has nothing to contribute unlike Chuck or dgeller.

    OTOH he for some insane reason has set himself up to be the dead on stereotype of the typical brain dead Gnu'atheist. He is a living abject lesson in dogmatic stupidity.

    OTOH Chuck is trying to redeem the term "New Atheist" along lines similar to how JI Packer tried with the term "Fundamentalist".

    That is not a bad thing to encourage New Atheists to be rational instead of being jerks for it's own sake.

    What to do? What to do?

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  46. Eric: 'Everything that begins to exist has a cause" strawman.

    I would have thought it more an obvious empirical observation. Even in the quantum realm, where particles are only fluctuations in quantum fields, particle-particle interactions are caused by superposition of fields. The cause and effect are simultaneous; but that is in line with Aristotle, IIRC.

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  47. "I would have thought it more an obvious empirical observation."

    Oh, I agree. That nonsensical 'strawman' remark was a quote from someone else.

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  48. the Cosmological Argument (even if it worked) wouldn't get you a personal God

    You mean after you get past the proofs that the first changer is singular, eternal, immaterial, the source of all powers, and the source of all goods? Then you get to the part that being the source of all powers, it is the source of intellect and volition; and since a cause cannot give what it does not have (either formally or eminently) there must be something in the first changer that is analogous to intellect and will, and so the first changer is a person?

    It's a lot like math. One theorem leads to another. The first theorem in Euclid doesn't get you spherical trigonometry, either.

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  49. Vincent and Martin,

    Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz do not give the “Everything has a cause, so the universe has a cause” argument.
    It’s true that Descartes and Spinoza speak of God as in some sense “self-caused.” But Spinoza, as a pantheist, doesn’t think that God caused the universe. He thinks God is the universe. Hence he is not giving a cosmological argument in the first place. Descartes gives an argument toward the end of Meditation III to the effect that he, Descartes, must have been caused by God. He doesn’t talk about the cause of the universe. Still, this could be regarded as a variation on the basic idea of a cosmological argument. But even so, he doesn’t say “Everything has a cause, so…” He rather starts by asking whether he could have caused himself, notes that if he had then he would have given himself the various divine perfections, then notes that the same thing is true of his parents, etc. It’s not remotely close to the “Everything has a cause, so the universe has a cause” straw man.

    Leibniz’s principle of sufficient reason isn’t the same as “Everything has a cause.” When people attack the “Everything has a cause, so…” straw man as self-contradictory (“Then what caused God?”) they are evidently reading “cause” as “generating cause.” Leibniz does not think everything has a generating cause, since he doesn’t think everything is generated. What he does think is that everything has a sufficient reason in the sense of an explanation of some sort or other. But that explanation won’t always be in terms of a generating cause. In general, while proponents of the cosmological argument often say that God is an “uncaused” cause they never say that God is an “unexplained” or “unexplainable” cause. He has an explanation for His existence – He’s pure actuality or being itself, and thus necessarily existent – just not an explanation that could in the nature of the case apply to anything else.

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  50. even if I stretched myself to understand what you mean by "pure actuality", it isn't going to help in providing proof of anything, because those terms don't have a strong connection to any reality for me.

    That kinda sounds like
    "even if I stretched myself to understand what you mean by "tensors", it isn't going to help in providing proof of anything, because that term doesn't have a strong connection to any reality for me."

    But an argument cannot be held hostage to your lack of understanding. It's like arguing evolution with a creationist.

    Potency and act are not that hard to grasp, however. We even have potential and kinetic energy in physics to serve as analogs.

    Potency is the ability to become something, as when a big blue bouncy ball has the potency to become red. (We could paint it; or the sunlight might cause some sort of chemical reaction in the dye.) But it does not have the potency to become an armadillo.

    Act is to actually be that something. Motion, or kinesis, is the movement from being potentially X to being actually X. So after being painted or sunstruck, the big bouncy ball is actually red.

    A being is pure act if it is not potentially something else in any of its X's.

    Every physical body we encounter is a compound of potency and act, which is why the physical world is in constant motion: from blue to red, from here to there, from young to adult, and so on.

    In compound bodies, the principle of potency is in matter which is that which persists through change. Think of the conservation of matter and energy (the which are identical.) Matter alone then cannot account for change. For that we need form which is what makes matter some particular thing. Examples are forms of location (here, there, elsewhere), forms of color (blue----red), etc.

    This suggests two limits: pure matter and pure form. Pure matter, or "prime matter" is pure potency without any actuality. As such, it is potentially anything, but not actually anything. That makes it hard to spot; although "dark matter," the "vacuum energy," and suchlike may be approaching it pretty close.

    At the other end is pure act, which is actually everything and potentially nothing else but. Since form is what makes matter actual, this pure act is what makes everything be.

    A mathematical analogy may be useful. Imagine you are a real number living in the open interval (0,1). At one end is pure potency (0) and at the other end is pure act (1). The bound the interval and define it, but neither one is actually inside the interval, and therefore is not empirically available to your senses. However, your reason may be able to deduce the existence of both.

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  51. djindra: Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.

    This so-called thing that everyone "understands" as God is not a conclusion, it's an "understanding" -- that is, it's an assumption. It's cheating. It's quietly moving your axiom into the conclusion. Yes, it's question-begging.


    No, it's that the intro summary doesn't contain all the threads of reasoning. It's an intro to a primer for first year theology students. There are things they already know. The connection between, say, First Changer and God-as-commonly-understood can be found in the hundreds of Questions that follow. You're complaining that Euclid's first theorem does not establish that the circumferences of two circles have the same ratio as their radii.

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  52. Excellent! Thank you Dr. Feser. Please, please, please get "Aquinas" on Kindle. I just purchased "Philosophy of Mind."

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  53. Would it be fair to say that the possibility of uncaused events in the quantum realm, such as radioactive decay, undermine one of the key premises of the cosmological argument? After all, there seem to be some interpretations of particle physics where this is a genuine possibility. However, there are likely other interpretations where there are some underlying causes. The fact that there is a lack of consensus just means that this is an open question, and that the cosmological argument depends upon this question being answered conclusively. In other words, the cosmological argument is valid, but might be unsound due to the possibility of potential in the quantum realm causing an actual quantum event.

    Keep in mind that I am not saying that the cosmological argument IS unsound, but only that one of its key premises could be false. Whether it is false awaits the resolution of some key questions in quantum theory. That being said, there are a number of responses to this state of affairs, all of which are quite reasonable.

    (1) To be agnostic about the possibility of uncaused events in space-time, and thus to defer assent or rejection of the cosmological argument.

    (2) To say that radioactive decay likely DOES have causes, because that is the sum total of all our experience of reality, and it would be highly unlikely that it would be falsified. In other words, the interpretations of QM where there are uncaused events are likely false, and other interpretations where such events are caused are mostly likely to be true.

    (3) To say that radioactive decay does not have any causes, because QM has shown that our intuitions and experience are unreliable guides, and that if we are able to give up locality, for example, then causality may be another acceptable loss, at least at the quantum level, and thus the cosmological argument is likely false.

    I think that (1), (2) and (3) are all reasonable responses, and thus would have a hard time finding fault with anyone who either accepts, rejects, or is agnostic about the cosmological argument. But the bottom line is that it is still an open question, and that ultimately one's personal preferences will dictate which of (1), (2) or (3) will be asserted.

    Any thoughts?

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  54. Dguller:

    If I am not misinterpreting Ed here, isn't he making a distinction between cause (in the sense of generating cause) and an explanation (in the sense of sufficient reason)? And isn't he saying that the cosmological argument (or at least some versions of it) involve the latter, but not the former?

    And if so, would it matter whether quantum mechanics showed that some things do not have a generating cause? Couldn't they still have a sufficient reason?

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  55. DGuller,

    I can't speak for all of them, but I did just look up Aquinas' version for a short E-mail discussion, and it wouldn't impact his. He talks about contingent and necessary, not causation. Quantum particles seem to me to be clearly contingent.

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  56. Martin:

    Fair points, but I conceive of reasons and causes as fundamentally identical, except that the former is bound to rationality and the normative aspects of reason, but which are simply representations of the causes that are operative in the world. There must be a series of causal relationships between our reasons and what they are trying to explain. So, I don’t think that the distinction between reasons and causes is helpful here, but I would appreciate other people’s input.

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  57. Verbose Stoic:

    Yes, but his argument depends upon the premise that what is potential cannot generate change, and only what is actual can. That is why something actual is necessary to generate a change from possible X to actual X. If there are uncaused events in the quantum realm, then this premise is false, because something went from potentially decaying to actually decaying all by itself without an outside actual agent to cause the change. This possibility would undermine the cosmological argument, I think.

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  58. dguller,

    In his book Miracles, C.S. Lewis made the distinction between two senses of the word "because""

    Examples of the first sense:
    "Grandfather is ill today because he ate lobster yesterday"
    "He cried out because it hurt him"

    Examples of the second sense:
    "Grandfather must be ill because he hasn't gotten up yet"
    "It must have hurt him because he cried out"

    The first are examples of "cause/effect" statements, the second are examples of "ground/consequent" statements. If I'm not mistaken, I think this is the same distinction Ed is drawing.

    Are you saying that there is no distinction between these two kinds of statements?

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  59. dguller,

    I got a D in QM way back in college, one reason I didn't purse a physics graduate degree, so I don't pretend any expertise on QM. I still can't make sense of the thing.

    But I do have a question: When the quantum physicists propose the possibility of uncaused events, are they proposing uncaused events in a metaphysical sense, or only uncaused events as far as QM is concerned?

    What I mean is, suppose we restrict ourselves to Newtonian mechanics (as in Newton's Three Laws and, say, the law of gravity), and we put two positively charged spheres near each other. They fly apart in a way that has no account in Newtonian mechanics (due, of course, to the repulsion of like electric charges). As far as Newtonian mechanics is concerned, this is an "uncaused event" because it has no place for electromagnetic forces. We need to go beyond mechanics to EM to find the cause for it.

    Similarly, it may be that things might happen in the universe that have no account in QM, and perhaps even no possible account. As far as QM is concerned, they are "uncaused." But does it follow that they stand as proof of an uncaused event in the metaphysical sense, or only reveal the metaphysical limitations of QM?

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  60. dguller,

    I have wondered about the same thing that dmt117 asks about. So if I can take advantage of your expertise as well...

    It seems that at least the Copenhagen interpretation of QM holds that QM is not an explanatory scheme in the complete sense (i.e., in the sense of what dm117 calls a "metaphysical" sense), but only a predictive scheme. In other words, its exponents (I'm thinking of Niels Bohr here) seem to say that QM doesn't purport to offer an explanatory account of why things happen the way they do--in terms of ground/consequent relationships.

    In fact, some of their statements seem to indicated that it doesn't even offer a conventional cause/effect account (I'm assuming the distinction I articulated earlier).

    Am I wrong about that?

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  61. Martin C:

    If you look at the second sentence, it can only count as a reason if there is a causal relationship between (1) eating lobster and becoming ill, and (2) becoming ill and being unable to rise from bed. Again, reasons are superimposed upon causes.

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  62. Dmt117:

    I understand your points, and I actually made the same ones on Coyne’s blog. I vacillate between options (2) and (3), and so I suppose that basically means that I endorse (1), i.e. agnosticism. The point is that arguments can be made in support of both (2) and (3), and the fact that this is so means that there is no consensus or agreed-upon facts in this matter, which also means that it is an open question. The fact that it is an open question means that a key premise of the cosmological argument is not a demonstrated truth, but rather a possibility that is an open question, and thus the soundness of the argument is compromised, although its validity is intact. In other words, it becomes less like a mathematical or logical demonstration, and more like a probability inference about the universe, which seems to compromise its metaphysical status.

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  63. Martin C:

    I have no expertise in QM at all. I probably know as much as an educated layperson knows, but nothing more extensive, I’m afraid. All I know is that there are a number of possible interpretations of QM that are consistent with the empirical evidence, and it seems that some deny any hidden variables that can account for “uncaused” events, and others postulate them. I have no idea which are correct, but the fact that they are all consistent with the empirical evidence means that we just do not know whether quantum phenomena are uncaused or caused. And I wonder if this compromises the metaphysical status of the cosmological argument, which I understood to be more akin to a mathematical or logical proof involves premises about the world that are impossible to doubt. The fact that one can doubt them, at this time due to the open questions of QM, means that we do not know whether the argument is sound at this time, as well.

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  64. dguller,

    That's very interesting, and I'll have to investigate this line of thought further, because it seems to have profound consequences for both science and philosophy. It's one thing for a science to say that it can't find a cause for something; quite another for it to conclude that it can't possibly find a cause; and even more radical yet that no science (even one not yet conceived) could ever find a cause. This seems like proving a negative, and makes QM something like a Science of Sciences rather than just another science... in fact, what classical metaphyics thought itself to be...

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  65. dguller,

    Looking at your last comment, I might not have made myself clear:

    "All I know is that there are a number of possible interpretations of QM that are consistent with the empirical evidence, and it seems that some deny any hidden variables that can account for “uncaused” events, and others postulate them."

    I'm not sure the fact that certain QM interpretations deny those hidden variables reaches the status of a metaphysical denial of causality. At most it means that there is no causality that can be captured in the mathematical language recognized by QM. In other words, there is no causality that QM can "see." But it doesn't follow that there can't be any causality full stop, does it? Isn't that the mistake of scientism, thinking that because something can't be seen in terms of a science, it can't have any reality at all?

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  66. It looks like Coyne has yet to begin reading "Aquinas":

    "Unlike science, theology starts with conclusions (e.g., God exists, God is good, Jesus died for our sins, etc.) and then, as those conclusions begin to weaken in the face of evidence, tweaks its philosophy to buttress them. (In science, we may begin with tentative conclusion, but we abandon them if they’re not consistently supported by evidence). The reaction of both fields to the Darwinian revolution is instructive. Biologists before Darwin were largely natural theologians, believing that nature testified to God’s grandeur and ingenuity. After 1859, nearly all scientists accepted the fact of evolution. Theologians did too, but still held onto the idea of a good and loving God, even though the argument from design had been their most powerful evidence for His existence."

    *shrug*

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  67. Well, I suppose he could have written that post days ago, and only just posted it...

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  68. @Will ("refuting" materialism):
    You exhibit an awesome amount of ignorance in what you claim are "materialist" positions.
    1. "Rational Choices": I do not deny (4), I deny (3). That rational choices are not determined by rule or random is simply a weird assumption. Human rationality has arisen during the course of evolution (which IS governed only by rule and random), and even computers (note that I am not saying that human minds are exactly like computers) are able to produce decisions that are assessed as "rational" by humans. And you would not deny that computers are determined by rule and random, would you?
    2. "Numbers": By not knowing the difference between the mathematical meaning of truth and the scientific/materialistic meaning, you have shown your complete ignorance of science. Congratulations, but mathematical truths are not believed to exist in the same sense that physical "truths" exist (if there is such a thing as a physical truth, see "The character of physical law" by Feynman or "Logik der Forschung" by K.R. Popper - well, I can throw with philosophical and scientific references, too...).
    3. "Original intentionality": Sorry, but I do not get (2) and (3). What the hell is "original intentionality", and why do beliefs exhibit it? Why can no phyiscal state exhibit such a property? Why should we believe such a property to even exist?

    Materialism is not the divorce from, but an intimate relationship with reality.

    @TheOFloinn:
    Thanks for explaining Potency and Act to me, but I am afraid that someone will have to explain to me in how far "the ability to become" anything is a property of an object. You exemplify it with a ball that we could paint - so potency does not lie within an object, but is also determined by its surroundings? Then I have found a truly perfect understanding why the first cause is pure actuality: There is nothing that could change it...
    But I am sure this is not as stupid as I understood it, so please enlighten me.
    Another question struck me right now: What identifies a "being" uniquely? What is there about the big blue bouncy ball that stays with is when it becomes a big red bouncy ball (please do not say that it was formerly blue - this information is not available anymore to any observer)
    And - what metaphyiscal meaning has pure potency? If pure actuality is god, I find it reasonable that pure potency should have a similar...extraordinary status.

    @Martin Cothran: "Examples of the second sense" are, excuse me, nonsense. They are conclusions that are inductively based on everyday (incomplete) experience, and therefore invalid (to spell out your second example:
    (1) He cried out when doing it
    (2) People often cry when hurt
    By (1) and (2) follows (3): It hurt him.
    Correct me if I misunderstood the reasoning involved, but it is clear that (3) does NOT follow from (1) and (2), isn't it - I do not want to discuss the problem of induction here...)

    @dmt117: "Uncaused" in your newtonian sense is not "uncaused" in the QM (or, better, QFT) sense. Newton cannot predict the actions of the two charges (nor of ensembles of charges, for that matter), while QM CAN predict the behavior of ensembles of particles (not of the particles individually, because the law is stochastical, as you surely know). By assigning a wave function to every particle and viewing it as the excitation of a quantum field, the non-causation of individual quantum events becomes explained (by a LOT of math, and well tested by myriads of experiments). There is a (mathematically deducted, empirically not falsified) reason for them not to be deterministically caused...

    Just my 2 cents...

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  69. dguller:

    "If you look at the second sentence, it can only count as a reason if there is a causal relationship between (1) eating lobster and becoming ill, and (2) becoming ill and being unable to rise from bed. Again, reasons are superimposed upon causes."

    You got the second example backwards. Although in the first example you are going from "ex ate lobster" to "x is ill" and the relation is cause and effect, the second example does not go from "x is ill" to "x is not able to rise from bed," which would be causal. It goes from the observation of "x is not able to rise from bed" to "x is ill"--the opposite direction.

    Obviously the not rising from bed does not cause the illness. So how could it be cause and effect?

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  70. ACuriousMind,

    "Examples of the second sense" are, excuse me, nonsense. They are conclusions that are inductively based on everyday (incomplete) experience, and therefore invalid.

    Are you saying that inductive reasoning is invalid?

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  71. ACuriousMind:

    to spell out your second example:
    (1) He cried out when doing it
    (2) People often cry when hurt
    By (1) and (2) follows (3): It hurt him.
    Correct me if I misunderstood the reasoning involved, but it is clear that (3) does NOT follow from (1) and (2), isn't it - I do not want to discuss the problem of induction here...)


    I don't think this has anything to do with what I said. I was asking whether dguller didn't see a distinction between cause and effect relationships and ground/consequent relationships in statements, the first of which posits a sufficient condition for thinking that one thing brought about another, and the second of which posits a sufficient condition for believing that one thing brought about another.

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  72. "The reason is that, while the basic structure of the main versions of the argument is fairly simple, the background metaphysics necessary to a proper understanding of the key terms and inferences is not."

    And that is why the argument is unpersuasive. There is just no reason to think any of that metaphysics is true. Or said better, we have no way of determining if any of that background metaphysics is true. So, we are in angels on pinheads territory.

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  73. Jerry Coyne:

    In science, we may begin with tentative conclusion, but we abandon them if they’re not consistently supported by evidence.

    This is empirically disproven, viz: Darwinism still being considered science.

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  74. DMT117: Similarly, it may be that things might happen in the universe that have no account in QM, and perhaps even no possible account. As far as QM is concerned, they are "uncaused." But does it follow that they stand as proof of an uncaused event in the metaphysical sense, or only reveal the metaphysical limitations of QM?

    They aren't even uncaused physically, they're underdetermined. If they were totally undetermined physically, then QM couldn't be science, because there would be nothing to apply the scientific method to. (Though as you suggest, there certainly could be metaphysical causes at work that simply aren't amenable to empirical measurement. You might then get away with talking about "uncaused events" in a purely physical context, but it would in no way follow that there is no cause at all.)

    Dguller: Would it be fair to say that the possibility of uncaused events in the quantum realm, such as radioactive decay, undermine one of the key premises of the cosmological argument?

    No, because "underdetermined" doesn't really mean "uncaused", not in way it would have to in order to have any bearing on the cosmological argument. If QM really were uncaused in that sense, then we couldn't even deal with it statistically. A statistical law is still a law, and hence there are still causes at work in QM. (As for locality, or the lack thereof, there's nothing about it that is logically problematic. QM may seem weird in terms of what physicists were expecting, but there's nothing particularly metaphysically weird about it.)

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  75. This post insists the "most prominent defenders" of the cosmological argument say that "what comes into existence has a cause, or that what is contingent has a cause" -- or better yet, that none of the most basic particles of matter "could exist even for an instant unless maintained in being by God."

    Supposedly this type of claim is fundamentally different from “Everything has a cause.” But it merely changes the point of view from outside the universe to inside the universe. So the response merely changes from "Then what created God?" to "Then what maintains the being of God?"

    The most serious flaw in this argument (besides asserting God as the ultimate in being) is with the notion of cause. These so-called "experts" look through their microscopes and see, Behold!, every effect has a cause. But if they would step back they might notice every effect does not have one cause. It has multiple causes. and those causes have even more multiple causes. Instead of a chain of causation we have a web of causation -- no, a regular implosion of causation. There is no way to trace any cause (or support of being) down to a First Cause (or ultimate support of being). Everything is in flux. Everything is connected. Everything is supported by an infinite web of neighbors. These so-called "experts" on the cosmological argument are suffering from a severe case of tunnel vision. From that tunnel vision we get Atlas supporting the world on his back.

    It's curious that Feser claims science has no say in this matter because this version of the argument makes what is essentially a scientific claim: Matter needs constant "support" or it will disappear. Surely this is the stuff of physics. Surely, if this cosmological argument has any hope of being taken seriously, physicist will be able to show that matter cannot support its own existence. So Feser is wrong. This is yet another "God of the gaps" argument.

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  76. BeingItself,

    The Newtonian meaning of "uncaused" is different than the QM meaning of "uncaused." And, as far as QM is concerned, it has explanations for why certain events are "uncaused" in its QM sense. Fair enough. What concerns me is the leap from "event X has no cause in the QM sense of cause" to "event X has no cause in any possible sense of cause", because the latter one is the one that is necessary to pose a challenge to the cosmological argument.

    The way science works is that when it comes upon phenomena it can't explain in its current framework - e.g. Newtonian mechanics unable to explain EM phenomena - it expands its causal basis in an attempt to account for the unexplained phenomena. If a science has to include things for which it cannot find a cause, or even proves that it is impossible for it to find a cause, this seems to me an opportunity for a new science, not an opportunity to advance the metaphysical conclusion that we have uncaused effects. In fact, one could see the history of science as the story of faith in the principle that there are no uncaused effects.

    Mr. Green seems to have a better handle on this QM stuff (like I say, I got a D in QM many years ago), so I think I'll leave it to him.

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  77. People here commenting on causation and quantum physics would do well to bear in mind this post of Mr. Feser's:

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/02/why-are-some-physicists-so-bad-at.html

    Here's the beginning:

    In his book of reminiscences “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”, Richard Feynman tells the story of a painter who assured him that he could make yellow paint by mixing together red paint and white paint. Feynman was incredulous. As an expert in the physics of light, he knew this should not be possible. But the guy was an expert painter, with years of practical experience. So, ready to learn something new, Feynman went and got some red paint and white paint. He watched the painter mix them, but as Feynman expected, all that came out was pink. Then the painter said that all he needed now was a little yellow paint to “sharpen it up a bit” and then it would be yellow.

    I was reminded of this story when I read this foray into philosophy by physics professor Ethan Siegel, which a reader sent me, asking for my reaction. Do give it a read, though I’ll summarize it for you:

    Arguments for God as cause of the universe rest on the assumption that something can’t come from nothing. But given the laws of physics, it turns out that something can come from nothing.

    Here was my reaction:

    Is this guy serious? The laws of physics aren’t “nothing.” Ergo, this isn’t even a prima facie counterexample to the principle that ex nihilo, nihil fit. That’s just blindingly obvious. Is this guy serious?

    (Actually, that was not my reaction. My actual reaction cannot be printed on a family-friendly blog. This is the cleaned up version.)

    Feynman’s painter insisted that you can get yellow paint from red paint and white paint. All you need to do is add some yellow paint. Similarly, Siegel assures us that we can get something from nothing. All we need to do is to add a little something, viz. the laws of physics. I’ll bet Siegel has read Feynman’s book and had a chuckle at the painter’s expense. Little does he realize that the joke’s on him.

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  78. Eric,
    Such a statement makes me wonder if he has read any theology in reality, as it's simply false in just about every regard.

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  79. @Curious Mind:

    For clarity, I have inserted the arguments to which you are trying to respond:

    (1) If materialism is true, then a) only matter exists and b) matter is governed by the laws of physics and nothing else.
    (2) A law of physics is either stochastic (based on randomness) or deterministic (based on rule).
    (3) So if humans can make rational choices, which are neither determined by rule nor random, then materialism is certainly false.
    (4) Humans can make rational choices.
    Therefore, (5) materialism is certainly false.

    You response: 'I do not deny (4), I deny (3). That rational choices are not determined by rule or random is simply a weird assumption.'

    If our actions were determined, they wouldn't be choices; and if they were random, they would be the product of mere chance. As the Scholastics said, Free will is a tertium quid, 'a third kind of thing'.

    Like Dennett, Crick and Wilson, all prominent materialists just deny (4), calling free will an 'illusion' for no reason other than to avoid (5). But of course that makes determinism rationally unaffirmable.

    'You would not deny that computers are determined by rule and random, would you?'

    That a calculating device can, for example, print out '2+2=4" in accordance with truth is irrelevant, for its ability to do so is not to be sought is not explicable in terms of the laws of physics that it obeys; one could make a device that printed out '2+2=17". It can operate according to the laws of logic and mathematical truth only because it has been programmed to do so by a human mind.

    (1) If there were no material objects, then the number of material objects would be zero.
    (2) Numbers aren’t just ideas in our minds, because mathematical truths (e.g., ‘317 is prime’) would still be true if there were no human minds.
    (3) So numbers cannot be identified with anything either material or mental.
    Therefore, (4) materialism is false.

    Your response: 'By not knowing the difference between the mathematical meaning of truth and the scientific/materialistic meaning, you have shown your complete ignorance of science. Congratulations, but mathematical truths are not believed to exist in the same sense that physical "truths" exist...'

    You failed to discuss a single one of the premisses of the argument.

    (1) If beliefs are anything, then they are brain states;
    (2) beliefs exhibit original intentionality;
    (3) no physical state, and thus no brain state, exhibits original intentionality;
    Therefore, (4) there are no beliefs.

    Your response: 'Sorry, but I do not get (2) and (3). What the hell is "original intentionality", and why do beliefs exhibit it? Why can no phyiscal state exhibit such a property? Why should we believe such a property to even exist?'

    Either read Prof. Feser's book 'Philosophy of Mind', or disabuse yourself of your ignorance here for free:

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/intentionality/
    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/05/coyne-on-intentionality.html
    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/08/fodors-trinity.html
    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/06/stoljar-on-intentionality.html
    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/08/dretske-on-meaning.html
    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2008/09/some-brief-arguments-for-dualism-part-i.html

    Alex Rosenberg posted that argument in a Combox as a response to critics of his 'Disenchanted Naturalist's Guide to Reality': http://onthehuman.org/2009/11/the-disenchanted-naturalists-guide-to-reality/

    Prof. Feser's post was about atheists lazily failing fully to understand their opponents' positions; you don't even understand your own.

    Finally, you say: 'Materialism is not the divorce from, but an intimate relationship with reality.' Not even the properties of matter are matter.

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  80. dguller,

    "If there are uncaused events in the quantum realm, then this premise is false, because something went from potentially decaying to actually decaying all by itself without an outside actual agent to cause the change."

    Well, here's where it gets complicated. Focusing strictly on caused, this seems to make sense. But then you have to address the fact that Aquinas doesn't really talk about caused, but about contingent and necessary, and also have to watch out for multiple uses of the word "caused". Science's definition of caused doesn't quite align with the philosophical (in general, physicists have told me that it requires time, but the philosophical version at least might not). If I can get from contingent and necessary to the cosmological argument without worrying about "uncaused" in the sense QM uses the term, then it isn't an objection.

    I'm not saying that this will work out. I have a vague idea, but the point really is that it isn't clear how much of a problem QM is for cosmological arguments.

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  81. Will,

    Dennett clearly rejects 3 instead of 4 in the free will chain; he argues that choice basically is just the decisions we make based on rules, and that's the only form of free will worth wanting. He calls unrestricted free will an illusion.

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  82. James Burke,

    That was my reaction to just the snippets of Hawking's book I read. He basically says that something like a law of gravity can make it so that you can get something from nothing. But then what is a law of gravity?

    If it's just a way of describing how masses interact, then it doesn't exist without masses, and so you have to have something, not nothing.

    If it is itself a thing, then you again have something, not nothing.

    Either way, he'd have to start with something to get that unstable nothing he talks about, but that's not the sort of nothing philosophers are worrying about.

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  83. Martin C:

    Let us look at your two examples again.

    In one, you wrote: “Grandfather must be ill because he hasn’t gotten up yet”. I would presume that there would have to be a causal connection between someone being ill and someone being unable to get up, i.e. due to weakness, pain, and so on. In other words, this is still an explanation that involves causation at its core, because without that causal relationship, then the inference that was made would not be possible. In fact, the inference is a poor one, because it commits the fallacy of affirming the consequent. After all, there are lots of reasons for not getting up, e.g. being lazy.

    In the other example, you wrote: “It must have hurt him because he cried out”. Again, unless there was the causal relationship between being hurt and crying out, this reason would be impossible. It relies upon the major premise: “If X is hurt, then X will cry out”, which is a logical construction of a causal relationship. And again, your example commits the fallacy of affirming the consequent, i.e. the fact that he cried out means that he must be been hurt.

    Again, you cannot have a reason for anything without there being some causal relationship involved. Reasons are just out way of talking about causes.

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  84. Verbose Stoic:

    >> But then you have to address the fact that Aquinas doesn't really talk about caused, but about contingent and necessary, and also have to watch out for multiple uses of the word "caused".

    First, Aquinas does talk about caused. His entire argument rests upon the notion that to go from a potential X to an actual X requires the intervention of an actual Y as the cause of the potential X becoming actual X. Contingency is involved in the Second Way. I am talking about the First Way.

    Second, even if there are multiple uses of “caused”, the bottom line is that the cosmological argument requires the impossibility of a potential X becoming an actual X without the intervention of an actual Y. If QM allows for this to be possible, such as with radioactive decay, then this premise might be incorrect, and thus the argument is unsound.

    The bottom line is that this is an open question, and so there are good arguments to be made for both cases. I prefer to be agnostic about this issue, because of this very fact. After all, I find the reasons for the necessity of underlying causes of the radioactive decay, for example, to be persuasive, but I also find the reasons for the opposite persuasive, as well. After all, the quantum realm has challenged so many of our intuitions, then why not add causation to the mix? I can see why theists would be prefer the former and atheists the latter, but right now, we just don’t know the answer.

    Until a better QM model comes along that incorporates underlying causes of radioactive decay AND can account for and predict empirical data better than the models that do NOT involve underlying causes, then we are at a standstill. And the problem is that being at this standstill undermines the cosmological argument by virtue of there being the possibility – at this state of scientific knowledge – of apparently uncaused events.

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  85. Dmt117:

    >> I'm not sure the fact that certain QM interpretations deny those hidden variables reaches the status of a metaphysical denial of causality. At most it means that there is no causality that can be captured in the mathematical language recognized by QM. In other words, there is no causality that QM can "see." But it doesn't follow that there can't be any causality full stop, does it?

    Of course not. The map is not the terrain, after all. However, it also doesn’t follow that there MUST be causation. Neither implication necessarily follows from this state of affairs, and thus it is an open question. The very fact that it is an open question seems to undermine the metaphysical certainty that the cosmological argument is supposed to be. After all, it is supposed to be based upon premises that are so general as to be impossible to doubt. It seems that it might be possible to doubt one of the premises, and that would be a problem, I think.

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  86. @Verbose Stoic: Yes, Dennett's view is that the hidden preparation of mental activity gives the impression of choice. But if our 'choices' are entirely determined by rules, they are not choices at all. Dennett's attempt to reconcile materialism with rational choice just does away with choice, thus confirming (3). By calling our ability to exercise a power of choice, he does reject (4).

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  87. Mr. Green:

    >> No, because "underdetermined" doesn't really mean "uncaused", not in way it would have to in order to have any bearing on the cosmological argument. If QM really were uncaused in that sense, then we couldn't even deal with it statistically. A statistical law is still a law, and hence there are still causes at work in QM. (As for locality, or the lack thereof, there's nothing about it that is logically problematic. QM may seem weird in terms of what physicists were expecting, but there's nothing particularly metaphysically weird about it.)

    The bottom line is that your argument requires the assumption that if a statistical understanding of X is possible, then X must be caused by a number of factors, neither of which is determinate, and thus the best knowledge we can have is of a probabilistic nature. That is based upon our experience of the macroscopic world, and might not be applicable at the quantum level. Yes, it would be utterly bizarre if this assumption was false, but the quantum world is completely bizarre anyway, and so this is not helpful.

    At this time, no-one is aware of any causes of radioactive decay. They do not occur in QM models. They do not occur on this thread, I believe. They are not on anyone’s radar at all. Does that mean that they do not exist? Of course not. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Does that mean that they do exist? Of course not. Evidence of absence is evidence of absence.

    So, we are at the uncomfortable position of having a key premise of the cosmological argument being an open question in which there are good arguments on both sides, and there is no resolution or consensus. At this time, all parties are simply following their intuitions, theist, atheist, or otherwise. In that case, this key premise lacks the degree of certitude for metaphysical truth, I think.

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  88. Djindra:

    >> But if they would step back they might notice every effect does not have one cause. It has multiple causes. and those causes have even more multiple causes. Instead of a chain of causation we have a web of causation -- no, a regular implosion of causation. There is no way to trace any cause (or support of being) down to a First Cause (or ultimate support of being). Everything is in flux. Everything is connected. Everything is supported by an infinite web of neighbors.

    None of this is relevant. The cosmological argument would work even if there was a single causal relationship between A and B. The bottom line is that for a potential X to become an actual X requires the intervention of an actual Y. That is the key issue. Not whether there is a single or multiple causes for an event. If there is a transition from potency to act, then there must be something actual causing that transition. And this holds true at every moment of existence for every event, because you eventually must have pure act without any potency at all to underlie that entire causal web that you were talking about. That is the argument, at least.

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  89. Hi Ed,

    Do you have a blog post where you give your opinion as to the approximate point in the 14 billion year history of planet earth that your invisible sky-god decided to personally trot around the ancient Middle East for the purpose of allowing a bunch of ancient, superstitious, mostly uneducated and illiterate peasants hang him to a tree and savagely beat himself to death in the most disgusting, sickening, revolting, barbaric, immoral, vile manner humanly possible, all for the sake of some kind of Cro Magnon-level-mentality blood sacrifice?

    And how long, exactly, have you subscribed to this particular Stone Age lunacy?

    Thanks so much, and praise Jeezuus!!!

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  90. @ACurious mind, if you have to ask "what the hell original intentionality" is, then arguing with you isn't going to be a productive use of anyone's time. The notion of original intentionality is not esoteric. In fact, it is a pretty rudimentary concept in contemporary philosophy of mind. e.g. Some things, like minds, exhibit intentionality in and of themselves. Others, like linguistic artefacts, have it bestowed upon them through some kind of interpretive activity. The hard problem for materialists is to explain how a purely mechanical system like the human central nervous system could exhibit intentionality of either form. How do I know it is a "problem?" Because the materialists themselves have written thousands of pages over the last three decades trying to solve it.

    For the record, when fellows like Blue Devil Knight, Chuck, and dguller show up these threads are a pleasure to read. When BeingItself and Djindra do all the talking, not so much.

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  91. Kilo papa:

    First, I would presume that a believing Christian would answer your question with: the early first century C. E.

    Second, what anything that you have written has to do with the subject matter at hand is beyond me. We are discussing the cosmological argument. One can be a Jew, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or even just a theist, and agree with it. It has nothing particular to do with Christianity, except that Christians are amongst those who find it persuasive.

    Third, do you think that it is possible to find the cosmological argument compelling, but still reject organized religion? That seems to be the true root of your animosity. In other words, if this argument will lead you to organized religion, then you must attack the argument with all the scorn you can muster. What if it just led to the conclusion that the universe is grounded in a necessary being, perhaps along Spinoza’s lines? Would that be more acceptable to you? What if this being did not have to be Jesus at all?

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  92. @Eric 6:17,

    Let's call it what it is: Coyne is doing "Kabuki theater." He is going through the motions of offering a serious reply, but all he can actually do is write up another purely qualitative description of theology from the atheist point of view. And it isn't even a particularly insightful description; it's pedestrian even by Carl Sagan standards. Big hat, no cattle.

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  93. dguller,

    I'd reply in more detail to your comment ... but, essentially, at this point we're vigourously agreeing. We both thing that QM is something that adherents of the Cosmological Argument have to consider, but that QM is not a knockout punch to the Cosmological Argument.

    Since we agree, even if in slightly different contexts, I don't think we really need to argue over it anymore [grin].

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  94. Will,

    The problem is that Dennett explicitly sees choice as being nothing more than that narrow version, and thinks that you are defining choice far too broadly, and are just wrong about what choice is. That's why he rejects 3. If he could be convinced that your definition of choice is the only possible meaningful one, THEN he might reject 4 and be a determinist. Or, he might reject determinism and accept your argument, and become a libertarian. But right now, his argument is neither of those, and you can't make a presumption as to what his argument would be based on an interpretation of what he'd do if his current argument was defeated. You have to judge his argument based on what it is, not on what you think follows from it based on your argument.

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  95. Untenured said...

    "For the record, when fellows like Blue Devil Knight, Chuck, and dguller show up these threads are a pleasure to read. When BeingItself and Djindra do all the talking, not so much."

    Of course it's not a pleasure because I test your illusions. I don't accept this "Gnu Age" A-T nonsense.

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  96. dguller,

    "The cosmological argument would work even if there was a single causal relationship between A and B. "

    That's nonsense. The cosmological argument attempts to explain the actual world. If its advocates want to create a hypothetical world where only A and B exist then they are welcomed to do so. But it has no implication for us where things are messy.

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  97. Papa Kilo,

    As one atheist to another: you are of course free to make a fool of yourself! What bothers me is that some may get the impression that yours is a typical atheist intellectual level. AND manners. So, for the sake of the intellectual prestige of the atheist camp could you please try to restrain your jubilant ignorance? Please?
    Anonymous Listener

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  98. Verbose Stoic:

    >> We both thing that QM is something that adherents of the Cosmological Argument have to consider, but that QM is not a knockout punch to the Cosmological Argument.

    No, it is not a knockout punch, but it raises an important possibility that may undermine the cosmological argument, especially if it is construed as akin to a mathematical or logical proof. It is my understanding that the CA is supposed to be based upon premises that are intuitively obvious and empirically validated, and that from these premises infer the existence of a necessarily existing ground of all being of some sort.

    The big question is whether the fact that science is open to the possibility of one of those premises being wrong, and that this matter is an open question at this time, means that a key premise is not on solid ground. In the future, it might be, or it might be totally rejected, but right now, the most responsible position seems to be agnosticism about its veracity.

    And how well does the argument work if a key premise requires agnosticism rather than assent? I don’t think it bodes well for the argument at all. After all, once you insert “it might be the case that …” into the premise, then the conclusion no longer necessarily follows. All one can say is that it MIGHT be the case that a necessarily existing ground of all being must exist, but we do not know at this time. And if we do not know, then perhaps we should just be agnostic and stop talking about it until harder evidence comes along?

    >> Since we agree, even if in slightly different contexts, I don't think we really need to argue over it anymore [grin].

    But arguing is what I do! ;)

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  99. Djindra:

    >> That's nonsense. The cosmological argument attempts to explain the actual world. If its advocates want to create a hypothetical world where only A and B exist then they are welcomed to do so. But it has no implication for us where things are messy.

    I’m afraid that you are wrong. The cosmological argument applies whenever there is a transition from potentially X to actually X, and where this transition requires an actual Y to make it happen. It is like Darwinian evolution, which automatically happens once you have hereditary transmission of traits, differential fitness of those traits, and limited environmental resources. You can quibble about how it happens, and the details of the mechanics of the process, but to doubt that evolution happens in such a context is just wrongheaded.

    And the point is that it does not matter how many causal relationships actually exist in reality, whether a single A causes B relation, or the complex webs of causality that you seem to prefer, the bottom line is that they all involve the transition from potentially X to actually X in all of its stages, and each of these transitions requires something real to do the change from potential to actuality, and that this cannot go on forever, and must terminate – at all moments, and not just at the first moment – at a pure act without any potentiality whatsoever.

    Again, whether single causal relations or complex ones, the points still stand, and so your point about complex webs is just irrelevant to this argument.

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  100. Will,

    "That a calculating device can, for example, print out '2+2=4" in accordance with truth is irrelevant, for its ability to do so is not to be sought is not explicable in terms of the laws of physics that it obeys; one could make a device that printed out '2+2=17'. It can operate according to the laws of logic and mathematical truth only because it has been programmed to do so by a human mind."

    You know, this is just a variation of Paley's watchmaker. It's funny that Feser complains about Paley so much but Paley's argument is really a foundational belief in this A-T dogma. It's creationism from a different angle.

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  101. dguller,

    Come back to the real world. That's the ultimate test.

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  102. djindra:

    >> Come back to the real world. That's the ultimate test.

    What exactly did I say that was unreal or surreal?

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  103. I have never in my life seen so many proper uses of the term "begging the question" in one place at the same time.

    Today is a good day.

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  104. "I have never in my life seen so many proper uses of the term "begging the question" in one place at the same time.
    Today is a good day."

    Anonymous, I've tried to come up with a good way to explain what it means (generally) when we say that an argument begs the question (in the sense that at least one of its premises implicitly contain, presuppose, merely restate, etc. the argument's conclusion). Here's a simple 'rule of thumb' test I've come up with:

    Ask the person making the claim which premise(s) he has a problem with. When he tells you what one, ask him, "Is that premise consistent with the *negation* of the conclusion?" If it is, then the premise obviously cannot contain, restate, presuppose, etc. the conclusion, and hence the argument cannot (with regard to that premise) be question begging (in the sense I mentioned).

    What do you think?

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  105. Untenured:

    Regarding intrinsic intentionality, it is definitely a challenge for materialist conceptions of mind. The closest that I can come to starting to resolve the issue is to make intentionality of the mind as parasitic upon the teleological patterns in the world. In other words, there are patterns that exist in the natural world, and once a brain is capable of tracking those patterns by representing them in some fashion, then you have the first step of intentionality, or proto-intentionality.

    I can conceive of a bacterium’s movement towards a nutritional source as being “about” nutrition, and perhaps our intentionality is simply a more complex and sophisticated version of this rudimentary natural process. In other words, our ability to have thoughts about states of affairs presupposes having accurate representations of states of affairs, and then having the second-order mental process of recognizing our thoughts as being mental representations about states of affairs in the world.

    This is a thumbnail sketch for sure, and additional feedback would be appreciated.

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  106. Anonymous,

    "I have never in my life seen so many proper uses of the term 'begging the question' in one place at the same time."

    I have. I've read Philosophy of Mind and TLS.

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  107. As to quantum events being 'uncaused':

    An idea that some people have is that certain effects have been shown by science to be uncaused. Adding to the confusion are careless pronouncements by some cosmologists like "the universe may have spontaneously sprung into existence from nothing".

    Are there ‘uncaused’ events in science? Let us look at science in practice. As far as I know, being a scientist myself, in the tens of thousands scientific laboratories around the world the principle of looking for natural causes to natural effects is still very much alive. In fact, science as it is currently practiced and will be in the foreseeable future, is firmly based on this central principle. It obviously includes the broader assumption that every effect has a cause.

    There appears to be some confusion, however, as to whether the findings from quantum mechanics suggest a loosening of the bond between cause and effect. Such a loosening does not really take place. Yet what does happen in the realm of quantum processes, is that a cause does not have a deterministic effect anymore, but a probabilistic effect. That the bond between cause and effect is unbroken is proven by the fact that the statistical distribution of the effects can be represented by exact mathematical formulas.

    This can be well illustrated by radioactive decay: The cause for radioactive decay is the instability of certain types of atom which triggers them to loose a particle, e.g. a beta-particle, and in the process to convert into another element. Yet radioactive decay is also a quantum process.

    If you have an agglomeration of 32-Phosphorus (32-P) atoms, or an agglomeration of molecules containing 32-P atoms, it is impossible to tell which one of the 32-P atoms will decay next to give stable 32-Sulfur (32-S). However, it is known that the half-life of 32-P is 14.28 days, i.e. after this time half of the material has decayed to 32-S, regardless which precise molecules out of the agglomeration of atoms do the decaying. This holds for any quantity of 32-P that is more than unimaginably miniscule. Even a chemically barely detectable trace amount of 1 femtomol still has 600 million atoms 32-P atoms. Obviously, this is still such a huge number that, statistically, also this tiny trace amount will always decay with a half-life of precisely 14.28 days. The cause for the decay is the instability of the 32-P nucleus, and the effect is always this precisely determinable half-life. Thus, there is a clear correlation between cause and effect, a probabilistically determined correlation. Certainly, on the local level of the lowest imaginable quantities, statistics cease to work, but the correlation between cause and effect is still there. Let us assume, hypothetically, that we have an agglomerate of just three 32-P atoms. One may decay in, let’s say, the next two minutes, one in 4 weeks, and another one in 10 months. Obviously, a statistically determined half-life of 14.28 days will only work on a global level of many atoms, but not on the local level of these three atoms. The effect is random – who can predict when exactly these three atoms will decay? Nobody can. But is the cause for the decay different from that for a larger agglomeration of 32-P atoms, for which a half-life of precisely 14.28 days could be determined? No, of course not. The cause is still the exact same instability of the 32-P nucleus.

    Thus, the effect of decay is still tied to that cause, even though the factor of precise statistical determinability falls away. The cause is the same, regardless if the effect is that the decay takes place within 2 minutes, or after 10 months.

    ***

    It should be clear from this that the concepts of ‘random effect’ and ‘cause-less effect’ are two very different things. ‘Random’ in science means ‘by chance’, ‘unpredictable’, ‘indeterministic’ but not ‘uncaused’.

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  108. dguller,

    "What exactly did I say that was unreal or surreal?"

    For starters, there is this: "whenever there is a transition from potentially X to actually X, and where this transition requires an actual Y to make it happen."

    "Potentially" and "actuality"? Really?

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  109. djindra,

    "Potentially" and "actuality"? Really?"

    What exactly is your argument? Doesn't appear that you made one.

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  110. As one atheist to another: you are of course free to make a fool of yourself! What bothers me is that some may get the impression that yours is a typical atheist intellectual level. AND manners. So, for the sake of the intellectual prestige of the atheist camp could you please try to restrain your jubilant ignorance? Please?

    Unfortunately, Papa Kilo and djindra do, in fact, represent the typical atheist intellectual level.

    "Anonymous" is the refreshing exception to the rule.

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  111. @dguller:

    You suggestion is, indeed, how most materialists attempt to explain intentionality: in terms of causal/informational covariations between states of the mind and states of the external environment. On this approach, a mental state is "about" something if it is regularly and reliably caused by things of that type, and if it also meets certain further conditions. (Some philosophers specify these further conditions in evolutionary terms, others do not.) If it works, then this approach assimilates mental "aboutness" to more rudimentary forms of "aboutness" like the staining red of litmus paper and the rusting of a metal bar in a saline solution.

    The problem is that this approach has a notoriously hard time explaining how a mental state could misrepresent something, or how it could represent something that does not exist, or how mental states could have determinate contents, or how there can be different contents that necessarily pick out the same extension. ("trilateral" and "triangle") A good overview to these issues can be found in Barry Loewer's essay _A Guide to Naturalizing Semantics_. He explains all this better than I can do in a mere combox discussion and should provide avenues for further reading. Hope this helps.

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  112. "Potentially" and "actuality"? Really?

    Really? I mean, like, you know, like, really? For real? OMG.

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  113. "Potentially" and "actuality"? Really?

    "Really? I mean, like, you know, like, really? For real? OMG."

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6yMiOTxidFs&feature=channel_video_title

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  114. Djindra:

    >> "Potentially" and "actuality"? Really?

    Look at the following two propositions:

    (1) X could exist.
    (2) X does exist.

    You would have me believe that you think that there is something deeply, profoundly wrong with saying (1) or (2). And if you think that (1) and (2) are perfectly fine propositions, then you really have no objection to potentiality and actuality, because they are the same thing. In fact, this very distinction is present in physics, i.e. potential energy and kinetic energy, for example. Perhaps physics is equally repugnant to you?

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  115. Al Moritz:

    I am highly sympathetic to your comments, but the reality is that the current level of scientific knowledge of quantum phenomena has been unable to discover what actually causes the instability in an atom to result in radioactive decay at one time rather than another. Sure, it could be due to a multifactorial process that our current scientific models simply do not account for. That is perfectly reasonable, especially since it is consistent with all our experience and most scientific knowledge. However, it could also be the case that at this level of reality, the bizarre is the rule, and uncaused events can occur. Certainly, this would be highly counterintuitive, but I think that when it comes to quantum phenomena, we have often had to check our intuitions at the door.

    I think that both sides to this story have reasonable cases to make, but the reality is that it is an open question at this time. I think that it is probably best to just be agnostic on this issue, continue to work away at trying to find the underlying causes of such quantum events, if they exist. Maybe this is unfair, because no matter how deep our explanations go, there will always be a level of reality beyond our comprehension, and so perhaps this debate will never be concluded with a consensus-based resolution. However, in that case, it does not change the fact that the cosmological argument might be based upon a premise that could be false, and that we simply lack the knowledge to determine whether it is true at all.

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  116. djindra writes: "I do believe in categories that we define in our heads and I believe nature develops categories of things we can then classify."

    Where in "my head" is "Question begging," to the right of my left ear lob?

    "Nature develops categories" is pure bluster and no explanation at all. Suppose, I say, nature develops in us a belief in God, just as it develops in us a belief that question begging arguments are wrong? You would, rightfully, point out that explaining how I acquired a belief is not the same as justifying it. So, back at it you, big guy.

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  117. How about we just direct folks like djindra to the real-world equivalent of www.pastorbob.com and let them debate those folks. Folks like djindra seem to be the only ones concerned with Pastor Bobs, so why not direct them elsewhere? Why should we be forced to deal with the "Pastor Bob Problem?" It's not ours.

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  118. djinadra finds this confusing: "whenever there is a transition from potentially X to actually X, and where this transition requires an actual Y to make it happen."

    When Senator Obama transitioned from potential president to actual president certain things had to be actual: (1) Senator Obama, (2) an election, and (3) a system of government that is able to facilitate the transition.

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  119. Donny boy Jindra,

    You are a twit sir, but are always fun for a laugh. Have a good day.

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  120. dguller:

    Al Moritz:

    I am highly sympathetic to your comments, but the reality is that the current level of scientific knowledge of quantum phenomena has been unable to discover what actually causes the instability in an atom to result in radioactive decay at one time rather than another.


    False:

    http://www.epa.gov/radiation/understand/radiation.html

    Therefore, the remainder of your argument falls apart.

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  121. Al:

    I’ll defer to your expertise in this area. Certainly, it makes little sense to me to have ex nihilo events at the quantum level, or at any level for that matter, but I’ve had my intuitions violated on a number of occasions when it comes to quantum phenomena that I am always open to the possibility that it might happen again. In this case, I’m happy to see that my intuitions are preserved, and that these quantum events may lack a determinate cause, but rather have a multitude of causes in the form of particle interactions and energy fields that result in a level of instability that eventually stabilizes through the radioactive decay. That makes MUCH more sense to me, and it pleases me even more that this seems to preserve the cosmological argument.

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  122. dguller,

    About the only thing we still disagree on is about what it means to be "agnostic". You explicitly claim that we should stop talking about it, but how are we ever going to know whether or not it works if we don't talk about how it might work and how it might be able to address challenges?

    I have no problem with people talking about the Cosmological Argument and trying to show it true, even though I don't think it works. I don't even have a problem with them thinking it's true and not quite addressing QM. Ultimately, to return to some of the initial threads here, doing theology is about talking about these things and figuring out what works and what doesn't, and if we have to stop talking about an argument the instant there's a challenge there's not going to be a lot of progress made.

    We need to look for the harder evidence, and determine what seems most likely to be the case, even if we can't say it with logical certainty.

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  123. dguller:

    I am glad we could come to an understanding on the issue.

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  124. Verbose Stoic:

    You are correct. I should have written that we can still talk about it, seeking better refinements in the ideas, and better empirical evidence to support it, but withhold our assent or rejection of the conclusions until the evidence supports one or the other.

    Anyway, Al has clarified things helpfully for me. It seems that quantum events are similar to most phenomena that we can best understand statistically, i.e. as complex and multifactorial events that may lack a determinate cause, but certainly are not ex nihilo events.

    Given that, I think that it is quite clear that reason itself compels us to the conclusion of a First Cause. Perhaps another avenue of criticism is whether reason may be overstepping its bounds in making this conclusion? Perhaps reason is most reliable in the realm of space-time, and not outside of it? And with regards to the truths of mathematics and logic, they have applications that work splendidly well in the empirical world, which can justify their truth. What similar confirmatory experience do we have with a First Cause that is analogous to this? Perhaps we cannot have any such experience, which complicates things somewhat.

    Any thoughts?

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  125. dguller,

    It looks like further posts have overtaken our discussion. Enjoyed it and wish you the best.

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  126. dguller,

    The first thing I'd probably say is that the truths of mathematics and logic would be justified even if they didn't work out in the world at all. It's still true that parallel lines never cross in a Euclidean geometry even if our universe is not Euclidean. Demanding that mathematics and logic and things like that conform to some kind of empirical observation seems to rather miss the point. And, I'd say, the same thing seems apply to arguments like the Cosmological and Ontological arguments. They aren't empirically based, so why would we care about getting empirical evidence for them?

    For me, that there is some kind of "necessary entity" seems pretty reasonable. That's not my objection to the Cosmological Argument. My objection is precisely that the Cosmological Argument in and of itself can't say anything about what that necessary thing IS. Why can't it be the universe, if the universe is a thing? Why can't it just be energy itself, which physics has already at least loosely argued can't be created or destroyed, and so seems pretty necessary to me on that sort of loose description? Why can't there be more than one necessary thing?

    I don't see reason overstepping its bounds here, and if it is then nothing can actually get an answer. But we don't have any reason to think that reason's not applicable here. However, that does not mean that you can get to "God" from the CA.

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  127. LOL.
    So every objection is "begging the question", everyone who disagrees doesn't know what they're doing, the fact that overwhelming majority of philosophers (by your own admission) dismisses the outdated cosmological argument means that they're just out to get religion...

    That's a lot of apologizing and complaining instead of presenting your view and letting the chips fall where they may.

    But hey, maybe your loyal readers making fun of loyal readers of other blogs will provide the intellectual heft that you need to rescue your pet theory from the doldrums of irrelevance.

    However, if you're a tenth as confident as you make yourself sound, present your version of the cosmological argument in a concise form, and let others pick over it. Do you dare? I do doubt...

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  128. @dan:

    From the post:
    "I’m not going to present and defend any version of the cosmological argument here. I’ve done that at length in my books Aquinas and The Last Superstition, and it needs to be done at length rather than in the context of a blog post. The reason is that, while the basic structure of the main versions of the argument is fairly simple, the background metaphysics necessary to a proper understanding of the key terms and inferences is not. It needs some spelling out, which is why Aquinas and The Last Superstition each devote a long chapter to general metaphysics before addressing the question of God’s existence. The serious objections to the argument can in my view all be answered, but that too can properly be done only after the background ideas have been set out. And that too is a task carried out in the books."

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  129. Fair enough. My mistake.

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  130. Dr Feser, I have pretty much given up reading blogs, thinking life is too short to spend that much of it online. But I do miss this one and couldn't resist a peek today after a long absence. Glad you are still knocking 'em out of the park...

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  131. @dan,

    If you want to understand the Riemann sum, try starting to count. Just like there are books that will help you do basic arithmetic, there are books that will help you with metaphysics.

    The Riemann sum is pretty simple. Without a basic knowledge of arithmetic it is gibberish and you are unlikely to actually grasp the concept. Similarly, without knowledge of the basic metaphysics underlying the argument you are unlikely to actually understand the argument. Don't be lazy, read.

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  132. Verbose Stoic,

    "I'd say, the same thing seems apply to arguments like the Cosmological and Ontological arguments. They aren't empirically based, so why would we care about getting empirical evidence for them?"

    The cosmological argument is empirically based, unlike the ontological argument.

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  133. Verbose Stoic:

    >> The first thing I'd probably say is that the truths of mathematics and logic would be justified even if they didn't work out in the world at all. It's still true that parallel lines never cross in a Euclidean geometry even if our universe is not Euclidean.

    But they would be true in the same way that there are qualities of fictional characters that are true within the context of their fictional universes. In other words, once one starts with a set of assumptions, then one can follow the implications of those assumptions. It does not necessarily follow that the conclusions indicate anything true in the world, which is the type of truth that I think most of us are interested in. The shape of Harry Potter’s glasses may be important to a Harry Potter fan, but I couldn’t care less about this truth, mainly because it is fictional.

    >> Demanding that mathematics and logic and things like that conform to some kind of empirical observation seems to rather miss the point. And, I'd say, the same thing seems apply to arguments like the Cosmological and Ontological arguments. They aren't empirically based, so why would we care about getting empirical evidence for them?

    Because that is how we know if they actually touch the real world, and are not just empty speculations. Take something like string theory, which is supposed to be a beautiful physical theory that would be wonderful if true, but the fact that it lacks any verification or confirmation in the world means that it must be taken as only possibly or hypothetically true. I view mathematics and logic in a similar light. Unless their theorems and conclusions can be applicable in the world, then I just do not know if they are true in the sense that I am interested in. They may be true-in-mathematics, but I am interested in true-in-the-world.

    Similarly, I can understand that the moves involved in metaphysical argumentation do not necessarily involve empirical verification, but I think that there should be some form of feedback from reality to help us know if our conclusions are true or false. Without such feedback, it is like having a prediction machine without the ability to check if the predictions are accurate or inaccurate.

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  134. >> For me, that there is some kind of "necessary entity" seems pretty reasonable. That's not my objection to the Cosmological Argument. My objection is precisely that the Cosmological Argument in and of itself can't say anything about what that necessary thing IS. Why can't it be the universe, if the universe is a thing? Why can't it just be energy itself, which physics has already at least loosely argued can't be created or destroyed, and so seems pretty necessary to me on that sort of loose description? Why can't there be more than one necessary thing?

    Well, if you accept the Aristotelian-Thomist framework for the argument, then the reasons become clear. The universe cannot be the necessary entity, because it is mutable and changes, which means that it is a composition of potency and act, and thus cannot be the pure act required to be the first cause. In addition, if there were two necessary things, then they would have to differ in some qualities, which means that one would have what the other lacked, and thus there would be some potency present, which is impossible for something that is pure act. And if there are no differences between the two, then that just means that there is just one thing after all. At least, these are some of the arguments that I recall from Feser’s books.

    You seem to prefer a Spinozist account in which all that exists is just the universe and nothing else, and the universe is simply the manipulations of matter and energy within space-time into different compositions. I also find this account appealing, but it would not sit well with the type of being the cosmological argument requires to be the first cause, which is a being that is pure act without any potency. Maybe one way to make this possible would be to imagine the universe from a higher dimension. In other words, if the universe is just what happens in the space-time continuum, then if you looked at the space-time continuum from outside space-time, then you would not see an unfolding sequence of events in time, because you are outside time, but rather just a frozen shape. Maybe in that way, one can imagine there being no potency in the universe, i.e. from the proper perspective of outside space-time?

    >> I don't see reason overstepping its bounds here, and if it is then nothing can actually get an answer. But we don't have any reason to think that reason's not applicable here. However, that does not mean that you can get to "God" from the CA.

    First, if reason has limits, which is likely, given the fact that it is a human tool that we use to discover the truth, and humans are finite and limited themselves, then when it goes beyond its limits, then its results are unreliable. It seems possible, at least to me, that there are some aspects of reality that have patterns and regularities that are different from those operative in the world that we understand, and that our form of logic and reason would be ill-suited to map those regularities, and thus our conclusions from logic and reason would be unreliable. I do not know if this is the case, but the reality is, I don’t think anyone knows that it is or isn’t the case, either, because we have no experience of deeper levels of reality, and thus do not know if our rational conclusions are accurate representations of what is going on there.

    Second, you may not get God from the cosmological argument, but you get a number of his qualities. My doubt does not come from the first cause being immaterial, infinite, all-powerful, and so on, but rather the mental qualities that it allegedly has. And without those mental qualities of intellect and will, I cannot possibly imagine such a being as God at all. It is more like an impersonal geyser-like entity that ejects pulses of reality from itself than a person willing reality into existence.

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  135. @mind,acurious
    someone will have to explain to me in how far "the ability to become" anything is a property of an object.

    Simple. It's not a property of an object. When it is actualized, it may become a property.

    But I am sure this is not as stupid as I understood it, so please enlighten me.

    A first cause is one that is not purely instrumental. Consider that the music of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A is caused by the clarinet, and in fact the vibrations of the air column are caused specifically by the vibrating reed and by the modulations of the keys. So far as a materialist is concerned, the physics description is complete. But the reed, the keys, and the clarinet as a whole cannot be in motion unless a first mover puts them in motion; to wit, Sharon Kam. The clarinet is a second cause; Ms. Kam is a first cause. Such secondary causes are also called "instrumental" causes because they lack all causal power until and when a primary cause is moving them.

    What identifies a "being" uniquely?

    An act of existence. Anything satisfying "to be" in a substantive sense.

    What is there about the big blue bouncy ball that stays with is when it becomes a big red bouncy ball

    It remains a ball.

    And - what metaphyiscal meaning has pure potency? If pure actuality is god, I find it reasonable that pure potency should have a similar...extraordinary status.

    It does. It's called "prime matter," or hyle prote. It is that which persists through change. This is extraordinarily hard to get a grip on other than as an abstraction. The matter of the big blue bouncy ball is rubber, even when it is painted red, or even when it is melted into a flat puddle and loses the form of "ball"!

    However, if change is pressed further, the matter can lose the form even of rubber and become the various molecular components of CH2=C(CH3)CH-CH2-. And broken still further into C and H "atoms." And even the atoms can be broken (which is why they are not true atoms) into protons, neutrons, and whatever it is that electrons are. And protons and neutrons can supposedly be broken into "quarks" (which are thus far mathematical terms in equations); and since quarks can be distinguished one from another, even quarks are composed of parts. That there must be some basis for the conservation of mass-energy (the modern way of saying "that which persists through change") would seem reasonable, even if we cannot in principle ever "see" it empirically.

    The closest to prime matter thus far is the dark matter that supposedly stuffs the "vacuum" of space, the relativistic ether of Einstein, and the quantum vacuum of QM.

    Hope this helps.

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  136. "Then what maintains the being of God?"

    What keeps existence itself in existence?

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  137. That was my reaction to just the snippets of Hawking's book I read. He basically says that something like a law of gravity can make it so that you can get something from nothing. But then what is a law of gravity?

    What is the law of gravity? Words. So Hawking says that in the beginning was the Word, and through it everything was made.

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  138. Dennett's view is that the hidden preparation of mental activity gives the impression of choice. But if our 'choices' are entirely determined by rules, they are not choices at all. Dennett's attempt to reconcile materialism with rational choice just does away with choice, thus confirming (3).

    Alas, Dennett had no choice but to say that.

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  139. As an admittedly philosophically naive atheist, I'm wondering whether Professor Feser or another informed person could reply to a thought I have about this argument. If the first premise is "what comes into existence has a cause," it seem clear that the "what" includes the universe we inhabit. Indeed, that is the specific thing it is applied to, so it seems to me that the implicit premise is "Universes that we inhabit that come into existence have a cause." Is that fair? If so, this strikes me as an extremely dubious premise--what do we know about the causation of universes, particularly our own universe? Very little. Aquinas knew less. Please tell me where you think I've gone wrong...

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  140. At this time, no-one is aware of any causes of radioactive decay. They do not occur in QM models.

    In quantum mechanics there are no particles, either. Particles are only fluctuations in quantum fields - Heisenberg said that objective existence was too simplistic a concept for them - and particle-particle interactions are simply superposition of fields. Since there is no time factor in the QM equations, causality in the sense of this coming before that does not apply. But causality in the sense used by Aquinas is concurrent, like action causes reaction, or field superpositioning on field. From the AT perspective, the cause of the particle interactions leading to the radioactivity is "superposition of fields."

    Of course, standard model quantum theory is also incompatible with general relativity. The two theories predict or require cosmological constants that differ by a couple orders of magnitude. One or both must be wrong as it stands, so it is premature to hang one's hat on one interpretation of QM vs. another interpretation.

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  141. The cosmological argument attempts to explain the actual world.

    No, actually it does not. It attempts to make deductions from the real world. Explaining the secondary causes within the real world is the job of physics.

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  142. dguller:

    In one, you wrote: "Grandfather must be ill because he hasn't gotten up yet." I would presume that there would have to be a causal connection between someone being ill and someone being unable to get up, i.e. due to weakness, pain, and so on. In other words, this is still an explanation that involves causation at its core, because without that causal relationship, then the inference that was made would not be possible. In fact, the inference is a poor one, because it commits the fallacy of affirming the consequent. After all, there are lots of reasons for not getting up, e.g. being lazy.

    In the other example, you wrote: "It must have hurt him because he cried out". Again, unless there was the causal relationship between being hurt and crying out, this reason would be impossible. It relies upon the major premise: "If X is hurt, then X will cry out," which is a logical construction of a causal relationship. And again, your example commits the fallacy of affirming the consequent, i.e. the fact that he cried out means that he must be been hurt.


    These statements are not of the form you suggest: "If X is hurt, then X will cry out"--and the statement "Grandfather must be ill because he hasn't gotten out of be" is not articulating a causal relationship. The former is of the form "If X cries out, then X must be hurt," which is entirely different. And the latter does not go from "Grandfather being ill" to "not getting out of bed," but the opposite direction. You have taken inferential statements that proceed from effect to likely cause and turned them into statements that go from cause to effect and then say that they are not good cause and effect statements. That's because they are not cause and effect statements at all. They are ground/consequent statements concerning causal relations.

    I am unclear on why an inferential statement must be considered a causal statement if the inference is about a cause any more than an inferential statement must be considered a emotional statement if the inference is about an emotion--or than an inferential statement must be considered green if the inference is about a green thing.

    Maybe you could clarify.

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  143. Martin:

    >> You have taken inferential statements that proceed from effect to likely cause and turned them into statements that go from cause to effect and then say that they are not good cause and effect statements. That's because they are not cause and effect statements at all. They are ground/consequent statements concerning causal relations.

    Whether I take statements from cause to effect or effect to cause, don’t they both necessarily involve CAUSATION?

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  144. @Anonymous #n
    If the first premise is "what comes into existence has a cause," it seem clear that the "what" includes the universe we inhabit.

    Not exactly. The universe is a set of things, not a thing per se. The "universe" exists if any one thing exists. As Einstein observed, without matter, there would be no space or time.

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  145. dguller,

    Whether I take statements from cause to effect or effect to cause, don't they both necessarily involve CAUSATION?

    I did not say they didn't involve causation: I said that cause and effect statements were not the same kind of statements as ground/consequent statements.

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  146. dguller:

    "If there are uncaused events in the quantum realm, then this premise is false, because something went from potentially decaying to actually decaying all by itself without an outside actual agent to cause the change."

    But it didn't go from potentially decaying to actually decaying all by itself. It went from potentially decaying to actually decaying because of something we don't understand -- something that is not a mechanism or "agent" as we think of it. That is not the same as saying it is uncaused.

    I don't understand your argument although it intrigues me. The phenomenon of radioactive decay is measurable and predictable. It exists. It apparently follows a law or a process or a force, or whatever we want to call it, that we can't account for. But the fact that it does so demonstrates that there is a cause. You seem to be arguing that 1) something predictably and inevitably does something, 2) we don't know the cause of it, so 3) there is no cause.

    That conclusion makes no sense to me.

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  147. TheOFloinn said...
    The universe is a set of things, not a thing per se. The "universe" exists if any one thing exists. As Einstein observed, without matter, there would be no space or time.

    Thanks for the reply, though I don't think I understand your point. I'm with you on the interdependence of time, space and matter. But isn't this argument claiming that the cosmos we inhabit, must of had a cause, and then arguing further to conclude that a realm outside time and space must exist? I guess I'm asking how the issues about matter, etc. that you raise should alter my understanding of the CA or somehow invalidate my concern that the first premise is without any firm basis.

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  148. Anyone else find it really odd that Coyne and Co. are hardcore determinists, yet place a large existential importance on the outcomes of soccer matches?

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  149. TheOFloinn says:

    The universe is a set of things, not a thing per se.

    But is a set not a thing?
    Or, to put it differently, is there a thing which is not a set?

    I assume we are free to define sets according to a particular need, or convention, or completely arbitrarily at whim. Am I wrong? If so, why? And if not why should universe be en exception?

    thank you,

    Anonymous listener.

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  150. djindra: Of course it's not a pleasure because I test your illusions.

    You misspelled "patience".

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  151. Martin:

    >> I did not say they didn't involve causation: I said that cause and effect statements were not the same kind of statements as ground/consequent statements.

    But would these ground/consequent statements be even possible without a basis in causation? And if they are dependent upon causal relationships in the world for their sense and meaning, then what exactly are we arguing about?

    As I said earlier, I look at reasons as (a) special types of causes, typically involved in explaining human behavior by invoking the mental states that caused the behavior, and (b) as mental representations of causes in general.

    With (a), you can say things like “John went to visit his mother, because he missed her”. In that sense, the reason for the visit was the mental state of missing his mother. But, this is just a special type of cause, because the mental state of missing his mother caused the behavior of visiting her. Again, this is all just causation.

    With (b), you can say things like “The rock fell, because gravity pulled it down”. In that sense, the reason for the rock’s falling was the gravitational pull. Again, the gravitational pull is what caused the rock to fall, and thus inherently involves causation.

    I believe that I am missing your point, because we both agree that your examples all necessarily involve causation. My contention is that ALL reasons necessarily involve causation in some respect. Even the reasons involved in logical and mathematical reasoning can be construed as causal, because the premises cause the conclusions to be true by retaining their truth-value through the appropriate use of the rules of inference. I guess that any time you use the “if P, then Q” relation, then causality is automatically involved, and I would be hard pressed to find a reason that did not rely upon this relation, and thus must rely upon causality.

    Any thoughts?

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  152. Gail F:

    >> The phenomenon of radioactive decay is measurable and predictable. It exists. It apparently follows a law or a process or a force, or whatever we want to call it, that we can't account for. But the fact that it does so demonstrates that there is a cause. You seem to be arguing that 1) something predictably and inevitably does something, 2) we don't know the cause of it, so 3) there is no cause.

    I was not arguing (3) at all. I was arguing (3’) there MIGHT be no cause. This was on the basis of the fact that I thought that the probability calculations of radioactive decay made no mention of antecedent causal factors that combined to result in the decay. I could conceive of an argument being made that because QM is the most successful scientific theory in terms of predictive capacity that if it did not require the inclusion of antecedent conditions for its understanding of radioactive decay, then an interpretation was possible of QM where there are no such conditions, and thus uncaused events are possible.

    Al corrected my understanding that at the quantum level, even if the QM calculations make no mention of the antecedent conditions, there are certainly numerous subatomic phenomena that could combine to cause the radioactive decay. What that means is that even though these phenomena are not part of the QM probability calculations is irrelevant, because they could be exerting their combined effect in a way that is just missed by QM at this time. In other words, QM is incomplete.

    As I mentioned on another blog, to argue otherwise would be like saying that because Newtonian mechanics makes no mention of atoms, then atoms are not involved in the movement of bodies in space, which is clearly fallacious.

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  153. Thomas Aquinas,

    I doubt you have any serious objection to my observation that nature develops categories of things. It was not really meant as an argument for nominalism (as you seemed to take it). It was meant to make it clear I do not believe in an extreme sort of nominalism. Apples and oranges really are different. Apples really do have qualities that unite them as a group. IOW, these distinguishable groups are not human inventions.

    But since you took my words differently I'll follow through.

    I made this statement in response to your claim that I must believe in universals simply because I noted someone else was "begging the question." Your insinuation was that identifying a fallacy-type contradicted my objection to universals. I suppose your position could be that one needs to believe in the ontological "existence" of universals prior to being able to make use of language. IOW, you might be suggesting that language itself is proof that nominalism can't be so. We can dismiss this by noting that categories or species of things are in nature prior to our having formed any word for the category. They are identifiable quite independently of our language. Types of behavior also happen independently of our language. I'll put "question begging" down as a type of behavior.

    OTOH maybe you were insinuating that from your POV I was using "begging the question" in a manner that was consistent with your belief in universals. But from my POV I was using it in a manner consistent with my opposing belief. So for you to simply decide your POV of my language is superior to mine -- well, that's also begging the question.

    Or you may have had something else in mind.

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  154. Mark Duch,

    "Folks like djindra seem to be the only ones concerned with Pastor Bobs, so why not direct them elsewhere?"

    Feser brought up Pastor Bob. He wants to distance himself from Pastor Bob. But now that I think of it, has anyone actually seen Feser and Pastor Bob in the same room at the same time? Could they be one and the same person? You peek closely and both look freakishly alike. It makes one wonder.

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  155. dguller,

    Potential energy and kinetic energy are measurable. "Potentially" and "actuality" are not. The terms as used here are a theory of being that claims science and measurement and energy are not relevant to the issue. I fail to see the similarity.

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  156. Djindra:

    "Potential energy and kinetic energy are measurable. "Potentially" and "actuality" are not. "

    Potentiality, or actuality are either there or not and one can express it by either "1" or "0".
    In other words,one can measure them. The fact that the result of the measurement can only assume two values is irrelevant to your point.

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  157. I don't see why atheists have to refute the cosmological argument period. They only have to refute the cosmological argument for the existence of God....not the cosmological argument period. Now onto the cosmological argument period.

    "1.Every finite and contingent being has a cause.
    2.A causal loop cannot exist.
    3.A causal chain cannot be of infinite length.
    4.Therefore, a First Cause (or something that is not an effect) must exist."

    Now, if we accept all the first three premises then obviously we must conclude that a first uncaused cause exists. But this has absolutely nothing to do with God. God is something a lot more specific than an uncaused cause. God is a supernatural consciousness that transcends the laws of the universe and often is assumed to possess certain attributes such as omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, etc, etc, etc. To make a cosmological argument for the existence of God is a completely different intellectual undertaking. Now onto the cosmological arguments for the existence of God.

    The first step to prove God exists is to prove that either the beginning of the universe itself or something within the universe is contingent upon an independent uncaused cause. If this cannot be proven then there is no point in asking is God the uncaused cause.

    "1.Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
    2.The Universe began to exist.
    3.Therefore, the Universe had a cause."

    This is the basic formulation of argument that the beginning of the universe itself is contingent. The problem with this argument is that premise one is unfalsifiable. Humans are finite creatures that a dependent upon the laws of the universe. How are they supposed to test whether the universe's beginning had a cause? They can't. They are trapped within the universe and thus cannot possess such knowledge. The laws of causality maybe observable to everything else, but it's not observable in regard to the beginning of the universe itself.

    Now it can still be argued that certain elements WITHIN the universe can only be caused by an uncaused cause. The most notable area where such claims are made would be evolution. The problem with making such claims is they amount to appeal to ignorance or God of the Gaps arguments. In order for scientific understanding to progress we need to admit when we don't know something that we don't know and hope that a naturalistic explanation will arise in the future otherwise we will never experience the utilitarian results of science. Instead of building up naturalistic explanations of things we just be stuck with "God did it" and never understand anything.

    Atheists do not "worship science". Science has yielded demonstrable, pleasurable results awhile religion promises pleasure in some afterlife which is not demonstrable. To equate the two is to engage in projection.

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  158. DaveElectric,

    Can you explain to me why atheists like to "refute" arguments before knowing the full case for them? What is going on there?

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  159. Djindra:

    >> Potential energy and kinetic energy are measurable. "Potentially" and "actuality" are not. The terms as used here are a theory of being that claims science and measurement and energy are not relevant to the issue. I fail to see the similarity.

    Let us simplify matters even further, which may be helpful.

    Look at the following propositions:

    (1) John could be a pianist.
    (2) John is a pianist.

    I think that you will agree that (1) and (2) make perfect sense despite the fact that (1) is unmeasurable. And they make sense, because they are based upon the following general propositions:

    (1’) Subject S could be X
    (2’) Subject S is X

    I think that (1’) and (2’) are equally sensible and coherent. And if they are sensible, then I fail to see how you can reject the abstract concepts of potentiality and actuality. After all, they are just general descriptions of situations in which something could be the case, but is not the case (i.e. (1’)) versus something that is the case (i.e. (2’)).

    Honestly, this is all very straightforward and non-controversial that I wonder why you are debating such obvious points. To adhere to your position would require (1’) and (2’) to be false and incoherent. The fact that they clearly are sensible seems to negate your position.

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  160. @DaveElectric:

    It might help if you actually read the answers to some of your objections presented in the post that you are commenting on...

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  161. DaveElectric:

    >> This is the basic formulation of argument that the beginning of the universe itself is contingent.

    Unfortunately, that is not the argument at all, because the argument is silent on whether the universe had a beginning in time, which is actually irrelevant. It begins with the present reality of changing phenomena, and asks how this is possible, right now. It then concludes that for this to be possible, right now, there must be an end to the chain of causes operating right now in First Cause.

    >> The problem with this argument is that premise one is unfalsifiable. Humans are finite creatures that a dependent upon the laws of the universe. How are they supposed to test whether the universe's beginning had a cause? They can't. They are trapped within the universe and thus cannot possess such knowledge. The laws of causality maybe observable to everything else, but it's not observable in regard to the beginning of the universe itself.

    That is a fair point, and one that I am sympathetic to, especially because I am unsure whether reason itself is limited to aspects of reality that we can receive feedback from to confirm that our conclusions are true. However, this has nothing to do with the cosmological argument at all, at least as far as Aquinas has presented it.

    >> Now it can still be argued that certain elements WITHIN the universe can only be caused by an uncaused cause.

    But the uncaused cause could not be in the universe at all, especially if the universe is defined as the changing events in space-time. This is because the uncaused cause cannot change at all, and if change is inherent to the universe, then the uncaused cause cannot be in the universe at all.

    >> The most notable area where such claims are made would be evolution.

    As far as I know, evolution is firmly embedded within a causal matrix in which every event is nicely caused by the events preceding it. Certainly, the outcome of the evolutionary process may be impossible to predict beyond a probability calculation, but this is just because the process is too overloaded with causes, not that it is the consequence of none.

    >> Instead of building up naturalistic explanations of things we just be stuck with "God did it" and never understand anything.

    I don’t think that this is a god of the gaps argument at all. It is a deductive argument that seems to be sound, as far as I can tell. Although we do not know HOW the First Cause does its job, it seems clear that reason demands that the First Cause is, in fact, doing its job.

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  162. "How are they supposed to test whether the universe's beginning had a cause? They can't."


    Should we only believe what can be "tested" (whatever that means)?

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  163. God is something a lot more specific than an uncaused cause. God is a supernatural consciousness that transcends the laws of the universe and often is assumed to possess certain attributes such as omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, etc, etc, etc. To make a cosmological argument for the existence of God is a completely different intellectual undertaking.

    Except that there are separate arguments for those attribute that classical theists give to God. Those attributes aren't part of the cosmological argument because arguments prove one thing at a time, and then another arguments will build upon that thing.

    Would you ask a mathematician to prove the infinity of prime numbers without having established the infinity of natural numbers first?

    How are they supposed to test whether the universe's beginning had a cause? They can't.

    How? We don't need to observe a universe appearing out of nothing to deduce the contingency of the one we live in. It could be proven without necessarily having to go through empiricism.

    Or do you want mathematicians to "test" the infinity of primes, too? By your reasoning, we can't and should therefore dismiss it.

    They are trapped within the universe and thus cannot possess such knowledge. The laws of causality maybe observable to everything else, but it's not observable in regard to the beginning of the universe itself.

    Well, we have seen a lot of talk from naturalistic cosmology about the formation of the universe. Lots of interesting speculation about its contingency... or are only natural scientists allowed to do that?

    The problem with making such claims is they amount to appeal to ignorance or God of the Gaps arguments. In order for scientific understanding to progress we need to admit when we don't know something that we don't know and hope that a naturalistic explanation will arise in the future otherwise we will never experience the utilitarian results of science. Instead of building up naturalistic explanations of things we just be stuck with "God did it" and never understand anything.

    How does the validity and soundness of this argument interfere with whatever naturalistic explanations about the characteristics of the universe science wants to come up with? If the argument holds, then it's just another datum, and one you don't necessarily have to build upon to explain some other things.

    This is a typical paranoid reaction, as if establishing the existence of God would prevent people from doing whatever they do and turn everyone into a pessimistic consequentialist.

    Atheists do not "worship science". Science has yielded demonstrable, pleasurable results awhile religion promises pleasure in some afterlife which is not demonstrable. To equate the two is to engage in projection.

    Well, thanks for the story. Nobody is talking about that, by the way.

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  164. Sorry, I messed up the grammar a bit. Meant to say:

    Except that there are separate arguments for those attribute that classical theists give to God. Those attributes aren't part of the cosmological argument because arguments prove one thing at a time, and then other arguments will build upon that.

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  165. I think DaveElectric might have set a new record in irony. Commenting on a post that clears up misconceptions only to bring in more misconceptions by spouting so much nonsense you could write a book on that comment alone.

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  166. DaveElectric, this is absolutely priceless:

    "I don't see why atheists have to refute the cosmological argument period. They only have to refute the cosmological argument for the existence of God"

    Imagine a disbeliever in atomic theory who also disbelieves in protons and electrons. After all, you can be an atomist without thinking atoms have an inner structure. Let us say that our disbeliever accepts a Catesian "plenist" interpretation of physics.

    One day, our plenist is confronted with Einstein's argument from Brownian motion. His big "comeback" is the following:

    "I don't see why us Plenists have to refute Einstein's argument for atoms period. All we have to do is refute the arguments for protons and electrons."

    Think this is a pretty clueless attempt at a comeback? Good. And it differs from yours....how, exactly?

    Hint: waxing eloquent about the wonders of science won't help you answer my question.

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  167. Anonymous,

    "Potentiality, or actuality are either there or not and one can express it by either "1" or "0". In other words,one can measure them. The fact that the result of the measurement can only assume two values is irrelevant to your point."

    Okay, let's call actuality 0 and potentiality 1. This does make an interesting count. An apple has a certain number of 1s. It has potential to become an apple tree, apple pie, apple sauce, etc. There are many more things it cannot become. It can't become a human being or an airplane or an orange. We can count a very limited number of things it has potential to become. This is the nature of apples. They have a few 1s but mostly 0s. But if we look inside an apple, down through cells and molecules and atoms to electrons, we see a curious thing. An electron that composes that apple is the same as an electron that composes a human being. But apples cannot become human beings. So electrons, it turns out, have the potential of becoming part of either apples or human beings. Electrons have all sorts of options. They can become (or support) almost anything. So if we put our count to it, electrons have very few 0s and many 1s.

    This is interesting. It means those electrons lose potentiality when they are stuck in apples, because there they cannot become a human being. So even though all electrons are the same, and they must be composed of the same form of an electron to exist at all, they are not the same, or they must have a piece of the apple form and a piece of the human form at all times. And to be consistent, the mysterious little creatures called electrons must have pieces of both human and apple forms even when they happen to be caught in a diamond. The possibilities are endless. And to think, we haven't even begun to look at the composition of electrons. Those have yet more "potentiality." Apparently the weight of "potentiality" a thing has is an inverse relationship to its primal state in nature. The more primal, the more potential. So when we follow this series of deductive reasoning we discover the most primal force, and the root of everything, must have pure (or as pure as can be) potentiality. And I thought we were supposed to find God with its pure actuality and zero potentiality. Yet here we are with God's opposite. Such is the quirky nature of deduction.

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  168. Djindra: It means those electrons lose potentiality when they are stuck in apples, because there they cannot become a human being.

    No. Electrons cannot become human beings, they can become part of a human being. You even said so in your preceding paragraph. That you can make fundamental errors like this suggests that you've discovered some new terms, but you don't really quite know how to use them, that you don't correctly grasp the concepts these terms refer to.

    The more primal, the more potential.

    Prime matter is so potential it can't even exist on its own! The fact that when you stumble upon something that's actually on the right track, you think you've scored a rejoinder reinforces my conclusion above.

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  169. DE,
    I think that's an honest admission on your part. Rarely will an atheist admit that either an infinite contingent chain or causal loop is impossible. I once had Victor Stenger tell me that an infinite chain of contingent events was philosophically respectable. I was amazed that this man claims to teach philosophy.

    As others have stated their are other arguments that an uncaused cause must have certain characteristics, but the admission of an uncaused cause is a huge step in the right direction and one that I wish other rational atheists would admit is logically necessary.

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  170. Untenured you said "Imagine a disbeliever in atomic theory who also disbelieves in protons and electrons. After all, you can be an atomist without thinking atoms have an inner structure."

    The problem is connecting protons and electrons to the atom is infinitely easier than connecting God to the uncaused Cause (or equating God with the uncaused cause.) There is a difference between making a)a cosmological argument for an uncaused cause and b)a making a cosmological argument for God. I find it odd you can't see the difference there. To treat proof of a First Cause as proof for God is to engage in equivocation.

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  171. So DaveElectric, what you seem to be saying is that both atheists and theists can accept the uncaused cause argument and atheists can still be intellectually honest in denying the existence of God? An atheist can just say an uncaused cause is not God right?

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  172. From an Anonymous user.
    "Except that there are separate arguments for those attribute that classical theists give to God. Those attributes aren't part of the cosmological argument because arguments prove one thing at a time, and then another arguments will build upon that thing."

    I didn't imply that weren't arguments to support what exactly the nature of God is. The point was to say proving a First Cause exists =/= proving God exists. Those are two completely different things.

    "How? We don't need to observe a universe appearing out of nothing to deduce the contingency of the one we live in. It could be proven without necessarily having to go through empiricism.

    Or do you want mathematicians to "test" the infinity of primes, too? By your reasoning, we can't and should therefore dismiss it."

    You cannot "deduce" that "everything that has a beginning must have a cause" is true. This claim is unfalsifiable especially when it comes to the beginning of the universe. Also, mathematics is not empirical. It is a bunch of logical definitions. Your analogy is invalid.

    "Well, we have seen a lot of talk from naturalistic cosmology about the formation of the universe. Lots of interesting speculation about its contingency... or are only natural scientists allowed to do that?"

    Look, scientists aren't going to be right about everything. I never claimed they were. I'm not a cosmologist so I cannot say anything about how "speculative" the nature of cosmology is.

    Science has given us many fruits and to just dismiss it because one particular field is highly speculative is simply unreasonable.

    "How does the validity and soundness of this argument interfere with whatever naturalistic explanations about the characteristics of the universe science wants to come up with? If the argument holds, then it's just another datum, and one you don't necessarily have to build upon to explain some other things.

    This is a typical paranoid reaction, as if establishing the existence of God would prevent people from doing whatever they do and turn everyone into a pessimistic consequentialist. "

    The problem is scientific theories have to be falsifiable, have to have explanatory power, and they have to be repeatable. Creationist claims have none of these attributes.

    If something cannot be explained a scientist cannot say "Well, here is where we can insert God". That is to defeat the purpose of science. Science by it very nature must be naturalistic otherwise it would never get anywhere. For utilitarian reasons, science assumes naturalism.

    "Well, thanks for the story. Nobody is talking about that, by the way."

    The author made numerous arguments on bottom of this post implying that atheists are equally as dogmatic as theists are. The problem is naturalism is assumed for its utilitarian results...so you can't say it is dogmatic.

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  173. DaveElectric:

    >> There is a difference between making a)a cosmological argument for an uncaused cause and b)a making a cosmological argument for God. I find it odd you can't see the difference there. To treat proof of a First Cause as proof for God is to engage in equivocation.

    Right, but if you can establish the existence of an uncaused cause, then that is one line of evidence for the existence of a God, because one of his qualities is being uncaused. You are correct that this is not conclusive proof of God’s existence, but it is corroboratory. The idea is that if you add up several lines of evidence, of which the cosmological argument is one, then you have a case to be made for God’s existence. No-one says that case rest solely upon the cosmological argument.

    The point that Untenured was trying to make was that before you can demonstrate the existence of protons, you must first demonstrate the existence of atoms. It makes no sense to say to someone who has demonstrated the existence of atoms that they have failed to demonstrate the existence of protons. Of course they haven’t, but they have taken the first step to doing so by showing that atoms exist, and now more work needs to be done.

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  174. An atheist can still be intellectual honest denying that there is a God and accept that a First Cause exists. They are two completely different things.

    Though, if you read me more carefully I actually argued that there is no way to prove there is an independent uncaused cause for the universe. Such a claim is unfalsifiable. It also is anti-scientific at its core. Science must assume naturalism otherwise it would bear no fruits.

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  175. DaveElectric:

    >> You cannot "deduce" that "everything that has a beginning must have a cause" is true. This claim is unfalsifiable especially when it comes to the beginning of the universe.

    That is not the argument being made. In fact, it was specifically addressed in the main post. The argument is based upon the fact that for something to go from potentially X to actually X requires an actual Y to cause the transition. There is nothing about beginnings at all involved.

    >> Also, mathematics is not empirical. It is a bunch of logical definitions. Your analogy is invalid.

    But the idea is that the conclusions of mathematical reasoning are considered to be true, despite not being empirical, and so there are truths that are not empirical at all. A Thomist would argue that metaphysical truths are in this category, mainly because they are presupposed by any empirical truth at all, and thus cannot be entirely validated by it.

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  176. dguller, it makes no sense to say that the cosmological argument (for a First Cause) = evidence for God.

    Other arguments for exist, but to say you are bringing up the "Cosmological Argument for God" is to imply your are making a COMPLETE argument for his existence. If it isn't a complete argument than it makes no sense to theists and book-worm philosophers alike to go on YouTube or a blog and post the argument as though it is a complete concise case for God.

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  177. dguller, in my original comment I already outlined the alternate means of proving a First Cause. I didn't say the cosmological argument must only be applied to the beginning of the universe.

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  178. dguller, the thing is the claim "everything that has a beginning must have a cause" cannot be a purely logical claim. It can only be an EMPIRICAL claim and because humans are stuck in the universe there is no way to test the empirical claim. So it makes no sense to compare it to mathematics.

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  179. DaveElectric:

    >> An atheist can still be intellectual honest denying that there is a God and accept that a First Cause exists. They are two completely different things.

    That is true, but its truth depends upon one’s definition of “God”. I think that a number of qualities follow from the existence of Pure Act, such as being immutable, immaterial, eternal, and all-powerful. If someone wants to call this entity “God”, then that is fine, but it is not the God of traditional religion that believers pray to on a regular basis.

    I am also doubtful that this entity has an intellect or will at all. Without these qualities, I have a hard time feeling the need to worship it, much as I have a hard time feeling the need to worship evolution. They are both real processes, which I can certainly be awestruck by, but I cannot worship them, because they do not care about me in any way that is meaningful.

    >> Though, if you read me more carefully I actually argued that there is no way to prove there is an independent uncaused cause for the universe.

    Well, the cosmological argument is supposed to be the proof for such an entity.

    >> Such a claim is unfalsifiable.

    Right, but only because its falsification would require the existence of nothing at all. (If Pure Act exists, then reality exists. If there is no reality, then there is no Pure Act.) Of course, if nothing existed, then there would be no need to falsify anything at all, and thus this entire discussion would be irrelevant.

    >> It also is anti-scientific at its core. Science must assume naturalism otherwise it would bear no fruits.

    Well, if it assumes empirical naturalism, then obviously metaphysical issues would be off its radar. It does not follow that metaphysical truths are necessarily false, only that they are beyond the reach of the empirical sciences, mainly because they underlie the very possibility of the empirical sciences.

    That being said, I sympathize with your view. After all, the natural sciences are the most successful tools that human beings have ever developed to understand the natural world. Where science demonstrates a truth that contradicts a theological or metaphysical truth, then my default would be to jettison the latter for the former. However, we must realize that science, although amazing in its domain, is not the only way of knowing anything. The truths of logic and mathematics, although rooted in the empirical world, can be known independent of it.

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  180. DaveElectric:

    >> dguller, it makes no sense to say that the cosmological argument (for a First Cause) = evidence for God.

    Why not? “Evidence for X” does not mean “a conclusive case for X”. That is why we can have evidence for the prosecution and evidence for the defense in a court trial. The totality of the evidence is all that matters, and not any particular part.

    The only point being made here is that if one of the qualities of God is supposed to be the necessarily existing cause of all reality, then the cosmological argument demonstrates this property. And I think it is fair to say that this counts as evidence for God, but the case is not closed by any means.

    >> If it isn't a complete argument than it makes no sense to theists and book-worm philosophers alike to go on YouTube or a blog and post the argument as though it is a complete concise case for God.

    Perhaps we are just disagreeing on the semantics. I think that we can both agree that the cosmological argument demonstrates the truth that an entity exists with some of the properties that a traditional God is supposed to have.

    >> I didn't say the cosmological argument must only be applied to the beginning of the universe.

    Great!

    >> dguller, the thing is the claim "everything that has a beginning must have a cause" cannot be a purely logical claim. It can only be an EMPIRICAL claim and because humans are stuck in the universe there is no way to test the empirical claim. So it makes no sense to compare it to mathematics.

    Again, that is not the premise under consideration. If you want to object, then object to the following:

    (P) For A to go from potentially X to actually X requires the intervention of an actual B to cause the transition to occur.

    That is the key premise.

    There are a few lines of attacking this premise.

    First, you can cite quantum phenomena, such as radioactive decay, that do not have a determinate cause. The problem is that lacking a determinate cause does not imply the absence of any causes.

    Second, you could argue that although reason dictates the existence of a First Cause, reason may be operating beyond its limits here. After all, reason evolved to be applicable to many phenomena within space-time, but it does not follow that it is applicable to ALL phenomena within space-time, and to phenomena outside space-time. This is an objection that I find sympathy with.

    Any thoughts?

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  181. "(P) For A to go from potentially X to actually X requires the intervention of an actual B to cause the transition to occur."

    That is almost exactly the same thing which I was rebutting. You're basically saying "For something to go from non-existence to existence something that was uncaused must have caused to exist". Because this is both an a)empirical claim and b)outside the observable universe it is unfalsifiable.

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  182. Dguller, science (and naturalism) do have philosophical positions when it comes to metaphysics. Regardless, I disagree that "everything that has a beginning must have a cause" is a metaphysical claim. It is an empirical physical claim.

    Metaphysics would be discussions about the NATURE of accumulating truth and logic. Not the actual pursuits themselves.

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  183. Mr. Green,

    "No. Electrons cannot become human beings, they can become part of a human being."

    Like a liver is part of a human being. Livers have the same problem. The form of livers must have the form of humans and dogs. Your quibble is a sleight of hand.

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  184. DaveElectric:

    >> That is almost exactly the same thing which I was rebutting. You're basically saying "For something to go from non-existence to existence something that was uncaused must have caused to exist". Because this is both an a)empirical claim and b)outside the observable universe it is unfalsifiable.

    No, it is not. It has nothing to do with non-existence. It has to do with things like a red ball becoming a blue ball after it is painted blue. The red ball is potentially blue prior to the red paint, and after the red paint, it is actually blue. This is both empirical and falsifiable. You can have painted the ball red, and it still remained blue, for example.

    Regardless, I disagree that "everything that has a beginning must have a cause" is a metaphysical claim. It is an empirical physical claim.

    It depends upon what you mean by “beginning”. If you are referring to the first event in a series of causal events, all firmly embedded within space-time, then it is an empirical claim. If you are referring to an ex nihilo event in which there was absolutely nothing, and then there is something, then yes, this is a metaphysical claim, because we have no experience of anything like an ex nihilo event at all.

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  185. Djindra:

    >> It means those electrons lose potentiality when they are stuck in apples, because there they cannot become a human being.

    What if a human being ate an apple, and some of those electrons present in the nutrients became a part of the human being? It would seem that although while the electrons are stuck in apples they cannot, at that moment, be electrons in human beings, mainly because they are in a different spatio-temporal location, they can still potentially become part of human beings in the future, if they are eaten. In other words, there is a possible series of events in which the event can occur, which is all potential is supposed to be.

    >> And to be consistent, the mysterious little creatures called electrons must have pieces of both human and apple forms even when they happen to be caught in a diamond. The possibilities are endless.

    That would be like saying that the mathematical equation “Y = 2x” is problematic, because sometimes Y can be 1 and sometimes Y can be 2, and that is a horrible contradiction, because 1 cannot equal 2! Different inputs result in different outputs, the overall equation, i.e. form, remains the same. At least, that’s how I conceive of it.

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  186. dguller,

    "What if a human being ate an apple, and some of those electrons present in the nutrients became a part of the human being?"

    I agree. It's the implication of this "potentiality" thing. Electrons have the potential to become almost anything. So they have "humanness" within them even when they are creating apples. And this is the great surprise. That human who willed himself to eat the apple, he kind of created his own being when the apple became part of him. The whole thing seems nonsensical. But there we are.

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  187. You missed the point, Dave. If someone denies both A and B, they cannot refuse to answer arguments for A on the grounds that those arguments don't also establish B. This would be an act of gratuitous irrationality. If there is a transcendent causa sui being, then naturalism is false whether Theism is true or not. For you to say "I don't have to answer the argument because it isn't obvious that an uncaused cause is God" is similarly irrational.

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  188. djindra,

    It's the implication of this "potentiality" thing. Electrons have the potential to become almost anything.

    They do not. An electron does not have the potential to become a human being. An electron has the potential to change location, to move up or down levels in the electron shells, to exchange with other atoms, to bond other atoms together, or to break free from the atom altogether.

    That's it.

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  189. I was under the impression that physics determined that the universe is between 13 and 15 billion years old, as measured by the decay rate of some substance or other.

    That would imply a beginning to the universe, because time is, at least in one sense, a measure of matter decaying.

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  190. dguller,

    "Second, you could argue that although reason dictates the existence of a First Cause, reason may be operating beyond its limits here. After all, reason evolved to be applicable to many phenomena within space-time, but it does not follow that it is applicable to ALL phenomena within space-time, and to phenomena outside space-time. This is an objection that I find sympathy with."

    Have you read Mr. Feser's post about the intelligibility of the world? It might be good food for thought that helps dismiss this second objection about the limits of reason.

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/02/can-we-make-sense-of-world.html#more

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  191. Djindra

    >> I agree. It's the implication of this "potentiality" thing. Electrons have the potential to become almost anything.

    Well, sure. I mean any material thing is composed of subatomic particles, of which electrons are one type, and so electrons, in combination with other subatomic particles, have the potential to become any material thing. Again, this is not bizarre to me at all.

    >> So they have "humanness" within them even when they are creating apples. And this is the great surprise.

    I am not too sure about the ontological status of this potential. After all, since it is potential, it is not real, and thus is not “within them” or anywhere, for that matter. Having said that, it is clear that electrons have to potential to be a part of any material entity, and that includes apples and humans.

    >> That human who willed himself to eat the apple, he kind of created his own being when the apple became part of him.

    Well, it depends upon what you mean. Human beings require nutrition to maintain our homeostatic equilibrium and thus maintain life. By eating an apple, which is a form of nutrition, a human does maintain his own being. So what?

    In another sense, he also changes his being by altering the material composition of his body by eating the apple. Again, so what?

    >> The whole thing seems nonsensical. But there we are.

    I really do not see how this is nonsensical. You seem to think that potential is something really present within the guts of material entities, and thus these entities are a combination of mutually contradictory and almost infinite “things”. I do not think that this is how this is to be understood, but others more familiar with these ideas may be able to clarify things for both of us.

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  192. dguller,

    My thoughts, based upon the article, are that while it might be possible that there are brute facts that are outside the scope of reason, claiming that reason is limited with regard to any cosmological argument in principle is not an option.

    I say that because if no cosmological argument could in principle be successful in grounding the world in an immaterial being, then the entire world would be unintelligible in principle and therefore unintelligible to us... which is patently false because at least part of the world is intelligible to us.

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  193. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  194. Anonymous said...

    TheOFloinn says:

    The universe is a set of things, not a thing per se.

    But is a set not a thing?
    Or, to put it differently, is there a thing which is not a set?



    If the universe is a set of all things, then it stands that it cannot be a thing per se because that would make the universe a member of its own set.
    Now normally, you could call a set that occurs within the universe a thing (or from outside the set concerned). But the universe is a collection of everything; there is no 'outside' from which we may call it a thing

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  195. Michael:

    >> I say that because if no cosmological argument could in principle be successful in grounding the world in an immaterial being, then the entire world would be unintelligible in principle and therefore unintelligible to us... which is patently false because at least part of the world is intelligible to us.

    I don’t think it necessarily follows that if we lack an understanding of the foundation of the universe’s existence, then we lack any understanding at all of anything in the universe. We understood a great deal about the motions of bodies according to Newtonian mechanics even though, at the time, there was no understanding of the atomic components that composed those bodies. The opposite of full understanding is not necessarily no understanding, but could also be partial understanding. So, I’m not too sure if I agree with your contentions.

    Even Feser agrees with this idea in his recent post about the need for God to ground morality. As he says, one can happily study morality and the natural world without making any reference at all to God or the necessary metaphysical underpinnings of morality and the natural world. We can understand a great deal by pursuing that path of inquiry, but we will necessarily fall short of complete understanding, if that is ever even possible.

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  196. This was a great post, and really puts paid to the juvenile form of atheism that is so common these days.

    The one part I didn't like was the Lewontin quote at the end. It's such a classic creationist quote mine that I think it has been abstracted from its context as some kind of representation of scientism. Actually, Lewontin had an environmentalist and Marxist bent (and was thus bluntly materialist), and was reacting *against* the more popular views of Sagan, E.O. Wilson, Dawkins, etc., which have tendencies like genetic determinism, scientific-process-is-simple-and-direct, natural selection explains everything important in biology, etc.

    The essay is rambling, probably because Lewontin obviously has a soft spot for Sagan, despite Lewontin's well-known and almost institutional disagreement (decades long) with the Sagan/Wilson/Dawkins axis, and his disagreement with what he sees (I think) as the simplemindedness of Sagan's book.

    Lewontin seems to endorse materialism as a philosophical a priori stand, but I don't think any of the people he is criticizing would do that. Dawkins, E.O. Wilson, Sagan, etc. would say that evidence could have come in that supported a non-theist view (say, the biological Design argument), but the evidence didn't turn out that way. You might disagree with them on this, but it's not fair to paint the rare Marxist's dogmatic a priori materialism as a representative of the people who were actualy Lewontin's opponents.

    http://www.drjbloom.com/Public%20files/Lewontin_Review.htm

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  197. I am wowed by the intelligence displayed here, as well as the friendly banter that is occuring. I love to see those who disagree do so without anger and coarse language. I will say that some of this is beyond my level of understanding as I have just started getting interested in apologetics. I would have remained a silent reader if not for an ending comment made by DaveElectric, "Atheists do not "worship science". Science has yielded demonstrable, pleasurable results awhile religion promises pleasure in some afterlife which is not demonstrable. To equate the two is to engage in projection."

    I was a 20+ year agnostic who spent much of that time in addiction diagnosed with multiple mental health issues, going through treatment episodes, psychiatrists, taking this pill and that pill to ease my addictions and my mental health diagnosis and constantly depressed and wishing for death. I did manage to get 4 college degrees, but I was miserable and could not stand life. I only wanted to feel superior to those around me, and used school to accomplish that.

    Now fast forward to me 3 year after getting saved. I love my life, I have not done drugs, smoked cigarettes or taken any medication since I got saved. I write about how I know God exists based on my observations and experiences in a blog at http://spiritualspackle.blogspot.com/2011/07/jonah-and-big-fish.html

    My bottom line is that I know God exists because now I am happy. I have a life worth living with God that I never had no matter the secular and/or scientific intervention. I can compare science to my faith because of the pleasurable results I have had and have seen in numerous clients now that I am in the substance abuse field. There is not only the promise of a pleasurable afterlife in religion, but of a brand new life upon acceptance of Christ. I have that brand new life. It gives me pleasure now, and it is way better than the pleasure I got when proving my theory was correct in a research paper in graduate school.

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  198. I count fifty-some-odd paragraphs explaining the ridiculous ways in which various less-gifted folks have misunderstood a simple argument.

    Perhaps Feser could just present the argument?

    The smarter you are, the harder you have to work to believe.

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