Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Let's get Aquinas right shall we?

A redated post.

From Theodore Schick's The 'Big Bang' Argument for the Existence of God (1998*)

The traditional first-cause argument rests on the assumption that everything has a cause. Since nothing can cause itself, and since the string of causes can't be infinitely long, there must be a first cause, namely, god. This argument received its classic formulation at the bands of the great Roman Catholic philosopher, Thomas Aquinas. He writes:

In the world of sensible things, we find there is an order of efficient causes. There is no case known ... in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go to infinity, because . . . the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause.... Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate, cause . . . therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name god.[4]
Saint Thomas's argument is this:

1. Everything is caused by something other than itself
2. Therefore the universe was caused by something other than itself.
3. The string of causes cannot be infinitely long.
4. If the string of causes cannot be infinitely long, there must be a first cause.
5. Therefore, there must be a first cause, namely god.
The most telling criticism of this argument is that it is self-refuting. If everything has a cause other than itself, then god must have a cause other than himself. But if god has a cause other than himself, he cannot be the first cause. So if the first premise is true, the conclusion must be false.

VR: Does Aquinas actually use the principle "Everything is caused by something other than itself?" Where is he getting that. This, of course, opens the door to the "Who Made God" objection. But Aquinas is not stupid. What exists contingently is what needs a cause, according to Thomas. This error was, of course, commited by Russell, and has been committed by "refutations" of the CA in thousands of introductory philosphy classes. But I was surprised to find it still surviving in print in 1998.

59 comments:

Don Jr. said...

I also do not understand this "Everything is caused by something other than itself" interpretation of Aquinas. Not only does it assume that Aquinas was of such a simple mind as to miss the glaring retort, "Well then who caused God," but it also ignores the fact that Aquinas argued against that very interpretation. For instance, in the excerpt from Aquinas provided by Schick, Aquinas says, "Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go to infinity," which is in direct opposition to premise 1 of the argument Schick attributes to Aquinas.

Aquinas13 said...

Aquinas understood that God's nature differed from that of the created order. As such, a cause for God was unnecessary. By definition God is the uncaused cause.

St. Thomas wrote that "in the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes." By that statement God is eliminated from the chain of causes as He exists outside the world of sense.

So, using typical Medieval precision he makes the proper distinction early in his argument that frees him from error.

Aquinas13

Perezoso said...

Ah the cosmological chestnut. Hume's points however unpleasant regarding the difficulty (if not impossibility) of inferring stable or regular "causal laws" still remain important. (doesn't Aquinas claim those laws are "derived from senses" as well?) Assuming a billiard-ball causality might be correct for a few hundred, or even thousand centuries of earth history, but not for universe at large (and some findings of quantum physics suggests that too--that some events can arise apparently ex nihilo). It's an empirical question, anyway.

For that matter, if time were finite, then a first cause seems "out of time" and a bit absurd; moreover, there's no easy way to disprove an infinite series of causes, however scaweee it sounds to some believers.

I contend many theology types--even scientific ones-- use the cozmo. chestnut (more or less meaningless) to scare doubters, sort of like tossing an infinity sign in an equation, or setting 10 dusty volumes of greek philosophy and Aquinas on a freshman's desk.





(add. while Russell tended to pompousity and oversimplified matters at times, and Russell's knowledge of causality was a bit of an advance over Aquinas's, however unpleasant some theologians find it.)

Anonymous said...

Go ask Alexander Pruus or Vallicella. Aren't they the "good" thomists?

Clayton said...

Let's get Russell right shall we?

I'm not sure which of Russell's writings you had in mind but Russell is pretty clear in "Why I'm not a Christian" that he thinks Aquinas faces a dilemma. First horn: if you say "Everything is caused by something other than itself", assert that there is not an infinite collection of causes, and insist that there are no loops you don't raise the question "Who created God?" but settle it--God was caused by something prior to God. Second horn: if you modify the premise to say everything _contingent_ has a cause, you undermine the argument because there's no reason to think that we would have to identify the thing that exists necessarily with God.

I don't think it's fair to accuse Russell of making the crude mistake you've accused him of making. He was more careful than you give him credit for being.

Anonymous said...

Clayton wrote: "if you modify the premise to say everything _contingent_ has a cause, you undermine the argument because there's no reason to think that we would have to identify the thing that exists necessarily with God."

If the universe began to exist then we have good reason to infer God!

Anonymous said...

Hume was a moron, Perry. A fatso who was reduced to blubbering prayer in order to get pulled out of a ditch he fell into, showing the tenacity of the typical skeptic wannabe all too well.

Frantically pleasure his spirit orally if you must, but do we really have to have you cart his carcass out whenever someone mentions religious thoughts that intimidate you? It's so damn boring.

Perezoso said...

Anny, a typical coward-calvinist response, with the typical closet-case calvinist paranoia, and an ad hominem against Hume (did you know him? no). Holy Ted Haggard Batman! Ben Franklin respected Hume for one, as did other secularist founders. As far as perverts go, Hume was nothing compared to like many catholic and protestant clergymen.

The cosmo. argument is fairly preposterous, and a traditional metaphysical sleight of hand. Another point--going from a series of contingent events (if they are really "contingent"--is gravity contingent?) to assuming a G*d necessarily caused that series is not itself necessary (even though the usual theo-bot simply chants necessary" enough times and some people think he's saying something). It could be ex nihilo, or uncaused, or even infinite (hardly less absurd than matter created by a snap of the holy fingers). It could be polydeism (theists usually beg the question on monotheism, regularly).

Rob G said...

For what it's worth, Edward Feser's recent book "The Last Superstition" is about this very subject: getting the Scholastics right. It's ostensibly an anti-New Atheist work, but seems to be rather more than that, really. I've read only the introduction so far, so I can't comment on his arguments, but the book has gotten good marks from several well-regarded philosophers.

Rasmus Møller said...

Perezoso :"It could be polydeism (theists usually beg the question on monotheism, regularly)."

Well, C.S.Lewis counters polytheism by noting that the gods do not explain each other - they find themselves willy-nilly in each others company, so something or someone is original and the other(s) must be derived.

Isn't Kalam simply about which is the Independent Fact, God or the Universe?

PhilosophyKnight said...

In response to Clayton's post on Feb. 11, 2009 at 7:06 PM:

The error is made in Russell's A History of Western Philosophy. He then was probably made aware of his error and corrected it in Why I am Not a Christian (which came out in Sept. versus Jan. of 1967). It's also possible, though, that your version of the book has an even later revision, I do not know.

GREV said...

Perezoso -- tell us how you really feel!

Your exchange with whoever Anon is -- is another illustration of the depressing state of things.

It would seem the accumulating evidence in the physics realm speaks to the idea of everything being caused and so something is the Creator who causes.

Whether or not you wish to allow for the God of the Bible to be that Creator is another story.

Tony Hoffman said...

GREV: "It would seem the accumulating evidence in the physics realm speaks to the idea of everything being caused and so something is the Creator who causes."

I'm pretty sure that the consensus of physics is that radioactive decay is an uncaused event. It appears to just happen for no external reason.

And, as I pointed out to you on an earlier thread, Physicists are waaay less likely to be theists than those who don't study physics. So you seem to be persistently misrepresenting the consensus of physicists in these two regards.

GREV said...

Tony -- What I said was the evidence is leading physicists to say that the idea of a Super Intelligent Being acting as a Creator is lent support -- grounds for probative confidence by the theist -- by the evidence. I am not saying they are theists in the Christian sense.

Please, Do not put words in my mouth.

And another unanswered point on the other thread it seems was this. The idea of a Super Intelligent Being is lent support by the evidence. What bothers the prominent New Atheists is that this Being might be the God of the Bible.

That is the crux of the matter.

One Brow said...

Rob G.,

After you finish reading The Last Superstition, would you be willing to read and-or comment on my review? It's on my blog, under "Labels", in thirteen parts. There may have been things I missed or misunderstood, and I want to be fair.

That said, Aquinas' argument is a failure, although not for the reasons usually offered. The notion that per se (Feser's terminology) causal chains initiate/teminate is wrong. The notion that there needs to be an initiave motive force is wrong. The description of these causal interactions as occuring in chains, as opposed to lattices, is wrong.

GREV said...

Tony -- instead of just saying I am pretty sure that radioactive decay is uncaused, please read a review of evidence and recent experiments. Something I am doing which gives me the grounds for this probabtive confidence that the evidence of physics does support but not prove the arguemnt for a Creator.

I am trying to review the evidence and as I do my grounds for confidence in what the evidence says grows.

Tony Hoffman said...

GREV: "What I said was the evidence is leading physicists to say that the idea of a Super Intelligent Being acting as a Creator is lent support -- grounds for probative confidence by the theist -- by the evidence."

Feel free to cite physicists qua physicists "that the idea of a Super Intelligent Being acting as a Creator is lent support... by the evidence." I'm curious to read one of these papers. Or do you mean something else when you write that physicists "say" something.

GREV: "Please, Do not put words in my mouth."

What words did I attribute to you earlier. I don't think I misrepresented you anywhere, but please show me where so I can correct my understanding of what you are arguing.

GREV: "And another unanswered point on the other thread it seems was this. The idea of a Super Intelligent Being is lent support by the evidence."

It is?

I recall asking you earlier to define "probative confidence," and I'll do it again -- please define what you mean by probative confidence. Because I'm not familiar with the term, and I don't know what you mean by it.

Tony Hoffman said...

GREV: "Tony -- instead of just saying I am pretty sure that radioactive decay is uncaused, please read a review of evidence and recent experiments."

I am asking you to demonstrate to me that I am wrong in my understanding of the consensus of physicists regarding the cause of radioactive decay. I believe that my understanding is correct, and you have given me no reason to think otherwise. If you have a citation you can provide then I will look at that.

GREV: " Something I am doing which gives me the grounds for this probabtive confidence that the evidence of physics does support but not prove the arguemnt for a Creator."

I've long thought that the cosmological argument is the best one for a creator. I am not at all hostile to a deistic God, and on that notion I am agnostic. (I am also not hostile to super intelligent aliens, a fiendish creator, a computer simulation, etc. I think the cosmological argument provides some support for them all.)

GREV: "I am trying to review the evidence and as I do my grounds for confidence in what the evidence says grows."

Well, you seem to be taking some liberties with summarizing the state of physical knowledge and making some leaps in logic. And that is why I am asking you to provide support for the claims you seem to be making.

GREV said...

Again here is the link to the book that provides one of the best current summaries of the evidence -- http://www.amazon.com/New-Proofs-Existence-God-Contributions/dp/0802863833

In this work evidence after evidence is cited that allows the person to have good probative confidence but not final proof for the existence of a Creator Being based on the evidence from experiments in physics.

To you or anyone else, do the necessary work as I am doing and acquaint yourself with the arguments and evidence as laid out in this work.

If that sounds being evasive it is not. It is simply the request that
everyone do what the New Atheists says we should do and that is follow the evidence.

And, no I am not engaging in leaps of logic. I am drawing reasonable inferences from what the evidence says.

Keep the argument there.

Tony Hoffman said...

GREV: " Again here is the link to the book that provides one of the best current summaries of the evidence -- http://www.amazon.com/New-Proofs-Existence-God-Contributions/dp/0802863833"

Again? That's gratuitous -- I don't recall you citing this book to me before.

GREV: " In this work evidence after evidence is cited…"

Yes, but this is the commenting section of a blog. If you cannot take the trouble to cite just one of the pieces of evidence from the book why bother posting here?

GREV: "… that allows the person to have good probative confidence…"

And third time now, please define the term probative confidence. I sincerely don't know what you mean by that term.

GREV: " …but not final proof for the existence of a Creator Being based on the evidence from experiments in physics. To you or anyone else, do the necessary work as I am doing and acquaint yourself with the arguments and evidence as laid out in this work."

Evidence like…? Don't you see how your argument could appear like a merry-go round to someone else reading here?

GREV: "And, no I am not engaging in leaps of logic. I am drawing reasonable inferences from what the evidence says."

Perhaps. But your refusal to answer my questions does nothing to support your assertion. And so far assertions (and now a book reference) are all that you've offered me. And suffice to say that I am familiar with many standard apologist arguments, including cosmological and apparent fine tuning, so if Spitzer's book contains new information concerning these arguments I'd love to hear what these breatkthroughs are.

GREV said...

Tony -- A reference is offered. Go do the work. Like I have had to. The assertion is go do the work. Then come and tell me how the evidence reported in the Spitzer work is wrong.

I will be all ears.

GREV said...

I to am familiar and continue to make myself familiar with all kinds of arguments.

Meaning -- I continue to try and do the work and I commend that approach to anyone.

Besides there is something else at work here which most on this Board are hostile to and that is why I just say go and do the work.

GREV said...

What is the hostility? It is against the assertion that spiritual things cannot be comprehended by someone hostile to God. So you demand a meeting place on the imperfect grounds of human reasoning and I respond if you truly want to reason about this then go and do the work.

There is still a basis for talking but it is on the level of how I engage an atheist relative of mind. We both do the work in philosophy, science and theology and then meet and discuss things knowing there are barriers.

One Brow said...

Tony,

From the introduction, the five proofs are (summarized):
1) spacetime has a beginning
2) the anthropic principle
3) quantum notions of causation and simplicity offer suport for teh "uncaused Causer"
4) extends chapter three to show uniqueness
5) no infinite time in the past (same as 1?)

I don't see anything actually new.

Tony Hoffman said...

One Brow, thanks for the summary. Yeah, I am pretty well-acquainted with 1 and 2, I think 3 & 4 sound interesting, and I'm not sure what is meant by 5. The anthropic principle I have the standard objections to, and the rest seem only like cases for a creator, which as I said before I am sympathetic to but feel that it fails to make a case for a theistic God, and that's where the standard arguments really seem to fall short.

Yeah, I don't want to be that guy who dismisses a book based on Amazon reviews, but I also don't want to be that guy who gets duped by the "go read this book and get back to me" ploy. Especially seeing as how these discussions and their associated reads are a hobby that waste enough of my otherwise productive time; reading arguments that I'm already familiar with would just be piling on. If any of the arguments in that book are genuinely new and persuasive, I'm sure I'll come across someone with enough skill to summarize or just bring them up on a blog like this one; if the discussions are interesting, I'll read the book. I'm crazy that way.

Sorry, GREV, but I am especially suspicious when questions are left unanswered and references are withheld; a book reference surrounded by vague, unsupported assertions and classic evasion behavior is not a promising venture.

Cheers.

SteveK said...

Tony,

>>> I'm pretty sure that the consensus of physics is that radioactive decay is an uncaused event. It appears to just happen for no external reason.

Everything in our universe has a cause (or reason) for its existence. There is a reason for radioactive decay, although we don't not know what it is currently.

The reason for the decay could be found in the nature of thing itself, or it could be found in something external to it.

Saying, under the authority of science, that there is no reason - no cause - makes no sense at all. If this is what physicists say, then they should be corrected. They are not reporting scientific findings. There is no way they could have studied or observed an uncaused event because that would require the study or observation of NOTHING (the cause). Not empirical, and definitely not subject to the methods of science.

Now, you didn't say that, Tony. You said *external* cause, so I do give you credit for that.

Either way, there is a reason behind the existence of radioactive decay.

Tony Hoffman said...

SteveK: “Everything in our universe has a cause (or reason) for its existence.”

Really? How do you know this? Is it just your intuition, or is there some other way that you have come to know this fact?

SteveK: “There is a reason for radioactive decay, although we don't not know what it is currently.”

Well, and I’m less than a dilettante on this subject, but I think you’re possibly not engaging on how physicists understand behavior at the quantum level. It seems possible that the “reason” is random. And this is a perplexing notion for which simplistic terms like reason and explanation may not be adequate.

SteveK: “The reason for the decay could be found in the nature of thing itself...”

Whoa, whoa, whoa. If the reason for the decay could be found in the nature of the thing itself, doesn’t this undermine the whole argument? And that’s the whole point, to challenge the notion that every event must have an efficient cause. If radioactive decay can occur because of the nature of the thing itself, then why can our universe not occur because of the nature of our universe?

SteveK: “Saying, under the authority of science, that there is no reason - no cause - makes no sense at all.”

Why not?

SteveK said...

Tony,
>>> Really? How do you know this? Is it just your intuition, or is there some other way that you have come to know this fact?

Because everything in this universe is not necessary, or eternal. Everything in this universe is contingent.

>>> If the reason for the decay could be found in the nature of the thing itself, doesn’t this undermine the whole argument?

How does this undermine it? As an example: The nature of human beings explains human reasoning. We are the reason/cause for our ability to reason. Nothing external to us *causes* us to reason. I don't know the answer with respect to decay, but maybe there is a parallel explanation there.

>>> If radioactive decay can occur because of the nature of the thing itself, then why can our universe not occur because of the nature of our universe?

If the nature of the universe is the reason why the universe does what it does, then that's a perfectly acceptable explanation.

In fact, that's what Naturalism requires. It's also what dooms Naturalism from the start, in my opinion. The nature of the universe explains logic & reasoning, morality, consciousness, abstract concepts, music, etc? Really?? That's a leap of faith that is far too big for me.

SteveK said...

Correction. This is more accurate...

"The nature of the universe explains why human nature includes the capacity for logic & reasoning, morality, consciousness, abstract concepts, music, etc? Really??"

One Brow said...

SteveK said...
Because everything in this universe is not necessary, or eternal. Everything in this universe is contingent.

Everything, or every aspect? Any item made from matter would b contingent, but what about entropy? Gravitation? Heisenberg Uncertainty?

SteveK said...

>>> Everything, or every aspect? Any item made from matter would b contingent, but what about entropy? Gravitation? Heisenberg Uncertainty?

Long ago this universe did not exist, so this universe, and everything that is part of it, must be contingent.

SteveK said...

Tony,
I forgot to answer one of your questions...

>> SteveK: “Saying, under the authority of science, that there is no reason - no cause - makes no sense at all.”

>> Tony: Why not?

Because "no thing" (nothing) cannot actualize "some thing". Things cannot pop into existence from nothing - it's impossible for the reason I just stated. A complete and literal lack of anything (no thing) stays that way forever.

Physicists are wrong if they think they empirically observed "no thing" (how the hell do you do that?) actualizing decay.

There is a reason for decay, science just hasn't figured it out yet.

One Brow said...

SteveK said...
Long ago this universe did not exist, so this universe, and everything that is part of it, must be contingent.

Everything, but not necessarily every aspect. If gravitation behaves the same in any physically possible universe, then the properties of gravitation may be necessary.

One Brow said...

SteveK said...
Because "no thing" (nothing) cannot actualize "some thing".

This is an assumption, not a demonstrable principle.

SteveK said...

One Brow,

>>> This is an assumption, not a demonstrable principle.

I don't think this is an assumption any more than the law of non-contradiction is an assumption. It just makes sense.

If you think it does not make sense, then please offer me one good reason to think something that doesn't exist can DO anything (actualize). Good luck.

And you're right...it's not demonstrable. Please tell that to anyone who thinks science has discovered, through empirical methods, uncaused events.

SteveK said...

One Brow,

>>> Everything, but not necessarily every aspect. If gravitation behaves the same in any physically possible universe, then the properties of gravitation may be necessary.

With imagination as your guide, anything is possible. What we all should demand are reasons for thinking gravitation is actually necessary. Do you have anything to offer?

Tony Hoffman said...

SteveK: “Because everything in this universe is not necessary, or eternal. Everything in this universe is contingent.”

Even if that were true (and I’m not sure it is), that does not explain how it is that triangles having three sides could be contingent upon our universe. Maybe there’s a way to explain it, but I can’t imagine it.

SteveK: “If the reason for the decay could be found in the nature of the thing itself, doesn’t this undermine the whole argument?”

Because if radioactive decay is in the nature of the thing itself it is necessary, in the same way that triangle having three sides is necessary. And as I said above I can’t imagine how it is that things that exist necessarily are contingent upon our universe. I’m not saying that there can’t be a good explanation, but an assertion doesn’t replace a good explanation.

SteveK: “The nature of human beings explains human reasoning. We are the reason/cause for our ability to reason.”

I don’t know what you mean by this. Are you suggesting that human reasoning is not related to external factors? Because it seems very likely that our evolutionary history explains human reasoning.

SteveK: “Nothing external to us *causes* us to reason. I don't know the answer with respect to decay, but maybe there is a parallel explanation there.”

I think you need to define how you are using the term “cause.” That might not be enough, though, because I am sincerely not following your point.

SteveK: “The nature of the universe explains logic & reasoning, morality, consciousness, abstract concepts, music, etc? Really??”

Yeah, I don’t see the problem. My head reels at the thought of existence rather than non-existence. Once I accept existence I see nothing in our universe that seems like it requires an explanation external to itself.

SteveK said...

Tony,

>>> Even if that were true (and I’m not sure it is), that does not explain how it is that triangles having three sides could be contingent upon our universe. Maybe there’s a way to explain it, but I can’t imagine it.

Triangles exist as 3-sided realities, but triangles are not a necessary reality such that triangles always existed. Again, I remind you that long ago this universe didn't exist. You can *imagine* that triangles always existed, but that is no reason to think they actually have.

>>> Because if radioactive decay is in the nature of the thing itself it is necessary, in the same way that triangle having three sides is necessary.

The particulars that make up the nature of a being aren't necessary in the way that I am using the term. Rationality is part of the nature of human beings, but rational human beings are not a necessary part of reality. We know they are not necessary because there was a time when human beings didn't exist as part of reality.

What causes each human to exist? We know there is a cause. What causes decay to exist? The answer is not "no thing".

>>> Are you suggesting that human reasoning is not related to external factors? Because it seems very likely that our evolutionary history explains human reasoning.

The original reason for human reasoning can be found in external factors, but the reason for each individual event of human reasoning cannot be found in external factors. Nothing external to you *causes* you to reason though a math problem. You do it.

>>> I think you need to define how you are using the term “cause.”

Look up "four causes". Any of those.

>>> That might not be enough, though, because I am sincerely not following your point.

The point is that there is a reason (one of the four causes) for decay, and saying nothing causes it is wrong. That's what started this discussion.

>>> Once I accept existence I see nothing in our universe that seems like it requires an explanation external to itself.

So you believe things can come to exist without any cause? With that belief, how can science even begin to work when the answer for why something happens is both "no thing" and "some thing"?

Tony Hoffman said...

SteveK: “Triangles exist as 3-sided realities, but triangles are not a necessary reality such that triangles always existed.”

Really? You don’t say. And you know this because...?

I don’t know that abstracta cease to exist when material things do. I am agnostic on that issue. But for the sake of argument, I disagree with your assertion. How do you propose we settle the disagreement?

SteveK: “What causes each human to exist? We know there is a cause.”

Sure. I’ll agree with this.

SteveK: “What causes decay to exist? The answer is not "no thing" “

Did I say that radioactive decay exists because of “no thing?”

SteveK: “The original reason for human reasoning can be found in external factors, but the reason for each individual event of human reasoning cannot be found in external factors.”

This is demonstrated where?

SteveK; “Nothing external to you *causes* you to reason though a math problem. You do it.”

It may seem that way, but seeming does not make it so.

But I am not even so certain that nothing external to me causes me to reason through a math problem.

Me: “I think you need to define how you are using the term “cause.”
SteveK: “Look up "four causes". Any of those.”

Really? They are four rather different things. I am asking you to be more specific.

SteveK: “The point is that there is a reason (one of the four causes) for decay, and saying nothing causes it is wrong.”

Yes, so please pick which one it is.

SteveK: “So you believe things can come to exist without any cause?”

Yes, and this shouldn’t be so hard for you to understand. For me it is the universe; for you it is God.

SteveK: “With that belief, how can science even begin to work when the answer for why something happens is both "no thing" and "some thing"?”

Why is it both?

SteveK said...

Tony,

>>> Really? You don’t say. And you know this because...?

Repeating myself...because the universe didn't exist long ago, which means neither did physical triangles.

>>> I disagree with your assertion. How do you propose we settle the disagreement?

I just gave you my reason. How about you give me a reason to think abstract concepts preceded the existence of the universe. Imagining it as a possibility is not a reason.

>>> Did I say that radioactive decay exists because of “no thing?”

Maybe. Please explain what you meant by "uncaused" and "no external reason":

Tony said: I'm pretty sure that the consensus of physics is that radioactive decay is an uncaused event. It appears to just happen for no external reason.

>>> It may seem that way, but seeming does not make it so.

Here you go again letting your vivid imagination trump your experiences. It seems you are alive but maybe you are really dead. Are you?

>>> But I am not even so certain that nothing external to me causes me to reason through a math problem.

Oh, brother!! Did you reason your way to this conclusion or do you wish to give credit to something external? I'd choose the latter out of sheer embarrassment.

>>> Yes, so please pick which one it is.

I'm not certain but I would guess the efficient cause.

>>> Yes, and this shouldn’t be so hard for you to understand. For me it is the universe; for you it is God.

Incorrect. God did not come to exist from "no thing". Christianity teaches that God is eternal. Science teaches that the universe is not eternal. What is the reason for your faith in an uncaused universe?

>>> Why is it both?

Both in the sense that it could be either one and empirical experimentation would never lead you to the truth. The lifeblood of science depends on there *always* being a reason for existence.

If you said gravity caused the ball to repeatedly fall during experimentation, and I said "no thing" used gravity to make it repeatedly fall, who is correct?

Remember the scientific criterion of *falsification*? Allowing "no reason" as a reason dooms the whole enterprise.

"No thing" could be the cause for everything - which is *philosophical nonsense*, but hey, it's your theory.

One Brow said...

SteveK said...
I don't think this is an assumption any more than the law of non-contradiction is an assumption. It just makes sense.

1) It's an assumption when the justification for it is "it just makes sense".

2) The Law on Non-Contradiction is an assumption, or at least based on several assumptions (depending upon how you structure your logic).

If you think it does not make sense, then please offer me one good reason to think something that doesn't exist can DO anything (actualize). Good luck.

I find "something that does not exist" to be a product of confused thinking. It has little to do with whether some effect can be caused by nothing.

And you're right...it's not demonstrable. Please tell that to anyone who thinks science has discovered, through empirical methods, uncaused events.

You've already responded to one example with "we just don't know the cause", even though, as I understand quantum theory (and that would be very, very little), radioactive decay is uncaused by the nature of matter itself.

One Brow said...

SteveK said...
With imagination as your guide, anything is possible. What we all should demand are reasons for thinking gravitation is actually necessary. Do you have anything to offer?

As far as we can determine, gravitation behaves the same way at all times under all conditions, as a necessary property should. Do you have a reason for saying the properties of gravity are contigent?

Tony Hoffman said...

SteveK: " Triangles exist as 3-sided realities, but triangles are not a necessary reality such that triangles always existed."
Me: "Really? You don’t say. And you know this because...?"
SteveK: "

Repeating myself...because the universe didn't exist long ago, which means neither did physical triangles."

Yeah, I wasn't asking you to repeat your assertion. I was asking you to demonstrate an argument. Repeating your assertion doesn't make it true.

SteveK: "How about you give me a reason to think abstract concepts preceded the existence of the universe. Imagining it as a possibility is not a reason."

Ironic, isn't it, that your imagining that abstract concepts are contingent is reason enough for you, but my imagining the opposite is not. This is called special pleading, and it's why I asked you how it is that you think we can resolve this kind of difference of opinion. Repeating yourself does not resolve this.

SteveK: " Please explain what you meant by "uncaused" and "no external reason." "

I meant that it could be necessary, in the same way that triangles having 3 sides is necessary. There is no external cause for triangles having 3 sides; that is just how things are. So, radioactive decay might just be in the nature of matter itself. I believe that that's what physicists mean when they explain that radioactive decay is uncaused.

Me: "But I am not even so certain that nothing external to me causes me to reason through a math problem."
SteveK: "Here you go again letting your vivid imagination trump your experiences."

Gratuitious.

SteveK: "It seems you are alive but maybe you are really dead. Are you?"

I agree that seeming alive is a good indication that I am alive. Are you then saying therefore that whatever seems to me to be the case is the best way to test reality? Because there are lots of other things that seem true to me, but are not when tested.

St

Tony Hoffman said...

SteveK: “The point is that there is a reason [the efficient cause] for decay, and saying nothing causes it is wrong.”

Well, if by efficient cause you mean something along the model for how thing are in a necessary way, then you are not disagreeing with me. (If you mean that something initiated the decay, then it sounds to me that you have identified the thing that has eluded physicists, and somebody should probably tell them.) So, please explain to me then how an efficient cause (as you may define it) for decay is distinguishable from my position that radioactive decay is necessary. And by explain I mean show me how your position is better demonstrated than mine.

SteveK: " Incorrect. God did not come to exist from "no thing". Christianity teaches that God is eternal."

Ha. I am saying that existence (all from which our universe came) existed in the same way that you say God exists. And arguing that something is true because your religion says it is so is a poor way to argue with an atheist.

SteveK: "Science teaches that the universe is not eternal."

It does? If by the universe you mean all of space, matter and time that began with the big bang, then you are right that science indicates that our universe began about 14 billion years ago. But I believe that science is agnostic about existence and time from which the universe sprang.

SteveK: " The lifeblood of science depends on there *always* being a reason for existence."

This is an odd thing to say. Existence is a metaphysical description. And I have never come across science depending on metaphysical reasons.

SteveK: " If you said gravity caused the ball to repeatedly fall during experimentation, and I said "no thing" used gravity to make it repeatedly fall, who is correct?"

I am. Gravity is the explanation for why the ball fell. If you said "no thing" used gravity to repeatedly make the ball, your description is less parsimonious that mine (while offering the same level of explanation), so your description loses on the principle of parsimony.

SteveK: " Remember the scientific criterion of *falsification*? Allowing "no reason" as a reason dooms the whole enterprise."

I think you don't know what it means to falsify something scientifically. You do not have to explain why a hypothesis failed in order to falisify it, for instance.

SteveK: "No thing" could be the cause for everything - which is *philosophical nonsense*, but hey, it's your theory."

I have not used the term "no thing" here to refer to a part of my argument. I have asked you before "did I say that radioactive decay occurs because of 'no thing' [your words throughout]." Your repeated use of the term, in parentheses, when you are only quoting yourself is just confusing. You appear bent on arguing with a strawman or some other version of my argument. If you care to explain your argument better, and answer my questions above, please do so, but this is getting to be a little tiresome.

SteveK said...

One Brow:

>>> I find "something that does not exist" to be a product of confused thinking. It has little to do with whether some effect can be caused by nothing.

It has everything to do with it. There is no confusing nothing with something - so use those terms if you want with the follow definition: Nothing is the absense of existence or absense of being.

>>> The Law on Non-Contradiction is an assumption

I wouldn't call it that, but okay. Reality doesn't make very much sense without it so it's not the result of blind guesswork either.

>>> radioactive decay is uncaused by the nature of matter itself.

That may be the case. Something other than matter may be the reason for it.

SteveK said...

One Brow,
>>> As far as we can determine, gravitation behaves the same way at all times under all conditions, as a necessary property should.

I accept that it's likely necessary to the nature of this finite universe.

>>> Do you have a reason for saying the properties of gravity are contigent?

I gave it to you already. The universe has a finite age, and finite entities require a cause to explain their existence.

SteveK said...

Tony,
>>> Ironic, isn't it, that your imagining that abstract concepts are contingent is reason enough for you, but my imagining the opposite is not.

If you want to argue against the age of the universe be my guest. I am "imagining" everything that exists in the universe today, stems from the contingent event that took place 14+ billion years ago.

As a Christian, my theology tells me that abstract concepts are rooted in the nature of God, and hence ARE eternal. So I'm not objecting to your idea. I'm asking how you, an atheist, came to believe this. I can explain how I came to believe it.

>>> I believe that that's what physicists mean when they explain that radioactive decay is uncaused.

If that's what you believe, then I guess I have no complaint for now. I did give you credit for saying "external cause", remember? But then you objected to my comments so there is some confusion.

>>> Are you then saying therefore that whatever seems to me to be the case is the best way to test reality? Because there are lots of other things that seem true to me, but are not when tested.

With a qualifier, the answer is "Yes" to the first part. The qualifier being "until we are given reasons to change our mind." Those reasons come from new information.

Testing in the broadest meaning of the word is the source of that new information.

All testing is done through experiences. I encounter something or do something and I get information about reality. Could be during a lab test or during an evening walk in the park.

SteveK said...

Tony,
>>> I have not used the term "no thing" here to refer to a part of my argument.

Technically I guess you are right because you've offered only comments and/or assertions. It seems clear to me that you are sympathetic to the "no thing" theory. Otherwise, why argue with me?

How should I to respond to your comments below?

SteveK: “Everything in our universe has a cause (or reason) for its existence.”

Tony: Really? How do you know this?

SteveK: “So you believe things can come to exist without any cause?”

Tony: Yes

Tony Hoffman said...

SteveK: “Technically I guess you are right because you've offered only comments and/or assertions.”

What? I’ve shown how you’re special pleading and making assertions without demonstration. And when you’ve asked direct questions, I’ve explained my answers. For instance, in my very last comment to a question of yours:

SteveK: " If you said gravity caused the ball to repeatedly fall during experimentation, and I said "no thing" used gravity to make it repeatedly fall, who is correct?"



Me: “I am. Gravity is the explanation for why the ball fell. If you said "no thing" used gravity to repeatedly make the ball, your description is less parsimonious that mine (while offering the same level of explanation), so your description loses on the principle of parsimony.”

So, you see, I replied to your question, and provided my explanation. This is more than you’ve done so far. For instance, I have asked you:

Me: “So, please explain to me then how an efficient cause (as you may define it) for decay is distinguishable from my position that radioactive decay is necessary. And by explain I mean show me how your position is better demonstrated than mine.”

Crickets.

And may I remind you that you began here by responding to one of my comments, asserting this:

SteveK: “Everything in our universe has a cause (or reason) for its existence. There is a reason for radioactive decay, although we don't not know what it is currently.”

Since then, I have asked you to explain or demonstrate this assertion. But, as at least one other commenter and I have pointed out, you haven’t been able to demonstrate how it is that we should come to know this.

So, yet again, we see a theist decrying someone else for behavior that they themselves are exhibiting. This is normally called hypocrisy.

The interesting thing is that you may still be right. But you just can’t seem to get out of your own way to even find out how.

Tony Hoffman said...

Me: “I have not used the term "no thing" here to refer to a part of my argument.”
SteveK:

”Technically I guess you are right...”

Technically I am correct because I haven’t used the term “no thing” to refer to any part of my argument. You are quoting yourself each time you type “no thing.” Deal with that.

SteveK: “It seems clear to me that you are sympathetic to the "no thing" theory.”

Whom are you quoting?

SteveK: “Otherwise, why argue with me?”

Because you are making unjustified assertions, with entailments. People like you cause people like me all kinds of nuisance and harm. I like to nip bad thinking in the bud, because I fear it growing unchallenged. Isn’t that obvious?

SteveK: “How should I to respond to your comments below?”
SteveK: “Everything in our universe has a cause (or reason) for its existence.”


Me: “Really? How do you know this?”

Oh, oh! That’s easy. By responding to my question. Why must radioactive decay have a cause? Why must a triangle having three sides have a cause? Why must existence have a cause?

PS. I love the next part, where you lop off the end of my quote, without any ellipse to indicate that you have done so. I’ll post the second part of your question, with my sentence (this time) unedited by you.

SteveK: “So you believe things can come to exist without any cause?”


Me: “Yes, and this shouldn’t be so hard for you to understand. For me it is the universe; for you it is God.”

You are starting to show yourself to be a dishonest interlocutor. Which is too bad, because this blog has some promise, but it seems to be falling apart (through the bad efforts of too many theists here) pretty rapidly.

SteveK said...

Tony,
I am in no way being dishonest here so get over it. Adding your additional words after "yes" doesn't change anything relevant as far as I can tell.

How else should I take your comments, Tony, other than to conclude that you think reality can be actualized by nothing?

You are sympathetic to the idea of an uncaused finite universe and you argue against the idea that uncaused events are impossible.

Feel free to clarify or correct, but don't blame me if you misspoke or didn't communicate effectively. I'm NOT in the business of trying to misrepresent people. It's dishonest and it's immoral.

I will gladly retract anything that I got woefully wrong so please list my errors in bullet point.

SteveK said...

Tony,

>>> Why must radioactive decay have a cause? Why must a triangle having three sides have a cause? Why must existence have a cause?

We are going in circles here. If it didn't being to exist then no cause is required. That is the only exception, I think you will agree.

If you are arguing that all of these things always existed then (a) the evidence suggests you are wrong, (b) who taught you this?, (c) are they in a good position to know?

SteveK said...

>>> SteveK: “Everything in our universe has a cause (or reason) for its existence. There is a reason for radioactive decay, although we don't not know what it is currently.”

>>> Tony: But, as at least one other commenter and I have pointed out, you haven’t been able to demonstrate how it is that we should come to know this.

Regarding the first part (the universe), I've "demonstrated" it several times by pointing to what we know about the origins of our universe.

That it originated - came into being some 14+ billion years ago from a singularity - and is not eternal, seems to be what the current data suggests. If you are arguing that the data does not suggest this, please "demonstrate" how you know this. That is your burden.

That decay is part of the same universe seems uncontroversial, so that too likely came into being.

Now if that isn't enough of a "demonstration", then tell me what you want to see.

>>> So, yet again, we see a theist decrying someone else for behavior that they themselves are exhibiting. This is normally called hypocrisy.

If only I saw it the same as you. Clearly I don't.

Maybe the solution is to stop decrying the answers I've given, and tell me how my answers utterly fail as an genuine answer.

SteveK said...

Tony,
These two exchanges demonstrate that you are not effectively communicating. You are needlessly creating your own frustrations.

>>> SteveK: "Science teaches that the universe is not eternal."

>>> Tony: It does? If by the universe you mean all of space, matter and time that began with the big bang, then you are right that science indicates that our universe began about 14 billion years ago. But I believe that science is agnostic about existence and time from which the universe sprang.

For some odd reason you question my statement in the first sentence as if my words make no sense.

Then you get your bearings and agree with my statement in the second sentence. (Yes, THAT universe. You know, the one "science teaches" about).

You toss out a statement in the last sentence that has no bearing on my argument, as if it poses a problem for me. It doesn't.

If I was talking about existence prior the the universe I would have said that, and I wouldn't have said "science teaches".

-----

In this next exchange you change the terms from 'universe' to 'existence' prior to the universe.

You start off by saying the universe can come to exist without a cause - I respond to your comment - then you later refer to this, not as the universe, but as existence prior to the universe - and you fault ME!! Jeepers. Had I know this is what you meant I would not have made the comment I did.

>>> SteveK: “So you believe things can come to exist without any cause?”

>>> Tony: Yes, and this shouldn’t be so hard for you to understand. For me it is the universe; for you it is God.

>>> SteveK: " Incorrect. God did not come to exist from "no thing". Christianity teaches that God is eternal."

>>> Tony: Ha. I am saying that existence (all from which our universe came) existed in the same way that you say God exists.

Tony Hoffman said...

SteveK: " These two exchanges demonstrate that you are not effectively communicating. You are needlessly creating your own frustrations."

I try to write carefully. It's also your responsibility to read my comments carefully, not jump to conclusions, and ask for clarification before proceeding. How else do you explain just now coming to notice that you are confused about a comment I wrote days ago?

When I say that you appear dishonest I include that it seems that you are not taking responsibility for your own mis-readings, and that by proceeding forward in a discussion in which you remain confused about your opponent's position you are not acting in good faith.

SteveK: "In this next exchange you change the terms from 'universe' to 'existence' prior to the universe."

I agree that the term universe can be confusing, but I had pointed out earlier, and in the comment you posted, that the term could have two meanings -- the universe that we occupy now and that began 14 billion years ago (which is how Christians tend to define it), but also a universe that includes our own and that from which the universe came -- all of existence. That is why I wrote, to remind you of how the terms could be used, and which ones I was talking about.

SteveK said...

Tony,
>>> Tony: How else do you explain just now coming to notice that you are confused about a comment I wrote days ago?

Chalk it up to being charitable. You're a smart guy, Tony. I figured that surely you knew which universe science teaches about. Only later did I learn you were switching terms on me.

>>> Tony: ....but also a universe that includes our own and that from which the universe came -- all of existence. That is why I wrote, to remind you of how the terms could be used, and which ones I was talking about.

Why remind me, or even bring into the conversation, something that has no bearing on my argument - something I never mentioned? I referenced the universe that *science teaches*.

Tony Hoffman said...

Me: “How else do you explain just now coming to notice that you are confused about a comment I wrote days ago?”

SteveK: “Chalk it up to being charitable. You're a smart guy, Tony. I figured that surely you knew which universe science teaches about.”

That doesn’t make you seem charitable; it just makes you seem careless, and arrogant, and (apparently) wrong.

Me: “Only later did I learn you were switching terms on me.”

Except I never switched terms on you. I took pains to notify you about both possible definitions of the word universe, and even preceded the term “universe” with “our” on many occasions to help you understand that the universe we occupy does not need to be a container for all of existence.

SteveK: “Why remind me, or even bring into the conversation, something that has no bearing on my argument - something I never mentioned? I referenced the universe that *science teaches*.”

You appear right that it was foolish of me to raise an obvious objection to your argument and expect you to engage with it.

Several things. I’ll number and letter the sub-parts for you so that you might find it even easier to follow:

1. that our universe may have come from something does indeed have a bearing on your argument because a) you are contending that our universe did come from something (God), and b) as far as I know, atheists (and physicists) do not argue that our universe came from “nothing.”
2. you are mistaken that “science teaches” that the universe is all that exists or could exist. Have you never heard of multiverse theory? Have you never heard theists complain that if the universe came from something called “vacuum fluctuations,” that vacuum fluctuations are not nothing, and that God must have made vacuum fluctuations? Parallel universes, a mulitiverse, higher dimensions, these are all scientific concepts of something that could explain our universe, and I have taken pains throughout to make my use of the word “universe” to account for this. You seem to have ignored my efforts until now.

One Brow said...

SteveK said...
Nothing is the absense of existence or absense of being.

That works. Then it can makes sense to say that some things are caused by nothing.

Reality doesn't make very much sense without it so it's not the result of blind guesswork either.

Usefulness in the description of reality is an excellent trait for our assumptions to have. However, you can create useful descriptions of reality without non-contradiciton.

That may be the case. Something other than matter may be the reason for it.

There may simply be no reason beyond "matter is like that".

I accept that it's likely necessary to the nature of this finite universe.

Do you have any reason it would not be necessary in any other continuum that has matter?

I gave it to you already. The universe has a finite age, and finite entities require a cause to explain their existence.

What says the properties of gravity have a finite age?

SteveK said...

Tony,

>>> That doesn’t make you seem charitable; it just makes you seem careless, and arrogant, and (apparently) wrong.

Okay, I'm done here.