Monday, December 11, 2006

The Cosmological Argument and Falsification

Consider this version of the cosmological argument.

1. A contingent being exists.
2. This contingent being has a cause of its existence.
3. The cause of its existence is something other than itself.
4. What causes this contingent being to exist must be a set that contains either only contingent beings or a set that contains at least one noncontingent (necessary) being.
5. A set that contains only contingent beings cannot cause this contingent being to exist.
6. Therefore, what causes this contingent being must be a set that contains at least one necessary being.
7. Therefore, a necessary being exists.

If you accept this argument, how could the conclusion be falsified

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

(NBAA)

Some clarification of the argument would be useful first. I take it that (1) is an observation (that no one would would disagree with), whereas (2), (3), (4) and (5) are all assumptions (and are presumably open to endless dispute).

I'm not sure where you got this particular argument from, but it bears a strking similarity to Robert Koons' cosmological argument at http://www.leaderu.com/offices/koons/docs/
lec10.html

PS: I was attracted to this post because of your use of "falsification" in the title,
but now I'm not really sure why it's there at all.

Anonymous said...

It seems to be that the obvious way of falsifying the argument would be to dispute premiss nr. 5; "A set that contains only contingent beings cannot cause this contingent being to exist". This is the only premiss in the argument that allows it to overcome the troubles of an infinite regress. The noncontingent being can be perceived as the beginning of the causal chain. In my mind, however, there is not much merit for premiss nr. 5 and it should be disposed of.

gloop said...

I think Victor's point is this: that you can have good arguments for conclusions that aren't falsifiable. In cases such as those, the issue of falsification becomes rather moot.

Anonymous said...

(NBAA)

It all depends on your definition of a "good argument" I think.

(And almost every issue raised on this website is moot...)

Anonymous said...

Al Plantinga says that only a few logically possible worlds can contain both evil and God.

Another way of saying that is that there are a lot of logically possible worlds that contain evil and are not compatible with the existence of God.

So God is not a necessary being as there are logically possible worlds that are incompatible with his existence.

So God is a contingent being.

Anonymous said...

Since the only conclusion one can draw from this argument is that a necessary being (thing) exists, it seems to me to work as well for naturalism as supernaturalism. I've seen naturalists argue that matter is the necessary thing without which no contingent thing could exist.
Sam

Victor Reppert said...

The idea is this. If we have an argument that the there must be non-contingent being, and we have an argument that everything in the physical world exists contingently, then we have an argument that something independent of the physical world exists and caused it to exist. I got the argument from Reason and Religious Belief by Peterson, Basinger, Reichenbach and Hasker, if you are wondering. We've discussed the argument on this blog before, under "the argument from contingency."

But suppose I were persuaded by such an argument. Then, would it be an objection to all of this to say that my position couldn't be observationally falsified? I think not. So I'm wondering why unfalsifiability in this context makes any difference at all, with respect to theism itself.

If theism is being presented as a scientific hypothesis, this might be a problem. But theism per se is never presented as a scientific hypothesis although there may be scientific hypotheses that presuppose theism.

Some theists may hold that they have some kind of ethical commitment to theism which requires them to hold on to it as an article of faith (the Kierkegaardian leap) regardless of the evidence. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that such a person cannot evaluate the evidence honestly. There may be a variety of reasons why a person might deliberately accept a belief that is less likely to be true than some other, and I see no reason to suppose that such a person could be perfectly rational in so doing. There's more to life than epistemology.

Anonymous said...

"If we have an argument that the there must be non-contingent being, and we have an argument that everything in the physical world exists contingently, then we have an argument that something independent of the physical world exists and caused it to exist."

The assumption here seems to be that "everything in the physical world" is the same as "the physical world." I see no reason for that assumption. In fact it looks like a category error to me. Simply because everything in the physical world is contingent does not mean that the physical world itself is contingent.
Sam

Anonymous said...

(NBAA)

VR wrote: "But suppose I were persuaded by such an argument. Then, would it be an objection to all of this to say that my position couldn't be observationally falsified? I think not. So I'm wondering why unfalsifiability in this context makes any difference at all, with respect to theism itself."

I don't understand your point here. The argument is either:

1. Logically true (i.e. a tautology), in which case the question of falsification is irrelevant.

2. Logically invalid (i.e. the conclusion does not follow follow from the premisses), in which case there are no rational grounds for believing the argument.

3. Logically valid, in which case the truth of the conclusion depends on the truth of the premisses. The question of falsifiability or verifiability is then pushed one level back. We need to examine each of the premisses individually to see if there are experimental or other reasons for believing them.

Why is a logical argument like this different from any other theistic (or non-theistic) claim?

VR wrote: "Some theists may hold that they have some kind of ethical commitment to theism which requires them to hold on to it as an article of faith... regardless of the evidence."

Well fine. They are free to do so. But their beliefs are still unfalsifiable. I'm not sure why you object to simple epistemic descriptors like "falsifiable" and "unfalsifiable".

Victor Reppert said...

Because I am not sure what is riding on the falsifiability issue, thus presented. If the community of theists contains some fideists and some nonfideists, then in case the evidence goes south in a big way, you will get a split. As best as I can tell from introspection, my theism is open to falsification. Theism in the minds of others may not be. I don't see how it affects the rationality of my belief that other might hold it in a more fideistic way than I do.

In science you have a community that can come to a consensus. You may not have that in every area of rational discourse.

I'm still trying to figure out what is supposed to follow from the fact that theism isn't falsifiable (if it is) in your sense. Theism per se is not a scientific hypothesis. We can make it a scientific hypothesis if we choose and it can become falsifiable. Swinburne, I think, does something like that. By the way, I don't think atheism is falsifiable in this sense either.

Victor Reppert said...

By that I mean that for just about any scenario, there are likely to be at least some atheists who would not give up. Remember David Copperfield, or aliens from space.

Anonymous said...

(NBAA)

VR wrote: "As best as I can tell from introspection, my theism is open to falsification. Theism in the minds of others may not be. I don't see how it affects the rationality of my belief that other might hold it in a more fideistic way than I do."

At no time have I ever mentioned "rationality" in this discussion. We are arguing about falsifiability, nothing else.

You may believe that your theism is open to falsification (and it may even be true), but you have yet to suggest a way it could be falsified in our lifetimes.

VR wrote: "...for just about any scenario, there are likely to be at least some atheists who would not give up. Remember David Copperfield, or aliens from space."

Once again you seem to be confusing logical falsification with empirical falsification. Yes, if God were to make a personal appearance and perform miracle after miracle under _controlled experimental conditions_, it would remain logically possible that it was really just space aliens or a clever magician. But the _vast majority_ of atheists would just give up rather than believe this. Atheism would be falsified.

exapologist said...

It seems to me that Victor is correct on the point about the possibility of rationally-justified-yet-empirically-unfalsifiable theistic belief (unless we have some great argument against the possibility of justifying beliefs via "metaphysical" arguments, which I take it that we don't). It seems no more problematic to justify theism in this way than it it to justify, say, belief in universals, or indirect realism about perception, or (insert favorite philosophical thesis here).

-exapologist