Monday, July 23, 2007

Keith Parsons on the cosmological argument

The Secular Outpost: Atheist Manifesto

When asked for reasons for thinking that God exists, most people reply with amateur versions of the first cause or design arguments. For most people, even philosophers like William Lane Craig, the idea that the universe "came into existence out of nothing" is just absurd. After all, in our ordinary experience things don't just pop into existence or spontaneously disappear (except socks in the washer and car keys). As Craig puts it somewhere nobody would expect a full-grown Bengal tiger to just materialize out of thin air. In short, from nothing comes nothing. However, this reasoning is fatally flawed. Our common-sense expectations about things coming into or going out of existence are based entirely upon our experience within the space/time universe with all its conservation laws in force. We have no experience at all of the beginning of space/time itself, and there is no reason whatsoever to think that our everyday intuitions would apply to such a situation. If the physics of the last century has taught us anything, it is that our common-sense intuitions simply might not apply to the realities studied by fundamental physics. You and I cannot be in two places at once; an electron can. I have no intuitions at all about the beginning of space/time, and if I did I would not trust them.

While not necessarily giving a full and complete endorsement to the Kalam Cosmological Argument, surely everyone accepts some version of the causal principle. We think there need to be causes for things. We want to know why. This search for an answer to why questions doesn’t stop when the ordinary methods of naturalistic science offer no more answers. To then turn our curiosity off and say we shouldn’t look for any more answers because certain methods are not available to us seems question-begging.

While some versions of the causal principle are too strong, others seem presupposed by the success of human inquiry. See the following

Further, if we restrict the use of common-sense principle to what goes on within the physical universe, what other principles do we have to similarly restrict. How about Ockham’s razor. Why should superior success of simpler theories to more complex ones within the physical universe make someone think that this sort of principle can be extended beyond the physical world. If the causal principle has to be restricted, then this one does too. If the atheist wants us to accept an Ockham’s Razor argument for atheism (which Parsons does appeal to in his reply to Moreland), but also insists that we restrict the causal principle to a naturalistic framework, then he or she needs to explain why she can make both moves. I think there’s an inconsistency here.


David Wood said...

Amazing! Parsons claims that the reasoning "From nothing, nothing comes" is fatally flawed.

It's one thing to say that our common-sense intuitions don't apply in certain situations (e.g. at the quantum level). But to say that something can come from nothing goes far beyond this. One might just as reasonably say that the law of contradiction didn't hold before our world came into existence.

If I were an atheist, I would simply say that there was always a singularity, and that this was something. Hence, while it is true that nothing comes from nothing, the universe came from something--namely, a singularity. That seems far more plausible than saying that one can start with nothing and somehow end up with a universe.

Now think about this for a moment. If atheists like Parsons are willing to throw out claims such as "nothing comes from nothing," can he really criticize theists for being unreasonable in our claims? If atheists are free to throw out philosophy's most cherished principles whenever the latter happen to point to theism, can they fairly point a finger at even the worst theistic arguments?

Anonymous said...

'We think there need to be causes for things. We want to know why.'

So if Keith Parsons liked a particular football team, we would want to know the cause for this liking?

Anonymous said...

At what moment in time did 'nothing' exist?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous has it completely wrong.

If Keith Parsons despises the Gators, then this is basic and we have no need to try to find an explanation of that basic fact.

Anonymous said...

To follow up - 'Because we are rejecting physicalism, we can put
these folk-psychological explanations on the most basic level of analysis.'

So there is just no need to try to find a cause of Keith Parsons depsising the Gators.

Anonymous said...

David Wood's arguments are very convincing that nothing can be created from nothing.

God must have created the universe from something. 'That seems far more plausible than saying that one can start with nothing and somehow end up with a universe.'

Anonymous said...

This reasoning might (and im putting a big might on this) be fair if the universe we observed was a big unholy mess with no order or structure to it and, as applies the 2nd law of thermo-dynamics, it was constantly becoming less and less organized (over time). Yet, of course, that is the complete opposite of what has happened. The universe is incredibly orderly even atheists like Steven Weinberg can accept that point without contention. So I think it's probly helpful to bear in mind that the fine-tuning argument (to the universe) actually ties in very much with the first-cause argument when an atheist starts to trench into these waters. - Ryan Blood