Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Cursed are the peacemakers?

Ben Witherington critiques a twisted an unbiblical Christian perspective. It reminds me of James Watt, the Reagan secretary of the interior, who said that there was no need for environmental preservation since Jesus is coming soon, after all.

Craig defends the causal principle of his argument

Materialism and the possibility of truth

Vallicella's argument that if all things are material, there can be no such thing as truth (and therefore, materialism cannot be true). I linked to this before and no one responded.

A paper critical of Brigham Young University

Bad news for the Cougars, and the Mormons.

Carson Holloway on Darwinian natural right

Can morality be imbedded in a Darwinian world view? Carson Holloway, of Princeton University, has some doubts. HT: J. D. Walters

Defenders of “Darwinian natural right” are convincing when they argue that our moral inclinations are not arbitrary social constructs, but instead our biological nature. But a Darwinian approach equally demonstrates that many other passions are rooted in our nature, passions that can hardly be called moral and that might well be considered immoral. No doubt a tendency toward cooperation would have been useful in the evolutionary environment. So too would a tendency to exploit the vulnerabilities of others. Darwinians all admit this, and they accordingly admit that human nature is made up of both moral and amoral passions. Once that is conceded, their teaching can only provide an equivocal support for morality. The man inclined by sympathy to help his neighbor may be apt, in other circumstances, to enslave him if the man thinks he and his kin can benefit from such injustice.[1]
[1] Holloway, Carson. “Losing our religion” 21 August 2006

The Myth of the Beginning of Time

The Kalam Cosmological Argument goes:

1. Whatever begins to exist, must have a cause of its existence.
2. The Universe began to exist.
Therefore, the Universe has a cause of its existence.

A lot of debate on the KCA has concerned whether 1 can be applied to the universe itself. But 2 seems strongly supported by Big Bang theory. But do developments in string theory suggest that premise 2 is vulnerable? String Theorist Veneziano seems to think so. What do you think?

Monday, July 30, 2007

C. S. Lewis on idealism

It is astonishing (at this time of day) that I could regard this position as something quite distinct from Theism. I suspect there was some willful blindness. But there were in those days all sorts of blankets, insulators, and insurances which enabled one to get all the conveniences of Theism, without believing in God. The English Hegelians, writers like T. H. Green, Bradley, and Bosanquet (then mighty names), dealt in precisely such wares. The Absolute Mind—better still, the Absolute—was impersonal, or it knew itself (but not us?) and it was so absolute that it wasn’t really much more like a mind than anyone else….We could talk religiously about the Absolute; but there was no danger of Its doing anything about us…There was nothing to fear, better still, nothing to obey.

Surprised by Joy, pp. 209-210

A response to P. Z. Myers on neuroscience

From Thinking Christian.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Reply to exapologist on cosmological arguments

EA: I'm wondering what sort of evidence one could have for the version of PSR that's supposed to entail (5). It seems to me that it would have to be something along the lines that it's a synthetic a priori proposition or, what, an inductive "track record" argument, or perhaps that it's a presupposition of reason? Whatever it may be, is it strong enough to undermine the intuition of the seeming possibility of a logically contingent, yet metaphysically independent ("free-standing"), being (something along the lines of Swinburne's conception of God)? My intuition is that if any version of PSR entails that such a being is metaphysically impossible, then so much the worse for that version of PSR. For it seems to me to be explanatory overkill to require an explanation of such a being -- i.e., a logically (even metaphysically) contingent, yet eternal being that has, say, indestructibility (or at least the world-indexed essential property of being indestructible-in-alpha, the actual world) as an essential property."

VR: I’m wondering if this is enough to block an argument in defense of something like theism against naturalism. The very idea of “indestructible-in-alpha” strikes me as incoherent. “Indestructible” is a claim with modal force, therefore it can’t be a world-indexed property. Do you just mean “not actually destroyed in alpha?” So how contingent is this being, really?

Of course even at best cosmological argument doesn’t prove the existence of a being omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good, or a personal God, etc. However, if successful it does refute the naturalistic view that the physical world is all that exists.

Cosmological arguments have to deal with the termination problem. What characteristics are needed to terminate the chain of explanations? The Unmoved Mover argument holds that explanations cannot terminate in that which is in motion, but must rather terminate in an ummoved mover. The argument from contingency holds that the physical world is contingent, and therefore depends on something that is not contingent—that is, necessary. Perhaps we can develop the “argument from destructibility.” Whatever is destructible must depend for its existence on what is not destructible.

Of course, naturalistic cosmological argument critics maintain that there if we extend causal reasoning beyond the space-time manifold, there are no “termination-making characteristics” that can be applied to God but not to the physical universe. That’s the claim to be found in Parsons’ atheist manifesto. There are two ways of casting this issue. One is to suppose that a naturalistic world is beginningless. Does that beginningless world possess all the termination-making characteristics?

The matter gets more complicated when we accept the Standard Big Bang theory. With this picture the universe had a temporal beginning. Now that beginning is the beginning of time itself, so unlike the case of a Bengal tiger popping into existence, there is no time before the universe exists, when time exists and the universe does not. I have a strong intuition that nevertheless this does not dissipate the sense that there must be a cause of the physical universe. Does it make sense to say that the universe had a beginning moment but cannot possibly have a final moment?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

A metamodel for philosophical arguments

I would like some responses to this metamodel for philosophical arguments. This is part of a paper I am writing for the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology on, you guessed it, the argument from reason.
Before launching into the discussion of the argument from reason, some preamble about what philosophical arguments can be expected to do is in order. To do this we must consider the scope and limits of arguments. What at maximum one can hope for, in presenting an argument, is that the argument will be a decisive argument in favor of one’s conclusion. A decisive argument is an argument so strong that, with respect to all inquirers, the argument is such that they ought to embrace the conclusion. Even when a decisive argument is present, some may remain unpersuaded, but in these are cases of irrationality.
The difficulty here is that by this standard very few philosophical arguments can possibly succeed. This is largely because in assessing the question of, say, whether God exists, numerous considerations are relevant. Since we can concentrate on only one argument at a time, it is easy to get “tunnel vision” and consider only the piece of evidence that is advanced by the argument. But a person weighing the truth of theism must consider the total evidence. So I propose to advance a different concept of what an argument can do. I will assume for the sake of argument, that people will differ as to their initial probabilities concerning the probability that God exists. The question I will then pose is whether the phenomenon picked out by the argument makes theism more likely, or makes atheism more likely. If it makes theism more likely to be true than it would otherwise be before we started thinking about the phenomenon in question, then the argument carries some weight in support of theism. If it makes atheism more likely, then it provides inductive support for atheism.
The model I am proposing is a Bayesian model with a subjectivist theory of prior probabilities. We begin by asking ourselves how likely we thought theism was before we started thinking about the argument in question. We then ask how likely the phenomenon is to exist given the hypothesis of theism. We then ask how likely the phenomenon is to exist whether or not theism is true. If the phenomenon is more likely to exist given theism than it is to exist whether or not theism is true, then the argument carries some inductive weight in favor of theism.
It should be added that one can be an atheist and admit that there are some facts in the world that confirm theism. You can also be a theist and maintain that some atheistic arguments enhance the epistemic status of atheism. Some theists have made just this sort of claim on behalf of the argument from evil. That is, they are prepared to concede that the argument from evil does provide some epistemic support for atheism, but not enough epistemic support to make atheists out of them.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Keith Parsons responds to me on cosmological arguments

Well, we're debating again. Parsons responds to me on Secular Outpost. I don't have time to reply right now, so you guys get the first crack.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

C. S. Lewis and idealism

When you study the philosophical content of C. S. Lewis's work, as opposed to work in contemporary philosophy, one imporant thing to keep in mind is that Lewis came out of a philosophical climate in which Absolute Idealism was a major player, whereas in philosophy today it is relegated to the olde curiosity shoppe. This is a study of Lewis's philosophical journey, especially as it relates to absolute idealism.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Contingency and the principle of sufficient reason

This is a redated post, once again. The dialogue between exapologist and Steve in the comments may help to support, or not, my responses to Parsons on Secular Outpost two posts back.

In reading Steve Lovell's comments on the gap between the claim that the physical universe is contingent on the one hand, and the claim that it is dependent on the other, I think some version of the principle of sufficient reason is supposed to do th is kind of work. So I am redating this post on Wainwright's treatment of the Thomistic argument.

In trying to make sense of the Thomistic cosmological argument, I have found William Wainwright's introductory book on the philosophy of religion helpful.

Cosmological arguments seem to have two critical elements. One notes the contingency of the physical world. Every part of it is such that we can conceive of it not existing. Most people believe that if God were to exist, God would have the power to annihilate the universe completely. So there is some sense to be made of the idea that the universe is something that exists contingently, not necessarily.

But why, if the universe is contingent in this sense, couldn't the universe be contingent on nothing. That is the question Steven Carr is asking. We need explanatory principles, or what in philosophy are called principles of sufficient reason, in order to justify the claim that the universe needs something other than itself to explain it.

PSR1: For every contingent fact F some other fact F' obtains such that, given F', F must obtain.

This principle is incompatible with classical theism, for reasons which are similar to the ones Steven mentioned. It is a contingent fact that God freely chose to create a universe, according to classical theism. Or, if God had chosen to exist alone, that would be contingent.

So PSR needs to be revised. Wainwright offers some alternatives:

PSR2: There is a sufficient reason for the existence of every contingent being.

This doesn't entail tha there has to be an explanation of every property of that being, just the existence of the being. So, for example, that being freely choosing to do something can be fully nd completely contingent.

PSR3: Every contingent fact that requires a sufficient reason has one.

A contingent fact "requires" a sufficient erason if and only if 1) it is logically possible for it to have a sufficient reason and 2) it is unintelligible if it doesn't have one.

PSR4: There is at least some reason for every contingent fact.

I have seen this referred to as the principle of necessary reason, for every contingent fact there are necessary conditions for it.

Wainwright goes on:

"The weaker principles are strong enough to generate the conclusion that contingent being is caused by a self-exisent being."

The upshot of Wainwright's subsequent discussion is that at least PSR4 is supported by the success of human inquiry, and that therefore the weaker forms of PSR are more plausible than their denials. Hence, he does find some legitimacy in forms of the cosmological argument that use some of the weaker versions of PSR4, and he thinks they do lend significant support to the claim that the physical universe depends on something other than itself, which is self-existent.

Gaylord Perry, Barry Bonds, and the Hall of Fame

Gaylord Perry is in the Hall of Fame, in spite of having admitted doctoring baseballs. In other words, Perry has admitted to using performance enhancing substances, even though he put them on the baseball and not in his own body. Now maybe his admission, in 1991, was a mistake. But if it wasn't a mistake, what happens to the popular argument that Barry Bonds should be excluded from the Hall of Fame because we have evidence that he as used steroids. Can anyone argue that Perry should be in the Hall of Fame but Bonds should be excluded?

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.

The Secular Outpost: Keith Parsons' Atheist Manifesto

Keith Parsons, my ex-housemate and atheist philosopher, has joined the Secular Outpost team. I welcome his to the blogosphere, and may be giving him more of a detailed comment once I turn my grades in for my summer classes.

The Secular Outpost: Atheist Manifesto

Friday, July 20, 2007

Is Harry Potter Toast?

Now for the profound philosophical question of the day. Is Harry Potter toast. Thsi book on Potter and Philosophy was co-edited by my good friend Dave Baggett.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Babinski on the problem of evil

Ed: You seem to forget that it is atheists like Loftus who attempting to prove something here. So if, as you say, the discussion proves nothing and solves nothing, the theist wins.

Theists typically are not satisfied with a fideistic response to the problem of evil, that all the suffering is just God's will and that we should accept the "because I said so" theodicy. It is absurd to suggest, as you do, that this is a test for Christian orthodoxy.

It's something like evolutionary biologists. An evolutionary biologist does not necessarily think that evolution is disproved if there is a gap in the fossil record they can't explain. But if they couldn't explain anything, they's be in trouble. Christian reflection on suffering can perhaps explain a good deal of human suffering. Most theists at the same time realize that their best explanation efforts fall short of explaining all evil, but nevertheless they think that the force of what atheists think is an overwhelming argument for atheism is far from what the atheist supposes it to be.

The atheist maintains that if I were to look the facts of evil in the eye honestly, that I would not be a theist. He not only thinks that evil is a reason why he is not a theist, he thinks that it is also a good reason why I should not be a theist. That's the dialectical fact that everyone keeps overlooking. Attempts by people like Weisberger to put the theist on the defensive on this issue are unsuccessful, as agnostic philosopher Graham Oppy shows with considerable effectiveness.

I made a list of top Christian blogs

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A response to comments on the problem of evil

I was somewhat kidding when I called this the end of the argument from evil. But only somwhat. I think it does show, however, that it's going to be very difficult to press an argument from evil through that is going to be successful regardless of what value theory the theist happens to hold. This of course is a hardly an insane value theory, and it seems to leave the theist with a successful defense against the problem of evil. But I must admit that I myself have a qualm or two about the sweeping consequentialism of the value theory underlying my argument.

It makes matters worse for you if you are a moral subjectivist and are trying to rebut this (a favorite point of mine). Because now can't say that my theodicy is in conflict with the true theory of value. What you now have to do is argue that some theory of value that supports the argument from evil is ENTAILED by Christian theism. Good luck doing that.

Making an argument that some value theory is just plain wrong is going to be difficult, as well.
You may be committed to the kind of rights-based value theory would impose upon God the obligation of not permitting suffering of type X or amount Y.

Even if you show that I hold a value theory that supports the argument from evil, all that does is show that I have to abandon theism or change my value theory.

Consider LaCroix's premise that John quoted:

L: If God is the greatest possible good then if God had not created there would be nothing but the greatest possible good.

Why should I accept that? It seems to define good the absence of evil or suffering. I thought it was the other way around--evil is the privation of good.

The problem of evil: the final solution?

Here's a response to the argument from evil that you don't hear very often. I thought of it in grad school.

Let's assume that God is pursuing the greatest total balance of good over bad.
In the beginning God creates the best of all possible universes. The good-to-bad balance of that universe is + 1 million.

Should God stop? He can, after all, now create the second best of all possible worlds, and nearly double the total balance of good over evil. So what God has to do to get the best balance of good over evil is create all the worlds that have a positive balance, so that the total can be as high as possible.

Does the good in this world outweigh the bad all told? If it does, then God ought to actualize it, no matter how much suffering it contains. Can we honestly say that all the good in this world is greater than all the bad? That's a much tougher case to make than arguing that this is not the best of all possible worlds. All God needs to do to improve the total balance of good over evil is to create all the worlds with a positive balance.

Is this the end of the argument from evil?

Bertrand Russell's "critique" of the cosmological argument

This is why Russell's "Why I am not a Christian" is sometimes considered the best piece of Christian apologetics ever written. If the atheists can't do better than this, they're in trouble.

Perhaps the simplest and easiest to understand is the argument of the First Cause. (It is maintained that everything we see in this world has a cause, and as you go back in the chain of causes further and further you must come to a First Cause, and to that First Cause you give the name of God.) That argument, I suppose, does not carry very much weight nowadays, because, in the first place, cause is not quite what it used to be. The philosophers and the men of science have got going on cause, and it has not anything like the vitality it used to have; but, apart from that, you can see that the argument that there must be a First Cause is one that cannot have any validity. I may say that when I was a young man and was debating these questions very seriously in my mind, I for a long time accepted the argument of the First Cause, until one day, at the age of eighteen, I read John Stuart Mill's Autobiography, and I there found this sentence: "My father taught me that the question 'Who made me?' cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question `Who made god?'" That very simple sentence showed me, as I still think, the fallacy in the argument of the First Cause. If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. It is exactly of the same nature as the Hindu's view, that the world rested upon an elephant and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, "How about the tortoise?" the Indian said, "Suppose we change the subject." The argument is really no better than that. There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination. Therefore, perhaps, I need not waste any more time upon the argument about the First Cause.

God or Blind Nature Debate on Infidels

Arthur Balfour online

Arthur Balfour, the former British Prime Minister and one of the founding fathers of the AFR, has a couple of books that can be read online. Actually The Foundations of Belief can be read online as well, as I linked to it on DI2.

The argument from evil debate Loftus v. Wood

Now if I can get these two guys to get along. Of course, I refuted the argument from evil a few posts back :). Maybe I should redate that post.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Responses to the discussion on the Argument from Contingency

I'd like to respond to at least some of the comments on the Argument from Contingency. I probably won't get to them all on this post, so be patient.

Remember, although I am a believer in the existence of God I have not, at this point, endorsed this version of the cosmological argument.

Steve Esser thinks that the argument refutes physicalism, because it shows that there must be something that make an individual objects parts be a unified individual. But could that which unifies a thing's parts be something other than God? But the argument, of course is designed to show that God is the necessary being on which the contingent objects in the universe depend. That is certainly Godlike though, of course, we are still a long way from John 3: 16.

David correctly points out that the argument I presented was not Aquinas's Third Way. That's true, but Aquinas's Third Way, as stated, seems to have some serious problems with it. Aquinas suggests that if there is an infinite series of contingent existents, then it is possible for each of them to cease to exist, and if it is possible, then in the course of an infinite period of time every possibility would have to be actualized, and if so that would mean that the possibility that everything goes out of existence would have to have been actual. That being true, if the universe is in existence now, it would have had to come into existence out of nothing, but nothing comes from nothing, so therefore there has to be a necessary being. But an infinite time would not guarantee the actualization of all possibilities. The infinite series of multiples of 3, for instance, does not include 22. So I think the version of the argument I presented actually avoids some difficulties that the original argument had.

Though I understand that the best source for Thomist thought on these arguments is the Summa Contra Gentiles rather than the Summa Theologica.

Steve responded by saying that he saw something problematic about the idea of a changeless entity causing the universe, and David responded that while this might be difficult to understand there is no proof that the idea is incoherent.

Clayton argued that an infinite series of contingent objects is not a patent absurdity, appealing to Hume's (and Paul Edwards') argument that if you can account for each individual in the series, it makes no sense to say that you can't account for the whole series.

He also makes an important point when he says that Aquinas objects to some infinite regresses but does not maintain that an actual infinite is impossible. If he took that view, he would then have an argument in favor of the claim that the universe had to have a beginning (the now familiar Kalam argument made famous by William Craig) but Aquinas explicitly says that this is an article of faith.

I think Aquinas holds that every object has to have a contemporanously existing cause, and that an infinite serious of those objects would generate an absurdity, while he would not say that about in infinite series of past causes.

Menuge on Why He is Not a Selfplex

From Agents Under Fire

Who we are and how we think is not simply a consequence of the
combination of our genes. . . . Likewise, the combination of memes
does not suffice to explain the coherent patterns of human thought.
A coalition of atomistic, memorable units provides no basis for
practical or theoretical reasoning. Humans can see certain
thoughts and desires as reasons for further action or thought.
However, memes are discrete units and are blind to their own
and each other’s existence. Memes are not self-interpreting,
nor are they able to interpret other memes. Consequently, a
meme cannot see itself or another meme as a reason for some
other action or thought. What is clearly required is an external
interpreter of these memes. On pain of regress, this cannot simply
be another meme or memeplex. The interpretive self cannot be
reduced to a selfplex.

The Unmoved Mover

Another old post revived; my Philosophy 101 class is going over Aristotle and Aquinas:

In St. Thomas Aquinas' Five Ways, we find the most evident way is the argument from motion, establishing the existence of an unmoved mover. Let me present a version of the argument as follows:

1. At least one thing, call it X, is in motion.
2. If X is in motion, then its motion must be caused.
3. If X's motion is caused, then the cause of that motion must be either a) a series of movers which are themselves moving or b) a series of movers that contains at least one unmoved mover.
4. A series of moved movers, even if it is an infinite series, cannot explain the motion of X.
5. Therefore, the motion of X must be explained in terms of the existence of an unmoved mover.
6. That which does not move but causes the motion of all other things deserves to be called God.
7. Therefore, God exists.

If we look at this argument, premise 1 seems undoubtable. Let us grant that the motion of X must be caused. The options in 3 look exhaustive. I'm going to grant 6 for the sake of argument. Mind you, we're a long way from John 3:16. But it does lead us in the direction of a belief in something non-physical on which the universe depends. But how about 4. Why does 4 seem unsatisfactory?

Well, put something somewhere, say, a five-dollar bill on top of your dresser. Now come back the next day, and see if it is still there. If you see it still there, you don't need an explanation. It is where you expected to find it. If it is gone, we need an explanation. Somebody removed the bill. So, we are inclined, at least initially, to suppose that rest needs no explanation, but motion does. Hence an infinite series of moved movers doesn't do the explanatory job needed, and you need an unmoved mover.

Or do you? Perhaps we think this way because we are accustomed to living in a gravitational field, called planet earth. But if we didn't live in a gravitational field, but lived on the space station, we would expect things to be moving, and we would have to explain why things get stopped.

So the idea that motion stands in special need of explanation, while the absence of motion does not, is an idea that modern science seems to reject. Without this assumption, the argument to the Unmoved Mover fails.

Or does it? Are there any good Thomists (followers of St. Thomas Aquinas) out there who can explain to me what I might be missing?

David Theroux's essay on the poverty of naturalism

With some references to the argument from reason.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Response to Lowder on abusing atheists, or what part of gentleness and respect don't you understand?

There's lots of abuse to go around on all sides. But no, it's not acceptable. I'm surprised the theist didn't throw in a threat about the fires of hell.

I dislike Richard Dawkins, but I don't envy him his hate mail.

I hate to say it, but I think the level of courtesy in online religious discourse has gone down over the past 12 or so years that I have followed it. I'll never forget Jeff's willingness to include two papers of mine on Infidels in 1998--in fact they were made available at his request.

I have no idea as to why Christians send these things to atheists. Does anyone really think that this serves the Kingdom of God? A certain amount of "in your face" goes with the territory. The Bible teaches that we should give an answer for the hope that is in us with gentleness and respect. What part of that don't some theists understand? I suppose there is nothing in the writings of Bertrand Russell saying that atheists should given an answer for the atheism that is in them with gentleness and respect. But I think they can absorb that Scripture without signing on to anything like inerrancy.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Some discussion of the KCA

In a previous discussion of the Kalam cosmological argument an anonymous interlocutor wrote that physicists really don't use the idea of cause and effect, and then presented this explanation.

(To avoid confusion I should clarify again that "cause and effect" is a term used in physics as a synonym for "determinism". Classical physics is deterministic, quantum physics is not. So "cause and effect" is routinely mentioned (as a metaphor) in the context of classical physics, but has dropped out of quantum physics. "Causes" and "effects", however, play no role in the equations of classical or quantum physics. And for good reason: it is notoriously difficult to define "causes" and "effects" in any given situation.)

OK, that may be. But I would think that even in physics physicists would be committed to some version of the causal principle; that is, at least believe in some weakened version of the principle of sufficient reason. Let me quote myself from an old post on PSRs.:

We need explanatory principles, or what in philosophy are called principles of sufficient reason, in order to justify the claim that the universe needs something other than itself to explain it.PSR1: For every contingent fact F some other fact F' obtains such that, given F', F must obtain.This principle is incompatible with classical theism, for reasons which are similar to the ones Steven mentioned. It is a contingent fact that God freely chose to create a universe, according to classical theism. Or, if God had chosen to exist alone, that would be contingent.So PSR needs to be revised. Wainwright offers some alternatives:PSR2: There is a sufficient reason for the existence of every contingent being.This doesn't entail tha there has to be an explanation of every property of that being, just the existence of the being. So, for example, that being freely choosing to do something can be fully nd completely contingent.PSR3: Every contingent fact that requires a sufficient reason has one.A contingent fact "requires" a sufficient reason if and only if 1) it is logically possible for it to have a sufficient reason and 2) it is unintelligible if it doesn't have one.PSR4: There is at least some reason for every contingent fact.I have seen this referred to as the principle of necessary reason, for every contingent fact there are necessary conditions for it.Wainwright goes on:"The weaker principles are strong enough to generate the conclusion that contingent being is caused by a self-exisent being."The upshot of Wainwright's subsequent discussion is that at least PSR4 is supported by the success of human inquiry, and that therefore the weaker forms of PSR are more plausible than their denials. Hence, he does find some legitimacy in forms of the cosmological argument that use some of the weaker versions of PSR4, and he thinks they do lend significant support to the claim that the physical universe depends on something other than itself, which is self-existent.

Now it looks like any of these principles will do the work necessary to support the causal principle of the KCA. Therefore a denial of the very strong sense of "cause and effect" that physicists might have in mind doesn't mean that they don't believe in, say, Wainwright's PSR4. And PSR4 is all William Lane Craig needs.

More on the Kalam Cosmologicla Argument

From the Prosblogion.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Robin Collins on fine-tuning

This is a link to work by Robin Collins, probably the leading defender of the fine-tuning argument today.


Some discussion of the fine-tuning argument for theism

This is a discussion of the fine-tuning argument for theism, which is William Lane Craig's second argument in his debate with Douglas Jesseph

More Wes Morriston

Actually, Morriston has said rather a lot against the Kalam argument

Some arguments for the finitude of the past

The first of William Lane Craig's arguments for the existence of God is the Kalam Cosmological Argument. It goes:

1. Whatever begins to exist, must have a cause of its existence.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.

The first premise of the argument seems intuitive, at least at first. Suppose you and I are eating lunch. You turn your head away from the table, only to discover that a bunny rabbit is munching on your salad. You ask "how did that rabbit get there?" and I say "Funny thing. It just popped into existence. No cause or anything, it just happened." You wouldn't take me seriously, right? Well, what goes for bunny rabbits should go for universes. To say that the universe began without a cause doesn't make sense.

Or does it? Opponents have argued that in Big Bang theory the time begins when the universe begins. So there never was a time before the Big Bang in which time existed but the universe did not.

Somehow, this doesn't in my mind alleviate the need for a cause. It seems to me that something that doesn't exist contingently should have existed through an infinite duration. if it doesn't have a cause, similarly, it should exist through an infinite time, or be outside of time.

But why believe that the universe had a temporal beginning? The most prominent theory in cosmology seems to still be the Big Bang theory, a theory that says that there was a beginning. But Craig also endorses arguments that there can't be an infinite number of past moments.

Think about this. Suppose I ask you to loan me some money. I offer you 100% interest compounded daily. But you, quite rationally, want to know the term of the loan. I reply that even though it may take an infinite length of time to pay it back, you'll get your money. This somehow doesn't satisfy you. But if the past is infinite, that means that there are an infinite number of moments in time that have ALREADY HAPPENED. How is that possible?

I have a link to a presentation of three arguments in favor of the claim that the past must be finite and not infinite.

A presentation of the Kalam Cosmological Argument

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Morriston's critique of the Kalam Cosmological Argument

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