Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Why a Catholic secretly roots for atheists in theist/atheist debates

Here. 

Why? Because he keeps hoping to see some real arguments.

What I was wholly unprepared for, however, was the way in which the Atheist team consistently abandons the effort to present logical arguments at all and simply reverts to name calling. As I said, when faced with worthy opponents, such as Dr. Craig or Dinesh D’Souza, many of the atheist debaters give up any effort to mount rational arguments and just start making snide remarks.

Never happens here at DI. :)

Now, I have heard theist-atheist debates in which atheists have produced real arguments.

HT: Bob Prokop

145 comments:

T said...

Link?

rank sophist said...

In all honesty, it's very rare to find an atheist with solid arguments against theism. The argument from evil is completely incoherent against classical theism, and it barely scratches newer forms. Arguments for the non-beginning of the universe are terrible--even when presented by intelligent people like Quentin Smith.

I, for one, would love to see an atheist present serious challenges to the argument from reason, Craig's kalam argument and so forth. I think it would be highly entertaining.

ozero91 said...

While I agree that the argument from evil is no longer the slam dunk that it used to be, I think that the next area to tackle is the problem of divine hiddeness.

BenYachov said...

Of course Aquinas & Mortimer Adler showed you can assume the Universe has an infinite past and eternal existence without a formal beginning and you still need God to account for it's existence.

Patrick said...

ozero91: “While I agree that the argument from evil is no longer the slam dunk that it used to be, I think that the next area to tackle is the problem of divine hiddeness.”

As for the problem of divine hiddenness, I dealt with it in my comment from August 10, 12:42 pm in the following thread:

http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2012/08/01/the-only-reasonable-reply-to-the-problem-of-evil/

rank sophist said...

Ben,

Oh, yeah--I just took it for granted that Aquinas's argument was irrefutable. Craig's kalam is solid and fun to read about, and it might, possibly, be beatable. So it's a better target for atheist attacks.

As for the problem of divine hiddenness, Ed Feser recently said that it was his main argument against theism when he was an atheist. It's pretty decent against theistic personalism.

Crude said...

I actually think the hiddenness argument is pretty weak. The POE is superficially powerful, and emotionally it's extremely powerful, but ultimately not so much.

I'm always in the odd situation of being vastly more sympathetic to classical theism than personalistic, while still thinking the theistic personalists are in great shape. Even intelligent design, the Thomist whipping boy (not without reason), at heart advances arguments that scare the pants off a lot of Cult of Gnu types who actually consider what's being said.

Steven Carr said...

Theists can't produce a god.

And Craig wins as many debates as Gish, and for much the same reasons.

CRAIG ON NAZIS.

God loves Heinrich just as much as He loves you and so accords him sufficient grace for salvation and seeks to draw him to Himself.

Indeed, God may have known that through the guilt and shame of what Heinrich did under the Third Reich, he would eventually come to repent and find salvation and eternal life.

Paradoxically, being a Nazi may have been the best thing that happened to Heinrich, since it led to his salvation.

Of course, one may wonder about those poor people who suffered in the death camps because of Heinrich.

But God has a plan for their lives, too...,

B. Prokop said...

So, Steven, you appear to be wishing eternal damnation upon Heinrich. But in previous postings, you've used the idea of Hell as an argument against the existence of God. So which is it? Are you now in favor of there being a Hell, even though you disbelieve in an afterlife?

Just as this thread demonstrates - the atheist position is fundamentally incoherent!

im-skeptical said...

rank,

Who says the universe began to exist?

B. Prokop said...

Im-skeptical,

It has to have begun. If it had not, that requires the following:

a. The universe has always existed (had no beginning), therefore

b. the universe has already existed for an infinite amount of time, therefore

c. there must have once existed some point in time as "the present" for which today would be an infinite amount of time into the future, which means

d. that from that necessarily existing moment in the past one would never get to "today" (it forever being an infinite amount of time in the future), so that

e. we cannot possibly be here and now, experiencing this moment as the present.

So in order for you and I to be here at all, the universe requires a beginning.

im-skeptical said...

The notion that there are no infinite sets is absurd. I remember the old argument that you can't get from here to there, because you must first get halfway there... Besides, your argument could apply to God just as well as it does to the universe.

Crude said...

The notion that there are no infinite sets is absurd.

The argument isn't against just "infinite sets", it's against the physical instantiation of the infinite. Craig's argument explicitly doesn't apply to mental models or the potentially infinite.

Besides, your argument could apply to God just as well as it does to the universe.

It could in principle, assuming there was a similarity. Again, this isn't overlooked by Craig in his arguments - he does address it. To your satisfaction is another question.

Part of the problem of Craig's argument is that he typically presents it as a reductio, with accepting an instantiated infinite supposing to entail absurdities. But committed atheists (especially Cult of Gnu ones) have zero problem embracing an absurdity if the alternative is God.

im-skeptical said...

OK, let's say the timespan of the universe's existence is infinite. So what? That still doesn't imply that it can't exist. The fallacy of Ben's argument lies in statement d. One doesn't have to get from then to now. If you can accept that God has no beginning, there is no logical reason to reject the idea that the universe has no beginning. The problem with the kalam argument (like most theistic arguments) is that it rests on an axiom (the universe began to exist) that one need not accept as truth.

Crude said...

OK, let's say the timespan of the universe's existence is infinite. So what? That still doesn't imply that it can't exist.

Craig's argument is meant to illustrate that yes, it actually can't exist. Or rather, that absurdities are entailed by the existence of an actual temporal infinite.

The fallacy of Ben's argument lies in statement d. One doesn't have to get from then to now.

There's a problem with the idea that an infinite amount of time has passed prior to the present moment. That's one of the things Craig gets into.

If you can accept that God has no beginning, there is no logical reason to reject the idea that the universe has no beginning.

God isn't a temporal entity - or, more specifically, God wasn't a temporal entity (under Craig's view, I think, God was atemporal, but became temporal.) Really, this is like arguing that because there's an infinite amount of numbers, something of infinitely large size can exist. It's apples and oranges, and it rests on an equivocation of 'infinity'.

Let me ask you this: have you ever actually read Craig's arguments on this from? Not "a summary you heard somewhere", but literally, Craig's own arguments?

PatrickH said...

The kalam argument does not "rest on the axiom" that the universe began to exist. It argues for that position.

Your point about "accepting" that God has no beginning is beside the point. God is not understood in the kalam argument as having "always existed".

It was not "Ben" who made point d. It was "Bob", as in Bob Prokop.

im-skeptical said...

My apology, Bob.

From Wiki:
"The Kalām cosmological argument:[10]

Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence;
The universe has a beginning of its existence;

Therefore:

The universe has a cause of its existence."


And I didn't say that kalam argues that God always existed. I was talking about the logical necessity of having a beginning.

But I need to go back and review Craig's argument, because I'm not sure how he addressed some of these issues.

rank sophist said...

Arguing for physical infinities is not the way to be kalam. Trust me. You end up believing that the Hilbert's Hotel paradox can exist in real life.

rank sophist said...

Apologies: to beat kalam.

im-skeptical said...

rank, I don't recall having argued for physical infinities. But what's good for the goose is good for the gander. I still maintain that if you accept that God exists and has no beginning, I can just as well say that the universe exists and has no beginning.

"under Craig's view, I think, God was atemporal, but became temporal."

And I'm the one who's being equivocal?

Crude said...

I still maintain that if you accept that God exists and has no beginning, I can just as well say that the universe exists and has no beginning.

And again, saying that if there can be an infinite amount of numbers ('there's no highest number'), that therefore the existence of an infinitely large object is possible, you're making a pretty major equivocation on 'infinite'.

And I'm the one who's being equivocal?

There's no equivocating there. What do you think equivocating means?

Really, just read Craig's argument. There are replies to it, but so far you're mischaracterizing it.

im-skeptical said...

I didn't say equivocating. I said equivocal. You see? Two can play this game of dissecting one's words.

Crude said...

I didn't say equivocating. I said equivocal. You see? Two can play this game of dissecting one's words.

Man, I'm not doing this to be annoying or pull a "gotcha" on you. I'm pointing out what seems to be a legitimate misunderstanding on your part - and the only reason I'm doing so is because you, unlike a lot of people, do seem concerned with actually wanting to understand these things.

I know you dislike the technicalities and hair-splitting that goes on here (certainly by me), but really, it's not picking on you or anything, so don't take it as such. Most of us get the same way even when we agree with who we're speaking with.

B. Prokop said...

The question is not one of whether infinities can exist. It is whether they can be traversed - especially temporally. For the universe to be infinitely old, then each and every moment of time that it has so far has existed must for an instant have been "the present". that means (and there's no way of getting around this) that there had to have been a present moment an infinite amount of time in the past, when the point in time we now occupy would have been an infinite number of years in the future. And there is no way to get from there to here.

Im-skeptical, try to ignore the question of God's existence for a moment and reason through that one. How does one get from there to here? this is not (at the moment) an argument for God - it is an argument for the universe having had a beginning.

im-skeptical said...

Crude,

Ok, I was just about to say that this discussion is heading south. So let me restate my position. I haven't argued that time is infinite, or that there is a physically instantiated infinite set. I have merely argued that you don't need to accept that the universe has a beginning. That might be the case for a variety of reasons that don't necessarily involve an infinite timespan. If that's true, then the kalam argument fails.

ozero91 said...

im-skeptical,

"That might be the case for a variety of reasons that don't necessarily involve an infinite timespan."

Would you oblige us with an example? Also, do you think that the Big Bang Theory, if true, implies a beginning of space and time? Or do you hold to a cyclic model of collapse and expansion?

B. Prokop said...

"That might be the case for a variety of reasons that don't necessarily involve an infinite timespan."

I'm genuinely interested. Kindly name one.

(I actually can think of two, but they both require you first become a Buddhist. Seriously.)

rank sophist said...

im-skeptical,

I have yet to see any plausible arguments that explain how the universe could have never begun to exist. Craig has demolished every objection I've seen. And the "argument from infinity", so to speak, is one of the most popular attacks. It doesn't work, and neither do any of the others.

B. Prokop said...

ozero91,

The cyclic model of universe has been decisively disproved by observation. What we now know points to the universe's ongoing expansion actually speeding up over time, rather than slowing down (which is a prerequisite of the cyclic model).

By the way, your moniker "ozero91" intrigues me. Are you a fellow Russian speaker? If so, "Zdravstvujte!"

im-skeptical said...

Bob,

I'm not an astrophysicist, but I believe they have theories involving a multi-dimensional space wherein the universe that we see is just a slice of something much broader than what our senses perceive. It may come and go, but not in a temporal sense. When you leave our comfortable 4-D space, it doesn't make sense to talk about timespans as we think of them.

im-skeptical said...

By the way, I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the cyclic theory. I don't believe that it has been disproved.

I was recently involved in a discussion where something was presented as "scientific findings", when in reality it was a theistic philosopher who cited a book written by another theistic philosopher, who in turn cited a paper written by yet another theistic philosopher. Nowhere in the chain could I find any actual scientific evidence for the claim.

rank sophist said...

im-skeptical,

Craig also attacks those "multiverse" theories along the same lines. Thus far, no one has beaten him.

Crude said...

im-skeptical,

This is just a Q&A, but it's a good sample of the issues with the reply you're giving with regards to "cyclic universes" and 4D space.

Nowhere in the chain could I find any actual scientific evidence for the claim.

It's pretty trivial to do so, since the "scientific evidence" you'd be talking about would be standard Big Bang cosmology.

What's more, the Kalam cosmological argument is a philosophical argument. It's not a scientific argument.

I'm not an astrophysicist, but I believe they have theories involving a multi-dimensional space wherein the universe that we see is just a slice of something much broader than what our senses perceive. It may come and go, but not in a temporal sense. When you leave our comfortable 4-D space, it doesn't make sense to talk about timespans as we think of them.

I ask the following seriously, not mockingly. Do you honestly understand what you're saying with the above? Or are you repeating an objection you saw somewhere that someone treated as a reply to Kalam, and they seemed pretty confident, but you yourself are not totally sure what the heck they mean?

ozero91 said...

@bob

No im not awesome enough to be russian. ozero is just short for omega zero, a video game character.

Also, what about Penrose's objections to the multiverse? Do they still stand? IIRC he argued that if the multiverse where true, we would be notice odd occurences in our universe. Is there an ongoing debate with regards to that?

im-skeptical said...

Crude,

I am an engineer, with a reasonably strong background in mathematics and science. I understand the concept of higher-dimensional space, but it's difficult to visualize what that might look like. Think about living in a world where everything you know exists on the surface of a piece of paper. You can't imagine what it would mean to leave that piece of paper and view your world from "above".

I am not repeating any argument I have heard, but I am relaying my (admittedly limited) understanding of current theories in astrophysics.

B. Prokop said...

Ozero,

I actually like the multiverse concept, and would love for it to be true. Big Problem, however, is that it's not science. Proponents of the idea (I can't bring myself to call it a "theory" for reasons which should become immediately clear) themselves admit that it is inherently untestable, i.e., an alternate universe would be undetectable from this one. If'n ya can't disprove it, it ain't science!

That said, from a purely philosophical point of view, I find the concept to be quite attractive. Reminds me of the line in Walt Whitman, where he writes, "O Thou Transcendent... shedding forth universes." What would be surprising about an infinitely creative God creating an infinite number of universes?

(Ozero, by the way, is Russian for "lake")

Steve Lovell said...

Bob (et al),

I used to defend roughly your version of the Kalam argument, and while I still think there's something in it, I don't think it's as clear as you make out.

You say that an infinite past implies infinitely distantant moments in the past. This is false. The set of natural numbers (0,1,2,3, ...) is infinite but none of the numbers in that set is infinite. If the past is infinite then every moment in the past was only finitely long ago, it's just that the set of past moments has no upper limit to how long ago those moments were.

If anyone is interested, I'll post more on this tomorrow. I need to get to bed.

Steve

B. Prokop said...

Steve,

That argument does not work with sets that need to be traversed. For the actual, physical universe to be infinitely old, each and every one of those infinite number of points in time is required to have been for one instant the "present". Otherwise, the universe cannot be said to have existed at that time. This necessitates there being a point in time for which our own present is an infinite number of years in the future, and therefore never arrived at. This is the difference between talking about non-traversible infinite sets (such as numbers) and those which require a traversal. So in a way, we agree. WE both say that for any point in time a finite distance in the past, the universe is possible. But not so for one an infinity into the past. therefore, the universe requires a starting point.

On the other hand, there is no logical problem with the universe being infinitely large, because there is no requirement for anything to go from one point to another an infinite distance away. (I'm not saying that's the case, just that there's no fallacy involved.)

ozero91 said...

Im-skeptical,

Are you refering to the Braneworld Theory? At first I admit I had no idea what you were talking about, but then I came across that concept just now, by chance, on another blog. (Word of the Week Wednesday)

Papalinton said...

im-skeptical
"By the way, I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the cyclic theory. I don't believe that it has been disproved."

Yes, the cyclic perspective seems to be that which best encapsulates what data about the universe has been collected to date. Whether it be the multiverse, the 'big bounce' theory or the 'fecund' universe [that is baby universes that hive off 'parent' universes are pretty much still in the mix. Of course we only know for sure that the universe we inhabit seems to have started at the 'big' bang' but what happened before the big bang is still open for discussion. And while theism is fundamentally dependent on this universe for its existence, to imagine that a'god' created it is just a timely place-marker until we gather more information and knowledge. One of the most interesting aspects that will provide some clues will be what a black hole represents in terms of being the vacuum cleaner of the universe. Every bit of information we currently have posits at least one black hole in every galaxy that has been observed. What happens beyond the event horizon is speculative, but an explanation must account for what happens to stars, planets, light etc when subsumed into a black hole and how the concomitant level of energy is accounted for. Perhaps the singularity at the centre of a black hole may well be the development of a big bang for a new universe. Such hypothesis may or seem to at least account, in a somewhat very early way, for all the actions and reactions in the universe which have been directly or indirectly observed.

Check this out. And here and here.

But of, course, should it ever be confirmed that this universe is simply one of a chain of emergent universes, I have no doubt god will still be appended onto the end.

BenYachov said...

@Im-skeptical,

>The fallacy of Ben's argument lies in statement d.

What fallacy in my statement? I just said I can start with the presupposition the Universe has always existed. That it has a real infinite past. Aquinas didn't need no stinking Kalam argument.

The First Cause argument of Thomism has nothing to do with Kalam. It doesn't require a Bereshett "In the Beginning..." event.

Postulate all the Multiverse and or Cyclical Cosmologies you like.

It has nothing to do with the First Cause argument in Thomism.

See links.

Whatever is Changing is Being Changed by Something Else": A Reappraisal of Premise One of the First Way' by David Oderberg

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B7SKlRTfkUieN3dGVkhNTi1SQUU/edit

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/search?q=First+cause

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/08/edwards-on-infinite-causal-series.html

Aquinas didn't believe you could know the Universe had a beginning apart from Divine Revelation.

Adler believed most Atheist are schooled in answering some form of Cosmological Argument that requires postulating a beginning to the Universe. A Thomistic CA often throws them for a loop.

Steve Lovell said...

Bob,

I think you misunderstand. Suppose the universe is infinitely old. Then there is a set of past times which we may refer to as {t, t-1, t-2, t-3, t-4, ...}

Now this set does not contain a t-infinity, so there was no moment in the past from which today was once infinitely distant. You're misconstruing was an infinite past involves. The argument might be able to work without this misconstruel, but then you need to present the amended argument.

Cheers,

Steve

B. Prokop said...

"Now this set does not contain a t-infinity"

Again - no, no, no. That would only apply to a set that does not need to be traversed. But for the universe to be infinitely old, then yes indeed, each and every point in that set HAS to at one time have been the present. Which means that today would always and forever be an infinity into the future, and we wouldn't be here. You can't get around that.

grodrigues said...

@Steve Lovell:

If I may butt in:

"I think you misunderstand. Suppose the universe is infinitely old. Then there is a set of past times which we may refer to as {t, t-1, t-2, t-3, t-4, ...}"

You have re-written the past-eternal as a sequence with the order type w = {1, 2, 3, ...} and just relabelled them by walking backwards from the present.

But this is precisely what you *cannot* do, because the order type is w*, the *dual* of w, and this is the source of the paradoxical situations: for *every* past moment t in w* must have been at once a present, but since time goes forward, in order to arrive at any given present t in w* you have to have traversed an *infinite* number of presents t_i -- and I do not see how sense can be made of this, and have not seen anyone making sense of it either. And I have read a fair bit on the Kalam, but, hey surprise me. I will not be particularly bummed out if Kalam turns out to be beatable, since even if valid, as I think it is, among other weaknesses it does not get us to God, but at most to a god. Aquinas are much more powerful and do get us to God.

B. Prokop said...

grogrigues,

You are correct. It is not an argument for God. It is an argument for the universe having a beginning.

But note carefully... once you acknowledge a beginning, most atheist thought-constructs begin to fall apart. This is why you see commenters such as im-skeptical immediately object to the notion, and go straight into their objections to God (and you'll note that it was he who initially brought God into the discussion). Or Papalinton, who punts to untestable, unprovable (and therefore unscientific) concepts such as multiple universes (Boy, talk about faith... and he has the nerve to say atheism isn't a belief system!) to avoid the problem.

But I'm amused that no one answers the "Problem of there having been a Beginning" with either of the following:

1. All times are simultaneously present, and our perception of the passage of time is pure illusion.

Or,

2. Our very consciousness is an illusion, and there is no "present" time.

Perhaps because to embrace either of those ideas, one must first be a Buddhist.

Any takers?

Syllabus said...

"It is an argument for the universe having a beginning."

Not technically true. That's premiss two of the argument. It's an argument for there having been a first cause of the universe.

(If you mean the Kalam. If you mean the impossibility of traversing the infinite bit, then mea culpa.)

Crude said...

Off-topic, but here's something for Victor to consider posting on.

Oh man. It's happening. It's finally happening.

The Cult of Gnu is now in full on civil-war mode. The purge has begun.

B. Prokop said...

Syllabus,

For now, I 'm sticking to arguing for a beginning. All sorts of implications may (actually, do) follow, but they're subsequent to nailing this one point down.

It's those that don't like the implications who try to short-circuit this argument by appealing to their distaste for them as a means of not having to acknowledge a beginning.

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

You object that the universe could be infinitely old, but once you are aware of the other arguments as well, you will see why this won't work very well as an objection against theism.

For example, check out Leibniz and the First Way.

im-skeptical said...

Bob, forgive me for being contrary, but it was Ben who first brought God into the discussion with respect to the beginning of the universe, not me. That was before I asked the question about the universe having a beginning, making no reference to God when I first posed it.

Also, on your comment about cosmology being unscientific because it is unprovable, it was you who declared that the cyclic theory had been disproved. Not that that's true, but I couldn't rule out that various theories might be disproved at some time.

Please understand that I'm trying to present a reasonable case to refute the kalam argument because the topic of this post is that you can't have a reasonable discourse with an atheist, or something to that effect. I hoped to show you can.

Syllabus said...

"It's those that don't like the implications who try to short-circuit this argument by appealing to their distaste for them as a means of not having to acknowledge a beginning."

Yeah, you've got to love an argument from adverse consequences being the last redoubt of that line of thought.

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

Both of the arguments you provided say essentially the same thing: 1. Something must have start it all, and 2. That something must be God. As a faithful person, you accept the truth of both of those things without question. As a skeptical person, I do not. It is my nature to ask Why? How? What if...

B. Prokop said...

I think you either misread my comment, or else I worded it poorly. It's not cosmology that's a-scientific (not unscientific), but the multiverse notion which is. Cosmological models are very much capable of being disproved (as was the case with the Steady State Theory). Multiverses are not. The very people who champion the notion go out of their way to say that other universes would be undetectable from within ours.

Also, I don't think the premise of this thread is that you can't have a rational discourse with an atheist - it's that you all too seldom actually do.

grodrigues said...

@im-skeptical:

[To Martin on Leibniz's CA and the First Way]

"Both of the arguments you provided say essentially the same thing: 1. Something must have start it all, and 2. That something must be God."

Wrong. In more than one way.

If you are here to, as you say, "trying to present a reasonable case to refute" theistic arguments you are doing a piss-poor job at it. Have at least the intellectual decency to learn what the arguments really are.

im-skeptical said...

Ben,

"The fallacy of Ben's argument lies in statement d."

I should have said Bob. It was his argument, as I acknowledged yesterday. I should have apologized to you as well.

But as to your point, the kalam argument and all forms of the cosmological argument are built on the premise of a beginning of some sort. If you don't accept the premise, then those arguments fail.

The question I have for you is: If it's possible for anything to exist without having a beginning (and I believe you maintain that it is), why shouldn't it be possible, at least in principle, for the universe?

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

I am not a theist, nor do I accept these arguments without question (but neither do I reject them).

I see that you still think that the arguments are talking about a beginning, even though as you can clearly see (from my very simplistic infographics) that they are not.

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

The argument from contingency asks about the explanation for the existence of matter, stars, space, etc. Isn't that the same as asking how it was created? How it began?

The argument from change is no different. What got the ball rolling? What started it all?

Perhaps my interpretation of these arguments is too simplistic. If so, what deeper meaning am I missing?

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

They are very simplistic versions, just to get the gist. But note that the Leibnizian version says that no matter how old something is (even up to infinity), it still must have some explanation of its existence. It's all in there.

And the First Way, in using the analogy of gears, is talking about something that drives all current change, not something that got the ball started in the past. I would have used dominoes as an analogy if that were the case. But the gear analogy is intended to demonstrate, without technical terminology, that the source of change must be operating right now.

im-skeptical said...

OK, there is some sort of chain of causation that starts with God (that is the only possibility that the argument allows). Whether it has a temporal aspect doesn't really matter to the argument.

Martin said...

im-skeptical

That's correct. The reasons for identifying it with "God" are complex, and given briefly. But the point is: even if Kalam fails, there are plenty of other arguments. So saying that the universe is infinite will not work well as an atheistic argument.

ozero91 said...

Martin,

Offtopic, but I just checked out your blog and it certainly is of good quality. If you dont mind me asking, if you dont call yourself a theist, what do you consider yourself? From your blog, it might seem like you are some sort of theist/deist, or are you an agnostic/atheist trying to prevent bad objections to theistic arguments?

Martin said...

ozero91,

I'm a seeker. I just compile my notes on my blog, without much in the way of personal thoughts at all. Think of it as cliff notes of philosophical arguments. I try to stay out of it. It is for others.

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

I think you missed what I was saying. It was not that the universe is "infinite". I said that the universe doesn't necessarily have to have a beginning. Those things are not the same. Time doesn't exist outside our universe, since it is part of the realm of space-time that we inhabit. Nor was I making an atheistic argument. I only said, if the universe has no beginning, kalam fails. Nevertheless, I will admit that I am atheist, because arguments like the ones you presented are unconvincing. They only appeal to people who buy into the premises behind them. I don't.

B. Prokop said...

"because arguments like the ones you presented are unconvincing"

I actually agree with im-skeptical here. I've said this before on this website, but it bears repeating. I really don't believe that one can prove the truth of Christianity by reason and logic alone. However, that in no way implies any conflict between Faith and Reason - there is none. Each and every clause of the Creed is in perfect sync with reason, and in fact this is one of the Glories of the Faith.

On the other hand, to me atheism suffers from a total disconnect in the most foundational sense between itself and reason. It is atheism that requires a "leap of faith" to get over, past, or around the fatal irrationalities expressed in the Argument from Reason, the Argument from Morality, or even the very simple question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" Atheism has no rational answer to these three problems (among others). Or at the least, I have yet to see one - certainly none that is in the least bit convincing.

im-skeptical said...

Bob,

I think we're not far apart on these questions. I certainly don't claim to have all the answers. There is much to be learned about how the mind works and the relationship between mind and brain. Or how we get our sense of morality or altruism. I don't think I'm making a leap of faith about these things by saying that I don't automatically chalk it all up to God when the answers are not known. All I need is some convincing evidence. Science is all about making explanations for things based on evidence. There's nothing irrational about that, and faith isn't part of the equation.

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

I would challenge you to dig deeper than the surface and see if they are still unconvincing to you. I find that once atheists develop a proper understanding of the argument (which can take a long time), all I get in return are crickets.

B. Prokop said...

"Science is all about making explanations for things based on evidence. There's nothing irrational about that."

That's fine as far as it goes. I am in 100% agreement with you. Just don't go the Bridge Too Far and start equating science with atheism. A large percentage of history's greatest scientists are and have been people of faith (Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Mendel... you get the idea). I myself am a science junkie, as well as a Catholic Christian.

"Science", as such, is a giant neutral when it comes to the Big Questions. You will probably never come to the faith through science, but you will most certainly never be led from the faith by it.

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

I'll look at it. You may be aware that my whole reason for being here is to learn from the people in this forum. I want to try to challenge my own assumptions and see both sides of the picture if I can. I can't say I'll change my mind, but I'll be standing on more solid ground in the end. And who knows .. maybe I can be convinced.

BenYachov said...

@im-skeptical

No worries guy. Your good people. Stay frosty bro & cheers!

I'm up at Lake George. It's awesome up here. The mountains, the Lake, the weather, my parents hot-tub and HD big screen TV.

Sweet!!!!

I wish you all well.

grodrigues said...

@im-skeptical:

"I only said, if the universe has no beginning, kalam fails."

Since this is a subargument within Kalam, what you are saying is that Kalam fails if Kalam fails. Not a particularly interesting statement. What you have to prove is that the argument leading to the universe had a beginning fails.

Steve Lovell said...

Bob and grogrigues,

I suspect we're talking past one another here. I agree that having reached the present, a beginningless past would entail that an infinite has been traversed.

I also agree that this seems problematic. What I object to is saying that it's problematic as because it implies that at some point in the past the present was infinitely distant. That would be a problematic implication, but an infinite past simply doesn't entail that. It implies an infinite collection of (finitely long, non-overlapping) past periods of time each of which was only finitely long ago.

The problem with (traversing) an infinite past must be diagnosed some other way.

Steve

grodrigues said...

@Steve Lovell:

"What I object to is saying that it's problematic as because it implies that at some point in the past the present was infinitely distant."

But I never said or implied such a thing. Assuming an actually infinite past-eternal sequence of order type w*, then every point in the past is at a time-finite distance from the present; no argument from me there. What I objected (to pursue the theme of talking past each other) was your illegitimate use of a non-order preserving isomorphism with w = {1, 2, ...} to show this.

B. Prokop said...

"But I never said or implied such a thing."

But I did, and emphatically so. I stand by the statement. For the universe to be beginningless, there must be an actual (not notional) point in time for which our present lies an infinite number of years in the future.

Steve's just saying that no such point is necessary doesn't make it so. We're not talking mathematical sets or hypothetical constructs here, but the real world.

Crude said...

Bob,

I think I see what Steve is saying. He can correct me if I'm wrong, but another way to put it would be "in the case of an infinite past, all points of time in that past will be a finite distance/time away from the present". A little like how you can have an infinite series of numbers, but not a single one of those numbers is infinitely larger than 0.

One way to think about it is: you say that there must be an actual point in time from where our present is an infinite distance away. Well, I'd ask: if that's the case, could there be a time earlier than the point you're imagining? If so, would that point be greater than infinity? And if not, are you sure you're really imagining a point?

Though that does make me wonder if the idea of "a point A that is infinitely far away from point B" makes sense mathematically, and if so, could it be argued that this would be entailed by a model of the universe? I understand Kalam doesn't stand or fall based on this, but still.

grodrigues said...

@B. Prokop:

"For the universe to be beginningless, there must be an actual (not notional) point in time for which our present lies an infinite number of years in the future."

Let me state the Kalam as I understand it:

1. I grant for the sake of argument, that the time is past-eternal.

2. From a time past-etarnal, we can extract an ordinal w* = {..., -2, -1, 0} of time-ordered events stretching to the present.

3. Every past event is at a finite-time distance from the past.

4. But it is still is the case that there are an *actual* infinite set of past events, all of them that were once present, so we would have to traverse an actual infinite set of presents to arrive at today. And it is this that cannot be made sense of leading to the conclusion that time is not past-eternal.

You are arguing for something stronger. That a time past-eternal implies the existence of an event an infinite time-distance from the present. I confess I do not understand how you arrive at that stronger conclusion.

@Crude:

"Though that does make me wonder if the idea of "a point A that is infinitely far away from point B" makes sense mathematically, and if so, could it be argued that this would be entailed by a model of the universe?"

The answer to the first question is yes, e.g. any ordinal strictly larger than w, the first infinite ordinal, would give an example of such a beast. Can (the duals or opposites of) these ordinals be a time-series? If Kalam is correct, no for exactly the same reasons.

grodrigues said...

Correction:

Replace the last occurence of "past" in "3. Every past event is at a finite-time distance from the past." by present.

B. Prokop said...

"You are arguing for something stronger. That a time past-eternal implies the existence of an event an infinite time-distance from the present. I confess I do not understand how you arrive at that stronger conclusion."

Grodrigues, you are correct. Victor can back me up on this, that I was arguing this idea back in the early 1970s at ASU, decades before I had ever heard of the Kalam argument. So you can legitimately say that I am not defending the Kalam argument at all, but rather one that I had independently arrived at.

Crude, you ask: "Are you sure you're really imagining a point?" Again, you are correct. Such a point would indeed be nonsensical. I am saying we live in a real, not an imaginary, world. And since the only way you can possibly have a beginningless universe is for concepts which are contrary to reason to have actual existence, this alone mandates a beginning to time.

Note that I am not saying "contrary to experience" but "contrary to reason". (Hoping that I don't change the subject by bringing this up), but miracles, for example are certainly outside of our personal experience (or at least outside of mine), but they are quite compatible with reason, given the requisite antecedents.

grodrigues said...

@Crude:

Allow me to expand a little (if I start talking about mathematics, it is difficult to stop).

The simplest idea to get a "point at an infinite distance" is to start with the first infinite ordinal w = {0, 1, 2, ...} and then take the ordinal sum w + 1 where we adjoin an extra point at "infinity", that is, take the disjoint union of w with a singleton set. Anyone will do, but for the sake of determinateness take {x} where x is some element not in w and define the order relation to be the unique one that extends w and n < x for all n in w.

It is easy to see that you obtain a well-founded order (note: mathematical technicality, if you do not know what that is, just forget about it). Now take the opposite (w + 1)*, that is, invert the order relations in w + 1, and you get a point x in the past at an infinite time-distance from the present.

But now we have a huge conceptual problem: the time-event x does *not* have a successor, so no sense can be made of (w + 1)* as a past-eternal time series. Taking (the oppposite of) other ordinals, or even more beastly pathological orders, has this and even more complicated conceptual problems.

I suppose this little mathematical detour gives some weight to B. Prokop's contention in the sense that it shows that such a point at an infinite past time-distance is simply incoherent. My only problem is that as I have said I do not see how B. Prokop is able to extract such a point from the premises.

B. Prokop said...

"Such a point at an infinite past time-distance is simply incoherent. My only problem is that as I have said I do not see how B. Prokop is able to extract such a point from the premises."

Yes, Yes, Yes! Exactly!!! this is what I've been trying to get across all along. The idea is incoherent. But to have an infinitely old universe, the literal, factual, real-world existence of such an incoherent point is also mandatory.

Therefore.... there must have been an initial point to time. The universe had a Beginning.

PatrickH said...

@grodrigues:

If Bob said it is impossible to form an infinite series through successive addition, rather than focusing on the impossibility of traversing the distance from such a point, would that tie his argument more closely to the problem you stated of there being no way to refer meaningfully to the *successor* of an "infinitely distant" point?

PatrickH said...

Man, the bot-screens are getting impossible!

B. Prokop said...

"rather than focusing on the impossibility of traversing the distance from such a point"

Nah... I'm just gonna double down here. The impossibility of traversing from such a point is the heart of the argument. Take that away, and you're arguing something quite different.

(Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's just somebody else's argument - not the one I'm making.)

B. Prokop said...

Have you beaten my personal record of 11 attempts before I wasn't a robot? It's like we're in some video game where we keep progressing to more and more challenging levels.

PatrickH said...

I've had to do six, I think. The problem is the very first one seems to have gotten harder. I never got them wrong until recently, and now I get them wrong as often as not. And then I'm off to the video game races. And yet I don't think my vision has deteriorated in just the last while, so I'm not suffering from the "speak up laddie" symptom of encroaching deafness.

im-skeptical said...

My point about having no beginning does not involve an infinite past. Before the big bang, neither time nor space existed. So "time 0" in our universe is a finite amount of time in the past. What was there before the big bang? Nobody knows. There are various ideas. There might be some kind of cosmic factory that creates universes. But it wouldn't be correct to think of "before the big bang" in terms of time. It is outside our intuitive understanding. When I say the universe may have no beginning, I am referring to that larger cosmos, whatever it might be.

PatrickH said...

Eternal inflation scenarios sound a bit like what you're speaking of here, and Craig does deal with them at some length, both empirically (with reference to Borde-Vilenkin-Guth, and philosophically as well.

I think you can get a pretty good sense of his approach(es) just by reading what he's got up on his Reasonable Faith site.

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

Dig below the surface of the Kalam argument as well.

im-skeptical said...

Hmm... very interesting. I am intrigued by the comment regarding quantum gravity models. "Imaginary numbers are a good trick but they do not respond to real life." That is absolutely false. I am well aware through my own profession that imaginary numbers are essential in modeling real physical phenomena. Some of the other comments there are similarly dismissive.

im-skeptical said...

I was also reading some material from Craig's site. With regard to metric conventionalism, which holds that time has no absolute standard of measure.

"There are few philosophers of time who defend metric conventionalism. There are no good arguments for it, and it seems highly counter-intuitive to say, for example, that the duration of my lunch break was not really shorter than the Jurassic Age."

But relativity theory asserts that time is relative. In fact, the passage of time with respect to two different objects is not the same. This has been proven experimentally.

Syllabus said...

"But relativity theory asserts that time is relative. In fact, the passage of time with respect to two different objects is not the same. This has been proven experimentally."

Right, but this is only true in situations where the two measuring agents are moving relative to each other or are at different positions relative to gravitational fields. Within that set of parameters, time is relative, but those are some highly specified parameters. Since both of Craig's examples take place within more or less the same parameters (the Earth's rotational speed, orbital speed, gravitational field, etc.) I don't see how saying that, under certain circumstances, time is relative is at all relevant to the example.

im-skeptical said...

Syllabus,

It's not just certain circumstances, it's most any circumstances. For any two people, our motion and our position within gravitational fields are not the same. The difference in time that we experience is very small, but it's real. In this discussion, we're talking about the cosmos and things on a different scale from human experience, and you can't just ignore relativity.

Syllabus said...

I agree, we can't avoid relativity. But I think that the way that you seem to be invoking it is illegitimate.

So far as I understand your assertion, you seem to be saying that relativity theory supports metric conventionalism. Is that a fair enough assessment? Any further dialogue would, I think, hinge upon this point.

PatrickH said...

I think (I'm not quite sure) that Craig means by "metric conventionalism" that the same given time interval within a specific reference frame cannot be considered equal. Metric conventionalism would say that a time interval even in respect to specific person, say, cannot meaningfully be said to be the same from interval to interval. I think Craig is right to dismiss this position, since there is (by relativity theory!) no absolute reference frame against which to determine whether an hour for me today is the same "length" as an hour was for me yesterday.

Syllabus said...

@PatrickH

Good point. Additionally, relativity theory seems to imply that, given identical sets of circumstances of speed, gravity, and so on, the same passage of time will be measured by separate observers. Metric conventionalism (insofar as I understand it - I'm only an amateur lover of philosophy, and philosophy of time is among its more arcane fields), on the other hand, seems to say that, even given identical circumstances, there is no assurance that the passage of time will be identical in the two circumstances. Given that the two have a point of conflict, and that relativity theory is relatively well-established, I think that the dismissal is a rational one.

Steve Lovell said...

Bob,

At this point, several of us have now said we don't buy your version of this argument. You say I've merely asserted that a beginningless past doesn't imply a past time which is infinitely distant. But then you've merely asserted that it does. I've at least tried to explain why I think that by analogy with numerical sets, while you've only pointed out that time is different because it needs to be traversed while sets do not. I agree that this is an important difference in many ways, but I don't think it's a relevant difference here. The question is not whether such sets need to be traversed or not but whether the structures of them are appropriately analogous. I think they pretty clearly are analogous, and therefore since the (infinite) set of negative integers doesn't contain any infinitely large members (who's value is infitinetly different to 0), neither must an eternal universe include some moment(s) which are infinitely remote in the past.

And I've now got Crude and grogrigues agreeing with me here, both explaining my point much better than seem to be doing.

Steve

Steve Lovell said...

grogrigues,

I like your point about the ordering of these infinite sets. My intuitive sense is a set with the ordering of w* cannot be traversed. I've described this to myself by saying that if it cannot even be defined in "that direction" then it surely cannot be constructed in that direction.

Can you say anything more about this? My worry about such an argument is that perhaps it still implicitly assumes that an infinite past would have to "get going somehow". If it had to "get going", and wasn't already going, then of course the past had a beginning, and the argument isn't needed.

Now one might say that what this really shows (actually it hardly needs showing) that if universe is eternal, then no matter how far into the past we imagine, the infinite has already been traversed, and therefore that such a model cannot explain how this is done since it must posit that it always already had been done.

[Aside: It's like the reverse of that line from Amazing Grace. When we've rewound ten thousand years, ... we've no fewer days to recede into the past than when we first begun.]

I think I agree with that, but it doesn't follow that such a thing is impossible, and it's the defender of the Kalam argument that must prove the point since he's the one making the argument.

Now to my mind this radically underscores the contingency of the existence of the universe (in a way that reminds me of Aquinas' statement of the Third Way), so I still find it helpful, but for the time being I don't use it as an independant argument for God's existence.

If can offer any considerations to change this, I'd love to hear them.

Steve

Ilíon said...

"Now, I have heard theist-atheist debates in which atheists have produced real arguments."

In whose dream did that happen?

Papalinton said...

"B. Prokop said...
Have you beaten my personal record of 11 attempts before I wasn't a robot? It's like we're in some video game where we keep progressing to more and more challenging levels.

PatrickH said...
I've had to do six, I think. The problem is the very first one seems to have gotten harder. I never got them wrong until recently, and now I get them wrong as often as not."


Yes, me too.
Perhaps the sophistication between bot intelligence and human intelligence is now almost indistinguishable? ;o)

Papalinton said...

Martin
"im-skeptical,
Dig below the surface of the Kalam argument as well."


I'm not so sure a link to your site is a real measure of digging 'below the surface'. It might give an insight into your perspective but hardly one for the cosmological debate in general.

im-skeptical said...

Papalinton,

I would have to agree.

The thing I guess I'll never understand about these arguments is that I say something like, "the cosmos exists outside of time, and therefore may have no beginning." The theist then gives a million reasons why that just can't be true. Then I read from Rocket Philosophy:

"Objection: If true, then it would apply to God as well. God can't have begun to exist without a cause. God can't be infinite. If God is timeless, then this is a mystery. And denial of the premise is preferable to acceptance of theism, which makes even less sense. Response is that it's true that God did not begin to exist and that he can't be infinite. But he can be external to time and in fact under Kalam he would have to be. Just because this is mysterious does not refute it."

B. Prokop said...

What's so mysterious about it? the Creed states: "Creator of all things visible and invisible." That "invisible" would cover time as well, wouldn't it?

I can understand someone choosing to not believe this - but to find it mysterious? I don't get it.

im-skeptical said...

Bob,

What's mysterious to me is that that one could think God has these certain properties, and at the same time refuse to believe that anything else could possibly have those properties. If we are speaking of logic and not just faith, I don't see the justification.

ozero91 said...

I think im-skeptical has a contingency issue, why is God considered to be logically/metaphysically necessary, and yet the universe isn't? Can't the universe exist "just because" or without a reason, cause or explanation?

B. Prokop said...

Well, this might not be the soundest theology, but I've always felt that for something to exist on its own, it would of necessity have a will. The physical universe can't be said to have that.

Not an argument here - just putting forth what works for me.

ozero91 said...

Dr. Craig needs to hurry up with his Divine Aseity book.

Crude said...

ozero91,

I think im-skeptical has a contingency issue, why is God considered to be logically/metaphysically necessary, and yet the universe isn't? Can't the universe exist "just because" or without a reason, cause or explanation?

There's a problem with those terms. If God is logically/metaphysically necessary, then God doesn't exist "just because" or "without a reason, ... or explanation". A brute fact and the logically/metaphysically necessary are not equivalent terms.

Which leads into one reason why the sort of move you're suggesting isn't so popular, even among atheists: the contingency of the universe is pretty central to a lot of otherwise atheistic metaphysics, and arguing the universe is necessary starts to lead into some pantheistic and religious directions.

To try and flesh this out a little, remember that God being necessary wasn't some tack-on view from the classical theists. This entailed some things about God (His simplicity, etc) that were non-negotiable conclusions. Likewise you can't just tack-on 'well okay now the universe is necessary' for free - you're going to do so with or as a result of reasoning, and the results may not be palatable.

In fact, here's one interesting way to look at it: reasoning about the first cause/necessary being of the universe, from the classical theist standpoint, yielded God as the answer. It would be funny if someone, to counter theism, tried to come up with an alternate necessary being, went through the arguments, produced a result and - lo and behold - they produced exactly what the classical theists did. They just called it something other than God.

ozero91 said...

Yeah, I think atheists with a solid philosophical background generally stay away from "The who designed the Designer?" objection. Instead they ask "Why is God the best explanation for that (universe, for example)?"

grodrigues said...

@PatrickH:

"If Bob said it is impossible to form an infinite series through successive addition, rather than focusing on the impossibility of traversing the distance from such a point, would that tie his argument more closely to the problem you stated of there being no way to refer meaningfully to the *successor* of an "infinitely distant" point?"

If I am understanding you right, in a sense yes, because *if* there is a point at an infinite time-distance in the past then there is no meaningful way in which a point at a finite past time-distance can be the successor of a point at an infinite past time-distance. I can provide a tentative sketch of argument, which is a pimped version of my construction above of (w + 1)*, but there are also some subtle caveats that need to be introduced and pointed out.

Of course, this hinges on the existence of such a point at an infinite past time-distance, which I still do not see how B. Prokop manages to extract from the premises.

grodrigues said...

@Steve Lovell:

"Can you say anything more about this?"

Your next, unquoted paragraph, basically contains the gist of the idea. I wrote this in another DI thread on this topic, so I will just paste it here with just a couple of changes:

The metaphysical intuition at work here is that the past and the future are asymmetrical: that the future is potentially infinite and every future instant is at a finite time-distance from the present poses no problem, but this is not so with the past because the past is past and has already passed; if it was an actually infinitely long past then there would have been an actual infinite number of past instants and this contradicts the fact that no actual infinity can be formed by successive addition. And why is this so? Because whatever instant you choose in the (dual of the) first countable ordinal of the past it will be at a finite past-distance from the present and there will always be an actual infinite set of events in its past. Since time flows by successive addition it follows we could never have reached the present -- run the Tristram Shandy paradox in reverse. Another way to see this is that if time was past-eternal, then pick some (accidental) series of events stretching all the way back to the past and label the events by -1, -2, etc. with 0 being the present. But then it is inexplicable why we are at time 0 instead of -1 or -2 or whatever point in the past you choose -- once again run the Tristram Shandy paradox in reverse -- and now you finish off by appealing to the PSR. Or still in another way, *without* a starting point, we cannot even put a numeric label in each day and put them in order-preserving bijection with a time series. More precisely, you have to pick an *arbitrary* moment as an origin and then label backwards; but since the choice is arbitrary it must be invariant under shifts of origin (left or right, does not matter) and then we are again at the paradoxical situation of being inexplicable of why exactly we are at instant n instead of m.

A more detailed consideration can be found in Prof. D. Oderberg's "Traversal of the infinite, the 'Big Bang', and the Kalam cosmological argument". You can find a link to the article in Prof. D. Oderberg's home page (just google), as well as replies to the objections of Oppy, Grunbaum, etc.

"I think I agree with that, but it doesn't follow that such a thing is impossible, and it's the defender of the Kalam argument that must prove the point since he's the one making the argument."

As I said in a post above, I would not be particularly bummed out if Kalam turned out to be invalid, as I find Aquinas' arguments much more powerful, not only in their probative force but also in what they actually manage to prove.

I can also understand the sentiment expressed in the above quoted sentence. In response, I will say that a what-if is not an argument as reality is not dictated by our imaginations, especially given that arguments *have* been provided. And now allow me to turn the tables. Have you ever read any argument defending a past-eternal universe against the apparent paradoxes that did not commit the reification fallacy, either in appeals to mathematics or, what essentially amounts to the same thing, in appeals to unfalsified, and unfalsifiable in-principle , physical models? I have not. And I read a fair bit on the subject, but maybe I was just unlucky and read the wrong people. Or it is simply the case that I failed to understand the counter-arguments. As you say at the end of your post, if you have some considerations that change my judgment on responses to Kalam feel free to send them my way.

grodrigues said...

@im-skeptical:

"What's mysterious to me is that that one could think God has these certain properties, and at the same time refuse to believe that anything else could possibly have those properties."

Because God is metaphysically simple while the universe is not and cannot be. In Neo-Platonic terms, God is metaphysically simple in the sense that it has no metaphysical parts while the universe obviously has them. In Aristotelian terms, because God is pure act while every other thing is a composite of potency and act. In Thomistic terms, because while the universe, like every other substance, is a composite of essence and existence, God is that in which essence and existence are indistinct.

So independently of the specific way you articulate metaphysical simplicity of God, what all these entail is the absolute metaphysical priority of God and the absolute necessity of God's fiat in creating and sustaining in being every being in existence.

Saying that the universe is a good candidate to answer the specific questions that God's existence answers is simply a sign that you do not have the faintest inkling of what the theistic arguments purport to prove.

B. Prokop said...

"Of course, this hinges on the existence of such a point at an infinite past time-distance, which I still do not see how B. Prokop manages to extract from the premises."

How many times do I have to repeat this? I am NOT extrapolating the existence of such a point. I am emphatically asserting (repeatedly) the impossibility of such. Therefore, since all points of time past in the real-world universe must have been traversed from in order to get to the present, an infinitely old universe is a logical impossibility.

Steve Lovell said...

Thanks grodrigues,

I used to be attracted to the defence of this premise in the Kalam which says we can't explain why we only just arrived at the present since at any past time an infinite amount of time had already elapsed. However, my PhD supervisor (Stephen Makin) asked me some awkward questions.

Let's use the analogy of "counting down from infinity". The question then becomes how come the man only reached zero today. Well, if he counts down at a rate of 100 per day, then it'll be because he only reached 100 yesterday. If you ask why he only reached 100 yesterday, it's because he only reached 200 the day before ... and so on.

What one is now inclined to ask is how come he didn't "do it all" earlier. But when translated back to what we are actually talking about, this is equivalent to "why didn't the entire history of the universe happen at a different time?" ... which seems, to me at least, no more sensical than asking why the entire universe isn't three feet to the left.

On reification ... I understand the point, but I'm not at all sure that reification is a fallacy here. It's the Kalam defender that needs to produce an argument which explains why traversing an infinite is not possible. If the argument relies on features of the situation which are purely mathematical, then responses which do the same are not out of court. The Kalam defender needs to find a problem in this traversal which is precisely a problem in metaphysics not in mathematics, which is something very few defenders of the Kalam argument actually seem to even attempt. There certainly isn't much in Craig along those lines (though I am a little out of date, so this may have changed).

Enough for now. I shall look up the Oderberg paper.

Thanks again.

Steve

Steve Lovell said...

Bob,

I realise you are not asserting the existence of such a point. You are saying, I think, that such a point would have to exist if the past didn't have a beginning, and since such a point is impossible (or at least we couldn't have reached the present from such a point), we can conclude that the past does have a beginning.

But what we're saying is that the past being infinite wouldn't require an infinitely distant point.

Do we understand one another yet?

B. Prokop said...

"But what we're saying is that the past being infinite wouldn't require an infinitely distant point.

Do we understand one another yet?
"

Not sure that we do. I've read everything posted here, and nothing I've seen gets us out of the requirement for such a point to exist, given that the concept of "present time" has any meaning at all.

Steve Lovell said...

But you accept my summary of your position? If so, then we're still asking why such a point would be required.

ozero91 said...

On God being metaphyscically simple, doesn't that conflict with Dawkins Boeing Gambit where he argues that God must be at least as sophisticated as the universe itself?

Ilíon said...

"Y'uns is usin' the word 'infinte,' but y' mean 'vast'"

-- The was me channelling my late father, who in his entire life had a total of 19 months of formal education (in the deep rural Ozarks, no less!), which didn't even start until he was 16 years old, and who subsequently was both better educated and a more careful thinker than most of you folk with your modern and expensive mostly-waste-of-time-and-money degrees.

One can no more "count down from infinity" than one can "count (up) to infinity" -- infinity is the (first) number to which one cannot, even in principle, count.

So, is the problem with your (plural) erroneous reasoning that:
1) you (plural) are too stupid to understand that 'infinity' - 100 = (still) 'infinity'
2) you (plural) are too dishonest to admit that 'infinity' - 100 = (still) 'infinity'
3) you (plural) are too ignorant to understand that 'infinity' - 100 = (still) 'infinity'
It's one of those three options; logically, there are no other options that might offer a general explanation for why you persist in using the term 'infinity' to mean "something that isn't, in truth, infinity".

And, now that it has been explained to you (plural) that 'infinity' - 100 = (still) 'infinity', option 3) is no longer logically available to explain your error if you insist in persisting in it.

B. Prokop said...

"But you accept my summary of your position? If so, then we're still asking why such a point would be required."

Because it would have to actually, and not theoretically, exist in order for it to have been "present" at one time. And if it was not ever the present, then it cannot have existed. And if it never existed, then there can only be a finite length of time in the past. (Conclusion: there was a beginning.)

grodrigues said...

@B. Prokop:

"But you accept my summary of your position? If so, then we're still asking why such a point would be required.

Because it would have to actually, and not theoretically, exist in order for it to have been "present" at one time."

It is right here in this first sentence that you loose me. To say that some point at an infinite time-past distance was at once "present" is the same as saying that such a point actually existed or "is required" to use Steve Lovell's expression, but that is precisely what we are asking: why exactly is it required or must have actually existed on the assumption of a past-eternal universe? So, as far as I can see -- admittedly, not that much -- there is a gap here.

note: woa "iShalsee 10" as password. Is the Gate Keeper trying to tell me something?

ozero91 said...

B. Prokop et al,

I think you folks should read Rob Koons paper on The Kalam and The Grim Reaper paradox. He argues that infinitely extended past is impossible, as well as a finite amount of time divided into an infinite number of intervals. Its a bit technical, and I'm still working through it.

im-skeptical said...

This grim reaper paradox is mathematically invalid. Perhaps I can illustrate what I mean by changing the terms without changing the mathematical equivalence.

Let's say that instead of enduring one minute, we make it traveling one meter. And instead of encountering grim reapers along the way, we simply pass tick marks drawn along our path. There is a mark at i/2 meter, 1/4 meter, and so on ad infinitum. The paradox would be that you can't traverse the meter because you could never pass the first tick mark.

Of course, we know that you can traverse a meter, and there is no paradox involved. The problem is that you can't specifically identify the first tick mark. Nevertheless, as soon as you begin moving along the path, you will pass an infinite number of tick marks.

grodrigues said...

@Steve Lovell:

"Let's use the analogy of "counting down from infinity". The question then becomes how come the man only reached zero today. Well, if he counts down at a rate of 100 per day, then it'll be because he only reached 100 yesterday. If you ask why he only reached 100 yesterday, it's because he only reached 200 the day before ... and so on."

This response IMHO is rather facile. Yes, if "counting down from infinity" was possible, then, translating things to mathematical terms, why today is labeled 0 instead of any other number is simply an artifact of the specific isomorphism chosen. But this misses the whole point of the Tristram Shandy paradox.

@im-skeptical:

"This grim reaper paradox is mathematically invalid."

No, it is not. Your response is irrelevant as far as the Grim Reaper paradox goes: the Rippers are set to go off at t_0 + 1/n and the *only* properties that are needed is that 1/n is a decreasing sequence that converges to 0. Any other such sequence (e.g. 1/n^2) does the job.

grodrigues said...
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grodrigues said...

Given ozero91 mention of the Grim Reaper paradox, here is a sketch of an argument using it to prove that the universe had a beginning. This is essentially A. Pruss's argument with only a couple of minor alterations to avoid some facile objections.

1. Assume a past-eternal universe.

2. Pick an accidentally ordered causal series ..., t_{-2}, t_{-1}, t_{0}. Here, I am identifying the events with their time stamps -- hopefully no confusion ensues.

The intended model for such a series is a chain of fathers and sons stretching all the way back to the infinite past. I will make two (fairly reasonable) assumptions: 1. t_{-(n + 1)} causes t_{-n} and 2. There is a lower bound for the time-distance between t_{-(n +1)} and t_{-n}.

technical note(s):
- 2. is just a technical condition to avoid to have to make unnecessary super-power assumptions on the Reapers. In principle, this can always be arranged for by passing to a suitable subsequence; in practice it may depend on the specific details of causation and persistence conditions, so I will just assume it here.

3. Place one GR in every open interval ]t_{-(n + 1)}, t_{-n}[ whose job is the following: if the causal source t_{-(n + 1)} is alive destroy it and insure the interruption of the whole series, if not do nothing.

technical note(s):
- In the way I have set up the scenario, no special powers are needed by the Reapers (e.g. instantaneous killing). Also note that while I have used the word "destroy", all that is needed is the power to interrupt the causal series, surely not something requiring super-powers. The technical condition 2. above, also insures that we do not need anything special to time-place the Reapers (e.g. infinite divisiblity of time, actual or potential).

4. Question: when was the causal series interrupted? It is clear that the causal series was interrupted and no latter than t_0. Since at each t_{-n} the causal series has already passed through an actually infinite set of Reapers, it cannot have been interrupted later than any t_{-n}. Absurdity.

im-skeptical said...

grodrigues,

I think that any mathematician would agree. You can't use the same logical rules that apply to finite sets on infinite sets. It would be considered a logical fallacy. I would regard Koons' argument as a kind of equivocation because he's conflating two different things. You can't enumerate an infinite set and you can't pinpoint the last element. But that is what his argument supposes, and that's why he comes up with contradictions.

grodrigues said...

@im-skeptical:

"I think that any mathematician would agree."

Agree with what? And since you are not a mathematician, how would you know?

"You can't use the same logical rules that apply to finite sets on infinite sets. It would be considered a logical fallacy."

Tell that to mathematicians as they use the same logical principles in dealing with finitary or infinitary mathematics as a matter of routine (note: you probably mean something else entirely, and irrelevant to the present discussion).

"I would regard Koons' argument as a kind of equivocation because he's conflating two different things."

You have the argument in the form I explained above. Point out the "kind of equivocation".

"You can't enumerate an infinite set and you can't pinpoint the last element."

In what sense are you employing the "cannot"? Certainly not in the mathematical one, so what exactly is your point? And whether we can pinpoint or not a last element depends on the set, e.g. the set of negative integers {..., -2, -1, 0} is infinite and it has a last element, namely 0, while the first infinite ordinal {0, 1, ...} does not.

"But that is what his argument supposes, and that's why he comes up with contradictions."

So you are telling me that the universe could be actually infinite in the past-time direction and then tell me that perfectly valid, innocent, constructive reasonings with infinitary sets cannot be done? Right.

ozero91 said...
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ozero91 said...

Well, Rob Koons more so uses a Grim "Mover" paradox involving the placing of a particle a certain distance away from a point, but the conclusion is the same.

Steve Lovell said...
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Steve Lovell said...

Bob,

Are you still with us? I'm still not sure why you're saying that a beginningless past would imply an infinitely distant point. Wouldn't it be enough that for every year of past time there was another year which proceeded it? Would any of those years be infinitely distant in the past?

The current year may be labelled year n, and previous years as n-1, n-2, n-3 and so on. There would be a unique label for each and every previous year, and none of those previous years would lack a predecessor.

As I've already pointed out, none of these is "n minus infinity", which is what one of them would have to be to be infinitely distant in the past.

Such a collection would form an "infinite past", but none of the members of the collection is "infinitely past".

Best

Steve

Steve Lovell said...

[re-write due to a typo]

grodrigues,

I haven't had a chance to read Odeberg yet ... but in the meantime ...

You write that my response is 'rather facile'. I understand the sentiment as it is certainly a very simple response, and a rather irritating one. But calling it 'facile' doesn't amount to a response. You go on to say that it 'misses the whole point of the Tristram Shandy Paradox'. I'm familiar with the example, but I'm genuinely unaware of what 'the point' of it is ... can you enlighten me? It's never seemed an especially paradoxical example to me. Interesting to contemplate, yes. Paradoxical, not so much.

Reading your presentation of the "Grim Reaper" arguments, this is new material to me, so the argument moves a little fast for my liking. There seem to be some (probably benign) assumptions in the background, but it's difficult to know without the structure fully displayed.

My hunch both in response to me and on this GR stuff, is that you're leaning very heavily on the PSR. I don't see that "having arrived at today" needs any further explanation than having "arrived at yesterday 24 hours ago". If this isn't what you want explained then what is? Alternatively, if the explanation isn't a good one, why isn't it?

Thanks for entertaining my questions. You've been very patient.

Best,

Steve

B. Prokop said...

"Bob, Are you still with us?"

Yeah, I'm still following. I'm not commenting, because I would just be repeating myself. I think I've already said what I've got to say. I thought I was making myself clear, but apparently not, since I keep getting asked the same question over and over again.

But for one last time: the difference between notional sets of numbers in an infinite series and real-world points of time is that each temporal point must for an instant be "the present" for it to exist in actuality, and not merely in a thought experiment. Now... since we both agree that an infinitely distant point of time in the past is an impossibility, an infinitely old universe is also impossible.

Selah.

Ilíon said...

What I'm finding somewhat amusing about all this is seeing someone who frequently plays Thermippos objecting to the Thermippos gambit.

=========
As for the assertion that the sequence or set {(-)infinity, -3, -2, -1, 0 } "starts" at (-)infinity ---
NO, it starts at 0, just as positively counting toward infinity {0, 1, 2, 3, ... infinity} does.

Counting can neither "start at" nor "arrive at" infinity -- and therefore arithmetic cannot cannot deal with infinity.

Steve Lovell said...

At the risk of being accused of feeding trolls ...

Ok Ilion, I'll bite.

Who are your comments addressed to?
And what on Earth are you talking about?

Given your tone, I think I'd be forgiven for assuming you know the following, but given what you've actually written it's far from obvious that you do.

The point of the "counting down from infinity" examples is to give a simple numerical analog of a beginningless past time. We all agree that it would be impossible to count down from infinity ... at least we agree that it would be impossible if one has already "started". It's starting that's impossible. But proponents of a beginningless past are precisely saying that the past didn't start, so objecting that one can't start counting down from infinity is rather beside the point. No-one thinks you can, and not even the opponents of this bit of the Kalam argumentation.

Steve

Steve Lovell said...

Hi Bob,

Sorry if this has become exasperating from your end. It feels similar at this end too! Some things would be much easier to discuss in person, and this is increasingly seeming like one of those times.

I agree of course that every moment of the past must at some point have been present. I'm just not sure how that helps push your point home. Consider the two following propositions, either or both of which might be thought to follow from (0) The past is infinite:

(0) The past is infinite.

(1) For any time only finitely long ago, there is a time earlier than that time.
(2) There is a time earlier than all times which are only finitely long ago. If there weren't then the past would be finite.


We all agree, I think, that (1) follows from (0), but you think (2) also follows. Now would you agree that if (1) is true (even in the absence of (2)) then the past is infinite? If not, then we have a substantive disagreement about what an infinite past involves. If so, then we need to figure out why we disagree about the relationship of (0),(1) and (2).

Compare the following (from Russell ... I don't often refer to him approvingly)

(0') Human ancestry goes all the way back forever
(1') For any person in the chain of human ancestry, that person has a mother
(2') There is a person who is the mother of all people in the chain of human ancestry

The logical forms are

(1'') For all y, there is an x such that: x stands in relation R to y
(2'') There is an x such that: for all y, x stands in relation R to y

I'd be very surprised if this is news to you, but (2'') doesn't follow from (1''). To suppose otherwise is to be guilty of a quantifier shift, in this case the fallacy of composition. Now the fallacy of composition isn't always a fallacy (if all the parts are wooden, the whole is wooden). But it often is, and is it really true that if all the parts of an ordered chain of moments in time have some moment that precedes then the chain as a whole has a moment that precedes it?

Perhaps I'm attacking a straw man. Or perhaps not. Is that what you're thinking?
Either way, does it help you see why I can't see why (2) follows?

Best

Steve

Steve Lovell said...

Err, typo alert ...

I missed a "not":

"We all agree that it would be impossible to count down from infinity ... at least we agree that it would be impossible if one has [not] already "started". It's starting that's impossible"

Sorry. Such a small word. Such a big difference!

B. Prokop said...

"But proponents of a beginningless past are precisely saying that the past didn't start"

But, Steve, for something to be "past", it has to have been at some point the "present". You simply cannot be in the present without the point of time you're occupying being real - not notional. And the interval between that point and what is now our "present" must be traversed, or else we can't be here. and since an infinite set cannot be traversed, there can be no infinitely distant point in the past. Yet there must be one for the past to be beginningless. So do you now see the irrational loop you are stuck in, once you posit an infinite past? It's like that game we all played as a kid (or at least I did), where you'd write "The statement on the other side of this paper is true", then turn the paper over and write "The statement on the other side of this paper is false", and then ask "Is this statement true or false?"

B. Prokop said...

"Now would you agree that if (1) is true (even in the absence of (2)) then the past is infinite?"

Looks like we were typing simultaneously. To answer your question - no, I would not agree. Mainly because I reject (1). There is (or was) a time, from which there were no prior points. It was the initial time, and there was nothing prior to it. That's where we go our separate ways.

Steve Lovell said...

But the idea is that there was no earliest moment, but that all the moments were only finitely long ago. So, even in an infinite past, from any given past time, there isn't an infinite to traverse.

Not that this means it's possible to traverse an infinite past, just that you can't demonstrate (that way) that it couldn't be traversed.

B. Prokop said...

Sorry, doesn't work that way. No matter what point in time you choose in the past, it has to itself have been a finite period of time from the beginning. Otherwise, you can't ever get to that point. Your argument does not get around the problem of traversal unless you assume that "the present" has no meaning.

Now I'm fine with that, if you want to go all Buddhist on me and declare that All is Illusion, and that all times are equally present. Then you can have your beginningless universe. But be careful what you wish for. Such a universe, although possible under those terms, also nullifies free will, consciousness, and a host of other things that I personally have no desire to jettison.

As usual, it's been best said in poetry:

If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable


T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Steve Lovell said...

Let me be clear. I'm not arguing for an infinite past. I believe the past is finite. What I'm objecting to is this way of demonstrating that the past is finite. I don't think it works. Or at least, I'm yet to be pursuaded that it works.

At 1:57PM you wrote: "Yet there must be one [infinitely distant point in the past] for the past to be beginningless." This is the bit we don't understand, but again merely asserted.

At 2:38PM you wrote: "No matter what point in time you choose in the past, it has to itself have been a finite period of time from the beginning. Otherwise you can't ever get the that point."

I understand this, except obviously the imagined opponent doesn't believe in a beginning, so saying that they can only have travelled on a finite amount of time from the beginning isn't likely to help him see that there must be a beginning. Similarly it rather begs the question to that an infinite past would not allow you to get to the present because it wouldn't allow you to get to any specifiable point in the past. You have to show that you couldn't get to any specifiable point in the past, not to assume it. Like you say, those points were once "present", so you'd be assuming what you need to prove.

I can just imagine you banging you head on the desk as you read this! "No, No, No! How can he be so stupid!". Perhaps it's time to call it a day, and just say we disagree. I'm running out of ideas as to how to communicate this. Evidently, either I need some help, or I need some help.

Steve

Steve Lovell said...
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Steve Lovell said...

[Crumbs I'm making a lot of typos lately.]

Hi Bob, me again (sorry!?),

You quoted me:

"Now would you agree that if (1) is true (even in the absence of (2)) then the past is infinite?"

And then you said:

"I would not agree. Mainly because I reject (1). There is (or was) a time, from which there were no prior points."

I don't understand. I've asked you do you agree with "If A then B", and you've replied "No, because I don't believe A". I don't think that answers the question.

Parallel case: someone asks whether someone else agrees that "If there is intelligent life on Mars, then there are aliens" they reply "No, mostly because I don't think there is life on Mars". They wouldn't have answered the question.

I'm whether you believe in an infinite past, I'm asking whether you agree that the truth of (1) would be necessary and sufficient for the truth of (0). I think it clearly is, even in the absence of (2).

Steve

grodrigues said...

@Steve Lovell:

"You write that my response is 'rather facile'. I understand the sentiment as it is certainly a very simple response, and a rather irritating one. But calling it 'facile' doesn't amount to a response."

"facile" was not the most apt adjective, but frankly, I could not come up with anything better either. In a nutshell, saying, as you do below, that ""having arrived at today" needs any further explanation than having "arrived at yesterday 24 hours ago"" is in my view missing the point. Of course, *if* "counting down from infinity" were possible and we actually observed such a thing, we would be forced to give the answer you give: it ended today because the contingent causal conditions dictated that the "counting down" ended today and not say, yesterday. Translating in mathematical terms, if we start today and label the days backwards we get {..., -2, -1, 0} and there is really nothing mysterious why today is labeled 0 and not some any other number. But this misses the point, because the purpose of the paradox is to show that "counting down from infinity", or "building an infinite by successive stages" or "traversing the infinity" is not possible in the first place by showing that it is inexplicable and unintelligible why it ended today as opposed to any other day, whether in the future or the past; and the fact that we can label things the way we did, while an interesting *mathematical* fact, it is not a metaphysically significant one in the relevant sense.

"Reading your presentation of the "Grim Reaper" arguments, this is new material to me, so the argument moves a little fast for my liking. There seem to be some (probably benign) assumptions in the background, but it's difficult to know without the structure fully displayed."

Besides expanding the argument in an obscene amount and a pedantic way, I do not know how to make it clearer. I will say however that the structure is fairly simple. We construct a causal sequence that gets interrupted but if you try to pin down any moment at which it gets interrupted, you realize it is not possible. All the possible getaways are either a mixture of special-pleading, wild contortion and implausibility, or amount to a concession that the universe cannot be past-eternal.

"My hunch both in response to me and on this GR stuff, is that you're leaning very heavily on the PSR."

Right. First, I would have to say that as an Aristotelian-Thomist, the "correct" PSR is really the principle of causality, which is a first principle about the *objective* nature of reality and causation, not an epistemological principle about our explanatory practices which is what modern and rationalistic versions of the PSR tend to be. Anyway, since the principle of causality entails an epistemological PSR, I am perfectly willing to blur the lines and just play along. Second, if someone starts disputing the PSR, this to me is a clear sign of desperation -- trying to stave off some unsavory conclusion by deploying a nuclear strike. Deny the PSR and you basically throw away rationality, at which point we might as well give up rational dialectics and employ our time more productively with something else.

Steve Lovell said...

Thanks grodrigues,

"Deny the PSR and you basically throw away rationality".

Er, I don't think so. It will at least depend on what version of the PSR you are talking about. At least some versions of the principle imply that there are no contingent facts.

Suffice to say, if you're using the PSR I'd like to know how you formulate it both to avoid the above implication, and to require an "sufficient reason" in cases like the GR arguments and the Kalam.

I can't comment in any more length for now, so I'll have to sign off.

Steve