Sunday, April 14, 2013

Some basics on the Cosmological Argument

Here. 

Can people learn to avoid simple mistakes in assessing cosmological arguments?

36 comments:

Martin said...

No, they cannot. I brought up the example here of atheists mangling Aquinas beyond recognition. Needless to say, their objections are worthless.

Why?

Because it is difficult to get a man to understand something if his worldview depends upon him not understanding it.

For anyone truly interested in being rational, instead of just partisan, try seeking and answering the following questions concerning the very short article I linked to above:

1. Is the formalization of the argument correct?

2. Why is it not the case that if the universe is infinitely old the argument fails?

3. What did Aquinas believe about whether the universe had an origin in time or not?

4. Name the two types of causal series Aquinas examines, and why he accepts that one can go to infinity and the other must terminate in a first cause.

5. Why is it false that there could be multiple unmoved movers? What specific attribute of the unmoved mover precludes this possibility?

6. Why is it the case that God does have an explanation for his existence, contra what Keith Augustine says in his article?

Answer those questions, and then answer a final one:

7. Why is it the case that Keith Augustine has butchered Aquinas' cosmological argument beyond recognition? What is the explanation for his behavior in doing this?

im-skeptical said...

So many unanswered questions.

"Needless to say, their objections are worthless.

Why?

Because it is difficult to get a man to understand something if his worldview depends upon him not understanding it."

You may be quite right about that. And of course, its corollary: it is difficult to get a man to disbelieve something if his worldview depends upon him believing it.

Who's right? For every version of the argument, one side finds it compelling and the other side is unconvinced. (Yes, Martin even Aquinas' version.) The same can be said about counter arguments. It's not that the logic of one side is superior. It invariably comes down to whether you accept the premises of the argument - and that's determined by what you believe.

So philosophers can engage in an endless debate without ever settling the truth of an issue. How are we to know what is true? Evidence.

Martin said...

If that were all, then I would have no issue:

"The universe began to exist"

"Well, I disagree, and here's why"

But that's not what happens with the cosmological argument. Rather, what happens is more like this:

"Evolution is false, because it is not possible for a human to give birth to monkeys

"Evolution does not say anything like that. That is a straw man."

"Well, it's still a good general criticism, even if there are a dozen different interpretations of evolution"

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

You are making my point. No agreement, and it's true, bad arguments are made, but it doesn't matter. Even if the arguments are good ones, there is still no agreement.

At least in the case of evolution, it's not no much an argument of reason as a matter of observable evidence. In that case, there is no real question about who's right.

WMF said...

At least in the case of evolution, it's not no much an argument of reason as a matter of observable evidence. In that case, there is no real question about who's right.

Yes, it's clearly false because it is notpossible for a human to give birth to a monkey.

Papalinton said...

"At least in the case of evolution, it's not no much an argument of reason as a matter of observable evidence. In that case, there is no real question about who's right."
"Yes, it's clearly false because it is notpossible for a human to give birth to a monkey."

Yes, it's clearly false because it is not possible for a human to give birth parthenogenetically, that is, for the lexically challenged, humans cannot produce by virgin birth.

Dan Gillson said...

My big problem with the Cosmological Argument is that it feigns to be an historical argument, while clearly being an ahistorical one, i.e., in talking about the series of contingent events, the CA pretends like its talking about causation of those events historically, i.e., it assumes we can zip-line backwards in time. However, the CA assumes that relationship between observer and time is an ahistorical one, i.e., it assumes that the agent's perspective on the series of contingent events is time transcendent ... this is becoming incredibly convoluted, so I'm going to call it quits.

Martin said...

Dan

Of course, it is not the case that the traditional cosmological argument is "historical", as you put it. It isn't "horizontal" but is rather "vertical". It is about a concurrent series of causes, not about whether the universe had a beginning or not.

Doug Benscoter said...

Martin's correct. Only the kalam cosmological argument requires the universe to have had a beginning. Aristotelian-Thomistic and Leibnizian cosmological arguments have no such requirement. The regress of sustaining causes (as opposed to originating causes) is either finite or infinite. Aristotle affirms the infinity of the universe's past, but denies that the regress of dependent and sustaining causes can be infinite, thus necessitating an independently existing first cause.

Dan Gillson said...

Martin,

I don't think that the CA is historical, I think it feigns to be so. It tries to explain the contingency of the present by zip-lining backwards through time until Reason bumps into the point that the universe began to exist, and then posits that, prior to the point that the universe began to exist, God or something must've poked it, thereby starting the chain of contingencies which will inevitably lead us to the present. The fact of the matter is, the CA is trying to deal with history, i.e., contingencies, ahistorically; and that's what I don't like about it.

And yes, I know, whether or not I like the CA has no bearing on whether or not the argument is true. If I were to critique the CA, what I don't like about it, i.e., my gut reaction to why I think it is off-base, would provide me with the starting point.

Dan Gillson said...

Doug's comment is instructive. I am confusing Cosmological Arguments generally with the Kalām, but I think that my intuition, i.e., what I don't like about the Kalām, can be generalized to other forms of the Cosmological Argument.

im-skeptical said...

There is still the objection I raised earlier about the whole concept of causality. Aquinas clearly refers to a series or chain of causal events (whether simultaneous or temporally sequential), but the factors that feed into any particular event are much more complicated than that. The naive concept of causality undermines the argument.

Martin said...

Dan,

>It tries to explain the contingency of the present by zip-lining backwards through time until Reason bumps into the point that the universe began to exist

That's precisely what it doesn't do. The traditional cosmological argument is not trying to say that there must have been a knocker-down of the first domino. Rather, it's more trying to argue that there is a motor in the watch. Note that even if the watch is infinitely old, as long as it's hands are currently ticking away, there must be a motor inside.

So Aquinas' "infinity" is speaking of an infinite number of gears, which is impossible because if the motor were replaced with an infinite number of gears, then there would be no motor and hence, no turning of the watch hands.

Needless to say, any criticism of Kalam doesn't even touch Aquinas.

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

>the factors that feed into any particular event are much more complicated than that.

It doesn't matter how complicated the network of causes is. If you have a bunch of motorless gears all interconnected in a dizzying array of complexity, without at least one motorized gear somewhere in the network they ain't gonna be doing no turnin'. If they are turning, then at least one of the gears in the network is motorized.

B. Prokop said...

"Yes, it's clearly false because it is not possible for a human to give birth parthenogenetically, that is, for the lexically challenged, humans cannot produce by virgin birth."

Poor, poor, poor Paplinton. Still doesn't understand the least thing about anything.

OF COURSE humans cannot produce by virgin birth! For that reason, when it actually did happen, we call it A MIRACLE.

Gimme a break.

im-skeptical said...

"without at least one motorized gear somewhere in the network they ain't gonna be doing no turnin'"

There need not be any unmoved mover at all times. All that is required in an initial state that contains energy. Consider a watch with a spring that drives it. At some point in time, the spring is wound. You may take that time as an initial state - the spring contains energy, and the watch runs on its own after that. So in this example, all the 'unmoved mover' did was to create the starting conditions (at some past time) and it all plays out from there.

Martin said...

> So in this example, all the 'unmoved mover' did was to create the starting conditions (at some past time) and it all plays out from there.

Except that in the case of the unmoved mover, we are talking about existence, and not Newtonian motion in which case the law of inertia might be an easy objection. For a response, see my blog article laying out Feser's response.

You may want to argue that there is a sort of "law of inertia" for existence; that things do not need to be sustained in existence from moment to moment.

For a reply, also see Feser on Existential Inertia and the Five Ways.

im-skeptical said...

"Except that in the case of the unmoved mover, we are talking about existence"

If you make the assumption that an unmoved mover is required to sustain existence itself at each moment. That's a big assumption, and it's not explicit in the argument, as far as I can see. This gets back to my first comment. You claim that something has to sustain existence because that's what you believe. But I don't see any good reason to hold that belief.

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

>If you make the assumption that an unmoved mover is required to sustain existence itself at each moment

It's not assumed. It's argued for, in detail. Especially in Feser's article which I linked to above.

im-skeptical said...

Feser himself makes the same kind of assumptions about reality. "one could take the realist view and say that objects in motion do tend to remain in motion without any continual cause of that motion. Objects just have that property. But then something else would have to actualize the potential of such objects to exist, and the argument is unaffected." Notice how he just slips this Thomistic assumption in as a means to override the laws of physics. He's saying don't bother with your laws of physics - I'll just pull some Thomistic mumbo-jumbo out of my hat to defeat it.

Martin said...

>he just slips this Thomistic assumption in as a means to override the laws of physics

He doesn't slip...

Oh, never mind. It'll take 50 comments just to get you to understand the simplest ideas. I ain't wasting time with that. You can read for yourself if interested. If you don't, however, then I suggest staying away from commenting on blogs like this.

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

You don't have to explain it. I've read enough of Feser and Aquinas to have an idea what they are talking about. I just don't buy it. This goes to the heart of the issue I raised. In order for me to accept these arguments, I need to buy into a set of assumptions. I need to believe those things. But I don't. They are pre-scientific mumbo-jumbo, as far as I am concerned. Consequently, I am not convinced by the arguments.

Martin said...

I would argue that they are entirely plausible, and I am agnostic about it. The well informed are full of doubt, and the uninformed are cocksure. You are cocksure + uninformed.

See the this short article for a plausible development of Aristotelian metaphysics. It argues that science actually presupposes them, and so they are anything but "mumbo jumbo", whatever that means.

But I'm not discussing it with you any further than that. Be skeptical, not cocksure, like you are now.

im-skeptical said...

"Be skeptical, not cocksure, like you are now."

Isn't it interesting that every time I say I don't believe something people tell me I'm not being skeptical?

Martin said...

You are being obstinate, not skeptical. Without knowing hardly a thing about it, you have already decided that Aristotelian metaphysics are not compatible with science, and yet...not only are they, but it could be the case that science presupposes them and could not work unless they were true. I do not take a strong position either way, but I'm willing to consider the possibility that it is correct.

Again, see my article for specifics.

Dan Gillson said...

Martin,

I don't see how it's any better to shift from the contingency of temporal events to the contingency of being/existing. You still end up treating items of history, e.g., change, identity, existence, ahistorically. That sort of philosophizing has its attendant problems, which will, for the time being, go unspecified.

Martin said...

Dan,

>You still end up treating items of history, e.g., change, identity, existence, ahistorically.

I don't understand what this means.

BenYachov said...

Dan

Do you or do you not realize in the Classical Cos arguments the philosophers assumed a past eternal universe that has always existed?

Even Aquinas since he did not believe either science or philosophy could prove the universe/reality had a beginning that was only something we could know from divine revelation.

> but I think that my intuition, i.e., what I don't like about the Kalām, can be generalized to other forms of the Cosmological Argument.

Not without making big time category mistakes and fallacies of equivocation.

The Kalam would not be the Kalam without postulating a Reality/Universe with a true beginning and postulating a past eternal universe is not possible.

The Classic Arguments need not accept those propositions. Thus no matter how many arguments you might venture from let us say Wes Morrison claiming a past eternal universe is possible & no matter how many Cyclical models of the Big Bang you venture at the end of the day you come off at an anti-six day young earth polemicist arguing with an Old Earth Theistic Evolutionist.

Come on Dan don't be lazy. That is Paps & IM mistake. You are better then them you could be the dguller of this board.

ps I corrected my spelling and grammar. All for you buddy.

Samwell Barnes said...

"The Classic Arguments need not accept those propositions. Thus no matter how many arguments you might venture from let us say Wes Morrison claiming a past eternal universe is possible & no matter how many Cyclical models of the Big Bang you venture at the end of the day you come off at an anti-six day young earth polemicist arguing with an Old Earth Theistic Evolutionist."

Indeed. The Aristotelian-Thomistic form of the cosmological argument is EPIC. Philosophy at its best.

Dan Gillson said...

Ben,

Doug sorted me out already, and I admitted that I was confusing Cosmological Arguments with the Kalām. I understand that Aquinas and Aristotle pursue the CA independently of time-related concerns. However, I tried to capture the general problem I see with the CA when I introduced the notion of historicity. I don't think it did: the potential to be mistaken for making the category error that I was trying to avoid is still there. (Everybody catch that?) However, I think I took a step in the right direction. Trial and error: that's one thing I like about commenting on blogs.

I'd like to say something about me being a little shit about grammar and spelling. I really don't care if someone is a bad writer. Poor writing becomes a concern of mine when the one who is guilty of writing poorly is also being a pompous asshole (*cough* Linton *cough*).

BenYachov said...

@Dan

As you know from a past dust up between us I don't give a crap about my grammar but for you I corrected it this time as a token of my respects.

So more respects to you.:-)

>However, I tried to capture the general problem I see with the CA when I introduced the notion of historicity. I don't think it did:

The thing is classic Cosmological Arguments aren't concerned with the past or what divine creative action might have taken place in the past or at the proverbial beginning of time. They are mostly concerned with why the Universe exists here and now.

Classic Theists believe in the doctrine of the Divine Conservation that is God must sustain the exisence of the Universe here and now. The modern Theistic Personalist believes "existence" is some property the proverbial creator can give his creations & oh hypothetically if that creator ended His own existence the world would go on without Him.

Putting aside the absurd idea God in the Classic Sense can cease to exist if Classic God could cease to exist everything He created would go with him into nothingness.

Martin's website contain some good summaries of the classic arguments by all means take a look and keep up with the trial and error.

Cheers.

BenYachov said...

Additional:

Hence Dan your use of the term "Historicity" does not make sense to either Martin or myself since the Past or future have little to do with the classic CA.

Cheers again.

BenYachov said...

additional additional

Let us all pause & pray for the victims in Boston.

Papalinton said...

Bob
"Poor, poor, poor Paplinton. Still doesn't understand the least thing about anything.
OF COURSE humans cannot produce by virgin birth! For that reason, when it actually did happen, we call it A MIRACLE."


It is not that atheists know nothing of religion; it's that they know too much.

Christianity has morphed prodigiously over the last few centuries. Its history brims with the signature of momentous change as it transits from literality and absolutism, through analogy, and thence through an intellectual and metaphysical phase, followed by a spell at the abstract stage and into an impressionistic period. Finally, today Christianity is a caricature of its former self, many if not most believers, those that profess to be guided by christian principles punt to allegory and metaphor as the reason for their continued association. Call them inactive members or cultural christians but none believe in the actuality of a virgin birth, or a resurrection or ascension of a fully physical body into the blue beyond.

One need only cite John Shelby Spong and many prominent active clergy that subscribe to the allegory/metaphor basis of scripture as the only logical and reasonable proposition going into the 21st C.

Nothing makes this clearer than the witness of practising clergy:

"I believe that there is a similar dynamic of truth in the concept of Christ being raised from the dead. So, no, I don’t think that to be a Christian we have to believe that Christ literally, bodily rose from the dead and that he literally, bodily ascended into heaven. Yet I do believe that these words are our best attempt to give expression to an experience which was true to the followers of Jesus in his time, and is still true to those of us who engage with Jesus in heart, mind and spirit still today."
--The Rev. Margaret B. Gunness

"Nowadays (forty years later) I would say that I am of two minds. One, which is my “worldly, common-sense” way of thinking, tells me that the resurrection might be metaphorical, but if it is, that does not make me believe in Jesus any less, nor in him as the divine model for living and dying, any less ........... Do you have to believe this to “be a Christian?” I would say not. I would say that what it takes to “be a Christian” is to want to be a Christian. The more you believe and the more you practice the things that Jesus taught, the stronger a Christian you will be."
--The Rev. William A. Kolb

Read the rest of the others HERE.

And just to top it off with a bit of persiflage, even Arian-catholicism, 1,500 years after they were supposedly wiped out: ;o)
"There is enough in the Gospels that challenge the idea of a physical resurrection. In addition, like most liberal theologians, I am eager to align myself with what I perceive to be St Paul’s position: Jesus’ resurrection involved a spirit-body rather than a physical body. His metaphor of the Church as the Body of Christ, and the Gospel authors’ view of the Eucharist as the Body of Christ, I think also suggests this idea."

See HERE.









Papalinton said...

My condolences and thoughts go out to all who have been hurt by this tragic event.

It is truly a savage act, the perpetrators of which must be resolutely pursued and brought to justice.

Doug Benscoter said...

Dan, at the risk of doing some shameless self-promotion, I've written a post detailing why I think some of the reservations you have about Aristotelian cosmological arguments can be accommodated without damage to the fundamental proof: http://dougbenscoter.blogspot.com/2013/04/kant-thomas-aquinas-and-cosmological.html

I'm not sure if your use of "historicity" is in any way influenced by the criticisms of Hume and Kant, but I figure it wouldn't hurt to respond to these objections.