Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Feser reviews A Universe From Nothing

Here.  HT: Mark Shea.

33 comments:

planks length said...

To me the most important paragraph of this review is this:

The bulk of the book is devoted to exploring how the energy present in otherwise empty space, together with the laws of physics, might have given rise to the universe as it exists today. This is at first treated as if it were highly relevant to the question of how the universe might have come from nothing”until Krauss acknowledges toward the end of the book that energy, space, and the laws of physics don’t really count as “nothing” after all. Then it is proposed that the laws of physics alone might do the trick”though these too, as he implicitly allows, don’t really count as “nothing” either.

I recall my high school physics teacher challenging the class to define "space". After allowing us to struggle with the term for a while with no real success, he then told us "Space is what prevents everything from being in the same place - nothing more."

frances said...

In general, classical philosophical theology argues for the existence of a first cause of the world”a cause that does not merely happen not to have a cause of its own but that (unlike everything else that exists) in principle does not require one.

Cause and effect are laws that operate within the existant universe. What reason is there to believe that the universe itself requires a cause?

planks length said...

"What reason is there to believe that the universe itself requires a cause?"

The fact that the universe had a beginning. "Everything that begins to exist has a cause"

im-skeptical said...

"The fact that the universe had a beginning."

Who says? What makes you so sure that it hasn't been around forever, perhaps just recycling itself in some way?

grodrigues said...

@Frances:

"Cause and effect are laws that operate within the existant universe. What reason is there to believe that the universe itself requires a cause?"

Besides what planks length said (if you want to subscribe to brute fact magic, hey go ahead), the fact is that this "objection" has absolutely no force against a Cosmological argument like the First Way, simply because the universe is, like everything else in the natural order, a composite of act and potency.

planks length said...

"What makes you so sure that it hasn't been around forever"

Actually, if you had read your Aquinas, you'd learn that whether or not the universe is temporally finite in the past or not is irrelevant to the argument. What cannot be logically asserted is an infinite series of causation. And that is the heart of the argument - not the age of the universe.

So even if the universe is infinitely old, it changes. Therefore, the universe as you observe it today is not infinitely old, but has only existed since the most recent change. (In other words, the present universe began to exist.)

So, im-skeptical, your punting to some sort of eternal recycling only makes matters worse for anyone arguing against the First Cause. You're put in the position of someone who cannot even explain the fact that the universe existed the most inconceivably tiny fraction of an instant ago.

planks length said...

HERE is a link to a smarter person than me explaining exactly why the age of the universe is irrelevant to the First Cause argument.

frances said...

Planks,

"Everything that begins to exist has a cause"

Why? This is true of things that we experience within the universe. Why should we believe it is true of the universe itself. "Universes are not so plentiful as blackberries" so conclusions about how they come I to existence must be treated with caution.

planks length said...

Frances,

Read my last comment again. The key factor here is change. Since the universe changes from moment to moment, its existence is contingent. Logic alone (the sort of logic as basic as "A is A" and "A is not not-A") will show you that a contingent being must have a cause, and that its cause cannot be itself, and eventually/finally that you cannot have an infinite series of causes without somewhere there being an "uncaused cause".

Reason and Logic 101.

Your comment would only have validity if the universe were completely and eternally changeless.

im-skeptical said...

"Logic alone (the sort of logic as basic as "A is A" and "A is not not-A") will show you that a contingent being must have a cause, and that its cause cannot be itself, and eventually/finally that you cannot have an infinite series of causes without somewhere there being an "uncaused cause"."

Logic, with a few Aristotelian/Thomistic assumptions thrown in for good measure.

frances said...

Planks,

I don't agree that the universe is contingent or that God isn't.

These need to be argued.

You are still committing the same basic fallacy (of composition) whether you argue that the universe must have a cause because it began to exist (kalam) or whether you argue it must have a cause because it is contingent Modal). Both assume that because things within the universe require a cause, the universe itself must require a cause.

planks length said...

Frances,

The universe as a whole changes. This is undeniable. For example, today's universe does not at all resemble the universe that existed prior to space becoming transparent to light. (Look it up - it used to be that way, for perhaps the first 800 million years after the "Big Bang". See HERE under the sub-heading "Dark Ages") Therefore, the universe as a whole is contingent.

frances said...

Planks,

Obviously the universe has changed! I don't deny that the universe must change if it's parts change but I don't agree that that makes the universe as a whole contingent.

Once you have the explanation for the changes of the parts, that's the explanation. You do not need to go on to say that there must be an explanation for the whole.

planks length said...

We'll have to agree to disagree on that one, then. We have fundamentally different ideas about the terms we are using. I regard the whole (of anything) as more than just the sum of its parts. My body may be made up of billions of cells, but as a whole it is far more than that. It has an identity beyond what it is composed of.

My chair is made up of atoms, but it possesses a "chairness" that both encompasses and exceeds its atomic makeup.

The Battles of France, Britain, Okinawa, and Leyte Gulf are all part of the Second World War, but WWII is far more than just a list of battles.

The universe is not merely a collection of smaller stuff, but is an entity in and of itself.

frances said...

I agree about things being often (I'm not sure about always) more than the sum of their parts. In fact I think that rather supports my point that what may be true of the parts is not necessarilty true of teh whole.

planks length said...

"In fact I think that rather supports my point that what may be true of the parts is not necessarilty true of the whole."

Really? But that would force you to agree with the universe being contingent. Because as a whole it is changing, and not just all of its components individually. So saying the parts are contingent has no bearing on the whole also being contingent if, as a whole it is also changing.

frances said...

I'm not sure what distinction you're drawing between the parts changing and the whole changing. Can it change as a whole except through its parts changing?

im-skeptical said...

"Because as a whole it is changing, and not just all of its components individually. So saying the parts are contingent has no bearing on the whole also being contingent if, as a whole it is also changing."

So God must be contingent. If God was metaphysically simple and unchanging, there would have been no time at which he created the universe, and no time at which he created Jesus. But obviously God is not unchanging as you claim. So he must be changed by something else.

planks length said...

im-skeptical,

This is beneath you. Surely you understand the difference between time and eternity. Time itself is a creation, so the act of creation cannot in any way be said to have occurred within it.

im-skeptical said...

"Time itself is a creation, so the act of creation cannot in any way be said to have occurred within it."

WL Craig disagrees. He says that God has "ontological time", and describes its relationship to our time. (Of course, he doesn't get relativity.) But aside from that, Jesus lived within an earthly timeframe, didn't he? Or did Jesus always exist

planks length said...

"Or did Jesus always exist?"

In the beginning was the Word
And the Word was with God
And the Word was God. (Gospel according to John)

"for in [Jesus] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible ... all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." (Paul, Letter to the Colossians)

"through [Jesus] also [God] created the world" (Letter to the Hebrews)

"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands" (First Letter of John)

In the words of the Nicene Creed (new translation): "Jesus Christ ... born of the Father before all ages"
(old translation): "Jesus Christ ... Eternally begotten of the Father"

So to answer your question: Yes, Jesus, the Word, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, did "always exist".

im-skeptical said...

"Yes, Jesus, the Word, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, did "always exist"."

More on that: http://www.hullquist.com/Bible/bib-onegod-5.htm

grodrigues said...

"If God was metaphysically simple and unchanging, there would have been no time at which he created the universe, and no time at which he created Jesus."

Creation is not change.

planks length said...

grodrigues,

I was previously under what I now see as an erroneous impression - that im-skeptical was impervious to new information, merely repeating ad nauseum the same mistaken ideas (such as his maddeningly off-the-wall comments in this conversation on the First Cause argument) with no discernible progress towards enlightenment. But his most recent posting, with the link to the crazy-nuts website of willful heresy and hyper-individualistic (and quite wrongheaded) misinterpretations and downright distortions of scripture, combined with some of his earlier links (such as to the "Whore of Babylon" website some months back), makes me think he really is actively searching out some means of arriving at the Truth (though in all the wrong places). He basically faces two rather serious obstacles in his quest, however:

1. A total lack of any "filtering" mechanism. Im-skeptical appears to put garbage like the site he linked to on the same level as The Catechism of the Catholic Church, or any other solid, orthodox resource. To use an analogy he should appreciate, that would be the equivalent of regarding Immanuel Velikovsky to be as reliable a source of scientific knowledge as Edwin Hubble.

2. A presupposition that "empirical evidence" is the sole path to truth, despite the fact that such an attitude compels one to basically reject 90% of human thought over the ages. How on Earth is one supposed to profit from the deep wells of wisdom contained in, say, The Odyssey or Howard Hanson's Symphony Number 4, if you restrict yourself to knowledge obtainable by the scientific method?

grodrigues said...

@planks length:

"I was previously under what I now see as an erroneous impression - that im-skeptical was impervious to new information, merely repeating ad nauseum the same mistaken ideas (such as his maddeningly off-the-wall comments in this conversation on the First Cause argument) with no discernible progress towards enlightenment. But his most recent posting, with the link to the crazy-nuts website of willful heresy and hyper-individualistic (and quite wrongheaded) misinterpretations and downright distortions of scripture, combined with some of his earlier links (such as to the "Whore of Babylon" website some months back), makes me think he really is actively searching out some means of arriving at the Truth (though in all the wrong places)."

Actually my evaluation is the opposite and your original impression is not totally off the mark. At any rate, and as a matter of personal opinion, commenting on other persons is disagreeable and more often than not a waste of time, even if it must be engaged at some point -- and then face to face (so to speak). Whatever I had to say about im-skeptical, I already said it in other threads. Nowadays, I just content myself in pointing out some egregious mistake or other, if I am in the right mood and the wind is blowing north-northwest.

planks length said...

grodrigues,

"commenting on other persons is disagreeable"

You are correct, and I abjectly apologize to all concerned. Lapse of judgement and good manners on my part, with no excuse. I will try to not repeat the offense.

im-skeptical said...

planks,

"1. A total lack of any "filtering" mechanism."

By which you mean I should filter out any biblical interpretations that you don't agree with.

"2. A presupposition that "empirical evidence" is the sole path to truth"

Despite the fact that I have repeatedly said otherwise. I do believe that philosophy is valuable, but that it should not be divorced from reality. Furthermore, your supposition that I have no appreciation for anything but "cold, hard scientific facts" is grossly mistaken. Perhaps it is you who has the severely restricted view.

planks length said...

"By which you mean I should filter out any biblical interpretations that you don't agree with."

Actually, yes. (insert smiley face here) But since I doubt you'll agree to that, you should at least make a distinction between orthodox interpretation and off-the-wall personal speculation. As I said in my unfortunately-worded comment above, it's exactly the same difference as between peer-reviewed science and flaky pseudoscience.

I applaud you for rejecting the faux science nutcases out there. Why not do the same for the loony-tune pseudo-theologians?

im-skeptical said...

"you should at least make a distinction between orthodox interpretation and off-the-wall personal speculation"

Who's to say what a 'proper' interpretation is? The Catholic church? I'm afraid they represent everything I despise about institutionalized religion. The catechism instructs you what to believe and how to interpret the biblical text in light of that belief. I can't abide anybody telling me what to believe.

It seems pretty clear that the original authors of the Pentateuch were polytheistic. The first gospel (Mark) contained no account of either a virgin birth or a resurrection. And nowhere did the bible mention any kind of trinity or numerous other dogmatic adaptations of the church.

So you can interpret biblical text in light of your beliefs, or you can try to understand what it actually said at the time the words were written.

planks length said...

Face it, im-skeptical, what you are opposed to here is peer-review. You wouldn't stand for the bullshit that Velikovsky, Erich von Daniken, or the "Answers in Genesis" crowd put out being considered alongside the work of reputable scientists who submit their research to the painful process of peer review. Well, guess what? That is exactly what orthodoxy is to the bullshit whackos that you love to link to.

You may "despise" everything that the Catholic Church represents, but you cannot do so without also despising the very people you praise in the professional scientific community - those who weed out the crazies and the dishonest.

"What's sauce for the goose..."

im-skeptical said...

planks,

I've spent a little time looking into biblical hermeneutics, and what I've seen so far indicates that the orthodoxy you speak of only exists within the church institution. And there's plenty of material to look at. If you want to have any hope of gaining a broader understanding of this topic, you can't confine yourself to the catechism.

BenYachov said...

>I've spent a little time looking into biblical hermeneutics, and what I've seen so far indicates that the orthodoxy you speak of only exists within the church institution.

An Atheist who gets it! Thank you!


>And there's plenty of material to look at. If you want to have any hope of gaining a broader understanding of this topic, you can't confine yourself to the catechism.

Then he looses it. Skept if we Catholics can't confine ourselves to the catechism then you are forcing us to talk about religious perspective none of us believe and believe is false.

In short you waste our time.

This is a clear cut case "NO FAIR! YOUR NOT A FUNDAMENTALIST!" gnu Atheist butthurt meme.

Silly.

uchitrakar said...

When scientists say that the universe can simply come out of nothing without any divine intervention, they think of the universe in terms of its energy content only. In the book ‘The Grand Design’, page 281, scientist Stephen Hawking has written that bodies like stars or black holes cannot just appear out of nothing, but a whole universe can. What Hawking meant to say here was this: As the total energy of a whole universe is zero, so it can come out of nothing. But stars or black holes will fail to do so, because their total energy is not zero. But universe means not only its energy universe means its space-time as well. Do these scientists think that the total space-time of the universe is zero, and therefore, the entire space-time of the universe can also appear out of nothing?