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Is Sean Carroll Correct That the Universe Moves By Itself?

SeanCarroll

Many theists, including myself, believe that some of the strongest arguments for God rely on the logical need for a First Cause of the universe (or First Mover, depending on which argument you use.) This sort of argument goes back at least to Aristotle, who thousands of years ago suggested that, "Everything that is in motion must be moved by something" (and by motion he meant any change whatsoever, not just locomotion, or spatial change).

However, physicist Sean Carroll thinks Aristotle had it wrong. In one of the earliest chapters in his new book, The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself (Dutton, 2016), Carroll explains why. His reason? "The whole structure of Aristotle's argument for an unmoved mover rests on his idea that motions require causes. Once we know about conservation of momentum, that ideas loses steam" (28).

To put it another way, Carroll believes that the conservation of momentum debunks the idea of causality, the principle that all actions are determined by causes.

Carroll admits that it does seem to us, in our everyday experience, that things don't "just happen"—something works to cause them, to bring them about. But he still believes causal language is "no longer part of our best fundamental ontology" (29). Poetic naturalists can speak of causality as an emergent, second-level description of reality, but it's not a level-one story we should tell about the world (i.e., it's not a description of how the world really works at its core.)

Now, one obvious question that Carroll's position raises is, how exactly does the conservation of momentum disprove causality? Carroll never offers a clear answer. He suggests that objects on frictionless surfaces moving at constant velocity do not need a cause to keep moving (28).

But of course, this doesn't refute the Aristotelian principle of causality. At best, this would only show that in such cases, you don't need a sustaining cause to keep an object moving. It would say nothing about whether you need an initial cause to start the object's motion.

To use another example, you could say that in general, once a baby boy grows to age 21, he generally doesn't need his father to "stay in motion," and continue developing. Whether his father is alive or dead, distant or close, he can survive just as well (again, generally speaking.) But this fact doesn't show that the father was completely unnecessary in the child's life. For if there was no father, there would be no baby boy—and certainly no 21-year-old man! Thus the father was necessary to explain how the baby boy "started going," but not necessary to explain how he "kept going."

Similarly, Aristotle would agree that everything in that begins to move must be initially moved by something, regardless of whether it continues requiring a cause or not. Even in the hypothetical case of a cup sailing along a frictionless table, you still need to explain what caused the cup to move in the first place. It can't have been in motion forever without cause, at least within the real world, for various reasons (none of which Carroll acknowledges or engages.)

So Carroll's attempt to refute the principle of causality, and thus the universe's need for a First Cause, fails because he doesn't distinguish between different types of causality, such as initial or sustaining causes. He in essence suggests that since things in motion may not require sustaining causes, then they don't need any causal explanations.

(For a helpful background on the critical distinction between different forms of causality, read Dr. Edward Feser's book, Aquinas.)

Carroll makes a similar mistake when he concludes, "The universe doesn't need a push; it can just keep going!" (28). The problem is that, once again, this mixes up two different forms of causality. The first part of his claim concerns how or whether the universe began, whether it had an initial cause to "push" it into existence. The second part concerns how the universe continues existing after it comes into existence, whether or not it has a sustaining cause to "keep [it] going." The two questions are not identical.

Regardless, Carroll offers no convincing reasons to accept either idea, that the universe "doesn't need a push" or that it can "just keep going" without any sustaining cause.

Interestingly, Carroll doesn't think we should get rid of causal language. He writes (emphasis mine):

"It's possible to understand why it's so useful to refer to causes and effects in our everyday experience, even if they're not present in the underlying equations. There are many different useful stories we have to tell about reality to get along in the world." (29)

Note here, again, his concern over whether causal language is useful, not whether it's true. On his view, poetic naturalists can tell whatever stories they want about the world as long as they're useful—as long as they help us "to get along in the world."

But this recalls my major critique of poetic naturalism: it's fine with embracing false accounts of the world so long as they're useful. It cares more about pragmatism than truth.

In the end, this chapter doesn't so much refute causality as it exposes Carroll's internal conflict. He wants to reconcile two contradictory positions, first that causality is fundamentally an illusion, and second that we can't "get along in the world" (nor, I would argue, carry on the work of science) without taking causal language for granted.

Carroll says we should embrace causality because it's useful.

I say we should embrace it because it true.

Either way, whether it's only useful or both useful and true, Carroll gives no reason to oppose theists who use causal language. After all, if such language is useful, then certainly theists can use it in arguments for God!

In the next post, we'll look at another central idea in Carroll's book, determinism.

(Editors Note: Dr. Edward Feser has a post here at Strange Notions digging further into Carroll's views on causality. Read it here.)

Brandon Vogt

Written by

Brandon Vogt is a bestselling author, blogger, and speaker. He's also the founder of StrangeNotions.com. Brandon has been featured by several media outlets including NPR, CBS, FoxNews, SiriusXM, and EWTN. He converted to Catholicism in 2008, and since then has released several books, including The Church and New Media (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011), Saints and Social Justice (Our Sunday Visitor, 2014), and RETURN (Numinous Books, 2015). He works as the Content Director for Bishop Robert Barron's Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Brandon lives with his wife, Kathleen, and their five children in Central Florida. Follow him at BrandonVogt.com or connect through Twitter at @BrandonVogt.

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  • Will

    Aristotle and Aquinas thought God was necessary to sustain an eternal universe. If one discusses what set the universe in motion, one is not debating Aristotle or Aquinas, as far as I know...again they thought the universe was eternal.
    Carroll discusses the beginning of the universe separately. It's currently unknown why exactly the universe began in a low entropy state and began to expand. I'm not sure how it helps to posit an intelligent being as an explanation, couldn't a blind force of nature that we are currently unaware of accomplish it? Studying the nature of universes is quite difficult while stuck inside one, and comparing things inside universes to universes themselves seems problematic, in principle.

    • "It's currently unknown why exactly the universe began in a low entropy state and began to expand."

      I'm not sure theists would agree. The universe began in a low entropy state and began to expand because it was created. We have good reasons for thinking this, which have been shared in many places on this site.

      "I'm not sure how it helps to posit an intelligent being as an explanation..."

      Of course, this isn't what classical theists posit. It isn't what Aristotle or Aquinas believed. They didn't think "an intelligent being" (emphasis mine) caused the universe. Such a being would, naturally, require an explanation for its own existence.

      They believe that there is a First Cause of the universe which must, by logical necessity, exist by its own nature, and thus be described as existence itself--not one instantiation of existence among many.

      To me this clearly seems like a good explanation for the universe, certainly way better than Carroll's confused proposal.

      • David Nickol

        The universe began in a low entropy state and began to expand because it was created.

        This is all above my head, but it seems to me we don't know enough about "the universe" to say much of anything about it with great confidence, and certainly not to use our current knowledge as proof of the existence of God. We know a certain amount about "our universe," but we don't certain basics, such as whether it is infinite or not. We also don't know whether "our" universe exists in a multiverse (although as I understand it, there are reasons to think it does). We also don't know the laws of nature as they apply to the big bang (or the moments before the big bang). I suppose one could conjecture that the big bang was the moment of creation, and that science can't explain it (or what preceded it), but I know of no reason to assume science will make no further progress in explaining the big bang. It might or it might not.

        So if you want to assert that the universe began in a low-entropy state because it was created at the big bang, that is certainly one hypothesis, but it is by no means an established fact. Haven't we been told right here on Strange Notions that Lemaître himself discouraged people from making such a claim?

      • Mike

        many folks defending the non existence of causality seem confused to me! it's like they don't realize that their psychological displeasure with causality CAUSES them to try to refute it.

        • On the contrary, everyone's folk psychology has some notion of causality, it seems intuitively obvious. But intuition has often turned out to be wrong, especially when we get outside of our breadbox sized physics and ~70 year life spans.

          • Mike

            come on you don't really believe that. i am causing the keys on the comp to press down and generate these letter that was me causing myself and the keys to stop for a bit just did it again.

          • "i am causing the keys on the comp to press down"

            Yes you are. But neither you nor the keys exist at the most fundamental level we can access, so what would it even mean to say that the causation does?

          • Mike

            yes they do and so do i. but you assume 'most funda' must mean smallest for some reason. but even at that level i exist and so do the keys. otherwise i 'emerge' out of carbon molecules etc.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Intuition can be wrong, but one's application of reason can be as well. If you've reasoned yourself to the highly non-intuitive conclusion that people don't really exist, pianos don't really exist, life doesn't really exist, causality doesn't really exist, etc. then I would say it's worth a second look at your premises.

          • No one is saying they don't exist, they just don't exist at the most fundamental level. This whole thread is a head-scratcher for me.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Yeah, sorry to be dense, but the general distinction between "really existing" and "really existing the most fundamental level" is a bit elusive to me in this context. More specifically, I'm still at a loss as to why the language of subatomic physics is considered to provide the "most fundamental" level of analysis.

          • Here, I think "fundamental" means "underlying", "elemental", at "the root of." So if x is made of y and y is made of z, z is more fundamental. But you could call that whatever you want, the concept would remain. Protons(and others) underlie atoms, quarks underlie protons and so on

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think you are probably right that Carroll is using "fundamental" in the sense of "elemental", and that helps me decipher his writing a bit, so thanks.

            To my mind, that is a very particular (no pun intended) way of understanding the word "fundamental". I would even say it is wrong-headed, frankly. If you want to have knowledge of something au fond, it seems to me that you have to get to know the thing holistically. Analytic knowledge of a thing usually does contribute to a deeper knowledge of that thing, but that is only one dimension of deepening knowledge.

            If I have the fruits of a frog dissection on my table, that is not the same thing as having a frog on the table. I can deepen my knowledge of what a frog is, to some extent, by studying the parts that it is composed of. But if I really want to understand frogs fundamentally, which is to say deeply, I need to go sit by the pond in the early morning, listen to the sounds they make, watch how they move among the weeds and lilies, see how they jump after their insect prey, and so forth. I'm not trying to be especially mystical in what I am saying. I'm just trying to make the common sense observation that if you want to understand a frog, you need to study integral frogs. And by extension, if you want to understand frogs deeply, the primary way to do that is not to start slicing them into bits, but rather by studying integral frogs a lot. (As an aside, I believe Jane Goodall's approach to her research was motivated by similar insights.)

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Assuming you are interpreting Carroll correctly, I think he might make his claims in a much more comprehensible and epistemically secure fashion by replacing statements like:

            "Pianos do not exist at the most fundamental level of reality"

            with statements like:

            "'Piano' is not part of the vocabulary that we need to use when discussing reality in the language of subatomic physics".

            Statements of the latter sort, of course, are so uncontroversial that they are not even worth saying. But if he is really claiming anything more than that, then I don't see how his claims are justified.

          • If I pluck a carbon atom out of you, there's no "Jim" there in that atom. If I collide that atom into subatomic parts, those parts have no "carbon." That's what I got from this section, anyway

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Exactly! That's precisely why an atomistic analysis of me will not give you a very fundamental understanding of who I am. I expanded on this in my reply to your other comment.

    • Lazarus

      Without picking on you, William, this type of argument is where I believe a lot of atheists, scientists and otherwise, lose credibility.

      Surely, given our present state of knowledge, the correct scientific view is to say something along the lines of "We really do not know how or why the universe came into existence. There are various theories, A, B, C and D. Of these, C is my personal favorite, and for these reasons. I acknowledge, given the science and philosophy involved, that theism is a viable option, even though I may not personally find that acceptable."

      To remove theism, that "intelligent being" tout court and right from the outset, is unfounded and simply shows an unwarranted bias. Include it as a possibility, reject it as a probability if you have to, and I will accept such a person's credentials.

      • David Nickol

        To remove theism, that "intelligent being" tout court and right from the outset, is unfounded and simply shows an unwarranted bias.

        I don't think Sean Carroll can be accused of this. He talks a lot about Bayesian reasoning, an approach I can't claim to know much about, but as I understand what he says, he does not advocate setting the "prior credence" for the existence of God to zero, which would be the case if he were doing what you accuse him of. (See the chapter titled Abducting God.) He acknowledges that there is evidence both for and against theism, and he acknowledges the difficulty of weighing the evidence objectively. He acknowledges that both atheists and theists may have biases that prevent them from evaluating their own views objectively.

        • Was @disqus_d5UWCd7LSC:disqus talking about Sean Carroll's views, in that comment?

        • Lazarus

          I'm sure that you are right regarding Carroll's view, I haven't been able to read the book yet, as the Kindle version only becomes available around here in August. My comment was clearly directed at William's view that a creating intelligence should be discounted.

      • Peter

        I go one step further and believe that an intelligent being is the most likely explanation. There is a progressive realisation through scientific discovery that the universe is the brainchild of a superior creative entity. Everything just appears to click into place as though it was carefully thought about in advance. And, crucially, the deeper we look into the universe, the more this appears to be the case. The future can only go in one direction, an increasing recognition that the universe is the product of a supremely intelligent mind. God is waiting for us to find him.

      • Will

        FWIW I used to call myself a deist, and agnostic is probably the most accurate description of my current believe. However, I don't think we have enough information to posit a few theories. With almost no information, there are an infinite number of possible theories, info is required to thin the herd.
        Brandon corrects me that it isn't an intelligent being, but a First Cause that started the universe. That's fine, but Christianity posits an intelligent being we can get to know personally as God. I agree with Alvin Plantinga that divine simplicity (which is an important part of the First Cause argument as otherwise it has a real parsimony problem) rules out intelligent being and makes God something other than what Christianity claims.

        http://www.iep.utm.edu/div-simp/#H4

        In other words, if I accept Aristotle's God, or the God of philosophy, I do not accept the God of Christianity. I think this is the same "God" that Spinoza perfected, and it cannot be a person God. I have no problem with this "God" but again it simple isn't equal to "intelligent being".

        Here is a fun theory. Perhaps once intelligence gets going via natural selection, it continues to improve itself (think of Aristotle's Intellect as some primal element in nature) until it reaches Godhood. To prevent the end of everything, it figures out how to create a new universe, or reset this one back to it's original low entropy state to prevent complete heat death of the universe. How could we compare this theory, which would basically posit a continuing reset of the universe along with a primal struggle between order (low entropy) and chaos that repeats in time, to God just existing by default? My version is more complex, surely, but how could we know it isn't wrong? It's a bit more fun, at least to me ;)

        • Lazarus

          Interesting, but we still have that "...once intelligence gets going..." bridge to cross.

          I find your position (a very prevalent one) to be quite enigmatic. You are quite happy to play around with the mystery of it all, to consider transcendence, to posit some truly interesting theories about it all... except the one theory, full of its own mystery and beauty, that a large part of humanity is happy to accept. Why that selective limitation of your options? Christianity is going to become quite cool again, you know ;)

          • The culture, art, and history of the church, especially the Catholic church can be beautiful and moving. There's a rich intellectual tradition worth exploring. Philosophical arguments about the 'unmoved mover,' 'ground of all being,' 'existence itself,' etc are interesting, and while I don't find any ultimately persuasive, they're certainly worth considering. But that's a smokescreen for what people actually believe, I listen to a lot of Catholic radio, and the vast majority of it leads me to believe that 'being qua being' is almost solely focused on what a bunch half-clever apes on a tiny planet do with their reproductive systems. The Ugly, broad ditch that separates the philosophical arguments from the specifically Christian apologetics with all their special pleading, motivated reasoning and confirmation bias is simply uncrossable.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            what a bunch half-clever apes on a tiny planet do with their reproductive systems.

            Modern secular culture seems abnormally obsessed with their pelvis. Hence, it seems to them that anyone who disgrees must be similarly obsessed. Hence, they overlook all that stuff about feeding the hungry and loving your enemies and so on: the hospitals, schools, orphanages, and the like.

          • Valence

            Modern secular culture seems abnormally obsessed with their pelvis. Hence, it seems to them that anyone who disgrees must be similarly obsessed. Hence, they overlook all that stuff about feeding the hungry and loving your enemies and so on: the hospitals, schools, orphanages, and the like.

            FWIW Pope Francis thinks the Church is obsessed with sex. So much for the "projecting" argument. I agree that the charity stuff is too often ignored.

            http://www.reuters.com/article/us-pope-interview-idUSBRE98I0S920130919

            http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/07/24/us/29popegaymarriage.html?_r=0

          • Lazarus

            Catholicism is a big tent. I also disagree with, even dislike, a lot of what passes for Catholicism. The bad parts are manageable though, as far as I'm concerned.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Christianity posits an intelligent being etc.

          The intelligence follows from its nature as Primary Cause being purely actual. As such it is the primary cause of all powers. But a being cannot give what it does not have, either formally or eminently; i.e., "all power-full". Hence, Primary Cause is the primary cause of intellection as seen in humans; hence, there must be something in Primary Cause that is analogous to intellect and will. Hence, Primary Cause must be something along the lines of a personal being. Etc.

        • Peter

          You fun theory assumes an infinite sequence of universes where in one particular universe an alien has evolved to such a high level that it is capable of scientifically creating our universe.

          This is just another form of the multiverse argument so it's nothing new. What is more likely, an eternal infinite God as a brute fact or an eternal infinite multiverse as a brute fact?
          You may claim that there's no sign of God, but nor for that matter is there any sign of a multiverse.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      The eternity of the world was believed by Aristotle and Einstein. (Moderns had believed the world eternal largely because theists insisted it was not. Einstein initially resisted the Big Bang theory, because it was derived from his field equations by a cleric. But he eventually had to give in, perhaps muttering, I guess it does move after all.) Aquinas assumed the world was eternal because he knew of no philosophical proof that it was not. He believed it had a beginning in time, but he could not prove it, and the medieval rule was never to bring in revelations in the course of a philosophical proof.

      But of course eternity is not an objection to causation.
      cf. http://dhspriory.org/thomas/DeEternitateMundi.htm

  • David Nickol

    But this recalls my major critique of poetic naturalism: it's fine with embracing false accounts of the world so long as they're useful. It cares more about pragmatism than truth.

    Which false accounts of the world does Sean Carroll say it is fine to embrace?

    I understand him to be saying that causality is not in the most fundamental reality, but that doesn't mean when speaking about human experience, it would be a "false account" to speak of causes. I think Sean Carroll would have no problem with a statement such as, "The British people's vote in favor of leaving the European Union caused stock markets to plunge all over the world in its immediate aftermath."

    I think you have to show that when speaking in terms of something other than the fundamentals of reality, you and Sean Carroll have a different idea of determining what is true and false. I think you are making an unwarranted assumption that when Carroll says something like "useful ways of talking about X" he is saying those ways of talking are merely useful and not true. Perhaps you need to answer the question, "What is truth?" :P

    • Phil

      Hey David,

      I won't speak directly for Brandon, but it seems to me that the point he was making is that Sean doesn't believe that causality is actually part of fundamental structure of reality. Sean merely sees causality as "useful" in talking about the world.

      For example, if this is a correct understanding of his view, then Sean would hold that there is no real causal connection between striking a match and it bursting into flames. But it is "useful" to say that the striking of the match "caused" it to burst into flame, but that is mere illusion. The striking of the match didn't cause it to burst into flames. Why did the match burst into flames...who knows, Sean may have a deep mystery on his hands. Maybe it was a miracle!

      I hope that example makes it clear how absurd this claim ultimately is. It leads to the same problems that David Hume's theory of causality (which was similar) leads too, ultimately the destruction of the very coherency of the natural sciences themselves.

      • No, Carroll wouldn't say that talk of causality is merely an illusion. Remember that he claims that all "stories" across all domains are valid, not that higher level stories are illusory while lower level stories are the only true ones. He would claim that causality is valid, but only at a macroscopic level.

        • Phil

          Thank you Steven for helping to clarify.

          Now when you say this:

          Remember that he claims that all "stories" across all domains are valid, not that higher level stories are illusory while lower level stories are the only true ones.

          Does "valid" equal "true" according to Carroll, where "true" means it describes reality as it actually exists?

          If valid does not equal true according to Carroll, could you explain exactly what he means by valid and how you tell the difference between something that is valid and something that is true?

          • No, I don't believe so, just "useful". As I articulated last thread, one example he gives is transgender individuals who identify with the sex opposite the one they were born with. In this case Carroll basically says that if it is useful to call a man (like Bruce Jenner) a woman, then might as well do so.

            Note that I don't agree with Carroll at all, but I just want to make sure his position is accurately presented.

          • Phil

            Okay, then I do believe what I wrote above is correct.

            Because if Carroll doesn't think that causality is true (which means it doesn't describe how reality actually exists), then things aren't in real causal relationships. It is just a "useful story"

            Therefore, the striking of the match doesn't cause it to burst into flames. It is just a "useful story".

        • Do you know of anywhere where Carroll talks about causality not existing at level N but existing at level N + 1, and then how the two levels differ such that causality can exist at the higher level but not the lower? Because if his ontology cannot actually allow this, then I think the ultimate result will be the erosion of causation.

          • David Nickol

            Do you know of anywhere where Carroll talks about causality not existing at level N but existing at level N + 1, and then how the two levels differ such that causality can exist at the higher level but not the lower?

            As I have pointed out, in addition to causality, Carroll says that time (or at least, the one-way arrow of time) does not exist at the most fundamental level. If this is indeed true, would it mean that the arrow of time is an illusion.

          • That, or Carroll's "most fundamental level" does not actually fully capture everything that goes on in reality. Carroll's "most fundamental level" simply is not guaranteed to capture all state, and perhaps to properly grasp at time, one needs more state than exists at the "most fundamental level".

        • "Carroll wouldn't say that talk of causality is merely an illusion."

          This is correct. I'm not saying that Carroll thinks causality is an illusion. I'm arguing that if his view is true, causality is in fact illusory, whether he recognizes that or not.

          The fact that he both denies and embraces causality, depending on the "level of reality", is a serious flaw of his worldview.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Remember that he claims that all "stories" across all domains are valid,

          Hence, the matador always has a barrera behind which he can duck if the bull gets too feisty.

      • David Nickol

        For example, The view Sean has presented would hold that there is no
        true causal connection between striking a match and it bursting into
        flames.

        He certainly doesn't say that. He says:

        Understanding this feature of how nature works has led some philosophers to advocate that we eliminate cause and effect entirely. As Bertrand Russell once memorably put it:

        The law of causality, I believe, like much that passes muster among philosophers, is a relic of a bygone age, surviving, like the monarchy, only because it is erroneously supposed to do no harm.

        It's an understandable reaction, but perhaps a bit to extreme. After all, it would be hard to get through the day without appealing to causes, at all. Certainly when we speak of the actions taken by human beings, we like to assign credit or blame to them; that won't work if we can't even say that their actions caused any particular outcome. Causality provides a very useful way of talking in our everyday lives. . . .

        I think it is a mistake to think that when Carroll says "useful," he means "merely useful, but a useful fiction." Carroll says that causality is not to be found at the most fundamental level of reality, but he says that about the arrow of time, as well.

        This is getting very deep for me, but I think there may be a disagreement about what it means for something to be "real" or "true." The theist view here, perhaps, is that everything that is real or true is to be found at the most fundamental level of reality. That seems to me to rule out (as I argued before) that "there are 100 pennies to the dollar" is actually a true statement. Or "Paris is the capital of France." Or "Cezanne was an impressionist painter." These are not to be found at the most fundamental level of reality.

        • Phil

          Unless Brandon is misrepresenting Carroll (I'm sure it wouldn't be on purpose), the whole essay above is explaining how Carroll wants to show that causality doesn't actually describe how reality really exists. If Carroll wants to say that causality actually doesn't exist in reality, then the striking of the match doesn't actually cause the match to burst into flames, it is merely a "useful story".

          So the key question is does Carroll think causality explains reality as it actually exists?

          If Carroll is really trying to undermine causality, it is sad because this has been tried to be done in explicit ways for over 300 years, and it has always ended in incoherency.

          • "So the key question is does Carroll think causality explains reality as it actually exists?"

            I agree this is the key question. Unfortunately, Carroll gives no clear answer. From reading the book, it would seem his answer would be an unsatisfying "Yes and no". Yes, he would say, causal language is useful when describing everyday reality on the macroscopic level, but no, he would say, causality is absent at the subatomic level.

            What I would argue in response, though, is that if the latter is true, then the claim "causality really exists" cannot be true. Causality wouldn't exist--only the appearance (or illusion) of causality. It would only seem as if we experience causes and effects.

            Yet if this was correct, it would present myriad problems for Carroll, such as undermining science, moral praise and blame, etc.

          • Phil

            Thanks for clarifying-- And, yeah, that would be my exact analysis of the situation that I was tending towards as well.

          • "If Carroll wants to say that causality actually doesn't exist in reality, then the striking of the match doesn't actually cause the match to burst into flames, it is merely a 'useful story.'"

            Yes. I think that is precisely how Carroll would describe that event.

            However, he would likely add that because its a useful story, it's also a true way of describing reality. My point in the last couple essays is just because a "story" is useful, that doesn't mean it's true.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          It seems to me, based only on my reading of the commentary here and a few of Carroll's blog posts, that you are correct that Carroll sees some important distinction between what is "real" and what is "fundamental". So causality, on his view, is real, but is not fundamental.

          I'm open to arguments in favor of this distinction, but it's not yet clear to me what's at stake. It's also not clear to me, when one has two different "stories" that are providing two completely different levels of explanation, how one is to decide which level of explanation is more fundamental.

          • Phil

            Hey Jim,

            Would you say that Carroll does say that causality is more than a "useful story"...that it is actually "real" and describes some way that reality actually exists?

            (I guess I'm kind of handicapped here as I'm going off of what Brandon wrote above as I haven't read the book myself.)

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Hi Phil,

            Unfortunately I also have not read his book, and so have to read between the lines based on what I have read here and a few of Carroll's blog posts. That said, my impression is that Carroll takes an extremely high view of what it means to have a "useful story". As evidence of that consider that, as a physicist (who presumably holds theories and models in reasonably high regard), he refers to "theories", "models", and "stories" all in the same breath. Also, based on Brandon's summary, I gather Carroll insists that "All good ways of talking must be consistent with one another and with the world", which, it seems to me, is not a criteria one would insist on if one were only interested in utility in the "lower" / mundane sense.

            So, for example, I imagine (and I invite others to confirm or refute this) that Carroll might say that even matter itself is "just" useful vocabulary for referring to an aspect of reality that is, more fundamentally, fields and particles.

            If I've captured all that correctly, then I don't really have a problem with him as far as that goes. I just don't accept that stories / theories at the level of matter and energy (or fields and particles) are more fundamental, or have more comprehensive explanatory power, than stories / theories that are phrase in terms of freedom, beauty, evil, personhood, love, belonging, alienation, etc. It seems to me that our theories of matter and energy are, if anything, more properly nested within the story of of freedom, beauty, etc, and not the other way around. I would say that belonging and alienation are, if anything, more real and more fundamental than quarks and gluons... but that's just me :-)

          • Phil

            Thanks for that, as it is very helpful. It does seem like some of the language can become convoluted in his explanations, which can make it tough to decipher exactly what he is saying.

            I too would need some clarification on exactly what he means by "fundamental". I always find it more enlightening to talk about simply describing how the world actually exists. The primary question being, does reality exist as we are describing it? Then one could speak about what part of reality is more fundamental. It seems that to say some part of reality is "more fundamental" than another part doesn't make it more or less real than that other part.

            E.g., particles and fields both are real, that fields are more fundamental doesn't make them somehow "more real" than particles. Now, one could say that the way fields exist is different from the way particles exist, but saying one is more or less real...ehh. If it exists, it exists :)

          • "I just don't accept that stories / theories at the level of matter and energy (or fields and particles) are more fundamental, or have more comprehensive explanatory power, than stories / theories that are phrase in terms of freedom, beauty, evil, personhood, love, belonging, alienation, etc. "

            Very well said. I agree with this 100%. Carroll seems to associate "fundamental" with size. The smaller the domain, the more fundamental.

            This is why he thinks the most fundamental description of reality, which he (incorrectly) deems his ontology, exclusively resides in the subatomic realm.

        • "It's an understandable reaction, but perhaps a bit to extreme. After all, it would be hard to get through the day without appealing to causes, at all. "

          This Carroll quote, taken from The Big Picture, only proves my point. Carroll thinks it extreme to eschew causal language, even though his fundamental ontology doesn't allow it. But on the other hand, he knows we can't make it throughout the day (or throughout science) without appealing to causes. He's stuck on the horns of that dilemma, and he offers no way out in his book.

          In my view, this is a glaring problem with his form of naturalism.

          "Carroll says that causality is not to be found at the most fundamental level of reality, but he says that about the arrow of time, as well."

          Yes. I've already prepared a whole post on Carroll's philosophy of time. Coming soon!

          "This is getting very deep for me, but I think there may be a disagreement about what it means for something to be 'real' or 'true'."

          Something is real if it actually exists--if it is not illusory, imagined, or supposed.

          Something is true if it corresponds to reality.

          Would you agree with these definitions or offer something different?

          "The theist view here, perhaps, is that everything that is real or true is to be found at the most fundamental level of reality."

          I'm a theist and this is not how I would describe my view. I'm not keen on language about "fundamental level of reality." That's Carroll's language, not mine, and it implies there are multiple "levels" of reality.

          On my view, however, there is just one single reality, contrasted with illusion, imagination, supposition, etc.

      • Carroll might say that given the state of the universe at the moment before the match is lit, Laplace's' demon could tell you what would happen next, whether the match would light or not

        • Phil

          Interesting, had to read up on "Laplace's demon" as I hadn't really studied that theory.

          The trouble with Carroll falling back on that is it still relies upon things actually causing other things to happen. So unless causality is a real property of all those entities (in the case of Laplace's demon, a property of all atoms), Laplace's demon won't get one out of the intellectual pickle they are in.

          • I don't see the disconnect; I see it's a big hangup for some, but I can't see why. The atoms(or subatomic quantum fields) rearrange as they do from one moment to the next depending on the prior state of the universe, according to the laws of nature. At the macroscopic level, we can say that striking the match causes it to ignite. Do you think matches exist at the quantum field level?

          • Phil

            Would it be true to say that the "rearranging of the quantum field/atoms" caused the match to light? If so, then one must still hold that causality exists as a real fundamental part of reality.

            (Obviously the next logical question would be, what caused the quantum fields/atoms to be rearranged?)

          • That seems to be confusing vocabulary of the macroscopic with the macroscopic. Jim posted an article where Carroll gives and example of this:

            We can talk about people as animals with minds and reasons, or we can talk about them as collections of cells and tissues, or we can talk about them as collections of protons, neutrons and electrons. It’s only when you start asking “what effect do my feelings have on my protons and neutrons?” that you start getting syntax errors.

            Protons and neutrons aren't the kind of things that have feelings, and your feelings don't change their behavior.

            Obviously the next logical question would be, what caused the quantum fields/atoms to be rearranged?

            The answer hasn't changed: the prior state of the universe, and the laws of nature

          • Phil

            The answer hasn't changed: The prior state of the universe, and the laws of nature.

            Okay, then this answer does admit that causality does actually exist. The prior state of the universe and the "laws of nature" cause the next state to the universe to come into being.

    • "Which false accounts of the world does Sean Carroll say it is fine to embrace?"

      I gave examples in this and my other posts: that Captain Kirk is actually a human person who captains the starship USS Enterprise (rather than just a collection of atoms), that a father caused his son to come into existence (rather than a cause-less series of events), etc. For Carroll, neither of those two statements would be true at the fundamental level of reality. They would only be "useful" emergent descriptions of the world that we embrace because of their pragmatic value, not because they are fundamentally true.

      "I think Sean Carroll would have no problem with a statement such as, "The British people's vote in favor of leaving the European Union caused stock markets to plunge all over the world in its immediate aftermath.'"

      I agree that he would have no problem with that statement, but that's only because he's fine embracing contradictory views. (A main target of my critique.)

      On Carroll's form of naturalism, the concept "person" is simply not present at the fundamental level of reality (or to say it another way, Carroll's ontology has no place for the concept of "person".) Any talk of "person" or "people" would just be useful fiction.

      Nevertheless, Carroll is willing to talk about "British people" acting in a certain way because he's willing to embrace that tension (or what I would call contradiction.)

      He thinks useful fictions are helpful and true; I think they are conceptually real but false.

      "I think you have to show that when speaking in terms of something other than the fundamentals of reality, you and Sean Carroll have a different idea of determining what is true and false."

      I agree this question gets to the heart of the discussion. But what's at the heart of that question is, what constitutes "fundamental reality"? Carroll thinks it resides exclusively in the subatomic, physical world. I disagree. I think that's needlessly reductionistic, I think it begs the question in favor of naturalism (as noted in my first post), and I see no reason to assume it is true.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        He thinks useful fictions are helpful and true

        Is that supported by the text? In what I have seen so far, it seems that he thinks useful and accurate stories can be regarded as true. To speak of stories is to speak of narrative ways of understanding, it is not necessarily to speak of fictitious ways of understanding. It would be very strange indeed if he is saying that useful fictions are true, since fictions are false more or less by definition.

        I'm not intending to nitpick - I think this is potentially a very important distinction for understanding what he is trying to get at.

        • David Nickol

          Is that supported by the text?

          I don't think so. Above, Brandon says the following:

          I gave examples in this and my other posts: that Captain Kirk is actually a human person who captains the starship USS Enterprise (rather than just a collection of atoms), that a father caused his son to come into existence (rather than a cause-less series of events), etc. For Carroll, neither of those two statements would be true at the fundamental level of reality. They would only be "useful" emergent descriptions of the world that we embrace because of their pragmatic value, not because they are fundamentally true. [Boldface added]

          Carroll says this about "multiple stories":

          The most seductive mistake we can be drawn into when dealing with multiple stories of reality is to mix up vocabularies appropriate to different ways of talking. Someone might say, "You can truly want anything, you're just a collection of atoms, and atoms don't have wants." It's true that atoms don't have wants; the idea of a "want" is not part of our best theory of atoms. There would be nothing wrong with saying "None of these atoms making up you want anything."

          But it doesn't follow that you can't have wants. "You" are not part of our best theory of atoms either; you are an emergent phenomenon, meaning that you are an element in a higher-level ontology that describes the world at a macroscopic level. At the level of description where it is appropriate to talk about "you," it is also perfectly appropriate to talk about wants and feelings and desires. Those are all real phenomena in our best understanding of human beings. You can think of yourself as an individual human being, or you can think of yourself as a collection of atoms. Just not both at the same time, at least when it comes to asking how one kind of thing interacts with another.

          Note that Carroll says "multiple stories of reality." He does not say, "You are only a collection of atoms." He says, "You can think of yourself as an individual human being." He says that "wants and feelings and desires. . . . are all real phenomena in our best understanding of human beings."

          He makes a similar case elsewhere about van Gogh's painting The Starry Night, saying it may be completely described as a collection of atoms, but that is not how we would talk about it as a painting.

          Brandon seems to understand, when Carroll talks about a "useful" way of looking at something, that "useful" means "merely useful." But what I understand Carroll to be saying is "useful in describing reality." But Carroll does not merely say we should accept beliefs because they are "useful," he also says our collection of beliefs must be coherent. He introduces the analogy of "planets of belief"—each person's set of beliefs clustered together to form a "planet." He says,

          No analogy is perfect, but the planets-of-belief metaphor is a nice way to understand the view known in philosophical circles as coherentism. According to this picture, a justified belief is one that belongs to a coherent set of propositions. The coherence plays the role of the gravitational pull that brings together dust and rocks to form real planets. A stable planet of belief will be one where all the individual beliefs are mutually coherent and reinforcing.

          So it is not enough for a "story" or belief to be "useful." It must be compatible with other "stories" or beliefs.

  • Paul F

    There is no logical need for a first cause; there is a physical need. The principle of causality is like a very early, poorly stated law of thermodynamics. First mover arguments for God's existence are really saying that it is physically impossible for the universe to be infinite in the past and that something outside of the universe had to start it. The problem that confuses people is that it is not logically impossible for the universe to be infinite in the past. Also, we don't really know enough to say it's physically impossible; but the evidence seems to say the universe had a beginning.

  • Peter

    Sean Carroll refutes the principle of causality because he believes that the universe is eternal, with nothing causing it to begin to exist. The universe is just there; it always has been there and that's that. His 2004 cosmological model with Jennifer Chen, "Spontaneous Inflation and the Origin of the Arrow of Time", describes how through quantum time reversal an eternally contracting universe reaches a point of lowest entropy (the big bang) and begins expanding again.
    He referred to this model in his debate with William Lane Craig in 2014 so he still adheres to it. It is based on an earlier and more simplified model by Anthony Aguirre and Steven Gratton in 2001, "Steady-State Eternal Inflation", so it's not his own or Jennifer Chen's original idea.

    Sean Carroll represents nothing new. He is just continuing the age-old tradition of claiming that the universe is eternal and thus there is no need for God. It is the same old message, albeit repackaged in modern jargon, and it goes like this:
    Belief in God assumes that God is a brute fact beyond explanation. Since there is no sign of God in the universe, one may as well take the eternal universe itself as a brute fact beyond explanation.
    This reasoning has kept atheists going for centuries. The only problem is that, thanks to scientific discovery, signs of God are emerging in the universe but that's another story.

    • Paul F

      There is plenty of empirical evidence for God, but none that Atheists accept because there are other explanations for it. The stories in the bible, Moses parting the sea, the plagues, God speaking to Abraham, the angel speaking to Mary, the Virgin Birth, etc. There is also the testimony of Christians, the prayer experience of mystics, the faith and love of Christians, and many other things for which atheists offer many alternative explanations.

      When it comes to cosmological arguments, the evidence for God's existence is the universe itself, not the intricate workings of the universe. One aspect of the universe that points to God's existence is its intelligibility. I find it strange that when we lack a physical explanation for something observed in the universe people will point to that as evidence for God. (The Higgs Boson, or "God partical", is a good example of this.)

      To me this way of thinking is precisely backwards. It assumes there is a great intervention by God at some point in the universe that renders it unintelligible to us. The biggest example is of course the Big Bang. But then, what happens if the Big Bang becomes intelligible to us? Will many theists cease believing in God? Not this one. I fully expect us to one day understand the Big Bang because it fits the pattern of an intelligible universe created by a God who was not just screwing around with us.

      • George

        Ask yourself if God is intelligible. If so, then ask yourself why god is intelligible. For any adjective: fine-tuned, amazing, rational, etc. ask yourself if those should also be applied to Yahweh of the bible.

        • Paul F

          No, God is not intelligible. There are things we can know about Him through reason, but we cannot conduct experiments in labs or observe him with remote sensing and formulate hypotheses and test them on Him. We can know God in a sense, but not fully, and not the way we know the universe.

          Some adjectives apply to God, some not. I cannot give an exhaustive list.

        • Peter

          In order to understand reality, we must some point accept that there is a brute fact beyond ultimate explanation. Such a brute fact could be an eternally existing universe with no beginning and no need of having been created.

          Alternatively, it could be something beyond that, equally eternal and beyond the need of having been created, which creates a universe/ which is not eternal and which has a beginning.

          The fact that the universe is intelligible begins to undermine its status as a brute fact. A brute fact is beyond comprehension but the universe is not. As it gives up its secrets, it is revealing itself as a thoroughly well thought out mechanism, the product of an intelligent mind.

          When you combine this revelation with the discovery that the universe is not eternal, the only conclusion you can draw is that it is not the universe which is the brute fact but something which creates the universe, and that that something is intelligent. What we have then is an intelligent Creator who is beyond explanation.

      • Peter

        Sean Carroll believes he already understands the big bang, theoretically at least. The big bang represents the point of lowest entropy from where, due to time-reversal at the quantum level, the arrow of time begins to point both into the past and into the future as entropy grows in opposite directions.
        The consequence of this is the appearance of an eternal universe, forever contracting from (expanding into) the past to (from) a point of lowest entropy and forever expanding into the future from that point.

        Sean Carroll is saying is that there is a naturalistic explanation for the big bang. He claims that God did not supernaturally conjure the big bang into existence and therefore there is no need for God. But what Carroll doesn't understand is that theists do not see God as a sorcerer who magics things into existence. Instead, theists see God as the creative mind who organises nature to create itself naturalistically. The big bang occurring through naturalistic means is perfectly consistent with such a God.
        Whether Carroll's model of the big bang is correct, or whether another more accurate model exists or is constructed at some time in the future, none of this reduces the likelihood of God. Instead, it reinforces that likelihood by demonstrating how God uses nature to create itself in a manner which is intelligible to us.

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    Carroll: "The whole structure of Aristotle's argument for an unmoved mover rests on his idea that motions require causes. Once we know about conservation of momentum, that ideas loses steam"

    How does conservation of momentum affect the ripening of an apple from green to red? How is it involved in the maturation of a tiger cub into a mature tiger? Does he suppose that in a frictionless universe apples will continue ripening past red into the infrared, or that tiger cubs will keep growing and growing?

    Aristotle does not claim that "motions require causes." Esp. if one suppose "motion" means "local motion" and that "causes" are restricted to event-oriented quantitative efficient causes.

    Aquinas in fact states clearly that not every thing has a cause. (Summa Contra Gentiles II.52.5)

    The argument from motion requires only that every actualization of a potential requires an actualizer. Since a potential does not actually exist, it requires something actual outside itself to actualize it. For example, the green apple is potentially red and requires sunlight (in certain wavelengths) to redden it. The "something" may be a part of a whole, but the thing as a whole does not mover itself. The kitten is moved toward the saucer of milk by its legs (whose motions are actualized by its muscles, actualized by its nerves, etc. back to the desire of the kitten to drink).

    The kinesis of which Aristotle wrote is better translated as "change" rather than "motion," since the latter is in modern parlance restricted to change-of-location.

    Carroll: objects on frictionless surfaces moving at constant velocity do not need a cause to keep moving

    Of course it does. It needs momentum. This accounts for its ongoing change-of-location. But Aristotle seems to have considered constant motion to be a state of rest. (We would say "state of equilibrium".) Kinesis is a change to what a thing possesses right now. If it possesses a constant rectilinear velocity, then a kinesis would be a change in velocity, either magnitude or direction. In modern parlance, this is called an "acceleration" and, according to Newton no less than Aristotle or Aquinas, required an outside force. The original rectilinear motion was imparted by whatever gave it the original impetus.

    It would be interesting to discover where Carroll thinks these frictionless surfaces exist. It was an assumption made a priori to simplify the problem so that it became mathematically solvable. Now, folks are reifying the equation, as if it were more actual than the physical situation it was meant to approximate.

    Carroll: useful to refer to causes and effects in our everyday experience, even if they're not present in the underlying equations.

    A case in point of mathematical reification. Per Ockham's Razor, you never put more terms in your equations than you need to get useful results. Of course, asking which term in an equation is the cause is like asking which footprint is the elephant. If F=GMm/d² does not state that the Force (=acceletation=motion) is caused by Mass, then it is stating nothing more than a correlation between force and mass. And a correlation may or may not hold the next time, and natural science becomes impossible.

    Paul F: First mover arguments for God's existence are really saying that it is physically impossible for the universe to be infinite in the past

    Not really. Aquinas assumed "for the sake of the argument" that the universe actually was "infinite" in the past. Aristotle, who originally framed the argument, believed the universe was eternal full stop. In neither case did it affect the argument.

    Peter: Carroll refutes the principle of causality because he believes that the universe is eternal, with nothing causing it to begin to exist. The universe is just there; it always has been there and that's that.

    Thus far may your curiosity take you, and no further. There are some things Man was not meant to know. Talk about a bucket of cold water in the face of Science!
    People keep saying they understand that a "First Cause" is not first in the temporal order, but in the ontological order, bu they never seem to follow through on it and fall into the same old habits of speech. An eternal thing may still have a cause. What they argued was that there could not be an infinite regress of actualizers (or, in the case of Primary Cause, of per se efficient causes). Motion ultimately comes down to something unmoved and unmoving. Causation comes down to sometheing uncaused. Even in the secular order, one must appeal motion ultimately to something like gravity, which is itself an unmoved mover. Or perhaps "momentum" (which is simply Latin for "movement") or to "intertia" (L. for "laziness"). Or, for Neoplatonic woo-woos, the mathematical models: F=GMm/d² is then an unmoved mover. Earth and stars may whirl about at they please, but there is no re-action on the equation itself.

    • David Nickol

      How does conservation of momentum affect the ripening of an apple from
      green to red? How is it involved in the maturation of a tiger cub into a
      mature tiger?

      It is universally acknowledged that when Aristotle and/or Aquinas referred to what is often translated as motion, it had a broader meaning—something more like "change." Nevertheless, motion as we think of it was definitely included. So when a critique of the arguments about motion as commonly understood is made, it is not a defense to change the conversation to other forms of change. Conservation of momentum of course has nothing to do with the ripening of an apple, but it does apply to motion, and so your changing of the topic to apples and tiger cubs is just a distraction.

      Of course it does. It needs momentum. This accounts for its ongoing change-of-location.

      I am a little hesitant to argue with the expert here, but it does not seem to me that momentum can be considered a cause or an outside influence that moves a projectile. And as I understand it, neither Aristotle nor Aquinas believed a moving projectile had been given an "impetus." They both believed that it was the air that was responsible for keeping a projectile moving. The whole idea was that a moving thing had to be kept in motion by something other than itself. (And I don't think the momentum of a moving projectile can be considered to be a force acting on the projectile, either.)

      The "something" may be a part of a whole, but the thing as a whole does not mover itself. The kitten is moved toward the saucer of milk by its legs (whose motions are actualized by its muscles, actualized by its
      nerves, etc. back to the desire of the kitten to drink).

      Again, with some trepidation, I note that as I understand the issue, Aristotle maintained that an animal or a human being could move itself, but Aquinas, asserting that everything that is moved is moved by something else, would disagree that the kitten moved itself. He would say that the kitten was moved by its soul. Likewise (as I understand it) the tiger cub you mentioned would grow to an adult because of its soul.

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        as I understand it, neither Aristotle nor Aquinas believed a moving projectile had been given an "impetus." They both believed that it was the air that was responsible for keeping a projectile moving. The whole idea was that a moving think had to be kept in motion by something outside itself.

        That is not entirely true. Plato did propose that the air the air displaced by a moving body would fill in behind it. This is based on the observation that a body displaces a volume of water when immersed in it. Aristotle criticized this "antiperistalsis" in the Metaphysics, but his intentions there were to demonstrate

        In De caelo, Aquinas writes:

        [Aristotle] says, therefore, that what has been said is manifested by the fact that natural bodies are not borne upward and downward as though moved by some external agent.

        By this is to be understood that he rejects an external mover which would move these bodies per se after they obtained their specific form. For light things are indeed moved upward, and heavy bodies downward, by the generator inasmuch as it gives them the form upon which such motion follows... However, some have claimed that after bodies of this kind have received their form, they need to be moved per se by something extrinsic. It is this claim that the Philosopher rejects here. (I.175)

        Thus in the Physics Aristotle is already flirting with an "impetus theory," the impetus being the "specific form" which the "generator" of the motion impressed upon the body. This was apparently well known, and led John Philoponus in Old Alexandria to propose an impetus theory. That was later taken up by a few Arabized faylasuf and brought to full perfection by Jean Buridan de Bethune in the 14th cent. From the contention that the impetus was proportional to the weight and speed of the moving body, it is clear that what John and Jean both had in mind was what we now call "momentum."

        So, far from being fatal to Aritotelian thought, "momentum" was an outcome of it.

        Aquinas, asserting that everything that is moved is moved by something else, would disagree that the kitten moved itself. He would say that the kitten was moved by its soul.

        That is, the whole is moved by a proper part of itself. Nothing new.
        http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2014/08/first-way-moving-tale.html

  • Jim (hillclimber)

    I've been reading and re-reading Sean Carroll's commentary on Downward Causation . As I've already indicated, I think Carroll's advocacy of multiple, simultaneously correct levels of explanation is great stuff. But I have to say, his position on reductionism seem to me to involve multiple self-contradictions.

    Speaking favorably of reductionism, he says:

    The claim of reductionism is, depending on who you talk to, that the lower-level description is either “always more complete,” or “capable of deriving the higher-level descriptions,” or “the right way to think about things.”

    Taking these options one at a time:

    1. I can't see how the lower-level description could be "always more complete". If, as he readily admits, the lower level vocabularies don't describe the higher level phenomena, then that lower level language is every bit as incomplete as the higher level descriptions are with respect to lower-level phenomena. It clearly would be incorrect to say that zooming in with your camera will always give you a more complete idea of what is going on, but zooming out will always result in less complete photojournalism. Why would it be any different with our verbal descriptions of reality?

    2. The idea that the lower level descriptions can be used to "derive the higher level descriptions" seems completely at odds with his own admonition not to "mix up vocabularies". He says: It’s only when you start asking “what effect do my feelings have on my protons and neutrons?” that you start getting syntax errors. Fine, I guess, but if that's a category error, then why is it not also a category error to ask "what effect do protons and neutrons have on my feelings"? For that matter, I thought he was arguing that causes play no role in the language of fundamental physics, so it would seem to be out of bounds to ask how protons and neutrons can have effect on anything (unless, perhaps, protons and neutrons are not "fundamental enough" (exactly how fundamental does the scope of inquiry need to be for causal language to become unnecessary?))

    3. Re: "the right way to think about things". He seems to deny this option himself when he later says that it is a mistake "to take the hierarchy of levels too seriously, with some on top and some on the bottom... I would suggest that a better mental image would feature a parallelism of levels with sideways relations between them...if we can successfully speak of its properties and outcomes without ever making reference to the any other descriptions (as is certainly true for fluids) — then this description is just as “real” and “literally true” as any others". To which I say: great, but if these really are parallel ways of talking about the world, then let's stop talking about one way being more right, or more fundamental, than another.

  • MNb

    "But of course, this doesn't refute the Aristotelian principle of causality."
    This way too simple account undoubtedly doesn't reflect correctly what Carroll argues. Back to high school and specifically Newton's First Law.

    "Every body persists in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by force impressed."
    This is directly related to the Law of Conservation of Momentum. Now the question is: who are we going to agree with, Aristoteles or Newton? And especially: what standard are we going to use?
    Physics doesn't care about the distinction between sustaining and initial causes. As the Causal Argument makes a claim about physics we simply have to check what physics says - or demonstrate that physics is wrong (good luck with that one) - or be honest and admit that we don't care about physics, hence science. Note that BV conveniently neglects an important fact when addressing Carroll: Aristoteles postulated that motion itself (ie with a constant velocity) needed a cause or that the moving object would slow down and come to a halt by itself. So while BV reprimands Carroll for not actually refuting Aristoteles in the same breath he rejects Aristoteles himself.
    So I will chose the scientific standard: let the empirical data decide. And they are on Newton's side. All known empirical data confirm, directly or indirectly, Newton's First Law. None confirm Aristoteles. So anyone who accepts Aristoteles' version of the Cosmological Argument rejects science - specifically high school physics.
    Mutatis Mutandis the same for every single other version of the CA - like "begins to exist". According to Modern Physics there is no cause for a radioactive atom decaying at moment X instead of moment Y. Only the probability of that radioactive atom daying within a given time interval is known.
    Now I have little doubt that the Cosmological Argument can be reformulated in probabilistic terms. Then you arrive at something like "God created quantumfields" (whatever "to create" means - leave it to apologists to not specify "creating"). Einstein rejected that with his famous "God doesn't play dice". Einstein was wrong here (if we accept science as our standard - note that Edward Feser doesn't by claiming that it's all about metaphysics, not physics). If there is a god who created our Universe he/she/it is a gambler.
    And that contradicts every single religion bar pastafarianism.
    Yup - everyone who thinks the Cosmological Argument is a valid argument should reconvert to avoid inconsistency.

    • Angelus Dobari

      Honestly, appealing to Aristotelian physics in this day and age is just a fallacious appeal to antiquity. For once, I'd like to see a justification for why they still use it.

      • Doug Shaver

        I'd like to see a justification for why they still use it.

        I don't think the justification can be presented briefly enough for a forum post. Edward Feser, who has contributed several essays to this site, has written a book explaining why he thinks we should all still be Aristotelians. It's titled The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism. I've been working on a critique in which I condense his argument as much as I can, but there isn't much you can take out and have what's left make any sense.

        • I'd love to read that. I found a blog with your name .net, is that where you will publish it?

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't think of it as a blog, but yes, that is my website, and that is where I'll be posting the critique when I'm done with it.

  • A question: why must this first cause be a being? Further, how do we get from there to the very specific being theism, and specifically Christianity, posit?

    • Doug Shaver

      A question: why must this first cause be a being?

      According to most of the theists in this forum, the first cause is not a being, but being itself. I'm not defending that assertion, just passing it on.

      • I've heard that, but I'm not sure what "being itself" means. Any idea why that has to be a mind or entity?

        • Doug Shaver

          I'm not sure what "being itself" means. Any idea why that has to be a mind or entity?

          I'm not sure myself, so I'll have to defer to anyone who does feel sure and is willing to express their views. So far, all I've seen in thests' attempts to explain it has just been so much philosophical word salad.

  • Anders

    But don't we know that things at the quantum level happen without a cause?

  • Jeffrey G. Johnson

    Many theists, including myself, believe that some of the strongest arguments for God rely on the logical need for a First Cause of the universe

    It's important to note that this argument only gives you deism. All the rest of religion, the stories of the Bible, prayer, divine intervention, resurrection, etc. are not at all impacted by the Cosmological Argument.

    As Christopher Hitchens was fond of saying, as a theist "you still have all your work before you."

    • Lazarus

      And that work has been done. Again, and again.

      • Jeffrey G. Johnson

        That's funny. I guess rather than simply accepting on faith what you want to believe, or deceiving gullible people with cheap tricks (which I'm sure at times is hard work), by work I meant using evidence and the kind of confirmation that any rational disinterested third party might be persuaded by. That's never been done.

        Thousands of religions have claimed they know the truth, and that their narratives are correct. They can't all be right, but they certainly can all be wrong.

        • Lazarus

          There's something you should know about Strange Notions.

          It's not your average atheist pile-on, cliche-ridden vacuous dogma dance so beloved of certain New Atheists. People here, on both sides of the fence, generally know their theology and their arguments for and against theism. You see it in every thread, without exception.

          Your effort, consisting of nothing but insults, cliches, assertions and bravado, is not often seen here. You will have to lift your game if you want to meaningfully participate.

          As an hour or two here will show you, there are many arguments and strands of evidence that establish the possibility or even probability of theism. None of that is compelling in the sense that you have to believe such evidence. That is why we are here, to discuss those divergences of opinion, but simply handwaving that evidence away as if it doesn't exist shows an embarrassing lack of relevant knowledge on your side.

          For instance, one of the books recommended here at SN is the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. This book establishes deism as bare minimum and then goes on to show far greater particularity in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The work has been done, whether you're aware of it or not.

          That all may be "never been done" to your liking, but that does not mean that there does not exist a massive and impressive body of theology and philosophy that cannot be dismissed by such bluster as you are sharing with us.

          So, after that uncomfortable start : welcome, stick around and argue us out of our mistakes. You may even learn something in the process.

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            My perception was that I began with a very relevant and accurate comment, and you chimed in with a snarky dismissively insulting comment that was empty of real content. How easy it is for different people to observe the same thing and have entirely different perceptions.

            I was drawn to this site via a tweet by Sean Carrol. I've read each of Brandon Vogt's posts about Sean's latest book, and while I respect that Brandon at least makes a sincere attempt to rationally grapple with the content of the book, he continually demonstrates an inadequate understanding of physics, he sometimes misreads what Carrol is saying, and his arguments suffer from equivocation and question begging.

            I'll never be persuaded by arguments from authority or revelation that supernatural phenomena exist, which is typically all that theists ever have to offer. The cosmological argument takes place on the frontier of our knowledge and our mental ability to think about existence, and certainly one can't disprove the proposition that some unknown thing caused the universe to exist. Nobody has ever offered satisfactory proof either. Those who accept this argument are skeptical that the universe could have always existed or spontaneously come into existence, but they are not at all skeptical that something greater and more powerful than the universe always existed or spontaneously came into existence. My intuitions are to opposite, that any beginnings to existence are more likely to be simple and minimalist, like a seed that grows and evolves, not beginning with a maximally complex and powerful phenomenon, such as humans imagine God to be, that then creates lesser universes. The argument really is an exercise in question begging: this mysterious beginning exists, and that must be the God we were already seeking. This is why the cosmological argument seems like bunk to me, and will continue to seem so until some real evidence untangles this dilemma which exists because our minds are conditioned by our finite earthbound evolution and lack the ability to clearly imagine something that can exist without a creation or that can exist eternally with no end or beginning.

            But even if one accepts this "proof of God" for the sake of argument, it provides you with nothing like the God of the Bible, and provides no reason to believe that the prime mover would have the slightest care or concern about human beings. There is no basis for belief in a non-physical soul or eternal life that can be derived from this argument.

          • Lazarus

            See, you can do this.

          • LHRMSCBrown

            :-)

          • neil_pogi

            carroll, i think believes in multiverse theory. in this belief, other parallel universes exist with each own sets of rules or laws of physics. the universe b has sets of physics laws that is different from universe c, and so on.

            the bible is saying that 'the third heaven' is where God resides. this 3rd heaven is just far away from our own universe. because our physics laws can't 'detect' this God, i would say that God can be detected to that '3rd heaven'.. theists are on the right side when they say, 'the creator is outside of our universe'...

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            It's hard for me to understand how you can have so much confidence in what is written in the Bible.

            The evidence is clear that the Bible was written by people living a long time ago with very limited knowledge.

          • neil_pogi

            i'd rather trust them than evolutionists and atheists who claim that non-living things manage to become living things. this is illogical, unproven and unscientific. so are you still one of their silly follower?

          • Peter A.

            I'll never be persuaded by arguments from authority or revelation that
            supernatural phenomena exist, which is typically all that theists ever
            have to offer. The cosmological argument takes place on the frontier of
            our knowledge and our mental ability to think about existence, and
            certainly one can't disprove the proposition that some unknown thing
            caused the universe to exist. Nobody has ever offered satisfactory proof
            either. Those who accept this argument are skeptical that the universe
            could have always existed or spontaneously come into existence, but they
            are not at all skeptical that something greater and more powerful than
            the universe always existed or spontaneously came into existence. My
            intuitions are to opposite, that any beginnings to existence are more
            likely to be simple and minimalist, like a seed that grows and evolves,
            not beginning with a maximally complex and powerful phenomenon, such as
            humans imagine God to be...

            ...and so on, and so forth.

            This single paragraph has so many things wrong with it that I'm not sure where to begin pointing out its flaws. I'll start at the top with the claim that, "I'll never be persuaded by arguments from authority or revelation that
            supernatural phenomena exist, which is typically all that theists ever
            have to offer".

            I don't know with whom you have been associating, but "typically" theists don't use arguments from authority, nor do they retreat to "revelation". If they do then they never had a good argument to begin with, because it is easy enough to demonstrate the coherence of the arguments that are generally used to demonstrate that the existence of God (or whatever other label you want to give it) is more than just likely, but a virtual certainty. Visit the Edward Feser website to see how it's supposed to be done.

            "The cosmological argument takes place on the frontier of
            our knowledge and our mental ability to think about existence, and
            certainly one can't disprove the proposition that some unknown thing
            caused the universe to exist."

            To which cosmological argument are you here referring? There is the Kalam version, but there is also the contingency one as well. See: http://www.philosophyofreligion.info/theistic-proofs/the-cosmological-argument/

            Yes, it's true that one can't disprove the proposition that some unknown thing caused the universe to exist, but one can certainly use one's ability to examine what evidence there is and, from this, try to determine the most likely cause or explanation. We know more about the universe than we ever did before, and one of those things is that it definitely had what could be termed a beginning, in the sense that it hasn't always existed (which, by the way, was for most of Western history rejected on the grounds that it was entirely plausible that the universe itself was eternal, a brute fact, and that God was simply superfluous).

            "Those who accept this argument are skeptical that the universe could
            have always existed or spontaneously come into existence, but they are
            not at all skeptical that something greater and more powerful than the
            universe always existed or spontaneously came into existence. My
            intuitions are to opposite, that any beginnings to existence are more
            likely to be simple and minimalist, like a seed that grows and evolves,
            not beginning with a maximally complex..."

            So says Richard Dawkins, and it was he, as I understand it, who first proposed exactly what you claim here - i.e. that God "must" be complex and not simple, and must have "come into existence". Well, this is just nonsense. No theist that I am aware of believes this. It's a strawman you are attacking here. God is, because it must be, simple in the philosophical sense of that word, and all of this talk about God "evolving" is just so much gibberish.

            God, in order to actually qualify for the job description, would have to be (among other things) atemporal and transcendent. One does not go looking for the actual presence of the artist within the painting he has painted, or the author of a novel within the story written: he or she will not be one of the characters, or the setting, or the plot.

        • neil_pogi

          atheism is a religion too

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            It may make you feel good to say this, but since I am an atheist who once was a religious believer, I can tell you for certain it is simply wrong. It's like saying not owning a car is a kind of automobile ownership, or fasting is a kind of eating.

            The most I would grant is that there are some atheists who want or miss some of the social aspects of church or temple or mosque, so they attend non-religious services as a social support. These involve a gathering for celebrating and discussing earthly human matters that affect people's well being and happiness.

            But this is a small fraction of atheists. Most just go about their lives without religion, taking care of their families, doing their jobs, and enjoying friendships, hobbies, sports, community service, education, and other pursuits that make life rich and rewarding.

            Some atheists are actively involved in debating religion, or have a political interest in defending the rights of atheists. It is amazing to atheists that some American Christians believe they are persecuted, when in fact belief in God is the dominant culture that can almost never be avoided. Atheists are constantly faced with crosses, cheerful and friendly suggestions for prayer, blessings, references to the afterlife as a better place, statements about God's will, etc. Of course these things are meant in good will, but it is understandable that some atheists get fed up with the presumption that they share these beliefs, and want to claim the right to live in peace without everyone else presuming by default that everyone shares this belief in God.

            Many atheists live in communities where they fear they will become social outcasts, rejected by neighbors, co-workers, and other members of the community if people discover that they don't share the belief that God has a plan and that our dearly departed are all looking down on us and waiting for the reunion. If we don't want to be led in prayer before football games or town meetings, it isn't meant to interfere with others' personal beliefs, but rather to counteract the culture that wants to assume everyone must share these beliefs.

            For these reasons many atheists are very concerned about religion and its role in our society. The fact that people sincerely believe in an afterlife is very disturbing to atheists because it is a very dangerous idea. There are many instances in history where killing has been excused because any innocents harmed will go to heaven (sorted out by God). People often justify war by claiming to be doing God's will. In the case of terrorism it is eternal life itself that is the reward for slaughtering God's enemies, and this crusader mentality is not unique to Muslims.

            I think what is not dominant is religion that is advertised for show, as in the most aggressive evangelicals and born again Christians who want to live as witnesses. I can see why many find such zeal to be admirable, but I would suggest that religion practiced in this way is not only bordering on infringement upon other people's First Amendment right to their own freedoms of belief, but it also needs to explain why it isn't contrary to the teachings of Jesus in Matthew Chapter 6, where he advises avoiding making a hypocritical show of your religion, but keeping it private between you and God.

          • neil_pogi

            why i said atheism is a religion? because atheists believe they just 'pop'.. do you think this is a reasonable thing to believe? if you think you just 'pop' then explain it.

            atheism based mostly, or all of their theories on 'faith' rather than facts. one example is, atheists boldy believe that non-living things became living things, this belief is merely based on assumptions only. so how can you say now, for sure, that atheism is not a religion?

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            Two comments.

            atheists believe they just 'pop'

            I don't know what you mean by "pop". You must be using the word "pop" in a way I'm not familiar with. I can't answer this unless you explain it in common English.

            Atheism is not based on faith. It is based on reasonable expectations and beliefs given the available evidence. Faith is blind belief without evidence, based only on scriptural authority and subjective revelation.

            If you think the two are equivalent, then you are saying your belief that the sun will rise tomorrow or that spring follows winter is no greater a faith than your belief in God.

          • neil_pogi

            quote: 'Atheism is not based on faith. It is based on reasonable expectations and beliefs given the available evidence.' - tell me how a non-living things became living things, and why living things are dying? the law of biogenesis tells us that 'only life comes from life'.. so you based your beliefs not on scientific grounds but on blind faith.

            since atheists believe the universe created itself, does that mean it just 'pop'? in every day experiences, i never see things just 'pop' without a cause

            atheists have a 'creator' too, the self replicating molecule. it is not explained how it arrive in the scene. it is not explained whether it is eternal or not, in nature, but rather 'it always exists'..

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            Okay, I think I see how you are using "pop". You mean something like "pop up out of nowhere", as in something spontaneously coming from nothing, right?

            I see two issues here I can respond to,

            1. How did the universe pop out of nothing.
            2. How did life come from non-living things.

            In your view, you have a simple answer to both: God did it. However you can not answer the same question you ask of me: did God just pop out of nothing? Where did God come from? How did God achieve the power to create life and the Universe? Who or what created God?

            If you answer that God didn't need to be created, he's perfect and always existed, you are just doing what's called question begging: you are assuming in your premise what it is you are trying to "prove".

            I could say the same of the material and energy in the universe that preceded the big bang: perhaps it always existed and did not need to be created.

            Either way something is being postulated as existing without a precursor that created it: either the Universe or God. If you say God and the Universe are identical, as in a pantheistic model, I have to say that's not implausible if the universe somehow was it's own first cause. But when the entity that must be proposed as preexisting takes on more and more spectacular properties, such as being omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and also full of anthropomorphic qualities such as love, jealousy, anger, hope, despair, etc. as has the God of the Bible, it becomes less and less plausible that this great creator simply spontaneously popped out of nothing.

            So I think that every question you ask me about life and the universe needs to be asked of God in your view of things.

            But let's just say we have no idea what preceded the big bang. We have only our models of physics and our observations as evidence. We know what is here and how things behave, but it truly is a mystery where everything came from, and why there is something rather than nothing.

            Moving on to your second question:

            We have a pretty good idea how chemistry and biology evolved out of the big bang. Because there are no fossils, we do not have as much evidence to be specific about abiogenesis as we do about evolution. We have fossil evidence of humans evolving from apes and whales evolving from land mammals, and all life evolving from early single celled life forms, and it all occurs given billions of years of replication with errors and the power of natural selection.

            We know the kinds of physics that applies the nuclear furnaces of stars that created the molecules that are the building blocks of life, and we know the chemistry of DNA and RNA. We have numerous theories about how it is possible for chemicals under pressure or heat or other forces to undergo reactions. All that is needed is given the vast space and time over ten billion years following the big bang is for a molecular structure to form somewhere that is capable of replicating itself when it encounters the raw building blocks in its environment.

            Can we say exactly how this occurs? No, there are no fossils. But we can say that given the known materials, the properties of physics, and the vast amount of time available that it is conceivable that the building blocks of life evolved via replication out of non-living raw materials. In my view this is far more plausible than the hypothesis that a great and powerful God just popped out of nowhere one day.

          • neil_pogi

            God is not created. God is eternal. atheists once believed the universe is eternal, and now they don't know the answer.

            matter always has cause in order for it to exist. matter didn't created itself, like the universe. can you prove to me that a 'nothing' has a creative force. prove me now (I reject explanations that is not verified by experiments and other scientific tools).

            energy is neither created nor destroyed.. seems to me that energy is eternal.. remember the atom bomb that destroyed both japanese cities during world war 2? that enormous amount of energy never created useful form/way but instead chaos and disorderly. if you can prove to me that the 'big bang' was a real event, tell me what's the origin of the 'infinitely small' dot? humans have ways to convert chaotic state into a useful one, thru his use of his intelligent energy.

            fossil evidences support creation. you can't prove that humans evolved from apes. then how about apes? what's the ancestor of apes? rose?

            so you have no evidences whatsoever for abiogenesis.. even if your bright scientists spend billions of years to research for it, they will all fail, because a ROCK is just a rock! the planet earth is composed of, made up of rocks, and the age of this planet is 4 'billion' years old, and is still a rock! if you slice open a rock, you will find that it is still a rock, you will not find any substance or elements in it but rock. as i've said in other posts/threads, you will never discover or create a life if you still insist that life is a natural process. raw elements of this earth can be converted or created into a useful computer, thru diligent, effort and intelligent activities of humans (software engineer, computer engineer).. but you can't convert them thru natural processes. that's is the arrogance of atheism. you believe that all is made thru natural processes. that makes atheists dumb!

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            There is no such thing as a uniform belief for atheists save one: that there is no theistic personal god. Other than that there isn't a unifying belief (which is just more evidence that the idea that atheism is a religion is nothing but empty rhetoric).

            Your view of the natural world seems to be fairly static. You don't seem to know enough about physics, chemistry, and biology to envision the processes that change things over time. Unless you read much more science, this conversation seems futile.

          • neil_pogi

            are you suggesting me to read evolution books? based on what? evidence? or 'make believe' stories? you believe that you were once a slime? how did you know? do chemistry and biology all explain that? the past was never, ever observed by anyone, including the brightest scientist on this planet.

            before the 'natural' gets in, the first to arrive in the scene is 'supernatural'.. the origin of life can not be explained thru natural means or causes. science testify it (life only comes from life). the problem with atheists like you is you just couldn't accept the truth of sciences. just like i said above, 'life only comes from life' and yet atheists still cling to their cherished belief that ' life evolve from non-life',, if that is so, then why living things have to die?

            even the laws of physics support time travel as possible.. but the question is, how? the past is past and nobody can go back.

            i have already explained to you that atheism is a solid religion. i have enumerated some fundamental beliefs of atheism, such as: a 'nothing' has a creative power, and produce a universe.. 'don't question that, it is a fact' - said lawrence krauss..

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            believe
            that you were once a slime?

            Statements like this show you aren't even thinking on the level needed to discuss this topic. That isn't even an argument, it's just bordering on ad hominem. You are trying to put your prejudices into my mouth.

            I didn't suggest you read anything. I merely stated that from your discussion, it's clear you don't know enough about the natural world to even think about the answers to your questions. There really is no point to discussing what you can't understand.

          • neil_pogi

            you are just making this discussion in circle. evolutionists say that the single cell evolve into multi-organisms, just like the slime, and eons after eons after eons after eons, finally, into a human being.. what's wrong with my statement? sure, you have no explanations about how it is done! it's just there!

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            I was born in 1959. Of course I don't think I was once slime. That you can even ask that question means either you are totally confused about how evolution works, or else you were trying to be insulting.

          • neil_pogi

            do you believe, by evolutionary standard, that every multi-cellular organism (including human) evolved from single-cell organism?

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            It depends on how you are using "evolved from". The direct ancestor in the evolutionary tree of most multi-celled organisms was another multi-celled organism. But ultimately, way back at the beginning there were only single celled organisms, and they gave rise eventually to multi-celled organisms. There are traces in human DNA from early single celled bacteria. So ultimately all life originated with single celled organisms.

            Multicellularity has evolved independently at least 46 times,[5][6] including in some prokaryotes, like cyanobacteria, myxobacteria, actinomycetes, Magnetoglobus multicellularis or Methanosarcina.
            However, complex multicellular organisms evolved only in six eukaryotic
            groups: animals, fungi, brown algae, red algae, green algae, and land
            plants.[7] It evolved repeatedly for Chloroplastida (green algae and land plants), once or twice for animals, once for brown algae, three times in the fungi (chytrids, ascomycetes and basidiomycetes)[8] and perhaps several times for slime molds and red algae.[9] The first evidence of multicellularity is from cyanobacteria-like organisms that lived 3–3.5 billion years ago.[5] To reproduce, true multicellular organisms must solve the problem of regenerating a whole organism from germ cells (i.e. sperm and egg cells), an issue that is studied in developmental biology. Animals have evolved a greater diversity of cell types in a multicellular body (100–150 different cell types), compared with 10–20 in plants, fungi, and protoctists.[10]
            Recently, it's revealed that novel transcription factors and novel
            regulatory motifs might contribute to the evolution of multicellular
            organisms in transcriptional regulatory level.[11]

            From: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multicellular_organism

          • neil_pogi

            then why you refused to acknowledge that you were once a slime?

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            Because I was not. I am a human, part of a species that has existed for millions of years. No human was ever a slime. Humans have all been hominins, evolved from earlier primates.

            Your statement makes no sense, and evidently you have no clear understanding of how evolution works over billions of years.

          • Will

            Just fyi, millions of years is a bit much

            Early hominins—particularly the australopithecines, whose brains and anatomy are in many ways more similar to ancestral non-human apes—are less often referred to as "human" than hominins of the genus Homo.[5] Several of these hominins used fire, occupied much of Eurasia, and gave rise to anatomically modern Homo sapiens in Africa about 200,000 years ago.[6][7] They began to exhibit evidence of behavioral modernity around 50,000 years ago. In several waves of migration, anatomically modern humans ventured out of Africa and populated most of the world.[8]

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            Yes, thanks for the correction. I shouldn't have implied homo sapiens have existed for millions of years. But our hominin lineage split from our common ape ancestors around 6 or 7 million years ago, I believe. I was really meaning to emphasize that we had been primates with none of the characteristics of slime for a long long time.

          • Will

            No problem. I've been coming to this site for quite some time, and it's pretty clear that Neil doesn't want to understand evolution, just repeat inaccurate criticisms he hears from his buddies. Eventually he'll accuse you of claiming that things just went "pop". He does say that a bit less than he used to.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Don't argue with Neil. He's not interested in understanding evolution. A few of us have tried to teach him the basics, but to no avail

          • neil_pogi

            i just demand where is your proof of evolution? have any of your bright evolutionists observed, millions of millions of years ago that a single cell organism evolved?? though your evolutionists are publishing 'scientific' works on it, still, it is not to be believed.. again, why.. because it is never ever observed. period.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            So you only believe things that you observe happen as they happen?

            You don't believe in Rome or Jesus then. Not that this hasn't been pointed out to you before.

          • neil_pogi

            that is a different story.
            i never experienced nor observed how the martial law in the philippines happened, but i believe in happened because there are many witnesses who have observed and experienced it. likewise, the historical narratives of Jesus is well known as historical facts.

            evolution, is not observed, in the sense that, even in experimental science, it is not possible. the fact that evolutionists just proposed a 'protocell' or the 'SRM' exists (no explanations whatsoever as to how it happened.. it's like magic, it just 'pop').. or even if it exists, what is the chance or the probability that it will survive in the first 24 hour of its existence? that is not explained either. on that scenario alone, evolution is just as 'dead in the water'

          • Ignatius Reilly

            How do you make so many errors in so few words?

          • neil_pogi

            are you attacking my grammar or use of english? as long as my statements are understandable, i will go on. in fact, you and your cohorts are replying to me :-)

          • Ignatius Reilly

            No I'm attacking the content of your post.

          • neil_pogi

            then why not rebuff / refute them? all you do is blah, blah, blah?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Because for whatever reason you seem incapable of understanding

          • neil_pogi

            atheists are not capable of understanding on how to define a life from non-life.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Naw, we've done it multiple times. You just close your ears and start talking about "pops."

          • neil_pogi

            so how's 'nothing' can create a life?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Stop conflating abiogenesis with evolution

          • neil_pogi

            oh really? are chemicals alive or not? answer pls!

            evolutionists once postulated that 'chemical evolution' should happen before those chemicals become 'alive'.. so how do you call it? of course, this is called 'abiogenesis' (chemical evolution)

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Which is different from evolution. I could be a firm advocate of evolution and believe that God popped the first single cell organisms into existence. Evolution is not a theory of how non-life becomes life.

          • neil_pogi

            so how evolution works if, in the beginning, there was just non-living things?

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            I think this question reveals a conceptual difference between theism and naturalism that is important to make explicit.

            Neil, I don't expect you to agree with the naturalist point of view, but if you sincerely want to try to understand it, here is I think an important point that would answer many of your questions.

            You make a very strong distinction between living and not living. Your concept is not very different from the 19th century elan vital, which was a mysterious substance of life in living organisms, but not in ordinary matter, even though it may have consisted of the same chemicals as living organisms. This drew a stark boundary between what was living, and what was not living, and nothing non-living could become alive unless it acquired something extra and non-physical. Call it what you will, elan vital, life force, a spirit, a soul, etc. This is the essence of a dualist ontology that sees existence as containing physical and spiritual entities.

            As long as you insist on only seeing the world this way, you will never understand evolution. Now here is the alternative viewpoint, the naturalist one. Even if you reject this, at least try to understand the point of view.

            The evolutionary view does not include the spiritual. It only contains real physical stuff, matter and energy. Life is not a matter of having or acquiring some additional life force or essence, but instead what we view as life involves having the right organization of energy, matter, and information needed to animate material. This means that life can develop incrementally from non-living stuff, just in the same way that a living being can become inert dead material that decays back into the environment when it no longer is able to sustain life. Sustaining life in this view does not include possessing a soul or a life force, but rather having the right organization and conditions to maintain metabolism and the functioning of the nervous, immune, circulatory, endocrine systems etc.

            In the quantum mechanical view, we are wave functions. We are really energy and information that exists in quantum fields in the way analogous to how ocean waves exist in the waters of the seas. So in a sense, when you ask how can a living thing come from non-living stuff, it is similar to asking how can a wave come from still water. It is just a matter of having the right concentration of energy and the right organization of information being transmitted through the water.

          • Peter A.

            Life is not a matter of having or acquiring some additional life force or essence, but instead what we view as life involves having the right organization of energy, matter, and information needed to animate
            material.

            If that's the case, then it should be an easy affair to create, from scratch, what we call "life", and it should have been already done countless times in the lab. So... has it? Nope.

            This means that life can develop incrementally from non-living stuff...

            How do you know this? Where is the evidence that this can actually happen? Has anyone actually observed this? Isn't this just a statement of faith, by you? Why should I, or anyone else, believe this? Have you heard of the Law of Biogenesis?

            In the quantum mechanical view, we are wave functions. We are really energy and information that exists in quantum fields in the way analogous to how ocean waves exist in the waters of the seas.

            Tell me something, are you actually a quantum physicist? I ask because, if you are not, then you shouldn't make claims like this, because even those who have it as their job will admit that it is almost impossible to really understand, in a manner that is in any way comprehensive. As R. Feynmann noted: "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, then you don't understand quantum mechanics".
            What, exactly, IS information in your view? You mention it here. Do you know what it is? Define a wave function. What is energy?

            I realise that I am late to the conversation here, but I just couldn't let comments like yours stand unchallenged, because they are, in my own opinion anyway, patently absurd.

          • neil_pogi

            just answer me straight, what is the distinction between a non-living things and living things? just explain how the non-living things became living things? that is quite and simple for you to answer! i don't need that quantum blah, blah etc. because those things are just those things! it's like in microscopic biological world, we see thru microscope that cells exist, and when we go inside this cell, it reveal more fascinating elements like the DNAs, nucleous, membranes and others. our universe holds that unique elements too, we find those 'fluctuations, quantum fields, bosons, among other things. we don't know if those elements are really the 'creative' force behind universe's stars, planets and the like. astronomers only interpret them as the creative factors, nobody knows how they function.

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            just
            answer me straight, what is the distinction between a non-living things and
            living things?

            I already did. I'll repeat it for you:

            "what we view as life involves having the right organization of energy, matter, and information needed to animate material. This means that life can develop incrementally from non-living stuff,
            just in the same way that a living being can become inert dead material
            that decays back into the environment when it no longer is able to
            sustain life. Sustaining life in this view does not include possessing a
            soul or a life force, but rather having the right organization and
            conditions to maintain metabolism and the functioning of the nervous,
            immune, circulatory, endocrine systems etc."

            Maybe you can explain the difference between a living person, a dead person, a sleeping person, a person knocked unconscious via head trauma, a person in a coma, a person with amnesia, and a person under the influence of a chemical general anesthetic. Just give me a straight answer: why are some of these conscious and others not, and what are the essential differences?

          • neil_pogi

            do a rock has the capacity to have that?

            if all your statements above is true, then, perhaps, you can have an experiment on this. this is one phase why all scientists agree on how to accept the theory into facts. your statements is just qualified as 'make believe' story.. and many like you are deceived by it.

            a 'conscious' person can create something that is useful for him, an 'unconscious' rock can not. it just sit there on a corner. have you ever ask yourself how a rock becomes alive? pls be true to yourself.

          • neil_pogi

            again if there is no 'chemical evolution' (which started from non-life, of course)(and another other term for abiogenesis) there is 'no life' (according to atheist's creation myth)

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Well, neil, it is okay if we have open questions. Besides, it is entirely possible that God only created the first single cell organisms and let evolution do the rest.

          • neil_pogi

            scientists like wickramasenghe proposed that an intelligent 'alien' deposited a primeval organism into the earth. why he proposed it? because he knew that only intelligent being is able to do that! and because he hated the word 'God" or 'Creator', he just named it 'alien'...

            even if this 'alien' seeded the first single cell organism, what is the chance or probability that it will survive on its own? just be open-minded.

            even a conscious human baby or a chimpanzee can't create a perfect straight line or a circle, let alone 'unconscious' entities! it pays to have more logic than nothing!

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            Thanks for the tip.

          • neil_pogi

            oh my,, this is another 'make me believe that story' theory of evolution of humans, per se. what made you believe in that crap? millions of years, or even perhaps 200,000 years were not observed. so how come any one of you believe that? even if your evolutionists will use 'scientific paradigms' to know the time scale, it is not to be believed because it is unobservable. so atheism just rely on their faith to believe in things not observed, rather than on facts

          • Will

            Confusing someone for their ancestor is simply illogical and has nothing to do with the truth or falsity of evolution. Why do you were once Adam? Because you were never Adam, you were always Neil. You're just distracting.

          • neil_pogi

            Adam was my ancestor.

            you still denied that you were once a 'protocell' or 'single-cell organism'? (i skip slime because you don't like it). if these 2 organisms are not there, do you think you are in existence today?

          • neil_pogi

            then tell me who were the ancestors of primates?
            if you will tell me, the kangaroo...
            then who were the ancestors of kangaroos..
            if you will tell me, the bear..
            then who were the ancestors of bear...
            if you will tell me, the lizard..
            then who were the ancestor of lizard..
            if you will tell me, the sea abalone...
            then who were the ancestor of sea abalone..
            if you will tell me, the star fish..
            then who were the ancestor of star fish..
            if you will tell me, the SLIME..
            then who were the ancestor of slime,,
            if you will tell me, the single-cell organism..
            then tell me who were the ancestor of single-cell organism
            if you will tell me, the proto-cell..
            then tell me who were the ancestors of proto-cell..
            the 'self-replicating molecule'
            then who were the ancestor of SRM..
            they are always existing. they are not 'eternal' but 'always existing'

            just like the universe, we came from a 'nothing'

          • Will

            Trying to say he was once slime, is like saying that you were once your father. Does that really make sense...you are you, not your Dad, after all.

          • neil_pogi

            that is how evolution explains itself.. 'from proto-cell to single cell organism to multi-cellular organism.' that's why evolution lacks scientific proof as to how this single organism manage to become or evolve into a human being. if the single cell organism didn't evolve into slime, therefore no further evolution happened, because it stopped there.

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            The evidence in trace DNA supports this model well enough. We don't have all the details, but the rough outline is without doubt.

            Also, there is no alternative explanation that has any evidence to support it.

          • neil_pogi

            that's another assumption.
            the single cell organism is very microscopic. evolutionists never explained as to how it will manage itself to survive in the first 24 hours, let alone a month or a year. on this time frame alone, the single cell organism will die and evolution is just 'dead in the water'

          • Peter A.

            I realise that I am eight days late, but I'll respond to this anyway.

            I see two issues here I can respond to,

            1. How did the universe pop out of nothing?
            2. How did life come from non-living things?

            In your view, you have a simple answer to both: God did it. However you can not answer the same question you ask of me: did God just pop out of nothing? Where did God come from? How did God achieve the power to create life and the Universe? Who or what created God?

            If you answer that God didn't need to be created, he's perfect and always existed, you are just doing what's called question begging: you are assuming in your premise what it is you are trying to "prove".

            I could say the same of the material and energy in the universe that preceded the big bang: perhaps it always existed and did not need to be created.

            Answers:

            Q1 - it didn't.
            Q2 - it can't. We've known this since Louis Pasteur.

            Jeffrey, don't take this personally, but you are just clearly out of your depth here. Perhaps you should hop on over to the Jerry Coyne website, where you can meet likeminded debunkers.

            Saying that God is the eternal, atemporal and necessary foundational reason for why there is anything at all, is NOT "question begging". The fact that you seem to think it is tells me that you are just not at all familiar with what theists actually believe, and the arguments they make to justify those beliefs.

          • Peter A.

            It may make you feel good to say this, but since I am an atheist who
            once was a religious believer, I can tell you for certain it is simply
            wrong. It's like saying not owning a car is a kind of automobile
            ownership, or fasting is a kind of eating.

            Whilst it may be true that the dictionary definition of "atheist" is simply one who does not believe in, or asserts the actual non-existence of, God/gods, it needs to be pointed out that atheists of the modern-day variety believe a hell of a lot more than just what the dictionary defines.

            For example: they will, without exception, accept the philosophical assertion that nature can ultimately explain everything we know of, even if at this point in time we do not have explanations for all there is. It is a position based entirely upon faith, for there is no logical, scientific, or philosophical argument that has, or even can, establish this position.

            They also believe that morality cannot be objective, or if (like Sam Harris) they cannot let go of this (purely philosophical) position, they twist themselves in knots trying to justify their stance. None of these atheistic believers in objective morality have thus far succeeded in doing this, and because of this most of them are moral relativists. This will, however, not stop them from making bald assertions like, "It's child abuse to indoctrinate small children by teaching them the values and beliefs of their parent's religion", because, according to them, it's "wrong" to do so. Pardon? "Wrong" by what definition? According to whom? By what standard? In order to say that something is right or wrong, one must have a way to actually determine what is right and wrong, and reasons need to be given, and in order to do this one must recognise the existence of something that gives meaning to morality in the first place.

            They also seem to believe (well, most of them do anyway) that the concept of free will is bogus, whilst at the same time they will get up on their soapboxes and pontificate about things that (like the impartial examination of evidence in an objective manner) require the existence of free will in order to even exist in the first place.

            Anyway, I could add quite a bit to this short list of things atheists really do believe in, but I'm sure you get the gist of it.

          • Will

            or example: they will, without exception, accept the philosophical assertion that nature can ultimately explain everything we know of, even if at this point in time we do not have explanations for all there is. It is a position based entirely upon faith, for there is no logical, scientific, or philosophical argument that has, or even can, establish this position.

            There is an inductive argument for science explaining most of nature (it can't directly explain things humans create and new knowledge like engineering and political science). 500 years ago science could explain very little. Now it explains so much more it is hard to compare. Pushing into the future one would expect science to explain much more, though hitting increasing diminishing returns. Of course, it's possible that some things don't actually have an intelligible explanation (like the precise behavior of chaotic systems), but one can never be certain that there is none because someone in the future might be able to explain it (like the hard problem of conscience). Some things, like the latter, do look a bit hopeless right now.

            Here is a recent case of a decent explanation of something that looked like it might be impossible to explain, the success of neural networks:

            https://www.technologyreview.com/s/602344/the-extraordinary-link-between-deep-neural-networks-and-the-nature-of-the-universe/

            The general idea may be related to how brains model and make sense of the world around them, as neural nets are inspired by the workings of actual neurons.

            Just fyi I'm open to certain aspects of theism, but am quite against any form of dualism. If God is existence itself, than nothing can exist apart from God. Otherwise you would be saying something exists independent of existence itself. Baruch Spinoza made some impressive proofs of this a very long time ago, and philosophers today are keenly aware of the lack of any theory of how two completely different substances would interact. Instead of saying God doesn't exist, it becomes God is the only substance that exists. Classical theism has been very popular for a long time for a reason, so it doesn't make sense to dismiss it lightly, in my mind.

    • neil_pogi

      you mean that Deism got it first before theism?

      how about this: 'in the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth..'

      it only affirms that God is the first cause.

      • Jeffrey G. Johnson

        No. What I mean is that if you want to use the Cosmological Argument as a "proof" of God, the God you end up with has none of the attributes people normally associate with God. This is simply a mysterious force that is the first cause. There is no consequence of the Cosmological Argument that implies this first cause listens to human prayers, intercedes in human affairs, gave his only begotten Son, rules over an eternal paradise where humans go after they die, or has any of the anthropomorphic qualities of a Biblical God. None of this is included in the proof. So it's hardly a proof of "God" as people envision God in any traditional religion.

        • neil_pogi

          if the 'force' you are trying to say is just impersonal, then the creatures he will make should have to experience no love, no sympathy and empathy for others, no ethics, no values.. these are all characters of a person. so i would say that the creator God is a personal one.

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            You have simply assumed the "God" of the Cosmological Argument is personal because you want to assert without evidence or proof that same "God" created humans.

            We have a better explanation with abundant evidence of how humans came into being.

            You are simply making up what you want to believe, or you are uncritically accepting what is written in the Bible.

          • Lazarus

            In our earlier discussion I referred you to a very comprehensive work that does tie the God of the philosophers to the personal God worshiped by Christians, but I see that you are still beating Neil about the head with the same assertion, as if you shouldn't know better by now.

            Christians, maybe more than any other religion, have indeed very successfully spanned the perceived gap between those two concepts of God, particularly so in the Incarnation, God becoming man, living and dying with us.

            So again, reject the evidence as is your right to do, but please stop making these very telling assertions that there is no evidence. It says a lot more about your knowledge on the topic than what you may wish to divulge.

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            Actually, Neil was beating me about the head with an absurd assertion.

          • neil_pogi

            have you observe a rock or a dirt evolving into one single cell? or became a human?

            as i've said, the creator of the universe must be a personal being, because humans have free will, love, emotions, etc

            the claim that the Bible is inspired has been proven.

            you have no logical explanations as to how living things formed or created on this planet. all your claims are just 'make believe' and 'just so' stories

  • neil_pogi

    matter, like the universe, does not move by itself.

    in every day experiences, i never see a stone figurine move by itslef.. and if it does move, then, this is a supernatural event.

    if atheists believe the universe is moving by itself, then who or what moves it? then i would say, then who or what moves it, and so on. infinite regress?

    atheists once believe that the universe is eternal.. now they don't because they must accept theists' argument for God as eternal and the First Cause

  • Peter A.

    Excellent article, one pointing out some of the silly claims that atheistic cosmologists will use to avoid having to deal with the patently obvious, due to the fact that the concept of the supernatural clashes with their deeply-held, emotionally-based philosophical prejudices (ex. naturalism).

    I simply cannot believe that Carroll actually tried to use the conservation of momentum principle to argue that some things actually don't need a cause, and the reasons for why this tactic does not work I need not repeat here, because you've already done so in your critique. I wouldn't have expected a mistake like this from an actual physicist, because momentum is something that one learns about in high school, and so it makes me wonder about his qualifications (alternatively he may have just had a really sloppy editor, one who knew almost nothing about physics).

    I have yet to read his "Big Picture", but if this is an example of what one can find within it, then I will not be wasting my money on yet one more failed, and purely ideological, attempt to exclude the transcendent from reality (Hawking and Mlodinow's "The Grand Design" was enough for me - a glossy and colourful mishmash of biased opinion masquerading as "science", like a fancy advertising brochure).

    • David Nickol

      I simply cannot believe that Carroll actually tried to use the
      conservation of momentum principle to argue that some things actually
      don't need a cause . . . .

      I don't think it is quite that simple. The discussion about the conservation of momentum examines Aristotle's conclusion that there must be an unmoved mover. The conclusion is based on Aristotle's belief that rest was the natural state for any and all objects. That being the case, if anything was in motion, it was being moved by something else (not just that it had been set in motion by something else). That was simply a mistaken idea in Aristotelian physics, which I believe was taken over by Aquinas. But according to Newton and modern physics, neither rest nor motion is the "natural state." We need no more of an explanation for an object being in motion than we do for an object being at rest. This is not some silly idea invented by Sean Carroll. It is a flaw in Aristotelian/Thomist reasoning that has been widely noted, and for which AT philosophers have proposed "work arounds."

      If the universe existed from all eternity (which, if I am not mistaken, Aristotle thought it had and Aquinas considered at least for the sake of argument), the motion of an object need no more be explained than the "unmotion" of objects at rest. This is because we now understand the concepts of inertia and momentum, and we no longer believe that because an object is in motion there must be a "mover" keeping it in motion.

      • Peter A.

        That being the case, if anything was in motion, it was being moved by something else (not just that it had been set in motion by something else). That was simply a mistaken idea in Aristotelian physics...

        Yes, this is clearly a misunderstanding of how bodies behave, as anyone who is at all familiar with Newtonian mechanics will be able to show. I have noticed many theists also try to argue a point of view that is rather similar, when they will claim that our universe as a whole needs to be sustained in existence by something (which is of course their Christian God - as though it were self-evident that if God exists then it must be the Christian one) that transcends it. The claim is made over and over again, but I have yet to find any good reason(s) why I should accept what is, after all, not just a philosophical claim but a scientific one as well. Cosmologists generally don't believe that reality needs to be propped up by something external to it, and if I were a committed theist I would not use such a claim to support what I believe about reality.

        Admittedly I haven't yet read Carroll's book, and am only going by what Mr. Vogt has here said about it. If Mr. Vogt is mistaken about what Dr. Carroll claims regarding this particular issue, then I take back what I wrote before.

    • LHRMSCBrown

      I agree with you. Inertia is underfunded: [1] http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/06/oerter-on-motion-and-first-mover.html and also [2] http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2013/01/oerter-on-inertial-motion-and-angels.html and also [3] http://faculty.fordham.edu/klima/SMLM/PSMLM10/PSMLM10.pdf which, on page four, has the item mentioned in the first two, which opens with:

      Edward Feser:

      The medieval principle of motion and the modern principle of inertia: The purported contradiction

      "Aquinas’s First Way of arguing for the existence of God famously rests on the Aristotelian premise that “whatever is in motion is moved by another.” Let us call this the “principle of motion.” Newton’s First Law states that “every body continues in its state of rest or of uniform motion in a straight line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.”

      Call this the “principle of inertia.” It is widely thought that the principle of motion is in conflict with the principle of inertia, and that modern physics has therefore put paid to medieval theology, or at least to its notion of God as the Unmoved Mover of the world. The assumption is that Aquinas and other Scholastics held that an object cannot keep moving unless something is continuously moving it, but that Newton showed that it is simply a law of physics that once set in motion an object will remain in motion without any such mover. Hence Anthony Kenny judges that “it seems that Newton’s law wrecks the argument of the First Way.”

      Common though this view is, it is not only mistaken, but unfounded……"

      Page 17 has a reply to Feser by Rota, which Feser replies to on page 20.

      Etc. A brief recap at [4] http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/12/aquinas-versus-newton.html

      • Peter A.

        I'll have to investigate this further, to clarify this in my mind. I visit the Edward Feser site quite often, because he is one of the few that I have come across who actually understands all of the finer points and nuances of Aristotle, Aquinas, and what they believed about God, the nature of reality, and so on.