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So You Think You Understand the Cosmological Argument?

Dominos

NOTE: Dr. Feser's contributions at Strange Notions were originally posted on his own blog, and therefore lose some of their context when reprinted here. Dr. Feser explains why that matters.
 


 

Most people who comment on the cosmological argument demonstrably do not know what they are talking about.  This includes all the prominent New Atheist writers.  It very definitely includes most of the people who hang out in Jerry Coyne’s comboxes.  It also includes most scientists.  And it even includes many theologians and philosophers, or at least those who have not devoted much study to the issue.  This may sound arrogant, but it is not.  You might think I am saying “I, Edward Feser, have special knowledge about this subject that has somehow eluded everyone else.”  But that is NOT what I am saying.  The point has nothing to do with me.  What I am saying is pretty much common knowledge among professional philosophers of religion (including atheist philosophers of religion), who – naturally, given the subject matter of their particular philosophical sub-discipline – are the people who know more about the cosmological argument than anyone else does.

In particular, I think that the vast majority of philosophers who have studied the argument in any depth – and again, that includes atheists as well as theists, though it does not include most philosophers outside the sub-discipline of philosophy of religion – would agree with the points I am about to make, or with most of them anyway.  Of course, I do not mean that they would all agree with me that the argument is at the end of the day a convincing argument.  I just mean that they would agree that most non-specialists who comment on it do not understand it, and that the reasons why people reject it are usually superficial and based on caricatures of the argument.  Nor do I say that every single self-described philosopher of religion would agree with the points I am about to make.  Like every other academic field, philosophy of religion has its share of hacks and mediocrities.  But I am saying that the vast majority of philosophers of religion would agree, and again, that this includes the atheists among them as well as the theists.

I’m not going to present and defend any version of the cosmological argument here.  I’ve done that at length in my books Aquinas and The Last Superstition, and it needs to be done at length rather than in the context of a blog post.  The reason is that, while the basic structure of the main versions of the argument is fairly simple, the background metaphysics necessary to a proper understanding of the key terms and inferences is not.  It needs some spelling out, which is why Aquinas and The Last Superstition each devote a long chapter to general metaphysics before addressing the question of God’s existence.  The serious objections to the argument can in my view all be answered, but that too can properly be done only after the background ideas have been set out.  And that too is a task carried out in the books.

I will deal here with some of the non-serious objections, though.  In particular, what follows is intended to clear away some of the intellectual rubbish that prevents many people from giving the argument a fair hearing.  To get to the point(s), then:

1. The argument does NOT rest on the premise that “Everything has a cause.”

 
Lots of people – probably most people who have an opinion on the matter – think that the cosmological argument goes like this: Everything has a cause; so the universe has a cause; so God exists.  They then have no trouble at all poking holes in it.  If everything has a cause, then what caused God?  Why assume in the first place that everything has to have a cause?  Why assume the cause is God?  Etc.

Here’s the funny thing, though.  People who attack this argument never tell you where they got it from.  They never quote anyone defending it.  There’s a reason for that.  The reason is that none of the best-known proponents of the cosmological argument in the history of philosophy and theology ever gave this argument.  Not Plato, not Aristotle, not al-Ghazali, not Maimonides, not Aquinas, not Duns Scotus, not Leibniz, not Samuel Clarke, not Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, not Mortimer Adler, not William Lane Craig, not Richard Swinburne.  And not anyone else either, as far as I know.  (Your Pastor Bob doesn’t count.  I mean no one among prominent philosophers.)  And yet it is constantly presented, not only by popular writers but even by some professional philosophers, as if it were “the” “basic” version of the cosmological argument, and as if every other version were essentially just a variation on it.

Don’t take my word for it.  The atheist Robin Le Poidevin, in his book Arguing for Atheism (which my critic Jason Rosenhouse thinks is pretty great) begins his critique of the cosmological argument by attacking a variation of the silly argument given above – though he admits that “no-one has defended a cosmological argument of precisely this form”!  So what’s the point of attacking it?  Why not start instead with what some prominent defender of the cosmological argument has actually said?

Suppose some creationist began his attack on Darwinism by assuring his readers that “the basic” claim of the Darwinian account of human origins is that at some point in the distant past a monkey gave birth to a human baby.  Suppose he provided no source for this claim – which, of course, he couldn’t have, because no Darwinian has ever said such a thing – and suppose also that he admitted that no one has ever said it.  But suppose further that he claimed that “more sophisticated versions” of Darwinism were really just “modifications” of this claim. Intellectually speaking, this would be utterly contemptible and sleazy.  It would give readers the false impression that anything Darwinians have to say about human origins, however superficially sophisticated, is really just a desperate exercise in patching up a manifestly absurd position.  Precisely for that reason, though, such a procedure would, rhetorically speaking, be very effective indeed.

Compare that to Le Poidevin’s procedure.  Though by his own admission no one has ever actually defended the feeble argument in question, Le Poidevin still calls it “the basic” version of the cosmological argument and characterizes the “more sophisticated versions” he considers later on as “modifications” of it.  Daniel Dennett does something similar in his book Breaking the Spell.  He assures us that the lame argument in question is “the simplest form” of the cosmological argument and falsely insinuates that other versions – that is to say, the ones that philosophers have actually defended, and which Dennett does not bother to discuss – are merely desperate attempts to repair the obvious problems with the “Everything has a cause” “version.”  As with our imaginary creationist, this procedure is intellectually dishonest and sleazy, but it is rhetorically very effective.  It gives the unwary reader the false impression that “the basic” claim made by Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, et al. is manifestly absurd, that everything else they have to say is merely an attempt to patch up this absurd position, and (therefore) that such writers need not be bothered with further.

And that, I submit, is the reason why the “Everything has a cause” argument – a complete fabrication, an urban legend, something no philosopher has ever defended – perpetually haunts the debate over the cosmological argument.  It gives atheists an easy target, and a way rhetorically to make even their most sophisticated opponents seem silly and not worth bothering with.  It‘s a slimy debating trick, nothing more – a shameless exercise in what I have elsewhere called “meta-sophistry.”  (I make no judgment about whether Le Poidevin’s or Dennett’s sleaziness was deliberate.  But that they should know better is beyond question.)

What defenders of the cosmological argument do say is that what comes into existence has a cause, or that what is contingent has a cause.  These claims are as different from “Everything has a cause” as “Whatever has color is extended” is different from “Everything is extended.”  Defenders of the cosmological argument also provide arguments for these claims about causation.  You may disagree with the claims – though if you think they are falsified by modern physics,you are sorely mistaken – but you cannot justly accuse the defender of the cosmological argument either of saying something manifestly silly or of contradicting himself when he goes on to say that God is uncaused.

This gives us what I regard as “the basic” test for determining whether an atheist is informed and intellectually honest.  If he thinks that the cosmological argument rests on the claim that “everything has a cause,” then he is simply ignorant of the basic facts.  If he persists in asserting that it rests on this claim after being informed otherwise, then he is intellectually dishonest.  And if he is an academic philosopher like Le Poidevin or Dennett who is professionally obligated to know these things and to eschew cheap debating tricks, then… well, you do the math.

2. “What caused God?” is not a serious objection to the argument.

 
Part of the reason this is not a serious objection is that it usually rests on the assumption that the cosmological argument is committed to the premise that “Everything has a cause,” and as I’ve just said, this is simply not the case.  But there is another and perhaps deeper reason.

The cosmological argument in its historically most influential versions is not concerned to show that there is a cause of things which just happens not to have a cause.  It is not interested in “brute facts” – if it were, then yes, positing the world as the ultimate brute fact might arguably be as defensible as taking God to be.  On the contrary, the cosmological argument – again, at least as its most prominent defenders (Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, et al.) present it – is concerned with trying to show that not everything can be a “brute fact.”  What it seeks to show is that if there is to be an ultimate explanation of things, then there must be a cause of everything else which not only happens to exist, but which could not even in principle have failed to exist.  And that is why it is said to be uncaused – not because it is an arbitrary exception to a general rule, not because it merely happens to be uncaused, but rather because it is not the sort of thing that can even in principle be said to have had a cause, precisely because it could not even in principle have failed to exist in the first place.  And the argument doesn't merely assume or stipulate that the first cause is like this; on the contrary, the whole point of the argument is to try to show that there must be something like this.

Different versions of the cosmological argument approach this task in different ways.  Aristotelian versions argue that change – the actualization of the potentials inherent in things – cannot in principle occur unless there is a cause that is “pure actuality,” and thus can actualize other things without itself having to be actualized.  Neo-Platonic versions argue that composite things cannot in principle exist unless there is a cause of things that is absolutely unified or non-composite.  Thomists not only defend the Aristotelian versions, but also argue that whatever has an essence or nature distinct from its existence – so that it must derive existence from something outside it – must ultimately be caused by something whose essence just is existence, and which qua existence or being itself need not derive its existence from another.  Leibnizian versions argue that whatever does not have the sufficient reason for its existence in itself must ultimately derive its existence from something which does have within itself a sufficient reason for its existence, and which is in that sense necessary rather than contingent.  And so forth.  (Note that I am not defending or even stating the arguments here, but merely giving single sentence summaries of the general approach several versions of the arguments take.)

So, to ask “What caused God?” really amounts to asking “What caused the thing that cannot in principle have had a cause?”, or “What actualized the potentials in that thing which is pure actuality and thus never had any potentials of any sort needing to be actualized in the first place?”, or “What imparted a sufficient reason for existence to that thing which has its sufficient reason for existence within itself and did not derive it from something else?”  And none of these questions makes any sense.  Of course, the atheist might say that he isn’t convinced that the cosmological argument succeeds in showing that there really is something that could not in principle have had a cause, or that is purely actual, or that has a sufficient reason for its existence within itself.  He might even try to argue that there is some sort of hidden incoherence in these notions.  But merely to ask “What caused God?” – as if the defender of the cosmological argument had overlooked the most obvious of objections – simply misses the whole point.  A serious critic has to grapple with the details of the arguments.  He cannot short-circuit them with a single, simplistic question.  (Also, if some anonymous commenter in a combox can think up such an objection, then you can be certain that Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, et al. already thought of it too.)

3. “Why assume that the universe had a beginning?” is not a serious objection to the argument.

 
The reason this is not a serious objection is that no version of the cosmological argument assumes this at all.  Of course, the kalām cosmological argument does claim that the universe had a beginning, but it doesn’t merely assume it.  Rather, the whole point of that version of the cosmological argument is to establish through detailed argument that the universe must have had a beginning.  You can try to rebut those arguments, but to pretend that one can dismiss the argument merely by raising the possibility of an infinite series of universes (say) is to miss the whole point.

The main reason this is a bad objection, though, is that most versions of the cosmological argument do not even claim that the universe had a beginning.  Aristotelian, Neo-Platonic, Thomistic, and Leibnizian cosmological arguments are all concerned to show that there must be an uncaused cause even if the universe has always existed.  Of course, Aquinas did believe that the world had a beginning, but (as all Aquinas scholars know) that is not a claim that plays any role in his versions of the cosmological argument.  When he argues there that there must be a First Cause, he doesn’t mean “first” in the order of events extending backwards into the past.  What he means is that there must be a most fundamental cause of things which keeps them in existence at every moment, whether or not the series of moments extends backwards into the past without a beginning.

In fact, Aquinas rather famously rejected what is now known as the kalām argument.  He did not think that the claim that the universe had a beginning could be established through philosophical arguments.  He thought it could be known only via divine revelation, and thus was not suitable for use in trying to establish God’s existence.  (Here, by the way, is another basic test of competence to speak on this subject.  Any critic of the Five Ways who claims that Aquinas was trying to show that the universe had a beginning and that God caused that beginning – as Richard Dawkins does in his comments on the Third Way in The God Delusion – infallibly demonstrates thereby that he simply doesn’t know what he is talking about.)

4. “No one has given any reason to think that the First Cause is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, etc.” is not a serious objection to the argument.

 
People who make this claim – like, again, Dawkins in The God Delusion – show thereby that they haven’t actually read the writers they are criticizing.  They are typically relying on what other uninformed people have said about the argument, or at most relying on excerpts ripped from context and stuck into some anthology (as Aquinas’s Five Ways so often are).  Aquinas in fact devotes hundreds of pages across various works to showing that a First Cause of things would have to be all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, and so on and so forth.  Other Scholastic writers and modern writers like Leibniz and Samuel Clarke also devote detailed argumentation to establishing that the First Cause would have to have the various divine attributes.

Of course, an atheist might try to rebut these various arguments.  But to pretend that they don’t exist – that is to say, to pretend, as so many do, that defenders of the cosmological argument typically make an undefended leap from “There is a First Cause” to “There is a cause of the world that is all-powerful, all-knowing, etc.” – is, once again, simply to show that one doesn’t know what one is talking about.

5. “The argument doesn’t prove that Christianity is true” is not a serious objection to the argument.

 
No one claims that the cosmological argument by itself suffices to show that Christianity is true, that Jesus of Nazareth was God Incarnate, etc.  That’s not what it is intended to do.  It is intended to establish only what Christians, Jews, Muslims, philosophical theists, and other monotheists hold in common, viz. the view that there is a divine cause of the universe.  Establishing the truth of specifically Christian claims about this divine cause requires separate arguments, and no one has ever pretended otherwise.

It would also obviously be rather silly for an atheist to pretend that unless the argument gets you all the way to proving the truth of Christianity, specifically, then there is no point in considering it.  For if the argument works, that would suffice all by itself to refute atheism.  It would show that the real debate is not between atheism and theism, but between the various brands of theism.

6. “Science has shown such-and-such” is not a serious objection to (most versions of) the argument.

 
There are versions of the cosmological argument that appeal to scientific considerations – most notably, the version of the kalām argument defended by William Lane Craig.  But even Craig’s argument also appeals to separate, purely philosophical considerations that do not stand or fall with the current state of things in cosmology or physics.  And most versions of the cosmological argument do not in any way depend on particular scientific claims.  Rather, they start with extremely general considerations that any possible scientific theorizing must itself take for granted – for example, that there is any empirical world at all, or any world of any sort at all.

It is sometimes claimed (for example, by Anthony Kenny and J. L. Mackie) that some of Aquinas’s arguments for God’s existence depend on outdated theses in Aristotelian physics.  But Thomists have had little difficulty in showing that this is false.  In fact the arguments depend only on claims of Aristotelian metaphysics which can be disentangled from any outdated scientific assumptions and shown to be defensible whatever the scientific details turn out to be, precisely because (so the Thomist argues) they concern what any possible scientific theory has to presuppose.  (Naturally, I address this issue in Aquinas.)

Of course, many atheists are committed to scientism, and maintain that there are no rational forms of inquiry other than science.  But unless they provide an argument for this claim, they are merely begging the question against the defender of the cosmological argument, whose position is precisely that there are rational arguments that are distinct from, and indeed more fundamental than, empirical scientific arguments.  Moreover, defending scientism is no easy task – in fact the view is simply incoherent, or so I would argue (as I have in several previous posts).  Be that as it may, merely shouting “Science!” doesn’t prove anything.

7. The argument is not a “God of the gaps” argument.

 
Since the point of the argument is precisely to explain (part of) what science itself must take for granted, it is not the sort of thing that could even in principle be overturned by scientific findings.  For the same reason, it is not an attempt to plug some current “gap” in scientific knowledge.  Nor is it, in its historically most influential versions anyway, a kind of “hypothesis” put forward as the “best explanation” of the “evidence.”  It is rather an attempt at strict metaphysical demonstration.  To be sure, like empirical science it begins with empirical claims, but they are empirical claims that are so extremely general that (as I have said) science itself cannot deny them without denying its own evidential and metaphysical presuppositions.  And it proceeds from these premises, not by probabilistic theorizing, but via strict deductive reasoning.  In this respect, to suggest (as Richard Dawkins does) that the cosmological argument fails to consider more “parsimonious” explanations than an uncaused cause is like saying that the Pythagorean theorem is merely a “theorem of the gaps” and that more “parsimonious” explanations of the “geometrical evidence” might be forthcoming.  It simply misunderstands the nature of the reasoning involved.

Of course, an atheist might reject the very possibility of such metaphysical demonstration.  He might claim that there cannot be a kind of argument which, like mathematics, leads to necessary truths and yet which, like science, starts from empirical premises.  But if so, he has to provide a separate argument for this assertion.  Merely to insist that there cannot be such an argument simply begs the question against the cosmological argument.

None of this entails that the cosmological argument is not open to potential criticism.  The point is that the kind of criticism one might try to raise against it is simply not the kind that one might raise in the context of empirical science.  It requires instead knowledge of metaphysics and philosophy more generally.  But that naturally brings us to the next point:

8. Hume and Kant did not have the last word on the argument.  Neither has anyone else.

 
It is often claimed that Hume, or maybe Kant, essentially had the last word on the subject of the cosmological argument and that nothing significant has been or could be said in its defense since their time.  I think that no philosopher who has made a special study of the argument would agree with this judgment, and again, that includes atheistic philosophers who ultimately reject the argument.  For example, I don’t think anyone who has studied the issue would deny that Elizabeth Anscombe presented a serious objection to Hume’s claim that something could conceivably come into existence without a cause.  Nor is Anscombe by any means the only philosopher to have criticized Hume on this issue.  I’m not claiming that everyone would agree that the objections leveled by Anscombe and others are at the end of the day correct (though I think they are), only that they would agree that it is wrong to pretend that Hume somehow ended all serious debate on the issue.  (Naturally, I discuss this issue in Aquinas.)

To take another example, Hume’s objection that the cosmological argument commits a fallacy of composition is, as I have noted in an earlier post, also greatly overrated.  For one thing, it assumes that the cosmological argument is concerned with explaining why the universe as a whole exists, and that is simply not true of all versions of the argument.  Thomists often emphasize that the argument of Aquinas’s On Being and Essence requires only the premise that something or other exists – a stone, a tree, a book, your left shoe, whatever.  The claim is that none of these things could exist even for an instant unless maintained in being by God.  You don’t need to start the argument with any fancy premise about the universe as a whole; all you need is a premise to the effect that a stone exists, or a shoe, or what have you.  (Again, see Aquinas for the full story.)  Even versions of the argument that do begin with a premise about the universe as a whole are (in my view and that of many others) not really damaged by Hume’s objection, for reasons I explain in the post just linked to.  In any event, I think that anyone who has studied the cosmological argument in any depth would agree that it is certainly seriously debatable whether Hume draws any blood here.

In general, critics of the cosmological argument tend arbitrarily to hold it to a standard to which they do not hold other arguments.  In other areas of philosophy, even the most problematic views are treated as worthy of continuing debate.  The fact that there are all sorts of serious objections to materialist theories of the mind, or consequentialist views in ethics, or Rawlsian liberal views in political philosophy, does not lead anyone to suggest that these views shouldn’t be taken seriously.  But the fact that someone somewhere raised such-and-such an objection to the cosmological argument is routinely treated as if this sufficed to establish that the argument has been decisively “refuted” and needn’t be paid any further attention.

Jason Rosenhouse plays this game in his response to my recent blog post on Jerry Coyne.  Writes Rosenhouse:
 

"Feser seems rather taken with [the cosmological argument], but there are many strong refutations to be found in the literature.  Off the top of my head, I found Mackie's discussion in The Miracle of Theism and Robin Le Poidevin's discussion in Arguing for Atheism to be both cogent and accessible."

 
Does Rosenhouse really think that we defenders of the cosmological argument aren’t familiar with Mackie and Le Poidevin?  Presumably not.  But then, what’s his point?  That is to say, what point is he trying to make that doesn’t manifestly beg the question?  After all, what would Rosenhouse think of the following “objection”:
 

"Rosenhouse seems rather taken with the materialist view of the mind, but there are many strong refutations to be found in the literature.  Off the top of my head, I found Foster’s The Immaterial Self and the essays in Koons’ and Bealer’s The Waning of Materialism to be both cogent and accessible."

 
Or, while we’re on the subject of what prominent mainstream atheist philosophers have said, what would he think of:
 

"Rosenhouse seems rather taken with Darwinism, but there are many strong refutations to be found in the literature.  Off the top of my head, I found Fodor’s and Piatelli-Palmarini’s discussion in What Darwin Got Wrong and David Stove’s discussion in Darwinian Fairytales to be both cogent and accessible."

 
Rosenhouse’s answer to both “objections” would, I imagine, be: “Since when did Foster, Koons, Bealer, Fodor, Piatelli-Palmarini, and Stove get the last word on these subjects?”  And that would be a good answer.  But no less good is the following answer to Rosenhouse: Since when did Mackie and Le Poidevin have the last word on the cosmological argument?

“But that’s different!” I imagine Rosenhouse would say.  But how is it different?  This brings us to one last point:

9. What “most philosophers” think about the argument is irrelevant.

 
Presumably, the difference is in Rosenhouse’s view summed up in another remark he makes in his post, viz. “There's a reason most philosophers are atheists” (he cites this survey as evidence).  By contrast, most philosophers are not dualists or critics of Darwinism (though in fact the number of prominent dualists is not negligible, but let that pass).  Now if what Rosenhouse means to imply is that philosophers who have made a special study of the cosmological argument now tend to agree that it is no longer worthy of serious consideration, then for reasons already stated, he is quite wrong about that.  But what he probably means to imply is rather that since most contemporary academic philosophers in general are atheists, we should conclude that the cosmological argument isn’t worth serious consideration.

But what does this little statistic really mean?  Nothing at all.  Because Rosenhouse’s little crack really amounts to little more than a fallacious appeal to authority-cum-majority.  What “most philosophers” think could be relevant to the subject at hand only if we could be confident that academic philosophers in general, and not just philosophers of religion, were both competent to speak on the cosmological argument and reasonably objective about it.  And in fact there is good reason to think that neither condition holds.

Consider first that, as I have documented in several previous posts (herehere, and here) prominent philosophers who are not specialists in the philosophy of religion often say things about the cosmological argument that are demonstrably incompetent.  Consider further that those who do specialize in areas of philosophy concerned with arguments like the cosmological argument do not tend to be atheists, as I noted here.  If expertise counts for anything – and many atheist scientists are always insisting that it does – then surely we cannot dismiss the obvious implication that those who actually bother to study arguments like the cosmological argument in depth are more likely to regard them as serious arguments, and even as convincing arguments.

Now the New Atheist will maintain that the direction of causality goes the other way.  It isn’t that studying the cosmological argument in detail tends to lead one to take religious belief seriously, they will say.  It’s rather that people who already take religious belief seriously tend to be more likely to study the cosmological argument.  Of course, it would be nice to hear a non-question-begging reason for thinking that this is all that is going on.  And there is reason for doubting that this can be all that is going on.  After all, there are lots of other arguments and ideas supportive of religion that academic philosophers of religion do not devote much attention to – young earth creationism, spiritualism, and the like.  Evidently, the reason they devote more attention to the cosmological argument is that they sincerely believe, on the basis of their knowledge of it, that the argument is worthy of serious study in a way these other ideas are not, and not merely because they are predisposed to accept its conclusion.

The objection in question is also one that cuts both ways.  For why suppose that the atheist philosophers are more objective than the theist ones?  In particular, why should we be so confident that most philosophers (outside philosophy of religion) are atheists because they’ve seriously studied arguments like the cosmological argument and found them wanting?  Why not conclude instead that, precisely because they tend for other reasons to be atheists, they haven’t bothered to study arguments like the cosmological argument very seriously?  The cringe-inducingremarks some of them make about the argument certainly provides support for this suspicion.  (Again, I give examples herehere, and here.)

And there is other reason for suspicion.  After all, as philosophers with no theological ax to grind sometimes complain – see here and here for a few examples – their colleagues can too often be smugly insular and ill-informed about sub-disciplines outside their own and about the history of their own field.  And like other academics, they can be unreflective, dogmatic, and uninformed in their secularism.  Here too you don’t have to take my word for it.  Many prominent secular philosophers themselves have noted the same thing.

Hence Thomas Nagel opines that a “fear of religion” seems often to underlie the work of his fellow secularist intellectuals, and that it has had “large and often pernicious consequences for modern intellectual life.”  He continues:
 

"I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.  It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope that I'm right in my belief.  It's that I hope there is no God!  I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that.  My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time.  One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about human life, including everything about the human mind… This is a somewhat ridiculous situation… [I]t is just as irrational to be influenced in one’s beliefs by the hope that God does not exist as by the hope that God does exist. (The Last Word, pp. 130-131)"

 
Jeremy Waldron tells us that:
 

"Secular theorists often assume they know what a religious argument is like: they present it as a crude prescription from God, backed up with threat of hellfire, derived from general or particular revelation, and they contrast it with the elegant complexity of a philosophical argument by Rawls (say) or Dworkin.  With this image in mind, they think it obvious that religious argument should be excluded from public life... But those who have bothered to make themselves familiar with existing religious-based arguments in modern political theory know that this is mostly a travesty... (God, Locke, and Equality, p. 20)"

 
Tyler Burge opines that “materialism is not established, or even clearly supported, by science” and that its hold over his peers is analogous to that of a “political or religious ideology” (“Mind-Body Causation and Explanatory Practice,” in John Heil and Alfred Mele, eds., Mental Causation, p. 117)

John Searle tells us that “materialism is the religion of our time,” that “like more traditional religions, it is accepted without question and… provides the framework within which other questions can be posed, addressed, and answered,” and that “materialists are convinced, with a quasi-religious faith, that their view must be right” (Mind: A Brief Introduction, p. 48)

William Lycan admits, in what he himself calls “an uncharacteristic exercise in intellectual honesty,” that the arguments for materialism are no better than the arguments against it, that his “own faith in materialism is based on science-worship,” and that “we also always hold our opponents to higher standards of argumentation than we obey ourselves.” (“Giving Dualism its Due,” a paper presented at the 2007 Australasian Association of Philosophy conference at the University of New England)

The atheist philosopher of religion Quentin Smith maintains that “the great majority of naturalist philosophers have an unjustified belief that naturalism is true and an unjustified belief that theism (or supernaturalism) is false.”  For their naturalism typically rests on nothing more than an ill-informed “hand waving dismissal of theism” which ignores “the erudite brilliance of theistic philosophizing today.”  Smith continues:
 

"If each naturalist who does not specialize in the philosophy of religion (i.e., over ninety-nine percent of naturalists) were locked in a room with theists who do specialize in the philosophy of religion, and if the ensuing debates were refereed by a naturalist who had a specialization in the philosophy of religion, the naturalist referee could at most hope the outcome would be that “no definite conclusion can be drawn regarding the rationality of faith,” although I expect the most probable outcome is that the naturalist, wanting to be a fair and objective referee, would have to conclude that the theists definitely had the upper hand in every single argument or debate.
 
Due to the typical attitude of the contemporary naturalist...the vast majority of naturalist philosophers have come to hold (since the late 1960s) an unjustified belief in naturalism. Their justifications have been defeated by arguments developed by theistic philosophers, and now naturalist philosophers, for the most part, live in darkness about the justification for naturalism. They may have a true belief in naturalism, but they have no knowledge that naturalism is true since they do not have an undefeated justification for their belief.  If naturalism is true, then their belief in naturalism is accidentally true. [“The Metaphilosophy of Naturalism,” Philo: A Journal of Philosophy(Fall-Winter 2001)]"

 
Again, Nagel, Waldron, Burge, Searle, Lycan, and Smith are not apologists for religion.  Apart from Smith, they aren’t even philosophers of religion.  All of them are prominent, and all of them are “mainstream.”  They have no motive for saying the things they do other than that that is the way things honestly strike them based on their knowledge of the field.

But scientists shouldn’t get smug over lapses in objectivity among philosophers.  For at least where philosophical matters are concerned, many scientists are hardly more competent or objective, as I showed in an earlier post, and as the embarrassing philosophical efforts of Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking illustrate.  And if you think even their “purely scientific” pronouncements are always free of anything but good old tough-minded “just the facts, ma’am” objectivity… well, as Dawkins will tell you, you shouldn’t believe fairy tales.  Biologist Richard Lewontin let the cat out of the bag some time ago:
 

"Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural.  We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.  It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated.  Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.  [From a review of Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World in the New York Review of Books (January 9, 1997)]"

 
But here’s the bottom line.  The “What do respectable people say?” stuff that Rosenhouse, Coyne, and other New Atheists are always engaging in is juvenile, and futile too, since they are never able to tell us what counts as “respectable” in a way that doesn’t beg all the questions at issue.  It is amazing how much time and energy New Atheist types put into trying to come up with ever more elaborate excuses for not engaging their critics’ actual arguments.  If that alone doesn’t make you suspicious, then I submit that you are not thinking critically.

 
 
Originally posted at Dr. Edward Feser's blog. Used with author's permission.
(Image Credit: Birst)

Dr. Edward Feser

Written by

Dr. Edward Feser is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California. He has been a Visiting Assistant Professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and a Visiting Scholar at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. He holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of California at Santa Barbara, a master’s degree in religion from the Claremont Graduate School, and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religious studies from the California State University at Fullerton. He is author of numerous books including The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism (St. Augustines Press, 2010); Aquinas (Oneworld, 2009); and Philosophy of Mind (Oneworld, 2007). Follow Dr. Feser on his blog and his website, EdwardFeser.com.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • primenumbers

    "Of course, the atheist might say that he isn’t convinced that the cosmological argument succeeds in showing that there really is something that could not in principle have had a cause, or that is purely actual, or that has a sufficient reason for its existence within itself." - well spotted Mr Fesser. It would have been much more interesting to read more on that, rather than have you pick a fight with straw men.

  • staircaseghost

    Wow, a regurgipost from 2 years ago which makes no note of the fact that Feser made an absolute fool of himself in public with this?

    Come on, Strange Notions. First you put up a front page article whose author didn't even know what ID was, and now this? Convince me that there is some kind of minimum threshold for informed and honest conversation on this site.

    • primenumbers

      Ouch.... (great link - thanks) - so Fesser appears immensely hypocritical by straw-manning in his attack on straw men.

    • severalspeciesof

      I'll second the 'Ouch'... Since Fesser's reference to Le Poidevin and Rosenhouse is a full fledged strawman it really raises the specter that the rest of this whole OP is a strawman production... Thanks staircaseghost for putting up the link...

    • stanz2reason

      Hey Brandon et al... How about one of these days getting permission to re-post a response like the one linked by staircasehost and have that be the article of the day?

      ohh and I'll third the 'ouch'

    • staircase, I'm not aware Dr. Feser "made an absolute fool of himself in public." In fact, long ago Dr. Feser replied to the Rosenhouse article you linked to above:

      "I said that Le Poidevin presents a variation of the straw man as if it were “the basic” cosmological argument. And he does. I said that Le Poidevin presents the “more sophisticated versions” he considers later on in his book as “modifications” of that straw man. And he does. I did not deny that Le Poidevin addresses these more sophisticated versions. I explicitly noted that he does."

      Read more here; http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/07/grow-up-or-shut-up.html

      Second, even if it was true Dr. Feser misrepresented Le Poidevin--and I don't think he did--that in no way invalidates the main point of the article, which is that the cosmological argument is widely and consistently misunderstood.

      Finally, your insinuation that commenters are not informed or honest is unnecessary and rude. Consider this a warning but future insults will be deleted.

      • severalspeciesof

        "Finally, your insinuation that commenters are not informed or honest is
        unnecessary and rude. Consider this a warning but future insults will be
        deleted."

        Come on Brandon, Have you read what Fesser wrote in the OP?:

        "I make no judgment about whether Le Poidevin’s or Dennett’s sleaziness was deliberate."

        What's good for the goose is good for the gander...

      • stanz2reason

        Brandon, how do you reconcile

        "...It would also obviously be rather silly for an atheist to pretend that unless the argument gets you all the way to proving the truth of Christianity"

        with

        https://strangenotions.com/turning-problem-evil/#comment-921234709

      • Octavo

        "Consider this a warning but future insults will be deleted."

        That's a bit rich after allowing Feser's insults to be posted.

      • Dcn Harbey Santiago

        "Finally, your insinuation that commenters are not informed or honest is
        unnecessary and rude. Consider this a warning but future insults will be
        deleted."

        I think what Brandon is trying to say (and I'm not speaking on his behalf. This is me speculating as I eat my chicken sandwich at my desk): There is a big difference between the OPs and the commentators. The OP writers are not members of our "community". Just a couple of them (that I know) have actually join in the conversations.

        It is one thing to say that the writer of an OP is a complete nincompoop, than to say that all the Catholic (or atheists) commentators are the same; one is just an opinion the other is personal.

        A rule of thumb perhaps? When commenting on the OP go at it with a passion; when talking to someone directly, just be nice, it doesn't cost anything and it goes a long way on encouraging meaningful exchanges.

        Just my 2 cents.

        "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
        Deacon Harbey Santiago

        • Rationalist1

          Sort of like blogging moral relativism.

      • staircaseghost

        I am trying to take the moral and intellectual temperature of this site.

        It looks like there are several dozen other commenters here -- including some who agree with your philosophical position -- who are very disappointed by what can only be described as a flagrant double standard. I personally couldn't care less whether a blogger likes an Ultraserious Sober Academic style or a Dog Eat Dog Polemical style or anything in between, as long as the moderation policy is consistent. But when even your friends are telling you to spare us all the "more in sorrow than in anger" routine when you've just posted on your front page an article whose author describes his opponents as "dishonest", "sleazy", "slimy", and "contemptible", then you need to seriously consider what kind of message you're sending out to the world, both personally and as an ambassador to your faith.

        You don't want people "distracted by irrelevant issues of tone"? Then don't call people "contemptible" and then threaten to ban them when they call you on your inconsistency.

        • The drastically incompetent performance of the moderators has resulted in the only point of common ground between atheist and Catholic commenters of which I am presently aware on this site:

          STOP MEMORYHOLING!

          • Andre Boillot

            Stop selling yourself short Rick, I think we all agree that you're a blowhard. That's two points.

          • There, there Andre.

            I know you are still smarting from our exchange on baptism the other day, but hey!

            Brandon will be along to change your diapers any minute now.....

          • There, there Andre.

            I know you are still smarting from our exchange on baptism the other day, but hey!

            Brandon will be along any minute to change your diapers...again.

          • There, there, Andre.

            I know you are still smarting from our exchange on baptism the other day, but hey!

            Brandon will be along in a minute to change your diapers....for a third time :-)

          • There, there, Andre.

            I know you are still smarting from our exchange on baptism the other day, but hey!

            Brandon will be along in a minute to change your diapers....

          • There, there Andre.

            I know you are still smarting from our exchange on baptism the other day, but hey!

            Brandon will be along in a minute to change your diapers.

          • There, there Andre.

            I know you are still smarting from our exchange on baptism the other day, hut hey!

            Brandon will be along any minute to change your diapers.

          • Andre Boillot

            You sure seem to think this is one of your best comments ever, it's shown up in my mailbox about a dozen times now.

            As for smarting from our exchange on baptism, every once in a while, something more important that online arguments with high-school dropouts comes up. Like clipping my nails. Maybe it was doing laundry, I can't remember.

          • :-)

            It must rankle you terribly to have been exposed concerning your ignorant presuppositions about baptism by a tenth grade dropout, Andre.

            But there it is.

          • :-)

            I am sure it must rankle you terribly to have had your ignorant presuppositions concerning baptism exposed by a tenth grade dropout, Andre.

            But there it is.

          • I am sure it must rankle you terribly to have had your ignorant presuppositions concerning baptism exposed by a tenth grade dropout, Andre.

            But there it is.

          • Andre Boillot

            I know! I even soiled myself over it. Luckily Brandon was there to assist in the aftermath.

          • Were you so stunned that it felt as if the whole world were spinning?

          • Andre Boillot

            David, don't be silly. The Earth doesn't spin, rather the cosmos around it.

      • staircaseghost

        And I'm sorry, but independent of any issues of tone is the objective question of whether LePoidevan misrepresents the views of his opponents, and just basic, basic, basic reading comprehension shows that he does not.

        Even if he had never said "no-one has defended a cosmological argument of precisely this form," his intent would still have been obvious and innocuous. And yet he did, in fact, clearly and explicitly say, "no-one has defended a cosmological argument of precisely this form".

        I think Cosmological Arguments fail, indeed that they obviously fail. But I think that reasonable people can reasonably disagree on this.

        However, whether LePoidevin attributes the simplified version of the argument to his opponents is not subject to reasonable dispute. His explanation is right there, in black and white. Whether or not you continue to host this article uncorrected is a real fork in the road for you, and I urge you to prayerfully consider just what your decision will entail for the future of this site.

  • staircaseghost

    Let me put it more simply: according to your comment policy, are ad hominem attacks like calling someone "sleazy", "slimy", "contemptible", and "dishonest" (as Feser does repeatedly in this article) something that would get a comment deleted or a poster banned?

    • Rationalist1

      To me it's a sign less of arrogance (although that may be there) and more of insecurity in his argument.

  • Rationalist1

    Edward Feser, PhD often belittles the "new atheists" as “atheist chic is now” (I guess Catholic chic is so medieval) In his book "The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism." he says “almost tempted to think Dawkins’s research for the philosophical chapters of his book consisted entirely of a quick thumbing through of Philosophy for Dummies" and "” Harris shuns Aquinas and seems to “dismiss the great religious thinkers of the West without having read them.”

    Is it too much to ask for a commentator that treats people with respect? Furthermore why can't we have a Catholic philosopher who has at least a modicum of training in modern science to address these issues otherwise I would be tempted, although it would be uncivil, to say he learned his science from a "Science for Dummies" book.

    I know the moderator will chastise or block me for these comments but I do it in the spirit of knowing the person who is writing the article and since the moderators have rightly tried to maintain a civil decorum on this blog, can we also ask the same of the people whose articles are posted here.

    • Octavo

      Yeah, I'm a bit tired of just hearing the refrain "Science can't address _____." It's used as a conversation stopper any time a non-theist brings up observational evidence to contradict the premises of Thomist thought.

      Example:

      Thomist: "Everything that begins to exist has a cause."

      Non-Theist: "What about vacuum fluctuations or other quantum phenomena?"

      Thomist: "Science has shown such-and-such” is not a serious objection to (most versions of) the argument."

      Conversation ends.

      • Josh

        The reason "science has shown such-and-such" is not a serious objection is that the premises are metaphysical generalities, which aren't strictly the business of natural science to "discover." Instead, natural science takes them as frameworks within which they perform the method. Thus, scientific data are interpreted according to one's metaphysical presuppositions, rather than the other way around. You may deny the universal validity of the principle of causality, for example, but if you don't at least bring it to the table when you're engaged in scientific inquiry, you aren't really going to get anywhere. Numbers don't speak for themselves, and it's why we have conflicting theories of the very phenomena you mention, which are all consistent with the current observations.

        • Octavo

          It still sounds like you're trying to insulate your metaphysical generalities from anything that could disconfirm it.

          Here's a question: How do you know that everything that begins to exist has a cause? It sounds true, and it may even be true. But how do you know, if you are not willing to rely on observation to find out whether it's true?

          "You may deny the universal validity of the principle of causality, for example, but if you don't at least bring it to the table when you're engaged in scientific inquiry, you aren't really going to get anywhere."

          Let's imagine that there were a causeless thing that began to exist. We'll call it "a pair of virtual particles." How would a scientist discover whether or not the pair had a cause?

          Would this scientist perform experiments and work on calculations, or would this scientist just rest secure in the unassailability of the cosmological argument and just conclude that there must be a cause?

          • Josh

            I am willing to rely on observation to a point; I'm simply saying that the "scientific method" as practiced is not a monolithic enterprise, and contains metaphysical presuppositions, which "color the results," as it were. Thus, one examines a particular QM model and determines there's no room for cause, because the model makes no explicit reference to it, and then makes a non sequitir confusing the map with terrain, or mathematic formalism with ontology, or describing how something behaves, and conflating that with what it is.

            Let's imagine that there were a causeless thing that began to exist. We'll call it "a pair of virtual particles." How would a scientist discover whether or not the pair had a cause?

            He couldn't "discover" that at all, as science is in the business of discovering proximate causes to measurable effects. To discover in this context is precisely to find the cause of X. Which is why the scientist therefore proclaiming, "these have no cause" is making a philosophical inference, not a scientific discovery. He's letting the mathematics determine ontology, as opposed to the other way around.

            If he wishes to keep doing science, then he can alter the model (competing theories are the result of this), or realize his philosophical error (conflating mathematics with ontology). He doesn't have to "assume" that there is a cause, but must "realize" that what he thinks something is telling him is not by itself a valid reason for the conclusion.

          • Josh

            Secondly, there are some principles like the Law of Non-Contradiction, which are metaphysical in nature and cannot possibly rest on empirical measurements to "disconfirm" them. The reason is that they are a priori to any proposition, inference, or argument about reality. One cannot even coherently doubt them.

          • Austin Sanders

            "Secondly, there are some principles like the Law of Non-Contradiction, which are metaphysical in nature and cannot possibly rest on empirical measurements to "disconfirm" them."

            Thought I'd butt in if that's ok. I agree with you Josh that its important to analyze the metaphysical assumptions that go along with doing science. However, I still struggle with the idea that we can make any meaningful metaphysical claim that is not somehow tied to reality, to the "way things are." Ultimately, any claim that we wish to make must in some way conform to how reality actually is in order for it to be "true." Your example of the Law of Non-Contradiction is a perfect example. Though we may employ it a priori it is not because it exists independently to the physical universe. The only reason it is true is because we observe it to be true in nature. It is grounded in the way the physical universe is. It is a brute fact about the nature of physical matter, not because it is a metaphysical, independent "law."

            This is why I have a hard time when science and metaphysics are pitted against one another. I just can't seem to understand how we can make any sensical metaphysical claims about the world that aren't somehow grounded in reality. Of course, how we would "discover" if they conformed to reality is through scientific observation. If not, how else could we do it? What is knowledge that is not based on evidence, that is not somehow connected to physical reality?

          • Josh

            Hi Austin,

            I see this thread all the time, and it's not a bad point in general, because many theists hold to Platonist or Cartesian notions in this regard. However, don't think that I'm saying that our knowledge of metaphysical principles is some sort of innate thing implanted in us, or that LNC has nothing to do or isn't entangled with the physical world. I agree that it is part of the fabric of reality, however, the notion of 'empirical' must be broadened to include things which themselves are not contingent upon the mere extension of matter. So yes, our knowledge of the LNC is attained through experience, but I mean something much broader by experience than that obtained by the metrical observations of physical bodies.

          • Austin Sanders

            I was actually responding to the other Josh, but that's alright. I don't think I'm quite clear on the point you are trying to make. Maybe you could clarify?

            How and why must empirical be broadened? What can we truly speak of that must not ultimately be grounded and contingent upon matter? What kind of experience do you speak of that is beyond the "metrical observations of physical bodies?"

            Many times I see philosophical language being use to conflate the reality of things. We can of experiences beyond the "material," but what does that really mean? When do we ever actually experience that?

            What you said about the LNC is a good example. You claim that it would still exist even if the universe didn't. What proof do you have of this? How is the LNC beyond the nature of matter itself? If the universe didn't exist than LNC wouldn't either because there would be nothing to impose that label onto. The rules of logic are mere descriptions of patterns that we observe in the natural world, nothing more. Take away the source of those patterns, matter, and it becomes non-sense to even speak of the "rules" any longer because they simply cease to apply.

          • Josh

            Hi Austin,

            I think I'm the only Josh on this topic, I could be mistaken. This comment client confuses me sometimes.

            Conceptual thought is inherently irreducible to the material, yet we utilize it all the time. Conceiving=/=Imagining. While concepts are formed from the imagination, through an act of abstraction, they aren't contingent for their existence upon it. That's one example of natural science by itself not capturing the fullness of reality.

            Many times I see philosophical language being use to conflate the reality of things. We can of experiences beyond the "material," but what does that really mean? When do we ever actually experience that?

            Because of the example given above re: conceptual thought, one need not "experience" (in your way, 'looking at') the universe's non-existence to "experience" (infer rationally from conceptual premises, my broader form) what it entails.

            The LNC is not a scientific "law," a mere description of regularity, but the pre-condition by which we can even have intelligible scientific laws.

          • Josh

            Secondly, the law would still hold if the universe were to cease to exist, which is indicative of its not being dependent on matter. The universe which was would be that which isn't; if the universe ceases to exist it wouldn't then mean that it exists and doesn't exist in the same way and at the same time.

          • Octavo

            That definitely answers my question.

            I think you're unjustifiably placing the idea "everything that begins to exist must have a cause" in the same category as the a logical axiom, such as the law of non-contradiction.

            You seem unaware that the history of science is filled with scientists making great leaps of understanding after using observation to discard what was previously held as philosophically unassailable. Astronomy and evolutionary biology specifically unseated a lot of Aristotelian ideas about the specialness of humanity, and the perfection and nature of the heavens.

          • Josh

            Your first paragraph is a good first move, but the LNC is not a mere logical axiom to me, not as they say, a logicism, but a condition of reality itself, not just the mind and our reasoning therein. This is a bigger topic than I'd like to get into here.

            Secondly, that the principle of causality is a second-order principle in relation to the fundamental 3 (law of identity, noncontradiction, excluded middle), I'll grant, but it still follows and nothing in experience (again, interpreted broadly) has yet toppled the inference between them.

            Secondly, I'm not unaware of that history. I may interpret it differently, but I'm safe in saying that Astronomy hasn't unseated the LNC and the like because it can't. Just because some Aristotelian Physics (measurements of the bodies) was falsified doesn't mean all his conclusions are amenable to the same sort of inquiry.

          • Octavo

            "...nothing in experience (again, interpreted broadly) has yet toppled the inference between them."

            I thought the point of this discussion was that experience could not establish or disestablish the principle of causality.

          • Josh

            Experience treated narrowly, the natural sciences per se, the measurement of extended matter, cannot do that, that is correct.

          • Josh

            I'm afraid I don't follow you, Octavo. I think experience = observation as well, but I include intellectual observation in the scope of observation as a whole, not just perception and metric measurement.

          • Octavo

            My questions should probably be rephrased.
            You said that "nothing in experience (again, interpreted broadly) has yet toppled the inference between them."

            Which experiences do you use to confirm your belief in the uncaused cause, and which experiences count as science, which must never be used to analyze the first cause?

          • Which is why the scientist therefore proclaiming, "these have no cause" is making a philosophical inference, not a scientific discovery.

            The proper conclusion is that the cause and effect relationships that have traditionally been observed on the human scale, are the statistical result of accumulated events on the quantum scale, that may not be, themselves, caused. The condition "may not be caused" means that the generalization of cause can't be used in a subsequent forcing argument.

          • Josh

            That would only hold on an equivocation of the notion of what it means to be caused; if to cause something means deterministic in quality with respect to one and not the other, and we only hold one sense of that word to mean "caused," then yes, something can be 'uncaused,' by mathematical fiat. However, as I noted in the other thread, A-T metaphysics (among other systems) does not so restrict the notion of cause.

          • Josh

            Let me illustrate with an example from Fr. Jaki, discussing Bell's theorem and QM and the poor philosophical inferences made from them:

            Underlying all [epistemological skeptics' claims] is the contention that physical interactions are non-causal because they cannot be localized by exact measurements. This contention has nothing more for its basis than the wholly gratuitous argument that "an interaction that cannot be measured exactly, cannot take place exactly." In this phrasing...one is faced with an equivocation, namely, with taking the same word "exactly" in two very different senses. The inability of measuring exactly is a purely operational failure, which depends on the tools, conceptual and instrumental, available for physics at a given time. The inability of an interaction to take place exactly is an ontological defect which is totally independent of one's ability to measure exactly its quantitative parameters. To infer from the operational inability to an ontological defect is a jump in reasoning which the Greeks of old had already branded with a special name, metabasis eis allo genos [crossing over into a different genus]

            A similar thing was happening in 1930 when G.P. Thomson claimed that "physics is moving away from the rigid determinism of the older materialism into something vaguely approaching a conception of free will." This prompted the reply from J.E. Turner, a philosopher, that "every argument that, since some change cannot be 'determined' in the sense of 'ascertained' it is therefore not 'determined' in the absolutely different sense of 'caused,' is a fallacy of equivocation."

            --S. Jaki, Science, Culture, and Cult

            IOW, the principle of causality is safe to be generalized upon when the supposed "doubts" are doubted themselves, and uncovered as philosophical/logical mistakes.

          • ... J.E. Turner, a philosopher, that "every argument that, since some change cannot be 'determined' in the sense of 'ascertained' it is therefore not 'determined' in the absolutely different sense of 'caused,' is a fallacy of equivocation."

            Which, again, is why I distinguished "not caused" from "not necessarily caused." The former is not provable and should not be used in philosophical refutations, whereas the latter is demonstrated in experimental results and cuts the bottom out of arguments that rely on the necessity of cause.

          • Josh

            All I can do is repeat myself, it seems. I deny that the interpretation of whatever QM you want to throw at me supports that premise, "not necessarily caused," let alone that it is "demonstrated." Additionally, people who do think such a thing are making a philosophical error akin to the pieces quoted in my previous post. The point is that one has no evidence to consider something being non-causal; it is not an "open question." The operational failure of measurement does not necessarily reflect an ontological state. It's all that Humean nonsense about something popping into existence without a cause. Anscombe rightly challenged the very coherence of that claim.

          • Susan

            All I can do is repeat myself, it seems

            You're telling me.

            I deny that the interpretation of whatever QM you want to throw at me supports that premise, "not necessarily caused," let alone that it is "demonstrated."

            On what basis? You were asked to explain how something is "caused" or "actualizes a potential" in quantum field theory and you have yet to do so.

            Additionally, people who do think such a thing are making a philosophical error akin to the pieces quoted in my previous post.

            How would you know? You would have to explain how manipulation of the word "cause" holds true on an event horizon. Rewording cause to mean actualizing a potential doesn't help if you don't explain how it works out on an event horizon or even in the already understood behaviour of quantum fields.

          • stevegbrown

            Susan, I think you're missing Josh's point entirely. The principle of NC has to be accepted as a premise, otherwise any argument leads to nowhere. A premise is the starting point of any argument. That includes yours. Empirical science rests on assumtions that can not be tested by the empirical method. Without the principle of NC you could validly say a lab test tested positive and negative at the same time. There would be no reason to do science in the first place.

          • Susan

            Hi Steve,

            I wasn't disputing the principle of NC.

            I was asking Josh about this:

            I deny that the interpretation of whatever QM you want to throw at me supports that premise, "not necessarily caused," let alone that it is "demonstrated."

            And this:

            The point is that one has no evidence to consider something being non-causal; it is not an "open question."

            There seem to be two Joshes. I clicked on the profiles and there seem to be two separate commenting histories. This is disqus and things get jumbled.

          • stevegbrown

            Hi Susan, Oh, sorry. Yes there are 2 Joshes.

          • Susan

            Hi Susan, Oh, sorry. Yes there are 2 Joshes

            Oh good. At least something makes sense. :-)

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            We have all the evidence. We do not move from empirical science to philosophy by saying, "I can't find a cause for that. No matter how many times I test it, I can't find a cause for that." It's acausal.

            More importantly, YOU cannot verify the law of causality. It's been taken as a given, when it is nothing more than an observational approximation.

          • stevegbrown

            I love this thread in general. Octavo, you make a very interesting point but I have to ask (as a nonprofessional layman in physics, aka, a derp) are you using the term "virtual particles" correctly? According to Matt Strassler of Rutgers:

            "A particle is a nice, regular ripple in a field, one that can travel smoothly and effortlessly through space, like a clear tone of a bell moving through the air. A “virtual particle”, generally, is a disturbance in a field that will never be found on its own, but instead is something that is caused by the presence of other particles, often of other fields."

            you can find the link here: http://profmattstrassler.com/articles-and-posts/particle-physics-basics/virtual-particles-what-are-they/

            Virtual particles are not causeless. I think that there is a lot of misunderstanding when the terms like "quantum" are thrown about as well as "heisenburg's uncertainty principle".

          • stevegbrown

            I love this thread in general. Octavo, you make a very interesting point but I have to ask (as a nonprofessional layman in physics, aka, a derp) are you using the term "virtual particles" correctly? According to Matt Strassler of Rutgers:

            "A particle is a nice, regular ripple in a field, one that can travel smoothly and effortlessly through space, like a clear tone of a bell moving through the air. A “virtual particle”, generally, is a disturbance in a field that will never be found on its own, but instead is something that is caused by the presence of other particles, often of other fields."

            you can find the link here: http://profmattstrassler.com/a...

            Virtual particles are not causeless. I think that there is a lot of misunderstanding when the terms like "quantum" are thrown about as well as "heisenburg's uncertainty principle".

          • Octavo

            I was using the term as I remembered it from one of Hawkings' books. I can't seem to locate it, so you may be correct that I am misusing the term. This is what I am referring to:

            http://hetdex.org/dark_energy/what_is_it/vacuum_energy.php

          • stevegbrown

            Thanks for such a quick answer, Octavo. The only reason I bring it up is to show that even on the quantum level, I can find no example of anything that is uncaused. If matter and energy are interchangable (e=mc squared) then a virtual particle does not come from absolute nothing but from at least an energy field. That's not to say it isn't strange: one of the original quantum heavyweights (Dirac,Einstein, Schrodinger, or Bohr) said something about to not see the two-slit experiment and not be amazed by it is to not appreciate the contradiction of quantum physics. Thanks again.

          • josh

            A virtual particle is one that is not seen directly but inferred from it's interference effects on observed particles. OR, it is a particle whose invariant mass is not at the 'on-shell' physical mass pole. The definitions are related but could be teased apart I think and both are a little fuzzy thanks to the properties of QM.

            Anyhow, 'cause' isn't a necessary term in QM. Virtual particles
            must be consistent with the rules of QM, which include local conservation of energy/momentum, but they don't have to be caused by anything. At least not until you define 'cause' in a sufficiently rigorous way to invalidate A-T arguments.

          • stevegbrown

            Show me please, where your claim has been verified. Prof. Matt Strassler would not agree, nor would Sir Roger Penrose. and I darsay, Stanley Jaki. Your statement smacks of Bohr's famous claim that we can't even say that reality is out there until we measure it. That is more a statement of Kantian philosophy (of which he was greatly enamored) than empirical science. Are you a proponent of Solipsism?

          • Are you a proponent of Solipsism?

            It is so obviously true that it's amazing more people don't believe in it.

          • stevegbrown

            Can you show me please, where your claim has been verified? Prof. Matt Strassler would not agree, nor would Sir Roger Penrose. and I darsay, Stanley Jaki. Your statement reminds me of Bohr's famous claim that we can't even say that reality is out there until we measure it. That is more a statement of Kantian philosophy (of which he was greatly enamored) than empirical science. Surely you are not a proponent of Solipsism? It's some kind of cause, to be sure, something other than efficient cause, perhaps?

          • josh

            Which claim? As far as modern QM goes, we have equations that relate the state of the universe at one point in spacetime to that at another. 'Cause' is not a rigorously defined thing in our treatment. If the past causes the future it would be equally true, from the point of view of our equations, that the future causes the past. It's really just describing a relation.

            Now one can take the view that the wave-function collapses going forward in time, although there is no evidence for this, but then one is left with the fact that the particular state to which it collapses is random. It follows a probability distribution but there is no discernible cause which chooses one over the other. A passing electron satisfies the preconditions for an emitted photon, but whether or not a photon is emitted at a given point is random, nothing causes the photon to BE emitted except that it is a physical possibility according to our understanding. You may wish to imagine that there is some secret, hidden cause (which is harder to put into a working theory then you would think), but that is your bias, it is not required by the observations.

          • stevegbrown

            Sorry if my bias is towards reality over a mathematical model.

            Next time your car breaks down, don't bother checking under the hood.

            Or if you witness someone pointing a gun at a victim and pulling the trigger, you can't tell me that they are an actual assailant.
            (forgot, those are macro events)

            In case you haven't heard of a SQUID, here is a real-world application using quantum tunneling, sorry, I forgot; can't cause a more accurate image:
            http://searchcio-midmarket.techtarget.com/definition/superconducting-quantum-interference-device

            (apologies for the sacrasm, couldn't help it, must be my bias)

          • stevegbrown

            Hello Josh, Also, please read the article that I've referred to above. You may be interested to know that according to Prof. Strassler:
            "While it is true that one has to be careful in general about assuming that all processes can be described in terms of cause and effect (even before accounting for quantum mechanics), and also true that quantum mechanics is weird, no doubt about it , there is no profound challenge to basic causality in this context. Certainly I do not think you will not find any discussion of challenges to causality from “virtual particles” (i.e. generalized disturbances in fields) in any modern quantum field theory book."

          • josh

            Hi stevegbrown,

            Your bias seems to be towards metaphysical assumptions that aren't well-founded. Gunmen and broken cars and SQUID applications are all real events. I didn't think that was even in need of discussion. But what it could mean to say they are caused requires rather more work.

            Re: Prof. Strassler- 'causality' means something specific in physics that isn't the same as the poorly defined metaphysical 'causes' bandied about by Aristotelian-Thomists and their ilk. Causality means, roughly, that an observation at one point in space-time can't affect an observation at another point if it is outside the first point's light cone. Or as some put it 'Information cannot travel faster than the speed of light'. That means that,e.g., IF a photon can only be emitted by an electron THEN one can't be detected at a point farther away from a detected electron than the speed of light permits. What it doesn't do is establish a cause for if and when a photon is actually emitted, or perhaps I should say detected. That's still probabilistic in a modern treatment.

            I want to emphasize that there are plenty of contexts in which it is reasonable to talk about this causes that and so on, but if you want to make a compelling argument about the nature of the universe you have to get into the details and then everyday heuristics break down. Aristotle and Thomas just aren't up to the task. Modern QM is a convenient demonstration of that but even in their own time they were mistaken just based on facts available.

          • josh

            Incidentally, your link to Matt Strassler's blog just goes to a page celebrating its (old) one year birthday. And I note there is another Josh on this very sub-thread. He uses upper case 'J', I'll stick with all lower case.

          • stevegbrown
          • josh

            Thanks. So you were asking about virtual particles? Nothing Strassler says seriously conflicts with my explanations above, although I would quibble with some of his terms. In particular, that a free electron is a 'real' particle and virtual particles aren't. Or that a free electron is a 'natural' motion. It's really just a convenient limit of a simplified theory, neither is more or less natural than another.

            He's advocating a non-standard usage of terms, which is fine IF one is careful to not introduce new misunderstandings in the public, but the important thing to realize is that this is all just phenomena of the underlying theory (Quantum Field Theory) and 'real' and 'virtual' particles are part of a spectrum. They are like waves on the surface of the ocean: the mechanics of the ocean are the underlying complete theory and the waves are phenomena that result. I'll quote him,

            "A particle is not as simple as I have naively described. Even to say a particle like an electron is a ripple purely in the electron field is an approximate statement, and sometimes the fact that it is not exactly true matters."

    • Dcn Harbey Santiago

      Hi R1,

      "Dawkins’s research for the philosophical chapters of his book consisted
      entirely of a quick thumbing through of Philosophy for Dummies"

      Although I do not like Feser's general style of apologetics, I have to agree with him on that one. After reading some of Dawkins arguments I was left with the opinion that " this is what happens when a biologist tries to do philosophy" (Or theology for that matter).

      "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
      Deacon Harbey Santiago

    • Randy Gritter

      I actually think atheists are terrified of Feser. They complain about tone. Besides the obvious pot-kettle issues I don't actually see it. He makes a case that someone made a serious error. Then he uses the terms we use to describe serious errors. It is like arguing someone committed murder and then calling him a murderer. To me that is not uncharitable. If you just call someone a murderer based on very little then you are being uncharitable. I don' think this article does that. I don't think Feser typically does that.

      It is not his fault that so many people atheists hold in high esteem make such silly arguments. Don't shoot the messenger. He is doing what Philosophers are supposed to do. Pointing out bad philosophy where he sees it. I do think most atheists would much rather post a solid philosophical rebuttal rather than whine about tone. The fact that they have not done so makes me believe they can't.

      • cowalker

        I think the complaints from atheists about tone have more to do with resentment from many that they themselves have been scolded for posting comments deemed insulting or sarcastic by site moderators. They feel it is a double standard. Which it is, but the site owners get to make the rules.

        As for being terrified of Mr. Feser--it's more like we're not able to engage with him because he insists that argument can only take place after both parties have put in years of effort learning metaphysical terminology. Fair enough, but how's that going to happen?

        https://strangenotions.com/cosmological-argument/#comment-928108838

        And it's not because we fear being convinced. Mr. Feser himself admits that even if you followed it competently, you might not be convinced. For me, trying to engage with his arguments would be like trying to debate the merits of Islam with the believer who insists that you can never understand it unless you read the Koran in Arabic. The first hurdle is to persuade me that it would be worthwhile to put in a tremendous amount of effort to master a discipline that has no apparent value in my life.

        • Rationalist1

          And I guess I won't engage him unless he has a degree or two in science.

      • Rationalist1

        Not scared of him at all. What's amusing (and sad) is his ad hominem attacks against those he accuses of ad hominen attacks. I never took phycology so I could be wrong but I think they call this projection.

        For example in the preface to his book he claims Dawkins calls critics of evolution “ignorant, stupid, insane and wicked”. The quote he is referring to is the "It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that)." Is he disingenuous or a poor scholar?

        Atheists are not scared of Feser, our principles prevent us from lowering ourselves to his vindictive level.

        • Latitude89

          "For example in the preface to his book he claims Dawkins calls critics of evolution “ignorant, stupid, insane and wicked”. The quote he is referring to is the "It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that)." Is he disingenuous or a poor scholar?"

          I'm not sure I understand your gripe here. Do you honestly believe that Feser was being "disingenuous or a poor scholar" because he quoted Dawkins as calling critics of evolution "ignorant, stupid, insane and wicked" rather than "ignorant, stupid, or insane (or wicked...)"?

          • Rationalist1

            Yes. If person doesn't accept evolution they are usually just ignorant of what evolution is (If we are descended from monkeys then why are there still monkeys type of stuff) or the overwhelming evidence for evolution (DNA, embryology, distribution of species, fossil record, etc.). They are generrally ignorant of the theory but not stupid AND insane AND wicked at the same time. But if they know all of that and they don't accept evolution they are stupid OR insane OR wicked.

            Try this out with the Geocentric theory of the solar system or the atomic theory of the atom, or the germ theory of disease. The same OR conjunction applied but not the AND. That is not appropriate to say or to claim someone said.

          • Latitude89

            Okay, that's fair. I agree with you.

        • stevegbrown

          Vindictive level? Oh really? Have you gone on PZ Meyers' blog? A rather cranky one.

          • Rationalist1

            Yes he is. And I've posted disagreement with his approach on his web site. To me Feser is no different in approach from P Z Myers.

  • I am tempted to conclude from Feser's arguments here that Kreeft is one of those people who does not grasp the cosmological argument, or at least who did not explain it very well. Kreeft said the following:

    The argument is basically very simple, natural, intuitive, and commonsensical. We have to become complex and clever in order to doubt or dispute it. It is based on an instinct of mind that we all share: the instinct that says everything needs an explanation. Nothing just is without a reason why it is. Everything that is has some adequate or sufficient reason why it is.

    To be fair, Kreeft does later talk about "everything that comes into existence." But as I understand it, the Principle of Sufficient Reason that he invokes is not a statement about "everything that comes into existence." Wikipedia was linked to, and their definition is, "The principle of sufficient reason states that nothing is without a ground or reason. It is a powerful and controversial philosophical principle stipulating that everything must have a reason or cause." That does not seem to me to deal only with everything that comes into existence. It seems to deal with everything that happens.

    So it looks like Feser is being brought in to correct notions that Kreeft did not make at all clear.

    • I would actually agree. Kreeft was not as *clear* as he could have been, but on the other hand his article was not erroneous the way other philosophers and scientists quoted by Dr. Feser were.

    • Nick Corrado

      Kreeft didn't seem to me able to tell the difference between the kalam argument and Aquinas's first cause argument, and what Kreeft defended bore little similarity to Aquinas's first cause argument as far as I could tell. I'm not sure Feser is being brought in to correct notions that Kreeft didn't make clear, but I think we would have been better off if just Feser had been posted--it may look to readers as though the two are contradicting each other and are therefore unreliable.

  • Andre Boillot

    I can't help but think that commentors would be censured for adopting the aggressively condescending tone on display in this article.

    • Rationalist1

      I'm not going to comment on this article beyond what I did below, out of principle.

    • I can't help but think that commentors would be censured for adopting the aggressively condescending tone on display in this article.

      I think that is true, but the OP was copied from Dr. Feser's blog where he is at liberty to set his tone. I think that tone undermines his scholarship, but that is just my opinion. It would have served him better if he had been invited to write an updated piece for posting here that aspired to the site standards.

      • Andre Boillot

        Q,

        As I told Josh earlier, I'm well aware that this piece was reproduced from Feser's blog, and I agree that he's absolutely free to write in whichever manner he chooses. However, this piece did not spontaneously cause it's own existence here on SN ;) It was consciously placed here by somebody. Given that people in these comments have been threatened with bans for precisely the same types of comments that can be found in the OP, I can't see how this piece is in keeping with the purported dialogue the site strives to foster. One might characterize it's inclusion as hypocritical.

        Perhaps in the future, Brandon might want to include a foreword when posting articles who's tone is similarly contrary to the "serious and respectful dialogue" he seeks; admonishing the approach while encouraging the readers to explore the substance in spite of it's presentation. Just a thought.

        • Hi Andre. Yes, I agree with that. I have submitted a piece from my own blog for posting here, but before I did, I carefully read it over to make sure that it met the "serious and respectful dialogue" standard. I would like to know if Dr. Feser did so, as well, or if he was ever asked to.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    Feser says you have to have a pretty significant background in metaphysics to understand the cosmological argument. I don't have a problem with that.

    The problem is that the medium of something like STRANGE NOTIONS demands you reduce everything to a soundbite. If an argument cannot be stated and proved in three sentences or less it will hardly get a hearing.

    • Feser says you have to have a pretty significant background in metaphysics to understand the cosmological argument. I don't have a problem with that.

      The Kreeft post was more than three sentences long, and Kreeft said,

      The argument is basically very simple, natural, intuitive, and commonsensical. We have to become complex and clever in order to doubt or dispute it. It is based on an instinct of mind that we all share: the instinct that says everything needs an explanation.

      If Kreeft had said that the cosmological argument was really a lot more difficult than most people—even the people who often think they are presenting it—often realize, and that he was presenting an oversimplified version as an introduction, that would be one thing. But I took his statement that I just quoted to mean the argument was so simple that you had to get too clever by half to dispute it.

      • Nick Corrado

        It seems to me Kreeft and Feser are at odds on this. It's one thing to say that the argument has intuitive appeal, and I think a lot of people would agree there is at least some appeal to it there, but it's quite another thing to say that it should only ever be viewed simply and intuitively, which is what Kreeft seems to demand of us. Feser, to his credit, takes objections to be wrong because they're wrong*, not because they're complex or clever.

        *as far as he can tell

  • Josh

    Let's all understand that this piece was not written for this site, but for Ed's personal blog, where he's free to be pissed and polemical about poor formulations of the CA

    • Rationalist1

      Then it should have been left there.

      • Josh

        I'm in agreement, actually

      • Josh

        Incidentally, though, you should roll over there and check out the exchange in the comments of that post between Dguller (a great agnostic commenter who I've enjoyed talking with on many occasions) and Al Moritz, a scientist who I think effectively discusses what you were talking about re: radioactive decay and its actual implications. I find reasons to agree with both of them on that point, in different ways.

      • Nick Corrado

        I'm inclined to agree too. It's also better to have Feser's arguments given in the context of, well, Feser. This post is actually the foremost in a long series of posts that defend various aspects of it: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/07/cosmological-argument-roundup.html

    • severalspeciesof

      That's fine, then it should remain at his blog since (as many have pointed out) this would, well actually should, be deleted if it were to be as a comment, via comment rules...

      • David Egan

        I feel like the tone of this article mirrors the frustration felt by the owner of this site. While the site is very active, I don't think the complete destruction of the catholic arguments is what he had in mind.

        • Andre Boillot

          "I don't think the complete destruction of the catholic arguments is what he had in mind."

          Must we mimic fanboy tropes (eg. 'complete destruction') when discussing the merits of each others' arguments?

          • Great point, Andre. Totally agree.

          • Michael Murray

            Surely that rates a little on the snarkometer ?

          • David Egan

            Well, when one side has no merit which is something that is shown day after day, I'd suggest that complete destruction is the kindest way I can phrase it.

          • Andre Boillot

            Of course, the other side's lack of merit stands in stark contrast to the wealth of the same which you display here.

        • I'm not aware of any "destruction" of Catholic arguments here, much less "complete destruction." And I find it strange that instead of engaging Dr. Feser's article most commenters here lament the tone and avoid his points.

          That's quite telling.

          • David Egan

            You should read the comments. Thus far it hasn't been pretty for the catholic/god side of things.

          • Susan

            >And I find it strange that instead of engaging Dr. Feser's article most commenters here lament the tone and avoid his points.

            >That's quite telling.

            Maybe. It doesn't seem that way to me. It seems that they are quite rightly pointing out that it violates the commenting rules which are posted beneath it. This one, for instance:

          • Andre Boillot

            And I find it strange that instead of engaging Dr. Feser's article most commenters here lament the tone and avoid his points.

            That's quite telling.

            I'm curious as to what it is about this article that you feel was worth posting, in spite of it seemingly being completely at odds with the atmosphere of civil discourse your site claims to want to foster? The whole point of his article (where he constantly laments the strawmen that people argue against instead of the *real* argument) is to debunk the "non-serious" objections - most of which are caricatures themselves. Aside from this, I don't know what the post covers that wasn't already discussed yesterday.

          • primenumbers

            Kreeft's article on the CA didn't produce a discussion of straw-man version of the CA that Fesser disparages - it produced a discussion that looked at :

            the nature of causality,
            fallacy of composition (going from an every-day notion of causality to causality in relation to the universe),

            the meaning of existence as applied to you, I and the universe as compared to it's use by theists with regards to God,

            issues with infinity,
            trading infinite regress for infinite being,
            etc.

            As Fesser says: "Of course, the atheist might say that he isn’t convinced that the cosmological argument succeeds in showing that there really is something that could not in principle have had a cause, or that is purely actual, or that has a sufficient reason for its existence within itself." - in other words, regardless of the argument itself and issues there, there are strong issues of coherence in the proposed "solution" - ie God. These issue that don't rely on pointing out that "what caused God", but that the notion of an uncaused cause, an atemporal being, a being containing it's own full explanation either don't make sense, are incoherent, or else contradictory in other ways....

          • Josh

            Prime, are you purposely misspelling his name 'Fesser' as some sort of rhetorical jibe? I only ask because I've seen this before.

            Secondly, in the last thread, while the bulk of good talk wasn't directed at straw men, the same old objections were still brought up in various places, and generally ignored. Which I think we can both agree is a good thing.

          • primenumbers

            Nope, it's just a mis-spelling.

            The "if everything has a cause, what caused God" objection is an interesting one though - not because it's a good objection in itself as it is indeed daft to ask "what caused an uncaused cause", but because the concept of an "uncaused cause" is not exactly coherent. By dismissing the objection to the straw man version of the CA, we risk missing out on a good discussion on the coherency of an uncaused cause.

          • Nick Corrado

            I think the people who can recognize the value in a discussion of uncaused causes can bring those up in the absence of "what caused God?". If you have a specific objection to their coherence and you want to try it out, make a top-level comment and it will attract responses.

          • primenumbers

            No specific objection other than the concept is incoherent. It's one of those things where you can understand each word, but when you put them together it lacks meaning.

          • Nick Corrado

            Do you mean that it is self-contradictory, like a "square circle" is?

          • primenumbers

            The might be an element of self-contradictoryness, but really it's more that a cause is a reason or explanation or a physical force or our perception of agency, not a being, so to say God is an uncaused cause is meaningless to me when I think what a cause is.

          • Nick Corrado

            Suppose I throw a baseball or kick a rock or knock a box over because I'm a klutz. Am I a cause of the baseball flying through the air or the rock tumbling down the sidewalk or the box falling to the ground? I don't see how it's incoherent to talk about me as the cause of those events happening.

          • primenumbers

            It's an uncaused cause that is a being that is incoherent.

            One aspect is "being": A being can cause something to happen, as in your causing your baseball to fly through the air, but a being is not a cause, a being is a being. I can see how a being can act, to cause something to happen, but I find it hard to grasp a being actually being a case.

            The other aspect is "uncaused cause" - we casually talk of something being uncaused, meaning "we don't know the cause", but that's not what is meant here, that there literally is no cause. I think the nearest we can understand to that is some truly random event, but again, I don't think that's what is meant by "uncaused".

            We also have the issue of all the causes we normally talk about being temporal in nature, yet there is the insistence that this uncaused cause is outside of time, yet cause implies a cause in time. A cause without time is a cause that doesn't occur.

            There's many aspects to the incoherence, and I'm sorry if my descriptions of the incoherence are themselves less than coherent, but we're into a realm where theologians stretch ordinary words beyond their usual meanings...

          • Nick Corrado

            Okay, I think I understand you now. A few points:

            -I think in your paragraph about being you're trying to distinguish between the agent of a cause and the act of causing itself. This is fine, but as far as I can tell, by divine simplicity, God doesn't merely act but is the act itself. I'm not sure that this is too important a detail--I don't want to mislead you here, but it's possible that Uncaused Causer is more accurate.

            -In next paragraph: You're right that when we speak of an uncaused cause we don't mean that we just don't know what caused it, or that its cause was random. Everything that begins to exist has a cause, but things that do not begin to exist do not have a cause. Since the Uncaused Cause is a necessary being, it never begins to exist, so it doesn't have a cause.

            -In your next paragraph: I'm unconvinced that the cause needs to be within time for the effect to be. You said above that a cause can be a "physical force" but is e.g. the force of electromagnetism really "within time" either? I admit that the notion of a timeless cause is really strange but I don't think it implies contradiction.

            I want to emphasize that these are only speculative answers. I am familiar with Aquinas, I've read plenty of Feser, but I am by no means an expert or anything close. You're more likely to get a better answer by putting your objections out there as you have just done, though.

          • primenumbers

            "God doesn't merely act but is the act itself" - that's poetry.

            "Everything that begins to exist has a cause" - I've never observed anything begin to exist (and certainly not in the way that a universe could be said to begin to exist), so I can't empirically verify that statement. Of course, all depends too on what you mean by "everything". The statement basically is diving up things into two sets - those that begin to exist and those that don't. Unless the set of thing that don't begin to exist contains more items than your God, your statement now becomes "Everything but God has a cause", which directly puts the existence of God into the premise.

            "Since the Uncaused Cause is a necessary being, it never begins to exist" - God is a necessary being through definition only. WIthout showing that such a being exists, you cannot use it's necessity of existence in an argument to prove its existence.....

            "'m unconvinced that the cause needs to be within time for the effect to be." - so now we have temporal causes (like the causes we're sorta familiar with in our day-to-day understanding of things) and these atemporal causes you're proposing. I know not of them. Sounds like an ad-hoc theory to me...

            "electromagnetism really "within time" either" - that lightning bolt struck me at 3:21pm exactly. The effects occur in time therefore the cause is temporal in nature.

            "I admit that the notion of a timeless cause is really strange but I don't think it implies contradiction." - it implies lack of coherence. If we had a good understanding of atemporalness we could judge contradiction or not, but as we don't, incoherence is about the best we can manage.

            I appreciate your response. I doubt Feser is knowledgable ( I mean actual knowledge rather than theological guesses) on the nature of atemporalness, for instance. Of course, we an "if" about atemporalness and atemporal causes all we want, but unless we "know", with a reasonable degree of certainty we cannot in all seriousness say that an argument that relies on atemporal causes and an atemporal being is actually coherent or really valid. At best it's speculative on the "if".

          • Nick Corrado

            "That's poetry." I get that divine simplicity is really weird, hence why I'm not relying it but merely suggesting it.

            "The statement basically is diving up things into two sets - those that begin to exist and those that don't." I'm sympathetic to the idea that abstract ideas like mathematics and logic necessarily exist. I don't think that math or logic is God, so there you go.

            "God is a necessary being through definition only." Actually, it's the purpose of the cosmological argument to show that God is necessary, so it's not "through definition only." But it's hard to argue over particulars like this unless we are arguing about a particular cosmological argument.

            "Sounds like an ad-hoc theory to me..." Sounds ad hoc to me too! But I didn't say it's a convenient and intuitive idea, I said it doesn't seem to imply a contradiction. I think speculation in this regard is fun. Like, given what else one would have to say about causality, what other qualities would atemporal cause have? I dunno.

            "The effects occur in time therefore the cause is temporal in nature." But you're just assuming that a cause is always temporal. What is precisely at issue is whether such a cause is temporal, so I don't see how this shows that electromagnetism itself is within time, just the effects of it.

            "If we had a good understanding of atemporalness we could judge
            contradiction or not, but as we don't, incoherence is about the best we
            can manage.

            I appreciate your response. I doubt Feser is knowledgable ( I mean
            actual knowledge rather than theological guesses) on the nature of
            atemporalness, for instance." I agree. I'm guess and I am willing to bet Feser could only make a semi-educated guess at best--it's certainly not his field, and I wonder if, between religious studies classes and philosophy of politics, mind, God, religion, etc. classes, he ever even had the time to study the philosophy of time at college.

            Anyway, I appreciated your responses as well, and the opportunity to speculate about this. Maybe we can do it again sometime (this isn't the first and won't be the last cosmological argument article).

          • severalspeciesof

            "It's an uncaused cause that is a being that is incoherent."

            Exactly...

            I notice that when discussions of an 'un-caused caused' come around that the theist usually changes the final word from 'caused' to 'being' at some point in the game.

            Caused is a concept. How can a concept cause anything?

            So what exactly is meant by 'being'? It's usually slippery from what I can guess...

          • primenumbers

            Just like the discussion I was having yesterday where "exists" meant something very different for God than it meant for you, or I or the universe. Same with "cause" - it appears to mean different things when it's applied to deities or ourselves.

            It all begs the question if there's any argument for the existence of God that doesn't rely on slippery words?

          • Ignorant Amos

            But you are not an uncaused cause for the actions you describe. Best we not go down the reduction path as to what physics, chemistry and biology is at work when the box is kicked over.

          • And I find it strange that instead of engaging Dr. Feser's article most commenters here lament the tone and avoid his points.

            One more variation on a theme . . . .

            If a guest post were to be submitted by an atheist and took this same tone toward the prominent Christian apologists (Peter Kreeft, William Lane Craig, Edward Feser, Alister McGrath, Scott Hahn, etc.,), I doubt that it would get published on Strange Notions. And if it did, I think it would be hard for the Christians to ignore the tone and deal with the arguments.

            Also, just from the standpoint of what Strange Notions is trying to do, it's said you can catch more flies with a teaspoon of honey than with a barrel of vinegar.

            On the other hand, some of the frequent posters (possibly including me, occasionally), are not models of respectfulness and civility. When I think of some of the kind and devout religious people I have known, and then read some of the comments here implying what credulous dupes religious people are, I find it disturbing.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Thanks for this comment.

          • But of course, Brandon. Feser escaped your contemptible Memoryhole, and the atheists are forced to complain about *that*.

            Which is of course the whole point.

            They have gotten you to memoryhole anyone who points out the barking madness of the atheist axiom of madness:

            "Every once in a while, something just sort of...pops...pout of nothing".

            Feser gets a pass because....well.

            I don't know exactly, but thank God you can't Memoryhole Feser.

            Yet.

    • Andre Boillot

      Josh, I don't want to harp on you - given your agreement that it shouldn't have been posted - but that's a curious comment. Though, not quite as curious as attaching a note calling for "serious and respectful dialogue" immediately following:

      But here’s the bottom line. The “What do respectable people say?” stuff that Rosenhouse, Coyne, and other New Atheists are always engaging in is juvenile, and futile too, since they are never able to tell us what counts as “respectable” in a way that doesn’t beg all the questions at issue. It is amazing how much time and energy New Atheist types put into trying to come up with ever more elaborate excuses for not engaging their critics’ actual arguments. If that alone doesn’t make you suspicious, then I submit that you are not thinking critically.

      • Josh

        What's a curious comment? That he's free to be angry in his own corner of the internet when he thinks an argument isn't being done proper justice? I'd defend that right for you...

        • Andre Boillot

          He is, and I share your willingness to defend the both of us on this. It's just a curious comment when coupled with your agreement that it has no business on this particular site. Nobody was arguing the piece shouldn't have been written...

          • Josh

            The two go hand in hand? I certainly had nothing to do with it being put up here...

          • Andre Boillot

            "The two go hand in hand?"

            Well, most of the articles posted on this site haven't been written for the site, but re-posted with the author's blessing. Given that, I wasn't sure why it mattered that the article wasn't originally intended for this site, which is why I found your comment curious. Either something should or shouldn't be posted here, regardless of whether it was expressly written for SN.

            "I certainly had nothing to do with it being put up here..."

            I've certainly not said (or implied) you did :)

          • Josh

            I dig that you guys understood this was a repost, but given the tiny byline at the bottom, intuited that the fact could be easily missed.

          • Andre Boillot

            Trust me, it's something I think we all missed at first. You can always tell who the newbies are when they try responding directly to the author of a 30-yr old book excerpt.

          • Josh

            Ha ha, no doubt

    • See my comment elsewhere on this thread.

    • Michael Murray

      So the owner of this site had no choice about posting it ?

  • clod

    Extraordinary. The piece simply oozes with snide condescension. I am surprised you have posted this actually.

  • Aside from questions of tone, which has obviously compromised the message for many, may I ask, as someone not well versed in this--does he get his main thesis correct? Is it the case that the "cosmological argument" has a very specific purpose in its original context, but has been in different places and times more or less "caricatured" by being stretched into other arguments or basically misunderstood?

    • Andre Boillot

      As staircaseghost noted, his examples of "caricaturing" were off the mark: http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2011/07/22/le-poidevin-on-the-cosmologica/

      • Thank you for the reply--would it be correct to conclude he's stating the cosmological argument correctly but has not adequately provided examples of this caricaturing, presumably doing some exaggerating or misunderstanding with the examples he offers? I could see that--I have to admit, though, I think I "get" the CA as he presents it, better than I did beforehand....

      • And as I point out to staricaseghost above, Rosenhouse's charge of "caricaturing" in that article is fallacious:

        Dr. Feser replied to the Rosenhouse article you linked to, writing:

        "I said that Le Poidevin presents a variation of the straw man as if it were “the basic” cosmological argument. And he does. I said that Le Poidevin presents the “more sophisticated versions” he considers later on in his book as “modifications” of that straw man. And he does. I did not deny that Le Poidevin addresses these more sophisticated versions. I explicitly noted that he does."

        Read more here; http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co...

        Yet even if it was true Dr. Feser misrepresented Le Poidevin--and I don't think he did--that in no way invalidates the main point of the article, which is that the cosmological argument is widely and consistently misunderstood.

        • Thanks for the additional info on this. I'd certainly like to see more discussion of the main points Dr. Feser is making...

        • [T]hat in no way invalidates the main point of the article, which is that the cosmological argument is widely and consistently misunderstood.

          It seems to me, although I may be mistaken—I am not a metaphysician and don't even play one on TV—that it was misunderstood, or at least seriously dumbed down without acknowledging the fact, by Peter Kreeft.

        • Andre Boillot

          Brandon,

          As others have noted, Le Poidevin isn't doing anything that the likes of Kreeft do in trying to introduce that particular argument in a simplistic, basic fashion. Le Poidevin makes it clear that this isn't the argument he's attacking, merely a primer. Feser doesn't mention this, and instead characterizes Le Poidevin as being sleazy for trying to argue a strawman.

          In the mean time, you've still not addressed how the tone of this article is in any way appropriate for the site, and have in this very thread censured commentors for using the same approach as the author.

    • Josh

      I think that point would be difficult to deny, given the ubiquity of the "Who Caused God?" objections, the "Everything has a cause" objections, etc. Heck, even Bertrand Russell succumbed.

  • Steve Zara

    M.C.Esher was an amazing artist. The theme of much of his work was impossibilities: endless staircases, distorted rooms. Some of his pictures had an even more interesting theme: the struggle of the unreal to become real - self-drawing hands, two-dimensional dragons trying to twist themselves into the third dimension. Escher's themes are relevant here because of the similarity of attempts to derive facts about reality from logical arguments. Unfortunately they just don't work. No matter how the '2D' logic twists and turns it never succeeds in breaking free into the 'third dimension' of reality. The reason is simple, and is related to Hume's problem of induction: just as there is no logical guarantee that scientific positions about the world will remain true, there is no logical guarantee that we have found the right logic to describe the world. An example is quantum logic, which is different from the usual everyday logic we use (the distributive law fails). There are also very strange things that happen to time at the boundaries of black holes. There are on-going debates about whether or not time is even real. This is what we have discovered about the universe only after a few centuries of modern science - what might we discover in a thousand years, and what mathematics and logical systems will we need? You just can't get to what's true about what is real from what is true in a logical system. There is always a missing proposition: "N. And it's actually real". The only way to see if a belief about what is real can be thought of, provisionally, as true is to actually go and do a test of reality. We don't get to what is real from logic: we get what logic we use in each situation from what we observe of reality.

    • severalspeciesof

      Nice comment Steve...

      This could be an OP on the atheist side to be filed under "Reality: what is it?"

      • And, "Reality: what's it hiding?"

    • Dcn Harbey Santiago

      Hi Steve,

      "We don't get to what is real from logic: we get what logic we use in each situation from what we observe of reality."

      Perhaps I'm miss-understanding what you are saying but there are many branches of mathematics which have develop from applying pure logic. Take for example Hyperbolic Geometries, discovered by Bolyai and Lobachevsky in 1818, and based on the assumption (which does not exist in our reality) that parallel lines get closer or farther away as they approach infinity in a plane. It wasn't until 1908, that Herman Minkowski found their first practical application in cosmology.

      "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
      Deacon Harbey Santiago

      • Steve Zara

        Thanks for the reply. You are right that mathematics have been derived from pure logic (as in Russell's great works early on in the last century). But your example of geometries is a good example of what I am trying to say. We don't find a geometry and then insist that reality must follow the consequences of that geometry - we observe reality and discover that we can, provisionally, use a certain geometry to predict what will happen in certain situations. An example is the overall geometry of the universe. Many years ago there was much debate about that geometry and what the fate of the universe would be. Now it seems that the universe will experience eternal accelerating expansion. But that view could change at any time because of new data. Reality determines the logic/mathematics we use - logic doesn't force reality.

        • Dcn Harbey Santiago

          Hi Steve,

          "We don't find a geometry and then insist that reality must follow the consequences of that geometry ...Reality determines the logic/mathematics we use - logic doesn't force reality"

          I purposely used Non-Euclidian Geometries as an example because they specifically do not exist in our 4 dimensional reality. NEGs are useful for describing certain aspects of reality, but to say that reality determines the logic of NEG is just wrong. (Unless you are ready to provide an example of a triangle with angles adding to more or less than 180 degrees in our reality).

          You might want to make the claim that logical ideas are true because they are part of our 4 dimensional reality, but then you would find yourself having to admit that the idea of an infinite beings, (which is logically cogent) must be true in our reality also.

          In the same way a scientist uses NEG to explain an aspect of reality, a religious person uses the idea of a deity to explain other aspects of reality.

          And before you (or some other reader) invoke the "empiraical data" claim. There is no "empirical data" for ideas like NEG or the existence of a deity, they are logically cogent conclusions reached by the use and application of human reason.

          "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
          Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • Andrew G.

            Your understanding of geometry is incorrect - whether the universe is or is not flat (and therefore Euclidean) is a purely empirical issue; curvature can be measured from "inside" a curved space because it's an intrinsic property not dependent on an embedding. The universe does appear to be close to flat, but that's an experimental result.

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            "Your understanding of geometry is incorrect" Hmmm, perhaps this is true, but you will need to elaborate a bit more to convince me. Specially, since you really did not say anything which disproved this assertion. Lets see:

            MY CLAIM:

            NEGs are not part of our 4 dimensional reality. (i.e. They are just ideas which do not exist in reality).

            You said:

            1) "whether the universe is or is not flat (and therefore Euclidean) is a purely empirical issue;" TRUE But this does not disprove my claim, you are just stating that data could be provided to show that the universe is either Euclidean or Non-Euclidean

            2) " curvature can be measured from "inside" a curved space because it's an intrinsic property not dependent on an embedding."
            Which I interpret as "We are in the universe so we can measure its curvature" TRUE again... and once again does not disprove my claim.

            3) "The universe does appear to be close to flat,"

            Which is another way of saying the universe appears to be euclidean TRUE again... but once again, I do not see how this contradicts my claim (It actually appears to very it).

            4) "but that's an experimental result."

            Reiterating 2)... and once again no proof against my claim.

            One wanders, who lacks understanding in this topic.

            One last thing...

            Lets assume tomorrow we collect experimental data which shows the universe is Hyperbolic, that leaves Elliptical Geometries as ideas which do not exist in reality since the universe can not be both. So once again my claim stands.

            Pretty much like that pesky idea of a "Supreme Being", but that is part of another discussion :-)

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • Steve Zara

            That's not what I'm saying. I'm not saying that reality determines the logic of certain geometries - what I'm saying is that reality determines which logic (which geometries) we can sensibly use. In order to determine which geometry applies to reality in a certain situation we have to take measurements: we can't get there through logic.

    • Sample1

      I had earlier today written a post, since deleted by me, using the alcoholic/faith analogy (with full credit of course) in reply to a comment but now I am pleased as punch that the salient point will undoubtedly be made in due course, and properly.

      Nice to see you here.

      Mike

  • stanz2reason

    Brandon... I demand that whoever posted to following be held to the same standards as everyone else here:

    "... Nor do I say that every single self-described philosopher of religion would agree with the points I am about to make. Like every other academic field, philosophy of religion has its share of hacks and mediocrities."

    or

    "...Intellectually speaking, this would be utterly contemptible and sleazy."

    or

    "... this procedure is intellectually dishonest and sleazy"

    or

    "...It‘s a slimy debating trick, nothing more"

    or

    "...It would also obviously be rather silly for an atheist to pretend that unless the argument gets you all the way to proving the truth of Christianity"

    and for the record it the height of shameful hypocrisy to post this article after saying this:
    https://strangenotions.com/turning-problem-evil/#comment-921234709

    • staircaseghost

      Wow.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      This outrage is precious coming from someone whose avatar is a spaghetti- monster-mockery of theism.

      • Andre Boillot

        Kevin,

        A) Stanz has been threatened with bans for precisely the same things on display in the article. B) Should he have to change his universal Disqus avatar because he happens to comment on theist sites?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I don't know why you are asking me that. I'm trying my best not to be offensive myself.

          • Andre Boillot

            "I don't know why you are asking me that."

            Fair enough. I'm just pointing out that it's a universal avatar, it's not specific to this site.

            "I'm trying my best not to be offensive myself."

            If you say so :)

      • stanz2reason

        Neither I nor any other pastafarians appreciate the insinuation that our divine FSM is a mockery of anything. He reached out with his noodly appendage and created the world. He boiled for our sins. It is only through his grace and revelation that we're aware of the empirically supported correlation between global warming and pirate population.

        The complaints about the tone of the article were directly related to the conflicting standards of the moderators of this board. If you took a moment to read how skeptics, like myself, are threatened after saying the exact same thing you'd see that it's the flagrant hypocrisy that caused the reaction.

        Finally, if FSM is a mockery of theism, then a cross, or image of jesus or any other religious avatar is a mockery of atheism. FSM was a direct response to efforts to include other (read 'christian') beliefs taught in public school science classes. Efforts to 'teach the controversy' of evolution when none exist to the basic theory are the mockery, not the response. So don't get your pants in a bunch so quickly.

        • "Finally, if FSM is a mockery of theism, then a cross, or image of jesus or any other religious avatar is a mockery of atheism."

          Do you honestly believe this? The FSM is an insulting parody of God, intended as mockery. How does the Cross, or an image of Jesus, mock atheism? How does it parody atheism?

          • stanz2reason

            Absolutely Yes. I should be as offended as an atheist by religious imagery as a theist should be by the FSM. That we're willing to accept magic as a possible explanation for the world, the FSM is no more absurd than any other supernatural notion.

            With regards to mockery, the FSM is a mockery of the notion that religious belief should be taught in public school science classes. That's all.

  • Ben

    Dr. Feser lost me with point 1, and based on people's comments it sounds like the rest didn't get too much better. I'm only responding because it touches on one of my biggest annoyances with this whole line of argument: the idea that throwing in the words "contingent" or "necessary" somehow saves this argument from being meritless, and not special pleading, that it's more convincing and logical than just saying "everything has a cause." It's not.

    The goal of this argument (and our discussion) is to try to figure out whether the physical reality we see IS contingent, which seems to be a fancy way of saying it needs an outside cause. Of course if the world is contingent is needs a cause, that's what the word means! Of course if there exists a Being that is "necessary," that Being doesn't need a cause, that's what "necessary" means, as you're using it. You can't expect anyone to take a supposed logical argument seriously where you're taking the conclusion, that the world needs a cause and that cause is an uncaused being, and trying to sneak them in as premises by explaining that this works because the world is contingent and the being is necessary.

    • These were my thoughts exactly after reading this article. These philosophic pieces are rather weezly because the conclusion (God/Prime Mover/First Cause) is assumed in the premise.

      To address the original piece-- Scientific examples ARE valid objections ecause they are taken from reality. Many articles on this site, this one included, assume a Super-Reality (God) who is more Real than our real-world reality but ignore any kind of real-world objections that contradict the examples used to make such arguments. To me it just looks like a fun game of mental gymnastics and arm-chair philosophy that ultimately realizes on observations taken from Aristotelian science. This is why the Catholic West beleived that heavy objects and light objects would fall at the same speed, until that heretic Galileo actually left the arm-chair philosophy behind and tested this claim.. Just think, it took over 16 centuries before someone bothered testing what we now know is gravity!! In the same way scientists are now making observations and performing tests to see if everything in the universe really is contingent and how exactly causality applies on macro and micro levels where reality starts to become rather weird. This is why I read metaphysical arguments with a heavy dose of skepticism.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        If you look above, you'll see that Ben is rethinking his position.

        It is NOT the case that the conclusion is in the premise in these kinds of arguments.

        Really what you are arguing, Kacy, is that until the (Jesuit-trained and papally supported Catholic) mathematician and astronomer Galileo came along, everybody was just stupid. And people today who reason in that metaphysical tradition are "weesly."

        • Ben

          Uh....nope.

    • hiernonymous

      Feser lost me when he asserted that it was too much trouble to capture what the CA actually IS. If understanding the CA requires laborious and esoteric background work, presumably those professional philosophers who have already done so are not habituating this corner of the internet. The target audience is precisely those who have not done this reading, so his post boils down to: "You don't understand this argument; I'm not going to offer a better understanding; and take my word that the following objections are thoroughly ignorant."

      But if you want to understand the argument, I've published two books that will help you. *cough*

      What a waste of space.

      • articulett

        God wants you to pay theologians to help you understand why he's real. What-- you expect him to waste his omnipotence on evidence?

      • Ignorant Amos

        Feser lost me when he asserted that it was too much trouble to capture what the CA actually IS. If understanding the CA requires laborious and esoteric background work, presumably those professional philosophers who have already done so are not habituating this corner of the internet. The target audience is precisely those who have not done this reading, so his post boils down to: "You don't understand this argument; I'm not going to offer a better understanding; and take my word that the following objections are thoroughly ignorant."

        That captivates Catholicism. A universal(Catholic) church handed down by a supreme being should not require the astronomically huge library of interpretations and so-called experts to redefined the understanding of the words that the religion seems to require. Isn't there something about omniscience and omnipotence of the ultimate author in there somewhere?...yet that being can't relay a book that anyone, anywhere, could pick up and understand without a degree in theology.

  • severalspeciesof

    May I suggest a do-over? Edit the OP so that all disparaging remarks are stricken. Shouldn't be too hard to do. Those remarks by Feser really polluted this exchange (rightly so IMO, and Yes I realize it wasn't written specifically for this exchange, but that is beside the point), as was obvious by the initial remarks. I can't recall any other OP being met so quickly with the type of comments that this has first generated. That should be noted by the moderators, not only just the fact that someone found it interesting that the 'base' of this article wasn't addressed...

    • Rationalist1

      Unless Feser himself re-edits it and adopts a more civil tone, the moderators here cannot edit his work.

      • severalspeciesof

        True (I hadn't thought of it that way), but they can ask him to do so...

        • Rationalist1

          I'd pay money to see his reaction. :->

      • The moderators are too busy censoring the Catholics just now, Rationalist.

        Once they are certain they have qualified for this year's "Abandoning The Bastions" Awards, perhaps they can find the moxie to let the debates develop freely.

        • Rationalist1

          I don't mind the civil requirement, in fact it's refreshing to what encounters on other sites, I just did not appreciate posting a story by Feser, a story that breaks the posting guidelines with practically every paragraph.

          • When I catch myself getting short with folks, I use it as a time to stop and check if it is because I am not being as careful as I should be with the validity of my side of the argument.

          • severalspeciesof

            That's a good way to be...

          • Yes, Quinn, I have noticed that.

            "You've got to be kidding".

            Exactly.

    • Susan

      >May I suggest a do-over? Edit the OP so that all disparaging remarks are stricken.

      Good idea sso. Or even better, just post an article that explains:

      1) This is what the Cosmological Argument is.
      2) This is what the Cosmological Argument is not.

      Then, I'll bet people would be delighted to engage with the article.

      • severalspeciesof

        Excellent, that way Feser's tone can't ever be brought up even in hindsight...

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I had no problem getting through the post despite the author's caustic tone because I've endured the same thing a thousand times from
      anti-Christian writers.

      • severalspeciesof

        I'm glad you had no problem getting through the post.

  • GreatSilence

    After the duly noted objections to tone and so on, can someone knowledgeable on the topic now please start addressing the main points raised in the article.

    • Rationalist1

      Not me. As a matter of principle.

    • Andre Boillot

      Are you removing yourself from the pool of knowledgeable people?

      • GreatSilence

        On this topic, definitely. I don't even understand Disqus, how can I hope to understand the CA?

    • Ben

      Doubt I'm considered "knowledgeable," but I've already explained why I think that point number 1 has no merit: all that adding the words "contingent" and "necessary" to the midst of this argument accomplishes is changing the argument from special pleading to circular reasoning. It starts as special pleading when you say "everything must have a cause, therefore there must be something somehow uncaused at the beginning (this one thing doesn't need a cause, because it doesn't." To the extent the argument changes at all, it becomes circular when you start the argument by calling the universe contingent (something that needs a cause), and declare that the first cause is necessary (something that doesn't need a cause), and use those unproven assertions as building blocks on the way to concluding that the universe needs a cause and has an uncaused cause (which for some reason we are calling God). I'll say it again, whether the Universe is "contingent," and whether some being is "necessary," is what we are supposed to be trying to figure out in the first place. You don't get to have them as premises.

      • Nick Corrado

        Feser spends paragraphs explaining that no cosmological argument actually begins with "everything must have a cause" and how stupid a premise that is (refer to 1.-2.), he does not simply declare that the first cause is necessary, those "assertions" are not unproven but rather are proven within the proof itself, he does not say that the universe needs a cause and in fact rejects talking about a cause for the universe that as a necessary part of the proof (3.), and he explains exactly why one calls the uncaused cause God (4.).

        • Austin Sanders

          I agree with Ben. I was just about to post a reply much like it.

          Nick, I actually agree with Feser that the CA is often mischaracterized. However, I think his point is better made in 2 than in 1. To ask "What caused God?" would be to fail to understand the argument that there must exist an Uncaused cause.

          However, like Ben just said it still ends up being circular at best, I think. I think that the argument intuitively wants us to start at "everything that exists has a cause." That is simply what we observe. But, like the argument entails we come to find that there must be at least one thing that does not have a cause. Therefore, we must go back and redefine our argument to begin with "Everything that begins to exist has a cause." It then becomes inherently dependent upon its own argument for its own definition. Circular
          1. Everything that exists has a cause.
          2. There must be one thing that exists that doesn't have a cause.
          3. Therefore not everything that exists has a cause.

          Redefinition:
          1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause (so we can exclude the Uncaused Cause, therefore assuming from the start that it exists; special pleading).
          2.There must be something that didn't begin to exist, yet exists and is therefore uncaused

          And besides, what's the point of saying that "contingent things have a cause?" Extremely redundant. Its like saying, "Only those things that have a cause...have a cause." Why? Because we need at least one thing that isnt contingent to make our argument work.

          Circular. Question begging. Special Pleading

          • Nick Corrado

            Hi Austin,
            What you're offering is not actually a critique of the cosmological argument but rather a critique of what you perceive the designers of the cosmological argument have done. Speculating about the intentions of Aquinas and friends is fine, I suppose, but it doesn't actually have any bearing on whether the argument is right or wrong. Nor do any unspoken assumptions of the authors of the argument affect its verity if those assumptions don't exist in the argument itself.
            For instance, suppose you ask me to come up with a proof of the Pythagorean theorem and I oblige. Obviously when I start this proof I already believe that it will lead to the conclusion that the Pythagorean theorem is true. But is that a premise in my proof? Do I include that in my reasoning at all? Does it have any bearing on whether any step in my reasoning is true or not? No to all of those. And it's not dishonest of me to construct a proof with a specific conclusion in mind.

            You say that "1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause (so we can exclude the
            Uncaused Cause, therefore assuming from the start that it exists;
            special pleading)." This does not assume from the start that the Uncaused Cause exists; it merely admits the possibility that that can exist, because, if it does exist, it would not contradict that.

            As for your last point, "contingent things have a cause" only sounds redundant because of Ben's definition of contingent as "something that needs a cause." This is not actually the definition of contingent. What Feser actually says in the article is that "what is contingent has a cause," not that "what has a cause is contingent." A contingent thing is defined as something that doesn't necessarily exist, e.g. that can come into or out of existence. It follows from "everything that begins to exist has a cause" that contingent things have a cause for their existence, but they're not merely defined to have a cause.

            Lastly, I want to emphasize that arguing a proof is wrong merely because of the intent of its designers is a case of the genetic fallacy. 2+2=4 is true even if Hitler says it, and even if he says it because of his own racism, to appropriate a line from the site's commenting rules. If it's a problem for you to imagine that the proof is put forward honestly, just imagine it's being argued by William Rowe (an atheist and defender of the cosmological argument).

          • Ben

            "As for your last point, "contingent things have a cause" only sounds redundant because of Ben's definition of contingent as "something that needs a cause." This is not actually the definition of contingent. What Feser actually says in the article is that "what is contingent has a cause," not that "what has a cause is contingent." A contingent thing is defined as something that doesn't necessarily exist, e.g. that can come into or out of existence."

            I don't see your definition of contingent as making a huge difference to the circularity of the argument, though I need to think more about the precise difference between the two definitions--I still think even with your defintion the premise [the universe is contingent] is hardly distinct from the conclusion [the universe needed a non-contingent creator]. Or as I've said before, it strikes me that whether or not the universe is contingent is part of what we're trying to figure out, and arguments that include it as a premise aren't taking us anywhere.

          • Nick Corrado

            That the universe is contingent is an debatable premise, sure, so I invite you to engage with Feser's defense of it:

            "There are two problems with this objection. First, not every inference from part to whole commits a fallacy of composition; whether an inference does so depends on the subject matter. If each brick in a wall of Legos is red, it does follow that the wall as a whole is red. So, is inferring from the contingency of the parts of the universe to that of the whole universe more like the inference to the weight of the Lego wall, or more like the inference to its color? Surely it is more like the latter. If A and B are of the same length, putting them side by side is going to give us a whole with a length different from those of A and B themselves. That just follows from the nature of length. If A and B are of the same color, putting them side by side is not going to give us a whole with a color different from those of A and B themselves. That just follows from the nature of color. If A and B are both contingent, does putting them together give us something that is necessary? It is hard to see how; indeed, anyone willing to concede that Lego blocks, tables, chairs, rocks, trees, and the like are individually contingent is surely going to concede that any arbitrary group of these things is no less contingent. And why should the inference to the contingency of such collections stop when we get to the universe as a whole? It seems a natural extension of the reasoning, and the burden of proof is surely on the critic of such an argument to show that the universe as a whole is somehow non-contingent, given that the parts, and collections of parts smaller than the universe as a whole, are contingent.

            "So, that is one problem. Another problem is that it isn’t obvious that the sort of cosmological argument that takes as a premise the contingency of the universe needs to rely on such part-to-whole reasoning in the first place. When we judge that a book, an apple, or a typewriter is contingent, do we do so only after first judging that each page of the book, each seed in the apple, each key of the typewriter, and indeed each particle making up any of these things is contingent? Surely not; we can just consider the book, apple, or typewriter itself, directly and without reference to the contingency of its parts. So why should things be any different for the universe as a whole?"

            I think Josh has dealt with this pretty extensively in other comment threads, though, so you may just want to refer to the comments section of yesterday's Kreeft article if you want to see a defense of the contingency of the universe.

            (P.S. I apologize in advance if my not blockquoting that is kind of annoying. I can't figure out the tag I should be using to be honest.)

          • I can't figure out the tag I should be using to be honest.

            The standard HTML blockquote tag. The above was done with:

            <blockquote>I can't figure out the tag I should be using to be honest.</blockquote>

          • Nick Corrado

            Thank you! I owe you one.

          • Andrew G.

            Here's why that defense of inference from composition is fallacious, using colour as an example: the reason that a wall of red lego bricks is still red is down to the size and arrangement of the blocks, not to any inherent property of redness. The statement "a collection of only red-coloured objects is still red" is false in general.

            So, any reasoning step that proceeds from "all components of X have property P" to "X has property P" is always unsound reasoning unless it is separately shown that property not-P cannot arise in X by other means. In the colour example, if you give me small enough bricks I can build structures whose colour differs from that of the bricks due to structural effects.

            Here's a more subtle example. Consider all the points on a (topologically) spherical closed surface through the earth's atmosphere (say, for example, at a particular height above ground). At each point we measure the wind speed and direction at some instant. Which of these properties is contingent on the actual measured speeds:

            1) the wind speed at some designated point A

            2) the set of points P where the wind speed at that point is zero

            3) the existence of a point Z where the wind speed is zero

            (I'll post the answer later, maybe)

          • primenumbers

            Andrew, a good example of a change in colour due to structure is a butterfly wing, and an example of new colours appearing is a TV set (sit up close and you can only ever see discrete red, green or blue, yet sit back and you see a full range of colours). Here is an example of how we can even see colours that are not even there "in the bricks" so to speak.... http://www.wendycarlos.com/colorvis/color.html

          • Andrew G.

            Butterfly wings were the example I had in mind. I deliberately did not mention TV sets or issues of colour vision since that is a whole other can of worms (whether something produces the sensory experience of a particular colour is a distinct question from what its actual spectrum of reflected or emitted light is).

          • primenumbers

            Or perhaps more obvious - a CD or DVD - they have no colour at all yet appear very colourful at the right angle of light.

            The perception stuff may be useful because when talking about causation we could be talking about our perception of causation rather than what causation actually is (for which we may not know).

          • Nick Corrado

            Hi Andrew,

            I'm not clear on what you mean by "the reason that a wall of red lego bricks is still red is down to the size and arrangement of the blocks, not to any inherent property of redness." What does the size and arrangement of the blocks have to do with the color? And how can a collection of only red-colored objects not be red?

            As for your more subtle example, it seems 1 and 2 are contingent and 3 is necessary. 3 sounds like a consequence of the hairy ball theorem in this case.

          • Andrew G.

            Structural colour is a phenomenon in which the colour of an object is dependent on the shape of the surface, not on the colour of individual parts. There are no blue pigments in the wings of those big blue tropical butterflies. Peacock tail features have a more or less uniform brown pigmentation; the colours are all structural.

            Certainly to make a decent-looking non-red coloured object out of red lego bricks would require bricks about 1000 times smaller than standard, but that's what I meant about it being dependent on the size of the blocks.

            On a lower level, even the colour of dyes and pigments is generally the result of an interaction between parts rather than a property inherent in the parts themselves.

            In the other example, the contents of the set in (2) is contingent, but the necessary truth of (3) implies that the existence of (2) as a nonempty set is necessary.

          • Nick Corrado

            Andrew,
            Structural color sounds like a really interesting phenomenon, I've never actually heard of it. I think I know where I erred, then, in my understanding of the collection-of-red-things example. I do tend to look at color as an inherent property because I thought it just depends on the sort of light a thing can absorb, and didn't know that an arrangement of the stuff could change that.

            It seems to me though that we're straying away from the main point by Feser, which was that contingency does seem to translate from part to whole.

          • Andrew G.

            That's why I included the hairy ball example - to show that contingency of all the objects in a set doesn't translate to contingency of the existence of a nonempty set.

            It could therefore reasonably be the case that the existence of a nonempty universe could be a necessary fact even though everything about the content of the universe is contingent.

          • primenumbers

            Pick up a CD and hold it up to the light at an angle. You'll see a rainbow of colours yet the CD itself is just aluminium with no inherent colour.

          • primenumbers

            The problem with that argument is that it is the wrong way around. It would seem that all things are contingent if and only if the universe is contingent. Contingent things are only contingent (and existing) because some prior thing put them into existence, and hence the direction of the argument from contingency is set. We can only know that something is contingent if it was put into being. We cannot know from a thing existing if it's contingent or not without knowing that it was put into being.

            So, the universe is contingent if and only if God (or something else) actually put it into being. Find that God (or whatever) and you prove contingency.

            Placing the arrow of contingency the other way around and attempting to prove God from things that are stated to be contingent, tracing that contingency back through a chain all the way to universal creation event is therefore fallacious.

            An easy example to show why an element up the chain may not be contingent even if an element lower down the chain is contingent is that theists claim the universe is contingent yet it's direct link back up the chain, God, is not.

            That is why you must first prove God to demonstrate that the universe (for example) is contingent and why it is fallacious to argue from an asserted contingency to a proof of God.

          • primenumbers

            We could equally say that everything that exists began to exist.

          • Ignorant Amos

            We just need the label being used and applied to the cause by theists from "God" to "Physics"...it's as simple as that.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I'll second Nick. The argument begins with "things that need a cause." It ends with the logical conclusion that "there must be an uncaused cause." The argument is not circular or a case of special pleading.

          I actually had to look up "special pleading." In this case it is the charge that Feser and his ilk require all things to have a cause but make a special case for God not needing a cause. But that is not the CA's argument at all.

      • articulett

        Exactly. And I would put "being" in parenthesis too-- as we have no reason to presume that this "hypothetical uncaused cause" is conscious!

        I feel like the argument defines god into existence by calling the "hypothetical uncaused cause" (whatever that means) a god!

        • Kevin Aldrich

          This argument only tries to establish one thing, that there is a necessary being. So you are right.

          • articulett

            How is it a "being"? How is it different than a mythological being?

            And how can a being made of nothing "cause" anything without time or space to affect change? What does this even mean.... it sounds to me like a tortured way to define something into existence which you can latter call your god.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You really don't know?

            It is something which exists which makes it possible for other things to exist. There has to be some necessary being--either the universe itself or something outside it. Otherwise there would be nothing.

          • articulett

            The universe is all that exists... per definition there is nothing "outside" it... if your god exists, it is part of the universe (all that exists)

            Now if your god isn't material, then it's a force-- a force requires matter acting upon matter which requires space and time-- as does any "cause" even "uncaused first causes". So what exactly is this god? And why should anyone think it's conscious or that anyone knows anything about this "first cause". Isn't it more honest to say, "we don't know what caused the universe... or even IF it was caused... or even if "cause" is the right terminology for what we are trying to ask." It may be that asking what caused the universe is an ignorant question like asking "how far to the end of earth?" It seems that CA is a tortured way of getting people to agree that there must be an "uncaused cause" whatever that means-- and that this uncaused cause is a god of some sort. I can understand why it's popular with the faithful... but I can also understand why most scientists see it as a semantic game. It doesn't lead to actual understanding of anything.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I disagree, articulett.

            First, I think your definition of "universe" is flawed, just from the fact that some cosmologists are proposing parallel universes, may two, maybe countless numbers of them. It is not hard to conceive of God, the Supreme Being who created the universe, as being outside what he has made.

            Second, I don't think your claim that scientists see the idea of an "uncaused cause" a semantic game. To begin with, it is an over generalization. I doubt it even comes up for many of them. However, "uncaused cause" is what some cosmologists are claiming about the universe itself and about subatomic particles.

          • articulett

            However, "uncaused cause" is what some cosmologists are claiming about the universe itself and about subatomic particles.

            Perhaps... but they aren't giveing a personality to it... instead they are saying this is "uncaused"-- rather that saying "this is caused by an uncaused cause (named god)."

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The CA doesn't assign a personality to the Prime Mover either.

            It does not even ascribe personhood to it.

          • articulett

            And yet everyone you used the term "prime mover" capitalized...

            Why does everyone who things it's a valid argument seem to imagine it supports belief in their god?

            Why can't the universe be as uncaused as radioactive decay? Do you think an "uncause cause" is responsible for radioactive decay or would you just say it's uncaused?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            >Why does everyone who thinks it's a valid argument seem to imagine it supports belief in their god?

            It's only a first step.

            I've done a little outside reading on the particle radioactive decay and I think the notion that it has no cause is unsettled. Physicists may never understand why this process is random but it does depend on something for its existence: the particle itself. And that particle depends on something for its existence: the existence of a quantum field.

          • Octavo

            Hmm, maybe the lowest energy state of a quantum field is non contingent. Maybe the uncaused cause is a field and not a being. After all, every being we know of is contingent, while minimal energy states are not.

          • It is also true that Simon E. Schnoll has demonstrated a periodicity in the radioactive decays related to......

            The periodicities of the relative motions of sun and Earth :-)

            http://arxiv.org/pdf/physics/0602017.pdf

          • Michael Murray

            It seems that CA is a tortured way of getting people to agree that there must be an "uncaused cause" whatever that means-- and that this uncaused cause is a god of some sort.

            And then, wait for it, wait for it, nothing up my sleeves. It's OUR GOD !

            I love the way they do that. Even when you know it's all trickery there's nothing quite like a good magic show.

          • articulett

            Yep-- it's the 3-in-1 Jesus God of biblical fame!

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Now you are both engaging in mockery. Didn't you object to that in Feser?

          • articulett

            I didn't.

            Mockery doesn't bother me.

            And if you really believe your faith is the truth, why would it matter to you if others mock it? It doesn't hurt you in any way.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Fundamentally it is disrespectful.

          • articulett

            Some of us don't feel that supernatural beliefs are worthy of respect and that respecting them is dishonest and part of the problem...

            Do you think belief in witches should be respected? Voodo? Astrology? Belief in Chupacabras? Belief in gypsy curses? Belief in faith healing? Threats of hell? How do you decide which ones to respect? Doesn't respecting superstitions give people the impression that magical thinking is respectable?

          • I agree with Kevin Aldrich here. Saying something like the following is mockery:

            Yep-- it's the 3-in-1 Jesus God of biblical fame!

            Going out of one's way to talk about a "3-in-1" God in virtually every thread, is gratuitous mockery. It might make a certain sense to say something along those lines in a discussion of the trinity, where it wouldn't necessarily be gratuitous, but it would still be mockery. Articulett says, "Mockery doesn't bother me." However, the commenting rules say, "Comments that are vulgar, mocking, or insubstantial will be deleted, too."

            This is not a call to the moderators to intervene, but it is a call to everyone to stay within the commenting rules.

          • articulett

            Why is it mockery to call it a 3-in-1 god? This distinguishes it from Zeus and the Muslim god and the deist god or a god that is merely an "uncaused cause". The cosmological argument, at it's best, is an argument for a deist god-- but that is NOT the god of Catholicism-- the god of Catholicism is an Abrahamic god who (if you stick to monotheism) became his own son-- a triune god-- who sends people to hell if they don't believe in him (them).

            Personally I think it's ridiculous to say there are 3-in-1 gods. I thought I would understand it when I grew up, but I grew up and realized that nobody understands it-- and now I wish there'd been grown ups around me calling it a 3-in-1 god so that I might have faced the music a little sooner and stopped pretending to myself and everyone else that it was good and deep to try and believe this stuff. (I always wonder why it is believers don't trust their gods to fight their own battles.)

          • Susan

            >Why is it mockery to call it a 3-in-1 god?

            It shouldn't be. Repetition is interpreted as mockery, but the fact is that the catholic claim is that there are three very confusing and incoherent gods that are called "God".

            In these discussions, the word "God" is used repeatedly as though the attributes of this particular deity should be given a special place in the arena of "deities" despite the fact that the history of humanity is stuffed with deities, most of whom have gone to the deity graveyard from lack of repetition.

            If catholics stop saying "God" as though that concession is one that should be made automatically, articulett will not have to keep the idea in the discussion that this is only one specific deity and this is a central attribute of that deity.

            David Nickol, I am with you on the idea of honesty and respectful dialogue, but I can't agree with you on this point.

            It is a 3-in-1 deity. That is the claim that is made about it. So, let's keep that in mind. I tend to think of it as ectoplasmoyahwehjesus deity, and you would consider that mockery too, so I don't say it, just in case. But that is just my way of keeping all the deity claims sorted out in my head.

            One could argue that to claim your own deity as "God" is mockery directed at non-believers.

            I don't believe that that's the intention, even though it's often the effect,

          • severalspeciesof

            I agree with both you and articulett, but this is a thread about the un-caused cause. The idea that a 'concept' caused everything or at the very least (and the only certainty if one would believe it) caused the second 'it', 'thing', 'cause', 'concept', etc. (take your pick) is murky enough. Adding more murkiness on top of that just leaves everything a mess... ;-)

          • Andrew

            I wanted to respond to your objection about what constitutes mockery, because you raised it in good faith and it deserves an answer. Please note that I am only expressing my thoughts on the matter, and it is not my intention or business to tell you, articulett, or anyone else here what they should and should not say.
            My opinion is that constant use of the "3-in-1" term is mockery because it constantly and needlessly brings up articulett's viewpoint that the Trinity is nonsense. It seems clear to me that the term is not merely identification, but is meant to point out how silly Trinitarian doctrine appears to be -- by articulett's own admission, she declares that she wishes adults had used the term when she was younger (implying that it would have helped her realize sooner how ridiculous the Trinity is). It is fine for her to declare her belief that the Trinity is nonsense, as she did in a post earlier, but to have a reference to it in every post is like having a parenthetical statement added to the end of each, saying, "oh and by the way, I think the idea of the Trinity is dumb, too." That seems gratuitious to me.
            If you are looking for a more neutral term, might I suggest "the Judeo-Christian god" or "the Christian god" ? That would probably meet Wikipedia-type neutrality standards. As a matter of preference, I would normally suggest "the Christian God", with a capital G, on the basis that said deity would at least merit the same respect of a proper noun name like Buddha and Allah (not to mention Zeus, Thor, and Isis) already have. However, since you have raised such strong objections to the capitalization, I would think that "Christian god" is a reasonable compromise.
            As a post-script, I have assumed that articulett is female on the basis of her avatar; my apologies if this is incorrect.

          • Susan

            Hi Andrew,

            Thank you for your thoughtful response.

            How would "the Catholic deity" do?

            The trouble with the "Christian God" is that it is so many different characters depending on which Christian you ask or I would have taken to using it. Also, "God" is not really a proper name. Zeus is. I capitalize Jesus because it's also a proper name.

            I try to use "Yahweh" and "your choice of deity" because it's the best language I have come up with to show respect while at the same time preserving in the conversation the idea that "your choice of deity" is one of thousands and that choice is "Yahweh". I think you and I can agree that that is respectful. You think you have good reasons for that choice and I am not convinced that your reasons are good but I would be happy to find respectful terms that we can both agree on.

            Even the trouble with Yahweh is that the Christian version added Jesus as Yahweh's son and the Holy Spirit as well. So, it gets confusing.

            Does "catholic deity" work or "your choice of deity"?

            Thank you again for your response. I appreciate that you understand that I am trying find ways to show you respect without conceding ideas (through language) that I cannot accept without very good reasons to do so.

          • Andrew

            Well, I have no authority to be the arbiter of anything on here, but I personally have no substantive objections to "the Catholic deity" or "your choice of deity" given the nature of our conversation. I can certainly understand your reluctance with "Yahweh" since the Christian interpretation of said deity muddies the waters, as you correctly point out.

          • primenumbers

            There have been numerous Christian groups with very different concepts of God with respect to the nature and status of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the concept of Trinity etc. etc. To say the "Christian God" may mean a Trinitarian God in the modern orthodox sense, but doesn't necessarily mean anything specific with regards to Christianity in general.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Even the trouble with Yahweh is that the Christian version added Jesus as Yahweh's son and the Holy Spirit as well. So, it gets confusing.

            Especially when Yahweh is just one of three primary nomenclatures for the big fella...Yahweh, Adonai, Elohim. Then there is a plethora of other handles attributed to the god of Judaism.

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

            Begs a question though doesn't it?

          • Ignorant Amos

            ...but to have a reference to it in every post is like having a parenthetical statement added to the end of each, saying, "oh and by the way, I think the idea of the Trinity is dumb, too." That seems gratuitious to me.

            But that is exactly what one member of the theist nature does on here. Yet no one gets the hump about that.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"

            A Catholic Mexican battle cry no less. Folk taking the hand or being abusive to other folk on here is one thing, demanding undeserved respect is another. It seems that the theists get all bent out of shape at the Atheist, yet don't see a problem when it is going the other direction...a point only raised when a theist gets bent out of shape.

            People in glass houses.

          • Andrew

            I would argue that there is not consistently enough respect on the part of either side of the theist / atheist divide towards the other. If your contention is that both sides have members at fault (not everyone or even most people, but a few on each side) then I would agree with you.

            Because of the way comments are displayed, it is difficult to follow threads of conversation here, but the comment that you are citing was the beginning of what turned out to be a fruitful conversation with Susan about what would constitute a mutually respectful term to denote the Christian deity. I am hoping that said conversation, of which my comment was a part, served to raise the general level of respect in this forum, and was not a partisan swipe as you seem to be suggesting.

            Instead of castigating me (or theists corporately) for not equally policing every instance of disrespect on the site (as if I knew about them all), perhaps it would make more sense for each of us to call out examples of incivility individually when we see them. I don't know why an obscure battle cry from a war that happened 90 years ago is offensive, but I am willing to be educated on this point. My suggestion would be to make your case in the public square, as I did, and see if you get any traction. If even one person responds positively, then you have done something to build a bridge of understanding between our sides.

          • Ignorant Amos

            I would argue that there is not consistently enough respect on the part of either side of the theist / atheist divide towards the other. If your contention is that both sides have members at fault (not everyone or even most people, but a few on each side) then I would agree with you.

            My contention is that there is a double standard being employed. Atheists are well used to Ad Hom attacks, it is par for the course with theist discourse, if one can't get the argument, get the person. The problem is that the theist demands respect for something that the Atheist see's as undeserving. If youror anyone's beliefs can't stand a bit of disrespecting, then it is in more trouble than any of us first thought. I don't see it necessary to grant undeserved respect to a persons political leanings, taste in clothes, genre of music the favour or the make of care they drive...religious beliefs are no different and if it offends ones sensitivities, perhaps debating with Atheists is not the arena one should be engaging in.

            Because of the way comments are displayed, it is difficult to follow threads of conversation here, but the comment that you are citing was the beginning of what turned out to be a fruitful conversation with Susan about what would constitute a mutually respectful term to denote the Christian deity. I am hoping that said conversation, of which my comment was a part, served to raise the general level of respect in this forum, and was not a partisan swipe as you seem to be suggesting.

            Yes, that's Diqus for ya. That's nice for you and Susan to have sorted out an ecumenical identifier for the Roman Catholic version of god I guess. I was not suggesting you were making a partisan swipe, but the last part of your comment made me near choke wine up all over my keyboard.

            Instead of castigating me (or theists corporately) for not equally policing every instance of disrespect on the site (as if I knew about them all), perhaps it would make more sense for each of us to call out examples of incivility individually when we see them.

            I don't know why an obscure battle cry from a war that happened 90 years ago is offensive, but I am willing to be educated on this point.

            Well if you were lying with your throat cut and the last words you heard was that battle cry you might think different. Imagine what it must feel like for a Christian with a scimitar blade on the back of their neck and the last thing they hear is "Allah Akbar"....everything is proportional to the playersin the game, but it's of no matter, I was pointing out the folly of...

            The whole crux of the matter is right there. The hypocrisy element. So, me at onetime being from the Loyalist enclave of Belfast and been weened on Protestant sectarian bigotry would be okay finishing a well known with a "battle cry" well known in those parts......no I won't.

            Perhaps, "God is not Great" or "Religion Poisons Everything"

            I don't think battle cries or any other addendum are required...but if you allow one, why not the other...remember, it is parity that is the goal.

            My suggestion would be to make your case in the public square, as I did, and see if you get any traction. If even one person responds positively, then you have done something to build a bridge of understanding between our sides.

            The point is, I don't care that much, I'm thick enough skinned, I only raised it as a point of irony after what you said, but if the site want's to have the rules, then it must use them with parity of esteem. The OP is filled to the gunwales with disparity on this subject. Even when the moderators got involved in the subject, they brushed it off.

            "...but to have a reference to it in every post is like having a parenthetical statement added to the end of each, saying, "oh and by the way, I think the idea of the Trinity is dumb, too." That seems gratuitious to me."

            Putting...

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!" or "Long live Christ the King!!"

            ...might seem a bit gratuitous and unnecessary to some with a different perspective to yours. Just saying.

          • Andrew

            Well, if your argument is that the powers that be here are biased when it comes to these things, then I agree with you. It is one of many reasons why I don't come to this site anymore -- except that Disqus keeps sending me notifications that someone keeps responding to my comments. :)

          • Ignorant Amos

            Sorry for replying to your comments and dragging you here Andrew, but that's just how debate goes.

            The point I'm not making very well is that when two parties disagree on an issue, one or both are at some point going to say something that the other will deem disrespectful.

            Now that is definitely going to be par for the course on a subject like religion. I'm just saying that some need a thicker skin or shouldn't be here. What I mean by that is, by going to a Billy Connolly performance, one is likely to hear anti-theist jibes as a given, if it is deemed offensive, don't go.

            I'm not going to go out of my way to offend some random Lada driver because they are driving a heap of scrap, but if they enter a discussion on the finer points of east European car manufacturing and insist the Lada is one of the greatest, if not thee greatest car makers in the world, I will offer my tuppence worth and my tuppence worth will be disrespectful to a Lada enthusiast. .

            As for the music analogy, while taste in music is subjective and there is no right or wrong genre, I'm still at liberty to over my opinion on the subject if it comes up in conversation...that opinion may offend some.

            I follow a football team that I chant, erroneously, is the "greatest in the land". Understanding this error, I don't get bent out of shape when they are criticized by followers of the other teams chanting the same, but anyone that follows football will tell you, I'm a minority.

            Anyway, I just thought it a bit pathetic to whinge about the RC God, being the 3-in-1 Jesus god, which is in fact, an accurate description. There are bigger fish to fry I'd have thought.

            "A triple deity (sometimes referred to as threefold, tripled, triplicate, tripartite, triune or triadic, or as a trinity) is a deity associated with the number three."

            Trinity is defined as tri-unity of God, even other theists use the term 3-in-1...http://www.canyoncalvary.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=47&Itemid=57 so what's the big deal?

            The 3-in-1 Jesus/Yahweh/Spirit is a semantic nonsense to be sure. Christians can't even agree what it is. or even that it is. We do know that it is just of many theological interpretations and not even contemporary of early Christianity.

            Well, enough already. All the best regards Andrew and thanks for your effort.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Personally I think it's ridiculous to say there are 3-in-1 gods. I thought I would understand it when I grew up, but I grew up and realized that nobody understands it-- and now I wish there'd been grown ups around me calling it a 3-in-1 god so that I might have faced the music a little sooner and stopped pretending to myself and everyone else that it was good and deep to try and believe this stuff.

            The Emperor's new clothes?

            You must realize that early theologians went to great lengths in pretzelmania to get the threads of the Trinity see through enough as to make it a taboo subject to take much notice of and therefore question at any depth.

          • Sample1

            see through

            Eye candy it ain't! (It's a good thing Prof. Dawkins isn't around these parts what with our "aint's" and "so's").

            Mike

          • Ignorant Amos

            Aye...a'd be gettin' barged fer shure.

            Shoulda said "transparent"

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Mockery is disrespectful to the persons who hold those views.

          • Andrew

            I personally think voodoo is nonsense, but I wouldn't mock a practitioner of voodoo in his or her presence, out of respect for people in general.
            Heck, I don't personally have any clue why anyone would be a Justin Bieber fan, but I don't mock those people to their face either. :)

          • I personally think voodoo is nonsense, but I wouldn't mock a practitioner of voodoo in his or her presence, out of respect for people in general.

            I agree completely. Plus I wouldn't want to suddenly start experiencing unexplained stabbing pains as if someone were sticking pins in a doll made to look like me. They say voodoo works whether you believe in it or not. :P

            Inspired, sort of, by the following story:

            An American scientist once visited the offices of the great Nobel prize winning physicist, Niels Bohr, in Copenhagen. He was amazed to find that over Bohr's desk was a horseshoe, securely nailed to the wall, with the open end up in the approved manner (so it would catch the good luck and not let it spill out).

            The American said with a nervous laugh, "Surely you don't believe the horseshoe will bring you good luck, do you, Professor Bohr? After all, as a scientist--"

            Bohr chuckled. "I believe no such thing, my good friend. Not at all. I am scarcely likely to believe in such foolish nonsense. However, I am told that a horseshoe will bring you good luck whether you believe in it or not."

          • articulett

            I don't mock irrational people to their face either-- they might throw something at me!

            But I promise to try and be nicer online.

          • Andrew

            Thank you! I appreciate it.

          • Sample1

            engaging in mockery

            Perhaps think of it this way.

            If you are having a discussion with someone who tried to explain one of the tenets of homeopathy to you (dilution increases potency), are you ridiculing the patient when you say homeopathy is nonsense?

            In other words, attacks against people are features of barbarism but attacks against ideas are features of civilization. Restricting speech simply because it offends also takes away my freedom to hear what a person has to say. Who on this planet would you give that power of censureship to? You don't support laws punishing those who you think are blasphemers, do you?

            Mike

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I'm surprised you are bringing this up after 9 days, which is like 7 dog years.

            This has nothing to do with censorship and everything to do with self-regulation, which is also a feature of civilization.

            Do not do to others what you do not like done to yourself.

            You don't like your ideas being ridiculed. I don't either.

          • Sample1

            You don't like your ideas being ridiculed

            Kevin Aldrich, in the future, please ask me my opinion instead of handing it to me with a big red bow because you couldn't be more mistaken in this case. The fact is, I welcome the ridicule, criticism, mockery, or otherwise dismissal of bad ideas, particularly if they are mine. If I say something goofy, I don't want my peers to remain silent out of some sort of respect (particularly in a forum devoted to hammering out the meanings of ideas!) because I will miss chances to learn. Kevin, I can't recall who said this right now, but it's apropos: "I respect you too much to respect your silly ideas".

            I have feelings Kevin, but my ideas don't. Go ahead, ridicule them, they won't care! Please let me clarify this point with you further if you still don't see where I am coming from.

            Cheers!

            Mike

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Fine, Mike, but I still won't *ridicule* your ideas because I could never keep straight who is cool with idea-ridicule and who is not.

            Double cheers.

          • Sample1

            Sounds good, that's certainly your prerogative.

            Mike

  • cowalker

    If one accepts Mr. Feser's summary of the issue, then this is how matters stand: The majority of philosophers, who already know the background and terminology of their discipline, and are paid to devote their time to philosophy, do not think the cosmological argument is worthy of their time and attention. How would you convince people busy earning a living, and raising families, that their lives would benefit from studying it?

    In Mr. Feser's opinion ". . . . the basic structure of the main versions of the argument is fairly simple, the background metaphysics necessary to a proper understanding of the key terms and inferences is not. It needs some spelling out, which is why Aquinas and The Last Superstition each devote a long chapter to general metaphysics before addressing the question of God’s existence. The serious objections to the argument can in my view all be answered, but that too can properly be done only after the background ideas have been set out. And that too is a task carried out in the books."

    The takeaway from all that effort is that one may or may not find convincing the metaphysical demonstration that there is a thing which has its sufficient reason for existence within itself and did not derive it from something else. If one WAS convinced, it would take more years of study to consider all the arguments for and against claiming various attributes for this thing. In the end, one might or might not be convinced of the existence of a personal God, much less the God worshipped by different religions. If one WAS convinced, presumably one would then have to begin an exhaustive study of religion.

    OK, Mr. Feser has convinced me of this--the existence of a first cause is not simple, natural, intuitive, and commonsensical knowledge. But I've never witnessed any phenomena that can't be adequately (for my purposes) explained without resorting to metaphysics. And I'm not equipped by education or experience to parse books of metaphysical argument. Would a believer claim that I am obliged for intellectual consistency to make the effort to thoroughly deconstruct the cosmological argument? If so, wouldn't that also hold true for all believers? After all, it would be just as bad to take on authority the conclusions of religious philosophers as the conclusions of atheistic philosophers.

    Of course the majority of people are going to make up their minds on the subject of God based on what is culturally familiar, temperamentally appealing, in harmony with their knowledge of the world and believed by those they love and/or admire. If there were an omniscient, omnipotent loving God, this God would know that, and provide the proper experience for each person to foster belief in the one true God. That is if God had the attribute of caring whether humans believed in God. (That would be at least one book of philosophy right there.)

    • fightforgood

      great timing.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      In addition to not slandering one another, I think a rule on this site is don't write essays, because essay-long responses require essay-long replies!

      > The majority of philosophers . . . do not think the cosmological argument is worthy of their time and attention.

      Your implied conclusion is that it is a waste of time.

      First, I don't think that is true and even if it were that would be an argument from authority, the weakest kind.

      • cowalker

        It's not a waste of time, for those who find it helpful or pleasurable. The challenge would be to persuade a non-believer that it is worth an enormous investment of time and energy to understand its nuances when even those who claim to have mastered it admit that it isn't necessarily convincing. A devout Muslim would say that there is nothing more valuable you could do with your life than study Arabic so you can read the Koran in the original language. Are you convinced?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I'm convinced that people do what they find "helpful or pleasurable." There's room in the world for all kinds of people.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Your second point seems to be, it would take a lot of time and effort to study the CA and related metaphysics and then years more to establish the various attributes of this uncaused cause--and people don't find God that way anyway. If there really were this God, he would provide each person the proper experience for people to find him if he cared.

      I've never heard any religious person argue that we have to reason ourselves to God philosophically, although St. Paul and the Book of Wisdom claim we can arrive at the one God by considering the things that he has made.

      I have heard plenty of arguments that God, in fact, does seek each person out and give him or her ample opportunities to find him. Maybe this site is one of them for you and others.

      • cowalker

        If we don't have to reason ourselves to God philosophically, why would we have to reason ourselves to atheism philosophically?

        Why can't I just say, hmm, based on my personal experience and my knowledge of the world, there doesn't seem to be a God. I'll keep my mind open in case something comes along that seems to require entertaining the God hypothesis, but until then, I'll go with what I experience.

        Why would that make me any more of a fool than the religious person who hasn't reasoned himself to God philosophically but believes anyway? Why would God consider it just to punish me for not believing in God and to reward someone else for doing so?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Cowalker, In what you just described, you did reason yourself to atheism. That doesn't mean you are a fool, unless you are rationalizing atheism to justify evil. We Catholics believe that if you are sincere in this and try to live a good life, God will not punish you. In fact, he will reward you. See Lumen Gentium 16.

          Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.

          God is in the salvation business, not the damnation business.

          • Michael Murray

            I'm sure we had a post a week or so ago that explained that a non-believers chance of getting to heaven was all about whether they had been exposed to the Word of God. Not quite what you are saying here but I can't find those posts.

            God is in the salvation business, not the damnation business.

            So what was all that stuff about "wailing and gnashing of teeth" ?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            That is the final, self-chosen condition of those who reject God and everything that rejection entails.

          • Michael Murray

            That is the final, self-chosen condition of those who reject God and everything that rejection entails.

            So now I'm confused. You said above that

            We Catholics believe that if you are sincere in this and try to live a good life, God will not punish you.

            But someone who is sincere and lives a good life will be punished if they reject God ? Right ?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think one cannot be sincere and live a good life and really reject God. It's impossible. One might reject a caricature of God.

          • Michael Murray

            Ah defining the problem away. It's a popular one.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't understand you.

          • Michael Murray

            You've defined good life to mean believing in god. So the question of whether someone who lives a good life but is an atheist is moot. By definition it can't have been a good life.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            No. I'd say our responsibility is to build our lives according to the truth about reality as best we can find it.

          • Michael Murray

            Agreed.

          • cowalker

            That is interesting to hear. It implies that if one lives a good life on earth--or maybe even if one doesn't live a good life on earth--God will incontrovertibly reveal his existence to the soul at the time of death, and the soul will have the opportunity to make a final choice. But when non-believers ask why God doesn't just reveal himself to everyone on earth, often Christians respond that this would take away their free will to reject him. Wouldn't this objection still apply--in fact even more powerfully--to the soul at the time of death?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't know what happens at the moment of or after death.

            In this life we are always prone to ignorance and error and conflicting passions and emotions, so we can always change our minds.

            But I imagine it is quite possible to have an incontrovertible revelation of God's existence and to reject him.

  • fightforgood

    Looks like this could be an interesting site.
    A lot of banter about what is proper communication though. The people I'm closest to are the people with whom I can argue.
    People love lists, don't they? We have a list of 9 objections used to refute the subject which are considered by the author as "non-serious".
    What would be nice to see in comments is an Atheist brother or sister to pick your favorite of the 9, and explain why it is a worthy argument.
    Take care,

  • Putting the tone aside, there are still multiple problem with the OP. I will try to address them more generally, as going point by point is likely to get caught in the philosophical weeds.

    At the top level, all the flavors of the cosmological argument (henceforth, the CA) are forcing (or necessity) arguments where the elimination of logical alternatives forces the reader into the remaining conclusion, even though no positive evidence is presented for the conclusion. These are always fraught with problems because they depend on the alternatives to be complete, without the possibility of "or something we have not thought of" allowed in the set. In abstract systems such as mathematics, that can be done with some level of care, but in physical systems such as the workings of the Universe around us, lack of omniscience on our part makes "or something we have not thought of" an unbound set, on its own.

    Next there is the issue of the burden of proof. This came up repeatedly in the threads yesterday re the "Unpacking" post. We who are not believers do not have to show the CA false, those who want to force our belief must do the positive convincing that begins with showing evidence that all the assumptions in the premises are true. We do not have to show that Naturalism is true. Dr. Feser's complaints that some scientists or philosophers are wrong in believing Naturalism, does not shift the burden of proof off his shoulders.

    Because the CA is a forcing argument, and because it relies on metaphysical assumptions that are asserted, without evidence, to the true a priori, it has to be reexamined every time we lean something about the world that we did not know before, in order to see if the assumptions still hold. That includes what we keep finding out about the limitations of human thought processes and how easily we tend to fool ourselves. Or refuge is not metaphysics, or a hundred pages of Aquinas, but rather, the Scientific Method, which does not require Naturalism to be true, but does continue to proceed ahead by looking for natural explanations for the world we see around us, and includes looking at our relationship to that world.

    Bottom line: no matter how much you think it is true, you can't get us to accept the CA by throwing mud at those who criticize it, you have to present positive evidence to show its premises are true and its logic is sound.

    Got evidence?

    • Michael Murray

      you can't get us to accept the CA by throwing mud at those who criticize it,

      Kind of ironic after the article on "why can't we all get along". Going for balance I guess.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Could you be making a fundamental "category error"? Metaphysical arguments are not built on evidence because they are not inductive. They are built on the validity of their premises and the soundness of their logic.

      • ... validity of their premises ...

        Yes, in those premises there are usually words with definitions based on what we know about the world around us. That is how assumptions about the world sneak in without proper justification, in some cases. This is one of the reasons you have to go back through and check all the definitions of all the words in all the premises to see if something has changed, and why we have spent so much time on the word, "cause" in the last couple of days.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Fair enough. If empirical science discovers something that changes our understanding of cause and effect, for example, philosophers will have to do just what you have said.

          • hiernonymous

            Exactly. Quantum entanglement is one such discovery.

          • Rationalist1

            Well science has effects without causes. Radioactive decay has no cause and all measurements show it to be totally random.

          • VelikaBuna

            Assumption being that the measurements are absolutely perfect and account for everything possible. I would not be so confident that any measurements can make such a claim with any credibility. The best that could be concluded from your example is that decay to us appears random, but we cannot conclude that it is random. I do not believe randomness can exist at all in nature.

          • Michael Murray

            I do not believe randomness can exist at all in nature.

            Nothing like keeping an open mind. But in this case you are wrong.

          • VelikaBuna

            Why am I wrong? I cannot imagine one thing that can be random.

          • Michael Murray

            Of what possible relevance to how the world actually behaves is your failure of imagination ?

          • VelikaBuna

            Give me an example of anything that moves without a cause? It would be illogical to conclude that there are things that move or change state without a cause, whether the cause is known or unknown to us. But to conclude because we do not see the cause then there is none, would be arrogant on our part.

          • Give me an example of anything that moves without a cause?

            Okay, electron tunneling in the flash memories of your computer.

          • Michael Murray

            Ah nice. Why didn't I think of that one.

          • Anything with a statistical probability of existence over distance, i.e. every quantum particle.

          • Michael Murray

            When we first learnt about quantum mechanics (year 12 Marist Brothers College) we used to try walking very slowly through doors. The idea was that if you were slow enough your momentum would be small and your wavelength might match the door width and you would diffract. It never seemed to work :-).

          • Michael Murray

            If you are going to define it as impossible for something to happen up from then what is the point in me telling you what we see ?

            Particles decay without causes. There is a statistical average, that's why we talk of a half-life, but no cause. Whether or not a particular particle decays is random. It might happen today. It might not happen for a million years. People have looked hard for an underlying cause and not found it.

            It would be illogical to conclude that there are things that move or change state without a cause, whether the cause is known or unknown to us.

            This is not how physics is done. We don't tell the world how to behave. We observe and try to understand.

          • Again, I have to stress that for the purposes of the CA discussion, we don't have the burden of proving randomness or causeless motion. The burden is on the side asserting the CA to show that cause is always present. Physics has shown that the events are at least, without knowable cause, and thus may be causeless. That they may be causeless is all that is needed to defeat the CA.

          • Why am I wrong? I cannot imagine one thing that can be random.

            Do a Google search on random number generators based on quantum effects.

          • VelikaBuna

            They are not random numbers, one can say they are non-repeating numbers, but to say they are absolutely random. I don't buy it.

          • I don't buy it.

            Then you are welcome to find the patterns, and try your hand at prediction. If you get good at it, the NSA and all the casinos have a great job for you.

          • Michael Murray

            Do you know what it means to be a random number ?

          • Assumption being that the measurements are absolutely perfect and account for everything possible.

            That assumption is never made. However, continued work reduces the uncertainty and statistics are used to bracket the probability of error.

          • VelikaBuna

            Why then presuppose the conclusion if we have not accounted for everything possible. One cannot make conclusions out of ignorance.

          • There is nothing to presuppose, it is just a presentation of data. Tests of the data show no patterns. That is simply the result.

          • VelikaBuna

            Not being able to see a pattern does not make something random.

          • "Radioactive decay has no cause and all measurements show it to be totally random."

            >> False.

            http://arxiv.org/pdf/physics/0602017.pdf

            Relevant excerpt:

            "Earlier we showed that the fine structure of the spectrum of amplitude variations in the results of measurements of the processes of different nature (in other words, the fine structure of the dispersion of results or the pattern of the corresponding histograms) is subject to “macroscopic fluctuations”, changing regularly with time. These changes indicate that the “dispersion of results” that remains after all artifacts are excluded inevitably accompanies any measurements and reflects very basic features of our world. In our research, we have come to the conclusion that this
            dispersion of results is the effect of space-time fluctuations, which, in their turn, are caused by the movement of the measured object in an anisotropic gravitational field."

          • Rationalist1

            I'm wondering you reference article that is unique in its conclusions by a scientist that is somewhat outside the main stream. Do you accept these conclusions because you take at face value all papers published at arxiv.org or this one in particular because it happens to conform to your preferences?

          • I reference the article by copying its link and pasting it here.

            "Somewhat outside the mainstream" is a political, not a scientific, statement.

            I accept the conclusions because they are objectively arrived at; that is, the conclusions are not hypotheses, nor are they arguments, nor are they speculations.

            They are histograms, compiled over a thirty year period, published in peer reviewed papers cited in the link.

            That's why.

          • Rationalist1

            This article was not peer reviewed. (Much on Arxiv is not.) Again here is one author who himself is not referenced that often proposing an idea that is seemingly unique to him and one that creationists pounce upon for their own purposes. There are some forms of radioactive decay (electron capture for instance ) that are affected by external factors in so far as they change the energy of the shell electrons but they do not cause decay, only change the rate. Decays are still totally ransom and thus rules out internal causes. This is an effect without a cause and that's reality and no amount of metaphysics wishful thinking can change facts.

          • The article cites many previous articles (the ones, that is, that report the actual histograms) that *are* peer reviewed.

            Decays are not totally random, as the links show.

            The histograms are quite extensive, covering many physical processes in addition to radioactive decays, and the upshot is that your original assertion:

            "Radioactive decay has no cause and all measurements show it to be totally random."

            Has been falsified.

          • Rationalist1

            He's referencing himself and you realize that no one outside this Russian institute confirms these measurements. That puts it in the same category as cold fusion.

          • Now here is an excellent example of why choosing science for one's religion is a travail indeed, Rationalist.

            First you say:

            "Radioactive decay has no cause and all measurements show it to be totally random"

            I then post the Schnoll study, which shows that assertion to be false.

            A *scientific* interest would have been immediately moved to investigate- the doctrinaire matrix mechanic in order to refute; the genuinely creative scientific mind in order to investigate (after all, how fascinating is it to be put in possession of rigorous, top-quality scientific research by a brilliant scientist at a top international institution, who has provided evidence of periodicities in not only radioactive decays, but in other phenomena assumed to be stochastic in nature?)

            But the scientistic fun die who has placed his dogmatic faith in the present scientific consensus is interested only in protecting the integrity of his religious belief system, and that is you, Rationalist.

            The sequence is drearily predictable:

            "This article was not peer reviewed."

            I provided the link to the peer reviewed study which the author cited in his footnotes.

            That necessitates another little dipsy-do, of course.........:-)

            "He's referencing himself and you realize that no one outside this Russian institute confirms these measurements. That puts it in the same category as cold fusion."

            Tsk, tsk, tsk.

            You had better sharpen up your game there, Mr. Master's Degree.

            Let us learn a bit about this great scientist whom you have dismissed without so much as a look-see:

            "During 1954-1957, Shnoll demonstrated a high probability of oscillatory modes in biochemical reactions. Study of chemical oscillating reactions conducted under his direction gained prominence to his graduate student Belousov and Anatoly Zhabotinsky."

            NOTE: That would be the Belousov and Zhabotinsky of the now-famous "BZ effect", a development of which won the Nobel Prize for Ilya Prigogine in 1977.

            "He later worked in the fields of Chronobiology and Astrobiology.

            He is author of over 200 scientific papers. He is also author of books "Physico-chemical factors of biological evolution" (1979) and "Heroes, villains, and conformists of Russian Science" (2001).[1] He mentored 70 successful PhD students. A minor planet «Shnollia» was named after him.

            During many years, Simon Shnoll was a jury chairman on Biology Olympiads conducted at Moscow State University. He is a member of editorial board of Russian journal "Priroda" ("Nature")."

            Source:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Shnoll

            But that leaves one little bit of tidying up to accomplish here, Rationalist.

            Your latest gambit asserts that "no one outside this Russian institute confirms these measurements".

            Sorry, Rationalist.

            Wrong again.

            http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0927650512001442

            Relevant excerpt:

            "Additional experimental evidence is presented in support of the recent hypothesis that a possible solar influence could explain fluctuations observed in the measured decay rates of some isotopes. These data were obtained during routine weekly calibrations of an instrument used for radiological safety at The Ohio State University Research Reactor using 36Cl. The detector system used was based on a Geiger–Müller gas detector, which is a robust detector system with very low susceptibility to environmental changes. A clear annual variation is evident in the data, with a maximum relative count rate observed in January/February, and a minimum relative count rate observed in July/August, for seven successive years from July 2005 to June 2011. This annual variation is not likely to have arisen from changes in the detector surroundings, as we show here."

            My earnest advice to you, Rationalist, is to first put down the shovel.

          • Rationalist1

            Here's a paper that can find no evidence for it.

            http://donuts.berkeley.edu/papers/EarthSun.pdf

            And here's papers that discuss the issue.

            http://web.mit.edu/redingtn/www/netadv/XperDecRat.html

            If anyone found conclusive evidence for an external cause (not factors) that would be a Nobel prize. Again, even IF external factors are shown to affect the rate, the effect is small, < 1%, and there ate no indication that these factors cause the decay, only at most shift slightly the rate slightly.

            Yes, I do have a Masters in Science and although my specialty was condensed matter physics I can still understand what most of what the authors are saying here. I also know that many experimental results in physics are wrong. I got several papers published by picking off low hanging fruit of other researchers' sloppy experimental procedures and publishing contradictory experimental results. These are cutting edge results and may turn out to be mistaken (as many do) but don't fall into the trap of embracing results just because they may agree with your philosophical or theological dispositions.

            One last point. Don't give me earnest advice to put down the shovel. That tells me you think I'm full of sh@t and I would think that such a statement is unbecoming any Christian morals I had ever encountered. I have endeavoured to be civil to you, I would have expected you you to do the same but since you will not, I will henceforth ignore you.

          • Let's work from the bottom up this time.

            "One last point. Don't give me earnest advice to put down the shovel. That tells me you think I'm full of sh@t and I would think that such a statement is unbecoming any Christian morals I had ever encountered."

            >> In fact the hard whack worked like a charm. You have finally constructively engaged the evidence I presented to you a half dozen posts back.

            You're welcome.

            True Christian charity consists, often, in refusing to acquiesce in dismissive denigration of legitimate, substantive, and documented responses to a given assertion.

            Let us recall that this exchange commences with your assertion:

            "Radioactive decay has no cause and all measurements show it to be totally random."

            It is now conclusively established that this assertion is false, as a matter of multiply-attested, documented scientific fact.

            "I have endeavoured to be civil to you"

            >>Civility is greatly to be desired, but it is a two-way street. After assorted references to "creationists", "metaphysics", "cold fusion", etc, you have finally engaged the issue.

            Good.

            "I would have expected you you to do the same"

            >> You were reciprocated in accordance with what you offered. I find this works well, when there is at least a ghost of a chance that a more constructive and honest dialogue might result.

            In fact this has now occurred, and you are the beneficiary of an acquaintance with that great Russian scientist, the mentor of Belousov and Zhabotinsky, and the *original discoverer* of a potentially world-changing scientific effect.

            I have a bit of a sore spot when it comes to great discoverers.

            They are, so often, buried beneath the mewlings of drones.

            As here:

            "Belousov made two attempts to publish his finding, but was rejected on the grounds that he could not explain his results to the satisfaction of the editors of the journals to which he submitted his results. His work was finally published in a less respectable, non-reviewed journal.[1]

            Later, in 1961, a graduate student named Anatoly Zhabotinsky rediscovered this reaction sequence;[2] however, the results of these men's work were still not widely disseminated, and were not known in the West until a conference in Prague in 1968."

            In other words, Rationalist, two great scientific discoverers were buried by drones, gatekeepers and paycheck-cashers; Belousov eventually left the field altogether, and then got to watch Illya Prigogine waltz into the Nobel Prize decades after the fact.

            Grotesque.

            All too typical.

            "but since you will not, I will henceforth ignore you."

            >> It's a bloody good thing you didn't ignore me before you were corrected on your false assertion, and introduced to the great Schnoll, whose results are now being independently reproduced, and whose discovery, should it stand up to the inevitable peer review process now *certain to follow*, will utterly change the world.

            Last point:

            You mention "less than one per cent", as if this were somehow relevant in any way at all.

            It isn't.

            Please consider the consequences for science should Kepler have been told he could not publish his work on elliptical orbits, since the orbits departed from circularity by *far less* than 1%

            Anyway, the point at issue now fully resolved, I wish you all the best.

          • Michael Murray

            Fair enough. If empirical science discovers something that changes our understanding of cause and effect, for example, philosophers will have to do just what you have said.

            The serious ones have already. The others just twist and turn and duck and dive ...

          • Michael Murray

            The other causal problem with these arguments is that they are either about the beginning of the universe or "outside of space and time". In either case time breaks down. What is "cause" without "time".

          • articulett

            Rather than invent "uncause causes" named "God"?

          • Susan

            >Fair enough. If empirical science discovers something that changes our understanding of cause and effect, for example,

            That is fair enough. Quantum field theory seems to be a bit of a problem. You can't just say an indeterminate cause is a "cause" nonetheless and keep insisting that a necessary turtle must be there to hold up all the contingent turtles.

            The argument needs to define "cause" in very specific terms before it can wander off with those terms insisting that there must be an "uncaused cause" as a stopping mechanism.

            That is a problem before we get to the rest of the problems that follow.

            Even if we accepted the necessary turtle (no reason to do that), the "uncaused cause", then why can't the uncaused cause be an indeterminate cause, same as science sees every day?

      • Metaphysical arguments are not built on evidence because they are not inductive.

        I wonder, though, if the principle of sufficient reason is not arrived at inductively.

  • David

    This is the most long winded advertisement for a book I have ever read.

  • Eriktb

    If this boils down to contingency, then God must be defined with existence being a part of God's nature. If this can not be done, then God's existence would be contingent on existence being the default position. Therefore God can not be non-contingent.

  • articulett

    Even if some supernatural thingie was true or some supernatural being were real-- there is no valid method for distinguishing the real from myth. There is no way to tell a real immaterial being from an imaginary one and, thus, no way anyone CAN know about such things. Even if the universe had a "uncaused cause that was transcendent" (whatever the hell that means), it's a huge stretch to imagine that it had a personality and that it wants me to believe in it!

    If atheists are snarky it might be because theists seem to demand that we treat their supernatural beliefs with far more respect than they treat competing supernatural claims because they've managed to use philosophy to convince themselves their particularly supernatural claims are "higher truths".

    • Randy Gritter

      Why is there no method for distinguishing the real from myth? Science would not be well-equipped to do it but that does not mean there is no way to do it. You can start by evaluating what has been said about God over the course of human history. There are contradictory statements to be sure but that does not mean we just give up. We can analyze the claims of major religious leaders. We can look at how believable they are. It is not easy but there is no reason to believe we can't arrive at some level of understanding.

      • articulett

        Well if you have the method then lets hear it-- because as it is now we have all sorts of people believing all sorts of competing supernatural thingies each sure that they are right and that everyone else is fooling themselves. Moreover, people have been fighting wars and killing people over these sorts of beliefs and no gods seem to be stepping in to clarify.

        And if our collective ETERNITIES are at stake then we better start testing all the claimants and prophets because this is not something we can take a chance about! Are we to kill witches or not? Are they real? How do you know? What if you believe in the wrong invisible guy with the wrong name? How do you tell what's invisible people want and how do you distinguish them from illusions, voices in the head, demons, and whatever?

        Of course... if there's no evidence that souls or no evidence that any form of consciousness can exist without a brain despite eons of belief in ghosts, fairies, gods, demons and such... then we don't need to play word games to try and convince ourselves that any gods are real. No one is going to be punishing us for non-belief in some afterlife, because we won't be conscious when we are dead. No one needs to worry about talking themselves or others into believing in anything supernatural. We can conclude that the immaterial entities that people believe in are as imaginary as the ones people of yore believed in. We can study why humans are prone to seeing agency where there is none (there is a good evolutionary explanation). --We can take our time and trust that if there ever is any real evidence for such things, then scientists will be on the forefront-- testing, refining, and honing that evidence for their own benefit.

        We can also trust that if there are any gods that want to be "believed in", they have the powers to make that a reality and they have no one to blame but themselves if they are disappointed. Those that want others to believe things have the burdern of proof-- even if they are gods.

        Now, if scientists can't tell which supernatural things are real, then there is no reason to think you are any better at it than the reincarnationists or Muslims or the Greek Myth believers of yore nor anyone else who thinks they've accessesed the really true supernatural truth.

        • primenumbers

          The poor epistemology that is faith is what has lead to the chaotic multitude of religious beliefs. If the theist cannot provide a reliable method to distinguish myth from reality, then how can they claim to know that their God is reality, not myth?

      • Ignorant Amos

        Bayes' Theorem.

  • articulett

    Is there anyone who didn't believe in god who started believing because of the CA? Or does this just sound like a good argument to people of faith who want to keep their faith?

    • Andrew

      I will admit to you, as a person of faith, I find it hard to imagine that CA would convince anyone who didn't have at least some inclination towards the existence of God in the first place. I find it valuable as a tool to understand what a common religious concept of God is, once I am already a believer, but as a conversion tool, I suspect it is not useful very often. That is just a supposition on my part though. I would not wish to make claims to you without any evidence!

      • No atheist who rejects the foundational argument of the CA is going to be converted by anything rational whatsoever.

        After all, if something can, every so often, simply "pop" out of nothing, then any subsequent madness is certainly not going to present any logical difficulties.

        • articulett

          I know... I know-- it makes much more sense to you that it pops out of a god indistinguishable from nothing,

          • But God is quite distinguishable from nothing, articulett, which is why the CA makes sense, and the atheist "something that is really nothing from nothing that is really something" self-refutes.

            There is really no amount of humility that will save the atheist axiom.

          • primenumbers

            Why do you criticize your own God so? After all your God is an atheist, believing in no higher power and that he wasn't created by a deity.

          • Since He would be a liar if He believed a higher deity, and a liar if He claimed to have been created by a deity, your argument seems to be with His truthfulness.

            This is consistent.

          • primenumbers

            And if atheism is good enough for God, it's good enough for me.

          • Since it isn't, logically you would now present yourself for baptism.

            But then, logic is not particularly relevant when assessing a system whose first principle is that something every once in a while just sort of pops out of nothing.

          • primenumbers

            Perhaps you've already had a humour-ectomy. Maybe you could be a candidate for a humour transplant?

          • Either that, or I could simply continue to bat the softballs you toss my way over the fence :-)

          • Michael Murray

            Perhaps you've already had a humour-ectomy. Maybe you could be a candidate for a humour transplant?

            It rejected him I think.

          • Ignorant Amos

            ...first principle is that something every once in a while just sort of pops out of nothing.

            Physics doesn't make the "pops out of nothing" claim in the way you flippantly assert, that's your religion you are talking about...

            "Biblical scholars and theologians within the Judaeo-Christian tradition such as Augustine (354-430), John Calvin (1509–1564), John Wesley (1703–1791) and Matthew Henry (1662–1714) cite Genesis 1:1 in support of the idea of Divine creation out of nothing."

            Scientists are on to something else entirely. That something else is not without it's challenges I grant you, but that something else includes no gods, yours or any of the rest of histories deities.

            "as bizarre as the spontaneous creation and destruction of particles might seem, Krauss argues that there’s scientific proof of the phenomenon, which makes it better than any creation myth."

            The hard work is being done in science departments of Universities, laboratories and places like the LHC, not seminaries, philosophy classes or the Vatican.

            The current argument is that there is never nothing...or no thing...even in a vacuum. I know it is a lot simpler to say god-did-it, but it advances us no where because the god that is being posited as the first cause is just as noticeable as no god at all.

            Your particular god , Yahweh/Jesus, carries a lot of embarrassing baggage that helps you in no way whatsoever in the cosmological argument...so riddle me this all ya like.

          • "Physics doesn't make the "pops out of nothing" claim in the way you flippantly assert, that's your religion you are talking about..."

            >> "A Universe From Nothing", Lawrence Krauss.

            I rest my case.

            "Scientists are on to something else entirely. That something else is not without it's challenges I grant you, but that something else includes no gods, yours or any of the rest of histories deities."

            >> Scientists are on to many things. Nothing isn't one of them.

            "The hard work is being done in science departments of Universities, laboratories and places like the LHC, not seminaries, philosophy classes or the Vatican."

            >> Scientists who confuse something with nothing need to do some hard work in seminaries, philosophy classes, or the Vatican, each of which can straighten the poor victim of the "nothing is really something" fundamental botch job out in a hurry.

            In fact they already have.

            There are few more widespread instances of a "scientific" proposition which has met with a more devastating, conclusive, and embarrassing smackdown, than Larwence Krauss' "A Universe From Nothing".

            "The current argument is that there is never nothing...or no thing...even in a vacuum."

            >> So you are correcting Krauss. Good. It's a big party at this point but always room for one more.

            "I know it is a lot simpler to say god-did-it,"

            >> God is not nothing. Neither are quantum fields.

            This is so simple, when are you guys going to simply realize this was a blunder of epic proportions and fold?

          • Ignorant Amos

            It's simple enough alright.

            You just need to do the science.

            >> "A Universe From Nothing", Lawrence Krauss.

            Which has the subtitle "Why there is something rather than nothing?"

            I rest my case.

            Figures...nothing to say about the theology of "ex nihilio" I see.

            "Creation out of nothing, or creation ex nihilo, is the belief that God created this world out of nothing, ex nihilo being Latin for "from nothing." The Bible is clear that God is the creator of this world (Gen 1:1; Job 38:1-42:6 among many others), but the issue of how he created this world is what is in question. Typically there are two main answers: (1) either God created this world from nothing, or (2) he created this world from pre-existing matter. In the second view God would be the organizer or the one who "ordered the chaos" of this world."

            C'mon...let's see some of that sophisticated theology, because as far as I can see, hypothesis (1) has God, as you asserted incorrectly about scientists, getting stuff that "pops out of nothing". Hypothesis (2) will give you a headache.

            But anyway, in keeping with the topic of the thread, here's some of the daft stuff proposed by the OP's author...

            "Of course, “nothing” is not any kind of thing in the first place but merely the absence of anything. Consider all the true statements there are about what exists: “Trees exist,” “Quarks exist,” “Smugly ill-informed physicists exist,” and so forth. To ask why there is something rather than nothing is just to ask why it isn’t the case that all of these statements are false. There is nothing terribly mysterious about the question, however controversial the traditional answer."

            (Dr. Edward Feser)

            What did that jerk just say there? “Smugly ill-informed physicists exist”...what does Feser know about the science of cosmology and the quantum world over Krauss that he has the affront to critique his work and get up to his usual slanderous behavior?

            "Traditional answer"....now there's a giveaway if ever there was one.

            Nothing in the world of Quantum physics doesn't mean "no thing", you lot love to make up definitions of words to fit your sophisticated theology when it suits.

            There is always something, it just appears as nothing to the ill-informed, like those theologians writing about ex nihilio in the past. You can't have your cake and eat it I'm afraid.

            More Feser ignorance here...

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

            But just because simpler folk can't understand the concepts being discussed doesn't mean everyone can't.

            "Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who is an astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History, says in his brief review of the book: “Nothing is not nothing. Nothing is something. That's how a cosmos can be spawned from the void -- a profound idea conveyed in A Universe From Nothing that unsettles some yet enlightens others."

            God is not nothing.

            Got evidence?

            Neither are quantum fields.

            Yes, because we've got the evidence.

            Unless you are proposing that God is just another name for a quantum field?

            This is so simple, when are you guys going to simply realize this was a blunder of epic proportions and fold?

            There's another irony meter gone...it's like shooting fish in a barrel.

          • “It’s simple enough alright. You just need to do the science.”

            >> Uh-huh.

            I propose an alternative.

            Science has nothing to do with it.

            Science is not in a position to experimentally establish, examine, or experiment in any way at all upon “nothing”; this fact can be known by a reasonably intelligent seven year old, and so we will instead establish that here- right exactly *here*- is to be found the fundamental con of the attempt of the New Atheist “Brights”.

            The con, unsurprisingly, consists in an invitation to dispense with the law of non-contradiction; that is, it consists in the invitation to replace reason with madness.

            It is important to keep in mind that once a violation of the law of non-contradiction has been established, further rational discourse is impossible.

            The proponent of the contradiction cannot be reasoned with further, since Reason does not constitute the basis of his world view.

            Any thing at all can happen for such a fellow. Universes can pop out of nothing that is really something. Two plus two can, every once in a while, equal seventeen. Children can, every once in a very great while (it is a matter of quantum physics, they are prepared to insist) turn into great big bowls of Count Chockula.

            It is a tragic conception of reality, but it is all the atheist has, in the end.

            “Which has the subtitle "Why there is something rather than nothing?"

            I rest my case.

            >> I suggest your case has been routed, not rested. Notice: “Something” is counterposed to “Nothing”. There is the one, there is the other. They are not the same thing. They are opposite things, in fact. The title asserts a Something From Nothing. This is, in fact, a textbook self-contradiction. Why A and not B? Well, here is ignorant amos’ answer, and it is a classic:

            “Nothing in the world of Quantum physics doesn't mean "no thing",

            >> There it sits, in all its resplendent, smug, punk-rock insouciance.

            No offense to intended punks, who typically employ absurdity as a theatrical effect, rather than a philosophically-derived statement of the fundamental ground of being.

            There it is:

            Nothing is not nothing.

            Give him just this much and he can get rid of that pesky God and construct his universe of universes where everything that can happen, does, including the universe where we all just recently turned into a gigantic bowl of Count Chockula. Best of all, he will call this “science”, and expect that this regal assertion will serve, as it so often has, to intimidate the oatmeal-minded.

            The matter is settled, conclusively, right here. A contradiction has been established.

            Further rational discourse with amos is impossible, so let’s go ahead and have some fun with the rest..........

            “you lot love to make up definitions of words to fit your sophisticated theology when it suits.”

            >> To the contrary. Nothing means, exactly, what it says. No thing. To deny this is to deny reason itself. Which is precisely what you have done here.

            “There is always something, it just appears as nothing to the ill-informed,”

            >> Heh heh.

            Better check that targeting system of yours, amos, it seems to be radically malfunctioning, since you just launched on Lawrence Krauss, the author of the immortally botched title........now wait for it.....

            “ A Universe from.......N-O-T-H-I-N-G”

            It is not, amos, “A Universe From Something”

            That would have been non-controversial, hence we might reasonably assume it to have been nothing more or less than a cynical con by which to amp up book sales.

            “like those theologians writing about ex nihilio in the past. You can't have your cake and eat it I'm afraid.”

            >> There is the cake, and there is the Baker. God is not nihilo, and creation is not an act upon pre-existing matter. Put these two logically bulletproof points together, and we get:

            “God created the world from nothing”.

            This is bulletproof, as far as the law of non-contradiction is concerned.

            On the other hand:

            "Nothing that is really something eternally generates the something that is really nothing from the nothing that is really something”.........

            Well.

            I predict certain difficulties to rather persistently attend the elaboration of any system of the world predicated on such barking madness.

            But you have provided a great service here, amos, in doubling down on absurdity.

            As the crisis confronting physics at the extreme large and small scales of reality ripens, it is of great importance to keep in mind, that systems predicated upon illogical and/or unexaminedly false metaphysical premises will always display puzzling, proliferating, devastating internal contradictions, as observations are extended, and the refusal of those observations to comply with the metaphysical premises becomes impossible to fudge.

            We are exactly there, amos.

            As the (atheist) philosopher David Aldridge exquisitely summarizes the matter:

            “Relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical vacuum states — no less than giraffes or refrigerators or solar systems — are particular arrangements of elementary physical stuff. The true relativistic-quantum-field­-theoretical equivalent to there not being any physical stuff at all isn’t this or that particular arrangement of the fields — what it is (obviously, and ineluctably, and on the contrary) is the simple absence of the fields! The fact that some arrangements of fields happen to correspond to the existence of particles and some don’t is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that some of the possible arrangements of my fingers happen to correspond to the existence of a fist and some don’t. And the fact that particles can pop in and out of existence, over time, as those fields rearrange themselves, is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that fists can pop in and out of existence, over time, as my fingers rearrange themselves. And none of these poppings … amount to anything even remotely in the neighborhood of a creation from nothing”

          • I think it is fair to say, though, that until quite recently, anyone who claimed creation ex nihilo would have considered totally empty space as "nothing." It is only modern science that makes the distinction between "the vacuum" and "nothing" possible. I think that is the case Krauss makes.

            Also, the creation account in Genesis does not describe God creating the world ex nihilo, but as bringing order out of chaos.

            Whenever I hear people say that God created the universe out of nothing, I think it sounds like God is believed to have taken "nothing" in his (metaphorical) hands and formed it into the universe, thereby forming nothing into something.

            We know Aquinas had no problem with an eternally existing universe (although one created by God). I am not quite sure it can't be maintained that in some way, "the vacuum" is eternal. It is difficult to conceive of the "philosophical nothing," and it's tempting to say that it is essentially meaningless, since by definition it never existed.

          • "I think it is fair to say, though, that until quite recently, anyone who claimed creation ex nihilo would have considered totally empty space as "nothing". It is only modern science that makes the distinction between "the vacuum" and "nothing" possible. I think that is the case Krauss makes."

            >>To the contrary, there is no evidence at all that the concept of a vacuum is somehow exempt from the considerations set forth below:

            "if everything can not-be, then at one time there was nothing in existence. Now if this were true then even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist begins to exist only through something already existing. Therefore if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus now nothing would be in existence -- which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has already been proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore, we cannot but admit the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God."-- Aquinas, Summa Theologica q.3, art. 3

            "Also, the creation account in Genesis does not describe God creating the world ex nihilo, but as bringing order out of chaos."

            >> To the contrary:

            "In the beginning, God *created* the heavens and the Earth".

            "Whenever I hear people say that God created the universe out of nothing, I think it sounds like God is believed to have taken "nothing" in his (metaphorical) hands and formed it into the universe, thereby forming nothing into something."

            >> That is precisely what He did.

            "We know Aquinas had no problem with an eternally existing universe (although one created by God)."

            >> No. Aquinas had no problem with the *philosophical* possibility of an infinity "per accidens", but Aquinas points out that there is no theological possibility of an eternally existing universe, since God is the only infinity "per se".

            Therefore, even were we to suppose an infinity "per accidens" in the natural order, such an order would still require a creation by God, as above.

            "I am not quite sure it can't be maintained that in some way, "the vacuum" is eternal."

            >> It can be maintained as a philosophical possibility, but it is useless to do so, since there is no scientific evidence of this, and all scientific evidence is explicitly to the contrary.

            To hold the possibility on strictly philosophical grounds is fruitless, since the only reason to do so would be to attempt to obviate the necessity for God, and the philosophical proposition of an infinity "per accidens" does not accomplish this.

            "It is difficult to conceive of the "philosophical nothing," and it's tempting to say that it is essentially meaningless, since by definition it never existed."

            >> It is profoundly philosophically meaningful to notice that nothing cannot possibly have ever existed.

            In fact, this simple philosophical truth is the rock upon which all atheism ultimately founders.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Science has nothing to do with it.

            Why?

            Ex nilihio? Silence? Nothing?

            Science is not in a position to experimentally establish, examine, or experiment in any way at all upon “nothing”; this fact can be known by a reasonably intelligent seven year old, and so we will instead establish that here- right exactly *here*- is to be found the fundamental con of the attempt of the New Atheist “Brights”.

            You are six years old? At least that would be half an excuse.

            The con, yadda, yadda, yadda...

            WTF..wake me up when ya ya have something constructive to add......

            I rest my case.

            >> I suggest your case has been routed, not rested. Notice: “Something” is counterposed to “Nothing”. There is the one, there is the other. They are not the same thing. They are opposite things, in fact. The title asserts a Something From Nothing. This is, in fact, a textbook self-contradiction. Why A and not B? Well, here is ignorant amos’ answer, and it is a classic:

            Yes okay, but if we fuck all that theological bollocks out the windy, what's left?

            “Nothing in the world of Quantum physics doesn't mean "no thing",

            > There it sits, in all its resplendent, smug, punk-rock insouciance.

            Your being a dick......as a person who knew Jet Black (Stranglers), the most senior drummer in rock'n'roll...and asthmatic ta boot, stop talking shite about shite you are ignorant about.

            No offense intended to punks, who typically employ absurdity as a theatrical effect, rather than a philosophically-derived statement of the fundamental ground of being.

            As a 70's punk in Belfast.,I can categorically state you are a talking out your arse.

            There it is:

            Nothing is not nothing.

            Life is like a box of chocolates is it not, ya goat?

            Give him just this much and he can get rid of that pesky God and construct his universe of universes where everything that can happen, does, including the universe where we all just recently turned into a gigantic bowl of Count Chockula. Best of all, he will call this “science”, and expect that this regal assertion will serve, as it so often has, to intimidate the oatmeal-minded.

            Crazy bastard...Zeus? Mitheas? Santa? whatever nonsense ya want?

            Further rational discourse with amos is impossible, so let’s go ahead and have some fun with the rest..........>/blockquotes>

            ...Ex nilihio....please...explain it to the simple, stupid

            >> To the contrary. Nothing means, exactly, what it says. No thing. To deny this is to deny reason itself. Which is precisely what you have done here.

            Because you are an ignoramus....ffs.

            >> Heh heh.

            Stupid is as stupid does.....

            Better check that targeting system of yours, amos, it seems to be radically malfunctioning, since you just launched on Lawrence Krauss, the author of the immortally botched title........now wait for it.....

            You are an A1L1 tit as we used to say in the armed forces.

            “ A Universe from.......N-O-T-H-I-N-G”

            It is not, amos, “A Universe From Something”

            Holly fuck ya retard...it is a play on Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz statement....I was throwing ya bone ffs.

            ..“like those theologians writing about ex nihilio in the past. You can't have your cake and eat it I'm afraid.”

            >> There is the cake, and there is the Baker. God is not nihilo, and creation is not an act upon pre-existing matter. Put these two logically bulletproof points together, and we get:

            Ohhhps...really? You are talking made up keek. but I never once said gods or God was the caske...but the baker needs ingredients..yes or no?

            “God created the world from nothing”.

            This is bulletproof, as far as the law of non-contradiction is concerned.

            Let me re-rephrase that..."Physics created the the world from nothing"....I win!!

            I've been drinking alcohol for a long time today...I get shrill and strident on such occasions.

            I'm fed up with the crap being defended on this site by ignorant individuals...i.e. Hell as a concept, the church can't endure guilt, and other bollocks, and such nonsense as a reasonable point of view in the 21st century..

            By commenting here I am giving credence to an establishment that in any other genre would be closed down.

            You are part of an evil institution eveni f you are not evil in yourself.

          • I think I owe you an apology, amos.

            I had somehow conceived the idea that you were prepared to engage in an intellectual discussion.

            Perhaps we can pick up again when you are less inebriated.

          • Susan

            Hi Amos :-)

            Rick is a dog with a bone on the idea that atheism requires the belief that "something popped out of nothing". I know you're familiar with the type.

            So when he uses a book title and says, "I rest my case.", it demonstrates that he hasn't read the book or that he has and is being utterly dishonest. I'm leaning toward the former as he seems to think that you are correcting Krauss about there never being nothing in a vacuum.

            Rick is also a geocentrist. It's fun to watch you (being you) engage with him but make sure you have stocked up on troll chow.

          • Susan:

            The word, my dear, is "Nothing".

            There it is, right there in the stupendously botched title.

            N-O-T-H-I-N-G

            Yes, I confirm, it is there, just exactly as reported above.

            Now Susan, it is certain that *I* did not select that particular word, and therefore, I suggest to you and to your co-thinkers, that the responsibility for cleaning up the mess here really resides with your team.

            Since you haven't...........

          • By the way, Susan and ignorant amos, I do defend geocentrism and always look forward to new challenges :-)

          • Ignorant Amos

            That explains a lot...thanks.

          • Max Driffill

            Does logic have much to do with an empirical fact? I mean a thing is or it isn't and whether we think it is logical matters very little.
            There is no logic in the belief that a god has always existed yet there you are believing that very proposition and like minded folks have crafted masses of literature about this imagined being.

          • "Does logic have much to do with an empirical fact?"

            >> Yes, in this exact way:

            Empirical facts will always serve to either confirm, or else to falsify, logical-deductive theoretical systems of the world.

            When an empirical fact is established to contradict such a logical-deductive theoretical system, we have been provided conclusive evidence of the falseness and/or incompleteness of the system.

            Another word for the above process is:

            "Science".

            "I mean a thing is or it isn't and whether we think it is logical matters very little."

            >> We agree.

            "There is no logic in the belief that a god has always existed"

            >> To the contrary. It is logically certain that God necessarily exists, since the universe cannot have preceded its own existence; that is, it cannot have brought itself into existence; that is, it is logically certain that the universe requires a *super*natural cause by which to account for the empirical fact of its existence.

          • Ignorant Amos

            I wouldn't trust the idea of the Abrahamic god as far as I could chuck it...and being immaterial that isn't very far at all.

          • Susan

            Sorry Rick.
            I clicked a "like" on your link by mistake and in trying to fix it have accidentally given you 11 likes and 4 dislikes.

            Disqus!

            I didn't mean any trouble.

          • Susan

            Never mind. It seems to have sorted itself into one "like" which was not my intention.

            But hey, what the heck!

          • Sample1

            Just click the up-vote again (on the comments you didn't want to like) and it will negate your like (rather than down-voting).

            Mike

          • articulett

            I tried doing that on her post to make sure that was what you were supposed to do and it started going haywire.... into negative numbers and stuff. So I think you have to refresh to change it-- which is a pain with disqus because then you have to go and find the damn post again-- and it may be way towards the bottom.

          • Susan

            Thanks Mike.
            That worked for me all this time but it fouled up on this occasion.

            It turned an "oops" into eleven likes and four dislikes. It sorted itself into one like for no apparent reason, and that's fine. I'm not gonna mess with that voodoo again.

            It was a rare glitch and as disqus goes, it's not its biggest issue.

          • severalspeciesof

            I'm beginning to believe that disqus is a deity... it's unpredictable, unwieldy, etc., yet still holds power over us...

          • articulett

            Yes... but it's visible... tangible... it has measurable properties and is distinguishable from an imaginary blog hosting site.

          • severalspeciesof

            Nuts... ;-) and to think I was thinking of starting a new religion...

          • articulett

            Oh no no no-- property deities are nebulous... they have to be just the right size and shape to fill any gap but amorphous enough so you can never pin them down. Oh and they should be "uncaused"-- because their job is to cause everything else ... except the bad stuff of course... that's caused by you! (But if you have faith you'll be forgiven)

          • Susan- I have liked only one atheist's comment on this board, and that was the incredibly honest and decent fellow Phil Rimmer, who had the courage and the integrity to stand up and demand that the Memoryholing of my response to him (which was, I am sure you will believe, not exactly gentle) be reversed.

            Good guy.

          • Susan

            >the incredibly honest and decent fellow Phil Rimmer,

            >Good guy.

            That's something you and I can both agree on. :-)

          • I hope they haven't Memoryholed my request to debate him on some forum where there exists no Memoryhole.

            He would be a lot of fun.

          • Ignorant Amos

            But according to both parts of the not-so-good-book God IS a liar.

          • articulett

            So tell us how is your god different from the nothing you think that atheists think the universe came from?

            By the way, atheists don't have an axiom about universe origins... when I don't know an answer, I say-- "I don't know." But I'm pretty sure that the answer is not an invisible 3-in-1 deity who became his own son nor any other invisible being. I can also be pretty sure it's not a super advanced alien from another dimension and also that we aren't in a matrix and that last Thursdayism is incorrect. I think the best answer we are likely to get are going to come from scientists and not people who think they will live happily ever after so long as they believe in the right invisible man.

            Contrast that to you-- (and many, many other believers in the supernatural)-- when scientists don't have an answer, you pretend that you do-- and that your magical beliefs are the correct explanation. The "woo" thinks: "Science can't prove me wrong-- therefore my 'woo' is true!" Unfortunately for them there is no way to distinguish true woo from competing woo claims.

            Woo= any supernatural and/or unfalsifiable claim and/or believer in such.

          • Hi there art:

            "So tell us how is your god different from the nothing you think that atheists think the universe came from?"

            >> Easily done, art. Nothing does not exist. God does.

            "By the way, atheists don't have an axiom about universe origins... when I don't know an answer, I say-- "I don't know."

            >> Excellent. Since you don;t know how the universe originated, we can count you among those lucky atheists who will never advance the utterly absurd proposition that something just "pops" out of nothing (which turns out to be something).

            Of course, the problem here is that to admit ignorance of origins is not sufficient.

            It is *knowably* the case that the universe had an origin.

            That is enough.

            Given this simple fact, the logically necessary existence of God is inescapable.

            "But I'm pretty sure that the answer is not an invisible 3-in-1 deity who became his own son nor any other invisible being."

            >> Having already acknowledged that you don;t know, your opinion above boils down to:

            "It doesn't tickle my fancy"

            Not a very persuasive argument, but then again, since you are smart enough to recognize the shipwreck that lies ahead of every atheist attempt to retail the "something from nothing that turns out to be something" gambit, it is pretty much the best you can hope for.

            "I can also be pretty sure it's not a super advanced alien from another dimension and also that we aren't in a matrix and that last Thursdayism is incorrect. I think the best answer we are likely to get are going to come from scientists and not people who think they will live happily ever after so long as they believe in the right invisible man."

            >> Well, your naive faith in "scientists" is quite touching, but the best of them are quite capable of setting you straight:

            Science does not deal with these questions.

            Science deals with that which can be observed, measured, and subjected to experimental test.

            "Contrast that to you-- (and many, many other believers in the supernatural)-- when scientists don't have an answer, you pretend that you do-- and that your magical beliefs are the correct explanation. The "woo" thinks: "Science can't prove me wrong-- therefore my 'woo' is true!" Unfortunately for them there is no way to distinguish true woo from competing woo claims."

            >> You have tragically failed to grasp what science is, but that is to be expected, since science is the daughter of Catholic metaphysics, which you dismiss as "woo".

            It has built the very civilization you inhabit, and may I say that your dismissal of it is as impotent as are your scientists impotent to establish whether the universe popped out of nothing.

            .

          • articulett

            science is, but that is to be expected, since science is the daughter of Catholic metaphysics, which you dismiss as "woo".

            Sometimes kids grow beyond their parents... in fact it's what good parents hope for.

            Yes, it's true... lots of people go into science thinking it will shore up their faith, and instead it makes them lose their faith.

          • Yes, I think the daughter has grown a great deal beyond initial expectations.

            This is why she needs her Mom's help more than ever, right here and now, where she is tempted to lose what makes her great- that incredibly powerful, rigorous commitment to *experimental test of hypothesis with the intention of falsifying what she thinks she knows*.

            She is tempted to think she can dispense with that method now.

            She can't.

            Once she accepts and integrates this, she will become greater than ever.

          • Michael Murray

            You know you can sometimes overcook an analogy ? Just sayin'

          • Sure.

            On the other hand sometimes you can get it just right.

          • I see you edited to add the final question there, art. Would've been a bit more intellectually honest to have asked the question under a different post, so that the argument could be assessed step by step, don't you think?

            Nothing does not exist, because you do.

            If nothing existed, then you would not.

            God exists in this precise way:

            He is not nothing.

          • primenumbers

            "Nothing does not exist. God does." - really sounds like you're defining your God as nothing. And indeed, as theists want God to be the foundation of absolutes and we need a foundation for absolutely nothing, God is perhaps the best candidate.

          • "Nothing does not exist. God does." - really sounds like you're defining your God as nothing.

            >> It really looks like you are not understanding the difference between non-existence and existence.

            This is a predictable outcome of any system of the world which is predicated upon the First Principle that nothing is really something, and something occasionally pops out of the nothing which is something.

            "And indeed, as theists want God to be the foundation of absolutes and we need a foundation for absolutely nothing, God is perhaps the best candidate."

            >> Since absolutely nothing does not exist- please try to grasp that if nothing exists, then you do not- it is certainly the case that God is the only candidate by which we can rationally account for the fact that you do exist.

          • primenumbers

            "Since absolutely nothing does not exist" - ok, so how does that fit with your God creating everything from nothing if there's no such thing as nothing?

          • Since God exists, nothing does not.

            Since God creates from nothing, it is God creating, not nothing.

          • primenumbers

            If according to your statement 1) above, nothing does not exist, there is no nothing in your statement 2) for God to create from. It is standard Christian theology that God created
            Ex nihilo, so if there is no nothing, you've just denied that basic of Christian theology.

          • The "nothing" from which God creates is, of course, that which is brought into existence from non-existence by Something which does, necessarily, Exist.

            So, that nothing can only be what exists potentially, but has not been brought from potential to actual existence; that is, contingent entities which depend for their existence upon a prior Being.

          • primenumbers

            Utter poetry, which is my nice way of saying BS.

          • Poetry is a magnificent human achievement, primenumbers, and is merely one more of the glories of our species which is denied and disdained once the atheist principle:

            "something is really nothing, and nothing which is really something pops out of something which is really nothing"

            is adopted.

            There is indeed nothing poetic about the atheist axiom of madness.

          • primenumbers

            Why do you insist on repeating your non-sensical straw man?

          • Why do you insist on continuously reiterating what you have failed to demonstrate?

          • primenumbers

            The only failure to demonstrate on these forums is evidence for God. Your poetry and word play above does nothing to advance your cause, other than to help you in your own mind think you're oh-so-superior.

          • But the evidence for God is conclusively established, prime.

            You exist.

            This has nothing whatever to do with superiority on my part, or on yours.

            It does show, however, that Something superior to us both is necessary, in order to account for our existence.

          • primenumbers

            My existence is evidence if my existence, That you use your existence and faulty logic to think your God exists is your problem. That you think "God is conclusively established" is the height of arrogance.

          • But think it through, prime.

            You exist.

            You cannot have existed before you began to exist.

            You cannot have brought yourself into existence.

            Something had to precede you in existence, in order for you to account for the fact that you exist.

            I am sure you would agree with this.

            Yes?

          • primenumbers

            You're just restating a cosmological argument - one with known flaws.

          • But you assert what you have not been able to demonstrate here, prime.

            There is no flaw whatever in the cosmological argument.

            This is because the cosmos exists.

            It began to exist.

            There was a time when it did not exist.

            But it exists.

            It cannot have existed before it began to exist.

            Therefore it cannot have brought itself into existence.

            Something had to pre-exist the cosmos, so that the cosmos could be brought from non-existence, into existence.

            This gets us far enough to know for a certainty that Something *super*natural must, definitely, exist.

            This having been established, we can proceed to an examination of the logically necessary attributes of that *super*natural Something.

          • primenumbers

            You're not interested in listening or discussing as you already have all the answers and state things as knowledge beyond the humble abilities of normal humans. All praise Rick.

          • severalspeciesof

            I know why...

          • But God is of course distinguishable from nothing, art.

            Nothing does not exist.

            God does.

            See how simple?

        • articulett

          No atheist who rejects the foundational argument of the CA is going to be converted by anything rational whatsoever.

          So all the atheists who have become religious have converted for irrational reasons? You know what-- I agree, but I think some of the former atheists here will beg to differ.

      • articulett

        Great answer-- Rick could learn from your humility in regards tomaking claims without evidence.

  • Brad

    It seems to me that if God existed one wouldn't need a degree in physics or philosophy to realize it. What happened to burning bushes?

    • What happened to burning bushes?

      Gone to ashes, every one.
      Oh, when will they ever learn ...

    • severalspeciesof

      Yes there's an argument for that, though its name escapes me...

  • severalspeciesof

    I took another look at the OP and #7 really popped out at me (not sure why)...

    The argument is not a “God of the gaps” argument.

    That is very true. It's the 'god of the first gap'...

  • BenS

    So You Think You Understand the Cosmological Argument?

    Yes. It's still rubbish.

    Well, that's that article successfully dealt with. Next!

    • ibookworm

      Dude. You just proved Feser's point.

  • 42Oolon

    Sigh. I would think that if this god existed, its proponents would not need recourse to phrases like "the actualization of the potentials inherent in things" to explain it.

    Either the Universe of what we observe is un-caused itself, or it was caused by something we do not, and cannot, observe. If the latter, we can never know anything about it to say whether it exists or not. Argument from ignorance award.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      We observe empirical evidence. We comprehend deductive arguments.

    • ibookworm

      Couldn't the same thing be said about the singularity, and any other universes that might exist? After all, the singularity is an ultimate point at which the laws that govern science break down, and science has no ability to see beyond. We cannot observe other universes. And these other universes, if they exist, do not act upon us, so we cannot reason to them via their effects. So hypothesizing prior or other universes is pure conjecture, seemingly (to my eyes) in an effort to get away from the idea of a beginning, an effort that is motivated by a materialist philosophy and not by anything science shows us.

      But the thing is, the cosmological argument argues to the existence of God based on, as Kevin said, empirical evidence and deductive arguments. We don't have to fit God into a test tube to know that he's there. We can't directly observe him, but we CAN observe his effects, and reason from those effects back to their cause. Which is what the cosmological argument does.

    • Roger Hane

      I don't understand where you got the second part of your either-or statement. Why couldn't that something make itself observable? If it's powerful enough to create the material universe, why couldn't it accomplish the simple task of making itself indisputably known to the creatures it created? Theists say it did, atheists say it didn't. It's sad that they can't agree on something so basic.

      • 42Oolon

        Because that is what "singularity" means in the context of a big bang. The singularity event is as far back as we can observe based on physical observation and mathematical theory. We cannot really postulate anything "before" the singularity because there is no "time", there is simply no "before". Same for space and theory. We cannot project anything about mass, energy or anything else past this event horizon when all these things break down and cease to exist. A being may exist now and tell us things about this "before" but that doesn't make it coherent.

  • Vicq_Ruiz

    Yet another article which makes a respectable case for the existence of a
    Deist's God. An argument which I, as an atheist, have no real objection
    to.

    Let's just remember that using "God" in the sense of "that undefined entity that jumpstarted the Big Bang" is not equivalent to "God" as "that three in one personage as defined in the Nicene Creed", and to prove the first is not to prove the second.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Right. You are pointing out the difference between natural and supernatural theology. The doctrine of the Trinity could never be known if it were not revealed and even once it is revealed it can only be partly understood.

  • The worst problem is that Feser clearly doesn't understand the word "serious".

    • M. Solange O’Brien

      Feser is arguing using ancient philosophy as viewed through the mind of a medieval philosopher. He knows nothing about the science involved, and takes as givens sets of postulates we have yet to establish as true.

      His genuinely nasty style, continual condescension, flagrant homophobia, and tendency to ramble are just icing on the cake.

  • Jonathan Brumley

    Interesting... even Wikipedia lists this objection, that the "First Cause" argument assumes what is is trying to prove. It seems that someone should update the article, at least update the section entitled "What caused the first cause?".

  • FZ

    Here’s an argument regarding contingency, necessity and composition:

    “If everything in the universe is contingent, does it follow that the universe is contingent? No it doesn't, and to think otherwise would be to commit the fallacy of composition. If the parts of a whole have a certain property, it does not follow that the whole has that property. But it is a simple point of logic that a proposition's not following from another is consistent with the proposition's being true.

    And so while one cannot straightaway infer the contingency of the universe from the contingency of its parts, it is nevertheless true that the universe is contingent. Or so I shall argue.”

    http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2012/09/could-a-universe-of-contingent-beings-be-necessary.html

  • Gram

    Why do people waste their time on the cosmological argument? Even granting everything in this article, the argument still fails because of several of its premises. The problem arises from the fact that nothing has ever been observed to "begin to exist." The fact we use those words is merely a weakness of our language, everything we witness seeming to come into being is, in fact, merely the rearrangement of existing matter/energy and such events, based on observation, DO in fact require a cause. However, the cosmological arguments goal is to prove that the universe had to have a cause to come into existence from nothing (creation ex nihilo), and this causes serious problems for the argument. If we were to be honest with our language it really should be reworded to:

    1. Everything that is created from rearrangement of matter/energy has a cause.
    2. The universe was created from nothing.
    3. Therefore, The universe must have had a cause.

    Clearly, the argument now fails, 3 does not follow even granting premise 1 and 2.