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Legos, God, and the Fallacy of Composition

Legos

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.
 


 

Both critics and defenders of arguments for the existence of God as an Uncaused Cause often assume that such arguments are essentially concerned to explain the universe considered as a whole. That is true of some versions, but not all. For instance, it is not true of Aquinas’s arguments, at least as many Thomists understand them. For the Thomist, you don’t need to start with something grand like the universe in order to show that God exists. Any old thing will do—a stone, a jar of peanut butter, your left shoe, whatever. The existence of any one of these things even for an instant involves the actualization of potencies here and now, which in turn presupposes the activity of a purely actual actualizer here and now. It involves the conjoining of an essence to an act of existence here and now, which presupposes a sustaining cause whose essence and existence are identical. It involves a union of parts in something composite, which presupposes that which is absolutely simple or incomposite. And so forth. (For the details of this, see Aquinas, especially chapter 3.)

Criticisms of First Cause arguments that assume that what is in question is how to explain the universe as a whole are therefore irrelevant to Aquinas’s versions. Still, those versions which are concerned with explaining this are also important. One objection often raised against them is that they commit a fallacy of composition. In particular, it is claimed that they fallaciously infer from the premise that the various objects that make up the universe are contingent to the conclusion that the universe as a whole is contingent. What is true of the parts of a whole is not necessarily true of the whole itself: If each brick in a wall of Legos is an inch long, it doesn’t follow that the wall as a whole is an inch long. Similarly, even if each object in the universe is contingent, why suppose that the universe as a whole is?

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 length 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?

If anything, it is certain critics of the sort of argument in question who seem more plausibly accused of committing a fallacy of composition. Consider this famous passage from David Hume’s Dialogues:
 

"Did I show you the particular causes of each individual in a collection of twenty particles of matter, I should think it very unreasonable, should you afterwards ask me, what was the cause of the whole twenty. This is sufficiently explained in explaining the cause of the parts."

 
(Paul Edwards makes a similar objection—see the “five Eskimos” example in this famous article.)

The reasoning couldn’t be more plain: If you explain each part of a collection, you’ve explained the whole. Therefore (so this sort of objection to the kind of cosmological argument in question continues) if we can explain each individual thing or event in the universe as the effect of some previous thing or event in the universe, we’ve explained the whole collection of things or events, and needn’t appeal to anything outside the universe. And yet, to identify the immediate efficient cause of each thing in a collection simply is not necessarily to explain the collection as a whole. If a certain book exists because it was copied from an earlier book, the earlier book existed because it was copied from a yet earlier book, that book existed because it was copied from a still earlier book, and so on, we will hardly have provided a sufficient explanation of the series of books if we suppose that it either has extended backward into the past to infinity or that via time travel it forms a causal loop. So, hasn’t Hume himself committed a fallacy of composition?

A defender of Hume might reply as follows: It is only when each part of a collections has been sufficiently explained that the Humean claims it follows that the whole collection has been explained; and in the counterexamples in question (the book example and others of the sort explored in the previous post) each part clearly hasn’t been sufficiently explained but only partially explained (because, say, the origin of the information contained in the book still needs to be explained). So (the proposed reply continues) the Humean would not be committed to saying, falsely, that the whole collection has been explained in such cases.

This saves the Humean critique from committing the fallacy of composition, but only at the cost of making it question-begging. For a defender of the sort of cosmological argument we’ve been discussing could happily agree that if each part of a collection has been sufficiently explained, then the whole collection has been explained as well. He just thinks that to identify an immediate contingent cause for each contingent thing or event in the universe is not to give a sufficient explanation of it. If the Humean disagrees, then he needs to give some reason why identifying such a cause would be sufficient. Merely to assert that it would be sufficient—which is all Hume does, and which is all that is done by those who quote Hume as if he had made some devastating point—simply assumes what is at issue.
 
 
Originally posted on Edward Feser's blog. Used with author's permission.
(Image credit: J. Ronald Lee)

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.

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  • Rationalist1

    "The existence of any one of these things even for an instant involves the actualization of potencies here and now, which in turn presupposes the activity of a purely actual actualizer here and now. It involves the conjoining of an essence to an act of existence here and now, which presupposes a sustaining cause whose essence and existence are identical. "

    Can anyone explain that in plain English and why it's necessarily true.

    • You first need to understand Aristotle's concepts of "potentiality" and "actuality". This Wikipedia article provides a brief but solid overview.

      What Dr. Feser is saying is:

      1. No potential can actualize itself. To actualize a pot of water into steam, for example, you need some outside cause (e.g., a stove.)

      2. But since we *do* see things that are actualized around us (e.g., "a stone, a jar of peanut butter, your left shoe, whatever") then something must have actualized them. That cause must have been actualized by something else, that cause by something else, etc.

      3. This process cannot extend infinitely into the past (see: Dr. Feser's book metaphor in this article) which means there must exist an Uncaused Cause that is *pure* actuality--no potential, no change. This must be a Cause whose essence is existence, for if those two were separate, then it would have the potential *not* to exist and thus would not be pure actuality.

      Dr. Feser offers a *very* lucid explanation of all this in two of his books, Aquinas and The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism (the latter a bit more polemic than the former.) I'd also suggest Thomas Aquinas' short treatise, On Being and Essence (De Ente Et Essentia).

      • primenumbers

        "Aristotle's concepts of "potentiality" and "actuality"" - are ways of looking at things. There's no indication that they actually refer to how things actually are. Any argument that purports to deal with how things actually are needs to rely only on such concepts that have been demonstrated to refer to things as they actually are.

        • Rationalist1

          They are just philosophical classifications that may or may not have applicability to the actual world then.

          • primenumbers

            Yes, they're just Aristotle's model. No demonstration has been made to show that they represent what is actually occurring in reality.

          • Rationalist1

            So we can just adopt another model if we are displeased with this one and as long as it is internally logically consistent no one could argue it was invalid.

            When philosophy doesn't require the stability of reality it's like a ship adrift without an anchor.

          • primenumbers

            The mistake by the philosopher is made when they assume their model IS reality. This doesn't matter until you come to try to derive a real world result from your model. At that point the engineer or physicist tests their model against reality. At this point the theologist.....

        • They simply are how things are and plenty of real-world examples demonstrate this. Everything we see in our world has the potential to change, the potential to be something else. But to realize that potential, some cause has to actualize the change.

          Would you disagree?

          • Rationalist1

            No, many things can change without an actualizer, but that brings up another discussion that I'm saving for the future post you mentioned yesterday.

          • Jules

            I'm curious. What can change without cause?

          • Rationalist1

            The basis of quantum mechanics is probabilistic not causal. For example an electron in a excited state of an atom decays to the ground state randomly at a certain rate. There is nothing that causes it to happen 1 second from now or one day from now and an individual transition is totally unpredictable. Only in large ensembles does the rate become predictable.

          • Jules

            Humor me; I'm largely uneducated. How can it be certain it is random? Or simply that the reason for the rate of decay is not yet understood/perceived with the current/insufficient models? And does unpredictability or probabilistic always rule out cause/effect?

          • epeeist

            How can it be certain it is random?

            In this case it is the energy/time form of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle:

            ΔEΔt ≥ h / 2 π

            Since the energy change between orbitals is well defined then the time it happens cannot be.

            This is general in quantum mechanics, if one has a pair of complementary variables then we can only speak about them in probabilistic terms.

          • Rationalist1

            One knows it's random by measuring it. Scientists (including Einstein and Bohm) have endeavoured for much of the 20th century to find "hidden variables theory" but without success. Their theories were found either to be logically or mathematically inconsistent or predicted results that differed from experiment. Quantum electrodynamics, which is based upon these uncaused events, has produced results that agree with experiment to better than one part in a trillion. It may be wrong but the accuracy of this theory should be weighed against the accuracy of Aristotle's predictions.

          • Jules

            I'm having difficulty wrapping my mind around such concepts so I'll end here before I go back to quietly observing. I'm finding it highly unsatisfactory that quantum mechanics is so incomplete. {In regards to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle} While only a range of possibilities for the future motion of particles can be calculated, the particle still only travels one path, and I'm much too curious to leave it at "random" or "causeless." Everything in me just wants an answer as to why-. I can understand why Einstein and Bohm were so driven to find a "hidden variable." I find it much more interesting to say that there is a reason yet undiscovered because of the limited scope of our current models than to say that there is no cause at all. But I really should not be commenting seeing that I am as familiar with quantum electrodynamics as I am with Aristotle's predictions. Thanks for answering my questions!

          • Rationalist1

            Jules - You're not alone. As great a physicist as Richard Feynman said if you understand Quantum Mechanics then you don't understand quantum mechanics. Einstein didn't like QM indeterminacy and for the last 30 years of his life sought, without success, to disprove it. His discussions with Bohr are legendary in this regard.

            " While only a range of possibilities for the future motion of particles can be calculated, the particle still only travels one path" That's what our macroscopic notions would say, on the atomic level it doesn't. The simple, elegant, disturbing double slit experiment shows otherwise.

            One could have perhaps argued Aristotle 100 years ago when common sense notions of reality prevailed. But with the advent of QM, we have learned that the world is stranger in ways. like Horatio, that we dreamed of in our philosophy.

          • "As great a physicist as Richard Feynman said if you understand Quantum Mechanics then you don't understand quantum mechanics"

            Yet many commenters here have claimed with great confidence that quantum theory definitively shows causeless events.

          • Rationalist1

            Except the level of understanding has to resort to the mathematics. There is no intuitive, common sense, notional understanding of quantum mechanics. The math, the model and most importantly the results all point to no causality.

          • BA

            Statistics is the science of "not knowing". We apply statistics when we don't fully understand the underlying principles, such as when we study the behavior of large populations.

            The fact that I cannot predict the behavior of a single individual is by no means indicative that his behavior is without cause.

            Further, it is somewhat curious that atheists run to the realm of the least understood portion of existence (QM) when they seek to deny our common intuition and observation that effects have causes.

            The very fact that we CAN make precise and REPEATABLE measurements is highly indicative of the fact that the law of cause and effect IS in operation at the quantum level.

          • josh

            "Yet many commenters here have claimed with great confidence that quantum theory definitively shows causeless events."
            Many commenters have pointed out that QM shows you can't assume all events are caused in any traditional sense. Certain features of QM look causeless according to our best understanding. So 'proofs' for God that rely on the premise that everyday or physical events are caused aren't sound.

          • Joe

            But if as you say we don't understand QM isn't hubris to make a dogmatic claim like "There is no cause." We have only been studing QM for alittle over a hundred years. It took use thousands of years to discover flight. Can you imagine telling someone like DiVinci there is no cause for flight is just something birds do.

          • Rationalist1

            But we don't understand Quantum Mechanics the way we understand the flight of an airplane. The latter can be explained in terms of concepts and principals we encounter in our daily lives. The former is based upon principles we can't understand outside of our mathematics and trust it because it is confirmed by countless experiments to unprecedented accuracy.

            Perhaps as an analogy, I don't understand dimensions greater than 3, but I can easily work in them mathematically, I just can't conceptualize a 4th or higher dimension.

          • Loreen Lee

            Thanks for saying much better what I tried to say.....

          • epeeist

            While only a range of possibilities for the future motion of particles can be calculated, the particle still only travels one path, and I'm much too curious to leave it at "random" or "causeless."

            The mistake people make is to think of QM as somehow analogous to Newtons mechanics. Throw a ball in the air and in Newton's mechanics you can observe its path and velocity at each point, it is a theory of dynamics.

            QM is not a theory of dynamics, it is a theory of measurement. If one prepares an experiment with a particle and makes an observation then the only thing that one can say is that the particle was at the place that it was measured. One has no information as to the path that it travelled. In fact a path integral (sum over histories) approach assumes that the particle travels every possible path getting from its source to its destination. And before you claim that it just can't be so then it turns out that calculations based upon this method agree extremely well with observations.

            I can understand why Einstein and Bohm were so driven to find a "hidden variable."

            Well yes, unfortunately it turns out that hidden variable theories are not compatible with local realism. So if you want hidden variables then you have to accept non-local realism.

          • Jules

            It just can't be so! : ) Counter-intuitive, indeed, but fascinating. I'm sorry if I'm misunderstanding you; I most likely am. If the path integral approach assumption is correct, then it follows that even though a particle is observed and measured in one place, it may very well be in other multiple places-unmeasured and unobserved at the same time? And if a method/calculation is extremely accurate-but not completely-doesn't that make it: inaccurate?

            I would like to know your perspective? No hidden variables or non-local realism? And the implications?

          • epeeist

            I'm sorry if I'm misunderstanding you; I most likely am.

            One of the difficulties is that you need some level of understanding of the formalism to envisage what is happening. It really is difficult to provide a description in words only.

            If the path integral approach assumption is correct, then it follows that even though a particle is observed and measured in one place, it may very well be in other multiple places-unmeasured and unobserved at the same time?

            No, a measurement collapses the wave function (according to most interpretations of QM) and the particle is at the place you measure it. It may be easier to see with a different example. An electron has a property called spin, imagine it being possible for it to spin right or left. Now the particle could be in the left L or right R spin states but because QM is a linear theory then until we measure it we have to consider it to be in a superposition of both states. It is only when we make the measurement that a specific state becomes apparent, this is what I mean by a collapse of the wave function.

            Of course this is only in the "standard" Copenhagen interpretation. In another interpretation what happens is the universe splits when a measurement is made with one universe having a L result and the other universe having the R result.

            And if a method/calculation is extremely accurate-but not completely-doesn't that make it: inaccurate?

            No, it just means that the measurement that you can make on a pair of complementary variables (say position and momentum) has a limit to the accuracy that one can measure.

            I would like to know your perspective? No hidden variables or non-local realism? And the implications?

            Above my pay grade. Personally, not sure about hidden variables, non-local realism with no information being able to be transmitted faster than light.

            There are three things that seem to be important in modern physics:

            1. Symmetry

            2. Information,

            3. Probability

            The last used to be considered as epistemic, e.g. we have a flask containing a large number of atoms. Although we do not have an exact knowledge of the position and velocity of each atom in principle we could know them.

            However, these days probability is regarded in terms of ontology. The position and momentum of a particle are inherently probabilistic in nature, we simply cannot know them both exactly at the same time.

          • Loreen Lee

            I just use these comment sections to attempt to understand within my limited capacity. Would I therefore be 'off' if I related the concept cause/effect to the concept of 'explanation', and leave the probability/randomness thesis to that which has 'yet' no 'explanation.

          • Rationalist1

            But it does have an explanation. It is random. It's like asking is an an electron a particle or a wave. It's neither, it';s something that has no correspondence in our world. We may not like the explanation but that's the reality.

          • Loreen Lee

            So perhaps it is true that the logic of the understanding becomes, at the level of 'reason' immersed in contradiction. I'm being a little 'playful' today in my comments. May I dare to say 'I don't 'understand'!!!!!! I just thought that the way I live my life can also be thought of as being 'random'. I have little explanation or look for little explanation of why I do a great variety of things. Maybe you'll all convince me to be an atheist, except that I believe, that even here, as per Derrida there is no unequivocal 'meaning' to any particular 'word'...We do seem to talk more about atheism (physics) on this blog though than theism (religion)!!!! True?

          • Julius

            But it is the laws of physics that cause quantum mechanics to be probabilistic and to therefore cause the probability that a particle will change. Therefore, it seems to me that your example does not work, for it does not really prove that things change without cause. The change which you postulate is causeless is actually caused by the laws of physics. So the question remains, what actualized the laws of physics. If they are self-actualized, why is this so? And if they are self-actualized, I believe they would fit the definition of how Aquinas conceptualizes God. (Here I mean God not necessarily in the Christian conception of Him, but more in the Unmoved Mover vein, something that simply must exist for there to even be existence.)

          • Michael Murray

            There are no laws of physics. There are just human observations of regularities that reality exhibits. Reality doesn't obey the laws we invent to summarise it's behaviour.

            The fact remains that at it's most fundamental level of quantum mechanics nature appears to be often without cause.

            For example you have particles that decay with a half-life of say a year. That means that if you have a million of them in a box and count them again in a year there will be approximately 500,000. Count them again in another year and there will approximately 250,000, etc. But put one in a box on your kitchen sink and it might decay in 5 seconds or it might be still be there when the universe dies.

          • Julius

            As epeeist stated below there are definitely laws of physics. I understand what you are saying and to an extent agree with you, these "laws" do govern behavior even at the quantum level, for example the Pauli exclusion principle. Also I believe that it is the math of quantum mechanics that tells us the probabilities in which sub-atomic particles might act. Now I don't think you actually answered my objection because I just need to rephrase it to say that it appears that the nature of quantum mechanics says that certain particles can act in a number of ways and appear causeless. But it is not truly causeless, it is simply caused by the nature of quantum mechanics. The question as I see it then becomes, well how did quantum mechanics come to have this nature?

          • Michael Murray

            So the cause of things being the way they are is that it's because that is the way they are? Got it. Personally I'll just stick with Hilbert spaces. At least they can be defined.

          • Julius

            It seems to me that is what you are saying taken to its logical conclusion. Don't get mad at me if you don't like where it takes you.

          • Julius

            Anyway, I believe I got off topic. My point is that when you say that according to the nature of quantum mechanics, something can appear from nothing, you aren't really saying something is coming from nothing, but rather that something is coming from the nature of quantum mechanics. If it were truly nothing, it would come from the absence of anything, including quantum mechanics. While it may be true that according to quantum mechanics matter can come from the absence of matter, it does not say that something can come from nothing,because appealing to the nature of quantum mechanics assumes that said nature exists.

          • epeeist

            But it is the laws of physics that cause quantum mechanics to be probabilistic and to therefore cause the probability that a particle will change.

            I am going to disagree with Michael, there are laws of physics that are, as Marc Lange puts it, nomic necessities.

            But I am going to disagree with you as well in that down at the quantum scale those laws are inherently probabilistic.

            And if they are [not] self-actualized, I believe they would fit the definition of how Aquinas conceptualizes God.

            I am assuming you missed a word out in the above.

            You have an awful lot of work to do to get from:

            P1. The laws of physics are not self-actualised

            C. Therefore the Aquinas conceptualisation of god.

          • Michael Murray

            What's a nomic necessity? Is there any sense it which they are obeyed by reality ?

          • epeeist

            What's a nomic necessity? Is there any sense it which they are obeyed by reality ?

            The nomenclature is slightly wrong, in that nomic necessity refers to facts. It is a fact for instance that one cannot find a sphere of uranium 235 a kilometre in radius,

            And yes, they do seem to be obeyed by nature. Non-causal laws would include the conservation laws for example. These would seem to be obeyed by reality.

          • Michael Murray

            Interesting thanks. I see what you mean. But it would seem hard to claim (which I know you aren't!) though that the fact that something is true is the cause of it being true.

          • Julius

            No I did mean "if they are self-actualized." By this I meant that they must of their own nature exist, which is basically the conception of God which Aquinas' proofs argue for.

          • primenumbers

            If you believe in free will, the obvious answer is "your mind".

          • Jules

            As a woman, I always change "my mind" with sufficient reason. : )

          • Rationalist1

            As a man, at times I find those reasons unfathomable. :->

          • primenumbers

            Yes, I disagree. You're turning a human level concept into something real without actually demonstrating it's real.

            Even scientists who produce math models of the universe don't assume that the math models are actually being computed somewhere to "run" the universe. They're seen as useful tools, a model of reality, but they are not reality itself. What you're doing by taking the concept and saying that the concept actually represents what is actually occurring. You have not demonstrated that it's actually occurring.

          • "You're turning a human level concept into something real without actually demonstrating it's real."

            This is an interesting but seemingly strange position. I'm very intrigued.

            Please give me an example of something that is real that is *not* described by "human level concepts"?

          • And by that way, I have demonstrated that "potentiality" and "actuality" are real by showing the concept aligns with everything we see around us. If you disagree, simply provide a counter-example.

          • primenumbers

            I think wave/particle duality works well here as a counter example to when the models most definitely doesn't describe what is actually occurring in reality, because the two models are contradictory. And note, this doesn't stop the models being useful, but we in no way think that light is both a wave and a particle, just something that can be modelled as either as appropriate.

          • Rationalist1

            And beyond the wave particle duality, with the advent of quantum mechanics it took scientists by surprise that many of their macroscopic "common sense" notions and concepts have no correspondence in the microscopic world and the converse as well. Some atomic level entities cannot be described by modern macroscopic concepts let along concepts from a 14th century theologian. Science constantly updates itself when new ideas and discoveries emerge, it's time theology did too.

          • primenumbers

            Light is an interesting one as it's well known and crosses two realms of model, thus rapidly demonstrating that the model cannot be reality. Models are only useful to the extent that they actually do model reality, and Brandon wants to use a model without actually checking that the model "works". That he think his model works in the circumstances he's familiar with is no guarantee of it's universal applicability any more than the wave theory of light models what occurs when light hits a photo-electric cell.

            None of this is a problem for science as we're well aware of the limits of our models and that the models don't represent reality. Of course, this means they're immensely problematic for theologians who wish to use models in realms where they've not been tested and just assume they're valid (through the implicit assumption that their model is actually what is going on).

          • Sample1

            primenumbers and Rationalist1

            Just an aside. My understanding is that wave particle "duality" is an unnecessary distraction. It's not a relevant descriptor in quantum field theory where everything is just a wave in a field (magnetic, neutrino, Higgs, quark, etc.).

            If there are no humans employing quantum mechanics and therefore observation (where we then see particles), there would still be waves, but not particles. Correct?

            Mike

          • Michael Murray

            Yep everything really is a quantum field. Wiki says

            "Quantum field theory thus provides a unified framework for describing "field-like" objects (such as the electromagnetic field, whose excitations are photons) and "particle-like" objects (such as electrons, which are treated as excitations of an underlying electron field), so long as one can treat interactions as "perturbations" of free fields."

            Sean Carroll says something similar in passing on this video

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vrs-Azp0i3k

          • epeeist

            If there were no brains capable of observation then there would still be waves, but not particles. Correct?

            You don't need brains to make an observation.

          • Sample1

            Damn, you're right. Good catch. It's so easy to be a sloppy thinker in this area.

            What I meant to emphasize was the difference between field theory and QM with the former having, so far as is known, a more fundamental description of the universe.

            Mike

          • Rationalist1

            I take the wave/particle duality as an analogy, a temporary one until one realizes atomic entities are neither. They have particle attributes and wave attributes at times but are neither.

            It doesn't need brains to observe it, in my interpretation to be a particle otherwise the far side of the moon would only have wave properties.

          • epeeist

            I take the wave/particle duality as an analogy, a temporary one until one realizes atomic entities are neither

            Yes, electrons behave like electrons. The fact that we have to model them as both waves and particles is a failure in our description. The map is not the territory.

          • Michael Murray

            A nice video here by Sean Carroll that's relevant

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEKSpZPByD0&feature=player_embedded

          • primenumbers

            Reality is real (by definition). Any model or explanation we have of reality is conceptual and although our concepts and models can be work very well indeed, we need not assume that they are actually what is going on "behind the scenes" for them to work well or be useful.

            Think of wave/particle duality. We have the wave model of light, and the particle model of light. Both work extremely well and accurately when used appropriately. But light cannot in all cases be accurately described by a single one of these two competing models, so light cannot be either of those two models, and to say it's both models is contradictory. Light is not it's model, but that doesn't stop the models being useful.

          • primenumbers

            And also not forgetting the burden of proof, your statement "They simply are how things are", that the model IS reality in this case of the philosophy actuality and potentiality is something that needs to be proven, not just asserted. And that's rather an up-hill battle methinks.

          • josh

            'Please give me an example of something that is real that is *not* described by "human level concepts"? '
            Warped spacetime in general relativity more than suffices.

          • But 'warped space-time in general relativity' is a human level concept. There's no guarantee it corresponds to reality.

          • josh

            I think you're misunderstanding the meaning of 'human-level-concept' in this context. You have no intuitive understanding of spacetime curvature, that's why we need mathematical formalism to describe it. X causes Y is, in contrast, an intuitive human level concept that may not apply. General relativity applies to reality or something even odder does.

          • Max Driffill

            Brandon,
            The inside of a red masonry brick is a human level concept. There's no guarantee that it corresponds to reality. However, and crucially there is a great deal of evidence for our ideas about the insides of red masonry bricks. The same is true for warped space-time of general relativity (which fairly recently had another spectacular confirmation -which I believe has been posted elsewhere here).

            You know what is also a human level concept whatever that might mean (aren't all our concepts human level?)? The god as uncaused cause. You know how it differs from our ideas about the insides of red masonry bricks and the warped space-time of relativity? There is evidence, reliable, independently repeatable, and empirical for these latter two ideas and none for the former.

          • Rationalist1

            Brandon - Look at the electron probability distribution of a p orbital of an atom. It shows two lobes on either side of the nucleus where there is a probability of finding the electron, but zero probability of finding it in the middle. It's like saying the baseball can be on the pitcher mound or the catchers mitt but never in between. How does the electron get from one lobe to the other? That's Quantum mechanics.

          • DonJindra

            You make Feser's "bait and switch" error. You begin with one type of contingency --- that matter can be reshaped -- and apply it to an entirely different kind of "contingency" -- that matter itself is created and destroyed.

            The two "contingencies" do not correspond.

          • robtish

            I wish I could bump up DonJindra's comment a dozen times.

      • Rationalist1

        Then it's just another way of saying every effect or item (water boiling, a shoe) has a cause.

      • primenumbers

        Sorry Brandon. I've got to laugh here.... You realize you just pointed us at Aquinas again :-)

        • "Sorry Brandon. I've got to laugh here.... You realize you just pointed us at Aquinas again :-)"

          Perhaps it's my own density, but I'm missing the joke.

          • primenumbers

            It's just one of your endearing character traits that in practically each and every thread you comment in, one of your first posts will tell us to read something from Aquinas.

      • Vicq_Ruiz

        an Uncaused Cause that is *pure* actuality--no potential, no change

        I don't think such an "Uncaused Cause" can be the God of the Christian Bible, however. That God "desires" all men to come to him and be saved. This implies two future states: one in which God's desires are met, one in which they are not. Unless one state reflects a higher potential than another, it would be pointless to speak of God's "desires".

        Now, one could posit an unknown, purely actualized being who created a (partially actualized) God, who in turn created the cosmos.

        That's not at odds with your premises.

        • "I don't think such an "Uncaused Cause" can be the God of the Christian Bible, however"

          As has been explained ad nauseum on this site--in multiple articles and in several comment boxes--the cosmological arguments don't reveal the fullness of the Christian God. However they:

          1. Reveal a huge slice of God, one far too big for any atheist to be OK withe.

          2. Present a begin that not only fails to contradict what Christians mean by "God", but perfectly aligns with it.

          We're planning an article soon on how to deduce God's attributes from the cosmological arguments. Stay tuned!

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            Yes, and many of us have replied ad nauseam that the cosmological case, at best, supports the existence of some sort of abstracted deist creative force.

            Nevertheless, it surfaces over and over again in articles here, and when it does it's often titled "evidence for God" when in fact it is nothing of the sort, if the triune God of Christianity is who the author has in mind.

          • epeeist

            Nevertheless, it surfaces over and over again in articles here, and when it does it's often titled "evidence for God" when in fact it is nothing of the sort, if the triune God of Christianity is who the author has in mind.

            Perhaps we ought to move the argument to a shopping mall

          • But Vicq Ruiz personally rejected the continuation of the logical argument that *necessarily* flows from KCA.

            Atheists are free to decline logic.

            But they are not free to claim that the logic of KCA does not lead us, ineluctably and certainly, to the existence of the God of the Philosophers.

            From there it is but a short series of steps to an examination of the *empirical*, *historical* evidence, which is overwhelming.

            God Is, God has revealed Himself, the Revelation is empirically evidenced.

            History cannot be explained apart from these truths.

            Atheism is a dead end in all of its assumptions and applications.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            "But they are not free to claim that the logic of KCA leads us,
            ineluctably and certainly, to the existence of the God of the
            Philosophers."

            Is that missing a *does not* after KCA?

          • Fixed :-)

          • Kevin Aldrich

            That is because we are dealing with two sets of arguments, both from reason.

            One is what reason can show about God.
            The other is what reason can show about Divine Revelation.

            The attributes you complain about in regard to God are found within the content of the Revelation.

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            The difficulty being that the argument from revelation relies on documents which are chock full of unabashed anthropomorphism, while the argument from reason seeks to establish the case for a creator who if defined as without change or potential, can have nothing in common with humanity singly or en masse.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You mean there is some kind of impossible disconnect between the notion that man is made in the image of God (divine revelation) and that God is simple (philosophy)?

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            No. The disconnect I see is that God cannot be completely devoid of potential in the Aristotelian sense, and at the same time have desires for the fate of his creation which are only partially realized.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Maybe if you shift your thinking of God as devoid of potential to complete actualization then you can conceive of creatures that participate in that potential to varying degrees.

          • josh

            Kevin, you are ignoring an argument from reason. Vicq Ruiz argued that if we accept some sort of validity for cosmological type arguments, the abstract conclusion of those arguments logically can't be identified with the God of revelation. It doesn't do you any good to argue that you know one thing from one source and another from something else when those things are in conflict.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Why not?

            I think the principle is called "convincing and converging arguments." Different things pointing to one thing.

            For example, if reason shows a first cause, that cause obviously exists, it *is*. When Moses met God in the burning bush and asked him his name, God answered, "I Am."

          • josh

            It's not reasonable to argue for something based on vague notions of commonality and ignore the glaring conflicts. For example, unchanging 'pure actuality' can't reply to questions, period. (Incidentally, apparently a better translations of God's answer to Moses in the Bible may be "I am what I will be.")

          • robtish

            I look forward to that, Brandon!

    • Eriktb

      It's just the standard first cause argument with a god of the gaps thrown in for a good measure.

      • I don't see how there's a "god of the gaps" thrown in anywhere, but thanks for the comment.

        • Eriktb

          If the general idea is that every thing which exists needs some form of cause, then for every new cause there must be another. This is where the gaps pop in. Until someone arbitrarily declares god the last cause and we continue to argue the same silly point. It's vaguely similar to the "god of gaps" when it comes to arguing evolution with a creationist. At some point the believer always claims god without sufficient reason.

          • "Until someone arbitrarily declares god the last cause and we continue to argue the same silly point."

            But this isn't what the Christian does. He demonstrates, through logic, the necessity for an uncaused, purely actualized, self-existent, immaterial, eternal, transcendent, intelligent being. We call that being God, since that's exactly what we mean by God, but perhaps atheists have a more approriate association.

            Either way, it is not "god of the gaps" and asserting it doesn't make it so.

          • Eriktb

            Oh ok, well please demonstrate that so we can put this point to rest.

          • Eriktb

            Also, he didn't demonstrate what you think he did, and asserting it doesn't make it so.

          • Jonathan West

            He demonstrates, through logic, the necessity for an uncaused, purely actualized, self-existent, immaterial, eternal, transcendent, intelligent being

            That demonstrationis as full of holes as a colander. It is only persuasive to Christians who already want to believe it to be true for reasons quite unconnected with logic.

          • Vickie

            Can we reason there was a last cause? Or does the chain have no end?

          • Rationalist1

            I think we have to stop with what we can reason and start looking to what we can observe. Armchair metaphysics may be comfortable, but doesn't necessarily relate to reality.

          • Vickie

            So then we stop at the question and do not attempt to solve the problem that the question presents?

          • Rationalist1

            No, I mean we get out of our armchairs and address reality as it is, rather than reality as we reason it should be. Keep questioning and proposing answers, but test them against reality.

          • Vickie

            Agreed actually. But you won't even let me go through the process. "I am going to have to stop you here because we don't know that" or "stop right here because you are being arbitrary in attributing that to God". The fact is that I do NOT want to give you a pat answer. But how can I prove God by science, through reason and logic if you will not even LET me use those tools. I am not as adept at the science thing, have not read all the books. So I have to ask questions.
            So scientifically the answer to this question is "undetermined by current information". So what does science do when it reaches a place like this? Does it stop. Or does it "not assume that what is currently unknowable if forever unknowable" as Jonathan told me in a different conversation? Does it use what we currently know and have observed to try and determine a reasonable answer?

          • Rationalist1

            First of all, science knows the "cause" of quantum events. It's random based upon probabilities per unit time of tunneling out of some potential well.

            What does science do when it reaches a place like this? It dangles a Nobel Prize in front of anyone that can prove otherwise. Science, unlike theology, gives it greatest rewards for those who overthrow the status quo.

          • Vickie

            -First of all, science knows the "cause" of quantum events. It's random based upon probabilities per unit time of tunneling out of some potential well.-

            Is there something causing this or is it the end of the chain?

            -What does science do when it reaches a place like this? It dangles a Nobel Prize in front of anyone that can prove otherwise. Science, unlike theology, gives it greatest rewards for those who overthrow the status quo.-
            You mean if I did untangle this I could get a Nobel Prize? That would be a hoot now wouldn't it?
            Seriously, though, it has been my observation that science does not stop here. It generally uses the current information to calculate what it can.

          • "Science, unlike theology, gives it greatest rewards for those who overthrow the status quo."

            Is their necessary value in overthrowing the status quo? What if the status quo is correct and does not need to be overthrown? Then you're incentivizing innovative error.

          • Rationalist1

            If the status quo is correct, they they won't be able to overthrow it as they won't have compelling evidence that their theory is better than the existing one.

          • Jonathan West

            The answer is currently unknown. We don't have sufficient information to answer it.

            We don't even have sufficient knowledge to know how we might go about trying to find the answer.

            The answer might be unknowable. We don't even know enough yet to be able to work out whether it is unknowable or not.

            In such circumstances, you have two choices.

            1. Set the question to one side, look at other things for the time being, and revisit it if and when some more evidence appears which relates to the question.

            2. Decide that calling it unknown is intolerable, and instead of discovering the answer, decide that you know the answer without evidence. Call the answer God.

          • Joe

            But many are not willing to do either of the two things you suggest. They are making a Dogmatic declaration that there is absolutely no cause. They aren't willing to even imagine that someday a cause will be revealed. The principle of causality is the cornerstone to empirical science and any sort of rationality. It is implicitly assumed every time an experiment is performed. And there would be no principle of causality without God. It seems denying the existence of God because a particular cause has not been found is an Atheism of the empirical gaps argument. "We don't know the cause so there is none and by extension there is no God."

          • Jonathan West

            If everything requires a cause, then that includes God, and so positing God just pushes the problem back to meta-God.

            If not everything requires a cause then we don't need to posit a God in the first place.

            If we to need to posit a specific First Cause, then there's no reason to think that it is specifically the biblical Christian God.

            We just don't have any need for that hypothesis, because there is no phenomenon that needs God to explain it.

            Saying that an unsolved problem in physics means that God exists is a bit like saying that an unsolved murder means that a ghost did it.

          • Vickie

            Still can't get God on an equal rights footing with those distant stars. I am beginning to think he has to meet a higher standard.
            I think I will start an equal rights for God coalition. I will begin circulating my petition.

          • Max Driffill

            Don't worry, gods don't have to meet a higher standard, but they do have to meet the basic standard.

          • Vickie

            I will take that as a no to signing my petition then

          • Michael Murray

            We can see the stars. They twinkle in the sky at night. So there is something observed that needs explaining. What are you trying to explain with your God ?

          • Jonathan West

            Offer some evidence of God, and he will immediately be on an equal rights footing.

            Don't offer reasons why the evidence isn't available (e.g. God needs to remain hidden)

          • epeeist

            I think we have to stop with what we can reason and start looking to what we can observe.

            A quotation I came across the other day:

            No amount of abstract reasoning would have led us to discover the properties and uses of iron

          • Eriktb

            We don't have a decent way to really know if there is a continuous line or if there is a definitive end. Either way, we have no way to tell with certainty that a god, let alone a specific one, is the first cause because of what we don't know. Thus, declaring a god the first cause is simply arbitrary.

          • Vickie

            Well, I had not yet jumped to God. I am just asking a question.

          • Eriktb

            And I gave you an answer. We don't really know, and frankly I'm not sure there's a decent way to answer that question, so postulating a definitive answer like god simply doesn't work. The reason I brought up god to begin with is that god is the topic of discussion.

          • Vickie

            I will grant you that he is the subject. I just asked a question about the process. The thing is that I am trying not to postulate a definitive answer.

          • Eriktb

            I don't think anyone other than Feser is attempting to postulate an answer. I suppose Brandon is since he's endorsed the message, but otherwise it appears most of us commenting are disagreeing with both the article and the idea that a definitive answer can be reasoned from current evidence.

          • "If the general idea is that every thing which exists needs some form of cause..."

            No, this is not the general idea (but it's a common misunderstanding.) I suggest you read this post:

            So You Think You Understand the Cosmological Argument?

            See especially Point #1.

          • Eriktb

            I'm discussing this article, not another. So please elaborate why this is not a matter of everything which exists needs a cause. Let's have a discussion, not a link war please.

          • Eriktb

            Also, I enjoy that point one involves an appeal to authority while point 9 urges us to not hold authority in a field in very high regard.

          • Eriktb

            One more quick reply. You were assisting Rationalist1 in demystifying this article. He said,"Then it's just another way of saying every effect or item (water boiling, a show) has a cause."

            Your response, "Yes it's similar."

            So, when discussing this with Rationalist1, this is a simple matter of everything has a cause, but with me it's not. Why is that?

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Keep in mind that this is a side issue that Feser does not argue in his OP.

  • Rationalist1

    From what I understand of the general article Dr. Feser is saying that even if you explain the cause of parts you don't explain the cause of the whole. First of all I can't think of any other circumstances where this logic applies. And secondly if the universe more that a collection of its constituents then how does one define it?

    • "From what I understand of the general article Dr. Feser is saying that even if you explain the cause of parts you don't explain the cause of the whole."

      No, I'm afraid you've misunderstood. In fact, he's arguing somewhat the opposite: that since each part of the universe is contingent, the universe as a whole is, too.

      His main goal is, contra many comments here at Strange Notions, the fallacy of composition does not apply to the Aristotelian/Thomistic demonstrations of God's existence.

      • Rationalist1

        But isn't he arguing that even if you explain each item in the collection you don't explain the whole? Otherwise "if we can explain each individual thing or event in the universe as the effect of some previous thing or event in the universe, we’ve explained the whole collection of things or events, and needn’t appeal to anything outside the universe."

        • "But isn't he arguing that even if you explain each item in the collection you don't explain the whole?"

          No. That would be the fallacy of composition, which he is refuting.

          • Rationalist1

            Maybe I'm being obtuse but Feser argues that explaining the contingency of the parts does not explain the contingency of the universe. If one could demonstrate a cause for all the constituents in a universe, then why would an additional meta-cause be needed. I'm not saying I can do that but I don't see why the one follows from the other. Why is the universe more than the sum of its parts?

          • "Maybe I'm being obtuse but Feser argues that explaining the contingency of the parts does not explain the contingency of the universe."

            You continue to misunderstood his argument. In a certain sense, Feser is arguing the exact opposite of your quote. He's saying you *can* explain the contingency of the universe by the contingency of the parts (since the "fallacy of comoposition" is inapplicable for the reasons he provides).

            I'm not sure how to make this more clear other than to suggest reading the article again.

          • Rationalist1

            I prefaced my quote with an otherwise as I i did realize that's what Dr. Feser was disputing. I understand he's saying that "He's saying "you *can* explain the contingency of the universe by the contingency of the parts" But I'm asking why that is the case and does it apply to anything else except this argument. I can't think of any other circumstances where an explanation of the constituents doesn't explain the collection.

          • Loreen Lee

            Back to my simple 'understanding' then. Does l + l really explain "2"????

          • Rationalist1

            My philosopher of math is that math is created. Using a slightly different example, I equally say 10 plus 6 is 16 and 10 plus 6 is 4. Both I use everyday, the first for counting things, the second for a clock. Math and philosophy are defined by their premises and only bear a relationship top reality when we choose them appropriately.

          • Loreen Lee

            I refer back to the discussion on humpties or defining terms. I'm not convinced that you rationalist/physicists are always strict about placing definitions within a context, even if this is held to be the supposition for verifying theories through empirical evidence. Religion too has it's 'contexts'. I shall continue to test whether these 'articles of faith' hold out as projections' as interpretations of realities within a formal structure which at least attempts to define a 'human world'. I am 'open' to both the ideas of physics and religion though. Two different and hopefully complimentary 'structures'.the mathematical and the 'dynamic' I just have to work towards finding more meaning or reference with respect to both atheism and theism, and how they possibly 'relate' within a random/contradictory 'universe/multiverse'........?????.

          • Loreen Lee

            I shall continue to read and re-read it, interspersed with my attempts to follow this commentary!!!!!

          • Eriktb

            Feser is saying that because the parts which make up the Universe are contingent then the Universe itself is as well. It really doesn't make a lot of sense, but that's the argument being made.

          • epeeist

            Feser is saying that because the parts which make up the Universe are contingent then the Universe itself is as well.

            In which case the logic is the wrong way around. If A is contingent and B depends on A then B must also be contingent.

            If however one has the same dependency (B depends on A) but one only knows that B is contingent then one cannot infer that A is contingent.

          • primenumbers

            Correct, and you put it much more clearly than I did in my post referring to the direction of causal inference. Thanks.

          • epeeist

            Correct, and you put it much more clearly than I did in my post referring to the direction of causal inference.

            And if that is what Feser is doing then it really is an epic fail at the level of logic 101.

          • Eriktb

            It appears that that's exactly the argument he's making which is why I have no clue why Brandon thinks this is reasonable argument.

          • epeeist

            It appears that that's exactly the argument he's making which is why I have no clue why Brandon thinks this is reasonable argument.

            It is a formal fallacy, that of affirming the consequent.

          • epeeist

            Oh, and the other thing that doesn't work. While size and colour are predicates, contingency isn't. It is a disposition.

          • Loreen Lee

            I ran across a definition of disposition the other day which stated that it is 'that which is put off to another explanation' or something.....Really!!!

          • epeeist

            While size and colour are predicates, contingency isn't.

            And it has been pointed out to me that it is existence that is contingent and since existence is not a first order predicate then the argument fails in another way.

          • epeeist, forgive my own density. I'm not following your argument. Which elements are you associating with A and B?

          • Loreen Lee

            Is it not a postulate to make any speculation about the universe as a whole. A unity. Especially when we cannot even see the whole as it exists 'now. Why could not the 'whole' universe be a totality or unity which only 'is' as an essence which is its existence. Yes. Please upbraid me if my argument is circular, or any other logical deficit.

          • Eriktb

            I'm not saying that Universe couldn't simply exist on it's own. I'm only saying that Feser's argument doesn't make sense.

          • Loreen Lee

            I 'defined' the whole as conforming to Aristotle's definition of 'first cause' or 'God'. (Essence=existence?) I will hazard the conjecture that we have no 'first hand' experience with either.- that our knowledge is 'incomplete'... Our 'minds' may be 'forever' inadequate to comprehend the whole, the unity. whether this be thought of as God or Cosmos. . Is it possible that both atheists and theists are arguing the same point, but from different 'directions'. or perspectives.....The Christian desires to know God. The cosmologist desires to have a unifed 'field' theory. .I wish I had better 'logic'...Have to read the blog again. .thanks.

          • Eriktb

            From atheists perspective, I view the idea that god is necessary as an arbitrary position. Arbitrary because it's simply an easy, yet completely unfounded, answer to a difficult question. There are some who would like to argue that it follows a god is necessary, but their arguments tend to boil to simplistic arguments like "all that exists needs a cause". Despite what Brandon and Feser continue to claim, that argument is at the heart of the Cosmological Argument.

          • Loreen Lee

            Thanks Erikth. I have had difficulty going from logical necessity to a 'necessary Being' myself. (Although it would be wonderful if I could think of 'myself' as 'necessary'!!!! Is not necessity implied in the identity of existence with essence. If causation is indeed the basis of the cosmological argument,and the necessity is but a logical construct applied to Being then, by 'proxy?' I would understand the argument would not be a proof! Correct? I'm not very good at logical argument, but this comment box is a way to practice. I will suggest there is another characterization of what God 'Is', but there is no proof of it because we have yet to 'understand' it!!!!

            If my interpretation of Kant is correct, causation is placed within the category of relation, and is thought to be a metaphysical construct. This I believe is consistent with Hume, who suggests there is no empirical basis for it. Yet it is only in a Leibnizian universe of simple 'rational' monads, that we could think of ourselves as being independent of causation.Surely a pre-established harmony could 'exist' only in a non-causal world where beings are 'free' from external constraint? How can we have 'free will' if we are casually determined?

            Necessity perhaps is a logical modal category, and thus independent from the relational category of causality. Do we then conceive of other beings as casually determined through a projection of our ability to think logically of necessity? Do we think of God as a necessity as a result of our projection of the rationality of causality? Reversal of tactics here?
            Hegel says that freedom is the 'recognition of necessity'. We would then have to be free from contingencies, causality? in order to be 'free'. We do this according to Kant through the use of 'reason'. Reason is distinguished from the logic of understanding however.
            Contingencies are defined as beings dependent on other 'beings' and thus on causality. There is thus no freedom in either contingencies or causality? Thus God would have to be both non-contingent if he were necessary and self-caused if he were 'free'. What's the logical connection between being (non-casually?) self-determined and having a 'necessary' being. Einstein asked whether God had any choice in creating the universe? Did he have any choice in regard to his own existence? If he did not, 'necessity' would indeed be measurement of freedom as per Hegel.. Christianity would say God was Love, which 'defines' the existence/essence of God in rational moral terms with respect to both first and final causes, I believe. Would that not translate into the dictum that the necessity attributed to God's being would also be the ascription of a necessity or purpose within any .relationship characterized as 'love'? Is this true according to your experience with 'love'? What is 'necessity'? What is freedom? What is 'love'?
            Please catch all my logical blunders if you have time. I have argued in a circle, on purpose though and also because that's just the way it came out!!!!! I will now dare to post this montage of indescribable ranting and raving!!! Thanks.

          • epeeist

            I 'defined' the whole as conforming to Aristotle's definition of 'first cause' or 'God'.

            Aristotle's prime mover does not act, does not create and is not moral. It is nothing like the god of Aquinas.

            The cosmologist desires to have a unifed 'field' theory.

            Unified field theories fall in the realm of the theoretical physicist rather than the cosmologist.

          • Loreen Lee

            Thanks Epeeist. I'll 'allow'myself a pass on this one. Have never read Aquinas. It is the 'same argument though - yes? On unified theories, - ah! wouldn't we all like to find unity, and wholeness within our lives?

          • Thank for your accurately describing his argument. But to refute it, you need to show *why* it doesn't make sense instead of just asserting that it doesn't.

          • primenumbers

            It doesn't make sense because the argument used to support that "the parts which make up the Universe are contingent then the Universe itself is as well" is one of weak analogy.

          • Eriktb

            Others have already done so. Why repeat what's already been said multiple times?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I've taken a stab at that above.

          • DonJindra

            "Maybe I'm being obtuse but Feser argues that explaining the contingency
            of the parts does not explain the contingency of the universe."

            Feser is excluding himself from this objection. He claims it doesn't apply to his pet project.

          • Loreen Lee

            Because religion postulates a unity? Even as it is 'postulated' that 2 is a 'unity' of l + l. I'm attempting to 'understand'. But I'm really coming to the conclusion that the universe is 'beyond' our rather simple 'notions of 'logic'.

          • Rationalist1

            Science came to realize that conventional logic often fails at levels much smaller and much greater than our daily world. It was a surprise at first but then on reflection it makes sense. We evolved in a world on this scale and we internalized that experience. Science turned to math, choosing a mathematical formulation the reflected the reality that is measured in the lab. Logic may fail, but math doesn't because as we learn more and more about the world we can refine our math or choose different mathematical models. Logic and philosophy seemingly fails on that regard. No matter what progress is made in the natural science,many philosophers keep trying to shoe horn reality into their much antiquated notions.

          • "Science came to realize that conventional logic often fails at levels much smaller and much greater than our daily world."

            This is not wholly true if by "logic" you mean "the use of valid reasoning." If you're trying to say that, "Science came to realize that conventional theories often fail at smaller and greater levels" then I would enthusiastically agree.

            But science has said nothing (and can say nothing) about the validity of logical reasoning.

            PS. To be clear, science might disprove a particular premise, but it is neutral on the question of whether logic itself is valid.

          • Rationalist1

            Brandon - No quantum mechanics has required a revising of the rules of logical inference. Von Newuman in a 1936 paper first pointed out how to adopt classical inference to the new quantum world. Commutative and associative notions are different at the quantum level., One can ignore these refinements but you risk having your reasoning fail at the atomic level.

          • epeeist

            But science has said nothing (and can say nothing) about the validity of logical reasoning.

            Sitting on my bookcase I have Philosophy of Logics by Susan Haack. In it she discusses a whole stack of different logics including both classical and non-classical ones, many valued logics and deviant logics which are not truth functional.

            I also have The Structure and Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics which includes a chapter on quantum logic.
            What do you mean by "logical reasoning"? Does it fit with any of these? Does it take into account the huge changes in logic in the 19th and 20th century made by Boole, Frege and Russell amongst others?

          • Loreen Lee

            Thanks Rationalist. You give me confidence that I have indeed come to an understanding of what Kant is about. I have studied on my own, so sometimes I feel like I'm going 'way out there' without collaboration. Logic has failed with respect both to Godel and Kant's basis of the understanding on logic, then if I interpret things correctly. I have been a bit 'humorous' here because it is still difficult for me to accept what is 'random' as a 'norm'. I hesitate to infer what might be the consequences within inter-personal relations, for instance. Thus I will hold onto Catholicism in this regard. I want to 'understand' the implications of these things before I 'throw the baby out with the bath water' I think the saying goes. I shall attempt to further understand formal causes- i.e. mathematics vs. dynamic form. I do 'believe' though that I have good instincts/intuition in processing the central direction of the arguments. Thanks for your patience.....

      • primenumbers

        You have the direction of contingent inference working in the wrong direction though. We can infer from some thing that causes to a thing that was caused, but we cannot infer from a thing that it was indeed caused.

        Let me give you a solid example. If we have a thing and infer from it that it's caused, the theist has already told us that such an argument has at least one known point of failure in that their God is not caused, so we cannot always infer that the thing higher up the causal chain is always caused. Because theist admits we don't have a universal rule, we cannot use it as a universal rule. Each and every case must be proven.

        What we can do, however, is start with the other end of the causal chain, at the top and work downwards, but such an argument is useless for the theist as it is circular when used to prove the existence of God.

        • Your mistake, I think, is assuming that Christians *first* posit that God is uncaused, then jump to the top of the chain, then work backward to him. But this isn't what Christians (or Aristotle) do.

          We start at the top and see caused entities--or actualized potential--and work backward. Then we recognize that actual (as opposed to theoretical) infinite regresses are impossible. Then we see we *must* have an Uncaused Cause--or a purely actualized being, one who is pure existence--and that being we call God.

          You see? We don't start with God as a presupposition, we end with him as a necessary conclusion.

          • primenumbers

            I know you work backwards, and I'm saying that's not a valid direction. I'm saying you must work forwards to be valid, but such a direction is useless for your aim of proving God.

            "You see? We don't start with God as a presupposition, we end with him as a necessary conclusion." - yes I see that. I'm not accusing you of presuppositionalism.

            Because we have a causal chain where you posit an arbitrary stopping point, we have a discontinuity in the chain - an end-point. That means we don't have a universal rule whereby we can infer cause up the chain because we know we have a stopping point. We cannot in all honest at the start of the argument say "we know where that stopping point is, and we call it God" or you engage in circularity. I know you don't want to do that. So we have an unknown stopping point somewhere up the chain and we don't know where it is. So we lack a universal rule to move up the chain and thus any argument that tries to show the universe has a cause using such a universal rule is false because there is the implicit pre-supposition that the discontinuity is arbitrarily reached at the point just after the universe in the chain.

            If we could always (so let's pretend we had a universal rule) infer that the point in the causal chain above the thing being considered was also caused we must say God had a cause and the chain is infinite. I know you object to actual infinities (although I've heard no good argument why, or how infinite properties and perfect are allowed in God if actual infinities are bad) so you must be saying we don't have this universal rule.

            The practical upshot of this is we don't have a universal rule and you are stuck between two cases:

            1) the arbitrary stopping point is pre-defined to be God, and your argument is circular. You're not doing this so don't worry!

            2) the arbitrary stopping point is unknown.

            If 2) and the stopping point is unknown, you cannot assume that on your chain from the human level here and now up to the universe that you have not unknowingly crossed a discontinuity.

            If we cannot no from here and now up to the universe that we've not crossed a discontinuity, we cannot use a causal chain argument to prove that the universe has a cause. The argument ceases to work in the causal direction you're using it.

          • Loreen Lee

            I give up. I['m going to take all arguments both ways, up to down and down to up. Theist and atheist. When are we going to have an argument about what constitutes the 'personal' and it's relevance to a 'personal God'. I would after all like to think there is 'reason/purpose' for my existence. I can think of myself as contingent. But do we also not wish to think of 'ourselves' within the context of some 'necessity'. Is there then a reason in this madness!!!!!! Have a good day you physicists, etc. etc. Thank you for bearing with my 'comments'......

          • Eriktb

            You'll have a reason/purpose as soon you find one for yourself.

            Also, assuming you interact with others, then your existence is playing a role that will have an everlasting effect on those people. To varying degrees obviously, but you will matter to someone, somewhere.

          • Loreen Lee

            Thanks Erlktb. I like your 'idea' of reason/purpose/necessity because it is based on 'love' and not 'logic' I believe.

          • Eriktb

            My view of how to go about finding a purpose is based on the idea that this life is all there's going to be. So, if there is a purpose to be had, we have to find one for ourselves. Typically, people think of "their purpose" as being something beneficial to others, so to me the idea of wanting to achieve some level of altruism is kind of inevitable.

            Because I believe this is the only life I will have. I would like to leave this world thought of in a good manner. So, I attempt to be a good guy when I can and hopefully I'll do good and help others as a result. If I find some kind of purpose for myself along the way then that's just icing on the cake to me.

          • Loreen Lee

            Hi Erikth. It's late, and I was just ruminating because of the possibility that I might have upset a few people when I revealed that I thought of myself as an atheist-Catholic today. But there is truth in this, that I can't deny. If it has been part of my purpose, or to put this another way, the totality of my life which shall be, as you mentioned in your comment, my readings of the atheist philosophers, my study of religion is all part of me.

            I too believe there is truth then, in that 'this is the only life I will have'. This could be regarded even as an 'atheistic' denial of the resurrection of the body. Please, don't let these musings upset you, however, because I am beginning to feel that there is 'truth' on many different levels. For this reason, is it not impossible that I may both return to dust, and that, like Christ 'the' body 'may' be glorified.
            I have been musing about what is 'whole', or 'holy' as it may be interpreted. Don't know whether you care Catholic, and appreciate the significance of the Eucharist, its 'thanksgiving', it's presence of the 'wholeness' of the Christ, i.e. God, within the simple 'wafers' of unleavened bread which are taken in an act of re-memberance, re-member ing- putting what is together, making what is - whole, holy, a unity. The 'all' is taken on faith to be 'revealed' within a simple, piece of bread. It is considered a 'mystical' presence. In this sense, then, (comparatively) it is also possible, spiritually, speaking that we may all be re-mem-bered. Those 'higher' thoughts are the truths that are spoken of as 'revealed' truths; revelation of what 'actually' IS. This then is the 'higher' plane of thought embedded in Catholic teaching, as well as in the doctrines of other 'faiths'.

            There is also philosophical and theological discussion about a 'final' purpose, or end. Heaven, Nirvana, The Kingdom of Ends are a few of the terms. I thought then today, that in my search for wholeness I could both never find it, and at the same time not be aware that it is already, at this time, there as part of me. Just as it is paradoxically truth, that my being, as the totality of my life lived, contains my experience of atheism, pantheism, deism, theism, etc. etc. I have 'studied' them all.

            They are all attempts, it could be thought, to contained the full, entire, complete truth. That God is to be found both within the universe, and transcendentally 'beyond' it. That there can be completeness within 'any' particular 'thing' or the Buddhist 'no-thing'. That there can always be found a 'greater unity'. Indeed that that unity is greater, as it assimilates more and more within itself a greater and great 'unity'.
            So much for my musings at the moment. They are not as you may note 'complete'. I believe your intentions to help and be a good guy reflect a wholeness with your spirit. May it help you to imagine, believe, have faith, that everything you do, all the good that you put into the world, and 'into your "self" is part of a greater whole, - a unity of purpose that all of us are working towards.
            Thank you for being here, just as I work up musing that something was not complete. You have helped to "put a little 'icing' on my cake, this evening.

          • Vickie

            Loreen, I am not a physicist. I am just a mom. I enjoyed your comments today.

          • Loreen Lee

            Thanks Vickie. I guess you 'understand' then. I actually went out and tried to get on the level of the physicists/cosmologists, etc. I gave myself a passing grade. Just listened to Cat Stevens sing 'If you want to sing out', Google it. That's what I did. Even worked out a 'logical argument' which ended in praise of love. Hoping with a circular argument, to turn things around a bit. You'll never sing out if you're 'afraid' of hitting a few 'sour' notes. I think I do 'understand' what the topic is about though, but I've allowed myself to meet it according to 'my credentials'. Hurray!!!! (Got to read it again though! Take care.)

          • Vickie

            Google and I are very good friends

          • Loreen Lee

            Does that mean that you listened to Cat Stevens, too! "If you want to sing out" is all about living your life according to your own 'free will'. I discovered it at 'exactly' the right time. And now I can read more of you, by 'mousing'? your name! Enjoy your Googles!

          • Loreen Lee

            Hey Vickie. I'm now a follower of yours. We are 'on the same train' it appears, but I think you might 'know' more than me, or can argue 'better'. Saw this quote: Can we reason there was a last cause? Or does the chain have no end? Aristotle had material, efficient, formal and final causes, plus the one relevant to this post, the first cause of the cosmological argument. The final cause is the 'end', pragmatically, or the purpose, teleologically, etc. i.e. metaphysically. In Christian terms, the end is 'heaven', and the 'knowledge?' of God......In science I suspect that the end is getting through a black hole to discover something better than a uni-verse: - i.e. A multi-verse. May the 'poet' be with you. grin grin.

          • Vickie

            I don't know much. I'm just scrappy. Check your facebook. I sent you a message

          • "Because we have a causal chain where you posit an arbitrary stopping point"

            It's not an arbitrary stopping point. The actual impossibility of an infinite causal regress demands a stopping point. And that stopping point must be at the start of the causal chain.

          • primenumbers

            If you start your investigation with just the assumption that it stops somewhere, (not necessarily God) your argument doesn't follow through as I demonstrate. If you only ever stop at God, your argument is circular.

            Contingency is not an observed property of anything but the inference from a causal predecessor. If you have a causal predecessor you can demonstrate contingency. You cannot demonstrate contingency otherwise (at the very least) because as you've noted there's a stopping point.

            So, answer me this - is there, in your mind, any other valid stopping point for a causal chain other than God?

          • Max Driffill

            Brandon

            It's not an arbitrary stopping point. The actual impossibility of an infinite causal regress demands a stopping point. And that stopping point must be at the start of the causal chain.

            1. You haven't demonstrated that, as implausible as at it seems, there can't be an infinite causal regress.
            This has never been demonstrated. So we can't say things about any stopping point or the demands for one.

            2. The stopping point is arbitrary because there is no reason why it should stop at any point. Why doesn't god require a starting point? If we are going to make heavy weather out of our observational experience of cause then it seems exactly arbitrary to say that your version of god doesn't also require a cause. And if your god doesn't need a cause, then why does the big bang need a cause? If god can be its own cause then why not the universe. One cannot just declare one a valid move and the other not.

          • Sid_Collins

            You pinpoint why the contingency argument has not convinced me. The impossibility of infinite causal regress cannot be demonstrated any more than the non-existence of God.

            At this stage of human knowledge, I think we just have to admit "We don't know."

          • To the contrary.

            We know as a matter of theology, as a matter of metaphysics, and as a matter of science, that the Universe has not always existed.

            It began to exist.

            It cannot have caused itself.

            http://arxiv.org/abs/1204.4658

          • Loreen Lee

            Look up Kant's four antimonies, in his Critique of Practical Reason.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Is an infinite regress that different than a perpetual motion machine?

            Of the latter, none has ever been build because it always requires an input from some agent outside itself.

          • Max Driffill

            I was not proposing this. I was asking questions of your premises, and pointing out that there is no reason to accept your stopping points, or your starting points.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            "Why does the big bang need a cause?" How is this argument any different in kind than Feser's that "surely" the universe is more like the red legos than the one-inch ones?

            I can't for the life of me get handle on how the universe does not need a cause because turtles all the way down does not make sense to me.

          • primenumbers

            Just like common sense notions of physics make no sense in the quantum realm, we should expect everyday notions of causality to make sense in the universal realm.

            I can't for the life of me get handle on how the God does not need a cause because always-existing does not make sense to me.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Did you omit a *not* between we and should?

            I don't have a problem with your problem with an always-existing God, because that notion gives me pause too. But can you address why an always-existing universe does not cause you pause?

          • primenumbers

            Yeah, sorry. I omitted a "not".

            The problem is that positing an always existing being as explanation so that we don't have an always existing universe just sets the answer to the problem one step further back without actually giving us any real answers. And indeed it only create more questions....

          • Kevin Aldrich

            So, how about addressing to the problem? I'm not trying to be provocative. I'd really like to hear your philosophical thoughts on an always-existing universe.

          • primenumbers

            Well no, my comment doesn't exactly address the problem, but it doesn't make things worse by bringing into play extra variables, and of course, nobody doubts that the universe actually exists.

            Another point would be that always-existing doesn't have quite the same issues for space and time itself, than it would for a being who created time (and space). I don't see how always-existing can not be a temporal statement that can only make sense in-time, and although the universe isn't "in time", it is time, which to me is better for this issue than being "outside time".

          • "Always-existing" as it is, or from something that may have had any number of prior forms?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Any way you want.

          • Any way you want.

            Well, if the "stuff" of our Universe came from a spontaneous quantum event where symmetry is broken between mass-energy on one side (called positive) and expansion of space-time (called negative) on the other, the "before" is physical nothing, which need have no beginning. (Just one of many speculations, I am not stating it had to happen this way.)

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Thanks. Where did all that stuff come from?

          • Thanks. Where did all that stuff come from?

            I don't know for sure, and neither does anyone else. However, we have advanced to a point where we can see ways it could have happened by natural action.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Krauss says, "Empty space is a boiling, bubbling brew of virtual particles." Then it is not empty!

          • Then it is not empty!

            It is at least empty of the "stuff" you asked about.

          • This an important aspect of "universe-from-nothing" conversation: making sure there is consensus on the meaning of "nothing" and the meaning of "stuff" as used here. The theistic view of a universe from "nothing" means "no stuff, no time, no space." Everybody on the same page with this?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Krauss and Hawking are not!

          • Hopefully our atheistic comboxers understand this distinction? That the universe of matter, time, and space *all* have a beginning from nothing (being the theistic claim)?

          • No, and we are not likely to get on the same page, either. The theological idea of "nothing" is self-contradictory in the face of an omnipresent deity. The metaphysical idea of nothing has never been shown to be anything beyond just an idea without a referent in physical reality (see my further explanation here and here).

          • "The theological idea of "nothing" is self-contradictory in the face of an omnipresent deity."

            >> No it isn't.

            "The metaphysical idea of nothing has never been shown to be anything beyond just an idea without a referent in physical reality (see my further explanation here and here)."

            >> It has been shown, in fact to be impossible in physical reality.

            If nothing exists, then we do not.

            Which is why the phrase "A Universe From Nothing" is a cynical con to sell books and hoodwink the gullible.

          • Surely you understand that the reason the term "nothing" has no "referent in physical reality" is because that's the *definition* of nothing? If nothing were physical, it would be "something".
            So, can you tell me whether you believe *time* had a beginning, or not?

          • Surely you understand that the reason the term "nothing" has no "referent in physical reality" is because that's the *definition* of nothing? If nothing were physical, it would be "something".

            The metaphysical idea of an emptiness from which no thing can come, has failed to be shown to be possible. As such, it remains a speculation, an idea.

            So, can you tell me whether you believe *time* had a beginning, or not?

            We can measure intervals between events in terms of other events. We call that time. Galileo measured the intervals between swings of the great chandeliers in the cathedral in terms of the number of his own pulse events. Today we measure GPS radio propagation intervals in numbers of oscillations of a particular excited atomic quantum state.

            The question of "time having a beginning" is not well formed, logically. If events are not changing, you could not tell if time was passing.

          • Do you assert that the universe had a "first event"?

          • Do you assert that the universe had a "first event"?

            I am not clear on the meaning (if there is one) of that question, either. There are events in the Universe, such as when a star goes nova, but I can't say that the Universe, itself, has events. We extrapolate back to what we may call a universal event i.e. when expansion and cooling allowed light to propagate and thus let us get information, today, from the background microwave data. Extrapolating back from there, especially very close to extrapolated time zero, is very speculative so I don't know what would count as events in that context.

          • But now I am confused as to your reference to "extrapolated time zero"-- is "time zero" the beginning of time, or not?

          • Michael Murray

            Not.

            If you model the expansion of the universe then you can extrapolate to a time when, in that model, everything will occupy zero space. It is convenient to call that time zero or better ETZ and measure everything forwards from there. But in reality we don't know back before the Planck Epoch when things are so close together quantum effects dominate. That's because we don't have a theory of quantum gravity.

          • Here is the problem, Jim.

            Having already determined, via Relativity, that spacetime is a thing, and obviously you can't have time without space, they reach a contradiction quickly.

            We *know* there was a t=0 in the Big Bang.

            Yet, under the "universe from nothing" theorists, we learn that there was some "quantum foam" *from which* the Big Bang spontaneously emerges *at* t=0.

            Which creates a bit of a problem, since if you have already defined time as coming into existence with space, and now you have said that a "quantum foam" exists before the Big Bang.....

            Well.

            "Extrapolated Time Zero" is just another way of saying there was Time before t=0.

            The metaphysics of these physicists is a real mess, isn;t it :-)

          • This is very helpful info. It would seem that zero doesn't always mean zero for some theorists...

          • Nothing does not mean nothing.

            Zero does not mean zero.

            Give them that much and they can make it all work.

            Kinda.

          • And somewhere in the disqus thread is Q. Quine's assessment of time-space as an existent "non-thing" not directly measurable but verifiable from measuring actual things, which I commented was tantamount to the manner in which theists describe God. Still trying to figure out why atheists can describe "time-space" like that while theists get all sorts of grief describing *God* like that...

          • Jim, did you read the pantheism link? If you define your deity to be everything, then you automatically get omnipresence. The problem most of us have with theists is postulating a disembodied mind when everything we know about what makes mind requires a physical body made out of actual physical things.

          • But Catholic monotheism is not pantheism. Catholics don't define God as "everything".
            I'm still stuck, however, on the manner in which time-space is *physical*, but not a "thing." How is that so?

          • Jim, have you ever tried to put time in a bottle?

          • Michael Murray

            Wrong Jim I think. The other one died.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dO1rMeYnOmM

          • Not until after I've finished the bottle.... :-)

          • Kevin Aldrich

            This reminds me of Bill Clinton: "It depends on what 'is' means."

          • Susan

            This is very helpful info,

            You could make an effort to learn something about the subject or you can accept without question the "info" you've been given by a geocentrist. Is this what you mean by "reasoned faith"?

            It would seem that zero doesn't always mean zero for some theorists...

            Do you even know what that means?

          • Why, yes. Yes I do. But I would suggest that, if you don't accept the statements made by Rick above, why not make a counterargument?

          • Susan

            Why, yes. Yes I do.

            Then, please explain.

            why not make a counterargument

            I don't know if you've noticed Jim, but I stopped responding to anything Rick says a long while back because I think he's crazy. Sometimes, it's difficult because he spouts such nonsense that it's hard to resist but my motto is "Do not feed trolls". I'm not certain but I get the distinct feeling that there are other members here who just don't bother either, but who are willing to engage in any discussion with anyone else. .

            Do you ever wonder why he's on a catholic web site insisting that Einstein is wrong and cherry picking from Vilenkin rather than showing up with the goods in the world of physics? Is it some kind of scientific conspiracy theory or does he just prefer to keep his extraordinary genius to himself where it won't be sullied by engaging with people who know what they're talking about?

            He is the ONLY member of this site with whom I will not engage. The moderators don't hold him accountable and that is their choice but I refuse to feed into it.

            Now, please explain what zero not being zero means with some physicists.

          • Max Driffill

            Reason is not enough. Unless one checks one's arguments against real and reliable benchmarks, and under takes the very real risk of being wrong then one can reason quite well , but from wrong first principles right into error.

          • - is "time zero" the beginning of time, or not?

            No one knows. That is why I include "extrapolated" in the expression. We have measured the size and rate of expansion of the Universe and extrapolated backwards to a tiny hot state, but as I mentioned, that is limited (might get much better if we come up with a good theory of quantum gravity) so no one knows how far back it remains valid.

          • epeeist

            But now I am confused as to your reference to "extrapolated time zero"-- is "time zero" the beginning of time, or not?

            There are two major theories underlying physics, quantum mechanics and relativity. Both have been stringently tested and passed these tests (the latest test for relativity and the results were announced by NASA recently).

            Relativity treats two constants as significant c, the speed of light and G, the gravitational constant, but it treats h, Planck's constant as insignificant.

            Quantum mechanics treats cand h as significant but G as insignificant.

            Normally this isn't a problem except when you have high masses at small scales, which is the case when you extrapolate back towards the big bang. We simply don't have a theory which will cope with the conditions as you get back towards the Planck epoch. So the best we can say is that the universe was in existence after the Planck epoch.

          • Additionally, having read your first link, you seem to make the claim that space-time is not a "thing."
            Then what is it?
            Does space-time exist?
            If it does, then isn't it a "thing"?
            If it's *not* a thing, how can one say it exists?

          • Additionally, having read your first link, you seem to make the claim that space-time is not a "thing."

            No, not a "thing" but rather, the physical context in which we observe things. We have ways of measuring that context, but always indirectly through the "things" in it.

          • So you would assert that a "physical context" is not a "thing"?
            You're saying something exists that is *not* a "thing" and is only *indirectly* "measurable" (and therefore only *indirectly *verifiable*, right?) by examining the "things" that are *directly* measurable.
            I suppose you realize just how much that description sounds *exactly* like a theist describing *God*?? :-)

          • I suppose you realize just how much that description sounds *exactly* like a theist describing *God*?? :-)

            Space-time has no intentionality, nor does it require me to mutilate the genitals of my children.

          • So you and I agree that a "real" something-that-is-not-a-thing-itself can be *inferred* to exist from the things we *can* observe? I do this with God, and you do this with space-time, it seems.
            If this "not-a-thing" called space-time is not directly measurable, how can you determine what other characteristics it may or may not have? Don't you have to resort to additional indirect inferences?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Ouch.

            My brothers and I were circumcised because those pesky scientifically trained doctors said it was my "hygenic." It was not a tenet of our Catholic faith.

          • What we know for sure, is that the "physical context in which we observe things" is physical, therefore a thing.

          • Kinda what I've always thought...

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The metaphysical idea of God's enormity or omnipresence in no way contradicts the idea of material nothing. The latter is a creation which does not have to be.

          • Susan

            The metaphysical idea of God's enormity or omnipresence in no way contradicts the idea of material nothing.

            That is irrelevant if there is no evidence for any of those things, and the lack of evidence is a problem for your argument if you use one of them to explain the necessity of the other.

          • Sample1

            I don't know if this will help you, Kevin, but it did help me. Once I realized that the observable universe is mostly empty, it helped me dispel the roadblock I had previously erected in my brain that disallowed for any explanation that didn't account for "so much stuff."

            If you insist on an explanation that accounts for "so much stuff" you're setting yourself up with perhaps an unreasonable expectation.

            How about looking to understand how the universe can be so empty? How would such a redirection of your focus change your perspective?

            Mike

          • I think a better question is why you equate sixty septillion stars that we know about, with "empty".

            "Empty" would fit if there were....oh....say......

            Zero stars.

            Sixty septillion is not zero.

          • Sample1

            Billions of stars? Forget stars! Hubble has taken an image of countless galaxies and clusters of galaxies; the largest objects in the observable universe.

            And yet it's still eminently reasonable to say the universe is essentially empty. That's what the evidence shows. 0.0000000000000000000042% of the universe contains matter. If you think that's a lot, we simply disagree. What could you purchase with your IRS refund check if it was that percentage of a dollar?

            I understand your point. All I'm asking is to consider mine. Realizing that fact was a fun epiphany for me that set me off on a world of more discovery. That's why I've added it to the discussion.

            It doesn't have to be an epiphany for you, but that doesn't mean you have the evidence to say the universe isn't mostly empty.

            Mike

          • "Billions of stars?"

            >> Ummm, no. Septillions. That we know about.

            "Forget stars! Hubble has taken an image of countless galaxies"

            >> No. Not countless. About 400 billion galaxies or so.

            That we know about.

            "and clusters of galaxies; the largest objects in the observable universe."

            >> No. The largest observable object in the universe is the CMB.

            "And yet it's still eminently reasonable to say the universe is essentially empty."

            >> No. It is not empty. Empty would mean there were zero galaxies.

            There are about sixty septillion that we know about.

            Sixty septillion is not zero.

            "That's what the evidence shows. 0.0000000000000000000042% of the universe contains matter. If you think that's a lot, we simply disagree. What could you purchase with your IRS refund check if it was that percentage of a dollar?"

            >> I could purchase infinitely more than zero.

            "I understand your point. All I'm asking is to consider mine. Realizing that fact was a fun epiphany for me that set me off on a world of more discovery. That's why I've added it to the discussion.

            It doesn't have to be an epiphany for you, but that doesn't mean you have the evidence to say the universe isn't mostly empty."

            >> The universe isn't empty at all. It is filled with a substance, variously known as aether, quantum foam, energy of empty space that isn't zero, dark matter, dark energy, etc.

            There is no emptiness in this universe.

          • Sample1

            Rick Delano, I'm ok letting this go. Or if you prefer, I've been unable to present you with a compelling reason to reconsider your Gorilla Glue hold of your own position.

            But at least you are willing to discuss. That's more than most.

            Cheers.

            Mike

          • ... but that doesn't mean you have the evidence to say the universe isn't mostly empty.

            It's worse than that; all the matter is mostly empty, too.

          • Sample1

            Hey, you stole my thunder! One step at a time. Then again, you say things in fewer words than I do. LOL.

            Cheers.

            Mike

          • Michael Murray

            It's just a question of how you look at things I think. From one point of view its a glass 0.0000000000000000000042% full and from the other point of view its a glass 0.9999999999999999999958% empty.

          • Sample1

            Michael, that is not helping! Shit, I guess I need to say that if I'm the pessimist.

            Crap. Time to go searching for a Python sketch about the bright side of life...

            Mike

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Mike,
            If there was only one subatomic particle or one "field" with an energy level of zero in the entire universe, in all possible universes, THAT would demand an explanation of why it existed at all rather than a true nothing!

          • Sample1

            I'm not arguing that something doesn't exist. I understand your point, it's a perfectly reasonable one. One atom, one field is something. Let me try something different. If Aquinas knew the universe was mostly empty, do you think he would have been so concerned about a Prime Mover? Couldn't the argument be made, knowing what we know, that there's really nothing to move? But now you've added a garish piece of clothing to our otherwise naked conversation:

            THAT would demand an explanation

            Demanding explanations is what humans do. It doesn't mean it's a meaningful thing to do. There's no theory that explains why the universe needs to be comprehensible.

            Mike

          • Max Driffill

            Kevin,

            I'm skeptical anytime someone prefaces a proposition with the word surely.

            "Why does the big bang need a cause?" How is this argument any different in kind than Feser's that "surely" the universe is more like the red legos than the one-inch ones?

            It is different in the following, and crucial way, When I posit that question I am not offering an answer, I am demanding one. I am not trying to cart in a boatload of certainty in the back of ambiguity. For you it isn't enough to say, you know what, we really don't know. It isn't me who is creating these arbitrary stopping points and demanding people respect them. I'm asking you why we should take your notion that the big bang needs a cause seriously when you are going to turn around and tell us that there is another entity that doesn't need a cause. Well that doesn't necessarily follow. If you are going to tell me that a god doesn't need a cause, then I am not sure why you think the universe needs a cause. There is certainly no reason to not end the infinite regress at the universe, if we are just going to be arbitrarily ending it somewhere. And doesn't cutting if off at simplicity, the early universe was massively simple, make more sense than saying that an infinitely complex being didn't need a cause? I mean that seems reasonable to me.

            I can't for the life of me get handle on how the universe does not need a cause because turtles all the way down does not make sense to me.

            Nor can I. But I am not trying the import all my pet answers for creation into that ambiguity. The simple fact is, as yet, we don't know. Furthermore, your incredulity, or mine have no bearing on the empirical matter of whether or not the universe had a cause, or whether that cause was a god. There are several hypotheses from which to work here, its an open scientific question.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Words like "surely" also raise my antenna.

            So when you say, "Why does the big bang need a cause?" you *not* being rhetorical (I assumed that was a way of saying "It does not need a cause")?

            I think the philosophical answer is because turtles can't go all the way down or a perpetual motion machine can't propel itself.

            This concrete thing - the universe - can't explain itself so it needs a logical cause, even if we can't fathom how that cause exists.

            In a Sherlock Holmes story, Holmes says something to Watson like, "If the only possibilities are A, B, or C, and A and B are ruled out, it must be C however improbable.

            Is that simplistic thinking out of tune with QM?

          • In a Sherlock Holmes story, Holmes says something to Watson like, "If the only possibilities are A, B, or C, and A and B are ruled out, it must be C however improbable.

            Which leads to the well known "Sherlock Holmes" fallacy. Always remember, the author knows who done it before he writes the solution into Holmes' dialog. It is only a rare situation where we really know ALL the possibilities and can use a forcing argument to narrow down to only one. The origin of the Universe is not one of those.

          • epeeist

            In a Sherlock Holmes story, Holmes says something to Watson like, "If the only possibilities are A, B, or C, and A and B are ruled out, it must be C however improbable.

            But there is a thing called "Quine's thesis on under-determination" which says that one can always produce many hypotheses to explain a particular set of phenomena. Holmes is wrong limiting it to a particular set. It also says that one can always save an hypothesis by adding an auxiliary condition.

            EDIT: more information

          • Yes, I use that to show the whole "Fine-Tuning" argument is bogus. You can always introduce a different speculated (or even presupposed) result for a condition that we cannot test, and be free of falsification, yet have no better standing.

          • josh

            "I can't for the life of me get handle on how the universe does not need a
            cause because turtles all the way down does not make sense to me."
            Then you should be infinitely more against the notion that 'God' does not need a cause.

          • That's cuz there's turtle gods all under Him.

          • josh

            But where do the four elephants go? That's the question we should all be asking!

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If God needs a cause he is not God, something else is.

            If Big Bang does not need a cause, then I suppose in some sense it is God.

          • If Big Bang does not need a cause, then I suppose in some sense it is God.

            If Spinoza were around, I suspect he would agree. (see here)

          • Susan

            If God needs a cause he is not God, something else is.

            If Big Bang does not need a cause, then I suppose in some sense it is God

            Why would something not requiring a cause make it a god?

            How does that follow?

          • Max Driffill

            Susan,

            I certain statements such as these:

            If God needs a cause he is not God, something else is

            that make taking arguments for the existence of god seriously nearly impossible. They are statements that pretend to explain something profound but do not. They are assuming what needs to be proved.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Why is that?

          • robtish

            Kevin, because a version of that which did *not* assume what needed to be proved would be: "If God needs a cause he is not God, something else is, or nothing is."

            But by eliminating that last bit, you're assuming what you're trying to prove.

          • Max Driffill

            I think I've explained it above.
            Your statement is merely assuming and asserting that which must be proved with evidence. On top of this you haven't explained anything with the statement.

          • Because if something is uncaused, then it is Necessary Being.

            That is exactly what Aquinas means by God.

          • Max Driffill

            There are numerous uncaused necessary beings.

          • Nope.

            By definition, there can only be One.

            If there were more than one, then we would be looking at a Being that was composite.

            In which case it could not be uncaused.

          • Max Driffill

            Wrong,
            We see many necessary things in the universe, thus it is reasonable to assume there are many necessary beings in the universe. By definition a necessary being is a being that is necessary.
            Later, after many battles there may be only one. It will be the Champion. By definition.

          • "We see many necessary things in the universe,"

            >> Nope. Not a single thing is necessary. Everything we see comes into existence, and goes out of existence.

            All caused, in other words.

            None necessary.

            Metaphysics is not your strong suit but then you have been victimized by a secular education.

            A "something from nothing" education renders one distinctly disadvantaged.

          • Max Driffill

            Oh I think that might be right, all caused, there fore we have not justification for positing an uncaused, necessary being, thus no reason to believe there are any gods.
            Brilliant Rick. You really are making a good point that we need to really weight what we observe much more heavily than what we merely imagine.
            Thanks Rick, no gods.

          • "Oh I think that might be right, all caused, there fore we have not justification for positing an uncaused, necessary being, thus no reason to believe there are any gods."

            >> But Max. Think about it. All caused, *therefore no cause*?

            Logic is clearly not your strong suit, Max.

            You assertion above is a museum-quality specimen of a non-sequitur.

            If everything we observe is caused, as you admit above, then we must ultimately arrive at an Uncaused Cause; in other words, a Being not caused, Who is the cause of all that exists.

            A "something from nothing" education- truly!- renders one distinctly disadvantaged.

          • Max Driffill

            RIck,
            I appreciate your insults. I am clearly being facetious in my posts. I just don't take your assertions seriously, because they assume what must be proved.

            You are merely assuming that we must arrive at an uncaused cause. This is question begging in the extreme. Why must we assume this? Because some philosopher or theologian of antiquity said it? Well sorry, I am not inclined to take arguments from authority, or assumption seriously.

            But not only do you assume that there must be an uncaused cause, but that such thing must necessarily be an intelligent being that is also all powerful and all knowing and all good. And, obviously the god of Abraham. I'm sorry Rick, this is an appalling load of assumption. There are myriad other things this uncaused cause could be. It could be the universe itself. It could be the FSM, it could be quantum foam. There is simply no reason to take your assertion any more seriously than the ones offered above.

            You can go on asserting all you like. But that won't make the argument any better as it doesn't rest on evidence. But please do go on insulting me, and my education, it isn't me who looks bad from such efforts.

            Excelsior!

          • josh

            "If God needs a cause he is not God, something else is."
            Doesn't follow. The more viable conclusion is that there is no God if that's how you choose to define things. If the Big Bang doesn't need a cause it would be silly to call it God. The Big Bang (for example) doesn't love you, it doesn't have a goal, it doesn't have a mind, it doesn't sustain anything else in existence, it doesn't regard anything as a sin, it doesn't have infinite power, it doesn't have knowledge, it doesn't have free will, it doesn't have a chosen people, or a church, or a son who was for some reason physically incarnated in a small, backwards kingdom on an infinitesimal speck in space in time, etc. etc.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Josh, in these discussions we are always keeping two plates spinning in the air: One is God as far as he can be known through rational argument alone and the other is God as far as he can be known by Divine Revelation.

            It makes sense to compare the Big Bang to God as first cause since in both we are trying to figure out why the universe exists at all.

            I don't think it makes sense to compare the Big Bang to God in Revelation, since the former is not a person and the latter is.

            The point of "if God needs a cause, he is not God" is that if God is a better explanation for the Big Bang that "it just is" then you eventually need an uncaused cause.

          • Loreen Lee

            Ah! Maybe I 'understand' more than I think I do......The problem is being consistent in defining all the humptys!!!! Hope my comments are a diversionary attempt at 'humor'. Is it possible that whenever people take themselves or their 'arguments' too seriously, i.e. as though they have the final, formal necessary 'answer' they could be thought of as aspiring to being as necessary and self-sufficient as 'God'.....(grin grin) This perhaps can be thought of with respect to both theists and atheists.....?????

        • Loreen Lee

          Isn't that what the theist does? Put Got at the top of the argument so that explanation can be argued 'down'....I don't believe I'm the only one arguing about things that I don't 'understand'.......

  • Ben

    "So, is inferring from the contingency of the parts of the universe to
    that of the whole universe more like the inference to the length of the
    Lego wall, or more like the inference to its color? Surely it is more
    like the latter."

    Surely?

    • Not a good choice of analogy. If the Lego wall comprises pairs of individual Lego blocks, where one is blue and the other is yellow, the wall will be green. Plenty of examples exist were prismatic color arises from diffraction patterns of materials that have no color in themselves.

      • Ben

        Err, yes, which is why I found the "surely" worth noting.

    • The rest of the article defends the "Surely."

      • Ben

        Are you reading the same comments here I am? It doesn't do so in a way convincing to those who don't find normal human intuitions about causality persuasive on a universal scale, which is at least part of the target audience of his article. I don't trust the author's analogies as being reliable, nor am I particularly swayed by a quote from Hume.

        I'm honestly curious: when you read a bunch of comments from at some people who seem articulate and knowledgeable about physics and stuff (more knowledgeable than me anyway, and maybe you too?), and they don't find an article like this at all persuasive, raising what they think of as legitimate objections, what occurs to you? Do you think the atheist contingent here (through stubbornness, ignorance, something else) just doesn't get it? That the article is definitely correct and making conclusive arguments, but maybe not written in a clear way? That the argument is not in fact persuasive, and may have some flaws after all, even if you think the ultimate conclusion accurately describes the world? What's your takeaway?

      • primenumbers

        "Surely it is more like the latter." - even if it actually IS more like the latter, it never will be the latter, and the argument from analogy is only as strong as it's like, and the universe is at best nothing like the the colour of a lego wall.

  • DonJindra

    Feser wastes our time worrying about the fallacy of composition. His argument doesn't even rise to that level. Because to commit that fallacy one has to begin with a relevant composition in the first place. Feser fails to do that. Instead he gives us slight of hand to match magical thinking.

    Let's consider our left shoe as Feser suggests. We can say it's "contingent" on the shoemaker for its "existence." But when we say that we do not mean what we must mean in order for Feser's argument to apply. We do not expect the "contingency" of the shoe to depend on the active force of the shoemaker to keep it in its state of being. We do not expect the shoe to dematerialize with the death of the shoemaker. But that's exactly the sort of "contingency" Feser's reasoning demands. He's speaking of a unique contingency that has no example in nature. He can draw no analogy that applies. In fact, nature seems to provide evidence opposite to that of Feser's sort of contingency. That's what the laws of conservation of matter/energy assume. Feser wants us to abandon those laws and modern science -- although he'd protest that isn't true. But if he's to be taken seriously on this matter he better get his PHD in physics to supplement his antiquated philosophy.

    • Rationalist1

      Would this be a form of special pleading fallacy or is there a better classification?

      • DonJindra

        I'd classify it as argument by false analogy.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    I think the existence of God can be known by reason, but I'm going to criticize Feser just the same.

    I agree that my left shoe is contingent: Not only will it wear out, it had to be made by a shoemaker, and the shoemaker had to use preexisting materials, like the processed hide of a cow.

    What I think Feser doesn't take into account is that there is something in the nature of the preexisting materials which does not seem to be contingent in the same way as them being formed into a left shoe or grown into leather by a cow are contingent.

    Those things would be the subatomic particles that make up my left shoe. They have been around in some form from the Big Bang.

    I can see why the composition of my left shoe is obviously caused but (in Feser's example) not why its elements are. Its elements seem to me different in kind than its current form.

    That's why I don't think he has actually explained the left shoe fully.

    I wish he would!

    • Rationalist1

      He probably would if he could. Thank you for criticizing an argument on "your side". Raymond Brown, the noted Biblical scholar, once said a the conclusion of an article that one should be more critical of arguments that agree with you than ones that support your case.

    • It has been shown at least a few score times here that the Big Bang itself had a cause.

      Necessarily.

      That cause was supernatural.

      Necessarily.

      Therefore the elements were caused supernaturally.

      Necessarily.

      • Ben

        Also you've shown that the sun orbits the earth. Can't believe these disgusting heathens and also the Catholics aren't hip to your geocentrism. How many more times do you have to prove it?

        • Ben:

          Yawn.

          It's old news, you see.

          No experiment was ever able to measure the universally assumed motion of Earth around Sun.

          Einstein constructed an entire physics on the premise that no such experiment is possible, even in theory.

          If Einstein's wrong- and it is certain that at least the FLRW solutions that form the basis of consensus cosmology are wrong- then we are left with the experimental data, which would then have to be addressed without Relativity to explain it.

          The experimental data without Relativity to explain it is inconsistent with any annual orbit of Earth around Sun.

          Simple.

          • Ben

            Why does Mars sometimes go backwards again? I forgot.

          • Ben.

            Ben.

            Ben, Ben, Ben, Ben, Ben.

            Please.

            Tell me you understand that the retrograde motion of Mars is completely irrelevant, since it is identically the case in either a heliocentric or geocentric model.

            http://www.keplersdiscovery.com/Hypotheses.html

          • Ben

            I don't think you understand your own link.

            That page only shows one heliocentric model, the Copernican one which assumes all orbits are perfect circles, with some more perfect circles on top. Believe it or not, now we think Mars moves in an elliptical orbit, with no crazy loops like geocentricism requires (as that page is explaining). The retrograde motion is only *apparent* in the modern understanding of the solar system. But in your geocentric system, why does Mars sometimes seem to be going backwards?

  • John Paul

    Hello? Is there a way to flag ad-hominem comments? And when will the rules about fake-names will enforced? I posted here because I have not received a response yet.

  • ... The existence of any one of these things even for an instant involves the actualization of potencies here and now, which in turn presupposes the activity of a purely actual actualizer here and now. ...

    The important word there is "presupposes" and the supposition continues through the entire article. These kinds of suppositions seemed reasonable in the time of Aquinas, but these days we look deeply into the physics of the world and base our findings on experimental results. Those results of actual testing have taken away the presupposition of necessary causality on the smallest scales. The causality we see in our big world emerges from the statistical action of tiny events on the quantum scale. We have covered all that on previous threads.

    You will not see an "explanation" of wetness in the molecular structure of water, or an explanation of the shapes of snow flakes there, either. Both of those are emergent properties on our scale. Aristotle wrote of "essences" and "potentialities" without a clear epistemology of what constituted the map in our minds and what was the territory of external reality. Our "explanations" and "essences" and "potentialities" are marks on the map, not necessarily out in the territory. Reality does what it does, and we try to make predictive models that give us tools to live with what it does. There is no evidence that an external being made our reality or keeps it going, and no valid argument from the properties of things (let alone extrapolation to everything) that forces a logical conclusion establishing such.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Yet there is something real at the smallest scales, to which the human being asks, "Why"?

      • I think asking "why" is more about our psychology whereas asking "how" is more about finding out.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Both come from our psychology.

          • Both come from our psychology.

            That is why I used the qualifier, "more" in my comment. We are beings with intentionality so the question of why the people around us do things, is very important. It is, IMHO, a psychological slip to slide the valid question of 'why' from intentional systems, to situations where no presence of mind is shown.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            And imho (I used lower case to show I'm even humbler than you), it would be psychologically horrible to conclude that there is no mind behind the universe.

          • ... it would be psychologically horrible to conclude that there is no mind behind the universe.

            It has been made plain to me, on multiple occasions, that fear of such horror trumps reason in so many.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            They say, wonder is the beginning of wisdom, but I think horror can motivate reason as well. Wonder's a lot more fun and productive, though.

          • ... Wonder's a lot more fun and productive, though.

            Yep.

          • Max Driffill

            Kevin, this is logical fallacy, and not a reason to mount a serious objection to the contrary position you hold, there is no mind behind the universe. The fallacy to which I am referring is the argument from adverse consequences.

            Well x can't be true because if it was that would be bad. Well then it is just bad. Now to be clear I don't know if you are trying to suggest that because it would be bad then it can't be true, but I have seen that line of reasoning a bit too often.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Max, I'm not making a logical argument. I'm expressing the human psychological reaction that the mindless universe has programmed me to have.

          • Max, I'm not making a logical argument. I'm expressing the human psychological reaction that the mindless universe has programmed me to have.

            That seems to be true.

          • Max Driffill

            Kevin,
            I thought that might be the case, but on the off chance you were trying to make an argument based on that psychological reaction (which seems a very human thing by the way, I'm not sneering at it) I just wanted to offer a thought.

          • Mikegalanx

            A lot depends on your individual outlook, I suppose. To me, the idea that there is a mind behind the Universe, and the whole thing was set up as a kind of lab test (or computer game, or narrative, depending on which metaphor you prefer) would seem horrible.

          • Max Driffill

            Mike, I actually find that horrifying, more so than the idea that there isn't such cosmic oversight. But I can also understand that it would be nice to know that there is a person looking out for you. Of course neither fear has any bearing on the empirical matter.

          • Michael Murray

            But I can also understand that it would be nice to know that there is a person looking out for you

            Unless they are just making sure you are putting on weight ….

          • Max Driffill

            And the horror vignettes continue!

  • josh

    Step 1.) A shoe.
    Step 2.) ???
    Step 3.) GOD

    If Feser or anyone cares to make this supposed argument in reality I can point out whats wrong with the details. But really, can't people see from the start that this isn't a point of view we need to take seriously.

  • robtish

    The Lego analogy fails, and fails so powerfully it renders the article moot.

    In the analogy, the wall is constructed from the Legos, which pre-date the wall itself. So of course the "whole" is as contingent as it components-- because you set the analogy up that way!

    When it comes to the universe, though, the universe wasn't constructed from the component parts like tables, chairs, rocks, trees, and other objects. The universe itself predates the component parts, which is quite different from the Lego analogy.

    Put differently, the Lego wall is a created from Lego pieces, but the universe was not created from tables, chairs, rocks, and trees.

  • Ben

    I find it weird that this site is so eager to make out that Catholicism is compatible with the latest cutting edge science (who can forget such classic articles on here as "20% Of Mediocre Scientists Are Catholic", "Imagine I Had A Dinner Party With My Scientist Friend And Also I Used to Be A Scientist: Ergo, Science!", "Darwin Banged Grandmama Yet I'm Catholic" and "In A Way, Isn't Science A Type of Religion? Aaaa!"), and yet you publish a LOT of articles which seem to be written by people who were frozen before the atomic theory of matter was popularised, and have just now been thawed out. I mean, is this article really talking about physical objects having "essences"? In the 21st century?

    It's so badly written that it's hard for me to keep track of the various accusations and counter-accusations of who is supposed to be committing the fallacy of composition, so I'm going to put all that to one side.

    I really don't understand what the point about books and "immediate efficient causes" is supposed to tell us. Sure, a book might be copied from another book, which might be copied from another book etc. But in 100% of known books, the chain of copying doesn't go back forever. We can trace them back to a point where somebody wrote the original text. Maybe there isn't an "immediate" cause for why the 26th printing of "Harry Potter & The Mooncup Of Zatanna" came to be, but the cause is that JK Rowling's brain generated the text. Don't see the mystery or the point. And that happened within the know history of the universe.

    And I don't understand why we're supposed to believe an infinite regress of events couldn't be possible. Why couldn't the Big Bang have a cause in some previous universe? Maybe the universe works as described in Roger Penrose's Cycles of Time, or there's some as yet unknown force which will make the universe collapse into a singularity and re-expand, and time goes back infinitely. That might seem counter-intuitive or unsettling, but it's logically possible. Why is an infinite regress of causes less plausible than the claim that there's a timeless Uncaused Cause who also happens to be the personal God of a certain Bronze Age tribe, who can somehow change state and experience emotions like jealousy and anger despite being timeless, and then shows up 98% of the way into human history to beam itself down and endure criminal execution for a little while, in a rather distasteful act of slumming it amongst the proles?

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I'll vote this the ugliest, angriest comment of the day.

      • Thomism makes something-from-nothing theorists very angry.

        Thomists cannot be duped by something-from-nothing theorists.

      • Sample1

        Right or wrong, I'm grateful the post is allowed to remain.

        I know of one popular Catholic site where discussions of atheism and even evolution are forbidden--forbidden is actually the word that is used!

        Strange Notions seems to be following a Hitchens-esque liberalism regarding free speech. Hitch used to say if you silence a person's speech, not only do you take away their right to speak, you take away my right to hear them; in effect silencing one person always affects others too. Let me be the judge of what I want to hear or not hear and read or not read.

        Mike

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Ben is actually pretty funny. If he would give atheism equal time I would not complain.

    • Rationalist1

      That comment makes me rethink my position on illegal drugs,

  • Loreen Lee

    So, is inferring from the contingency of the parts of the universe to
    that of the whole universe more like the inference to the length of the
    Lego wall, or more like the inference to its color?

    Hey! This is another example of the contrast between Kant's mathematical formal cause, the lego, and Kant's dynamic formal cause, or the color. The first, I would suggest (not argue) is a quantative category: (after all it's mathematical) and the second qualitative as it's color. Mathematics is deemed to rest on the logic of necessity; -True? Color I believe is an example of a contingency. I can always put some nail polish on my finger nails. But even with a change in hair color, I'm sure that each body part would remain a contingency, although I have no 'proof'. However, I could also measure the fluctuation of the neurons within a brain scan, but this might not give the needed evidence to find this argument 'rational' let alone necessary!!!!
    And of course, to follow the argument once I have finished examining all my body part, and brain parts, I still have to account for relations, and the modalities of necessity, actuality and possibility which I could relate to either time? (in order past, present, future: necessity, actuality and 'potentiality' as a future possibility?) or space possibly in a context of 'measurement'. Get me on this one, - I've never studied modal logic.

    Could I identify the first formal cause with essence; and the second with 'existence', without stretching the analogy too much. It would help me determine where "I" stand on this issue. Literally and metaphorically, as I am both a case study, and a metaphor for the issue at hand!!!!

    After all, I'm one of those contingent beings in the universe, and I have yet to find a sufficient explanation, (cause) for my many parts. Indeed, like the problematic of explaining the universe as a whole, totality, unity, I have deep suspicious that that would not be possible. Let's talk probabilities her though, and then that might allow me to bring a conjecture into the argument. That I understand is the 'method'!!! So whatever I try, I can't explain every part of my 'being' and thus don't expect to explain the 'whole'...And even if I could, I trust I am not a solipsist!!!!!
    However, I might be in difficulty with my composition as I do have an 'intuition' of myself as a whole being, that possibly defies 'logic'. Kant called it the 'apperception'..Would it be permissible to relate this phenomena to the following quote: " It involves the conjoining of an essence to an act of existence here and now, which presupposes a sustaining cause whose essence and existence are identical. It involves a union of parts in something composite, which presupposes that which is absolutely simple or incomposite. And so forth.' i cannot help but have this kind of 'sense' about myself. Would that be an explanation, if not a cause, why the 'idea' of 'unity' (real or Kantian ideal), might account for the human propensity generally to 'postulate' 'prove' the existence of 'God'?. Could such a 'sense of unity' be a sufficient cause, that would be acceptable as some kind of evidence that there is a God, considered as a greater unity, a whole, a totality, whatever.

    This argument has been given as an attempt at satire, irony, what not. I trust I have not fallen into the fallacy of composition, although it is most probable that I have, and also that I am greatly in need to beg the question with respect to your superior judgment. Thanks for letting me practice being a 'philosopher'....even if I fail at 'composition'......

    • ... although it is most probable that I am greatly in need to beg the question with respect to your superior judgment.

      Loreen, do you know what the expression "beg the question" means in a philosophical context?

      • Loreen Lee

        In theory, yes. Whether I can always recognize it though, 'begs the question'. But I'll never 'get there' unless I make the effort. Indeed, I ironically believe I have metaphorically created circular arguments today, within some kind of literary commentary context, although I do know, (I have studied logic) that my reasoning is not precise, particularly in comparison with the physicists. But I persevere. My 'message' is not in the 'logic' I believe but in the 'sub-text'. I've always been considered to be someone with a sense of satire. I used to earn a living at it. But do teach me. Point out all the errors. (Or tell me to go home, that would be alright too). But the only way I'll get 'on top of the arguments'. is with practice. And I want to learn. Thanks.. (In the quote you gave, I was definitely being ironical, - begging your questioning of my reply!!!!!!)

      • Loreen Lee

        Just to express my feelings with respect to what I now understand is the possible reason why I have gone into an ironic, quasi humorous posture today. The irony is that I possible believe that despite the apparent differences between the positions of atheists and theists on line, I would suggest that there are areas of agreement, which are presented as opposite points of view, when it is possible that some degree of reconciliation between the modern/scientist/metaphysics and Christianity. could develop if care was taken in translation. If only this purpose was made explicit in the arguments? I can't help feeling that it is the understanding of terminology, i.e. language which is the difficulty. The relation between the theories of the scientists (may I say their metaphysical nature) and the support given them by evidence, may be analogous to belief in God (the theory that God exists) which theists also believe can be supported by evidence. But due to the distance in the perspectives, the reason of the physicists etc. is not comparable with the faith of the theists. I therefore find it ironic, humorous, that due to the single mindedness of the contesting parties, there is 'evidence' that each party consistently misses the other's point of view. My difficulty with this is that I have not the intellectual capacity to demonstrate that this is possibly a 'truth' even of the 'human condition'. .Read the article on 'begging the question'. Same 'problem' - the theory is so detailed that I would never have the capacity to totally integrate within understanding, all the distinctions and differences within the particular examples. I do believe that men do argue points better than females generally. I hope this is not seen as an anti-feminist bias. It may be another prejudice of mine that I don't like the feeling that some dialogue may be at 'cross purposes'. That though is what might explain some of the content in these arguments. Perhaps if I am 'honest' about what I don't know, I will not get into too much difficulty. I give examples, in my attempts to understand Kant, to avoid making logical 'errors' based on inadequate comprehension. And now that I'm in my seventies, I'm not about to hit the books again. I only hope my examples might be useful to someone. But I do think we have passed the threshold where any one of us can think or 'believe' we will every have sufficient or comprehensive knowledge on any subject. (Source for this last statement:: Longeran? spelling?) (Just my opinion- a possible reflection of my limitations in this regard) Thank you.

        • And now that I'm in my seventies, I'm not about to hit the books again.

          Hitting the books stimulates neuroplasticity even later in life, so I would encourage you in that direction.

          • Loreen Lee

            Hey. Although I didn't real all the article - like really technical stuff- I got the gist, perhaps. Also they recommended such things as photography, etc. I think I'm better off trying to understand you guys, especially the physicist-a-theists!!!! You're going to 'keep me young'....

          • Good. All the best to you! :-)

  • Michael Murray

    Argumentum de Lego

    http://thebrickbible.com

    • Sample1

      That the site says a child's version of the Lego Bible exists (hello it's a LEGO BIBLE) makes me laugh to no end.

      Mike

      • Michael Murray

        Maybe the other one has what our TV classification calls "adult themes" The Bible is a bit prone to adult themes. Or maybe its a Duplo bible !

        • Max Driffill

          Its largely a waste of good legos. Its a remarkably terrible book. There are, in the KJV anyway, some lovely turns of phrase, but it is easily the most boring book I've ever read.

          • Michael Murray

            Even the LOLCat version ?

            "Oh hai. In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat maded teh skiez An da Urfs, but he did not eated dem."

            http://lolcatbible.com/index.php?title=Genesis_1

          • Max Driffill

            Okay, I will grant you that one.

          • My favorite.

          • Max, if the Bible is the most boring book you ever read, we know two things about you.

            First, we know you never read the Principia Mathematicae.

            Second, we know you are completely hopeless.

            After all:

            And Saul said to David: Thou art not able to withstand this Philistine, nor to fight against him: for thou art but a boy, but he is a warrior from his youth. [34] And David said to Saul: Thy servant kept his father' s sheep, and there came a lion, or a bear, and took a ram out of the midst of the flock: [35] And I pursued after them, and struck them, and delivered it out of their mouth: and they rose up against me, and I caught them by the throat, and I strangled and killed them.

            [36] For I thy servant have killed both a lion and a bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be also as one of them. I will go now, and take away the reproach of the people: for who is this uncircumcised Philistine, who hath dared to curse the army of the living God? [37] And David said: The Lord who delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. And Saul said to David: Go, and the Lord be with thee. [38] And Saul clothed David with his garments, and put a helmet of brass upon his head, and armed him with a coat of mail. [39] And David having girded his sword upon his armour, began to try if he could walk in armour: for he was not accustomed to it. And David said to Saul: I cannot go thus, for I am not used to it. And he laid them off, [40] And he took his staff, which he had always in his hands: and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them into the shepherd' s scrip, which he had with him, and he took a sling in his hand, and went forth against the Philistine.

          • Max Driffill

            In truth, the Quran may be more boring, that was one I just could not get through so soporific were its effects.

          • Well then there it is.

            Progress.

          • Doug Shaver

            The Quran was an assigned text for a history class I took in college a few years ago, and I had to write a paper comparing it with another assigned text. I got all the way through the other book and tried very hard to do the same with the Quran. I just couldn't. But I read enough of it to get a decent grade on the paper.

        • Andrew G.

          The OT scenes do not hold back on depicting the sex and violence, even if it is all done with lego.

  • Andrew G.

    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.

    And this is supposed to pass as logic?

    I pointed out weeks ago in the comments of another post here that the redness of the wall of red bricks is only true because of the size and shape of the bricks in addition to their colour; a wall of sufficiently small red bricks could be any colour. Grind up a peacock's tail and sort the particles by colour and you will find only shades of brown, nothing else.

    But the more serious problem here is the basic flaw in the logic. Inferring from part to whole typically takes this kind of form:

    A1. Every part of object X has property P.
    A2. Therefore X has property P.

    Since this is obviously not true in general (and therefore is fallacious reasoning), it is always a cognitive mistake, if not necessarily a logical one, to include it in an argument. But is it also a logical mistake? Let's see.

    We can define an expansive property as follows: P is expansive if, and only if, all arguments of the form A above, applied to all objects X, for the specific property P, are true. i.e.

    expansive(P) = forall(X): A1(X,P) => A2(X,P)

    Now, since this definition quantifies over the whole universe, it has the problem that it falls to a single counterexample. We've already seen this: Feser, physics not being his strong point, seems to think that "colour" is an expansive property, but the peacock's tail, the butterfly's wing, and even the molecular structure of dyes shows us otherwise. We therefore expect that in practice, there are almost no properties that can safely be considered to be expansive, with the exception of those where the expansivity is written into the definition, or (equivalently) is a logical consequence of the definition. (e.g. "contains nuts" is expansive, since the "contains" in its definition refers to the whole/part relation which is transitive, so "A contains B which contains nuts" implies "A contains nuts".)

    So the correct form of logical argument to use would be:

    B1. Every part (or some part) of object X has property P.
    B2..n-1. establish specifically the chain of reasoning by which the truth of P(part of X) implies the truth of P(X) for this specific X.
    Bn. Therefore X has property P.

    The fact that almost all properties are not expansive additionally means that we have no reason to accept an argument from analogy (i.e. "P is expansive because it is analogous to Q which is expansive"), because if P were expansive by consequence of its definition then we would not consider making the argument in the first place, while if P's definition does not imply expansivity but Q's does, this is a fallacy of weak analogy, and finally if neither definition does, then we are necessarily making an argument based only on the lack of a known counterexample, and therefore the analogy adds nothing to our chances of being correct.

    So when we see an argument like "every part of X has property P; therefore X has property P; and I'll handwave off the accusation of committing a distributive fallacy by using a vague analogy (as here with Feser) or by arguing from incredulity (as in arguments about philosophy of mind I've read from Plantinga and others)", we can be certain that the writer is just blowing smoke.

    And to cap it all off, we have a ready-made counter-example to hand that proves that "contingency" is not an expansive property:

    C1. Let Q(X), where X is some open subset of a smooth topologically-spherical surface enclosing the Earth, be "The wind speed is nonzero and continuous at all points of X".

    C2. Let P(X) be "The truth or falsehood of Q(X) is a contingent fact".

    C3. P(X) is obviously true where X is some small region.

    C4. P(X) is false where X is the whole surface, by the hairy ball theorem (which makes Q(X) necessarily false in this case).

    C5. Therefore P(X) is not expansive.

    • epeeist

      And this is supposed to pass as logic?

      Bravo! Round of applause.

      Others have pointed out the failure in logic but yours is a solid addition, nicely done.

      • Michael Murray

        Yes indeed. Nobody has used a non-trivial topological result anywhere else on these boards. It's excellent.

    • Sample1

      because if P were expansive by consequence of its definition then we would not consider making the argument in the first place

      I cheered when I read that. Very cool.

      Mike

    • Ben

      Aaaah, but have you read Aquinas on topology? Also, you need to have read Turtellian on colour to really understand the sophisticated arguments at play here.

      • Rationalist1

        Coutier's reply perhaps?

        • Ben

          I'm not serious, I'm just filling in for Brandon since he's clearly busy.

    • alexander stanislaw

      That was the best comment I have read on this site by far.

  • Ramon R

    What about the concept of synergy which states that the interaction of multiple elements can be greater than the sum of it's effects. How could you ever explain such an effect without being able to view the whole? How do we know that the universe isn't more than the sum of it's parts?

    Another fallacy that the cosmological argument commits is the fallacy of equivocation. The usage of the word 'cause' isn't the same throughout the cosmological argument. In the opening premis we use 'cause' as a rearrangement of pre-exisiting materials (creatio ex materia) and when talking about the universe we're talking about a creation from nothing (ex nihilo), we actually don't have any observations or understanding of the latter. Claiming that there is no difference between the two would be foolish.

  • paulenewhite55

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  • Jerry

    Sorry if I'm late to the party but I do have a few questions for the author. When you say "the universe", how are you defining that? If you define that as everything that exist, then certainly if god exist it is part of the universe. Or, are you referring to "universe" as everything that exist except heaven, gods etc? I think this is an important distinction to be made when having this discussion. Stated another way, if something caused existence, then that thing ( that caused existence) already existed and you are right back where you started!

  • michael

    Nothing in this article shows that a living, self-away,e conscious being who has earned our respect despite creating ebola made the universe.