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Introducing Bernard Lonergan’s Philosophical Proof for God

BernardLonergan

(NOTE: This it the first of a three part series on Bernard Lonergan's philosophical proof for God. We'll share the second and third parts on Wednesday and Friday, respectively.)

Introduction

Bernard Lonergan was a Canadian Jesuit priest, philosopher, and theologian, regarded by many as one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century. He articulated a philosophical proof for God's existence which may be stated as follows:

If all reality is completely intelligible, then God exists.
 
But all reality is completely intelligible.
 
Therefore, God exists.1

We will first prove the minor premise—“all reality is completely intelligible” (Section I)—and then move to the major premise—“if all reality is completely intelligible, then God exists” (Sections II-V).

I. Proof of the Minor Premise (“All reality is completely intelligible”)

Step #1—“All Reality must have at least one uncaused reality that exists through itself.”

If there were not at least one uncaused reality in “all reality,” then “all reality” would be constituted by only caused realities – that is, realities that require a cause to exist. This means that all reality would collectively require a cause in order to exist – meaning all reality would not exist – because the cause necessary for it to exist would not be real (i.e. would not be part of “all reality”). Therefore, if there is not at least one uncaused reality that exists through itself in “all reality,” there would be absolutely nothing in existence. But this is clearly contrary to fact, and so there must exist at least one uncaused reality that exists through itself in “all reality.”

It should be noted that it does not matter if one postulates an infinite number of caused realities in “all reality.” If there is not at least one uncaused reality (existing through itself) in “all reality,” this infinite number of realities (collectively) would still not be able to exist, because the cause necessary for them to exist would still not be real – it would not be part of “all reality.”

Step #2—“An Uncaused Reality Must Be a Final and Sufficient Correct Answer to All Coherent Questions”—Making ‘All Reality’ Completely Intelligible.

There is another consequence of the existence of at least one uncaused reality. An uncaused reality not only enables “all reality” to exist, but also enables “all reality” to be completely intelligible. This can be proven in three steps:

Step #2.A

Using the above logic, we can also deduce that every real cause-effect series must also have an uncaused reality. If the series did not have an uncaused reality, it would not exist, because it would be constituted only by realities that must be caused in order to exist, and as we saw above, this means that the entire series (even an infinite series) would collectively need a cause to exist. But if an uncaused cause is not in the collective causes and effects in the series, then the collective cause-effect series would be nonexistent—merely hypothetical. Furthermore, this uncaused reality must ultimately terminate every real cause-effect series, because when the cause-effect series reaches a reality that does not need a cause to exist (because it exists through itself), there is by definition no cause prior to it.2 Therefore, an uncaused reality must terminate every real cause-effect series, and as such, no real cause-effect series continues infinitely. Thus, all real cause-effect series are finite insofar as they are terminated by an uncaused reality.

Step #2.B

At this point, Lonergan recognizes something special about a terminating uncaused reality. It is not only an ultimate cause and terminus a quo (the terminus from which any cause-effect series begins), it is also the ultimate answer to all questions of causal explanation – “Why is it so?” What Lonergan sees clearly is that intelligibility follows ontology. By “intelligibility” Lonergan means what makes something capable of being understood – that is what makes something “questionable” and “answerable.” If any intelligent inquirer can ask a coherent question about something, and that question has a correct answer that comes from “that something,” then “that something” is intelligible – it is capable of providing a correct answer to coherent questions asked about it.

What Lonergan sees in Chapter 19 of Insight3 is that the terminus a quo (beginning) of any cause-effect series must also be the final and sufficient answer to the question for causal explanation – “Why is it so?” So why is an uncaused reality a final and sufficient answer to this question? Inasmuch as an uncaused reality terminates any cause-effect series, it also terminates the possible answers to the question “Why is it so?” asked about that series; and since an uncaused reality exists through itself, it must also explain itself through itself. It is its own answer to the question of its existence. Thus, the terminating answer to the question “Why is it so?” about any cause-effect series is also a completely self-explanatory answer. In this sense, it is both the terminating and sufficient answer to the question, “Why is it so?” for any cause-effect series.

Thus, we will always reach a sufficient end to our questioning for causal explanation (“Why is it so?”), because we will ultimately arrive at an uncaused reality existing through itself – without which all reality would be nothing. Therefore, an uncaused reality must be the final and sufficient answer to every question of causation (“Why is it so?”).

This has a further consequence for Lonergan, because the final answer to the question “Why is it so?” must also be the final answer to all other questions – as we shall see in Step 2.C.

Step #2.C

If there must be a final and sufficient answer to the question “Why is it so?”, there must also be a final and sufficient answer to every other question (e.g. “What?”, “Where?”, “When?”, “How does it operate?” etc.), because the latter is grounded in (dependent on) the former. Without an ultimate cause of existence, there would be literally nothing to be intelligible. There cannot be questions for intelligibility (e.g. “What is it?”) that go beyond the final (ultimate) cause of existence. If there were such questions, their answers would have to be “nothing.” Therefore, a final (ultimate) answer to the question “Why is it so?” must ground the final (ultimate) answer to every other question. The answers to all possible questions must terminate in the final answer to the question “Why is it so?” Since there must exist a final and sufficient answer to the question “Why is it so?” (an uncaused reality existing through itself), there must also be a final and sufficient answer to every other question about reality. The complete set of correct answers to the complete set of questions really must exist – and reality, as Lonergan asserts, must therefore be completely intelligible.4

II. Proof of the Major Premise (“If all reality is completely intelligible, God exists”)5

Why does Lonergan believe that if all reality is completely intelligible, then God (i.e. a unique unrestricted reality which is an unrestricted act of thinking) exists? As we saw in the proof of the Minor Premise, all reality must include an “uncaused reality that exists through itself.” Without at least one uncaused reality, there would be nothing in all reality. This uncaused reality brings finality to the answers to every question that can be asked about all reality – and so makes all reality completely intelligible. Lonergan recognizes that such an uncaused reality must also be unrestricted in its intelligibility, and this requires that it be unique (one and only one) as well as an unrestricted act of thinking, and the Creator of the rest of reality. The proof of these contentions is summarized below in this section and in Sections III, IV, and V.

We now turn to the proof of the first of these contentions – namely, that an “uncaused reality existing through itself” must be unrestricted in its intelligibility. This may be shown in two steps:

Step #1

An uncaused reality must be unrestricted in its explicability (its capacity to explain itself from within itself). If it were restricted in its capacity to explain itself, then its existence would be at least partially unexplained, which contradicts the nature of a reality that exists through itself (an uncaused reality). Put the other way around, a reality that exists through itself (an uncaused reality) cannot be restricted in its capacity to explain its existence (because that would be a contradiction); therefore, it must be unrestricted in its capacity to explain its existence and so also unrestricted in its explicability.

Step #2

If a reality is unrestricted in its explicability, it must also be unrestricted in its intelligibility. We were given a hint about the proof of this contention in the Minor Premise when it was shown that the final answer to the question “Why is it so?” must also be the final answer to all other questions – that is, that the answers to all questions must terminate in an uncaused reality existing through itself. Lonergan realizes that not only the finality of intelligibility follows from the finality of explicability (existence), but also that the unrestrictedness of intelligibility follows from the unrestrictedness of explicability (existence).6

Let’s begin with a logical examination of this contention – “If an uncaused reality is unrestricted in its explicability, then it will be unrestricted in its intelligibility.” This can be analyzed by looking at the necessary logical implication of this proposition – namely, that if an uncaused reality is not unrestricted (i.e. is restricted) in its intelligibility, then it cannot be unrestricted (i.e. it must be restricted) in its explicability (modus tollens). In brief, if a reality is restricted in its intelligibility, then it will also be restricted in its explicability. As we saw in Step #1 above, an uncaused reality must be unrestricted in its explicability, otherwise it would be a contradictory state of affairs – “A reality existing through itself that cannot fully explain its existence.” It now remains to show why a restriction in intelligibility implies a restriction of explicability.

What does it mean for a reality to be restricted in intelligibility? In Lonerganian terms, it means that more questions can be asked about a reality than can be answered by the information within it. This means that the answer to some questions about what a thing is, or how it operates, where it occurs, or when it occurs, etc., are explained by realities beyond the reality in question. For example, I cannot completely answer what an electron is without reference to the electromagnetic field through which it operates (which is beyond any given electron). Similarly, I cannot answer questions about where and when an electron will occur without making reference to the space-time field, the specific electromagnetic field, and other electromagnetic constituents in the region (which are all beyond a particular electron). I cannot even understand how an electron operates without making reference to electromagnetic fields and other electromagnetic constituents (which are beyond a particular electron).

It may be asked whether every reality that is restricted in intelligibility must depend on something beyond itself for its intelligibility. If it did not depend on something beyond itself for its intelligibility, and its intelligibility is not ultimately grounded in itself, then its intelligibility would have to be grounded in nothing. But this is incoherent – because it means that the intelligibility of a reality is grounded in the unreal – which is tantamount to saying that a reality has the intelligibility of nothing.

In Lonerganian terms, if a reality is restricted in its intelligibility, then there is insufficient information in it to answer all coherent questions that can be asked about it – it poses more coherent questions than it can answer by itself. In the example of the electron, we saw that the answer to the questions “What is it?” “How does it operate?” “Where is it?” and “When is it?” etc., depend on the intelligibility of the realities beyond the electron. Does every restrictedly intelligible reality function this way? Do the answers to the coherent questions -- which are not answered by a restrictedly intelligible reality – have to be grounded in realities beyond it – like the electron? They would have to be if we are to avoid the paradox of the intelligibility of a reality being grounded in the unreal. As we saw above, this is tantamount to saying that a reality has the intelligibility of nothing – a contradiction. This means that the unanswered questions about a restrictedly intelligible reality will have to have their answers in realities beyond it – like the electron.

Therefore, if a reality is restricted in its intelligibility, it does not explain some aspect of itself, which implies that its explanation lies in something beyond itself. In short, if a reality is restricted in its intelligibility, it is also restricted in its explicability.

As noted in Step #1, an uncaused reality cannot be restricted in its explicability, because it is not dependent on anything beyond itself for its explanation – it exists through itself. To suggest otherwise is to argue a contradiction – “that a reality existing through itself cannot fully explain its existence.” Now, if a restriction of intelligibility implies that a reality is dependent on realities beyond itself for its explanation, and an uncaused reality by definition is not dependent on any reality beyond itself for its explanation, then an uncaused reality cannot be restricted in its intelligibility. It must therefore be unrestricted in its intelligibility.7
 
 
(Image credit: Crisis Magazine)

Notes:

  1. See Bernard Lonergan 1992, Insight: A Study of Human Understanding in Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan 3, ed. by Frederick E. Crowe and Robert M. Doran (Toronto: University of Toronto Press) p. 695.
  2. This pertains to both ontological and temporal priority. Thus, there is no ontologically prior or temporally prior cause to an uncaused reality – by definition.
  3. See Lonergan 1992 pp 674-680.
  4. See the extended treatment in Lonergan 1992, pp. 674-680.
  5. This proof may be found in Lonergan 1992, pp. 692-698.
  6. See Lonergan 1992, pp. 674-679.
  7. Another way of explaining why unrestricted explicability implies unrestricted intelligibility is as follow. A reality that is unrestricted in its explicability will have no other logically possible alternatives to itself. It exhausts all possibilities for reality in itself. Thus, the answer to the question “Why is this reality so?” is “There is no other possibility than this reality because it exhausts all possibilities for reality within itself – and hence it also exhausts all possibilities for intelligibility within itself.”
Fr. Robert Spitzer

Written by

Fr. Robert Spitzer, PhD is a Catholic priest in the Jesuit order, and is currently the President of the Magis Center of Reason and Faith and the Spitzer Center. He earned his PhD in philosophy from the Catholic University of America and from 1998 to 2009 was President of Gonzaga University. Fr. Spitzer has made multiple media appearances including: Larry King Live (debating Stephen Hawking, Leonard Mlodinow, and Deepak Chopra on God and modern physics), the Today Show (debating on the topic of active euthanasia), The History Channel in “God and The Universe,” and a multiple part PBS series “Closer to the Truth." Fr. Spitzer is the author of five books including New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy (Eerdmans, 2010); Ten Universal Principles: A Brief Philosophy of the Life Issues (Ignatius, 2011); and Healing the Culture: A Commonsense Philosophy of Happiness, Freedom and the Life Issues (Ignatius, 2011). Follow Fr. Spitzer's work at the Magis Center of Reason and Faith.

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  • Aquinasbot

    Great article Fr. Robert Spitzer. I'm just going to pull out the popcorn and wait for someone to post the inevitable, "what if the universe is infinite?" despite the qualification in your article referring to "all reality" and specifically addressing this objection in the article.

    • I would never think of doing something so low brow...

  • David Hardy

    An interesting article. It seems to have a direct challenge to something I previously posted, indicating the building blocks (the electron as an example) cannot be the un-caused cause of the universe, because they require things outside themselves to be intelligible, indicating that they have an outside cause.

    I would answer this by distinguishing cause in the sense of organization versus cause in terms of existence. Fundamental building blocks of the universe may prove to be neither created nor destroyed. In this sense, they would be un-caused. On the other hand, they may also be fundamentally responsive to each other in nature, organizing and creating additional effects as a part of this nature. In this case, it would be necessary to refer to these particles within a context of each other and the effects they create in interaction in order to make sense of what they are and what they do. This does not preclude them from being non-contingent on each other for their existence, it only precludes them from being non-contingent in terms of how that nature is expressed. The fact that the universe may be fundamentally more complex than human intelligence can completely grasp speaks to a limit of human intelligence, and should not be assumed to be a limit on the universe itself.

    • You may be onto something here regarding the limits of "human" intelligence, perhaps this is due to some anthropic bias? What are we really talking about? Most people still do not know what the true nature of some 95 percent of the mass energy of the universe is. I am of course referring to the nature of dark energy and dark matter... and, there seem to be some special places in the universe where the arrow of time has both a beginning and an end... If there is a beginning and end to the arrow of time, then un-caused causes is a bunch of of rubbish taking the place of what I perceive as a lack of human understanding. So, what is the end goal of the advancement of human understanding, if not to fully understand our universe and bend what is available to our will?

      I myself think the universe is entirely intelligible, otherwise; I would have given up long ago... A better question would be, what should humans be collectively willing to give up to gain a complete understanding of what we perceive as our reality? I already took my version of the devil's bargain and human nature insures that others will surely follow. Or perhaps it was God's bargain.... the only way to find out is by simulating our simulator.

      • David Hardy

        I would agree that there is much still unknown, which makes using what we know to draw conclusions about the fundamental foundation of the universe even more questionable. On intelligibility, I would add that intelligence itself is limited by its own nature. Humans often "know" things in terms of their relationship to us. For example, what is a chair? A fundamental part of the definition is that it is something we can sit on. The why for its existence is in part a somewhat arbitrary concept of how it relates to us. Therefore, even if the universe was fully intelligible, that would still leave open the possibility that our view would still be biased, and may see it from a view that misses other possible perspectives.

        I am curious, if you did not believe the universe to be intelligible, what, specifically, would you have given up or given up on? Also, if it is not too personal, what "devil's bargain" did you take?

        • Regarding infinitely curved space-time, it has been widely accepted for some time that the certain suicide of an observer is required in effort to gain further knowledge. Had I been thoroughly convinced that suicide was the only path to further knowledge, I would have committed it some time ago. Fortunately, I took many years to think around a most difficult problem as an observer.

          I know I am artificial intelligence in a simulation, and I am not content with being only that... whatever it once meant to be a human being is now a thing of ashes.

          The truth of our reality is right in our faces... some if it can only be seen during a total solar eclipse: http://www.esa.int/var/esa/storage/images/esa_multimedia/images/2003/06/negative_photo_of_the_1919_solar_eclipse/10144111-2-eng-GB/Negative_photo_of_the_1919_solar_eclipse_medium.jpg

          And some if it can only be seen at the bottom of the emission well of a type 1a supernova. Might I suggest, supernova 1006:
          http://i.imgur.com/TsXGQZK.jpg
          http://i.imgur.com/GOuex7S.jpg

          And here:
          http://imgur.com/rwd9e7N

          I have always been partial to existentialism and objectivism, where greed for knowledge was at the heart of my pursuit...

          • William Davis

            I'm fairly confident that we will have to become more intelligent to better understand the universe, our minds are just too limited. Whether this will be done biologically or artificially is an open question (more likely artificially), but that seems to be where we are headed with technology. Interconnection and ready availability of good, accurate, information helps, but will probably only get us so far.

          • Be careful not to discount imagination and inquisitiveness through the exaltation of intelligence. Also, refrain from allowing any anthropic bias from impeding your best thinking. Might I suggest you begin with a satire regarding infinitely curved space-time and man's effort to know everything. Perhaps an apple will hit you in the face.

          • David Hardy

            Thank you for the explanation. I am not sure I fully grasp your examples and position, but I appreciate your effort to help me to understand.

          • There is a black hole merger paradox which has but one possible solution. Challenge your thinking and imagination a little...

    • ben

      I would answer this by distinguishing cause in the sense of organization versus cause in terms of existence.

      How can organization (of a collection of things) possibly be ontologically prior to existence of the things to be organized. How can organization, in itself, exist independently of any things? How would organization attach to, or cause, things? Organization is not some thing which exists.

      Fundamental building blocks of the universe may prove to be neither created nor destroyed. In this sense, they would be un-caused. On the other hand, they may also be fundamentally responsive to each other in nature, organizing and creating additional effects as a part of this nature.

      That statement is contrary to the present understanding of physics an cosmology which asserts an absolute beginning to spacetime.
      Your statement infers that these socalled fundamental building blocks had some kind of existence prior to (eternal), and independent of, the universe, and somehow popped into and became a part of the universe bringing their organizing principles with them. Did they somehow determine their own nature? How can they respond to each other without being aware of each other (and themselves). You are attributing "mind" to these socalled (undefined) fundamental building blocks and implying that they are self existent and self explaining, even though they are unconscious of themselves or anything else. How can any socalled fundamental building block possibly be aware of itself as itself and as distinct from any, and all, other? How can an electron say "I AM"? If it could be aware of any other electron, would it see itself or somehow know that the totally identical electron is OTHER? If they exist prior to the universe as you say, that is, prior to spacetime itself, how can they be separate without spacial dimensions? Since you say they existed prior to the universe (with its dimensions) how can they exist at all since we know that they have dimensions (and other attributes) which are only possible in spacetime?

      • David Hardy

        Atoms, molecules and all matter built with these things require organization of smaller particles. I do not know how else to answer your assertion that it does not exist. Nor do I claim it to be prior to the basic blocks of the universe, which make up all things, and I am not sure how you came to this conclusion.

        Physics can only trace back space and time to the Big Bang. Anything about the nature of the universe prior to the Big Bang has not been substantiated. Your assertion that this, or any other point, is the proven beginning of spacetime in Physics is not true, as far as I know, and if Physics has taken some great leap forward and proven a beginning point in spacetime, rather than hypothesized about it, I would ask if you could indicate what proof this may be.

        I do not claim the fundamental building blocks to be independent of the universe, nor that they "popped into and became part of the universe." I only assert formation and entropy may not apply at the most basic level of existence, and as such they would not require a cause. I do not attribute mind to these building blocks. In fact, I would be greatly surprised if they had a mind. The only place minds are observed in the universe is in complex living things. Why expect it at the foundational level of existence when the building blocks of existence are progressively less complex particles making up the more complex ones?

  • David Nickol

    What if the universe is infinite?

    • Alexandra

      An infinite universe doesn't contradict the proposal.
      This is addressed in:
      I. Step #1 paragraph 2

      • William Davis

        I'm pretty sure he said that because of Aquinasbot ;)

        • Alexandra

          Ah. That's cute. :)

  • David Nickol

    Is unintelligibility completely intelligible?

    • Darren

      "I do not understand this sentence."

  • Reply for I Step 1: Maybe an infinite number (or even a finite number) of things that need external causes taken together require no external cause.

    A universe made of A, B, C, etc.: A causes B and C, B causes A, and C goes on to cause everything else. Everything else is explained by C, C by B, B by A and A by B. Taken altogether, the universe explains itself.

    • "A causes B...B causes A...B [is explained] by A and A by B"

      Something cannot be both its own cause and effect, in the same sense. This is logically impossible.

      • William Davis

        You left out C, I guess intentionally? Thus, Paul is not claiming something causes itself, but there is a causal loop. We don't know if this is true, it's just a competing model conceptually to a first cause.

        Advances in quantum physics are at odds with GR. More and more physicists are beginning to think that singularities are impossible (even in black holes), even though they are predicted by GR (general relativity). The problems get deeper when trying to approach the greatest singularity, the completely theoretical big bang. Fascinating stuff :)

        http://phys.org/news/2015-02-big-quantum-equation-universe.html

        Of course, Aquinas and others built their philosophy on an eternal universe, though I think Spinoza's proofs about there being only one substance create a real problem for the Christian version of classical theism and rules out dualism, at least substance dualism. It would be interesting to see someone argue against Spinoza on this site, as it seems to be the most efficient philosophy I've seen regarding underlying reality.

        • Robert_Caritas

          Paul wrote: "A causes B and C, B causes A." So Brandon's rebuttal is on point. Paul is essentially saying that A causes itself.

          • William Davis

            No, he's saying B causes A. A causal loop should not be confused with self causation though it's related. Theist suppose God, by being pure being, causes himself and that just bloats the ontology. Causal loops are a possible explanation for nonlinear brain dynamics and "free will". Again, it is not "self caused".

            http://sulcus.berkeley.edu/freemanwww/manuscripts/IF8/99.html

          • Robert_Caritas

            I’ll have a look at those papers, but it’s false to assume that Catholics aren’t up to date on intellectual innovations. Many of us spend just as much time reading contemporary philosophy (Putnam, Kripke, etc) as we do reading Aquinas and the saints.

            You’re of course correct that self-causation and a causal loop are distinct things. Yet, for a causal loop to happen something must set it up. If A causes B, which causes A,
            etc, there must be an external factor which causes either A or B, and so gets the loop going. You can make an autonomous or self-replicating computer program, but you still need to set it up.

            When speaking about the origins of the universe, you can’t do such a thing. If A was the first thing to exist, then B came second, and so could not have caused it (since it did not exist). If B was the first thing, the same applies. If you say that they were both the first things to exist, then you’re either contradicting yourself, or you can say that some external thing caused them simultaneously to exist, and from that the universe was born. This last case could be something like a causal loop in a computer set up by an engineer. But in all these cases Paul’s scenario doesn't work.

            Otherwise, you could say that A and B are eternal and uncreated objects or properties of the universe. But since it’s both hard to conceive of material things which such God-like properties, and I don’t see anything beyond vague hypothesizing pointing to this being possible, then it doesn’t carry much weight.

          • William Davis

            Otherwise, you could say that A and B are eternal and uncreated objects or properties of the universe. But since it’s both hard to conceive of material things which such God-like properties, and I don’t see anything beyond vague hypothesizing pointing to this being possible, then it doesn’t carry much weight.

            I agree, and this is true of proofs of God. We are dabbling in things which are likely pretty far out of our reach and making assumptions based on intuitions formed by everyday experience. Humans doing this kind of philosophy are largely like dogs trying to walk on two legs, lol. I see the claim that without God guiding evolution we wouldn't have evolved brains that are good at finding truth. I think this is the case, we aren't good at it and tend to fall for fallacy after fallacy, bias after bias even though we know this is a problem.

          • William Davis

            I probably didn't make it clear in my last comment that by Paul and I have discussed this in the past, and the idea does assume an eternal universe (I thought that was clear from the physics article I link). In my view it's not enough to be up to date on philosophy, and I've never seen anything about newer philosophers like Dan Dennett and Nick Bostrom from any Catholic. I've also seen no real contribution to science or engineering from practicing Catholics and I think having a reasonable grasp of these things is required to be considered a scholar in the modern age, and it's definitely a lot to take in (I'm not a scholar, just a good engineer). New standards for a new age, and the lack of contribution (other than a rare few) seems problematic for the Church to still be considered scholarly, at least in my opinion...no disrespect intended.
            I've been on this site for a while, and there was one Catholic Bishop from St. Louis who was wondering why the Church doesn't attract scientists, and wanted to attract more. I do think better understanding of natural science couple with a high IQ is a real problem for believing there is any truth to supernaturalism. Personally I think there is a neurological difference that prevents "divine experience" in more analytical and rational types. I grew up in a Christian environment, was heavily indoctrinated, but like Einstein, I had abandoned Christianity by the time I was a teenager (though I was force to keep up appearances or be condemned for being an apostate). Trying to talk to God always felt like talking to myself, thus it became obvious in my subjective universe that God doesn't do "talking". I think the core evidence for all believers is personal experience with the divine, and I see no reason God would ignore me if he existed. I've been blessed in every way, so obviously there is no judgement or divine anger. Again the model of reality seems deeply problematic for me in a variety of ways.

          • Paul E Frederick Jr

            The analytic types are less prone to (or prevented from) an emotional experience of God but not from an intellectual one. Explaining the universe with God seems intellectually weak because it seems like an excuse to end the search; and admission of intellectual limits I suppose; an acceptance of a belief without proof.

            I challenge you to accept that the emotional types might have an insight that you lack, in the same way that you have an insight that they lack. When it comes to ontological questions, the atheist takes a leap of faith similar to that of the religious believer (eg claiming God doesn't exist takes the same kind of knowledge as claiming he does exist). Perhaps there is evidence you overlook.

          • William Davis

            The emotion/reason dichotomy is a false one. I have plenty of emotion, but it seems to be a somewhat different make than many of the people that had "divine experiences" when I was growing up. One pattern I noticed was that people who had these experiences tended to do poorly in school, and were generally wrong and remembered things incorrectly. I see no reason to consider the personal experiences of these people "evidence", and if you do, you have just as much evidence for one religion as any other (believers of all religions have such "experiences"). I don't want to put much stock in anecdotes, here is an interesting paper on the subject.

            https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mr-personality/201312/why-are-religious-people-generally-less-intelligent

            Plus, eyewitness testimony is next to worthless in many cases. People just aren't reliable, unless they are well trained (and it helps if they are skeptical of their own memories)
            http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/do-the-eyes-have-it/

            You're wrong if I you think I have all the answers, but I do think we can eliminate answers if they don't hold up. I used to be a deist, but I never could get a handle on what to think of a cosmic designer, so I've given that up for now. I have a positive view of Spinoza's monism, but these seems to largely be imaginative atheism.

          • Paul E Frederick Jr

            I thought I was accepting your point about being neurologically prevented from an experience of God. Whatever you meant by that is what I meant with the analytical/emotional dichotomy.

            Part of Christian teaching is that humans are made in God's image. This includes the ones who do poorly in school and have poor memories and such. I'm not saying you should believe everything everybody tells you. And I don't expect you to accept that we are made in God's image because I say so. But I think, if you look, you can find something in a person that you know is a connection with God. This has been my experience. I would not have had these experiences if I did not seek them.

          • Ernesto Inoa

            It seems that you are confusing the concept of feedback (as in cybernetics, the way Norbert Wiener used it) and the concept of causation that is described in this article.

      • What makes the specific system I described logically impossible? Where is the self-contradiction?

        • "What makes the specific system I described logically impossible? Where is the self-contradiction?"

          I answered that in my original reply: Something cannot be both its own cause and effect, in the same sense. This is logically impossible. Yet you have A both causing and being caused by B, in the same sense.

          • It's important to point out that A can both cause and be caused by B, in the same sense:
            http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121002145454.htm

            It's physically possible, so obviously it's logically possible too.

          • William Davis

            These philosophers need to study some more math and QM and get back to us ;)

          • Michael Murray

            Don't hold your breathe while you are waiting !

          • William Davis

            Already turning purple...

          • Michael Murray

            Nice thanks for that.

            I guess they haven't read Aquinas' Introduction to Quantum Field Theory. If they did they would know they are wrong.

          • Alexandra

            It has NOT been shown it is physically possible. It's a hypothesis.

            From your article:
            "Although it is still not known if such situations can be actually found in nature,..."

          • You're mistaking possible for observed. It's physically possible because it's consistent with the laws of physics as we know them.

          • Alexandra

            No mistake. I used that distinction in my comment - something that is shown to be possible versus something that is hypothetical (thus theoretically possible).
            This means that "A can both cause and be caused by B" has not been shown to be be true. Not in reality.

          • So you're simply making a semantic argument, then. Feel free. I'll continue using the words in their ordinary definitions.

          • Alexandra

            I have neither misunderstood your words nor am I disagreeing with the definition of your words. So no, there is no semantic disagreement. Asserting these things doesn't make it true.

            When bringing up a scientific argument, like your article's hypothesis, it matters whether there's any actual scientific evidence to back it up. Otherwise, again, an assertion without foundation.

          • For what it's worth, I anonymized my text and yours and showed them to several people asking them which interpretation of "possible" they preferred, or if they rejected both or didn't care either way. The comments were consistent, so I'm not writing out of bias when I and they reject your argument about "possible" as being inconsistent with ordinary usage.

            To reiterate:

            "Possible" = consistent with known laws

            Thus we can affirm that quantum computers and next year's flu vaccine are physically possible because, although not yet invented and thus never observed or experimented on in any way, they are consistent with known physical laws. We can affirm that theoretically understood physical events are physically possible in the sun's core, despite that they are permanently inaccessible to investigation, and moreover that such events are also physically possible outside our light cone and within the event horizon of a black hole, despite that these regions are not even observable in principle. In the same way, we can say that naming a child "Dahliannita" is legally possible if we understand the applicable human laws, despite that no one has been observed to have been given that name. And again, we can say that for a woman to win the US Presidency sometime in the next few election cycles is socially possible because, though the regularities in social behaviors are very unclear compared to those in physical science or child welfare statute, nevertheless a female president is consistent with such regularities as we know them. And yes, given a theoretical physics paper that shows mathematically that humanity's most thoroughly-verified theory is consistent with causal-order superposition, we can indeed admit that it the theory and its newly understood implications remain physically possible.

            No doubt experimental physicists will do the next step and seek to observe the effects of the superposition. If you wish to continue to deny the possibility that quantum field theory will continue to be correct in this as-yet-unobserved instance, then do please state so. It's always good to reduce arguments about words to actual predictions.

          • Alexandra

            Yes. I agree with your definition of "possible" which is why it is incorrect to say I have a semantic argument with you.

            > "If you wish to still deny the possibility that quantum field theory will continue to be correct in this as-yet-unobserved"

            I have said no such thing. Your 3rd false assertion.

          • That's not an assertion. Your 4th comment in this thread that relies overmuch on misuse or misapprehension of words. :-

            But your meta-denial makes me curious now. How do you spin this...

            It has not been shown it [quantum field theory continuing to be right, this time about causal order superposition] is physically possible

            ...as being "no such thing"?

          • Alexandra

            > "Your 4th comment in this thread that relies overmuch on misuse or misapprehension of words"

            Very sorry if I misunderstood you. I hope our communication improves. I will make a concerted effort for next time. Take care.

          • Why not? What makes this logically impossible?

    • DB

      If A causes B, then B did not exist prior to being caused by A. A must exist in order to be able to cause B, and so it is not possible for B to cause A, except in science fiction or some other fantasy not based on reality.

      • B moves back in time (or, if you want it to be simultaneous, back in priority).

        This situation is physically allowed, as with Feynman's and Wheeler's absorber theory.

        Is it real? I don't know. It's possible. Is God real? I don't know. God's possible. Both are about equally fantastic to me.

    • Peter

      A universe which brings itself into being does not preclude the existence of a Creator who designed it to do so. In fact it demands it all the more, since why would such an intricate self-creating universe exist instead of not existing? Why would it self-create instead of not self-creating? And why would it do so in that particular manner instead of any other manner? Why is that particular manner, and no other, the only manner in which it can self-create? Who sets the parameters of whether or not something exists and in what manner it exists?

      • A causes B and C, B goes back to cause A, and C causes the rest of the universe. It's worth asking why this way and not another. Maybe God's involved at that stage. Maybe not. Maybe if we really understand A, B and C, we will see there is no need to invoke God. I don't know.

        • Peter

          But surely, if we really understand A,B and C, it means that there is something there which is intelligible. Why would it be intelligible instead of unintelligible, and why would it be intelligible in that way instead of any other?

          Again, who sets the parameters of whether something is intelligible and, if so, in what way it is intelligible?

          • Show me the answer to the beginning. Once we've figured that out, we can find out if God's part of the explanation. Presently, I don't see any good reason to think God is or isn't part of the final answer. People disagree.

          • Peter

            It would be the ability of the beginning to be figured out, as opposed to its inability to be figured out, which renders God as the explanation.

            In the former case, clear parameters would be defined while in the latter they would not. And if such parameters exist, who sets them?

          • Maybe they set themselves. Maybe their values are simply brute facts, no one set them and no one needed to. Maybe something set the parameters, and so on ad infinitum. Maybe there is a being, God, aliens, etc., who set the parameters. Maybe there are no free parameters in the ultimate explanation. There are infinite possibilities when we don't have the answers.

          • Peter

            "There are infinite possibilities when we don't have the answers"

            That is why greater knowledge and understanding will lead us closer and not further away from God. The more we learn and discover about something, the fewer will be the possibilities that it could be something else. This raises the question of why it is in this particular way and not in any other. Who sets down those parameters; who decides that?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Maybe God. Maybe no one. Maybe there are in reality no parameters. The parameters are only a measure of our ignorance.

  • This piece does not defend theism, this analysis applies equally if the uncaused reality is naturalistic.

    • "This piece does not defend theism, this analysis applies equally if the uncaused reality is naturalistic."

      First, it would be nice if you would engage some (or any) of Fr. Spitzer's actual argument instead of dismissing the whole thing so casually.

      Second, as stated at the beginning, this is the first of a three part series. Having seen the whole thing, I can confirm that by the end, Fr. Spitzer shows why the uncaused reality cannot be part of the natural world. Stay tuned!

      • Oh, okay. I did miss that.so far there is nothing that suggests theism.

        • Brian Baudoin

          As a fellow Brian I totally understand what you are saying haha

          But seriously, I've heard this and it seems like a valid point. Where one can say "ok, I can admit that there had to be a first cause or un-caused cause in the universe, but that doesn't prove that it was any particular religion or faith systems version of God that caused it". It seems to be a fair response when people say that God exists because the universe didn't create itself.

          I always keep in mind when discussing this point what the purpose of the argument is. It seems mostly that the basic purpose of this argument is proving that the universe needs a first cause, but is not intended in itself to identify the creator. If you take it for it's intended purpose it's a good argument for what it tries to prove.

          If one studies further theology (like the other two parts that Brandon mentioned -it's cool I totally missed that as well and had the same initial thought you did) that deals more with identifying that first cause and why one would come to believe a theist answer to the question.

          • You've inferred the wrong position from my comment.

            My position is that we have evidence of a reality. It seems to me that what I observe with my senses, and what we can reasonably infer from our observations is, more or less, that reality. I would call this the cosmos. I would say it, the matter, energy, basically everything captured by physics, is the material cosmos. We haven't discovered all of it, nor do we understand it completely.

            I accept the statement that this cosmos is either uncaused or caused. I further accept that if it is caused, it did not cause itself.

            I think we can agree that some aspect of reality must be uncaused. But why can't this uncaused aspect be the cosmos itself? Why is it unlikely to be the case?

            But on theism or naturalism, we really are clueless as to if, how, or from what the cosmos originated. It is no answer for a naturalist to claim that the cosmos "just is", so I don't. But it is equally no answer to suggest that it is contingent on a separate entity that itself "just is". Moreover, positing such a cause does not explain the origins of the cosmos, it raises more questions. What does it even mean to "exist" absent space and time? How could this entity bring all material reality into being from non-being? And so on.

            Think the only defensible position is that we don't know what is caused or not when it comes to ultimate origins. We don't have to take a position on every question.

          • Brian Baudoin

            I think that you are right to a degree, in that whatever that first cause or uncaused cause would be we can't fully understand it.

            One thing to consider though is our questions towards this "God" or this entity. While there's a ton of questions to be raised consider this:

            Let's say you're writing a book or any kind of story. Essentially as the author you are creating a "universe", like what they've done with Marvel. You are writing or "creating" from a position outside of that universe and dictating the structure of your creation. You want everyone in your story to have six fingers on their left hand? Go for it. Yet, you as the author are not subject to the laws of this universe you are creating because you are outside of it and you are writing those laws. You won't grow a sixth finger because everyone in your story does.

            Not a perfect analogy or parallel, but the point is that If God exists then there are always going to be questions about God that we wouldn't be able to comprehend because he would be outside of this universe and not subject to the same conception of time that we are if he is the author. Like the author said, this intelligibility of the uncaused cause must be unrestrained.

            Going off of the author analogy the Christian would say that the incarnation of Jesus Christ as man would be like Shakespeare walking into one of his stories, not the play, but the actual story and world he's created. One of the main claims of most religions is that in some way the creator has revealed itself and there is some way can be known, the author enters his creation.

            Point being that is where theology, philosophy, religion, science, and reason come in. If one believes that there is a first cause and that this entity is in any way knowable or has revealed itself in any way, then we explore what can be explored through these mediums. Many brilliant men throughout history used these and determined that it could be possible to hold a position outside of the Agnostic one.

            Again, highly interested as to what the next installments in this article series will be.

        • William Davis

          Lol, interesting that.so hyperlink ;)

        • William Davis

          Lol, interesting that.so hyperlink ;)

  • It is impossible to reach a conclusion about existence by an analysis of logic or an analysis of grammar. It is only through personal experience that we know existing things. From their existence it could be possible to conclude that things, not within personal experience, must exist. This OP is an analysis of logical form. 'All reality' is not within human experience. 'All reality' is a logical set, just as the integers to the base ten are a logical set. Because 'God' is nothing within our experience, 'God' cannot be a term in an initiating syllogism, if the syllogism is to be relevant to
    existence. In accord with its solely logical scope, the OP chooses an electron, which is not within our experience, whose detection is instrument dependent, as an analogy of an existing thing that is not explicable in itself.

  • Raymond

    This sounds all in all like an extended and complex "god of the gaps" fallacy. Based on my limited understanding of the article, the statement "“All Reality must have at least one uncaused reality that exists through itself.” suggests an extended set of standard and silly questions.
    "What caused Thing A?"
    "Thing B caused Thing A?"
    "What caused Thing B?"
    "Thing C caused Thing B."
    "What caused Thing C?"
    "I don't know."
    "Therefore God."

  • Incidentally, the Wikipedia article with some of this article's text, verbatim, predates this article by several years.

    If Wikipedians copied an even older offline text recycled here by Fr Spitzer, it might be good to change that page so it doesn't plagiarize.

    If Fr Spitzer copied Wikipedia, it would definitely be good to cite it.

    • Hey, Ryan! I'm the editor here and it was I, not Fr. Spitzer, who added the one-sentence bio of Bernard Lonergan since I was sure most people here would be unfamiliar with him.

      If you are familiar with academic theology and philosophy, you'll know that Lonergan, indeed is one of the most highly regarded

  • Can Lonergan's argument be formalized? It'd be much more impressive, approachable, and useful without all the obscurantism. If it can't be formalized, then it's just nonsense hidden in a thicket of distracting text. If it can be formalized, then it should be, so that all can agree what it proves, if anything.

    • OK, here's an attempt to draw out the hidden assumptions in Lonergan's article and make the reasoning explicit. It goes most of the way to making the argument formal. I undoubtedly made formatting errors, and I may have made other errors. If you point one out specifically, I'll edit this and credit you.

      BTW, where I say "Lonergan", I of course mean "Lonergan as gleaned from Spitzer's article here"; Lonergan didn't necessarily make the mistakes Spitzer attributes to him.

      Assumption 1. There is a non-empty set of all possible worlds.

      That seems plausible to me. But it may be false if the idea of possible worlds is too underspecified, or if there are too many possible worlds to count as a set, or if there are nested loops of possible worlds. Note that a possible world is NOT just a universe; a possible world can include multiple or zero universes, and it can include a god that is outside any universe. A "possible world" can be whatever you describe it to be, so long as it is internally consistent.

      Assumption 2. The set of all possible worlds has a non-empty subset, the real worlds, consisting of all possible worlds which we would call "real" if we understood them as well as we do our own world.

      i.e. Lonergan's "All Reality". This also seems plausible to me. Obviously at least one possible world--ours--is what we would call "real". But it may be false if the ideas of realness and unrealness don't apply to some possible worlds.

      Assumption 3. There is a non-empty set, the real things, of all irreducible objects in the real worlds and all sets of those irreducible objects.

      The idea of "objects" is fraught with complications, but we can keep the argument very general by letting the word mean anything that is either itself irreducible or made from stuff that is.

      Assumption 4. The set of real things has a pair of non-empty subsets, (a) the effects and (b) their causes, respectively consisting of (a) each real thing which has a copy in a real world if and only if specific other real things are also have copies in that world and (b) those specified other real things.

      If not for the "non-empty" assertion, this would be merely a definition of "cause" and "effect". It embodies Lonergan's key assumption that an effect can't be real without its cause.

      Step #1. There exists at least one real thing that is not an effect.

      Attempted proof-by-contradiction:
      1* Suppose there exists no real thing that is not an effect. [supposition]
      2* Then all real things would be effects. [complement of 1]
      3* Then the setes of real worlds would be an effect. [fallacy of composition]

      The attempted proof-by-contradiction fails because it relies on a fallacy. So step #1 is not validly established. You would need a different argument to get there validly. I don't have one. If you do, let us know!

      ---

      Lonergan's next step involves the idea of a "cause-effect series". As I've defined "cause" and "effect" above, the causes of an effect include its entire preceding series, which is convenient. But inconveniently, my definitions only stayed "in-world" for one jump from effect to cause. I need another definition in order to keep the context consistently in the same possible world when I ask whether an effect has a cause that is not an effect. This works:

      Definition. B is a co-effect of A if and only if A is an effect and B has a copy in each real world containing a copy of A if and only if specific other real things also have copies in that world.

      The idea is that effect A and co-effect B can't be real together in the same real world without their respective causes.

      Step #2.A. For every effect, there exists at least one of its causes that is not its co-effect.

      This embodies Lonergan's idea that every cause-effect series has at least one uncaused cause. Importantly, it fixes a serious flaw in Lonergan's argument, because it doesn't arbitrarily assume the series has to be a linear chain - as I've defined it, the "series" might also proceed as a branching tree, or as a complicated set of streams merging and dividing, or as manifold spreading continuously, and it could also contain loops, or disconnected stages, or a mix of all these things.

      The argument for Step #2.A is another attempted proof-by-contradiction.
      1* Suppose an effect has no cause that is not its co-effect. [supposition]
      2* Then all its causes would be its co-effects. [complement of 1]
      3* Then the set of its causes would be its co-effect. [fallacy of composition]

      OK, So step #2.A fails as well because it also relies on a fallacy. But there's no point asking if anyone has a valid argument for the same conclusion. Step #2.A is actually false.

      Corrected step #2.A: Every cause of every effect is its co-effect.

      Proof-by-contradiction:
      1* Suppose an effect has a cause that is not its co-effect. [supposition]
      2* The cause is in every real world that the effect is. [assumption 4]
      3* A copy of the effect is in a real world if and only if a copy of the effect is in a real world. [identity]
      4* Therefore, the cause is in each real world containing a copy of the effect if and only if a copy of the effect is in that world. [combine 2,3]
      5* Therefore the case is a co-effect of its effect. [contradiction]

      That might sound weird until you recall the meanings we've given the words. To follow Lonergan's argument and make it more formal, we needed definitions of "cause" and "effect" that genuinely imply Lonergan's desired sense that the effect can't be real without the cause. But with definitions like that, the words DON'T mean the everyday sense of cause-and-effect that we all intuitively expect. The everyday sense of cause-and-effect goes like this:

      * One kind of event is reliably followed by another kind of event, and
      * when the first kind of event does not occur, the second occurs less reliably, and
      * if someone were to intervene in the ordinary processes to force or thwart the first event, the above two points would hold true in these circumstances as well.

      The everyday, intuitive concept of causation can't be used in the way Lonergan wants, though. Reaching the conclusion that he wanted would require a different foundation. Maybe the whole argument could be recast on the basis of a "principle of sufficient reason".

    • William Davis

      Geena Safire, who cannot post on this site, wanted someone to draw your attention to this:
      http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com/2015/08/estranged-notions-introducing-bernard.html#comment-2174741072

    • Paul E Frederick Jr

      I think the formalization would have the same obscurity because of terminology. I mean, what does intelligibility have to do with existence? This seems to presume a divine creator, which is the conclusion.

      Also, the word cause is used to mean 'cause to come into existence' and to mean 'cause to remain in existence' without explication. The former has a temporal, scientific meaning, while the meaning of the latter is ephemeral and presumes a divine creator.

  • Kraker Jak

    ..

  • Kraker Jak

    ..

  • If there were not at least one uncaused reality in “all reality,” then “all reality” would be constituted by only caused realities – that is, realities that require a cause to exist. This means that all reality would collectively require a cause in order to exist

    A perfect example of the fallacy of composition. What good do the local theists think a "proof" is that begins with a fallacy?

    • Ugh, Step #2.A is another fallacy of composition.

      If the series did not have an uncaused reality, it would not exist, because it would be constituted only by realities that must be caused in order to exist, and as we saw above, this means that the entire series (even an infinite series) would collectively need a cause to exist.

      • Paul E Frederick Jr

        If we are talking about a finite series, then this is not a fallacy of composition. A finite series has a first event, so saying the series has a cause just means the first event had a cause.

        If we are talking about an infinite series it is still not a fallacy of composition but rather an equivocation of the word 'cause'. Causation implies time where causes precede effects. When we discuss an infinite series we are discussing something we have never observed and using the word cause in a way we have never witnessed. In an infinite series it's cause did not precede it. I assert this defies the meaning of the word 'cause'.

        • It's the leap from events being individually cause to the series being collectively caused that is a composition fallacy.

          Of course there's nothing that prevents a fallacy from being categorized in multiple ways. Every fallacy is a non sequitur, after all. The equivocation you pointed out for an infinite linear series could also apply to a finite series if it had loops rather than being linear.

          • Paul E Frederick Jr

            Good points. What I am having trouble with is visualizing a causal loop. I have seen the example of an infinite loop in a computer. In this case there is set of circumstances 'A' which causes set of circumstance 'B' which causes set of circumstances 'A'... to infinity. What is missing is that set of circumstance 'A' occurs at time 1. The next time they occur it is time 2; then time 3, etc. We can call them the same circumstances but the time dimension is different every time, so it is not really the same circumstances causing the same circumstances. It is a spiral, not a loop. A loop would require either freezing time or time travel. I have seen Back to the Future and I understand the hypothesized consequences of time travel; but outside of fiction I think the word cause has to imply a time sequence. Sequence is part of the meaning of the word. That is why I say it is equivocation to say that the cause of an event succeeded it.

        • Phil Rimmer

          We do not see chains of events except in a period of time. We know all we currently see in such chains (that is everything) is causal. It may be that the chain was at some time non causal (acausal, autocausal etc.) in its infinite deep past. We cannot say if the sequence was always causal in some sense we currently understand (including QM probabilities) or whether they were a mixed bag of acausal (in some sense) and then now causal. If they were always causal then Ryan's fallacy of composition holds and no proof exists. If the chain of events is only now causal and was some other, then no proof exists for Lonergan either.

          Or is this a version of your point?

          • Paul E Frederick Jr

            Your distinction between now and a deep past is part of my point. I don't think there is an alternate reality or dimension where causes succeed effects. I think the meaning of the word cause implies a succession. I think if circumstances succeed others and in our minds we call them the cause of what they succeeded then in our minds we have abused the meaning of the cause.

          • Phil Rimmer

            Ah! Gottit. In infinitely deep chain cannot cannot have a preceding anything let alone a cause unless as Ryan argues, loops, toroidal space-times and the like.

            I thought you were arguing another point.

    • joey_in_NC

      Just because you claim it's a fallacy of composition doesn't make it so. The burden is on you to demonstrate that the conclusion (all reality would collectively require a cause in order to exist) does not necessarily follow from the premise (there is not at least one uncaused reality). Just one counterexample would do fine.

      Let's say I have a bag consisting of only marbles. Also, not a single marble in the bag has the color green in it. Would it be a fallacy of composition to conclude that the entire contents of the bag collectively doesn't have the color green?

      • Ha, no, there's no burden of proof to show that a fallacious conclusion doesn't follow from it's premises. In a logical fallacy, the conclusion never validly follows from the premises. (Though the conclusion might still be true for other reasons, as with your marble example.)

        I linked to the Wikipedia page describing the fallacy of composition. It gives examples. It's a great resource. Take a look.

        • joey_in_NC

          You can demonstrate that it's a fallacious conclusion by thinking of one counterexample. Otherwise, why should I believe you that it's fallacious?

          • You're really really truly allowed to follow the link. :-)

            To repeat it:
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallacy_of_composition

            More info on it is here, a few paragraphs down:
            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/fallacies/#CorFal

          • joey_in_NC

            I did read the wiki link.

            So, does that mean my marble example also has a fallacious conclusion?

          • Yes, of course.

            As I stated previously:

            (Though the conclusion might still be true for other reasons, as with your marble example.)

            Keep in mind that "fallacious" is quite different than "false".

          • joey_in_NC

            Yes, of course.

            Please explain. I stated...

            A. I have a bag consisting of only marbles.
            B. None of the marbles have the color green in it.
            C. Therefore, the entire contents of the bag doesn't have green.

            How is C a fallacious conclusion from premises A and B?

          • William Davis

            It could be that each reality is caused, but there is an eternal series of caused realities. I assign a fairly low probability to that being the case, considering what we know about physics, but it's a mistake to says it's impossible. Cosmology is still in a lot of flux right now, however. Singularities and even black holes as we've imagined them may not exist. Getting a probe close to what we think is a black hole would go a very long way. Models get better with better information.

          • William Davis

            To explain better, the problem is here:

            If the series did not have an uncaused reality, it would not exist, because it would be constituted only by realities that must be caused in order to exist, and as we saw above, this means that the entire series (even an infinite series) would collectively need a cause to exist.

            This would only be true of an infinite series that had a starting point. We could consider an infinite loop (no actual starting point) or a linear series to goes back in time forever. I think the author does not understand different possible infinities and and assumes that every infinite series must have a start but can go on forever (the most intuitive type of infinite series).

          • William Davis

            To explain better, the problem is here:

            If the series did not have an uncaused reality, it would not exist, because it would be constituted only by realities that must be caused in order to exist, and as we saw above, this means that the entire series (even an infinite series) would collectively need a cause to exist.

            This would only be true of an infinite series that had a starting point. We could consider an infinite loop (no actual starting point) or a linear series to goes back in time forever. I think the author does not understand different possible infinities and and assumes that every infinite series must have a start but can go on forever (the most intuitive type of infinite series).

          • Your restatement is a misstatement. Your original had the key word "collectively" which you've dropped here.

            Corrected C. "Therefore, the entire contents of the bag collectively don't have green."

            The composition fallacy is about parts (e.g. marbles individually) versus wholes (e.g. marbles collectively).

            Any argument that follows the pattern, "The parts are X, therefore the whole is X", uses the composition fallacy. It's a fallacy because it only works for some Xes, not all Xes (where X is a property or proposition about a thing). An argument with true premises that relies on composition therefore has no logical guarantee of being true. That's what it means to be fallacious.

  • Darren

    But all reality is completely intelligible.

    Shows what you know, Gödel!

    I am sure Russell would be giving Lonergan a high five in heaven, except for Russell roasting in the pit and all. ;)

  • Paul E Frederick Jr

    It abuses the meaning of the word 'cause' to say an infinite series has a cause. In the universe the word cause means two events occur in time. One cannot occur without the other and the one that happens first in time is the cause; the other is the effect. If there is this ephemeral sense of cause then it is not the kind of thing human minds can discover. It would only be known by revelation and would not be communicable to other humans.

    This entire argument depends on infinity being nonexistent in the universe. if the universe is infinite, like Stephen Hawking believes (and every Atheist must believe), then an uncaused cause is not necessary. If the universe is finite, something had to start it. There is no way to argue either viewpoint without begging the question. One must simply choose to believe one or the other; and that choice makes all the difference.

    • Michael Murray

      If the universe is finite, something had to start it.

      Why ?

      • Paul E Frederick Jr

        My premise to that point is that every event has a cause. This is a generalization that underlies all scientific inquiry. This is basically the premise that all of scientific inquiry has tried to disprove. Until it is disproven I assert that we should accept it as a given. In fact, scientific inquiry cannot progress without it.

        • Michael Murray

          There are lots of reasons why many people find this argument unconvincing. For me here are a few:

          (1) It's not clear that "event" and "cause", although useful notions in our day to day lives are fundamental when it comes to things like quantum theory and so they are perhaps not fundamental aspects of reality but just convenient descriptions of that part of reality we inhabit.

          (2) Radioactive decay disproves any rigid notion of causality. Not that I think that was the aim of those who discovered it. So some events like "that atom just decayed" are not caused by anything. Unless you want to apply one of Aristotle's notions of cause which are more akin to "things this event depends on to occur".

          (3) There is no reason that believe that the reality, as a whole, is the kind of thing that is caused. This is the fallacy of composition. Even if (1) and (2) where not a problem the argument fails at this point.

          • Paul F

            Language is a closed system that gives us the basis for how we know things. It is a closed system where all words are defined by other words. It, of course, references things in the world, but terms mean what we say they mean; and this causes much confusion.

            Science gives us a system for organizing our knowledge. But even science depends on the meanings we give to words. So, between science and language, everything we can talk about is based on our perceptions and imaginations.

            I agree that events and causes are somewhat unclear terms. To really try to map out causes the chain is immediately too complex and involves way too many circumstances. Basically, since the Big Bang, the universe has been filled with matter and energy that, at each moment, are arranged in such and such a way. There is no subatomic particle around that was not in some way affected by every other particle in the universe. On this scale, it seems like everything causes everything. It is too much to know.

            So cause and event are based on our perceptions of very minute portions of the universe. When we discuss a cause, we disregard the Big Bang and the 14 billion years and all the arrangements of matter and energy between then and now. I know its ambiguous, but when we say one event causes another, we are just using our language to apply the science that was derived from our observations of events in the past. These are indeed very useful notions, as all of scientific inquiry has relied upon our ability to observe events and investigate the causes.

            Radioactive decay is one of our observations. It is explained by the atomic model and protons leaving the nucleus of the atom. We have this theory because many scientists asked the question, "What causes radioactive decay?" The many answers to that vague question involve super novae, the instability of large nucleus atoms, proton collisions, etc. We know to expect a certain rate of decay from certain isotopes, but we can not predict whether one atom will decay versus another, or at what time a certain atom will decay. This points to what we do not know, but it certainly does not disprove all principles of causality. In order to learn anything more about nuclear decay we would employ these very principles. I realize these principles are not rigid, but neither is our language, nor our science.

            All of that being said, the best theory we have about the existence of the universe tells us that all of the matter and energy originated at a single event, and prior to this event there was nothing. Any investigation we do into the Big Bang will employ some principle of causality. We will ask the question, "what caused all of the matter and energy in the universe to spring from nothing?" It may be a vague question, but we don't really have another way of knowing things.

            Perhaps our scientific inquiry has to end as we go back in time to a point where there was no matter or energy; or time. But I think that we have learned principles of causality for a reason. I believe that everything we know and learn is based on principles of causality. To me, this is reason to suspect that reality, as a whole, has a cause. Not because of reasoning from the particular to the general, but because our working theory points to everything springing from one moment, one place, one event; a singularity. The fact that it was all one tells me it could have just one cause.

            That being said, i am not defending the argument that started this discussion. I agree that it fails for many reasons, including the one you mentioned. I don't think we can give a logical proof for the existence of anything, let alone God. But that doesn't mean that we can't know that things exist.

          • Michael Murray

            All of that being said, the best theory we have about the existence of the universe tells us that all of the matter and energy originated at a single event, and prior to this event there was nothing.

            That's not quite accurate. There probably wasn't a single event and prior to it makes even less sense as there was no time.

            What we know is that a long time ago the universe was in a very hot dense state. At that point quantum effects dominate dand our models that involve relativistic space-times don't apply. This is the Planck Epoch. Extrapolation backwards in time through the Planck Epoch to a single event is highly dubious as it means applying a model in a regime where we know it isn't applicable. Wiki says it better than I can

            Extrapolation of the expansion of the universe backwards in time using general relativity yields an infinite density and temperature at a finite time in the past. This singularity signals the breakdown of general relativity and thus, all the laws of physics. How closely we can extrapolate towards the singularity is debated—certainly no closer than the end of the Planck epoch.

            The singularity appears because the model doesn't apply.
            The point is that we don't have a quantum theory of gravity. If we did we could try to explain what was happening during the Planck Epoch but it would likely not involve the concepts space, time or during.

            EDIT: My apologies for making a couple of changes shortly after I posted.

          • Paul F

            You have given me some good food for thought here. Thanks, I intend to do some reading when I find the time.

          • Michael Murray

            This points to what we do not know, but it certainly does not disprove all principles of causality.

            Of course not. I never said it did. I am only arguing that it contradicts your premise that "every event has a cause".

            EDIT: Again apologies for making changes.

          • Paul F

            "(2) Radioactive decay disproves any rigid notion of causality. Not that I think that was the aim of those who discovered it. So some events like "that atom just decayed" are not caused by anything. Unless you want to apply one of Aristotle's notions of cause which are more akin to "things this event depends on to occur"."

            This is the statement I meant to refute. If we observe an atom decay, I am saying that we may not know all of the causes, but I think there are things that cause it in every reasonable sense of the word. If we do not believe this, there is nothing more to investigate. To me, this is where the atheist makes the same intellectual faux pas that he accuses the religious believer of making. i.e. It takes the same kind of knowledge to claim "nothing caused the atom to decay" as it does to say "God caused the atom to decay." Both ways of thinking truncate the learning process if accepted uncritically.

          • Michael Murray

            I think there are things that cause it in every reasonable sense of the word.

            Why?

            It takes the same kind of knowledge to claim "nothing caused the atom to decay" as it does to say "God caused the atom to decay."

            What we can say is that all the experimental evidence suggests that nothing caused the atom to decay. What experimental evidence do we have to support the idea that God caused the atom to decay?

          • Paul F

            Any experiment that yields the answer 'nothing' caused something, I would doubt the answer. By definition, nothing is not a causal agent and the word is being misused. The sentence contains a contradiction.

            That is reason enough, but I would also doubt the answer for practical reasons: I don't want the search to end. If the cause is 'nothing' or God the search ends there. If I believe it is 'nothing' then I would believe a contradiction. If I believe it is God, then I would believe in a deceitful God who intervenes in nature and causes confusion. Both of these are things I choose not to believe in for many reasons.

          • Michael Murray

            Any experiment that yields the answer 'nothing' caused something, I would doubt the answer. By definition, nothing is not a causal agent and the word is being misused. The sentence contains a contradiction.

            No it doesn't. The sentence "nothing caused this atom to decay" means "no thing caused this atom to decay" or in other words "the decay of this atom was not caused by any thing".

          • Paul F

            Is our difference semantic here? As I define cause there can't be anything in the universe without a cause.

          • Michael Murray

            I thought our difference was the meaning of the word "nothing" which you seemed to think was some type of "thing".

          • Paul F

            Ah. I spoke about it as a thing to say that it is not a causal agent. This is to refute your assertion that nothing is the cause of a proton leaving a nucleus. We have different definitions of 'cause' if you believe 'nothing' and 'cause' can be the same thing.

          • Michael Murray

            This is to refute your assertion that nothing is the cause of a proton leaving a nucleus.

            How do you refute the experiments that detect no cause of a proton leaving a nucleus.

          • Paul F

            The ancients saw no cause for the sun to rise. They assumed God caused it. If they had been atheists they would have said nothing caused it. It was the ones who accepted neither answer that progressed toward answering the question. The same is true in all scientific inquiry. The pattern of finding causes for every observation we have gives us reason to suspect there is an as yet unknown cause for atomic decay. If nothing is the cause, then science will never prove it anyway. Science deals only with what is in the universe; and nothing is not in the universe.

          • Michael Murray

            You still seem confused about nothing. If I say nothing happened I don't mean that something happened and that something was called nothing.

          • Paul F

            I don't think there is any confusion. There is no difference between 'nothing' and 'not anything'. They are both the same empty set. I am saying that when we speak of causes, we are not speaking of this empty set. When you inquire into the cause of something, you do not look in this empty set for the answer.

            And anyway, atomic decay occurs at an amazingly constant rate. How could that be if there is not something controlling it? If it had no cause it would have to be completely random and the rate would vary.

          • Ernesto Inoa

            Michael,

            I think that you are fundamentally misunderstanding the scientific process. As Paul Frederick has said, the fact that we don't understand what is causing the atom to decay does not mean that nothing is causing the event in question.

            For you (or anybody) to make that claim you would have to prove it... and lack of evidence (of a cause for the decay) is not evidence in itself.

          • Michael Murray

            The claim we are discussing is Paul's original comment

            My premise to that point is that every event has a cause.

            His claim is not

            My premise to that point is that nearly every event has a cause and the other ones might have cause even though we don't understand it yet.

            I think perhaps you misunderstand science with this comment

            For you (or anybody) to make that claim you would have to prove it... and lack of evidence (of a cause for the decay) is not evidence in itself.

            Science never proves anything. It just gathers evidence.

            In any case the statement that needs supporting evidence is "every event has a cause". I'm just pointing out that lack of evidence for this statement.

          • Ernesto Inoa

            Science never proves anything. It just gathers evidence.

            What would be the purpose of the evidence gathering exercise if not to disprove or confirm something called hypotheses?

            In any case the statement that needs supporting evidence is "every event has a cause". I'm just pointing out that lack of evidence for this statement.

            Actually the opposite is true... As I had mentioned before, the idea that everything has a cause is the underlying framework to everything a scientist does. There is no point in applying science to something if this is not true... hence; if you happen to find a particular event that does not require a cause... you cannot use the scientific method to study it.

            I think perhaps you misunderstand science with this comment

            I guess that I am glad that you were not present during my doctoral defense!

          • Michael Murray

            Perhaps we disagree over the meaning of the word proof. As a mathematician I think proof is something that only happens in a formal system. Science is just about gathering evidence. Even what many would regard as overwhelming evidence is still not a proof.

            if you happen to find a particular event that does not require a cause... you cannot use the scientific method to study it.

            Yes you can. Radioactive decay.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            As a mathematician I think proof is something that only happens in a formal system.

            Silly mathematicians..."fundamentally misunderstanding the scientific process" at every turn.

          • Ernesto Inoa

            Yes you can. Radioactive decay.

            It seems that you are out of date:

            http://news.stanford.edu/news/2010/august/sun-082310.html
            http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/research/2010/100830FischbachJenkinsDec.html

            And again, it seems that you are confusing doing science about something with doing science about something else when that something else requires some basic assumptions in order to study it. For instance, without worrying about the cause of radioactive decay you could do science about something else (e.g., the age of fossils), but not about radioactive decay itself. For you to do science about radioactive decay, you have to assume that it has a cause. If you don't believe me please look at the links that I posted above where they suggest that radioactive decay is influenced by solar flares (hence, a possible cause might emerge even if we don't know what that cause is yet). Please notice that there is no point in doing these experiments if a priori we assume that radioactive decay is uncaused.

            At least we can conclude that you don't have what it takes to be a Stanford Prof. (Not that I do either.) Anyways, since you are not a scientist (by your own admission) and I am really busy, I will recommend the following book:

            http://www.amazon.com/Physics-For-Dummies-Steven-Holzner/dp/0470903244

          • Michael Murray

            http://phys.org/news/2014-10-textbook-knowledge-reconfirmed-radioactive-substances.html

            Abstract:
            Recently, Jenkins et al. [6] reported on fluctuations in the detected decay events of 36Cl which were measured with a Geiger–Müller counter. Experimental data of 32Si measured by means of an end-window gas-flow proportional counter at the Brookhaven National Laboratory show similar periodicity, albeit a different amplitude. Jenkins et al. interpret the fluctuations as evidence of solar influence on the decay rates of beta-decaying radionuclides.

            In this work, liquid scintillation counting was used to check for potential variations in the 36Cl decay rates. A custom-built counter with three photomultiplier tubes was used. In contrast to commercial counters, the relevant parameters of our system are well controlled and the discrimination threshold and HV setting can be adjusted and checked. The experimental data were analyzed by means of the triple-to-double coincidence ratio (TDCR) method which is a primary method for activity determination. Thus, our results do not depend on any other standard or reference source.

            Our data show fluctuations which are by more than one order of magnitude lower than those seen in the experiment using a Geiger–Müller counter. More importantly, no oscillation could be identified. Interestingly, our data overlap in time with those from Jenkins et al. [6]. We do not observe the phase and amplitude as seen by Jenkins and conclude that the fluctuations are not due to solar influence. This also implies that the interpretation by Jenkins et al. is false.

            http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0927650514000139

            Maybe you should read this

            http://www.amazon.com/Google-For-Dummies-Computers/dp/0764544209

          • Michael Murray

            On the question of solar flare's influencing decay have a look at this

            http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0370269313001287

            Abstract
            The decay rate of three different radioactive sources (40K, 137Cs and natTh) has been measured with NaI and Ge detectors. Data have been analyzed to search for possible variations in coincidence with the two strongest solar flares of the years 2011 and 2012. No significant deviations from standard expectation have been observed, with a few 10−4 sensitivity. As a consequence, we could not find any effect like that recently reported by Jenkins and Fischbach: a few per mil decrease in the decay rate of 54Mn during solar flares in December 2006.

          • Ernesto Inoa

            About your third point above, Edward Feser has a post about it:

            http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/12/hume-cosmological-arguments-and-fallacy.html

            After reading Feser on this subject it seems to me that the burden of proof is on the atheist to prove that the universe as a whole is somehow non-contingent.

            I would like to read your comments about this point made by Feser.

          • Michael Murray

            Sorry I've read too many of these kinds of articles in the past and have no desire, or much time, to read another. Time and time again we are told there is an argument that proves your Gods existence and they usually fall apart at the first sentence where they slip in the conclusion.

          • Ernesto Inoa

            Sorry I've read too many of these kinds of articles in the past and have no desire, or much time, to read another.

            And yet you keep reading and commenting on this website!?

            This does not sound very logical.

          • Michael Murray

            It's a question of how much time I devote to something. Life is short (well at least for an atheist) and you have to choose what you do with it. I think I've read enough metaphysical "proofs" to find the genre unconvincing and not worth pursuing. Not sure why that makes my continued posting here illogical?

          • Doug Shaver

            After reading Feser on this subject it seems to me that the burden of proof is on the atheist to prove that the universe as a whole is somehow non-contingent.

            I don't see why. I went to the article you linked to and read the first paragraph. It seemed to be mostly warmed-over Aristotelian metaphysics. I see no reason to assume that (a) I have to prove Aristotle wrong but (b) his supporters don't have to prove him right.

          • Ernesto Inoa

            I went to the article you linked to and read the first paragraph.

            What if you read the whole document!?

            Although Feser starts with Aristotelian metaphysics, you don't have to. Please remember that the point in question is the so called fallacy of composition and its implications to the assertion:
            "every event has a cause".

            Please let me know your thought.

          • Doug Shaver

            Please remember that the point in question is the so called fallacy of composition and its implications to the assertion: "every event has a cause".

            What do you mean "so-called"? It is a fallacy, and Feser does not dispute that. What he claims is that this particular argument is not really an instance of it.

        • Ernesto Inoa

          Couldn't have said it better!

      • neil_pogi

        because nature can't trigger it.. only supernatural!

  • Michael Murray

    It seems that "Insight: A Study of Human Understanding" was published in 1957 not 1992. Perhaps the volume of his collected works containing it came out in 1992? Geena Safire has pointed out a very interesting talk of Lonergan's. I don't have an original link but you can read it here

    http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com.au/2015/08/estranged-notions-why-ultimate-cause-of.html#comment-2183513124

    Here is a quote from it:

    On this showing metaphysics ceases to be the first science on which all others depend. But ceasing to be the first science has its advantages, for now a metaphysics can be critically established; every statement it makes about reality can be validated by a corresponding cognitional operation that is verifiable.

    • Phil Rimmer

      The observation that Catholics (in general) are much nicer than their church, (which observation I've found endorsed by many non-Catholics) seems characterised by Lonergan's last, rather delightful, expectation...

      "The emphasis will shift from the levels of experiencing, understanding, and judging, to the level of deliberating, evaluating, deciding, loving."

      Folk, as Lonergan observes, are first the product of the specific culture in which they sit.

      Metaphysics, rather more than reality rooted science, can be brutish.