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Unpacking the First Cause Argument for God

First Cause

The most famous of all arguments for the existence of God are the "five ways" of Saint Thomas Aquinas. One of the five ways, the fifth, is the argument from design, which we looked at in the last essay. The other four are versions of the first-cause argument, which we explore here.

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

Philosophers call this the Principle of Sufficient Reason. We use it every day, in common sense and in science as well as in philosophy and theology. If we saw a rabbit suddenly appear on an empty table, we would not blandly say, "Hi, rabbit. You came from nowhere, didn't you?" No, we would look for a cause, assuming there has to be one. Did the rabbit fall from the ceiling? Did a magician put it there when we weren't looking? If there seems to be no physical cause, we look for a psychological cause: perhaps someone hypnotized us. As a last resort, we look for a supernatural cause, a miracle. But there must be some cause. We never deny the Principle of Sufficient Reason itself. No one believes the Pop Theory: that things just pop into existence for no reason at all. Perhaps we will never find the cause, but there must be a cause for everything that comes into existence.

Now the whole universe is a vast, interlocking chain of things that come into existence. Each of these things must therefore have a cause. My parents caused me, my grandparents caused them, et cetera. But it is not that simple. I would not be here without billions of causes, from the Big Bang through the cooling of the galaxies and the evolution of the protein molecule to the marriages of my ancestors. The universe is a vast and complex chain of causes. But does the universe as a whole have a cause? Is there a first cause, an uncaused cause, a transcendent cause of the whole chain of causes? If not, then there is an infinite regress of causes, with no first link in the great cosmic chain. If so, then there is an eternal, necessary, independent, self-explanatory being with nothing above it, before it, or supporting it. It would have to explain itself as well as everything else, for if it needed something else as its explanation, its reason, its cause, then it would not be the first and uncaused cause. Such a being would have to be God, of course. If we can prove there is such a first cause, we will have proved there is a God.

Why must there be a first cause? Because if there isn't, then the whole universe is unexplained, and we have violated our Principle of Sufficient Reason for everything. If there is no first cause, each particular thing in the universe is explained in the short run, or proximately, by some other thing, but nothing is explained in the long run, or ultimately, and the universe as a whole is not explained. Everyone and everything says in turn, "Don't look to me for the final explanation. I'm just an instrument. Something else caused me." If that's all there is, then we have an endless passing of the buck. God is the one who says, "The buck stops here."

If there is no first cause, then the universe is like a great chain with many links; each link is held up by the link above it, but the whole chain is held up by nothing. If there is no first cause, then the universe is like a railroad train moving without an engine. Each car's motion is explained proximately by the motion of the car in front of it: the caboose moves because the boxcar pulls it, the boxcar moves because the cattle car pulls it, et cetera. But there is no engine to pull the first car and the whole train. That would be impossible, of course. But that is what the universe is like if there is no first cause: impossible.

Here is one more analogy. Suppose I tell you there is a book that explains everything you want explained. You want that book very much. You ask me whether I have it. I say no, I have to get it from my wife. Does she have it? No, she has to get it from a neighbor. Does he have it? No, he has to get it from his teacher, who has to get it...et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum. No one actually has the book. In that case, you will never get it. However long or short the chain of book borrowers may be, you will get the book only if someone actually has it and does not have to borrow it. Well, existence is like that book. Existence is handed down the chain of causes, from cause to effect. If there is no first cause, no being who is eternal and self-sufficient, no being who has existence by his own nature and does not have to borrow it from someone else, then the gift of existence can never be passed down the chain to others, and no one will ever get it. But we did get it. We exist. We got the gift of existence from our causes, down the chain, and so did every actual being in the universe, from atoms to archangels. Therefore there must be a first cause of existence, a God.

In more abstract philosophical language, the proof goes this way. Every being that exists either exists by itself, by its own essence or nature, or it does not exist by itself. If it exists by its own essence, then it exists necessarily and eternally, and explains itself. It cannot not exist, as a triangle cannot not have three sides. If, on the other hand, a being exists but not by its own essence, then it needs a cause, a reason outside itself for its existence. Because it does not explain itself, something else must explain it. Beings whose essence does not contain the reason for their existence, beings that need causes, are called contingent, or dependent, beings. A being whose essence is to exist is called a necessary being. The universe contains only contingent beings. God would be the only necessary being—if God existed. Does he? Does a necessary being exist? Here is the proof that it does. Dependent beings cannot cause themselves. They are dependent on their causes. If there is no independent being, then the whole chain of dependent beings is dependent on nothing and could not exist. But they do exist. Therefore there is an independent being.

Saint Thomas has four versions of this basic argument.

  • First, he argues that the chain of movers must have a first mover because nothing can move itself. (Moving here refers to any kind of change, not just change of place.) If the whole chain of moving things had no first mover, it could not now be moving, as it is. If there were an infinite regress of movers with no first mover, no motion could ever begin, and if it never began, it could not go on and exist now. But it does go on, it does exist now. Therefore it began, and therefore there is a first mover.
  • Second, he expands the proof from proving a cause of motion to proving a cause of existence, or efficient cause. He argues that if there were no first efficient cause, or cause of the universe's coming into being, then there could be no second causes because second causes (i.e., caused causes) are dependent on (i.e., caused by) a first cause (i.e., an uncaused cause). But there are second causes all around us. Therefore there must be a first cause.
  • Third, he argues that if there were no eternal, necessary, and immortal being, if everything had a possibility of not being, of ceasing to be, then eventually this possibility of ceasing to be would be realized for everything. In other words, if everything could die, then, given infinite time, everything would eventually die. But in that case nothing could start up again. We would have universal death, for a being that has ceased to exist cannot cause itself or anything else to begin to exist again. And if there is no God, then there must have been infinite time, the universe must have been here always, with no beginning, no first cause. But this universal death has not happened; things do exist! Therefore there must be a necessary being that cannot not be, cannot possibly cease to be. That is a description of God.
  • Fourth, there must also be a first cause of perfection or goodness or value. We rank things as more or less perfect or good or valuable. Unless this ranking is false and meaningless, unless souls don't really have any more perfection than slugs, there must be a real standard of perfection to make such a hierarchy possible, for a thing is ranked higher on the hierarchy of perfection only insofar as it is closer to the standard, the ideal, the most perfect. Unless there is a most-perfect being to be that real standard of perfection, all our value judgments are meaningless and impossible. Such a most-perfect being, or real ideal standard of perfection, is another description of God.

There is a single common logical structure to all four proofs. Instead of proving God directly, they prove him indirectly, by refuting atheism. Either there is a first cause or not. The proofs look at "not" and refute it, leaving the only other possibility, that God is.

Each of the four ways makes the same point for four different kinds of cause: first, cause of motion; second, cause of a beginning to existence; third, cause of present existence; and fourth, cause of goodness or value. The common point is that if there were no first cause, there could be no second causes, and there are second causes (moved movers, caused causers, dependent and mortal beings, and less-than-wholly-perfect beings). Therefore there must be a first cause of motion, beginning, existence, and perfection.

How can anyone squirm out of this tight logic? Here are four ways in which different philosophers try.

  • First, many say the proofs don't prove God but only some vague first cause or other. "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not the God of philosophers and scholars", cries Pascal, who was a passionate Christian but did not believe you could logically prove God's existence. It is true that the proofs do not prove everything the Christian means by God, but they do prove a transcendent, eternal, uncaused, immortal, self-existing, independent, all-perfect being. That certainly sounds more like God than like Superman! It's a pretty thick slice of God, at any rate—much too much for any atheist to digest.
  • Second, some philosophers, like Hume, say that the concept of cause is ambiguous and not applicable beyond the physical universe to God. How dare we use the same term for what clouds do to rain, what parents do to children, what authors do to books, and what God does to the universe? The answer is that the concept of cause is analogical—that is, it differs somewhat but not completely from one example to another. Human fatherhood is like divine fatherhood, and physical causality is like divine causality. The way an author conceives a book in his mind is not exactly the same as the way a woman conceives a baby in her body either, but we call both causes. (In fact, we also call both conceptions.) The objection is right to point out that we do not fully understand how God causes the universe, as we understand how parents cause children or clouds cause rain. But the term remains meaningful. A cause is the sine qua non for an effect: if no cause, no effect. If no creator, no creation; if no God, no universe.
  • Third, it is sometimes argued (e.g., by Bertrand Russell) that there is a self-contradiction in the argument, for one of the premises is that everything needs a cause, but the conclusion is that there is something (God) which does not need a cause. The child who asks "Who made God?" is really thinking of this objection. The answer is very simple: the argument does not use the premise that everything needs a cause. Everything in motion needs a cause, everything dependent needs a cause, everything imperfect needs a cause.
  • Fourth, it is often asked why there can't be infinite regress, with no first being. Infinite regress is perfectly acceptable in mathematics: negative numbers go on to infinity just as positive numbers do. So why can't time be like the number series, with no highest number either negatively (no first in the past) or positively (no last in the future)? The answer is that real beings are not like numbers: they need causes, for the chain of real beings moves in one direction only, from past to future, and the future is caused by the past. Positive numbers are not caused by negative numbers. There is, in fact, a parallel in the number series for a first cause: the number one. If there were no first positive integer, no unit one, there could be no subsequent addition of units. Two is two ones, three is three ones, and so on. If there were no first, there could be no second or third.

If this argument is getting too tricky, the thing to do is to return to what is sure and clear: the intuitive point we began with. Not everyone can understand all the abstract details of the first-cause argument, but anyone can understand its basic point: as C. S. Lewis put it, "I felt in my bones that this universe does not explain itself."
 
 
Excerpted from Fundamentals of the Faith. Copyright 1988 by Ignatius Press, all rights reserved, used with permission. Text copied from PeterKreeft.com.
 
(Image credit: Insurance Journal)


 
Fundamentals of the FaithLike every religion, Catholicism has three aspects, corresponding to the three parts of the soul.

First, every religion has some beliefs, whether expressed in creeds or not, something for the intellect to know. Second, every religion has some duty or deed, some practice of program, some moral or ethical code, something for the will to choose. Finally, every religion has some liturgy, some worship, some "church", something for the body and the concrete imagination and the aesthetic sense to work at.

In Fundamentals of the Faith, Dr. Peter Kreeft uses these three divisions as the basic outline. He considers all the fundamental elements of Catholicism, explaining, defending, and showing their relevance to our life and the world's yearnings.
 


 

Dr. Peter Kreeft

Written by

Dr. Peter Kreeft is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and a noted Catholic apologist and philosopher. He is a convert to the Catholic Church from reformed Protestantism. He earned an A.B. degree from Calvin College, an M.A. and Ph.D. from Fordham University, followed by post-doctoral work at Yale University. He is a regular contributor to several Christian publications, is in wide demand as a speaker at conferences, and is the author of over 60 books including Making Sense Out of Suffering (Servant, 1986); Fundamentals of the Faith: Essays in Christian Apologetics (Ignatius, 1988); Catholic Christianity (Ignatius, 2001); The Unaborted Socrates: A Dramatic Debate on the Issues Surrounding Abortion (IVP, 2002); and The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings (Ignatius, 2005). Many of Peter's books are also integrated into the Logos software. Find dozens of audio talks, essays, and book excerpts at his website, PeterKreeft.com.

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

  • Meta-N

    Peter, What caused God?

    • Meta-N, your question makes it clear you have not read the article. Dr. Kreeft addresses your question directly near the end of his piece (look for the Bertrand Russell reference.) Please read the article before commenting.

      • Meta-N

        So God doesn't need a cause? If this is true, then there is no need for God to explain the physical universe.

        • Your conclusion does not follow and is thus a non sequitur. If you believe it does, please show how.

          • primenumbers

            Contrast: "the instinct that says everything needs an explanation" with "then there is... ...self-explanatory being with nothing above it, before it, or supporting it.".

            Basically, it's special pleading for God that he's allowed to be self-explanitory but nothing else is. It is asserted that God is self-explanitory, resulting in basically argument by definition.

          • Josh

            Sorry, but no, it's not special pleading, as the conclusion, if true, necessarily follows from the understanding of the nature of a contingent universe.

          • primenumbers

            So show other examples of self-explanitory things then, or else it's only God that gets to be self-explanitory and hence it's special (case of 1) pleading.

          • Josh

            The whole point is that there must be one necessary thing in order for there to be many contingent things. The universe as a whole is rejected because of its contingent nature. This follows from deductive reasoning, and is not a case of special pleading.

          • primenumbers

            "The universe as a whole is rejected because of its contingent nature"

            We must start from the position that we don't know if the universe is contingent or not, else we're just begging the question. Similarly we must start with not knowing if there's a God that exists or not.

            If you're going to go from a position of not knowing if the universe is contingent or not to a position of knowing with good certainty that it is contingent you will need a very strong argument, and as I've pointed out above the argument given relies on an error of composition and weak analogy.

            If we don't know that a God exists, we cannot argue from it's defined properties to show existence, as for the properties to exist, the thing that has the properties has to exist - we cannot put the chain the other way around and have it hold. We can only use the define properties to look for existence and confirm existence if we find existence.

          • Andre Boillot

            Why only one necessary thing? Why not a pantheon of gods?

          • Rationalist1

            One already has the hint of that in the Trinity as opposed to more pure monotheistic religions.

          • Josh

            Good question. Following the nature of Pure Act (God, necessary being) (this relies on scholastic metaphysics), there can be only one (like a Highlander). Because if there were more than one being of pure act, then one would contain a potential that the other didn't have, and this is impossible, on pain of contradiction.

          • Andre Boillot

            Why is it necessary to attribute this concept of "Pure Act" to such beings?

            I don't see why you couldn't have multiple beings that were: "eternal, necessary, independent, self-explanatory".

          • Josh

            It is necessary once we understand what it means for something to be necessary, i.e., entirely in act.

          • Andre Boillot

            I'm looking up 'necessary' and not finding that definition. I guess I don't understand it.

          • Josh

            I appreciate your candor, I think it would actually detract from the discussion at large to veer off into Scholastic metaphysics since Kreeft's post doesn't, but look here if interested: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/05/act-and-potency.html

          • Andre Boillot

            So, for this argument we're redefining what 'necessary' means, substituting for something that prohibits a pantheon of gods, but allows for a 3-in-1 god? This seems to be falling short of the "very simple, natural, intuitive, and commonsensical" mark.

          • Josh

            It's a technical honing of the definition, a stipulation, not a redefinition. To see that something is necessary is simple, to see what necessity entails need not be. Let's not punish Kreeft for not replicating the Summa Theologica's First Part in its entirety.

          • Andre Boillot

            "To see that something is necessary is simple, to see what necessity entails need not be."

            You'll have to unpack that a little more. If what X entails is very difficult and complex, how does one recognize it simply?

            "Let's not punish Kreeft for not replicating the Summa Theologica's First Part in its entirety."

            What about characterizing the highly nuanced as 'simple' and 'intuitive'? Can I "punish" him for that?

            Edit: I almost forgot that the title of the article is "Unpacking...", and not "condensing".

          • Josh

            You'll have to unpack that a little more. If what X entails is very difficult and complex, how does one recognize it simply?

            Example: Just because I recognize that it's raining outside doesn't mean I comprehend the complexities of the ecosystem which produces it.

            What about characterizing the highly nuanced as 'simple' and 'intuitive'? Can I "punish" him for that?

            Only if he was discussing Scholastic Metaphysics and characterizing it as such. But he wasn't. He just wants us to recognize the first step.

          • Andre Boillot

            "Example: Just because I recognize that it's raining outside doesn't mean I comprehend the complexities of the ecosystem which produces it."

            You're talking about recognizing something material, which most everyone has a great deal of familiarity with, and comparing it to intuitively recognizing concepts not generally associated with the words being used to describe god. Again, I think Kreeft's characterization of how intuitive these things are is off.

          • Max Driffill

            Why shouldn't God be a contingent thing? This really is just mere assertion. God is a massively complicated being. A massively complicated thing requires an explanation. All other complicated entities in the universe require an explanation? God must require one too. If he doesn't, then neither does the universe. The universe can be its own cause. It wasn't at all complicated at the time of the big bang. In fact it appears to have been massively simple. WOuldn't a simpler thing be more likely to arise than a massively complicated entity replete with a sophisticated consciousness?

          • Susan

            >God is a massively complicated being. A massively complicated thing requires an explanation

            Yep.

          • Jacob Suggs

            You misunderstand. It is not that we specially plead that God needs no cause, unlike everything else (and even this would not be bad if we showed it to be true) but that something needs no cause and that thing is what we call God.

            Further, we can see that your argument, that because we say this uncausedness is unique means we are using "special pleading", doesn't work by applying it to other obvious statements:

            I am the only one who is me. Wait, but then I'm saying that I'm the only one who is allowed to be me and no one else is, making me a special case. Since (by your reasoning) there are no other examples of people who are me, then the claim that I am me must be special pleading.

            This either means that "special pleading" isn't actually inherently a bad thing, or that you're using it wrong. I'm cool with either conclusion myself, but if you're going to continue this route of attack, we're gonna need you to lay out some definitions of what special pleading is, as well as some reasoning as to why it's something to avoid.

          • primenumbers

            You have set up a chain of arguments that ends with an uncaused cause. You call that uncaused cause "God", and then say it "must" exist. You allow for no other uncaused cause or self-explanitory thing, a status only your God is allowed to have. That is why it's special pleading that somehow your God is allowed to be exempt from the general rules of causality you've set up in your argument and nothing else is allowed that exemption.

          • Jacob Suggs

            No, in fact the uniqueness is a consequence of the reasoning as well. I'm on pain meds at the moment, so forgive me if I mess up a little (hopefully someone will correct me) but one approach could be this:

            Suppose there were two distinct uncaused causes. But then they'd be different. Why would they be different? There'd have to be a reason external to at least one of them. And therefore, they wouldn't be totally self explanatory.

            Many of the things we claim about God are consequences of the this sort of reasoning, but not contained completely in that argument.

          • primenumbers

            There's nothing in the reasoning of such an argument that limits the un-caused cause to a singular thing, or to be even a being. The singular God is a theistic assumption placed on top of the argument and requires it's own argument.

          • Jacob Suggs

            Yes, which I just supplied. There's no rule that all the truth about everything must be contained in a single argument.

          • primenumbers

            "Suppose there were two distinct uncaused causes. But then they'd be different. Why would they be different? There'd have to be a reason external to at least one of them. And therefore, that one wouldn't be totally self explanatory (which is a contradiction)."

            Therefore there no uncaused causes also fits nicely with your little argument.

          • Jacob Suggs

            Except we have already shown that if there are no uncaused causes, there is no universe. Which is false.

          • primenumbers

            The causality argument relies on a very human scale notion of causality that has not been demonstrated to be valid at the sub-atomic or universal level. In other words, as I have been saying all along - the argument isn't solid.

          • Gary Black

            Now who's special pleading? Example from Wikipedia of special pleading: "assertion that nobody has the qualifications necessary to comprehend a point of view"

          • Jacob Suggs

            The God shaped hole of the Gaps, as it were. Even if we have to pretend that the gaps are there.

          • primenumbers

            So quantum physics is special pleading now, is it?

          • Rationalist1

            If quantum mechanics is special pleading then shut off your computer as its operation is based upon quantum mechanics.

          • Jacob Suggs

            No. Read more. Learn what caused means.

          • primenumbers

            I don't think we really know what causality is, other than in a the very generalist sense we have of how we perceive causation.

          • Rationalist1

            What causes a radioactive atom to decay? Nothing? It just has a fixed probability of decaying in a particular period of time.

          • Jacob Suggs

            But that probability is contingent on things such as the structure of the atom, the strength of the various forces, etc. So even if the entirety of the action of decay is not completely explained (by anything we currently know about or expect to discover) the action of decay itself is not an independent self-explaining action.

            I'll give you a better one: free will. We believe that we have free will to do certain things, that the decision is made by us. Yet that does not make our decisions or decision making ability fundamentally uncaused, since we possess that ability for various reasons.

          • epeeist

            If we have free will then we must be causal agents. If we are causal agents then there can be no causal chain back to a "First Cause".

            You can have a first cause argument or you can have a free will argument, you can't have both.

          • stevegbrown

            yes you can. One can be "contained" in another so to speak.

          • epeeist

            yes you can. One can be "contained" in another so to speak.

            I am sorry I don't understand how this works. Could you unpack it for me.

          • stevegbrown

            this is another version of "who designed the designer"

          • primenumbers

            "who designed the designer" is only a daft question because theists posit their God as having the property that it's not-designed. But until such a God is shown to exist, it cannot have actual properties, like "un-designed". That leads us to the point that attributes of God (as in properties of the defined God) cannot be used to prove the existence of God as existence must come before the properties are actual.

          • stevegbrown

            I think one thing could be being overlooked: the fine-tuning of the laws of the universe. The intelligibility of everything (i.e. the immanent knowability of things) The laws don't compete with each other suggests/inferrs that they come from a unified source.

          • Michael Murray

            So imagine a word in which things weren't predictable and reliable and in which life evolved to the point that we sat around talking about how crap and unpredictable things were. Kind of hard isn't it ?

            Did you see this article

            http://edition.cnn.com/2013/07/11/world/space-blue-planet/

            A planet where it rains glass. That's some fine-tuning for life.

          • stevegbrown

            Michael you are arguing a hypothetical

          • Michael Murray

            I'm arguing a hypothetical on a site full of Catholic theology. Imagine that !

            Seriously I'm not arguing a hypothetical. I'm pointing out that it is not a surprise that reality exhibits a certain amount of regularity. It follows from the fact that we are here discussing reality. It's like Douglas Adam's comment about puddle thinking.

            A puddle wakes up one day and says:

            'This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact, it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!'

            Or as someone else, maybe Stephen J Gould, commented, isn't it remarkable how the Mississippi River passes under every bridge, past every mooring, right next to every person fishing ...

          • primenumbers

            What fine tuning? By such a large proportion this universe is utterly hostile to life as we know it.

          • BenS

            A large proportion of our own damn planet is hostile to our species. 99% of the habitable volume (including skies and oceans) is denied to us but freely available for other species; we're merely surface dwellers. Of this surface, 70% is something we can't live on and, for the most part, can't even drink. Of what's left, the majority is too high, too hot, too cold, too dry or too damp. At random periods the very land we stand on opens up to swallow us, explodes or gets drowned under torrents of water. Our various potential food sources can poison us or simply turn round and bite us back and tiny things we can't even see can make our limbs drop off, lungs melt, skin dissolve and organs explode.

            Our own planet - supposedly created just for us - is bleedin' lethal!

            Fine tuned, my arse.

          • primenumbers

            Now, even if we're fish or dolphins, most of the volume of the ocean is uninhabitable to us too. I think we've got to think in terms of volume rather than surface area, and then our planet is even less inhabitable...

          • As I just said to primenumbers, you are making up your own definition of fine tuning.

          • BenS

            I'm just pointing out that, for a universe that is 'fine tuned', the tuning is utter crap.

            Even going along with the idea that things are fined tuned to support life (which I do not), the concept of this tuning is nonsense when it's put in perspective with everything else.

            What at all is the sense in claiming that gravity is fine tuned when so many other things are utterly inimical to life. What claim the universe is fine tuned when only a tiny tiny tiny tiny tiny tiny fraction of the universe we can see can actually support it.

            By far the biggest volume is vacuum. If the universe was fine tuned for life, why doesn't life frolic gaily in the vacuum, riding the solar winds? Why has it only been observed confined to a single planet that accounts for so little of observed universe?

          • If the universe was fine tuned for life, why doesn't life frolic gaily in the vacuum, riding the solar winds?

            First, it seems possible to me that the universe is teeming with life that we don't know about, but even if life is exceedingly rare—even if it exists only on this planet—the fine-tuning argument is not about environments. It's about fundamental physical constants. Your argument about the inhospitable-to-life nature of the vast majority of environments in the universe may be correct, but it is not what those who argue for fine tuning are talking about.

          • BenS

            It's about fundamental physical constants.

            But if they're constants, then tuning cannot be an issue. They are what they are and no tuning was or could be involved. You can't tune a constant or it's not a constant.

            If they can be tuned then what are the boundaries? If we don't know, how can we possibly say that this is fine tuned?

            Your argument about the inhospitable-to-life nature of the vast majorityof environments in the universe may be correct, but it is not what those who argue for fine tuning are talking about.

            Then we're right back then to the issue of puddle thinking. This is tuned for us because we're in it. If we weren't in it then it would simply be a universe that something else is in. Or nothing is in. Just because we're here doesn't mean it was tuned for us.

            The 'argument' is a total sack of crap. I don't know why anybody wastes their time with it or tries to defend it as it fails on so many levels. It doesn't explain anything, it's not testable, it's not descriptive (it states no boundaries), it's not falsifiable; it's just a load of bollocks.

          • You are inventing your own definition of fine-tuning. Here's Wikipedia's:

            The fine-tuned Universe is the proposition that the conditions that allow life in the Universe can only occur when certain universal fundamental physical constants lie within a very narrow range, so that if any of several fundamental constants were only slightly different, the Universe would be unlikely to be conducive to the establishment and development of matter, astronomical structures, elemental diversity, or life as it is presently understood.

            No one who argues that the universe is fine tuned argues that life can flourish in any and every environment.

          • primenumbers

            They argue that the universe is fine tuned for life, which it obviously isn't.

          • Again, you are misinterpreting the meaning of fine tuning. What they are arguing is that if any one of a number of fundamental constants were even slightly different, live would not exist. Whether it is a good argument or a bad argument is one thing. But you are misrepresenting the argument if you claim that if the universe were fine tuned for life, there would be many more environments that would be hospitable. That's simply not the argument.

          • primenumbers

            Fine tuning implies a goal. The stated goal of those that use the argument is life. We can hypothesize that if the universe was fine tuned with a goal in mind (life) then the result of the fine tuning would be a universe abundantly fit for life.

            The universe is mostly (by a rather significant margin) unfit for life.

            So what goal of the fine tuning would fit the data - the goal would be tuning towards allowing the smallest amount of life possible, while still allowing for life, making the universe appear to all intents and purposes as un-designed.

          • Fine tuning implies a goal.

            Fine tuning is a metaphor and need not imply a goal. If there is a multiverse, and our universe is one of the rare universes in which life exists (or the only universe in which life exists), it still could be called "fine tuned."

            Just because some people use the concept of fine tuning to argue for a God doesn't mean fine tuning must be denied! You can argue that fine tuning is a misnomer, but it is the name that has stuck, and there is no reason to reject the concept simply because of the name.

          • primenumbers

            I don't see how fine tuning can not imply a goal for the tuning.

            "You can argue that fine tuning is a misnomer," - absolutely it is. But without their being a goal in mind, the concept becomes so wooly as to be almost meaningless, or to just become an anthropic principle with a paint job.

          • BenS

            What they are arguing is that if any one of a number of fundamental
            constants were even slightly different, live would not exist.

            No, what they're arguing is that OUR kind of life would not exist. This is simply a failure of imagination. Even if our life could not exist if gravity were different, what's to say another type of life couldn't exist? It's a thoroughly bad argument from start to finish.

          • Michael Murray

            I'll do a Rick and post from the arXiv but this one has been accepted

            http://arxiv.org/abs/0807.3697

            It estimates that for a particular model of stars 25% of the parameter space allows stars to form.

          • BenS

            25%!

            That's almost 27%!!!

          • BenS

            One of things that I really don't like about the fine tuning 'argument' is that there are no real figures or indications as to how much wiggle room there would need to be for it to be false.

            Now, a relative of mine used to make parts for British fighter aircraft in The War (tm) and the tolerances some of the parts required blew my mind. I had no idea how they could even make them with the hammers and tongs I pretty much imagine them using back then.

            Now those things were finely tuned and had precise tolerances. Being out by up to 25% would not be considered a particularly good batch....

          • The fine tuning argument has its limitations.

            Probability arguments applied to a sample size of one are just metaphysical arguments dressed up as science.

            The standard model of cosmology (LCDM) on the other hand has its appointment in Samarra.

            Take, for example, the cosmological dipole, a gigantic anisotropy in the CMB, which has been attributed to a motion of the local system wrt the "CMB rest frame" (a phrase itself involving delicious irony).

            Turns out it cannot be so attributed.

            Since cosmology, unlike evolution, is still a *scientific* research program, anomalies like this get tested and experimented upon,

            The outcome is, of course, is that our current cosmology is falling apart.

            This is a good thing, not a bad thing.

            Unless you have a Nobel Prize or a PhD or a tenured position or a peer reviewed publication at stake of course.

            "The current situation with radio analysis is clearly puzzling. All the three analysis (Blake & Wall
            2002; Singal 2011; Gibelyou & Huterer 2012) find the direction [ NB: of the radio-sky cosmological dipole] in agreement with CMBR. However all three disagree with one another on the extracted speed. Whereas, Blake & Wall (2002) claim results roughly consistent with CMBR, the large amplitude found in Singal (2011) suggests a po-
            tential violation of the cosmological principle. Gibelyou & Huterer (2012) attribute their deviation from CMBR predictions to observational bias....

            "Our results support the hypothesis that the Universe is intrinsically anisotropic with the
            anisotropy axis pointing towards Virgo."

            That would be the Axis of Evil, of course.

            Now fine tuning arguments involving the largest structures in the cosmos being directly aligned with the equator of Earth?

            Those are scientific, measurable, and devastating to the entire world view of insignifcance and randomity into which we have all been indoctrinated since birth.

            Cosmology is getting very interesting indeed.

            http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com

          • No, what they're arguing is that OUR kind of life would not exist. This is simply a failure of imagination.

            I agree with your first sentence. I think it is quite obviously true. But I think your second sentence is not true. Life as we know it is (to say something tautological) the only kind of life we know. I think it is almost certainly true that our kind of life would not exist if any of the fundamental constants were different. Whether or not there could be other kinds of life in other universes is basically irrelevant. What those who argue fine tuning are saying is that if any one of a number of physical constants were different, we wouldn't be here.

            You haven't defined life, by the way.

            I remember Stephen J. Gould remarking that exobiology was "that other great subject without a subject matter." It took me a few seconds to get the joke, but it made me laugh.

          • BenS

            What those who argue fine tuning are saying is that if any one of a number of physical constants were different, we wouldn't be here.

            You'll note they don't say how much different. It's not a valid scientific theory because it's so woolly and designed. It's just an idea, a notion that if things were some indeterminate amount different we wouldn't be here.

            Well, so what? If our evolution took any tiny number of changes along the way we wouldn't be here.

            You haven't defined life, by the way.

            No-one's got a bulletproof definition of life so holding me up to that standard is kind of unfair. The people who use the fine tuning argument don't have a proper definition of life either, but that doesn't stop them claiming it wouldn't be here....

          • The people who use the fine tuning argument don't have a proper definition of life either, but that doesn't stop them claiming it wouldn't be here....

            I think we understand differently the claims of those who speak of fine tuning. My understanding is that we couldn't be here, or life as we know it couldn't exist, if certain fundamental constants were different. I don't understand them to say nothing analogous to—but quite different from—life as we know it couldn't or wouldn't exist.

            You'll note they don't say how much different.

            I haven't paid much attention to the issue, but I do recall running across statements similar to "if such-and-such a constant were even X percent different . . . ."

            It's not a valid scientific theory because it's so woolly and designed.

            Does anyone claim there is a scientific theory called The Theory of Fine Tuning? It seems to me it is an idea, not a scientific theory.

          • BenS

            My understanding is that we couldn't be here, or life as we know it couldn't exist, if certain fundamental constants were different.

            So what? My understanding is we couldn't be here if 'here' was underwater. Well, so what? That's not an argument for anything, that's just an observation.

            I haven't paid much attention to the issue, but I do recall running across statements similar to "if such-and-such a constant were even X percent different . . . ."

            Ever seen all of these codified down to give a precise argument that can be rebutted or investigated? No? Because doing so isn't what people who put forward this nonsense want. They want to stand there and shake their head and say "Oh, it's definitely fine tuned." without actually having to explain what that means or how they can be shown wrong.

            Does anyone claim there is a scientific theory called The Theory of Fine Tuning? It seems to me it is an idea, not a scientific theory.

            Then it's worthless. Why are you defending a worthless notion? If it's an observation that life can only exist if certain conditions are met then, yes, we know this. Let's just list the conditions and be pleased we've done some good science.

            To call it 'fine tuning' implies a purpose and an entity that has done the tuning. Without such an entity, there's no fine tuning. There are simply the conditions of the universe. Nothing special about that.

          • Andrew G.

            I think it is almost certainly true that our kind of life would not exist if any of the fundamental constants were different.

            It's almost certainly true that life wouldn't exist if any one of a small number of fundamental constants were significantly different.

            But if one can vary (which is not known) then they all can, and variations in one parameter can balance out the effect of variations in others.

            Whether it would be our kind of life is irrelevant; we define "our" kind of life because it's what works in this universe; in another universe we'd define it differently.

            "Life" is a category of processes broadly characterized by the ability to perform complex synthesis in a self-sustaining and self-reproducing manner, offsetting the local reduction in entropy by energy transduction from the environment. The central category of organisms have properties like homeostasis, response to external conditions, the ability to reproduce from raw materials, etc.; there are noncentral examples such as viruses.

          • Andre Boillot

            Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that if any of the fundamental physical constants were different, that we'd have no idea what the universe would resemble? Maybe it would be much more conducive to life, maybe it is right now and we are just unable to see it.

            More to the point, fine-tuning proponents often argue from the our existence back - as if everything was set up for us. Failing to account for the possibility that our existence, as it is, is the only possible one, given the set-up. To use a semi-famous example, like a puddle marveling that the hole it's in contours itself perfectly to the shape of the puddle.

          • You make several good points. Whether the universe is, or is not, "fine tuned" doesn't strike me as a very important question, although I haven't paid much attention to it. But of course the meaning of "fine tuning" is not that life can flourish at the core of stars, in black holes, and in intergalactic space. That's just not the issue.

          • Andre Boillot

            I would agree that "fine tuning" need not mean 100% hospitable. On the other hand, there's (in no particular order): the sheer scale of what appears to be inhospitable vs. hospitable; the brief window of cosmic time we can assume that the one known life-sustaining planet will be just that; the seemingly foretold "death" of the universe; the colliding galaxies; exploding stars; etc. Considering all that, and we appear to agree, the "fine tuning" argument doesn't amount to much at all.

          • josh

            David, there is an issue although I don't think a strict definition is quite where it lies. Physicists discuss the 'fine-tuning' of the Higgs mass, basically in some models it seems to indicate a very precise cancellation between large terms that are naively unrelated free parameters. This has nothing directly to do with life but it's an open question if there is a good explanation for this cancellation or something that avoids it entirely.

            You are correct that one can argue that if certain parameters were slightly different we wouldn't have life like ours. Similarly, if the parameters of the theories I mentioned were slightly different we would see a very different Higgs mass. But it is a fallacy to then conclude that the purpose of the parameters is to produce a light Higgs, and mutatis mutandis for 'life as we know it.' There is no need to adduce a purpose whatsoever. The Higgs mass and LAWKI :) are consequences of the more fundamental parameters and we don't have any guidance as to what principle sets those parameters. If we have such a principle we would no longer have a fine tuning question of any sort.

            However, we can go a little further yet. If there were a principle which set the parameters that could somehow be described as having LAWKI as a goal, then we can argue that we should see life all over the place and not in extremely rare environmental conditions. So this is another way to kill the fine-tuning argument, although 'fine-tuning' in the sense of sensitivity to parameters could still exist. If the universe were tuned for something, it is infinitely more likely that it is tuned for space dust and weak radiation than for life. Life would just be a side effect.

          • This is getting very deep for me! What I will reiterate is

            • "Fine tuning" does not (as some have argued) in any way mean that huge swaths of the universe (or even the planet earth) are or must be hospitable to life as we know it.

            • Fine tuning is not solely an argument that God made the universe precisely as it is so life as we know it could exist. Atheists and scientists can discuss fine tuning without any assumption that God is the "tuner."

            • Fine tuning is a metaphor, and just because some take it to mean there must be a "tuner," it doesn't have to be taken to mean that.

            • Often in scientific discussions (mainly informal ones), it is convenient to speak in terms of purpose- or goal-directed processes when in reality there is no belief that the process is purposeful or goal oriented. Here's an example I found in a few seconds by googling "why is fluorine so reactive?"

            Flourine has a total of 9 electrons, 2 in the first and 7 in the second. Those 7 electrons are tightly bound to the nucleus because they are so close. The atom has a VERY strong affinity to get the missing 8th electron needed to have a full shell. So it will jump at the chance to make a covalent bond with any atom that will share an electron. The bond it makes is likewise very strong.

            We all know that atoms don't literally "jump at the chance" to do anything at all. But nevertheless, it's a good nontechnical explanation of what happens.

          • josh

            David, this is all fine with me for the narrow sense of "fine tuning" you are employing here. That's the sense in which physicists and cosmologists use it which has nothing to do with God.

            But on a religious website I assume people are bringing it up in order to make some kind of fine-tuning argument (for God). And I hope I've clarified above why all such arguments fail.

          • epeeist

            The fine-tuned Universe is the proposition that the conditions that allow life in the Universe can only occur when certain universal fundamental physical constants lie within a very narrow range

            There are a number of problems with this. The first is that it begs the question.

            Secondly, it assumes that one can only change one physical constant(!) at a time, yet if one is allowed to change multiple parameters then there are islands of stability.

            Thirdly it assumes that these constants are not constant and can be changed, now whether that is true or not I wouldn't know. And even if it is true then we don't know what the range is nor the probability distribution over the range.

          • There may be problems with it, and the concept of fine tuning may be nonsense, for all I know.

            However, can't we all agree that the concept is not a claim that many or most environments in the universe are hospitable to life as we know it? Nobody believes that, and nobody is asserting that.

            If you want to debunk the concept of fine tuning, you have to criticize it for what it is, not for what it isn't. If I say the universe cannot be fine tuned because we have found no evidence of fine-tuning dials that control the fundamental constants, I think everyone would agree that we have found no evidence of dials. But that would not be a valid critique of fine tuning!

          • BenS

            However, can't we all agree that the concept is not a claim that many or most environments in the universe are hospitable to life as we know it? Nobody believes that, and nobody is asserting that.

            Those that put it forth are normally referring to human life and that the universe was fine tuned for humans by an external agency. Absent that, the idea of fine tuning is worthless. If there's no purpose to the tuning then there's no tuning. There simply are the conditions of the universe and we happen to be here.

            Given WHY people are trying to use this unfalsifiable, ill defined, poorly structured argument - to show the universe was made for humans by their own personal god - you might as well cut straight to the chase and point out that it isn't.

          • Those that put it forth are normally referring to human life and that the universe was fine tuned for humans by an external agency.

            If that has been your experience, I can't contradict you. All I can say is that I read a fair amount of popular books and articles on cosmology, and when I have come across the concept of fine tuning, it has not been mentioned as an argument for the existence of God. It is more likely to be used as an argument for string theory or the multiverse.

            Given WHY people are trying to use this unfalsifiable, ill defined, poorly structured argument . . . .

            I think in my reading the question of fine tuning is a matter of why the fundamental constants are what they are, not something different.Of course, I generally don't bother to read books and articles that try to use science to "prove" there is a God, since I like to read science, not religion.

            In any case, the fact that some people try to use the concept of fine tuning to prove there must be a God is irrelevant to the question of whether the universe is fine tuned or not. Christians will use the argument that people ought not to lie, steal, cheat, or kill because there is a God and he gave us consciences that tell us that. It would be foolish to argue that people ought to lie, steal, cheat, and kill because Christians argue that God is the origin of morality.

            There seems to be an unstated assumption or an underlying tendency among some people here that everything believers say must be refuted, otherwise it's an admission that God exists. The universe can be finely tuned—that is, the fundamental constants can be what they are—for a number of reasons—one being that we live in a multiverse—without God being invoked or needed as an explanation in any way.

          • BenS

            I like your response and have comments, but I don't have time to respond properly at the moment. I'll try and pick this up over the weekend; if I don't, please remind me.

          • BenS

            All I can say is that I read a fair amount of popular books and articles on cosmology, and when I have come across the concept of fine tuning, it has not been mentioned as an argument for the existence of God.

            I think we have different experiences of where we've seen this argument bandied about and it's therefore colouring our respective views of it. I've almost always only ever seen it used as an argument for god - that god is the tuner and the tuning is for the benefit of man.

            In fact, I can clearly show that you HAVE come across it mentioned as an argument for the existence of god... right here:

            https://strangenotions.com/unpacking-first-cause/#comment-959790380

            It's what started the whole damn thing off...

            I think in my reading the question of fine tuning is a matter of why the fundamental constants are what they are, not something different.

            That's interesting. 'Why' isn't generally a question that gets asked. Not even sure it makes sense. "Why is gravity the strength it is?" What books are you reading on this subject, if I may ask?

            Of course, I generally don't bother to read books and articles that try to use science to "prove" there is a God, since I like to read science, not religion.

            No arguments here.

            In any case, the fact that some people try to use the concept of fine tuning to prove there must be a God is irrelevant to the question of whether the universe is fine tuned or not.

            If there's no tuner then it's not fine tuned. It merely is. Tuning implies a purpose. If there is no tuner then what is the difference between a universe that is fine tuned and a universe that isn't?

            There seems to be an unstated assumption or an underlying tendency among some people here that everything believers say must be refuted, otherwise it's an admission that God exists.

            I wouldn't think so but I can't speak for everyone. It's just so much they say SHOULD be refuted. The whole reason we're on this topic is because of the post I linked to above. That 'fine tuning' suggests that the laws of the universe came from a unified source (god, obviously).

            Now, even though the last paragraph of the post I'm replying to now would have served as a fine rebuttal to the post that kicked the whole thing off, instead of replying to the religious person for his erroneuous statment, you've levelled that shot at ME.

            I'm starting to think you have an underlying tendency to attempt to refute everything I say otherwise it's an admission I'm right. Should have picked someone else, pal. I'm always right. ;)

          • Yasha Renner

            Actually, God's existence is not self-evident, which is proved by the existence of all of you atheists who claim that there is no God.

            As Aquinas demonstrates, "No one can mentally admit the opposite of what is self-evident . . . . But the opposite of the proposition "God is" can be mentally admitted: "The fool said in his heart, There is no God" (Psalm 52:1). Therefore, that God exists is not self-evident." Summa, I, Q.2, art. 1.

            http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1002.htm#article1

          • primenumbers

            "Actually, God's existence is not self-evident, as is evident by the existence of all of you atheists." - well, it's self evident to theists....

            If you're going to call atheists "fools" then you've just lost the argument.

          • Yasha Renner

            Why? You believe theists are fools, don't you?

          • primenumbers

            No.

          • Yasha Renner

            Just ignorant of the truth, perhaps. But that is what "fool" really means, doesn't it? You wouldn't be reading this blog and taking the time to comment on it if you didn't believe your conclusions are true, and thus could be used to pierce the ancient ignorance opined by the likes of me.

            Anyhow, I appreciate that you think I am not a fool. And with that, I must return to my studies! God bless you my friend, whoever you are.

          • Rationalist1

            Theists are not fools, but they are captive of their preconceptions. Why do Mormons believe what they do? They are not fools. Why do Hindus believe what they do? They are not fools. Why do Catholics believe what they do? They are not fools. They are members of their particular faith community and choose not or can not leave.

    • Rationalist1

      Definition. One just has to say the only non contingent being is an all powerful, all knowing, all good, all everything being that we call God. Or we can go with a much simpler mechanism as described by modern physics, the creation of a universe from nothing (see Lawrence Krauss' book - "A Universe from Nothing") . No incredibly complex deity required and once the initial universe is created all proceeds from natural laws, no interference of a deity required. If one is going to posit a non contingent creation, go with the simpler one.

      • Rationalist, have you actually read Krauss' book? The "nothing" which he proposes as the origin of the universe is emphatically a "something"--a something which demands explanation and thus a First Cause. Whether you've read the book, I suggest Dr. Ed Feser's review, titled "Not Understanding Nothing":

        http://www.firstthings.com/article/2012/05/not-understanding-nothing

        • Rationalist1

          Yes, I have read it. And why can't that be non contingent. If you can define an incredibly complicated God as being non contingent, "his nothing" is much simpler. The only way you would choose God is to conform to religious preconceptions.

          • Rationalist, again, I'm not sure if you've read Krauss' book, but the three possibilities he proposes to explain the origins of the universe (i.e. the energy of empty space, a prior quantum state, or laws of nature anthropically selected from the multiverse) are all contingent and demand explanation.

            This is because assuming there was no infinite regress (as Dr. Kreeft shows above), each of the entities came into existence at some point. That fact necessitates a non-contingent First Cause.

          • Rationalist1

            But the "first cause" is just that. No incredibly complex God needed.

          • DAVID

            Rationalist1, God is not complex in the sense that you mean. God is not "made up of parts" and therefore requires no explanation of how those parts were put together.

          • Rationalist1

            Anything being that can create this entire universe is complex.

          • DAVID

            Comprehensive, yes. Complex, no. Any complex being would have to be composed of finite parts. There is nothing finite about God.

          • Max Driffill

            David,
            The early universe was not complex, there were only quarks, and therefore requires no explanation.

          • DAVID

            Its not enough for something to be "not complex." It requires an explanation if it had to come into existence at all. If it is eternal and never had to come into existence, then it requires no explanation.

          • It requires an explanation if it had to come into existence at all.

            How would you show that statement is true?

          • Max Driffill

            David,

            "Its not enough for something to be "not complex." It requires an explanation if it had to come into existence at all.
            If it is eternal and never had to come into existence, then it requires no explanation."

            1. This isn't evidence.
            2 . Everything requires an explanation, even if that explanation is, "it has always existed and therefore doesn't have an origin as other things.' But the only reason to accept any explanation is if it is supported by evidence not bandied hypotheticals laden with assumptions.
            3. God is not an explanation for the universe (or at least not a good one) because even if the universe requires a cause, there is no good reason to suspect that the Christian god is exempt from the assumed universal contingency. This is the case no matter how pregnant one makes words like "first cause" or "pure act."

            4. Complexity actually is an issue if we are going to use information about the universe to begin these discussions (which seems to be the case here). We know quite a bit about the early universe (post Big Bang). It was remarkably simple. Positing a god as the creative force creates more problems than it resolves. Gods are massively complex entities, and complex entities capable of creating universes cry out of an explanation no matter how much believers assure us that they don't. Did they evolve? If one can posit that gods always existed, why can't we posit an always existing quantum foam from which the Big Bang banged? In the face of the simplicity of the early universe a massively complex being simply isn't necessary by way of explanation.

          • Max Driffill

            This is the thing that I think needs to be revisited and really grasped. Krauss may be wrong or right with his hypothesis (which I've heard him summarize as, "Nothing just isn't very stable"). In any event, there is no reason whatsoever to assume that the first cause of the universe is a massively complex being (assuming we need one for the universe, there is no evidence that this is the case). In fact there is every reason to suspect that any such cause would be simple, and relatively un-complex.

    • Yasha Renner

      Your parents might know the answer to this.

  • AshleyWB

    How many times is this argument going to be posted on this site? If you're going to continually re-post the same stuff, I would personally prefer it be original material from authors who will respond to criticism rather than another decades-old reprint.

    Not much to say here, as the flaws are the same and known to anyone who thinks about this clearly. The "principle of sufficient reason" drags in all kinds of hidden assumptions, such as the claim that cause and effect observed for moderately dense objects composed of trillions of particles is applicable to other scales and densities. This is an assumption that we know is false.

    There's the obvious non sequitur "Such a being would have to be God, of course.".

    And of course there's the failure to understand that logical arguments are insufficient to establish the reality of anything, such as when the author asks "How can anyone squirm out of this tight logic?" The answer, as always, is that "tight logic" is insufficient. Perfectly constructed logical arguments only correspond to reality if the premises and system of logic also correspond to reality in a meaningful way.

    This last problem is the central failure of the pre-modern philosophy that virtually all Catholic theology is constructed on. As transparently ridiculous as fundamentalist creationism is, it rests on somewhat firmer ground than most Catholic theology because it is to some degree modern, and recognizes the necessity of empirical claims. Creationist claims are all false of course, but they are at least grounded in a superior form of rationality than this first cause argument.

    • Ashley, your first paragraph is unnecessary. If you're dissatisfied with the site, please go elsewhere. You'll find nobody is making you comment here. Your constant complaining grates on those looking for serious discussion.

      Second, you claim "This is an assumption that we know is false" in regards to the Principle of Sufficient Reason. I disagree, and challenge you to provide explanation for how we *know* this to be false. Also, regarding the question of whether this Principle can be applies to other scales and densities, Dr. Kreeft ably handles this is his paragraph on Hume.

      Third, Dr. Kreeft's statement that "Such a being would have to be God" is not a non equitur for reasons he explains in the first bullet-point of his last section. By "God" he doesn't necessarily mean the Christian conception of God, but a divine being that is "transcendent, eternal, uncaused, immortal, self-existing, independent, [and] all-perfect." Most people, including atheists, would describe such a being as God.

      Fourth, you claim "logical arguments are insufficient to establish the reality of anything." I see no reason to believe this is true. For example, surely you use logical reason to discern the existence of many historical figures from the 1700s. Would you disagree that you deduce from the available evidence that they really do exist? I do agree with you that "Perfectly constructed logical arguments only correspond to reality if the premises and system of logic also correspond to reality in a meaningful way." But that seems to contradict the preceding statement I quoted. On the one hand you say logical arguments can't establish reality and on the other you admit that "perfectly constructed arguments" *can* correspond to reality.

      Fifth and finally, your last paragraph is nothing other than a form of ad hominem. It offers no serious refutation of the "pre-modern philosophy" in question, but only mocks it and unfavorably compares it to "ridiculous...fundamentalist creationism."

      In sum, you've offered no substantial refutations of *any* of Aquinas arguments, or Dr. Kreeft's presentations of them.

    • primenumbers

      " The "principle of sufficient reason" drags in all kinds of hidden assumptions, such as the claim that cause and effect observed for moderately dense objects composed of trillions of particles is applicable to other scales and densities. This is an assumption that we know is false." - that's right. It's a category error to apply an every-day understanding of causality at a medium scale of objects to the set that contains all those objects (going from members of a set to the set itself is a category error) and then we know that our common-sense understanding of causality breaks down at the sub-atomic level.

      • Please show me why and how this is a category error. In other words, please show me why Dr. Kreeft is wrong in his refutation of Hume above.

        • primenumbers

          The set of all real things (the universe) is not not a thing. It's a very obvious example of a category error.

          Dr. Kreeft is trying to argue that a divine cause is analogous to our every-day understanding of cause. But our causes happen physically in time and don't make things appear out of nothing. His divine "cause" happens outside of time (but cause is a temporal action - it occurs necessarily in time, so already the analogy is broke), non-physically and makes things out of nothing. It's a broke analogy, and arguments from analogy are only ever as strong as the similarities to begin with, and at micro and macro scales our universe has shown itself to be non-intuitive enough that it appears to me it's only theistic bias that is carrying the analogy through.

          • primenumbers, thanks for the reply. It's untrue that causation presupposes time (or space.) William Lane Craig, one of today's foremost experts on the philosophy of time, explains why here:

            http://www.reasonablefaith.org/causation-and-spacetime

          • primenumbers

            The whole argument that Dr. Kreeft is presenting is from analogy and hence the analogy has got to fit to be even remotely valid. I point out three key elements of causality - is temporal, spatial and physical, and the analogy breaks on all three of them. It is not a robust analogy, and we have no good way of knowing about divine causality (because it's just something that theologists invented and we have no way of actually investigating it) so analogy is all we have....

            I'm not interested in WLC for numerous reasons. Invoking him is not a good move when you're discussing these issues with knowledgeable atheists.

          • epeeist

            William Lane Craig, one of today's foremost experts on the philosophy of time

            Actually, according to philosopher friends of mine David Mellor is one of today's foremost experts on the philosophy of time. His book on the subject is a set text in a number of universities.

          • William Lane Craig took the first few points of Aquinas' eight hundred year old Summa and turned them into an atheist killer that has stood unrefuted in his debates, and also on this site.

            The KCA is bulletproof and its adversaries can only distract from it.

            They cannot refute it.

          • Josh

            The "set of all real things," as you're using that term, is what's called a being of reason, a logical construct, and as such, exists only in the mind. What the term refers to, however, is a real thing. The totality of all things. This point is a non-starter.

          • primenumbers

            That's just arguing semantics and doesn't make the analogy actually work either.

          • Josh

            So then you deny that we can meaningfully refer to the universe as an existing being, understood as a collection of all that exists? Cosmologists might be upset at this single-handed dynamite blast that you've planted at the feet of their scientific endeavors.

          • primenumbers

            Eh? "So then you deny that we can meaningfully refer to the universe as an existing being," - the universe is now a being? I don't get it.

          • Josh

            Does the universe exist? If so, then it is, and has an act of being. If there is no such thing as the universe, as you've asserted repeatedly in your conflation of logical concepts with real things, then there is nothing at all...

          • primenumbers

            "and has an act ofbeing" - what on earth do you mean by that?

          • Josh

            That which is, in any way, has an act of being. This applies across the board, to physical objects, abstract logical entities such as your sets, concepts like infinity, etc.

          • primenumbers

            Still not sure what you mean by "act of being".

          • Josh

            How about, as I've made it abundantly clear above, something that exists and is? To be is to be in act as per Aristotle. Not sure why that's so difficult?

          • primenumbers

            Because "act of being" is not a term we normally use and you obviously have a specific meaning in mind that you're failing to adequately articulate.

          • Jacob Suggs

            1) Define thing. You say the set of all real things (by which I suspect you mean physical things) is not a thing. But then is, say, a cat - the set of certain things (particles and such) that interact in a certain way that appears catlike - a thing? If so, why is the physical universe not a thing?

            2) Explain why the fact that the universe does not fit whatever definition of thing that you choose to use matters.

            3) Explain why a failure for two things to be identical in the specific way you mention fails to make them analogical. That is, you say "divine creation isn't like the causes we do" to which I reply "so what?"

            4) Realize (hopefully) that the causes argument does not rely on anything about the first cause, but only shows its necessity and gives it a name. Then, if you reject this first cause, explain how the non-existence of a first cause does not lead to the non-existence of everything.

          • primenumbers

            1) the set of all cats is not a cat and doesn't act like a cat.

            2) sets are not equivalent things to the members of that set - the set of all cats is not a cat.

            3) divine causality has been invented to act like the causes of the argument, yet not have to obey the causality rules of the argument. We can only access divine causality through analogy and that analogy is multiply broken.

            4) the first cause argument tries to prove a first cause, yet that first cause has never been actually demonstrated to exist. We don't know about causality as applied to universes, so the argument and your point 4) is based on lack of knowledge. I really don't know why there's a universe or not, and it would be wrong of me to invent an explanation, because, quite frankly, that's exactly what I'm accusing the theist who uses this argument of doing.

          • Jacob Suggs

            1) You still must define thing. The set of cats is not a cat, but it does contain certain properties of catness such as a lot of hair and annoying noises. You still haven't shown that this is an issue.

            2) Not normally, but there is no reason why this cannot be so. You can have sets of sets, and sets of sets of sets, and while a set of sets is clearly not the same set as a set of numbers, it is still a set and has many of the same properties thereof.

            3) Doesn't matter. You don't have to be able to understand it to know that it's there if you can prove that it's absence implies a falsehood.

            4) The first cause does argument does prove a first cause and hence demonstrates its existence. It doesn't do so in the same way that a 4 year old proves to me that he has an apple by holding it in front of me, but this is immaterial.

            In differential equations for example, it is common to prove that a solution must exist without ever bothering to find out what it is.

            Likewise, I can say that any always decreasing bounded sequence must converge to a limit without having any idea what that limit is.

            The fact that the first cause argument doesn't point to something that we already know about and that it does not by itself give lots of details is pretty irrelevant.

          • primenumbers

            1) "but it does contain certain properties of catness" - no, the set has elements which have properties. The set itself doesn't possess catness.

            2) true enough that the set that contains sets is also a set, but we're talking about a set that contains real things here.

            3) in argument by contradiction you negate the premise. The premise of a first cause argument is that the universe is contingent. The argument is also based on an every-day notion of causality that has not been demonstrated to apply to the things the argument intends it to apply to, namely universes and Gods.

            "The fact that the first cause argument doesn't point to something that we already know about and that it does not by itself give lots of details is pretty irrelevant." - I'd say it's very relevant that a thing with the properties the argument predicts has not been demonstrated to exist.

          • Jacob Suggs

            1) But the set of cats does involve lots of hair, even if it does not contain it in the same way that a cat does, and so there is no reason to suspect that this hair won't have some effect on what the set of cats is and how it behaves.

            2) What is a "real thing" and how is it different from a set? This sounds almost like the special pleading you mentioned earlier. An electron is a thing. A proton is a thing. An electron going around a proton is a thing we call a hydrogen atom, but is in fact a set of things. A cat is also a particular collection of fundamental particles, and yet we call it a thing. Why is the set of all cats not a thing? Not a cat, certainly, but not a thing?

            3) We're having this argument below, so I won't repeat it.

            "I'd say it's very relevant that a thing with the properties the argument predicts has not been demonstrated to exist."

            It has, by the argument itself. Otherwise there would be no universe. Not all reasoning is empirical.

            For example, it is clearly true that there are an infinite number of primes. This is a result of reason. Yet no one has produced an infinite number of primes, only a large number of them. Does this mean that there are not in fact an infinite number of primes?

            Further, many people say they have had empirical evidence which you (presumably) just reject. But you must realize that a failure to provide empirical evidence that you personally accept is irrelevant to the argument. The premises do not include "and this one particular person must physically see touch or smell something that convinces him that the argument is true.:

          • primenumbers

            1) Yes, the members of the set have lots of hair. The set doesn't.

            2) a real thing is something that exists, be it a being, an atom, a chair. The set of all cats is a thing, but it's not the same kind of thing as a cat. Is God a thing?

            3) But existence is not a property. Existence is what you must have to have properties. If the argument is valid it says that if such and such a thing exists, it has these properties. Existence cannot be one of those properties as existence is not a property. This is exactly the same kind of problem you get with ontological arguments. In other words, unless something exists it cannot have properties, but showing something has properties doesn't show existence. Existence is something that must be independently demonstrated.

            The argument relies upon at least an error of composition, and at least an "every day" understanding of causality which has not been demonstrated to apply to the universe other than by poor analogy, and that God is exempted from.

          • Jacob Suggs

            1) But the nature of it's members will affect the nature of the set. The set is not hairy. But the property of the set "has members in x location" is certainly affected by the fact that the members have hair, as there are some climates in which that is not suitable. The set of cats is clearly not a cat, but it makes no sense to say that its properties are entirely independent of cat influence either.

            2) What is "exists"? Why does that apply to atoms in the configuration of a cat, but not to atoms in the configuration of a multitude of cats spread far apart? As to the "is God a thing" I'll point you here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/2013/01/i-dont-believe-god-exists.html. The answer not at all in the same way that we are, more correctly, God is "to be a thing." sort of.

            3) Given that I can talk about a thing (by your definition) which does not exist (my favorite chair that was burned to ash), I think I disagree with you, though I suspect this is fundamentally little more than a word game, especially as it doesn't prove your next point. Whether we count existence as a property and say "x has the property of existence" or whether we say "x is" is irrelevant to the argument at hand.

            It is true that existence must be independently demonstrated, but this is exactly what the argument does, by showing that lack of existence implies a falsehood. This. Is. A. Demonstration.

            Ironically, your beef with the argument seems to be a special pleading sort of point that the universe is not a thing, based on an argument that some collections of things are things and others aren't, with no clear reason for why this is.

          • primenumbers

            1) We've seen plenty of examples where the properties of the set or the properties of the compound object differ from the component elements. One way around this issue for you is to demonstrate that the universe is contingent without reference to it's component elements.

            2) "God is "to be a thing," " - unfortunately sentence constructs like that make no sense to me. I call them poetry.

            3) The argument attempts to apply human-scale notions of causality to the universe as a whole. I have shown this is an error of composition (the set of all things is not the same type of thing as it's elements). We have a perception of causality, but we don't know if there is really any causality or what rules it may actually obey. We do know that our general notion of causality breaks down at the quantum level, thus rendering any argument based on a general notion of causality rather suspect.

            The argument attempts to show that the stopping point for the chain of causality must be something that exists necessarily, and this is where existence gets treated as a property rather than as something which allows us to say that something actually has properties.

          • Jacob Suggs

            1) Did it. Below I think. Not without reference to the members, of course, since a universe without members would be hard to talk about. Or in.

            2) Yeah, there are long words that manage to be more precise, but I'll leave that to those who studied it more than I did. Googling God's essence is Existence might do it.

            3) You've claimed it a couple times, but I haven't seen much reasoning behind the claim other than "it's big and we're small."

            The ability to have properties is a property. Everything about anything is a property. The fact that one property enables a thing to have other properties might make it an important property, but it doesn't make it not a property.
            Further, you continually ignore the fact that the First Cause is a solution to a problem. It is the only explanation as to why the universe can and does exist. If you successfully argued that there was no first cause because of some fiddle word game or another, then you fail to solve the problem: devoid of a first cause, whether such a one exists or not, the universe cannot exist. Yet it clearly does. Ergo, you're wrong.

            And yet further, it is absolutely false that you must know that something exists before you can talk about it. That is in fact often how you determine that things don't exist: If x existed, then it would have to have property A and not A, so x does not exist.

            What you really seem to be doing is rejecting proof by contradiction, which to me seems.... odd.

          • primenumbers

            1) the argument then just comes back to this God character having an exemption pass from the laws of causality you've set up....

            2) seems to be taking the word existence beyond it's common meaning into a special meaning just for God, rendering it meaningless to say "God exists". Given that the argument attempts to show "God exists", if "exists" doesn't mean the same thing that it means for you and I to exist, I fail to see the point any more....

            3) it's all just demonstrations that causality breaks down for the ultra-small, hence any practical every-day notion we have of causality has some exceptions in it. Theists think that causality has an exception in the case of their God. I know from physics of the ultra-small that there's exceptions to a general perception of causality.

            "And yet further, it is absolutely false that you must know that something exists before you can talk about it." - that's mischaracterizing my position. I'm saying you can talk about such things that you don't know whether they exist or not and theorize about them. That's fine. But you can't use properties of them to prove they exist for without existence they don't really have those properties. So by arguing from properties you can perhaps show that should such a thing be proven to exist, that it will have those properties, but not the other way around.

            "What you really seem to be doing is rejecting proof by contradiction," - if there's a contradiction then the premise is false. The premise is that the universe is contingent. Therefore that premise is false.

      • Gary Black

        It is basic logic (transposition) to say "If no A, then no B" ==> "If B then A". Hence, "If there is no uncaused-cause there is no universe" is a proof of its existence. And a quite valid one at that.

        It always makes me smile when atheists have to deny causality to deny God. I guess that's where our basic assumptions will part. "A cause is the sine qua non for an effect" Apparently the modern atheist believes effects don't need it!

        • primenumbers

          On the contrary it is the theist who denies causality, but only for their God, making their position on causality rather inconsistent and self-serving.

          On the other hand, we're well aware that what might be "intuitive" at a human-scale is often incorrect at a very large or very small scale (relativity and quantum physics for instance) and the concept of causality used in these arguments is very human-scale, and could very well be better put as our perception of causality rather than us actually having any true understanding of what actually may be occurring in the universe.

          • Rationalist1

            One of the first thing one learns when studying quantum mechanics or relativity is that phenomena we accept as logical and intuitive at the middle scale we've evolved to experience can bear little relationship to what happens at the realm of the very small or the very large. It's quite eye opening and humbling.

        • articulett

          Well causality may not make sense in a universe without time.

          And lets face it-- you don't just believe in a hypothetical uncaused cause-- you believe this uncaused cause was an invisible 3-in-1 male made of nothing who poofed everything from his nothingness because, although he was perfect, he thought that things could be perfecter if he created imperfect people and a hell to put them in after they died unless they believed that god became his own son and temporarily died for them.

    • Gary Black

      Fantastic! Causility is false. I look forward to your Nobel Prize when you prove this.

  • Octavo

    Why does the first cause need to be sapient? I feel like that is seldom addressed.

    • Perhaps I missed it but I don't believe Dr. Kreeft argues that the First Cause *is* necessarily sapient.

      However, it makes sense to me that the ground of the cosmos and of all human sapience would necessarily need to be itself.

      • Octavo

        He refers to this as The First Cause Argument for God. I have never seen God described by Kreeft as non-sapient.

        "However, it makes sense to me that the ground of the cosmos and of all human sapience would necessarily need to be itself."

        Historically, intuition is a relatively unhelpful way to apprehend the cosmos.

        Regarding sapience, we know from biology that sapience is a feature that not all of our ancestors had. (Not all of our ancestors had brains even!) It was a result of natural selection and genetic drift.

        • Octavo, you say "I have never seen God described by Kreeft as non-sapient"? But surely you would agree that *not* describing God as non-sapient is not the same as describing him as sapient?

          Nowhere in this article does Kreeft refer to the First Cause's sapience. I'm not sure it's relevant to the logical proof of a "transcendent, eternal, uncaused, immortal, self-existing, independent, all-perfect being."

          • Octavo

            What I'm asking is, why do you think that the first cause is a complicated process (sapient, immortal being) and not just a simple, mundane process, such as an vacuum fluctuation or a singularity?

          • Rationalist1

            Octavo - And considering vacuum fluctuations have been well known and accepted in modern physics for some time, it's not a huge leap.

          • Octavo, well first I don't think the First Cause is a "process" at all since that would imply change. And the First Cause must be, by logical necessity, unchanged.

            Second, this is a different question as to whether the First Cause is sapient. Sapient means "acutely insightful and wise", not necessarily complicated. I wouldn't argue that the First Cause must be complicated

            Finally, the problem with either a "vacuum fluctuation" or a "singularity" is that neither is a necessary entity--both require explanation since both are processes.

          • Octavo

            It sounds like you're trying to solve the problem by defining it out of existence. To anyone who studies minds, minds are indeed made up of many processes. However, I expect you will define God as eternal, immortal, transcendent wisdom with infinite sapience made up of no processes and no moving parts.

          • Octavo, I'm not trying to solve the problem by defining it out of existence. I see no problem. Anything that is a process necessarily involves change. Any per Aristotle/Aquinas/Kreeft above, and change ultimately demands a Changer, a First Cause that cannot change.

            (I agree with you that minds are indeed made up of many processes. All this means is that the mind cannot explain itself, that there must be some other cause of the mind and its changes.)

        • Athanasius De Angelus

          "Not all of our ancestors had brains even!"

          Wow, so "random mutation" can organize? I like to see that one! I don't think you're that smart.

          Let's stick with the subject of the brain, shall we?

          To generate purposeful and unified action, the brain first brings information from sense organs together at a central location. It then processes this raw data to extract information about the structure of the environment. Next it combines the processed sensory information with information about the current needs of an animal and with memory of past circumstances. Finally, on the basis of the results, it generates motor response patterns that are suited to maximize the welfare of the animal. These signal-processing tasks require intricate interplay between a variety of functional subsystems.

          So random mutation can process tasks requiring "intricate interplay between a variety of functional subsystems."

          Random mutation is random. It can't organize, it can't do jack.

          No, Octavo, I don't think you're that smart at all.

          • Octavo

            "Wow, so "random mutation" can organize? I like to see that one! I don't think you're that smart."

            Pretty rude of you. Also, you display a complete lack of knowledge of evolutionary biology. I recommend that you read the following book by Carl Zimmer to bring you up to speed.

            Evolution: Making Sense of Life (2012), co-authored with Douglas Emlen. ISBN 1-936-22117-9

          • Athanasius De Angelus

            No, don't send me to a book, you do the arguments. Summarize it for me, Master Yoda!

          • Andre Boillot

            You'll find that a great deal of "go read this, then talk to me" gets thrown around here, by both "sides".

          • Athanasius De Angelus

            I don't like that, I refuse to be treated like that! The tears are coming down my eyes! LOL!

          • Octavo

            I guess I could explain basic evolution to a random person on the internet. However, I am at work, and I'm entirely uninterested in teaching. That's more my spouse's thing.

          • Athanasius De Angelus

            I'm at work too (but super fun work). Shame on you Master Yoda, for sending me to a book!

          • Athanasius De Angelus

            What did Darwin achieve? ‘His theory had, in essence, preceded his knowledge – that is, he had hit upon a novel and evocative theory of evolution with limited knowledge at hand to satisfy either himself or others that the theory was true. He could neither accept it himself nor prove it to others. He simply did not know enough concerning the several natural history fields upon which his theory would have to be based.’...

            AUTHOR: Dr. Barry Gale (Science Historian, Darwin College, UK)Dr. Barry Gale (Science Historian, Darwin College, UK) in his book, Evolution Without Evidence. As quoted in ‘John Lofton’s Journal’, The Washington Times, 8 February 1984

            “The interpretation of evolution is in a state of upheaval: the rapid advancement of Molecular Biology has led into question many of the tenets of Darwinism and neo-Darwinism which, although valuable approaches at the time they were formulated, never fulfilled the criteria demanded by real scientific theories… In the author’s opinion, no real theory of evolution can be formulated at present.”...

            AUTHOR: A. Lima-de FariaFrom the publishers’ advertising of a recent evolutionary book, ‘Evolution Without Selection’, by A. Lima-de Faria, Esevier Science publishing Co. Inc., New York (NY) USA, 1988 372 pages.

          • articulett

            Darwin's "theory" has been confirmed by DNA. The only people who have problems with it are those who imagine themselves saved so long as they believe a certain creation story or damned for accepting evolution (primarily fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist Muslims). The vast majority of posters here accept evolution, because it's a fact: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=universal-common-ancestor

            Your off topic foray into creationism is not the topic of this page, and it's rude to preach your brand of fundamentalism here.

            If you are actually interested in discussing this topic (which I don't think you are)-- try this thread: https://strangenotions.com/what-is-the-difference-between-creation-evolution-intelligent-design/

            And here's a forum dedicated to the topic: EvC Forum: All Topics

          • Athanasius De Angelus

            That is so stupid. Show me your stupid proof of Darwin's theory being confirmed by DNA. You sent me to scientificamerican with no article citations. Are you some kind of a clown? LAME! I'm not preaching I'm pointing out your stupid errors! Clown!

          • Athanasius De Angelus

            Where are the "transitional species"?
            Where are the evidences?

            “The central question of the Chicago conference was whether the mechanisms underlying microevolution can be extrapolated to explain the phenomena of macroevolution. At the risk of doing violence to the positions of some of the people at the meeting, the answer can be given as a clear No.”

            [As reported by Roger Lewin (evolutionist), “Evolutionary theory under fire,” Science, vol. 210 (4472), 21 November 1980, p. 883]

          • Andre Boillot

            I do love out-of-context quotes, from +30 years ago, with no link to the full text.

          • Athanasius De Angelus

            Now, you have a beef with me? Why is this out-of-context?
            Someone mentioned earlier about evolution, so I'm pointing out that this is just a "THEORY." Hey, dude, I gave the article citation, people can look it up. As you know the Internet is not Magazine nor a Scientific Journal Database. If you want those things then you would need to go to the LIBRARY. Have you ever been to the LIBRARY before? You can't get all the articles for free you know, you have to subscribe to the different Journals. And if you can't afford the subscriptions, then you must go to the LIBRARY. Duh! Didn't they teach you that in college?

          • Andre Boillot

            "Why is this out-of-context?"

            Because the rest of the article goes on to deal with the issues you raised re: transitional species and evidence.

            "You can't get all the articles for free you know"

            It took me less than 5min on Google to find the full text. Did they not teach you how to use search engines in college?

          • Athanasius De Angelus

            Oh big deal Bravo, you found 1 article! That was a Major achievement in your life! In general, most articles can be found in the LIBRARY! Hey freaky, I was in college in the early 90's the internet was just starting. We used the magazine database in the LIBRARY. Oh I'm not as hip as you because YOU HAVE FOUND 1 ARTICLE ON THE INTERNET.
            Your life is now complete, Master Yoda.

          • Athanasius De Angelus

            Why is it out of context? Some one mentioned about evolution so I picked up on it, what is your beef? What's wrong if it's +30 years ago? The information is still true.

          • Andre Boillot

            A gap of 30 years isn't always problematic. However, many things, especially scientific knowledge, have a tendency to change over time. For example, 30 years prior to the article you cited, the structure of DNA had yet to be determined. Sometimes, the changes over a 30-year span are even greater. For example, Madonna used to be quite fetching...in 1980.

          • Athanasius De Angelus

            Madonna is a clown, now I'm done with you! If you're still into Madonna then forget you! However, do explain the mystery of the force, Master Yoda.

          • Andre Boillot
          • Susan

            >The central question of the Chicago conference was whether the mechanisms underlying microevolution can be extrapolated to explain the phenomena of macroevolution. At the risk of doing violence to the positions of some of the people at the meeting, the answer can be given as a clear No."

            I think Andre's point was that this is meaningless. What does it tell us? That somebody said it? What did they mean by it? Did they mean what you think they mean? Were they able to support it?

            Quotes aren't evidence.

            >Where are the "transitional species"?

            What do you mean by "transitional species"? What would one look like to you?

            >Where are the evidences?

            What would you accept as evidence?

            Do you have any idea what evolution by natural selection is?

            Can you at least explain what you think it is?

          • Athanasius De Angelus

            "Do you have any idea what evolution by natural selection is?"

            You explain it to me, since I don't believe in IT.

            "That somebody said it."
            There were scientists there sister, here is the link: http://www.theistic-evolution.com/lewin.html
            ("Science" 21 November 1980, vol. 210, s. 883-887)

            Well why don't you explain it to me Einstein. Since this was what Darwin postulated - transitional species (the missing link). Since you believe in his "THEORY" why don't you explain it to me?

            Master Yoda

          • Andre Boillot

            You could start by reading the whole article: http://apologetyka.com/ptkr/groups/ptkrmember/spor/folder.2005-11-15.0080748368/Lewin

            When you run into words or concepts you don't understand, this might help:
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_evolutionary_synthesis

            If that fails, there's always Google, or the library - as you're so fond of pointing out.

          • Athanasius De Angelus

            I know how to do LAZY RESEARCH LIKE YOU, FREAKY!

            Yeah, clicking the mouse and search on the Internet, wow that is so hip for Andre Boillot! No need to go to the LIBRARY to search for the index/abstract and find professional full text articles. But just go on youtube and find some clown (you don't even know about his credentials) and RELY on his expertise. Wow, I hope you will never think of getting a teaching credential, you will make a bad teacher, Master Yoda!

            Oh, I did read the whole article, so my whole point is this (I'm quoting):

            "If sedimentation and fossilization did encapsulate a complete record of prehistory, then it would reveal the postulated transitional organisms. But it isn't and it doesn't."

            Master Yoda, point to me to the esteemed paleontologists that have found the "sedimentation and fossilization" of the "transitional organisms" so that I may believe in this CLOWN theory.

          • Luke Arredondo

            Athanasius,

            Welcome to Strange Notions, but please observe our commenting policy. Your previous post was Extremely over the line and consisted almost entirely of directly attacking another forum member. Please read our commenting policy and consider this your warning.

            Thanks,

            Luke

          • Athanasius De Angelus

            I do apologize, however, I felt that these atheists came off as arrogant when they don't even know their own theory. LOL!

            "Ye worship ye know not what"- John 4:22

          • Athanasius De Angelus

            I did read the whole article, that's why I pointed out to you to read the article (the 80's Chicago conference) in the first place.

            I know how to do research, but your ways are the lazy way. So don't point me to the Youtube cartoon network to explain to me Darwin's theory. I want something scholarly and not Mickey Mouse stuff. Here are several questions for you:

            1)
            Why are the (expected) countless millions of transitional fossils missing? Darwin noted the problem and it still remains. The evolutionary family trees in textbooks are based on imagination, not fossil evidence. Famous Harvard paleontologist (and evolutionist), Stephen Jay Gould, wrote, “The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology”. Other evolutionist fossil experts also acknowledge the problem.

            2)How do ‘living fossils’ remain unchanged over supposed hundreds of millions of years, if evolution has changed worms into humans in the same time frame? Professor Gould wrote, “the maintenance of stability within species must be considered as a major evolutionary problem.”*

            *Gould, S.J. and Eldredge, N., Punctuated equilibrium comes of age. Nature 366:223–224, 1993.

            3)What other coding system has existed without a human author? How did the DNA coding system arise without it being created?

            4)How did new biochemical pathways, which involve multiple enzymes working together in sequence, originate? Every pathway and nano-machine requires multiple protein/enzyme components to work. How did random chance create even one of the components, let alone 10 or 20 or 30 at the same time, often in a necessary programmed sequence. EVOLUTIONARY BIOCHEMIST Franklin Harold wrote, “we must concede that there are presently no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical or cellular system, only a variety of wishful speculations.”*

            *Harold, Franklin M. (Prof. Emeritus Biochemistry, Colorado State University) The way of the cell: molecules, organisms and the order of life, Oxford University Press, New York, 2001, p. 205.

          • Susan

            >You explain it to me, since I don't believe in IT.

            Try this and the next video in that series.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNz9aHUTAT8

          • Andre Boillot
          • Athanasius De Angelus

            If Master Yoda, can't even explain the basic concept of the
            "theory" of evolution to a random person when he has the ability to. Then how can scrambling existing DNA information create a new biochemical pathway or nano-machines with many components?

            Ah, Master Yoda, you disappoint me (tears are coming down).

            "Ye worship ye know not what"- John 4:22

          • Athanasius, thanks for the comment. However, please see our Comment Rules which prohibit mockery and sarcasm. Your last line is unneeded and does not support your argument.

          • Athanasius De Angelus

            You are right, I'll try to be nice but sometime I like to be naughty!LOL

          • Rationalist1

            Random mutation can't do squat on its own. It needs natural selection.

          • Athanasius De Angelus

            What did Darwin achieve? ‘His theory had, in essence, preceded his knowledge – that is, he had hit upon a novel and evocative theory of evolution with limited knowledge at hand to satisfy either himself or others that the theory was true. He could neither accept it himself nor prove it to others. He simply did not know enough concerning the several natural history fields upon which his theory would have to be based.’...

            AUTHOR: Dr. Barry Gale (Science Historian, Darwin College, UK)Dr. Barry Gale (Science Historian, Darwin College, UK) in his book, Evolution Without Evidence. As quoted in ‘John Lofton’s Journal’, The Washington Times, 8 February 1984

            “The interpretation of evolution is in a state of upheaval: the rapid advancement of Molecular Biology has led into question many of the tenets of Darwinism and neo-Darwinism which, although valuable approaches at the time they were formulated, never fulfilled the criteria demanded by real scientific theories… In the author’s opinion, no real theory of evolution can be formulated at present.”...

            AUTHOR: A. Lima-de FariaFrom the publishers’ advertising of a recent evolutionary book, ‘Evolution Without Selection’, by A. Lima-de Faria, Esevier Science publishing Co. Inc., New York (NY) USA, 1988 372 pages.

          • Rationalist1

            Darwin spent decades researching his theory and substantiated it quite elaborately in his 1859 book. I only wish many other scientific theories had as much evidence as evolution has.

          • Athanasius De Angelus

            Where are the "transitional species"?

          • Rationalist1

            There are no transitional species. Evolution is continuous. If you keep going back in time you always encounter ancestors that are the same species as their immediate ancestors and immediate descendants. Only over large time scales do we encounter the change that we associate with different species.

          • Athanasius De Angelus

            Have you ever seen those stupid cartoon with the worm slowly evolving into different creatures and finally human. That's Darwinism, your idea is something new it is not Darwinism!

          • Rationalist1

            You realize that that cartoon is not real time? That there is no goal in evolution. That nothing is transitional to anything else. it is a species that is adapted to the current conditions at the time. Species are species in themselves. Conditions change and factors favour certain variants within a species over others but at no specific time does a new species pop into existence. Only over large periods of geological time does that happen.

          • Athanasius De Angelus

            I need to read this new theory that you are postulating can you kindly cite a book or an article for me to read. I am curious thank you!

          • severalspeciesof

            Microevolution IS evolution. Here's a way to think about that:

            http://i.imgur.com/xWpvw.jpg

          • Athanasius De Angelus

            Oh boy! Microevolution within its own species can happen. But a lizard can't evolve to become a pig!

          • severalspeciesof

            Didn't you see the image?

    • Josh

      In short, nothing can be in the effect that is not in some way in the cause. In long, Aquinas et al. spend many pages defending/inferring the analogy of intellection to God.

      • Octavo

        Yeah, but Aquinas was probably not aware that he had non-sapient ancestors. If he had, he might have rethought that point.

        • Josh

          Actually, Aquinas was well aware of that fact. From Mike Flynn:

          The outward appearances of the biological human remain those of a biological human, and so far as science runs, that is all that evolution can say. It really does remain a biological human. It is not transformed into a metaphysical human until the Word imparts an immaterial soul that adds the power of intellect and will to the animal powers of the biological human to produce a metaphysical human (which is to be human per se.)

          Aquinas:

          Species, also, that are new, if any such appear, existed beforehand in various active powers; so that animals, and perhaps even new species of animals, are produced by putrefaction by the power which the stars and elements received at the beginning.

          ST, I, Q 73, Art. 1, Reply to Obj. 3

          • Rationalist1

            But Aquinas didn't know that if he traced his ancestors far enough back he would arrive at a primate, a shrew, a fish, or a bacteria.

          • Josh

            Please read the above Aquinas quote. He was willing to take it further than you, even!

          • Rationalist1

            He says new species of animals came into existence, not that they are human ancestors.

          • Josh

            Aquinas followed Aristotle's definition of humans: rational animals

          • Rationalist1

            So did Aquinas think that rational animals (humans) could have non-rational animals as ancestors?

          • Josh

            Yes. God imbued certain animals with Intellect and Will, thereby raising them into humanity.

          • Rationalist1

            But he never said humans with Intellect and Will descended from animals that didn't have Intellect and Will.

          • Josh

            It follows from the whole "putrefaction by the power which the stars and elements received at the beginning" bit. Our animal natures developed, but given their immaterial natures, Intellect and Will don't come from the stars. Everything else can.

          • Octavo

            "It really does remain a biological human. It is not transformed into a metaphysical human until the Word imparts an immaterial soul that adds the power of intellect and will to the animal powers of the biological human to produce a metaphysical human (which is to be human per se."

            This is just fantasy. Biologists have no need of immaterial souls to explain the nature and origins of sentience.

          • Josh

            Correction: all people, not just biologists, need recourse to an immaterial intellect to explain conceptual, not perceptual thought, which is part of our sentience. Biologists can have a blast explaining everything else, and I'm sure they do!

          • Octavo

            Neuroscientists could map every function and feature of the brain and explain every detail of how it gives rise to the mind, and theologians would still come up with gaps to stuff souls in.
            It's still not going to impress scientifically literate atheists.

          • Josh

            And I'm afraid this statement doesn't impress philosophically literate theists and atheists alike, as many recognize the irreducibility of conceptual thought to neural processing.

          • Octavo

            I'm going to place more trust in people who actually do research on the brain than in armchair philosophers who believe in magic.

          • Josh

            Good luck, Octavo. I'm sorry that you think deductive reasoning done in good faith on this point = superstitious belief in magic. Maybe the scientists will figure out how to program it out of us someday! :-)

          • Andre Boillot

            "Maybe the scientists will figure out how to program it out of us someday! :-)"

            Pretty sure this is already happening, without the need for programming.

          • Josh

            Maybe so; looks like a "bright" future ahead! I'm crossing my fingers for a post-death advent though, speaking for myself.

          • Kal

            Why do you think that we can truly understand the intricacies of human consciousness through neuroscience? In fact, why do you believe the physical nature of the brain is unrelated to the spiritual aspect? Daniel Dannett and his fellow neuroscientists haven't yet found a successful theory relating to materialism due to the human brain itself not being the source of consciousness, the main argument against it being that the brain dies over time. However, consciousness is constant in all individuals (even in your sleep, although this is a different state of consciousness.) although memory itself may be weakened. Also, materialism has a very hard time explaining the qualia. So trusting pure scientific knowledge of the brain 100% doesn't seem possible.

          • Rationalist1

            No evidence has every been shown that the soul influences the body yet there is plenty of evidence that the brain affects the mind. If the brain is damaged, then the mind is as well and there isn't anything the soul can do about it.

          • Kal

            Doesn't that mean the soul and the brain are intertwined? It doesn't necessarily mean that there is no soul, but the soul is not exactly something you would use the scientific method on; the soul is a metaphysical object. It doesn't have spatial dimensions and cannot be directly tampered with or observed. In addition, my definition of soul is similar to that of what you call the mind: the reasoning process of a human being. And yes, according to Thomistic philosophy, when the soul is damaged the human is damaged and vice versa since the form of the man is his soul and when his body is damaged severely enough, the soul cannot exercise any of its natural abilities naturally. And when the soul is damaged, the body expresses the damage done the soul. This fits with the brain and the mind being two separate but intertwined entities as brain damage does do damage to the person's mind and vice versa.

          • severalspeciesof

            I would like to know how a metaphysical object could be damaged. How would one prove that?

          • Octavo

            "Why do you think that we can truly understand the intricacies of human consciousness through neuroscience?"

            I don't know if we'll ever end up having all of the answers. However, I have yet to see a better means of getting the answers to our questions about consciousness than scientific methods, such as observation and experiment.

          • Kal

            Science can only understand how the physical universe operates. The problem with modern day atheism is the fact it tries to use the how (science) to explain the why(spiritual type matters). How would you know whether or not there is a soul with zero spatial dimensions and no detectable features would cause a physical difference in the brain matter, creating beings that are self-aware? This can't easily be tested as the materials needed are unreal. Thus we can only assume. But, modern day atheists assume on the basis of scientific thought, which is not appropriate in this context.

          • Rationalist1

            Science tells you how the world works, theology can tell you how you want the world to work. You have your choice of theologies, your choice of spirituality.

          • Octavo

            We would be able to detect the interaction between the soul and the matter in our brains. For a longer version of this argument, see this small clip of Sean Carroll's speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ypyVjSaj4w

          • Kal

            Again science can only observe the physical aspects, not the immaterial. In these aspects, philosophy and/or theology must be used.

          • articulett

            What tools are you using to distinguish the immaterial from the nonexistent? How can you "know"anything about something which cannot be established to exist.

          • Rationalist1

            Articulett - faith.

          • articulett

            Of course! What else is there? Feelings? Gurus? Tea Leaves? Threats of hell? Wishful Thinking? Magic spells?

          • severalspeciesof

            My guess is "By guessing", but tea leaves might work too... ;-)

          • Joe
    • Jacob Suggs

      That is a separate question raised after the First Cause argument (also by Aquinas). But I believe that you are right and that the first cause argument itself - without additional reasoning - does not require that God be sapient. That comes from other reasoning.

    • Octavo, if I may elbow my way in here. :-)

      It needs to sapient because rationality can not spring from irrationality.

      • Octavo

        I appreciate the response. However, do you know that you and I have non-sapient ancestors? If you go far back enough, some of our ancestors don't even have brains. We know that rationality can spring from irrationality, because it did in our own lineage.

        ~Jesse Webster

        • Do not confuse creation with change.

          • Octavo

            I'm sorry, I don't follow.

          • The first cause created, secondary causes change. You mention going back far enough, but you didn't go back far enough. That's what the argument is about, ultimate causes of existence, not evolution. To my understanding, that is the same error the ID theorists make.

          • Octavo

            "The first cause created, secondary causes change."

            It sounds like you're begging the question a bit. How do you know that rationality can not spring from irrationality? I don't see any way to get to that point without assuming that there is a sentient first cause.

          • If that's what you call begging the question (it's not) then you are also committing that fallacy if you say reason can spring from the irrational because -- it can.

            One line of reasoning will take you to the existence of God. The other will take you to materialism.

          • Octavo

            I am of the opinion that reason springs from beings without reason because of the observations made that undergird evolutionary biology. At no point am I assuming the truth of my conclusion in my premise.

            I don't understand why you think that reason cannot spring from unreasoning things. Here's how your reasoning looks to me:

            A) All things that begin to exist have a cause known as the first cause.
            B) The first cause must be sentient because rationality can not spring from irrationality.
            C) Disconfirming observations/evidence in nature do not apply to the first cause.

            Why do you hold B to be true? What evidence do you have that causes of reasoning beings must be themselves reasoning? Why do processes we observe in nature not apply to the first cause? Here's an alternative hypothetical model. Steps A and D are based on hypotheses that do not represent the scientific consensus. I'm using them to explore the concept of a non-sapient first cause.

            A) Vacuum fluctuations produce the big bang.
            B) Stars are formed.
            C) Planets are formed from the ejection of stellar matter.
            D) Metabolic reactions in organic chemicals give rise to life.

            E) The first single celled organisms give rise to the universal common ancestor.

            F) Over time, due to mutations, genetic drift, and occasional natural selection, brainless beings give rise to humans with complex nervous systems.

            Sorry about the long-winded post. I hope this clears up why I do not understand your assertion that rationality can not spring from irrationality.

            ~Jesse Webster

          • Thank you, I am familiar with that. Your C) Disconfirming... indicates that your error is still in failing to make a distinction between creation and natural cause, i.e. you are not representing the first cause argument accurately. You are making the same error that ID theorists make when they say evolution can't explain certain things, therefore God. You are just going the other way.

            A-F is the materialist explanation of evolution. Nothing new there, but it does beg a question if that's what you want to call it.

            It comes down to how you define reason. Is reason something in the mind, an act of free will, or is your ability to reason no more mental than marbles banging around in a dish?

          • Octavo

            "You are making the same error that ID theorists make when they say evolution can't explain certain things, therefore God, only going the other way."

            No, I didn't say that. I did not say "Evolution explains things, therefore there is no God."
            I did say that some of our ancestors were brainless single-celled organisms and that our brains are the result of evolutionary processes.

            "It comes down to how you define reason. Is reason something in the mind, an act of free will, or is your ability to reason no more mental than marbles banging around in a dish?"

            In all cases that we have ever encountered, reason cannot occur without the highly organized matter found in brains. I think that I'm accurately representing the consensus of neuroscientists when I identify my mind and my self with my brain.

            "A-F is the materialist explanation of evolution. Nothing new there, but it does beg a question if that's what you want to call it."

            At which point did I assume my conclusion in my premise?

          • "...our brains are the result of evolutionary processes..."

            There's no problem with saying that brains evolved. To say the human mind is completely determined by the brain is the problematic statement. That's materialism, a position for which no cogent argument has ever been demonstrated or advanced. It is an assumption in every sense of the word, which you rightly called begging the question.

            You are accurately representing the consensus of atheist neuroscientists and philosophers, but they also admit that they can't explain it, which means they assume it without proof.

            As far as rational beings without bodies, that's what philosophers call "angels", and philosophy is not silent on that either. (But that's a tangent, sort of, not totally.)

          • Octavo

            It's not accurate to say that they assume physicalism without proof. It may not be convincing to you, but it is to me. Why not? We know much about how memories are stored, how the limbic system influences our emotions, and how brain states match mental states.

            "As far as rational beings without bodies, that's what philosophers call "angels", and philosophy is not silent on that either. (But that's a tangent, sort of, not totally.)"

            I don't see that as a tangent at all. I would love to have evidence of the existence of angels and other bodiless minds! Not only would that be fascinating, but I'm definitely motivated to believe that I will persist after my brain crumbles to dust. I no longer think the evidence points that way, though.

          • Physicalism has proof? No. Knowing something about how the brain works does not prove that the mind is determined by the brain. Physicalism, and all the materialism isms, start with the premise that nothing exists but matter, but that premise is not proven.

            Ah angels! I love that topic. I can recommend a book by a self-described pagan philosopher, Mortimer Adler, Angels and Us. He wrote a book about angels, minds without bodies, and he said that although you can't prove their existence with scientific evidence (science is limited to physical things), you can philosophically explore whether they are conceivable or not. It is conceivable to have a mind without a body, and he says that is reason enough to think about what they would be like -- minds uninfluenced by brains or bodies. (He also wrote that materialism has no proof of its basic premise, which is probably why he called himself a pagan.)

          • Octavo

            Physicalism is a conclusion, not a premise. When you keep saying that there's no proof for the belief that the mind is wholly dependent on the brain, you're just not engaging any of the evidence. It's just like a creationist repeatedly claiming that there's no evidence for evolution. Both of you are just acting as though entire fields of science with mountains of respective observations don't exist.

            I wonder: what is it that you think that the brain does?

          • The evidence doesn't prove that the mind is wholly dependent on the brain though, it only proves that the mind is affected by the brain. Just like there is evidence for evolution, it occurs, it has occurred, we expect it to occur, but none of that evidence gets outside the whole philosophical question of whether evolution (as in the brain-mind question) is wholly responsible for all existence (for creation).

            It goes back to the beginning of this discussion. The First Cause of creation is distinct from secondary, natural causes.

            What does the brain do? To put it briefly, it moves electrons. It is an organ made of neurons.

          • Octavo

            "To put it briefly, it moves electrons. It is an organ made of neurons."

            I know this may seem strange coming from a physicalist, but I think this is known as greedy reductionism. You are recognizing what the brain does at the subatomic level, without recognizing the function or operation of the tissues.

            It's about as useful as saying that Earth is a piece of stellar matter. Yes...but...

          • Greedy? No you didn't. :-) I don't understand how all the isms (functionalism, physicalism, naturalism, phenomenalism, myserianism) aren't just other ways of saying "materialism". In fact, I've wondered if people didn't keep coming up with new words because they realized materialism was untenable and they were trying to make it work.

          • One more thing Octavo. Are you ready to say that your thoughts are the results of your brain matter and nothing else? Because if that is true, then it is also true that you are incapable of free thought. (Not you personally, that's just what the argument will force you to admit.)

          • Octavo

            My thoughts are the result of brain matter, the non-brain chemicals in my brain, and electrical impulses between neurons.

            I won't say I'm incapable of free thought, because I don't think you're using the term in a precise manner. In the freethought community, the term means something other than free will.

            I don't believe in the idea of libertarian free will, though. Our minds are so easy to influence! For instance, did you know that judges who have had lunch are more likely to render not-guilty verdicts than those who skipped lunch? It really is neat to realize that our thoughts are constrained by many external and internal factors.

          • Your first statement is not proven, or even logical demonstrable though. It is an assumption, an unreasonable act of faith. There has not been such an argument advanced, not in ancient times, not in modern times.

            As for terms, how can you have free thought if you have no free will to decide what to think? The freethought community's use of it is incoherent.

            And yes, the body can affect the mind. That is obvious to anyone who's ever been hungry, but it doesn't mean that the mind is completely determined by the brain.

  • Michael Murray

    But we know that not all things have causes and time breaks down wen you go far enough back. I'm with Ashley. Less 12th century cosmology!

    • Josh

      I would like to see the evidence that not all things that come to be have causes. At least you're trying to address the argument. I'm looking for evidence that doesn't equally point to us simply not currently knowing what the cause is, btw.

      • Michael Murray

        Please don't mistake me for someone who takes this argument seriously. I don't think think "come to be" or "has a cause" make a lot of sense at a fundamental level in physics. What's the cause of any particular particle decaying ? What cause mean in the planck epoch ?

        • Josh

          Dunno; I've been discussing that in a myriad of places on the thread though. Don't worry, I won't mistake you for one of those nasty people who takes this argument seriously.

          • Susan

            >Dunno; I've been discussing that in a myriad of places on the thread though.

            I've read your responses and it is still not clear.

            Can you explain again what "cause" means in the planck epoch?

          • Josh

            Sure: the actualization of a potential (as per A-T metaphysics). Takes on many forms given the scale of what we're looking at.

          • Michael Murray

            So fill us in on how "actualising a potential" works at the level of quantum field theory.

          • Josh

            Give me something relevant (and particular) to interpret philosophically, and I'll do the best I can!

          • Susan

            >Give me something relevant (and particular) to interpret philosophically, and I'll do the best I can!

            I'm a little disappointed that you don't have some examples at your fingertips. I would think that you would have already tested your philosophical ideas about "causes" by exposing them to examples like how "actualising a potential" works at the level of quantum field theory

            Particularly as we are talking about "the universe".

          • articulett

            Yeah... How does A-T figure into radioactive decay?

            And since the universe is defined as all that exists... how does a god that is made of nothing "cause" (wthout time) the rest of the universe to exist... where does the A-T fit in?

          • ... where does the A-T fit in?

            Perhaps, with the angels who were formerly thought to push the planets around in their orbits.

          • articulett

            or with those angels dancing on the heads of pins...
            Or maybe beneath the emperor's new clothes?

          • Rationalist1

            Articulett - Have you read The Courtier's Reply? ( http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/12/24/the-courtiers-reply/ )

          • articulett

            Yep! Love it!

          • Josh

            That's a bit unfair. I've been answering objections all day based on general notions attached to quantum events being uncaused. It's not unreasonable, when someone asks for a particular application, to have them narrow it down for you.

          • Susan

            >That's a bit unfair.

            Is it?

            > I've been answering objections all day based on general notions attached to quantum events being uncaused.

            You've been using word games to keep your "cause" in play in order to keep your "uncaused cause" in the air. You've also suggested that Aristotelian logic might rescue quantum field theory from being "unintelligible".

            >It's not unreasonable, when someone asks for a particular application, to have them narrow it down for you

            It's not unreasonable to expect someone who thinks their 12th century logic is still applicable to quantum field theory, to have learned something about that subject and to be able to provide a few examples of "actualized potentials" acting like the sort of causes this ancient argument rests on.

            Do you have some?

          • Rationalist1

            Then explain radioactive decay, less esoteric than quantum field theory. Most people have it explained to them in high school physics. Basically one can't predict when any particular atom will decay but can define a half life of a particular atom which is the time when, on average,half of the atoms will undergo a decay.

          • Susan

            Me or Josh?

          • Rationalist1

            Sorry,I meant Josh.

          • Josh

            I started a long post but thought better of it. This Disqus thing is getting difficult for me to navigate.

            The Thomist doesn't think causing something means it's necessarily a deterministic cause. They aren't taking up Einstein's position, which is unfortunately based on the Cartesian metaphysic like all moderns. E. Feser paraphrasing J. Haldane, another philosopher:

            "if we can appeal to objective, non-deterministic natural propensities in quantum systems to account for the phenomena they exhibit, this will suffice to provide us with the sort of explanation the Aristotelian claims ever contingent thing in the world must have." Aquinas, p. 55

            Under this metaphysic, the "propensity" of an atom to decay into a given half-life is evidence for a final cause, a directedness, dictated by a formal cause, the substance of the atom itself, its whatness. But Cartesian metaphysics abandoned formal and final causes, and now people say that nothing causes radioactive decay. That is true if one excludes certain types of causes from consideration, or one assumes the only kind of causation is deterministic.

            Don't like Thomistic metaphysics? The Copenhagen interpretation (which you're operating on) isn't uncontroversial anyway. The whole point is, the act that there's an uncaused something happening there is by no means settled, and changes depending on one's philosophical baggage.

            Now, you guys can have the last word(s); I've enjoyed the discussion, but Disqus isn't even displaying correctly on my browser anymore, and it's too laborious to sift through the replies. You'll have to excuse me; I'll catch you on a new thread.

          • Susan

            >The whole point is, the act that there's an uncaused something happening there is by no means settled,

            Well, there goes your premise.

            Sorry Disqus failed you after it worked so well for you all day. It's got its flaws.

            It's too bad. I would really have liked to hear you explain how your "uncaused cause" would work at an event horizon.

            Not that it matters much any more. You can't have a "maybe" premise in a deductive argument and use it to invent the deity of your choice. .

            This argument doesn't work.

          • Rationalist1

            I agree about Discus but if we could determine its cause we might get somewhere. :->

          • Rationalist1

            Can one switch causes like that, from efficient to final? Why not just leave things at materiel or formal cause and then one could easily say radioactive decay has a cause.

          • Michael Murray

            Quantum field theory. That's our best understanding of the real world. What's actualising a potential mean in quantum field theory?

          • Josh

            Way too general. What is occurring according to it that you want explicated in those terms?

          • Michael Murray

            If you can't explain that link you aren't doing physics. If you aren't doing physics why pretend you are talking about the real world ?

          • articulett

            Nasty people like Physicists, Neil Degrass Tyson, Krauss Sagan, Stenger, Stephen Hawkins, Lisa Randall, Sean Carrol-- people who don't need a "hypothetical uncaused cause" (whatever that might be) to define their god into existence.

          • Josh

            I think you'd better re-read my post.

          • Neil deGrass Tyson
            Stephen Hawking
            Sean Carroll

            Now, Immanuel Kant, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Isaiah Berlin, David Hume, Anthony Kenny, G. E. Moore, Karl R. Popper, Bertrand Russell, and Thomas Kuhn (to name just a few) were or are agnostics, not atheists.

            I don't think it proves anything to make lists of intelligent and respected men and women who were atheists, agnostics, or theists. I know a lot of very smart people who believe in God. Some of them are even Catholic!

          • articulett

            I'm talking a physicists who don't find the "uncaused cause" argument compelling. It seems that it's only a compelling argument to those who have been indoctrinated to believe there are rewards for faith and/or damnation for those who don't have it.

            And it's not the real reason anyone believes anyhow-- it's an afterthought... a rationalization as to why it makes sense to believe in god(s).

  • primenumbers

    "The answer is very simple: the argument does not use the premise that everything needs a cause. Everything in motion needs a cause, everything dependent needs a cause, everything imperfect needs a cause." -

    The argument really starts by setting up two different sets of things - those which are caused in which ordinary things, including ourselves are placed, and those which are un-caused in which only God is placed by the theist. The theist also places the universe inside the first set, the set of caused things.

    But in reality, we don't know if the universe is caused or uncaused, and we must start by also saying we don't know if there is or is not a God, else we merely assume what the theist wishes to prove.

    We cannot argue from analogy from cause in our experience to a cause for the universe else we're making the category error of applying every-day experience of cause with objects contained in the set of all real things to the actual set of all real things (otherwise known as the universe).

    In the end we're left with the theists definition of God, a being that doesn't change (even though change is an essential element of being as we know it), that doesn't exist in time (even though the temporal nature of being is an essential element of being as we know it), is able to effect change without changing or being effected (as to be effected would be to change, and eliciting change without changing is nonsensical, and change is also a temporal word as changes occur in time, not timelessly, so again, we have an issue with the supposed atemporal nature of God) all to escape the argument they set up to have the universe caused, but their God uncaused.

    In the end, the argument rests of a category error and God being defined in such a way as to avoid being caused. At no point is it demonstrated that a God with such defined properties is logically consistent or even makes sense. And by God being the only ever "thing" in the necessary category, this imparts a good degree of circularity in the argument.

    • Josh

      We cannot argue from analogy from cause in our experience to a cause for
      the universe else we're making the category error of applying every-day
      experience of cause with objects contained in the set of all real
      things to the actual set of all real things (otherwise known as the
      universe).

      Ed Feser addresses the fallacy of composition charge here: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/12/hume-cosmological-arguments-and-fallacy.html

      Here's the meat in case no one's interested in reading:

      In particular, it is claimed that they fallaciously infer from the premise that the various objects that make up the universe are contingent to the conclusion that the universe as a whole is contingent. What is true of the parts of a whole is not necessarily true of the whole itself: If each brick in a wall of Legos is an inch long, it doesn’t follow that the wall as a whole is an
      inch long. Similarly, even if each object in the universe is contingent, why
      suppose that the universe as a whole is?

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

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

      • primenumbers

        Feser makes the mistake of thinking of the universe as a thing, rather than as the set of all real things. His examples of compositions are things (that may be made up of smaller things, but they're still a thing), rather than the rather unique position the universe has as being the set of all real things. We cannot rightly describe the universe as a "thing" in the same sense of "thing" as the "things" the set of all real things contains.

        It's funny he'd use an example of composition of colour. Look at a TV picture and you'll see all colours - red, orange, yellow, green, cyan, blue, purple etc. Look very close at the picture and you'll only ever see pure red, pure green, or pure blue. Butterfly wings show a glorious array of colours until you get them under a microscope and the colours vanish. We know more than enough examples even on a human-scale physical level where the properties of the collection are different from the properties of the elements to meet any accusation of an error of composition with respect.

        • Josh

          It's funny he'd use an example of composition of colour. Look at a TV picture...

          I see this move quite a bit on the internet. Don't address a given example (wall of red legos); instead, pose one which is irrelevant and doesn't falsify the original (tv image of composite colors).

          We know more than enough examples even on a human-scale physical level where the properties of the collection are different from the properties of the elements to meet any accusation of an error of composition with respect.

          This supports his statement that simply says that the fallacy of composition isn't always a fallacy. Sometimes it is.

          Feser makes the mistake of thinking of the universe as a thing, rather than as the set of all real things...

          Even as a collection of all beings, or even as an abstraction, Feser's conclusion still holds with regard to the universe. Unless you're suggesting that there is no such corresponding thing as everything that exists, and that this is an illusion or something. Which is weird.

          • primenumbers

            If the universe was a wall of red legos you'd have a point. But it isn't. There are plenty of examples of errors of composition where the properties of the composition are different to the composed thing, both in real world and abstract examples.

            "This supports his statement that simply says that the fallacy of composition isn't always a fallacy. Sometimes it is." - so knowing that composition can sometimes be fallacious, we must therefore demonstrate that it is not fallacious in the particular example you're talking about. What the error of composition is telling you is that you cannot assume compositional properties.

            "Feser's conclusion still holds with regard to the universe." - no, because a set is not the same kind of thing (necessarily, and in this case explicitly) as it's contents.

          • Josh

            If the universe was a wall of red legos you'd have a point. But it isn't.

            Prime, look again. The red lego analogy was meant to apply to contingency. Is a totality of contingent beings more like a wall of red legos, or the example of saying the wall is an inch long because all the legos are an inch long? Feser says the former, and your job is to show why it should actually be the latter, as opposed to simply gainsaying his conclusion.

          • primenumbers

            I'm starting from the point of view that we don't know if the universe is contingent. You've already decided that it is. Contingency is not confirmed at the sub-atomic level where we have examples of random events without cause.

            The analogy presented with legos is very weak. Feser is always arguing with every-day notions of causality, but we just don't know how causality works at a universal level (just as we have issues with observations at a sub-atomic level). We just don't observe universes coming into being, and if they do, that's a very different kind of event to what occurs afterwards. To work from "what happened afterwards" back to the universe itself by analogy is therefore extremely weak.

            However, what is obvious is that the theist already knows of one thing that doesn't obey their common-sense notion of causality (their God) thus they've already demonstrated that any analogy based on causality has, in their mind, an exception and hence use of analogy for causality is not valid.

          • Josh

            I'm starting from the point of view that we don't know if the universe
            is contingent. You've already decided that it is. Contingency is not
            confirmed at the sub-atomic level where we have examples of random
            events without cause.

            1) No, I see that the fallacy of composition doesn't apply in this case, and there's no reason to think that a whole bunch of contingent things put together (then a miracle happens) becomes necessary as a whole. This isn't some act of fiat on my part.

            2) I challenge you to produce the evidence that, on the sub-atomic level, we have uncaused effects, where the evidence doesn't equally support the conclusion that we simply don't know what the cause is yet.

            God isn't an exception to the act of causality, He is causality incarnate, the pattern for anything causing anything. It is because of what we already know that we know there must be a necessary being. There are no grounds for abandoning the PSR. You can't wriggle out of this with charges of special pleading, because it's not going on.

          • primenumbers

            "He is causality incarnate," - that's just poetry. It doesn't actually mean anything.

            "It is because of what we already know that we know there must be a necessary being" - must must must. What we know is that we don't know if the universe is contingent or not. You can't "must" it into contingency, and we can't step outside the universe to witness (or not) universal creation to know for sure.

            "There are no grounds for abandoning the PSR" - therefore it applies to your God, or you're going to use some special pleading.

          • Josh

            What we know is that we don't know if the universe is contingent or not.

            We know that individual beings that exist are contingent.

            We know that there is no good reason for applying the fallacy of composition to the notions of all beings being contingent, and the universe being contingent (as per Feser above and contra you). You still have yet to show why it's more like the "inch long" analogy and not the "all red" analogy. Again, I'm not conjuring things out of thin air. I have reasons, and have supported them. Stepping outside of creation is not necessary, as this argument obviously doesn't stand or fall on my looking through a telescope at the Big Bang. It's purely reasoning from what exists here and now.

            "There are no grounds for abandoning the PSR" - therefore it applies to your God, or you're going to use some special pleading.

            If God comes to be, then it would apply to him. If nothing can come to be without something that doesn't come to be, then something must be without coming to be. The PSR leads to and supports the conclusion. Therefore it's not special pleading; it's contained within a proper understanding of the PSR itself.

            "He is causality incarnate," - that's just poetry. It doesn't actually mean anything.

            I'll grant that you and I probably can't have a meaningful discussion on this point without a long, long discussion which is irrelevant to this post per se. Forget that I introduced it.

          • primenumbers

            I can see that you don't think it's a fallacy of composition. Feser only brings in an argument by analogy, and it's a weak analogy. I'm not going to use another weak analogy to show it's wrong as I'm not one for using weak analogies.

            "We know that individual beings that exist are contingent." - therefore if God is a being that exists, it is contingent.

            "If God comes to be, then it would apply to him. " - so now you've got a God that doesn't exist because it never comes to be.

    • Jacob Suggs

      "We should prove existence before saying such a being has such properties."

      Except that's what we did. It's an argument by contradiction. The absence of a First Cause with at least these properties implies the absence of a universe.

      The absence of the universe is false.

      Therefore, The absence of the first cause is false.

      The argument doesn't care how similar or dissimilar the way in which the First Cause causes things is to the way we do so. It doesn't fiddle around showing that they are similar enough because it doesn't matter to the proof. No first cause implies no universe.

      If a certain similarity to the First Cause and our causes most exist in order for a First Cause to be a First Cause, then that similarity must exist. Because otherwise there would be no first cause, and hence no universe. And there is a universe.

      That's the beauty of proof by contradiction. You can pretty much ignore all that kind of thing.

      • primenumbers

        But the premise that the universe is contingent is the premise that is falsified by the contradiction.

        • Jacob Suggs

          Not so. The universe is a collection of things, each of which is contingent. A collection of contingent things cannot be self explanatory - such would be circular(ish) logic: A exists because B does because C does because A does (possibly a more complicated arrangement, but you get the idea).

          Apply then the first cause argument to things only (I still hold that the universe is a thing, but you seem not to for some reason). With no first cause, there are no things.

          Now, in math it is true that the empty set is a set despite having no elements, but I think we can agree that when talking about the set of no objects, we aren't actually talking about anything real. But I won't push the point, primarily because I claim that the universe is a thing and don't really care that much about what happens when you assume not.

          But in any case, in your view, the First Cause argument would say that without a first cause there would be no things. At best, that's an empty universe, at worst, no universe.

          Question then: could the empty (no matter, no energy, no physical laws, no anything) universe cause things to come into existence? Answer: clearly no. Unless, of course, you begin to start ascribing other properties to the empty universe, but doing so would essentially be renaming God "empty universe" (kind of like alpha and omega or something), as you would begin to say things like it is eternal, unchanging, transcendent, etc. If you start saying that there is a "thing" which isn't really a thing as such, but transcends thingdom to become, in somesense, "that by which things are things," and if you start ironing out the contradictions and seriously making it work, you'll be a Christian in no time.

          • Rationalist1

            Jacob - At best your descriptions would be a Deist God, so far from the Theist God the intervenes, answers prayers, counts the hairs on our heads that you're still much closer to atheism.

          • Jacob Suggs

            At best SO FAR. That is correct. More properties of God require more arguments, and to get the complete picture you need revelation, which is not a product of reason alone.

          • Rationalist1

            Revelation is not a product of reason alone, it's the product of people. Look at all the people produced revelation in the world today. (Mormon, Muslim, Moravian, etc.)

          • Jacob Suggs

            Some of what is claimed to be revelation by some faiths certainly is at least partially man made, that is true. But that does not imply that all of it is. I do not pretend that the process of figuring out what is true and what is not is simple, but the answer being hard to find does not imply that there is no answer.

            I point you here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/2013/06/religion-you-just-made-that-up.html.

            In short, I would say that the position that there are so many wrong religions could just as easily be a result of man seeing and grasping part of the truth, and making the rest up, as man just making stuff up because he's stupid.

          • Rationalist1

            I stand corrected. Generally all revelation, except the one the person in question believes, has human origin.

          • Jacob Suggs

            Indeed! except you messed up a bit. All revelation, except the one that I in particular, that is ME, Jacob, believe has at least partial human (or otherwise fallible) origin.

            Seriously though.

            I think I may have ninja edited in another paragraph while you were replying, for which I apologize if so, but I do want to point out that we see other revelations as attempts to grab the truth that failed in part rather than as complete nonsense.

            Further, you may consider how you would apply that argument to, say, string theory. There are many contradictory models of string theory. Most of them must be at least partially wrong. It is of course possible that they're all wrong, and that string theory in general is bunk, but it's also possible that one of them is correct, or if one isn't now that as the theorists work on them some of them will become more and more refined until a correct one is found.

            I don't pretend to know which is the case, of course, I reluctantly said goodbye to physics in favor of math years ago, but my point remains: a flower does not become a week because it is surrounded by weeds (some of which might have quiet pretty buds on them), no matter how hard it becomes to see.

          • Rationalist1

            I'm not a big fan of string theory. Until string theorist offer something that can, at least in theory, be tested, I'm tempted to give them a wide berth.

            How do you view the revelations of Joseph Smith, of Mary Baker Eddy, of Mohamed (don't answer that one if you don't want to). What revelations contain some truth and why are the others so off base?

          • Jacob Suggs

            Not familiar with Mary Baker Eddy, but as to the others: They all contain truth and they're all off base. (I'd say that about all the worldviews I've encountered within atheism as well.)

            Islam, for example, recognizes that there is good and meaning, and even that there is only one God. As it is believed by the radicals in the middle east, I would say that they grossly misunderstand what good is (in particular having problems with the whole "one cannot do evil so that good may come of it" thing), though I have no reason to suspect that the more moderate ones I've met stateside have that issue. I would also disagree with them about the nature of God (the Trinity) and several other issues. I suspect that Mohammed was sincere, if wrong.

            I tend to view modern Mormonism as being generally pretty good on morality (with some reservations that some of this might be because they selectively ignore what is in their books), but with very nearly completely wrong theology (multiple gods, etc). I suspect that their founder was a scammer (no offense meant to any Mormons nearby), but that in general the members and other leaders have been sincerely seeking after truth, and so found some in their morality even if this was in spite of what Mr. Smith told them as opposed to because of it.

            Both purported revelations to me appear as a step backwards from the truth, however those that accept them while honestly seeking truth (without too much race politics and hatred or greed or similar mixed in) can easily end up closer to the truth than the teachings of their founders are as texts.

            In short, I measure everything by the Catholic stick, but try to avoid beating people over the head with it. Much.

          • Rationalist1

            Do you ever ask yourself why don't they concur? Is it some lack of intellect on their part? Some lack of spirituality? Is their societal pressure too great? And then, why doesn't that apply to you?

            Be careful, it was these questions that started me on my road to atheism.

          • Andrew

            What were you before you were an atheist? If you don't mind telling me, of course.

          • Rationalist1

            Catholic. Quite ardent, daily communicant, read the bible, papal encyclicals, even "Introduction to Christianity" by a German Cardinal whose name escapes me at the moment. :->. I took several theology courses in the course of my science studies and can still explain the Catholic faith better than many practicing Catholics (is pride still a sin?). I recently had the amusing experience of explaining the Catholics position on contraception to a very devout Catholic who refused to believe what I was saying. She asked her priest and was quite surprised.

          • Andrew

            Thanks for the response. I was curious because the question of why different faiths don't concur doesn't seem to bother me in the least. I had always assumed privately that there were probably many faiths because God had many different pathways to salvation, and a "true" path for me might not be true for someone else. I guess that makes me a closet relativist, though. :)

          • articulett

            You'd think that a benevolent god would at least be clear enough to prevent holy wars, eh? Or the execution of purported witches...

          • Andrew

            I've only been on this site a short time, articulett, but it seems to me that you feel the world should be a better place, in a universal sense, if there was a God overseeing it.
            I have no answer to that criticism, and I will not pretend otherwise. I can only say that I tend not to worry about things in such universal terms. (Perhaps I am a closet anti-intellectual as well!) I can only assert that God seems to make my life more meaningful, and (hopefully) helps me to be more benevolent. That in itself is a sufficient condition for my faith, and I don't demand any other externalities.

          • I can only assert that God seems to make my life more meaningful, and (hopefully) helps me to be more benevolent.

            Andrew, would it be any different if there were no actual deities or supernatural beings, but you still thought there were?

          • Andrew

            That is an interesting question. If you are asking, do I suspect I would behave the same way if I were merely delusional about there being a God, then, yes, I think I would.
            To me it is a strange question because it presupposes a way of thinking I don't usually engage in. I would say that God is a part of my reality as I perceive it. It is like asking if you would be any different if the real world were a carefully constructed illusion, like in The Matrix.

          • Thank you, Andrew.

          • Rationalist1

            How very ecumenical of you. The Catholicism of my youth had the Church as the only path to salvation. After Vatican II the idea of Church expanded to encompass all people to varying degrees but now I feel it's shifting back to a more exclusive view.

            I don't know if it makes you a closet relativist, but in my opinion it makes you more open.

          • Andrew

            Thank you.

          • Andrew

            Your response brought to mind another question, which you should of course not answer if it is too personal.
            Do you think that the pre-Vatican II attitudes towards Church, and your strong level of devotion to it, contributed to Catholicism being an "all-or-nothing" proposition to you? And that, when you decided it couldn't be "all", it had to be "nothing"? If you could speculate, do you think it would have been easier to deal with the issues of doubt that you came across if you had been more of a cafeteria Catholic to begin with?

          • Jacob Suggs

            Yup, I have. I especially asked why it is that I think I'm not making the same mistakes.

            And then I answered thusly: as far as I'm concerned, a religion is simply one's most fundamental set of beliefs about reality. Under this definition, each of the various forms of atheism is also a religion (use worldview if you like, it doesn't make much difference to me).

            And sense the same fundamental reasons why people could incorrectly accept Islam or Mormonism or what have you also apply to each of these atheistic worldviews, the problem wouldn't be solved by abandoning what I honestly believe to be true. Maybe I was making the same mistakes and maybe not, I thought, but it doesn't make much difference - if I am confused, the only possible way to break the confusion is to honestly seek truth as best I can. If I'm not confused, then... I should still honestly seek truth as best I can. God is Truth.

            And so, I was left with the answer that we should do our best to figure out what is true, be on guard for intellectual mistakes, but not given in to intellectual paranoia but assuming that all possible psychological errors are out to get us.

          • articulett

            Yes, but what is your method of getting at the truth and why do you think it's better than those people of other faiths? Isn't it arrogant to think that you can't be fooled like them? Would it be arrogant if they are thinking that THEY can't be fooled like those Catholics?

            What do you think of a god who was so unclear?

          • Jacob Suggs

            My method is to use reason to the best of my ability. I do not think I can't be fooled only that I haven't been, because my reason suggests that I'm not. Again, I recognize that that reason can be suspect too, but I don't give in to paranoia and assume that because many are fooled I must necessarily be too. I am critical of my own thoughts, but not despairing of the ability for them to be right.

            It would be arrogant to think that there was something special about me that made me unable to be fooled. It is not arrogant to follow one's reason and not spend all of one's time worrying about whether or not one is fooled.

            I do not think God is unclear, I think humans are fallen and damaged, and that His repair scheme is not instantaneous and does not overrule our own decisions. I also think that He is just and merciful - I don't expect an Amazonian tribesman who does his best with the truth that he has to have to ace an exam on Catholic Theology to finally meet fulfillment with God in heaven.

          • articulett

            Were damaged imperfect humans part of a perfect god's plan? Why not make them all perfect like Jesus?

          • Rationalist1

            If atheism is a religion, then why are we not tax exempt?

            It's not paranoia, it;s not confusion, it's not honestly seeking the truth (all religious faiths attempt to do that)m it's questioning your assumptions and asking how you know they are true and not being wedded to one answer. That's how science works anyways.

          • Jacob Suggs

            To the first, because the government has not decided that it would be a good idea. Again, use the word worldview if you prefer. It's a word game really.

            Questioning assumptions is part of honestly seeking the truth. I'm not a warm and fuzzy person. I've had protestants tell me that if I read and pray about what they give me, I'll get this feeling in my heart and be converted. My response is that I'd be happy to try, except I just ate a chilli dog and wasn't sure I'd be able to tell the difference.

            The difference between the natural sciences and religious thought is not that one doesn't examine itself and one does, or that one doesn't question it self and one does, but that one relies purely on repeatable experiments and the other deals in a realm where repeatable experiments aren't possible. When I see seek truth, I mean use all of ones mental abilities to figure out what is right and wrong. Of course, discarding one's personal experiences and feelings would be silly - that would be throwing out evidence because it could be suspect rather than examining it to see if it is - but I tend to approach all things rationally.

          • articulett

            So what is religion's error correcting mechanism? How would you find out if you were as wrong as all those other religions? How would you find out if the immaterial beings you believed in were as imaginary as the ones you dismiss as mythological?

          • primenumbers

            "The universe is a collection of things, each of which is contingent.". The universe is the set of all real things. Is your God a member of this set or not?

          • Josh

            One would hope that you aren't attempting to define reality in such a way as to preclude the possibility of showing God's existence, thereby begging the question in favor of atheism. Nah, you wouldn't do that.

          • primenumbers

            What I think I've just demonstrated is that you don't get to win arguments by defining things into or out of existence, which is just what theists do with their cosmological argument.....

          • Jacob Suggs

            No, you win arguments by noticing what is and by following reason. For example, the universe is. Without a first cause, the universe would not be. Therefore there is a first cause.

            If you call this defining into existence, you must really hate math. Which would be ironic, given your handle.

          • primenumbers

            Most math is abstract and fun. Some math has some nice and useful correspondences with reality, and we can use that math to solve real-world problems. But we'd never be as arrogant to suggest that just because something in math works out that it represents a real world truth. It may well, but there's certainly no guarantee.

          • Rationalist1

            I would go further and say that most math has no correspondence to the real world. It's utility lies only within the study of mathematics.

          • Yes, I am always amused by those who think the usefulness of mathematics implies some metaphysical magic, when in fact, we chose the postulates to generate a useful mathematics out of the unbounded alternatives that may be, at best, fun to play with.

          • Jacob Suggs

            Interesting. I would probably say that mathematical facts are part of reality, simply not physical. That is, I consider the fact that the axioms of the natural numbers imply that there is no largest natural number to be a real thing, a real truth, even though there are no physical natural numbers floating around

            Different world views I suppose. I consider a consequence of reason to be a real thing whether or not we've found any particular physical thing that matches up with it. That the physical world appears to fit parts of it rather well to me makes sense, as I tend to think that things are generally reasonable, but I don't consider that fitting to be particularly special.

          • primenumbers

            Math facts are part of reality, but they're not, as you point out, the same kind of things as physical things. Often there can be correspondence between physical things and math things, but often not. In our universe there could very well be finite (though obviously rather large) number of things we can count, so although there is no largest natural number in math, there could be said to be so in reality, even if there's no practical way to determine such a number.

          • Most math is abstract and fun.

            All of mathematics is abstract. Some of it is fun to most people, and most of it is fun to some (sadly, very few) people.

          • articulett

            Exactly-- "the universe must have an uncaused cause... the only uncaused cause is the god I believe in-- therefore my god exists!"

            I always wonder how they get from their hypothetical uncause cause to a "god" that "wants" me to believe in it.

            I trust that any gods who want me to believe in them can use their superpowers to achieve that aim.

          • articulett

            How do you distinguish a real god from a mythlogical god.

            A good defintiion of a god would be the first step.

          • Susan

            >How do you distinguish a real god from a mythological god.

            I wonder how many times you have to ask that question before you get an answer.

          • Josh

            Some of us got past the "One God Further" objection long ago, and don't really want to spend a bunch of time refuting why the God of Classical Theism is not equivalent to Zeus. I understand this is disappointing, and perhaps Strange Notions can directly address that topic.

          • articulett

            So what is this god-- do you agree that god is "existence"? If so, then there probably are no atheists.

          • Josh

            I agree with my avatar that if "God didn't exist, there would be no atheists."

          • articulett

            Is that deep to you?

            Certainly you realize it's possible that no gods exist... so what would you call the people who didn't believe in any gods.

            It's true you wouldn't need a term if no one believed in invisible beings... but we're stuck with these memes because people have been told it's good to believe this stuff and some god will torture them forever if they don't.

            Maybe one day we'll just sort into supernaturalists vs. naturalists.

          • Andre Boillot

            Come now, it's not as if Zeus is the only (or best / most recent / significant / popular) god you dismiss while retaining your own.

          • Josh

            That's true...and?

          • Andre Boillot

            Just pointing out that you're taking the safe route here; comparing your god to one nobody* believes in anymore, and not to any of the contemporary competition.

          • Josh

            Ah, I think I misunderstood then. The God of classical theism is largely understood to be the foundational being of the big monotheisms. What's the competition? I reject polytheism because of the Pure Act distinction (look elsewhere in the thread)

          • Andre Boillot

            I'll give you the (highly questionable) benefit of lumping all the Abrahamic faiths under the same "God", but I don't think you get to remove polytheism from "the competition" - which consists of roughly 32% of the world population.

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

          • articulett

            To me the god of classical theism IS identical to Zeus... and all other gods invented by humans to explain that which they don't understand. You may see a reason to treat them differently. I don't.

          • Josh

            Great. Happy to hear that.

          • articulett

            One would hope that a theist wouldn't define a god so vaguely so as to force an atheist to say that their god exists... Nah a theist would do that!

          • Jacob Suggs

            When I say the universe, what I mean is all matter, energy, and related laws and rules that one could find if one could walk as far as one wished (or could) in any direction. I make no claim that there are not things outside "the universe."

            God is not a member of that set.

            As to whether or not God is a thing in any sense at all, I'll point you to our above argument to avoid repetition.

          • primenumbers

            What about the set of all things that exist? Does God belong to that set?

          • Jacob Suggs

            Not precisely, no, or at least not to the set of things that exist in the same way that we exist. "Things that exist" such as a cat or a chair, have the property of existence, or preform the verb of existing if you prefer. God, on the other hand, is the verb of existing.

            Again: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/2013/01/i-dont-believe-god-exists.html

          • primenumbers

            The argument we're discussing though relies in part on God existing from a premise that the universe (and we) exist. If "exist" means something different for a God than it does for the rest of things, then I see an fallacy of equivocation in the argument.

            I cannot accept that "God, on the other hand, is the verb of existing" to have any meaning other than the word God is a synonym for existing, and to say "existing exists" is getting rather meaningless.

          • Jacob Suggs

            I can see that. But it's mainly a problem with word use, not with the ideas we're using. Put it like this: It is not possible for anything to exist unless "to exist" exists. That is, existence must be a real thing for things to be able to exist. That existence is God.

          • articulett

            Okay-- but existence doesn't "care" if people believe in it or think that it's god.

            I suspect that most people think of their god as being different than "existence" itself, but it seems everyone is free to define their gods as they wish.

          • primenumbers

            The only problem with word use is that we're examining an argument that tries to show God exists, but you're saying that's semantically equivalent to "existence exists" which to me makes zero sense at all. We're starting from a premise that the universe exists and hence if "God exists" has to have any meaning in the context of the argument, it has to mean the same thing as "the universe exists".

          • Susan

            >It is not possible for anything to exist unless "to exist" exists. That is, existence must be a real thing for things to be able to exist.

            OK...

            >That existence is God.

            What?

          • articulett

            Yep-- you heard it here.... existence is god! Say, you believe in existence... therefore you aren't an atheist even though you thought you were.

            (Of course you don't believe in the right god-- so you'll still be tortured for all eternity by the 3-in-1 zombie savior.)

          • Kal

            Simply put God is Existence. The Universe exists and even before there was a universe nothing physical existed. To make this point, you have to understand existence differently than that which exists. So God does exist (since existence is a real thing) yet God is immaterial (like our existence is immaterial yet there.)

          • primenumbers

            "God is Existence" - but to say "existence exists" is getting rather meaningless. I understand existence in the common sense of the word. What you're defining existence to mean in the case of God is quite meaningless.

          • Jacob Suggs

            Not meaningless, just hard to get into without being technical. That's why I gave you a link. I also recommend that you read Aquinas' writings on the issue.

          • primenumbers

            It's rather hard to distinguish technical theology from nonsense I'm afraid. But what it comes down to if the word "exists" when we say in the premise "the universe exists" means something different from "therefore God exists" in the conclusion, then the argument is bogus.

          • articulett

            When I want to speak of existence I use the term existence-- not "god".

            "Existence" doesn't have desires... doesn't care who believes what... and doesn't have a son.

            You can define your god as "love"-- because "love" exists-- but I call love "love"-- not "god"

          • Andrew G.

            It's easy to show that the existence of a nonempty set of contingent facts may be a necessary fact.

  • cowalker

    "◦First, many say the proofs don't prove God but only some vague first cause or other. . . . It is true that the proofs do not prove everything the Christian means by God, but they do prove a transcendent, eternal, uncaused, immortal, self-existing, independent, all-perfect being."

    None of the above adjectives imply a personal relationhip between the first cause and humans. I also question whether the word "perfect" has any meaning here. What does it mean in the context of human language, when humans have a narrow perspective on perfection, judging what is experienced by standards of human security, comfort, familiarity, etc.?

    So there might be a first cause of the universe(s). Since we have no way to test this hypothesis, much less determine anything about the nature of the first cause except that it would be uncaused and independent of the observable phenomena in the universe(s), what is its immediate relevance to our lives? It is interesting to think about, but not persuasive.

    "◦Second, some philosophers, like Hume, say that the concept of cause is ambiguous and not applicable beyond the physical universe to God . . . . The answer is that the concept of cause is analogical—that is, it differs somewhat but not completely from one example to another . . . . A cause is the sine qua non for an effect: if no cause, no effect. If no creator, no creation; if no God, no universe."

    The last two sentences depend on the concept of cause NOT being ambiguous. But that hasn't been proved. Is the rough and ready cause and effect relationship that humans observe analogical to what happens at the level of a universe inflating or shrinking? Or even above that level where one universe might bud into existence from another universe?
    "◦Third, it is sometimes argued (e.g., by Bertrand Russell) that there is a self-contradiction in the argument . . . . The answer is very simple: the argument does not use the premise that everything needs a cause. Everything in motion needs a cause, everything dependent needs a cause, everything imperfect needs a cause."

    This sounds like circular reasoning to me. "Everything needs a cause except what doesn't need a cause." It doesn't get us anywhere because we can't test events at the cosmic level to find out if a cause is needed.

    "◦Fourth, it is often asked why there can't be infinite regress, with no first being . . . . "The answer is that real beings are not like numbers: they need causes, for the chain of real beings moves in one direction only, from past to future, and the future is caused by the past."

    OK, I'm not a methematician, or a philosopher. But I've always wondered how we could be sure that the cosmos is finite. The Big Bang theory suggests that our particular universe is finite, but could there be an overarching, infinite energy that cyclically "births" finite universes? You can call it "God," but I don't see why we would assume it shares human traits such as desiring human love or having a sense of purpose.

  • Rationalist1

    Not everything needs a cause. In the decay of a radioactive atom, the decay occurs randomly independent of any other variable. I'm not sure how Aquinas could account for that.

    • SJH

      Please explain more. Is it random or do we just not understand it? Does
      it just seem random because we cannot understand the pattern yet?

      • Rationalist1

        Various scientists (including Einstein and Bohm) have tried to formulate "hidden variables" theories but all have failed and the theory held by modern science is that the decay is truly random. This indeterminism is at the core of quantum mechanics.

        • Jacob Suggs

          Completely true, but this indeterminism is not equivalent to what we mean by uncaused.

          • Rationalist1

            Why not? There is no cause to radioactive decay.

          • Jacob Suggs

            When we say uncaused, we mean completely independent of all other things. The decay of an atom can't happen if the atom does not exist in the first place, and the atom did not exist eternally. (The decay is also contingent on laws of physics and the structure of the atom which make in unstable.)

          • Rationalist1

            Sure, and you would say that the universe wouldn't exist of God doesn't exist. But that's not the point. The laws of physics do not predict a decay, only the probability of decay. There is no evidence that anything caused it to decay at that particular instance.

          • Jacob Suggs

            And that would be why I put the "what we mean by" in front of "uncaused". The decay is not completely self explaining, it requires explanation from other things.

          • The decay is not completely self explaining, it requires explanation from other things.

            But, Jacob, you have to come up with the cause or explanation if you want to then generalize to "all things are caused" or "all things have an explanation." It is not our burden to prove the negative, you have to bring the evidence for your positive assertion.

            Got evidence?

          • Jacob Suggs

            Yes, and the science worshipers favorite kind! An empirical, repeatable experiment. Pick any thing in the whole universe, and see if it is completely self explaining or not, or if you're unable to tell. I'll bet you that you can't come up with with more than 1 or 2 things that fit in the maybe category, well within experimental error.

            The idea that nothing happens without some reason is the fundamental driving force of science. Without it we'd have no reason to do it all.

          • The idea that nothing happens without some reason is the fundamental driving force of science. Without it we'd have no reason to do it all.

            No, that is not true at all. We do Science to find as many of the reasons as we can. Part of why we follow methological naturalism is to see how far we can get that way. We don't even assume that we will get all the answers, that would be Scientism.

            Now, back to the point. Can you show that everything has a cause or a reason?

          • Jacob Suggs

            For the science, I'll sort of agree with you a little bit. But you assume that there is a cause when you run the experiments and look for it - even if it's a practical assumption rather than a philosophical one.

            But to the main question - my stupid experiment is actually a pretty good place to start, but I'll flesh it out a bit more philosophically. The "proof" that I have is not really a proof as such, but I think it demonstrates that this position can be held, and of those possible it is the only that makes (or even involves) sense, and goes something like this: [insert disclaim about having written this while both sick as a dog and playing video games, though with no claim as to which is diminishing my mental capacity more]

            There are two options here: everything is either explained or self explanatory, OR there are things which are neither.

            Suppose there is a thing which is neither explained nor self explanatory, and that there is also a completely self explanatory thing. Now ask the question: why are these two different? But then the answer must either be contained in the self explanatory thing, in which case the unexplained was not truly unexplained (since some facet of it is touched on by the self explanatory thing, namely its difference from said thing), OR the answer must be unexplainable (or explained by something else) in which case the self explanatory thing was not really self explanatory. Either way is a contradiction

            So there cannot both be self explanatory things and unexplained things at the same time. This then means that the universe must contain only explainable (from other things) things and unexplainable things. But with only these two types of things, then we can use a first-cause-like argument to say that each explainable thing, to be explained, must be fundamentally explained by an unexplainable thing (the alternative being loops, or infinite regressions, which fail to explain things at all and so fail to make the things explainable).

            But then everything is fundamentally unexplainable.

            And so logic dies.

            Not only does this contradict our perception of reality (some things clearly appear to be explainable, although appearances can admittedly be deceiving), it discards all reason on the most fundamental level.

            Now here, I'll admit we've reached a stage that to me appears axiomatic. If you take as your axiom that everything is unreasonable, it will be awfully hard to argue with you (especially as you would essentially reject the reason we'd use to do it), but as has just been demonstrated, we can't have some of each.

            So the positions are: the universe is fundamentally explainable (and God exists as a consequence) or the universe is fundamentally unexplainable (no God).

            This is why the only form of atheism that has ever even been moderately tempting for me is nihilism, but that just doesn't fit perceptions, and ultimately I'm not willing to discard reason entirely for the sake of being able to claim that nothing (not even being right) has any fundamental explanation (or goodness or meaning or anything else).

          • Michael Murray

            Yet another false dichotomy with enormous leap of faith.

            There are two options here: everything is either explained or self explanatory, OR there are things which are neither.

            Or some things are explained and some things not explained. Or some things are explained in a way that some people accept but others don't. To wit quantum mechanics and Einstein. As explanations exist in the human mind they are rather dependent on who hears them.

            Even granted your false dichotomy the leap from there to god with a capital G. The Christian God in fact the Catholic God is leap superman would be proud of.

          • Jacob Suggs

            "Or some things are explained and some things not explained."

            Reread what you quoted please. Your supposedly missing case that I quoted is the second part of what you quoted. What I said is, to rephrase "Either everything is (explained or self explanatory) OR there exist things in neither category".

            As to your second objection, whether or not any person accepts the fact that one thing partially explains another is irrelevant. I'm talking about objectively here.

            And yet again, no one ever said the first cause argument proves the Catholic God. More reasoning gets us much closer, and revelation finishes it off. But we're talking about the first cause argument here. Sort of. We're on a tangent off it anyway, and I'm not willing to take a tangent off the tangent.

          • Michael Murray

            OK I see. My mistake. Sounds like you have reinvented Russell's paradox of the set of all sets that don't contain themselves.

            What is an explanation ? What is an objective explanation ? What is a thing which is self-explanatory ? How do these things relate to the real world out there ? For 13 billion years there was nobody in the universe to explain anything ?

          • Jacob Suggs

            Yeah, I freely admit that the language I'm using is a bit unwieldy. Certainly non-standard, as far as I know. I blame the video games. Here is what I mean:

            Object A is said to be "explained" if there is some other Object B so that Object A owes its existence at least in part to Object B. (Actions, energy, and groups of stuff all count as objects).

            Object A is said to be "self explanatory" if it owes no aspect of itself to anything at all and is its own reason for (every aspect of) its existence.

            Object A is said to be "unexplainable" if it owes no aspect of itself to anything at all, and does not contain its own reason for existence or anything else (that is there is no reason for anything about it).

            Self explanatory and unexplainable are somewhat similar to irresistible force and unmovable object, in that you can't have one of each.

            By objectively, I just mean actually is so, whether anyone knows or cares or not.

          • Michael Murray

            Sorry I should stop and do the day job but let me make a couple of comments. It's not at all clear that trying to talk about the real world in this way is sensible. "Owes it's existence too" doesn't make any sense as a fundamental concept when we try to explain the real world. Physics isn't done this way. It's done with carefully defined mathematical concepts.

            Once you separate from the real world then you are just playing logical and semantic games with ill-defined terms. I don't mind that particularly, at least the game playing part. I'm a pure mathematician and used to playing logical games albeit with well-defined terms. But I don't claim to connect anything to the real world.

            I tried to explain this more carefully up here

            https://strangenotions.com/unpacking-first-cause/#comment-927111480

          • articulett

            So what is the reason or cause of your god?

          • Jacob Suggs

            Ha. Short answer, God is not a thing according to this use of the word, and a single self explanatory things fits in with reason. Long answer: scroll up. Not to be dismissive, but you'll understand if I'm not terribly inclined to retype the same argument multiple times in the comment boxes of the same blog post.

          • Michael Murray

            Not to be dismissive, but you'll understand if I'm not terribly inclined to retype the same argument multiple times in the comment boxes of the same blog post.

            Why not ? The atheists here have been doing this for weeks. You don't want to be outdone by us do you ?

            Seriously Disqus is rubbish for following threads. Half the posts don't appear at least half the time. So scroll up is not terrible useful. At least paste the link.

          • Michael Murray

            What does self-explaining mean. Imagine a universe without people. Like it was for say 13 billion years. What is an explanation in that universe ? I know about electrons, protons, quarks etc. What is an explanation ?

        • Kal

          Yes that may be true but we are talking about the whole universe and how it began. Even if there was this indeterminism before the universe began, there must have been physical laws that came before it. This hints at a First Cause that created those physical laws or those physical laws are the First Causes themselves

    • Kal

      Actually, the weak force is thought to contribute to the decay of atomic nuclei.

      • Rationalist1

        Of course the weak force is responsible for Beta decay, but it doesn't determine when it happens. It's like saying gravity is responsible for people falling from great heights but it doesn't determine when they were pushed.

        • Kal

          However, you cannot say that radioactive decay is without cause for something has to be in flux in order to create the decay. Yet, it would be more scientific (and rational) to say that the cause is unknown as of now instead of declaring there is no cause as states of fluctuation (whether in the realm of quantum physics or the classical laws of physics) need an agent of change.

          • Rationalist1

            No, it's not that the cause unknown, it's that all measurements of radioactive decay are inconsistent with there being an underlying cause. The occurrence is totally random. There is positive evidence that there is no underlying cause.

          • Kal

            There is a cause however since it is changing states. Change always implies a cause.

          • Rationalist1

            In our world yes, but not in the quantum world. If you can prove otherwise, there's a Nobel prize in it for you.

  • clod

    "The argument is basically very simple, natural, intuitive, and commonsensical. We have to become complex and clever in order to doubt or dispute it."

    No, we just have to be a bit humble and admit we don't know. Science long ago showed intuition and commonsense to be inadequate for the job.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    I think this was not the best article to post. The reason is that Dr. Kreeft (whom I greatly admire) is explaining Aquinas' proofs to a lay audience. Kreeft's article doesn't take into account the kinds of highly specialized objections raised here, like to what extent commonsense explanations hold in physics. We really need to be hearing from authorities who are both fully qualified scientists (maybe especially physicists) and philosophers.

    • Josh

      I agree that this article is pretty basic, and only barely scratches the surface. I disagree with the physics point, as these conclusions stand or fall based not on the metrical properties of material bodies (all Physics can measure), but of greater generalities such as what it means for a being to change, or the nature of contingency/necessity. Good point though.

    • DAVID

      Kreeft's article doesn't take into account the kinds of highly specialized objections raised here, like to what extent commonsense explanations hold in physics.

      We're left with a problem if we deny the efficacy of commonsense explanations. A non-commonsense solution lacks explanatory power because it doesn't conform to cause and effect. At which point, we have failed to explain it.

    • DAVID

      Sorry, I should clarify the last sentence in my post above. It should have read...we have failed to explain anything.

  • Yasha Renner

    A very lucid article, as is typical of Dr. Kreeft. As the author says, "We have to become complex and clever in order to doubt or dispute it." A truism indeed. I am constantly surprised and saddened by the existence of atheists, specifically the contentious and proud variety. In my opinion the very existence of atheists proves the existence of God. One might ask, "Why would God -- the infinite, eternal, uncaused cause -- allow atheism to exist? Answer: To teach men who believe in Him patience.

    • Andre Boillot

      Yasha,

      As the author says, "We have to become complex and clever in order to doubt or dispute it." A truism indeed. I am constantly surprised and saddened by the existence of atheists, specifically the contentious and proud variety.

      I found it confusing that the author would, on the one hand, argue that one needs to "become complex" in order to doubt, while asserting that doubt is, "based on an instinct of mind that we all share: the instinct that says everything needs an explanation." Not only that, but he then uses this instinct to ask questions to support why we should arrive at an unmoved mover, despite the examples of why this is instinctually unsatisfying.

      One might ask, "Why would God -- the infinite, eternal, uncaused cause -- allow atheism to exist? Answer: To teach men who believe in Him patience.

      It's nice to know that our eternal damnation will serve *some* purpose. I see you're too proud to say "Thank you", but I will say, you're welcome.

      • Yasha Renner

        Andre,

        You are a witty fellow, and bright I might add! I can tell from your beard (I too have a beard. Coincidence? I think not).

        Just a few quick points: First, I don't get your response/questions/criticism about instinct and doubt. My suggestion to you is don't complicate things that are extremely simple, like the scientific fact that stuff exists, which, according to Aquinas, is the first thing one must ask about anything -- i.e., whether it exists.

        Second, eternal damnation is a choice, and a very real one at that. So choose wisely. I cannot choose it for you.

        Third, umm, what act have you done to merit thanks, that I should "Thank you"? Perhaps a more fitting question for a man of your intellect would be, Why should any human act merit thanks at all? If your philosophy of life and existence were true, than no, you would not be deserving of thanks, nor would I or anyone else for that matter. The words would be as meaningless as when an atheist curses "God damnit!" when he stubbed his toe or "God bless you" when a person sneezed. Moreover, words like "proud" would not deserve the meaning you and I assign them, for they signify moral conclusions about objective reality, like you. You are objectively real, which is self-evident. Which brings me back to my initial point: Don't complicate what is easy and self-evident, namely, that a contingent thing (i.e., stuff) is caused. If you don't believe me, go ask your parents.

        • Andre Boillot

          First, I don't get your response/questions/criticism about instinct and doubt.

          Either we have to "become" something to doubt, or it's "instinct", I don't see how it's both.

          Second, eternal damnation is a choice, and a very real one at that. So choose wisely. I cannot choose it for you.

          Third, umm, what act have you done to merit thanks, that I should "Thank you"?

          I was making a joke in light of your positing that atheists serve as tools to help teach the faithful patience, and how you might at least thank us for our service in this regard.

          Moreover, words like "proud" would not deserve the meaning you and I assign them, for they signify moral conclusions about objective reality, like you.

          Oh good, more 'atheists have no grounds for objective statements'.

          If you don't believe me, go ask your parents.

          Presumptuous of you to assume that I can ask either, or that this would prove your point.

          • Yasha Renner

            Lol, gotcha. In that case, THANK YOU!

            On your second and last point, first, not just "objective" statements but also "moral conclusions," which presupposes objective categories of right and wrong, good and bad, virtuous and sinful. Second, I was also joking! But I'm sorry if my joke was offensive. (P.S. do hurt feelings prove that God is real?) Anyhow, it doesn't only have to be your parents, any parent would know. (What were we talking about again?)

            Boy, I'd hate to be the person who moderates these comments! I hope all mine are nixed =) Gotta run, and God bless you Mr. Boillot, whoever you are.

      • DAVID

        I found it confusing that the author would, on the one hand, argue that one needs to "become complex" in order to doubt, while asserting that doubt is, "based on an instinct of mind that we all share: the instinct that says everything needs an explanation."

        I think you've misunderstood Kreeft. He says we have an "instinct of mind" which causes us to assert that "everything needs an explanation." He goes on to say that if someone doubts this, then they "become complex" in order to dispute it. He does not assert, as you say:

        that doubt is, "based on an instinct of mind

        • Andre Boillot

          Perhaps I was being imprecise. Kreeft seems to be saying that the 1st-cause argument is a natural by-product of "everything needs an explanation" - which for me is a close cousin of doubt (or skepticism). He's saying that this is instinctual in humans. He then appears to say that those who don't like the where argument leads, those who are doubtful of it, have not been sated by the "simple, natural, intuitive", and must go to great lengths, with many complex and clever contortions in order to do so. From my point of view, they merely continue needing explanation.

          I get that you "solve" the problem of who creates god by defining the set of things that require creation in the way you do - and leave god out of it. However, to say that this solution is simple, natural, and intuitive seems to be guilty of the same contortions Kreeft accuses non-believers of engaging in.

          • DAVID

            I get that you "solve" the problem of who creates god by defining the set of things that require creation in the way you do - and leave god out of it. However, to say that this solution is simple, natural, and intuitive seems to be guilty of the same contortions Kreeft accuses non-believers of engaging in.

            I guess that I would argue that it actually is very simple: if all the things which we observe exist because of the assistance of something else, it makes sense that there is one thing which exists without any assistance from anything. If that one thing simply exists, without any help, then it is in a wonderful position to bring other things into existence.

          • Andre Boillot

            I'm sorry, but creating a new category which is fundamentally divorced from anything we can experience doesn't seem natural or intuitive (to me). Simple, maybe.

    • clod

      "Why would God -- the infinite, eternal, uncaused cause -- allow atheism to exist? Answer: To teach men who believe in Him patience."

      That is your answer. What is your Gods actual answer?

      • Rationalist1

        Impotence or nonexistence?

      • Yasha Renner

        Lol, I don't know. I'll ask him and get back to you. I have a feeling he's punishing me.

  • Rationalist1

    May I suggest there is a fundamental divide here? Atheists don't see the need for a non contingent God that is based upon 2300 year old Aristotelian metaphysics filtered through 800 year old scholastic theology. Now just because an idea is old doesn't mean it's wrong but being tied to that one school of thought in perpetuity as contrasted with science that keeps changing as new discoveries are made and theories are created or refined reveals the fundamental chasm between the two camps.

    • Josh

      This is a non-starter; if the metaphysical/principles are sound, even after taking modern science into account (which is the job of modern Thomists), then it doesn't matter that they are old (as you note). Your job is to defeat them with sound philosophy of your own, because natural science isn't doing the work for you.

      • Rationalist1

        in science one counter example can destroy a theory. A fossilized rabbit in Precambrian sediments would mean no theory of evolution. Thomists go on and on about everything needing a cause. But radioactive decay has no cause. It happens randomly. ( Einstein tried for 30 years to show that wasn't the case but failed. )

        Here we have an uncaused action. Can we now through out this theory?

        • Josh

          As I've asked 3 times in this thread (not to you, I think): I would like to see the evidence that not all things (or even one thing) that come to be have causes. I'm looking for evidence that doesn't equally point to us simply not currently knowing what the cause is, btw. It's fine to assert it, another to show that radioactive decay has no cause as opposed to us simply not understanding/comprehending by what mechanism it is caused. Show me the money!

          • Rationalist1

            As opposed to you requiring it to have a cause based upon your a-priori religious beliefs. A Nobel prize awaits any scientist that can find a cause for radioactivity but to no avail. And there-in lies the difference. Science would love to find a cause but accepts the current state of affairs because all evidence points to none, your theology maintains there has to be a cause and will not accept science's findings.

            For a full discussion of this see Hidden Variable theories and the Bohr-Einstein debates.

          • Josh

            Excuse me, but does the evidence point to none or does the evidence simply require agnosticism as to what is actually the case? I'm putting my money on the latter, but I await an actual rebuttal with something to back it up, rather than your unwarranted assumption that I believe this because of a religious commitment.

          • Rationalist1

            Then why are you putting your money on the assumption that radioactive decay is deterministic if not because of you need to require everything to have a cause.

            If radioactive decay was guided by some "hidden variables" then analysis of radioactive decay would display some departure from true randomness. Despite looking for almost 100 years no one has found any departure from that case.

            At what point do you, if ever, abandon this premise?

          • Josh

            Then why are you putting your money on the assumption that radioactive
            decay is deterministic if not because of you need to require everything
            to have a cause.

            Given empirical data (my experience; the very notion of natural science itself), the weight of evidence overwhelmingly supports the notion that observable effects proceed from a cause, even if the cause is hidden to us (technologically, intellectually, etc.) Why is this point controversial?

            If radioactive decay was guided by some "hidden variables" then analysis of radioactive decay would display some departure from true randomness. Despite looking for almost 100 years no one has found any departure from that case.

            Despite looking for [X amount of years], we have not found a cause for [Y]. Therefore, there is no cause for [Y]. That's a rather anti-scientific attitude, don't you think? I can think of several times in history where this would rightly be regarded as "giving up."

            Natural science's business, its very raison d'être is to discover the proximate causes of observable effects. If this is so, then I'm not sure how I could abandon the premise. What would it mean for science to definitively show that an event had no cause, and how would it be qualitatively different from us simply being unable at a given point in time to discover the cause? The proper attitude is to presume that science holds and its search for causes is not in vain. Look at that, the theist is defending natural science!

          • Rationalist1

            This is the basis of quantum mechanics. It's the theory that allows your computer to work. Quantum mechanics can make predictions to one part in 10 trillion and is perhaps the most accurate theory science has ever proposed and is being verified daily as scientists continue to test it. And in all of that, no evidence for a hidden variable component to quantum mechanics has ever been found and all measurements of randomness point to a purely random nature.

            Yet because a scholastic theologian who knew less about the how the world works than most middle school students today asserted, without evidence, that everything must have a cause, we are to discount quantum mechanics in favour of his philosophical speculations. Is that really sensible? At what point, if ever, does stop letting one's a-priori conclusions trump empirical science?

          • Josh

            Who said we should "discount quantum mechanics"? I'm arguing that the data be interpreted in a more careful way, not discounting the reality of causation simply because we haven't yet discovered/comprehended the mechanism behind QM.

            Nothing you've said supports the conclusion that radioactive decay is uncaused over the conclusion that we simply don't what's going on. Ironically, I discern a touch of the intellectual arrogance you seem to be accusing me of: a priori conclusions. As long as the data is inconclusive, you can't hold up the wished-for contingent uncaused cause. As E. Feser notes: "it is simply
            a fallacy to infer from the premise that QM describes such-and-such a state
            without describing its cause to the conclusion that QM shows that such-and-such
            a state has no cause."

            By the way, none of these conclusions are a priori anyway. Aquinas' arguments are a posteriori, taking the world as data and arguing back to God.

          • Acknowledging that I am no expert in quantum mechanics, nevertheless I believe I can say with some assurance that the scientific consensus is that phenomena like radioactive decay happen spontaneously. They are predictable statistically. That is, if you have a certain number of radioactive atoms and you know the half-life of that element, you can predict when half of the atoms will have decayed, but there is no way to predict when an individual atom will decay. I can't offer proof here, but again, I can say it is the scientific consensus that there is no cause, not that there is a cause and we haven't figured it out yet.

            So I think for those of us even superficially familiar with quantum physics, this statement is just untrue:

            We never deny the Principle of Sufficient Reason itself. No one believes the Pop Theory: that things just pop into existence for no reason at all.

            In our everyday experience, we may not find the "Pop Theory" to be true. But then, most of us do not live in such a way that our everyday experience involves the subatomic realm.

            I think in order to find this "proof" at all convincing, one has to do as you do and insist that the scientific consensus in modern physics is wrong. Good luck with proving that. Einstein failed trying to!

          • Josh

            I appreciate your effort, but I can't take your word that

            I can't offer proof here, but again, I can say it is the scientific consensus that there is no cause, not that there is a cause and we haven't figured it out yet.

            until I see/evaluate some evidence. You wouldn't accept something without evidence, right?

          • Rationalist1

            It's general good practice not to accept something without evidence.

          • Josh,

            Are you looking for evidence that the scientific consensus is what I claim it is? Or are you saying that if I am correct in describing what the scientific consensus is, you want proof so you can decide for yourself whether the scientific consensus is correct?

          • Josh

            I would like to see evidence that the scientific consensus is that the relevant events are genuinely uncaused, and that the data informing the consensus doesn't equally support the conclusion that the cause is simply unknown or not explicitly referred to in its predictions.

          • Andrew

            Bell's theorem is what comes to my mind when someone looks for evidence of this sort. Bell's theorem posits that experiments can be performed which distinguish between quantum mechanics being fundamentally indeterministic, and QM having an underlying determinancy ("hidden variables"). Experiments actually performed based on Bell's theorem appear to support fundamental indeterminancy and not hidden variables. My best understanding of this would suggest that there is at least some evidence to support the prevailing scientific consensus that quantum events are fundamentally random and not caused.

          • It is not that easy to find a statement of the scientific consensus, because it is the consensus. But here are two passages that are helpful. The basic topic is quantum indeterminacy.

            Rutherford's radioactive decay law is statistical in nature; it expresses the probability of the disintegration rate of an ensemble of atoms . . . rather than the disintegration rate of an individual atom. The latter is unpredictable in the sense that it can only be expressed by the whole range of the decay curve of the ensemble. James Jeans therefore concluded that causality had disappeared from the physical world picture. Due to the discovery to his indeterminacy relations, Heisenberg arrived at a similar conclusion. The indeterminacy principle shows that neither the antecedent nor the consequent conditions of the causality principle, as Heisenberg sees it, can be satisfied: "If we know exactly the determinable properties of a closed system at a given point in time, we can calculate precisely the future behavior of the properties of this system." The indeterminacy principle excludes the simultaneous knowledge of the antecedent conditions of an atomic system by non-commuting operators . . . ; but it also excludes the precise knowledge of the future behavior of the individual system. Bohr agreed with Heisenberg that the indeterminacy relations spelt the end of the classical notion of causality. . . .

            Compendium of Quantum Physics: Concepts, Experiments, History and Philosophy, edited by Daniel M. Greenberger, Klaus Hentschel, Friedel Weinertp. 308

            The use of the word 'indeterminacy' is likely in itself to carry connotations about quantum physics which are misleading. The impossibility which the indeterminacy principle introduces of specifying the path or orbit of an atomic parcel or of predicting when an individual atom will decide to undergo radioactive decay has been taken by some as an indication that quantum mechanics is an incomplete theory as compared with classical mechanics. Yet this is not a defect or shortcoming of the theory indicative of gaps which further work is required to fill in. For quantum mechanics has demonstrated over and over an entirely adequate predictive power in the sense that any aspect of natural systems which can be observed and measured can be dealt with unequivocally by quantum mechanics. The purpose of any theory is to represent faithfully the world as it actually is constituted. There are those, like the late Albert Einstein, who feel an inner conviction that reality must prove somehow to be completely determinate, and who therefore feel that chance, alternative, and probability have no place in its description. Despite such philosophical convictions, however, the world as it is observed to be in experimental atomic physics continues to behave on a wide front, which includes a great variety of diverse phenomena, in just the way quantum mechanics expects it to behave. Whether we like it or not, it seems to be a world in which indeterminacy, alternative, and chance are real aspects of the fundamental nature of things, and not merely consequences of our inadequate and provisional understanding.

            Science and Religion (Problems in Theology), edited by Jeff Astley, David Brown, Ann Loades

          • Andrew

            That is a lot more comprehensive than my answer!
            David, I remember you from Vox Nova where you used to post frequently. It is good to see you again.

          • Josh

            Thanks for that, David; it was certainly helpful. I'm certainly not arguing a la Einstein that reality must prove to be determinate, or completely knowable. I'm simply saying that anything that comes to be, whether or no our knowledge of why it comes to be is indeterminate or probabilistic, will have a cause for its being there. So what if causation can only be expressed (at a certain level) in statistical, probabilistic terms? That doesn't undercut the conclusion that something is at work actualizing the decay.

          • Rationalist1

            " So what if causation can only be expressed (at a certain level) in statistical, probabilistic terms? That doesn't undercut the conclusion that something is at work actualizing the decay." Then your knowledge of math and physics is at odds with modern science. I'll leave it to you to correct science.

          • Josh

            I'll do my best to curb modern science's philosophical excesses and false inferences, thanks. It's a rewarding job.

          • Rationalist1

            Not to be flippant but the obvious solution from the theological viewpoint would be simply to say God cause the decay, albeit in a random fashion. Science couldn't disprove it, and it would preserve the not uncaused event requirement.

          • Josh

            Then, I would rightfully be accused of resorting to God-of-the-gaps nonsense, and as an Aristotelian-Thomist guy, I'm not keen on giving you gentlemen the knife by which I would fall. Thankfully, I don't need to do that.

          • Rationalist1

            But is that any difference from the God as the ultimate cause? I actually have seen some who maintain indeterminacy in QM is due to God and the so-called collapse of the wave function use to God perceiving all.

          • articulett

            If you'd do it for theism and other superstitions, you'd probably achieve more.

          • Josh

            Ah, I see, you're one of that stripe. Thanks for the meaningful rebuttal!

          • articulett

            Why did you imagine your goofy comment was worthy of rebuttal?

            Say are you agnostic to Zeus? Reincarnation? Existence?

          • Josh

            I didn't imagine that; however, you seemed to think it was for some reason.

            No, I don't think Zeus is real (in that way), I would only hold against reincarnation as an article of faith, and yes, I believe in existence.

          • So what if causation can only be expressed (at a certain level) in statistical, probabilistic terms? That doesn't undercut the conclusion that something is at work actualizing the decay.

            Well, this is all very difficult, but it seems to me that if the decay of a collection of atoms can be predicted statistically, but the decay of no individual atom in the collection can be predicted (or explained in retrospect), then I don't know that it makes any sense to say "something is at work actualizing the decay" of a single atom. Remember it is not thought there is an unknown cause of the individual atom's decay. It is thought that there is no cause. Peter Kreeft says

            We never deny the Principle of Sufficient Reason itself. No one believes the Pop Theory: that things just pop into existence for no reason at all. Perhaps we will never find the cause, but there must be a cause for everything that comes into existence.

            To say there must be some cause is to beg the question. It is to assume the Principle of Sufficient Reason in a case where it appears not to apply, and attempt to salvage the principle by saying, "We'll, it doesn't appear to apply here, but it actually must, and the reason it must is . . . the Principle of Sufficient Cause!"

          • Josh

            And again, my position has been and still remains that the evidence supports agnosticism on the point, and not the bald assertion that nothing causes X, implying a potential actualizing itself.

            Aside: see here for a great discussion, especially in the comments: http://thomism.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/newsflash-some-things-happen-by-chance/

            I'm getting the sense that we are talking past each other on this point, largely because the relevant metaphysics behind the issues haven't been satisfactorily fleshed out.

          • articulett

            Out of curiosity, are you agnostic in regards to demons?

          • Josh

            I thought we were discussing QM, philosophy of science, and metaphysics? I don't see what my theological commitments have to do with these topics per se, as I've deliberately abstained from mentioning Christ, Satan, et al.

          • articulett

            If gods can be uncaused causes, so could demons-- right?

          • Josh

            Demons, as composite beings of act and potency (being created beings themselves), lack the necessary qualifications, as it were.

          • articulett

            Are you saying they are caused causes? What causes demons?

          • Josh

            Demons are part of the created order...how is this relevant again?

          • Michael Murray

            Evidence for demons ?

          • Demons are part of the created order...

            Well, they definitely exist as characters in the literature of fiction, and as automatic process threads in computers, but do you have any evidence they exist as beings in the real world?

          • Andrew

            Josh, I have been reading your exchange with David Nickol with some interest. I am confused though. Is it your assertion that the First Cause argument is *one possible* reasonable argument for God's existence, or that it is independent *convincing evidence* of God's existence?
            If the former, then your agnosticism would support the assertion. If the latter, then your agnosticism would tend to weaken the assertion, since it acknowledges up front that self-actualizing potentials are a possibility and that therefore arguments which contradict the First Cause argument are possibile alternatives.

          • Josh

            Hi Andrew,

            I'd support the former interpretation. I think "self-actualizing potential" is a contradiction in terms, however. What's at stake here is the atom's decay being brought about by nothing intrinsic or external, it seems to me. The blog link I provided in the post you reply to has a great exposition of the battle lines, imo.

          • And again, my position has been and still remains that the evidence supports agnosticism on the point, ...

            But, even "agnosticism on the point" brings down the premise that "everything" has a cause. To hold that premise, Hume would have told you, you have to check everything in the Universe to see if it really does have a cause, and cannot allow anything that might not. You have been presented with objective evidence, from laboratory experiments, that events on the quantum scale appear to be causeless, and therefore, might be causeless.

            It is simply no longer reasonable to accept the premise that "everything has a cause."

          • Josh

            It's good that I never said that everything has a cause, then. That supposition is a common mistake to make, however. I said things that come to be, having a potential made actual, require something in act to actualize said potential, etc etc.

          • ...require something in act to actualize said potential, ...

            And you have been presented with cases where things come to be that might lack any such "something" leaving you in the same position of having failed the burden of support for the generalized premise.

          • Josh

            Actually, I have yet to see evidence that something is coming to be of itself, or even evidence that supports that positively over my position. I was being charitable with agnosticism; I think the appearance of chance at the quantum level (the intersection of many causal connections) is being mistaken for lack of causation of any sort at all.

          • Actually, I have yet to see evidence that something is coming to be of itself, or even evidence that supports that positively over my position.

            We don't care if you, personally, have not seen evidence. We are not believers, we are not making a positive assertion. If you want to convince us, you have to bring the evidence. If you want to defend the assertion that the Universe had a cause, or was contingent, you have to bring evidence to support that assertion. You have been shown examples of things that might not be contingent. How will you show that they must be?

            Got evidence?

          • articulett

            I'm nicer than you-- I'll give them their hypothetical uncaused cause... but I want to know why they think it's a god that wants to be believed in.

          • I'm nicer than you-- I'll give them their hypothetical uncaused cause..

            I have learned in formal logic that a false premise implies any conclusion. If you allow any unjustified generalization to pass, a sufficiently skilled rhetorician can make a chain (see picture at top of OP) to anywhere. It is how theologians have always built their castles in the shy. It is not that I don't want to be a nice person, I do, and I am happy to be nice to the people who post here. Being nice to fallacious ideas is another thing; I just care about what is true.

          • Michael Murray

            And I'll see your uncaused cause and raise you a demon.

          • My position is really rather simple. Peter Kreeft said the following:

            As a last resort, we look for a supernatural cause, a miracle. But there must be some cause. We never deny the Principle of Sufficient Reason itself. No one believes the Pop Theory: that things just pop into existence for no reason at all. Perhaps we will never find the cause, but there must be a cause for everything that comes into existence.

            As a nonscientist who nevertheless reads a lot of popular writing on cosmology, quantum mechanics, the arrow of time, and so on, it does not seem to me that you can baldly assert what Peter Kreeft does. It seems simply to ignore what physicists have been saying for about the last 90 years. I am not saying some more detailed and complex statement on causality can't be stated to salvage Kreeft's argument (or that part of it, anyway). I am just saying that even a lot of minimally knowledgeable nonscientists like myself are going to say, "Hold on. It's my understanding that at the subatomic level, things (like radioactive decay of a single atom) happen for no reason, and other things (like virtual particles) pop into existence and pop out again.

            Kreeft is saying, "Everybody acknowledges this," and I am saying, "No they don't."

          • Josh

            Honestly, I'm with you if you want to pick apart Kreeft's lack of depth here. He's a popularizer by trade, and you gotta dig wayyyyyyyy deeper than he does in the post. But it's a reprinted section from an apologetics manual. They're really just supposed to be conversation starters.

          • Sample1

            What possible value would that have? Unless I misunderstand, all you are doing is asking for evidence and a loophole.

            In response to:

            and that the data informing the consensus doesn't equally support the conclusion that the cause is simply unknown...

            Mike

          • Josh

            Another thing at stake in these discussions is a misunderstanding that we are interested in finding a billiard-ball type causation at work in radioactive decay, or whatever. The philosophical notion of causation is way more general than that; actualizing a potential.

          • Rationalist1

            No. I can accept either a hidden variable cause for quantum mechanics or a random basis for quantum mechanics. I accept the latter as valid as all measurements of various quantum mechanical phenomenon (including radioactive decay) show absolute randomness with no hint of a underlying variables that could be causing the effects. This is the evidence that informs my decision. Can you offer any countervailing evidence that would discount this?. The data isn't inconclusive, it supports no hidden or undiscovered causes.

            I'm not saying Aquinas' arguments are a-proiri, I'm saying yours are for ruling out uncaused effects. The evidence does not indicate causation yet you cling to that for a-priori reasons.

            I have no idea who this E. Feser you refer to is. Does he have training in physics or in theology?

          • Josh

            He's a philosopher and contributor to this site.

            So, QM describes something without reference to a cause, therefore you believe that's evidence that there is no cause. So you don't agree with the idea that this is fallacious reasoning. Ok. I disagree with your assessment, and have yet to see a reason for accepting uncaused effects. I like Occam's razor, and don't care to multiply entities where unnecessary. I also like to proportion my beliefs to evidence. That QM doesn't make explicit reference to a discovered cause in its statistical descriptions of an event, does not (and can never by itself) warrant the conclusion that said event is genuinely uncaused.

          • Rationalist1

            I'm not basing my conclusion on the fact that there is no evidence found that there is no cause, but that measurements of quantum events show total randomness, which contradicts the premise that there is a underlying cause. It's more than that there is no undiscovered cause, it's that all the evidence rules out an undiscovered cause. Applying Ockham's razor, why posit a cause unnecessarily?

          • Josh

            I'm not basing my conclusion on the fact that there is no evidence found that there is no cause, but that measurements of quantum events show total randomness, which contradicts the premise that there is a underlying cause

            They show an inability to predict except probabilistically, which in no way contradicts the notion that the event is caused by something. If you'll agree that QM is describing something happening without being able to say precisely why, then you'll see nothing's been contradicted here. Incidentally, this is how philosophy can help natural science, by keeping it from over-interpreting its data.

          • Rationalist1

            It's not philosophy that's informing your premise it's theology. Physics is not saying we don't know what causes something (like we don't know what dark matter is), physics is saying there is nothing there causing radioactive decay. It's making a positive assertion based upon the evidence. Theology would tell physics that can't be true because we believe it otherwise so keep looking. Physics says all evidence says there no causation.

          • Josh

            Odd; I didn't make explicit reference to God at all in my arguments over this. I'm not seeing where the theology comes in.

          • Rationalist1

            Can you show me one philosopher who is not a believer that embraces Aristotelian metaphysics? I just assumed they were synonymous. If you can show me otherwise I will remain corrected?

          • Josh

            Here's one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippa_Foot

            There are others, of course.

          • Rationalist1

            Does she use Aristotelian metaphysics to argue an unCaused mover or does she use Aristotelian ethics in her other arguments. Aristotle along with Plato an be considered the founders of Western philosophy so many will make use of them. My contention is that no one uses the Aristotelian metaphysics for these proofs unless they are believers.

          • Josh

            Wasn't Antony Flew, as documented on this site, just this sort of person? I don't know what you mean by "believer." Christian or theist in general? You understand the spectrum is wide.

          • articulett

            He appears to have become a deist in his senescence. but it's hard to tell because he didn't remember writing the book where he said purportedly told this to his ghost writer as his cognition declined.

          • Josh

            I'll quote E. Feser again responding to this very point made by another philosopher:

            Rosenberg
            evidently thinks that when traditional metaphysicians and philosophers
            of religion insist that there must be some reason why events happen as
            they do, what they mean is that there must be some deterministic efficient cause;
            and since quantum physics tells us that there are events without causes
            of this sort, Rosenberg concludes that there is “no reason at all” why
            they happen. But of course, that is not what traditional metaphysicians
            and philosophers of religion mean. Aristotelians, for example, rather
            famously hold that the identification of an efficient cause is only one
            of four basic kinds of explanation, and many philosophers (including
            non-Aristotelians) would deny that even efficient causes are necessarily
            deterministic, but hold that they nevertheless remain true causes and
            truly explanatory.

            Insofar as we aren't operating on the same wavelength in our concepts of what can actually be a cause, we're doomed to talk past each other on this issue.

          • Rationalist1

            So you bring out the other three causes? DO you ever wonder why science never has to make use of the Aristotelian causes, only Thomistic metaphysics?

          • Josh

            I do wonder that, actually; I'm puzzled sometimes why scientists don't return to a metaphysics that helps resolve paradoxes in their theories, or help them overcome artifacts like the "mind-body" problem, which wasn't an explanatory issue before they abandoned a sounder metaphysics. We're all prone to making mistakes, I think; sometimes we gotta turn the boat around to move it in the right direction.

          • Rationalist1

            Because at the heart of it the quantum world does not obey Aristolean metaphysics. It's like asking why cosmologists don't use Euclidean geometry to study the universe. It's because general relativity showed that space is not-Euclidean. Fortunately Aquinas did embrace Euclidean geometry or we;d be having that argument too.

          • Josh

            I think you've got your arrow wrong; my point is that if the tool/model used doesn't resolve paradoxes, use a different set of tools, like the Euclidean model example you yourself bring up. Let's give the ol' Aristotelian metaphysics and philosophy of science a try, because the new stuff isn't doing so well if it's coming up with unintelligible answers.

          • Rationalist1

            Are you saying Quantum mechanics doesn't come up with intelligent results. And what are you typing on? Quantum mechanics has proven to be an incredibly useful and predictive theory and the fact that at its heart is a situation that is at odds with out macroscopic understanding of the world is our problem, not quantum mechanics. Why should we force the microscopic world to obey our preconceptions, especially imposing Aristilean metaphysics that has never made a prediction that can be verified.

          • ... if it's coming up with unintelligible answers.

            The word "unintelligible" is relative to the person evaluating the answer. As far as using "Aristotelian metaphysics and philosophy of science" is concerned, it brings to my mind a quotation from Thomas Jefferson I particularly like:

            "Ignorance is preferable to error, and he is closer to the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong."

            If Aristotle could come back, today, would he get busy fixing his errors, or would he toss it all out and start over based on what we know today? Would he eschew all the work done to develop critical thinking and the Scientific Method over these last two and a half thousand years?

          • So you don't agree with the idea that this is fallacious reasoning.

            No, because you have the burden of proof backwards. Aquinas is depending on the premise that everything has a cause. (It looked that way in his time and on his size scale.) But for this to be a universal law, you have to look at every thing and show the cause can be found without exception. R1 need only show a single case that might be uncaused to bring down Aquinas. QM has a vast number of these, beta decay is just an easy to demonstrate example. Again, the burden is upon you to show that the cause and effect relationships we see on the size scale of our lives, hold in all cases and on all scales. Can you carry that burden?

            Got evidence?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            According to Feser, the cosomological argument does not begin with the premise that everything has a cause. "What defenders of the cosmological argument do say is that what comes into existence has a cause, or that what is contingent has a cause."

            http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/07/so-you-think-you-understand.html

          • "What defenders of the cosmological argument do say is that what comes into existence has a cause, or that what is contingent has a cause."

            Which carries the burden right along with it. If you recognize some things as even perhaps not contingent, then you lose the forcing argument of the Universe as must being contingent. You can't dodge the burden of showing either that all things must have causes or all things must be contingent, or both.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The argument is that NOT all things have a cause. There is NOT a burden of showing all things must have causes or be contingent because that is not asserted.

          • The argument is that NOT all things have a cause.

            Really? Then what is this from the OP?

            Now the whole universe is a vast, interlocking chain of things that come into existence. Each of these things must therefore have a cause. My parents caused me, my grandparents caused them, et cetera. But it is not that simple. I would not be here without billions of causes, from the Big Bang through the cooling of the galaxies and the evolution of the protein molecule to the marriages of my ancestors. The universe is a vast and complex chain of causes.

            All the arguments are based on this assumption, which is presented without justification for its generality, or evidence.

            Got evidence?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Kreeft is building the argument.

            He is saying that everything in the universe is caused by something else.

            Are you saying THAT needs to be proven?

          • Are you saying THAT needs to be proven?

            Yes, if that is not true, the whole forcing argument fails.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Do you mean the randomness of behavior at the quantum level?

          • Michael Murray

            Yep. And he needs to get rid of infinite regress and stop quoting CS Lewis.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            To paraphrase QQ, "got reasons?"

          • Susan

            >The argument is that NOT all things have a cause. There is NOT a burden of showing all things must have causes or be contingent because that is not asserted

            I want to be sure I have it right, then. Isn't the argument that all things are contingent except for a single uncaused cause?

            In which case, Q. Quine's point seems exactly correct.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think that is correct.

          • Susan

            >I think that is correct.

            Then, we're agreed. Sorry Kevin. Disqus is hard. I just realized that you posted this and that Q. Quine already responded or I wouldn't have bothered to reiterate it.

            Your response should be to Q.

          • Michael Murray

            So things that have a cause have a cause. I've always loved tautologies.

          • Gary Black

            I guess we should give AdrianTheRock a Nobel Prize. His explanations makes sense to me.

            http://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=574168
            Man things are easy to Google these days.

          • Josh

            That's good stuff. Perhaps this post from that page will find supporters here:

            Quantum mechanics predicts the probability of an event happening, but is silent on why events happen. Most interpretations of QM say that there is no explanation possible for the randomness, and it is an inherent part of the quantum world. Thus, I believe most physicists would answer that when a Uranium nucleus sits quietly for a billion years and then one day decays, it is not possible to give a reason for why it decayed at that time and not some other time.

            If this is true, it supports agnosticism about causation, and not the positive assertion that there is no cause. If one must be silent, then one must be silent. I think Wittgenstein said something like that once.

          • Rationalist1

            He describes the environment where radioactive decay occurs. but that does not describe the when of decay. The when is uncaused.

        • SJH

          Please explain more. Is it random or do we just not understand it? Does
          it just seem random because we cannot understand the pattern yet? Am I to believe that if Einstein cannot prove it then it must not be true? Using common sense for a second, when you say that something is completely random, I say, are you sure? Show me another example of this phenomena that also reflects random actions. Also, shouldn't a person have to prove something is random before they make that claim since it defies logic? If I claimed that the rabbit really did come from nowhere, it would be then expected of me to prove it if i am to be taken seriously.

          • Rationalist1

            Random tables of numbers are often generated using radioactive decay. All mathematical test show that they are truly random. If there were hidden variables this would not be the case.

            And no one doesn't have to take Einstein's failure to discount this as a proof, but it was probably the best test of the theory that could be mounted. (see the Bohr-Einstein debates)

            More examples, all of quantum mechanics. The evolution of a dynamics system is determined by a wave equation, whose absolute magnitude represents the probability of a particular measurement.

  • A Catholic Seminarian

    In my understanding, Aquinas' arguments leave open the possibility of an infinite series "horizontal" causes (i.e. temporally forwards and backwards), but there cannot be an infinite series of causes in a "vertical direction" (i.e. what causes existence to exist at every moment). At this moment, there cannot be an infinite regress of causes which cause the universe to exist; thus God is understood as the first cause in the "vertical direction."

    If God exists eternally, then because of this, I believe Aquinas would argue that it is POSSIBLE that the physical universe has existed as an infinite series of causes. Catholic understanding of creation necessarily holds that God continually creates, but does not necessarily say that there was a "first moment."

    • Josh

      That's correct; Aquinas actually assumes that the universe is eternal in his arguments, and proceeds from there. He believed that it was a matter of faith that we could hold that the universe had a beginning, and so sought to prove God's existence apart from that article of revelation. Great point.

      • A Catholic Seminarian

        Thanks for the reply! I've often found that this is a misunderstood point of Thomas'. I know Kreeft wasn't directly arguing for the "horizontal" causes, but the article only makes mention of them, when the "vertical" causes are the more correct and convincing.

        • Josh

          Right; E. Feser also notes the distinction between a causal series ordered per accidens like a father begetting a son, and one ordered per se, like a hand holding a stick pushing a stone.

  • scrivej1

    I never understood how what's termed as Aquinas' third argument here proves God's existance. Things that have the potential to die, to not exist, will enivitably attain that potential? Why is this assumed? Why not infinite "ceasing to be" with infinite moments of tranformation into other things. I cease to be the person I was 1 minute ago and a tin can rusting away ceases to be such after 1000 years in water, but there is no less matter in the universe because of either. Also, even if things possess the potentiality to "not be," why is it assumed that we do not have this "universal death" somewhere in the future? In other words, the "universal death does not exist" *yet* and "things do exist" *now.* The present existence of things cannot prove that their potential for unbeing does not exist. This argument seems highly untenable and I noticed that you didn't address its criticisms with the others.

    • DAVID

      I think that Aquinas would not, in theory, dispute the possibility that:

      an "infinite 'ceasing to be' with infinite moments of transformation into other things"

      But Aquinas would say that this is what matter does. It is not what entities do. To speak of an entity is to admit such a thing as "permanence." For example, despite what you have said, you are in fact the same person that you were 1 minute ago. You are essentially the same person that you were since you came into existence. But you, as well as I, have a definite starting point and a definite end. We have the potential to die and we inevitably will. The same is true for everything else. H2O has the potential to cease being H2O; it can be broken into its constitutive elements. Any complex thing, composed of parts, has potential to be broken into its constitutive elements.

      • scrivej1

        Okay, but even after limiting it entities, I am still at a loss as to how the present persistence of entities proves i) that the possibility of ceasing to be must/does not exist for everything and that ii) this neccessitates an eternal God.

        On my 2nd point: It seems that the proof about God's immortality hinges on the immortality of the "universe as observer." But this is inconclusive proof of God's actualy immortality.

        On my 1st point: The persistence of the universe, even if accepted as proving its immortality, does not prove its eternity(infinity of time in both directions) or non eternity (and subsequently, the eternity of its creator). That is, if the universe is nourished forever and isn't eventually overwhelmed by enthropy (breaking down), then there must be some divine mechanic or supernatural medic.

        Hmmm, this 2nd point, now that I think of it, could be used to the prove the existence of God in this way (but not his pre-existence before the universe). But there must be the assumption that the universe isn't just taking really really long to reach its final decaying moment. This assumption seems to be unfounded.

        • DAVID

          Okay, but even after limiting it entities, I am still at a loss as to how the present persistence of entities proves i) that the possibility of ceasing to be must/does not exist for everything and that ii) this neccessitates an eternal God.

          To address your first point, I should correct myself by making a clarification. Its not so much that everything in the universe ceases to be, but that it comes into existence in the first place. In other words, I came into existence and yet I am not capable of bringing myself into existence. I needed help in order to exist. We observe that this is true for everything in the universe. If it is true of everything in the universe, then it must a fair characterization of the universe, itself. The line of reasoning continues: if the universe needs the assistance of something else in order to exist, then it must be something outside the universe which exists on its own power. If it exists on its own power, then it exists eternally, for there is nothing to limit or condition its existence. This is the First Cause.

        • DAVID

          I would add one more thing. You seem to touch upon something important when you say:

          That is, if the universe is nourished forever and isn't eventually overwhelmed by enthropy (breaking down), then there must be some divine mechanic or supernatural medic.

          I have read that the idea of "nourishment" is also important to understanding the First Cause argument. It is not enough that I needed help to come into existence, it is also necessary that my existence be sustained, or nourished, so that I might continue to exist. To generalize from me, in particular, to the universe in general, it can also be stated that the existence of the universe must be sustained. This nourishment of the universe is also what the First Cause does.

    • DAVID

      oops, I didn't mean to include half of my response in double block quotes.

  • Summary of the whole argument:

    Such a being would have to be God, of course.

    It's not just magical thinking, it's magical logic:

    If A then B; A; therefore B -- *POOF!* -- and God too!

  • Sample1

    I'll try to approach this from a different angle.

    Why don't the classical Proofs Aquinas offers meet universal acceptance? Is the response going to be along the lines of free will? In other words is it because people are either ignorant about the arguments, willfully reject the arguments from misunderstanding or Satanic allegiance? In other, other words is the lack of universal acceptance of this Catholic Doctor's teachings related to the same overall rejection of the Catholic Faith by billions of other people?

    Mike

    • Rationalist1

      Actually the Aquinas "proofs" of God exist in other religions. Indeed the Kalām cosmological argument has origins in Jewish and Muslim theology as well as Christian.

      But they are arguments at best for a deistic God, not one of the various theistic Gods that people around the world believe in.

      And most modern philosophers don't accept them due to well established errors in their reasoning (the majority of modern philosophers are atheists). Scientists don't accept them because the Aristotean science and assumptions about how the world works has been greatly superseded by modern science.

      • Sample1

        Yes, I was going to mention Maimonides, et al., but decided to open the curtain, just a wee bit, on the unspoken elephant here. And that is for people with naturalistic world views, the chance that Aquinas was wrong must, in principle, be a part of any discussion.

        I'm not seeing that here.

        Mike

  • severalspeciesof

    "Nothing just is without a reason why it is. Everything that is has some adequate or sufficient reason why it is."

    "... there is an eternal, necessary, independent,
    self-explanatory being with nothing above it, before it, or supporting
    it."

    I'm trying my hardest to square the two statements. Why isn't the second statement:

    ... there is an eternal, necessary, independent,
    self-explanatory 'thing' with nothing above it, before it, or supporting
    it.

    It's as though there was a sleight of hand that went unnoticed...

  • Claudio Nogueiras

    beautiful explanation.

  • Michael Murray

    Not everyone can understand all the abstract details of the first-cause argument, but anyone can understand its basic point: as C. S. Lewis put it, "I felt in my bones that this universe does not explain itself."

    If we've learnt something from quantum mechanics and general relativity it has to be that our "bones" are a bad guide to how the universe behaves.

    The answer is that real beings are not like numbers: they need causes, for the chain of real beings moves in one direction only, from past to future, and the future is caused by the past.

    And "real things" are ? In any case I don't see the logical problem with infinite regress. You have an infinite list of things extending out to the left and the right. Each causes the things to its right. Where is the problem ?

    Like I said before it's a 12th century understanding of the world. We've moved on.

    • DAVID

      In any case I don't see the logical problem with infinite regress. You have an infinite list of things extending out to the left and the right. Each causes the things to its right. Where is the problem ?

      The problem with infinite regression is that it continuously defers an explanation without ever reaching an explanation. To borrow the example used in the article above, its like an infinitely long train with no engine. You can explain how the car in front is pulling the car behind it, but without an engine, there is no final explanation as to why there is any movement at all.

      • Michael Murray

        Who says there have to be an explanation ? All you have is an infinite set of things with a relation that each is related to all the things on the right. It's a perfectly logical mathematical structure.

        • DAVID

          To put it bluntly, if you rely on something which doesn't offer you and explanation, then you rely on an absurdity. "An infinite set of things" which no explanation as to how any of them got there in the first place is absurd. Sorry, but its true.

          • Michael Murray

            No it's not. The argument against infinite regression is usually done on the basis that it's illogical. I'm pointing out that it isn't. It's just another form of Zeno's supposed paradox. Mathematicians understand infinity. That it seems absurd to you just means you don't. Sorry.

            Of course maybe you are objecting that in the "real world" we can't have infinity. Maybe so but now you are doing physics and need a physical argument not a purely logical one based on physical dubious notions like "causer" or "explanation".

          • DAVID

            An infinite regression may be described in mathematical terms, but that doesn't make it a good description of reality. By the way, we're not arguing physics; we're arguing metaphysics. On top of that, unless you have something substantial with which to replace cause/effect, you really have no argument.

          • Susan

            > By the way, we're not arguing physics; we're arguing metaphysics.

            How on earth can we have a metaphysical argument about all of reality without giving physics a seat at the table? Can you explain what you think metaphysics means?

            > unless you have something substantial with which to replace cause/effect, you really have no argument.

            Unless you demonstrate that your naïve, murky definitions of cause/effect hold true for everything in the "universe", then you really have no argument.

          • On top of that, unless you have something substantial with which to replace cause/effect, you really have no argument.

            He does not even need one. He is not arguing for the existence of anything or making any other positive assertion. You are arguing for the existence of a deity or deities, or something supernatural. You have the burden.

          • Michael Murray

            You are arguing about the real world aren't you? I assume you want your god to exist in the real world we live in not in some fantasy world ? If you are arguing about reality then you are doing physics. You can't skip the physics and say "oh I'm just doing metaphysics". If you are arguing causality and worrying that the universe may or may not be infinite you are doing physics.

            you really have no argument.

            My only argument is the self-evident one that you don't know enough physics to make any form of argument about the real world. Neither do I for that matter but then I'm not trying to make assertions about physics I'm just telling you where the problems are.

          • DAVID

            The question suddenly occurred to me. Has physics really disproven causality? The answer is, of course, no. Michael, the most that you can say is that there is certain quantum phenomena in which causality has not been observed. That's not saying much. It certainly doesn't disprove causality. As far as I know, the jury is still out as to whether these quantum occurrences are even exceptions to causality. We just don't know yet.

          • Has physics really disproven causality?

            I am not sure what it would mean to say that physics has disproven causality. As I have noted several times, what is at issue is this statement:

            We never deny the Principle of Sufficient Reason itself. No one believes the Pop Theory: that things just pop into existence for no reason at all. Perhaps we will never find the cause, but there must be a cause for everything that comes into existence.

            The reigning interpretation of quantum mechanics says things do happen without a cause, and that things (like virtual particles) do pop into existence for no reason at all. In fact, as I understand it, one theory is that universes pop into existence for no reason at all.

            Now, are physicists right? I certainly can't prove they are. But certainly Kreeft is quite wrong to say that we never deny the principle of sufficient reason.

          • Now, are physicists right? I certainly can't prove they are. But certainly Kreeft is quite wrong to say that we never deny the principle of sufficient reason.

            And that is the critical part. Even without disproof of causality, the doubt thrown on causality holding in every case, breaks the forcing property of the argument.

          • DAVID

            The problem with denying sufficient reason is that there is no alternative concept. While you can assert that something "pops into existence," you can't conceptualize it. You are left asserting something with no explanation. It seems highly unlikely that physicists are just going to leave the problem where they've found it and say: "it just happens."

          • Michael Murray

            It seems highly unlikely that physicists are just going to leave the problem where they've found it and say: "it just happens."

            Actually that is how physicists are leaving it. Happy doesn't come into it. People have tried to find hidden variables that somehow underpin quantum mechanics and remove the randomness but there don't appear to be any.

            On what do you base your "it seems highly unlikely"?

          • DAVID

            On what do you base your "it seems highly unlikely"?

            Its highly unlikely because, if you say that something "just happens," you are admitting no conceptual basis for understanding it. Its a very anti-intellectual approach. You can't conceptualize something without understanding what causes it. Without a concept, its only an assertion. It explains nothing. Yet another reason why we can't just get rid of causality.

          • Its highly unlikely because, if you say that something "just happens," you are admitting no conceptual basis for understanding it. Its a very anti-intellectual approach.

            This is somewhat of an empirical matter. Do physicists, in fact, attempt to get around the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and measure both the position and the momentum of moving particles to greater and greater degrees of precision? They do not, because it is accepted that this cannot be done in principle. Are physicists working on figuring out how to predict when one radioactive atom of a large collection will decay? I certainly don't think so. I believe it is accepted that there is no way, in principle, of predicting when a given radioactive atom will decay.

            I don't think anyone thinks the Heisenberg uncertainty principle is anti-intellectual because it admits there are certain things that, in principle, we cannot know.

          • DAVID

            Do physicists, in fact, attempt to get around the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and measure both the position and the momentum of moving particles to greater and greater degrees of precision? They do not, because it is accepted that this cannot be done in principle.

            But of course, if we conclude that we cannot know something in principle, we have gone through a process of reasoning which explains why we cannot know it. We have offered a conceptual basis for our inability to understand it. In other words, there is a cause, a reason, for why we do not know it. To that extent, its an intellectual conclusion.

          • we have gone through a process of reasoning which explains why we cannot know it

            But in this case, say with regard to the reason a radioactive atom decays at a certain time and not another time, the reason why we can't know the cause is that there is no reason. It is not because we can't know something because of the limitations of our observation and our tools. It is because there is nothing to know. God does play dice.

          • DAVID

            I have to apologize because I can only answer with a speculative comment. When science starts to answer questions definitively with, "there is nothing to know," then I will assume that science has begun to die. Science has reached its natural limit and can no longer explain what it sees. If what you say is true, then we've just seen the first nail go into the coffin.

          • If what you say is true, then we've just seen the first nail go into the coffin.

            Two comments . . . .

            First, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle is a fundamental fact about the nature of reality. Trying to come up with ways to measure the momentum and position of a particle beyond the degree of accuracy that the uncertainty principle has demonstrated is possible is no more misguided of science than ceasing to try to transmute lead into gold (chemically) or build a perpetual motion machine.

            Second, I know that this is not the thread on intelligent design and theistic evolution, but in the former and perhaps the latter, an attempt really is made to say, "We've reached the limit. This is irreducible complexity. We have to stop attempting further discovery here and accept that an intelligent designer is responsible.

          • DAVID

            Trying to come up with ways to measure the momentum and position of a particle beyond the degree of accuracy that the uncertainty principle has demonstrated is possible is no more misguided of science than ceasing to try to transmute lead into gold (chemically) or build a perpetual motion machine.

            I'm responding to your word "misguided." I wasn't implying that scientists are misguided in their conclusions. That's not for me to say.

            Second, I know that this is not the thread on intelligent design and theistic evolution, but in the former and perhaps the latter, an attempt really is made to say, "We've reached the limit. This is irreducible complexity. We have to stop attempting further discovery here and accept that an intelligent designer is responsible.

            I do not side with the intelligent design people. I really do hope that the physical world is "discoverable" and amenable to our scientific inquiries. But I still say: if scientists really are reaching the point where they can no longer describe the world further, and must answer questions with, "there is nothing to know," then science has reached its limit. I'm not happy about it! I'm merely observing it.

          • It seems highly unlikely that physicists are just going to leave the problem where they've found it and say: "it just happens."

            Well, they are certainly going to keep trying. They don't say "it just happens," instead they have special professional terminology for it. They say, "shut up and calculate."

          • Michael Murray

            We just don't know yet.

            All I was trying to say. Although you want to throw in quantum entanglement and the general problem of defining causality in the absence of a notion of time. I don't think it's disproven just raised serious doubts about the using the concept as if it is some sort of universal thing based on our limited intuition. It's like talking about "temperature". A very useful concept in many situations. But ask questions like "what is the temperature of this quark" and you have stepped outside the range of utility of the notion. I think causality is like that.

            Bottom line. You can't make arguments based on causality which are going try to prove really fundamental facts about existence like the existence of gods.

            And I still haven't had an answer to why the universe might not have an infinite causal regress.

          • DAVID

            And I still haven't had an answer to why the universe might not have an infinite causal regress.

            But Michael, my very first post provided you with an answer.

            "The problem with infinite regression is that it continuously defers an explanation without ever reaching an explanation. To borrow the example used in the article above, its like an infinitely long train with no engine. You can explain how the car in front is pulling the car behind it, but without an engine, there is no final explanation as to why there is any movement at all."

            To this, you replied something like:"why does there have to be an explanation?"

          • Michael Murray

            I was talking about a long line of things where each caused the next. Not a long line of things with no causes. Think of an infinite line of train engines.

          • Its been going on forever.

            Or, in a higher dimensionality space-time the dominos loop back and have been going around, forever.

          • Michael Murray

            Ah nice.

          • DAVID

            Not a long line of things with no causes. Think of an infinite line of train engines.

            You are saying that one thing causes another thing to happen: a causal chain. A causal chain is like a line of train cars hooked together. But if you suppose that it is "an infinite line of train engines," then we run into problems. If each car is an engine, then we're not talking about a causal chain after all. Each engine does not need to be in causal relation to the thing next to it. Why? Because it has its own engine. It causes itself to move without help. Your explanation contradicts itself.

          • Michael Murray

            I agree it's not a perfect analogy. What about the dominoes I edited in later

            Or maybe an infinite line of dominos. Each one falls and hits the one in front. Its been going on forever. Not possible in our universe as far enough back they would be quark gluon plasma or something. But nothing logically wrong with this.

          • DAVID

            The problem is that the series is infinite. Without a specific time frame, you can't make sense of it. If the series stretches back an infinite number of moments in the past, then it will take an infinite number of moments to get to this moment. But you can never reach the end of an infinite number of moments. Therefore, it would be impossible to arrive at this very moment.

          • Michael Murray

            But you can never reach the end of an infinite number of moments. Therefore, it would be impossible to arrive at this very moment.

            No-one is suggesting arriving from anywhere. There really isn't any logical problem with what I am suggesting.

            (Note you need to be a little careful what you say as I am assuming your infinite number of moments are separated by some constant amount. Otherwise you are going to end up in Zeno's Paradox or similar. An infinite number of moments have passed since I typed this sentence. )

          • ... But you can never reach the end of an infinite number of moments. Therefore, it would be impossible to arrive at this very moment.

            If time is continuous, you have already traversed an infinite number of moments to get to the end of this sentense.

          • DAVID

            If time is continuous, you have already traversed an infinite number of moments to get to the end of this sentense.

            Well, to borrow Michael Murray's words in the comment above:

            I am assuming your infinite number of moments are separated by some constant amount. Otherwise you are going to end up in Zeno's Paradox or similar. An infinite number of moments have passed since I typed this sentence.

          • Yes, I noticed that Michael and I put in almost the same comment in, at almost the same time, and about time, to boot.

            The problem reflects an old one about having an eternal deity (i.e. "ever was") get to the point in time (moment) of Creation. The deity would have to sit through a "forever" of time, constant amount of separation or not, to get to "now," any now. This is sidestepped with the usual "outside of time" phrase that no one can pin down.

            One could do the same dodge by saying that time only exists inside the Universes of the infinite sequence, not between them, as each brings the next into existence through "actuation of potential," said potential existing outside of time. It is as good an unfalsifiable premise as you are going to find in the family of CA arguments.

          • DAVID

            This is sidestepped with the usual "outside of time" phrase that no one can pin down.

            Of course, "outside of time" is the only way that you can reasonably think of a God who created everything. If God did not create time, then God did not create everything. In order to create time, God would have to exist outside of it.

          • In order to create time, God would have to exist outside of it.

            Is that possible?

          • DAVID

            Is that possible?

            Well sure! If God created it, then he does just fine without it. God is not dependent upon anything, let alone what he creates.

          • But the change from before to after the creation of time, is a state change that indicates at least one step in time, so the Creator would have been in time. How do you resolve that?

          • DAVID

            I tend to see God's creation of time in spatial terms, like a guy creating a doll house. You wouldn't have to step inside of a doll house in order to create it. Neither would God have to "step inside" of time.

          • But time is not space, and being outside of time would be to sacrifice the ability to change, which eliminates the possibility of creating time, which would in itself, be a before to after change.

          • DAVID

            I think there's something circular about your reasoning. You seem to be saying: God needed time to create time. But if he is capable of creating it, then why would he need it?

          • No, it is just that being "outside of time" and having any change seems self-contradictory.

          • Susan

            Hi Q. Quine,

            I think I see what you're saying here.

            How COULD you resolve that without ignoring the relationship that change and time have?

            You would have to completely ignore what we know about that relationship and pretend the words don't mean what they mean.

            I'm not sure how to make sense out of it.

          • I don't know how to resolve it. It has always bugged me from when I was quite young and religious teachers would say "outside of time" as a collection of words, but never explained how that meant anything.

          • Andrew

            I had a thought about that once. I wouldn't say it is necessarily a description of what Catholics mean when they say God is outside of time -- it is just a thought experiment.
            Let's say that I create a two-dimensional artificial universe, where the whole universe I have created sits in a plane. Now, I don't want the plane universe to progress in time the way that I do; I want to see the entire history of the universe all at once. So I build every moment of this universe as a separate universe in its own right, and stack all of the universes together, in sequential order, so that each plane represents the progression of the universe in "its" time. I then dictate that the experience of the beings in my plane universe (their understanding of time) is that they are conscious of each plane in the stack, in turn.
            In this model, I am outside of the plane universe's experience of time -- in fact, their "time" is one of my spatial dimensions. It's not quite that I don't experience time; it's just that I experience it completely differently than the plane universe beings do.
            Did that make any sense? It is late where I am. :)

          • Yes, I have used a similar analogy based on frames in movies on film stock. You can hold the whole movie in you hand, or run it at any point and the characters in the movie demonstrate memory of what came before but not after, in their "own time."

            But it is just an analogy. One could make up a story like that for our Universe, but it is just a story that still does not provide a way to test a definition of "outside time" for actual meaning to us.

          • Andrew

            No, of course not. I doubt very much that any idea of "outside time" is testable. It is merely a thought experiment to motivate the idea that such a thing is conceptually possible.

          • Michael Murray

            If god is sitting outside space-time holding the movie in her hand she can see everything. Nothing changes because the movie is all done. Kind of boring existence for her. Of course implicitly you think of her as floating around able to do things in time. So there is another time - gods time.

            We could digress now to a discussion of why we perceive time as changing when really we live in a frozen space-time in which are bundles of unchanging worldliness!

          • So, you watch the movie and listen to the characters talk about time going by and how they feel about it. They don't know what part you start at; just feels like "now." to them.

          • Michael Murray

            [Keyboard warning for Susan]

            WIth the sound track from "As time goes by?"

            "Of all the planets, in all the universe, in all the multiverse, she incorporates into mine."

          • Susan

            They don't write love songs like that any more.

          • Susan

            And she could just be a frame in someone else's movie.

          • Indeed, which is why mythology and science fiction are so much alike. It is easy to write a story about a deity that creates things, but when you try to fill in the actual "how does it work" things are not so easy. For example, if you have an eternal deity, you have to wait an infinite amount of that deity's time, before it gets around to creating your world.

          • Susan

            > For example, if you have an eternal deity, you have to wait an infinite amount of that deity's time, before it gets around to creating your world.

            Which is why she has to be beyond time and we are back to where we started.

            The perfectly logical mathematical model that Michael has brought up is supposed to be impossible because we would not be able to be here.

            Unless we are a frame in a deity's movie, but she could be a frame in another deity's movie and that could go on forever.

            They could all transcend time after time after time.

            It's a good thing the physicists are doing real work on things while Peter Kreeft and I are just making things up.

          • Susan

            > It has always bugged me from when I was quite young and religious teachers would say "outside of time" as a collection of words, but never explained how that meant anything.
            I had the same problem. They would say it and I would think and think about it and I couldn't see how the words could mean anything.
            I had the same problem with supernatural. What did they mean by nature if nature didn't mean what exists and where would the sign be saying, "Leaving Nature. Welcome to Supernature."
            And immaterial. It's swirling language and I'm never sure what it is trying to say.
            The preferred verb used to make sense of it is "transcend".
            It's a pretty word but not a very clear one.
            Anyway, sorry to wander off.
            I also wonder how David would resolve that. I'm glad you asked.

          • I have yet to hear anything I find satisfying as a conceptual possibility, but rather, still hear a conceptual "stop asking that question."

          • Susan

            > rather, still hear a conceptual "stop asking that question."

            Yes. It's often put in terms like "but IF (a deity I have given multiple unevidenced attributes to that have nothing to do with this question, and whose attributes I pretend aren't a factor for this particular point) existed, it would be beyond those terms.

            That sort of thing drove me crazy for years because I wanted to make sure I wasn't missing something. I finally had to stop taking it seriously.

            I still check in regularly to see if I'm missing something, but I keep getting the same answers that don't seem to be answers at all.

          • How COULD you resolve that without ignoring the relationship that change and time have?

            But God (I think I would specify the God of philosophers) does not change. And we no longer think of time, but space-time. If there is a pure spirit who created space-time, how could he be within it either as a nonphysical being or the creator of it?

          • DAVID

            But when you say, "a change," you are implying time, are you not? Changes take place in time. You essentially are saying that God needed time to create time.

          • Since one cannot traverse an infinity of anything, we see instead that the hidden assumption of infinite divisibility is making its appearance again.

            Let's call it Quinn's paradox.

            It can be resolved in two ways, at least:

            1. Since the sentence got typed, it is incontestibly the case that an infinity of moments- or anything else- were *not* traversed.

            2. Time does not consist in an everywhere-dense continuum, any more than space does.

            The mathematicians are always deeply distressed to find this unreasonable and stubborn refusal of existence to conform to their deepest intuitions, but that's life.

          • Michael Murray

            Of course you can traverse an infinity of things if you don't spend too long on each one. What is the sum of the series

            1 + 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 +

          • "Mathematicians don't worry about existence that's for physicists."

            Perhaps this is why the physicists don't make the elementary mistake answered above, and also do not make the elementary mistake you add to the mix here:

            "Of course you can traverse an infinity of things if you don't spend too long on each one."

            >> In fact you cannot traverse an infinity of things no matter how much, or little time, you spend on each one.

            An infinity of things can never be attained in physics.

            When infinity shows up in physics, it is the ultimate red flag that one's theory has encountered a fatal contradiction.

          • Michael Murray

            More assertions without any evidence. That's another red flag. So why are the real numbers not a good model for the real world?

          • Ooops, above reply should be here:

            Because the real world involves space and time, neither of which are infinitely divisible.

          • Michael Murray

            You are just asserting again. Evidence ?

          • Because the real world involves space and time, neither of which are infinitely divisible.

          • But you just did. You typed a sentence, and were time infinitely divisible, you would never have traversed the infinity of moments required :-)

          • Michael Murray

            Zenos paradox 400 BCE. Great. OK enough silliness I have an infinite afternoon to get through.

          • Yes, Zeno and his mentor Parmenides had exquisitely persuasive arguments for the bit of barking madness that an infinite division of space proved we could not cross a room.

            The average Joe just crosses the room and leaves it at that.

            The mathematicians invent the calculus (the "actual infinitesimal" of Liebniz" or the "limit" of Cauchy).

            The scientists have to wait for Max Planck to prove that there is no such thing as the continuum in physics.

          • Susan

            >The scientists have to wait for Max Planck to prove that there is no such thing as the continuum in physics

            He needed a little bit of math for that. :-)

          • Andrew G.

            Planck proved nothing of the kind, and all of modern physics (yes, including quantum mechanics) is still done in continuous spacetime. (Lattices may be used for computational purposes, but this is done with the intent of recovering the continuous theory in the limit as the lattice spacing goes to 0.)

            Theories with actual discrete spacetime, such as loop quantum gravity and its derivatives, are still wholly speculative and do not yet even recover existing experimental results in the limiting case, much less make predictions that can be tested.

          • severalspeciesof

            Planck proved nothing of the kind, and all of modern physics (yes,
            including quantum mechanics) is still done in continuous spacetime.

            But Andrew, Rick says it did, therefore it's true... ;P

          • severalspeciesof

            Ah, Zeno's paradox, where a concept is shoehorned into a reality where the concept is assumed to have the same qualities as the reality... I've seen that attempted in another place... now where was that?

          • Susan

            >The mathematicians are always deeply distressed to find this unreasonable and stubborn refusal of existence to conform to their deepest intuitions, but that's life.

            Where are all these distressed mathematicians? I wasn't aware that mathematicians worried about much about except math (and maybe their families and whatever sort of things each mathematician gets up to).

            >Since the sentence got typed, it is incontestibly the case that an infinity of moments- or anything else- were *not* traversed.

            If it's incontestable, why bring it up?

            "Incontestable" is an amped up version of "Trust me."

            Define "infinity" and go from there.

            Q. and Michael's infinity is conceptually real.

            It's the real world that keeps it from taking over.

            You responded to it and I responded to that. We traversed an infinity. Reality will chug along while we define "infinity".

          • Hi Susan. Michael and I both know about Zeno. DAVID made a little slip by using the word "moment" without an assigned duration, so it could be interpreted as a point in time without duration. Points in time are not things so if time is continuous (which I doubt, actually) there are an infinite number (worse, really, because it is the infinity corresponding to the set size of the real numbers) of points in time to get past to get to any "now."

            The actual question that DAVID had, and that had come from his discussion with Michael concerned the ruling out of infinite regress of prior time. Philosophers have generally done that based on extrapolating the kind of time we have now into the past, the way the physicists do for the Big Bang. That line of thought leads to problems so those problems are sighted by the theologians in support of the CA. As I wrote above, they sidestep the same problem, re their deity or deities, by the "outside of time" deflection.

            But, the extrapolation of the kind of "time as we know it" back before our Universe has known properties flips us into speculation because we can't test any given hypothesis. Some physicists speculate about an infinite succession of "baby universes" arising (not necessarily sequentially) from an "always was" potential. Time, as we know it, need not operate on the inter-universe frame (yes, "outside of time"). That is just one of any number of un-provable, and un-testable, speculations that make it hard to have a slam-dunk argument ruling out infinite regress.

            Now, I don't think that infinite regress is the case, but Michael has put out a significant challenge for anyone to prove it isn't. Won't be I.

          • Michael Murray

            Now, I don't think that infinite regress is the case, but Michael has
            put out a significant challenge for anyone to prove it isn't. Won't be
            I.

            I'm happy enough that the physical evidence is against it. I just don't buy the argument usually used that "there can't be an infinite past because if there was we could never get here". Where are we coming from ? It's about as sensible as saying 0 can't be a number because we're never going to be able to count our way up to it through the infinite number of negative numbers.

            I still haven't had a good answer to the dominos :-)

          • Susan

            >Time, as we know it, need not operate on the inter-universe frame (yes, "outside of time"). That is just one of any number of un-provable, and un-testable, speculations that make it hard to have a slam-dunk argument ruling out infinite regress.

            I got that much.

            It was just fun to waggle Zeno's bum at the idea of infinity.

            The word gets thrown around here as though it has one meaning and everyone here has seen all the implications of that meaning. It's a silly word unless it means something.

            >>Now, I don't think that infinite regress is the case, but Michael has put out a significant challenge for anyone to prove it isn't. Won't be I.

            Nor I. Just another thing that hasn't been disproved.
            Which means its "impossibility" can't be used to justify a First Cause.

            I just thought it would be a little bit of fun to traverse infinity.

          • ... fun to traverse infinity.

            Indeed. And beyond!

          • Conceptually real, my dear Susan, is not relevant in the case of physics.

            Physics requires that our concepts be susceptible of experimental test.

            Infinity cannot be subjected to experimental test, since it is a mathematical, not a physical, entity.

            But it is very helpful to document the atheist tactic of conflating mathematical infinity with physics.

            Mathematical infinity has no analogy in physics.

            When infinities appear in physics, it is a red flag that one's theory has encountered a devastating contradiction.

            I invite you to suggest the contrary, since I have had the pleasure of recently interviewing the great physicist George Ellis on this very question, and I will be happy to post from the transcript, so that the interested reader might have grounds upon which to assess whether Susan, or George Ellis, is in a position to credibly address the question.

          • Susan

            >Physics requires that our concepts be susceptible of experimental test.

            Yep. No argument here.

          • Andrew G.

            There's no point in your parroting the words of physicists if you don't know what they mean.

            "Infinity" in mathematics can mean a number of different things. The sense implied by treating spacetime as continuous (i.e. that all convergent sequences have a limit, and therefore that the cardinality of points in spacetime is uncountable) is not the same sense as implied in statements like "when infinities appear in physics, it is a red flag that one's theory has encountered a devastating contradiction.".

            When we talk about traversing an infinite number of points in spacetime, that's the first sense; i.e. that spacetime is a continuum (or at least is computable, which would mean a countably infinite number of points).

          • "There's no point in your parroting the words of physicists if you don't know what they mean."

            >> Boy howdy.

            "Infinity" in mathematics can mean a number of different things.

            >> As we have established previously, if one does not understand the words of *physicists*, there is no point in parroting them.

            Another contributor to intellectual bomfoggery is to conflate the words that mathematicians use, with the words thatn physicists use, especially when the words are the same, but have different meanings in mathematics than in physics.

            Which is exactly what you have done above- notice the inserttion of the word "mathematicians", after formulating your objection based on "physicists".

            Drearily predictable, actually.

            "The sense implied by treating spacetime as continuous (i.e. that all convergent sequences have a limit, and therefore that the cardinality of points in spacetime is uncountable) is not the same sense as implied in statements like "when infinities appear in physics, it is a red flag that one's theory has encountered a devastating contradiction.".

            >> That is because we know that treating spacetime as continuous doesn't work once we attempt to fit quantum phenomena into our space-time.

            Even the relatively ignorant should have figured this out by now, given the rather important fact an approximately one hundred and twenty order of magnitude contradiction exists between quantum prediction and classical observation, and of course trying to work the other way around, and render quantum observations mathematically continuous, is a direct contradiction in terms.

            This is why it is, helpfully, the *quantum* theory.

            It deals with *quanta*.

            *Quanta* are discrete.

            They are not continuous.

            This is a fact of physics, and curve-fitting mathematics are entirely irrelevant to the question.

            As Einstein memorably put it, when confronted with the stubborn refusal of reality to confirm the existence of the continuum upon which his theory is based:

            "The application of the formal basis of the general theory of relativity to the 'microscopic' can, therefore, be based only upon the fact that the tensor is the formally simplest covariant structure which can come under consideration. Such argumentation, however, carries no weight with anyone who doubts that we have to adhere to the continuum at all. All honor to his doubt- but where else is there a passable road?'"

            God bless Einstein, who understood, just as so many today do not, that our theories are certainly wrong- all of them.

            They are useful insofar as they provide us a "bootstrap" by which to pull ourselves a bit further up the mountain.

            All honor to the bootstrappers, but the world is not continuous on its smallest scales, and it is not stochastic on its largest scales, and these two truths taken together constitute the great crisis in physics- the most stupendously massive contradiction in the history of science.

            One hundred twenty orders of magnitude worth, in its simplest statement.

            Probably closer to fifty orders of magnitude, assuming that the four-sigma or so resonance detected at the LHC is accepted as a Higgs boson.

            "When we talk about traversing an infinite number of points in spacetime, that's the first sense; i.e. that spacetime is a continuum (or at least is computable, which would mean a countably infinite number of points)."

            >> When we talk about traversing an infinite number of anything, we have departed physics.

          • Andrew G.

            The word "infinity" refers to some mathematical concept whether it's being used by a physicist, a layman or even a philosopher. The only ambiguity is in which concept.

            Relevant to this issue is the distinction between what I'll call limit-infinity (meaning increasing or diverging without bounds) and transfinite cardinals (the "size" of an infinite set). Both of these are clearly mathematical concepts. Physicists use the former concept frequently and the latter probably rarely or never; but they do not have any concept of "infinity" that is not grounded in mathematics.

            It is simply false that "treating spacetime as continuous doesn't work". All non-speculative theories of quantum mechanics are formulated in a continuous spacetime; that quantities other than spacetime are quantized does not require that spacetime itself is.

            Given that physicists are working with continuous spacetime and getting results (and not getting results from trying to work in quantized spacetime), we are justified in doing likewise. Physicists may not care whether their assumptions of continuous spacetime imply that all nonempty spacetime intervals contain 2^(aleph_0) points, since all they care about is whether they can do calculus on them; but that implication is true nonetheless.

          • Susan

            >If the series stretches back an infinite number of moments in the past, then it will take an infinite number of moments to get to this moment. But you can never reach the end of an infinite number of moments. Therefore, it would be impossible to arrive at this very moment.

            It's strange to listen to arguments about time from people who don't seem to have studied the implications of what it means in reality on any level.
            Especially when the defense of their deity always comes with the "Get-Out-of-Time-Free-Card" explanation that Yahweh is beyond time. What on earth does "beyond time" mean?
            I am afraid I will be accused of being snarky again for saying that and for asking this question.
            What is time David?

          • DAVID

            I don't find your comment snarky so much. But its unhelpful. If you have noticed that I have said something about time which you think is false, then please help me out by showing me what you think my error is. That will give me something to work with. Its a little unnerving to be called to the dock to answer an accusation without knowing what the charge is.

          • Susan

            > its like an infinitely long train with no engine. You can explain how the car in front is pulling the car behind it, but without an engine, there is no final explanation as to why there is any movement at all."

            Lots of the universe doesn't behave like cars and trains. In fact, the things cars and trains are made of don't behave like cars and trains. So, no. "It's like an infinitely long train with no engine." doesn't help you understand universes.

            Unless you can explain how the universe behaves like our idea of a train.

            >To this, you replied something like:"why does there have to be an explanation?"

            Why does there?

          • DAVID

            Bottom line. You can't make arguments based on causality which are going try to prove really fundamental facts about existence like the existence of gods.

            There's another problem with claiming that physics calls into doubt the principle of causality. Quantum physics is a field of warring theories. Different people look at the math and incorporate the math into different theories. One theory ascends above the other theories for awhile and then is defeated by another theory. None of the theories are beyond questioning. So when I am told that some particular theory of quantum physics calls into question causality, its like being told that an undergrad has just submitted a paper which proves all of the professors wrong. There are other reasons to doubt you on this. But that's one reason.

          • Michael Murray

            Quantum physics is a field of warring theories.

            NIce deflection but that's just not true. There are some disagreements over the interpretation of quantum physics but there are no arguments over the theory.

          • DAVID

            There are some disagreements over the interpretation of quantum physics, where it wanders into philosophy, but there are no arguments over the theory.

            My mistake, but that doesn't substantially refute what I'm saying. "The interpretation of quantum physics, where it wanders into philosophy" is precisely what's at issue here. Its unavoidable because, as I've said, we are primarily arguing metaphysics.

          • Michael Murray

            If you want your god to live only a metaphysical world then argue metaphysics. But if you want it to live in the real world some connection between your argument and physics would be good.

          • DAVID

            But if you want it to live in the real world some connection between your argument and physics would be good.

            I've no problem with that. However, its better to have an understanding of metaphysics if you're going to argue metaphysics. Physics is a secondary concern.

          • Michael Murray

            We are talking about a real god in a real world and physics is a secondary concern ? I'm amazed.

          • DAVID

            I'm going to have to correct you here Michael. We're talking about a real world and a God that transcends that real world. Speaking of anything transcendent is the proper realm of metaphysics. So yes, physics is secondary.

          • Michael Murray

            Correct all you like. But there is nothing that transcends the real world. So it's a bit of an empty set.

          • ... that transcends that real world.

            While "transcendence" may exist as an abstract concept, what evidence would you present that it exists, or even could exist, as anything more real?

          • DAVID

            You'll have to help me out by being a little more specific. What evidence would you accept?

          • What evidence would you accept?

            What have you got?

          • DAVID

            Well, to relate this discussion to the article, it appears that transcendence not only could exist, but must exist, if the First Cause argument is correct. After all, if the ultimate source of existence cannot be the universe or anything in it, then it transcends the universe.

          • Sample1

            Jumping in...

            What evidence would you accept?

            That would depend on the century and my scientific literacy of that age. For all practical purposes, I live my life under the presumption that gods, Icelandic Hiddenfolk, and consciousness after the death of the brain doesn't exist. If a deity really wants to get my attention I should think that deity could figure out a way to do so. But recalling what PZ Myers once said, if one day I walk through a meadow and a virgin appears floating above some shrubbery, I'll think brain tumor first rather than miracle.

            What evidence would have you abandon your claims that the Trinity is reasonable?

            Mike

          • DAVID

            What evidence would have you abandon your claims that the Trinity is reasonable?

            Your question is very simple and straightforward. But I don't have a simple and straightforward answer.

          • Sample1

            I'm not afraid of a complex or squirrely attempt at an answer. Those responses can be illuminating or entertaining but usually not both, I'll admit.

            Mike

          • DAVID

            I'll attempt to answer then. The Trinity, Jesus, et cetera, would cease to be reasonable for me if a whole battalion of assumptions and arguments were defeated.

            I've spent a good portion of my life affirming Christianity on the basis of implicit reasoning. I characterize that type of reasoning as "on-the-job" reasoning in which you learn from experience, you develop assumptions, and you see those assumptions validated by further experience. But in recent years, I've come to affirm Christianity more on the basis of explicit reasoning. And that, of course, involves a much closer look at the discursive thought behind the arguments and the apologies.

            So, in short, not only would many of the arguments which I've heard have to be proven untrue, but I would also have to be persuaded to distrust my intuition on many things.

          • Sample1

            David,
            I really like your reply. Thank you for it!
            Mike

          • DAVID

            You're welcome :)

          • I will note once again that Peter Kreeft says,

            We never deny the Principle of Sufficient Reason itself. No one believes the Pop Theory: that things just pop into existence for no reason at all.

            He is, in my opinion, saying that the Principle of Sufficient Reason is a self-evident truth that "everybody knows." I think that is a couple of logical fallacies combined into one. If you follow the link to Wikipedia, you see, "It is a powerful and controversial philosophical principle stipulating that everything must have a reason or cause" (emphasis added). I think it is clear that Wikipedia, in calling the principle controversial, would not grant that "we never deny the Principle of Sufficient Reason itself." If it is controversial, obviously not everyone believes it!

            It is not necessary to verify whether those who interpret quantum mechanics to mean things happen without a cause are correct. (And good luck arriving at a conclusion on the interpretation of quantum mechanics!) It is enough to torpedo the argument, at least as it is presented, that the Principle of Sufficient Reason is not universally agreed to be true. If it is not believed by everyone, and not accepted as self-evident, then it must be credibly argued to be true before pegging the rest of the argument on it.

          • DAVID

            I think that "Sufficient Reason," can be understood in a modest way which, in fact, nobody doubts.

            To give a very unspecific example: something nondescript happens on an ordinary day; we wonder how it happened; we ask someone how or why it happened; then that person answers our question and we say, "oh. Thanks."

            This happens all the time because no one really takes the trouble to doubt "Sufficient Reason." We take it for granted that things happen for a reason and do not just "pop" up from nowhere. We ask "what happened" all the time.

            In this way, it seems that Kreeft is making a pretty true statement.

        • DAVID

          Sorry, I made far too many word glitches in that last post. Let me try again.
          "To put it bluntly, if you rely on something which doesn't offer you an explanation, then you rely on an absurdity. 'An infinite set of things' with no explanation as to how any of them got there in the first place is absurd. Sorry, but its true."

      • Susan

        >"To put it bluntly, if you rely on something which doesn't offer you an explanation, then you rely on an absurdity.

        Like a "G"od?

        • DAVID

          No, like a Godless universe.

          • Michael Murray

            Why do you think the universe owes some small bunch of primates who flashed in and probably out of existence for some totally miniscule amount of time an explanation ? Where's the humility christians are so proud of ?

          • DAVID

            We're not "owed" an explanation. We simply hold the universe to be amenable to our explorations and our use of reason.

          • Susan

            >We simply hold the universe to be amenable to our explorations and our use of reason.

            We can't really "hold" the universe to anything.

            That's where you've got it backwards.

          • Michael Murray

            Grab your guitar. Altogether now everybody

            "He holds the whole world in His hands"

            "He's got the little bitty baby in His hands"

            I love a sing-along but I wish I'd shut the office door.

          • Susan

            You've got to stop doing that sort ot thing, Michael.

            I can't afford the keyboards.

            I meant to say something before.

          • Michael Murray

            We simply hold the universe to be amenable to our explorations and our use of reason.

            You are doing more than that. You say

            The problem with infinite regression is that it continuously defers an explanation without ever reaching an explanation

          • No, like a Godless universe.

            Nothing to "rely" on there. It is simply the baseline condition until shown, by evidence, to be otherwise.

            Got evidence?

          • DAVID

            First Cause.

          • First Cause.

            Have you read this thread?

          • DAVID

            Last I remember, we were discussing infinite regression. God solves that problem. That's evidence.

          • God solves that problem. That's evidence.

            No, that is an unsupported assertion. Assertions are not evidence.

            Got evidence?

          • DAVID

            No, that is an unsupported assertion. Assertions are not evidence.

            But it is supported.

            Read the article?^^

          • Susan

            >Read the article?^^

            I did.

            Read the discussion?

          • Read the article?^^

            Sorry, it isn't. Read the multiple refutations in these comments.

          • DAVID

            "The problem with infinite regression is that it continuously defers an explanation without ever reaching an explanation. To borrow the example used in the article above, its like an infinitely long train with no engine. You can explain how the car in front is pulling the car behind it, but without an engine, there is no final explanation as to why there is any movement at all."

          • "The problem with infinite regression is that it continuously defers an explanation without ever reaching an explanation. ..."

            Let's, hypothetically, suppose that is true. How is 'not an explanation' evidence for a positive assertion? Sounds like the logical fallacy of argumentum ad ignorantiam, to me.

          • DAVID

            Sorry. You're right. Its not a positive assertion.

            A comment from someone else got my dander up and I haven't been giving due attention to what others have said.

          • Thank you, DAVID.

          • primenumbers

            I had to laugh at Dr. Kreefs book that explains everything. He forgets to tell us that the book has an infinite number of pages as the book needs to explain itself, and contain within itself it's own explanation. We can imagine a book that purports to explain itself, but as soon as we have read that explanation we know that we must keep reading for an explanation of that explanation as the book that needs explaining has just grown in size. All he's done is trade an infinite regression of explanations for an explanation of infinite proportions.....

          • Max Driffill

            God doesn't solve that problem. Because, contrary to the assertions of this article, there is no good reason to assume that a god should be exempted from the regression. Nor is there any reason to assume that any first cause for the universe (also an assumption because the universe may be its own uncaused cause-the article doesn't deal in evidence) is a god. There is a reason to dismiss a simple first cause.

          • Max Driffill

            Even assuming there needs to be a cause for the early universe, that would not constitute anything even remotely like evidence for a god.

          • Susan

            Does your chosen deity have an explanation for itself?

        • DAVID

          I am flagging this comment for being snarky. I won't be engaging you in conversation.

          • Susan

            I am sorry to hear that David.

            I didn't mean it in a snarky way at all. I am sorry you took it that way.

            I meant it as an honest question. I apologize if it came off the wrong way.

            Can you explain how I might phrase it in a way that wouldn't offend you without leaving the question out of the discussion entirely?

        • articulett

          Indeed-- gods raise many more conundrums than they are supposed to explain.

      • Max Driffill

        There is no reason to insert gods into this ambiguous space. The cause you are looking for could be completely banal and natural.

        • DAVID

          If it were a banal and natural cause, then it could not be the cause we're discussing. In order to stop the infinite regress, we need an exceptional cause; a cause which is not brought into existence by anything else. This rules out all banal and natural causes.

          • articulett

            Why?

            And why should anyone in the world think it was a CONSCIOUS uncaused cause (made of nothing)??!

          • DAVID

            It could not be a natural cause because everything natural relies on the existence of something else for its existence. Everything natural requires a cause.

            The First Cause would be conscious because, contrary to what materialists believe, the potential for consciousness can only be given by something which is actually conscious. You cannot give what you do not already have.

          • It could not be a natural cause because everything natural relies on the existence of something else for its existence.

            How do you know if that is true or not?

          • articulett

            No. Consciousness is a product of an evolved brain-- consciousness without matter is like immaterial flowers can undergo photosynthesis. It doesn't mean anything.

            And how do you know that everything natural relies on something else for its existence-- the universe could be it's own cause or have always existed.

          • DAVID

            An evolved brain accounts for sensory awareness and the internal reproduction of images. But no, an evolved brain does not explain consciousness, particularly the awareness of a "self." Biologists and philosophers have agonized, trying to explain self-awareness in purely material terms. They have not succeeded.

            And how do you know that everything natural relies on something else for its existence-- the universe could be it's own cause or have always existed.

            We've observed empirically that everything natural relies on something else for its existence. There has been no announcement of an "eternal substance" among us which has always existed. We certainly haven't proved that the universe is different.

          • Max Driffill

            David,

            "If it were a banal and natural cause, then it could not be the cause we're discussing."
            I'm not sure why you think this mere is assertion is something I should take seriously. No matter how you dress it, it really is just mere assertion. Banal and natural causes positively abound in the universe. In fact, that is all we ever see. Ruling them out in the case of the universe seems a tad hasty, while also ignoring the general case of natural causes in the universe.

            "In order to stop the infinite regress, we need an exceptional cause; a cause which is not brought into existence by anything else. This rules out all banal and natural causes."

            And your evidence for this assertion is? Until you can offer some, I have to continue to call special pleading. Which is an egregious foul.

          • DAVID

            My assertion is that natural entities (causes) do not bring themselves into existence. They need the assistance of some other cause to exist. This assertion is a fair one because science has not disproved it: we have not discovered some natural entity which exists eternally and therefore on its own power. Now, if you can disprove this, then please do. But I am certainly not making a groundless assertion.

          • DAVID

            And your evidence for this assertion is? Until you can offer some, I have to continue to call special pleading. Which is an egregious foul.

            You accuse me of assertion but I think its more likely that you don't understand my argument. If there is something that you don't understand then please ask me.

  • severalspeciesof

    "If there were no first positive integer, no unit one, there could be no
    subsequent addition of units. Two is two ones, three is three ones, and
    so on. If there were no first, there could be no second or third."

    Just a thought to nit pick on Dr. Kreeft's use of mathematics to explain infinite regress as not being possible (and please, either side point out what may be wrong with this):

    This is true as far as integers (because of the definition of integers), but is not true for real numbers. There is no beginning real number. One can add as many 0's after the decimal point with 1 right after... Dr. Kreeft has defined the universe in the same way as the definition of integers... but the universe is 'real'...

  • Loreen Lee

    Hi this is a repeat, because my first question didn't take. I'll try to remember what I said. I asked about Kant's refutation of the proofs because I would like to understand them better. Also questioned whether Aristotle's final cause could in any way 'negate' the first cause, unless there is some kind of transcendence implied, but this could only be for us humans, as God is perfect. So in the final cause, I don't believe I could every be God, even with perfection defined as wholeness/holiness. I don't believe even the angels have achieved such an end, although the intelligibles are held to be 'eternal'. (like some conceptions in philosophy!!!) Also with Kant, I understand that he takes the moral law to be a kind of 'proof' of God, although I believe I find a contradiction in his Practical reason, as my understanding is that it is based on the a priori concepts of unversality and necessity, and these he holds as derived from logic, not the 'will'. Is this true also with Aristotle, or could the will be considered more close to the idea of cause than is that of either natural law, or 'reason' as it is defined either as logic or discursive thought. I do think that Kant might hold 'will' as primary, but I think I shall always be in the process of sorting things out, and attempting to understand the implications of the philosophers. Thanks.

    • articulett

      Why would a perfect god make an imperfect universe?

      • primenumbers

        What motivation would a self-contained self-explaining perfect God have to make anything at all?

        • ZenDruid

          Furthermore, why would such a god crave blood sacrifice our love?

          • Sample1

            To be fair, the current sacrifice made present in the Catholic Mass is an unbloody one now though, it is truly, per Catholic teaching, blood.

            Mike
            (yes, I know...)

          • Susan

            Hi Zen,

            >Furthermore, why would such a god crave blood sacrifice our love?

            It ain't love unless it hurts, baby.
            I don't know. Something like that. I can't figure it out myself.

      • Could a perfect being make an imperfect anything?

        • Michael Murray

          She could if it was perfectly imperfect.

          • Susan

            >She could if it was perfectly imperfect.
            There is nothing so imperfect as perfect imperfection.

        • severalspeciesof

          In fact, should one accept the premise of an un-caused first 'whatever' why would it have to be perfect? Aquinas' fourth version of 'proof' is IMO, the weakest argument of the four, as I believe perfection can only be attained (built up to, whatever) because it is meaningless with out imperfection being noted first, and once attained can't become imperfect, otherwise it wouldn't be perfect...

  • Michael Murray

    The problem with this kind of argument was spelt out clearly by physicist dave. If you look at the world at the range of energies and distances we live in then things like "causes" seem to make sense. In the past, when nobody knew any better, it seemed sensible to try and analyse and understand such concepts as intrinsic properties of the universe. But it turns out that if you look more closely at the universe these things are not fundamental and there is little point in obsessing about them so much. The fundamental things are quantum fields. If you want to understand what they are you have to learn the physics and the mathematics or ask a physicist who knows. This kind of doing physics by philosophy doesn't work. Kreeft catches the problem perfectly here

    "I felt in my bones that this universe does not explain itself."

    But your intuition (your bones) is based on physics at the level of energies and distances we live in. We have discovered in the last 100 odd years that this is just an approximation to how the real world works.

    • Rationalist1

      That's very true. I wish he were here to add to this discussion.

      As an example, however, physics students often get hung up on whether light is a particle or a wave. The macroscopic concept of a particle and a wave are two concepts we are all familiar with but a photon is nether and both. It's like a particle at times and like a wave at times but it is in fact something different that we have no macroscopic concept of. Fortunately we have mathematical models that serve us well and although it doesn't make sense to our brains that evolved in this macroscopic world we can model it, make predictions and "understand" photons perfectly well.

      Causality is like that. One wouldn't have expected Aristotle or Aquinas to have appreciated that, but knowledge grows and so should our concepts.

    • Sample1

      The argument is basically very simple, natural, intuitive, and commonsensical

      This statement from the OP, I surmise, caused at least 1/3 of faith-free lurkers to navigate their cursor to the upper right hand window to click on the X.

      Mike

      • severalspeciesof

        "This statement from the OP, I surmise, caused at least 1/3 of faith-free
        lurkers (and 100% of physicists except perhaps Frank Tipler) to
        navigate their cursor to the upper right hand window to click on the X."

        Not if they have a Mac... (sorry, couldn't resist!!!)

    • Just reading through...it seems you, rationalist, and Q (I just mentioned it to someone above/below/dunno) are confusing creation -- the first cause of all things out of nothing -- with change. If St. Aquinas were here, I suspect he would tell you that your error is a failure to make a distinction between cause in the natural sense as we observe things change and ultimate cause in the sense of bringing into existence from no existence whatsoever.

      • Andre Boillot

        "If St. Aquinas were here, I suspect he would tell you"

        To be fair, he'd probably tell a translator, who'd then tell Michael...I mean, assuming he'd waste his time on blogs, instead of trying to catch up on hundreds of years of acquired knowledge.

        • No, I think I'm right about this part of it. St. Aquinas was pretty clear in making the distinction between change and creation.

      • Michael Murray

        But that's not really my point. Whether I've got Aquinas exactly right or not it still stands that there is a complete disconnect between his philosophical concepts like "creation", "cause", "first cause" and our modern mathematical understanding of the physical world which is all built around quantum fields. That's because we know profoundly more than what Aquinas did.

        As Andre points out it would be great to have Aquinas here in modern times and I would be interesting to hear this thoughts after he got up to speed with all the things we'd discovered in the last 800 years.

        • I'm familiar with quantum physics enough to understand an explanation if you will give one. How is that in complete disconnect with the FC argument? I don't see that it is.

  • Loreen Lee

    I find the comparison to numbers interesting. I assume the negative numbers are -1, -2 to infinite 'past', and the positive +l etc. to the 'future'. But then they take the number l as a beginning, ro eztend the comparison, which I interpreted both as an assumption, and the 'avoidance' of the 'number' '0'.

    • Michael Murray

      Except the argument is flawed. "everything has a cause" only requires something like the nth thing causes the n+1 st thing. That could be true for all integers. It tells you nothing about there being a first or a last cause. Replace "cause" by "is less than". Every number is less than the next number along. But there is no smallest (or largest) number.

      But whoever makes this argument never seems to understand about orderings on infinite sets.

  • Roger Hane

    What an aggravating article. Kreeft isn't putting forth his own argument, but is relating to us St. Thomas Aquinas' reasoning on the subject. The over all reasoning seems sound, but Aquinas and Kreeft keep inserting a key assumption into it: The cause-and-effect chains need a first cause, and that cause is a being. A sentient being called God. No, that assumption has NOT been proven! Aquinas had to rely on abstract philosophical reasoning because he couldn't have known the findings of modern cosmology. And Kreeft is a philosopher, not a trained cosmologist. Much has been discovered and explained by modern cosmology, especially in the 25 years this article was written. But Aquinas and Kreeft had to rely on the "being" assumption because of their ignorance of cosmology. If Kreeft did a little hard science studying, or even just watched the wonderful pop science shows of Brian Greene, his bones might feel different about the first cause.

    • Michael Murray

      I hate the way Aquinas and Aristotle get used like this. They where very smart guys and I'm sure if you dragged them forward in time they be delighted to see how wrong they where and to see all we had discovered.

      • Indeed.

      • Susan

        >I hate the way Aquinas and Aristotle get used like this. They where very smart guys and I'm sure if you dragged them forward in time they be delighted to see how wrong they where and to see all we had discovered.

        That is frustrating.

        One of the downsides to being dead for so many centuries is that people who don't think as carefully as you tried to do given the limited amount of information available to you at the time, will rely on your conclusions rather than the examples you set in your best moments of good thinking.

        You aren't there to set them (or yourself) straighter.

        • You aren't there to set them (or yourself) straighter.

          I hate when that happens.

        • Rationalist1

          You don't have to be dead to have that happen. Thomas Kuhn attended a conference that was dealing with his 1962 book The Structure of a Scientific Revolution. After listening to speaker after speaker discuss his book he finally stood up and said "But that's not what I meant". His objections were dismissed.

      • Rationalist1

        With my son we often play the game that if you could take any historical figure and show them something from the present, what would you choose.

        I would choose Galileo and show him pictures from his namesake planetary probe.

        • BenS

          Kim Stanley Robinson made the same decision in his book Galileo's Dream. It's worth a read. :)

          I'd bring Jesus forward and show him the Catholic church. See what he has to say about that.

          • Rationalist1

            I've only read his Mars trilogy. I've just now ordered that book form the library to read.

    • Yikes, Roger, no, you don't understand the argument. You would not have typed that last line if you did. St. Aquinas had to address these same misunderstandings. People in the Middle Ages did the same thing you are doing -- they thought that science might disprove the argument, thus for Catholics, disprove God the Creator. If you understand the argument correctly, true science (as opposed to make believe science) can never contradict it. The argument, in fact, explains why there is science.

      • Roger Hane

        You never mentioned specifically what it was in my understanding of Aquinas' cosmological argument that I got wrong. You just made the blanket statement that a correct understanding of it will show that true science can never contradict it. You didn't put forth an argument to show why this would be the case. So please show us all right now the reasoning behind that irrefutably correct understanding, and exactly how my reasoning diverges from it.

        • You fail to make the distinction between creation and natural causes, which I've typed many times in this thread now. It's an important distinction. The argument shows that the existence of nature is contingent, that it depends on an ultimate intelligent cause. To say that the finding of modern science have disproven that is to say that a natural cause has disproven creation, which reveals that you do not understand those distinctions.

  • clod

    I was readin over Aquinas Summa the other day. He does tend to gallop over logical hurdles in his eagerness to get to the finish line. Perhaps there are articles from current catholic thinkers that are more up to date or that don't take causation as axiomatic?

    • Rationalist1

      Remember Aquinas said the argument from authority is the weakest form of argument ,,,, according to Boethius. Bit of scholastic humour there.

      • I admire that St. Aquinas had the humility to argue honestly, and acknowledge weak arguments. It's almost impossible not to argue without citing an authority, especially in the sciences.

  • GreatSilence

    So far (comment 475) this is the only thread that I would hand to the Catholic side. you guys are doing very well here, keep it up.

    • Sample1

      Care to share how you are measuring success? And welcome back.
      Mike

      • GreatSilence

        It was very much tongue in cheek. I really do feel that the Catholic side is winning this argument so far (from my layman's chair), but then my "compliment" of course also implies that we were not doing so well in the other eleventyseven threads.

        • severalspeciesof

          *Scratches head* Did you mistype?

          • GreatSilence

            No, I don't think so. Did you miss a post?

          • severalspeciesof

            With Disqus anything's possible... :-)

            But seriously. I was confused because of your statement in your reply to Sample1: "...but then my "compliment" of course also implies that we were not doing so well in the other eleventyseven threads." which I didn't understand, from your first post, how that was so...

  • ccmnxc

    If you want more on the Principle of Sufficient Reason, I hear Alexander Pruss has quite a good book on it.

  • Sage McCarey

    The whole universe IS unexplained. I love mystery and that doesn't bother me. Through developing science we're working on it. We certainly have learned more about the universe in the last hundred years than anyone knew before. Perhaps someday we will know the explanation of the universe. Not knowing now doesn't keep us from appreciating the beauty, wondering about the mystery, and being aware of experiencing this mystery for our bitter sweet time here.

  • Stew

    This argument is "not even wrong!" The logic is inherently flawed and the arguments infantile.

  • What is the reason why we should adopt the principle of sufficient reason? It doesn't say everything has a cause, it says every contingent fact requires an explanation. But when it comes to ontology, the theist has to logically prove that there are no brute facts.

    Furthermore, the notion that everything that begins to exist requires a cause also has implications on the notion of free will. For if a thought “begins to exist” in my mind, then it too must require a cause, otherwise it violates the way the principle of sufficient reason is being used here. If my thought requires a cause, there must have been some kind of antecedent chain of events that lead to my thought being caused, like if for example, the atoms in my brain caused me to have that thought due to a regress of physical causes going back to the big bang. Such an idea would lead one to adopt determinism. But if my thought is not caused in such a manner, then it must begin to exist without a cause. Saying my “soul’ caused the thought only takes it one step back. What caused the soul to cause the thought?