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Why Does the Universe Exist? Atheist Physicist Sean Carroll Answers…

Nothing

I have to admit, when I first opened Sean Carroll's new book, The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself (Dutton, 2016) I immediately flipped to chapter 25, titled "Why Does the Universe Exist?" For many thinkers, ancient and modern, this is the philosophical question: why is there something rather than nothing? Your answer to this question drives your answers to most other big questions, including those about God, meaning, morality, and more. So I was interested in Carroll's response, especially in light of his "poetic naturalism."

(For an introduction to poetic naturalism, see past posts in this series.)

Does the Universe Need Outside Help?

Carroll begins the chapter with a glib anecdote from Sidney Morgenbesser, a philosophy professor at Columbia. Morgenbesser was once asked, “Why is there something, rather than nothing?” and purportedly answered, “If there were nothing, you'd still be complaining” (195). This, of course, is non-sense. If there were nothing, there would be nobody to complain. But thankfully, Carroll doesn't stop with the witticism (though one wonders why he quoted it at all—it certainly doesn't help his case.)

Carroll breaks the main question down into two sub-questions. First, he asks whether the universe could "simply exist". Could it just be a "brute fact" with no outside explanation, or does it require one? Second, he wonders, if the universe does in fact require an explanation, what is the best explanation (196)?

Let's start with his answer to the first sub-question. He writes, "The progress of modern physics and cosmology has sent a fairly unequivocal message: there's nothing wrong with the universe existing without any external help" (196). A few pages later he writes, "To the question of whether the universe could possibly exist all by itself, without any external help, science offers an unequivocal answer: sure it could" (201).

Note the double use of the word "unequivocal", which means "admitting of no doubt or misunderstanding; having only one meaning or interpretation and leading to only one conclusion."

It's worth pausing here to note that in a previous chapter titled "Accepting Uncertainty", Carroll writes (emphasis mine):

"It is this kind of [religious] stance—that there is a kind of knowledge that is certain, which we should receive with docility, to which we would submit—that I'm arguing against. There are no such kinds of knowledge. We can always be mistaken, and one of the most important features of a successful strategy for understanding the world is that it will constantly be testing its presuppositions, admitting the possibility of error, and trying to do better." (128)

But apparently, this open-minded prescription only applies to religious believers, and not poetic naturalists like Carroll, since as noted above, he twice admits to being "unequivocally" certain (i.e., without any doubt) that the universe could exist all by itself.

Carroll's confidence here should cause the discerning reader to naturally wonder, "How and where has modern science determined the universe could exist all by itself? Which experiments or calculations have proved that?" Unfortunately, Carroll never explains in this book. He just asserts that modern science has settled the issue and hopes readers trust his confidence.

One problem with this is that science simply can't say anything about why or how the universe exists since, by it's own limitations, the sciences are constrained to questions about the natural world (i.e., that which exists within the universe). It can't ask, or answer, or even weigh in on metaphysical "why" questions like "Why does the universe exist?" or "Why is the universe this way, and not that way?"

The Kalam Argument for God

So we're not off to a good start in the chapter. To his credit, Carroll doesn't stop here, though. He next considers the Kalam argument for God, made popular by Evangelical philosopher William Lane Craig. The argument's first premise says that whatever begins to exist has a cause for its existence (implying "out of nothing, nothing comes"). The second premise holds that the universe came into existence (i.e., it has not existed eternally in the past.) From those two premises we can conclude that the universe has a cause, and from there we can deduce different qualities of that cause.

If the Kalam argument is sound, then it shows the universe has a cause outside of itself, and therefore Carroll would be wrong in his "unequivocal" assertions. But is the argument sound? Assuming the terms are clearly defined and the logic valid, the only way to show that the argument is unsound is to refute one of its premises.

Carroll agrees. Surprisingly, he seems to accept the second premise, that the universe began to exist: "There seems to be no obstacle in principle to a universe like ours simply beginning to exist" (201). But it's the first premise he disagrees with. Specifically, Carroll thinks the ancient principle ex nihilo, nihil fit (out of nothing, nothing comes), which is implied in the premise, is indefensible. Even though, as he admits, the principle is "purportedly more foundational even than the laws of physics" (201) and that most philosophers throughout history have believed it, even ancient skeptics like Lucretius, Carroll says it is "perhaps the most egregious example of begging the question in the history of the universe" (202). Why? He writes:

"We are asking whether the universe could come into existence without anything causing it. The response is, 'No, because nothing comes into existence without being caused.' How do we know that? It can't be because we have never seen it happen; the universe is different from the various things inside the universe that we have actually experienced in our lives. And it can't be because we can't imagine it happening, or because it's impossible to construct sensible models in which is happens, since both the imagining and the construction of models have manifestly happened." (202)

There is a lot of confusion here, and it would take several articles to unpack all of it. But in essence, Carroll thinks the principle ex nihilo, nihil fit is false for three reasons: first because since the universe as a whole is "different" than things within the universe, the universe doesn't necessarily follow the same metaphysical principles as things within it; second because we can imagine something coming into being from nothing; and third because it's possible to construct "sensible models" in which something comes from nothing. Let's consider each proposal.

First, Carroll thinks the universe may have come into being without cause, even if nothing else in the universe has, because the universe is simply "different." But how does this follow? Metaphysical principles, such as the one under consideration, are independent of scale. Mice and men are "different", yet they both follow the same principle. So why think everything in the universe follows the principle but not the universe itself, which is nothing more than the collection of everything within the universe? (And lest you think this falls into the fallacy of composition, read Dr. Edward Feser's reply to that suggestion.)

Second, Carroll thinks it's possible to imagine something coming from nothing, which therefore refutes the principle. This argument goes back at least to David Hume but has famously been discredited, even by many Hume supporters. Why? Because it's impossible to conceive of the act of moving from non-being to being. Sure, we can imagine "nothing" at one moment—though I'm skeptical we can even do that—and then another moment picture something suddenly there, but this is not to imagine something coming from nothing. It is simply imagining two successive states of being, one first and then the other. It doesn't demonstrate that it is ontologically intelligible (or possible) for something to come into existence from nothing.

Third, Carroll points to "sensible models" in which something comes from nothing. What are these models? He never says, so it's hard to explore them. This is the last remaining reason to plausibly deny the principle, yet sadly Carroll provides no specifics.

Note again that Carroll doesn't engage with any counterarguments to his position, such as those supporting the principle. For starters, if something can come into being from nothing, then why don't we see this happening all the time? Why would it only happen once in time, with a single universe, rather than with many other universes or multiple things within our own universe? Why don't things just pop into existence all the time? Carroll never responds.

(Karlo Broussard wrote an excellent article covering five reasons the universe can't just exist by itself.)

Well, Why Not?

Carroll finishes this section by offering one more dismissive anecdote:

"In the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, an online resource written and edited by professional philosophers, the entry on 'Nothingness' starts by asking, 'Why is there something rather than nothing?' and immediately answering, 'Well, why not?' That's a good answer. There is no reason why the universe couldn't have had a first moment in time, nor is there any reason it couldn't have lasted forever, even without the benefit of any external causal or sustaining influence."

Here again we see a lot of confusion. So let's break it down into parts.

First, as far as I can tell, Carroll never engages in this chapter the second question about whether the universe needs a sustaining cause. This is disappointing because for many thinkers, including Aristotle and Aquinas, this is the main reason they believe in a First Cause of the universe. The universe may or may not have needed a cause to get it going, but it certainly needs one to keep it in existence, here and now. Carroll never weighs in on the question.

Second, he concludes all his previous remarks in regards to the first question—does the universe require an initial cause?— with an answer (a "good answer"), which is essentially an appeal to authority. He references an encyclopedia edited by "professional philosophers" at Stanford, presumably to suggest they should know what they're talking about. But the answer he cites isn't really an answer—it's a dismissal of the question. Worse, it fails to engage or even acknowledge any of the arguments against the view that something can come from nothing.

This is really disheartening, especially for someone as bright as Carroll. I can't imagine he would be comfortable with that answer to any other serious question. For example, I'm guessing he would be frustrated if he asked me, "Why are there so many different species of life on earth?" or "Why is space itself expanding?" and I responded, "Well, why not?" That's not a good answer; that's avoiding the question. Carroll would be frustrated by such dismissals, and for the same reason, his readers should be frustrated by his answers to the much more interesting and foundational questions about the universe.

If the Universe Has an Explanation, What Is It?

In the final few pages of the chapter, Carroll switches gears. He assumes, for the sake of argument, that the universe does require an explanation for its existence. But in that case, what is the explanation?

According to Carrol, "The answer is certainly 'We don't know'" (202). Notice again his striking assurance. He's certain we don't know the answer—not confident or convinced, but certain. How did he arrive at such certainty, especially when earlier in the book he cautions against being certain about anything? He doesn't say. And how can we be certain that "we" (whatever that means) don't know something? Isn't there a chance that someone, somewhere knows the answer even if some, most, or all the rest of us are confused? I would think so.

But certainty aside, why exactly does Carroll think we don't know what would explain the universe (if it had an explanation)? Mostly because he finds none of the current proposals satisfying. Modern theories of gravity may be a popular choice, but as Carroll observes, "that can't be the entire answer" since the theories don't explain themselves, and still demand an outside explanation (203). They only kick the question up a level. The same is true about other theories relying on the laws of physics as an ultimate explanation.

The only other possible candidate would be God. But Carroll thinks that explanation fails since it fails to answer the question, "Why does God exist?" It kicks the question up just as other proposals do. Of course, Carroll admits, theists reason that God is by definition necessary since his nature is to exist (unlike our own human nature, which doesn't necessitate existence.) But Carroll doesn't buy that. God, if he exists, can't be a necessary being. Why? Because, Carroll says, "there are no such things as necessary beings" (203). Talk about an egregious example of question begging!

With not a little irony, Carroll counsels just a couple sentences later, near the end of the chapter, "We can't short-circuit the difficult task of figuring out what kind of universe we live in by relying on a priori principles" (203). Would that he take his own advice!

In the next post in this series, we'll examine Sean Carroll's thoughts on whether free will is real or imaginary. Stay tuned!

Brandon Vogt

Written by

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

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  • It’s almost as if we could replace the word “universe” with the word “God” in some of his thinking.

    “There is no reason why [God] couldn't have had a first moment in time, nor is there any reason [God] couldn't have lasted forever, even without the benefit of any external causal or sustaining influence.”

    God is not bound by time, but he seems to speak of the universe and it’s beginning as an unconditioned reality in much the same way some would speak about God metaphysically. It requires “faith”…so to speak.

  • Steven Dillon

    It's worth noting that naturalist philosophers such as Graham Oppy have responded to ontological arguments for God's existence by saying conceivability does not entail alethic or ontic possibility. This allows them to acknowledge that God is conceivable without having to concede that he is metaphysically possible.

    From what Brandon has said, it seems Carroll blows through this distinction in order to argue that it's metaphysically possible for something to come into being without a cause.

    But, without that distinction, Carroll has to face ontological arguments rather unequipped.

  • Mike

    this little nugget might well sum up the entire book: ""there are no such things as necessary beings" (203). Talk about an egregious example of question begging!"

    • ThePhoenixRisen

      It's good to ask questions. It's a positive in my book.

  • Doug Shaver

    Note the double use of the word "unequivocal", which means "admitting of no doubt or misunderstanding; having only one meaning or interpretation and leading to only one conclusion."

    Absence of doubt is not its primary meaning, at least in an epistemological sense. Whatever is equivocal can be understood or interpreted in more than one way. If it is unequivocal, then, there is no doubt about how it should be understood or interpreted.

    But apparently, this open-minded prescription only applies to religious believers, and not poetic naturalists like Carroll, since as noted above, he twice admits to being "unequivocally" certain (i.e., without any doubt) that the universe could exist all by itself.

    I understand Carroll to be saying that there can be no doubt that that is what science has to say about the matter. Religious believers can still say, without contradicting this statement, that science is mistaken on this particular issue.

    • bdlaacmm

      Doug, how do you bold parts of your posting? I have never figured out how to do so.

    • "Absence of doubt is not its primary meaning, at least in an epistemological sense. Whatever is equivocal can be understood or interpreted in more than one way. If it is unequivocal, then, there is no doubt about how it should be understood or interpreted."

      Right, I'm aware of that alternate definition, but it doesn't make sense in the context of Carroll's sentences. He's not saying you could interpret a scientific finding in only one way; he is saying there is no reason to doubt the findings of science.

      "I understand Carroll to be saying that there can be no doubt that that is what science has to say about the matter. Religious believers can still say, without contradicting this statement, that science is mistaken on this particular issue."

      Perhaps, but even that claims is equally audacious. It would be to say that the only way to interpret the findings of science is to say they point to a universe that could possibly exist on its own. But that claim is demonstrably false, as there are many respected cosmologists who disagree and interpret the findings of science different. Thus is can't be an unequivocal interpretation.

      Either way, whichever definition of "unequivocal" you use, it is certainly unwarranted.

      • Doug Shaver

        but it doesn't make sense in the context of Carroll's sentences.

        I can't tell you what makes sense to you. I doesn't make sense to me to suppose that he was claiming anything like infallibility.

        Perhaps, but even that claims is equally audacious. It would be to say that the only way to interpret the findings of science is to say they point to a universe that could possibly exist on its own. But that claim is demonstrably false, as there are many respected cosmologists who disagree and interpret the findings of science different.

        On this point, he might have been guilty of overstatement, depending on what number of cosmologists it takes to constitute "many."

        • "On this point, he might have been guilty of overstatement, depending on what number of cosmologists it takes to constitute "many."

          That's irrelevant. If *any* scientists disagree with Carroll's interpretation of science, then his claim would be false.

          • Doug Shaver

            If *any* scientists disagree with Carroll's interpretation of science, then his claim would be false.

            If you're going to insist on such literalism, then you should have said, "But that claim is demonstrably false, as there is at least one respected cosmologist who disagrees."

          • "If you're going to insist on such literalism, then you should have said, "But that claim is demonstrably false, as there is at least one respected cosmologist who disagrees.""

            Indeed, I could have said that. But I thought my reply was stronger given the plethora who disagree :)

          • Doug Shaver

            But I thought my reply was stronger given the plethora who disagree :)

            Yeah, I guess it was. Point taken, though without stipulating that the cosmologists who disagree with him constitute a plethora :)

            I haven’t finished my first reading of Carroll’s book yet because I’m simultaneously reading (and writing a crique of) Feser’s The Last Superstition. I do share your dissatisfaction with much of his presentation insofar as he treats some key issues as if they were settled beyond reasonable dispute when, in actual fact, some competent people do have reasonable objections to his conclusions. I am familiar with most of those objections, though, and in fairness to him, it must be noted that if he had thoroughly addressed all of them, the book would have ended up a few thousand pages in length. Any writer of a book that takes sides on a controversy as complex as this one is forced to choose between brevity and thoroughness, knowing that some readers will be disappointed no matter how he chooses. I’m not claiming that in my judgment he made the right choice, only that he did have to make a choice. I would have advised him to write less about some things in order to write more about some others, but he didn’t ask me for any advice.

  • Doug Shaver

    But in essence, Carroll thinks the principle ex nihilo, nihil fit is false for three reasons:

    He doesn't say that. His argument is not that the principle is false, but that there is no conclusive argument compelling us to believe it. It is intuitively compelling, but not more than that, and so we can deny it without contradiction. That doesn't mean we have to deny it, only that we don't have to affirm it.

    • "He doesn't say that. His argument is not that the principle is false, but that there is no conclusive argument compelling us to believe it. It is intuitively compelling..."

      Ironically, that is an argument! Why dismiss intuition? Intuition alone perhaps can't prove something, but it's certainly massive evidence in the principle's favor.

      But beyond that, you've actually voiced one of my biggest concerns about this section: Carroll doesn't acknowledge any of the arguments typically given to support the principle he principle ex nihilo, nihil fit.

      Saying that you don't find any of the arguments for the principle compelling is respectable if you've actually examined and refuted the arguments. But Carroll does none of that. He just dismisses the principle without serious engagement.

      • Doug Shaver

        Why dismiss intuition? Intuition alone perhaps can't prove something, but it's certainly massive evidence in the principle's favor.

        It depends on the intended meaning of “dismiss.” When I say, “Here is evidence for X,” and my interlocutor says, “Your evidence is insufficient to prove X,” I don’t take them to be dismissing my evidence. If they were to say, “I don’t care about your evidence” or words to that effect, then I would say they were dismissing my evidence.

        The very meaning of “evidence” has been debated at some length in the philosophical literature.

        Taking my cues from Peter Achinstein’s The Book of Evidence (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001) and the Oxford English Dictionary, I think evidence is most usefully defined, in its broadest possible sense, as a reason, any reason, to believe something. In some contexts a stricter sense would be better, but at the moment I don’t think this is such a context.

        (As an aside, I note that this contradicts a position held by some people that only truths can have any evidence. They will thus deny the possibility of there being any evidence for propositions that they are antecedently convinced are false. I have no idea whether Carroll is one of those people, but if he is, then he may indeed be guilty of dismissing intuition as evidence for the ex nihilo principle.)

        If we are asked why we believe something and we reply, “Because intuition tells me so,” then we have offered a reason to believe it, and thus intuition does constitute evidence. But it might not be the only evidence available. Intuition is quintessentially subjective (even when it is practically universal), and it may well be corroborated by objective facts. It is good when that happens, but it does not justify a claim that intuition never needs such objective corroboration. As you say, intuition alone can’t prove something, and that is for the simple reason that intuition is demonstrably wrong about some things, which is to say that we have discovered relevant facts that contradicted our intuition about those things.

        On many issues that interest us, the objective facts are equivocal to some degree. Some give us reason to believe one thing, others give us reason to believe something contrary. This is not due to any inconsistency of reality but strictly due to our cognitive limitations. We rarely if ever know all of the relevant facts. Our epistemic responsibility, though, is to work just with the facts we do know. It is not good philosophy to argue, “X could be true, and if it is true, then Y, so therefore, Y.” It is often the case, though, that all the facts we know about are, on balance, more supportive of one particular proposition than any other, and so we are justified in accepting that conclusion, pending discovery of any additional evidence.

        Whether intuition alone can constitute “massive evidence” for any proposition looks to me like a judgment call. Construed as a predisposition to believe something, our intuitions do come in degrees of strength. If I have a very strong intuition about something, I may justifiably require massive contrary evidence to be convinced that my intuition was mistaken. Someone else with a weaker intuition on the matter might be convinced by lesser evidence, and it isn’t obvious to me how I might argue, without begging the question, that their intuition was defective. I would certainly agree that some people have defective intuitions about certain things, but how to prove it in any given instance can be a challenge.

  • Doug Shaver

    (And lest you think this falls into the fallacy of composition, read Dr. Edward Feser's reply to that suggestion.)

    I have read his reply. It didn't convince me, and I posted my reasons for not being convinced in that thread.

  • Lazarus

    Thanks for the critique, Brandon. This is truly disappointing reasoning by Carroll.
    I've just removed his book from my "to buy" list.

    • David Nickol

      I really don't think Brandon is doing the book justice. Did you really expect a good review of a Sean Carroll book on Strange Notions?

      • Lazarus

        Yes, I expected a fair one, and I believe I got that. Let's take this article : where does Brandon misrepresent Carroll's views? What makes it not a "good review"?

        • Will

          Brandon's review has been so bad that I'm not even reading this article. Of course I don't think you will like the book, so I don't necessarily encourage you to buy it.

          • Lazarus

            I keep on hearing how bad the review is, with precious little substance to the criticism. There seems to be a level of disappointment, of irritation even, by some here that the great Sean Carroll could be subjected to a genuine assessment and review, that his explanation of everything could be subjected to scrutiny. You, for example, refuse to even read this article because you regard the others as being that bad. If you look at my comments in those earlier articles you will find that I was initially quite interested in reading the book. It was only now, with this article, that I gave up on that project. I regularly read atheist books, but if this is the level of argumentation found in Carroll's book then I will be wasting my time.

          • Will

            Steven Jake did a much better review, even though I disagree with much he has to say. Even Steven says Brandon is misreprenting him.

            https://disqus.com/home/discussion/strangenotions/the_big_problem_with_sean_carroll8217s_poetic_naturalism/#comment-2796096762

            You can look at my previous comments but the just scratch the surface of my dissatisfaction with Brandon's review. I simply have better things to do with my time than list them all. I had much higher hopes, but it's easy to be disappointed.
            Debating metaphysics with Phil is fun though. :)

          • "I keep on hearing how bad the review is, with precious little substance to the criticism."

            Unfortunately, this is a running theme here in the comments. To his credit, David has offered some critiques, but I've tried to show how those critiques are ultimately misguided, irrelevant, or unsubstantial.

          • "Brandon's review has been so bad that I'm not even reading this article."

            That's up to you, William. To me, that sounds intellectually irresponsible.

            I struggle to see how an open-minded truth seeker would ever willingly bury their head in the sand, and not even consider serious-minded critiques of an opposing worldview, just because they find them unpleasing.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            Not necessarily. There's a difference between burying your head in the sand to avoid a critique and not bothering with a critique that is so bad its not worth the time.

            I'm not saying that yours falls into that second category (I've been finding it interesting, though I feel a bit out of the loop not having read Carol's book) but evidently William think so. Would you say that I'm burying my head in the sand by not bothering to look at all the extensive (but bad) evidence that bigfoot exists?

          • "Would you say that I'm burying my head in the sand by not bothering to look at all the extensive (but bad) evidence that bigfoot exists?"

            No, but I don't think an article on the evidence for Bigfoot's existence is analogous to my review of Carroll's book. Do you?

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            No, I personally don't. But I'm not sure that William has that same opinion.

          • "No, I personally don't. But I'm not sure that William has that same opinion."

            If William honestly thinks that my fair, level-headed critique of Carroll's book are on par with someone arguing that Big Foot exists, then my charge of "intellectual irresponsibility" remains.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            I understand that you think your critique is strong. I wouldn't expect you think otherwise. But other people may not think so. Is it "intellectually irresponsible" to simply have a different view on how strong someone's critique is?? I don't think it's "intellectually irresponsible" for someone to say "I don't think this critique is too strong (ie pretty bad).. I'm not gonna waste my time with it."

          • Will

            As much time as I've spent on this site, you think I'm willingly burying my head in the sand?

          • "As much time as I've spent on this site, you think I'm willingly burying my head in the sand?"

            I'm not judging your overall activity, only in regards to your comment about this series: "Brandon's review has been so bad that I'm not even reading this article."

        • David Nickol

          By "good review" I meant a "positive review," not a "fair review." I am not suggesting that Brandon has been unfair. I do think he is often wrong, and I am going through this post from beginning to end pointing out what I think are problems. As I have already pointed out, I think Brandon is off base suggesting it is hypocritical of Carroll to say science offers an "unequivocal" positive answer to the question whether the universe could exist by itself, and I think Brandon is mistaken to say Carroll just asserts that without explaining it.

          • Lazarus

            On the sections quoted it appears as if the review is spot on. Carroll seems very confident in those assertions. In what way is the reference to Carroll's "unequivocal " answer out of place?

            And surely this entire series is a review, which "fair", "positive " or otherwise must of necessity be subjective. I see that you are posting comments on the various sections, and I will continue to read them, but so far I do not see how the review is anything but a bona fide, well-reasoned critique.

          • David Nickol

            In what way is the reference to Carroll's "unequivocal " answer out of place?

            Brandon's charge is that Sean Carroll is at best inconsistent and at worst hypocritical because he applies to religious people a standard that he does not apply to himself or others. This is just not true. Shortly after the quote from page 128, Carroll says:

            You will sometimes hear the claim that even science is based on a kind of "faith," for example, in the reliability of our experimental data or in the existence of unbreakable physical laws. This is wrong. As part of the practice of science, we certainly make assumptions—our sense data is giving us roughly reliable information about the world, simple explanations are preferable to complex ones, we are not brains in vats, and so forth. But we don't have "faith" in those assumptions. They are components of our planets of belief, but they are always subject to revision and improvement and even, if necessary, outright rejection. By its nature, science needs to be completely open to the actual operation of the world, and that means that we stand ready to discard any idea that is no longer useful, no matter how cherished and central it may once have seemed.

            A bit later, he says:

            Because we should have nonzero credences for ideas that might seem completely unlikely or even crazy, it becomes useful to distinguish between "knowing" and "knowing with absolute logical certainty." If our credence for some proposition is 0.00000000001, we're not absolutely certain it's wrong—but it's okay to proceed as if we know it is.

            Carroll ends the chapter as follows:

            We are left with, not an absolute proof of anything, but a high degree of confidence in some things, and a greater uncertainty in others. That's both the best we can hope for and what the world does as a matter of fact grant us. Life is short, and certainty never happens.

            Now, I suppose one could demand that Carroll never use such a word as unequivocal, because he admits there can be no certainty, and no proof of anything. And one could demand he never say "X is true" but only "I believe X is true," or better yet, "I believe there is a 0.9997679 probability that X is true." But that would make for very bizarre reading.

            I think Brandon is off base in implying, on the basis of one or two sentences, that Carroll is a hypocrite for saying science shows something "unequivocally." Carroll makes the point time and again in his book, in his public appearances, and on his web site that nothing in science is certain, and that everyone should be open to adjustments in his or her "planet of beliefs." This applies just as much to atheists and scientists as to anybody else. There is no double standard that treats religion one way and science another.

            Also note that Brandon makes a great deal of the dictionary definition of unequivocal implying certitude, but he quotes Carroll saying, in one instance, not "unequivocal" but "fairly unequivocal." So Brandon's whole case is built on the unmodified use of the word unequivocal exactly once, and from that we are supposed to believe that poetic naturalism allows nonreligious people certitude but not religious people. This is a serious distortion of Carroll's position.

          • "I think Brandon is off base in implying, on the basis of one or two sentences, that Carroll is a hypocrite for saying science shows something "unequivocally." Carroll makes the point time and again in his book, in his public appearances, and on his web site that nothing in science is certain."

            I struggle to see how this is not an example of either (unintentional) hypocrisy or contradiction. If you're right that he says "nothing in science in certain," then why would he not just once, but twice claim, in a published work, that science has "unequivocally" shown something to be true?

          • David Nickol

            If you're right that he says "nothing in science in certain," then why would he not just once, but twice claim, in a published work, that science has "unequivocally" shown something to be true?

            First, as I pointed out already, he once says "fairly unequivocal."

            Second, you are (consequently) building a case on a single word usage in the book over against everything he says about certainty, some of which I have quoted above. If he decides to change the second "unequivocal" to "almost unequivocal" in the next printing, your argument is demolished.

            Third, he makes it clear that it is "okay" to consider things with a very high credence as true and a very low credence as false:

            If our credence for some proposition is 0.00000000001, we're not absolutely certain it's wrong—but it's okay to proceed as if we know it is.

            Fourth, Carroll rejects radical skepticism on page 91. Poetic naturalism does not reject "normal" certainty. It rejects logical, metaphysical certainty. Am I certain I am sitting here in my air-conditioned apartment in New York where it is 91° outside? Absolutely. Am I logically, metaphysically certain that I am not really a brain in a vat? No. But there is no contradiction there.

            This reminds me of when I was on jury duty and there was an open and shut case against the defendant. I had no trouble voting she was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Could all of the witnesses against her have been lying? Could someone have broken into her office and "cooked the books" forging her handwriting? Sure. But I would say unequivocally that she was guilty.

          • "If he decides to change the second "unequivocal" to "almost unequivocal" in the next printing, your argument is demolished."

            Think about what you're saying here, for it could equally apply to any disagreeable line, in any book, and thus undermine the act of critiquing any published text! You're trying to defend Carroll's obvious self-contradiction by essentially saying, "Well, come on! You're being to harsh. It's only one self-contradiction, and if he made the opposite claim instead, in a future edition, your critique wouldn't have any basis..."

            Well, of course not! If he changes his argument so that it's no longer a self-contradiction, then I would have no basis to critique it. But this isn't a review of a hypothetical future book that says the opposite of what Carroll actually says in this book. It's a review of the book Carroll wrote.

          • David Nickol

            It's a review of the book Carroll wrote.

            It's a review of a word he wrote. :P

            And your point wasn't so much that Carroll would be inconsistent to use a word like unequivocal. It was that he was hypocritical because (according to you) his position was that religious people are not permitted to have certainties by poetic naturalism, but atheistic scientists are. But I have quoted at length his statement that metaphysical certainties have no place in science.

            Your argument is, in essence, that because Carroll used one word, everything he explicitly said about certainties must be . . . what? a lie? He doesn't believe all that stuff about Baysian analysis because he used the word unequivocal? I think it is truly bizarre to hang an argument like this on one word!

            It would be interesting to hear Sean Carroll himself on this. I would assume his position would be that in ordinary, everyday speech, it is perfectly acceptable to say "we have irrefutable proof of," or "science unequivocally shows," or "we know beyond a shadow of a doubt." It would only be in a discussion of metaphysics that we would have to avoid statements of (metaphysical) certitude. Or, he might say, "Perhaps I should have said almost unequivocal in those cases." What I am sure he would not say is, "You caught me. Ignore everything I wrote about no certainties in science. Atheist scientists can have certainties, but religious people can't."

      • "Did you really expect a good review of a Sean Carroll book on Strange Notions?"

        Wow. That's a pretty harsh and dismissive critique. Perhaps we can (1) remain a bit more charitable and (2) stick with the actual arguments in the book, as I've done throughout?

        • David Nickol

          Wow. That's a pretty harsh and dismissive critique.

          As I have already explained, when I say "good review" I mean "good" in the sense of "positive," as in, "Did Batman v Superman get good reviews?" You are being highly critical of Sean Carroll and this book. Would you classify your posts so far as a "good review" of The Big Picture?

          • "Would you classify your posts so far as a "good review" of The Big Picture?"

            I hope my review is good (i.e., just) in that I've fairly represented Carroll's main ideas and have substantially engaged them. I have also intentionally complimented parts of the book that I found helpful and fascinating. But I think his core ideas about the universe, God, logic, causality, morality, and free will are deeply misguided. To praise them would thus be unjust, and not good.

  • Carrol is correct premise 2 of the Kalam is not sound. We have no way other than intuition to arrive at this premise. We have no experience of anything coming into material existence in the sense that the Kalaam is using the term.

    We have plenty of experience of matter being rearranged, that is it. What we can glean from that is anything material must have a material precursor.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      The Standard Model currently holds that mass-energy (and hence space and time) came into existence and that there was no before before that, hence no material precursor. "The Day Without Yesterday." There were no humans around to 'see' this happen, and the Standard Model says we could not have seen anything anyway, photons being entire nanoseconds in the future at that point. But we shouldn't forget that Aristotle believed the world was eternal and Aquinas accepted that sec. arg. in his proofs. Therefore, the whole beginning-of-stuff is a red herring. In fact, that's why Aquinas rejected the muslim kalam argument.

      • Will

        The Standard Model does NOT hold that mass energy came into existence.

        • Alexandra

          I believe he's referring to the Standard Model of Cosmology, not of physics.

          • Will

            Cosmology is physics. He's referring to the Standard Model of the Big Bang, though typically Standard Model refers to particle physics, but the Lambda-CDM model of the big bang is often called the "Standard Model of the Big Bang".

            1. Before the Big Bang: Before space and time existed, the entity of the Universe was compressed into a singularity called space-time singularity. This singularity is a location where the quantities that are used to measure the gravitational field become infinite in a way that does not depend on the co-ordinate system.

            http://physicsanduniverse.com/standard-model-of-the-big-bang-theory/

            According to extrapolations from theories of relativity, only time began (depending on your theory of time) when entropy stopped being at it's lowest point. Time also ends when entropy reaches it's highest point, which is equilibrium. Saying mass/energy suddenly began to exist would violate conservation of mass-energy which would take some serious evidence to justify, and there is no such evidence.

          • Alexandra

            William, do you think the Big Bang theory states that matter has always existed? even before space and/or time?

          • Will

            Good question. I apologize for the length, but I think it's necessary to explain. Most modern theories of time are based on change (even Phil agrees with that one). Thus, if we think time has a beginning, it doesn't make any since to talk about "before" time. To talk about before time in the universe, you would have to propose a time independent of the universe, and I don't think there is a theory of time that's very workable there. We know that inside the universe time is relative to the inertial reference, and it's possible to have very extreme time dilation. Both speed of the frame and gravity have an effect on the movement of time (which can be extreme, like 10 years passing on earth for every minute passing in a frame moving very fast), which make a time independent of the physics of the universe impossible to reconcile with time inside the universe. There is nothing in the Big Bang theory that suggests there was ever a moment of time when there was nothing, then a moment in time where the universe exist it. Since the beginning of time, the mass/energy existed. I hope I explained that well, and it can be confusing if one has never taken classes in relativity.
            Basically the Bing Bang is just an extrapolation, using General Relativity, based on the fact that the universe is expanding, and that entropy is always rising. If you rewind something that's expanding far enough, it gets really small. General Relativity is our current best theory of the very large, but it runs into problems experimentally when things get very small, as in approaching the initial conditions of the universe. Gravity also becomes critical (imagine the time dilation with that much gravity), so we really need a theory of gravity for the very small...a full theory of quantum gravity, which we currently lack. Thus, we really don't know what was going on in the very beginning of time, but there is certainly nothing to suggest that mass/energy began to exist. Again beginning to exist requires there be a moment of time when it didn't exist, and a following moment when it does...nothing in GR's extrapolation of expansion to suggest that.
            I'm a bit surprised Brandon seems unfamiliar with all this as Carroll brings it up in his big and is considered to be an expert on the subject. Brandon seems to be focusing on minor points in too many cases and not the main thrust of the book, which is a bit frustrating to me. Here is an article on the subject (discussing Carroll) in universe today:

            http://www.universetoday.com/15051/thinking-about-time-before-the-big-bang/

            Here is a Christian cosmologist, Don Page who agrees there is nothing in physics to really support Kalam:

            In view of these beliefs of mine, I am not convinced that most philosophical arguments for the existence of God are very persuasive. In particular, I am highly skeptical of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, which I shall quote here from one of your slides, Bill:

            If the universe began to exist, then there is a transcendent cause
            which brought the universe into existence.
            The universe began to exist.
            Therefore, there is a transcendent cause which brought the
            universe into existence.
            I do not believe that the first premise is metaphysically necessary, and I am also not at all sure that our universe had a beginning. (I do believe that the first premise is true in the actual world, since I do believe that God exists as a transcendent cause which brought the universe into existence, but I do not see that this premise is true in all logically possible worlds.)

            http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2015/03/20/guest-post-don-page-on-god-and-cosmology/

            I will say it's certainly possible that the universe began to exist, but so much more is possible too. Some newer evidence from Quantum mechanics suggest the whole thing may be cyclical, but this model doesn't have strong support yet.

            http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/big-bang-big-bounce-our-universe-formed-after-another-collapsed-itself-1570426

            There is still much work to be done with the physics here, and it's a fascinating question as to why the universe began in such a low entropy state (the increase in entropy seems to give time it's direction). It certainly seems possible to answer that question with better theories of physics, but we'll see :)
            I enjoy writing about physics. I actually wanted to be a physicist when I was a kid, but a friend of my Dad's who had a Ph.D. in theoretical physics told me to go into engineering...better jobs. That's what I did, but I can still play physics on the internet :)

          • Alexandra

            Thank you for presenting your point of view. It was clear, and a lot of interesting ideas. No apologies needed for the long response. Knowing you by now, if you didn't give me a nice long response, with a plethora of wikipedia links, I'd start to worry about you. ;)

            Regarding all of this, I found this link useful :
            http://curious.astro.cornell.edu/about-us/101-the-universe/cosmology-and-the-big-bang/general-questions/570-where-did-the-matter-in-the-universe-come-from-intermediate

            Since you mentioned you're taking a break from SN, I think this is a good stopping point for the conversation, rather than engaging in so many complex ideas. Be well, and come back soon.

          • Will

            Not everyone is convinced that it was all light in the singularity, which is why I use mass-energy. Matter and energy are two sides the substance that exist (Baruch Spinoza made strong arguments that God/Nature is the only thing that can exist). Matter can be converted into energy, and vice versa. Notice you never find any physicist claiming there was nothing, then something. Light's conversion into matter is a rule governed process.
            Thought it was worth making that clear, and my favorite arguments for God are fine tuning, and the beauty of natural "law". If I were an apologist I would focus on those, and admit Kalam is pretty weak...but that's just me :) Have a good one Alexandra.

            Edit: In case you weren't aware, humans can create matter in the lab, but it always comes with an equal amount of antimatter. What happened to all the antimatter is a fascinating question

            https://www.llnl.gov/news/billions-particles-anti-matter-created-laboratory

      • Sounds to me like you are saying that the idea that Mass-Energy "came into existence" does not make sense on the standard model?

        That would be my understanding too.

    • ClayJames

      Carrol is correct premise 2 of the Kalam is not sound. We have no way other than intuition to arrive at this premise. We have no experience of anything coming into material existence in the sense that the Kalaam is using the term.

      Actually, we have experience of everything coming into existence the way the Kalaam is using the term, as an effective cause.

      • for example?

        • ClayJames

          Everything. Everything that comes into existence has an efficient cause.

          • Name one thing that has "come into existence" in the way you mean the universe or material reality has "come into existence", what the efficient cause for its coming into existence and how do you know?

          • ClayJames

            A chair comes into existence, caused by the builder which would be the efficient cause.

            Like I said, this is true for everything that begins to exist.

            The common internet objection that I have seen is the requirement that every efficient cause must have a material cause but the person raising this objection usually has no good reason to believe that this is the case.

          • David Nickol

            A chair comes into existence, caused by the builder which would be the efficient cause.

            What about a planet or a star?

          • I get you now.

            So you are saying that what Kalaam actually means is that: everything that comes into existence has an efficient cause?

            I would dispute that, I think there are plenty of things that come into existence with no efficient cause. Rainbows, the Giant's Causeway, snow crystals, mountains.

            However, we have no evidence of anything ever coming into existence without a material cause.

            So I think I remain justified saying "everything that comes into existence has a material cause".

          • ClayJames

            So you are saying that what Kalaam actually means is that: everything that comes into existence has an efficient cause?

            That can certainly be one formulation of the Kalam, but it is not necessary to limit the argument that much. Here is how WLC answers a similar critique: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/causal-premiss-of-the-kalam-argument

            I would dispute that, I think there are plenty of things that come into existence with no efficient cause. Rainbows, the Giant's Causeway, snow crystals, mountains.

            All of those things have efficient causes since the efficient cause is simply what brings them about. Once again, everything that begins to exist has an efficient cause and all of those things began to exist.

            However, we have no evidence of anything ever coming into existence without a material cause.

            This is not true at all. We have plenty of evidence of things coming into existence without a material cause, the most important of them being (at least to this conversation) is the universe itself.

            So I think I remain justified saying "everything that comes into existence has a material cause".

            Therefore the universe does not exist and neither does Beethoven´s 5th Symphony.

  • Brandon's criticisms as advanced in the last sections are good ones.

    But I would pose this to the theists out there. What do you mean by explanation for the universe? What kinds of things count as an explanation in this context and what doesn't? Certainly an atheist saying something like the material reality contains its own explanation for existence, but we don't know it and maybe cannot know it given our physical and mental limitations would be dismissed.

    This would obviously be rejected, right? It would be dismissed as deferring to ignorance. Sure we have a label for this ignorance, the "cosmos", we could say things like the universe transcends in some way we don't understand, but we would not really be explaining anything right?

    How does theism provide an explanation that does not have these problems?

    • Lazarus

      Personally I would not reject that answer, certainly not as ignorance. It is a perfectly valid response to lived reality, even though it's not my chosen option.

      • ClayJames

        Except for the fact that a contingent universe cannot explain itself.

        • but he and I are both suggesting the material reality is non-contingent.

          Not to mention that if something can explain itself has no bearing on whether it is contingent or necessary. A contingent entity might be able to explain itself and an necessary one may not be able to.

          Do you have a response to my question?

          • ClayJames

            Right, and I am saying that the material reality is contingent.

            If something can explain itself then it is not contingent.

          • "but he and I are both suggesting the material reality is non-contingent."

            If something is non-contingent, then it is necessary. Are you suggesting that all of material reality (1) necessarily exists, as in it cannot fail to exist, and (2) necessarily exists as it is, and cannot possibly exist in some other configuration?

            Those are pretty strong claims. I don't know any serious scientist or philosopher who holds them. But if you do, what's your evidence?

        • Doug Shaver

          a contingent universe cannot explain itself.

          Neither can anything else. Explaining things is something human beings do.

          • "Neither can anything else. Explaining things is something human beings do."

            Don't confuse explanation as "an oral description or account" with the relevant philosophical definition here of "the reason something is as it is".

            We're all clearly using "explanation" in that second sense here.

          • Doug Shaver

            Don't confuse explanation as "an oral description or account" with the relevant philosophical definition here of "the reason something is as it is".

            How does anything explain itself in the philosophical sense?

            We're all clearly using "explanation" in that second sense here.

            In my experience, some distinctions that religious believers regard as clear are not so clear to us nonbelievers.

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    Pace Carroll, no one has ever imagined something coming from nothing. Usually, what we find is that they imagined a big dark empty room (or something of the sort) and poof something is there, let's say an Oreo cookie. But the Oreo cookie did not come from nothing. It came from a big dark empty room.

    "Something" that doesn't exist can't do anything. Those who find Parmenides principle unconvincing ought to explain how nothing can do something.

    • "Pace Carroll, no one has ever imagined something coming from nothing. Usually, what we find is that they imagined a big dark empty room (or something of the sort) and poof something is there, let's say an Oreo cookie. But the Oreo cookie did not come from nothing. It came from a big dark empty room."

      Yes, this was the point I made in my article.

      "Something" that doesn't exist can't do anything. Those who find Parmenides principle unconvincing ought to explain how nothing can do something."

      Yes!

    • Doug Shaver

      "Something" that doesn't exist can't do anything.

      Of course, and so it can't be a cause of anything. But that is irrelevant to the question of whether it is possible for any uncaused thing to exist.

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        Of course, and so it [nothing] can't be a cause of anything.

        It seems so many people expend agita over this issue.

        But that is irrelevant to the question of whether it is possible for any uncaused thing to exist.

        Atheists are constantly claiming that uncaused things exist, often citing the Universe Itself as an example. Sometimes they appropriate and misuse the term "brute fact" to describe them.
        https://thomism.wordpress.com/?s=brute+fact

        The alternative is that essentially-ordered efficient causes regress to infinity, which is logically impossible, like an infinite series of gears, none of which is the driver.

        1. Change is the one thing we seek an explanation for. Motion (change, kinesis) is not simply a feature of the world, but the very feature that motivates us to look for an explanation. An acorn changes into an oak; a man who was sitting rises and walks away. Sodium and chlorine combine into salt. All change presupposes something unchanging. The information in the oak DNA, the man, the matter that make up the sodium and chlorine.

        2. In the sciences we explain things using meters, seconds, and grams or other complexes of these things. But all of these things are defined through motion. But if change is your explanandum, your explanans can’t be something given as changing, since then it simply subsumed into the explanandum.

        (Newton defined motion as the transference of a body from one region of absolute space to another. But "transference" is itself a sort of motion. So it seems all that Newton, Descartes, and the mechanical tradition are saying is that motion is a sort of motion, which hardly inspires confidence in the philosophical foundation of mechanism.)

        3.) It follows that neither the explanans nor its activity can be described in meters, seconds, mass, or in any of the units built up from these. It cannot act by energy or by any other conserved quantity that transitions to cause change. It cannot begin to act at time t and so acts outside of any light cone and without needing to receive or convey information. It is, in short "unchanging" ("uncaused" "immobile")

        4.) The natural sciences are thus part of a larger project seeking the explanans of change, or the cause of what we most seek causes for. Any attempt to identify all causal explanations with natural science explains change only under some qualification and so as scattered into diverse causal domains.

        One candidate for an unmoved mover (or uncaused cause) is energy, which was Aristotle’s word for whatever was an active source of motion or change. This can neither be created or destroyed, but is conserved in all transactions. It may change state (from potential to kinetic, or from chemical to heat, or whatever) but the energy itself abides. The books always balance. More precisely, I suppose, it may change the state of some mobile. (This idea of energy as the unmoved mover is interesting because in the First Way, Aquinas demonstrates that the active source of motion or change is God; which means that God is pure energy. The conservation of energy is therefore something like a proof for the existence of God.)

        Sean Carroll has complained that God is poorly defined. Appropriately, the same may be said of energy. Chastek comments:

        "Is it a mathematical convenience or a real mover of things? Is it a cause of motion or an effect of it? Is it a mere ability to do something or the actual doing of it? Does it require that ability-to-act and action be identical? If energy changes states, is there something other than energy responsible for this change? Is it one thing that changes states or a whole class of different things, which doesn’t so much change as cause something in another? When you say energy is the same as mass or the same as momentum times velocity or work or a unit like joules/ watts, etc…. does this mean it is nothing other than these things, or that you can use one to get the other, or that one causes the other, or that they are some higher, transcendent thing above all these finite conceptualizations? Is energy basically just kinetic and potential or is it the never ending list of different states? Just what are these “states” anyway?

        https://thomism.wordpress.com/2016/06/05/god-and-energy/

        Another candidate for uncaused cause is the laws of physics. We might say that the motion of the planets is explained by the Law of Gravity, but what is the cause of the Law of Gravity? An easy answer is "Newton, duh?" But this implies that the laws of science are simply made up by scientists rather than discovered by them.

        A couple of blog posts that address these issues:
        https://thomism.wordpress.com/2016/07/19/a-first-way-variant/
        https://thomism.wordpress.com/2010/08/26/for-the-self-evidence-of-the-impossibility-of-infinite-causal-regress/

  • David Nickol

    Very minor points all, but nevertheless . . . .

    Morgenbesser was once asked, “Why is there something, rather than nothing?” and purportedly answered, “If there were nothing, you'd still be complaining” (195). This, of course, is non-sense. If there were nothing, there would be nobody to complain.

    It's odd of Brandon to begin the critique of this chapter by complaining about a joke which he doesn't seem to "get." Of course if there were nothing, there would be nobody to complain. That's the joke (or a big part of it, at least)!

    How can you tell if a blonde has made chocolate chip cookies? There are M&M shells all over the floor. Well, that's ridiculous. You can buy chocolate chips in a bag. There is no need to shell M&Ms.

    Carroll begins the chapter with a glib anecdote . . . .

    In what way is the anecdote glib? This sounds to me like a little sneer at Sean Carroll—one that is entirely uncalled for.

    Also, in Brandon's retelling, Morganbesser "purportedly answered." In the book, "Morganbesser immediately replied." Brandon has turned true anecdote into a possibly apocryphal one. Why change "immediately replied" to "purportedly answered"?

    • Lazarus

      As you say, "very minor points all".
      None of this has anything to do with the essence of the review.

    • ClayJames

      It's odd of Brandon to begin the critique of this chapter by complaining about a joke which he doesn't seem to "get." Of course if there were nothing, there would be nobody to complain. That's the joke (or a big part of it, at least)!

      I think it is a valid criticism. It reminds me of the line in the first page of the Grand Design where Hawkins and Mlodinow claim that ¨philosophy is dead¨. If this is to be read literally, then it is a very basic and fundamental misunderstanding. If it is to be read figuratively, then one has to question the decision to undermine a book that spends half of its pages talking about philosophical ideas.

      Either way, it is a mistake.

      • Will

        You do realize it was a philosopher who he is quoting, right?

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

        Are you guys really that uptight? I feel sorry for you, seriously...

        • ClayJames

          Whether he quoted a philosopher or a truck driver, it was either a basic misunderstanding or a dumb strategic move in attempting to prove a thesis.

          No one is uptight but I have notice you have been exceptionallly testy as of late. Hope all is well at home.

          • Will

            Lol!

          • ClayJames

            How old are you?

          • Will

            Lol! Talk about being uptight ;)

      • Will

        Did you know invoking philosophers name at police can get you arrested? This is also from Morgenbesser:

        Morgenbesser was leaving a subway station in New York City and put his pipe in his mouth as he was ascending the steps. A police officer told him that there was no smoking on the subway. Morgenbesser pointed out that he was leaving the subway, not entering it, and hadn't lit up yet anyway. The cop again said that smoking was not allowed in the subway, and Morgenbesser repeated his comment. The cop said, "If I let you do it, I'd have to let everyone do it." Morgenbesser replied, "Who do you think you are, Kant?" The word "Kant" was mistaken for a vulgar epithet and Morgenbesser had to explain the situation at the police station.[1][2]

        https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Sidney_Morgenbesser

        I thought it was funny, at least. Cops sometimes don't have a sense of humor if they think you are calling them a slang name for female genitalia.

      • David Nickol

        Either way, it is a mistake.

        I'm sorry, but I just can't get inside the head of someone who doesn't see the humor in the anecdote in question. This makes me think of when Ann Curry tried stand-up comedy and told a story about her jokester father and her Japanese-born mother who spoke limited English and frequently failed to get the jokes. Her example was as follows:

        Her father says, "A horse walks into a bar, and the bartender says, 'Why the long face?'" And her mother says, "Why horse in bar?"

        You are here asking, "Why horse in bar?"

        • ClayJames

          Getting the joke has nothing to do with whether it was a mistake to include said joke. Or are you trying to argue that including any joke in any paper/book is warranted and free from criticism?

  • David Nickol

    A few pages later he writes, "To the question of whether the universe
    could possibly exist all by itself, without any external help, science offers an unequivocal answer: sure it could" (201).

    Note the double use of the word "unequivocal", which means "admitting of no doubt or misunderstanding; having only one meaning or interpretation and leading to only one conclusion." . . .

    But apparently, this open-minded prescription only applies to religious believers, and not poetic naturalists like Carroll, since as noted above, he twice admits to being "unequivocally" certain (i.e., without any doubt) that the universe could exist all by itself.

    There is no contradiction or hypocrisy here. Carroll is not saying the universe does "exist all by itself, without any external help." He is saying it could. As I understand Baysian thinking, to deny that it could would be setting the "prior credence" in favor of a creator at 1, and that is impermissible in Baysian analysis. So saying that something is possible, or even saying it's unequivocally possible, is not at all hypocritical for science, or someone who advocates Baysian analysis, or for Sean Carroll.

    Sean Carroll has not been caught in a contradiction here.

    • "There is no contradiction or hypocrisy here. Carroll is not saying the universe does "exist all by itself, without any external help." He is saying it could. As I understand Baysian thinking, to deny that it could would be setting the "prior credence" in favor of a creator at 1, and that is impermissible in Baysian analysis. So saying that something is possible, or even saying it's unequivocally possible, is not at all hypocritical for science, or someone who advocates Baysian analysis, or for Sean Carroll."

      It is not impermissible to set a prior credence of 1 if something is logically impossible. And it's logically impossible for a contingent being, something that came into existence from nothing, to explain its own existence.

      Also, you only quoted one of Carroll's usages of "unequivocal". Here is the other one:

      "The progress of modern physics and cosmology has sent a fairly unequivocal message: there's nothing wrong with the universe existing without any external help" (196)

      Note that he says it is unequivocal (i.e., incapable of doubt, or a Bayesian credence of 1 that "there's nothing wrong with the universe existing without any external help." This means there is not even possible a slight chance that there could be something wrong with the universe existing without explanation.

      In other words, he's saying he's 100% confident--not 90%, not 95%, not 99.999%, but 100% confident--that billions of theists around the world and the greatest philosophers of Western history are wrong when they suggest the universe must have an outside explanation.

      And he claims "science", or in this quote "modern physics and cosmology", back up that 100% confidence. But where? How? What scientific discoveries is he referring to? It's not clear at all; he just never says.

      • OverlappingMagisteria

        Note that he says it is unequivocal...In other words, he's saying he's 100% confident--not 90%, not 95%, not 99.999%, but 100% confident...

        No, he said it's "fairly unequivocal". I interpret that to mean 99.999% certain.

        • "No, he said it's "fairly unequivocal". I interpret that to mean 99.999% certain."

          In one quote he says "fairly unequivocal", and in the other he just says "unequivocal," without qualification. So even if you're right, the other quote implies a 100% level of certainty.

          Either way, whether he's 99.9999% or 100% certain, I see absolutely no reason in his book to think he's right!

      • Will

        And it's logically impossible for a contingent being, something that came into existence from nothing, to explain its own existence.

        Do you have any evidence that the universe came into existence from nothing? It's certainly not in the Standard Model of the Big Bang. Scientifically this claim violates the law of conservation of Mass Energy, so from a scientific standpoint, we'd require extraordinary evidence.
        Depending on your theory of time, it does appear that time began at the Big Bang, but not mass/energy. Such is an important distinction.

        • "Do you have any evidence that the universe came into existence from nothing?"

          What specifically do you mean by "evidence"? It's not clear to me. Do you mean simply good reasons to think that assertion is true?

          "It's certainly not in the Standard Model of the Big Bang."

          The Big Bang model shows that all matter, space, and energy began at a point in the finite past. This has led many scientists, including many atheist/agnostic cosmologists, to agree that the universe thus had a temporal beginning. And if true, if there was a beginning to all matter, space, time, and energy, then there the universe must have indeed arisen from nothing.

          "Scientifically this claim violates the law of conservation of Mass Energy"

          No, it doesn't. The law of conservation only says that mass and energy cannot be created within the universe. It's neutral on the question of the origin of mass and energy. (It's worth noting that most working cosmologists agree that neither mass nor energy are eternal. Both came into being at some point in time, which contradicts your assertion.)

          "Depending on your theory of time, it does appear that time began at the Big Bang, but not mass/energy. Such is an important distinction."

          I disagree. Again, I've read pretty widely in this field, and I don't know many cosmologists or philosophers who think mass and/or energy is eternal. Perhaps you do? If so, who?

          • Will

            There is nothing in the Big Bang that indicates mass-energy had a beginning, seriously. Here is just one example from a Christian physicist, Don Page

            In view of these beliefs of mine, I am not convinced that most philosophical arguments for the existence of God are very persuasive. In particular, I am highly skeptical of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, which I shall quote here from one of your slides, Bill:

            If the universe began to exist, then there is a transcendent cause
            which brought the universe into existence.
            The universe began to exist.
            Therefore, there is a transcendent cause which brought the
            universe into existence.
            I do not believe that the first premise is metaphysically necessary, and I am also not at all sure that our universe had a beginning. (I do believe that the first premise is true in the actual world, since I do believe that God exists as a transcendent cause which brought the universe into existence, but I do not see that this premise is true in all logically possible worlds.)

            http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2015/03/20/guest-post-don-page-on-god-and-cosmology/

            1. Before the Big Bang: Before space and time existed, the entity of the Universe was compressed into a singularity called space-time singularity. This singularity is a location where the quantities that are used to measure the gravitational field become infinite in a way that does not depend on the co-ordinate system.

            http://physicsanduniverse.com/standard-model-of-the-big-bang-theory/

            Even the priest who formulated the theory:

            Lemaître was then invited to London to participate in a meeting of the British Association on the relation between the physical universe and spirituality. There he proposed that the universe expanded from an initial point, which he called the "Primeval Atom". He developed this idea in a report published in Nature.[16] Lemaître himself also described his theory as "the Cosmic Egg exploding at the moment of the creation";
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges_Lema%C3%AEtre

            The cosmic egg (which was already there) exploded at the moment of creation. Can you link to a physics website that indicates mass-energy had a beginning? I've never seen that, at all, outside of apologists. I understand the physics well enough to know that extrapolating from the expansion of the universe does not indicate that mass/energy had a beginning. It starts as a singularity, cosmic egg is a nice metaphor :)

          • Will

            Oh, I forgot to add, there is an entire wiki article on the initial singularity:

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

            Again, time beginning does not suggest the mass-energy began. It is an interesting question as to why the universe began in an extremely low entropy state, and continues to progress toward higher entropy (giving time its arrow). Will this always be the case? If the Big Bounce model proves to correct, it's just part of a cycle.

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

            Don Page is right that Kalam really has no teeth for those familiar with physics. I like his article, he also agrees about the problems with causation...imagine that :)

            Edit to add: Evidence for the Big Bounce model is actually growing thanks to continued progress in QM.

            http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/big-bang-big-bounce-our-universe-formed-after-another-collapsed-itself-1570426

            http://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.117.021301

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            The law of conservation only says that mass and energy cannot be created within the universe. It's neutral on the question of the origin of mass and energy.

            Are you saying that the way things work within the universe may not apply to how they work outside of, or during the creation of, the universe? If so, here's an interesting reply that may sound familiar:

            Metaphysical principles, such as the one under consideration, are independent of scale. Mice and men are "different", yet they both follow the same principle. So why think everything in the universe follows the principle but not the universe itself, which is nothing more than the collection of everything within the universe?

          • "If so, here's an interesting reply that may sound familiar:"

            No need for the sarcasm. If you have a point, you can make it without polemics.

            "Are you saying that the way things work within the universe may not apply to how they work outside of, or during the creation of, the universe?"

            Three things in reply. First, this is a strangely worded question because it assumes there are laws or principles that exist outside of the universe (a premise I don't agree with) and it assumes that creation is a process (hence your use of "during") rather than at a particular instant of time (t=0). It makes no sense to speak of physical laws before t=0 or beyond the beginning of the universe.

            Second, the laws of conservation of mass and energy are not metaphysical principles--they are physical principles. Thus my original statement, which concerned metaphysical principles, does not apply.

            Third, the universe coming into being from nothing, and thus all matter and energy within in, does not violate the laws of conservation since the laws only apply within our universe, after the universe came into being (if it indeed did.) Regardless of whether you think the universe is eternal, you should agree that if the universe was created, such a creation would not violate any physical laws for the reasons given above.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            No sarcasm intended. It just seemed to me that you are comfortable saying that what applies within the universe therefore applies to the universe as a whole regarding causality, but not regarding mass/energy.
            I agree that you caught me in my sloppy use of the word "during".

        • ClayJames

          Scientifically this claim violates the law of conservation of Mass Energy, so from a scientific standpoint,

          So the belief that everything that begins to exist has a cause does not apply outside the universe but the law of conservation of Mass and Energy does?

          • Will

            Who's talking about outside the universe?

          • ClayJames

            You did. You said that the universe coming into existence from nothing violates the law of conservation of mass and energy. So according to you, this law must apply outside the universe for it to apply to the universe beginning to exist.

          • Will

            Uh...I'm saying that the mass-energy has always existed. How do you not understand that from what I've written? Just because time might have a beginning, doesn't imply that the mass/energy did. If you still don't comprehend, I recommend taking some classes in physics.

          • "Uh...I'm saying that the mass-energy has always existed. How do you not understand that from what I've written?"

            William, I can't reply for ClayJames, but please consider the possibility that you, perhaps, play a part in anyone misunderstanding your words. Perhaps you didn't represent your thoughts clearly enough?

            Either way, what evidence do you have that mass and energy have always existed, especially since almost all cosmologists agree that the universe began around 14 billions years ago. How and where did matter exist if there was no space?

            Also, what does it mean to say "matter has always existed." Matter isn't a thing by itself. In other words, you can't have a "bowl of matter" or talk about "this matter over there." Matter can only exist in specific forms, but matter and form (together) require space. Yet science and philosophy affirm that space is limited in the finite past. Thus matter must be, too.

            What reasons do you have for thinking that mass and energy have always existed? To anticipate one reply, I don't think the law of the conservation of mass and energy helps you here for the reasons I've given elsewhere in this thread--those laws are simply independent of the question of whether mass/energy have existed in the finite or infinite past.

            "Just because time might have a beginning, doesn't imply that the mass/energy did. If you still don't comprehend, I recommend taking some classes in physics."

            Once again, no need for the condescending remarks. If you have a point, please make it charitably.

          • Will

            Either way, what evidence do you have that mass and energy have always existed, especially since almost all cosmologists agree that the universe began around 14 billions years ago. How and where did matter exist if there was no space?

            I have provided references for my claims, even from a Christian cosmologist. Provide references for yours, and we can continue. The initial singularity has all the mass/energy existing in a single point, without space. Of course, more and more physicists think the GR is ill equipped to handle the beginning of time, and the model breaks down (i.e. singularities only exist in models). Any scholarly account of the Big Bang I can find has the substance existing at the beginning of time. I can find plenty of layman sites that say it began to exist, but there is nothing in the Lambda-CDM_model that suggests that, as far as I know. Are most cosmologists using a non-standard model. If so, why? I'd be interested to see specific from a physicist.

            Once again, no need for the condescending remarks. If you have a point, please make it charitably.

            Have you lectured Clay for asking me how old I am here? I didn't think so. It's quite comical to me that he thinks a joke must either be a mistake or a conspiracy, lol! Isn't asking someone how old they are, condescending?

            https://strangenotions.com/why-does-the-universe-exist-atheist-sean-carroll-answers/#comment-2834724345

          • ClayJames

            It was not condescesion, simply a warranted question based on your response. I accept that it might not have been the correct response and in this case I would love for you to tell me the correct response to someone who wants to be taken seriously writing ¨LOL!¨.

          • Will

            Wow, my "Lol" was certainly condescending. Your response "How old are you?" was condescending in return. Can't admit the truth can we? Pretty amazing.

      • Doug Shaver

        It is not impermissible to set a prior credence of 1

        No, but if you do, then you make Bayes irrelevant. If the prior probability is set at either 1 or 0, then there is no way that any evidence can produce a consequent probability other than the 1`or 0 that you started with.

        • "No, but if you do, then you make Bayes irrelevant. If the prior probability is set at either 1 or 0, then there is no way that any evidence can produce a consequent probability other than the 1`or 0 that you started with."

          I completely agree with this, and it's precisely why I'm surprised by Carroll's confidence. He says that science has unequivocally shown that the universe can exist without explanation. This is akin to assigning the prior probability of 1 to the statement: "The universe can exist without explanation."

          And assuming that's case, Bayes' Theorem confirms that there is no evidence that could ever convince Carroll to change his mind.

          To me, that just seems wildly closed-minded.

          • Doug Shaver

            This is akin to assigning the prior probability of 1 to the statement: "The universe can exist without explanation."

            If that was his intended meaning, then I join you in disagreeing with him. But that is not how I interpret what he said.

          • Will

            I completely agree with this, and it's precisely why I'm surprised by Carroll's confidence. He says that science has unequivocally shown that the universe can exist without explanation. This is akin to assigning the prior probability of 1 to the statement: "The universe can exist without explanation."

            This isn't correct. If you say the universe can't exist without explanation, you set the prior probability to 1 that it must have an explanation. If you say the universe does exist without an explanation, you set the prior to 1 that it can't have an explanation. If you say the universe can exist without an explanation, you are simply saying that it could be either way. The ONLY way Bayesian analysis will work is if you allow for the possibility for it to be either way, which is exactly what Carroll is saying. I'm quite surprised that this isn't obvious, and it's just one example of very basic errors in your review.

            And assuming that's case, Bayes' Theorem confirms that there is no evidence that could ever convince Carroll to change his mind.

            If he changed his mind to one of the other possibilities, then Bayes Theorem wouldn't work with the question, as saying the universe must or can't have an explanation would set the prior to 1 or 0. It's like your criticism of certain about not knowing? I'm completely certain that I don't know what the final theory of quantum gravity looks like (which is needed to understand the physics as we reverse time toward the Big Bang). Do you want us to say that we don't know if we don't know what the final theory of quantum gravity looks like? Of course we can be certain if we don't know something, there is nothing in Bayes Theorem that contradicts this. Very basic errors.

          • "Do you want us to say that we don't know if we don't know what the final theory of quantum gravity looks like? Of course we can be certain if we don't know something, there is nothing in Bayes Theorem that contradicts this."

            As noted above, I'm fine with individual claims like this, which appeal to ignorance. There's nothing wrong with saying, "I don't know [fill in blank]."

            But to say, as Carroll has done, that science has unequivocally shown that we (i.e., everyone) don't know whether the universe requires an outside explanation is simply misguided. I have problems with all three bolded words in that claim.

  • David Nickol

    Carroll's confidence here should cause the discerning reader
    to naturally wonder, "How and where has modern science determined the
    universe could exist all by itself? Which experiments or calculations
    have proved that?" Unfortunately, Carroll never explains in this book.
    He just asserts that modern science has settled the issue and hopes
    readers trust his confidence.

    I would suggest that Sean Carroll does explain beginning on page 196 where he starts out by saying:

    Let's start with the relatively straightforward, science-oriented question: could the universe exist all by itself, or does it need something to bring it into existence?

    As Galileo taught us . . . .

    Whether his explanation is satisfactory is another question, but I don't think it is accurate to say he merely makes an assertion. There are no "experiments or calculations" (it is difficult to imagine what they would be). But there is an explanation.

    • "There are no "experiments or calculations" (it is difficult to imagine what they would be). But there is an explanation."

      What's the explanation you're referring to? I've read the book twice and I still haven't seen a scientific explanation for why the universe unequivocally requires no explanation. If you've found one, please share!

  • David Nickol

    One problem with this is that science simply can't say anything about why or how the universe exists since, by it's own limitations, the sciences are constrained to questions about the natural world (i.e., that which exists within the universe). It can't ask, or answer, or even weigh in on metaphysical "why" questions like "Why does the universe exist?" or "Why is the universe this way, and not that way?"

    This, of course, depends on the meaning of why in whatever particular question is being raised. For example, I think science can answer very well the question, "Why is the sky blue?" That is not a request for an answer to a metaphysical question. One might ask the metaphysical question why (for what purpose) is the sky blue. That science cannot answer (and probably neither can metaphysics). Science definitely cannot answer the metaphysical question, "Why does the universe exist?" But there may be no answer if the existence of the universe is just a brute fact. On the other hand, science may (or may not) be able to answer the scientific questions about why the universe exists or why it is the way it is and not another way.

    To assume that philosophy is somehow superior to science because science cannot answer the metaphysical question of why the universe exists seems to me to imply that philosophy can answer the question. It is not at all clear to me that philosophy can, or ever will, answer the question. It may be that the question has no answer if it is intended to mean for what purpose does the universe exist. There may be no purpose. So neither science nor philosophy can necessarily answer the big "why" questions.

    • "For example, I think science can answer very well the question, "Why is the sky blue?" That is not a request for an answer to a metaphysical question."

      Indeed. But as you say, that's not a metaphysical question. Therefore it has nothing to do with the claim I made, and which you quoted: "[Science] can't ask, or answer, or even weigh in on metaphysical 'why' questions." Showing that science can adjudicate merely physical "why" questions is irrelevant.

      "To assume that philosophy is somehow superior to science because science cannot answer the metaphysical question of why the universe exists seems to me to imply that philosophy can answer the question."

      Philosophy is not generally superior to science. I would never word things that way or just say without qualification, as you did, that "philosophy is somehow superior to science." A thing can only be superior to another thing in regards to a particular trait. With that in mind, it is correct to say that philosophy is superior to science in regards to answering metaphysical questions since science, by definition, only concerns the physical world and therefore offers no input on metaphysical questions.

      Philosophy does. That doesn't mean philosophy can answer any particular metaphysical question. But it does make philosophy the superior tool.

      "It may be that the question has no answer if it is intended to mean for what purpose does the universe exist.""

      This is a different question that the one that is under consideration, and it's evidence of a confusion that keeps popping up here: reducing all "why" questions to questions about purpose.

      "There may be no purpose. So neither science nor philosophy can necessarily answer the big "why" questions.""

      Indeed, you are correct that there may be no purpose to the universe. My point, however, was that only philosophy can make this conclusion, not science. Thus when Carroll says that science has unequivocally shown that the universe can exist without explanation, I balk. And I would hope you do, too.

  • LHRMSCBrown

    First, let’s get rid of the word “God”. E. Feser reviews a book, “The Mystery of Existence: Why Is There Anything At All?” at http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2013/10/why-is-there-anything-at-all-its-simple.html and the authors state the following as their goal:

    “Our book’s limited mission is to build appreciation for the most baffling of all enigmas: Why is there something rather than nothing? In its shadow, all the big questions – Does God exist? Why the universe? Life after death? – are eclipsed…….” (emphasis mine)

    The essay is long-ish so just a few excerpts here to address the concern that (potentially) it is the case that neither science nor philosophy (nor theology specifically, etc.) can answer such a daunting question. But, first, a brief side note: We are, here, given “philosophy” etc., engaged in the enterprise of reasoning and, so, we come to this: “Free will doesn't exist; it's an illusion…..The naturalist would also claim that free will doesn't exist because, at the lowest level of reality, the fermions that make up our bodies are subject to only the four fundamental forces of nature. There's no room for "you" to control their behavior.” (by A. Ginn) We’ll leave to the side (here) the problem of the first person reality and that it (the first person reality) (I will, I think, I reason, and so on), given Non-Theism’s definitions and terms (and means and ends), is ultimately or cosmically illusory (just as “irreducible evil” is also ultimately or cosmically illusory given said terms) for there is no room for "I”, for “You” to actually *be* the proverbial “casually closed rock bottom”. There is (instead) only room for the four fundamental forces (interactions) of nature, for irreducible reality’s “causally closed rock bottom” as per the Non-Theist’s means and ends. “…..The four fundamental interactions, also known as four fundamental forces, are the interactions in physical systems that do not appear to be reducible to more basic interactions…..” (Edit: perhaps more relevant to Brandon's upcoming item on free will, but, since all of us "first persons" are reasoning here.....)

    And, so, with that brief side note, Feser “reasons” in the following excerpts. Can theology answer the question, “why is there anything at all?” Feser suggests that (perhaps) for some it may be helpful putting the word “God” out of one’s mind for the moment as we explore this topic.

    Begin excerpts:

    “……we will also see that the question whether God exists is in no way eclipsed by the question why there is something rather than nothing – on the contrary, the existence of God, as classical theism understands God, is (so the classical theist would argue) the only possible answer in principle to that question. Let me explain….”

    “…….you might say that classical theism in its philosophical aspect just is the development of the implications of there being an ultimate explanation of why anything exists at all………

    At the core of classical theism is the notion of divine simplicity – the idea that God is non-composite or without parts……… The reason is that for the classical theist, whatever else we mean by “God,” we certainly mean by that label to name the ultimate source, cause, or explanation of things. Properly to understand classical theism, the hostile atheist reader might even find it useful to put the word “God” out of his mind for the moment – given all the irrelevant associations the word might lead him to read into the present discussion – and just think instead of “the ultimate source of things.” The classical theist maintains that whatever is in any way composed of parts cannot be the ultimate source of things. For wherever we have a composite thing, a thing made up of parts, we have something that requires a cause of its own, a cause which accounts for how the parts get together.

    This is obviously true of the ordinary things of our experience. For example, a given chair exists only because there is something (a carpenter, or a machine) that assembled the legs, seat, etc. into a chair. And the chair continues to exist only insofar as certain combining factors – such as the tackiness of glue or friction between screw threads – continue to operate. The point applies also to things whose composition is less crudely mechanical. A water molecule depends for its existence on the oxygen and hydrogen atoms that make it up together with the principles of covalent bonding.

    But it is true at deeper metaphysical levels as well. Any changeable thing, the Aristotelian argues, must be composed of actuality and potentiality. For example, an ice cube melts because it has a potential to take on a liquid form that is actualized by the heat in the surrounding air. In any contingent thing, the Thomist argues, its essence is distinct from its existence. That is why a tree (say) can come into existence and go out of existence, since what it is to be a tree -- a tree’s essence or nature -- by itself entails nothing one way or the other about whether it exists. Whether it is, you might say, is distinct from what it is. Actuality and potentiality, existence and essence are thus components of any thing that has both -- even if they are metaphysical components rather than material components -- and their composition entails that such a thing depends on a cause, on something that actualizes its potentials, that imparts existence to its essence.

    So, whatever the ultimate source, cause, or explanation of things is -- again, refrain from calling it “God” if you want -- it cannot be made up of material components, or actuality and potentiality, or existence and essence. Nor can it be composed of any other metaphysical parts -- genus and difference, substance and properties, or what have you. It cannot be an instance of a genus, for then it will require some aspect or other that differentiates it from other instances of that genus, and that entails having metaphysical parts. It cannot instantiate properties since that would, again, require some differentiating feature that sets it apart from other instances of those properties, which again entails having metaphysical parts.

    Naturally, if it is the ultimate source, cause or explanation of things it is actual or existent -- it could hardly cause or explain anything otherwise -- but it is not a compound of actuality and potentiality as other things are, nor a compound of existence and essence. It would have to be, always and “already” as it were, pure actuality rather than something that has or could have any potential in need of actualization. It would have to be, not “an” existent thing among other existent things, but pure being or existence itself. Anything less would require a cause or source of its own and thus not be the ultimate cause or source.

    Note that on the classical theist view of ultimate explanation, there are no inexplicable “brute facts.” Things that require causes require them because they have potentials that need to be actualized and parts that need to be combined. To say of a thing that it has parts and yet lacks any cause which accounts for their combination, or has potentiality yet lacks any cause which actualized that potentiality, would be to make of it a “brute fact.” But that is precisely what the classical theist does not say about the ultimate cause of things. It says instead that, since it is purely actual (and thus devoid of potentials that could be actualized) and absolutely simple (and thus devoid of parts that could be combined), it not only need not have a cause but could not in principle have had one. It, and it alone, has its source of intelligibility in itself rather than in some external cause.

    So, whatever else we say about the ultimate cause, source, or explanation of things -- and whether or not we want to call it “God,” whether or not we want to identify it with the God of the Bible specifically, and whether or not we think it has any religious implications in the first place -- we are going to have to regard it as absolutely simple or non-composite, as pure actuality devoid of potentiality, and as being itself rather than something that merely instantiates being. We are also going to have to regard it as immutable and uncaused, because only what has potentiality capable of being actualized, or parts capable of being combined, can be caused or undergo change, and the source or cause of all things must be devoid of potentiality or parts.

    Now, whatever one thinks of this set of ideas -- and obviously there are various questions and objections that might be raised -- it is surely not “eclipsed” by the question of why something exists rather than nothing, and it is surely “on point”! For what the classical theist claims to be doing is elucidating what any possible answer to that question must involve. And as I have emphasized, this approach to that question is the dominant one in the history of Western thought. What could be more relevant to the mission of The Mystery of Existence?

    End excerpts.

  • neil_pogi

    quote: Why Does the Universe Exist? - because it has a Creator

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    (though one wonders why he quoted it at all—it certainly doesn't help his case.)

    It's pretty common to begin a piece of writing with an entertaining or personalizing anecdote, even if it does not really add much, if any meat to the main point. For example, if someone was writing a book review, they might begin like this:

    I have to admit, when I first opened Sean Carroll's new book, The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself (Dutton, 2016) I immediately flipped to chapter 25, titled "Why Does the Universe Exist?

    Knowing that the reviewer was excited about a certain chapter and skipped to it doesn't really have any relevance and doesn't help the review in any way. But it makes the review a bit more interesting to read. The same goes with starting a chapter with a joke about a professor.

    • "It's pretty common to begin a piece of writing with an entertaining or personalizing anecdote, even if it does not really add much, if any meant to the main point...Knowing that the reviewer was excited about a certain chapter and skipped to it doesn't really have any relevance and doesn't help the review in any way. But it makes the review a bit more interesting to read. The same goes with starting a chapter with a joke about a professor."

      Fair enough. David made a similar point, and it's well taken. I was probably too harsh with my comment about his joke.

      I just found it disappointing as a reader since I was coming into the chapter looking for serious arguments for Carroll's position, and what I found instead was an opening joke, a mushy middle, and then another joke to close the chapter.

      I agree that jokes make books/articles more interesting, though, at least as hooks.

  • ClayJames

    I have never understood how someone can reject the first premise of the Kalaam on the grounds that our experience within the universe cannot tell us anything about reality outside the universe, but at the same time think that they have ample reasons to believe that God does not exist. It seems to me that if you reject the premise of the Kalaam on those grounds, then you must be a strong agnostic, cannot be a naturalist, cannot claim that God or anything outside of this univers does or does not exist and every response to such claim should be limited to simply saing ¨experiences within the universe do not apply outside the universe¨.

    And yet time and time again, I see proponents of this view waste their time writing 400 word responses.

  • I like your definition of the universe. “the universe . . . is the collection of everything within the universe”.

    A set is not an entity. It is not possible to argue from the logical definition of a set to the existence of an entity. The conclusion of the existence of an entity, not of direct experience, must be based on the existence of an entity of direct experience. A logically defined set, even if the set includes some entities of potentially direct experience, would be superfluous to an existential argument. This is one of the several reasons why the Kalam argument fails.

  • David Nickol

    There is, it seems to me, a problem in that different people are using universe to mean different things. This is just my impression, not a criticism of either view.

    It seems to me the theists use universe to mean everything in the way of matter and energy that exists. So if there is a multiverse—a big if for theists—the "universe" includes all other universes. If the big bang was a quantum fluctuation in a metastable false vacuum (don't ask me what that means, if anything!), then the metastable false vacuum is, to the theist, part of the universe.

    To the atheists, agnostics, and skeptics, the universe is basically what resulted from the big bang. It is our universe. If there is a multiverse, our universe is one among many universes. If the big bang was a quantum fluctuation in a metastable false vacuum, the metastable false vacuum is not considered part of the universe.

    It seems to me—again, just an impression—that the theists imagine there was nothing, God created the universe, and then there was something. The atheists, agnostics, and skeptics, on the other hand, seem able to conceive of the existence of "something" apart from our universe, "something" that did not necessarily pre-exist our universe temporally, because time may not be a meaningful concept regarding that "something," but "something" from which our universe (along with time itself) arose. So it makes sense to say there was nothing before the big bang. And in a sense, at least, the big bang came out of nothing, because there was nothing before it. But nevertheless there may be a timeless, spaceless, "something" that does not have to be explained by "creation" from which our universe could have arisen. This "something" is not a thing that had to be the result of a cause, so the cosmological argument can't be applied to it. So the theists' only argument is that (as with an eternal universe) it is contingent and needs God to keep it in existence. But why should an assumption be made that it is contingent?

    • David Nickol

      If the above seems abstruse, this video may help, particularly the subtitles.

      • LHRMSCBrown

        David, a follow up on my initial reply to you: Feser stated in those excerpts, "To say of a thing that it..... has potentiality yet lacks any cause which actualized that potentiality, would be to make of it a “brute fact.”" It's unclear what to make of your proposed *god* wrt T-zero (Bang, etc.) given that T-zero must be [1] "always and already" a "part" of the proposed *god* or, [2] T-zero must be an entity which came "out of" that *god*, which loops us back to [1], or, [3] T-zero must actually be *change* of some irreducible sort, forcing potentiality and sacrificing pure actuality.

        *Edit: It's not obvious that the proposed *god* escapes either parts, or change, or potentiality, and therefore reveals contingency. We can add that we also find deflationary truth values on our end as the illusory presses in.

    • LHRMSCBrown

      Feser agrees that it is helpful for the Non-Theist to remove the word *God* here as you affirm far too many contours of Christianity's uncaused cause there in what sums to pure actuality void of contingency. The necessary and sufficient cause of the universe which just sat there without the universe coming into being, without T-zero, that is *if* I read you right. But then how is [the necessary and sufficient cause of X minus X] even possible? Is Time eternal perhaps? Illusory? And "then", inexplicably so far, the necessary and sufficient actually did what the necessary and sufficient *does*, namely, Bang, namely T-zero, namely, our universe, that is *if* I read you right. But then, again, how is [the necessary and sufficient cause of X minus X] possible? Is Time eternal perhaps? Illusory? We move here by your (insightful/accurate IMO) observations ever closer to the Timeless. Spaceless. Necessary. Sufficient. Immaterial (we can't define *it* by *this* universe's *stuff*). It is along these lines that we find ourselves converging with the Christian's definitions of things and, of course, convergence is (often, not always) quite telling. E. Feser reviews a book, “The Mystery of Existence: Why Is There Anything At All?” at http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2013/10/why-is-there-anything-at-all-its-simple.html ~~ Not landing on any brute facts, a few excerpts from Feser with which your terms (except for brute fact) converge:

      “……we will also see that the question whether God exists is in no way eclipsed by the question why there is something rather than nothing – on the contrary, the existence of God, as classical theism understands God, is (so the classical theist would argue) the only possible answer in principle to that question. Let me explain….”

      “…….you might say that classical theism in its philosophical aspect just is the development of the implications of there being an ultimate explanation of why anything exists at all………

      "At the core of classical theism is the notion of divine simplicity – the idea that God is non-composite or without parts……… The reason is that for the classical theist, whatever else we mean by “God,” we certainly mean by that label to name the ultimate source, cause, or explanation of things. Properly to understand classical theism, the hostile atheist reader might even find it useful to put the word “God” out of his mind for the moment – given all the irrelevant associations the word might lead him to read into the present discussion – and just think instead of “the ultimate source of things.” The classical theist maintains that whatever is in any way composed of parts cannot be the ultimate source of things. For wherever we have a composite thing, a thing made up of parts, we have something that requires a cause of its own, a cause which accounts for how the parts get together.

      This is obviously true of the ordinary things of our experience. For example, a given chair exists only because there is something (a carpenter, or a machine) that assembled the legs, seat, etc. into a chair. And the chair continues to exist only insofar as certain combining factors – such as the tackiness of glue or friction between screw threads – continue to operate. The point applies also to things whose composition is less crudely mechanical. A water molecule depends for its existence on the oxygen and hydrogen atoms that make it up together with the principles of covalent bonding.

      But it is true at deeper metaphysical levels as well. Any changeable thing, the Aristotelian argues, must be composed of actuality and potentiality. For example, an ice cube melts because it has a potential to take on a liquid form that is actualized by the heat in the surrounding air. In any contingent thing, the Thomist argues, its essence is distinct from its existence. That is why a tree (say) can come into existence and go out of existence, since what it is to be a tree -- a tree’s essence or nature -- by itself entails nothing one way or the other about whether it exists. Whether it is, you might say, is distinct from what it is. Actuality and potentiality, existence and essence are thus components of any thing that has both -- even if they are metaphysical components rather than material components -- and their composition entails that such a thing depends on a cause, on something that actualizes its potentials, that imparts existence to its essence.

      So, whatever the ultimate source, cause, or explanation of things is -- again, refrain from calling it “God” if you want -- it cannot be made up of material components, or actuality and potentiality, or existence and essence. Nor can it be composed of any other metaphysical parts -- genus and difference, substance and properties, or what have you. It cannot be an instance of a genus, for then it will require some aspect or other that differentiates it from other instances of that genus, and that entails having metaphysical parts. It cannot instantiate properties since that would, again, require some differentiating feature that sets it apart from other instances of those properties, which again entails having metaphysical parts.

      Naturally, if it is the ultimate source, cause or explanation of things it is actual or existent -- it could hardly cause or explain anything otherwise -- but it is not a compound of actuality and potentiality as other things are, nor a compound of existence and essence. It would have to be, always and “already” as it were, pure actuality rather than something that has or could have any potential in need of actualization. It would have to be, not “an” existent thing among other existent things, but pure being or existence itself. Anything less would require a cause or source of its own and thus not be the ultimate cause or source.

      Note that on the classical theist view of ultimate explanation, there are no inexplicable “brute facts.” Things that require causes require them because they have potentials that need to be actualized and parts that need to be combined. To say of a thing that it has parts and yet lacks any cause which accounts for their combination, or has potentiality yet lacks any cause which actualized that potentiality, would be to make of it a “brute fact.” But that is precisely what the classical theist does not say about the ultimate cause of things. It says instead that, since it is purely actual (and thus devoid of potentials that could be actualized) and absolutely simple (and thus devoid of parts that could be combined), it not only need not have a cause but could not in principle have had one. It, and it alone, has its source of intelligibility in itself rather than in some external cause.

      So, whatever else we say about the ultimate cause, source, or explanation of things -- and whether or not we want to call it “God,” whether or not we want to identify it with the God of the Bible specifically, and whether or not we think it has any religious implications in the first place -- we are going to have to regard it as absolutely simple or non-composite, as pure actuality devoid of potentiality, and as being itself rather than something that merely instantiates being. We are also going to have to regard it as immutable and uncaused, because only what has potentiality capable of being actualized, or parts capable of being combined, can be caused or undergo change, and the source or cause of all things must be devoid of potentiality or parts.

      Now, whatever one thinks of this set of ideas -- and obviously there are various questions and objections that might be raised -- it is surely not “eclipsed” by the question of why something exists rather than nothing, and it is surely “on point”! For what the classical theist claims to be doing is elucidating what any possible answer to that question must involve. And as I have emphasized, this approach to that question is the dominant one in the history of Western thought. What could be more relevant to the mission of The Mystery of Existence?......"

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      [Yes, you are very naturally eroding my free will once again ...]

      We theists get ourselves into trouble when use physical and temporal analogies to address ultimate questions, because "outside" and "before" are now generally understood univocally, on which understanding it becomes nonsense to speak of reality "outside" of space, or "before" time.

      An alternative, more unavoidably analogical manner of speaking that preempts the off-target objections of the univocalists is to speak of the condition or the context of space and time. With the words "condition" and "context" we are using language itself as the root metaphor for understanding reality: space and time are likened to "that which is spoken" (diction) or "that which is written" (text), and that only makes sense within a semantic ecosystem, which we call the condition ("con-diction") or context.

      In that vein, one can argue that change (or "time") ultimately only makes sense if there is ultimately an unchanging (or "eternal") context in which that change occurs. Similarly, the concept of metaphysical possibility only makes sense if there is a necessary metaphysical condition in which those possibilities can arise. According to this line of reasoning, if there was a contingent reality that preceded our own space-time, that reality itself must have arisen from some necessary condition and/or within some necessary context.

  • David Nickol

    First, as far as I can tell, Carroll never engages in this chapter the second question about whether the universe needs a sustaining cause.

    The Baltimore Catechism, which was the basis of my Catholic Education in grades 1 through 8, has as its second Q&A the following:

    2. Who is God?

    God is the Supreme Being, infinitely perfect, who made all things and
    keeps them in existence.

    As far as I can tell (and I concede that I am far, far from an expert), the idea that the universe needs a "sustainer" follows directly from the belief that the universe had a creator (or a first cause). So it seems to me that for those who believe the universe just is have no need to deal with the issue of what the sustaining cause of the universe is.

    As a side note, it seems to me that while the idea of the universe as a chain of causes that can be followed back to a first cause has great intuitive appeal from everyday experience, the idea that anything (including the universe) needs a sustaining cause is not intuitive at all. Even if one believes in creation ex nihilo, why does it follow that God's creation needs his constant "attention" or it will wink out of existence?

    • LHRMSCBrown

      Maybe this (or maybe not...) ~~~ (Edited at 19 hours) On the brute fact question, it seems that contingent lines, like universe(s), are not and cannot be stand-alone lines. We'd have to see the reasoning to the necessary and out of all contingent affairs wrt said universe. We haven't seen that. On the sustaining question, given that "existence itself" has been found within "pure actuality", we can bypass the errors of Occasionalism (collapsing into pantheism) and of Deism (collapsing into atheism). "Concurrentism" would be the proper path.

  • David Nickol

    So why think everything in the universe follows the principle but not the universe itself, which is nothing more than the collection of everything within the universe?

    It seems to me that every individual thing or collection of things in the universe can have an identifiable location (even if simply a location relative to other things within the universe), but the universe itself has no location. This would be one principle applicable to everything in the universe that is not applicable to the universe itself. Also, given enough force, anything in the universe could be moved (at least in principle), whereas the universe itself cannot be moved.

    • LHRMSCBrown

      Well, you seem to be saying there are two realities ~~~ [1] The universe. [2] The stuff "in" the universe.

      *Edit: Hawking and the poles and edges of the universe: http://www.hawking.org.uk/the-origin-of-the-universe.html

      *Edit 2: Perhaps this: That there is nothing south of the South Pole merely brings us into the Timeless, Spaceless, etc., but "that" is laced through with contingency based on all you've offered so far. You've not made it to Hawking's South Pole. Also, if [1] and [2] (universe vs stuff "in" the universe) are identical then to move everything in the universe *is* to move the universe. If they are not identical, then we are back to T-zero (Bang etc.) as either a part of *god*, or a potentiality wrt *god*, or a change in *god*, and therein *god* itself becomes contingent.

  • David Nickol

    According to Carrol, "The answer is certainly 'We don't know'" (202). Notice again his striking assurance. He's certain we don't know the answer—not confident or convinced, but certain. How did he arrive at such certainty, especially when earlier in the book he cautions against being certain about anything?

    First, I think in this passage Carroll has turned from metaphysics to science, and I think it is perfectly reasonable for a physicist such as Carroll to say science cannot (yet) answer the question, "What is the best explanation for the existence of the universe?" A quote from Carroll will, I think, show he is dealing with the answers that science can provide.

    The answer is certainly "We don't know." Understanding that time may be emergent, and that the laws of physics are perfectly compatible with the universe having a first moment of time, might help explain how the universe came to be, but it says essentially nothing about why. It says nothing about why we have these particular laws of physics at all. Why quantum mechanics rather than classical mechanics? Why do we seem to have three dimensions of space and one of time, and the particular zoo of particles and forces we have discovered?

    These are all scientific questions, and for Brandon to mistake them for metaphysical questions and chide Carroll for a perfectly reasonable remark—"The answer is certainly 'We don't know.'"—is yet another off-base attempt by Brandon to show that Carroll is a hypocrite who doesn't allow certainty to religious folk but permits it to atheists in poetic naturalism.

    • LHRMSCBrown

      Sean Carroll on metaphysical certainty: "I’m not someone who is so eager to paper over disagreement that I would end up claiming that one’s stance toward God or the universe doesn’t matter. These things do matter – not only directly for how we think about the world, but also for how we construe meaning and purpose in our lives, and ultimately for how we choose to live together. I strongly feel that the methods of science and empirical investigation can be brought to bear on all interesting questions about the fundamental nature of the universe, including whether or not God exists, and the evidence is pretty incontrovertible that he doesn’t."

      Let's sum it up: He isn't certain about the science, he thinks God can be weighed in kilograms, and it's incontrovertible that God does not exist based on the science he is not certain of.

      • David Nickol

        Let's sum it up: He isn't certain about the science, he thinks God can
        be weighed in kilograms, and it's incontrovertible that God does not
        exist based on the science he is not certain of.

        Do you not see a difference between "incontrovertible" and "pretty incontrovertible"? I do.

        While I do think there is definitely more than a tinge in Carroll's writings of what people here like to call "scientism," I certainly do not agree that "the methods of science and empirical investigation" are limited to weighing things. I think those who would reduce science to measuring things are seriously mistaken.

        P.S. Apologies for using the words definitely and certainly. I am aware all credences must be expressed as decimals less than 1 but greater than zero, but I don't have time to do the calculations and still get to sleep at a decent hour.

        • LHRMSCBrown

          "[I'm not really certain of the science, and,] I strongly feel that the methods of science and empirical investigation can be brought to bear on all interesting questions about the fundamental nature of the universe, including whether or not God exists, and the evidence is pretty incontrovertible that he doesn’t."

          If you can't see the elephant in the room there, and want to claim it too, then so be it for one who isn't certain of the science.

          Edit: Science measuring the Christian's God, mapping Being Itself, the immutable love of the Necessary Being, Pure Actuality void of potentiality, and let's not forget the Christian's metaphysical claims on reality of actual evil, or irreducible Evil, the irreducible Good, and so on. And all while not certain of the science. Quite a claim. It's a little confused too regarding science, philosophy, and theology.

          • Will

            I have to agree with you that "pretty incontrovertible" is a bit strong (I remember thinking that when I read the book). Evidence goes far beyond science, however. Is a smoking gun, science? Philosophical arguments based on evidence (like the evidential problem of evil) are certainly evidence, and he brings them up. Carroll has a minor in philosophy...

          • LHRMSCBrown

            Agree. (Edited 30 minutes in). On Christianity there is unavoidable overlap between created reality (say, "natural theology", etc.) (and therefore of science) and the uncreated (God). There are also unavoidable areas which do not, and cannot, overlap. I'm not sure (yet) that Carroll really gets that. The example of evil is helpful: It's not obvious that, wrt irreducible evil (actual evil, not ultimately or cosmically illusory evil), there is an instrument by which to map it. One would have to change definitions in order to get such a claim to work just as the smoking gun can only carry one so far. And there's the rub. Changing definitions to suit the Non-Theist's models only makes his claims on Christianity irrelevant. We can't find it in straight up naturalism, nor by any instrument which the Non-Theist can bring to bear on the question. As Debilis stated elsewhere,

            ".....And that is part of a running theme here. As with my argument from moral truth, and my refutation of the argument for materialism, one simply can’t cram these kinds of questions into a scientific model. The entire point of what the theist is saying is that there are things which don’t fit that model. One is free to disagree, but it makes no sense to argue against the truth of those claims by pointing out that science doesn’t find them. Of course it doesn’t – that’s the theists point. The debate is over whether or not science gives us an exhaustive picture of all reality....."

            It doesn't. It's not (yet) clear that Carroll gets that. He certainly has not defended such a radical claim (if he thinks science *does* give us an exhaustive picture of reality and in fact "can in principle" measure, say, the immutable love of the Necessary Being).

            Carroll's claim that science has essentially eliminated God is a common one, but being common is not a cure for being misguided. Christians hear that and scratch their heads wondering what on earth Carroll (etc.) can be thinking. He obviously does not know what Christian truth claims are, well, claiming.

            Overall, it seems Carroll does overreach. Edit: That is just an observation of the claim in general. He's not the first to make such a mistake, and he won't be the last. So I don't see that there is any "character attack" implicit or explicit in pointing out such things.

          • David Nickol

            "[I'm not really certain of the science, and,] I strongly feel that the methods of science and empirical investigation . . .

            That is not a legitimate quotation of the words of Sean Carroll. If you want to debate what he says, you have to quote him accurately. You would flunk a freshman English or freshman journalism class with that doctored quote.

          • LHRMSCBrown

            Edit: I was trying to grant you your demand that he isn't certain on the science. But I'll take it either way. Certain or not, kilograms or not, he overreaches. How *does* physics measure or map the presence or absence of the immutable love of the Necessary Being? He references science and then asserts that the evidence is pretty incontrovertible. But it's not obvious that physics can map either "a little" of *God*, or "a lot" of *God*. It's not obvious that the qualifier "pretty" matters. Edit: By stating that he referenced science, I mean his statement of “….the methods of science and empirical investigation…”.

    • Lazarus

      I am surprised at how seemingly offended you remain by Brandon's series of reviews. I maintain that it is a perfectly justified critique of the book, and that comments like "another off-base attempt" are unfounded.

      Other reviewers, including nonbelievers, like Peter Woit and Robert Crease, have been less charitable.

      Carroll is generally well-liked and respected. Where he ventures into areas outside his expertise it is however quite in order to review that without your motives being questioned.

      • David Nickol

        I presume it is clear by now that I believe one of the themes running through Brandon's review is that Sean Carroll is a hypocrite who allows himself—as an atheist scientist—certitude but denies it to religious people. I simply don't buy the criticism. And I think it is basically silly to hunt through the book trying to catch Sean Carroll using words like unequivocal to make a case against him. It strikes me as something close to an ad hominem attack. Also, in earlier posts, it certainly seemed that Brandon strongly implied that Carroll was taking certain scientific and philosophical positions not because he believed them, but because he could see they would lead to God. (Brandon denied that this was intentional and blamed it on unclear writing on his part.)

        Of course, it is Brandon's job as a Catholic apologist to attack Sean Carroll and his books wherever he believes he can find weaknesses. I or anyone else would be foolish to think otherwise. I do not expect Brandon to be objective and impartial when reviewing what is basically an atheist manifesto. Also, I like to think of myself as reasonably fair-minded, but I certainly do not approach Christian apologetics from an entirely neutral position. Brandon writes as a Catholic apologist, and I write as a skeptic and sometimes agnostic. Of course I am going to disagree with him! Isn't that why we're all here—the theists to argue for theism and the atheists to argue for atheism? This does not mean we are not engaging in "dialogue" in good faith. But how many theists or atheists writing here really expect to have their minds changed?

        Thank you for mentioning Peter Woit and Robert Crease. I read both their reviews with interest and was not "offended" by them. Anthony Gottlieb's review in the New York Times was much more appreciative.

        Where he ventures into areas outside his expertise it is however quite in order to review that without your motives being questioned.

        I am not questioning anyone's motives. As I said, Brandon is a Catholic apologist and undoubtedly a sincere believer, and it would be insane to expect him to do anything other than try to prove an atheist apologist wrong.

        • "And I think it is basically silly to hunt through the book trying to catch Sean Carroll using words like unequivocal to make a case against him."

          Ha! What a wildly distorted picture you've painted, of me as a desperate reviewer "hunt[ing] through the book trying to catch Sean Carroll [in error]." If something is ad hominem here, it must be this fictitious description!

          I didn't "hunt" through the book. I read the book--twice, in fact. In my reviews so far I'm simply commented on those passages that stood out to me most. The two claims about certainty stood out like sore thumbs because, as I mentioned in the review, they were almost immediately preceded by admonitions against scientific certainty.

          "It strikes me as something close to an ad hominem attack."

          It's precisely not an ad hominem attack. Such an attack would involve trying to cast doubt on his arguments by criticizing Carroll as a person. But that's not what I'm doing at all. I'm doing just the opposite. I'm focusing on his own words and arguments, and seriously engaging those. I haven't said a single word impinging Carroll's personal character of motives.

          "Also, in earlier posts, it certainly seemed that Brandon strongly implied that Carroll was taking certain scientific and philosophical positions not because he believed them, but because he could see they would lead to God. (Brandon denied that this was intentional and blamed it on unclear writing on his part.)"

          I can't control how things seem to you or other people. But hopefully after reading my response to your charge, which showed how your critique was based on misinterpretation and that I didn't criticize Carroll's motives, you'll agree this is a non-issue.

          "Of course, it is Brandon's job as a Catholic apologist to attack Sean Carroll and his books wherever he believes he can find weaknesses."

          Again, more ad hominem (ironically within a comment that accuses me of the same!). I wouldn't consider my job to be Catholic apologist, but even if that was the case, dismissing or belittling my arguments because of that would be a textbook case of the ad hominem fallacy.

          "I do not expect Brandon to be objective and impartial when reviewing what is basically an atheist manifesto."

          Sigh. More ad hominem... Perhaps we can agree to stick to the actual arguments and critiques (as I've done in all my posts and comments) rather than motives and personal accusations?

          "Isn't that why we're all here—the theists to argue for theism and the atheists to argue for atheism?"

          No! But I think this is very revealing. I'd like to think I'm here (and I'm guessing many others) to find the truth. I'm convinced that smart, serious-minded, charitable discussion is the best path toward that end. I hope that even my agnostic and atheist friends will help me see where my thinking is wrong or cloudy, and root out any unwarranted beliefs. In fact, they have done this many times. (Would you say the same about theists?)

          To me, though, your quote explains a lot about why your comments are almost always contrarian: you're here simply to "argue for atheism", to take the counter position to any theistic argument. While that may be your own personal preference, for reasons I'm unaware of, I don't see how that's conducive to finding truth.

          "But how many theists or atheists writing here really expect to have their minds changed?"

          I'm open to it, in theory. Although I've seen very little evidence to convince me that God doesn't exist, and very little serious challenge to the strongest arguments for God's existence.

          But that only concerns the big question here: does God exist? My atheist and agnostic friends here (you included) have changed my mind in many ways about many things.

          "I am not questioning anyone's motives. As I said, Brandon is a Catholic apologist and undoubtedly a sincere believer, and it would be insane to expect him to do anything other than try to prove an atheist apologist wrong."

          How is this not questioning my motives? Perhaps my interpretation is wrong, and if so please correct me. But it seems you're saying that any sane person could see that the only reason I'm writing critical reviews of Carroll's book is because I'm a Catholic apologist who wants to prove an atheist apologist wrong.

          This is attributing motive to me, is it not?

          • David Nickol

            This is attributing motive to me, is it not?

            First, I am uncomfortable with the apparent feeling you have that I have engaged in ad hominem attacks against you. It was certainly not my intention to attack you, and I apologize for any remarks that have overstepped boundaries.

            Second, I see a major difference between attributing motives and impugning motives. Almost everyone who seriously engages in a forum like this one has a very definite viewpoint, and that is what makes for interesting dialogue. This would be a dull forum indeed if all the participants were entirely nonjudgmental, mind-wide-open seekers of truth. The only way dialogue works is if people come to it with well-established positions. Here are definitions 2(b) and 2(c) from Merriam-Webster:

            b : an exchange of ideas and opinions <organized a series of dialogues on human rights>

            c : a discussion between representatives of parties to a conflict that is aimed at resolution <a constructive dialogue between loggers and environmentalists>

            Perhaps you disagree, but I would expect to see the dialogue that goes on here as more 2(c) than 2(b). It is not that both theists and atheists participating in the dialogue are not looking for truth. It is that each "side" to a very large degree feels like they have found it, but they are willing to test their firmly held beliefs against the other side's with at least some openness to possibly changing their minds.

            I was actually rather amazed that you take offense at my classifying you as writing as Catholic apologist. As I said above, there is a difference between identifying motives and impugning them. In any case, I regret any offense I may have given.

      • Will

        I actually agree with Peter Woit to a certain extent in his review, physics really doesn't have anything much to tell us about meaning and morality. It's not really uncharitable, to me
        http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=8424

        Robert Crease's review:

        http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v533/n7601/full/533034a.html

        I can't find anything close to uncharitable in Crease's review, am I missing something?

        Where he ventures into areas outside his expertise it is however quite in order to review that without your motives being questioned.

        I find this quite comical because Carroll is completely within his area of expertise, cosmology when he makes the statements above that David Nickol mentions. Brandon and YOS both get their science WRONG when they say the Bing Bang theory states that matter/energy began to exist. It doesn't. Brandon, who has no expertise in science or philosophy, is criticizing an expert in cosmology about an accurate statement with regard to cosmology, and they you say this.
        We ARE certain the General Relativity breaks down as it approaches the initial singularity..assuming their was one. We know we need a theory of quantum gravity to get it right. No one in physics denies this.

        • Lazarus

          I said "less charitable". Than Brandon's reviews. That does not make it uncharitable. By comparison, if Brandon's reviews cause all this shock and horror, then some here should absolutely faint when they read Woit.

          When Carroll starts pontificating about science answering questions about meaning then he is indeed outside his area of expertise, whether you find that comical or not. The way you phrased that also seems to indicate that you hold that he should not be reviewed, with or without the questioning of the reviewer's motives.

          • Will

            I thought the parts of his book on meaning and morality lacked substance, for whatever that's worth. We haven't gotten there yet, have we?

            When Carroll starts pontificating about science answering questions about meaning then he is indeed outside his area of expertise, whether you find that comical or not.

            Carroll specifically says science can't answer these questions. We can certain build meaning on top of science, however, but that's the role of philosophy, human creativity.
            Woit's review was a general complaint that basically was of the form of "who cares what a physicist has to say about meaning and morality". There is no good reason to, other than to hear his take on it. In that way I agree with Woit, and I just read his review, as I said. I thought this part of Woit's review was kind of funny:

            The largest part of the book (from my rather quick read) is a very conventional argument for science as opposed to religion, of a sort that has existed for centuries, been common since the 19th century, and very common in recent years as part of the “New Atheism”. One reason I can’t focus on this is that I just don’t see any evidence that science needs this sort of defense against religion, it seems to me to be doing extremely well without it. Our culture valorizes science and scientists very highly these days (much more so than ministers or theologians), and I just don’t see what some other people see as a need for books arguing the case for science.

            To paraphrase science and scientists have already won the culture war against religion, so what's the point of writing this kind of book? The answer is that philosophy is a hobby for Carroll, and he apparently enjoys writing about it. Is Carroll a bit overly ambitious with his book? Absolutely.
            What were you saying about it not being reviewed or criticized? I just expect the criticism to be accurate, and not completely off-base. Not that all of Brandon's criticisms are like that, but so many seem to be.

            Carroll has an entire section in the book on "you can't derive ought from is". Science is all about "is". Here is a relevant article:

            http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2010/05/03/you-cant-derive-ought-from-is/

            One can create meaning based on anything, of course. Look at the meaning some people build from sports like baseball. He does have a minor in philosophy, after all. The idea that a scientist can talk about philosophy seems a bit absurd to me, and Carroll makes it clear that he isn't an expert philosopher.

          • Will

            One thing I really like about Carroll is his approach to philosophy, especially compared to physicists like Krauss and Hawking. Check out this interview, he mentions his interest in philosophy:

            http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/the-philosopher-physicist/

            Painting Carroll as an anti-philosophy physicist seem pretty off-base to me, when he has been the most active physicist critic of anti-philosophy physicists, but that's just me. Claiming that a physicist has not business even talking about philosophy would only serve to reinforce a divide. Everyone has a right to divulge their own philosophical views, don't they? Are we really going to criticize a physicist for sharing his philosophy in a book because he's not a philosopher? I thought we should be encouraging physicists to dabble in philosophy, and vice versa. Speaking of quantum gravity, many physicists want philosophers to help:

            Indeed, Tian Cao argues that quantum gravity offers up a unique opportunity for philosophers of physics, leaving them “with a good chance to make some positive contributions, rather than just analysing philosophically what physicists have already established” (Cao, 2001, p. 138). This sentiment has in fact been echoed by several physicists, not least by Carlo Rovelli (a central architect of the approach known as loop quantum gravity), who complains that he wishes philosophers would not restrict themselves to “commenting and polishing the present fragmentary physical theories, but would take the risk of trying to look ahead” (Rovelli, 1997, p. 182). This raises an important point: though we think of general relativity and quantum theory as ‘nice’ theories from the point of view of philosophical investigation, in a very real sense they are not the whole story and break down at extreme scales.

            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/quantum-gravity/

            Again, Carroll says pretty definitely that science can't answer questions of meaning or morality. Check out the article I linked from Carroll's website where he is directly criticizing Sam Harris for making the claim that we can derive ought from is.

          • Lazarus

            No-one here said that Carroll is not allowed to venture into philosophy, or model airplane building. I am simply asking that we do not ascribe all sorts of motives to these reviews.

          • Will

            Out of curiosity, what did you mean by this sentence, then:

            Where he ventures into areas outside his expertise it is however quite in order to review that without your motives being questioned.

            I interpreted is the very fact that he is venturing outside his expertise opens him to criticism. Certainly anyone is entitled to even criticize an expert within his field if they are certain he is off-base. I suppose I interpreted you incorrectly, so I apologize. I hope you can see why I interpreted that way.
            Perhaps when we come from radically different points of view we can't help but misinterpret each other.

            "Rational discussion is useful only when there is a significant base of shared assumptions."

            -Noam Chomsky

            I decided to read Brandon's article. Try reading again and tell me that you don't see Brandon trying to show Carroll having a double standard. Trying to show anything implies motive. I wouldn't fault Brandon for trying to show a double standard if it were true, but Brandon's "gotcha" is about saying uncertainty in certain cases is certain. What would it mean to be uncertain about uncertainty?

            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/certainty/

            I happen to agree with Brandon on something coming from nothing though. I would even say I'm fairly certain that that's impossible, if I can be certain of anything. That certainty doesn't mean I'm not open to contrary evidence/argument, but Carroll doesn't provide anything to convince me. Look at that, I just agreed with Brandon :)

          • Lazarus

            Why do you equate "review" in my sentence with "criticism "?

            As to double standards, I will not speak for Brandon. I will however, because I'm asked, indicate my own view that I do believe that Carroll, like atheism in general, is certainly guilty of double standards. One example would be the so-called opennes to facts and possibilities, to answers being arrived at in the future .... as long as one of those possible answers is just not theism. That must be taken off the table now, once and for all.

      • Will

        Thought you might be interested in this article about Carroll in universe today

        http://www.universetoday.com/15051/thinking-about-time-before-the-big-bang/

        It gives context to the "we don't know" statement, and Carroll is being quoted as an expert on this site. As I mentioned to David, there is a certain irony to accusing someone of dogma over certainty about not knowing. I'm certain I don't know what the final design of the current engineering project I'm working on is. There is nothing in Bayesian analysis to prevent certainty about not knowing, only certainty about knowing. Should we say we don't know if we don't know? That would indicate memory problems....

        • Lazarus

          Indeed, I accept all of that, but it still does not explain the level of criticism leveled here by some against Brandon's reviews.

          • Will

            What do you think explains the level of criticism leveled against Brandon's reviews? While you are at it, what do you think explains the level of criticism Brandon directs at the book? Can't help but start modeling each other's motives, can we? I don't mind, but keep in mind that I just admitted some of my own criticisms of the book, which I've actually read. Carroll isn't the new atheist pope, or anything, if that's what you think ;) I am a bit curious as to what you are getting at here...

          • Lazarus

            I believe that some of the comments here, including some of yours, have crossed the line from commenting on Brandon's reviews to attacking his perceived motives, and that some of the comments, such as those alleging how bad the reviews were, were quite uncalled for.

            What explains it? I'm not as adept at reading other people's online motives as some of them claim to be, but if I'm asked to guess I think that we see some scientism at play here, maybe a reluctance to see one of the atheist gurus being questioned at a significant level. Like other groups, non-believers can have a few very intolerant congregants as well.

          • Will

            Like other groups, non-believers can have a few very intolerant congregants as well.

            Of course, only a fool would think otherwise.

            I just gave some of my criticism of the book, agreed with Brandon on something coming from nothing, and then you respond with this

            I think that we see some scientism at play here, maybe a reluctance to see one of the atheist gurus being questioned at a significant level.

            You clearly are not reading what I write, so I'll quit wasting my time. Have a nice weekend, or what's left of it.

            It does show your lack of objectivity when you are defending Brandon, saying his criticism are fine, when I've shown otherwise, and you haven't read the book. You aren't even entertaining the possibility that we are calling the reviews bad because they actually are, it seems.

            I'll leave you guys alone for a while, there is no actual conversation to be had here, pretty sad.

          • Lazarus

            There goes the quivering lip again. You asked me specifically to state my opinion on what is at play here. When I do, you act as if I offended you. This after the review(s) were referred to as biased, so bad as to not be worthy of being read and Brandon's motives called into question.

            There is nothing wrong with Carroll expressing his opinions, or with Brandon writing these critiques, or with anyone here commenting on those. Some of the comments here, regarding Brandon's reviews, were however close to personal and unfounded attacks. That I commented on.

            My personal observation is that a lot of Internet atheists are adept at deconstructing the theist / Christian worldview, but when their own worldview (and please, let's not get started on that one) gets criticized they have a lot to learn.

          • Will

            So I just directed some accurate criticisms at Carroll, and instead of seeing if there are legitimate criticisms of Brandon's article, you just continue to say something I've already agreed with (that atheist's can be intolerant, and dismissive of problems with their own positions).

            Like I said, there is no point in talking to myself, and my opinions certainly aren't wanted I'll voluntarily ban myself from SN. Down to a very small number of people who actually comment here any more...so much for the website. Have a good one Lazarus.

          • Lazarus

            You too, Will.

          • Sample1

            My personal observation is that a lot of Internet atheists are adept at deconstructing the theist / Christian worldview, but when their own worldview (and please, let's not get started on that one) gets criticized they have a lot to learn.

            So what?

            Mike

    • Will

      Isn't there a certain irony for criticizing someone for being certain about not knowing? I'm completely certain that I have now idea how many people live in Beijing, does that make me dogmatic? How is certainty about not knowing anything like certainty about knowing? There is nothing in Bayesian statistics that prevents us from saying we are certain that we don't have a complete model. There is only a problem if we are 100% certain we do know.

      • David Nickol

        Isn't there a certain irony for criticizing someone for being certain about not knowing?

        Yes! LOL!

        How is certainty about not knowing anything like certainty about knowing?

        Beats me. If you are going to accuse people like Carroll, who say we must live without metaphysical certainty, of allowing themselves certitude, it seems to me among the least likely examples to cite would be, "The answer is certainly 'We don't know.'"

      • "Isn't there a certain irony for criticizing someone for being certain about not knowing?"

        I'm not sure irony is the right word, but if you're asking whether there's a certain problem or contradiction in such a criticism, I would say no.

        "I'm completely certain that I have now idea how many people live in Beijing, does that make me dogmatic?"

        This questions doesn't make sense on several levels. First, who said that certainty implies dogmatism? I don't follow that progression.

        Second, your example is not analogous to what Carroll claimed in his book, and thus fails to apply. Carroll did not claim that he himself is certain that he himself doesn't know whether the universe requires an outside explanation. He claimed that "we" don't know this, the "we" implying a general statement about all people around the world. I struggle to see how he could be certain about such a thing.

        He claimed that science has revealed with certainty that we don't know whether the universe has an outside explanation. I still struggle to understand how, on Carroll's worldview, science can show anything with certainty (especially in light of his own claim that it cannot). But I also continue to wonder how and where science has revealed this conclusion. Neither he nor anyone here has explained.

        • Doug Shaver

          He claimed that science has revealed with certainty that we don't know whether the universe has an outside explanation.

          Loosely speaking, to deny certainty is to admit the possibility of error. I take it you are suggesting that science has revealed that we possibly do know whether the universe has an outside explanation. Am I understanding you correctly?

        • Will

          Being brief, there are various kinds of certainty, and even a Bayesian can something is certain if it's over 95%...that's still not 100% That 5% still allows for the possibility that you are mistaken, but that possibility is low enough that you are still certain. Don't mistake certainty for incorrigibility. Perhaps I'm taken aback because I'm used to the word certain being used in a Bayesian/critical thinking context where certain is simply the highest epistemic status.

          This article is helpful and discusses the distinction.
          http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/certainty/

          He claimed that science has revealed with certainty that we don't know whether the universe has an outside explanation.

          He didn't say that, I'll quote the article:

          Let's start with his answer to the first sub-question. He writes, "The progress of modern physics and cosmology has sent a fairly unequivocal message: there's nothing wrong with the universe existing without any external help" (196). A few pages later he writes, "To the question of whether the universe could possibly exist all by itself, without any external help, science offers an unequivocal answer: sure it could" (201).

          He said "could possibly exist all by itself" and of course he is right. There is nothing in science that suggest the universe needs outside help to operate. What we call the laws of physics explain most everything (outside of what happened near the Big Bang, how life started, ect) independently of any other model...it's self contained. If nothing in science suggests that the universe needs outside help to exist (and there is nothing to suggest that unless you can provide it), then we are certain, like 99.99999% certain that sciences allows for the universe existing outside itself. That doesn't mean it does exist without external help. Do you know of anything in science that suggests the universe needs outside help? Aristotle's idea that everything moves must have a mover is quite false, unless you think the earth has a "mover" that keeps it going around the sun.
          Did you find any cosmology sites that say the energy (most think it was pure energy to begin) with began to exist? If there is a scientific argument for that, I'd like to see it, though it's clear that it's a minority position considering I can't find it at all. This is from an article Alexandra linked:

          In the beginning, there was not yet any matter. However, there was a lot of energy in the form of light, which comes in discrete packets called photons.

          http://curious.astro.cornell.edu/about-us/101-the-universe/cosmology-and-the-big-bang/general-questions/570-where-did-the-matter-in-the-universe-come-from-intermediate

          Cornell is a pretty reputable university. If the starting energy didn't "begin" to exist, that premise of Kalam has a real problem. Personally, I find fine tuning and the intelligibility of the universe the most appealing, but it's hard to write much about them.
          WRT philosophy Baruch Spinoza created a fascinating proof that showed that God's infinite nature ruled out the possibility of other substances. If one takes substance monism seriously, then perhaps the energy that was in the initial singularity IS God/Nature. Heck, we know it's nature, because that energy became everything the universe is currently composed of (matter creation), and that energy moves it (prime mover in physics). If it was there in the beginning, it never began to exist, and as far as we know, it can't stop existing....if that's not eternal, it's the next thing to it. Could all of the philosophical arguments for God be pointing to that? Seems possible :)

          I apologize for being so testy, but I'm beginning to see that you perceive certainty in a very different way than I do. I'll stay out of the way for a while, no point in ruffling feathers, especially if nothing positive can possibly come from it.

  • albert321

    Thanks to all for an enlightening conversation.Thank God for free will .

    • Mike

      or curse him for it.

    • I cannot thank God for free will, I believe in neither.

      • David Nickol

        Are you saying you don't believe in free will as theists define it, or that there is no interpretation of free will you could subscribe to? If the latter, that is a pretty extreme position. Sean Carroll does believe in free will, although I expect the position theists would take here is that his idea of free will is one of those concepts he describes as real because it is "useful" and not because it is really real.

        I had a friend in high school who claimed not to believe in free will. I remember him saying once that when he woke up early on Sunday mornings, he knew—because he had no free will—he was not going to get up and go to Mass, so he just went back to sleep rather than have a futile struggle with himself over it. Surely you would find fault with that, wouldn't you?

        On the one hand, it was laughable. On the other hand, there are such things as compulsive behavior, addiction, subconscious motives, habit, and indoctrination that either make it difficult-to-impossible to exercise conscious free will or raise questions whether even some conscious choices are in fact freely made. I am particularly interested in the fact that in cases where behavior is "determined" beforehand (such as post hypnotic suggestion), people always give a reason for their behavior. For example, if someone is given a post hypnotic suggestion to open a window at a given signal, when the signal is given and the subject does open the window, he or she will always give a reason. The subject, when asked, will say, "It felt stuffy in here," rather than say, "Gee, I don't know why I opened that window. I just had a sudden inexplicable urge."

        • It is the latter, it is any formulation of free will that I have encountered, I don't know if it is extreme or not.

          I am not sure what your sleepy friend was trying to articulate. I would say on determinism or libertarianism he would be wrong to claim certainty on his future actions, but that is an epistemelogical issue, I do not think it engages free will so to speak.

          My view on this is that humans clearly make decisions, I would call this "will". My thinking is that these decisions are made entirely by the human nervous system, mostly in the brain. These decisions are not influenced by electro-chemical activity in the brain, this activity is the decision itsefl. The process is incredibly complex, I believe the most complex system we have encountered, natural or artificial. How these neurons fire etc, is entirely dependent on the physical state, which is entirely dependent on a previous physical state, and so on. The process is complex but, deterministic, meaning one brain state will always lead to the same next brain state, though I do not see how it is possible to predict.

          From what I can tell, this is all that is going on.

          There is no doubt this process and others also generates "experience", it generates a consciousness. No idea what this is, but I think it is an emergent effect of brain activity, not a cause.

          That is my view. Pretty sure Carol would describe himself as a compatibilist. I believe he and Julia Gelef had a pretty good discussion on this on Rationally Speaking.

          Anyway, thanks for engaging, I always enjoy your comments.

  • Jersey McJones

    Well, how exactly is God necessary to explain anything?

    JMJ

    • Alexandra

      Small tidbit for you: For Catholics, "JMJ" means Jesus Mary Joseph.

      When I first glanced at your comment and saw the abbreviation, I thought how sweet , a devout Catholic - before realizing they were your own initials. :) - Just shows one should not jump to conclusions.

      https://www.fisheaters.com/letterstyle.html

      Edit : added words.

    • Peter A.

      The answer lies within your question - "necessary".

      Necessary in the sense that in order to account for a reality that is purely contingent (i.e. isn't self-explanatory, constantly changes, and is not eternally-existent), one must recognise the reality of something (it need not be the traditional concept of God, by the way) that both accounts for and transcends it. Physical reality is not a "brute fact", because, among other things, it has not always existed. The concept of reality being cyclic in nature just shifts the problem up one level, for one has to then account for the entire ensemble of 'universes'. The multiverse idea suffers from the same deficiency.

      Yes, my answer is a month late, but... what the hell. :)

  • LHRMSCBrown

    Why not :-) [Edit at 8 hr.] Irreducible volition or the first-person’s proverbial free will, anticipating B. Vogt's look at Carroll's equivocations where the box ["I reason! I think! I will!"] is concerned, where all of our perceived interactions or interfaces are concerned:

    “Free will doesn't exist; it's an illusion…..The naturalist would also claim that free will doesn't exist because, at the lowest level of reality, the fermions that make up our bodies are subject to only the four fundamental forces of nature. There is no room for *you* to *control* *their* behavior.” (by A. Ginn) (emphasis mine) Indeed, first person causality unpacks to that which is ultimately or cosmically illusory where the box ["I reason! I think! I will!"] is concerned.

    “Fundamental interactions, also known as fundamental forces, are the interactions in physical systems that do not appear to be reducible to more basic interactions. There are four conventionally accepted fundamental interactions—gravitational, electromagnetic, strong nuclear, and weak nuclear. Each one is understood as the dynamics of a field. The gravitational force is modelled as a continuous classical field. The other three are each modelled as discrete quantum fields, and exhibit a measurable unit or elementary particle. The two nuclear interactions produce strong forces at minuscule, subatomic distances. The strong nuclear interaction is responsible for the binding of atomic nuclei. The weak nuclear interaction also acts on the nucleus, mediating radioactive decay. Electromagnetism and gravity produce significant forces at macroscopic scales where the effects can be seen directly in everyday life. Electrical and magnetic fields tend to cancel each other out when large collections of objects are considered, so over the largest distances (on the scale of planets and galaxies), gravity tends to be the dominant force.”

    Also, “TFBW” offered this general capture of the argument from personal identity: “The argument from personal identity is, perhaps, one of the reasons that atheists like Sam Harris embrace a kind of Buddhism which specifically denies that there is any “self”. As with the argument from consciousness, the general counter-argument (if one can call it that) can be summarized in one word: denial. Any semblance of contrary evidence is summarily dismissed as “illusion”. Sam Harris also uses meditation to back up his claim, as there are meditative states in which the “self” seems to disappear. Other than the fact that they support his preferred belief, it’s not clear why Harris thinks that these special states are more veridical than everything else we experience. He calls his meditative activity “scrutiny”; I’m inclined to think of it as an abnormal brain state of questionable reliability.”

    “Why Searle Is a Property Dualist" by Feser observes the following: “Neural processes also have by Searle’s reckoning a third-person ontology. But consciousness and other mental phenomena do not; they have instead what he calls a “first-person ontology,” being essentially subjective or “private,” directly accessible only to the subject undergoing conscious experiences. There is thus an essential difference between conscious phenomena and all uncontroversially physical phenomena – the former, being essentially subjective, cannot be identified with or reduced to any subset of the latter, which are essentially objective. Searle, again, acknowledges this: “The property dualist and I are in agreement that consciousness is ontologically irreducible” (2002, p. 60). Consciousness is, unlike solidity, not identical to the microphysical structures which cause it. But then property dualism seems unavoidable. If the physical processes which cause consciousness are objective third-person phenomena, and consciousness and other mental phenomena are subjective or first-person in nature, it is reasonable to describe the latter as being of a fundamentally different kind than the former. That is, it is reasonable to say that there exists in the universe a dualism of properties. If what all uncontroversially physical properties have in common is precisely their objective or third-person character, it is reasonable too to regard that character as what is essential to being physical – in which case mental properties, being essentially subjective, would necessarily count as non-physical…...” (from http://www.edwardfeser.com/unpublishedpapers/searle.html “Why Searle Is a Property Dualist” by E. Feser [Paper presented at the American Philosophical Association Pacific Division meeting in Pasadena, CA, March 24-28, 2004]

    On the usual appeals to cocaine, trauma, and so forth, (trying to equate first person to third person etc.) we find that, so far, [A] [equals] [B] is false – as in mind/particle – and no physicalist has given reasons for us to have thoughts about those reasons which obligate us to believe him. It’s even worse than that given that [A] “is related to” [B] ipso facto annihilates any identity claim of A = B, and, of course, the Christian predicts just such relation and therefore his model gains plausibility given that science affirms [A] “is related to” [B] where the physical impacts brain states (cocaine, trauma, etc.).

    “....The more fundamental point, though, to be made about these experiments [interactions etc.] is that it struck me very forcefully as I contemplated these experiments [interactions, etc.] that this is exactly what the dualist-interactionist would expect to happen.....”

    As for the question of "what is causing what" and as for the question of "what is controlling what" as we unpack all interactions and all interfaces, well there is on Non-Theism no room left for anything but reality’s four fundamental interactions/forces. Just as “irreducible evil” is ultimately or cosmically illusory in that paradigm, so too is it the case that first person causality unpacks to that which is ultimately or cosmically illusory where the box ["I reason! I think! I will!"] is concerned.

    The move by our Non-Theist friend of merely redefining terms in order to salvage hope for his paradigm and so “get by” within his own paradigm’s means and ends is fine, and – yes – that move *does* allow him to retain a kind of pseudo-veridical posture in that retreat into those same means and ends. But then autohypnosis or wish-fulfillment or whatever one calls such denial often does successfully pull off that sort of non-ontological work. But non-ontological work just isn't, in the end, productive.

  • I have severed ties between this forum, as well as with my critics on EN, and sites that link to it on the internet. I may continue to read future comments, but I know with more 'certainty' than ever before that, for many 'reasons' - I am 'unable' to engage in such argument. Yes - "unable"! And yes you may think this admits of an incompetence that is perhaps contributory to what has been referred to as my incoherence. Yet I am satisfied that I have made the 'correct' decision, even if this is the only explanation that is 'given'.
    An Apologetic!!?? Yes I have said 'more than' enough, and yes, I have written and rewritten so many comments, attempting indeed to find some clarity in what admittedly could/should/would be considered an indulgence, on my part. I am about to delete the major portion of this comment and copy it to another folder, leaving only these couple of paragraphs. I had hoped it would be a satire on 'nothing'. It was actually! fun to write it, - in a way, of course...until.... (Your Guess?)

    Anyway, hopefully such links as the following will help me get a 'little closer' to my ever-changing objectives which at the moment are focused towards understanding the 'metaphysical problem': "How can we understand even our own 'mind'?" For instance I am asking in what sense there could be an 'objective' morality, not only with respect to Kant's deontological ethics, but also with what could be entailed in commandment theory. I would also like to explore what could be entailed by placing what I remember from my Catholic heritage within a 'poetic' context of a 'scientific' personal interpretation. Kant's trilogy will continue to be of interest to me, particularly with respect to future attempts to understand the possibilities of objectivity with respect to the categorical imperative: -- "as if"? the morality of the maxims I choose could indeed be placed within the context of "The Spirit and the Word of Goodness/God".

    1. http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/209020?eng=y&refresh_ce

    Thank you Brandon Vogt for your patience, and Sean Carroll for suggesting within a 'scientific framework', the possibility that there could be indeed a reciprocal relationship between mind and brain, between that transcendence we call 'The Reason' and what I hope will someday be the 'heart' of 'The Matter'. All the best.

  • neil_pogi

    atheists just have another strange claim that the universe just 'pop' out of nothing. science points out that 'energy is neither created nor destroyed' (meaning, energy is eternal).. i would claim that this energy is intelligent because it creates life and the universe.

    unintelligent energy always result in destruction and chaos. one example is the atomic bomb that destroyed both cities in Japan during ww2. i would call that 'intelligent' energy to be the uncaused (eternal) God.

    now the question for atheists: how would a 'nothing' creates orderly universe? how would a 'nothing' gives energy?

  • Carroll begins the chapter with a glib anecdote from Sidney
    Morgenbesser, a philosophy professor at Columbia. Morgenbesser was once
    asked, “Why is there something, rather than nothing?” and purportedly
    answered, “If there were nothing, you'd still be complaining” (195).
    This, of course, is non-sense. If there were nothing, there would be
    nobody to complain. But thankfully, Carroll doesn't stop with the
    witticism (though one wonders why he quoted it at all—it certainly
    doesn't help his case.)

    What's with the anti-humor antagonism?

  • He writes, "The progress of modern physics and cosmology has sent a fairly unequivocal message: there's nothing wrong with the universe existing without any external help" (196). A few pages later he writes, "To the question of whether the universe could possibly exist all by itself, without any external help, science offers an unequivocal answer: sure it could" (201).

    Note the double use of the word "unequivocal", which means "admitting of no doubt or misunderstanding; having only one meaning or interpretation and leading to only one conclusion."

    ...

    "We can always be mistaken, and one of the most important features of a successful strategy for understanding the world is that it will constantly be testing its presuppositions, admitting the possibility of error, and trying to do better."

    But apparently, this open-minded prescription only applies to religious believers, and not poetic naturalists like Carroll, since as noted above, he twice admits to being "unequivocally" certain (i.e., without any doubt) that the universe could exist all by itself.

    Wow. This is appallingly bad. Back when I was grading student reports, I would have crossed out the entire section and required it to be rewritten. An "unequivocal message" is a message that is not equivocal: the meaning is clear and certain, not the correctness of the meaning. Vogt went wrong in three ways:

    First, he appeals to the dictionary as an authority on what the term must mean rather than as a guide to what the author most likely meant. That's a fallacy.

    Second, though he quotes two definitions, he uses only one part of one of the definitions - and if you check multiple dictionaries (1 2 3 4 5), you'll quickly see that he's focusing on the wrong element. So his exclusive insistence on part of one available definition is a factual error about the meaning of the term.

    Third, he reads "unequivocal message [sent by physics]" and "unequivocal answer [offered by science]" and warps that into thinking that "Carroll [is] 'unequivocally' certain that the universe could exist all by itself." So in the very midst of being a stickler about a definition, he feels free to disregard entire phrases and replace the nouns used by the author with alternates that utterly change the meaning. Is physics Carroll? Is Carroll science? Is a message the same as certainty? Is an answer to a question the same as the belief of a person? Obviously not. Vogt appears to have simply been a sloppy reader in this instance and so overlooked the text's unequivocal meaning.

    He might still disagree with the meaning once he understands it, but we can't determine that from what he's written in these paragraphs.

    In any case, I suppose the mere fact that Vogt misunderstood might prove that Carroll was wrong about science offering an unequivocal answer. :D Ambiguity is in the eye of the beholder.

  • One problem with this is that science simply can't say anything about why or how the universe exists since, by it's own limitations, the sciences are constrained to questions about the natural world (i.e., that which exists within the universe). It can't ask, or answer, or even weigh in on metaphysical "why" questions like "Why does the universe exist?" or "Why is the universe this way, and not that way?"

    You say science can't; in point of fact scientists often do, or at least they try. What do you suppose I should make of this fact?

    non-exhaustive examples for reference:
    1. https://arxiv.org/pdf/astro-ph/9712344v1.pdf - (a falsifiable model of a self-creating universe)
    2. https://arxiv.org/ftp/physics/papers/0612/0612053.pdf - (a falsifiable model of a finite universe with no beginning, no ending, and no place for an ultimate causal explanation)
    3. https://www.quantamagazine.org/20141110-multiverse-collisions-may-dot-the-sky/ - (falsifiable model of an eternally inflating multiverse)
    4. http://arxiv.org/pdf/1511.06958v2.pdf - (anthropic constraints on the properties of universes in a multiverse)
    5. http://arxiv.org/pdf/quant-ph/0011122v2.pdf - (non-anthropic, algorithmic constraints on the properties of universes in a multiverse)
    6. https://www.edge.org/response-detail/25513 and http://fqxi.org/data/essay-contest-files/Gefter_Gefter_Fqxi_essay.pdf - (discussion by a science writer of models in which 'the' universe actually doesn't exist at all)
    7. http://arxiv.org/pdf/1306.5484.pdf - ("physical relativism provides a simple answer to the question of why the universe exists at all" - though I don't buy it personally)

    • Lazarus

      Thank you for some hard and interesting work in these replies of yours, Ryan.

      This type of detailed, reasoned response is what makes this type of discussion of great value. I have learnt much, thanks.

  • But in essence, Carroll thinks the principle ex nihilo, nihil fit is false for three reasons

    False. In the quotations from Carroll, he named the principle a fallacy and rejected the given reasons for accepting it. This is not the same as giving reasons that the principle is false.

    I know the gumball machine is an extremely tired example and people get annoyed at it being brought up yet again, but in my defense Vogt made exactly the error it aims to clarify. Suppose we're at a shop and see a gumball machine full of gumballs. I tell you, "There are an even number of gumballs in the machine. I know this because all gumball machines have an even number of gumballs." You correctly reject my reason on account of it being a bad reason. But you don't assume that because my reason was wrong, that the claim must be false and the number of gumballs must be odd instead. My claim could be right for other reasons. You reject my belief about the gumballs, but you don't accept its opposite. And even though there are almost surely either an even number or an odd number of whole gumballs, you refrain from accepting either the even-claim or the odd-claim, because the only correct answer is that you don't yet know whether the number is even or odd.

    Carroll rejected ("How do we know that? It can't be because...") the argument from observation. He rejected ("And it can't be because...") the arguments from failure of imagination and modeling. From the quotations, which of these can we correctly infer Carroll thinks about the principle?

    * It's true
    * It's false
    * It's not known to be true
    * It's not known to be false

    The third and to a lesser degree the fourth; but not either of the first two.

    Note again that Carroll doesn't engage with any counterarguments to his position, such as those supporting the principle.

    As noted above, he in fact does so engage. In the very section you quoted from him, he describes the arguments and explicitly gives his reasons for rejecting the arguments.

  • the universe itself, which is nothing more than the collection of everything within the universe

    Is there reason to believe that?

    Compare to this pop-sci summary of how some physicists model the universe. I don't personally believe any of those models, but note that none of them are compatible with your "nothing more than [a] collection" idea, because all of them assign the universe a structure distinct from the things in it. Even in philosophy, it's commonly assumed that mereology (a part-whole partial order) is psychologically required in our concept of the universe, and you're throwing that out. I'm unfamiliar with your claim and have never seen it advanced or defended elsewhere in science or philosophy.

  • it's impossible to conceive of the act of moving from non-being to being. Sure, we can imagine "nothing" at one moment—though I'm skeptical we can even do that—and then another moment picture something suddenly there, but this is not to imagine something coming from nothing.

    His "nothing" is not your "nothing". That's well-trodden ground.

    The theistic "nothing" is usually something vague and mystical, but I imagine it's probably close to: a hypothetical state of reality in which every proposition attributing a property to the state is false.

    His "nothing" is more like: zero matter, energy, space, and time, but still the possibility of matter, energy, space, and time.

  • Here again we see a lot of confusion. So let's break it down into parts.
    First, as far as I can tell, Carroll never engages in this chapter the second question about whether the universe needs a sustaining cause.

    If he never engages with it, how do you know he's confused about it?

    The universe may or may not have needed a cause to get it going, but it certainly needs one to keep it in existence, here and now.

    And how do you know that? If it's merely a matter of definition, then why can't each local moment have its sustaining cause be defined as its preceding moment? If it's not merely a matter of definition, then there needs to be evidence before we can identify the cause.

  • He references an encyclopedia edited by "professional philosophers" at
    Stanford, presumably to suggest they should know what they're talking
    about. But the answer he cites isn't really an answer—it's a dismissal of the question. Worse, it fails to engage or even acknowledge any of the arguments against the view that something can come from nothing.

    Wait. You can't seriously believe that the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the most highly regarded publicly available resource on professional philosophy, written by subject matter experts, fails to engage or even acknowledge any of the arguments.

    That section alone cites Descartes, St Augustine, Victor Hugo, Peter van Inwagen, and Elliot Sober specifically, and several additional schools of thought generally. They do know what they're talking about. They're talking about arguments for and against, both historical and modern.

    FWIW, these thinkers draw conclusions you disagree with.

  • And how can we be certain that "we" (whatever that means) don't know something? Isn't there a chance that someone, somewhere knows the answer even if some, most, or all the rest of us are confused?

    That would be a strained and weird interpretation of "we". He's obviously talking about shared knowledge.

  • LHRMSCBrown

    @ Ryan Beren: "And how do you know that? If it's merely a matter of definition, then why can't each local moment have its sustaining cause be defined as its preceding moment? If it's not merely a matter of definition, then there needs to be evidence before we can identify the cause."

    That is a helpful way to phrase it as it gets us to the validity behind Vogt (and others, etc.) who have patiently asked for this supposed new set of definitions whereby resolution emerges. Carroll hints but does not offer and given his goals that just won’t do. Where is the evidence that either the universe or the *god* which begets her overcomes both contingency in the weaker sense and contingency in the stronger sense? Also, where is the QED? What we get, have gotten, so far at least, is not an answer but merely just-so-hints that there is, if we only allow the possibility, lurking somewhere in the recesses of the Non-Theist’s mind, a secret body of evidence. But what we never see is the actual evidence itself, the actual QED/demonstration itself.

    Since we have not seen those three – and reason rightly demands all three – then reason and science and the evidence assure us that it is the Christian, and not our Non-Theist friends, for whom this entire affair is “…not an expression of blind faith but precisely a condemnation of blind faith…”

    The Non-Theist has either [1] the universe as we know it (all of physics, etc.) or, he has [2] his *god* which begat the box we call [universe]. Perhaps [2] is that which sums to be Hawking's South Pole, as it were, while the universe is not *god* but rather the begotten of *god*. That there is nothing south of the South Pole merely brings us into the timeless, spaceless etc., but "that" is laced through with contingency based on everything that Non-Theism has offered so far. It makes no difference where we draw that line for whether [1] Non-Theism’s *god* which begets the universe is one's terminus of explanation, or whether [2] the universe is the whole show, is one's explanatory stopping point, then, either way, we are back to T-zero (Bang etc., etc.) as either a part of *god*, or a potentiality with respect to *god*, or a change in *god*, and therein *god* itself reduces to contingency. By that I mean the following:

    It's unclear what to make of the Non-Theist's proposed *god* with respect to T-zero (Bang, etc., etc.) given that T-zero must be [1] "always” and “already" a "part" of the proposed *god* or, [2] T-zero must be an entity which came "out of" that *god*, which loops us back to [1], or, [3] T-zero must actually be *change* of some irreducible sort, forcing potentiality and sacrificing pure actuality. Hence it's not obvious that the proposed *god* escapes either parts, or change, or potentiality, and therefore reveals contingency (in several senses). We can add that we also find deflationary truth values on our end as the illusory presses in (though that is, technically, a separate topic….. although it does (quite harshly) impact any move by the Non-Theist to offer us his reasoned QED as per the earlier link).

    It’s just not obvious based on that which our Non-Theist friends including Carroll have offered so far that their paradigm’s tools can even in principle dissolve the problems of contingency in either the weaker sense ( http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2013/05/avicennas-argument-from-contingency.html ) or in the stronger sense ( http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2013/07/avicennas-argument-from-contingency.html ). In the same way, again, the reasoned demonstration ( http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2014/09/qed.html ) of a supposed QED built atop some new syntax is, also, it seems, even in principle untenable.

    Edit: “Naturally, if it is the ultimate source, cause or explanation of things it is actual or existent – it could hardly cause or explain anything otherwise – but it is not a compound of actuality and potentiality as other things are, nor a compound of existence and essence. It would have to be, always and “already” as it were, pure actuality rather than something that has or could have any potential in need of actualization. It would have to be, not “an” existent thing among other existent things, but pure being or existence itself. Anything less would require a cause or source of its own and thus not be the ultimate cause or source.” ( from E. Feser / reviews the book, “The Mystery of Existence: Why Is There Anything At All?” at http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2013/10/why-is-there-anything-at-all-its-simple.html )

  • Patrick Tunnell

    "This is disappointing because for many thinkers, including Aristotle and Aquinas, this is the main reason they believe in a First Cause of the universe. The universe may or may not have needed a cause to get it going, but it certainly needs one to keep it in existence, here and now. Carroll never weighs in on the question."

    - Are you saying that the first way of Thomas is faulty? I thought Thomas holds the first way as the most evident of all the causes. Are you just focusing on the contingency of the universe and therefore not arguing about motion?

  • Jeffrey G. Johnson

    You say that Carrol is a hypocrite:

    But apparently, this open-minded prescription only applies to religious believers, and not poetic naturalists like Carroll, since as noted above, he twice admits to being "unequivocally" certain (i.e., without any doubt) that the universe could exist all by itself.

    But this is based on your own misreadingl. You owe Carrol an apology. Here is the part you quote and misread:

    He writes, "The progress of modern physics and cosmology has sent a fairly unequivocal message: there's nothing wrong with the universe existing without any external help" (196). A few pages later he writes, "To the question of whether the universe could possibly exist all by itself, without any external help, science offers an unequivocal answer: sure it could" (201).

    You may think Carrol is not qualified to make such confident statements about the Universe, but you must at least grant him the right to make unequivocal statements about Physics. For that is all he is doing here.

    When he says "there's nothing wrong with the universe existing without any help," he is stating that this does not violate any physics. He is saying physics has not proven this cannot be, nor does it contradict any known theory of physics. He's not saying it must be true that the universe exists without any help.

    Likewise, when he asks if the universe "could possibly exist all by itself", he is again saying that IF the answer were yes, it would not contradict scientific knowledge or theory. How is it that you read certainty into answering "it could" to a question asking if it "could possibly"? Rather than saying the universe definitely came into existence without a cause, he states that our very best knowledge of the universe most definitely allows for that possibility.