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Why Something Rather than Nothing?

Contingency

After a night of teenage exuberance, my friends and I would usually end up lying out on a country road, gazing up at the starlit Australian sky, discussing the meaning of it all. We considered ourselves nonreligious, and yet there was something (isn’t there?) about the enormity of the sky that humbled us, stirred us, inspired us to ask deep questions about, well, everything. We called these GLUE conversations—GLUE being an acronym for God, life, the universe, and everything.

One of the questions that always came up was, “Why did this all happen?” This brought us, without knowing it, dangerously close to the contingency argument for the existence of God.

The Case for God

In my new book, 20 Answers: Atheism, I present three arguments for the existence of God. One is the moral argument, which shows that if God does not exist then objective moral facts such as “It is wrong to torture babies for fun” cannot exist. But since objective moral facts do exist—i. e., some things are wrong independent of human opinion—then an objective moral lawgiver (i.e., God) must exist.

The other two are cosmological arguments, or arguments that use the physical universe as evidence for the existence of a being that transcends space, time, matter, and energy. One of them is a first-cause argument called the Kalaam argument. It shows that if the universe began to exist, it must have a cause, since something can’t come from nothing. This is the kind of argument many people arrive at when they ponder the question, “Where did everything come from?”

Medieval philosophers such as Al-Ghazali and St. Bonaventure created and refined the argument, but it fell out of favor until William Lane Craig published a defense of it in 1979. Since then, Dr. Craig’s numerous books, articles, and debates have made the argument well known again, even in atheist circles. One reason it is popular is that it can be simply stated:

Premise 1: Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

Premise 2: The universe began to exist.

Conclusion: Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Some atheists, especially those who frequent atheist websites, might say they’ve heard this “tired, old argument” and refer you to one of the ubiquitous online videos that they claim has “demolished it.” But, to borrow a phrase from Mark Twain, the reports of this argument’s death are greatly exaggerated. Trent Horn’s recent book, Answering Atheism, has two appendices refuting the most common objections to this argument.

Instead of defending this argument, I’d like to present the third argument. This argument is less familiar than the Kalaam argument but just as powerful. It is called the contingency argument for the existence of God.

The “Middle Child” Argument

One reason atheists attack the Kalaam argument is because it’s well known and easy to formulate. However, because the contingency argument is less well known and more complex, it ends up being treated like the middle child, the one everyone forgets about but who is just as special as the others.

In some respects, many theists find the contingency argument even more persuasive than the Kalaam argument. In order to show why, I’ll present a formal version of the argument and then defend each of its premises. The contingency argument can be formulated in different ways, but here is a common one:

  1. Whatever exists that does not have to exist requires an explanation.
  2. The physical universe does not have to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe requires an explanation.
  4. The explanation for the universe is, by definition, God.
  5. Therefore, God exists.

How do we know that this is a good argument for the existence of God? Well, first off, we should be reminded that a good argument is one whose premises are more likely to be true than false and does not have a logical error (i.e., a fallacy) in its reasoning. Hardly any arguments have premises that people accept with total confidence. Even basic premises like “The external world is real” can always be doubted (at least if you’ve seen The Matrix).

Since there is no fallacy in the argument, if we can at least show that the premises of this argument are more likely to be true than false, then we will have succeeded in showing that faith in God is reasonable and that to deny that God exists flies in the face of the evidence.

A Reason for Existing

What does the first premise of this argument—“Whatever exists that does not have to exist requires an explanation for its existence”—mean?

Think of the scientist who discovers a star or bacterium that has never been catalogued. He asks the question, “Why does this thing exist?” And, “Why does object X behave in manner Y instead of manner Z?” This is what drives science as well as every other branch of study. It’s the great question: “Why?”

For example, when astronomers discovered red stars, they tried to explain their existence. To say that there isn’t an explanation—not that we don’t know it but that there actually isn’t one—strikes at the foundation of rational thought. It rejects the premise that underlies the quest for knowledge.

We know that nearly all things need a reason to exist. However, it’s possible that some things exist because they must exist; they can’t be anything other than what they are. This brings us to the difference between what is contingent and what is necessary.

Something is contingent if it can be different or can fail to exist. My trip to Six Flags yesterday, what time you went to bed last night, the formation of the moon, and the existence of the physical universe are all contingent things. They don’t have to be. They could have been otherwise.

But the mathematical truth 2 + 2 = 4, or the existence of God, are necessary truths. There cannot be a world where 2 + 2 equals anything except 4.

The contingency argument merely claims that since the universe does not have to exist, there must be a reason for why it exists. This reason must be found in something that must exist, or a necessary being—“And this,” to quote St. Thomas Aquinas, “is what everyone means by ‘God.’”

Is the Universe Necessary?

Notice that the contingency argument avoids a common objection leveled at the Kalaam argument. It will do no good to say that the universe is eternal and so has no explanation for why it exists—the argument works whether or not one thinks the universe simply always was.

In his Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas held that it was impossible to prove, by reason alone, that the universe began to exist in the finite past. So he decided to meet his critics on their own terms and provide five proofs for God that worked even if the universe turned out to be eternal. His third proof was a version of the contingency argument. (Aquinas believed through divine revelation that the universe could not be eternal, but he allowed the possibility in order to strengthen his arguments).

Even if the universe were eternal, we would still want to know why there is an eternal universe instead of nothing at all. We’ve already seen that science is grounded in the idea that whatever exists has a reason outside of itself to explain its existence. We should, at least initially, try to find an explanation for the universe just as we would try to find an explanation for anything else.

Philosopher Richard Taylor offers a thought experiment. Imagine you found a small, translucent orb floating in the woods. You would want to know why it exists. If your friend hiking through the woods with you said, “There’s no reason the orb exists. It exists without explanation; forget about it,” you’d think he was joking or that he just wanted to keep moving. The one thing you probably wouldn’t do is respond, “Ah! Interesting. Let’s move on, then.”

Notice that merely increasing the size of the orb does nothing to do away with the need for an explanation. If the orb were, say, the size of car, you would still ask why it exists. If it were the size of a house, you’d have the same question. In fact, even if the orb were the size of a planet or even the size of the universe, you’d still want to know why it exists. If we ask why such an orb, even as large as the physical universe, exists, then shouldn’t we ask why the physical universe itself exists?

Some atheists may bite the bullet and simply say the universe must exist; i.e., it is necessary and explains itself. As the twentieth-century English atheist Bertrand Russell put it, “The universe is just there, and that’s all.”

But is this really a viable option? At one time the universe didn’t contain stars and galaxies. Why do those objects exist now, when they clearly don’t have to? I can imagine the universe not existing, but I can’t meaningfully imagine a universe where 2 + 2 doesn’t equal 4. This shows that the former is contingent and requires an explanation, while the latter is necessary and does not require an explanation.

Is God the Explanation?

Perhaps the universe has an explanation for why it exists, but could that explanation be simply another universe? The problem with this reasoning is that the argument starts all over again. Is that physical universe contingent or is it necessary? Because it is physical, this other universe could have existed in a multitude of different ways, which shows it would be contingent and require an explanation of its own. At some point the chain of explanations must terminate in something that cannot be different, so a random universe or force can’t explain why anything exists.

Whatever this explanation is, it must be greater than the physical universe. It must be something beyond space and time, beyond matter and energy, but with the power to create each of these things and to establish the laws they obey. It must be something that explains its own existence and cannot fail to exist.

Once again, that sounds a lot like God: what philosophers call a “necessary” being. God could not be different than what he is, which is what premise 3 states. Now, while some truths like 2 + 2 = 4 may be necessary, the only being that can be necessary must be a being whose essence (or what it is) is identical to its existence (or that it is). But only one being could simply be being itself and ground the existence of all other contingent realities. This is at the most basic level what God is.

Two Common Objections

So how might an atheist respond to this argument? He might make one of the following objections:

The Fallacy of Composition

Because everything in the universe needs a reason for its existence, it doesn’t follow that the whole universe needs a similar explanation. After all, just because theoretically every cell of an elephant could be lifted by hand, it doesn’t follow the whole elephant can be lifted in this way. Likewise, what applies to the parts of the universe may not apply to the whole universe.

But sometimes what applies to parts does apply to the whole. For example, if every piece of my Lego spaceship is red, then my whole Lego spaceship will be red. Likewise, if every part of the universe is contingent, then the whole universe must be contingent as well.

So the problem with this objection is that the fallacy of composition is an informal fallacy. It can't be formally proven but only recognized after the fact, such as when you acknowledge that an elephant can’t be lifted with one hand even though all of its cells can be.

If the atheist wants to convince a believer of atheism, the burden of proof is on him to show that the contingency argument makes a mistaken part-to-whole reasoning. He can’t merely point out that there is some part-to-whole reasoning being used and call that a fallacy; because sometimes, as we saw in the case of the Lego spaceship, such reasoning is not mistaken. Similarly, it would become a “fallacy of composition” to say that because every part of the universe exists, it follows that the whole universe exists—which is obviously true.

To summarize, unless an atheist can provide an objective reason to think the universe is necessary and not contingent, then he can't rely on the fallacy of composition to prove that the universe is not like all of its parts—in other words, a contingent entity that can fail to exist.

The Parts Explain the Whole

Some atheists say that if we just explain every part of the universe then that will explain why the whole universe exists. Trent Horn refutes this objection in the book Answering Atheism:

"Explaining why each part of the universe exists, even in a “circle of explanation,” does not explain why an entire universe exists at all. That would be like trying to explain why a baseball game is being played simply by explaining what each player in the game does (i.e., the batter is hitting a ball thrown by the pitcher, who takes a cue from the shortstop, who watches the man on second . . .). That strategy may explain each part of the baseball game, but it doesn’t explain why there is a baseball game happening."

The Most Basic Question

In the end, atheists should not brush off the question of why the universe exists instead of nothing at all with a simple, “Science will figure it out.” That’s because science, the universe, and everything we know fall under the umbrella of “that which does not have to be yet is, and therefore must have an explanation for why it is.” Only a being for which existence is not a luxury but the core of what it is can be capable of explaining life’s greatest mystery. And there is only one being who can fit that lofty description: God.
 
 
Matt Fradd book on atheism
 
 
(Image credit: Unsplash)

Matt Fradd

Written by

Matt Fradd is a Catholic apologist and speaker. He is a regular contributor to Catholic Answers magazine. He lives in North Georgia with his wife and four children. Follow Matt on Twitter at @mattfradd and visit his website, MattFradd.com.

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  • Guest

    Good article! I want to make an observation... i think that objection of the fallacy of composition can also be refuted saying that premise one it's a metaphisical and scientific truth: everything have an explanation of it's existence in the necessity of it's own nature or an external cause.. That's a metaphisical truth more plausible than it's negation like the world was not created 5 minutes ago.

  • Yaser Sánchez Gama

    Good article! I want to make an observation... i think that objection of the fallacy of composition can also be refuted saying that premise one it's a metaphisical and scientific truth: everything have an explanation of it's existence in the necessity of it's own nature or an external cause.. That's a metaphisical truth more plausible than it's negation like the world was not created 5 minutes ago. One would argue in composition if we say all things have an explanation therefore the universe have an explanation that would be fallacious. But this is not the case.

  • Gray

    This piece is just another book promo for a book reiterating the same tired old time worn lame cliche' ridden arguments that have been refuted adinfinititum here and elsewhere. Op not worth reading, though I did read it, and assume the book isn't worth reading either. IMHO

  • Those who imagine that existence necessarily cannot be taken as a predicate of being are wrong. Any, who do employ existence as a predicate of being, who imagine it's necessarily informative, are also wrong. Neither stance is necessarily an unreasonable interpretation and neither delivers explanatory adequacy. That said, I really like Matt's contribution and fully resonate with its implications in many ways, on many levels!

  • That was fun to read. I don't like the way the middle child argument is phrased, though.

    (1) Whatever exists that does not have to exist requires an explanation.

    I think that this is true, although some defence of the principle of sufficient reason would be necessary to defend it. But I think this is a bit bizarre; why only things that don't have to exist? Shouldn't things that have to exist also need an explanation? Imagine in a math class:

    Teacher: Now, 2+2=4
    Student: How does that work?
    Teacher: No explanation.
    Student: Then how do you know it's true?
    Teacher: Because it's necessarily true, and things that are necessarily true don't need any explanation.

    So, like I said, I believe the premise, but find the implied distinction odd and unnecessary.

    For why something rather than nothing, I more and more have come to believe that there's always been something, there's always been the cosmos, the single and only physical entity of which we are all a part.

    • William Davis

      Looks like the oscillating model is making a come back with some ability to explain current problems in cosmology. Modern cosmology is still too new to take any of it's conclusions as "gospel" lol.

      http://www.unc.edu/news/archives/jan07/newmodel012907.html

      The word's oldest religion, Hinduism, held that the universe was eternal. Aristotle held the same view. I have a gut feeling they were on to something as well.

      • If I were to choose my "philosophically favourite cosmology", this would be it! I love it. it's beautiful, and profound, and has these wonderful philosophical and religious implications and connections.

        The oscillating model id, sadly, not supported by the evidence, as far as I can tell. I've seen the work you linked, and was unconvinced by the arguments, for reasons we can go into (and that I'd love to discuss).

        • William Davis

          Yeah, the cyclical model has had a hard time hasn't it? Like you, it is still my favorite, even if it's a loser in the end. The jury is still out, so we can keep rooting for our "team" :) I'd risk seeming incoherent discussing cosmology with a postdoc in astronomy right now, but I need to delve into it deeper ( I keep myself spread thin with research projects). I've got the math and physics background, just need to spend the time on cosmology itself.

    • Matt writes:

      "Even if the universe were eternal, we would still want to know why there is an eternal universe instead of nothing at all." And: "It will do no good to say that the universe is eternal and so has no explanation for why it exists—the argument works whether or not one thinks the universe simply always was."

      I take it you disagree?

      • Not at all! In fact, if anything, my first comment would run into opposition with such a notion. I speculate that there's a reason that the cosmos is the way it is, and that this reason can be found within the cosmos and that scientists may one day discover.

        I think there's a reason for everything, necessary and contingent.

        EDIT TO ADD: I speculate that the cosmos, the totality of physical reality, is a single entity that necessarily exists. It is in this that I disagree with Matt.

  • Ignatius Reilly

    Some atheists, especially those who frequent atheist websites, might say they’ve heard this “tired, old argument” and refer you to one of the ubiquitous online videos that they claim has “demolished it.” But, to borrow a phrase from Mark Twain, the reports of this argument’s death are greatly exaggerated. Trent Horn’s recent book, Answering Atheism, has two appendices refuting the most common objections to this argument.

    Why bring up an argument you are not going to defend, especially if you are going to claim that it is sound? I find this somewhat annoying, as this is an argument that is most definitely dead. Premise 1 is false per modern physics and premise 2 is either unknowable or nonsensical.

    1. Whatever exists that does not have to exist requires an explanation.

    At this juncture, I would say that this is unknowable.

    The physical universe does not have to exist.

    Also unknowable.

    The explanation for the universe is, by definition, God.

    So what if the explanation of the universe is a multiverse? Do we call that God?

    How do we know that this is a good argument for the existence of God? Well, first off, we should be reminded that a good argument is one whose premises are more likely to be true than false and does not have a logical error (i.e., a fallacy) in its reasoning.

    Modern physics suggests that your premises are false.

    Since there is no fallacy in the argument, if we can at least show that the premises of this argument are more likely to be true than false, then we will have succeeded in showing that faith in God is reasonable and that to deny that God exists flies in the face of the evidence.

    The God of this argument has zero properties. He has nothing in common with the Catholic God, besides being ascribed the role of creator.

    Think of the scientist who discovers a star or bacterium that has never been catalogued. He asks the question, “Why does this thing exist?” And, “Why does object X behave in manner Y instead of manner Z?” This is what drives science as well as every other branch of study. It’s the great question: “Why?”

    Not exactly. Science describes physical systems as we see them and speculates how they have or will evolve with time and verifies the speculation. Why a star exists is a physical process - this has nothing to do with your category error.

    But the mathematical truth 2 + 2 = 4, or the existence of God, are necessary truths. There cannot be a world where 2 + 2 equals anything except 4.

    So much for modular arithmetic.

    But is this really a viable option? At one time the universe didn’t contain stars and galaxies. Why do those objects exist now, when they clearly don’t have to? I can imagine the universe not existing, but I can’t meaningfully imagine a universe where 2 + 2 doesn’t equal 4. This shows that the former is contingent and requires an explanation, while the latter is necessary and does not require an explanation.

    If you read a book on cosmology, you would understand how the stars came to exist. Asking why the universe evolved the way it did is unknowable, because this is the only universe that we have been able to observe. If the arithmetic was modulo 3 the answer would be 1.

    If the atheist wants to convince a believer of atheism, the burden of proof is on him to show that the contingency argument makes a mistaken part-to-whole reasoning

    There are at least two logical errors in this sentence. An atheist would not attempt to convince a believer by showing that contingency does not follow. The argument is meant to convince atheists of theism. As the argument is the theists argument, it is their burden to show that the argument does not commit the fallacy of composition. Otherwise, the argument does not force anyone to believe it.

    • Yeah, the spectre of Kalam was especially annoying.

    • Loreen Lee

      Quotes: ..So much for modular arithmetic???? and ....if the arithmetic was modulo 3 the answer would be 1.

      Like I've heard of modal realism. Is there something like this in arithmetic too? Pardon my naivety and all, but Is it OK if I even ask?????

      • Ignatius Reilly

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modular_arithmetic
        Basically, say you add then divide and whatever you remainder is the answer. So if you add 2+2 you get 4. Divide that answer by 3 and you get 1 with a remainder of 1. Since the remainder is 1 the answer is 1.

      • Michael Murray

        Sometimes this is called "clock" arithmetic. We do it all the time we use the 12 hour clock. It's 11 o'clock and you have an appointment in 4 hours means you have an appointment at 11+4 - 12 = 3 o'clock.

        The general idea as Ignatius points out is you can do this for any number. Arithmetic modulo 3 is what he is describing.

        Michael

        PS: Of course maybe you like the 24 hour clock but even then you are doing arithmetic modulo 24. If it's 18 hundred hours and you have an appointment in 8 hours time then it will be at 18 + 8 -24 = 2 not 26.

        • Loreen Lee

          Thanks guys. It amazes me that math is such a 'fearful' thing to me, that I didn't even think to do a Google search. I think I got the general idea though. I should have let Ignatius know that I 'got it'! So thanks Michael.

          But I've also been thinking about necessary being, generally, and wonder if some such modular thought could be applied to our conception of change through cause and effect. Each change puts us into a different, and successive modulo, say. Without the modulo we would have to see each action independently, and perhaps then the being of that state or the person's consciousness, could be regarded as a 'necessary-being?' After all we have Spinoza and he was a necessitarian. You only have to read his ethics to see how convincing the idea is that 'karma' does indeed have its' 'necessary' effects, when regarded as the moment to moment continuity of thought within an individual. Each thought then could be regarded as a 'being'. .

          Perhaps without the modular series of 'cause and effect' we could regard each .individual action, as an event or the product of speech, say, or even according to the criteria of 'thing in itself' as 'necessary'. . Even my state of being as I wash the dishes say, could be seen as an independent state of 'being', something chosen by me, with conscious purpose and relevance.

          Like Spinoza's ethics, could we not perhaps find a necessity in such a 'state of' being? I was taught by the Buddhists, for instance to regard even my birth as my responsibility, and thus consider it a necessary being, (for it was not a logical consideration), in the sense of 'owning' the reality of what takes place This would also be consistent with Hegel's 'freedom is the recognition of necessity'.

          And for a plug for theism, in this regard, perhaps we're thinking of God in an absolute sense that is too 'rigid' with respect to necessity, although even the Church teaches that because of Jesus we can become (closer?) to God. Perhaps, instead, we can regard this God then as a paradigm, and if necessity is so important, that we can all learn to have 'freedom', i.e. know the necessity, with respect to even the freedom of the will, as something that is a conscious choice, as per William James' pragmatism. .

          Of course a little scientific probability, even possibility. and actuality are 'nice to have around too'. Do they have proofs of God based on these other modal realities, I wonder? It might actually be good evangelism to start with a possible God, for instance, before the necessary God is argued in these posts!!:)
          Thanks to both of you for allowing me my 'indulgence'.!!! (I felt it as an 'absolute necessity'!!!!!)

    • Because the fallacy of composition may or may not apply, neither the argument nor its counter are coercive.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        What would the counter be?

        • brute vs explanation begging, specifically, whether or not a whole can be explained or not referring solely to its parts

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I view the contingency argument as a conclusion that is not known. Either it or the negation.
            I wouldn't argue against the Abrahamic God by reversing the contingency arguments conclusions.

          • Right, by adopting one interpretive stance vs another, it's often not only the premises one rejects but the concepts, which may or may not successfully refer, which may have the argument's conclusions already embedded in their definitions. One doesn't have to propose an alternative explanation when rejecting another one. Neither can one claim to have necessarily successfully refuted such an argument, however. Hence, no claiming explanatory victory.

    • re: Modern physics suggests that your premises are false.<<<

      I'm missing something. Perhaps your demonstration? A link to a prior post would suffice as I may have overlooked it. I assume you're not talking about quantum physics. If you are, be sure to specify which of two dozen interpretations, so I can refute your claim in its specific form. ;-)

      • To avoid being coy, @Ignatius, this is the context in which I place your physics vs metaphysics remarks:

        If we take a vague phenomenology of possibilities, actualities and probabilities, metaphysical realists will draw very subtle, very highly nuanced distinctions, which have implications for the logic of each mode vis a vis such first principles as identity, noncontradiction and excluded middle. The methodological distinctions include descriptions, evaluations, norms and interpretations, as well as causes vs explanations. The causes are distinguished as material, instrumental, formal, final and efficient. These causes are further nuanced by modal distinctions such as virtual, formal, real, actual, essential, immanent, separable and so on.

        These realist metaphysics are interpretive heuristics that do not rise and fall, or even compete, with the descriptive models of physics. The Thomists and Scotists may argue vigorously regarding these heuristics but they have no arguments with QM models.

        No need to relitigate all that here because Feser did such a good job here:

        http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2014/07/carroll-on-laws-and-causation.html

        and here:

        http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/05/oerter-contra-principle-of-causality.html

        Finally, this particular comment ;-) regarding the heuristic value of interpretive approaches was very insightful:
        https://strangenotions.com/causality-and-radioactive-decay/#comment-1836665638

        • Ignatius Reilly

          Why posit causality at all?

          Edit: I would say that causality was captured by physics. I would disagree that the laws are merely descriptions. However, in light of QM, I cannot hold that the laws capture causality anymore.

          • As an essential pragmatist, I posit causality for all practical purposes. Constructivists and realists, nominalists and essentialists, Aristotelians and Humeans ...
            can speak for themselves. When in doubt, I default to common sense, all the while glancing over my epistemic shoulders to see if beauty, goodness, love, freedom are following behind, which, if they are, I take as justification enough to suspect truth might be nearby. As to truth, I'm a strident, unrepentant realist about same. :)

        • Ignatius Reilly

          1)Whatever exists that does not have to exist requires an explanation.

          2)The physical universe does not have to exist.

          Why should I accept these premises?

          What method do we use to know that they are true?

          • Employing existence as a predicate of being may or may not successfully refer to reality, so one wouldn't be compelled to accept the first premise. We cannot a priori know whether the second premise is true, so, you can take a pass there, too, if you'd like. There is no method for testing such.

            The reason YOU should accept them is for argument's sake, if you're curious about where they might lead should they so happen to be true ;)

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I don't see the argument leading past the existence of a first cause or perhaps multiple first causes.

            Given Fradd's formulation of the argument - I do not find it obvious that God needs to have existed either.

            The last book I read which accepted these Thomistic premises began arguing for everlasting fires for which this all-just first cause casts the unbelievers. Is this also a consequence of Thomistic metaphysics or is it a abductive-transductive inference? ;-)

            I'm teasing, but in my experience, the fundamental doctrine of Catholicism is that we are sinful and deserving of hell, God died for us so we could possibly go to heaven, but we most likely wont go to heaven because of our sinful nature. Any Catholic text used in faith instruction has at leas a third of it devoted to ethics.

            I don't hold first causes to be provable or disprovable. What I reject is Roman Catholicism. It answers the existential questions with more angst and anxiety.

          • You might enjoy progressive catholic forums like crux, commonweal or national catholic reporter, which share your revealed/pastoral theology critiques. This forum focuses, it seems, on natural theology. Honestly, much of the philosophical theology discussed here is quite rigorous and well thought out, including the atheological defenses.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I do enjoy the commonweal.

    • Phil

      Hey Ignatius,

      Whatever exists that does not have to exist requires an explanation.
      "-At this juncture, I would say that this is unknowable."

      The physical universe does not have to exist.
      "-Also unknowable."

      Would you say that the single brick in the wall next to me needs to exist?

      • Ignatius Reilly

        1) Would you say that the single brick in the wall next to me, and all the material elements that compose it, needs to exist as it does right now?

        No. I suppose for instance that the architect could have picked a different color.

        2) If it doesn't need to exist, would you agree that this means that science can study this brick to find out 'why' and 'how' this brick exists as it does right now? Our study of the brick, and its complete material composition, will then begin to explain the 'why' and 'how' of the brick's existence.

        I think the brick could have needed to exist and science could still study the whys and hows. Problem is that I could never have a complete answer as to the why and how. I could tell you how bricks are made and the reasons why that brick was made, say housing, but what else can I say?

        • Phil

          If something exists right now, and does not need to exist as it does right now, that means there is a rational explanation for 'how' and 'why' it exists right now. Would you agree?

          (Science does assumes this to be the case about the cosmos.)

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Maybe. Depends what qualifies as a rational explanation. I would probably remain agnostic on the premise and its negation.

            If I have a pile of uranium, there isn't a rational explanation (that we know of) that explains why one atom decays while another does not.

          • Phil

            If I have a pile of uranium, there isn't a rational explanation (that we know of) that explains why one atom decays while another does not.

            If you hold that there actually is absolutely no reason why one uranium atom decays and another does not, then would you also agree that another uranium atom might turn into a unicorn?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            If you hold that there actually is absolutely no reason why one uranium atom decays and another does not, then would you also agree that a uranium atom might turn into a unicorn?

            No.

            Or is there a reason why a uranium atom acts as it does, including some of them decaying and others not, we just don't know it yet?

            Perhaps. Our current model of physics says that we will never be able to include that reason in our model. It is impossible to predict when or which atom will decay. At least with a local variable. There could be a nonlocal variable.

            They decay because they are unstable. There is a reason as to why atoms decay, but not a reason as to why a particular atom decays when it does.

            Therefore, as Ye Olde Statistician pointed out, we should also believe that the uranium atom is capable of being completely explained. (Whether or not the human intellect is fully capable of this is another questions.)

            Not if our current theory is correct.

          • Phil

            It seem like you are trying to hold that there is no real reason why a uranium atom acts as it does, but then you are saying that it couldn't turn into a unicorn. If there is no real reason why it acts as it does, this means it is just as likely to turn into a unicorn as it is to do anything else.

            Rationally, those both can't be held at the same time. We must hold that there is a reason why uranium acts as it does. Hence there is an explanation for why it acts as it does.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            There are reasons for why a Uranium atom acts as it does, but there are not reasons for when it acts as it does. Its not completely explainable.

          • Phil

            If you would hold that it is not completely explainable, how do you know/hold that it is explainable at all? You could be under the illusion that you are explaining uranium, even partially.

            (As a side note, an explanation for "why" it acts as it does would include why it acts when it does. So I don't think you can really hold that distinction.)

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I don't think something has to be completely explainable in order for it to be partially explainable.

            I think I can always eventually ask an explanatory question that cannot be answered due to the non-deterministic nature of quantum mechanics.

          • Phil

            If there are things that can't be explained, then how do you know that all of reality can't be explained; and science is only discovering illusory explanations of a reality that can't be explained?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I can't. It seems like a necessary assumption to proceed. I hold that what we observe is largely accurate. I believe this is rather Aristotelian of me. :-)

          • Phil

            Exactly! Science must assume that all of reality actually can be explained! If it starts by assuming that even part of reality can't be explained, that throws into question if any of reality can be actually explained--complete skepticism ensues.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Oh, you are saying that because part of reality cannot be explained then we can never be sure if our explanations have treaded on the unexplainable part.

            I would say that science can only discover the explainable things and not the unexplainable. The method limits itself to explaining explainable things and I don't have to worry about whether or not I have explained a nonexplainable as long as I have used the method.

          • Phil

            The method limits itself to explaining explainable things and I don't
            have to worry about whether or not I have explained a nonexplainable as
            long as I have used the method.

            Yes, so how does science know if it has reached something that is unexplainable or they just haven't uncovered the answer yet?

          • George

            "When does science "stop looking" for answers?"

            I hear catholics proposing where that limit should be all the time on catholic radio. and it's always the catholic answer begins.

            "the doctors couldn't explain how this newborn baby survived for an hour without oxygen. therefore Fulton Sheen did it."

            I don't say scientists would eventually explain a given case. I do not have that faith in scientists, but the assertion that scientists could not/will not ever find an explanation is unjustified.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            It doesn't stop looking for answers. The point is that the method guarantees that we are explaining explainable things.
            I don't think philosophy can tell us that. I think some philosophers assume it. :-)

          • Phil

            It doesn't stop looking for answers. The point is that the method guarantees that we are explaining explainable things.

            Yes! Because science sets out on the scientific journey having to assume that reality can actually be explained (i.e., that it is intelligible).

            I don't think philosophy can tell us that. I think some philosophers assume it. :-)

            Philosophy doesn't assume that reality, as a whole, is intelligible. Philosophy can show that holding the alternative position is incoherent, and therefore we conclude that the only rational position to hold is that reality as a whole is intelligible, in and of itself.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            How does the proposition: There exists a thing in reality that is unintelligible - lead to an inconsistency.

          • Michael Murray

            How does the proposition: There exists a thing in reality that is unintelligible - lead to an inconsistency.

            Exactly. Could we settle this one please. I feel like I am going around in circles.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I think there is a quantifier fallacy at play here.

          • Michael Murray

            I agree.

            Not for all = There exists

            Not there exists = For all

          • Godel-like constraints are in play, specifically, a choice between either a complete or consistent account? A brute account, by definition, sounds to me like an incomplete account, so certainly could aspire to consistency? An account aspiring to explanatory adequacy, by definition, sounds like a putatively complete account, so would, of meta-logical necessity, suffer inconsistency? The reason a typical God-hypothesis won't suffer inconsistency, however, is because they're inescapably incomplete explanations, in other words, brute, because, while they may explain reality, they don't explain but only describe God.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Maybe analogously, but I'm not sure if Gödel's incompleteness necessarily applies to fields of study outside of mathematics.

            I don't think being tri-Omni and creating the world that we observe is particularly consistent. It seems that explanations of God are always along the lines of God is self-explanatory.

          • Maybe analogously, but I'm not sure if Gödel's incompleteness necessarily applies to fields of study outside of mathematics.

            As a meta-mathematical theorem, as Hawking duly noted, its application to theories of everything was analogous. It's application to other closed, formal symbol systems, such as formal, syllogistic argument would, similarly, be a meta-philosophical analogue.

            A very entertaining read, a personal all-time favorite, that analogously tracks the meta-rational implications of such godelian insights for problems of beginning, generally, can be found here:

            http://legacy.earlham.edu/~peters/writing/begin.htm

            I don't think being tri-Omni and creating the world that we observe is particularly consistent. It seems that explanations of God are always along the lines of God is self-explanatory.

            There's a difference between consistency and explanatory adequacy. Even arguments that treat divine attributes can, if well-constructed, be consistent. There's also a difference between descriptive and explanatory. That some people might imagine that their god-descriptions are self-explanatory doesn't make them so. Bruteness lurks.

            An aside, I employ the term god-description, as what the theologian aspires to, instead, is only a successful God-reference.

          • An implication arises for the whole issue regarding whether or not we can make sense of the world, whether or not it's partial intelligibility logically necessitates its complete intelligibility, in and of itself.

            You recall that much turned on the definition of intelligibility, whether it was narrowly or broadly or however conceived.
            Confronted with the problem of beginning, whether in a logical, temporal, causal, discovert or expositional form (Suber's categories), a question then begs, precisely, regarding the nature of human intelligibility.

            Faced with an ineluctable bruteness regarding our speculative and theoretic accounts of reality, to what exactly might one be referring when assuming reality's intelligibility, in part, much less as a whole? What does it mean to assert that the world is thoroughly intelligible in itself but only partially intelligible to us? It's certainly not intelligible, speculatively, in any form as abovementioned per Suber?

            What we enjoy, rather, is what is known as a practical or effective intelligibility. One practical upshot might be that We cannot know, a priori, whether the world is thoroughly intelligible in itself, theoretically, and neither have we even established its partial intelligibility, logically, but it is, undeniably, partially intelligible to us, practically speaking?

          • Phil

            It will lead us eventually to complete skepticism. We will be forced to hold that we cannot tell the difference between something that is actually intelligible and something that only appears intelligible.

            And if we want to hold that complete skepticism is false, then we should also reject that assumption that even part of reality is unintelligible, in and of itself. We will proclaim that all of reality has the potential to be known--i.e., all of reality is intelligible, in and of itself.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            We will be forced to hold that we cannot tell the difference between something that is actually intelligible and something that only appears intelligible.

            No we aren't.

          • Phil

            What would keep you from falling into complete skepticism about every belief you hold, including the one you just proposed?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Because, I hold that I can know whether something is intelligible or not without believing that the world is completely intelligible.

            Even if the world is completely intelligible, we could still be wrong in all of our explanations, so I don't think the complete intelligibility of the world necessitates that our explanations are correct.

          • Phil

            Even if the world is completely intelligible, we could still be wrong in all of our explanations, so I don't think the complete intelligibility of the world necessitates that our explanations are correct.

            That is very true, but if explanations are even possible that necessarily means that the world is actually intelligible in and of itself.

            In other words, it is incoherent is say, "I have explained something that can't be explained."

          • Michael Murray

            Yes! Because science sets out on the scientific journey having to assume that reality can actually be explained (i.e., that it is intelligible).

            It might assume that but it doesn't have have to. It's just a convenient assumption. When science discovers that this is not quite true, as it did with quantum mechanics, it makes adjustments.

          • Phil

            It might assume that but it doesn't have have to. It's just a convenient assumption. When science discovers that this is not quite true, as it did with quantum mechanics, it makes adjustments.

            It is not just a "convenient" assumption, it is an assumption that science must hold! If science doesn't assume that the world can actually be explained, then science is just mental gymnastics--they are doing lots of fancy flips but accomplishing absolutely nothing.

            The fact that science holds things as being not quite true is already to assume that there is some explanation that is actually true.

            You can't prove the falsity of quantum mechanics with philosophy.

            Yep--one ought not to use philosophy to do science, and one ought not to use science to do philosophy. You don't use a saw to hammer, or a hammer to saw. Each has its own method which gives each the ability to come to different truths of reality. But in the end, they all will be in harmony; truth cannot contradict truth.

          • Michael Murray

            If science doesn't assume that the world can
            actually be explained, then science is just mental gymnastics--they are doing lots of fancy flips but accomplishing absolutely nothing.

            Science isn't accomplishing absolutely nothing it is developing models that more accurately fit experiments and more accurately predict the behaviour of the world.

            The fact that science holds things as being not quite true is already to assume that there is some explanation that is actually true.

            No. The fact that I have a model that fits the data nearly perfectly doesn't imply that I think there is a model that fits the data perfectly. It may well be that we never have a model that fits the data perfectly and all we can ever do is make arbitrarily accurate approximate models.

            Science and philosophy will be in harmony.

            Only if you think they are talking about the same things. I don't see that.

          • Phil

            Science isn't accomplishing absolutely nothing it is developing models that more accurately fit experiments and more accurately predict the behaviour of the world.

            I agree. You would hold that science is actually explaining, at least in part, the world as it actually exists. This means the world is capable of being known, and science is a way to come to some knowledge about it.

            The fact that I have a model that fits the data nearly perfectly doesn't imply that I think there is a model that fits the data perfectly. It may well be that we never have a model that fits the data perfectly and all we can ever do is make arbitrarily accurate approximate models.

            All this could be true and would be perfectly harmonious with what I am proposing. If things are actually intelligible, there must be some perfect way to "model the data", but it could be the case that this "model" is not scientific in nature. One can't hold that the only real knowledge comes from science, or that the only things that can be explained are the things that can be scientifically modeled.

            I agree that it is actually the case that we can't perfectly model the world, but this doesn't mean that it can't potentially be known perfectly, in its entirety (I don't think the human person is capable of this by itself). It also doesn't mean that our current models don't say something actually true about the world, even though they aren't perfect. All these things can, and should, be held at the same time.

          • Michael Murray

            If you would hold that it is not completely explainable, how do you know/hold that it is explainable at all? You could be under the illusion that you are explaining uranium, even partially.

            Because we have a model and we test it and so far it fits the known behaviour of uranium atoms. That is about as good as "explain" and "understand" get in science.

          • Michael Murray

            Some things a uranium atom does can be explained and others cannot. What is the problem with that ?

            Rationally, those both can't be held at the same time. We must hold that there is a reason why uranium acts as it does.

            You keep saying this but that doesn't make it true.

          • Phil

            There is at least one thing a uranium atom does that cannot be explained.

            If this is true, then (A) "everything a uranium atom does can be explained" is false.

          • Michael Murray

            Agreed. And at the moment the theories that fit experiment best (quantum mechanics) tell us (B).

          • Phil

            How do you know that what you believe already to have explained about a uranium atom, actually describes describe uranium as it actually is? As opposed to uranium simply being unintelligible, in and of itself, and your explanation is only illusory.

          • Michael Murray

            But you have the same problem even if all of the uranium atom is explainable. How do you know your model is a description of what the uranium atom really is? What if you end up with two different models that are both completely accurate when you test them with experiments? What if you end up with two models that can explain different things ? I don't see that you can reject these kinds of things by philosophising about them. You have to do the science and see what happens.

            There is a good Sean Carroll article on what science does here

            http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2013/07/03/what-is-science/

          • Phil

            How do you know your model is a description of what the uranium atom really is? What if you end up with two different models that are both completely accurate when you test them with experiments? What if you end up with two models that can explain different things? I don't see that you can reject these kinds of things by philosophising about them. You have to do the science and see what happens.

            A main philosophical principle that underlies the scientific endeavor is that we ought to hold as true the explanation that: (1) Is the most internally coherent, (2) Is the most consistent with all the data, and (3) Is the most comprehensive (i.e., explains the most data). Considering these 3 things will help you to answer those questions above.

            So science ultimately is the tool to help you answer your questions above. Philosophy would simply show that there is an actual complete explanation for uranium "out there". And science is most probably the best tool for figuring out what this explanation of uranium actually is. Philosophy can show that science is not simply doing "mental gymnastics".

          • Michael Murray

            Considering these 3 things will help you to answer those questions above.

            Help yes but none of those 3 things will of necessity answer my questions. All you can say is that up until this point in time those 3 things have done so.

            Philosophy would simply show that there is an actual complete explanation for uranium "out there".

            How can philosophy actually show that ? What would a "complete" explanation mean ? One that violates Heisenberg's uncertainty principle ? You seem to me to be putting the philosophical cart before the scientific horse. We do the experiments and then we develop theories and test them with more experiment. We don't restrict what kind of theories we can hold in advance based on philosophy.

          • George

            but if a uranium atom did turn into a unicorn, that would just be called a miracle. god will be used as an "explanation" no matter what.

          • Phil

            If a uranium atom turned into a unicorn we'd have two options:

            (1) Being able to turn into a unicorn is part of the nature of being a uranium atom. (i.e., all uranium atoms have the potential to turn into unicorns)

            (2) It was a miracle that was not brought about by the normal course of nature. This could only be concluded if one holds that turning into a unicorn is not part of the nature of being a uranium atom, which is what I would hold as the rational position. Uranium atoms, by their very nature, do not have the potential to turn into unicorns.

          • Michael Murray

            If you hold that we have good reason to believe that a uranium atom won't turn into a unicorn, then we know there is a reason why a uranium atom does what it does, and doesn't turn into a unicorn.

            Therefore, as Ye Olde Statistician pointed out, we should also believe that the uranium atom is capableof being completely explained. (Whether or not the human intellect is fully capable of this is a separate question.)

            All this shows is that there is at least one thing that we can explain about a uranium atom. Namely that conservation of energy and mass precludes it suddenly becoming a unicorn.

            You cannot argue from "one therefore for all"

            There may well be other things we cannot explain. The current theories of quantum mechanics that most physicists accept say that we cannot explain why a uranium atom decays at a particular place and time.

            I know people here are fond of saying "well ok it's only a theory so maybe one day we will have reason". Sure. But it's also possible that we will never have a reason.

          • Phil

            What test could science run to discover to that something is
            actually unexplainable, as opposed to it being the case that science hasn't dug deep enough to discover the explanation? When does science "stop looking" for answers?

            (I would propose that science can never declare that something is "unexplainable"; it must necessarily keep digging. This "question of explanation" is actually a philosophical question. Only philosophy could tell us if everything ultimately has an explanation or not.)

          • Michael Murray

            I imagine there will always be some scientists unhappy with a model who will search for a "better" model. At the end of the day science is only finding models of reality and seeing how well they fit it not telling you what reality is.

          • Phil

            Would you hold then that science isn't telling us anything actually true about reality itself?

          • Michael Murray

            I believe that science is telling us true things about reality but for the same reason I believe I'm not a brain in a vat. It's a convenient assumption that so far has stood the test of time and experiment.

            But all that science really does is develop models of reality and test them for accuracy by doing experiments. I wouldn't call that "saying things that have no connection to reality". The connection is the accuracy of the experimental tests. I don't see it as a dichotomy between "the model has no connection to reality" and "the model is reality".

          • Phil

            I believe that science is telling us true things about reality but for the same reason I believe I'm not a brain in a vat. It's a convenient assumption that so far has stood the test of time and experiment.

            Two thoughts:

            1) We can only assume that science could in principle tell us true things about some external reality if we first have reason to believe that we are not a brain in a vat. Science assumes this, philosophy can put forward reasons why the belief "we are not a brain in a vat" is a reasonable one.

            2) On "convenient assumptions". Again, if science is not simply mental gymnastics this cannot simply be a "convenient assumption", it must actually be true.

            From a practical level, the fact that science has been so consistent in its ability to predict and to harness the "power" of nature is very good reason to hold that science is coming to actual truths about reality. So a coherent philosophy would be in harmony with this truth. The philosophical truth would be that reality is actually knowable in and of itself, and science is capable of coming to at least part of this truth of reality.

          • Michael Murray

            1) We can only assume that science could in principle tell us true things about reality, if we first have reason to believe that we are not a brain in a vat. Science assumes this, philosophy can put forward reasons why the belief "we are not a brain in a vat" is a reasonable one.

            But I don't see this as a necessity at all. It could be that science is discovering the rules underlying the computer program our brains are plugged into.

            2) On "convenient assumptions". Again, if science is not simply mental gymnastics this cannot simply be a "convenient assumption", it must actually be true.

            I don't see why "actually true" rather than as I am saying "a convenient assumption that so far has stood the test of time and experiment" or as you are saying a "reasonable assumption". I'm happy with reasonable. I don't see you can make it a necessity.

            From a practical level, the fact that science has been so consistent in its ability to predict and to harness the "power" of nature is very good reason to hold that science is coming to actual truths about reality.

            Sure. Good reason to hold but not a proof that it is "actually true".

          • Phil

            But I don't see this as a necessity at all. It could be that science is discovering the rules underlying the computer program our brains are plugged into.

            Science would then be assuming that we are a brain in a vat experiencing an "external world" with "laws" that can be modeled. Either way, science is assuming some sort of external experience that can be modeled. Philosophy would have to tell you whether it is rational to believe this is actually true or not.

            I don't see why "actually true" rather than as I am saying "a convenient assumption that so far has stood the test of time and experiment" or as you are saying a "reasonable assumption". I'm happy with reasonable. I don't see you can make it a necessity.

            Here are the two metaphysical truths on this:

            1) If science is not simply mental gymnastics, then you must hold that what science is studying is actually intelligible and knowable, in and of itself, and that the human intellect is capable of knowing it.

            2) If what science is studying is not actually intelligible and knowable, in and of itself, or the human intellect is capable of knowing it, then science is simply mental gymnastics.

          • Michael Murray

            Here are the two metaphysical truths on this:

            1) If science is not simply mental gymnastics, then you must hold that what science is studying is actually intelligible and knowable, in and of itself, and that the human intellect is capable of knowing it.

            2) If what science is studying is not actually intelligible and knowable, in and of itself, or the human intellect is capable of knowing it, then science is simply mental gymnastics.

            For (1) I hold only that up until now we have been pretty successful at the process of observation, modelling and testing and obtaining from that apparently accurate models of reality. I expect, based on that past experience that we will continue to do so. I don't have any particular expectations though that this process will end up with a final model that is arbitrarily accurate as distinct from a patchwork of models describing different parts of reality or perhaps a sequence of models of increasing accuracy that doesn't terminate.

            Can your metaphysics settle these questions for me ? I doubt it. We have to just suck it and see.

            I don't know what (2) actually means. I've not seen anyone in this discussion define intelligible or knowable other than by some circular dictionary chase. Intelligible means can be understood, understood means can be known etc, etc. I understand about developing a model of reality and testing its accuracy. But all this discussion of reality being knowable "in and of itself" is mental gymnastics from my perspective.

          • Phil

            On (1)--it sounds like you would hold that science is not simply mental gymnastics; science is capable of, and actually is, coming to know something true about reality. This means that you must necessarily hold that what science is studying actually intelligible, actually knowable.

            In other words, it makes no sense for you to say, "I know something that can't be known." Or "I'm explaining something that can't be explained." That's absurd!

            -----

            If (2) is not true, then you would hold what I just stated above, "Science is explaining something that can't be explained." Which is an incoherent belief. (2) is stating that if what science is studying can't actually be known/explained (for whatever reason), then what science is doing is equal to the leaves rustling. It is pointless mental gymnastics that look and sound real neat, but accomplish absolutely nothing.

            In regards to defining "intelligible"--to be able to be known is simply what it means. Something can actually be known/be explained. I don't quite understand your circular point, as when you look up something in that dictionary we don't usually claim that all those words are being argued for circularly.

            Figuring out if reality is knowable, in and of itself, is not mental gymnastics because reason can help us figure out this truth of reality! Unfortunately, we live in a culture that have become skeptical of reason, even though they claim to hold it up so as to "beat down faith"! It is quite odd.

            ----

            Some of the reason for the disconnect in some of our discussions is that they can be very philosophical, and it doesn't seem like you have tons of experience with philosophy, its method, and what it is actually trying to do? I could be wrong, but this is simply an overall observation. (I readily admit that science is not my area of expertise. Though I try and take what reputable scientists say, contemplate it, and understand what is going on beneath the surface.)

          • Michael Murray

            it sounds like you would hold that science is not simply mental gymnastics; science is capable of, and actually is, coming to know something true about reality.

            I suspect that it sounds like it because you are filtering it through your own ideas. Read what I said. It is, to me at least a big leap from

            (a) a certain process allows me to generate models of some parts of reality of high accuracy in their predictive power

            to

            (b) "what science is studying is actually intelligible and knowable, in and of itself, and that the human intellect is capable of knowing it."

            Nothing about my claim in (a) says that I can ever have model of reality that is completely accurate and that is what I would call knowable. Of course I probably agree roughly with (b) but I wouldn't call it a truth .

            Some of the reason for the disconnect in some of our discussions is that they can be very philosophical, and it doesn't seem like you have tons of experience with philosophy, its method, and what it is actually trying to do?

            I've no training in philosophy although I have read a bit through the years. My background is in mathematics and physics followed by some 35 years of research in mathematics and mathematical physics. I am a great admirer of philosophy when it comes to the study of ideas but it wasn't until I came here that I discovered that some people think it can be used, particularly metaphysics, to study things that science can't. I've read lots of comments here and seen no evidence to support that claim. The arguments, for example the so-called arguments for the existence of gods based on metaphysics are just shoddy by mathematical standards. Things are not defined and the supposedly logical leaps are not logical.

            I readily admit that science is not my area of expertise. Though I try and take what reputable scientists say, contemplate it, and understand what is going on beneath the surface.

            This is why you will find many scientists dubious about philosophy of science. How can you understand what is going on beneath the surface of science if you don't understand science ?

            Do you include in your list of reputable scientists people like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Sean Carroll, Laurence Krauss ? Or by reputable do you not mean their scientific reputation ?

          • Phil

            I suspect that it sounds like it because you are filtering it through your own ideas. Read what I said. It is, to me at least a big leap from:

            (a) a certain process allows me to generate models of some parts of reality of high accuracy in their predictive power

            to

            (b) "what science is studying is actually intelligible and knowable, in and of itself, and that the human intellect is capable of knowing it."

            Nothing about my claim in (a) says that I can ever have model of reality that is completely accurate and that is what I would call knowable. Of course I probably agree roughly with (b) but I wouldn't call it a truth.

            Is not the purpose of a "model" to try and model the way that reality actually exists? In other words, when we provide an actual model for the way that gravity acts here on earth we are saying that, "gravity exists in such a way that it acts in 'X' way according to this model."

            If you wish to hold position (a) without holding position (b) your statement would actually be, "I have created a model that really has no connection to the way that gravity acts in reality here on earth".

            I think we can confidently say, no, the former is what our models are actually trying to do. Our scientific models are capable of coming to truths about reality, even though many will most likely never explain reality perfectly. I think people get nervous when someone tries to say that we can have perfect, clear, and concise knowledge of reality (like Descartes wanted) so they try and head more towards the skeptical end of the spectrum. But instead of ending up in the middle between complete skepticism and perfect knowledge, they end up at complete skepticism. I would promote a realist epistemology where partial knowledge of actually existing reality is possible.

            How can you understand what is going on beneath the surface of science if you don't understand science ?

            I think that someone studying the philosophy of science should have some knowledge of science itself. Obviously the philosophy of science and metaphysics are very different. In the former, you are concerned with the "foundations, methods, and implications of science". In the latter, you are studying the actual nature of reality and underlying structures that science relies upon.)

            Do you include in your list of reputable scientists people like Sam
            Harris, Richard Dawkins, Sean Carroll, Laurence Krauss ? Or by
            reputable do you not mean their scientific reputation ?

            I was speaking of their scientific reputation. In other words, there are some men and women doing great science, but then they turn around and try to make some absurd philosophical claims! In other words, scientists doing bad philosophy. And this is nothing against them, it just means they have to realize when they've stopped doing science and entered another field that they are not skilled in yet.

          • Michael Murray

            Is not the purpose of a "model" to try and model the way that reality actually exists? In other words, when we provide a true model for the way that gravity acts here on earth we are saying that, "gravity actually exists in such a way that it acts in 'x' way according to this model."

            It is the purpose sure. I'm just pointing out that it is not possible to be 100% sure that is what it is doing. Difficult to assert it as a metaphysical truth as you keep insisting.

            If you wish to hold position (a) without holding position (b) your statement would actually be, "I have created a model that really has no connection to the way that gravity acts in reality here on earth". Your model is mental gymnastics.

            No. My statement would be "I have created a model that I hope has some connection to reality but I cannot be 100% sure that it does."

            I think we can confidently say, no, the former is what our models are actually trying to do.

            Oh it is what we are trying to do. Sure. I just dispute that we can be certain they are doing it.

            In the former, you are concerned with the "foundations, methods, and implications of science". In the latter, you are studying the actual nature of reality and underlying structures that every other science relies upon.

            So to do good metaphysics it is not intrinsically necessary to have any knowledge of the methods of science in general. But I do think it helps because you can spot when someone is using physics to do bad metaphysics.

            So you are studying the actual nature of reality without knowing anything about reality. This is what makes me think that metaphysics is the mental gymnastics. If you are studying anything at all it is the map not the territory.

            Looking back at our old posts I think we have been chasing this one for long enough. I'm going to leave it here.

          • Phil

            The reason why the discussion is halted is that you are answering the epistemological question, while I am asking the metaphysical question. Obviously, no direction towards truth can be made if we aren't addressing the same question. There is no need for your response, but I'll try and show what the metaphysical question is below.

            My statement would be "I have created a model that I hope has some connection to reality but I cannot be 100% sure that it does.

            Would you agree with this statement:
            We can be 100% sure that there is an answer (metaphysical question), we just may never know what the perfect answer actually is (epistemological question). But we can work so that we continue to more perfectly approximate that perfect answer. We can say something true about the way reality is without saying it perfectly. Partial truth is possible.

            Some of your answers makes it sound like you think that partial truth is not possible. I don't think that is what you would actually hold, but your philosophical position says that is what you believe.

            I think you would hold that even an imperfect model says something true about reality. It just doesn't say it perfectly. In fact saying that you hold an imperfect model, means that you believe there is a perfect model to discover and formulate.

            Either your model says (a) nothing true, (b) something partially true, or (c) something perfectly true. If the model has any connection to reality (a) is not possible. The realist position would be that most models are (b). And (b) assumes that (c) is possible (maybe not for humans though).

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            If I have a pile of uranium, there isn't a rational explanation (that we know of) that explains why one atom decays while another does not.

            The weak force mediated by gauge bosons, likely triggered by the absorption of a neutron. We can force feed neutrons to uranium and trigger exactly the reaction you mention. The neutron hit this atom and not that atom.

            Don't confuse "caused" with "predictable."

            Also don't confuse "we don't know" with "there isn't."

          • Ignatius Reilly

            What caused the neutron to hit atom A instead of atom B?

            I think if you read my reply carefully, you would notice that I said that I am agnostic with regard to the premises. Things like radioactive decay give me reasons to doubt the affirmation of the premise.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            What caused the neutron to hit atom A instead of atom B?

            It was in the way.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            And why did the neutron take path A instead of path B?

          • Michael Murray

            Or any of the infinity of other paths in the path integral !

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            And why did the neutron take path A instead of path B?

            You begin to see the difficulty of thinking in terms of events rather than in terms of things.

            One supposes a whole host of causal factors, such as collisions with other neutrons, determining the Mean Free Path. Mathematically, such things become indeterminate for more than two bodies. Ekelund stated in Mathematics of the Unexpected that a billiards player attempting a ten-ball cannon would have to take into account the gravitational influence of the spectators. Mathematical predictions break down at more distant times and finer precision. Especially so when the required precision is finer than the instruments used to measure it.

            When we move from simple problems with a few bodies in perfectly elastic collisions, pure vacuums, ideal gasses, etc. to complex problems with hundreds or even billions of bodies, the mathematical tools break down and we have to fall back on statistical tools. And even they work only for disorganized complexity. For organized complexity, in which the relationships of the elements of the structure must be taken into account, even statistical methods break down -- you cannot substitute the mean value for the individual elements because the individual elements behave differently -- and we resort to operations research and modeling. (And "all models are wrong.")

            But "unexpected" does not mean "uncaused." You keep asking about predictability instead of causation. The neutron does not take the path it does for no reasons whatsoever. If that were the case, physics would be a hoax.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Suppose we just have one particle. We observe the particle and 5 minutes later we observe it again. At the second observation there is no local causative factor as to why it is at position A instead of position B. This is our best understanding of our most well evidenced theory.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            At the second observation there is no local causative factor as to why it is at position A instead of position B. This is our best understanding...

            Perhaps it is the understanding that is deficient rather than the universe. Or perhaps it is only a layman's understanding of a complex and subtle mechanics. Or perhaps the cause is global rather than local.

            In particular, how do you know you are observing the same particle?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            According to Bell's Inequality, our understanding is not only deficient, but it is completely wrong. The problem is that quantum mechanics is the most well evidenced theory that we have.

            Perhaps I do not completely understand the mechanics, but I have noticed that most physicists on this site seem to agree with my interpretation. I have an undergraduate degree in physics and a graduate degree in mathematics. The concepts are not completely foreign to me.

            The cause could be global, but as I understand, most physicists don't think a non-local variable could complete quantum mechanics, because that would require energy to move faster than the speed of light. However, I could be wrong about this. There could be a causative variable, and in the end, you could be right. However, at the present moment the evidence seems to suggest that you are not.

            This is a thought experiment, so let's say we just have one particle. In quantum mechanics, the wave function associated with the particle tells us everything that we can know. We cannot know where it will be in 10 seconds. We only have probabilities.

          • Ignatius, this is all very interesting. Thanks. With regard to those probabilities, if you have the time or interest, regarding so-called laws of nature and associated so-called causes, there are interesting philosophical debates regarding whether or not nature's regularities are best accounted for as prescriptive realities, law-like and necessitarian (what's called nomicity), or better accounted for as descriptive realities, statistical regularities.

            It would seem also that some observed uniformities could be accounted for through nomicity, others through regularity, that one couldn't a priori say which interpretation would obtain.

            It also seems that one may remain agnostic about the natures of uniformities with no loss of modeling power. The conversations regarding same, post-Wittgenstein and his protege Anscombe, have gone way beyond the Humean accounts (and misinterpretations of Hume).

            This is all to suggest that our everday language regarding reality's uniformities, both in terms of laws and causes, might use linguistic conventions that are fraught with metaphysical implications that may or may not always suitably refer to reality, thus generating paradoxes and pseudo-problems.

            The prime example seems to be that an accounting for nature's uniformities employing nomicity leads folks to infer physical necessities, which seems a rather dubious interpretation?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            What are good books on the subject?

            This is all to suggest that our everyday language regarding reality's uniformities, both in terms of laws and causes, might use linguistic conventions that are fraught with metaphysical implications that may or may not always suitably refer to reality, thus generating paradoxes and pseudo-problems.

            This is probably true. Many debates seem to revolve around definitional distinctions and different uses of the same terms.

          • I'm not literate on the subject. Once I grasped the general distinction and couldn't discern any practical import, I quickly lost interest. The formulations of metaphysical arguments interest me, meta-philosophically. The argumentation that ensues in their wake, essentially grounded in competing intuitions and counterintuitions, seems a waste of time.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            But a probability is a mental abstraction. It is an invisible sky probability. In particular, a probability is a measure of our knowledge, not of reality. Similarly, mathematical models are abstractions of particular aspects of reality; viz., the quantitative aspects. These are especially useful, but they do not complete reality.

            The sub-question here is not where it will be in ten seconds -- I'm not sure "where" is meaningful in a universe of one particle. Since space and time are contingent on matter, there is no "somewhere else." The question is whether if it does somehow appear somewhere else, there will be a reason for it, such as quantum tunneling, or squirrels.

          • William Davis

            It seems that you and I are on very similar pages when it comes to determinism, I agree that probability is a measure of our knowledge and isn't really in the actual world (though Pi certainly is). I guess free will is preserved through dualism, having part of the mind outside the deterministic natural universe? Or am I misreading you? For me, if the mind is completely of this universe, we have what looks like free will, but can't actually be free because it is the product of a very complex system of cause and effect.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I guess free will is preserved through dualism

            No, the will is not determined for the simple reason that the intellect is incomplete. You cannot withhold consent from "1+1=2" (standard arithmetic) because you have perfect knowledge of it. But when the knowledge is imperfect the will has "play" or "degrees of freedom," and is not determined a priori to any particular course.

          • William Davis

            Sure, you can make a decision, but what exactly is making the decision. You call it "you" and so do I, but what is "the self" exactly. I think Descartes mistakenly thought it was the pineal gland, lol. Neuroscience and psychology present some real problems for free will when you begin to study causation inside the mind itself. You might find this interesting as a start, but books are obviously better:
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroscience_of_free_will

            In a way, religion is very much about behavior. One part if figuring out what right behavior is, the next is getting people to behave that way. Philosophy/religion must answer what the right thing is, science can't really do that, but science can help determine why people don't do the right thing, and examine what the decision process is all about.
            This also has very direct relevance to medicine, the leading cause of preventable death is bad behavior. How can we help them fix it when they can't fix it themselves. Look at all the addicts who can't break their addiction. Religion helps sometimes, sometimes it doesn't. Understanding the causation behind decision making is an important part of making the world a better, and more moral place :)

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Sure, you can make a decision, but what exactly is making the decision.
            You call it "you" and so do I, but what is "the self" exactly.

            The post-modern notion that the self is an illusion is a peculiar marker of the twilight of the Modern Ages. What exactly is it that is suffering the illusion?

            Neuroscience
            and psychology present some real problems for free will when you begin
            to study causation inside the mind itself.

            I don't see why. Most of the "problems" are actually due to reading prior assumptions into the data. Phrenology has always had a following.

          • William Davis

            The ability of Chantix to help people quit smoking shows we are on to something.

            http://healthland.time.com/2012/12/13/controversial-surgery-for-addiction-burns-away-brains-pleasure-center/

            We've found that some strokes damage a part of the brain that is related to addiction, and suddenly the addict stops being addicted. The Chinese are doing this on purpose, which is a little disturbing but it works.

            One of the most interesting things from neurology is split brain syndrome:

            "Gazzaniga and Sperry's split-brain research is now legendary. One of their child participants, Paul S, had a fully functional language center in both hemispheres. This allowed the researchers to question each side of the brain. When they asked the right side what their patient wanted to be when he grew up, he replied "an automobile racer." When they posed the same question to the left, however, he responded "a draftsman." Another patient pulled down his pants with the left hand and back up with the right in a continuing struggle. On a different occasion, this same patient's left hand made an attempt to strike the unsuspecting wife as the right hand grabbed the villainous limp to stop it."

            https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-superhuman-mind/201211/split-brains

            So splitting the brain causes two separate "wills" that make separate decisions. Your phrenology comment is kinda funny, lol :)

          • This whole conversation, which turns on the nature of probabilities, for instance, what Y.O.S. wrote:

            In particular, a probability is a measure of our knowledge, not of reality. Similarly, mathematical models are abstractions of particular aspects of reality; viz., the quantitative aspects. These are especially useful, but they do not complete reality.

            -- would make for a great Zen koan.

            Ignatius and I had a similar conversation regarding uniformities and nonuniformities, our experiences of order and chaos, continuities and discontinuities, patterns and paradoxes,
            symmetries and asymmetries, the systematic and random, and so on.

            I've come across interpretations of non/uniformities that view them either descriptively or prescriptively, in other words as models or as law-like, as probabilistic or necessitarian, per approaches called, respectively, regularity versus nomicity.

            Such discussions have gone on in philosophy for a very long time. Duns Scotus introduced his formal distinction, which Charles Sanders Peirce riffed on when introducing his ontological mode of thirdness, basically adding probabilities to the modes of potentialities and actualities. This makes for a very subtle distinction, a middle category, what both Peirce and Scotus would refer to as real but not actual. Let me beg off of explaining that for now, but, suffice it to say, the Thomists and Scotists discussed whether or not such distinctions were separable, for example, another fraught term. These distinctions are not at all unlike those made in quantum models and interpretations, such as regarding virtual particles.

            It doesn't seem to me that we can a priori say that any particular non/uniformities must necessarily be accounted for by either regularity or nomicity. It does seem to me, however, that our descriptive, probabilistic, physical modeling power can work just fine while remaining agnostic to the nomicity vs regularity approaches and that any talk of physical necessities assumes way more than we presently know.

            Why does this matter? Well, because a great deal of logic traffics in logical necessities. Mapping those onto physical reality, metaphysically, seems unwarranted. More concretely, speaking of nature's laws and even causes seems not to be robustly warranted, epistemically, only justified normatively, such as via pragmatic and reductio ad absurdum grounds. This invites a much more fallibilist approach to knowledge, a great deal more epistemic humility, such as when invoking the so-called "self-evident" and then running it through a syllogistic argument which employs, implicitly, such categories as necessity.

            Finally, this is to say, the observation that one cannot refute reality's thoroughgoing intelligibility or principles of sufficient reason or causation on theoretic grounds becomes a tad less interesting, because neither can one establish such metaphysical presuppositions merely logically. Our approach to reality is not based on its putative speculative, theoretic intelligibility, neither its partial nor thoroughgoing intelligibility, but is based on its practical intelligibility. I do believe in its thoroughgoing intelligibility, but that's a normatively justified leap of faith.

          • William Davis

            Yeah we wouldn't know if reality is fully intelligible until we fully understand it, and there is a problem even fully understanding what that would look like.
            For me, belief in determinism has many faith-like qualities. There is a certain solace in thinking things can only go one way, and it can help reduce regret when you've done everything you can and things still blow up in your faith. In a very real sense, it is realizing everything is in God's hands. In my mind, it changes providence from God actively making a decision (like deciding who's prayer to answer) to having made all the decisions from the beginning (assuming the universe has a beginning, maybe multiple beginnings).
            When I try to remember back, I think I've had faith in this for as long as I can remember, I'm not exactly sure why.

          • In my mind, it changes providence from God actively making a decision (like deciding who's prayer to answer) to having made all the decisions from the beginning (assuming the universe has a beginning, maybe multiple beginnings).

            Hold that thought, William, but put it in a creative tension with the key that @Y.O.S. handed you in response to a question of whether or not free will was necessarily being upheld through some dualism:

            No, the will is not determined for the simple reason that the intellect is incomplete. You cannot withhold consent from "1+1=2" (standard arithmetic) because you have perfect knowledge of it. But when the knowledge is imperfect the will has "play" or "degrees of freedom," and is not determined a priori to any particular course.

            Without recourse to theology, philosophy of mind or metaphysics, just from a vague phenomenological perspective -----

            A great deal of physical reality does seem rather law-like and deterministic, even in the animal kingdom, where behavior is radically algorithmic, hard-wired, closed-circuited, instinctual, inflexible, rigid, narrowly adapted.

            Nothing especially magical would have to happen, phylogenetically, for nonalgorithmic consciousness to appear. We can imagine that, due to some genetic coding error, brain hardwiring got short-circuited, in some regions. If sense perceptions changed in response to certain stimuli, the animal could get presented with novel verisimilitudes of reality, both in real-time and when engaging learning and memory (conditioning). To the degree these novel representations of reality were helpful or harmful, adaptive or maladaptive, vis a vis certain behavioral responses, we'd witness either an evolutionary dead end or a qualitative leap from a merely biosemiotic to a robustly symbolic species. The behavior of this symbolic species would be radically nonalgorithmic, very soft-wired, open-circuited, partly instinctual, incredibly versatile, stupendously adaptive.

            The behavioral flexibility would precisely derive from the fact that we wouldn't full well know what we "have" to do. We'd have options to explore, choices to make, mistakes to be made. We could actually bootstrap various mistakes, things that are not literally true, into novel and deeper meanings thru metaphor and myth, which, whole no longer literally true (like strict algorithmic behaviors), would nevertheless evoke appropriate (adaptive) responses to reality. The symbolic experience of one's own experience could reflexively be called the self, which remains partly bounded and partly determined but autopoietic (self-organizing) and relatively, not absolutely, free, in degrees, as Y.O.S. suggested.

            I had an early passion in life to understand behavior, so, in high school got involved with memory transfer experiments with both planaria (flatworms) and rodents. In college, I took about 30 hours of chemistry, 30 of psychology and a ton more in biology, finally going to grad school in neuroendocrinology (where others in our lab could induce migratory conditions in birds such that via variations in the timing of hormone injections could make them fly north vs south, etc).

            This is all to suggest that I suspect some truth in most of the positions and musings here, but I don't know any of this for sure.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            You seem to think that because the human being is a synolon, a composite of matter and form, body and soul, that we should be astonished that things that affect the body should also affect the soul. You would think that Aristotle never saw a man get drunk.

          • William Davis

            To me it's not about astonishment, it is about interest. What exactly causes me to make the decisions I do? I'm probably interested because my job is about putting intellect into a machine, basically modeling decision making processes. As far as we can tell, the human brain is the most complex thing in the universe, so I'm not trying to act like humans are robots (I obviously know a thing or two about the brain of a robot). Check this out for example:

            http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/10567942/Supercomputer-models-one-second-of-human-brain-activity.html

            40 minutes for 1 second of brain activity, lol, that's pretty impressive.

            Sometimes I side with Elon Musk in thinking creating true A.I. is probably a mistake, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't know as much as we can about how intelligence works.
            I just think many people miss out on neurology, it's quite interesting to me.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            There are a couple of things that probably should not be assumed or conflated.
            That your decisions are "caused" may lead to confusion with inanimate causes in the guise of extrinsic "forces." That is, that your decisions have essentially the same import as the sounds made by tree branches when the wind blows through them. The essence of living things is that they are the principle and term of their own acts. Motives are like causes in some ways, just as purposes are like final causes; but they are not the same kind of causes as, say, one billiard ball striking another.

            Intellect is the power to abstract concepts from percepts; that is, universals from particulars. As such, it isn't the same thing as sensation, imagination, or even intelligence. For a computer to have intellect, it would have to perceive Fido, Spot, and Rover and come up with the idea of "dog." Right now, they can't even perceive. (A camera doesn't "see." A recorder doesn't "hear." Putting the two together doesn't mean the sound camera perceives the image as making the sound. This alone is a wonderful challenge.

            To equate the mind with the brain is an assumption. Certainly, the mind uses the brain; but there are reasons to doubt that the mind is the brain. It comes I think from confusing the intellect with the imagination, as Hume famously did.

          • William Davis

            Motives are like causes in some ways, just as purposes are like final causes; but they are not the same kind of causes as, say, one billiard ball striking another.

            This is what I'm getting at, just oversimplifying when I say "caused". I'm a very habitual person, this can be both a good and bad thing, depending on the habits. I had developed a lot of bad habits in my early 20s that were hard to break. It seemed I needed to finish developing my PFC (usually happens around 25) to even realize that I had bad habits and that I SHOULD break them.
            A lot of my interest here is in helping my kids not make the same mistakes I did (they weren't all that bad, but everyone wants their kids to do better than they did). What can I do to encourage the right motives in them, and in general, what can we do to encourage the right motives in everyone. Obviously there is not a one size fits all approach, but this is something both science and religion are interested in. Buddhism seems to be extremely cooperative in this respect, but Christianity seems to be highly resistant, I'm not sure why. Perhaps it is a philosophical difference in how the "self" is viewed.
            I engage in meta-cognition on a regular basis, and I know there are many situations when I have no choice. If a relative dies, I have no choice but to go to the funeral. If my child is hurt, I have no choice but to help them. I have no choice but to go to work. I do have a choice to alter my career, ect., but I hope you see what I mean. Many of these things I can only say because I "am" me, but these are true statements, I know myself fairly well. One my 4 year old's problems is that he doesn't know his self well, and makes incorrect predictions all the time (like he's going to be mad at me forever). In a way, I know my 4 year old better than he knows himself.

          • William Davis

            For a computer to have intellect, it would have to perceive Fido, Spot, and Rover and come up with the idea of "dog." Right now, they can't even perceive.

            Abstraction is quite difficult to program, but we are getting better and better at this. Infrared is helpful. For example the xbox one kinect sensor can distinguish between living and non-living things by heat signature. Once it identifies a person, it checks there face for matches and automatically signs you in. Facial recognition is getting pretty impressive. It is a serious philosophical question to ask exactly when a computer can see. The xbox can do something many living things can't, recognize a face. Is the xbox, then, "smarter" than an insect which can't recognize a face? I suppose that question is rhetorical, but it is something we need to think about it. If we do make an A.I. that can pass the Turing test, should it have rights?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The Turing test is a fallacy. That a system can simulate a behavior does not mean that it is doing the same thing. A simulator for a 787 may be just like flying the plane to LAX, but when you get out of the simulator, you won't actually be in Los Angeles. Passing the test only means that an observer can't tell the difference, not that there is anything going on with the computer. Searle's Chinese Room thought experiment demonstrates this: it can carry on a simulated conversation in Chinese without the man in the room actually understanding Chinese.

            Recognizing a face is not abstraction. It is perception. But perception is a subjective phenomenon. We can't say the instrument "recognizes" a face any more than that a camera "sees" a scene. (BTW, I "invented" face recognition machines, which I called FaceMakers, in an SF novel back in 97. It was just a bit of narrative scenery, used in rental cars, for example. Nice to see them coming along.)

          • William Davis

            One big problem with the Turing test is that it is subjective, a low IQ observer would be much more easily fooled than an intelligent person. Imagine if you found out one of the regulars here on SN was actually a computer. I think a one time observation doesn't indicate a mind, but if I could get to know the mind, and befriend it, it would be a very different situation. We are a very long way from that, unless quantum computing revolutionizes AI. It is something to think about, and we are definitely on the path to determine if such things are impossible.
            Google now takes this seriously enough to have an AI ethics board. Corporations do not spend big money on things they don't take seriously.
            http://www.forbes.com/sites/privacynotice/2014/02/03/inside-googles-mysterious-ethics-board/

          • William Davis

            Take a look at this when you get a few minutes. Deepmind's AI seem capable of abstraction and general learning (I agree facial recognition isn't a very good example of abstration)

            http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2015-02/25/google-deepmind-atari

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I saw one of those more than a decade ago at Bell Labs. They were using it as a tool for designing chips. The trainer still has to tell the net whether the output is accepted or not. (It's like a game of "warmer-cooler".) Of course, "learning" any game is just what a machine ought to be good at. There is no abstraction involved. The computer does not know it is a "game" or what "winning" is.

          • William Davis

            Look, I do software, and this is in fact something very new if you look under the hood. You don't have to be impressed, but don't blow it off like something you've already seen, if you think you've seen it you're missing some important details

            "With Deep Blue there were chess grandmasters on the development team distilling their chess knowledge into the programme and it executed it without learning anything," said Hassabis. "Ours learns from the ground up. We give it a perceptual experience and it learns from that directly. It learns and adapts from unexpected things, and programme designers don't have to know the solution themselves."

            "The interesting and cool thing about AI tech is that it can actually teach you, as the creator, something new. I can't think of many other technologies that can do that."

            You haven't seen anything like this yet, if you understand anything about what's under the hood. This thing TAUGHT itself to play these games, seriously. Sure, it is no true mind, but that is one reason google has an ethics board watching these guys, we don't want to "accidentally" cross some metaphysical threshold, especially if we are not quite sure where it is. Like I said before, I don't think we WANT true artificial minds, we really want slaves, and we want to keep A.I. that way.

            I've written programs that can play simple games and solve mazes. Your program must account for every contingency, every variable. Anything you do not account for causes an exception or bug in the program. This thing teaches itself...and it keeps getting smarter. You also need to look at how many different games this single A.I. (with no reprogramming or additional input) can teach itself to play. They are supposed to moving it to even more complex games very soon. Consider the technology it is built on:

            " That program, the DeepMind team now claims, is a “novel artificial agent” that combines two existing forms of brain-inspired machine intelligence: a deep neural network and a reinforcement-learning algorithm."

            This article goes into more detail here:

            http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/deepmind-artificial-intelligence-video-games

            My generation is likely going to have to answer some very serious questions about what it means to be minded, luckily philosophy has been talking about this for a long time :)

          • Michael Murray

            I thought the Turing Police kept AIs under control?

          • William Davis

            Lol, Google's Ethics board is likely the beginning of the Turing Police. They are treating self-driving cars in a similar way. If a self-driving car wrecks, who's fault is it? Like it or not, software is entering the world of philosophy :)

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The Bell Labs software taught itself chip design rules. (It also taught itself how to aim a cannon.) It was not given the rules. All that was required was a neural net, "clamped" outputs, feedback regarding success, and the capacity to vary signal strengths at the intermediate nodes.

            You present a pattern to the input nodes and ‘clamp’ a desired output to the output nodes. Then let the net fire. It compares its actual output to the clamped output and varies the signal strengths of the intermediate connections to obtain a better match. Eventually, it ‘learns’ the pattern well enough that it can handle variations in the input. In the mid-1980s, Terry Sejnowski’s NETalk learned how to read English from a simple input text. The sentences were entered into the input nodes and the correct phonetic pronunciation was ‘clamped’ to the output nodes. After reading the same text over and over for about ten hours, the net was doing as well as any second grader. It even made the same sorts of mistakes. And the fascinating thing was that it read just as well when new text was presented. Somehow, it had discovered the ‘rules’ for reading English.

            That this is being built upon ought to be no great surprise. (What did surprise me was the fuss made over a chess-playing program or the Jeopardy! contest. The program was told the rules from playing chess, and pulling correct answers from a database is just what computers excel at. It was like they had never heard of neural nets.)

          • William Davis

            The program was told the rules from playing chess, and pulling correct answers from a database is just what computers excel at.

            Almost all people who play chess are told the rules. Kids make up their own rules and mess with the pieces, but they aren't really playing chess. You act like these machines have accomplished nothing because they were told the rules, that makes absolutely no sense to me.

            There is of course, a huge difference between someone who plays a game, and someone who MAKES a game. The difference is creativity, this is something that is hard to put a handle on. I'd argue that most humans are not very creative, and more like machines than many people want to admit (Catholicism is about telling people the rules of the game of life, and not letting them being creative about it). I'm talking about the rank and file that has no interest in thinking for themself, not you or JohnBoy Sylvest who understands the philosophy behind Catholicism and accept it with an open mind. Rank and file humans often behave in predictable ways like machines, this doesn't mean they aren't intelligent. I argue there are all different kinds of intelligence, and creativity is the highest. Being a fairly creative person, I'm simply unwilling to accept someone else's rules like a machine. I am willing to evaluate different rules with an open mind, but will always come to a decision that is my own, even with imperfect information.

            If you think about it we aren't afraid of AI per se, we are afraid of an AI that makes its own rules like we do. With something like neural networks that is self organizing, we do need to take care we don't cross that specific threshold. I think making our own rules is a huge part of what we call WILL, I'm actually confident this will be possible in the next 50 years or so, especially with quantum computing. I'm of the school, like Elon Musk, that we should stop short of letting the thing make its own rules. Since we are not actively programming the thing, it is possible for this to get out of hand before we realize it, much like what happens on science fiction movies (though the robotics are there for terminator to exist, lol).

            I mean look at Elon Musk, he's not some quack, he's a BRILLIANT man:

            http://www.wired.com/2015/01/elon-musk-ai-safety/

            I just find it odd that so many people presuppose that true AI is impossible, where those of us who happen to KNOW something about this think it is a matter of time. I'll give it a rest, thanks for discussing :) You are right btw, fundie have ruined a lot of perfectly good Bible stories with their literalism.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            You act like these machines have accomplished nothing because they were told the rules,

            Actually, it was the article you referenced that made this point: the "new" program was not simply programmed with the rules but "learned" the rules by experience.

            Catholicism is about telling people the rules of the game of life, and not letting them being creative about it.

            LOL

          • William Davis

            You can laugh, but there is some serious truth to that statement ;) To be honest, a large percentage of the population is better off is someone else makes the rules for them. I'm not being cynical, it just seems to be for the best. Most people have absolutely no interest in thinking deeply about things, so a ready made theory of meaning is very useful. Modern materialism and scoring life by how much money you made is bad for everyone and the planet itself ;) In this, I think we both agree, lol.

          • If you have the time and interest, take a look at this decade old thread:

            http://forums.philosophyforums.com/comments.php?id=13993&findpost=262424#post262424

            wherein I set forth Terry Deacon's thoughts as he variously describes 1) the computational fallacy 2) the genetic fallacy 3) the memetic fallacy and 4) the MIT AI myth.

            While an affirmation of free will is certainly an indispensable anthropological presupposition for the life of faith, how it emerges, phylogenetically, and its precise nature, metaphysically, don't have much theological import, in my view. @Y.O.S. happens to be right, in my view, for all sorts of other good reasons. :) I wish I could turn a phrase like him, but, as we say, different gifts, same Spirit.

          • William Davis

            I'll take a gander. I do not fall for Dawkin's ridiculous version of determinism based on animal behavior and genes (I had a ton of criticisms of his book "The God Delusion"). The whole nature vs nurture debate has been a bit ridiculous because it has always been a combination of the two in general. Human brains are WAY more flexible than most if not all animals.
            I'll review your link and get back to you, probably tomorrow :)

          • Well, if you are so inclined, take a look. Deacon's not that far off of Dawkins and Dennett but the distinctions he offers do make a difference. I suspect from your response you may likely resonate.

          • For any who prefer a video presentation, Terry Deacon sets forth what would be involved in putting together a virtual machine, answering the question of what it would look like for a machine to be alive:
            https://youtu.be/S6VJVdPRDEE

            Essentially, in his presentation of complexity theory, as reality nests thermodynamics within morphodynamics within teleodynamics, both formal and telic features are indispensable heuristics beyond mere physical and chemical interactivity. Deacon introduces a distinction between logical depth and dynamical depth.

            Modern supercomputing has a high degree of logical depth but very little dynamical depth, in other words, lacking in both form and telos. So,on one hand, chalk one up for Aristotle and those who recognize that most artificial intelligence paradigms seem to be missing something.

            On the other hand, there seems to be nothing, in principle, that stands in the way of designing a machine with both logical and dynamical depth, as these minimalist conceptions of formal and final causations wouldn't, necessarily, violate physical causal closure. So, chalk one up for those with nonreductive physicalist intuitions.

          • William Davis

            I'll check it out, I've found this stuff interesting. I've always known that standard computing could never produce intelligence, the best we can do is an expert system (like Watson). These neural based AIs are a very different animal, but they are still very application specific. It's funny to see neurologists argue with computer scientists over it, but some of this stuff gets a little spooky too. Having an AI comb over my personal data is a little creepy. If you aren't familiar, check out Google Brain. This AI can recognize symbols in pictures with no problem. We keep stepping closer and closer to something human like, we'll find out if there are unbreakable limits soon enough.

            http://www.wired.com/2014/07/google_brain/

          • It's funny to see neurologists argue with computer scientists over it

            yada, yada, yada ... I know how Sheldon Cooper and the rest of you physicists regard us biologists

          • Also, it occurred to me while listening to Deacon that to make the leap from the logical and depth dynamics that might mimic life, a nondeterministic algorithm would have to be added in order to mimic human abductive reasoning, which makes for an incredibly fast and tremendously frugal heuristic, precisely abstracting properties and effects to reason retroductively back toward subjects and causes. To mimic human intelligence, fallibility must inhere. Of course, the same problems with beginning will unavoidably impact the rules and axioms of all the algorithms, deterministic or non-. Fascinating stuff but I've lost track of its relevance to the O.P. ;)

          • William Davis

            Lol, yeah we drifted way off. It started with YOS's comment on probability being simply a measure of knowledge, nothing in reality, and drifted from there. These neural AI's are quite fallible and literally have to learn on their own (the designer can guide them like a teacher). Unlike programs I make, however, they are self correcting (debugging software can be a major pain).
            One creep factor in Deepmind's Neural Turing machine (what they call it) is that it not only has short term memory like a human brain, but also a rumination setting. I've always been a ruminator, and used to have trouble sleeping because of it until I learned mindfulness meditation. I forget what they call it (I think its DNQ), but they can adjust this rumination setting, but low settings greatly reduce its learning speed. I wish I had a rumination setting I could adjust, lol.

            Watch the Sheldon comparison, my wife gets mad about that :P. At least I've managed to not be a "giant evil baby". Neurologists criticism of A.I. is actually welcome, it is "their" design we are ripping off ;)

          • William Davis

            The computer does not know it is a "game" or what "winning" is.

            Knowing what "winning" is can be a very difficult questions. Think about what it means to win at life. The Catholic probably counts winning at life as a measure of faithfulness and good deeds. The Capitalist scores life on how much money he has earned. Many others score life as to how happy a life they have lived. Winning only makes sense if there is some kind of measure, and this is what the A.I. is using, just like a child, and just like me when I play a game. Take another quote from the last article I mentioned:

            "The program’s second, complementary form of intelligence—reinforcement learning—allows for a kind of unsupervised obedience training. DeepMind’s A.I. starts each game like an unhousebroken puppy. It is programmed to find a score rewarding, but is given no instruction in how to obtain that reward. Its first moves are random, made in ignorance of the game’s underlying logic. Some are rewarded with a treat—a score—and some are not. Buried in the DeepMind code, however, is an algorithm that allows the juvenile A.I. to analyze its previous performance, decipher which actions led to better scores, and change its future behavior accordingly. Combined with the deep neural network, this gives the program more or less the qualities of a good human gamer: the ability to interpret the screen, a knack for learning from past mistakes, and an overwhelming drive to win."

            This thing is very much like the mind of a child in some ways, that is why it is important to watch where it is going, and why Google has enough sense to have its own ethics panel watching it...
            If you think about it, all humans are "programmed" to find a higher score rewarding, I know I do. We all want to win, without having a reason why.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Knowing what "winning" is can be a very difficult questions.

            In chess, it is placing the opponent in check-mate.

          • Luke Cooper

            Just watched this TED talk. Uploaded today. I thought you might be interested. Pretty neat stuff! Baby steps :) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=40riCqvRoMs

          • William Davis

            What people do not realize is that neurology is feeding back into computer science, and computer science is feeding back into neurology, making both improve at an ever increasing rate. I'm interested in what will happen if we manage to perfect quantum computing. Imagine a quantum brain...

          • Luke Cooper

            Just now looking into quantum computing. I've heard of it before, but didn't know what it was. It's hard to tell what would be possible :)

          • William Davis

            It's funny to see comments like "computers can't think, they can only calculate". They have no idea this is a fundamentally different technology than traditional computing.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            How is quantum tunneling a cause for anything? It is a name we give to a particular quantum phenomenon.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            True. We are only scratching the surface of quantum theory. Better to simply say we don't know. A lot of what we think we know is deduced from the theory, or from the math, or from our interpretation of the theory.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I agree with that.

          • In particular, a probability is a measure of our knowledge, not of reality.

            .

            Sounds spot-on to me. It represents, phenomenologically, a bracketing of metaphysics, an ontological vagueness, implicitly acknowledging that we cannot a priori say whether what we've observed represents a mere regularity or a clear necessity. Not that such interpretations don't abound regarding the quantum, qualic and other quaffs of reality!

          • Ignatius Reilly

            It would seem to me that
            If an event B is caused then event B is predictable .
            Therefore if event B is unpredictable then B is uncaused.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            It would seem to me that if an event B is caused then event B is predictable.

            No. The fall of the apple is caused by gravity, but Newton's laws don't even contain a term for "time." You cannot predict from gravity which apple will fall when.

            Consider the man who is brained by a hammer while on his way to lunch.

            Everything about his perambulation is caused. He walks that route because his favorite café is two blocks distant from his workplace. He sets forth at the time he does because it is his lunchtime. He arrives at the fatal point because of the pace at which he walks.

            Likewise, the hammer that slides down and falls from the
            roof of the building half a block along. It falls because of gravity, because of the angle of the roof, because of the coefficient of friction of the
            tiles, because it was nudged by the toe of the workman, because the workman too rose to take his lunch, and because he had placed his tools where he had.

            So everything in the worldlines of both the lunch-bound and the plummeting hammer is caused but it is not predictable that the two would intersect at the same time-space locus. In fact, the diner might have chosen a different lunch counter because he wanted a change of pace. He might have walked faster because he was in a hurry; or slower because it was such a nice day.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Fair enough. I withdraw the conditional.

          • Yes, well said. Even if one eschews the question of why is there not rather nothing?, a question perdures as to why is there not rather something else? and such formal causes, once described, would still leave questions begging regarding material causes. Whether such realities are brute facts or lend themselves to further explanation, we couldn't a priori know.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      A host of properties can be deduced from necessary being (and from pure actuality, etc.). Thomas Aquinas wrote hundreds of pages of such deductions, which add up in sum to a lot more than "zero properties." The initial arguments are the starting point, not the conclusion. In fact, it is premature to simply specify God at this point. The argument concludes only to the existence of a necessary being. The consequences deduced from this are what "flesh it out" (so to speak) into what we have traditionally called God.
      +++
      2+2 = 1 (mod 3) would be the usual way to denote modular addition. Mathematicians use such devices precisely to indicate when non-standard arithmetic is intended.

      Also a mathematical proof is in fact a demonstration of necessity. We spent several days in number theory proving that 1+1=2.
      +++
      It would be more pertinent I think to note that every contingent thing may want a reason (explanation) for its existence, but the mereological sum of things is not itself a thing. There is no universe apart from the things that make it up, just as there is no Sunreilly (the mereological sum of the Sun and Mr. Reilly) independently of the existence of the Sun and of Mr. Reilly. That is, there is a reason for the Sun (having to do with the dance between gravitation and radiation pressure) and a reason for Mr. Reilly (having to do with Mr. and Mrs. Reilly, senior). But there is no reason for the Sunreilly.

      For the same reason, there is no refuge in "multiverses." (Most people actually mean Wheeler's "multiple words" interpretation of quantum mechanics. The multiverse is actually a very different thing.) In the latter case, the multiverse is simply the universe with multiple space-time manifolds embedded within it. (IOW, out there somewhere, there may be a stretch of space-time with different parametric values, e.g., higher fine constant or faster light speed). In the former case, the sensible universe is simply one manifold in a larger, undetectable structure, and it is this whole that is the "universe" in the philosophical sense. "Universe" simply means the set of everything that exists. If that includes these invisible sky manifolds, so be it.
      +++
      Composition is not a formal fallacy. It is a material fallacy. (Form and matter raise their heads again!) A formal fallacy depends upon the form of the argument and is always incorrect. (For example: 1) Theory T makes Prediction P. 2) P is observed. 3) Therefore T is true" is the fallacy of asserting the consequent.) A material fallacy otoh depends upon the matter of the argument -- that is, on the content -- and may or may not be correct. In the present case, if A is contingent and B is contingent then the universe U={A, B} is also contingent. (If A is contingent, the A= yes or no. Same for B. Hence U={yes+yes, yes+no, no+yes, no+no}. IOW, U may or may not exist.)

      • Ignatius Reilly

        A host of properties can be deduced from necessary being (and from pure actuality, etc.). Thomas Aquinas wrote hundreds of pages of such deductions, which add up in sum to a lot more than "zero properties." The initial arguments are the starting point, not the conclusion. In fact, it is premature to simply specify God at this point. The argument concludes only to the existence of a necessary being. The consequences deduced from this are what "flesh it out" (so to speak) into what we have traditionally called God.

        While I have not read Aquinas' deductions, I have read modern retellings and I think they fail to show what they claim to show.

        2+2 = 1 (mod 3) would be the usual way to denote modular addition. Mathematicians use such devices precisely to indicate when non-standard arithmetic is intended.

        Also a mathematical proof is in fact a demonstration of necessity. We spent several days in number theory proving that 1+1=2.

        Point is that there are multiple conceptions of addition. For instance:

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

        It's a demonstration of necessity once the definitions and axioms laid out.

        It would be more pertinent I think to note that every contingent thing may want a reason (explanation) for its existence, but the mereological sum of things is not itself a thing.

        So, the explanation for any thing is the universe.

        I don't see why we can demand that things have explanations, but if they did the universe seems as good of an explanation as any.

        Composition is not a formal fallacy. It is a material fallacy. (Form and matter raise their heads again!) A formal fallacy depends upon the form of the argument and is always incorrect. (For example: 1) Theory T makes Prediction P. 2) P is observed. 3) Therefore T is true" is the fallacy of asserting the consequent.) A material fallacy otoh depends upon the matter of the argument -- that is, on the content -- and may or may not be correct. In the present case, if A is contingent and B is contingent then the universe U={A, B} is also contingent. (If A is contingent, the A= yes or no. Same for B. Hence U={yes+yes, yes+no, no+yes, no+no}. IOW, U may or may not exist.)

        I thought you believed that contingency was not a property of a collection of things, but only individual things.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          While I have not read Aquinas ' deductions, I have read modern retellings

          By whom. Most modern retellings miss the point.

          and I think they fail to show what they claim to show.

          Suppose we have reached the point where we have demonstrated a being of pure act (BPA), which is roughly the conclusion of the argument from "motion." Here is one of the follow-ons:

          H: There can be only one BPA.
          1. Suppose there were two BPAs, call them X and Y.
          2. To be distinct, one of them must possess an attribute A that the other lacks. Suppose X lacks A. .
          3. But then, X is in potency to A and is not a BPA, a contradiction. QED (modus tollens)

          How does this fail to show that the BPA is unique?

          Point is that there are multiple conceptions of addition.

          Or that there are different kinds of operators that for simplicity we call by the same term "addition."

          It's a demonstration of necessity once the definitions and axioms laid out.

          Duh?

          So, the explanation for any thing is the universe.

          No.

          I don't see why we can demand that things have explanations,

          It's called science.

          but if they did the universe seems as good of an explanation as any.

          A: Explain Fido and Rover.
          B: Dogs.

          I thought you believed that contingency was not a property of a collection of things, but only individual things.

          No. But I did suggest that a set is not a thing and may not have a reason for its existence. The universe does not explain the existence of stars, petunias, and little girls; but stars, petunias, and little girls may explain the universe. IOW, you previous suggestion was going the wrong direction. "Dog" does not give existence to Fido and Rover, but Fido and Rover give existence to "dog."

          • Ignatius Reilly

            H: There can be only one BPA.
            1. Suppose there were two BPAs, call them X and Y.
            2. To be distinct, one of them must possess an attribute A that the other lacks. Suppose X lacks A. .
            3. But then, X is in potency to A and is not a BPA, a contradiction. QED (modus tollens)

            Why do they need to be distinct?

            X could lack A and not be in potency to A. I lack the ability to fly faster then the speed of light, but I do not see how I have the potency to do that. Would lacks the ability to conduct electricity, but it does not have the potency to conduct electricity.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Why do they need to be distinct?

            Because if they were not distinct, they would not be two different BPAs. Try not to throw all logic under the bus.

            X could lack A and not be in potency to A.

            Not if X and Y were BPAs. That Y is actually A means that X is potentially A. Otherwise, they would not be both BPAs.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Because if they were not distinct, they would not be two different BPAs. Try not to throw all logic under the bus.

            Why can't there be 2 BPAs all with same properties? They would then be 2 BPAs that are indistinguishable from each other. There are indistinguishable particles, so why not indistinguishable BPAs?

            Not if X and Y were BPAs. That Y is actually A means that X is potentially A. Otherwise, they would not be both BPAs.

            Are BPAs in potency to non-existence?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            There are indistinguishable particles, so why not indistinguishable BPAs?

            Typically, if one particle is here, the other one is there. That is, they are distinct in their locations.
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pauli_exclusion_principle

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Yes, but if we observe two particles and then come back latter we will no longer be able to tell the particles apart. Therefore, we cannot distinguish by location.

            Aristotle believed that there were unmoved movers.

            Are BPAs in potency to non-existence?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            if we observe two particles and then come back latter we will no longer be able to tell the particles apart.

            Yet, the Pauli Exclusion Principle tells us that this one here is not that one there. You seem to be confusing the distinction of the particles from one another with the ability of our instruments to detect a distinction. But even identical twins are two different beings, even if they are dressed alike. Two beer cans made on the same D&I machine and printed from the same plate may be indistinguishable by measurement, but there is no confusion about them being two different beer cans.

            Aristotle believed that there were unmoved movers.

            He didn't "believe" it. He demonstrated it.

            Are BPAs in potency to non-existence?

            Of course not. A BPA by definition is purely actual and contains no potency. It cannot not be. Neither is an armadillo in potency to be a giraffe. Perhaps you could mentally substitute for "actual" and "potential" the terms "real" and "really possible." I'm not sure they are equivalent, but at least they short-circuit the nutty notion that potency means that anything can be anything else.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Yet, the Pauli Exclusion Principle tells us that this one here is not that one there. You seem to be confusing the distinction of the particles from one another with the ability of our instruments to detect a distinction. But even identical twins are two different beings, even if they are dressed alike. Two beer cans made on the same D&I machine and printed from the same plate may be indistinguishable by measurement, but there is no confusion about them being two different beer cans.

            Bosons are exempt from Pauli Exclusion.

            That's the point. There can be two different BPAs that have no distinguishing characteristics.

            He didn't "believe" it. He demonstrated it.

            So you disagree with Aristotle's demonstration then? He believed that there were multiple unmoved movers. Not just one.

            Of course not. A BPA by definition is purely actual and contains no potency. It cannot not be. Neither is an armadillo in potency to be a giraffe. Perhaps you could mentally substitute for "actual" and "potential" the terms "real" and "really possible." I'm not sure they are equivalent, but at least they short-circuit the nutty notion that potency means that anything can be anything else.

            That was the point of my examples. It is not possible for me to fly faster than the speed of light. Therefore, I do have the potency to fly faster than light speed. BPAs could lack something and not have potency to it.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            It is not possible for me to fly faster than the speed of light.
            Therefore, I do have the potency to fly faster than light speed.

            Not that I can see, unless the physics is mistaken. A red rubber ball is potentially blue. (You could paint it. Sunlight acting on the pigment might change its color. Etc.) But it is not potentially an armadillo. IOW, a potentiality of X is not "anything X currently lacks."

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I meant to say do not have the potency.
            That is why I don't think noting that A does not have X means that A is in potency to X.

          • Michael Murray

            I'll see your wiki page on the Pauli Exclusion Principle and raise you a wiki page on Indistinguishable particles ...

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

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            It has always been known that inanimate forms are not individuating forms. The issue is not whether they "look the same," but whether they are distinct. Two particles, no matter how indistinguishable they may otherwise be cannot occupy the same quantum space. Tweedledum is over here, and Tweedledee is over there.

          • Michael Murray

            But what when they come together ? There it makes a difference that you can't tell them apart.

            Even if the particles have equivalent physical properties, there remains a second method for distinguishing between particles, which is to track the trajectory of each particle. As long as one can measure the position of each particle with infinite precision (even when the particles collide), then there would be no ambiguity about which particle is which.

            The problem with this approach is that it contradicts the principles of quantum mechanics. According to quantum theory, the particles do not possess definite positions during the periods between measurements. Instead, they are governed by wavefunctions that give the probability of finding a particle at each position. As time passes, the wavefunctions tend to spread out and overlap. Once this happens, it becomes impossible to determine, in a subsequent measurement, which of the particle positions correspond to those measured earlier. The particles are then said to be indistinguishable.

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

            If Tweedledum and Tweedledee are bosons then swapping them makes no change to their wave function and no change to the physics.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            There is an aspen grove named Pondo in which all the trees grow from the same root system. That raises the intriguing question of whether there is one aspen or many. The same is true of the great mushroom of Michigan: all of the mushrooms that stick above ground come from the same underground body.

            If there really is no way to tell two bosons apart, one intriguing possibility is that there are not two bosons at all; but only the Great Bose, of which these are parts sticking out into 3-space.

            Another possibility of course is that we are mistaking our interpretation of the formalism of a mathematical model from something physically real.

  • I acknowledge the validity of St. Thomas’ five ways of proving the existence of God. However, I reject as false the three arguments listed in this OP. The first is false because the proximate basis of ethics is the nature of man. Each of the other two is false because (1) the universe, as such, is not an object of human knowledge and (2) the universe, as such, is not a being, an entity.

  • Premise 2 is simply not established. We have no way of knowing if the physical (material), universe (cosmos) is necessary or not. If anyone things this was established in this article, please point it out to me.

  • "In the end, atheists should not brush off the question of why the
    universe exists instead of nothing at all with a simple, “Science will
    figure it out.”"

    I don't do this and I have never heard of anyone saying such a thing. If they did it would be unjustified speculation. The response to the question is "i don't know". I don't think theists do either, they just proclaim that matter cannot be necessary and say that there is something necessary and label this "god".

    Here is an excellent series discussing the Kalam. I would suggest, apologists deal with these arguments, rather than assuming our community dismisses them out of hand. The fifth installment deals with William Lane Craig's response to the first four.

    https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL6M9lJ0vrA7E17ejxJNyPxRM7Zki-nS6G

    Here is Sean Carrol for an even more elaborate discussion of the failure of notions of deity to explain the material universe.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ew_cNONhhKI

  • Doug Shaver

    But sometimes what applies to parts does apply to the whole. For example, if every piece of my Lego spaceship is red, then my whole Lego spaceship will be red. Likewise, if every part of the universe is contingent, then the whole universe must be contingent as well.

    So the problem with this objection is that the fallacy of composition is an informal fallacy.

    If the argument is invalid, then it is fallacious by definition, and any instance of an invalid form is an invalid argument. The form of this argument is: P is true of each component of the whole, therefore P is true of the whole. You noted an instance in which the premise was true but the conclusion was false. That makes this particular argument invalid by definition, and therefore the form is invalid.

    Your analogy with the Lego spaceship is just that: an analogy. And an argument by analogy is never valid.

  • Doug Shaver

    Whatever exists that does not have to exist requires an explanation.

    That doesn't look like a necessary truth to me. Even if it is contingently true, it does not follow that we are capable of explaining the existence of every contingent thing. You don't get anything just by requiring it.

    The explanation for the universe is, by definition, God.

    So, if the universe has no explanation, then God does not exist. Or, if the explanation is unknowable to human intelligence, then God is unknowable to human intelligence, in which case no human being can tell me anything about him. Those both work for me.

  • cminca

    "But, to borrow a phrase from Mark Twain..."

    Here's another phrase from Mark Twain---"Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool."

  • Sylvain Aubé

    I have always been bewildered by the contingency argument. I keep reading about it and I try to understand it, and it still doesn't make sense to me. I am a believing Catholic, so I am not a skeptic trying to find weaknesses in an argument I wish to fail, quite the contrary...

    Matt Fradd writes that "I can imagine the universe not existing, but I can’t meaningfully imagine a universe where 2 + 2 doesn’t equal 4. This shows that the former is contingent and requires an explanation, while the latter is necessary and does not require an explanation."

    I would rather stay "I can't meaningfully imagine existence apart from the universe" since all of my experience, in which my imagination is rooted, is impossible to dissociate from the universe. According to the contingency argument, that would prove that the universe is necessary, which doesn't prove anything at all.

    I can't meaningfully imagine nothingness, and I can't meaningfully imagine existence apart from the universe. What attribute of God makes Him intrinsically more necessary than the universe in this regard?

    • Nanchoz

      I've been reading feser's account of Aquinas's third way. The argument goes something like this. There are contingents things all around us that can go in and out of existence. Give them enough time (infinite time in the past) and at one point they would altogether not exist. But if something exist right now is because there must exist non-contingent realities , that is Necessary realities (we can say that the universe is one of them).
      Now a necessary reality must either have its necessity caused from another necessary reality or not.
      A series of caused necessary realities cannot go on to infinite.
      So there must exist a non caused necessary reality, a being, who necessary exists, whose essence is its existence, who is being itself. We call it god.

  • Gray

    God is not a Good Theory (Sean Carroll)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ew_cNONhhKI

    • Confer Feser's account of Carroll et al's responses as formulated regarding all the wrong questions. I linked to it in this thread.

    • Peter

      Carrol's main argument for God not being a good theory is that the universe is far more unnecessarily fine-tuned than it would have to be simply to produce us. We could have been produced with far less fine-tuning and so the claim that God created the universe to create us is false.

      However, if God's objective was to create a vast unfolding cosmos fertile for life, then the excessive fine-tuning would have been necessary. Observations are revealing a universe brimming with the building blocks of life and teeming with planets, and so it is likely that the cosmos enjoys widespread fertility.

      Carroll's main argument no longer stands because God remains a perfectly good theory for a vast universe which is appropriately fine-tuned for a widespread abundance of life.

      • George

        "However, if God's objective"

        Yeah, that's right, IF. How do you know that's the case? Do you assume it, or conclude it?

        • Peter

          Carroll is stating that God is not a good theory if his objective is only to create life on earth. I am replying that God is a good theory if his objective is to create life throughout the cosmos.

          How can Carroll assume or conclude that God's objective is only to create life on earth?

    • Carroll notes that the adjective in the title is necessary to properly identify his lecture. However, the correct adjective is not good, but scientific. The title should be, “God Is Not a Scientific Theory”. It would then be apparent that the arguments, which Carroll demolishes, are those of straw men. For example, he takes the concept of God as prime mover to refer to local motion, thereby placing it in the context of the science of physics to which the concept has no relevance.

  • Raymond

    "Whatever exists that does not have to exist requires an explanation."

    How do you determine whether something "has to exist"? From the scientific POV, we try to determine what function a particular thing or process has, but whether something is necessary or unnecessary is so abstract as to be incomprehensible.

    "But the mathematical truth 2 + 2 = 4, or the existence of God, are necessary truths."

    2 + 2 = 4 is not a "necessary truth". It's a logical abstraction. 2 + 2 = 4 is true by definition only. We establish the basics of mathematics as a basis for describing parts of our universe. How many Thing Xs do we have? Are there more of Thing X or Thing Y? How fast do I have to do to get to Albuquerque in time for breakfast? If X costs this much and I have that much money, do I have enough money to buy Thing X?

    And even if all your arguments were true, they would not prove the existence of the Judeo-Christian God. Only god in the abstract.

    • Mike

      It'd be a good start though no?

  • Raymond

    Oh, and, many (most?) atheists don't have any interest in convincing anyone about anything concerning atheism. We have our beliefs, you have yours, and that's nice. The only real concern atheists have about theists is that they want to govern or pass legislation based on their religious views, which is a threat to any groups - atheists or non-Christian religious - that is not in the majority. Which is why the current definition of "religious freedom" is exactly backwards.

  • Peter

    Historically, atheists used to think that space-time was eternal, with no beginning and no end, and regarded it and its attributes as a brute fact, rendering God unnecessary. However, now that space-time is discovered to have a beginning, atheists have had to look for some other brute fact in order to keep God out of the explanation.

    They believe they have found it in some timeless quantum foam from which our universe is alleged to have spontaneously sprung as a quantum fluctuation. The new brute fact is this timeless and spaceless quantum realm which exists below the planck scale where time and space have no meaning. It does not need an explanation for its existence because it has no beginning or end either in time or space. It just exists, never having begun to exist and never ceasing to.

    • Raymond

      While current scientific thinking suggests that space and time had a beginning, there is no evidence indicating what existed before the start of space and time. Could be Nothing, Could be Something.

      "Something can't be made from Nothing" is a scientific hypothesis that has not been adequately tested through experimentation.

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        You can't test Nothing, because it doesn't exist. Things that don't exist are not subject to the tools of physical science.

        • Raymond

          Spoken like a True Atheist.

          • William Davis

            Not really. If you look at the history of philosophy, Aristotle created a big stink because he thought (like the Hindus, the concept of the immortal soul also originated from Hinduism) that the universe was eternal. Aquinas redefined creation as sort of a ongoing sustaining of the universe. This agrees with my favorite philosophy of God (also Albert Einsteins) Spinoza's. Realize we are talking something quite unrelated to the Christian God at this point. I believe in the "God" of philosophy, but I still call myself an atheist because people assume I believe in the Christian God is I say I believe in God. The question is, what is the exact nature of the "necessary being". It could just be just the universe, but it could be a bit more as well. Such things are mostly conjecture, but this kind of conjecture is what lead to natural philosophy a.k.a science in the first place.

      • Peter

        If our universe nucleated out of quantum foam, is that quantum foam something or nothing? Since it would exist below the planck scale where time and space have no meaning, and are therefore effectively non-existent, it could be labelled as nothing.

        Nothing is the non-existence of space and time and quantum foam would fit that bill as well as satisfying the conditions of being a brute fact.

    • I think both camps accept that there is something that just exists, with no beginning and no end. I'd say it is some kind of material reality, theists insist that material reality must have been caused by some immaterial entity.

      I think we materialists and naturalists are in a stronger position, we actually observe directly material reality. We do not observe any immaterial reality, directly or indirectly.

      I would say theists simply state that matter must have a non material cause, and just label this cause God, then define God as a universe creator. One must do more than just assert this.

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        I think both camps accept that there is something that just exists,
        with no beginning and no end.

        Beginnings and ends aren't in it. Remember, Aquinas assumed the world was eternal in his arguments, including the one that concluded to a being whose essence what its existence. If you found a hammer in my freezer and you asked "What's a hammer doing in your freezer?" you would not likely regard it as a sufficient answer if I said, "We have always kept the hammer in the freezer."

        I'd say [necessary being] is some kind of material reality... [W]e materialists and naturalists are in a stronger position, we actually observe directly material reality.

        These two sentences jar. Have we ever actually observed directly any material being that was not contingent? If not, then the expectation that necessary being is material in being is just as unsupported by "observation" as the contrary.

        We do not observe any immaterial reality, directly or indirectly.

        And here we have just celebrated Pi Day.

        I would say theists simply state that matter must have a non material cause, and just label this cause God...

        Not only theists. Hawking and others have asserted that the universe was caused by the laws of physics, and these laws are immaterial.

        That the Being of Pure Act, the Primary Cause, the Necessary Being, etc. deserve to be called "God" is actually a consequence of a great many subsequent theorems. It's not an arbitrary assertion. For example, the immateriality for the BPA follows immediately from the fact that matter is the principle of potency and change: everything material is in constant change (of location, of quantity, of qualities, etc.) Apples ripen, planets revolve, lions chase gazelles, babies grow, etc. But the BPA contains no potencies and thus cannot "move" in the sense of actualizing a potential. Hence, it must be immaterial.

        • I am not saying material "beings" are not contingent. This is something you have inserted into my quotation. I dispute the assertion that all matter is more likely than not contingent.

          What you are labeling "immaterial", I call these abstract concepts and I see no reason to accept that they actually exist in any real sense. Certainly the concepts exist in thoughts, which are material events, they also exist in statements of various material manifestation which also exist. They refer to actual events in material reality. But I see no reason to conclude that they are evidence for something that exists that is non-material, much less that could bring matter into existence.

          I accept that matter exists and changes, I see no reason to accept that this means that there is a non-material being upon which all this is contingent.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I am not saying material "beings" are not contingent. This is something you have inserted into my quotation.

            You said that you believed that necessary being was material, not immaterial. But a necessary being postulated as material must in particular be a material being. If it does not have being, it would not be and hence could not be a source of anything, let alone the existence of another.

            I dispute the assertion that all matter is more likely than not contingent.

            Excellent. Falsify the premise by providing a counterexample: a material being that cannot not exist. Because if we abstract from empirical experience, all matter is contingent.

            What you are labeling "immaterial", I call these abstract concepts

            Yes. And so? Do you contend that abstracted beings are material? (Do you realize that abstract is a very strong verb?)

            I see no reason to accept that they actually exist in any real sense.

            IOW, you are defining "exist" to mean "exist materially." But this is begging the question. Besides, do you contend that pi does not exist in a "real" sense? It's a real number! Also, it really gets used all the time in science. How many things are we to throw under the bus in order to avoid an unpalatable conclusion?

            concepts exist in thoughts, which are material events

            Again, begging the question. You are assuming that thoughts are something material (presumably the currently popular neural firings. Unless you suppose that thoughts are made of cupcakes or Legos.) Besides, a neural pattern is not a material thing. The neuron is, but not the pattern, which is an arrangement of neurons (i.e. form rather than matter). If you place three pecans on the table, they do not become four things: pecans A, B, and C and the triangular pattern that they form.

            However, the neural firings may just as easily be the consequence of a thought, and not the thought itself. And different neurons fire when the same thought is thunk, even by the same person. Your claim that thoughts are material means that no two people can ever think the same thought -- such as "2+2=4" or "Schnee ist weiß" -- because the matter of which they are supposedly composed cannot be the same for both. These neurons in Adam can no more be the same thought as those neurons in Betsy than this bit of matter called Fido can be the same dog as that bit of matter called Rover.

            they also exist in statements of various material manifestation which also exist.

            The term is "material instantiations." And of course they also exist. Fido is an instance of "dog" and Rover is an instance of "dog." But while you can show me this dog and that dog and the other dog, you cannot show me "dog." If the only recourse is to deny that dog has "real" existence, then it becomes difficult to figure why Fido and Rover abstract to the same universal. There must be something in Fido and Rover in virtue of which we call them both dogs.

            I accept that matter exists and changes

            Sometimes there is no option but to accept the obvious.

            I see no reason to accept that this means that there is a non-material being upon which all this is contingent.

            IOW, you claim that there is ultimately no explanation for the existence of anything.

            A contingent being gets its existence from something else. It cannot get it from itself because if it is contingent then at some point it does not exist, and if it does not exist it cannot give itself existence. Now the thing that gives it existence is either material or immaterial. If it is material, then it is itself contingent and the answer has not yet been reached. If this proceeds to infinity then there is no explanation. Therefore, reason must be grounded in something immaterial. Hawking and Krauss and others have suggested that this is the law of gravity or quantum mechanics. (They are unclear on whether one, the other, or both.) But you say that abstractions don't have "real" existence, so you are stuck.

          • The introduction of this concept of being is yours, not mine. I don't know what you mean by it.

            I don't have to falsify someone else's premise. I'm not saying it is wrong, I'm saying we don't know if it is correct any more than other alternatives. I think it is more likely that material in some manifestation has always existed, but I'm not convinced of that either.

            I accept that statements and thoughts about pi exist and that they refer to realities, buy not that pi has some immaterial independant.existence.

            I understand that you find materialism absurd. I don't find immaterialism absurd I just don't agree with it.

            But basically, yes, what I mean by "exist" is some kind of real manifestation, something observable directly or indirectly. I don't find that your theistic position resolves the problem of ultimate explanations, it proposes that there must be one that doesn't need an explanation and that this thing is unobservable and unfalsifiable. It may be the case, but we just can't place probabilities on it.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The introduction of this concept of being is yours, not mine. I don't know what you mean by it.

            A "being" is something that possesses the quality of existence. "To be." It is the Saxon equivalent of the Latin-derived "existant" or "entity."

            I don't have to falsify someone else's premise.

            Well, Popper and all that. You said, "I dispute the assertion that all matter is more likely than not contingent." I simply welcome your providing rational grounds for the disputation. The simplest way to support your contention is to provide an example of non-contingent material being.

            I accept that statements and thoughts about pi exist and that they refer
            to realities, buy not that pi has some immaterial
            independant.existence.

            a) pi cannot have material existence because any ratio of actually measured circumference to actually measured diameter of any material round object will -- by definition! -- be rational. Thus, pi cannot be established by the natural sciences through measured data.
            b) pi cannot be dependent because the same value can be attained by independent minds considering the ideal bodies of mathematics -- and has been in a variety of different cultures. It therefore has being independent of the minds that consider it.

            what I mean by "exist" is some kind of real [sic] manifestation, something observable directly or indirectly.

            a) IOW, you stack the deck by first deciding as a matter of faith that "real" means "material."
            b) It is not clear what you might mean by "indirectly" observing something. Do you mean an inference from an observation?

          • You keep moving on to other issues. The claim above is that the universe does not have to exist. I do not see any reason to accept this. And you haven't provided one.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The claim above is that the universe does not have to exist. I do not see any reason to accept this.

            a) It is a mistake to confuse "does not have to exist" with "contingent being." A contingent being is one whose be-ing is contingent upon some generator other than itself. A necessary being is one that accounts entirely for itself.

            b) The universe is a set. It consists of all the things that exist, such as Sally the dinosaur, Tom the trilobite, the planet Mars, the star τ-Ceti, etc. If you take any of these and follow back their timelines you will come to a time when they do not exist. Something that does not exist cannot be the generator of its own existence, hence is contingent. (The dinosaur, for example, was brought into being by her parents; the star by a combination of gravity, fusion, and radiation pressure acting on those hydrogen gas molecules.) From basic set theory, any set of contingent items is itself contingent. That is, if each element in a set could have not been, then it is possible that all the elements in the set could not have been -- and were the "universe" eternal, a dead certainty via probability theory. E.g., in a universe of two contingent beings, A and B, the possible states are yes-yes, yes-no, no-yes, and no-no. The fourth state means the universe does not exist. Notice, that this contingency of the set holds even if it does not happen historically.

          • Garbanzo Bean

            If the only recourse is to deny that dog has "real" existence, then it becomes difficult to figure why Fido and Rover abstract to the same universal. There must be something in Fido and Rover in virtue of which we call them both dogs.

            Yay, the Problem of Universals! This, and the study of mathematics, is what led me to realize that the human intellect does things which no purely material thing could do.

        • All well said, which is why Peirce labeled his argument the neglected argument for the reality of God rather than existence of God, which, in my view, tracks with the Thomist intuition that self-subsisting existence refers --- not to any thing. ;-)

      • Peter

        I would disagree that quantum foam represents a material reality because it exists below the planck scale where time and space have no meaning. Since space has no meaning nor does the concept of anything material which would occupy it.

        In that respect, quantum foam, being timeless and spaceless, could be viewed as immaterial. If so, the theists are not wrong in principle when claiming that the universe springs from a non-material source.

    • Hipshot

      atheists have had to look for some other brute fact in order to keep God out of the explanation

      I don't think I have to "keep God out of the explanation" because the God of these proofs is an essentially abstract entity, having no personal involvement with human history in general or me in particular.

      Replace all the mentions of "God" in the article with "the triune God of Christianity" and it's easy to see that the proofs utterly fail to demonstrate that God.

      • Peter

        Atheism is the absence of belief in all Gods, including deistic ones.
        If atheists do not lack belief in a deistic God they are not atheists but deists.

  • William Davis

    Premise 1: Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

    Premise 2: The universe began to exist.

    Conclusion: Therefore, the universe has a cause.

    We are not at all sure the universe had a beginning. The Big Bang is very possibly part of a cycle, not a "creation event". There are pros and cons to this view, like all views, but people forget how speculative cosmology is.

    Modern cosmology was basically invented by Albert Einstein and his theories of relativity (obviously cosmology existed before then, but it is not what we think of today). He seemed to be uncertain as the rest of us about the implications of his theories in some cases. Originally, he thought for sure the universe was static (like everyone else) and introduced a cosmological constant to his theory to force it to be static. He later called this the "greatest blunder of his career". After it became certain the universe was expanding thanks to the Hubble effect, conversations about the meaning of the expansion started taking place. This has all taken place in the last century, so the field is incredibly new. For reference, here is the cyclical model:

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

    The concept of cyclical and eternal time lies at the heart of the oldest religion (nearly 7000 years old), Hinduism. Sometimes I wonder how much our culture plays into our interpretations of scientific phenomena, back to biasing again ;)

    Einstein himself believed in Spinoza's God. This God is incredibly different from the Christian God and basically (this is an oversimplification) amounts to God being the single substance of the universe. We've found that not only space-time have properties of a substance (space can curve, time can dilate) but even a vacuum has matter and anti-matter coming in and out of existence due to the universal presence of the quantum foam. In a nutshell, we have yet to find anything in the universe that correlates with "nothing", not even empty space. Perhaps nothing is an abstract concept we invented. This would make the question "why is there something rather than nothing" a absurd question, perhaps nothing is an impossible, and something is inherently necessary. In Spinoza and Einstein's view, EVERYTHING is God, and the universe is a manifestation of God himself. Call this pantheism if you wish, but it is a very valid position to hold.

    I tend to call myself and atheist because "God" carries man-like properties in its meaning. I do not believe in a man-like God, but I'm finding many Catholics do not either. I do have one question though, how far away can we get from traditional Christianity and still call ourselves Christian. If our understanding of God evolves so far, where does it disconnect itself from older views of God?

    For more reference and proofs of Spinoza's God (they are elegantly simple, I tend to go for Occam's razor when I can) follow this link:
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/spinoza/

    Note that Spinoza helped develop the principle of sufficient reason that this article is really based on :)

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      We are not at all sure the universe had a beginning.

      That's why Aquinas rejected the Kalam argument. Granted, at this point, the evidence points to a beginning; but then in the early 1600s, the evidence pointed to a stationary earth. However, anything before the Big Bang is pretty much inaccessible to natural science, so any hypotheses in that line are essentially philosophical, not scientific.

      The Big Bang is very possibly part of a cycle, not a "creation event".

      The cyclic universe was rejected a long while back due to entropy effects: successive cycles would be necessarily less energetic. But that it was not a "creation event" was affirmed by no less than its formulator: Fr. Georges Lemaitre. He pointed out that the beginning of a space-time manifold was not the same thing as creation. Even so, the atheist physicist Fred Hoyle was driven to push his "steady state" model and other atheists have been led to reject the Big Bang precisely because they confuse it with a "moment of creation."

      Besides, "creation" is not an "event." As Aquinas pointed out, even an eternal universe would be a created one.

      • William Davis

        The cyclic universe was rejected a long while back due to entropy effects

        Sure, the original cyclical model was rejected, but there are newer ones that offer a great deal of promise. The one I quoted was from 2007. I haven't studied them enough to determine how valid they are, but they seem solve some problems that exist in current cosmology. Another is from 2001 It will likely be a back and forth for a while. Here is a direct link

        http://www.unc.edu/news/archives/jan07/newmodel012907.html

        Besides, "creation" is not an "event." As Aquinas pointed out, even an eternal universe would be a created one.

        Is there a specific type of creation you are referring to? I have a hard time with the concept of something eternal being created, but I've never read Aquinas.

        After doing a little research it looks like this was a dispute between traditional creationism and the Aristotle view of an eternal universe.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Is there a specific type of creation you are referring to?

          No, just the traditional understanding: Creation is the joining of an essence to an act of existence. It is not something that happens in time, because time itself is just another created thing and not the eternal god Chronos. "In the beginning" must be understood in that context: that time itself had a beginning.

          Time is the measure of change in material being. If there is no being, there is no time (as both St. Augustine and Einstein pointed out). Hence, creation is something happens all the time, "at every instant." Hence, the phrase creatio continuo.

          Creation is distinguished from transformation, by which some existing matter is changed from one form to another; for example, from one kind of species to another; from sodium and chlorine to salt; or from a quantum state to a space-time manifold.

          I have a hard time with the concept of something eternal being created

          Only if you think of it as a "kick off." (Which typically involves imagining an empty expanse and then a sudden flash of light. But then that "empty expanse" was already there and the flash could not have been a moment of creation.

          but I've never read Aquinas.

          Try this: "On the eternity of the world" http://dhspriory.org/thomas/DeEternitateMundi.htm

          After doing a little research it looks like this was a dispute between traditional creationism and...

          I hesitate to ask, but by "traditional" creationism do you mean the creationism of modern Protestant fundamentalists. This was not the understanding of the traditional churches: the Eastern Orthodox and the Western Catholic. However, we will stipulate that people who lack the skills, time, or interest to study these things may get on quite well with a simpler understanding.

        • Gray

          Something that you and YOS may find interesting.

          Hawking said the discovery of gravitational waves, announced on Monday by researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, disproves Turok's theory that the universe cycles endlessly from one big bang to another.
          http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/stephen-hawking/10704797/Stephen-Hawking-claims-victory-in-Big-Bang-bet.html

          • William Davis

            You're right, the cyclical models have had a hard time. I think the current consensus is more likely to be true, but I can still root for my favorite until cosmology stabilizes more.

      • William Davis

        "Many theologians and philosophers find considerable significance in a distinction between an original act of creation and God's continuing causal agency. But for Aquinas, there is really no difference between creation and what is called conservation; conservation is simply the continuation of creation. In Book I of his Writings on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, Aquinas remarks that the relation of a house to its builder is very different from the relation of a creature to the Creator. Once the coming-to-be of the house is complete, the house ceases to have any relation of dependence upon its builder; the builder could die, and the house would continue to stand. But the case is quite otherwise with the creature qua creature. The Creator's causality must be continual, and of the same kind, all throughout the creature's existence. All things would fall into non-being, Aquinas says, unless God's omnipotence supported them. "Whence, it is necessary that His [God's] operation, by which He gives being, not be broken off, but be continual."(40) In De potentia Dei, Aquinas notes that the operation by which God creates and conserves is the same."

        http://www3.nd.edu/Departments/Maritain/ti/carroll.htm

        If this is correct, then Spinoza and Aquinas are on a very similar page. I suppose it comes down to whether the universe is of the same substance as God, or a separate substance. I don't know how we could tell the difference. I know Spinoza proposed there was more to God than just the universe, though I need to do more reading on the topic. I am quite amenable to philosophical theism compared theism from divine revelation from an eye witness. When it comes to this kind of discussion, I am no longer an atheist, but wonder how much we can really know about the nature of the "necessary being".

  • Loreen Lee

    This just came in from my feed to 'Just Thomism', in case anyone is interested in the creation story, vs. the inflation of the universe, from the 'scholastic tradition'!! https://thomism.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/visualizing-creation/ Edit - Had to correct the link.

  • Consider the following rebuttal to Kalam:

    "P1: All material things have material causes.

    P2: The universe is a material thing.

    C: Therefore, the universe has a material cause."

    P1 is observed constantly, (immaterial causation is never observed)
    P2 is pretty uncontroversial...

    Thanks to "Counter Apologist" who also sets out a much more developed scientific argument.

    http://counterapologist.blogspot.ca/2015/02/evidence-that-universe-has-always.html

    • I've never seen that before. That's great!

    • Nanchoz

      C: Universe has a material cause
      That cause should be a material thing
      And that should have a material cause also
      and then on again to infinite.
      The point is that there must be an uncaused reality. So p1 must be wrong
      That is why Aquinas would say that every material thing has 4 causes : material, formal, final and effective.

      • Bob

        I think you mean Aristotle.

        If Aquinas said that - he would have ruled out his immaterial god as a cause by definition. GJ!

        • Nanchoz

          You are right an Aristotelian thought to which Aquinas was fully committed.

          What they have in mind when they talk about the 4 causes is correlated with the doctrine of hylomorphism. Every existing material thing is a composite of form and matter.
          Form and matter in this context are not material independently existing things but aspects of reality.

          Now What we have in mind when we think of cause is what they would refer as effective cause, that is who or what made some determinate thing. Aquinas points out that every caused thing has an effective cause but if something exist right now there must be at the bottom level an actual non caused reality.

          • Bob

            So this non caused reality is then (at least) material (the initial material cause), or you are left with an obvious case of special pleading.

          • Nanchoz

            The 4 causes are just fundamental aspects of what we perceive in reality.
            In combination this causes provide complete explanation of a thing.

            What you and I mean when we talk about "cause" is what Aquinas calls "effective cause".

            Final cause focuses on What a being does , what it is for
            Formal cause refers to the essence of a being. What the being is. It's essence
            effective cause. What caused the being to exist. In case it begun to exist
            Material cause refers to the substance a certain being is made of. In case it is actually a material thing.

            The proof from causality or second way goes something like this (as I understand it from reading chapter 2 of Ed fesser's Aquinas) , experience tells us that nothing can be the cause of itself for if it were it would be prior to itself which is absurd.
            Every thing that begin to exist must have a cause that already exists. And If this cause is also a contingent being, It also should have a cause.
            Now in a series of effective causes there must exist a first cause because the series cannot go on to infinite.
            Nothing can exist here and now without a first cause acting at the beginning of the series.
            This first cause we call god

            This way is intended to show the existence of god trough the necessity of a first cause.
            You can argue that material stuff is the first cause (and it would be a poor candidate to call it god).
            But Aquinas won't agree.
            He can concede you that material reality can be eternal but even if it was it would also require a cause to exist after all. "Aquinas himself insists that while individual material things are generated an corrupted, matter and form themselves are not susceptible of generation and corruption." But matter considered apart from its form is just prime matter or pure potentiality and pure potentiality cannot account as an existent reality ( until it is actualized by act=form).

      • I don't agree that material cannot have always existed. I don't think proposing a non-material efficient cause answers our intuitive concerns with past eternal.

        • Nanchoz

          Could a material universe be that uncaused reality.
          Please check Aquinas first way, the proof from motion

          • I don't agree with Aquinas. There is no evidence for anything other than a material reality. The fact that things move is not evidence that there exists something immaterial that pushed or pushes them. We do observe things that appear to cause movement and these are always material.

    • Peter

      Counter Apologist article is about the universe having always

      • Except, as I understand it time stops making sense in the early universe, "while" matter still exists. I understand that this literally means that there is no time in which the universe did not exist.

        But you seem to have a better understanding of physics than me, I just don't have the education to argue the physics.

        • Peter

          Below the planck scale neither time nor space make sense, and therefore nor would matter. There would exist a timeless and spaceless realm independent of the space-time of our universe, which would be immaterial. Being timeless, spaceless and immaterial, this realm could be regarded as the eternal nothingness from which the space-time of our universe emerges.

          • But isn't everything material made up of things that can be divided down to the plank scale? It isn't like the Plank scale is not in this universe. So then wouldn't all material also be ultimately timeless, spaceless and immaterial?

            Or, perhaps time and space not making sense at the Plank scale does not mean no matter or energy, it just means natural laws break down.

            I know for a fact that current cosmologists and physicists do not hold with Catholic beliefs that the universe emerged our of nothing or was created by a God. They do not accept anything immaterial exists. These are theological and metaphysical ideas and not scientific ones.

          • Michael Murray

            There seems to be a rather vast disconnect between Peter's claim that the reality above the Planck scale is "independent" of reality below the Planck scale and that it also "emerges" from it. Still what's a contradiction or two when Gods on your side.

          • Peter

            Please reread what I wrote. It wrote the reverse of what you've said. You have grasped the wrong end of the stick.

            I did not say that the reality above the planck scale is independent of the reality below it, but that the reality below the planck scale is independent of the reality above it. Hence there is no contradiction for the reality above the planck scale to be dependent on the reality below it.

          • Michael Murray

            OK so I think of independence as a symmetric relation but you want it to only go in one direction. That makes more sense then.

          • Peter

            What is nothing is the absence of space and time. Just as atheism is the absence of belief, nothing is the absence of space-time. Space-time appeared from where there was no space-time. The something of space-time appeared from the nothing of no space-time.

            Cosmologists theorise that the space-time of our universe spontaneously nucleated from a timeless and spaceless sub-plank background as a quantum fluctuation. Matter is synonymous with space-time. It cannot stand apart from space-time. Therefore where there is no space-time there is no matter, hence below the planck scale there is no matter.

            It is an eternal timeless spaceless immaterial realm out of which space-time emerges which St Augustine predicted 1600 years ago.

  • David Nickol

    Speaking just for myself as somewhere between a believer and an agnostic, I find philosophical "proofs" for the existence of God (such as in the OP) have far less power to nudge me toward the believer position than simple observations about the complexity of "creation." I'm currently reading Junk DNA: A Journey Through the Dark Matter of the Genome and marveling at the extraordinary complexity of the goings on in a single human cell. Could something like this "just happen"? Doesn't there have to be an intelligence behind it? If someone tried this argument on me, I'd tell them to read a book or two like The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design. I frankly scoff at Intelligent Design theory, and I am a firm believer in (neo)Darwinian evolution. But I think the debate over evolution at least gives everyone something to sink their teeth into. I would really not know how to have a substantive debate over the statement, "Whatever exists that does not have to exist requires an explanation." I am not sure that such a debate would be about anything more than words.

    • William Davis

      To me, there seems to be "intelligence" in the very rules of the universe that brings these things into being. But what kind of intelligence is it and from whence does it come? If I design something, it is for a specific purpose or goal. If this universe is designed by a "designer" it seems he/she doesn't want anything in particular, but wants to find what is possible given the set of rules we call natural laws. It is possible that the universe is infinite (the farther we look the more there is). Perhaps within the universe, everything exists that is possible. At this point my ability to imagine what this means starts to break down. My problem is that after observing so much strange complexity, chaos, and order in the universe, most religions seem completely unrelated to who or whatever could have designed this place in which we live.
      It is entirely possible that the universe is the only way it could be, the way it had to be. My belief in determinism come from my training in engineering, but isn't God the ultimate engineer? If God is the ultimate engineer, I'm sure he could predict what appears to be unpredictable to us because he understands the causation at work. This is my core problem with "free will". Sure it appears to exist to us (but I can predict the behavior of my wife quite well), but God should be able to see right through it. If God comprehends the entire universe at once, surely a single human mind is a piece of cake.

    • Gray

      Speaking just for myself as somewhere between a believer and an agnostic

      In other words you are an agnostic. Just say it. Why muddy the waters?

      I think that there are reasonable persons, agnostics and atheists who would like to believe, and who are willing to bend over a bit for the sake of open mindedness. I am not here simply speaking of those that are willing to believe that the concept of the existence of god is possible....I think that all agnostics and atheists allow that. I am speaking of those non theists, who who actually think "I want to believe", and should admit it in all honesty, in these discussions so that we can actually understand where they are coming from a bit better.

      A conversation from the X-Files:

      Father Joe: So you believe in these kind of things?

      Fox Mulder: Let's just say that I want to believe.

      I think that there are some in this venue who are actually closet
      wannabe believers but for reasons of intellectual credence, have trouble admitting to it. PBR and DN come to mind....No offence intended guys. I know that I will probably be chastised for stating this....but just thinking out loud ok?

      • William Davis

        If David says he's between a believer and an agnostic, that's what he is. Perhaps some days he believes, perhaps some days he doesn't. Perhaps it can change from one moment to the next. Ever heard of the false dichotomy logical fallacy? You just committed it. Belief is a continuum, not an on/off switch.

        • Gray

          It seems that you too Like Fox Mulder says: I want to believe......nothing wrong with that of course and also nothing wrong with anyone admitting that.

          I would like there to be a benevolent creator god, but I am not anywhere close to waffling along in any sort of continuum between belief one moment and unbelief the next. I am a flat out agnostic/atheist with no illusions pertaining to theistic beliefs and that is most probably the state in which I will continue until presented with enough compelling evidence to change my mind.

          • William Davis

            Theology is an interesting pass time and has a large connection with history. Some of us like to imagine things about the universe and read into the gaps. The God of the gaps is harmless as long as you don't forget your imagination is doing the work. If God exists he is not benevolent or evil, he is fair. I don't thinks he breaks his rules for anyone (it would be unfair). Perhaps the laws that shape the universe ARE God. If you read about Spinoza, you begin to deduce he was basically 17th century atheist (for all intents and purposes), he rejected everything but reason. This puts him in the strong rationalist category. Consider the fact that Spinoza was probably the very first secularist.

            It seems that you too Like Fox Mulder says: I want to believe......nothing wrong with that of course and also nothing wrong with anyone admitting that.

            I always liked X-files. If you familiarize yourself with Spinozism, I think you'll find this probably isn't a God anyone "wants" believe in. It is basically a possible explanation for reality. Sure imagination plays a large part, but think about this quote from the world's most famous Spinozist:

            “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions.” - Albert Einstein

  • Luke Cooper

    In my new book, 20 Answers: Atheism, I present three arguments for the existence of God. One is the moral argument, which shows that if God does not exist then objective moral facts such as “It is wrong to torture babies for fun” cannot exist. But since objective moral facts do exist—i. e., some things are wrong independent of human opinion—then an objective moral lawgiver (i.e., God) must exist.

    To whomever approved this shameless book plug, why was this cheap potshot at atheists deemed acceptable on a website created to engage us in conversation? How would you feel if I created a website for "serious and respectful dialogue" between Catholics and atheists, only to lead off with a plug of my recent book in which I discuss, among other things, the well-orchestrated cover-up of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests? Hardly a welcoming message to Catholics, is it? Yet atheists are supposed to overlook the fact that we're strawmanned as being unable to justify not torturing babies for fun? Morality isn't even part of the author's main argument. So I ask again, Why was this irrelevant cheap shot of a paragraph deemed acceptable for publication on Strange Notions?

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Regarding the assertion that moral principles cannot be derived from atheism, we could ask some well-known atheists.

      "For liberal ironists, there is no answer to the question 'Why not be
      cruel?' -- no non-cicular theoretical backup for the belief that cruelty
      is horrible. ... Anyone who thinks that there are well grounded
      theoretical answers to this sort of question -- algorithms for resolving
      moral dilemmas of this sort -- is still, in his heart, a theologian or
      metaphysician. He believes in an order beyond time and change which
      both determines the point of human existence and establishes a
      hierarchy of repsonisbilities."
      -- Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity

      "There disappears with God all possibility of finding values in an
      intelligible heaven. There can no longer be any good a priori, since
      there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. It is
      nowhere written that 'the good' exists, that one must be honest or not
      lie, since we are now upon the plane where there are only men."
      -- Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialism is a Humanism

      "When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to
      Christian morality out from under one's feet. This morality is by no
      means self-evident: this point has to be exhibited again and again,
      despite the English flatheads. Christianity is a system, a whole view
      of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it,
      the faith in God, one breaks the whole: nothing necessary remains in
      one's hands."
      -- Friedrich Nietzsche, The Twilight of the Idols

      Also Alex Rosenberg, in The Disenchanted Naturalists Guide to Reality, asserts that naturalism denies the existence of objective moral value, of beliefs and desires, of the self, of linguistic meaning, and indeed of meaning or purpose of any sort. All attempts to evade this conclusion, to reconcile naturalism with our common sense understanding of human life, inevitably fail, and we just have to learn to live with that. A belief in meanings and purposes is what puts us on a “slippery slope” to religion.

      Also Stanley Fish, here: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/22/are-there-secular-reasons/?_r=0

      On the contrary, we have a Christian saying this:

      "There is no partiality with God. All who sin outside the law will also perish without reference to it, and all who sin under the law will be judged in accordance with it. For it is not those who hear the law who are just in the sight of God; rather, those who observe the law will be justified. For when the Gentiles who do not have the law by nature observe the prescriptions of the law, they are a law unto themselves... They show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge people's hidden works through Christ Jesus."
      -- St. Paul, Romans 2:11-16,

      • Luke Cooper

        Nothing logically follows from atheism other than a lack of belief in God/gods. Anything else is possible. I do not derive my morality from atheism, so I couldn't care less what other people who were also atheists thought about morality.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Whatever floats your boat. There have been atheists who have given the matter a great deal of thought, but carelessness is also an option.

          • Luke Cooper

            Good thing I'm not careless when it comes to morality, then!

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            You wrote that you couldn't care less. :-)

          • Luke Cooper

            I don't care what an atheist has to say about morality for the sole reason that she's an atheist. For the same reason, I don't care what a statistician says about morality for the sole reason that she's a statistician. I use criteria other than whether or not someone is an atheist to care about what she says about morality.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Not because he is an atheist -- all the thinkers cited were male men, so the use of "she" is a bit too precious -- but because he has given the matter considerable thought. Nietzsche deserves to be answered not because he was an atheist, but because he was Nietzsche.

          • Luke Cooper

            I guess I just like being precious :)

          • Doug Shaver

            You seem to be attracted to arguments from authority. I'm not.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            It depends on the authority. After all, what are the footnotes and references in a scientific paper but appeals to their authority? If R. Dawkins were to take a position in biology, I would take it seriously. If he took one in theology, I would not, because expertise in one field does not necessarily transfer to another.

            Similarly, I think Nietzsche is full of hooey on a great many topics, so an argument is not true because Nietzsche said it. OTOH, he was before his madness a top intellect and so his arguments needed to be taken seriously. Most Nietzscheans today don't even know they are, let alone have delved into the matter seriously. They adopt the poses of philosophical egoism without much thought.

          • Doug Shaver

            After all, what are the footnotes and references in a scientific paper but appeals to their authority?

            I've been through college twice. No professor, in any class I took where research papers had to be done, ever told me that a footnote was intended to say, "This assertion must be true because this authority said it." Its sole purpose, I was invariably assured, was to avoid the pretense that the idea in question was my own.

            Granted, in many instances a citation was also meant to answer the question, Why should the reader believe this? And yes, the student is expected to be learning how to distinguish reliable from unreliable authorities. But one thing I have learned, not so much in college as from a ton of reading outside the classroom, is the difference between unreliable authority and infallible authority. The latter does not exist, most especially in philosophy, which was my second major.

          • Doug Shaver

            "Many atheists believe X" does not mean "X follows from atheism."

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            True. One need take seriously only those who have given the matter great thought. "Cafeteria atheists" are like "cafeteria believers" in this respect. As to what atheism entails, one might study Nietzsche or Rorty more closely than, say, a random commbox denizen. And the same is true on the other side.

          • Doug Shaver

            "Cafeteria atheists" are like "cafeteria believers" in this respect.

            But there is nothing on the atheist menu.

            As to what atheism entails, one might study Nietzsche or Rorty more closely than, say, a random commbox denizen.

            A null proposition cannot entail anything. I don't need to read anything to figure that out.

        • Mike

          But lots flows logically from denying the existence of ANY god/gods of any "being" either "below" or "above" us.

          • Luke Cooper

            No, nothing logically follows from atheism other than the lack of belief in God/gods. Just because the source of your morality is your God does not mean that the source of my morality is my lack of belief in your God.

            And this has to be at least the third time I've corrected your false claim that an atheist denies the existence of God/gods; an atheist lacks the belief in God/gods.

          • Mike

            Ok so you don't believe in God but you don't deny he exists...doesn't that make you an unbeliever not an atheist? or at least an agnostic? Don't take this the wrong way but maybe your personal brand of atheism is some boutique brand that is really well without substance as it doesn't actually "do" anything.

            PS why if you just don't believe why do you come in SN and try to refute the arguments that theists make in support of God? I don't believe in brahma and so i've never not once gone on their websites to "straighten" out their beliefs - what makes you want to "straighten" us christians out? why the urge to prove we're wrong?

          • Luke Cooper

            Regarding your first paragraph, we've already had this discussion. See my replies to you here: https://disqus.com/home/discussion/strangenotions/do_christians_believe_in_talking_snakes/#comment-1894599366 and here: https://disqus.com/home/discussion/strangenotions/do_christians_believe_in_talking_snakes/#comment-1894151477

            Regarding your second paragraph, I initially came to SN because I was unfamiliar with Catholic apologetics and I wanted to see if I was missing something; if God exists, I really want to know. I stick around SN because I'm still learning a lot from these discussions, because I want to correct what I think are misrepresentations of atheism, and because I worry about the political influence that many Christian teachings have on societies around the world. I'm not here to convince others that God doesn't exist.

          • Mike

            ok cool, well i would suggest that you and atheism in general focus more on what you are "for" rather than what it is against - i think the A in atheist is too strong now and it makes ppl cringe. Atheism should focus on itself i guess more than on what other folks are doing. As for "political influence" well geez i worry about the exact opposite that the west is becoming decadent and won't survive long if it sheds it western christian roots! weird eh?

            Atheism will only grow if it can offer ppl the masses a plausible and most importantly hopeful vision for this life and the here after - if i was an atheist i'd be working on a theory of an afterlife that is entirely based on naturalism!

          • Doug Shaver

            Atheism will only grow if it can offer ppl the masses a plausible and most importantly hopeful vision for this life and the here after

            Atheism can't do that.

            But we all believe in something -- lots of things, actually. For atheists, those things don't include God, but some of us think that, based on things we do believe in, we can offer a hopeful vision for this life.

            - if i was an atheist i'd be working on a theory of an afterlife that is entirely based on naturalism!

            As far as we can tell so far, naturalism cannot support any such theory. And it's not like no naturalist has ever tried. The best attempt that I'm aware of was Frank Tipler's The Physics of Immortality.

          • Mike

            I understand that in its current forms atheism is in some ways committed the no-after lives thesis but i guess in principle there is nothing that demands that atheism deny an afterlife - especially the "liberal" atheism of ppl like luke cooper which only seems to say there are not higher level agents aka gods but everything else is open.

            From a strictly human psychological perspective saying to ppl no god so you can forget about it does the worldview no favors.

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't think anyone can choose a worldview the way they choose whether to drink beer or whisky, but let's suppose they can. It seems to me it would make more sense to choose a worldview that shows some likelihood of revealing reality as it is than one that promises only to make you feel good.

          • Mike

            why? feeling good is a good thing for human beings; it's healthy and right for us to feel good about our worldview about our destiny...maybe that's it atheism seems to say there is no destiny no voyage to look forward to and that leaves it feeling like it's a very negative worldview.

          • Doug Shaver

            I wasted what could have been the best years of my life getting drunk every night, and for no better reason than that drinking made me feel good.

          • Michael Murray

            I do love the criticism of atheists coming to a site specifically set up to encourage dialogue with atheists ...

      • Doug Shaver

        Regarding the assertion that moral principles cannot be derived from atheism, we could ask some well-known atheists.

        We could ask them if the question were relevant, but it isn't. It is theists who assert that moral principles cannot be derived from anything at all unless they are derived from theism. No one is either obliged or entitled to treat that proposition as if it were an ethical axiom.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Actually, it was Sartre, Rorty, Nietzsche, Fish, Rosenberg and others who have claimed that morals talk puts you on the slippery slope to theism. Whereas it was St. Paul who claimed the law was "written in the heart" even of those who did not hear the law.

          • Doug Shaver

            Actually, it was Sartre, Rorty, Nietzsche, Fish, Rosenberg and others who have claimed that morals talk puts you on the slippery slope to theism.

            I've read some Rorty but nothing by any of the others. I'm talking to theists all the time, and they keep telling me that if I don't believe in God, then I can't justify my morals. And if they must interpret Paul to make him say the same thing, they will.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            if I don't believe in God, then I can't justify my morals.

            Actually, it's the justify, not the morals. As Paul said, nothing prevents the gentile from acting morally.

            And if they must interpret Paul to make him say the same thing, they will.

            That goes against what Paul actually wrote. (Or should I ask "the same thing" as who?)

          • Doug Shaver

            Actually, it's the justify, not the morals.

            That is what I meant by deriving moral principles.

            As Paul said, nothing prevents the gentile from acting morally.

            The theists I'm talking about say exactly the same, and most of them will admit that some of us actually do act morally.

            And if they must interpret Paul to make him say the same thing, they will.

            That goes against what Paul actually wrote.

            And therefore what? You're saying they shouldn't do it. That doesn't mean they won't do it. Whatever any Christian sect teaches, some other sect will accuse it of going against what at least one biblical author wrote.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Whatever any Christian sect teaches, some other sect will accuse it of going against what at least one biblical author wrote.

            You literalist fundies are a hoot. The Orthodox and Catholic churches existed before the Bible was compiled. They compiled the Bible from their beliefs, not vice-versa.

            Whatever any quantum sect teaches, some other sect will accuse it of going against what at least one experiment showed. Think of the Afshar experiment, which transactionalists and Copenhageners both claim support their interpretation! Duhem once wrote of two physicists, one supporting the definition of pressure used by Laplace and the other supporting the definition used by Lagrange and Poincare. The self-same results of the self-same experiment would support a hypothesis for the one and refute it for the other. And if so for physics, how much more so for more complex systems?

          • Doug Shaver

            They compiled the Bible from their beliefs, not vice-versa.

            Yes, I know that. And so, if their beliefs had been consistent, we'd expect the books to be consistent. Some of us don't presuppose that the church's beliefs are inconsistent, and so we're not surprised to find inconsistencies in the Bible.

      • I think what you have shown here is some atheists who do not believe we can subscribe to absolutely objective moral standards without a god existing.

        I don't think whether you are a theist or not you can be confident in the existence of absolutely moral truths. They may exists but we would never know with any certainty. Both can believe in them, but ultimately they will rely on some intuitive feeling that a value is "good".

        What I can do is define morality as that which furthers human flourishing and freedom over suffering and harm. I don't proclaim this to be an absolute moral truth, but I don't need it to be. I just need it to be more or less universally agreed, which I think it is.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          I don't think ... you can be confident in the existence of absolutely moral truths.

          http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.1.i.html

          I ... define morality as that which furthers human flourishing and freedom over suffering and harm.

          This is a result of a certain cultural ambiance, and has not been universally agreed. In classical China, for example, the good was defined as filial obedience to those above you and the Christian notion of "conscience" and moral autonomy was simply not recognized. Among the ancient Greeks it was often said, "The strong take what they can, while the weak suffer what they must."

          But it begs the question to ground morality on "freedom" or "flourishing" because you are then appealing to some higher good in order to ground your good. What does "flourishing" mean, for example? Having as many children as possible? Eliminating the socially unproductive?

          http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/22/are-there-secular-reasons/?_r=0

  • Nanchoz

    Everything that exists requires an explanation
    If god exists an explanation is required.
    God perfection requires a perfect explanation.
    We demand God to explain himself to show himself.
    I think The universe is the perfect candidate for god explaining himself. (John 1,1) (From Latin planus, ... explanare "the unfolding of material things")
    I think Jesus is the perfect candidate for god showing himself (john 14,16)
    The universe has to exist. Let it be.

  • Loreen Lee

    Why nothing rather than something?

    • William Davis

      Why ask why? ;P

      • Loreen Lee

        Possibly we do not always 'know' why, or even what we are doing? As per Socrates' 'Know Thyself'. But whenever there is a 'lack', there is at least the incentive to 'want' more. Maybe that's the motivation for the 'why'. I do not 'know'!!!! (No need for complaint, though, is there!!!)

        • William Davis

          I've always been compelled to ask why myself, but I really have no idea why, lol. Evolution I guess.

          • Loreen Lee

            I've been experimenting with the idea of 'just doing the best I can at the moment', without thinking of 'purpose', etc. Kinda Buddhist like? Kant has all sorts of ideas and justifications for finding even purpose in nature. I guess they could boil down to evolution, as they are I believe, based on the organic natures of living beings, and from that an inference to nature generally. So what is this scientific idea about entropy? Does that suggest a purpose? I'm not going to commit on this though, 'believing' one of the dangers of 'belief' is to assume one is some kind of a 'god'!!! l0l - for me too!!!! (I read somewhere that God is possibly the most abused concept within the history of mankind!!!)

          • William Davis

            I personally think that if there is a purpose to the universe, it is simply to find possibilities. It is quite possible that the universe is infinite...that means that everything that could happen, might be happening all at the same time. True infinity entails there could, speculatively, be another copy of me and you having this same conversation in a distant copy of earth. The probability is small, but with infinity, anything can happen.
            This view of "purpose" may not seem satisfying, but I have never encountered a satisfying view of meaning to the universe. My view turns the universe into a giant story telling machine, full of all kinds of different meaning. Perhaps the universe is God's novel.

            The fundamentalists seem to think we exist to praise God for all eternity. My interpretation: We exist because God is a narcissist. If God has a mind, I suspect he smiles on me for thinking more of him than that.
            There could be something to the entropy argument (the second law thermodynamics is extremely important and dictates whether chemical reaction will occur) but the highest entropy object in the universe (we now believe) is a black hole. If entropy is God's currency, even the Sun has incomparably greater entropy than the earth, but views of entropy have been changing recently. I've seen one new theory that relates gravitation to entropy.

          • Loreen Lee

            I don't attempt to 'understand' cosmology, although I just bought The Emperor's New Mind. I think of the idea of the resurrection, which was around before Jesus, as a very good 'idea', not because I necessarily believe it is true, in the sense that after billions of years, there will be a new heaven and earth, but because it is so preposterously 'out in space', i.e. metaphysical in relation to the 'possibility' of the idea of 'transformation'. In other words, these religious 'symbols?', take to the extreme case, the prototypes of a point of view that is even most 'useful' for governing the day to day activity of our lives.
            In this respect, I believe Neitzsche had more irony than is credited to him, and that both his Will to Power (which tells it as it is) and his idea of an 'eternal return', are 'what if 'hypothesis. Consider what this would men. Ironically, I heard the cosmologists recently found they were re-witnessing a cosmological event, some explosion of a galaxy or something, which they had already seen before. So, I don't think of possibilities in the absolute sense, BECAUSE I don't discount the possibility that anything could be possible.
            (I'm speaking to you from the other side of the universe. This has really all happened already, don't you know!!!) So, maybe because I can believe anything, this gives me by the same syntax, the ability to at the same time, disbelieve everything. So faith, not necessarily related to belief, as in the fidelist Kierkegaard, may have some reason, i.e. the insanity in it after all!!! I'll just be a knight, or rather a princess of faith, thank you!!!!

  • Michael Murray

    Interesting article here

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

    by the theist and cosmologist Don Page.

    • Peter

      Although a theist, Don page is not a Catholic but an Evangelical Christian with a different understanding of creation. Catholicism says that God the Creator can be known with certainty through his works, but Page says that one cannot rely on knowing God through his works. Page's belief in God is fideistic, based entirely on faith, while the Catholic belief is based on both faith and reason.

      In fact, if Page is right about time not having a beginning, Catholicism is wrong. Page's position is expressly anti-Catholic.

      However, I cannot understand how two universes expanding in opposite directions from a single point of low entropy, one into the future and one into the past depending on where the observer is based, cannot constitute a beginning. True, either universe as observed from within, as Page does, would have the appearance of being only one universe without beginning or end. However, viewed from the outside as two universes together, the pair would have a joint beginning from which they both expand.

  • Jason Lem

    Yes when you don't know what is going on some sort of personal being seems to be the answer, just ask the people thousands of years ago why earth quakes happened.

    "Whatever this explanation is, it must be greater than the physical universe."

    What does "greater" even mean ? nothing, it can mean what ever you want it to mean.

    "but with the power to create each of these things and to establish the laws they obey."

    This makes it sound like the laws are prescriptive, rather than descriptive.

    " It must be something that explains its own existence and cannot fail to exist."

    Or maybe it's something that exists without explanation. Just because we like the idea of things existing that either necessary or contingent doesn't mean reality operates that way.

    An introduction to quantum mechanics is a good lesson in how you think things should be can be so far beyond how far things actually are.

    " the only being that can be necessary must be a being whose essence (or what it is) is identical to its existence (or that it is). But only one being could simply be being itself and ground the existence of all other contingent realities. This is at the most basic level what God is."

    That's not a causality/contingency argument for God, it's an ontological argument.

    God exists because it's impossible for God to not exist, why even bother with causality arguments if that is a rock solid argument.

    Maybe nothing exists that exists necessarily.

    Maybe there are multiple things that exist necessarily, why does it have to be only the "God" you believe in ? cause you assert as such ?

    "the only being that can be necessary must be a being whose essence (or what it is) is identical to its existence (or that it is)"

    WHAT ?