Ultimate questions

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Question mark signI’ve pretty much decided to retire this blog, and eventually import its archive into A Borrowed Flame (see here for why), however, why not go out with a bit of bang, with one last philosophical hurrah?

My friend Chrys, who has given me quite some blogging fodder in the past, recently wrote this:

 Ultimately, the questions you cannot and will not answer are: which god? why that one? and where is your evidence?

Well… allow me to try (grab some popcorn!).

These questions arise from the context of positing a rational intelligence behind the universe. Chrys and I agree that so-called ‘God of the gaps’ arguments are fallacious; to say  ”God did it” in order to plug a lack of knowledge of something’s mechanics is simply a bad argument. However, we must also be careful not to confuse mechanics and agency. To understand how something works does not do away with agency. We need to remember that there are different kinds of explanations. Take, for example, the words on your screen. One kind of explanation is to describe the electronics, the LCD and all the physics and so forth which allow you to see words appear on the screen. Another explanation is to say that I had some thoughts I wanted to communicate, and so I wrote a blog post. Both explanations are true, but they are different kinds of explanations – one is about mechanics and the other about agency, and neither explanation precludes the other. The extent to which an understanding of the mechanics can inform us about agency is rather variable, and requires a whole stack of other background knowledge. An explanation of the physics of seeing words on a screen can’t tell you, for example, that I’m writing in English – you need further background knowledge for that*.

When we are talking about God, I want to make it clear that I’m not talking about any kind of mechanical explanation, but rather, am talking in terms of agency. In fact, this is rather foundational, in that, unless we agree that a mechanical explanation of something does not render a causal agent obsolete, we can go no further, for we are on different pages.**

The questions quoted, if I’ve understood the context properly, seem to assume, for the sake of the argument, that someone has come to a conclusion that there is some causal agent – be they a deist or a theist. The challenge appears to be that even if one concludes that there must be a god, how then do we decide who this god is, or what they’re like, given that there are many different ideas. I will come back to this, but given that this is a final hurrah, so to speak, I first want to briefly outline (and not elaborate.. perhaps in the comments if anyone is keen) why I hold that there is God.

Why believe there is a God?

I do not argue that one can prove that God exists, at least, not in the way my opponents generally frame / understand the term***, but we all believe any number of things which we cannot empirically prove; the question is whether we have good reason and evidence to hold those things to be true. I believe there is evidence and good reasons to believe that a causal agent does exist for the universe (the eminent American philosopher Alvin Plantinga suggests there are at least two dozen or so very good arguments for the existence of God - frankly, most of those go over my head!).

I share what Tim Keller refers to as “critical rationality”****:

It assumes that there are some arguments that many or even most rational people will find convincing, even though there is no argument that will be persuasive to everyone regardless of viewpoint. It assumes that some systems of belief are more reasonable than others, but that all arguments are rationally avoidable in the end. That is, you can always find reason escape it that is not sheer bias or stubbornness.

One of the most persuasive reasons, to my mind, is that the universe is rationally intelligible. This points towards the existence of a rational intelligence behind it. I’ve not seen any examples of order or intelligibility from chaos and mindlessness.

There are other philosophical questions, such as why there is something rather than nothing (I’m left underwhelmed by the reply that it’s dumb question because we wouldn’t be here to ask it if there wasn’t anything), and why there are such precise physical properties to allow a stable universe (again, I’m completely underwhelmed by the multi-verse theories that attempt to reduce the force of this question). I know that Atheists like to hate on the Kalam cosmological argument, but I’ve not yet seen anyone avoid the logic (or refute either of the premises):

1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause
2) The universe began to exist
3) Therefore, the universe has a cause

I find the moral argument to be particularly persuasive pointer that an external moral law-giver exists. Similarly, what might be called an aesthetic argument – an argument from beauty / art, is for me, a strong pointer.

I also very much appreciate an argument that the former Atheist, C.S. Lewis made, which was that fundamental, instinctive desires only exist where capacity for those desires to be sated also exists:

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

Belief in a deity seems to be very nearly a human universal (on an historical and global scale, Atheism is a rather niche market*****), it is not unreasonable to ask whether this apparently instinctive human desire to connect with the divine is a pointer to the reality of such a ‘satisfaction’.

I find that Theism as a worldview has the most explanatory power of what science tells us about the universe, and how I understand the world to be. I don’t know of any good arguments to accept that Atheism is true, which means the most rational position for me to take, is the one my reason leads me to think makes best sense of what I know.

Again, there is no argument that is going to be persuasive to everyone regardless of their viewpoint, and I certainly don’t expect that a committed Atheist will suddenly be persuaded, that is not my point, but I hope they would agree that the most rational and reasonable position to take is the one we find most reasonable. I very much doubt that Chrys, for example, would expect me to simply adopt her worldview if I don’t actually find it persuasive. I find the combined weight of the things above to be sufficiently persuasive that a First Cause exists.

There is much more that could be said, but I’ll move on to the original questions.

Which God?

If if we come to the conclusion that some kind of creator / first cause / prime mover god-agent exists, how do we know which one? Is it Yaweh, Allah, Zoroastra, Zeus or some other god altogether? Given the context of the question, we can initially rule out any ideas of gods which are not external to the universe – which would rule out the Graeco-Roman pantheon, for example. But more importantly, we have to push the question back a step and ask “Can we know any possible god?” and the answer is: “only if they choose to reveal themselves to us”.

We might be able to philosophise about certain characteristics of said god, e.g. that logically, they have to be necessary, eternal, omnipotent etc., but that doesn’t tell us who they are, for that, we need revelation. This concept is almost always met with hostility from Atheists I’ve spoken with, but I’ve never really seen a basis for their objection to it. I suppose if one has any reductionist presuppositions, the idea that we can gain information from anything but a scientific investigation of a physical thing is going to not sit well, but as the astro-physicist Eddington pointed out, “science isn’t the only way of knowing”. The Oxford mathematician and philosopher of science, John Lennox uses the example of Aunt Matilda’s Cake to show that revelation is sometimes needed as a means of learning information.

I believe that this prime-mover is Yahweh, the Judeo-Christian God. Why? Because I believe that he has revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus. The question, then, turns to history. (Time to refill the popcorn!)

The tangible God

Christianity stands or falls with Jesus, and specifically, the resurrection. The apostle Paul made that clear enough. At this point I need to take a moment, once again, to take a short detour into the various possible background beliefs which might impact how people approach the historical question.

I realise there are going to be people who will reject the resurrection on principle: it is simply impossible within a naturalist worldview+. As it happens, the initial question has already conceded the possibility of an external causal agent, i.e., the supernatural (that’s what the word means, after all). There may be some who are not strictly naturalists, who concede that the universe might not be causally closed but who hold the Humean maxim that any extraordinary explanation is, prima facae, less likely than being mistaken. I reject the axiom, as it seems rather flawed to me. According to such Humean reasoning, an 18th century pacific Islander would have been justified in rejecting the existence of ice that European explorers told them about, even if their tribal chief was taken to witness it, because it was outside the ordinary experience of the rest, to them, it would be more likely that the chief was mistaken. They would, of course, be totally wrong in such rejection. What the axiom boils down to is a rejection of anything that an individual hasn’t experienced, which is totally flawed in my opinion. If we take ‘extraordinary’ to mean ‘outside of our normal experience’ we’d be forced to reject a lot of things we ought not reject, which is perhaps why it’s often wielded in a much more subjective manner!

As I’ve already shown that I’ve a reasoned belief in an external causal agent, the idea of said agent intervening is an open possibility. The Christian claim of resurrection is not for a normal event, but a unique intervention by an external agent. If we haven’t shut off the possibility with philosophical background beliefs, and we’re open to the possibility of it being possible, then we simply need to ask an historical question of “did it happen?”.

As an indication of the possible depth we might get into on this questino, the NT scholar Tom Wright, a leading figure in the areas of early Christianity and 1st century Greek culture recently wrote a 700 page tome on the subject, so I will have to suffice here with a mere fleeting glimpse.

For the sake of brevity(!) I’m going to assume the historicity of the the crucifixion (circa 30AD) – it is accepted by the vast majority of historians, from the whole spectrum of views, including those who reject resurrection. The idea that Jesus ben Joseph (Jesus of Nazareth) never existed has virtually no traction in contemporary historical scholarship++, and as such, I won’t bother with it.

The best sources for Jesus are the gospels and some of the epistles, which were later collated into the New Testament.  Some will want to dismiss these documents a priori, but that is not what historians do, nor should they. That these texts were collated into a single volume at a later date, and are revered as sacred by some communities is actually irrellevant to the question at hand. We must treat them the way we would treat any text from antiquity, which is to say that we apply the normal historical test and criteria to establish what is reliable within them taking into account whatever bias ancient text inevitably have (the gospels certainly contain some theological reflection on the events described, but that by no means disqualifies them) . We need not assume any kind of inerrency (which is to say that we don’t throw it out if there are some inconsistencies). There are also a number of Jewish and Greaco-Roman references to Jesus, which, while interesting and occasionally corroborative of certain points, generally don’t tell us anything we don’t already know from the canonical sources. There are also a number of later gnostic gospels, but they are, frankly, a bit like reading a Punch article about Queen Victoria’s prowess at Draw Something because she had a custom made oversized iPad.

We have, then, several independent sources for Jesus. Wait.. I can hear someone questioning my use of the word ‘independent’. Yes, largely they are. There is the hypothetical Q documents and yes, for parts of Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels there seems to be ‘Markian priority’, but there are also large swathes of which they both appear to have other sources (Mark was probably Peter’s translator, and Luke traveled with Paul on some of his journeys in Asia Minor). Even if you count those parts of Matthew and Luke as a single source, there’s still John’s gospel, Paul’s epistles, Jame’s epistle and the rest of Matthew and Luke. Quite simply then, they fulfill the normal criteria of multiple attestation.

Some will object that they contradict eachother  (which would seem to imply that they didn’t copy from one another, btw). Remembering that we need not expect inerrancy, and indeed, if they were all exactly the same we’d have very good reason to doubt them, whatever alleged contradictions (remember not all apparent contradictions are actual!) are usually thrown up, I don’t recall seeing any which significantly impact the central events. There is agreement across the documents that Jesus was crucified, that his tomb was found empty, and that he appeared alive again to whole bunch of people. Nor is this a late development. This claim is found in the very earliest reference (Paul’s first letter to Corinth, of which authorship is not in any dispute, btw), which dates from around 50AD, only twenty years after the crucifixion (itself considerably early for antiquity) but which can be reliably traced to within 2-5yrs!

Another interesting point about the gospels is that they were all written outside of the area in which the action is set, from between 30-50 years later (pre- destruction of the temple) and yet, as recent archeological data shows, have a remarkable accuracy regarding the culture and landscape the accounts are set in. An analogy would be if I write something set in the 1970′s Italy. Without the aid of google, would I get the names right (what were the popular Italian names in 9174?), or the fauna? What this tells us is that the accounts, while written outside of Judea and Jerusalem, have a reliable heritage to that context – the writers are not likely to be making it up  (and indeed, it would be extraordinary if they all made up the same basic storyline, got all the contextual details right, all writing from four different places!)

There are little details too, which point to reliability, such as the inclusion of the women being the first witnesses of the resurrection. This would be very unlikely to have invented. It is what is referred to as an ‘embarrassing detail’, things that one would leave out unless it actually happened.

Much more could be said, suffice it to say that, like the eminent classicist Prof Edwin Judge,   I find the accounts to be reliable. There is solid historical evidence that the tomb was found empty (corroborated by the hostile Jewish apologetic), and it is also the majority view that the disciples had  some kinds of experiences which they referred to as ‘appearances’ of the risen Jesus. Whatever explanation we offer, we have to account for these experiences, for the empty tomb, and for the unlikely, rapid growth of the movement.

While Christianity clearly grew out of a Jewish context, the claim of a single person being resurrected was rather foreign to 2nd Temple Judaism, either denied explicitly as per the majority Sadducee party, or understood as something that happened to everyone at the end of the world. How then, this claim took off as it did, is very difficult to account for apart from “it actually happened”. Further data that needs accounting for is the conversion of Jesus’ brother after his death. What would convince us that our crazy, dead brother was the risen Messiah? It was also contrary to the prevailing Greek ideas of the day. Effectively, the average 1st century Jewish, Greek & Roman Joe Blow would have been as open to the claim as a modern Joe Blow, which is to say, not very.

While I’ve seen many offer various explanations for various pieces, I’m yet to see another explanation that has sufficient scope for all the historical data.

Again, much more could be said+++, and again, there’s no knock-down argument – respectable historians sit on both sides of the resurrection debate. It seems to me that once again, pre-existing beliefs and presuppositions will play a big role in how one views the evidence – and there are around a dozen things which historians on both sides agree actually happened (none of which are themselves supernatural). To my mind, when the normal historical criteria of argument to best explanation are applied, the best explanation of the data – the one with the most comprehensive scope and explanatory power – is the earliest explanation given: that God raised Jesus from the dead.

C.S.Lewis was right when he said that Jesus doesn’t give us room to think him merely a good teacher; as his famous trilemma puts it: if he’s not who he said he was (i.e. God), then he’s either crazy, or lying. I don’t think the evidence points to crazy or lying.

Tying it all up

That’s all rather a lot of ground for a single blog post, and we’ve certainly run fairly quickly across some pretty fertile ground, but I think I have answered, somewhat basically, the initial questions, at least, as far as they relate to my own views. I believe in the God I do because philosophy, science and history all appear to me to point to it. The Christian account of the world has, to my mind^, the most explanatory power (and I haven’t even begun on sociology or how I see that its account me as a person is so accurate), and moreover, because the risen Jesus is knowable^^. My worldview is not only based on reason and evidence as I see it, but on my own experience (which is, I realise, hardly persuasive, but it would be odd to hold a view that didn’t account for one’s own experience).

Will this change someone’s mind about the existence of God? I doubt it****. Is my belief based on evidence and reasoning? Yes. If there’s one thing to take away from this post, let it be to realise that not being persuaded by the evidence and reasoning which persuade another does not equate to there being no evidence or reason.

So, my Atheist friends, the next time you’re tempted to say “there’s no evidence for God..” please remember this overly verbose post and just add “… which I find persuasive”, it will save us all the hassle of going over it again!

 

===

* John Lennox points out that semantic meaning, while emergent from letters, cannot be explained by a reductionist view of the physics and chemistry of ink on paper.

** Much of the Theist/Atheist debate that takes place, fails to recognise these differences in background beliefs, and so usually start off in different directions, and end with people shouting past one another.

*** From the discussions and debates I’ve had, proof is understood to be empirical demonstration, that is, via the methodology of science. Don’t get me wrong – science is wonderful, but it is by definition, limited to studying the physical universe, so of course, anything that is not a part of the physical universe (e.g. a universal causal agent, meaning, art, love, purpose, or any range of meta-physical things) is not going to fall within science’s scope.

**** I reject ‘Strong rationalism’ which is the view that on one should believe a proposition unless is it proved empirically; not only is it impractical, it assumes an impossible ‘view from nowhere’ and is, ultimately a self-refuting view – i.e. itself not proved! See this article about how facts alone rarely persuade anyone.

***** Mark Baddeley suggests it’s a bit like designer drugs, the purvey of a particular western elite. Given that most “gnu” Atheists like to distance themselves, understandably, from officially Atheist Communist regimes, I suspect that Baddeley didn’t have Mao in view. Also on this point, Dr Olivera Petrovich has been doing some interesting research, which seems to show that the common claim that children are born ‘Atheist’ is not true.

+ I’ve never seen anyone try to defend a causally closed universe without using a circular argument.

++ Even Bart Ehrman is completely dismissive of the suggestion that Jesus never existed.

+++ See John Dickson’s excellent primer “The Christ Files: How historians know what they know about Jesus. It’s also a documentary, but I’ve not seen it.

^ It seems to me that if the atheistic naturalist account of the world is true, my mind is somewhat illusory. In such a deterministic, reductionist view, I’m not actually responsible for what I think – that’s nothing more than the firing of neurons in my brain. Or even if I do have some responsibility in what I think, who says that atheistic evolution is interested in truth? It would seem that it’s more interested in adaptive behaviour. I can’t see how, on Atheism, I’ve got a good reason to trust my intellect to know what is true, merely that it will think what is helpful to survival. Christianity, on the other hand, gives very good reason to think that I can use and trust my intellect to know truth.

^^Again, someone with a naturalist worldview will no doubt be content to reduce such things to nothing but chemistry – yet again, it’s the background beliefs that are in conflict.

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64 Responses to Ultimate questions

  1. 1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause
    2) The universe began to exist
    3) Therefore, the universe has a cause

    G'day Findo,

    Premise 1, how did you know that everything that begins to exist has a "cause". You're trying to make an argument here purely on logic without evidence. A counterpoint to this sort of "logical" argument can be taken from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which I'm sure you're familiar with, as follows:

    (Concerning the existence of the babel fish)
    "Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindbogglingly useful could evolve purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God. The argument goes something like this:
    "I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing".
    "But," says man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It proves you exist and so therefore you don't. QED."
    "Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
    "Oh, that was easy," says man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white, and gets killed on the next zebra crossing."

    This "logical" argument is ridiculous I know, but I hope it highlights what I find to be meaningless about the Kalam argument?

    For your presupposition 1, you still need to prove that everything that "begins" has a cause for it to be valid. And if we find anything that can begin without a cause, then it's provable to be false.

    Even if the Kalam argument was provable to be true, it still makes no distinction between a natural cause, and a supernatural one, so it cannot be used.

    So it raises some questions:

    What evidence do you have that everything that begins has a cause?
    If there is proof of something beginning to exist without a cause will you concede the argument?
    Could you please explain how you take the leap from "cause" proving the existence of a deity?

    Cheers

    • AndrewFinden says:

      Thanks for your comment.

      I must confess, this is the first time I've come across anyone trying to discredit the first premise!

      how did you know that everything that begins to exist has a "cause". You're trying to make an argument here purely on logic without evidence.

      Actually, it's rather self-evident. In every case of something beginning to exist, it has had a cause. I've never seen something begin to exist uncaused, and I don't know of anyone who has. If things did begin to exist uncaused, why don't we see horses and tables and lightbulbs randomly popping in and out of existence? Quite simply, it's never been falsified. The universe began to exist, and is therefore a contingent entity.

      A counterpoint to this sort of "logical" argument can be taken from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which I'm sure you're familiar with

      I certainly appreciate the wit of the exchange, but apart from the flawed premise (i.e. it's fallacious definition of faith) all it does is show that logical incoherence is, well… incoherent. It certainly doesn't make any real argument against soundly logical arguments.

      if we find anything that can begin without a cause, then it's provable to be false.

      I agree.. but good luck!

      Even if the Kalam argument was provable to be true, it still makes no distinction between a natural cause, and a supernatural one, so it cannot be used.

      By definition it has to be a supernatural cause. The universe's cause cannot come from within itself any more than I can lift myself up by my own bootstraps. Perhaps you mean that it doesn't necessarily mean it is a rational causal agent? To which I would say that the rational intelligibility of the universe points to a rationtionally intelligent cause.

      Could you please explain how you take the leap from "cause" proving the existence of a deity?

      Eventually we have to come to a necessary and eternal cause, otherwise we just keep pushing the question back, and Occam's Razor doesn't exactly favour that option, and that cause would be a maximal entity, and rationally intelligent.

      • Guest says:

        Seriously, go and learn some physics. The fail here is immense.

        Premise 1 is really really really far from self evident. We have precisely zero examples of anything beginning to exist from first principles. All we see are re-arrangements of matter and energy, the result of Einsteins famous equation E=mc^2. Therefore the premise on which this argument is built is contradicted by every aspect of empirical evidence thus far presented, and thus this argument is negated entirely.

        Next?

        • AndrewFinden says:

          Tell you what.. I'll learn some physics, and you learn some grammar in order that you stop using verbs as nouns.

          Premise 1 is really really really far from self evident.

          What could be more self-evident than ex nihlo nihil fit?

          We have precisely zero examples of anything beginning to exist from first principles.

          Well first principles don't cause anything.. how can a proposition have any causal power?

          If you mean to say that we've never seen anything created ex nihlo (because all other entities are re-arrangements) then I don't see how that helps your argument, bur rather the opposite.

          the premise on which this argument is built is contradicted by every aspect of empirical evidence thus far presented

          Are you serious? Every aspect of empirical evidence thus far presented shows that contingent entities cause themselves?

          • Guest says:

            Hang on; it's you arguing that 'everything that begins to exist has a cause', a premise absolutely unsupported by any evidence whatsoever.

            The first premise, 'Whatever begins to exist has a cause', is false. Within quantum mechanics, effects are produced with no causes (quantum fluctuations, radioactive decay). Even if there were to be some unknown cause to these effects, they would still be indeterminate, probabilistic causes which is a far cry from the unique, linear beginning that God willed. The premise also fails to acknowledge other non-linear and/or non-unique physical causations.

            The second premise invokes a equivocation/compositional fallacy, as 'begins to exist' within the first premise is based within the Universe. This is clearly not the same 'beginning' as denoted in premise 2. The premise itself is also not a scientific truth, as there are in fact scientific models which have the Universe infinite in age, yet are in line with current scientific data. Furthermore it ignores the Multiverse hypothesis, which has a substantial mathematical defense to it and can not simply be waved aside. There is not enough empirical evidence to make any assumption that the multiverse had to begin.

            You are trying to use science to provide evidence for God. Please stop.

          • AndrewFinden says:

            it's you arguing that 'everything that begins to exist has a cause', a premise absolutely unsupported by any evidence whatsoever.

            Apart from the observation of, well… everything.

            The first premise, 'Whatever begins to exist has a cause', is false. Within quantum mechanics, effects are produced with no causes (quantum fluctuations, radioactive decay). Even if there were to be some unknown cause to these effects, they would still be indeterminate, probabilistic causes which is a far cry from the unique, linear beginning that God willed. The premise also fails to acknowledge other non-linear and/or non-unique physical causations.

            Actually the premise doesn't specify that the cause is 'efficient', it could also be 'material', which the examples you give appear to have.

            You've not really done anything to show that ex nihlo nihil fit (from nothing, nothing comes) as a premise is a false one. You've not falsified it in any way.

            The second premise invokes a equivocation/compositional fallacy, as 'begins to exist' within the first premise is based within the Universe. This is clearly not the same 'beginning' as denoted in premise 2.

            Why is it not the same as 'beginning to exist' in premise 2?

            The premise itself is also not a scientific truth, as there are in fact scientific models which have the Universe infinite in age, yet are in line with current scientific data.

            The standard "big bang" model in cosmology shows that the universe began to exist.
            Moreover, an infinite past is only possible in theory, not in actuality.

            Furthermore it ignores the Multiverse hypothesis, which has a substantial mathematical defense to it and can not simply be waved aside.

            There's no empirical evidence of a multi-verse (and how could there be?!) which is fine by me, but you seem to be the one demanding that logical and philosophical reasoning is not enough, and it must have empirical evidence. You appear to be giving your own theory a pass on that one.
            The multi-verse, thought up as it was, in order to remove the force of the fine-tuning argument, just pushes these questions back a step – it still doesn't help in the question of why there is something rather than nothing, and it has the same problem of accounting for physical laws in the first place.
            If we're to decide between an eternal multi-verse and an eternal causal agent, Occam's Razor slices away the multi-verse.
            Not to mention that it has it's own absurdities, like the point that if there are an infinite number of universes, then there is one in which Richard Dawkins is the Pope and and another in which I have a green moustache. Indeed, it would seem that in such a situation, this would turn out to be the universe in which I'm a Theist and you're an Anti-Theist, another universe it might be reversed – rather deterministic, don't you think?

            You are trying to use science to provide evidence for God. Please stop.

            You find it sacreligious I presume?

          • Guest says:

            "You've not really done anything to show that ex nihlo nihil fit (from nothing, nothing comes) as a premise is a false one. You've not falsified it in any way. "

            Yeah, I dont have to; you have to show the premise is correct. You havent.

            "The standard "big bang" model in cosmology shows that the universe began to exist"

            No it doesnt – be careful. It posits that there was a period of rapid expansion after the planck time – what happens prior to the Planck time is currently unknowable.

            "There's no empirical evidence of a multi-verse (and how could there be?!) which is fine by me"

            Go look up Turok and Steinhardt who have proposed an empirical test for exactly that

            "If we're to decide between an eternal multi-verse and an eternal causal agent, Occam's Razor slices away the multi-verse"

            Please explain.

            "You find it sacreligious I presume? "

            I dont know what you mean by this. Science can't consider deit(ies) It doesnt discuss the metaphysical. You know this.

          • AndrewFinden says:

            you have to show the premise is correct. You havent.

            It's self-evident. In every case of seeing something begin to exist, it had a cause, either efficient or material. It's a bit like me giving the premise that the sun rises each morning, and you claiming that I've not shown that premise to be correct.

            No it doesnt – be careful. It posits that there was a period of rapid expansion after the planck time – what happens prior to the Planck time is currently unknowable.

            But it shows the universe has not always been – as you say, there was a period of rapid expansion – i.e. the universe as we know it, is not eternal.

            Go look up Turok and Steinhardt who have proposed an empirical test for exactly that

            I will when I get the time. But perhaps, seeing as you're making the claim, you explain how something outside our own physical universe could be empirically tested, especially as you've just said that what happened before the expansion of the big bang is unknowable?

            "If we're to decide between an eternal multi-verse and an eternal causal agent, Occam's Razor slices away the multi-verse"

            Please explain.

            Occam's Razor prefers explanations which are simpler, in that they involve less entities. A multi-verse posits a rather large number of entities as an explanation. Though it's worth pointing out that Occam's Razor is no guarantor of truth.

            "You find it sacreligious I presume? "

            I dont know what you mean by this.

            Nevermind.. I was being facetious.

            Science can't consider deit(ies) It doesnt discuss the metaphysical. You know this.

            I agree that science's scope – it's realm of investigation is the physical universe, and yes, metaphysics are beyond its scope of investigation. However, philosophy, as a discipline regularly looks at the physical data and asks non-scientific questions of it. Science deals with questions of physical mechanics ('how' questions), but we might use philosophy to deal with 'why' questions such as agency & purpose etc. So I see no problem referencing scientific data in the process of a philosophical argument.

          • Guest says:

            "It's self-evident"

            No it isnt, for all the reasons Luminous Monkey has explained. You have ONE potential instance of something beginning to exist having a cause – and thats the creation of the Universe

            So the basis of you 'self evident' premise is anything but: its an Ex materia v ex nihilo

            Besides, did the universe even begin to exist? All we know about the big bang is that it was a period of expansion; prior to the Planck time the maths breaks down to describe a singularity – infinitely hot, massive, dense etc etc – and we both know what the presence of infinities does in equations. So Craig accepts the infinities of the singularity while immediately dismissing the infinity of the infinite regress.
            The premise itself is also not a scientific fact, as there are in fact scientific models which have the Universe infinite in age, yet are in line with current scientific data. Furthermore it ignores the Multiverse hypothesis, which has a substantial mathematical defense to it and can not simply be waved aside. There is not enough empirical evidence to make any assumption that the multiverse had to begin. Which is why I mention the Turok and Steinhardt paper which conversely describes an empirical test to see if their conclusions are correct; namely by analysing the spectrum of gravitational waves passing through the universe. It's that empirical test that is so interesting. They may be wrong, and it is 'just a model' but the ekpyrotic model is thus useful.

            Meanwhile, you reject this explanation in favour of some God which is far more far fetched and lacks any explanatory power whatsoever.

            "So I see no problem referencing scientific data in the process of a philosophical argument."

            If scientists are using philsophy, they arent doing science. Philsophy referencing science is like using a lawnmower to brush your teeth – you can try it but you are using the wrong tool for the job.

          • AndrewFinden says:

            You have ONE potential instance of something beginning to exist having a cause – and thats the creation of the Universe

            Nope.. billions of instances.. everything we've ever observed begin to exist.

            So the basis of you 'self evident' premise is anything but: its an Ex materia v ex nihilo

            I'm not sure what you're trying to say here. My argument is that everything that begins to exist has a cause either an efficient cause or a material cause… which would be ex materia, would it not?

            Besides, did the universe even begin to exist? All we know about the big bang is that it was a period of expansion; prior to the Planck time the maths breaks down to describe a singularity

            Which is to say… yes – that's exactly what the expansion from a singularity says! There was not always a universe – it began to exist as the rapid expansion from said singularity shows.

            there are in fact scientific models which have the Universe infinite in age, yet are in line with current scientific data

            How can you say, on the one hand, that the universe was preceeded by expansion from a singularity (the standard model), and on the other hand say that the universe always existed and that this fits with current scientific data?

            Furthermore it ignores the Multiverse hypothesis, which has a substantial mathematical defense to it and can not simply be waved aside. There is not enough empirical evidence to make any assumption that the multiverse had to begin.

            As I said, the multiverse theory, apart from whatever absurdities it entails (as I previously mentioned) simply pushes these questions back a step.
            If parts of the multiverse began to exists, as ours did following the rapid expansion of that singularity, then the multiverse would, by definition, also be contingent.

            Meanwhile, you reject this explanation in favour of some God which is far more far fetched and lacks any explanatory power whatsoever.

            There may well be a multiverse, but it simply pushes the questions back a step, and as it was basically thought of in order to answer the questions it pushes back, Occam's Razor does away with it. To say that First Gause is 'far fetched' is just begging the question with your own prejudice, moreover, to assert that a First Cause has no explanatory power is simply nonsense.

            If scientists are using philsophy, they arent doing science.

            Quite! Doesn't stop Dawkins and Krauss trying though.. most amusing is when they declare philosophy to be useless.. which is, of course, a philosophical statement :D

            Philsophy referencing science is like using a lawnmower to brush your teeth – you can try it but you are using the wrong tool for the job.

            Are you seriously arguing that philosophers are not allowed consider scientific data? Come on…

          • Guset says:

            "Nope.. billions of instances.. everything we've ever observed begin to exist."

            It blatantly did not. Do you know any Quantum Physics? No, I guess not.

            "There was not always a universe – it began to exist as the rapid expansion from said singularity shows."

            Ok, you dont understand the standard model. The rest of this will be tricky. The REAL answer is – we do not know. I may have shortened a few steps there.

            "as it was basically thought of in order to answer the questions it pushes back"

            Errrrr, no. Care to back that up with a review of the history of the multiverse hypothesis? My guess is no, but crack on if you like.
            The irony of you asserting Magic Man as a sky hook is not lost on me.

            "Are you seriously arguing that philosophers are not allowed consider scientific data?"

            If they are doing that what are they doing – science or philosophy?

            I also enjoyed this by the way:

            "I am very dubious of talk of (virtual) particles popping into existence from nothing, frankly, because whenever I've heard people like Lawrence Krauss talk about it, their 'nothing' is not actual nothing in sense that philosophers are using the term"

            Try and undesrtand what Krauss is talking about before resorting to the philosophical naval gazing. And it ABSOLUTELY is that in this instance.

          • AndrewFinden says:

            To be frank, it's the kind of dismissive, hyperbolic, patronising, point-scoring approach that you seem to be modelling, which is one major reason why I'm moving away from these kind of posts in general. I'm simply not interested in discussions where one side poisons the well with lines like 'well clearly you known nothing about……".
            Your (anonymous) user name acknowledges that you're a guest here, and so I'd like to ask that if you wish to continue discussing these issues here, that you drop the posturing and patronising tone.
            Given the egregious use of the 'magic man in the sky' strawman, I honestly wonder if you're really interested in dialogue, though….?

            I apologise if I've mirrored your tone, I realise that I have a habit of doing this.

          • Guest says:

            If you employ the KCA you are flying in the face of current scientific thought.

            All the evidence we have for things "beginning to exist" in this universe involve transformations of pre-existing matter and/or energy, at least on the macroscopic scale. You cant take those examples – the 'self evident' – and apply that inductively to the Universe. You are taking ex materia examples and trying to apply that to an allegedly ex nihilo event- its a false comparison.

            As for P2:

            "[T]he idea that the Big Bang is truly the beginning of the universe is simply a plausible hypothesis, not a result established beyond reasonable doubt. General relativity doesn't predict that space and time didn't exist before the Big Bang; it predicts that the curvature of spacetime in the very early universe became so large that general relativity itself ceases to be reliable. Quantum gravity, which we can happily ignore when we're talking about the curvature of spacetime in the relatively placid context of the contemporary universe, absolutely must be taken into account. And, sadly, we don't understand quantum gravity well enough to say for sure what actually happens at very early times. It might very well be true that space and time 'come into existence' in that era—or not. Perhaps there is a transition from a phase of an irredeemably quantum wave function to the classical spacetime we know and love. But it is equally conceivable that space and time extend beyond the moment that we identify as 'the Big Bang.' Right now, we simply don't know; researchers are investigating different possibilities, with an open mind about which will eventually turn out to be right."

            (Carroll, Sean. From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time. New York: Dutton, 2010. p. 294)

          • AndrewFinden says:

            All the evidence we have for things "beginning to exist" in this universe involve transformations of pre-existing matter and/or energy

            You appear to have just defended the first premise. Perhaps it was not clear that when the first premise says that
            Everything that begins to exist has a cause
            it means either an efficient or material cause. You seem to have just said that everything we've observed begin to exist has a material cause.

            You are taking ex materia examples and trying to apply that to an allegedly ex nihilo event- its a false comparison.

            If you mean, it's a category error, then I disagree. Why can't we compare contingent entities? And remember the KCA isn't talking only of efficient causes.
            If every contingent entity we've observed has a cause, either efficient or material (or in some cases, both) then we can logically predict that if the universe is a contingent entity, it too will have a cause.

            [T]he idea that the Big Bang is truly the beginning of the universe is simply a plausible hypothesis, not a result established beyond reasonable doubt.

            It does not follow that "because we're not totally sure that the universe had a beginning" that is therefore a necessary entity.

            I do find it interesting, however, that you don't want to allow the assumption of the standard model ( http://outreach.atnf.csiro.au/education/senior/co… ) as a basis for a premise, yet argue that a far more controversial, and unevidenced theory (the multi-verse) is ok to be used as one.

          • Guest says:

            "You appear to have just defended the first premise. Perhaps it was not clear that when the first premise says that
            Everything that begins to exist has a cause "

            No. You have absolutely misunderstood. The things that you are using as examples of things 'beginning to exist' are NOT extendable to the observable universe in itself. How can they be? Its a different sort of 'beginning to exist'. YOU and ME did not 'begin to exist' in the way the observable universe did. The fallacy of equivocation is with regard to 'beginning to exist'. You attempt to cite examples of things that are basically emergent, and then flip to the universe not being emergent from a prior state but arising ex nihilo. This is wrong.

            "we can logically predict that if the universe is a contingent entity"

            That's a very large 'IF', neatly skated over.

            "It does not follow that "because we're not totally sure that the universe had a beginning""

            Therefore the second premise just cant be asserted as true! There is doubt. That makes BOTH premises not true (you have to show why they are true) and thus the argument fails.

            Besides, the KCA assumes its conclusions, invents properties for the very thing it is trying to prove and isnt supported by current scientific thinking. Indeed, the 'begins to exist' clause is a later addition to the argument that is basically erected to circumvent the special pleading fallacy.

            Back to premise 2; from the article you cited:

            Time 0 "Big Bang. Universe formed. Time before 10-43s is termed the Planck time. Our Physics can not yet describe this interval in detail."

            Is that your evidence for the universe beginning to exist? This is a high school viewpoint and you should realise this from and take the hint from the " Our Physics can not yet describe this interval in detail" part. We simply do not know what happened prior to the Planck time. Fact. So to assert something about what happened prior to 10^-43 s is just wrong.

            Multiverse – is supported by a lot of theorists but there are competing theories – but as I have said before, there are empirical tests proposed to see whether it holds water.

            Back to your original post "I’m completely underwhelmed by the multi-verse theories that attempt to reduce the force of this question" – based on WHAT precisely? How about we see where the evidence leads us?

          • AndrewFinden says:

            Its a different sort of 'beginning to exist'.

            I take it you mean that the universe was ex nihlo? Leaving aside the absurdity of claiming that an entity could begin to exist ex nihlo without some other efficient cause (and why that doesn't then happen all the time), I don't think the KCA needs to make a distinction between ex nihlo and ex materia, as it's premise is that things that begin to exist have either a material or efficient cause.
            Now, what I see you doing (and what I saw in the link you provided) was a strange view of 'begins to exist' that was only allowed apply to ex nihlo beginnigs. You say that I

            attempt to cite examples of things that are basically emergent, and then flip to the universe not being emergent from a prior state but arising ex nihilo. This is wrong.

            implying that things that are arrangements of previous material don't begin to exist, but this is simply false.
            My dining table did not always exist. It began to exist, and is made up of material that used to be a tree, but is not a tree anymore. It seems rather odd to argue that my table didn't begin to exist because it's made from a tree (it has a material cause.. and an efficient one, as it happens).

            If you've got a problem with the CSIRO saying

            In the Big Bang theory the Universe comes into existence/blockquote>
            then take it up with them.
            But even by your own descriptions, you admit that the universe is not eternal, that it was not always the way it is. By even talking about what happene "prior" you admit that the universe is not eternal and had a begining, or else you're contradicting yourself.

          • Guest says:

            If the universe didn't begin ex nihilo (which is what Craig claims) then you admit P2 is wrong. You are simply saying that it came from a rearrangement.

            As far as your interpretation of P1 goes, there is plenty of stuff at the quantum level that appears to be uncaused. What causes radioactive decay? The Caismir effect is a famous example of this. You have constrained you definition of 'begins to exist' to the middle world and actually this is contradicted by the first law of thermodynamics. Matter is just constrained energy

            You are using the KCA in a different way to Craig, which is novel.

            I'd be interested

          • AndrewFinden says:

            If the universe didn't begin ex nihilo … then you admit P2 is wrong.

            No, because P2 is:

            The universe began to exist.

            That remains true whether or not that beginning was ex nihlo or ex materia. Indeed, this seems to be the point that I feel you're missing, which is that the conclusion of the argument does not specify an efficient cause, as P1 is not restricted to efficient causes, but is talking of material cause as well.

            there is plenty of stuff at the quantum level that appears to be uncaused. What causes radioactive decay?

            We're going in circles now. As I've said about this – we're talking about entities beginning to exist, not decay, and also that the cause is not necessarily an efficient one, but may be only material.

            You have constrained you definition of 'begins to exist' to the middle world

            No, my definition is rather broad and refers to any entity that is, but hasn't always been. You seem to want to restrict it to only things which began to exist ex nihlo.

          • Guest says:

            "That remains true whether or not that beginning was ex nihlo or ex materia."

            No it isnt. Craig means ex nihilo (note spelling) when he describes the KCA, why dont you? – after all that's the very reason he needs to shoehorn God in! (i.e ex nihilo nihil fit, therefore God must be the efficient cause)

            All that you are doing is trying to hide behind a definition of 'begins to exist' that means no such thing.

            You need to amend P1 in that case, which also means you cant extend to ex nihilo causes and means that you are arguing the universe began ex materia and by extrapolation is infinite/eternal. You can try arguing borde vilenkin guth (i.e the universe isnt eternal extrapolation into the past) but that 1. has detractors (including the authors themselves) 2. requires no creator

            Which way do you want it? You need to define what you mean by 'begins to exist' because you are using it differently to Craig. Besides, why does god get a pass on not requiring a cause but not the universe?

          • AndrewFinden says:

            Craig means ex nihilo

            When I've heard him talk about it, his premise was that everything that begins to exist has a cause, either efficient or material.

            why does god get a pass on not requiring a cause but not the universe?

            Because that's the difference between necessary and contingent entities.

          • Guset says:

            Oh I forgot. You need to consider that you are applying a concept – cause and effect – which is contained within our universe (i.e everything that we can observe). Since time began with the "Big Bang", anything outside of space time must be infinite. Which way do you want it?

          • AndrewFinden says:

            you are applying a concept – cause and effect – which is contained within our universe

            Who says cause and effect must be contained within our universe?

            Since time began with the "Big Bang", anything outside of space time must be infinite.

            Things outside of time would, by definition, be eternal (not sure I'd say "infinte" as that doesn't necessarily denote time as such).

            If time-space began with the "big bang" then you are agreeing that the universe began? How can you not?
            And how can a physical multiverse exist outside of space-time?

          • Guest says:

            "And how can a physical multiverse exist outside of space-time?"

            The 'universe' and 'the observable universe' are 2 very different things.

          • AndrewFinden says:

            I don't see what your statement has to do with answering the question..

          • Guest says:

            The universe is everything that there is.

            All we can observe is our local cosmos.

            So the term 'multi-verse' is actually misleading; it doesn't exist outside of space-time.

          • AndrewFinden says:

            we're running out of width! :D

            Are you saying that the Universe is really a multi-verse, and what we would normally mean by universe, is just a"local cosmos" in terms of the part of the (multi) Universe we can observe?

            You say the Multiverse doesn't exist outside of space-time, yet, didn't you say that space-time (as we know it) began with the Big Bang?

          • Guest says:

            Even in the most basic definition of the word 'universe', one finds 'the entirety of time and space', and since it is far from clear that time began at the big bang, and since, in fact, we have models on the table that deem time to be eternal, then the most that can be said is that our local cosmic expansion arose from the big bang, not the universe. Indeed, the standard big bang model doesn't even deal with the beginning of our local cosmic expansion, because it only deals with a finite time after the beginning of expansion. It cannot extend (for the moment) beyond the Planck time, 10-43 seconds after the beginning of expansion. Further, one of the models on the table actually deals with some of the problems of the standard big bang model, and it is one of the aforementioned front-runners.

            In short, you need to define what you mean by 'universe' – after all, its your argument.

      • LuminousMonkey says:

        > I must confess, this is the first time I've come across anyone trying to discredit the first premise!

        I'm glad to offer a potentially new perspective then.

        >Actually, it's rather self-evident. In every case of something beginning to exist, it has had a cause. I've never seen something begin to exist uncaused, and I don't know of anyone who has. If things did begin to exist uncaused, why don't we see horses and tables and lightbulbs randomly popping in and out of existence? Quite simply, it's never been falsified. The universe began to exist, and is therefore a contingent entity.

        This is a gnostic statement, and unfortunately incorrect, things are popping in and out of existence all the time, however it's not happening on scale that we can observe. You're making an argument from analogy here "I've never seen something begin to exist uncaused, and I don't know of anyone who has".

        > why don't we see horses and tables and lightbulbs randomly popping in and out of existence

        Yes, however, there are particles popping in and out of existence randomly all the time without a cause. Quantum mechanics is rife with counter intuitive situations like this all the time.

        Radioactive decay results in the random creation of particles without a "cause".

        Matter and anti-matter formations.

        And of course Schrodinger's cat, where something can be said in two states at the same time.

        > By definition it has to be a supernatural cause. The universe's cause cannot come from within itself any more than I can lift myself up by my own bootstraps. Perhaps you mean that it doesn't necessarily mean it is a rational causal agent? To which I would say that the rational intelligibility of the universe points to a rationtionally intelligent cause.

        Perhaps I wasn't clear, but yes I was meaning it doesn't necessarily mean it's a rational causal agent.

        However, this argument doesn't prove anything helpful, this is why you have to move outside this argument and say:

        " To which I would say that the rational intelligibility of the universe points to a rationtionally intelligent cause. "

        This is outside the Kalam argument, so my point still stands, even if we say the premises are true (which has not been proven), all it says is that the beginning of the universe has a cause. So it offers no evidence for a deity at all.

        > Eventually we have to come to a necessary and eternal cause, otherwise we just keep pushing the question back, and Occam's Razor doesn't exactly favour that option, and that cause would be a maximal entity, and rationally intelligent.

        I have to disagree, you're proposing to know the qualities of something that exists outside our universe? How can you, on one hand say that it's a rational intelligent cause that's outside our universe, then on the other try and use the rules from our universe to explain it into existence?

        Occam's Razor would suggest you just start with "the universe began to exist." By it's very nature we can't know what happened before the universe was created, and you're trying to apply (faulty) logic to put god in there.

        • AndrewFinden says:

          This is a gnostic statement, and unfortunately incorrect, things are popping in and out of existence all the time, however it's not happening on scale that we can observe. You're making an argument from analogy here "I've never seen something begin to exist uncaused, and I don't know of anyone who has".

          In what way is it a gnostic statement? I don't think it's an analogy either, rather, a case of an inductive argument (the KCA is deductive).

          there are particles popping in and out of existence randomly all the time without a cause. Quantum mechanics is rife with counter intuitive situations like this all the time.

          Are you referring to quantum vaccuums and virtual particles? Are you referring to actually new physical stuff coming out of actual nothing (not the 'nothing' of someone like Krauss, which is still something) or is it a rearrangement of pre-existing elementary physical stuff? Are those quantum states the result of a material cause or not?

          Radioactive decay results in the random creation of particles without a "cause".

          creation ex nihlo or rearrangement of pre-existing matter? And is truly random, or does the radioactive decay have a part to play as a material cause?

          Matter and anti-matter formations.

          Quantum vaccuums?

          I don't see what the thought experiment of Schrodinger's Cat has to do with things popping into existence from nothing?

          This is outside the Kalam argument, so my point still stands, even if we say the premises are true (which has not been proven), all it says is that the beginning of the universe has a cause.

          Firstly, I don't see why one argument must necessarily stand alone and get one "all the way". If it leads us to ask further questions, so be it.
          Secondly, if it does show there is a necessary cause, it cannot logically be a material cause, but an efficient cause.

          I have to disagree, you're proposing to know the qualities of something that exists outside our universe? How can you, on one hand say that it's a rational intelligent cause that's outside our universe, then on the other try and use the rules from our universe to explain it into existence?

          What makes more sense, to say that the cause of a rationally intelligible entity is rationally intelligent, or that universes are somehow (and for what reason?) exempt from requiring causes that explain their state? This just seems like unwarranted hand-waving to me: "maybe logic doesn't count outside the universe".

          Occam's Razor would suggest you just start with "the universe began to exist."

          No, because Occam's Razor slices off unecessary entities and favours simpler explanations (but still requires sufficient explanatory power). If the universe is contingent (and it is), then by definition, it has a necessary cause, so you can't use Occam's Razor to slice of that cause as you seem to want to.

          By it's very nature we can't know what happened before the universe was created, and you're trying to apply (faulty) logic to put god in there.

          I agree that we can't do empirical science beyond T1, but that doesn't stop us doing philosophy ;) I don't think you've shown that my logic is faulty.

          • LuminousMonkey says:

            Findo,

            I certainly want to continue with all the points we're bringing up here (however my time is limited so I think we're only going to take some bites per day).

            But I think at the moment, we have to talk about:

            > In what way is it a gnostic statement? I don't think it's an analogy either, rather, a case of an inductive argument (the KCA is deductive).

            You fail to see how "Everything has a cause" is a gnostic statement?

            How about something like:

            "Every swan is white"

            And then I back that up with:

            "I've never seen a swan that was not white, and I don't know of anyone who has."

            Do you not see the basic flaw in your reasoning here?

            I could also claim that all swans being white is self-evident.

            I think we should address the other points, but this seems like a more important point that has to be resolved before we can continue.

          • AndrewFinden says:

            You fail to see how "Everything has a cause" is a gnostic statement?

            I just didn't know what you mean by a 'gnostic' statement – the word 'gnostic' conjours up a 2nd century Greek sect to my mind..

            How about something like:

            "Every swan is white"

            And then I back that up with:

            "I've never seen a swan that was not white, and I don't know of anyone who has."

            Do you not see the basic flaw in your reasoning here?

            I could also claim that all swans being white is self-evident.

            This was, of course, the case for Europeans for most of history!

            How is this different from what science does? Observe something enough times to predict that every other time it will be the same, if, in the observation, it varies, then the thesis is disproven.
            There is the issue of scope – when the scope of swan observation by Europeans did not include Australia, all swans were white – it wasn't until their scope increased that the premise was falsified.

            I don't see the problem of saying that a premise is sound so long as it continues to be demonstrable (or self-evident), that is, until it is falsified.

          • Sorry, I'm assuming you've discussed with askegg gnostic vs agnostic? I'm using the terms in relation to knowledge. So, for example, gnostic theist, gnostic atheist, agnostic theist, agnostic atheist (which I would claim that I am).

            Because science doesn't say "Every swan is white".

            Science says "Swans that we know of are white, however this may be incorrect."

            And this is revised as new evidence comes to light. Not only that, but our understanding of biology, chemistry doesn't give us any reason that swans of another colour can't exist.

            There could possibly be swans that are purple, and I don't think you would find in any peer reviewed paper, or biologist that would claim that all swans are black or white.

            Science certainly wouldn't say "Well I haven't seen anything other than a white swan, and I don't know of anyone else that has, therefore all swans that exist must be white."

            Surely you can see how this is a very important difference?

            So, relating this back to the first premise of Kalam.

            Everything that begins has a cause.

            This is a claim that you know of all possible "beginnings" of things, which is impossible. Much like someone who claims that all swans are white, you don't have omniscience to see those tricky black swans hiding away. :)

          • AndrewFinden says:

            Because science doesn't say "Every swan is white".

            Science says "Swans that we know of are white, however this may be incorrect."
            And this is revised as new evidence comes to light.

            I think you're just playing semantics.
            I already agreed that science predicts based on observation.

            Not only that, but our understanding of biology, chemistry doesn't give us any reason that swans of another colour can't exist.

            There could possibly be swans that are purple, and I don't think you would find in any peer reviewed paper, or biologist that would claim that all swans are black or white.

            Science certainly wouldn't say "Well I haven't seen anything other than a white swan, and I don't know of anyone else that has, therefore all swans that exist must be white."

            Surely you can see how this is a very important difference?

            Of course there's no scientific reason why swans must be white – that's pushing the analogy too far, because there are reasons to think that things don't just pop into existence ex nihlo. But what else can we do, but predict based on past observation? If everything we've observed points to one conclusion, then unless demonstrated otherwise (when new evidence comes to light), it's reasonable to think, to predict, that things will be as we've always observed them. Isn't that a foundation on which empirical science is done?

            So, relating this back to the first premise of Kalam.

            Everything that begins has a cause.

            This is a claim that you know of all possible "beginnings" of things, which is impossible. Much like someone who claims that all swans are white, you don't have omniscience to see those tricky black swans hiding away.

            No, it's not a claim of omnicience – it's a claim that in all of our previous experience, everything that we've observed to have begun to exist has had a meterial or efficient cause. Add to that the logical incoherence of something popping existence uncaused (and why then things popping in and out of existence all over the place and all the time) we've very good reason to accept that first premise (which is presumably why it is a generally well accepted axiom in philosohpy). The question then is whether new information has come to light to falsify that prediction. You've put forward one or two contenders, of which I'm yet to be convinced.

          • > I think you're just playing semantics.

            I feel it's very important to make a distinction between a statement of certainly, and a statement of probability.

            Because the first premise is a statement of certainly, and that's one of the reasons it's flawed. And if we make it something like:

            Some things that begin to exist have a cause.

            Then it makes the rest of the premises meaningless (although they have their own flaws too).

            There are examples of things that begin to exist without a cause. Radioactive decay is random, nothing "causes" the decay to happen and it results in the beginning of existence for a new element. And from my understanding there are particles popping in and out of existence in a vacuum all the time.

            However, if you argue that they are invalid because they don't represent examples of "something beginning to exist", then how can you even argue that "*everything* that begins to exist has a cause" in the first place?

            You would only have one such example, which then would make your first premise:

            The universe begins to exist must have a cause.

            You're relying on our day to day experiences of what we know as cause and effect and you're trying to apply it to something that our daily experiences of cause and effect don't apply to.

            That's why your first premise is lacking any real evidence and you have to resort to that it's "self-apparent".

            Just to clarify, what examples do you have of things beginning to exist that justify the first premise?

            (And also how do you quote replies? I tried searching the IntenseDebate support page and I can't find out how to do it)

          • AndrewFinden says:

            I feel it's very important to make a distinction between a statement of certainly, and a statement of probability.

            It's a premise in a philosophical syllogism.. you seem to be arguing against using premeses at all! The premise is then either valid or invalid.

            And if we make it something like:

            Some things that begin to exist have a cause.

            Then it makes the rest of the premises meaningless

            Well quite but that would be a bit like saying 'some men die before they reach the age of 150' instead of 'all men die before reaching age 150'.

            There are examples of things that begin to exist without a cause. Radioactive decay is random, nothing "causes" the decay to happen and it results in the beginning of existence for a new element. And from my understanding there are particles popping in and out of existence in a vacuum all the time.

            However, if you argue that they are invalid because they don't represent examples of "something beginning to exist", then how can you even argue that "*everything* that begins to exist has a cause" in the first place?

            If the decay "results in the beginning of existence for a new element" then rather obviously, that new element's beginning has a material cause!
            Perhaps you've misunderstood the argument to only be talking about efficient causes?

            I am very dubious of talk of (virtual) particles popping into existence from nothing, frankly, because whenever I've heard people like Lawrence Krauss talk about it, their 'nothing' is not actual nothing in sense that philosophers are using the term. He doesn't mean 'not anything' – his nothing is still something. So I won't hold my breath that this shows that things can pop into existence ex nihlo.

            That's why your first premise is lacking any real evidence and you have to resort to that it's "self-apparent".

            Just to clarify, what examples do you have of things beginning to exist that justify the first premise?

            well no.. it's "self-apparent" precisely because there is such overwhelming evidence – namely, everything we've ever observed begin to exist!
            Which examples?
            Apples, Boxes, Cats, Dogs, Eggs, Fondue, Gongs, Honey, Igloos, Jam, Kool aid, Lawrence Krauss, Me, Noodles, Oreos, People, Quilts, Roses, Sounds, Troughs, Umbrellas, Videos, Windows, Xylophones, You, Zebras.

            Shall I continue? :p
            Everything we've ever observed begin to exist has either an efficient or material cause. The only example you offer which doesn't, appears to depend on dubious terminology.
            Moreover, you haven't dealt with the objection as to why, if things can pop into existence uncaused, why we don't have horses and tables and sounds etc. just popping into existence randomly all the time? You admitted that if the premise is false, then universes might just pop into existence in my cereal bowl, but then gave no justification for the suggestion that it's unlikely.
            I think the premise stands.

          • (Again sorry I can't address all your points, I hope that I'll get back to them as the discussion continues)

            Well quite but that would be a bit like saying 'some men die before they reach the age of 150' instead of 'all men die before reaching age 150'.

            Certain claims have evidence to back them up, for example, medical evidence. Though I'm sure there's a better example than this you could have used to make your point? You think it's impossible for somebody to live to 150?

            I am very dubious of talk of (virtual) particles popping into existence from nothing, frankly, because whenever I've heard people like Lawrence Krauss talk about it, their 'nothing' is not actual nothing in sense that philosophers are using the term. He doesn't mean 'not anything' – his nothing is still something. So I won't hold my breath that this shows that things can pop into existence ex nihlo.

            We're not talking about the something out of nothing, we're talking about cause and effect. This is why the radioactive decay, and virtual particles, etc, are a point here. You're arguing very broadly, that everything that begins to exist has a cause. For example you say:

            Which examples?
            Apples, Boxes, Cats, Dogs, Eggs, Fondue, Gongs, Honey, Igloos, Jam, Kool aid, Lawrence Krauss, Me, Noodles, Oreos, People, Quilts, Roses, Sounds, Troughs, Umbrellas, Videos, Windows, Xylophones, You, Zebras.

            This is one of the 'tricks' in the Kalam argument. You're equating everyday experience with the creation of everything. Do you not see how that is a faulty leap in logic?

            Are you arguing that the creation of everything is as simple as a tree growing an apple? A cat giving birth of kittens?

            All those examples you give, are the rearranging of existing matter. If the "beginning to exist" of an apple can be equated to the "beginning to exist" of a kitten, then it makes the "beginning to exist" of the universe pretty mundane? So a god wouldn't be needed in that case?

            This is the problem with the first premise, and using it for inductive reasoning. The "beginning of existence" of the universe is nowhere near the realm of apples, boxes, cats, dogs, etc.

            I mean, from your point of view, an eternal, rational intelligence is obviously needed for the creation of the universe. Is it the same for an apple?

            1) Kittens begin to exist from a cat
            2) The universe began to exist
            3) Therefore the universe came from a cat

            I know, I know, reductio ad absurdum. But I really want you to understand my point of view, and how your claims of "self-evident" here are simply not valid because you're basing them off no real evidence.

          • AndrewFinden says:

            You think it's impossible for somebody to live to 150?

            No.. but I don't have to show that to use the premise:
            All men die before they reach 150
            based on the fact that we've not observed anyone having lived that long (as I'm using this an example, I've not actually done any research, but you get the point I hope)
            If we observe someone to do so, then we can say the premise in invalid.

            This is one of the 'tricks' in the Kalam argument. You're equating everyday experience with the creation of everything. Do you not see how that is a faulty leap in logic?

            No.. it's saying
            x applies to all contingent entities we've observed to being existing
            therefore, we predict that x applies also to this other contingent entity.
            Where is the illogic in that?

            Are you arguing that the creation of everything is as simple as a tree growing an apple? A cat giving birth of kittens?

            "Simple" has nothing to do with it. The question is, do contingent entities have material &/or efficient causes? Have we ever seen an entity begin existing without either of those? If not, then denying that prediction to a given contingent entity is special pleading.

            All those examples you give, are the rearranging of existing matter. If the "beginning to exist" of an apple can be equated to the "beginning to exist" of a kitten, then it makes the "beginning to exist" of the universe pretty mundane? So a god wouldn't be needed in that case?

            I think this shows that you may not have fully understood the KCA. As you point out, all those things have a material cause, which just backs up the first premise! KCA is not talking only about efficient causes, and the conclusion is not necessarily an efficient cause, but, you'll note, merely a cause.

            1) Kittens begin to exist from a cat
            2) The universe began to exist
            3) Therefore the universe came from a cat

            I know, I know, reductio ad absurdum. But I really want you to understand my point of view

            I'm not sure what your invalid syllogism (the conclusion doesn't follow the premises) is in aid of?

            your claims of "self-evident" here are simply not valid because you're basing them off no real evidence.

            Except that you actually agreed with the premise by pointing to the material cause of all those entities I referred to.

          • No.. it's saying
            x applies to all contingent entities we've observed to being existing
            therefore, we predict that x applies also to this other contingent entity.
            Where is the illogic in that?

            I think there's just simply too much in a difference in the way we think. Personally, I find it interesting how now you're adding "contingent entities". What proof do you have that the universe is a "contingent entity"?

            "Simple" has nothing to do with it. The question is, do contingent entities have material &/or efficient causes? Have we ever seen an entity begin existing without either of those? If not, then denying that prediction to a given contingent entity is special pleading.<//blockquote>

            See above.

            <blockquoute>I think this shows that you may not have fully understood the KCA. As you point out, all those things have a material cause, which just backs up the first premise! KCA is not talking only about efficient causes, and the conclusion is not necessarily an efficient cause, but, you'll note, merely a cause.

            Unfortunately I do understand, the problem here is we have two very different views on things, and I don't have a need to try and reason my way to there being a creator. Again, I don't back up the first premise at all, see above.

            Except that you actually agreed with the premise by pointing to the material cause of all those entities I referred to.

            No, I didn't. But because you have thought yourself into this framework to validate the KCA you think so. I've really been trying to show to you why I don't think it holds. Now if you start with that, trying to put yourself in my shoes, can you not see how I think those are not arguments for the first premise?

            For example, a man is talking to a doctor, and he claims he is dead.
            The doctor says "Do dead men bleed?", and man replies, "No, of course not."
            To which the doctor then pricks the man's finger, showing him, the man replies, "I was wrong, I guess dead men bleed after all."

            Now, of course, given though we would both agree that the man is wrong, we can understand his reasoning, as wrong as it may be.

            So surely, you can see how I thinking that apples, kittens, cars, boats, dogs, and what have you are completely set apart from the beginning of everything?

            All those other things come from pre-existing matter, molecules, which in turn are made up from elements that are forged in super nova. The decay of carbon 14 to carbon 12, same thing (however, as I've tried arguing, radioactive decay is random, hence nothing caused it, it just happens). Can you not see, how these are completely different from the existence of the universe?

            You know that it's different, because you worry about an infinite regress, so you say god created the universe, and it's an always existing entity. We don't have to worry about an infinite regress of apples, or kittens, or turtles.

            You say I'm arguing special pleading, you do the exact same thing with god, since you want a god to be the cause of everything, you special plead and say "Ah, but god always existed."

            I'm not special pleading anything, I don't know what happened before the big bang, I don't claim to even know the answer. Best we can say is what our current evidence suggests.

          • AndrewFinden says:

            I find it interesting how now you're adding "contingent entities". What proof do you have that the universe is a "contingent entity"?

            I don't think I'm adding it -I think that is assumed – a universe that begins to exist is, by definition, a contingent entity. In any case, I see no reason to think the universe is a necessary entity – I see no reason to think that that it couldn't have been otherwise.

            So surely, you can see how I thinking that apples, kittens, cars, boats, dogs, and what have you are completely set apart from the beginning of everything?

            Yes, but I think that it's special pleading ;)

            We don't have to worry about an infinite regress of apples, or kittens, or turtles.

            Well, quite… because we know that the universe began to exist!

            You say I'm arguing special pleading, you do the exact same thing with god, since you want a god to be the cause of everything, you special plead and say "Ah, but god always existed."

            No, the distinction between contingent and necessary, temporal and eternal entities is not special pleading. To not make a distinction would be a category error.

            It is special pleading to say that what applies to every other contingent entity doesn't apply to a given contingent entity. I don't think you've sufficiently justified the exception.

          • Guest says:

            "I don't think I'm adding it -I think that is assumed – a universe that begins to exist is, by definition, a contingent entity."

            Except there is no evidence that the universe began to exist.

            See above.

          • AndrewFinden says:

            Well.. except for the standard model of the big bang..
            Sorry Guest, but I'm going with the consensus on this one.

            Who am I to listen to, an anonymous internet commenter, who says there's no evidence, or Stephen Hawking who says:

            All the evidence seems to indicate, that the universe has not existed forever, but that it had a beginning, about 15 billion years ago. This is probably the most remarkable discovery of modern cosmology.

          • Guest says:

            The big bang theory, in all its iterations, only deals with the Planck time onwards, and remains absolutely silent on anything prior to that.

            Hawking says as much in that lecture. There is no evidence that the universe 'began to exist' – we CANNOT point to a moment or instance when the universe began. In fact Hartle-Hawking tells us that.

            Maybe the universe did begin to exist. I dont know any neither does any scientist. The universe is a brute fact and thats that. But you dont get the right to quote Craig's philosophical wibble and claim any sort of evidence for a creator.

          • AndrewFinden says:

            The big bang theory, in all its iterations, only deals with the Planck time onwards, and remains absolutely silent on anything prior to that.

            But before that the universe wasn't.

            Hawking says as much in that lecture.

            Right, which is why he then reiterates in his conclusion that the universe began to exist some 15 billion years ago.

            You're trying to agree with him and then blatantly contradict him.

            The universe is a brute fact and thats that.

            What do you mean by that – that the universe is a necessary entity? How do you back up this claim?

            But you dont get the right to quote Craig's philosophical wibble and claim any sort of evidence for a creator.

            I have the right to quote whatever I like, and to point to whatever evidence I choose to, just as you have the right to find it unpersuasive and think someone's argument "wibble". But really, if we're back at this level of discussion, count me out.

          • Well.. except for the standard model of the big bang..
            Sorry Guest, but I'm going with the consensus on this one.

            Sorry to butt in here.

            Findo, you would agree that time didn't exist before the existance of the universe?

          • AndrewFinden says:

            In the sense that we know it, yes. By definition, anything outside space-time is timeless, I should think.

          • Ok, so, then the creation of space-time requires a timeless entity for it's creation? I mean that's the whole point of the Kalam argument?

            So, by your very own logic, the beginning of existence of the universe, which obviously includes space-time, is completely different from the beginning of existence of cats, dogs, apples, people, etc.

            You know it must be, because you just made a point of mentioning that anything outside space-time is timeless, obviously any inductive reasoning breaks down, you yourself just said "In the sense that we know it".

            Therefore, you can't use inductive reasoning to apply the cause and effect of our everyday lives.

            Can you not see the flaw in your argument here?

            On one hand, you are arguing that the beginning of existence of the universe requires a timeless entity outside space-time, yet on the other you're relying on everything inside space-time to inductively reason.

            The simplest option is just to say, we don't know how the beginning of the universe went about. Like has been mentioned elsewhere, current scientific study, evidence and theory only goes so far back to planck time.

          • AndrewFinden says:

            I think I understand where you're coming from. I spent some time yesterday thinking about whether this was falling foul of the compositional fallacy.. and I'm not convinced that it is.

            e.g.

            On one hand, you are arguing that the beginning of existence of the universe requires a timeless entity outside space-time, yet on the other you're relying on everything inside space-time to inductively reason.

            I'm not sure that the KCA argues specifically for a time-less entity, that is merely the logical outcome. I think, rather, that it is merely (perhaps initially) arguing for a cause (either material or efficient) based on the contingent nature of the universe. I think it's then special pleading to say that what applies to all other contingent entities doesn't apply to the universe as a contingent entity. To say that inductive reasoning breaks down also seems unjustified.. why does it break down?

          • Sorry, it may not mean a timeless entity, but obviously an entity that is outside space-time to begin with?

            My point is that our logical rules of cause and effect as we know them don't apply to anything before the existence of space-time, because our existence and experience is solely based in space-time.

            I'm not arguing this as proof that there couldn't possibly be a rational entity, outside space-time, all I'm arguing is that the KCA is a faulty inductive argument.

          • AndrewFinden says:

            My point is that our logical rules of cause and effect as we know them don't apply to anything before the existence of space-time, because our existence and experience is solely based in space-time.

            I don't think we can make that claim. At best, we simply don't know – which leads me to think that it's safer to assume that causal logic still applies. I don't see that causality has to be tied up within our temporal state.

          • Again we reach a fundamental difference in our thinking.

            I would agree that saying "we don't know" is a perfectly good answer. But then to follow it up with "it's safer to assume".

            No, it's safer to say that we just don't know, therefore we have to discount it until we know better.

            We must stick to what evidence we have, this is why inductive reasoning is faulty in this case, if I am to understand you correctly you are saying that basically the KCA is hinging on this assumption?

            Don't you find that uncomfortable?

            Would you not consider it unfair, if, for example, you were convicted of a crime on an assumption?

          • AndrewFinden says:

            I don't think saying 'we don't know' rules out the option of coming to reasonable (i.e. reasoned) conclusions.

            I also think there is a vast difference between a single "pointer" philosophical argument (amongst a number) for holding a metaphysical belief, and convicting someone of a crime (remember, I'm not arguing that anything is proved, or that there is a silver bullet).

          • But you're not making a reasonable conclusion, you're making an assumption. Scientific theory only goes so far back to planck time, before then all known models of physics break down.

            You can claim to have your own ideas, but there is no way that any ideas can sustain any burden of proof.

            I think we're talking cross purposes? I'm not having a philosophical argument. I'm having an argument on what we can claim is true from what we know based on evidence.

            I personally think that philosophy really isn't that important in finding any sort of physical truth. And I find the idea of "metaphysical" absurd.

            Say for example, we where in "The Matrix", unless there are effects we can experience, then the idea is unimportant.

            I don't deny that thinking about such things may help us explore our minds and own thoughts if it was the case, but without evidence there's no reason we should use that as a basis for truth.

            The argument of the "metaphysical" holds as much weight to it as Sagan's invisible dragon in his garage, and provides as much truth as a picture of oxygen provides air to a drowning man.

          • AndrewFinden says:

            I think you're right when you say we're at cross purposes – it's one of the main points in the post: that most of the time the real issue is a difference in background beliefs and assumptions that we bring to the issues we discuss.

            Suffice it to say that I don't share your low view of philosophy, and that I think the garage-dragon analogy is quite a false one ;)

            Has never-the-less, been a very stimulating and thought-provoking discussion, thank-you!

          • No worries Findo.

            Thanks.

            Good discussion. :)

          • G'day Findo,

            I did reply to this a few days ago, but it seems like it's gone into the ether. Sorry, I didn't check properly.

            I'll see about trying to remember my points and post them again.

          • AndrewFinden says:

            my bad.. seems have been waiting for approval for some reason.. should be showing now.

          • AndrewFinden says:

            use < blockquote > here is the quoted text </ blockquote > without the spaces

        • AndrewFinden says:

          A further thought…

          If (for the sake of the argument) we concede that certain quantum particles do pop into existence ex nihlo, without material and efficient cause, what's to say that anything and everything can't just pop in and out of existence? If you want to say that only quantum particles can, on what grounds? What's to stop whole other universes popping into existence in my living room?
          Indeed, by such an argument, the virgin birth becomes somewhat less of a miracle – why shouldn't embryo's just pop into existence? ;P

          So not only do I think your object is unwarranted, I think it's highly problematic.

          • Just on this quickly.

            You are correct, there is actually no reason that other universes can't pop into your living room. However, from what we know of physics, this sort of thing is possible, however very unlikely.

            In particular I read a theory that we could actually seed a universe that would split off from our own and be completely independent (so we couldn't go in or out of it at all).

            Though, I concede I am basing this off old articles in New Scientist I have read, and also a book I read once on the standard theory, so it must be taken with a grain of salt as I can't rely on my memory or understanding. For these physics bits, I think we would really have to consult the opinion of a physics expert, as quantum physics, etc, is really quite counter intuitive.

            Well, actually, I think parthenogenesis would cover a virgin birth? So, it's not really much a miracle if it was true? :)

          • AndrewFinden says:

            You are correct, there is actually no reason that other universes can't pop into your living room. However, from what we know of physics, this sort of thing is possible, however very unlikely.

            Why is it unlikely? Logically, it's possibility does not depend on the physics of the new universe in my living room, because those physics don't exist until after it has popped into existence. But then your argument entails that things can pop into existence uncaused, meaning that the laws of our universe would not have anything to do with causing it – so I can't see what would make it unlikely? And if it's not unlikely, why hasn't it ever happened to anyone?

  2. [...] it is with a some disappointment I note that Andrew is wrapping up his blog with “one last philosophical hurrah.” Andrew’s post is rather lengthy and covers many of his arguments he has raised in the [...]

  3. Guest says:

    You can also discuss the KCA here, although I very much doubt you will want your assertions discussed elsewhere http://www.rationalskepticism.org/general-faith/w

    But if you do read it and get involved, you'll be able to understand why this " I know that Atheists like to hate on the Kalam cosmological argument, but I’ve not yet seen anyone avoid the logic (or refute either of the premises)" will get fixed for you. Both premises are demonstrably not true. Science backs me up on this assertion. You'll know that for this argument to be true both premises have to be demonstrated to be true. They cant be unless one wilfully misuses current scientific thinking.

    • AndrewFinden says:

      Thanks for the link. I read through the first three pages.. which I think helped clarify where you're coming from. I'm not going to get involved, for the same reasons that I'm moving away from these types of posts. I appreciate your faith in the thread to 'fix' my views, but it did also set off some fallacy alarms.. I maintain that I've not seen the premises refuted – as I point out in another comment, I think terms are being used wrongly in the attempts I see there.

      You'll know that for this argument to be true both premises have to be demonstrated to be true.

      They have to be sound and valid for the syllogism to be sound and valid. I think they are, but then I'm not running around shouting "Aha! gotcha!" about it, as I suspect you might be thinking..

  4. [...] is a continuation of my reply to Andrew Finden’s “one last philosophical hurrah” post, and addresses the question “why believe there is a [...]

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