Wednesday, January 30, 2008

There is no God - proving the negative

An anonymous comment on one of my posts here challenged the often argued atheist position that it is unreasonable to expect them to prove there is no God - as one can’t prove a negative. I left the anonymous comment there – of course it is correct - we prove negatives all the time.

Equally absurd, is that while arguing that you can’t prove the negative, many atheists actually claim that they have proven that there is no God. Simply put, the PoE - Problem of Evil - (or ‘Argument from Evil’ if you prefer) seeks to prove that God and evil cannot co-exist and since evil exists it deduces that there is no God.


Now some atheists have an interesting dilemma – if you can’t prove a negative then the PoE is worthless … if they credit the PoE then they accept the burden of proving their view that there is no God – or they retreat into agnosticism.

It is my view that the distinction between so called ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ atheists is nonsense. Either you believe God exists or you don’t – if you can’t figure out which, and many people are searching, then being agnostic is at least an honest position.

In terms of the atheist/theist debate however there is no hiding place in ‘you can’t prove a negative’, nor is there a defence in saying that being atheist is not ‘believing there is no God’, but simply ‘not believing that God exists’ while not acknowledging implicit belief in the corollary.

A number of atheists still set great store in the PoE – it creeps into most of their arguments at some point. While it is certainly not valid as an argument – it is flawed through and through and to believe its conclusion is more of a act of faith than believing in unicorns – it is none the less an interesting source of questions. Why do we have evil? Why are there negative consequences to some of our actions? Why do some people choose evil? What of the innocent victims of evil? Where/how does God fit into an evil world? … … etc etc.

I often wonder why so many atheists cling to the myth of the Argument from Evil. Is it simply that as people, when we choose to believe something (even a negative) we seek justification. In many ways it is so much more important for atheists to convince themselves that they are right than theists – after all, being wrong as an atheist means there really is an afterlife and who knows what else.

It must be very difficult to believe the negative – there is no God. It is an absolute position and it is not a singular position. There being no God implies there is no afterlife, no metaphysical phenomenon etc. This is such a vulnerable position, any evidence to the contrary undermines the absolute nature of atheist belief – no wonder so many atheists are so emphatic about requiring absolute proof to shake their absolute position.

Of course the weakness of the Argument from Evil is a real threat to atheist belief – if one can’t prove there is no God, well perhaps there is.

Now I don’t expect a single conclusive argument that God does not exist from atheists, but it would be interesting to see at least one that comes close, or perhaps an assembly of arguments or evidence that produces a weighting in favour of atheism. Failing that all we have from the atheist camp is a call to groundless faith in the proposition that there is no God.
To expect theists to provide proof (accumulated argument and evidence) of their position while atheists avoid doing so is intellectual nonsense brewed in a teacup. It is reasonable to ask anyone to justify what they believe – if they respond that they have no reason, just no one has convinced them of an alternative position, then one should question if their position is borne from reason and rational argument or faith?
I for one admire the faith of many atheists I have met – it stands firm in the face of all reasonable argument and evidence.

59 comments:

Techskeptic said...

please give me the 5000 you have of mine.

Otherwise prove you dont have it.

One or the other.


someone needs to understand the difference between layman predictions and positive predictions and claims.

Techskeptic said...

"A number of atheists still set great store in the PoE – it creeps into most of their arguments at some point"

Not sure who you are talking about.... Of all the atheism books not once did PoE dogma come up. not once.

Is "a number of.." like 6 atheists or something? Atheism has nothing to do with proving a negative, not some arbitrary consternation about evil and god. Its the simple request to prove a positive claim like scientists have to do all the time.

akakiwibear said...

tech: "please give me the 5000 you have of mine.
Otherwise prove you dont have it.
One or the other."


Not the same. Argument from Evil is a deliberate attempt to prove God cannot exist if evil exists ... it sets out to prove the impossibility of the existence of God this is a clear attempt to prove the negative.

"Not sure who you are talking about.... Of all the atheism books not once did PoE dogma come up. not once." well that is interesting. You can't avoid the topic on sites like DC - it clearly underpins Lee's thinking. It certainly comes into Frew, Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens, Mackie's essay “Evil and Omnipotence” the list goes on - or did I miss the sarcasm of your reply?

"Atheism has nothing to do with proving a negative, not some arbitrary consternation about evil and god." . That is indeed the common atheist position which I brand as intellectually bankrupt.

Do you hold a position, not because of its own merits, but only because you have not accepted the arguments in favour of a contrary position? Do you therefore adopt your position from a one-sided review of the for arguments - or have you actually considered the possibility that there is indeed no God and found anything to support that position? No?

I have arguments and evidence to support my position and I can refute the arguments to the contrary. It seems that you have nothing to support your position other than an unfounded belief that I am wrong.

Hamba kahle - peace

the dank said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
the dank said...

I visit the DC blog from time to time and I find that your comments are usually pretty insightful and cause me to re-think my position. So I wanted to check out your blog.

I have never found philosophical arguments for or against Christianity to be really convincing. Debates usually just end up being who can out-think the other. The contradictions are explained away and everyone sees justification for their belief through these explanations.

Do you think we can verify the existence of God? If so, how? I am more than a little curious as to why you think Atheists and Christians both share same burden of proof. Do you feel you have to prove that Allah, Zeus, Odin, etc. don't exist? Why? I don't believe God exists because I have seen no reliable evidence that he does. If you've got some, please direct me to it.

As a side note: I freely admit that I am little out of my depth here, but I will try to keep up. Just help me out.

Also, you might want to check out Dagood's blog, if you haven't done so already. I lurk his blog often, and I have found it to be a much more insightful than what is generally offered at DC.

http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/

akakiwibear said...

Hi The Dank and welcome! Thank you too for the compliment – flattery will always get you something!

You say “I have never found philosophical arguments for or against Christianity to be really convincing.” and “I am more than a little curious as to why you think Atheists and Christians both share same burden of proof”

I agree with your first sentiment – the argument is of itself unconvincing, if it were truly convincing that is conclusive there would be little debate. Also I think you see the limits of philosophy when one should be broader in ones outlook and embrace all the evidence/reasoning from both sides.

As to why I think there is a shared burden of proof … it gets down to having reasons for holding a belief – and atheists do hold a belief. Now if one is unable to present those reasons then I question their.

Your position is “I don't believe God exists because I have seen no reliable evidence that he does” . I see this as an unbalanced position.
Contrast it with my position – I have looked at the reasoning both for and against the existence of God – I have found much to recommend the theist position and have yet to hear a reasonably persuasive argument to support the view that there is no God.

If I were simply to say that I believe there is a God because “I have yet to hear a reasonably persuasive argument to support the view that there is no God” then that would, in my mind, not be a rational position.

You go on to say “… no reliable evidence that he does. If you've got some, please direct me to it.” . We each respond to different arguments, but if you want proof absolute then clearly I can’t oblige. However, what I can offer is a body of evidence, none of it conclusive on its own, but taken together it is a preponderance of evidence that leads to the reasonably conclusion that there is a God.

This is not the place to reiterate my views, but the August 2007 post here may interest you, as might September 2007. Re-reading the posts I may put things differently now, but they are a start.

Out of interest, do you have an actual reason to believe there is no God?

Thanks for the pointer to sandwichesforsale - looks good, I will need more time to explore it fully

Hamba kahle - peace

the dank said...

Out of interest, do you have an actual reason to believe there is no God?

I understand your position, but I would reiterate that it is the theist that raises the notion of a God, not I.

For the good part of my youth I was what one could call a cultural Christian. That is, I believed in the Christian God because I was told he existed from the time I was born. I never experienced God, and I was never really sure he was there, but hell doesn't really sound like a place I want to go. It really didn't take much for me to renounce my faith and take up atheism because I was never really all that convinced in the first place. I went from a Christian God I hardly believed, skipped the irrelevant God of deism, and straight into Atheism.

In a nutshell, I reject the God of Christianity because I can't make sense of all the things he claims to be and the things he's done. God just appears to be a human construct to me.

akakiwibear said...

the dank - thanks I now understand where you are coming from.

You are not alone in your confusion! Indeed you are quite right to say teh God presented to us is a human construct - after all people from around the world have taken the revelations of God to them (different, culturally specific but the same at the core) and developed a theology to help to understand God. Did they all get it all right - hell no!

So we expect differences (even irreconcilable ones) between religions and even between groups under a common religious umbrella. Do the differences mean there is no God or many Gods? I don't know for sure, but both are acceptable conclusions as is that there is one God with many revelations.

You say "I can't make sense of all the things he claims to be and the things he's done" . Perhaps what you can't make sense of is the multiple interpretations given by people (often with very human agendas) to the different revelations of God. For some, the detail of a specific doctrine is important, for others the big picture works best - I am certainly one of the latter.

A H Maslow put it this way
Also this kind of study leads us to another very plausible hypothesis: to the extent that all mystical or peak-experiences are the same in their essence and have always been the same, all religions are the same in their essence and always have been the same. They should, therefore, come to agree in principle on teaching that which is common to all of them, i.e., whatever it is that peak-experiences teach in common (whatever is different about these illuminations can fairly be taken to be localisms both in time and space, and are, therefore, peripheral, expendable, not essential). This something common, this something which is left over after we peel away all the localisms, all the accidents of particular languages or particular philosophies, all the ethnocentric phrasings, all those elements which are not common, we may call the "core-religious experience" or the "transcendent experience."

I go along with that. It is easy to forget that God came first and we tried to explain it all afterwards.

Hamba kahle - peace

DagoodS said...

Wow!

I popped over due to a comment on my blog to find a lurker recommending my blog. How very humbling.

Akakiwibear, you indicated the evidence for a metaphysical realm would have to be metaphysical. An apt analogy you used was, “…no point using a metal detector to find wood.” I agree.

But now comes the most difficult part—how do I find “metaphysical evidence” when all I exist is on the physical? In order for the “metaphysical” to demonstrate to me, it has to become physical in some way shape or form. Look at it this way—in order for me to see metaphysical angels, they would have to appear here, on earth, in manner which would reflect physical light from my physical eyes, recorded in my physical brain. For me to hear them, they would need to make physical sound waves for my physical ears to here.

Simply put—there must be some crossing of the plane(s) in order for us, bound by the physical realm, to see the metaphysical. Yet, at that moment, it becomes partially physically. If a theist proposes a concept of a god which creates--at some moment, perhaps only the first, that god crosses over to the physical in order to do so. If metaphysical never enters physical, it can neither affect it, nor be demonstrated in any way.

Therefore, all I can do is use the bits and pieces of the natural realm, and from that derive conclusions of what may be in the metaphysical realm. If I see a woman laugh—I can deduce something about the metaphysical realm. If I see a star explode—I can deduce something about the metaphysical realm. But do you see the inherent difficulty within those two statements? It is the common element—the human.

See, the only way we hear statements about concepts of god is from what other humans tell us. One human (author of Acts) tells us of another human (Saul) describing an encounter with a God. Yet the human (Saul) gives a different accounting of his encounter with God. Which human do I believe? One human tells me their god creates via evolution, another tells me their god creates by creationism but in billions of years, yet another tells me their god creates in but 6000 years. How do I, a lowly atheist, determine which human is accurately describing the god?

Multiply that by what seems to be billions of different possible characteristics, proposed by billions of different humans. While creation of the universe is common—from there it fragments almost immediately.

The best argument against the idea of a god is threefold:

1) inconsistency within the methodology;
2) lack of uniformity; and
3) god(s) are only as knowledgeable as the human within his/her time, place and society.

Starting with inconsistency in methodology. Many theists propose aspects of their god from what they observe here in the physical. We like life; their god likes life. We hate death; their god hates death…and so on. But then we see evil. A man kills 5 women in a store simply because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Fair enough, at this point, using the same methodology, since we are providing the god concept with the credit of creating morality, it equally should be credited with detriment of creating immorality. If this god is capable of morals, as evidenced by human morality, then equally this god must be capable of immorality, as evidenced by human immorality.

At which point some theists posit their god is solely moral. The theist loses consistency in methodology. (Note, by the way. The Problem of Evil is ONLY a problem for anyone who proposes a solely moral god. It is not, repeat NOT an argument against ALL gods.) I see this over and over.

Secondly, the lack of uniformity within the claims of what god is like. How is it we use the same physical evidence and come to such vastly differently conclusions regarding what could possibly be on the metaphysical realm? It is of no solace we are getting further away from consensus the more we know—not closer.

Thirdly, the humans who could only see a portion of the world had god(s) who created flat worlds. Those who saw the sun rise and set had god(s) create a geocentric universe. Those who relied upon seasons saw god(s) who manipulated seasons. As we learn more, the god changes. No longer does the Thor-god send lightning bolts by magic. We now have a god-concept who sets up a natural course of events which results in lightning.

No more does blood sacrifice keep the sun on its course. That is now god’s afterthought. Sickness is not caused by metaphysical demons—it is observed, diagnosed and treated without god’s help.

I hate to turn this around (as you correctly note atheists are so likely to do)—but how can you show me your description of what is in that metaphysical realm is more likely than any other? How can you show this is not human justification for physical evidence?

akakiwibear: It must be very difficult to believe the negative – there is no God.

As much as I clutched on to god-belief like a vise, I found the ability to believe slipping away against my best efforts. I found neither theism nor atheism to be difficult. In-between was no picnic.

akakiwibear said...

Hi Dagoods, welcome.

Thank you for your thought provoking comment. I am away for a week or so and will try and provide a reply of suitable standard when I return.

As a quick teaser, you said "As we learn more, the god changes" and I reply of course it could be no other way. Why the assumption that we should have had all/full knowledge at the birth of humanity?

Is not the process of learning about our God(s) one of presenting a view and then refining it in the light of new knowledge or evidence?

The real question is do we eventually "refine" God out of existence? Certainly if there is no basis for that belief - if the "refining" reduces God rather than explains God.

What we see happening is actually a gradual convergence of the various theologies towards a common view (not a smooth steady convergence, but still a convergence).

A full reply when I get a chance.

Hamba kahle - peace

Ten Minas Ministries said...

Hello Dagoods. Remember me?

Akakiwibear, thank you for visiting the Ten Minas Ministries blog. You may be interested in some of the resources on the ministry website too (there is a link to the main site on the blog).

I also will vouch for Dagoods. He and I have had many a prolonged discussion in the past, and I believe you will truly benefit from your conversations. He exemplifies a motto of mine, "We can disagree without being disagreeable."

I cannot offer up detailed responses to everything Dagoods says. I will leave that to akakiwibear. But a couple points came to mind.

I was intrigued by your comment, "In order for the 'metaphysical' to demonstrate to me, it has to become physical in some way shape or form." Doesn't this sound peculiarly like the incarnation? So if indeed it is necessary for the metaphysical to become, at least in some way, physical, in order for us to understand the metaphysical, wouldn't that further support why the incarnation of Christ was a superior revelation of the metaphysical than anything previously? There had previously been some physical manifestations (i.e., to the prophets), but in Christ God actually and physically walked among us.

You also stated, "Many theists propose aspects of their god from what they observe here in the physical." But your point confuses the epistemological with the ontological realities, a distinction that your previous point about understanding the metaphysical seemed to acknowledge. There is a difference between what is objectively true and how we come to know that truth or how much of that truth we are capable of understanding.

You say that many theists propose aspects of their god from what they observe here in the physical. So what? How humans come to their individual beliefs does not necessarily mean their beliefs are true. This is why we must test the foundation for those beliefs logically to see if they are justified.

Also, your arguments confuses correlation with causation. The mere fact that some theists point out some similarities does not mean that the physical realities necessitate the metaphysical realities. In other words, you say that the existence of moral behavior in the world necessitates
moral behavior in God. Also, the existence of immorality in the world necessitates immorality in God. But when a Christian theist (I would not presume to speak for others) points out similarities between our character and God's character (really, the comparison is done at the character level, not the level of behavior), we are simply pointing out that mankind is made in God's image. We are reflections of God, yet imperfect reflections. Hence the existence of our moral compass is because we are made in the image of a moral God. The existence of immorality is because of our imperfections. Immorality or evil is not a thing, it is the absence of a thing. It is the absence of moral controls in our character that will in turn influence our behavior. God does not have to be held responsible for creating an absence. It exists because something God did create is not present (again, due to the fall and our own free will).

Your argument has the causal chain going the wrong direction. The physical realities are explained by the metaphysical relaties, not vice versa. The morality we see in our character is due to the morality in God's character. The immorality we exhibit is due to the rejection and absence of the morality from God's character.

We are finite. God is infinite. It goes back to the same argument you and I have bandied about many times before. It is perfectly logical to conclude that a finite being would not be able to fully comprehend all aspects of an infinite being when evidence from other spheres demonstrates the existence of that infinite being. There is nothing inconsistent about this methodology.

DagoodS said...

Your argument has the causal chain going the wrong direction. The physical realities are explained by the metaphysical relaties, not vice versa.

DagoodS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DagoodS said...

Whoops!

I prepared a long comment, but only managed to copy a very small portion. Hence my last comment makes no sense. And is quite cryptic. He he he. Nothing like being human. I’ll try again… (And then I posted a comment with missing words. Sigh. Some days you just don’t win.)

Hello, Ten Minas Ministries. Small blog world, eh? I still read your blog, but my attention has been focused elsewhere.

I agree an incarnation of a god is a good example of evidence which appears physical, yet is claimed to be demonstrative of metaphysical. The problem comes in—how do I tell which is which? I have two humans. Both appear very physical—they are born, grow, eat, sleep, show emotion and die. Both have followers who claim the person was also metaphysical in some way. Yet one group of followers adamantly asserts the other group of followers is wrong about their person having any metaphysical element. How do I tell, since ALL the evidence is physical—which group of followers is correct?

(And it is even worse in the case of Jesus, since I don’t even have the actual person, but rather humans disagreeing with each other as to the metaphysical state of Jesus, as well as what Jesus said and did, causing even less agreement as to the evidence.)

Ten Minas Ministries: There is a difference between what is objectively true and how we come to know that truth or how much of that truth we are capable of understanding.

I agree. Not sure how this helps the theist. Remember, the claim is that this god exists on some plane unobservable and unverifiable. It may be “objectively true” there are three-eyed toads on the 127th dimension. However, I am stuck here in this dimension with no way to observe the 127th dimension. Simply claiming, “Gee, there might be three-eyed toads where we cannot observe” does not make it more probable there are three-eyed toads in the 127th dimension.

I see I was not clear with my statements regarding morality/immorality. I think we are actually on the same page, believe it or not. I was talking about methodology. Let me use a different analogy.

Imagine someone says, “Since the shape of the box is round, the object inside the box is also round.” What we have done is established a simple method—the shape of the box determines the contents. (And yes, it is quite true, the contents could be any shape, however that is NOT what the person is saying. The person is claiming a necessary link between the shape of the box and the shape of the contents.) I then come across a square box. Utilizing the same method (“shape of box determines contents”) we would come to the conclusion the contents are square. Yet what happens now is the theist abandons their method, and claims the shape of the box does NOT determine contents. I see that as inconsistent.

What I meant to say was “If our capability to perform a moral act is evidence of a god who is capable of performing a moral act, then to stay consistent, our capability to perform an immoral act is equal evidence of a god who is capable of performing an immoral act.” In other words, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. You can’t tell me round boxes mandate round contents but square boxes don’t mean square contents. Notice what you said:

Ten Minas Ministries: The mere fact that some theists point out some similarities does not mean that the physical realities necessitate the metaphysical realities.

Right. So if I am reading this correctly, you are saying simply because the box is round, does not necessitate the contents are round. In other words, you are saying something different than what I was claiming theists say. You (it would appear) would not say, “The capability of a human to perform a moral act is evidence of a god who is capable of performing a moral act.” Therefore my statement does not apply to you.

But how does this help our search for evidence? Not only are we left with the difficulty of developing a method to differentiate between physical and physical/metaphysical, but you appear to be saying even if we do—the physical/metaphysical does not necessarily mean the same thing on the metaphysical! We are left completely blind! Does our “love” mean the same as metaphysical “love”? Not necessarily. What about morals or immorality or justice or truth or mercy or time or space or freewill or…? If the ONLY evidence we have is physical, and it does not necessitate a correlative metaphysical property—we are all left shrugging and guessing.

Using my box, what this ends up saying is we have a bunch of boxes (physical evidence). Some are just boxes (physical) whereas some have contents (physical/metaphysical). We can’t tell which box is which.

And even those boxes with contents (physical/metaphysical), the box itself does not necessitate the contents. The contents (metaphysical) could be any shape, size, color, form, etc. regardless of the box’s shape, size, color, form, etc.

That’s a pretty good argument against a god—because all the evidence we have may or may not mean anything, so “god” is just a guess.

Ten Minas Ministries: Your argument has the causal chain going the wrong direction. The physical realities are explained by the metaphysical relaties, not vice versa.

Unfortunately, I am on this side of the mirror. All I have to work with is physical realities. To argue over which causes which seems pretty fruitless when I can only work from here. (Although this raised an interesting question. Is consciousness metaphysical? Many claim it is. If so, what happens when I cut out part of a person’s brain? Did I somehow remove a metaphysical item [consciousness] resulting in the loss of a physical item [brain matter]? Or did I remove a physical item [brain matter] which removed a metaphysical item [consciousness]?)

Not sure how you can claim physical is explained by metaphysical in one breath, and yet state physical realities do not necessitate metaphysical realities. Where do the physical realities come from, if they are caused by metaphysical, but are not necessitated by metaphysical?

Ten Minas Ministries: It is perfectly logical to conclude that a finite being would not be able to fully comprehend all aspects of an infinite being when evidence from other spheres demonstrates the existence of that infinite being.

I am not looking for “all.” I am looking for “any.”

Ten Minas Ministries said...

Dagoods,

We will actually agree quite a bit here. In response to your first point about how to tell whether a physical entity is demonstrative of a metaphysical reality, I would simply say you weigh the evidence. A physical being can demonstrate things that are, at a minimum, highly unlikely if that being is truly confined to what we know to be the realities of this physical world (miracles would be an example; consistently accurate prophecies to a degree to be statistically significant would be another). In this case the result you see may be physical, but based upon what we know of physical reality, the cause must have been metaphysical. Therefore, even though you do not "see" the metaphysical component, you may logically conclude that it is there.

Now I absolutely agree that you can evaluate the weight of that evidence, and we will undoubtedly disagree on that. But I do not think that it is definitionally impossible, when we are talking probabilities, for a physical entity to provide at least some evidence of metaphysical realities.

I agree with your point about the square and round boxes. I would not use the existence of moral beliefs or behavior in mankind as "evidence" of a moral God. I tend to find my evidence elsewhere (i.e., see the entire series of articles on the Ten Minas website). The existence of moral beliefs in people, and the existence of evil for that matter, I would argue, is consistent with the picture of God we derive from other evidence. Hence the thrust of my arguments is that suffering is not inconsistent with the Christian God, not that the existence of moral behavior proves the existence of God.

Any moral arguments for the existence of God would have to start from the premise that OBJECTIVE morality exists, not just that we subjectively have moral beliefs or act in certain moral/immoral ways (i.e., ontological truth versus epistemological beliefs). I think there is evidence to support objective morality, but would admit again that we are talking of a matter of probabilities, not logical certainty.

So I believe that you can have a physical entity give evidence of a metaphysical reality, but I also agree that it is impossible to FULLY understand a metaphysical reality based upon physical evidence alone. Hence the need for divine revelation (and even then there are some things we will not be able to understand).

So the steps in understanding metaphysical realities would be as follows:

(1) The metaphysical becomes in some way physical (i.e., the incarnation).
(2) The physical manifestation of the metaphysical provides us with some evidence that could not be explained if the entity was solely physical (i.e., establishing the "credentials").
(3) The physical manifestation gives us divine revelation of more metaphysical truths (i.e., revealing the truth we cannot see, but are capable of understanding).
(4) We unfortunately have to acknowledge that there are some metaphysical truths that we cannot understand even based upon the divine revelation, but this does not somehow invalidate the metaphysical realities we have come to know (i.e., the acceptance of our limitations).

Finally, you said, "Not sure how you can claim physical is explained by metaphysical in one breath, and yet state physical realities do not necessitate metaphysical realities."

I wish I could draw a diagram. I am more of a visual person than a wordsmith. To say that physical realities necessitate metaphysical realities would be equivalent to saying that the metaphysical is what it is BECAUSE the physical is what it is. The cause is the physical. The effect is the metaphysical. In our example this would be saying that God is moral because man is moral. It is the morality in man that causes the morality in God.

What I am arguing, though, is the exact opposite. The physical is what it is because the metaphysical is what it is. The cause is the metaphysical. The effect is the physical. Man is moral because God is moral. It is the morality in God that causes the morality in man. That is the same as saying that the physical is explained by the metaphysical. So I don't see any inconsistency.

Ken

DagoodS said...

Ten Minas Ministries,

If “the physical realities are explained by the metaphysical realities”—where does immorality come from? Note, the absence of morals is NOT immorality, but non-morality.

If the physical reality of the ability to choose between a moral and immoral act is explained by the metaphysical—does God have such ability? (I already know your answer, of course, from our discussions.)

If “it is the morality in God that causes the morality in man” then equally what would have to cause the immorality in humans would be immorality in God. You may not see an inconsistency in methodology here, but I see one. It seems to me (especially with the lack of verification and observation) you want your cake and eat it too. Claim humans commit both moral and immoral acts, yet give God the credit for morality, but not the detriment for immorality.

I would agree a physical manifestation contrary to physical expectations—a miracle—would be a good demonstration of possible metaphysical. Yet again we are left with conflicting claims of metaphysical miracles—some even you probably don’t accept but others do.

Techskeptic said...

Not the same. Argument from Evil is a deliberate attempt to prove God cannot exist if evil exists ... it sets out to prove the impossibility of the existence of God this is a clear attempt to prove the negative.

sorry, I was not clear in what I was refering to your statement:

"we prove negatives all the time. "

We don't. You may accept something as proof of a negative, but that is not the same as a true proof. We dont prove negatives for the exact reason my example about having my money was. You can not do it. you may consider it weak, but it truly isn't the burden of proof is on the one making the positive assertion. Its not a way out, its simply the only way progress can be made. Otherwise I'll just sit here and tell you that santa claus exists and its up to you to proof he doesnt. Its a ridiculous notion.

I may be being dense, but I dont know what the DC blog is. I was not being sarcastic.

for example, in TGD dawkins doesnt talk about evil disproving god. He points out reasons why we may have a proclivity toward believing in a big parent figure in the sky. He also discusses first cause being a ridiculous argument for god becuase while theists will go on and on about what caused the big bang (without even trying to attempt to understand the actual theory), dawkins discusses God has a first cause problem also, who made God?

Anyway at least in TGD and end of faith and so forth (I didnt read hitchens book), Evil was not used as a proof that god can't exist (these authors are smarter than that).

Perhaps you are confusing the difference between pointing out that giving God credit for the good things and people credit for the bad things is simply confirmation bias. But its not a disproof of god. Could you link me to where this was said?

have you actually considered the possibility that there is indeed no God and found anything to support that position?

This confuses me, are you not understanding that we should be making our actions and reaction based on evidence and not suppositions (which is what gets us into useless wars, puts innocent people to death, and increases suffering).

"A giant pink unicorn does not exist" is not an assertion and can not be proved.

"Iraq does not have any WMD" is not an assertion and can not be proved (which is why Saddam was doomed as soon as Bush started that rhetoric).

"I did not have sex with that woman" is not an assertion and can not be proved.

The last case was actually a good example of how a positive assertion was proven (famous blue dress). It WAS in fact their job to prove their assertion and they did it.

I have spent long hours trying to understand the possibility of a god or even any sort of realm other than the one we experience every day with out 5 senses or the sensors we create.

We've gone over your 'evidence'. that is clearly good enough for you even though it is quite easy to explain. you simply have not examined how many people are actually involved and have no way to really gather than number which must be in the millions.

Alternatively I have given you many examples of what would constitute evidence all of which should be well within the powers of a God who created the universe (and himself?).

I think you are right, Evil doesn't disprove god. nothing does. but we can choose to live in a world where we make out actions and reaction to benefit humanity using data. Or we can choose to live in a world where we do things to benefit one groups interpretation of a god over another gorups and end up in continuous conflict.

I think the choice is pretty obvious.




welcome dank and dagoods and ten minas ministries. to be honest, your comments went over my head...mostly becuase when you talk of a metaphysical world that is not measurable, my eyes sort of glaze over.

I grant that if you are willing to accept a metaphysical world, bleeiving in a god isnt really a big step.

Be well!

Ten Minas Ministries said...

Dagoods, you said:

"If 'it is the morality in God that causes the morality in man' then equally what would have to cause the immorality in humans would be immorality in God."

Why do you assume that all things in man must have the same cause? Since we are both lawyers, I think it is safe to assume that you have a similar educational background to me for the purposes of this example. You know tort law. How did you learn it? From your law school torts professor. You also know basic algebra. Am I to assume that because you learned tort law from one source, you must also have learned algebra from that same source? Why is that logically required?

You learned tort law from your law school professor and algebra from a high school teacher. If you insist on labelling "morality" and "immorality" as two separate things, not a thing and the absence of the thing, then there is no reason why they cannot have two separate causes, morality being caused by our creation in God's image and immorality being caused by the fall.

I don't agree that immorality cannot be the absence of morality (which also would solve your causation question because the absence of a thing, while it can have a cause, does not necessarily require one). A moral action is one with moral implications in which the correct moral decision is made. An immoral action is one with moral implications in which the incorrect moral decision is made. A nonmoral action is one in which moral implications are not even present in the first place. It does not even belong to the same category as morality and immorality.

Picture a glass full of water. Morality is represented by the full glass. Immorality would be represented by an empty glass. But with nonmorailty, there is no glass at all. We can still have the absence of water within the framework of the glass, so immorality can still be the absence of morality.

techskeptic,

I assume the references to the "DC blog" are to the "Debunking Christianity" blog at http://www.debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com. I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong on that.

You also said that Dawkins "also discusses first cause being a ridiculous argument for god becuase while theists will go on and on about what caused the big bang (without even trying to attempt to understand the actual theory), dawkins discusses God has a first cause problem also, who made God?"

This atheistic argument has been refuted a number of times. The Kalam cosmological argument states that anything that "began to exist" requires a cause. Simply put, whatever caused the universe never "began to exist" and therefore does not require a cause.

The concept of a "cause" implies linear time (i.e., the cause either precedes or occurs simultaneously in time with the effect). But time itself originated at the Big Bang. It is a construct within this universe. A creator cannot be subject to the creation, so whatever caused the universe (be it natural or supernatural) is not confined to the universe and therefore cannot be subject to time (because time exists solely within the universe and this cause must be capable of existing outside the confines of the universe). It is therefore a timeless entity. A timeless entity never "began to exist" and therefore does not require a cause. Whatever caused the Big Bang, whether it be God, an inflation field, or anything else, does not require a cause.

Finally, let me just throw an idea out there and see where it goes (Dagoods, I expect this will be mostly of interest to you, but I would be interested in anyone's thoughts). I'm not necessarily advocating this position yet. It is a thought that just occurred to me as I was typing so I'd like to "try it by fire."

(1) If we define "physical" as "consisting of matter" (or even energy if you like as well), and
(2) If matter (and energy) commenced at the Big Bang, and
(3) If anything that begins (i.e., comes into existence requires a cause);
Can we then conclude:
(4) The metaphysical (i.e., a reality that does not consist of matter and/or energy) must (or is at least more likely to) exist.

Ken

DagoodS said...

Ten Minas Ministries,

Because my algebra and tort professors were not creators. The obvious difference is that you are claiming ALL things physical come from the metaphysical. Unless you are saying some things physical came from the metaphysical and some did not? What did not?

Ten Minas Ministries: I don't agree that immorality cannot be the absence of morality…

O.K. But that doesn’t make it right. We are all familiar with the attempt to define immorality like darkness is the absence of light, or cold as the absence of heat. Unfortunately it fails. Look at three decisions (being simplistic):

1) Wearing black instead of navy socks;
2) Lying,
3) Giving food to a needy person.

What are the moral system implications of those three decisions? The first has no moral system implication! For more on this, you can read Here. There is a complete absence of system of morality involved.

Then you would be saying lying (immoral=absence of moral) is the same as choosing one’s sock color! I hope I am not confusing by using the term “moral.” I started using “moral system” instead of “moral” to clarify. We have a system of morals. Within that system is the Term “moral” (which is why it may be confusing). Within that system of morals, decisions can be moral (“good”), immoral (“evil”), non-moral (just a decision) or amoral (a slightly different creature.)

Ten Minas Ministries: Picture a glass full of water. Morality is represented by the full glass. Immorality would be represented by an empty glass. But with nonmorailty, there is no glass at all. We can still have the absence of water within the framework of the glass, so immorality can still be the absence of morality.

Thanks, maybe this can clear it up. What, in your analogy, is “moral” (or “good”)? The Water! What is absent in both an empty glass and no glass at all? The Water. This demonstrates by claiming immorality is “absence of morals (‘good’)” it ends up being the same as a decision with no moral implications whatsoever—like choosing sock color. That is why it breaks down.

DagoodS said...

Ten Minas Ministries,

As to you last statements, the problem is twofold:

1) We don’t know what the singularity is. We cannot look past it. To say the Universe “began” is merely a term of art, as Time started then. Perhaps there already was energy. Or mass. To claim “matter started at the Big Bang” is really an unknown.

2) “Things which begin to exist require a cause” is an unproven assertion. We don’t know that, either.

Ten Minas Ministries said...

"You are claiming ALL things physical come from the metaphysical."

Yes, but I am also claiming that immorality/evil is not a "thing", but the absence of a thing. Your argument also ignores the possiblity of primary and secondary causes. To the Christian, God is the primary cause of all things physical, in the sense that He created the universe. But He also gave us free will, and the exercise of that free will could be the secondary cause of many things we see in this universe. The professor/teacher analogy still holds up. The point is that in dealing with cause and effect, there can be different causes for for different effects within the same person. If the trait we are talking about in us has not been altered by a secondary cause, then the primary cause is still the one and only. But this does not mean that a secondary cause could not have stepped in and led to some other things we see in ourselves.

"What is absent in both an empty glass and no glass at all? The Water. This demonstrates by claiming immorality is 'absence of morals (‘good’)' it ends up being the same as a decision with no moral implications whatsoever."

But you are ignoring the glass. In order for something to be "immoral", the glass must exist, so lying and choosing your sock color are not the same. In the first case the glass is present whereas in the second it is not. In the nonmoral situation is the water missing? Yes. But so is the glass. "Immoral" is the absence of the moral IN A CONTEXT WITH MORAL IMPLICATIONS.

"To claim 'matter started at the Big Bang' is really an unknown."

Really? Can you explain to me then how matter existed before the Big Bang? In order for matter not to have "started" at the Big Bang, it must have existed beforehand. But if time began at the Big Bang, then there cannot be any such thing as "beforehand", so matter must have started then too. Not only that, but you admit that "Time started then" (i.e., at the Big Bang), and General Relativity tells us that time, space and matter are all related. If one started at the Big Bang, so did the others. It does not make sense to admit that time "started" then but matter did not.

"'Things which begin to exist require a cause' is an unproven assertion. We don’t know that, either."

And here is where, in my opinion, I often find atheists talking out of both sides of their mouth, as this string of comments will show us.

In one breath, most atheists will urge that they do not need to show God does not exist to a logical certainty. It is all just a matter of probability and all they are allegedly looking for would be a preponderance of the evidence (for the non-lawyers among us, that would mean "more likely than not").

But then they make assertions like, "We don't know that all things that begin to exist require a cause," to which I bounce their same comments back at them. Can we know this to a logical certainty? Of course not. But remember that even according to the athiest, we are dealing with a matter of probabilities. If you want to reject this premise, then give me one, just one, example of anything ever coming into existence spontaneously without a cause. The simple truth is that in every single facet of our existence, every conceivable example of something "beginning" required a cause. There is not even one single example of something going from a state on non-existence to one of existence without something causing the change. Yet the atheist argument asks us to believe that the universe is the one and only example of a spontaneous, uncaused beginning.

If we are truly talking about a matter of probabilities and deciding what our starting assumptions should be, it makes no sense whatsoever to me to reject what we have learned from every other facet of reality and instead start from an assumption for which we have no evidence whatsoever, anywhere.

Ken

Ten Minas Ministries said...

Dagoods,

By the way, you still owe me lunch if you come to Baltimore. I haven't forgotten.

:)

Ken

DagoodS said...

Ten Minas Ministries,

Are some moral actions more moral than others? Are some immoral actions more immoral than others? Is there a scale? Or do all actions fall fully the same? Whether I give you a quarter or die for you—each is equally as moral. (Note, please, I understand each is a moral act—but is each equally moral?) If I lie to you or if I kill you—is each equally as immoral?

I would think you would have to say “Yes” and make all moral actions, regardless of quarter or life to be equally as moral. And all immoral actions, a lie or a murder, to be equally immoral. Because if you introduce a scale of any sort, we would have immoral actions with “more” absence of moral actions. Making no sense, since farther up the scale the action would have to have some “moral” element to it and it would no longer be the absence of moral, would it?

As to the algebra/tort professors—I became lost in the analogy: which was the “secondary” source? *wink* So you are saying there are physical elements which are NOT caused by metaphysical elements. So some physical elements are NOT dependant on metaphysical?

No idea what existed before the singularity—matter, energy, time, etc. By the way, I understand General Relativity and Quantum physics (which are incongruous, by the way) both completely break down at the Big Bang which is why physicists snark at the philosophers’ Kalaam’s Cosmological Argument.

Ten Minas Ministries: …then give me one, just one, example of anything ever coming into existence spontaneously without a cause.

Here ya go.

Ten Minas Ministries: Yet the atheist argument asks us to believe that the universe is the one and only example of a spontaneous, uncaused beginning.

Actually there are a number of theories as to the initiation of our universe, some of which include other universes, or ripping or bumping. Frankly, much of this is over my head. It is a problem we both share—the naturalist is left saying “something” (whether this universe or all the universes) is perpetual, the theist saying their god is. Neither prevails here.

Don’t worry; I have set aside sufficient funds to satisfy your voracious appetite. (I hope!) Some day…

Ten Minas Ministries said...

There is a priority in the moral rules in order to resolve moral conflicts. But as to the scale of immorality, I believe your comments confuse the source of immorality with the justice required for committing immorality. Immorality is the absence of morality, but the absence of a greater moral rule results in what I will call a greater "retribution score." But this has nothing to do with where immorality comes from, which is still the absence of morality.

I agree there is no "secondary source" in my professor/teacher example. Both are primary. An example of a secondary source would be someone who fills a glass with water (primary source) followed by someone else coming along and dumping it out (secondary). If not for that secondary source, the water would still be in the glass (and keep in mind, this secondary source is also free to pour out only part of the water, leaving some in the glass).

I am not saying there are some physical elements that are not caused by metaphysical elements because immorality is not a physical element. It is the absence of a physical element. Our secondary source in the morality example takes something away. It does not give something new.

"No idea what existed before the singularity."

Of course, there really is no such thing as "before" the singularity because "before" requires time. But for my example we don't need to look "before" the singularity. Time started. Matter started. Space started. If time started at time "t", then the existence of points in time prior to "t" are irrelevant to the fact that time started at “t”. If it started, what caused it to start?

Nice try on the creation ex nihilo link, but that doesn’t answer my question. Creation ex nihilo refers to the fact that God created the universe out of nothing (a perfectly reasonable conclusion, by the way, considering matter “started” at the Big Bang, and as is acknowledged by a number of the quotes in your link). But it is not an uncaused event. It simply refers to the creation of the universe for which, I have been repeatedly arguing, the cause was God. Creation ex nihilo just refers to what God used to make the universe (i.e., nothing). However, it does not claim that the creation of the universe did not have a cause. God was the cause.

I really see this as a matter of being intellectually honest with yourself. If you leave your kitchen with a loaf of bread and jars of peanut butter and jelly sitting on the countertop, then when you come back you find a fully made PB&J sandwich, how would you react? Would you ask yourself who made that sandwich in your absence? Or would you just shrug your shoulders, figure it must have just made itself, and sit down to enjoy your lunch. Your STARTING ASSUMPTION in this case would be that some intelligent agent made the sandwich. But for some reason people refuse to apply that same starting assumption to the universe.

So the challenge remains. Can you give me at least one example of anything ever coming into existence without a cause? Bear in mind that not yet knowing the cause is not the same as not having a cause. Give me even one example where the scientific consensus is that something began to exist without a cause, and they do not assume, as their starting assumption, that there must be a cause and will continue to look for it. That is what you are asking us to accept by rejecting this premise of the Kalam Cosmological argument.

I agree that there are other theories about the creation of the universe (I even mentioned what I believe to be the most promising one earlier called "inflation theory"). Inflation theory actually acknowledges a lot of what the theist says about the Big Bang (i.e., the existence of a reality outside the universe, there called "superspace", and some creative entity in that superspace). The only difference is that inflation theory proposes the existence of an "inflation field" that is making multiple universes like bubbles on the ocean, whereas the theist posits this causal entity is God (other theories, like the oscillating universe model or Hawking's model are either contrary to the evidence or they cannot exist in an actual physical universe).

I have a number of problems with inflation theory (explained in more detail in an article on the Ten Minas site titled "Was the Universe Created by an Intelligent God or by a Random Natural Cause?") but the same question I've already asked could be asked of this debate too. There is no evidence of even one inflation field existing, let alone causing any finely tuned creation. On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence of intelligence being responsible for finely tuned creations. In a matter of probabilities, which is the alternative that makes more sense to believe, at least as our starting assumption?

If the answer to this question is "intelligence", then this begs the question of why so many people steadfastly refuse to accept it.

Ken

DagoodS said...

Ten Minas Ministries,

Last comment. I have bogged down akakiwibear’s blog long enough. You have the floor after this.

When I initially brought up the question of where immorality came from, you talked about what immorality is:

Ten Minas Ministries: I don't agree that immorality cannot be the absence of morality (which also would solve your causation question because the absence of a thing, while it can have a cause, does not necessarily require one). A moral action is one with moral implications in which the correct moral decision is made. An immoral action is one with moral implications in which the incorrect moral decision is made.

I think you were quite appropriate. If we are going to discuss the cause of something; we should discuss what that something actually is. However, now I am starting to discuss your definition, and what immorality is; you don’t want to talk about what immoral actually is—you want to go back to only discussing its cause. The dance is dizzying.

Probably the best demonstration I can give for why “absence of moral = immoral” is not persuasive is the fact we have to change the meaning of the word “immoral” as to whether we are talking about cause as compared to actuality. Why should the meaning change at the whim and convenience of the person making the claim?

Can you find a single person or place where I can find any philosopher or dictionary that defines “immoral” as the absence of moral OTHER than people who claim to a solely moral god? Why is it those who allege god is solely moral are the ONLY ones who define “immoral” this way and then abandon the definition when talking about “immoral” outside of causation?

According to your God allegations your God is incapable of committing an immoral act (regardless of how you define it.) Humans are capable of committing an immoral act. We (physical) have something that God (metaphysical) does not. Your answer we are doing something with the absence of metaphysical merely means it is physical. Right. Got it. But where did a solely physical thing come from then?

As to your “intellectually honest” question about a PB & J—you are right. I would assume a human (natural. physical) did it. Its you all who propose a magic genie made it. And that is supposed to be MORE probable?????

Finally, “coming into existence without a cause.” I should have been clearer. There were three (3) links. (One per word.) Google “quantum particles” or “quantum vacuum” or “quantum foam.” You asked for an example. I gave one. Now you want me to prove it actually has no cause, not that we don’t know what the cause is.

That’s the fun of theism. Since we will never know everything, there will always be something we naturalists say, “I don’t know” in which the theist can proclaim, “HA! Goddit!”

I am content with “I don’t know.” If you need to fill that blank in with “God” I will let you. I will let the readers decide for themselves, which is more persuasive.

Ten Minas Ministries said...

Thanks for the disussion. I agree we've gone on too long, so I too will try to wrap up in summary fashion.

I don't care whether you phrase it as "immorality is the lack of morality" or "immorality is caused by the lack of morality." Those are pretty much synonymous. But in an effort to disprove this, you started (essentially) talking about the penalty owed for immoral action (that's what any "scale" of immorality is ultimately about), and that is something different entirely.

As to your point about finding other philosophers, I suppose if you and I were talking in ancient Greece, you'd all of a sudden be a theist, telling me I should believe in Zeus and Aphrodite because all the other philosophers are doing it? I'm sure you know that peer pressure has nothing to do with truth. All of our parents used to ask us, "If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?"

We've been over your argument about humans having something God does not before on my blog, so you know I don't buy it. What do we strive for, to be more moral or to be more immoral? The answer of course is that we shoot for morality. God has the ability to be perfectly moral, we don't. So who really has the inability? The fact that the goal is morality and immorality is the failure to meet that goal only further supports my argument that immorality is the absence of morality.

You say, "Your answer we are doing something with the absence of metaphysical merely means it is physical. Right. Got it. But where did a solely physical thing come from then?"

What solely physical thing? Immorality is not a thing. Are you talking about our ability to act? Our free will? Those were given to us by God. But because we have free will, WE decide how to exercise it. This does not somehow translate into God being immoral.

"As to your 'intellectually honest' question about a PB & J—you are right. I would assume a human (natural. physical) did it. Its you all who propose a magic genie made it. And that is supposed to be MORE probable?????"

I assume intelligence made it. In the context of the sandwich, you make the exact same assumption! The problem with your argument is that you start out by assuming your conclusion. You label God as a "genie." Fair enough, because for you He seems as improbable as a genie. But look for a moment at the structure of your argument. Why do you conclude that intelligence cannot be responsible for the beginning of the universe EVEN THOUGH YOU WOULD ASSUME INTELLIGENCE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR VIRTUALLY EVERY OTHER SIMILAR EXAMPLE IN REALITY? Because you believe the existence of such an intelligence is highly improbable, comprable to the existence of a genie. But wait a minute. That is exactly what you are trying to prove. In rejecting where the evidence is pointing, all you have done is restated your conclusion! But the point is supposed to be to hold the conclusion in limbo until we see where the evidence leads. Your conclusion is quite literally a foregone conclusion if you are simply going to restate it as your reasoning whenever the evidence points in the opposite direction.

"You asked for an example. I gave one. Now you want me to prove it actually has no cause, not that we don’t know what the cause is."

"I am content with 'I don’t know.'”

But by rejecting the first premise of the Kalam Cosmological argument, you are not simply saying "I don't know." You are saying "I do know that the universe does not require a cause, so I'll stop looking for one." If you want to say "I don't know what that cause is", that's fine, because at least you are admitting that we should be looking for a cause. But that's not what you started out by saying. You said "'Things which begin to exist require a cause' is an unproven assertion. We don’t know that, either." But now you are conceding that we do assume that all things that begin require a cause, but you are content in not knowing what that cause is. My point, at least on this premise, is proven. Atheists challenge this premise regularly, but when faced with the decisions they make every single day of their lives, they have to admit that they actually accept is as true as well.

You gave me examples of which scientists purportedly do not know the cause of certain events. That is not the same as saying that they assume no cause exists. They assume the exact opposite, that a cause does exist, and they continue to search for it. But by rejecting the first premise, you are asking us to assume that no cause for the universe exists. So again, I still ask for even one example where we know something has no cause, or even that we assume there is no cause present. The reason you cannot find one is because everyone assumes the first premise to be true in every other facet of reality except when it may point them towards God.

My apologies to akakiwibear for hogging up your blog. As you can probably tell, I thoroughly enjoy discussions with Dagoods (I hope he feels the same, but would never presume to speak for him), and due to other commitments on my time right now (see the "Katrina House" mission on the Ten Minas site), I simply don't have as much time to engage in these discussions as I used to.

So I thank akakiwibear for the use of her forum, and I thank Dagoods for allowing me this little diversion. Now back to work.

Ken

the dank said...

I'm unfamiliar of the rules of blog etiquette, so I'm going to post this assuming the comment section is intended for...comments.

I just have a general observation and I'm not going to take the time to respond to each individual point made.

I find both Dagood's and Ten Minas Ministries to be convincing arguments (If I ever need legal assistance, I know where to look!)

Theists, at least the ones I've interacted with, see the first cause argument as a trump card. So the natural response is what caused God? This is where theists want to have their cake and eat it as well. It's a ludicrous assertion to say that the universe requires a first cause, but God does not.

Even if Ten Minas Ministries assertions are correct, this only leads one to deism, and I see no relevance of a deistic God.

Ten Minas Ministries said...

I agree that my comments here only lead to a deistic god. In fact, I don't even know if they go that far. They show the existence of an eternal cause of some sort, but not necessarily even an intelligent cause. This is only the first step in the argument for the theistic God of Christianity (go to http://www.tenminasministries.org if you want to see the rest).

"It's a ludicrous assertion to say that the universe requires a first cause, but God does not."

If something has always existed, why does it require a cause? Bearing in mind that God exists outside of time (the universe does not), so there never was a "point in time" at which He did not exist. Only things that go from non-existence to existence require a cause, so whatever caused the universe (be it God, the inflation field, or anything else) does not.

Ironically, I actually saw one theistic professor challenge inflation theory by saying that it just moved the burden up one level and that now the inflation field needed a cause. Needless to say, I strongly disagreed because what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

Ken

the dank said...

If something has always existed, why does it require a cause? Bearing in mind that God exists outside of time (the universe does not), so there never was a "point in time" at which He did not exist.

I see theists asserting this claim, but I have no idea what it even means. I have no idea how something could exist "outside of time" or what the implications of that would be. It seems like an empty assertion. Perhaps you could demonstrate otherwise?

While I do wonder how the universe came to begin, as Dagood's stated earlier, I'm comfortable with saying I honestly have no idea. One day we might know, but for now it will remain a mystery. If theists want to chalk this one up as a victory, then that is fine; just because they have an answer doesn't mean it is the right one.

akakiwibear said...

I tend to join the Dank is his reservations about all things except God needing an origin - it does look like 'cake and eat it'.

It is the reason I tend to avoid origin type arguments.

However, we are faced with the reality of our existence (and that of the universe) so somehow energy and/or matter came into being in our "reality" without an origin within that reality.

The theists claim that the source of that origin is God (deity if you want - it matters not at this point) - atheists say it really does not matter, but there was no intelligence involved.

So the origin question is, for me, without an answer (certainly I suspect n my lifetime) but there was an origin. The only question of relevance to the a/theist debate is did an some intelligence play a role. Since we do not really know what we are talking about in terms of the origin event the debate strikes me as pure speculation and without winner or loser.

It is fascinating to read the arguments, but I can't warm to them myself - I prefer to leave this in the "too hard" basket.


Hamba kahle - peace

Neil Turton said...

Hi Ten Minas Ministries,

Please excuse me for bringing up an old comment, but I've been on holiday.

You wrote:
"It is the morality in God that causes the morality in man."

"A moral action is one with moral implications in which the correct moral decision is made. An immoral action is one with moral implications in which the incorrect moral decision is made."

Are you saying that the absence of an immoral action is caused by God? For example, I've just decided not to hit one someone in the face. Did God in some way cause me not to do that? It seems to me that some of my inaction is caused by my laziness; I just don't have the energy to go around doing all these immoral things. I just don't see how immorality in this case can be described as the absence of a thing. Can you explain?

Peace, Neil.

Ten Minas Ministries said...

I will do my best to clearly, and yet briefly, address all of your questions.

The Dank:

"I have no idea how something could exist 'outside of time' or what the implications of that would be. It seems like an empty assertion. Perhaps you could demonstrate otherwise?"

Think of it this way. First, ask yourself whether someone who created something is subject to their creation. Here's a simple illustration to try to clear up this confusing language. If I make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I am not sitting in between the two pieces of bread myself. If I build a car engine, I am not sitting between the spark plugs. Perhaps the best analogy to the creation of the universe would be someone who builds a house. That person does not solely exist locked inside that house. They can be inside, but they also can open the door and walk outside.

God is the builder. The universe is the house. Just as the builder is not confined to that house, God is not confined to the universe. If He was, how could He have created it? At some point there was a builder, but no house.

So God exists outside of the universe just like that builder exists outside of his house.

Now I'm going to change the analogy a bit. I don't know if any of you own a fish bowl or aquarium, but if not just picture one in your mind. You are standing outside that aquarium, just like that builder is standing outside that house.

All the fish inside that aquarium must have gills. The inside of that aquarium is filled with water, so every creature in it is "subject" to that water. They can't escape it. If they don't have gills, they'll drown (I am admittedly not an expert in aquatic species, so just roll with the example if I'm wrong about the whole gills thing).

Does this mean that you, standing outside that aquarium, must have gills? Of course not. Why not? Because the water only exists inside that aquarium, not outside of it, so you are not "subject" to the water like the creatures inside the aquarium.

The universe is God's aquarium. Time is the water. It only exists within the universe (having been created at the same time as the universe itself). Because we know that God is capable of existing outside the universe, that means he can step outside the aquarium and no longer be subject to the water (i.e., time) inside.

As for what a timeless existence would be like, I have no idea. I admittedly cannot get my mind to picture what this would be like. But that is hardly surprising considering I've spent my entire existence inside the aquarium. The important point, though, is not to fully understand what a timeless existence would be like, but only to understand that such a timeless existence, well ... exists. We cannot understand it, but if the universe indeed had a cause, SOMETHING must be timeless.

akakiwibear:

"The theists claim that the source of that origin is God (deity if you want - it matters not at this point) - atheists say it really does not matter, but there was no intelligence involved. So the origin question is, for me, without an answer (certainly I suspect in my lifetime) but there was an origin. The only question of relevance to the a/theist debate is did an some intelligence play a role."

I agree with you that the theist claims God is the cause whereas the atheist claims intelligence was not necessary. There are actually two arguments here, and I would be the first to admit that the Kalam Cosmological argument does not mean that intelligence is required at all. This conversation started out about whether God needed a cause. All I was proposing, based on the Kalam Cosmological argument, is that IF God is the cause of the universe, He would be timeless and therefore not need a cause. But this is also true if the cause of the universe is not intelligent, like the inflation field I mentioned. If an inflation field exists outside of our universe, and it is pumping out universe after universe until it "gets it right", that field also would be outside the "aquarium" and would be timeless.

I think that proving this cause was intelligent is the second step in the argument, and the fine-tuning evidence strongly suggests that this cause was intelligent. If you want to read more, check out the article titled "Was the universe created by an intelligent God or by a random natural cause?" on the Ten Minas site (www.TenMinasMinistries.org). Anthony Flew, one of the leading atheistic philosophers of the late 20th century, was actually convinced by this evidence that God exists (he has not come all the way to theism, but now considers himself a deist).

neil turton:

"Are you saying that the absence of an immoral action is caused by God? For example, I've just decided not to hit one someone in the face. Did God in some way cause me not to do that? It seems to me that some of my inaction is caused by my laziness; I just don't have the energy to go around doing all these immoral things. I just don't see how immorality in this case can be described as the absence of a thing. Can you explain?"

Your comment somewhat hints at my answer when you say your "inaction is caused by my laziness." The answer to your question really hinges on why you do not commit an immoral action. Suppose you decide not to hit someone because you believe it would be morally wrong. In that case, in a manner of speaking, yes, God did "cause" you not to do that. Not by "telling" you not hit him, or somehow planting a thought in your mind that it was wrong. But it is because the morality that exists in God's character was passed on to you when you were created in His image, so some semblance of that morality exists in you too. So if you decide not to hit someone because it is wrong, I guess we could say that God caused that inaction by creating you with that semblance of His character.

But what about your laziness example? Your premise is that you did not commit a moral wrong because you did not hit someone. But that lack of an immoral action was not caused by any morality that exists within you, but simply your amoral laziness.

This may be hard to hear, but if laziness is the only reason you did not hit someone, I would have to challenge your underlying premise that you did not commit an immoral action.

Please bear with me as I recite two statements made by Jesus as recorded in Matthew:

"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart."
Matthew 5:27-28

And again:

"For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander."
Matthew 15:19

You thought of hitting that other person. If I am understanding you correctly, if this thought had popped into your mind on a day that you happened to be more well rested, you would have hit that person. It really was just the luck of the draw that stopped you.

According to Christ, at the time you were genuinely thinking/intending to hit someone, you already committed a moral wrong, whether you followed through on it or not. The immoral thought is what leads to the immoral deed. No immoral deed can occur without first being preceded by an immoral thought.

So really, this is not an example of an immoral action being avoided by something other than a moral rule instilled in your character. It is an example of an immoral action (i.e., the thought) occurring because of the absence of a moral rule in your character to prevent that thought.

This is a key point in understanding Christianity. Many people think that Chrstians claim to be sin-free. Far from it. Controlling immoral thoughts is a problem for all of us. Christians sin just like everyone else. But this gives us the goal to shoot for. We try to get these thoughts under control as well as our actions. But when I use the term "immoral action", I would be including this type of immoral thought, even if it does not lead to deed.

Finally, please understand that I only use the term "you" in this example because you used "I" in your question. By no means am I implying that you go around hitting people in reality whenever you are not feeling lazy. : )

God bless to you all.

Ken

Ten Minas Ministries said...

One other illustration occurs to me about the necessity of a "first cause."

Imagine if I told you that I would give you $1 million, but not right away. You have to wait for it. But I don't tell you to wait 1 day, 20 days, or even 500 days. Instead I say you will get it after an infinite number of days. Assuming you could live forever, would you ever get this money?

No. Why not? Because infinity is endless, so it is impossible to travel from one end to the other. You will never get there. By definition, if you ever could reach the end of an infinite amount of time, it wouldn't be infinite, it would be finite.

Now take that example and run it in reverse. Many people propose that there has been an infinite amount of time in the past. But if that is true it begs the question, "How did we ever arrive at the present date?" In order to have arrived at the present point in time, time in the past MUST be finite. In order to traverse any period of time, it must be finite. We have obviously traversed whatever amount of time is in the past because we have arrived at the present day. Therefore, time in the past must be finite.

Now let's suppose that whatever caused the universe (for the sake of this example I will call this "God") also needs a cause. The position you are asking about is the one that states that God then would also require a cause. I will call this cause "Super-God." But then we are faced with the question of what caused Super-God? Now we need to have a "Super-Duper God." How about "Super-Duper-Duper God?"

Where does it end? If everything in existence requires a cause, you end up with what is caused an "infinite regression of causes." The problem is the same as that for time as I illustrated above. If everything in existence requires a cause, how did we ever arrive at our present state? At some point the causal chain has to begin, otherwise we are faced with having to traverse an infinite number of causes, which, as we've seen above, is impossible.

Keep in mind I only raise this to respond to the objection that God would require a cause too. I admit that this alone does not prove everything there is to know about the Christian God. It simply shows that for whatever caused the universe, be it God or something else, it is perfectly reasonable to conclude that it does not have a cause because logically there must be at least one thing in existence that never "began to exist" and therefore has no cause.

Ken

Neil Turton said...

Hi Ken,

Thanks for clarifying the morality issue. It seems that you're saying that morality of action requires morality of character. That an action cannot be described as moral or immoral without considering the reasons behind it being taken. In order to determine whether not hitting my friend is moral or immoral, we have to determine whether it was out of laziness or out of a desire to do the right thing. Have I got that right?

I'd like to move onto the issues of time and the universe. You wrote:
"If something has always existed, why does it require a cause? Bearing in mind that God exists outside of time (the universe does not), so there never was a "point in time" at which He did not exist."

I quite liked your aquarium analogy. However, the water is in the aquarium and the aquarium is outside the water. This would indicate that the universe is outside of time and time is in the universe. To my mind, the universe is a system of objects, space-time and laws. Time is only one aspect of the universe as a whole and so the universe is not subject to time. Doesn't this remove the requirement for the universe to have a cause?

I do think that dagoods has answered your challenge. According to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, the result of the collapse of a wave function is not caused by anything. It's not just that we don't know what the cause is, it really has no cause. This at least shows that it is plausible that there are things created which have no cause and this is all that is needed to remove the requirement for the universe to have a cause.

I'd like to return a challenge. Can you name one cause which is outside of time? My observation is that all causes are inside time, so the cause of the universe, if there is one, must also be inside time.

Peace, Neil.

Ten Minas Ministries said...

In regard to the morality question, I would say that the morality of an action depends on its overall context, of which intent may be one element, but not necessarily the exclusive deciding factor.

I respectfully beg to differ with your summary of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics:

(1) First of all, this is only a theory proposed to explain some of the seemingly non-sensical results that come out of quantum experimentation. It is not universally accepted as fact, and even according to the article you linked, it has been falling out of popularity since the 1980s.

(2) According to the Copenhagen interpretation, a wave function is merely descriptive of probabilities. It is not a "thing" in itself that actually exists. The best analogy I can come up with is that it is like a formula that we have all learned in high school geometry (except it is a formula describing the probabilities of a given result instead of dictating a certain result). Are there theories that believe wave functions are "real things"? Yes, but the Copenhagen interpretation is not one of them. At best adherents to the Copenhagen interpretation are agnostic as to whether wave functions actually exist or not.

(3) Most importantly, the result of wave function collapse is NOT uncaused as you claim! The whole point is that the fact of measurement effects the result. The detection of a particle, for example, at a certain point eliminates the probability of it existing at any other point. So the cause of the wave function collapse, i.e., the elimination of the probability of the particle being found at points A through Y, for example, is the fact that we found the particle to be at point Z.

In short, you have cited an unproven hypothesis about something that (according to the theory) does not exist in the first place, and has a cause after all! I have included some quotes from your own link (as well as one additional link) at the bottom of this post for your reference. As you can see, most of the points I raised above are included in the very article you linked to.

Finally, in relation to the existence of a cause outside of time, I name the universe. This is a simple truth whether you are a theist or not. As long as you have cited an unproven theory, I will cite inflation field theory. That is a purely non-theistic theory for the cause of the universe that still places the cause outside the universe itself (in the realm of superspace) and therefore outside of time. I, of course, think inflation theory has other problems, but the point is that you do not need to hold to a theistic worldview to accept that the cause of the universe lies outside of time.

Thank you for your comments.

Quotes:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copenhagen_interpretation:
"The Copenhagen interpretation is an interpretation of quantum mechanics, usually understood to state that every particle is described by its wavefunction, which dictates the probability for it to be found in any location following a measurement. Each measurement causes a change in the state of the particle, known as wavefunction collapse."

"The Copenhagen Interpretation denies that any wave function is anything more than an abstraction, or is at least non-committal about its being a discrete entity or a discernible component of some discrete entity."

"Even if the wave function is not regarded as real, there is still a divide between those who treat it as definitely and entirely subjective, and those who are non-committal or agnostic about the subject."

"An example of the agnostic view is given by von Weizs├Ącker, who, while participating in a colloquium at Cambridge, denied that the Copenhagen interpretation asserted: 'What cannot be observed does not exist'. He suggested instead that the Copenhagen interpretation follows the principle: 'What is observed certainly exists; about what is not observed we are still free to make suitable assumptions. We use that freedom to avoid paradoxes.'"

"The subjective view, that the wave function is merely a mathematical tool for calculating probabilities of specific experiment, is a similar approach to the Ensemble interpretation."

"All versions of the Copenhagen interpretation include at least a formal or methodological version of wave function collapse, in which unobserved eigenvalues are removed from further consideration. (In other words, Copenhagenists have never rejected collapse, even in the early days of quantum physics, in the way that adherents of the Many-worlds interpretation do.) In more prosaic terms, those who hold to the Copenhagen understanding are willing to say that a wave function involves the various probabilities that a given event will proceed to certain different outcomes. But when one or another of those more- or less-likely outcomes becomes manifest the other probabilities cease to have any function in the real world. So if an electron passes through a double slit apparatus there are various probabilities for where on the detection screen that individual electron will hit. But once it has hit, there is no longer any probability whatsoever that it will hit somewhere else. Many-worlds interpretations say that an electron hits wherever there is a possibility that it might hit, and that each of these hits occurs in a separate universe."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wavefunction_collapse:
"In certain interpretations of quantum mechanics, wave function collapse is one of two processes by which quantum systems apparently evolve according to the laws of quantum mechanics. It is also called collapse of the state vector or reduction of the wave packet. The reality of wave function collapse has always been debated, i.e., whether it is a fundamental physical phenomenon in its own right (which may yet emerge from a theory of everything) or just an epiphenomenon of another process, such as quantum decoherence. In recent decades the quantum decoherence view has gained popularity."

Ten Minas Ministries said...

I realized I forgot to answer one of your questions. You said:

"I quite liked your aquarium analogy. However, the water is in the aquarium and the aquarium is outside the water. This would indicate that the universe is outside of time and time is in the universe. To my mind, the universe is a system of objects, space-time and laws. Time is only one aspect of the universe as a whole and so the universe is not subject to time. Doesn't this remove the requirement for the universe to have a cause?"

In my aquarium analogy, the "aquarium" is not just the glass. The glass just defines the outer boundaries of the aquarium. Everything inside those boundaries is included in the "aquarium." My point is that there is not a single space inside those boundaries where you could travel in which you would not be subject to the water. Similarly, there is not a single space within this universe where you could travel and not be subject to time. If it helps you to visualize this better by imagining an aquarium with two-dimensional glass (i.e., no width) that defines the boundaries, that may be best. The glass of the aquarium is irrelevant in my example. I am comparing the universe to everything inside.

You said, "the universe is a system of objects, space-time and laws. Time is only one aspect of the universe as a whole and so the universe is not subject to time." Yes, the universe is a system of objects, space-time and laws. But your conclusion does not follow from that. Every single object in the universe is still subject to time. Even the laws are subject to time. Relativity tells us about the inherent interrelationship of space, time and matter. So time can not be parceled out from the rest of the universe as your question seems to propose. It is not just one aspect of the universe. It is present in every aspect of the universe.

Ken

Neil Turton said...

Hi Ken,

Thanks for the comments. I think you've misunderstood me a little with respect to the wavefunction collapse, so I'd like to clear that up first.

I agree that the collapse of the wavefunction is caused. However, the result of the collapse is at least partly uncaused which is demonstrated by the fact that we can only calculate probabilities for outcomes. Once the probabilities have been calculated for different outcomes, one of those outcomes is chosen at random according to the probabilities. If a cause was assigned to the result of this choice then it would no longer be the Copenhagen interpretation. It might instead be a hidden variable theory or something like that. This covers points (2) and (3).

"(1) First of all, this is only a theory proposed to explain some of the seemingly non-sensical results that come out of quantum experimentation."

I respectfully disagree. The Copenhagen interpretation is an interpretation and not a theory. The distinction may seem trivial and pedantic, but I think it is an important one. A theory can be tested by evidence but an interpretation cannot. For example, the predicted effects of the Copenhagen interpretation and the Many worlds interpretation are exactly the same and so it is only possible to decide between them on philosophical grounds rather than scientific grounds.

I would agree that the Copenhagen interpretation is only an interpretation and is going out of fashion, but I think that misses the point I was trying to make. The Copenhagen interpretation is still a valid interpretation which is consistent with the evidence available and so, as far as we know, the universe behaves as if there were no cause for the result of particular QM experiments. That's as close to saying that there is no cause as it's possible to get. If something were really uncaused it would always be possible to postulate an unseen, unknowable cause, which is exactly what hidden variable theories do.

"Finally, in relation to the existence of a cause outside of time, I name the universe. This is a simple truth whether you are a theist or not. As long as you have cited an unproven theory, I will cite inflation field theory."

I'm not sufficiently familiar with inflation field theory to comment on the role of causality within it. However, we appear to be on roughly equal footings with respect to the challenges if you don't accept my clarification of the Copenhagen interpretation. This leads to one of two conclusions. We can either conclude that neither challenge can be fulfilled and so the universe is caused and the cause is within time. Alternatively we can conclude that the lack of completion of the challenges is inconclusive. It seems to me that the former is absurd and so we must accept the later, at least for the time being.

Many thanks for your second comment. I seem to have run out of time for the moment, so I will have to address it at a later date.

Peace, Neil.

Ten Minas Ministries said...

Neil,

Can you give me an example of a cause being confined within its effect in matters of creation? I respectfully disagree that your postulation of the Copenhagen Interpretation and the cause for the universe being outside of time are on equal footing. I believe you are making this far too specific. How can the creator be part of the creation? It is classic chicken and the egg philosophy. In the classic creator/creation relationship, the creator exists first, followed by the creation. But if the creator is part of the creation, then the creator cannot exist unless the creation already exists; i.e, the creation exists first, then the creator. You create a paradox. The conclusion that the creator of the universe must exist outside of time is simply the logical outworking of this line of reasoning. Time is within the creation (the universe). As we just showed above, the creator cannot be confined within the creation without creating a paradox. Even in examples of simultaneous causes, the cause is (at least in part) a separate entity from the effect. Therefore, the creator of the universe must be capable of existing outside the universe, and therefore outside of time. So I cite for you as examples every instance of creation we know.

By the way, the short version of inflation theory is that there is an "inflation field", somewhat like a universe-making machine, that exists in this reality called "superspace." It pumps out universe after universe, like bubbles on the surface of the ocean, until it "gets it right." This inflation field, though, exists outside of our universe, and therefore outside of time.

As for the Copenhagen Interpretation, my challenge was for something that exists in reality that is accepted to be uncaused. Basically, in layman's terms you are saying that the Copenhagen Interpretation is one way of interpreting the effects that we see, and according to that interpretation those effects have no cause. But, of course, according to other possible interpretations, they would have a cause. It is basically "throwing in the towel." How is that any different from me seeing a fully made peanut butter and jelly sandwich on my counter top and just "assuming" it has no cause? Am I right? Is my conclusion even logical? No. The mere fact that I have decided to make this conclusion does not mean that there was, in fact, no cause. Similarly, the mere fact that some people may have assumed (under the Copenhagen Interpretation) that these results have no cause does not make it so. You may very well say that the fact they are assuming a lack of a cause is a reason to reject their interpretation, as is the trend in the scientific community today.

Besides the fact that, as I said before, according to the Copenhagen Interpretation, wave functions are merely descriptions, not things that exist in and of themselves. So you are not describing a physical reality anyway. Cause and effect do not really have any bearing in matters of abstraction. We are talking about physical realities here, so the Copenhagen Interpretation, under its own terms, really has nothing to add to this discussion.

Finally, I would point out that there is a cause any way you look at it. You mentioned a result being "chosen" by the probabilities. If the most probable result is always the one chosen, then the cause is the fact that it is the most probable result! If the chosen result is not the most probable, then it was not truly "chosen" based on the probabilities after all (you cannot get around this by saying that through repeated "trials" we would expect the minority results to come up a minority of times, because as statisticians will tell you, each individual trial is a separate event, subject to the same probabilities; you do not increase your chances of getting a minority result by having obtained the majority result several times beforehand).

If the minority result was not chosen based on probabilities, then something must have caused it to be chosen in spite of the odds. Either way, a cause is still present.

Thank you again.

Ken

Neil Turton said...

Hi Ken,

Thanks for your most recent comment. I'm going to put that on hold while I respond to your previous comment.

The aquarium example is certainly helped if the glass is zero thickness. The question then is which analogy is better. Is it more accurate to say that the glass around the universe is zero thickness or non-zero thickness? We need to know what the glass represents. I think it represents the laws. The question then becomes "Are the laws subject to time?" which you address next.

You wrote:
"Even the laws are subject to time. Relativity tells us about the inherent interrelationship of space, time and matter. So time can not be parceled out from the rest of the universe as your question seems to propose."

I'm sorry, I don't understand your point. There's certainly an interplay between space, time and matter. How do the laws come into this? To me it seems that the laws govern the space, time and matter, not the other way around. The laws get to decide what happens to the matter. The matter doesn't decide what the laws should be.

Perhaps it would be better to put it another way. The laws of the universe are timeless, as far as we can tell. Couldn't they be the cause space, time and matter?

You previously said:
"If something has always existed, why does it require a cause? Bearing in mind that God exists outside of time (the universe does not), so there never was a "point in time" at which He did not exist."

By this reasoning, since the laws have always existed, they don't require a cause.

Peace, Neil.

Ten Minas Ministries said...

The glass represents the geographic boundaries of our system, so comparing the glass to the "laws" would not be appropriate. In a very real sense, our universe does not have any glass, so it is in essence, as I've said before, a glass of zero thickness. Generally, the universe is believed to be geographically (not temporally)infinite in the sense that it is like the surface of a ball. If you start going in one direction, eventually you will come back to where you started. So there is no "boundary line" per se, making the universe infinite in the sense that you could travel forever and never come to the "end." But at the same time there is a finite amount of space within the universe, just like there is a finite surface area of a ball. If you prefer we could use the example of an electrified ball. Wherever you touch on the surface of that ball you will be "subject" to the electricity. You will be electrocuted. But there is no "boundary" like the glass in this example.

As for your statement about the laws of the universe being eternal, perhaps I could ask you to clarify what laws you are talking about. The law of gravitation? That deals with how bodies of matter attract themselves to each other. How could that law exist if there is no such thing as matter (recalling that matter exists within the universe)? General Relativity? That speaks of the relationship between time, space and matter. It tells us, for example, how bodies of matter will warp space around them (similar to how a bowling ball will stretch and bend a taut bedsheet when you place the ball in the middle). How can this relationship exist in a reality in which neither matter nor space exist? These laws all deal with relationships. But the things in relation to one another only exist inside the universe. How can laws governing those relationships exist in a reality where there are none of these things to relate?

The laws, therefore, are not timeless. They are like the oxygen contained in the water inside the aquarium. They, like the water as a whole, are everywhere inside that aquarium, but they are still inside. There are other things inside too. Time, space, and atter could be analogized to the hydrogen in the water. They too exist throughout the aquarium. But in the end, the laws are just one more thing that exists solely within the aquarium.

Ken

Neil Turton said...

Hi Ken,

"Can you give me an example of a cause being confined within its effect in matters of creation?"

No, which is why I referred to referred to it being absurd.

"I respectfully disagree that your postulation of the Copenhagen Interpretation and the cause for the universe being outside of time are on equal footing."

I didn't mean that when I said that the challenges are on equal footing. Perhaps I didn't explain myself properly. The way I see things is that there are two propositions which have been put forward, as follows:

Proposition: Every event has a cause.
Conclusion: The universe has a cause.
Challenge: Can you find an event without a cause?
Answer: Quantum mechanical events in the Copenhagen interpretation.
Problem: The Copenhagen interpretation is unproven.

Proposition: Every cause is within time.
Conclusion: If the universe has a cause, it is within time.
Challenge: Can you find a cause which is outside of time?
Answer: Fields in inflation field theory.
Problem: Inflation field theory is unproven.

Based on this, it seems that the challenges are on an equal footing.

The paradox you describe only exists if both propositions are accepted. We cannot, therefore accept both propositions and so we must rejected one or both of them. Consistency demands that we either find a reason for accepting one proposition but not the other or we reject both. So far, I haven't seen a reason for rejecting one but not the other.

"The conclusion that the creator of the universe must exist outside of time is simply the logical outworking of this line of reasoning."

An alternative solution is to conclude that the universe has no creator.

"It pumps out universe after universe, like bubbles on the surface of the ocean, until it "gets it right." This inflation field, though, exists outside of our universe, and therefore outside of time."

The language you use is the language of time. You say that it pumps out universe after universe. By that, I can only think you mean "after in time" and yet the inflation field is entirely outside of time. I'm not sure what to think.

"How is that any different from me seeing a fully made peanut butter and jelly sandwich on my counter top and just "assuming" it has no cause?"

Did the sandwich suddenly appear on the counter top or was it there when you walked into the room. The more accurate analogy would be that the sandwich suddenly appears because we see quantum events with no apparent cause on a regular basis. In that case, it's far more reasonable to assume there is no cause.

"You may very well say that the fact they are assuming a lack of a cause is a reason to reject their interpretation, as is the trend in the scientific community today."

Perhaps that is true. If that is the case then we should look at what they are accepting as an alternative.

"Besides the fact that, as I said before, according to the Copenhagen Interpretation, wave functions are merely descriptions, not things that exist in and of themselves."

Indeed. I didn't say that the wave function is a real thing. I said the result of the wave function collapse is uncaused. Even if the wave function does not exist in any real sense, then the result surely does. It is pretty much the same as the result of a quantum mechanical observation.

"If the most probable result is always the one chosen, then the cause is the fact that it is the most probable result!"

This is certainly not the case. If the experiment repeated many times then the distribution of results matches the distribution of probabilities to the extent that can be expected according to statistical errors. In other words, the measurements appear to be independent random events.

"as statisticians will tell you, each individual trial is a separate event, subject to the same probabilities; you do not increase your chances of getting a minority result by having obtained the majority result several times beforehand"

True.

"If the minority result was not chosen based on probabilities, then something must have caused it to be chosen in spite of the odds."

Why? You seem to be assuming that the natural event is that the outcome with highest probability occurs. Suppose I were to take a shuffled pack of cards and ask you to predict the suit of the top card. The outcome with the highest probability would be that you got the suit wrong. Does that mean that you could never get it right? Does something need to happen to cause you to get it right, which does not happen when you get it wrong? No. The causality is the same in both cases. I pick a suit through the way in which I shuffle the cards and you pick a suit however you like. Maybe the suits are the same. Maybe they are not. Why does the minority event require a cause in the case of Quantum Mechanics?

Peace, Neil.

Ten Minas Ministries said...

I will reply to some of your points, and then I am afraid I will have to “bow out.” Unfortunately, I have too many other things going on right now to devote any more time to our discussion, but please do not take this to mean that I do not regard it as valuable. I have truly enjoyed our exchange and I sincerely thank you for it. If you want to have the last word, feel free.

Your “proposition, conclusion, challenge, answer, problem” presentations are very good. And if this was the only evidence for a cause for the universe, I would tend to agree with you. In other words, if I stood before you today claiming that because an inflation field could have caused the universe the universe therefore must have a cause then you would be presenting an apt comparison. However, this is not all I have been arguing.

Allow me to illustrate my point in more detail. As you correctly noted, I presented the proposition that every event has a cause. In an effort to refute this proposition, you presented the unproven Copenhagen Interpretation. That solitary unproven interpretation is the only thing currently “standing in the way” of my proposition for the purposes of our discussion. It is the only thing thus far that has been raised to allegedly refute my proposition. Unfortunately, as you admit, it is unproven. Also, as I have argued before, I do not believe the Copenhagen Interpretation actually holds that there are real uncaused events as you assert.

So in opposition to my proposition there is one thing: the Copenhagen Interpretation. If that is shown to not truly refute my proposition then the proposition still stands (at least until such time as someone comes up with something else to allegedly challenge it). We have already talked at length about why I believe it does not refute my proposition, and I will respond to some of your most recent points in a moment, but first I want to illustrate the difference between your first “proposition, conclusion, challenge, answer, problem” and your second.

Your second presentation asserts your proposition that “every cause is within time.” You then present the “answer” I mentioned of inflation fields. If the alleged existence of “inflation fields” was the only evidence I offered in opposition to your proposition, then your comparison would be on point.

The problem is that (unlike your response to my proposition) the inflation field example was not the only evidence I offered. If you recall, I even admitted to being skeptical about inflation field theory myself. Instead, I argued that the universe must have a “first cause” and gave you a couple of examples as to why this must be so (e.g., my proposal to give you $1 million after an infinite number of days; the problem of an eternal regression of causes, etc.). If the cause for the universe is within time, and if (as I propose) everything within time requires a cause, then the cause must itself require a cause. Will THAT cause then also be within time and require its own cause? This goes to my whole God versus Super-God versus Super-duper-God example. When does it stop?

I built on this with what I mentioned before about the necessity of a creator being outside of the creation. Time has nothing to do with this. Yes, time is the particular context we are talking about here, but the proposition holds true for any aspect of a creation. The creator cannot be subject to it. A home contractor is not subject to the nail, wood, drywall, plumbing or any other aspect of the home he builds. You seem to be trying to parcel out time as somehow deserving of different logical treatment. But the logic follows regardless. Time is a part of this creation we call the universe. Call it the nails, wood, drywall, I don’t care. No matter how you look at it, whoever/whatever created the universe must logically be independent of time.

This logic has absolutely nothing to do with the alleged existence of inflation fields. It is broader than that. It talks about what we can conclude about the cause of the universe, regardless of what that cause is. As far as I can tell, you have not yet said anything to respond to any of this logic. So in the end, I am NOT relying on inflation theory to respond to your proposition. I simply pointed it out in response to one of your questions. I am skeptical about it myself. You ARE relying on the Copenhagen Interpretation to respond to my proposition. Without it, you have not offered any other response. You need to respond to the logical arguments above to really refute my proposition.

Also, I would point out that your proposition only concerns whether the cause is within time or not. It has nothing to do with whether or not a cause must exist. I believe that you bring upon yourself a plethora of problems if you try to place that cause within time. But ultimately the response is “so what?” A cause within time or a cause outside of time still both have one fundamental thing in common: they are both a cause.

So I would put it to you quite squarely. If you REALLY believe all your arguments to be true, how do you get around the eternal regression of causes problem? Inside time, outside time, who cares? There MUST be a first cause. Call it natural, supernatural, or whatever pleases you most. We aren’t even talking about whether that cause is intelligent or not. That comes later. My point is quite simple. It must exist. I ask you to simply think it over in your mind and ask yourself how you can possibly avoid an eternal regression of causes without one first cause. The chain of causation must start somewhere. Once you concede that point, you’ve conceded the heart of my argument. I have yet to see anyone successfully avoid this logical dilemma. I understand your argument would probably be that the universe does not have a cause so we will talk more about that next.

You stated, “An alternative solution is to conclude that the universe has no creator.” You, of course, can conclude whatever you like. But your conclusions must hold up to logical scrutiny. I do not know you personally, but I can bet that you probably do not live your life as if uncaused things really happen. If an apple suddenly appeared in front of you while walking down the street, you would not just keep on walking without batting an eye. If my proverbial peanut butter and jelly sandwich just appeared on your counter, you would not just casually pick it up and eat it. You would be surprised. When you watch a magician, do you really believe that his assistant just magically disappeared or do you leave wondering, “How did he do that?”; i.e., “How did he cause her to disappear?” All I am proposing is that people approach the God discussion the same way they do every other aspect of their lives.



As for your question about inflation fields, I apologize for using the term “after.” You are correct that “after” implies linear time whereas inflation fields allegedly operate outside of time. I do not claim to be an expert on inflation field theory and will have to gracefully direct you to ask someone more knowledgeable that I if you really want to understand all the intricacies. Suffice it for the purposes of our discussion to say that multiple universes are generated by this inflation field, but the field itself supposedly does so in a timeless state.

You also stated, “we see quantum events with no apparent cause on a regular basis.” “Apparent” is the operative word. I’ve already gone over this before. I can only ask you to try to realize that you are now talking in circles. You have gone back to the discussion I already had with dagoods about the difference between not knowing the cause for something and knowing that it does not have a cause. I do not believe that we have to use the example of something popping out of nothing when we are having a discussion about cause and effect (there are certainly other types of effects than that), but you will note that I did use a very similar example above of an apple popping into existence, and I have used that same example previously in an article on the Ten Minas website. The logic holds true no matter which example you use.

I said:
"You may very well say that the fact they are assuming a lack of a cause is a reason to reject their interpretation, as is the trend in the scientific community today."

To which you replied:
“Perhaps that is true. If that is the case then we should look at what they are accepting as an alternative.”

Yes. Absolutely. I agree. But again, you are getting into the difference between not knowing a cause and not having a cause. They may not have another alternative. But that does not change the fact that in every other example of existence you assume a cause for every effect, but will not pay the universe the same courtesy. Sometimes the answer is simply that we do not know the cause, but that does not make the proposition that there is no cause any less out of proportion with everything we do know about existence.

You stated:
“I didn't say that the wave function is a real thing. I said the result of the wave function collapse is uncaused. Even if the wave function does not exist in any real sense, then the result surely does. It is pretty much the same as the result of a quantum mechanical observation.”

I am trying to keep this as simple as possible because I really believe you are failing to see the forest through the trees. You are getting caught up in minutiae and failing to see the surface problems with your propositions. So let me ask a simple question. Doesn’t the fact that you define something as a “result”, in and of itself imply that it has a cause? If it is a result, I could ask, “The result of what?” What did it “result” from? Your answer would have to be that it resulted from the wave function collapse. BUT THEN THE WAVE FUNCTION COLLAPSE IS THE CAUSE! This may just be a simple matter of an error in semantics (similar to my use of the term “after” when discussing inflation field theory), but if it is, then you need to better define exactly what this “result” is that you are claiming is uncaused.

Your last few comments are similar. You say that I am “assuming that the natural event is that the outcome with highest probability occurs.” No. I am simply building on your description of the result as “chosen.” If something is “chosen”, who or what is doing the “choosing?” If the result of the wave function collapse is in fact “chosen”, then all of my points hold true. There must be some criteria that form the basis for that “choice” and therefore there is a cause. If it is a purely random selection, then it is not truly a “choice.”

Your response seems to go back to the discussion of probabilities. Now you are no longer talking about the result of wave function collapse as being some kind of “choice” or “selection” that is determined by certain criteria, but rather as a random act based on probabilities. Sometimes the result is in line with the probabilities and sometimes it is counter to those probabilities. But if this is what you mean, then again we are talking in circles. You may recall my earlier comments about wave functions:

“According to the Copenhagen interpretation, a wave function is merely descriptive of probabilities. It is not a ‘thing’ in itself that actually exists. The best analogy I can come up with is that it is like a formula that we have all learned in high school geometry (except it is a formula describing the probabilities of a given result instead of dictating a certain result). Are there theories that believe wave functions are ‘real things’? Yes, but the Copenhagen interpretation is not one of them. At best adherents to the Copenhagen interpretation are agnostic as to whether wave functions actually exist or not.”

What I previously said about wave functions could now be said about your description of the results of wave function collapse. If it is merely a description of probabilities, it is not an actual “thing” that exists. It is like a geometry formula, but you have still failed to show the actual existence of an uncaused event.

So here is where it seems to me that we are at. We are not adding anything new to the discussion. From my perspective (and please feel free to disagree with me), it seems that when we confront a problem with one of your propositions, you are returning to something we have already discussed to which I have already responded. There may be some minor variation (for example whether wave functions or the result of wave function collapse are merely descriptions of probabilities), but the points have all been made. When proposition A does not work out, you offer proposition B to respond to some of its problems. But then when proposition B has problems of its own, you return to proposition A, allegedly as a response to those new problems. But you still have done nothing to respond to the original problems we had with proposition A.

As I said, this is merely my perspective on where our discussion has led us, and I am sure you will have a different one. But even if it were not for my time constraints, when I get to the point in a conversation where I find myself simply reiterating points I have already made, I tend to believe that there is really nothing more to be said and I must leave it to the other party (and any readers who we have not already lost during our lengthy discussion) to weed through the enormous amount of information we have put out there and come to a decision for themselves.

Therefore, as promised, I will let this be my final word. I am currently working on a book, among other projects, so I need to spend more time on those pursuits. But I thank you very much for this entertaining and educational discussion. God bless.

Ken

Pete Chown said...

One of the previous posters referred me to this discussion; I think I may be too late, but I wanted to make a few points.

Ken talked about an apple appearing in front of someone, without any cause. I want to take this a bit further. Suppose I noticed that apples appear at a certain place, at random times. Assume for the sake of argument that there is no cause for this.

Of course it's intriguing that apples appear for no apparent reason, so people start making observations. They are unable to determine a cause for an apple appearing at a certain time, even after doing many experiments.

At this point, the evidence can be interpreted three ways. The first is that the appearances are genuinely random and uncaused (Copenhagen interpretation). The second is that there are many worlds, and in different worlds, apples appear at different times. The third is that there is a physical process causing the apple creation, and we just haven't understood it yet (hidden variable interpretation).

By assumption, the apple-appearances represent an entirely random process. However, notice that you can't rule out the many-worlds interpretation or the hidden variable interpretation, based only on your observations.

To think of it another way, there was a lot of discussion about proving a negative at the start of the thread. That's a bit debatable, but one thing you can never prove is that something is uncaused. You can always suggest that there is a cause and you simply haven't looked hard enough yet.

Ken also suggests that people live their lives as though uncaused events do not happen. Actually that is not true for me. I recognise that the universe tends to be predictable, but I don't play the lottery or other similar games. With these games, the universe is not predictable and so taking part is a waste of money. A particular lottery might choose winning numbers using radioactive decay or some similar process, in which case the outcome is (in the Copenhagen interpretation) unpredictable even in theory. Alternatively, the outcome may be decided by a chaotic process in which case it is unpredictable in practice. It doesn't make much difference: in both cases I am recognising that the universe has inherent unpredictability and I am choosing not to make myself subject to it.

Pete

Ten Minas Ministries said...

Unpredictable does not equal uncaused. Someone still picks those lottery numbers out of the giant tube (or they get forced out by air pressure, etc.), whether you could have predicted which numbers would have come out or not. I am reasonably confident you would agree that this is true. So your example merely shows that you believe that there are "unpredictable" events in this universe, not "uncaused" events.

OK. Now I really am going to bow out. : )

Ken

Pete Chown said...

Hi Ken,

I agree that lottery ball shuffling machines produce results that are unpredictable but caused. I'm not so sure about systems based on radioactive decay.

I suppose it's true that, in living my life, I don't distinguish between unpredictable events and uncaused events. However, I'm not sure how a belief in uncaused events might make me behave differently. I can't predict the lottery numbers so there is no point playing regardless of whether the numbers are "unpredictable by me", "unpredictable even in theory" or "uncaused".

akakiwibear said...

Hi Ken, I hope you really don’t have to go, you have kept this thread alive while I have been overcommitted to the real world – thank you.

As for this thread and its direction, I have been pondering the premise that causality implies God … the view that there must be a cause and if not God then who/what? Is this simply I don’t know so it must be God? … the argument from ignorance

Using the example of the PB&J sandwich – it is not enough to only ask who/what caused it, any more than it is to say “don’t know, but it wasn’t God because I don’t believe in God”.

As I see it there is a challenge to theists, establish a link between “I don’t know” and “God did it” that establishes a metaphysical realm – the prerequisite for the existence of God. This is not really that hard – I go to my favourite example of Paul’s Damascus road conversion, but I am open to further examples.

Certainly, there is a valid point in the comment that there is always a causal agent – or at least we can’t think of anything without one (except perhaps the existence of God). Treating God as the universal causal agent for anything/everything we can’t otherwise explain puts God on the same level as “I don’t know”. Creation of the world produces the “God” outcome only by virtue of definition

BUT the challenge to atheists remains, establish that there is no causality between linked events that imply a metaphysical existence. Now simply saying that an event attributed to a metaphysical intervention cannot be repeated under laboratory conditions establishes that there is no link is of course ridiculous – would you place a converted Paul in the lab and watch for … what … re-conversion or the spaghetti monster? No, atheists cannot avoid the challenge of presenting a body of theory that explains the “don’t know” where there is:
a) a pattern to the “don’t know” events – each event may be unique but there are enough of them to validate an implied metaphysical cause
b) evidence that the occurrence is real but cannot be explained by those who limit their thinking to this realm – eg so called “mind over matter” such as the placebo effect

I think theists give in to the atheist call “prove there is a God” too readily – there remains in my mind an equal obligation on the atheist to demonstrate that theists are wrong, or that there is no God.

Hamba kahle – peace

Ten Minas Ministries said...

akakiwibear,

I really don't have much time. We have had an unexpected and unfortunate turn of events at my church and as an elder, I have a lot of administrative and pastoral-type duties to fulfill right now. But because you have been so kind in allowing the use of your blog for this discussion, I wanted to give you the courtesy of at least a brief response.

If I am understanding you correctly, I believe we agree. I may or may not have said this in an earlier comment (there have been so many going on for so long now, I really can't remember what I said before), but I do not for one minute believe that the Big Bang/first cause argument, in and of itself, proves the existence of the Christian God (or the deistic god or any other god for that matter). It simply proves a "cause" for the universe, whatever that cause may be. I believe it also shows that this cause is not subject to time and therefore does not need a cause of its own.

However, based upon this evidence alone, this "first cause" could be intelligent, random, natural, supernatural, etc. In the articles I have on the Ten Minas website, this whole discussion we've been having is addressed in only the first of seven articles on the "Argument for Christianity." It is only the first step.

The approach I take in those articles is basically as follows:

(1) Prove the universe has a first cause (i.e., the discussion we've been having);
(2) Prove that cause is intelligent;
(3) Demonstrate the reliability of the current Biblical texts we have (i.e., that they are reliable representations of the originals);
(4) Demonstrate that the original texts were accurately recording historical events;
(5) Demonstrate that the original texts contain information that could only have been provided by the intelligent first cause we concluded existed in part (2);
(6) Explain what that intelligent agent told us through these texts about the role of a Messiah; and
(7) Explain what to do as a result.

If I understand yoru comment correctly, you believe that there is still a leap between the first cause argument and the existence of God. I agree. There are still a number of propositions that need to be proven in between. I attempt to bridge that gap through the various other articles in the progression. The extent to which I have succeeded is for others to judge.

Ken

Neil Turton said...

Hi Ken,

I agree that we are going round in circles, but I disagree about why. As I see it, there are two issues. The first is that either I have failed to express and/or you have failed to understand (I'm not wishing to apportion blame here) what the Copenhagen interpretation actually is. It's not that we disagree. It's that we're not talking about the same thing. The other issue is that you haven't (to my knowledge) given a reason to choose your proposition and reject mine. You've only given a reason to reject mine assuming that you've already accepted yours, which gets you nowhere in your attempt to show that your proposition is true.

"As you correctly noted, I presented the proposition that every event has a cause."

Actually I'm afraid I got that wrong and you seem to have copied my mistake. You presented the proposition that everything which has a beginning has a cause. I don't think our discussion is affected by the mistake though.

"Also, as I have argued before, I do not believe the Copenhagen Interpretation actually holds that there are real uncaused events as you assert."

I think you're mistaken in that belief. I've found some more information on the matter. The Copenhagen Interpretation is non-deterministic which means that not every event is causally determined.

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

"Determinism (also called antiserendipity) is the philosophical proposition that every event, including human cognition and behaviour, decision and action, is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences."

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

"Many physicists and philosophers have objected to the Copenhagen interpretation, both on the grounds that it is non-deterministic [...]"

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

"The Copenhagen interpretation, due largely to the Danish theoretical physicist Niels Bohr, is the interpretation of quantum mechanics most widely accepted amongst physicists. According to it, the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics predictions cannot be explained in terms of some other deterministic theory, and does not simply reflect our limited knowledge. Quantum mechanics provides probabilistic results because the physical universe is itself probabilistic rather than deterministic."

"Instead, I argued that the universe must have a “first cause” and gave you a couple of examples as to why this must be so (e.g., my proposal to give you $1 million after an infinite number of days; the problem of an eternal regression of causes, etc.). If the cause for the universe is within time, and if (as I propose) everything within time requires a cause, then the cause must itself require a cause."

This only shows that it cannot be the case that both your proposition and my proposition are true. I admitted that much in my previous comment and said that we need to choose between them. You haven't provided a means to choose between them. You've just highlighted the fact that the choice is necessary.

"You seem to be trying to parcel out time as somehow deserving of different logical treatment."

I'm focusing on time simply because of the normal cause and effect relationship. The cause always occurs at an earlier time than the effect. For this to work, the cause and the effect must both be in time and hence in the universe.

"I believe that you bring upon yourself a plethora of problems if you try to place that cause within time."

When you say "that cause", you're assuming that the universe has a cause. And yet you have not proved that the universe has a cause. I have been arguing that your proof is unsound and your responses seem to assume the very thing you're trying to prove.

"So I would put it to you quite squarely. If you REALLY believe all your arguments to be true, how do you get around the eternal regression of causes problem? Inside time, outside time, who cares? There MUST be a first cause."

The first thing I would like to say is that I don't actually know how the universe started. I just find the arguments for God creating the universe to be very strained. Based on the information we have, it seems to me that there are many explanations. Perhaps the first cause was the appearance of space, time and matter. Modern physics suggests that these three things are intimately bound together so it seems reasonable that they all appear in a single event. Everything else would be caused by that, but the first cause would be uncaused (as it must be). Since the first cause was part of the universe then the universe as a whole does not have a cause.

"You stated, “An alternative solution is to conclude that the universe has no creator.” You, of course, can conclude whatever you like. But your conclusions must hold up to logical scrutiny. I do not know you personally, but I can bet that you probably do not live your life as if uncaused things really happen. If an apple suddenly appeared in front of you while walking down the street, you would not just keep on walking without batting an eye."

I admit that I am setting aside my everyday expectations when it comes to looking at the cause of the universe. However, I see no reason to believe that the universe will conform to my expectations. It doesn't when we study quantum mechanics, even excluding the causality issue. Nobody expects wave-particle duality, quantum entanglement or the EPR paradox. I must set aside my expectations when studying the way the universe works at the smallest level, so why should I keep them when looking at the cause of the universe?

I would also have to set aside my everyday expectations in order to accept that there is a cause outside of time. I expect that every effect is after its cause, in time. Hence my challenge.

"I do not claim to be an expert on inflation field theory and will have to gracefully direct you to ask someone more knowledgeable that I if you really want to understand all the intricacies."

I guess we're both out of our depth on this one then. I'm not going to attempt to address it. However, I will point out that your argument is self-defeating. If you succeed in showing that God is the first cause then you lose the ability to claim that inflation field theory is an answer to my challenge. You can't use God as an answer to my challenge because that would lead to circular reasoning.

"[...] But again, you are getting into the difference between not knowing a cause and not having a cause. They may not have another alternative. But that does not change the fact that in every other example of existence you assume a cause for every effect, but will not pay the universe the same courtesy."

I assume a cause for everything except in quantum mechanics. You're asking me to pay a courtesy to the universe which I don't pay to quantum mechanics. I'm not just saying that we don't know the cause of quantum mechanical events. I'm saying that a large number of physicists think that there is no cause. I don't particularly care if I've kept to the exact terms of your challenge. What I care about is whether your proof (that the universe has a cause) holds water. If you wish to show that the universe must have a cause then it's up to you to show that everything else has a cause. It's no good to say that there are some things with a cause and some things with no apparent cause which we're going to assume have a cause and so everything must have a cause. You might as well just assume that the universe has a cause.

"I am trying to keep this as simple as possible because I really believe you are failing to see the forest through the trees. You are getting caught up in minutiae and failing to see the surface problems with your propositions. So let me ask a simple question. Doesn’t the fact that you define something as a “result”, in and of itself imply that it has a cause?"

In a word, no. Perhaps I used the wrong word. The result in question is the result of an observation. The fact that you have a result is caused by the fact that you made an observation, but that doesn't determine which result you got. Which one of the possible results you got is uncaused according to the Copenhagen interpretation.

"I am simply building on your description of the result as “chosen.” If something is “chosen”, who or what is doing the “choosing?” If the result of the wave function collapse is in fact “chosen”, then all of my points hold true."

This is a word problem again. I didn't mean to imply that something was doing the choosing. There are a number of possible outcomes and one of them occurs. It's a purely random outcome.

"Your response seems to go back to the discussion of probabilities. Now you are no longer talking about the result of wave function collapse as being some kind of “choice” or “selection” that is determined by certain criteria, but rather as a random act based on probabilities. Sometimes the result is in line with the probabilities and sometimes it is counter to those probabilities. [...]

What I previously said about wave functions could now be said about your description of the results of wave function collapse. If it is merely a description of probabilities, it is not an actual “thing” that exists.
"

The result is what gets measured. The scientist writes it down on a piece of paper. It exists. Like I said before, we appear not to be talking about the same thing.

"I must leave it to the other party (and any readers who we have not already lost during our lengthy discussion) to weed through the enormous amount of information we have put out there and come to a decision for themselves."

By some small miracle, we appear not to have lost all our readers.

I have enjoyed our discussion and have found it quite educational. I hope your book goes well and that you get the issues at your church sorted out satisfactorily.

Peace, Neil.

Neil Turton said...

Hi Akakiwibear,

You wrote:
"Using the example of the PB&J sandwich – it is not enough to only ask who/what caused it, any more than it is to say “don’t know, but it wasn’t God because I don’t believe in God”."

That's true. Lack of belief in God doesn't imply that God doesn't exist.

"As I see it there is a challenge to theists, establish a link between “I don’t know” and “God did it” that establishes a metaphysical realm – the prerequisite for the existence of God. This is not really that hard – I go to my favourite example of Paul’s Damascus road conversion, but I am open to further examples."

We're discussing Paul elsewhere on your blog so I'll not go into it here. Suppose you did show that there is a metaphysical realm and a god in it. You'd then have the further challenge of showing that that particular god was the one which created the universe. In my view Ken is taking the right approach, although I disagree with his arguments.

"BUT the challenge to atheists remains, establish that there is no causality between linked events that imply a metaphysical existence."

It can't be done. I just think that we don't have evidence for the existence of a metaphysical realm. Does this mean that such a realm doesn't exist? No, but it does mean that it is the produce of imagination. Does that mean I'm not an atheist? I deny the existence of some sorts of god. For other types of god, I think we don't have enough evidence to show whether they exist or not. For yet other gods, we can never have evidence that they exist. Do you want to call me an atheist? You choose. I don't mind either way.

"Now simply saying that an event attributed to a metaphysical intervention cannot be repeated under laboratory conditions establishes that there is no link is of course ridiculous"

I agree.

"No, atheists cannot avoid the challenge of presenting a body of theory that explains the “don’t know” where there is:
a) a pattern to the “don’t know” events – each event may be unique but there are enough of them to validate an implied metaphysical cause
"

That sounds fair. Show me the pattern, and I'll see if I can find an explanation.

"b) evidence that the occurrence is real but cannot be explained by those who limit their thinking to this realm – eg so called “mind over matter” such as the placebo effect"

You mention the placebo effect. Like I said before, this article claims that there is an explanation. Was there anything else you were thinking of?

Peace, Neil.

akakiwibear said...

Neil, very interesting article, although one should be cautious of confusing what happens with what makes it happen - perhaps that we we observe with that which goes unseen.

Clearly our brain is a computer like contraption. Some of its responses is hard wired (nature) and some of its responses are as a result of its accumulated knowledge and experience (nurture, in nature vs nurture debate).

Obviously we expect to see some activity in the brain associated with the placebo effect - but is it cause or effect.

One thing the article does not address is how placebo based healing takes place. OK to work with highly subjective phenomenon like pain, but what actually causes healing in other parts of the body.

I have little doubt that at some point in time we will identify the bio-mechanisms involved. We already seem to know quite a lot about why we don't regrow limbs like a lizard. Assuming we understand the biological actions associated with apparently spontaneous healing will this disprove a spiritual trigger?

In much the same way as we understand where in the brain religious experiences occur and we can apparently simulate them we have done nothing to challenge that there are bona fide religious experiences - oh dear! Paul again!

Hamba kahle - peace

akakiwibear said...

Neil "I just think that we don't have evidence for the existence of a metaphysical realm. Does this mean that such a realm doesn't exist? No, but it does mean that it is the produce of imagination."
alert!
One can easily argue that all theories are the produce of imagination - so what? It being a theory does not automatically discredit it.

Your "Show me the pattern, and I'll see if I can find an explanation." moves the theory to a hypothesis. How would I state the hypothesis?

For events to be chance based we should see a pattern - is the distribution normal or does it follow some other rule. If we can discern no rule of chance, or if the behaviour deviates from the rule in a significant way then we have to acknowledge an outside influence.

Now consider healing miracles. Is there a scientific basis for expecting a certain frequency of spontaneous remission - if yes, then does the miracle fit that profile - if yes no miracle.

Take, for simplicity, the example we have looked at before - St Faustina vs. Roy Whoever (with the heart thing).

The prevailing view of the medical team that reviewed the case was that there was no acceptable medical explanation. Therefore some external influence ... I leave you to put the rest together.

Now to "show me the pattern" . The St Faustina miracle was not the only such event ever. There are others with similar characteristics - outside of medical expectations implying an outside influence.

It is not enough for you to say that I have not proven my case conclusively - I do not claim to have. It is for you to mount a counter case that invalidates the argument for external influence - i.e. proves that the event was normal albeit infrequent - the medical panel could not do that!

hamba kahle - peace

Neil Turton said...

Hi Akakiwibear,

You wrote:
"Obviously we expect to see some activity in the brain associated with the placebo effect - but is it cause or effect."

The simplest explanation is that the dopamine release is caused by the expectation and that the pain relief is caused by the dopamine. According to Occam's razor, the simplest expectation which fits the evidence is the most likely explanation.

"One thing the article does not address is how placebo based healing takes place. OK to work with highly subjective phenomenon like pain, but what actually causes healing in other parts of the body."

The existence of non-subjective placebo effects is disputed or non-existant.

"In much the same way as we understand where in the brain religious experiences occur and we can apparently simulate them we have done nothing to challenge that there are bona fide religious experiences - oh dear! Paul again!"

It does a great deal to challenge bona-fide religious experiences. What we are learning through science suggests simple explanations for religious experiences, involving chemicals and brain cells; things which we know exist. There's no need to postulate a metaphysical realm to explain them; something which we don't know to exist. By Occam's razor, the simplest explanation is most likely.

As Thomas Aquinas wrote:
"If a thing can be done adequately by means of one, it is superfluous to do it by means of several; for we observe that nature does not employ two instruments where one suffices"

You wrote:
"If we can discern no rule of chance, or if the behaviour deviates from the rule in a significant way then we have to acknowledge an outside influence."

Let's see where this logic takes us. If we can discern no rule after studying the subject for one year then we need to acknowledge an outside influence. But if we study for another year and find a rule then there doesn't need to be an outside influence. And then if we find a case where the rule doesn't fit, we need to acknowledge an outside influence again. But then when we find another rule which fits all the cases, we stop needing to acknowledge an outside influence. That can't be right - if we don't need to acknowledge an outside influence at the end of the study, we don't need to acknowledge one after the first year. That's the problem with God of the gaps - that God keeps disappearing when we find out more.

Let me propose a correction to your logic. If we can discern no rule then we don't know what's going on. If the behaviour deviates from the rule then we got the rule wrong. Once we've worked out the rule, we can start thinking about what causes the rule to be followed. If the rule were that whenever people prayed they got healed then that would be evidence for an outside influence, but I think we both know that that isn't the rule.

"Now to "show me the pattern" . The St Faustina miracle was not the only such event ever. There are others with similar characteristics - outside of medical expectations implying an outside influence."

It's outside of medical expectations which means they don't know what happened. It was a spontaneous remission - a "recovery without known cause or reason". How would the medical panel report a spontaneous remission differently from a miracle? Surely they would come to the same conclusion in both cases - that they can't explain the recovery.

"i.e. proves that the event was normal albeit infrequent - the medical panel could not do that!"

One of the panel could. Remember, they only voted 4 to 1. I guess that means that four didn't know what was going on, but one did.

Anyway, we've been over this. I raised some objections and all you could tell me is that my objections should have been addressed. You haven't shown me that they were actually addressed.

Peace, Neil.

Neil Turton said...

Hi Akakiwibear,

In a dangerous move, I'm going to return to the original topic. In order to determine whether or not God exists, we must first define God. God is often viewed as the supreme being, an immensely powerful creator who is eternal, interested in human affairs, performing miracles, loving and full of justice, and who will judge humans in an afterlife.

Since God is viewed as loving, just and powerful, I would expect some identifiable intervention in the world in the form of natural justice. For example, if an innocent girl was being raped, I'd expect God to stop the rapist, at least in some cases. That would be loving and just. Instead, the rapist doesn't have to worry about the possibility of God intervening and so what we observe is not what we should expect if God did exist.

I would expect an human-centred universe. Look at a painting. You can tell what it's about by identifying which features cover most of the canvas. Now look at the universe. An unimaginably small proportion of it is devoted to human life. Most of the universe (>99%) is the intergalactic gas between galaxies. Most of the rest (>99.9999999999%) is the interstellar gas between star systems. Most of the rest (>99.999999999%) is the gas between a star and its planets. Given that SETI has not yet shown anything up, I think it's safe to say that most of the planets in the galaxy are uninhabited. Even our own planet had no intelligent life for the majority of its history (and some dispute whether it has intelligent life now). If God was interested in human affairs, I would have thought he would have devoted more of the universe, in both time and space, to humanity or intelligent life and less to low pressure hydrogen and dark matter.

If God is interested in justice and will judge humans then I would expect him to reveal to us what counts as right behaviour. After all, a law is not just if it is kept secret; that would be a trap. The situation which we have is that most people think they know what God counts as right behaviour, but people don't agree on the details. Sometimes, people think that God wants them to kill other people or torture them. If these people had known that God didn't want them to do those things then they wouldn't have done them. If God is going to judge people, I would expect him to clear up these misunderstandings with some simple straight-forward widespread communication.

Since my experience doesn't match my expectations based on the assumption that God exists, I conclude that God doesn't exist. Perhaps my definition of God is flawed. However, it's only meaningful to have a discussion about the potential existence of a specific sort of God. If we were to broaden the definition of God to "a supreme being" then there's no way that I could prove the non-existence of God. However, such a definition of God is pretty meaningless. If I knew that there was a supreme being, it wouldn't affect my life in any way because I wouldn't know what to expect from that supreme being. Would that being be loving? ...vengeful? ...conscious? ...a judge? ...powerful? ...a teacher? ...unjust? ...personal? ...in this universe? ...in some other realm? We just wouldn't know. We would just know that this being was supreme. Whatever that means. So what?

Finally, according to Occam's razor, the simplest explanation is most likely to be the right one. I recognise that we disagree about whether there is evidence for the existence of God, but if it turned out that there were no evidence for the existence of God, the simplest explanation for what we observe would be that God doesn't exist and so that would most likely be right.

Peace, Neil.

akakiwibear said...

Hi Neil,
Defining God is a good start – I think we will readily agree that many of the definitions of God are either invalid or relate to a God that obviously does not exist.

To avoid two parallel discussions (i.e. talking past each other) I will respond to your ‘top down’ approach comments rather than follow my preferred ‘bottom up’ approach.

You have established a set of expected behaviours to fit what you consider to be a reasonable model of God. The validity of the model itself determines the validity of any conclusions you draw and you recognise this when you say “Perhaps my definition of God is flawed” . Yes I think it may be, but let’s look at your examples.

1) “.. would expect some identifiable intervention in the world in the form of natural justice” and you use the rape of an innocent to illustrate your point. Do you really expect God to intervene to prevent every act of injustice? – if not for which? I see the application of Reductio Ad Absurdum here. To expect God to intervene at all times strikes me as an absurdity – why enable us to act freely then intervene to prevent it? Either we are free to rape and pillage or not in this life, or God constrains us – clearly we are not constrained, therefore we are free to act as we will. The real question here is should God allow us freedom or not? You need to support your supposition that intervention=constraint is the preferred outcome over freedom and that it would be the only valid choice of a god if you want to use it to test God's existence.

2) “I would expect a human-centred universe” Why? While as you point out we are but a small part of the universe, there is no apparent reason to believe that the universe should exist for our benefit. God’s interest in such a small part of the universe does not preclude God’s interest in other larger or smaller parts of the universe. To validate your point you really do need to substantiate why God would have less (or no) interest in the rest of the universe.

3) “If God is interested in justice and will judge humans then I would expect him to reveal to us what counts as right behaviour” Yes and he has. You imply four things (i) God has not revealed "right behaviour" to us, (ii) there is a lack of clarity, (iii) that lack indicates there is no God as a God would have been a better communicator and (iv) that God would not want us to discover justice for ourselves – that God should have spelled it out from day one.
Firstly I am not sure there is a lack revelation or lack of clarity if we take a sensible approach to God’s teaching. Limiting (and for no reason other than simplicity) to the Judaic-Christian record which covers a significant time span (but is not the only religious record of God’s revelation to humanity) we recognise that God’s revelations needed to have been contextual to the society to which they were made.
For example a year ago NZ enacted a bill making smacking a child illegal and there are those who have difficulty with it. For the sake of argument assume smacking kids is not good – would this legislation have been viable in C16 England? More to the point, would it have been reasonable for God to have revealed this to an emerging humanity that was still getting used to verbal communication or to the early Jews who were surrounded by the practice of child sacrifice?
What we do see is that God got the message about child sacrifice across quite clearly when the Jews were able to work with it - the incident of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son is usually cited as the point when God put a stop to the practise in Jewish theology. This point is illustrative of both clarity and God’s ability as a communicator to match message with social context - the Jews were able to comprehend the message and enter a new age of rights of the child.

As with (1) above God is guiding not forcing.

As time progressed the message evolved along with humanity and our ability to accept it. Now you may argue that we have developed our sense of justice ourselves with no input from God. This is a futile argument, history says our sense of justice emerged from a society with religion – looking back we can’t definitely separate cause from effect. Clearly however God did not force us adopt or adhere to a specific sense of justice but has allowed us develop it with guidance – I would argue with much evidence of that guidance.
Also, we again get back to the question of freedom and the absurdity of giving us the ability to discern right from wrong but spelling it out with such “clarity” that we don’t need the ability as we have no choice but to accept it.

4) Indeed we should consider Occam’s razor. Since throughout history humanity has believed in the existence of a supreme being, then either we have to prove that accumulation of humanity wrong or accept the simplest explanation – they are right. So Occam’s razor does not win the day either way.

5) “it's only meaningful to have a discussion about the potential existence of a specific sort of God.” ah! Now you have got the nub of the issue! I say no, no, no, no! You run the risk of setting up a ‘straw man’ God to knock down at your leisure.


6) You say “We would just know that this being was supreme. Whatever that means. So what?” As it appears we have the freedom to act without that being actually constraining us then indeed “so what?” – but only if there are no consequences for us for our actions. May I suggest two “so whats”?
(a) The guidance given for a better society. Just think if we all lived according to God’s teaching – love your neighbour etc. Would you really be a position to cite the rape of innocents as “proof” that there is no God – but it remains our choice.
(b) In the final analysis the answer is primarily relevant in metaphysical terms - in terms of the development of our spiritual nature/being which the majority of religions teach us is more important than our physical day-to-day and should guide our physical day-to-day. What awaits the rapist and victim in the next life?

Hamba kahle - peace

J.L. Hinman said...

no we do not prove the negative all the time. proving the negative is impossible. People confusing proving the negative with disproving a proposition. These two totally different things.

You can't prove there is no Bigfoot unless you comb every single inch of planet earth, then you have only proven there is no Bigfoot on earth at the moment.

akakiwibear said...

J.L. Hinman nice to see you back! "Proving the negative is impossible" well then atheism, like theism is just a big leap of faith.

Please contact my bank manager he needs to understand that it is impossible to prove there is no money in my account, I keep saying there is so it can't be overdrawn.

On a more serious note though we all have be willing to defend our position. I find the tendency of atheists to hide behind "can't prove a negative" smacks of intellectual fraud in that they imply that they therefore do not have to defend their position at all and that all the running in the a/theist debate has to be made by the theists while the atheist sits and picks at the weakest of the theist arguments while offering no justification for their own position.

Hamba kahle - peace

Neil Turton said...

Hi Akakiwibear,

You claim that my definition is flawed and that I'm presenting a straw man argument, but then you go on and defend the straw man in points (1), (2) and (3). Which part of my definition do you think is flawed? I can't tell from your comment. Anyway, I'm not actually interested in attacking a straw man, so I'll move on to your other points.

You wrote:
"For the sake of argument assume smacking kids is not good - would this legislation have been viable in C16 England?"

No. They would have quoted Proverbs 23:13-14 in support of the practice. If God had given better advice, it would have been viable.

"What we do see is that God got the message about child sacrifice across quite clearly when the Jews were able to work with it"

Which was just about the same time that they were ready to discover it for themselves. This raises an alternative hypothesis that they discovered it for themselves and this is a simpler hypothesis so it's more likely to be correct.

"Now you may argue that we have developed our sense of justice ourselves with no input from God. This is a futile argument, history says our sense of justice emerged from a society with religion - looking back we can't definitely separate cause from effect."

You're confusing God with religion. Anyway, you're right that we can't clearly separate cause and effect. The way to handle this situation is to use Occam's razor and the simplest explanation is the one with no input from God. The other explanation introduces an extra element - input from God - which makes it less likely to be correct.

"4) Indeed we should consider Occam's razor. Since throughout history humanity has believed in the existence of a supreme being, then either we have to prove that accumulation of humanity wrong or accept the simplest explanation - they are right. So Occam's razor does not win the day either way."

You're right that an explanation which involves people being right is in some sense simpler than one which involves people being wrong, since the latter needs to introduce a reason for the people being wrong. However, Occam's razor must be applied to the whole explanation. Your explanation also includes the existence of a supreme being to explain humanity's claim that such a being exists.

My explanation for people's belief in a supreme being is that people are naturally superstitious. One class of superstitious behaviour is to attribute events with an unknown cause to an intelligent agent. Illness is caused by demons. Earthquakes and lightning are caused by angry Gods. Planets move in the sky because they are being pushed by angels. A good harvest is caused by the Gods being pleased. We know that people are naturally superstitious so it's only a small step to say that this is why people believe in God.

So your explanation is in fact more complex than mine despite the superficial appearance of simplicity.

"5) "it's only meaningful to have a discussion about the potential existence of a specific sort of God." ah! Now you have got the nub of the issue! I say no, no, no, no! You run the risk of setting up a 'straw man' God to knock down at your leisure."

True, although I have no interest in setting up a straw man. I'm more interested in having a definition of God that we can use to communicate effectively. Without that, we're in danger of talking at cross purposes.

"(a) The guidance given for a better society. Just think if we all lived according to God's teaching - love your neighbour etc. Would you really be a position to cite the rape of innocents as "proof" that there is no God - but it remains our choice."

I wouldn't expect guidance from just any "supreme being". You've extended the definition to "a supreme being who teaches good things" or something like that. Such a being is less likely than just a "supreme being" because the definition is more complex. Occam's razor strikes again.

Anyway, I admit that I wouldn't be able to use the rape example if we all followed the good bits of the Bible. Similarly, I wouldn't be able to use it if we all followed atheist ethical guidance. I don't see what difference the existence of God makes here.

"(b) In the final analysis the answer is primarily relevant in metaphysical terms - in terms of the development of our spiritual nature/being which the majority of religions teach us is more important than our physical day-to-day and should guide our physical day-to-day. What awaits the rapist and victim in the next life?"

Your question assumes the existence of a next life and I assume you're suggesting that the rapist will have negative consequences in the next life. Again, you've extended the definition to "a supreme being who teaches good things and provides a next life where there will be negative consequences for evildoers". Again, the more complex definition makes the existence of such a being less likely.

Peace, Neil.

Neil Turton said...

Hi JLH,

You wrote:
"no we do not prove the negative all the time. proving the negative is impossible. People confusing proving the negative with disproving a proposition. These two totally different things."

I think you're mistaken. In fact you go on to admit the possibility of proving that "there is no Bigfoot on earth at the moment". I'd be quite happy to prove that there's no Bigfoot sat on my desk. The two important points here are: (1) I know what a Bigfoot should look like. (2) A complete search for Bigfoot on my desk is quite feasible.

Richard Carrier wrote a good article on this.

Peace, Neil.

Neil Turton said...

Hi Akakiwibear,

You wrote
"On a more serious note though we all have be willing to defend our position. I find the tendency of atheists to hide behind "can't prove a negative" smacks of intellectual fraud in that they imply that they therefore do not have to defend their position at all and that all the running in the a/theist debate has to be made by the theists while the atheist sits and picks at the weakest of the theist arguments while offering no justification for their own position."

Yes. I agree. The atheist needs to say this: Since your argument is so weak, it explains nothing beyond what can be explained through natural causes. We know natural causes exist, so the simplest explanation (and by Occam's razor, most likely) is that it was caused by natural causes.

Peace, Neil.