God and the cause of the universe

A large and powerful tradition within Christendom has always asserted that faith in God’s existence (and His revelation through Christ) is a rational belief based on evidence, i.e. grounded in the same way our beliefs about the natural world are.

Given that the large majority of Conservative Christians take this approach, it has always dumbstruck me to see the New Atheists always describing faith as “pretending to now what you don’t know” and completely ignoring the fact that very few Christians hold to that view.

R.D. Mika wrote an interesting post about such an attempt to prove God’s existence  by using the fact that our universe began to exist (at the Big Bang).

 

“It is without a doubt true that different people respond to arguments differently. In particular, the wayin which an argument is presented may make the difference in whether a person properly perceives and understands the argument or not. Now the Kalam Cosmological Argument—as formulated by William Lane Craig—is, at present, an incredibly popular argument for theism. Its premises have been attacked and defended multiple times over and from all sorts of different angles. Many people think that the Kalam argument, as it is popularly formulated, is sound, and many people think the opposite.

 
What I wish to offer in this post is one way that the Kalam argument can be reformulated in order to change its presentation and argumentative focus, which might, in turn, make it more appealing and understandable to certain people who might not appreciate it as much when it is presented in its popular formulation. In particular, what I propose is to change the argument structure from a straight deductive argument to a type of “trilemma” argument. Changing the argument in this way will thus force the argument’s opponent to positively select one option of the trilemma, rather than simply allowing him to search for and offer “possible” objections to the traditional premises of the argument. And this, in turn, means that the positive selection that the opponent makes can then be scrutinized and shown to be less reasonable (even irrational) in comparison to the other selections that are on offer. In addition, by forcing the opponent of the argument to actually make a choice as to which option he finds most reasonable, it also prevents the opponent from hiding behind a type intellectual agnosticism or selective skepticism, which he can do to a greater degree when the argument is formulated in the traditional way. Furthermore, by presenting the argument in a trilemma format, where the options are clearly presented and the consequences of accepting those options are absolutely clear as well, the trilemma option can, with absolute clarity, show the enormously steep price that needs to be paid in order to deny the option that supports the Kalam. Also, because it is an argument format that lays all the options out on the table before a person, and because those options can be readily and easily compared, the trilemma format further shows just how absurd it is to choose the options that go against the Kalam argument in comparison to the options that support the argument. Finally, because it shares the many strengths of an “inference to the best explanation” argument format, the trilemma method of presenting the Kalam argument is more natural and easily understandable for the common man. Consider that when a mother finds that the cookie jar on the top shelf of the kitchen has been raided, she will likely reason in the same way that this reformulation of the Kalam will use. She will, for example, consider that the only three individuals that could possibly be responsible for raiding the cookie jar are her three children: Billy, Bob, and Brent. But since Billy was sleeping at the time of the incident and Bob is just a baby and does not know where the cookie jar is (nor could he reach it), then the only candidate left, beyond a reasonable doubt, is Brent. So, the mother reasons, Brent is the only candidate of the three that could have taken the cookies. People often reason in such a manner, and it is simply a more instinctive way of reasoning than deductive reasoning is. Thus, when the Kalam argument is presented in such a manner, it may be more easily understood by the lay-person.

Now, before I offer this Kalam Trilemma Argument, let me do two things. First, I will point out that like the traditional formulation of the Kalam argument, this different formulation assumes the A-Theory of time. Second, let me just refresh your memory as to how the Kalam argument is traditionally formulated (from the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology):

 
Premise 1: Everything that begins to exist has a cause.

 

Premise 2: The universe began to exist.

 

Conclusion: Therefore, the universe has a cause.

 

Conceptual Analysis of the Cause of the Universe: An uncaused, personal, Creator of the universe exists, who without the universe is beginingless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful.
So, with those two points stated, let us reformulate the Kalam argument in a trilemma-type format.
Fact: The universe (meaning all of space, matter, energy, and time itself) began to exist; in essence, at one point, there was no universe and then there was a universe. (We will, both for the sake of argument and because my goal is not to defend this particular premise in this blog post, just assume that it is the case that the universe began to exist.)
Now, given that the universe began to exist, then there are only three options that can account for its beginning to exist.
Option 1: The universe is uncaused and came out of absolute nothingness. In essence, something which began to exist—the universe—has no cause and came out of an absolute nothingness which has no potentials, no knowledge, no creative ability, no powers, no laws, no force, no nothing! Thus, even though “out of nothing, nothing comes” is a fact more certain than the fact that matter exists, to choose this option you would indeed need to believe that, actually, something can come from absolute nothingness. You would need to believe that out of absolutely nothingness, something does come.

 

 

 

Option 2: The universe was self-caused. In essence, the universe, which did not exist, somehow nevertheless caused itself to exist. A non-existent thing caused itself to exist. To believe this, you would need to believe something that was literally impossible: that a non-existent thing, which thus had no powers, no potential, no creative ability, no knowledge, no force, nothing at all because it did not exist, nevertheless had the power and ability to somehow cause itself to exist.
Option 3: The universe was caused by something which itself is not the universe or any part of the universe, and which is—given that the universe includes all matter—necessarily non-material. In essence, the universe has a cause that is distinct from itself. And to choose this option, all you would have to believe is precisely that: that the universe has a cause which is separate and distinct from the universe itself.
Now, when these three options are compared—and ultimately, as stated, they are indeed the only three options available—I contend that it is manifestly obvious that the third option is the more reasonable one to hold (and once that option is selected, then the Conceptual Analysis can be done). And note that it would be disingenuous for the opponent of the argument to avoid selecting this third option simply because he knows where the argument is leading. Rather, if he is genuinely seeking the truth (or seeking the most rational position to hold), then he must make his selection in this trilemma based on the three options before him as they stand, not on the basis of what they might lead to. Also note that if the opponent of the Kalam argument does select an option other than Option 3, then his choice can be mercilessly attacked and the absurdity of his selection can be readily exposed. Finally, in my view, it should be clear that the opponent of the argument cannot hide behind agnosticism, because when presented with these three options, I contend that all people will see one option as at least more likely than another, thus moving that person away from straight agnosticism and towards one of the three options available.

 

So presenting the Kalam argument in this manner has certain advantages that the traditional formulation does not have, and thus you may wish to consider this approach in the future when employing the Kalam argument.”

 

A large and powerful tradition within Christendom has always asserted that faith in God’s existence (and His revelation through Christ) is a rational belief based on evidence, i.e. grounded in the same way our beliefs about the natural world are.

Given the fact that the large majority of Conservative Christians take this approach, it has always dumbstruck me to see the New Atheists always describing faith as “pretending to now what you don’t know” and completely ignore the fact that very few Christians hold to that view.

 

R.D. Mika wrote an interesting post about such an attempt to prove God’s existence  by using the fact that our universe began to exist.

 

It is without a doubt true that different people respond to arguments differently. In particular, the wayin which an argument is presented may make the difference in whether a person properly perceives and understands the argument or not. Now the Kalam Cosmological Argument—as formulated by William Lane Craig—is, at present, an incredibly popular argument for theism. Its premises have been attacked and defended multiple times over and from all sorts of different angles. Many people think that the Kalam argument, as it is popularly formulated, is sound, and many people think the opposite.

 
What I wish to offer in this post is one way that the Kalam argument can be reformulated in order to change its presentation and argumentative focus, which might, in turn, make it more appealing and understandable to certain people who might not appreciate it as much when it is presented in its popular formulation. In particular, what I propose is to change the argument structure from a straight deductive argument to a type of “trilemma” argument. Changing the argument in this way will thus force the argument’s opponent to positively select one option of the trilemma, rather than simply allowing him to search for and offer “possible” objections to the traditional premises of the argument. And this, in turn, means that the positive selection that the opponent makes can then be scrutinized and shown to be less reasonable (even irrational) in comparison to the other selections that are on offer. In addition, by forcing the opponent of the argument to actually make a choice as to which option he finds most reasonable, it also prevents the opponent from hiding behind a type intellectual agnosticism or selective skepticism, which he can do to a greater degree when the argument is formulated in the traditional way. Furthermore, by presenting the argument in a trilemma format, where the options are clearly presented and the consequences of accepting those options are absolutely clear as well, the trilemma option can, with absolute clarity, show the enormously steep price that needs to be paid in order to deny the option that supports the Kalam. Also, because it is an argument format that lays all the options out on the table before a person, and because those options can be readily and easily compared, the trilemma format further shows just how absurd it is to choose the options that go against the Kalam argument in comparison to the options that support the argument. Finally, because it shares the many strengths of an “inference to the best explanation” argument format, the trilemma method of presenting the Kalam argument is more natural and easily understandable for the common man. Consider that when a mother finds that the cookie jar on the top shelf of the kitchen has been raided, she will likely reason in the same way that this reformulation of the Kalam will use. She will, for example, consider that the only three individuals that could possibly be responsible for raiding the cookie jar are her three children: Billy, Bob, and Brent. But since Billy was sleeping at the time of the incident and Bob is just a baby and does not know where the cookie jar is (nor could he reach it), then the only candidate left, beyond a reasonable doubt, is Brent. So, the mother reasons, Brent is the only candidate of the three that could have taken the cookies. People often reason in such a manner, and it is simply a more instinctive way of reasoning than deductive reasoning is. Thus, when the Kalam argument is presented in such a manner, it may be more easily understood by the lay-person.
Now, before I offer this Kalam Trilemma Argument, let me do two things. First, I will point out that like the traditional formulation of the Kalam argument, this different formulation assumes the A-Theory of time. Second, let me just refresh your memory as to how the Kalam argument is traditionally formulated (from the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology):

 
Premise 1: Everything that begins to exist has a cause.

 

Premise 2: The universe began to exist.

 

Conclusion: Therefore, the universe has a cause.

 

Conceptual Analysis of the Cause of the Universe: An uncaused, personal, Creator of the universe exists, who without the universe is beginingless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful.
So, with those two points stated, let us reformulate the Kalam argument in a trilemma-type format.
Fact: The universe (meaning all of space, matter, energy, and time itself) began to exist; in essence, at one point, there was no universe and then there was a universe. (We will, both for the sake of argument and because my goal is not to defend this particular premise in this blog post, just assume that it is the case that the universe began to exist.)
Now, given that the universe began to exist, then there are only three options that can account for its beginning to exist.
Option 1: The universe is uncaused and came out of absolute nothingness. In essence, something which began to exist—the universe—has no cause and came out of an absolute nothingness which has no potentials, no knowledge, no creative ability, no powers, no laws, no force, no nothing! Thus, even though “out of nothing, nothing comes” is a fact more certain than the fact that matter exists, to choose this option you would indeed need to believe that, actually, something can come from absolute nothingness. You would need to believe that out of absolutely nothingness, something does come.

 

 

Option 2: The universe was self-caused. In essence, the universe, which did not exist, somehow nevertheless caused itself to exist. A non-existent thing caused itself to exist. To believe this, you would need to believe something that was literally impossible: that a non-existent thing, which thus had no powers, no potential, no creative ability, no knowledge, no force, nothing at all because it did not exist, nevertheless had the power and ability to somehow cause itself to exist.
Option 3: The universe was caused by something which itself is not the universe or any part of the universe, and which is—given that the universe includes all matter—necessarily non-material. In essence, the universe has a cause that is distinct from itself. And to choose this option, all you would have to believe is precisely that: that the universe has a cause which is separate and distinct from the universe itself.
Now, when these three options are compared—and ultimately, as stated, they are indeed the only three options available—I contend that it is manifestly obvious that the third option is the more reasonable one to hold (and once that option is selected, then the Conceptual Analysis can be done). And note that it would be disingenuous for the opponent of the argument to avoid selecting this third option simply because he knows where the argument is leading. Rather, if he is genuinely seeking the truth (or seeking the most rational position to hold), then he must make his selection in this trilemma based on the three options before him as they stand, not on the basis of what they might lead to. Also note that if the opponent of the Kalam argument does select an option other than Option 3, then his choice can be mercilessly attacked and the absurdity of his selection can be readily exposed. Finally, in my view, it should be clear that the opponent of the argument cannot hide behind agnosticism, because when presented with these three options, I contend that all people will see one option as at least more likely than another, thus moving that person away from straight agnosticism and towards one of the three options available.
So presenting the Kalam argument in this manner has certain advantages that the traditional formulation does not have, and thus you may wish to consider this approach in the future when employing the Kalam argument.”

 

First of all I appreciate the rather humble tone he employed here.

The main problem I see here is that he forgot another vital option:

“Our universe began to exist and it is one member in an infinite chain of parallel universes giving birth to each others.”, as many cosmologists such as Lee Smolin see it.

The cosmological argument can only be valid if this possibility can be discarded. But I don’t see how this could be done.

To my mind, neither this scenario nor the creation from scratch through God’s spirit can be shown to be the most likely explanation to the satisfaction of those not already committed to the hypothesis.

 

 

God and the argument from external cause

Douglas Benscoter formulated the argument that way

“1. Whatever is changing has an external cause. (Premise)

2. The universe as a whole is changing. (Premise)

3. Therefore, the universe as a whole has an external cause. (Premise)

The argument is logically valid, so what about the truth of its premises?

I defend premise (1) with two distinct arguments – one deductive and one inductive.  First, whatever is changing exhibits actuality (its current existence and state of being) and potentiality (what the thing could be).  Now, no potentiality can actualize itself.  Otherwise, the thing would be self-caused, and exist and not-exist simultaneously in order to cause its own actualization.  This is a contradiction.

Secondly, an acorn, for example, cannot continue becoming an oak tree unless there are external causes, such as water, sunlight and soil.  If at any point these external causes are removed, then the acorn will cease its change, whither and die. 

But why does the cause have to be external?  Quantum fluctuations have at the very least material causes, which are internal within the quantum vacuum.  The problem with this objection is that the fundamental forces of nature – gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak atomic forces – all exist as external causes of the allegedly externally uncaused changes.  Premise (1), therefore, is correct.

As for premise (2), the most common objection is that the premise commits a composition fallacy.  Just because every part of a mountain is small doesn’t mean the mountain as a whole is small.  However, there are just as many instances in which the whole is like its parts.  If every part of a mountain is made of rock, then the mountain as a whole must be made of rock.  Moreover, the mountain as a whole is externally caused by the forces of nature and various geological processes.  Now, if every part of the universe is changing, then the universe as a whole must be changing.  Hence, premise (2) does not commit a composition fallacy and is also correct.

Given the truth of (1) and (2), it necessarily follows that the universe has an external cause.  Since the universe is the sum total of all physical space, time, matter and energy, the external cause of the universe must be timeless, changeless (for time is a measurement of change) and immaterial, in addition to being very powerful in order to externally cause the change of something as vast as the universe.

Whether you want to call this external cause “God” or not is inconsequential.  The argument, if sound, is certainly a defeater of Naturalism.  Call it the universe’s First Cause if you’d like.”

I would not go as far as saying that this argument (if successful) defeats naturalism for one could envisage an infinity of universes causing each other.

But if you reject the argument altogether, which premise seems to be flawed?


Ockham’s razor, the Origin of the Universe and the Search for an Airtight Argument

I’m really grateful to Jonathan Pierce for the time he took to read my essay and criticize it.

From his writing, it wasn’t clear, however, if he was defending the Methodological Razor (MR) or the Epistemological Razor (ER), as I’ve defined the terms in my initial post.

https://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/deconstructing-the-popular-use-of-occams-razor/

Instead he chose to use the general term (OR).

At the end of his response, he wrote

This methodological approach is all that is necessary

but there would be no issue here since I’ve nothing against MR, which cannot be used as an argument showing God’s existence to be unlikely.

Therefore, I’m going to suppose Jon refers to EM henceforth since this is relevant for our disagreement concerning theism, atheism and agnosticism.

First Jonathan is right that I wasn’t careful enough concerning the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA):

  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause

  2. the universe began to exist

  3. therefore the universe has a cause

It is obviously true that many cosmologists believing in Loop Quantum Cosmology, some forms of Multiverses, Big Crunch and so on and so forth are going to deny the truth of premise 2).

I wholeheartedly agree that Evangelical apologists like William Lane Craig pick and choose the data they wish, but the same can be said of atheist apologists.

My point was that many honest atheists (like Jeffrey Jay Lowder) who are quite open to the truth of 2) find that 1) is fallacious due to reasons very relevant for the present discussion.

Jonathan mentioned philosopher Kevin.T Kelly who doesn’t only prove OR to be mathematically true, but also emphasized that OR can ONLY be used as a tool for ensuring convergence towards truth (MR).

If theories A and B account equally well for the same data, and A is simpler than B, we cannot say that it’s more probable that A is true, but JUST that it is better to methodologically ASSUME that A is true to converge towards the TRUE theory X, which might be much more complex than B itself.

Professor Kelly says that assuming that (all other things being equal) the simpler theory is always the most likely “smacks of wishful thinking.”

Jon wrote that:

The problem is, OR seems to be an inductive argument used pragmatically, and so extending it in the way in which LS does to “ALWAYS” be the case appears to be extrapolating an inductive conclusion to a deductive premise.

The problem is that you need an ER to argue against the truth of theism, a MR won’t do the job. And the inductive justification of OR is only valid for a limited space, as I’m going to explain below.

In fact, ironically, this is a move which the KCA does with both opening premises of its arguments! –

Actually, popular versions of the KCA do the very same mistake as proponents of ER by assuming certain premises are true far beyond the domain where they can be empirically, inductively justified.

The main thrust of the argument appears to be that to justify OR one needs an independent, non circular way of doing it.  But this is similar to the critique of reason. One cannot justify reason without appealing to reason. True, but we do all the time, and we use it because reason works. On balance, if we can show OR to be pragmatically useful and successful, then it is at least a good rule of thumb.

This is very revealing and interesting. Jonathan is apparently ready to accept the existence of basic beliefs which are pragmatically justified. He would certainly have no problem accepting the existence of intuitive moral truths. But what about the existence of feelings and thoughts DIFFERENT from the material world they are about?

That said, I’m skeptic about the fact we ought to believe in OR (or even MR) to live consistently, there are other postulated principles which do the job quite well.

In fact, to draw further analogies with the KCA, this is precisely the move done with ex nihilo nihil fit, out of nothing nothing comes. This is something people like Craig claim is one of the most basic philosophical truths or intuitions. Yet it is merely an inductive observation (an erroneous one at that). One must differentiate between such approaches, between intrinsic, analytic conclusions, and inductively derived synthetic truths.

I largely agree with that, as Jeffrey Jay Lowder pointed out, such a belief is only valid within the realm it has been inductively arrived at. But ER faces the very same problem.

Next, it must be clear I didn’t mention the existence of multiverses as something violating the Epistemological or even Methodological Razor.

I used multiverses to show one cannot prove ER inductively with its absolute claims due to the fact all our observations are limited to our present universe.

Finally, Jon wrote:

This methodological approach is all that is necessary, in my view. I am not sure of the application of the epistemological approach. I think it IS an inductive, scientific tool which is more probably right given past successes and so can be applied to anything concerning the natural sciences and philosophy. It is not necessarily true, I would agree (intuitively, without having studied OR too much).

Like the principle “from nothing, nothing comes”, I see no reason to think OR can be applied to

completely unknown situations, like simulated realities.

Furthermore, as other users have pointed out, it’s true I poorly expressed myself. I meant that all things being equal, history has vindicated more complex theories.

Maybe I was wrong, and the examples of continental drift and ball lightning weren’t directly applicable to OR, but to the claim “Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence” as I’m going to explain in a future post.

To put it in a nutshell, if Jonathan thinks he can use ER (or even OR in general) to undermine theism, he ought to prove it is always valid. If he denies this universality, he has to explain what the exceptions are, and why some metaphysical questions could not be such exceptions.

That said, there exist other arguments against theism (like the problem of evil, religious confusion, physical confusion and so on.), but they aren’t very popular among non-philosophers.

 

 

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