THIS BLOG IS NOW IN STASIS.


PLEASE VISIT MY NEW WEBSITES:


My other projects include:


TrueFreethinker.com


My side projects are:


Worldview and Science Examiner


Fitness Trends Examiner (wherein I review individual exercises and workout routines, diet and nutrition, supplements and healthy snacks)


My YouTube channel

9/18/08

Dan Barker's Kalam Konfusion


If salvation is the cure, atheism is the prevention.



Dan Barker's recent book Godless contains Barker's personal perspective on the issues between atheism and Christianity. The entire book is not a personal account per se, as his deconversion story only assumes the first 80 pages or so. While I read the entire book in about an afternoon (it is fairly short and easy to read) there were a few sections I read and re-read; In fact, I was so surprised at some of the things he wrote that I had to write down the page number and return later.

Now, I'm going to try and be as fair as I can in this review. I've gone through a few iterations of this book review and decided that too much of this book is too subjective to critically examine (I sincerely hope that you read this book for yourself) in entirety, so I'm restricting myself to one chapter: Cosmological Kalamity.

+/-

Don't get me wrong here. I am not saying that the rest of this book is unimportant or un-scholarly or otherwise below a person of my intelligence. Rather, I don't feel equipped to handle his personal life-story in a critical manner (maybe no one is). Furthermore, this is the one chapter where Dan "dives in". From the mouth of the horse:

While Refuting God [Part 1] gives simple, thumbnail responses to most theistic arguments, Cosmological Kalamity (which you are welcome to skim if philosophy is not your cup of tea) shows how I deal in depth with one of those arguments. (xiv)

He is obviously fairly pleased with the work he did in this chapter, and because my relative familiarity with the argument dwarfs that of my familiarity with the other topics in this book I thought I'd concentrate my fire a bit. I will point out a few oddities I stumbled across in this book, but I won't follow the rabbit trails too far.

Begging the question, begging the question, begging the question...

I hope you like reading those words because they officially represent Dan's most favorite logical fallacy. In his chapter criticizing the Kalam Cosmological Argument he either says or hints at "begging the question" nearly a dozen times. Apparently, he thinks it begs the question. How so? Let's look at the argument:

1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2) The universe began to exist.
.: The universe has a cause.

Straight away Dan takes issue with the first premise. His claim is that we theists are hiding God by constructing a principle that would shield God from certain kinds of causal scrutiny. This is one of the oddest paragraphs I confronted in the book:

One approach has been to claim that only effects need a cause. Since a first cause is not an effect, it is exempt from causation. Another attempt conceives of a contingent cause of the universe, resting at the top of a pyramid of relationships rather than at the beginning of a chain of temporal events. But this a priori tactic of exempting the conclusion (a creator) from the causality required of everything else- with no evidence that any special "causeless" or "noncontingent" objects actually exist- makes the creator a part of the definition of the premise, which is circular reasoning. These versions fail to get God off the hook. (130)

Something ought to sound fishy to you. It isn't his failure to recognize that a first cause is not exempt from causation (no law of causation I'm aware of says that absolutely everything must have a cause). Notice that in his desire to force the argument into a question-beggar, he has, in effect, declared that all deductive arguments are circular (and, with his last sentence, he implies that these circular arguments are useless/false). Of course, any good deductive argument will contain a bit of the conclusion in each premise. What is appalling is the fact that any first-year student of logic would be able to catch that. Further, he himself begs the question in this paragraph; he tries to use the "fact" that we have no evidence of any "causeless" or "noncontingent" against an argument that purports to show that there is at least one of these objects.

Putting all that bluster aside for a moment, let's suppose that he is on target. Many theists AND non-theists believe that there are uncaused things that exist- numbers, propositions, forms, morality, etc. So saying that there are uncaused things does not smuggle God in anywhere, and his charge falls flat.

He claims that reality must be divided into two different sets- things that begin to exist and things that don't. If God is the only thing in the set of objects that does not begin to exist, he says, then "things that don't begin to exist" is merely a synonym for God. Further, this would mean that God is placed into the premise of an argument which would logically entail that we are begging the question (!). By now you are catching on to this begging the question deal, but this is really strange. Of course, there are a very large (an infinite number) of things that potentially never began to exist, so even granting his weird metaphysics one could satisfy his criteria.

He does return to this, though, and claims that there is nothing in our universe that we know of that could escape time (he claims, again, that allowing talk of "outside of time" amounts to begging the question). I assume that he means that to be in time is to have begun to exist. This is false, but we can let it go for now. He does think that causation is entirely contained within the universe such that any attempt to justify talk of God's causing the universe to exist from observation is not allowed (I think). Here it seems plain that he just is not familiar with the literature surrounding the issues. There are many things that we can draw conclusions about that would "transcend" our universe (see here, for example). In fact, supposing he is right, he has adopted a principle (that what we learn inside the universe cannot be applicable outside of it) and defeated his own position. Does his principle apply to our universe? How does he know? Why can't we apply the principles of causation to our universe in the same way?

He finally begins to move into the actual argument and claims that "experience within the universe shows us that many impersonal causes "create" many natural effects." (134)

I don't think this is true. We have never, to my knowledge, witnessed the creation of anything, but rather the rearranging of matter. This would be especially true if one is a non-dualist like Dan, in all probability, is.

He claims that Craig proves that a personal force was the cause of the universe because a cause has to be at least as complex as its cause. I'm going to say that this is patently false. I've never seen Craig say this before and I believe that he made it up. Unfortunately he does not tell us where he got this information, but I suspect it is not from any of his works. In light of his misrepresentation of Craig in the next section we'll look at, it is perfectly plausible that he is getting his information of Craig 2nd hand (from the likes of Michael Martin, perhaps).

If an actual infinity cannot be a part of reality, then God, is he is actually infinite, cannot exist. (135)

No. Theists do not say that God is an actual infinite. An actual infinite is numerically infinite, whereas God's infinity is qualitative. This is why we distinguish between potential infinites, actual infinites and absolute infinites. In no way does Craig suggest that we speak of God as an actual infinite; in fact, he goes out of his way to defend himself from such allegations.

Is the Kalam Cosmological Argument Wordplay?

According to Barker, the second premise of the KCA- The universe began to exist- says that a supernatural assumption has been made in the premise. In fact, he compares the argument with this:

1. All apples that fall from trees become bruised.
2. This orange fell from a tree.
3. Therefore, this orange is bruised. (140)

Apparently, his point is that a set cannot be a member of itself. Of course, Dan's problem here is that we don't treat the universe as if it is the set of all things. Even if something like materialism is true, it is possible that there are other members of this set (propositions, numbers, assorted abstracta). What he is trying to say, apparently, is that the universe is not able to be categorized in causal language as all the members of the universe are able to. But that would be a burden that he would have to carry; everything we know and understand is subject to causal laws. Why the "universe" should be any different is not readily apparent, and we must view this claim of his with suspicion. If it isn't for scientific or philosophical reasons, then his denial of causality seems to stem from his unwillingness to grant a perfectly plausible principle which carried theistic implications. Indeed, Barker does not touch a single one of Craig's arguments for either premise. He literally ignores them.

Rather, he opts for begging the question (this time he is doing the begging):

What does "everything" mean? Standing alone, it is synonymous with the universe (or cosmos). But in the cosmological argument, "everything" does not refer to "all things that exist" because it is followed by the limiting cause "that begins to exist". (141-142)

It seems to me that he is saying that the KCA fails because the universe is everything and God is not a part of the universe. He does not allow, because of his own "wordplay", that there could be something that did not begin to exist. And he proves this by defining the universe as "everything".

Let me be very clear about this- the laws of causation were not invented by the KCA, or William Lane Craig or Paul the Apostle. The first premise, "whatever begins to exist has a cause" is as philosophically and empirically sound as any principle could hope to be. Even if I didn't believe in God I would believe this principle. In fact, if Dan does not believe this principle is true (and I don't think he does) then I would be very interested in seeing his reason(s) for objecting to it.

You see this same kind of thing all over in the book. It would be interesting for someone with a lot of time to go through the text and count all the times he says "begs the question" and compare it to all the times he himself begs the question. Here, for example:

Words like "spirit" and "supernatural" have no referent in reality, so why discuss a meaningless concept? (104)

While this old logical-positivist sentence might have flown a half-century ago, there is a near universal consensus that much of what philosophers of religion do is quite meaningful, and it is not up to Dan to partition topics into these categories (especially as a way to "refute" God).

Lastly, Dan leaves us with three questions. Let's have at them:

1. Is God the only object accommodated by the set of things that do not begin to exist? If yes, then why is the cosmological argument not begging the question? If no, then what are the other candidates for the cause of the universe and how have they been eliminated? (143)


Firstly, I don't think it is proper to ask why something does not beg the question. Secondly, the entire list of abstract objects did not begin to exist (in my view). But there is a consensus that abstract entities do not cause anything. Easy enough.

2. Does the logic of Kalam apply only to temporal antecedents in the real world? If yes, this assumes the existence of nontemporal antecedents in the real world, so why is this not begging the question? If no, then why doesn't the impossibility of an actual infinity disprove the existence of an actually infinite God? (143)


Well, the logic of the KCA applies exactly to what it's premises say it does. You can tailor the argument (see here) to fit both a temporal timeline or a timeless series of events. However, Dan's question is severely misguided because, as we saw before, not a single theist believes that God is a quantitative collection of things. And even if God was a collection of an infinite number of things, one could further say that God infinity wasn't formed by successive addition as a temporal timeline would.

3. Is the universe (cosmos) a member of itself? If not, then how can its "beginning" be compared with other beginnings?


I think it is better to skip over his confused understanding of set theory for a moment and focus on premise one of the argument. Either he is propounding a mysterious view of causation that I am unaware of, or he flat-out denies that events require causes. If the latter is true, then it would have been nice to see him interact with some of the literature defending causality. Craig's own work has popularized a lot of arcane philosophy (see here) and it certainly wouldn't be hard to find resources and tell us what his problems with the first premise are. As it stands, I don't know how to answer this question because I don't know what he is asking. Does he want to know what evidence there is for events having causes? Does he want to know if there have been other beginnings to other universes that we can compare ours to?

In any case, I feel very confident that if this is the best he can do against theism, I'm not to worried about the Barker salvo. He's a one-trick pony, and his rather unusual responses to an argument that has been carefully crafted and defended over the past few decades will not replace study and substance. Are there difficulties for the KCA? Sure. There are things about Christianity and God-belief that have kept me up at night. But I'm willing to engage the best and brightest on either side to understand the issues as best I can. Unfortunately, that leaves little room for this book.

Let this one go, folks.

33 comments:

  1. Thanks for the review. It is very helpful for us who already have a back log of books to read.

    2 things....

    You mentioned that he is a one trick pony, is this referring to the only thing in the book worth noting is the chapter on the KCA?

    It always strikes me as odd for people to think that they have figured it all out. Take for example those trying to take down Plantingas argument. Obviously Plantingas arguments are a force to be reckoned with yet a lot of people at certain websites claim to have dismantled the argument. The arrogance is striking. Let me get this straight, you who writes on an internet board can do something that the academic philosophical community cannot do? Same thing with the KCA. This argument has been carefully crafted and defended over the past few decades....I really doubt that someone can refute it in a single chapters in a book.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey Jules,

    His "one" trick is to try and make every belief that is not his beg the question. That's a bit of an overstatement but not by much.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This isn't surprising. From what I know and understand of Barker (even his account of his de-conversion), he's never been a particularly deep philosophical thinker. He tends to believe that any question his mind cannot provide satisfactory answers to must not have any satisfactory answers at all. He may be a popular name in atheism, but he's never going to do much other than preach to the choir...so to speak.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Josh, I have two questions for you, could you define:

    1) Causation in our universe
    2) Causation without reference to time and space

    Thanks a bunch.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Adonais,

    I would only define causality in causal terms and not in temporal terms.

    I take what is called a counterfactual approach to causality, meaning that A causes B if and only if A doesn't occur then neither does B.

    ReplyDelete
  6. "I take what is called a counterfactual approach to causality, meaning that A causes B if and only if A doesn't occur then neither does B."

    Then you have just undermined the "uncaused" status of God, regardless of what letter of the infinite alphabet you attribute to him.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I don't understand why you would say that, Adonais.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Josh, let:

    A = ?
    God = B
    Universe = C

    Your statement is that "B causes C if and only if B doesn't occur then neither does C." What prevents us from repeating this argument with B=A and C=B?

    ReplyDelete
  9. "I would only define causality in causal terms and not in temporal terms."

    "A causes B if and only if A doesn't occur then neither does B"

    Is it possible define "occur" or "happen" without reference to anything temporal? Are they not intrinsically temporal definitions? And your invoking these for the definition of "cause" makes causation a temporal concept. Again, is it possible to define cause without time?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Adonais,

    "A = ?
    God = B
    Universe = C

    Your statement is that "B causes C if and only if B doesn't occur then neither does C." What prevents us from repeating this argument with B=A and C=B?"

    Well, we don't yet know if there is an A. *IF* God was caused by something, then I would say that God was caused by A if and only if A doesn't occur then God doesn't occur. However, the KCA argues against such an infinite regression of causes and posits God as the first cause, so there would be no "A" for us. Indeed, as we argue, it is philosophically dangerous to posit an "A".

    "Is it possible define "occur" or "happen" without reference to anything temporal? Are they not intrinsically temporal definitions? And your invoking these for the definition of "cause" makes causation a temporal concept. Again, is it possible to define cause without time?"

    I don't think so. B-theorists of time (Einstein) use those words all the time (!) when they speak of causation, yet they do not believe in the passage of time. I would grant that they generally have tensed connotations, but how words are used in common parlance does not dictate how professionals use them.

    ReplyDelete
  11. "However, the KCA argues against such an infinite regression of causes and posits God as the first cause,"

    That's the key word, posit, as in assume for the sake of argument when evidence and knowledge is insufficient. But then why not posit C directly - why add one step? Why "multiply beyond necessity"? Isn't positing B (or A or whatever) rather than C just begging the question?

    ReplyDelete
  12. Adonais: That's the key word, posit, as in assume for the sake of argument when evidence and knowledge is insufficient. But then why not posit C directly - why add one step? Why "multiply beyond necessity"? Isn't positing B (or A or whatever) rather than C just begging the question?

    No, because it is much simpler to posit one prior timeless cause for the universe rather than 2. If the argument is successful, then the universe requires a cause. It is much better to use an explanation that does not itself require a cause for sake of parsimony.

    ReplyDelete
  13. "No, because it is much simpler to posit one prior timeless cause for the universe rather than 2."

    And simpler still to posit none. But even if you allow yourself one additional step, we can posit an infinite number of different things as being that causeless first cause; why the Christian God, exactly? Again this is begging the question.

    But an even more honest approach would be to admit our ignorance and say "we don't know" rather than positing whatever floats your boat, be it God or quantum foam. It's not like we absolutely need to posit anything about nature pre-big-bang for some urgent practical purpose. There is a chance that we may obtain knowledge about conditions before/outside the universe eventually, but until such time, pre-big-bang theories remain solidly in the realm of speculation.

    "If the argument is successful,"

    Whatever argument follows can not be considered successful until it is demonstrated that the premise is true, or at least reasonably well supported by evidence that constrains the number of possibilities, suggesting one in particular above others. Mere consistency isn't enough, as there are an infinite number of consistent solutions, only one of which can be true.

    You may posit that it was the Christian God, I may posit that it was quantum foam; a third may posit that our universe is a bounce of a previous universe that ended in a big crunch; a fourth may posit that our universe came from a black hole in a different universe; a fifth may posit that our universe has always existed; a sixth may posit that it was some other deity. And so on. No strong evidence exist either for or against any of these of these, and we know of no definite prediction that would allow us to rule out either of them. Therefore, in this situation assuming that it must be one rather than some other is begging the question.

    "It is much better to use an explanation that does not itself require a cause for sake of parsimony."

    Certainly. But for the sake of parsimony we do not introduce assumptions that are not required, and which make no testable predictions. Such an assumption is not an explanation at all. It's sort of funny: you're willing to apply enough parsimony so that God does not require any further assumptions, but you don't want so much parsimony that God ends up in the same category :-) (I think that's also called special pleading)

    Let's say that something weird was spotted by astronomers, like a funny pattern in the cosmic microwave background, clearly spelling out the words "God was here," or the unmistakable (?) face of Jesus in the arrangement of galaxy clusters over billions of light years. While violating no laws of physics, scientists would still be stumped for a natural explanation, and no matter how grudgingly, they would have to consider the possibility that these signatures were deliberately put there by some super-powerful entity currently beyond the scope of their science. Then to posit that this entity may have actually created the universe would become a justified proposition, perhaps regarded with suspicion by some skeptics, calling for further investigation, but for the moment seemingly the best explanation for what they had observed.

    But until such or similarly convincing evidence comes in, we have no choice but to remain agnostic about pre-big-bang conditions, and keep working on gathering the facts. What you think privately about the matter is your own business, but we have, as of yet, no basis for making truth claims on the subject.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Its hard for me to take Barker seriously at all. Like another former minister who has just published a book, John Loftus, he admits that he lied to his congregations about his disbelief and that he preached to make money when he no longer believed.

    He even brags about finishing a show so he could be sure to get his airline ticket home.

    How can we be sure that he is presenting anything truthfully?

    Frankly, who needs this guy?

    There is much more serious stuff to examine.

    ReplyDelete
  15. And simpler still to posit none. But even if you allow yourself one additional step, we can posit an infinite number of different things as being that causeless first cause; why the Christian God, exactly? Again this is begging the question.

    It is not simpler to posit no cause of the universe because then the beginning of the universe is inexplicable. A cause of the universe is necessary, and parsimony suggests that we do not multiply entities past necessity. It does not say "do not multiply entities". Furthermore, it does not say that the universe has a cause and therefore the Christian God exists. Rather, the argument provides evidence for the existence of the Christian God.

    Whatever argument follows can not be considered successful until it is demonstrated that the premise is true, or at least reasonably well supported by evidence that constrains the number of possibilities, suggesting one in particular above others. Mere consistency isn't enough, as there are an infinite number of consistent solutions, only one of which can be true.

    Which of the two premises do you believe is false?

    You may posit that it was the Christian God, I may posit that it was quantum foam; a third may posit that our universe is a bounce of a previous universe that ended in a big crunch; a fourth may posit that our universe came from a black hole in a different universe; a fifth may posit that our universe has always existed; a sixth may posit that it was some other deity. And so on. No strong evidence exist either for or against any of these of these, and we know of no definite prediction that would allow us to rule out either of them. Therefore, in this situation assuming that it must be one rather than some other is begging the question.

    It's not assuming anything. The first and second premise are exponentially more reasonable than those 5 explanations you provided. That's why Craig isn't begging the question; he *does* argue against those views and light of the 2 premises finds a single cause of the universe more reasonable.

    Certainly. But for the sake of parsimony we do not introduce assumptions that are not required, and which make no testable predictions. Such an assumption is not an explanation at all. It's sort of funny: you're willing to apply enough parsimony so that God does not require any further assumptions, but you don't want so much parsimony that God ends up in the same category :-) (I think that's also called special pleading)

    It would be special pleading I help God exempt from the force of the argument. That isn't what I do. God is very subject to causation; if God had a beginning, then he had a cause. But since it is more useful to explain the universe in terms a single timeless cause rather than 2 timeless causes, I don't worry with this objection. And of course, testability is not a requirement of truth- it is a requirement of science. Einstein's thought experiments were, in many cases, actually impossible to carry out.

    But until such or similarly convincing evidence comes in, we have no choice but to remain agnostic about pre-big-bang conditions, and keep working on gathering the facts. What you think privately about the matter is your own business, but we have, as of yet, no basis for making truth claims on the subject.

    Actually, we have two facts about the universe that are very helpful in determining things about the pre-bang universe:

    1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
    2) The universe has a cause.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Einstein’s thought experiment may or may not be testable, but the validity of Relativity as a scientific theory is not based on the thought experiments. It is based on real testable predictions from the theory. It is the results of those real experiments that confirmed the theory and led to it acceptance. The thought experiments were just a way to understand what was happening and enables us to see why initially non-intuitive insights were indeed correct.

    The whole cosmological argument is a total waste of time. The argument relies on our language to convey the concepts but our language is inadequate to describe what the situation is. Consider just the word “exists”: does it really mean the same thing when it is applied to the whole Universe as a distinct entity as opposed to the meaning when applied to things within the Universe? I would suggest that the concepts are distinctly different and we really don’t have the proper words or mental intuition to deal with the cosmological topic rigorously. The same can be said for the idea of “cause”, our use of and intuition about causality is base strictly on what is observed within the universe. The very concept of “the cause of the Universe” may be meaningless.

    That is why cosmologists use the language of mathematics to describe proposed theories about the Universe. It is only with such mathematical models that specific rigorous predictions are possible. The only thing that we can say for sure is that the Universe exists right now and that, whatever the truth of its origins is, that truth has to be consistent with how the Universe actually is. There is really no assurance that we can ever figure out exactly ‘why the Universe is’, the information to derive and decide on that answer just might not exist. But then again, it might. So, until cosmologist / physicists comes up with that marvelous ‘Theory of Everything’, the only appropriate position is profound agnosticism.

    ReplyDelete
  17. "Actually, we have two facts about the universe that are very helpful in determining things about the pre-bang universe:

    1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
    2) The universe has a cause."


    I would suggests that these are premises, not facts. Premise 1 may be true in classical mechanistic thinking, but quantum theory casts doubt over the generality of such a premise. The Big Bang was a quantum event. And in any case, it is a notion about causation that we have empirically come to expect to hold within our own universe, but we have absolutely no idea what rules of causation, if any, held pre-big-bang. And therefore premise 2 is also only a speculation, not a fact. It may turn out to be true, but at the moment we do not know, and we have no basis for making any assumption. If your assumption that God was the cause of the universe leads to any testable predictions, I'd be very interested in hearing what those are.

    I haven't actually read any Barker at all, I have no interest in this guy, I entered this discussion on more general grounds. But as far as I can tell, the cosmological argument really is a string of question-begging on multiple levels, no matter how you turn it around. The problems I see are:

    1) That the universe must have had a "cause" (begging the question)
    2) That God does not require a cause (special pleading, or begging the question)
    3) That the Christian God and not some other entity/phenomena was the cause of the universe (begging the question)

    As far as I can see, these are currently unknowable issues, an any pretense to knowledge on those subjects are, well, a pretense :-)

    ReplyDelete
  18. adonais,
    Premise 1 may be true in classical mechanistic thinking, but quantum theory casts doubt over the generality of such a premise.

    How so? I hope you're not referring to quantum fluctuations. If you are, ask yourself - is this really a case of effects without causation? If so, why does it only occur in certain locations? Why does it result in (as I understand it) the creation of virtual particles, and not shoes or cats? If we're throwing causation out of the window, and having something begin to exist without cause, there should be nothing to constrain where it arises or what is produced. Otherwise there must be *something* governing the effect. What is it?

    And in any case, it is a notion about causation that we have empirically come to expect to hold within our own universe, but we have absolutely no idea what rules of causation, if any, held pre-big-bang.

    This suggestion, that perhaps even no rules of causation hold "pre"-big-bang, is something I believe you don't want to consider as an option. The reason why the first premise (whatever begins to exist has a cause) is so appealing is because, I think, of a much deeper rational intuition we have: there is a reason for everything being the way it is.

    Now here's the danger with the line you're suggesting the atheist *might* take: If we have no laws of causation, it would mean we have some effects without causes (as you suggest the universe might have begun without cause). Pre-big-bang is just another way of saying "outside time", since time began with the big bang. If there were no laws of causation "outside time", then it is still true now that there can be effects without causes - ie, no reason to think that the principle you suppose is no longer true. Yet this strongly contradicts with our rational intuition that effects have causes.

    For you to suggest that some events might occur without any cause is akin to a faith statement atheists abhor, "God did it". You simply have faith that of all the effects you know to have occurred, the universe stands virtually alone as having no cause. But all the other effects you know of, don't. That is not rational, or reasonable, but is in fact a faith statement. The theist is being far more rational when he suggests that there would be a reason for the universe beginning.

    And therefore premise 2 is also only a speculation, not a fact
    Usually what is here referred to as premise 2 is actually the conclusion. That's not your fault, though if you were familiar with the argument you would have picked this up.

    It may turn out to be true, but at the moment we do not know, and we have no basis for making any assumption.

    I have argued to the contrary - I think we have the best reasons for thinking that it has a cause:
    a) Our rational insight, that everything has a reason for being the way it is
    b) The empirical evidence of *all* effects we have observed have causes - strengthened by the conclusion that any different (or absent) laws of causation pre-big-bang would have no reason to be not operating today
    c) For the atheist, the faith-based position it throws him into, for denying (a) and (b) above.

    After all, we are looking for the most rational position here to hold - and to suggest that causation was different, or did not apply, to the universe's creation, seems to be low on the list of rational options. It leaves something completely unexplained - something that we can explain if we posit God's existence. Why should we prefer to have this one 'hole' in our attempts to explain what we know, just so some atheists can indulge their conviction that no God exists? I find it more rational to posit what is required to explain what we know. To say it "just happened" without explanation is unsatisfying, and unnecessary.

    If your assumption that God was the cause of the universe leads to any testable predictions, I'd be very interested in hearing what those are.

    Leibniz thought that given God was the cause of the universe, there is a reason for everything being the way it is. However, it's inappropriate for you to suggest that philosophically deductive conclusions must yield empirically testable results. They might, but they don't need to. You're confusing science with something else.

    And it seems you are arrogantly suggesting, between the lines, that unless something can yield testable predictions then it holds no worth. Let us say we have reason to believe that my great grandfather built something before he passed away, and left it in the garage - though we don't know what it is or what it does. Maybe he wrote about his intentions, in a journal, to make a "final creation". His children reported hearing him work there for days, and at dinner time he'd tell them they'd love what he's making. Maybe he had unmarked packages delivered, after which he'd spend hours in the garage making construction noises. Think of whatever circumstances would make you believe that he built something, but not be able to deduce what it is.

    This is a possible scenario in which we can conclude the existence of something, yet not make testable predictions besides the grossly obvious - it will use technology available to the day, it will fit in the garage, etc. What the device is we cannot tell - because we're dealing with the intentions of an intelligent being.

    I know this is disanalogous in the sense that we're talking about the existence of a Creator, while I'm talking about the existence of the creation - but the main point I'm trying to get across remains. That is, we know something is real, and it is useful to know it is real, yet we can't make any predictions about it - we can only look and see. For example, we now see that the universe appears to be fine-tuned for the existence of life. This is extraordinarily suggestive of intelligent creation, but could not be predicted in advance. It could have been that God exists, yet *any* combination of physical laws is conducive to life. It was only after we understood certain physical laws that the fine tuning became apparent. Yet it is still something compelling and informative. The actions of an individual free agent cannot usually be predicted by us, but their effects can often be recognised.

    Many atheists do not consider it logically impossible for God to exist. It must be at least possible that the universe was created by God - ie, not yield a logical contradiction. And so therefore (for them at least) we can't rule out the idea of God based on something so silly as "the idea that God was the cause of the universe yields no testable predictions". Something can be true, and yet yield no testable predictions.

    That aside, let me add that the theist rationalists believed that we could in fact deduce *everything* about the universe, in theory, based on the assumption that it was created by God, and that God would always attempt to bring about the best possible world. So, while the variables involved might be beyond our reach, it is a theoretical possibility. We can at the very least conclude that everything has a reason for being the way that it is. If we accept your offer above, we can't hold that principle anymore. Christian theists regularly make assumptions like the universe will be accessible to human reason, that there will be an order and design to it, etc.

    1) That the universe must have had a "cause" (begging the question)
    This should rightly be the conclusion, not a premise, as I mentioned above.

    2) That God does not require a cause (special pleading, or begging the question)

    It is in fact neither special pleading nor begging the question. The class of things that need a cause is delineated, along with our reasons for thinking so, and does not exclude just God. The class of things that need a cause are those things that begin to exist. This is what we have empirical evidence for, and is (partially) why we feel justified as using it for a premise. There are reasons for holding the premise that do not include "because it leads us to God's existence".

    As for begging the question, that requires that the conclusion is implicit or explicit as a premise in the argument. I fail to see how the argument does this - perhaps you could point it out.

    3) That the Christian God and not some other entity/phenomena was the cause of the universe (begging the question)

    This is a shameful strawman to throw out in such discourse. The kalam cosmological argument was never intended to show evidence of specifically the Christian conception of God. The argument was, as I understood, initially used by Islamic philosophers (and is where the word Kalam comes from).

    ReplyDelete
  19. "Why does it result in (as I understand it) the creation of virtual particles, and not shoes or cats?"

    Why we don't expect virtual cats or shoes out of nothing can be gleaned from the time-energy uncertainty relation (the energy of a proton at rest is about one billion times that of a near-infrared photon; try to calculate the delta energy of all the atoms of a cat and compare that to a single photon; and then also try to estimate the probability that those atoms by pure chance are actually assembled into a cat).

    But you are missing my point entirely, in pretty much all of your post. I'm not "trowing causation out the window," but I am saying that we have every reason to regard the concept with suspicion, and not trust our intuitions.

    My point is not that we by quantum mechanics know precisely how causality works. My point is exactly the opposite: our intuitions fail us completely. What reason can we possibly have to expect that our intuitions, which fail us already in this universe, could tell us anything about conditions before or outside of the universe? It is only by mathematics and painstaking physical experiments that we have verified the weirdness of quantum behavior - no one would ever have dreamed it up on pure intuition. Quantum tunneling? The Casimir effect? Superconductivity? Good luck. It was the combination of observations and mathematical physics that lead to what we know about the quantum world, not someone's gut feeling.

    But this very fact, that observations and theory together can help us understand a completely non-intuitive reality, strongly suggests that this is really how we must approach such issues as we have every reason to suspect may not conform to our intuitions. There are people looking into possible pre-big-bang physics (I can give you some links if interested), but they do it via mathematical tools (i.e. loop quantum gravity), not intuition.

    "And it seems you are arrogantly suggesting, between the lines, that unless something can yield testable predictions then it holds no worth."

    Show me where I suggested that.

    Speculations have their worth, certainly in inspiring us, expanding our thinking and spurring the investigation of new ideas; but as truth claims they are worthless until backed up by something else independent of the speculation itself. You invoke a lot of intuition and "rational insight," but as I said, I don't think those tools alone can be trusted on this issue until something independently supportive comes in. For the moment there's nothing.

    This is the first time that I have been accused of arrogance for saying that we do not know something.

    "Usually what is here referred to as premise 2 is actually the conclusion. That's not your fault, though if you were familiar with the argument you would have picked this up."

    Gee, thanks. As it happens I was responding to Josh and his wording.

    Regarding your industrious-grandfather analogy: at least I know that great grandfathers can exist, as they tend to show up in photographs and genealogy (not to mention our hereditary material), and sometimes they even coexist with their great grandchildren. I don't need to be in doubt about the once existence of my great grandfather. I'm afraid I can not extend this certainty about the reality of great grandfathers to any similar certainty about the reality of something that might allegedly have caused the universe.

    "For example, we now see that the universe appears to be fine-tuned for the existence of life."

    Well this a wholly different shtick that we could discuss in a separate thread. This is not a convincing argument either, but I reckon I'll save that discussion for a thread focused on it (unless you insist).

    "It leaves something completely unexplained - something that we can explain if we posit God's existence."

    See this is one of the main religious tendencies that I take issue with: the notion that we must decide upon an answer, even in the absence of information, and even if it requires the invocation something vastly more mysterious, itself without explanation. Such "explanations" don't really do much explaining, do they? I'm perfectly fine with the fact that we don't know everything, and I would much rather be in ignorance than have answers which might be wrong.

    "This is a shameful strawman to throw out in such discourse. The kalam cosmological argument was never intended to show evidence of specifically the Christian conception of God. The argument was, as I understood, initially used by Islamic philosophers (and is where the word Kalam comes from)."

    Shameful? I guess I was shamefully assuming that Josh would rather have me identify a God that he believes in, as an anchor for discussion, rather than one that he doesn't believe in. And doesn't this look like a bit of a dodge: you did not answer the question by what rationale you would hope to distinguish between possible causes, should you in the first place manage to establish that there must have been a direct and identifiable cause for the universe.

    ReplyDelete
  20. adonais,

    But you are missing my point entirely, in pretty much all of your post. I'm not "trowing causation out the window," but I am saying that we have every reason to regard the concept with suspicion, and not trust our intuitions.

    Answering this first. I realise you suggested two things - that causation as we know it might be different, or perhaps even no causation. I was focussing on the latter of your "perhaps". We (humans) are not even in agreement now on how causation works. I'd love to hear a suggestion from you of how causation could be different in a way more useful to you.

    I am arguing that we don't have reason to doubt our understanding of causation, in the way you need. Even given the discovery in quantum physics, it is still true that things that begin to exist have a cause. And my remark regarding cats was that if things happen without cause, there will be no boundaries to what occurs - no cause to delineate what shape the effect will take. Your remarks about the energy in a cat just shows you misunderstand the point I'm making. If you can make such predictions about the effect, you're showing that there is a cause to create certain boundaries to the effect. If there is no cause, then what is it that limits in the way you talk about it?

    Now you say your point is that what we thought (our intutions) about causation has been thrown into doubt by quantum physics. Therefore, perhaps causation is different in some other way, or even allows us to get the universe without a cause - we just can't know. I have two comments:
    1. We still have causation in quantum physics, though it may be different
    2. It is a giant leap for us to go from causation being different to what we conceived, to there being an effect without cause

    It is far more likely, given our current understanding, that the universe had a cause just like the kalam cosmological argument suggests. And in these arguments we're talking about which view is most supported and rational to hold. You have a position of faith, where you rely on a "perhaps" of causation that's unfounded. We theists are relying on what is actually known and best evidenced - things that begin to exist have a cause.

    What reason can we possibly have to expect that our intuitions, which fail us already in this universe, could tell us anything about conditions before or outside of the universe?

    Our reasons for thinking that everything that begins to exist has a cause is founded on the deep held intuition that everything has a reason for being the way it is. To abandon that would destroy the foundations of science, which attempts to explain what we observe. Science assumes that there is an explanation to be found - if we cannot find one, that is a limitation in our ability, and not because there genuinely is no explanation.

    You misunderstand my use of the word 'intuition'. I'm not talking about intuiting facts about the quantum world accurately, or even our world. I'm saying that our very ability to employ mathematics and science, and our reasons for trusting our conclusions, are based on deep seated rational insights(/intuitions). If we discover we are mistaken, it is not through a rejection of a previously held rational insight, but rather because those insights themselves show us to be wrong. And upon these rational foundations we can proceed to learn about the world. So our use of mathematics and logic, along with observation, can indeed lead us to draw conclusions about the conditions "before" or outside the universe. You just don't like the conclusions they draw, so you take a position of scepticism. But that doesn't change the fact that the theist is in the more rational and well-evidenced position regarding the cause of the universe. You must deny our ability to understand in order to avoid the conclusion that God exists.

    As an atheist, you have strong reason to doubt that our ability to reason would apply to before the universe - but that merely leads you to the conclusion that, given atheism, we cannot talk reasonably about the (possible) cause of the universe. But since atheism is the very thing in question here, we assume that our faculties of reason are trustworthy, in order to draw any conclusions. Otherwise we can't hope to show anything.

    Regarding this snippet of conversation:
    "And it seems you are arrogantly suggesting, between the lines, that unless something can yield testable predictions then it holds no worth."

    Show me where I suggested that.


    You had said:
    If your assumption that God was the cause of the universe leads to any testable predictions, I'd be very interested in hearing what those are.

    Usually statements like these are taken in the spirit "if it doesn't lead to testable predictions, it's worth nothing". If you did not mean that with this sentence, then I didn't understand why you invoked it.

    You invoke a lot of intuition and "rational insight," but as I said, I don't think those tools alone can be trusted on this issue until something independently supportive comes in.

    See above, where I note how you misunderstood me. If we revoke our trust in these rational intuitions, we cannot know anything. Do you want to take a position of extreme scepticism? If we, for example, revoke the intuition that "everything has a reason for being the way it is", then we no longer have a foundation for science. And we can't even say, "why do some things have no reason for being the way they are?", because that would be offering a reason. I don't think you want to make this claim.

    Regarding your industrious-grandfather analogy: at least I know that great grandfathers can exist

    An irrelevant objection. I was merely showing how a lack of testable predictions doesn't rule out the existence of something. We can identify the thing, after the fact, but we can't predict in advance what we will see. If God exists, we won't necessarily be able to predict the free choices He will make (or has made). Yet it is at least possible that God exists, so we can't rule out His existence just because we can't make predictions from it. Though I think we actually may be able to, I'm arguing that I don't need to establish that.

    See this is one of the main religious tendencies that I take issue with: the notion that we must decide upon an answer, even in the absence of information, and even if it requires the invocation something vastly more mysterious, itself without explanation.

    This is quite a nugget of thoughts. Most people don't offer the kalam cosmological argument as an irrefutable proof of God's existence. Insofar as we have reason to trust the premises, we have a reason to think God exists. So we draw the most rational conclusion - that God exists. Are you calling us irrational for drawing conclusions from the evidence? Why should I withold judgement in this case? The premises seem quite firm and reasonable, so I conclude that God exists.

    Another analogy: I see my wife put milk into the fridge and shut the door. I then immediately go and open the door, expecting to see milk where she placed it. Am I rational to expect to see milk there?

    The implicit premises can be doubted - perhaps the fridge has a false door at the back, and a magician is planning to immediately take out the milk once the door is closed, to play a trick on me.

    But insofar as I have reason to think the premises are true, I am rational to believe that the milk is in the fridge. How is the so-called "religious tendancy" any different from our day to day tendancy, where we draw conclusions as strong as the premises grant?

    As for requiring the invocation of something "more mysteries, itself without explanation", is just false and problematic:
    1. God does have an explanation (though we may not yet know it), just no cause. God is defined usually as being a necessarily existant being - and as such, there would be a reason for His existence by virtue of His necessity.
    2. The fact that He might be "more mysterious" is no objection. It might be the case that the origins of a child's toy on my lawn *is* the product of something more mysterious than the thing itself - like, for example, a factory production line with designers, engineers, IT support staff, etc. That's no reason to object to it as an explanation of its origins.

    I'm perfectly fine with the fact that we don't know everything, and I would much rather be in ignorance than have answers which might be wrong.

    This is just not true. You would rather have answers that are wrong, than be in ignorance. Day to day you trust yourself to be able to walk or drive home, to know how to use the kettle to make a cup of coffee (if you drink that), to find the toilet, to understand the words in a novel. You would much rather draw conclusions, and risk being wrong on the odd occasion.

    Note that this blog is called "Atheism is Dead". Atheists are people who feel confident at least in holding the belief that God does not exist. If that describes you, then you have decided to make a decision, rather than claim ignorance. Do you think that there are good reasons to believe in God, and good reasons to deny his existence, and thus you remain undecided? Or have you drawn a conclusion about what you think is most rational, and apply the appellation 'atheist' to yourself?

    At times where you have strong reasons to doubt, you might then choose to hold a position of ignorance than pick an answer that might be wrong. But the kalam cosmological argument is not one of those cases. It has very well supported premises, of which the rejection of either leads to undesirable or absurd positions. We do have enough to make a rational choice in this case. Though we might be wrong, we have reason to be very confident in our conclusion. You want to pretend your position is more rational, but the theist holds the upper hand here.

    And doesn't this look like a bit of a dodge: you did not answer the question by what rationale you would hope to distinguish between possible causes, should you in the first place manage to establish that there must have been a direct and identifiable cause for the universe.

    I'm not sure how it's a dodge for me to keep the discussion focussed. Discussing in detail other arguments makes discussions become unwieldy quite quickly. If I was going to establish that the cause of the universe was God as Christians conceive Him, I would bring out arguments of the evidence for Christ's resurrection, etc. I'm sure you can appreciate that delving into that is beyond the scope of this discussion.

    ReplyDelete
  21. "Even given the discovery in quantum physics, it is still true that things that begin to exist have a cause."
    ....
    "1. We still have causation in quantum physics, though it may be different"


    You keep saying stuff like this, but how do you know what you're talking about? As far as I know (please inform me if you have more information), no one has determined what the underlying cause of, e.g., virtual particle pair production might be. I could say (unhelpfully) that the "cause" lies in the mathematics which says that their creation and annihilation operators don't commute - but that's just a prediction, and although it is a correct prediction, it doesn't make things happen: what is it that actually makes it happen? What necessary or sufficient cause do you say that these phenomena require? You seem to be saying that even if you don't know what it is, you still know that there has to be a cause. But such insistence is meaningless and completely arbitrary without anything to back it up.

    "And my remark regarding cats was that if things happen without cause, there will be no boundaries to what occurs - no cause to delineate what shape the effect will take."

    It's the exact opposite: while QM is agnostic about why it works the way it does, it places very strict boundaries on what is allowed. That's why I told you to inspect the time-energy uncertainty relation. It is an inequality, telling you what those limits are, but it says nothing about why things are allowed to happen, or what makes them happen, within those limits.

    Well. You make many comments again along the same line as before, invoking "deeply held intuitions," "rational intuitions" and even teleological reasoning. I won't respond blow by blow, we're going in circles already. I dislike the many straw man arguments you employ, but I'm too tired of such debate to engage in them (I talk about my ignorance of the origin of the universe, and you compare that to the ignorance of how to make coffee...etc).

    The main issue is the concept of causation, so I'll just say my final word on that. Even in a completely deterministic universe (which we know this is not, on the quantum level) causation is not a unique concept; there are events without direct or unique causes even in classical thinking. I know of no definition of causation that is entirely unambiguous and problem-free; certainly none so robust that we might trust it for deduction in completely unknown territory.

    Here's one example from Dennett. Suppose that the unique state of the Big Bang is described by S0. In a deterministic universe (assume this for the moment) S0 is causally sufficient for producing the assassination of JFK in 1963, the sentence C (as well as causally necessary, in the definition that Josh used). But can we really say that S0 caused C? Suppose S1 was the state where he was shot. Now imagine modifying S1 very slightly by moving JFK 1 mm to the right, thereby obtaining the state S1' and a different universe. Unfortunately JFK still dies, and the sentence C is still caused, with a microscopic difference in the atomic boundary conditions, which are not part of C anyway. We can trace S1' back to another Big Bang but now we obtain S0' instead of S0, and there is a vast set of very similar universes with only tiny variations in S1 that all entail the sentence C, but all starting from different S0. And this is true even in a completely deterministic universe. Now add in quantum indeterminism and deterministic chaos, and your garden variety divinely prescribed free will if you believe in that, and we have even less of a paradigm connecting causes and events.

    Now you may protest that the various S0 have indeed different effects on the atomic level, and this is exactly the point: on the microscopic level classical philosophy has no authority and quantum theory makes a shambles out of causation, and on the classical level causation is a shambles anyway as the above argument shows.

    But this nebulous and ambiguous concept of causation which we can not even define unequivocally in our own world, this is what you want to use in order to deduce information about conditions before the universe existed? Not going to happen.

    ReplyDelete
  22. adonais,

    This is a somewhat shorter reply.

    no one has determined what the underlying cause of, e.g., virtual particle pair production might be.

    Irrelevant to the argument about whether quantum fluctuations are an instance of "effect without cause". Just because a cause cannot be identified does not mean (or even suggest, on its own) that no cause is to be found. And so, this does nothing to call into question the premise "everything that begins to exist has a cause".

    You seem to be saying that even if you don't know what it is, you still know that there has to be a cause. But such insistence is meaningless and completely arbitrary without anything to back it up.

    A few points:
    1. There is no reason, so far as I am aware, to think that quantum fluctuations are effects without cause
    2. We don't know of any other effects without causes, so don't even know if that is possible
    3. (In response to your claim that my claim is completely arbitrary) If something was truly uncaused, there would be nothing to limit what kind of effect is produced. I already mentioned this earlier, so it is not the case that I made a claim "without anything to back it up".

    More on point 3 - if you observe some regularity or probability at some fixed location, you would rightly ask, "what causes it to occur only in these areas, and only within these set limits?" If you postulate no cause, then we should not expect the effect to be limited in some ways. As you so succinctly put it,
    "while QM is agnostic about why it works the way it does, it places very strict boundaries on what is allowed"
    Which is, precisely, my point. The strict boundaries are evidence of a cause, even if we don't know why it works the way it does.

    Regarding your example from Dennett, I'm not sure what point you are trying to establish. Your example shows that we have trouble defining precisely what causation is, but that doesn't at any point call into question the premise "everything that begins to exist has a cause". Maybe we do have difficulties with pinning down what causation is - but the premise remains sturdy.

    Your job is to show why the premise is false, or doubtful. The examples from quantum physics do neither. You must show why these examples from quantum physics are specifically problems for the premise, and not just the definition of a term involved. We might have difficulty defining what consciousness is - but we (or I, anyway) don't ever doubt that it exists. If we take your line of argument, you'd object to me using "Conscious beings exist" as a premise in an argument, because "consciousness" can't be adequately defined.

    Maybe I'm not understanding your point - and so I invite you to clarify. Right now it seems that your objections to the definition of "cause" are unrelated to the idea that "everything that begins to exist has a cause".

    ReplyDelete
  23. "1. There is no reason, so far as I am aware, to think that quantum fluctuations are effects without cause

    Perhaps, perhaps not. But at the moment, quantum theory is acausal, and whatever you privately think on the matter, the notion that there exists an underlying causal reality beyond current quantum theory is at the moment pure speculation. Yet you positively rely on this speculation being true for making the first-cause argument. Do you remember the old adage, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence?"

    "Just because a cause cannot be identified does not mean (or even suggest, on its own) that no cause is to be found. And so, this does nothing to call into question the premise "everything that begins to exist has a cause"."

    Don't you see that you can apply this to anything that looks like it has no cause? Whatever pops up that looks like it has no cause, you'll just say: "Oh but our inability to identify a cause or even define the concept does not mean one does not exist. No problem with causation at all." This is a vacuous argument.

    Suppose one such effect was truly, genuinely without cause, in all of the current definitions of the word, then what? Following your reasoning, you'd never be able to discover this. By your preconceived notions you would be forever locked into a pre-scientific philosophical morass where you have decided that everything must have a cause. What if we're looking at the truth already, it might be staring us in the face saying "QM is acausal" - when, in your search for truth, might you consider this option, or at least acknowledge the possibility? Or even the much weaker requirement: just admit that there is some doubt about the issue?

    "If something was truly uncaused, there would be nothing to limit what kind of effect is produced."

    Is this "Croath's Principle" or something? You've said this several times, do you have any reference for it? I mean, it might sound like a reasonable and intuitive principle, but if QM has taught us anything it is that it's not intuitive at all, and quite unreasonable at times. Since you're using this principle as proof that the acausal QM theory has an underlying causal reality, then this is a major scientific claim, and I'd like to know whether this notion is just something you made up or something that scientists have established in some way. Please cite.

    "Your job is to show why the premise is false, or doubtful."

    Yeah well. How does one convey doubt to someone who is trained in faith and belief sans evidence. Do you think I'm holding back???

    "You must show why these examples from quantum physics are specifically problems for the premise, and not just the definition of a term involved."

    Yeah, I guess the term "causality" is kind of involved. By this reasoning, who needs precise definitions for anything.

    Here's an analogy: theists often complain when people use the concept of memes to argue a point, saying it's a non-scientific concept. Well, to a large extent that is true, but even so it can still be a useful tool for thinking and talking about things, a way of looking at things from a certain perspective. Similarly, causality is pluralistic concept of many uses and with many different definitions in philosophy and physics, but ultimately there is no one definition of causality that can be applied unambiguously to any situation - let alone a situation where the conditions are unknown to us!

    I mean just read some wiki or something....

    According to Sowa (2000),[2] up until the twentieth century, three assumptions described byMax Born in 1949 were dominant in the definition of causality:
    1. "Causality postulates that there are laws by which the occurrence of an entity B of a certain class depends on the occurrence of an entity A of another class, where the word entity means any physical object, phenomenon, situation, or event. A is called the cause, B the effect.
    2. "Antecedence postulates that the cause must be prior to, or at least simultaneous with, the effect.
    3. "Contiguity postulates that cause and effect must be in spatial contact or connected by a chain of intermediate things in contact." (Born, 1949, as cited in Sowa, 2000)
    However, according to Sowa (2000), "relativity and quantum mechanics have forced physicists to abandon these assumptions as exact statements of what happens at the most fundamental levels, but they remain valid at the level of human experience."[2]

    ReplyDelete
  24. If I might do a bit of a drive by post here.

    Quantum Theory simply does NOT cast doubt on the premise "Whatever begins to exist has a cause."

    Dr. William Lane Craig explained why in a journal article which I will liberally quote from....

    QUOTE"The use of such vacuum fluctuations is highly misleading. For virtual particles do not literally come into existence spontaneously out of nothing. Rather the energy locked up in a vacuum fluctuates spontaneously in such a way as to convert into evanescent particles that return almost immediately to the vacuum. As John Barrow and Frank Tipler comment, ". . . the modern picture of the quantum vacuum differs radically from the classical and everyday meaning of a vacuum-- nothing. . . . The quantum vacuum (or vacuua, as there can exist many) states . . . are defined simply as local, or global, energy minima (V'(O)= O, V"(O)>O)" ([1986], p. 440).

    The microstructure of the quantum vacuum is a sea of continually forming and dissolving particles which borrow energy from the vacuum for their brief existence. A quantum vacuum is thus far from nothing, and vacuum fluctuations do not constitute an exception to the principle that whatever begins to exist has a cause. It therefore seems that Smith has failed to refute premiss (1')."END QUOTE


    QUOTE"The appearance of a particle in a quantum vacuum may thus be said to be spontaneous, but cannot be properly said to be absolutely uncaused, since it has many physically necessary conditions.

    To be uncaused in the relevant sense of an absolute beginning, an existent must lack any non-logical necessary or sufficient conditions whatsoever. Now at this juncture, someone might protest that such a requirement is too stringent: "For how could anything come into existence without any non-logical necessary or sufficient conditions?" But this is my point exactly; if absolutely nothing existed prior to the Big Bang--no matter, no energy, no space, no time, no deity--, then it seems impossible that anything should begin to exist."END QUOTE

    This part is my favorite.

    QUOTE"For some beginnings of existence within spacetime are uncaused in the sense of being spontaneous or unpredictable, but one cannot conclude that therefore spacetime itself could come into being uncaused in the stronger sense of arising from nothing in the utter absence of physically necessary and sufficient conditions."END QUOTE

    I might add the difference between virtual particles & THAT which Big Banged into the whole Universe is like the difference between a soap bubble & the planet Jupiter.

    Even still virtual particles are "uncaused" only in the sense that you can't predict when the Zero Point energy field at the quantum level will spawn one. Just like I can't predict the location of the formation of a single drop of rain in a cloud. But drops of rain don't come from nothing they form from clouds. Virtual particles don't come from nothing they come from the Zero Point Energy in the quantum vacuum so called.

    Thus with all due respect to Adonais I fail to see how quantum theory casts doubt over the generality of the premise "Whatever begins to exist has a cause".

    Cheers!

    Here is a link to Craig article on the subject. He & Smith went back & forth on it.

    http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/smith.html#no

    ReplyDelete
  25. Perhaps, perhaps not. But at the moment, quantum theory is acausal, and whatever you privately think on the matter, the notion that there exists an underlying causal reality beyond current quantum theory is at the moment pure speculation.

    False. Quantum Mechanics itself has never been acausal but indeterministic. The Copenhagen *interpretation* of QM allows for acausality, but an emerging competitor is starting to steal the thunder- the Bohmian interpretation.

    Don't you see that you can apply this to anything that looks like it has no cause? Whatever pops up that looks like it has no cause, you'll just say: "Oh but our inability to identify a cause or even define the concept does not mean one does not exist. No problem with causation at all." This is a vacuous argument.

    This is a well-known tactic that distinguishes between metaphysics and epistemology. Furthermore, think of what your principle of taking things acausally at face-value would lead to. Dead people with no known cause of death would have died without cause. Besides, everything that we do understand has an underlying causal structure, so the onus is on *you* to show that events are uncaused. It is much simpler to say that we simply don't understand everything about QM as of yet, but when we do it will be causal, even if indeterminate (there is a difference).

    ReplyDelete
  26. ben:

    You give an intelligent argument (although it was Crag's), but there are some underlying problems. You claim that virtual particles come from the zero point energy of vacuum, and therefore find a basis for causation of such events (if only in the contingent sense of causal necessity). But where does the zero point energy come from; why does it exist in the first place? Sure, you can point to the ground state of a harmonic oscillator, but if you sum over frequencies you get an infinite energy, which is a bit hard to explain in physical terms, so something is wonky there. But there are other ways of understanding it.

    What if it's the other way around: spontaneously created and annihilated virtual particles create the vacuum field and are instead the cause of the zero point energy? These concepts were originally developed from the time-energy uncertainty relation, which says that a state which only exists for a short time cannot have a definite energy. This is what lead to the concept of virtual particles in the first place, and a different interpretation of the zero-point energy of the vacuum field.

    You are of course free to posit that zero point energy is fundamental and virtual particles contingent, but I know of no evidence that this is the case rather than the other way around. These concepts are often used interchangeably without questioning which causes which. QM remains an acausal theory, and whatever the underlying reality of the HUP and virtual particles might be, we don't have the final answer to that yet.

    If you have followed my comments here at all, you should be aware that I am not arguing specifically for a completely acausal beginning of the universe, but that we have sufficient reasons not to trust our empirical and intuitive concepts of causality for drawing grand conclusions from speculative hypotheses.

    "I might add the difference between virtual particles & THAT which Big Banged into the whole Universe is like the difference between a soap bubble & the planet Jupiter."

    This is untrue, and silly. The truth is you don't know what the difference is, because you don't what "that which big banged" was. The total energy of the universe might be close to zero; exactly what made it go off like it did, bounce from a previous crunch perhaps? Pure speculation of course. But you have no basis for knowing any more.

    ReplyDelete
  27. "False. Quantum Mechanics itself has never been acausal but indeterministic."

    Enh. Well my fault - I was stuck on the topic of quantum events relating to vacuum fluctuations.

    On the subject of semantics, the equations of quantum mechanics are deterministic. Indeterminism results from the interpretation of the wavefunction squared as a probability, which turns the physics into a probabilistic one.

    "The Copenhagen *interpretation* of QM allows for acausality, but an emerging competitor is starting to steal the thunder- the Bohmian interpretation."

    Uh, right. Well, let's wait and see shall we. Looks to me like those guys are still playing catch-up (Quantum randomness may not be random). At the same time, there are more nails being driven into the hidden-variable theory coffin lid: Do Subatomic Particles Have Free Will?

    "Furthermore, think of what your principle of taking things acausally at face-value would lead to."

    Where did I say that I have a principle of taking things at face value??? If anything, I've been arguing the exact opposite in this whole thread!

    "It is much simpler to say that we simply don't understand everything about QM as of yet, but when we do it will be causal,"

    LOL!

    That's very humble of you: "well I don't actually know as of yet, but I know what I will find!"

    ReplyDelete
  28. Do you remember the old adage, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence?"

    Perhaps you don't notice, but I'm giving reasons for why I think certain things. You are making the extraordinary claim that quantum effects might occur without cause. I gave these responses:
    1. All other things that begin to exist, that we can test, we know to have had causes
    2. There is no reason to think quantum fluctuations are effects without cause
    3. Quantum effects are constrained in certain ways, giving evidence that an unknown cause *is* present

    This is a combination of points which together weigh heavily against your argument.

    It is you who is making the extraordinary claim. You want to tell me that just because maybe quantum fluctuations are uncaused, we have good reason to think that the universe could have been uncaused. Even though, as you acknowledge, they may very well turn out like everything else we know and can test that begins to exist: ie, they have a cause. You want to rest your atheism on a statement of faith against the evidence, that quantum fluctuations are an example of effect without cause. Even though you have no reason to think they are uncaused. Even though you acknowledge they may actually be caused.

    Or even the much weaker requirement: just admit that there is some doubt about the issue?

    I have also offered positive reason to think that quantum effects has causes. It's a combination of things here that build up a cumulative argument. I will admit doubt where there is reason to have it. If someone tells me, "I've got the offer of a lifetime!", I have reason to doubt them. Here, in QM, there is no reason to doubt that things that begin to exist have a cause

    Is this "Croath's Principle" or something? You've said this several times, do you have any reference for it?

    No, but I believe I've seen William Craig at least argue something similar. I don't remember for sure.
    Since you're using this principle as proof that the acausal QM theory has an underlying causal reality, then this is a major scientific claim, and I'd like to know whether this notion is just something you made up or something that scientists have established in some way.

    As I said, it's a cumulative case, not a proof. I invite you to consider the Principle of Sufficient Reason:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_sufficient_reason

    Tell me, what is it that makes it such that QM effects always occur within certain set boundaries? Your answer would seem to suggest that we might rationally answer, "There is nothing that makes it such..."

    Yeah well. How does one convey doubt to someone who is trained in faith and belief sans evidence. Do you think I'm holding back???
    Such arrogance is not endearing. You assume that I don't know anything about science, scepticism, witholding belief on shaky evidence. You don't even know me.

    I think the other comments following the one of yours I've been quoting make the points well, in different words.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Meh, I'm done with your straw men and being accused of arrogance by people who think they know everything. All I have argued in this thread is that we don't know the nature of reality so well as you think we do. And that, according to you, is an "extraordinary claim."

    I'll tell you something:

    I would like to understand the reality of the quantum world at its deepest level, but I don't.

    I would like to understand how the universe was created and what existed before it, but I don't.

    I would like to know if there is a higher meaning to it all, and to my life, but I don't.

    And most of all I would like to know if it even means anything to ask those questions, or if they are category mistakes, but I don't.

    But you seem to know all these things. Where are your Nobel Prizes? I guess I must resign myself to the fact that you have understood so much more than I, and that I'm too dumb to see the truth.

    ReplyDelete
  30. That's very humble of you: "well I don't actually know as of yet, but I know what I will find!"

    I think you missed what I was saying. Here is a more accurate portrayal of what I was affirming:

    Every event we understand has a cause. Quantum mechanics is mysterious, but in light of our background knowledge it seems most likely that QM is not a violation of causation.

    I think that is a very reasonable position to take.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Adonais,
    Meh, I'm done with your straw men and being accused of arrogance by people who think they know everything.


    You said:
    Yeah well. How does one convey doubt to someone who is trained in faith and belief sans evidence.
    Implying certain things about me which are arrogant, mis-informed, and insulting.

    ReplyDelete
  32. "He claims that Craig proves that a personal force was the cause of the universe because a cause has to be at least as complex as its cause."

    If Barker claims that this is indeed the position that Craig holds, he really should have provided a quote as to where he got this information. I find it hardly intellectually honest for him to put words in people's mouths.

    "Moreover, the complexity of a mind is not really analogous to the complexity of the universe. A mind's ideas may be complex, but a mind itself is a remarkably simple thing, being an immaterial entity not comosed of pieces or separable parts."

    - Pg 490, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview

    Craig makes similar statements in his response to the main argument in The God Delusion.

    "1. All apples that fall from trees become bruised.
    2. This orange fell from a tree.
    3. Therefore, this orange is bruised. (140)"

    He compared this argument to the KCA? Unlike the KCA, this argument is not valid, so I don't see how he actually thinks that it's an accurate comparison.

    I look forward to more of your reviews Josh!

    ReplyDelete