Rosenhouse on Feser on the cosmological argument

As I pointed out a few days ago, Edward Feser has posted a long defense of the cosmological argument for God, claiming that critics like Jason Rosenhouse and I simply don’t understand its subtlety.  And we have no credibility to refute it until we’ve read many books on the topic, including (of course) two of Feser’s own.

Over at EvolutionBlog, Jason responds, showing how Feser distorted the words of Robin Le Poidevin, a critic of the cosmological argument.   After exposing Feser’s intellectual dishonesty, Jason then dismisses the cosmological argument, and I have to say that, based on my latest readings about that argument (not yet including Feser’s books), Jason is right:

As for the cosmological argument itself, I make no apology for being dismissive. Depending on what version you are considering, you can expect to find concepts like causality or probability being used in domains where they do not clearly apply, or dubious arguments for why an actual infinity cannot exist, or highly questionable premises about the beginnings of the universe or about how everything that began to exist must have had a cause, or groundless invocations of the principle of sufficient reason. You inevitably come so perilously close to assuming what you are trying to prove that you may as well just assume God exists and be done with it.

92 Comments

  1. Posted July 23, 2011 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    I would go further: the simplistic versions are useful as a way of short-circuiting the “sophisticated” ones, for they disprove some essential conclusions of the sophisticated arguments. And with such a disproof-by-contradiction in hand, why bother looking for the one moment where the “proof” incorrectly assumes equivalency between -2 * -2 and 2 * 2? You know there’s an error in there, and there’s not much point in wasting time correcting the theist’s obviously-worng homework.

    • Posted July 23, 2011 at 7:13 am | Permalink

      If I may expand on that —

      All variations of the cosmological argument conclude that there exists an essential, primal, ultimate cause that is somehow responsible in some manner for everything else. After all, that’s the whole point: to demonstrate the existence of this “ground of all being,” the theologian’s god.

      Were we to find even one instance of something which didn’t have any cause whatsoever, we know that the claim of the cosmological argument is refuted, regardless of how convincing the argument is on its own.

      Empirically, we know that quantum mechanics demonstrates all sorts of uncaused causes, free of hidden variables. However, a theist could conceivably pull the simulation argument and claim that there’s some god somewhere responsible for pressing buttons that make atoms decay. Paranoid as that is, it’s still logically sound — and so we find empiricism sufficient for practical refutation of the cosmological argument, but not for absolute logical refutation.

      But we can also do the job logically.

      Start by assuming the premises to be true: everything has a cause, and there exists nothing which is its own cause. Instantly, it’s obvious that we’re left with a “turtles all the way down” infinite regression — and said infinite regression has no cause of its own. The premises are thus disproven by contradiction. Not to mention, of course, that the very conclusion theists reach — that one or more of their gods have no cause — also contradict the very premises they set out to prove. That is, even if we grant the theist the conclusion, the conclusion is self-defeating and proves its own negation.

      All the theist is left with is special pleading — which, of course, is where all the fun begins. There are essential causes, and contingent causes, and ephemeral causes, and physical causes, and and and and and…and that’s where the shell game happens. These causes here can cause those causes there, but not vice-versa. Those causes can cause other causes that are like the first but not quite, except by light of the full moon. It’s all bafflegab designed to do nothing but confuse you to the point that you’ll give up and trust that the theologian must be right.

      And the real shame is that it’s this kind of bafflegab that will muddle your mind to the point that you’re incapable of comprehending the real exciting discoveries of set theory, such as the fact that, though there are infinitely many counting numbers and infinitely many irrational numbers, there are actually more irrational numbers than there are counting numbers. Both are infinite — yet one is more infinite than the other!

      That sort of “revelation” could never come out of theology, because it’s forever stuck in the shallow end of the pool.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted July 23, 2011 at 7:44 am | Permalink

        Thanks for the clear summary of the problems with this argument. I recall the first time I came across the cosmological argument, I couldn’t figure out where these different types of causes were coming from. Still haven’t seen a justification for that.

        (I suppose Feser would say that’s because I haven’t read enough theology. Funny how scientists can get the basics across in a blog post or an accessible book, but theologians require multiple dense tomes to argue that the topic of their studies even exists.)

        • Posted July 23, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

          That is because their arguments are illogical and inconsistent.
          Succinctness humbly reveals this flaw.
          Sophistic verbosity can conceal it behind the screen of pomposity.

          Short of outright lying, obfuscation is the only camouflage left to them.

        • jonjermey
          Posted July 24, 2011 at 4:25 am | Permalink

          As I pointed out on Eric MacDonald’s blog, theology does not summarise. I can ask a physicist to sum up, say, quantum physics in ten words, or a hundred, or a thousand, and get a sequence of clear non-contradictory explanations which progressively add more detail to the basic principles. But attempts to ‘summarise’ theology merely expose its lack of content. Science gets more interesting as it is summarised; theology gets more and more vacuous.

          • jonjermey
            Posted July 24, 2011 at 4:31 am | Permalink

            And of course, the obligation to read many books in order to pass the test for understanding provides one with complete protection against criticism, since only someone who finds themselves enthralled and convinced by the incomprehensible will ever manage to complete the reading assignment.

            It’s as if I were to agree only to argue with someone who has read all my accumulated blog posts dating back ten years: nobody other than my most fawning acolytes would ever have the stomach to qualify.

            • sailor1031
              Posted July 24, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

              The scorn heaped on sensible, intelligent people by the likes of Feser (who really does seem to have some anger issues to work out), because they have not read enough “philosophy” is merely an inflated, super-arrogant version of the courtier’s reply. I grant you that if you want to understand physics a lot of reading and study will certainly help but you can get an overview from many of the greatest minds in the field (Hawking, Smolin, Kaku, Thorne, Steinhardt, Turok, Feynman, Einstein, Schroedinger and so on and on and on…..). There is a lot to know in physics. In philosophy there is nothing to know – it’s all unsubstantiated assertion. There are no proofs of anything factual. Premises are asserted and towers of illogic built upon them to no purpose. Has philosophy ever solved ONE problem since the ancient greeks (and probably people before them) established it as a substitute for working for a living?

          • Eric
            Posted July 24, 2011 at 5:11 am | Permalink

            “As I pointed out on Eric MacDonald’s blog, theology does not summarise.”

            I think it’s more like this:

            When scientists summarize, you’re willing to listen charitably, and not jump over a summary because it’s — well, a summary, and hence necessarily full of holes. But, when a theologian summarizes, you jump all over the first hole you can find in the summary, and then, though you asked for a summary, criticize it for being a summary.

            And the QM example is misguided.

            If a physicist begins with a summary of QM, and gradually qualifies it, most people are going to hit a mathematical wall pretty quickly, at which point the physicist will have to use metaphors and analogies that are, again, easy to poke holes in. But when you reach this point, you’re willing to say, “I have more to learn before I can understand this.” However, when you reach a similar point with the theologian, and he says that you have to learn more logic, metaphysics etc. before he can continue rigorously, and that at this point he’ll have to rely on metaphor or analogies, you’re not about to conclude that you have more to learn; rather, you’ll rest content with poking holes in the metaphors and analogies.

            • lamacher
              Posted July 24, 2011 at 7:02 am | Permalink

              No, Eric, you miss the point. A theological summary shares with the long version the same problems – unsupported, unprovable premises. No amount of ‘reasoning’, using all the logical mechanisms and tricks you can bring to bear, can turn bafflegab into fact, summarized or not, if the premise problem remains.

              • Eric
                Posted July 24, 2011 at 8:10 am | Permalink

                “No, Eric, you miss the point. A theological summary shares with the long version the same problems – unsupported, unprovable premises.”

                No, I’m afraid you have missed the point. Or, let me put it this way: If that was the point, it was very poorly made indeed.

                The complaint I was addressing was made by JonJermey on a sub-thread discussing the preconditions to understanding natural theolgical arguments. He said that theology *does not* summarize. Now this is manifestly false, so I read him charitably, and in the obvious context of the present discussion, to be saying that theologians are, at least some of the time, wont to avoid summaries. This, at least, is true (though trivial, and certainly not unique to theologians). So, why might theologians (and I take him to be including philosophers of religion here) be, some of the time, unwilling to provide summaries of their arguments? Because people like you, who have decided the issue in advance, will approach a summary without a grain of charity. You’ll request a summary — “I don’t have time to read all that stuff, so give me a rough sketch of what you’re saying” — and then you’ll viciously jump all over the holes that any sketch will *necessarily* include, and proudly proclaim, “Wow, that was easy — see, I knew it was all nonsense,” rather than honestly considering a sketch as a sketch, and asking how a thoughtful person might fill them in.

                The whole thing is an exercise of bad faith on your part.

              • Posted July 24, 2011 at 8:25 am | Permalink

                If I may jump in here —

                Science has the advantage that all its statements are true for the specified domains. Famously, Newton’s physics is fantastically successful, though it breaks down at very large and very small scales. But for the domain of human-scale physics, it simply can’t be beat.

                Religion, on the other hand, isn’t true for any of its domains.

                Jerry’s forte is evolution, so let me us that as an example. Evolution can be summarized with two simple observations: individuals reproduce inexactly, and not all individuals reproduce. Now, yes, understanding the mechanisms of inheritance, variation, and selection will take you more than a lifetime, but every step along the way remains true for the limited domain over which it is applicable.

                But with religion…well, it starts by merely asserting the logically absurd. Even Jesus can’t use a straightedge and compass to draw a square and a circle of equal areas, so what sort of nonsense is it to claim he can do anything? This is the point where religion starts to get more specific in an attempt to narrow the domains to which it applies…but it’s stuck. It’s started with asserting the ultimate, and any restriction on the ultimate destroys the whole reason for the idea in the first place.

                Where science starts with a theory of some small things it explains superbly well and builds them into bigger and bigger things but has yet to make it to a Theory of Everything…religion has started with a Theory of Everything that explains nothing and has nowhere else to go.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Eric
                Posted July 24, 2011 at 8:54 am | Permalink

                “Science has the advantage that all its statements are true for the specified domains. Famously, Newton’s physics is fantastically successful, though it breaks down at very large and very small scales. But for the domain of human-scale physics, it simply can’t be beat.”

                I think you’re confusing ‘truth’ with ‘pragmatism’ here.

                “Jerry’s forte is evolution, so let me us that as an example. Evolution can be summarized with two simple observations: individuals reproduce inexactly, and not all individuals reproduce.”

                See, this is where things get so odd, and for at least two reasons.

                (1) You seem to think that claims like, “individuals reproduce inexactly, and not all individuals reproduce” are simply “scientific” “observations,” when in fact they are *meaningless* without a host of philosophical assumptions. Are you saying something about mind independent reality, or about your mind dependent sense data and ideas? Is what you are saying true, and if so in what sense (representation, coherence, etc.)? When you say “individuals reprodce,” you’re obviously relying on assumptions about the nature of causality, relations and dispositions — how do you understand them? And so on. You can pretend that you’re just doing science, but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re just pretending.

                (2) You have no problem with claims like, (a) “individuals reproduice inexactly,” but seem to have all sorts of problems with much more basic claims like, (b) “everything that begins to exist has a cause,” which, if you understand it properly, is just another way of saying that nothingness (not the physicist’s nothing, which is a whole lot of something, but nothingness as such) is causally inert. Yet not only is (b) is much more obviously true than (a), but (a) in a deeper sense *presupposes* (b), for if nothingness as such were causally efficacious, then science would be impossible, and its claims completely unreliable.

                “But with religion…well, it starts by merely asserting the logically absurd.”

                Again, this is nonsense. “Some things change,” which is where Aquinas starts his First Way, is manifestly not “logically absurd.”

              • Posted July 24, 2011 at 9:44 am | Permalink

                Wow.

                You got me there, Eric.

                It never occurred to me that “the birds and the bees” talk needed to be prefaced with metaphysics in order to have any meaning.

                For that matter, it still doesn’t.

                Sorry. I ain’t got nuttin’ for ya’. Even smoke signals won’t reach the heights of this ivory sky castle you’ve built around yourself.

                Good luck extracting your head from…um…the clouds.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Eric
                Posted July 24, 2011 at 10:10 am | Permalink

                “It never occurred to me that “the birds and the bees” talk needed to be prefaced with metaphysics in order to have any meaning.”

                It doesn’t have to be “prefaced with metaphysics in order to have any meaning” but any possible understanding of it will presuppose a lot of philosophical conclusions. You may want to ignore the philosophy for practical purposes, which is fine, but don’t pretend it’s not there for purposes of opposing science and metaphysics/philosophy. That’s the point.

                “Sorry. I ain’t got nuttin’ for ya’. Even smoke signals won’t reach the heights of this ivory sky castle you’ve built around yourself.”

                You’ve got it backwards again: I’m not in some ivory tower, ignoring practical realities from the lofty heights of theory; rather, it’s *you* who are willingly burying your head in the sand, ignoring the assumptions that any conception of science must rest on so you can continue to set up your pet oppositions between science and the disciplines that study those assumptions.

              • Steve Smith
                Posted July 24, 2011 at 10:19 am | Permalink

                You seem to think that claims like, “individuals reproduce inexactly, and not all individuals reproduce” are simply “scientific” “observations,” when in fact they are *meaningless* without a host of philosophical assumptions

                This is indistinguishable from pomo nonsense. If you really believe that science is meaningless without philosophy, then per Sokal, go jump out of a tall window.

                There is a real world. No one who knows anything about the real world will take you or your arguments seriously until you take the real world seriously. The cosmological argument has nothing to do with the real world, no matter its philosophical assumptions are.

              • Posted July 24, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

                Ben wrote-
                “Even Jesus can’t use a straightedge and compass to draw a square and a circle of equal areas”
                … in the domain of Euclidean 2D space that is also isothermal, (as you were commenting about limited domains in science claims!)

            • Eric
              Posted July 24, 2011 at 10:35 am | Permalink

              “This is indistinguishable from pomo nonsense.”

              Let me get this straight: the notion that there in science there are no naked, unencumbered observations devoid of pre-theoretic assumptions is indistinguishable from the pomo critique of metanarratives?

              Oh my goodness you’re confused…

              “There is a real world. No one who knows anything about the real world will take you or your arguments seriously until you take the real world seriously.”

              Two things: First, I don’t care who does and doesn’t take what I’m saying seriously. What I care about is whether what I’m saying is true. Second, the irony is that it’s *I* who am taking the “real world” much more seriously than you are! In your craven attempt to avoid any questions that may raise difficulties for your ideology, you sweep the uncomfortable questions that the very possibility of science as such raises under the rug, while I’m willing to ask the hard questions that any serious study of the real world inevitably raises.

              • Eric
                Posted July 24, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink

                Correction:

                Let me get this straight: the notion that in science there are no naked, unencumbered observations devoid of pre-theoretic assumptions is indistinguishable from the pomo critique of metanarratives?

              • Steve Smith
                Posted July 24, 2011 at 10:57 am | Permalink

                in science there are no naked, unencumbered observations devoid of pre-theoretic assumptions

                I have no idea what this means. Are you able to offer one real-world example in science of “naked, unencumbered observations” determined by “pre-theoretic assumptions”?

              • H.H.
                Posted July 24, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

                Eric, but what you aren’t saying is that the metaphysical assumptions which underlie science are basic, fundamental axioms that every discipline must accept to get anywhere. If seeking absolute certainty, philosophy has demonstrated that nothing can be known except that one exists. That’s it. Small, entirely pragmatic “leaps of faith” are required to accept that there is a material reality independent of our minds or that other minds exist apart from our own. You know, things which every kind of scholar–even theologians–must accept if they plan to be able to ever say anything about anything. These propositions are also supported with mountains of evidence, of course, so they aren’t very large leaps. All one has to do to get there is reject pure solipsism as a philosophical dead end.

                But religion makes many, many additional leaps of faith. Large ones which are wholly unjustified and unnecessary. They aren’t made for pragmatic reasons, they are made for emotional ones. And flippantly comparing metaphysical statements like “there exists a reality independent of myself” to metaphysical statements like “Yahweh is a triune god” is bordering on the dishonest. It’s a false equivalence to pretend that both are “statements of faith” in equal measure. I can see no reason to even bring up the metaphysical assumptions of science, which are universal givens for all intellectual disciplines, except as a red herring.

              • Rob
                Posted July 24, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

                Eric is going nuclear (in the Stephen Law sense). I love it.

            • Eric
              Posted July 24, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

              “Eric, but what you aren’t saying is that the metaphysical assumptions which underlie science are basic, fundamental axioms that every discipline must accept to get anywhere.”

              That’s demonstrably false. Take, for ninstance, Hawking and Penrose (to use two common examples): Hawking, as a positivist, believes that science says nothing about the world as it is, but merely models our observations, whereas Penrose, as a Platonist, believes that science (via mathematics) reveals the world as it really is in the deepest sense, i.e. as an object apprehensible only to the intellect that is different in kind from the world revealed by observation.

              Now they can, from these very different philosophical positions, do science equally well. That’s not the point. The point is that there’s no “science as such” we can clearly demarcate from ‘philosophy’ or ‘metaphysics,’ let alone set up as being in opposition to philosophy or metaphysics. Rather, there’s science that’s explicitly informed by philosophy, or science done in ignorance of the philosophy one brings to it. Again, I’m not saying that you need to be a philosopher to be a good scientist; you don’t. But if you’re going to speak out on how philosophy relates to philosophy, or to interdisciplinary fields like theology (yes, it’s true: a theologian has to be a competent historian, philosopher, classicist, etc.) that rely heavily on philosophy, you should at the very least understand the deep interdependence that obtains between science and philosophy at that level of discussion.

              “And flippantly comparing metaphysical statements like “there exists a reality independent of myself” to metaphysical statements like “Yahweh is a triune god” is bordering on the dishonest. It’s a false equivalence to pretend that both are “statements of faith” in equal measure.”

              Since I’ve said nothing at all about ‘faith’ in this discussion, flippantly or otherwise, I don’t see the relevance of these remarks.

              • sailor1031
                Posted July 24, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

                The point is that there’s no “science as such”

                So that we can postulate the attraction of mass, measure it, calculate it to so fine a degree that we can place satellites in orbit, not merely around our own planet but around other planets and the sun, and precisely adjust for orbital decay to keep them exactly in place is “no science as such”? What then, pray tell, is it? Philosophy, theology, mental masturbation?

              • H.H.
                Posted July 24, 2011 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

                Eric, this is getting tedious. Theology is not a discipline like science. Regardless of whether both are “models” of reality, theology remains a failed one. Equivocating over the proper boundaries of science, wherever they may exactly lie, has nothing to do with the consistent failures of theism to demonstrate any predictive explanatory power whatsoever.

                And I’m glad you wish to leave faith out of the discussion, since theology is not defensible on any other grounds.

      • Observer
        Posted July 23, 2011 at 10:13 am | Permalink

        The response that theologians would give would be to distinguish between necessary and contingent things. The argument, according to Feser, isn’t that *all* things must have a cause, but only that contingent things must have a cause. God, of course, is a necessary being and therefore doesn’t require a cause.

        And how do we know that God is a necessary being? Because if he wasn’t it would be turtles all the way down! The obvious wankery of the whole theological enterprise infuriates me!

        • Posted July 24, 2011 at 5:43 am | Permalink

          I know Observer likely doesn’t fall into this trap, but every time that distinction comes up, I simply ask: Why think electrons, etc. are contingent? Or rather, better still, why think that changability of things is not enough? This is when you get the bad stuff about actual infinities.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted July 23, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

        However, a theist could conceivably pull the simulation argument and claim that there’s some god somewhere responsible for pressing buttons that make atoms decay. Paranoid as that is, it’s still logically sound — and so we find empiricism sufficient for practical refutation of the cosmological argument, but not for absolute logical refutation.

        I think it should be noted that “simulation scenarios” is an arguable point.

        The root to that is the same as when you leave open for a non-relativistic “non-local” theory of quantum mechanics. I.e. to keep physics exciting and mysterious, leave open for woo & religion et cetera, you can still choose to interpret observables as existing before observation without running into falsifying experiments as of yet.

        [In a fully realistic many world theory the observables doesn’t exist in specific universes in between measurements in the frog view of the universe, they are a property of the birds eye view of sometimes correlated universes.]

        It is a matter of culture if you take that as “the conservative view” or not. Theoretical physicists of today seem to go away from it. (See Tegmark’s poll.)

        Now, you can see physicists using the idea of “simulated universes” in gedanken experiments to try to narrow down how to do probabilities over infinite distributions of universes and their properties. This is a way to try to tease out more information on physics and enlarge the tool set.

        However one possibility that is not so useful is that indeed relativity and realism applies at all scales. Then there are no hidden variables, and no gods/simulations can possibly emulate quantum physics.

        And we still don’t know how to do those damn probabilities! :-/

      • Sastra
        Posted July 23, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

        All variations of the cosmological argument conclude that there exists an essential, primal, ultimate cause that is somehow responsible in some manner for everything else.

        There’s another necessary aspect to this “primal” cause: it has to be an agent, or like an agent. Like other arguments for God, the cosmological argument rests on the assumption that Minds are Magic: they are uncaused causes which do not depend on or derive from physical reality and thus stand outside all of the laws which apply to the material world.

        Remove the possibility of mind/body substance dualism from the cosmological arguments and see how far they get. They will never, ever get to God or anything like God. All the science-talk about the Big Bang and singularities are covers for the fact that theology assumes that agent-causation is a special form of causation because mind and the products of mind (thought, values, desires, will) are “above” any material antecedents and outside of any material restrictions.

      • 386sx
        Posted July 23, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

        Start by assuming the premises to be true: everything has a cause,

        Actually it’s everything that comes into being has a cause.

        Or, just to reduce it down to how stupid it is: Everything that has a cause has a cause; everything that doesn’t have a cause doesn’t have a cause.

        How they get from that to only one uncaused cause, or only one god, or any gods at all, or any uncaused causes at all, or even any causes at all, I dunno. It’s all very complicated. *laughs*

        • Posted July 24, 2011 at 5:45 am | Permalink

          Then ask them why, even if the premiss is true, why cannot there be an eternal network of causes?

          • 386sx
            Posted July 24, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

            Then ask them why, even if the premiss is true, why cannot there be an eternal network of causes?

            I would ask them, but they wouldn’t know. All they would give me is bull-pucky.

        • Arthur
          Posted September 2, 2011 at 9:24 am | Permalink

          “How they get from that to only one uncaused cause…”

          There are clearly-worded arguments for this in Aquinas’ literature. You are entitled you reject those arguments once you’ve studied them carefully, but you are NOT entitled dismiss them without first taking the time to understand them.

          Of course you “dunno” how theologians go from the Cosmological Argument to “only one uncaused cause” when you haven’t actually looked for those reasons. It’s rather like complaining that you “dunno” how biologists argue for evolution when you’ve never bothered to read a biology textbook. Don’t look for reasons and you won’t find them.

      • Steve Smith
        Posted July 24, 2011 at 10:29 am | Permalink

        a theist could conceivably pull the simulation argument and claim that there’s some god somewhere responsible for pressing buttons that make atoms decay

        No, because then the god (I prefer to think of them as Aquinas’s angels in this context) is necessarily bound to obey the statistical properties of QM. You may as well give them the power to set π = 3. It’s like saying that god really, really likes the black body spectrum because that’s what the Big Bang looks like in about one part in 10^5, or however accurately we’ve measured that now.

    • Arthur
      Posted September 2, 2011 at 9:02 am | Permalink

      This looks like a shameless bit of begging the question. Why bother actually investigating the arguments when I “already know” that they are wrong?

      Because if you don’t investigate these things fairly and carefully you don’t “know” that it’s wrong at all, you just believe it and then use that belief as a reason not to investigate. The circular reasoning should be obvious.

      Why bother to look into the telescope when you “already know” what you’ll find? Why bother reading ‘The Origin of Species’ when you “already know” that it’s full of lies?

      We both know the answers to those questions.

  2. Mattapult
    Posted July 23, 2011 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    There has been lots of disussion here on the cosmological argument, and also on free will. Here’s a question…

    If “everything has a cause” as the cosmological argument supposes, wouldn’t that invalidate free will? If all your thoughts have a cause, wouldn’t the cause train ultimately trace back to external influences, before you are born, or some combination?

    • FabioMachado
      Posted July 23, 2011 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      Good point.

      But apologetics usually benefit from belief compartmentalization. One of the main techniques is to convince everyone to focus on the topic at hand and lead to the reader to do the equivocation.

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted July 23, 2011 at 10:42 am | Permalink

        For example, when a theologian/sophist tries to claim that God is simple, he doesn’t expect you to remember that later on when he is arguing that God is the source of all morality, or that God is the Christian God.

        • wilzard
          Posted July 23, 2011 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

          Correct, at least from my own debates with creationist co-workers.

          Every different point of dispute or error on their part would be quickly forgotten and contradicted as we moved to a new topic.

          Nothing sticks for longer than a minute or two before the rationalizations begin.

      • Mattapult
        Posted July 23, 2011 at 11:02 am | Permalink

        Thanks, I’m still thinking through it, so it’s still a bit of a question.

        I recently read WEIT. In section about atavisms, Jerry mentions that theologists argue that maybe we just do know the feature yet. How many time does not knowing become a proof of God to them? Also ID presumes a single function of a single form. Funny how they think themselves into separate corners at the same time.

    • Arthur
      Posted September 2, 2011 at 9:04 am | Permalink

      No, it doesn’t presume that “everything has a cause”, only that “everything THAT BEGINS TO EXIST” has a cause.

  3. Legal9ball
    Posted July 23, 2011 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    Forgive me if this has been posted before, but here is a delightfully accessible and concise video debunking the Kalem.

  4. Legal9ball
    Posted July 23, 2011 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    Forgive me if this has been posted before, but here is a delightfully accessible and concise video debunking the Kalem.

    http://www.youtube.com/user/skydivephil#p/a/u/0/baZUCc5m8sE

    • Posted July 23, 2011 at 7:59 am | Permalink

      That’s an awesome video — thanks for pointing me to it!

      b&

      • Legal9ball
        Posted July 23, 2011 at 11:12 am | Permalink

        I especially loved the demonstration just past the 4 minute mark of the Kalem’s reliance on the impossibility of infinity to show the necessity of a first cause, and then it’s allegation of the fact of an infinity at the singularity as evidence that the singularity was the beginning of the universe.

    • Marella
      Posted July 23, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

      Indeed most enlightening thanks for that. I find that the posts in the comments are usually very well worth watching, one reason why I like this non-blog.

  5. Drosera
    Posted July 23, 2011 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    The Cosmological Argument doesn’t say that ‘everything has a cause’, but that ‘everything that begins to exist has a cause’. This is an important distinction, because it allows the deists to posit that god didn’t begin to exist, but has always existed. In this view, then, it doesn’t make sense to ask: What created god?

    Of course, it is just special pleading. Only stupid or dishonest people can claim that it proves anything.

  6. Jim Thomerson
    Posted July 23, 2011 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    In Steven Hawking’s “Grand Design” (a very readable book), as I understood it, he makes the argument, from quantum theory, that the Big Bang produced 10*500 universes of a wide variety of natures.

    • Greg Esres
      Posted July 23, 2011 at 8:20 am | Permalink

      Shouldn’t that be 10**500? Or, 10^500, rather than 10*500, which is only 5,000.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 23, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      That is Stephen Hawking.

      I don’t think that comes out of quantum theory as such. If you do string theory(ST), with quantum theory, you can find ~ 10^500 different “compactifications” of geometries that can be string physics universes. (The term alludes to that many of them have dimensions that curl up to small scales and effectively disappear; 4D spacetime possibly out of 11 string dimensions!)

      Some of those should be close to ours* and incorporate it if ST is correct physics, but how to tease out that is an, ahem, huge problem.

      ———–
      * For one, if you put those ~ 10^500 universes on a grid, some of them will actually scale the cosmological constant down to the observed 10^-120 value compared to the “natural” ~ 1 and leave a set of “anthropic choices” around that lower value.

      It is a test for ST that it seems to have passed!

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 23, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      You know, in this context I have never considered how modern physics makes the point of how *hesitating* nature is to make a habitable universe.

      – Inflation by itself takes a good time to eventually spawn universes. (Indeed, some pathways are unbounded backwards, i.e. a set of worldlines may take an infinity to spawn a universe.)

      – If string theory is a fact, or something else that makes a distribution of universes, of those universes many or most will be so curved that they will disappear as quickly as they disappear.

      – Then, over a distribution of the infinite forward time survivors, few will have habitable properties.

      – If string theory specifically is a fact, teasing out the properties of 10^500 universes constitutes a so called “NP complete” problem, or “a really resource-demanding problem”. Which is why physicists have a hard time mapping the so called string landscape of all of them, but also why presumably nature would too.

      As Scott Aaronsson reminds us, computers are physical machines, those resources are physical resources and other systems would behave similarly when emulating the problem.

      Now teasing out the properties is tantamount to compactify to a final state, i.e. the compactification process takes as much resources. Given that a local, bounded set of worldlines constitutes a small world at that stage, it will presumably take “some” time to do this. A great deal of time if you ask the still inflating worldlines!

      The physical “cosmological argument” seems to be:

      “Yes, observers will find themselves a likely outcome somewhere in the huge phase space of possible universes. But the process to get there is wasteful with space and reluctant with respect to leasing it out. The multiverse seems especially not purposed for life.”

  7. Havok
    Posted July 23, 2011 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    It seems that the various cosmological arguments might/do work if you accept certain presuppositions (as I think Feser says).

    The problem seems to me to be why we should accept these presuppositions – why accept that Thomistic metaphysics, which are required for Fesers CA to work (for example), reflect reality.

    • PeteJohn
      Posted July 23, 2011 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      Why because Aquinas wrote thousands of pages on them. If you’d read them all you’d get it and be a good theist, I guess.

      • Havok
        Posted July 23, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink

        I guess that’s the idea, though I suspect you have to be somewhat sympathetic to begin with, especially as you’re expected to end up as a Christian Theist (of the Catholic variety).

    • Posted July 24, 2011 at 5:49 am | Permalink

      This sounds a lot like the theist who once told me with glee that there were valid arguments for the existence of god. I told him, “of course there are, e.g. god exists therefore god exists is valid in most logics” He did not respond when I then added something like “but the interesting case would be if you can get one that is at least plausibly sound”.

  8. Legal9ball
    Posted July 23, 2011 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    I especially loved the demonstration just past the 4 minute mark of the Kalem’s reliance on the impossibility of infinity to show the necessity of a first cause, and then it’s allegation of the fact of an infinity at the singularity as evidence that the singularity was the beginning of the universe.

  9. Rob
    Posted July 23, 2011 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    In Feser’s version of the argument, he uses something he calls “an essentially ordered causal series”. I will not go into the details of this, but suffice it to say that this is an entirely manufactured idea that has no connection to how the universe actually functions.

    So his argument rests on a made-up premise. Feser’s version of the argument is just as stupid as all the others.

  10. Jim Thomerson
    Posted July 23, 2011 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Sorry, 20th century me would write 10 x 500 = 5000, or 10(500) = 5000. I meant 10 the 500th power.

    • Tim
      Posted July 23, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

      Just testing. Is it possible to write 10⁵⁰⁰?

      • Tim
        Posted July 23, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

        Hmm…looks funky, but it does work.

  11. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted July 23, 2011 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    The best science based argument against Feser et al today should be that it is as inconsistent with modern physics as it was to propose Adam & Eve based on evolution before sequencing. I.e. a breeding pair wasn’t likely a viable population, but we had not narrowed down the actual pathway to a much larger population to exclude the a priori unlikely ones.

    This is analogous to what we have in cosmology today. It isn’t likely a cosmological “cause” exist since inflation looks eternal. But there is still a gap where you can cram a hail mary argument in. Possibly Planck can constrain inflation physics to be eternal inflation, in which case you are so much closer to the Adam & Eve tale.

    In fact you can argue that we are already there, since the last decade has revealed that the universe, which looks zero energy, in fact belongs to a huge class of cosmologies that _are_ zero energy.

    That is, we can never know whether an inflationary universe tunneled out of another inflationary regime. (Even though we can be pretty sure our observable universe actually stems from a local end of inflation.)

    the principle of sufficient reason

    I had never heard of that. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says that it can be formally states as “For every fact F, there must be an explanation why F is the case.”

    Anyone who entertain such a notion can’t be very well versed in physics.

    First, we can note that in physics causality is a process, or rather it is a property of the special relativity lightcone process. This means that characteristics of causality is neither intuitive or always easy to tease ot.

    Second, we see that “why F is the case” is not a rigid, testable notion.

    While every observation that is the basis for a fact obeys causality, observation doesn’t concern itself with non-observed pathways. I.e. causality in itself doesn’t tell you all of physics, why objects doesn’t exist where they could exist et cetera. Hence asking “why F” is nontestable as regards causality in itself.

    And as always processes like deterministic chaos will preclude you from knowing “why that pathway” due to sensitivity issues. A “birds eye perspective” on all of physics still doesn’t tell you every instance of pathway choice.

    Third. we see that even if we narrow the claim down to describe causality it is based on a naive greek philosophy idea of “immediate” causes that is rejected by physics. Radioactive nuclei can decay without immediate cause as a genuine stochastic process. The causality of the process lies in the way quantum mechanics has achieved the state before decay, the decay and how it proceeds after decay. But the pathway choice is random, “uncaused”.

    Hence the principle of sufficient reason lack sufficient reason.

    • Rob
      Posted July 23, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      “The best science based argument against Feser et al today should be that it is as inconsistent with modern physics”

      Feser explicitly denies this. In fact, he says that no matter what science discovers, his argument cannot be falsified.

      He does this by labeling all his premises as “metaphysical”, and hence immune to any findings from physics. It’s all quite pitiful.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted July 23, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

        Ouch!

        I think Coyne has a reasonable answer to that… “What can convince you that you are wrong?”

        It is unreasonable to try to reason with those who refuse to be reasoned with. Seems Feser makes a good case for that the cosmological argument is bogus.

        I am sure it is constructed to be untestable and so on. But I wasn’t hoping to find people admitting to the fact!

        • Vaal
          Posted July 23, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

          “Ouch!

          I think Coyne has a reasonable answer to that… “What can convince you that you are wrong?”

          Hmmm, this is where we need to be careful about understanding the nature of an argument.
          Feser’s Thomistic argument is supposed to point to a Necessary conclusion. Not a probabilistic conclusion a la science.

          “A bachelor is an unmarried man” is a necessary concept in order to make further intelligible inquiries about any bachelor.
          But you wouldn’t say “What test can we perform to show that it’s wrong.” It’s true by definition, not by testing a hypothesis.

          Similarly, what if I claimed that you necessarily assume reason in order to argue any conclusion, or that you necessarily assume yourself to be a conscious agent.

          To argue against #1 you must use reason to do so, which supports the claim.

          To argue against #2, it seems necessary for you to presume yourself consciousness.

          Hence neither can be reasonably doubted – they are necessary assumptions in order to move on to more complex epistemological projects like “doubting, hypothesis testing” etc.

          It would make no sense to ask “How would you know you are wrong?” about something already necessary to even asking that question.

          Feser’s Thomistic arguments are SUPPOSED to be of this variety. They are SUPPOSED to establish that a First Cause is an necessary, undoubtable (if the argument works) proposition, necessary on exactly the same rational basis that one assumes the axioms under-girding science. So we accept them, like we do notions of reason and consciousness, on “pre-scientific” terms.

          Now, from what I’ve seen the arguments don’t work, especially as they end up necessarily having to relate to real-world entities of our experience, and they do not derive, or map, very well in the end to our experience.

          BUT…IF Feser’s argument were sound, it is at least supposed to be establishing necessary propositions and it WOULD therefore be conceptually mistaken to be asking things like “How would I know I am wrong?” The whole point is that it is supposed to establish a NECESSITY, not a contingent proposition you can test for.

          Vaal.

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted July 23, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

            “… this is where we need to be careful about understanding the nature of an argument. [blah philosophy blah] It would make no sense to ask “How would you know you are wrong?” about something already necessary…”*

            That is precisely what the question asks for, whether there is any sense in this, any way to judge if it is correct. Then the only contribution of “careful about understanding the nature” would be an understanding that the argument is constructed to be meaningless.

            Now, considering that I already noticed “I am sure it is constructed to be untestable and so on. your comment contributed another confirmation.

            ——
            *”necessary” – as I noted earlier, these types of “why F” are untestable and more importantly here not part of causality. So anyone reading an argument that involves causality and uses that can stop right there.

          • greg byshenk
            Posted July 24, 2011 at 4:25 am | Permalink

            Similarly, what if I claimed that you necessarily assume reason in order to argue any conclusion, or that you necessarily assume yourself to be a conscious agent.

            To argue against #1 you must use reason to do so, which supports the claim.

            To argue against #2, it seems necessary for you to presume yourself consciousness.

            Hence neither can be reasonably doubted – they are necessary assumptions in order to move on to more complex epistemological projects like “doubting, hypothesis testing” etc.

            The above illustrates something else about this sort of argument, which is that one must be extremely careful not to insert one’s own prejudices into the “necessary” and thus make it an argument from incredulity.
            I submit that (1) is simply the claim that “reason is required for reasoned argument”. This is true, but trivial.
            I would further submit that (2) is not true, or at least not plainly so. If I am a simulation, a p-zombie, a computer, or some other non-conscious entity, how is my argument my any different?

          • Dan L.
            Posted July 25, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

            Similarly, what if I claimed that you necessarily assume reason in order to argue any conclusion, or that you necessarily assume yourself to be a conscious agent.

            To argue against #1 you must use reason to do so, which supports the claim.

            To argue against #2, it seems necessary for you to presume yourself consciousness.

            Hence neither can be reasonably doubted – they are necessary assumptions in order to move on to more complex epistemological projects like “doubting, hypothesis testing” etc.

            This is only true assuming both parties agree on what we mean by “reason” and “consciousness.” The “unmarried man/bachelor” example is misleading because the fact that “bachelor” means “unmarried man” is not the least bit hard to understand or explain. It’s clear that the relationship between premise and conclusion is tautological (and therefore true).

            When you use tricky words like “reason” or “consciousness” the reasoning is still tautological but it’s much more difficult to see why. Essentially in your examples you’re implicitly defining “conscious agent” to mean “an entity capable of arguing” and “reason” to mean “the means by which one argues for a conclusion given a set of premises.”

            Pure logic can only ever give you tautologies. What’s incredible is that some of these tautologies are actually useful (it’s accurate to say that Euler’s law is a tautological recapitulation of some of the axioms of set theory, but it’s far more useful to engineers than any of those axioms; as far as I know, there are no useful pure-logic arguments outside the field of mathematics).

      • Steve Smith
        Posted July 23, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

        his argument cannot be falsified. He does this by labeling all his premises as “metaphysical”, and hence immune to any findings from physics.

        Then the only response is to point out that whatever Feser says has absolutely nothing to do with the real world, including the cosmological argument.

        If Feser wants to make statements about the real world, then these must be evaluated using what we already know to be true about the world.

      • Arthur
        Posted September 2, 2011 at 9:08 am | Permalink

        Feser doesn’t simply “label” his premises as “metaphysical”, they ARE legitimately metaphysical.

        Metaphysics regards the things that any physics must take for granted, like that there is an external world at all, or that nature is intelligible.

        You’re welcome to claim that metaphysics isn’t a “real” subject because it fails some sort of rational criterion, but it would be nice to see an actual argument for that claim, wouldn’t it?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 23, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

      “causality in itself doesn’t tell you all of physics, why objects doesn’t exist where they could exist et cetera. Hence asking “why F” is nontestable as regards causality in itself.”

      I am sensing a [gasp!] “free will” argument in here. More importantly in the context, the biological equivalent would be that since humans are so unlikely outcomes, they are not a “necessary” outcome.

      Similarly in physics, unlikely (unseen, complex early agents, et cetera) gods are not “necessary”. Any claim to the contrary can be rejected as non-physical.

      None of which invalidate causality.

  12. BradW
    Posted July 23, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    I suggest we substitute “barflegab” for “bafflegab” as this type of nonsense does eventually make most of us want to b—.

  13. Steve Smith
    Posted July 23, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    I make no apology for being dismissive. Depending on what version you are considering, you can expect to find concepts like causality or probability being used in domains where they do not clearly apply

    Feser appears uncomprehending of the fact that physics destroys the premises of the cosmological argument, even though Feser posts photos and anecdotes about Richard Feynman. Feser, attempting to write something coherent about the real world, says (my bold):

    What defenders of the cosmological argumentdo say is that what comes into existence has a cause … You may disagree with the claims—though if you think they are falsified by modern physics, you are sorely mistaken
    even a simple physical phenomenon like the attraction between two particles would suffice for his (Aquinas’) purposes. What he is saying is rather that it is impossible that every apparent causal regularity can be attributed to chance, for chance itself presupposes causal regularity. —Edward Feser, Aquinas, p. 113

    Feser is wrong both times—quantum field theory the counter example that proves him wrong. QFT, which is noncausal, computes the probabilities of chance events without presupposing physical causality. Causality is a nonsensical concept in a context like QFT where particles  may take any continuous path through space-time. Feser should acquaint himself with with these basic physical facts before making grandiose, incorrect statements about causality.

    Buried in the comments at his blog, I’ve asked that Feser or anyone to identify what causes the existence of the photon or W boson in the Feynman diagrams for electron-electron repulsion or beta decay. The effect has been something like asking them to find a penny in the corner of a circular room.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 23, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      Curious and confused comment.

      QFT is precisely a relativistic (causal) theory, that is the whole point of making it:

      “Quantum field theory is thought by many to be the unique and correct outcome of combining the rules of quantum mechanics with special relativity.”

      It is, excuse me, laughable to claim that QFT is noncausal.

      Curious.

      “Causality is a nonsensical concept in a context like QFT where particles may take any continuous path through space-time.”

      The 2nd part of the sentence describes QFT as precisely causal (“continuous path through space-time”). The 1st part of the sentence disclaims the 2nd part.

      Confused.

      Reading the comment as a whole, I think you confuse the causal nature of QFT, which advances states causally, with the stochastic distribution of decohered (say, observed) pathways.

      But that is different from the fact that QFT obeys causality.

      • Steve Smith
        Posted July 23, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

        Curious and confused comment … the fact that QFT obeys causality

        How so? QFT allows particles, including photons, to travel at any speed, in or out of the light cone. To predict the correct answers, faster-than-light travel is necessary. Particles that are allowed to faster than the speed of light is noncausal. At long distances, there is a cancellation of the paths in which photons go faster and slower than c. But for very short distances—distances relevant in Feynman diagrams—these contributions are essential.

        If you believe that this is confused, incorrect, or that I have misused any terms, please correct me specifically.

        Here are a couple references, one technical and one popular:

        Feynman and Weinberg, Elementary Particles and the Laws of Physics, pp. 8f:

        Now here is a surprise: when we evaluate the amplitude, … we find that it cannot be zero … outside the light cone. This is very surprising: If you start a series of waves from a particular point they can not be confined to be inside the light cone if all the energies are positive. … In other words, there is an amplitude for particles to travel faster than the speed of light and no arrangement of super-position (with only positive energies) can get around that.

        Feynman, QED, pp. 58f, 89ff:

        the theory of quantum electrodynamics, which looks at first like an absurd idea with no causality, no mechanism, and nothing real to it, produces effects that you are familiar with: light bouncing off a mirror, light bending when it goes from air into water, and light focused by a lens. … In fact, the theory continues to be successful at explaining every phenomenon of light. …
        The major contribution to P(A to B) [photon propagation] occurs at the conventional speed of light … where one would expect it all to occur, but there is also an amplitude for light to go faster (or slower) than the conventional speed of light. You found out that in the last lecture that light doesn’t go only in straight lines; now, you find out that it doesn’t go only at the speed of light!
        It may surprise you that there is an amplitude for a photon to go at speeds faster or slower than the conven­tional speed, c. The amplitudes for these possibilities are very small compared to the contribution from speed c; in fact, they cancel out when light travels over long distances. However, when the distances are short—as in many of the diagrams I will be drawing—these other possibilities be­ come vitally important and must be considered.

        This is noncausal, and Feynman describes precisely why it is noncausal in QED and elsewhere. Why do you say that QFT is causal? Have I erred?

        • Buzz
          Posted July 23, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

          Yes, you have erred, because Feynman’s explanation is not very clear. There are a couple of somewhat subtle issues involved.

          If you want to determine what happens at a certain point in spacetime, the only information you need comes from the past light cone of the point. At intermediate points in a calculation, the results may appear to depend on what is going on outside the light cone; however, those dependencies cancel when you calculate a physical observable. This is what Weinberg is talking about. His quoted text emphasizes positive energies. The reason for this is that the cancellation about the ice cone requires the existence of negative energy state, which turn out to be equivalent to antiparticles.

          Feynman is talking about a different facet of quantum field theory (and one that is peculiar to some formulations of QFT, such as Feynman’s path integral formalism) On long scales, as he says, all propagation appears to be at the expected particle velocity. On short scales, different speeds may naively appear to be involved. However, the resolution is not that a particle is moving from A to B at a different speed, but that the particle was not at A to begin with (or at B to end up with). On the short time scales involved, there are virtual particles winking and out of existence. What we think is particle 1 moving between two points may actually be particle 2 appearing out of the vacuum, moving to the final observed location, and particle 1 vanishing into the vacuum.

          • Steve Smith
            Posted July 24, 2011 at 1:26 am | Permalink

            you have erred, because Feynman’s explanation is not very clear.

            Thanks for your answer. First let me say: goddamned quantum mechanics. Second, if I have erred or if Feynman’s explanation is unclear (I don’t believe that it is), I’d like to pinpoint the issue because my other references are all making the same assertions as I have above.

            Zee, Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell, p. 23:

            Physically, D(x) [propagator] describes the amplitude for a disturbance in the field to prop­agate from the origin to x. We expect drastically different behavior depending on whether x is inside or outside the lightcone. Without evaluating the integral we can see roughly how things go. For x = (t,0) with, say, t > 0, D(x) = … is a superposition of plane waves and thus we should have oscillatory behavior. In contrast, for x^0 = 0, we have … exponential decay … as we would expect. Classically, a particle cannot get outside the lightcone, but a quantum field can “leak” out over a distance of the order 1/m.

            Weinberg, The Quantum Theory of Fields, Vol. 1, p. 198:

            If x–y is space-like then no signal can reach y from x, so that a measurement at point x should not be able to interfere with a measurement at point y. Such considerations of causality are plausible for the electromagnetic field, any one of whose components may be measured at a given spacetime point, as shown in a classic paper of Bohr and Rosenfeld. However, we will be dealing here with fields like the Dirac field of the electron that do not seem in any sense measurable. The point of view taken here is that Eq. (5.1.32) is needed for the Lorentz invariance of the S-matrix, without any ancillary assumptions about measurability or causality.

            The issue as you suggest is the difference between measurable “real” particles and unmeasurable “virtual” particles. I agree—let’s be careful to distinguish between the necessary causality with real particles versus the necessary noncausality with virtual particles. Based on your third paragraph, it appears that you might disagree with even that, but isn’t the multitude of “virtual particles winking and out of existence” handled by the various higher order terms in the path integral summation? The first order term has one virtual particle exchanged, not many.

            And it even though they’re not real in the classical sense, virtual particles certainly are argued to be real in that their existence is required to explain all physical measurements, even though virtual particles themselves aren’t measurable.

            Bringing this back to the main topic, I maintain that virtual particles in QFT create unsurmountable difficulties for the cosmological argument. What creates the virtual particles?

            • Buzz
              Posted July 24, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

              A lot depends on precisely how one formulates QFT, but the final conclusion is always the same. No signals propagate outside the light cone, even though non-observable objects such as propagators may be nonzero outside the light cone. Of course, there are many ways to define a propagator, and it can be done so that even the propagator is always zero outside the light cone; this is not done in practice, because it makes the calculations much more onerous.

              Virtual particles appear in all QFT calculations. The photon that is “exchanged” by scattering particles is virtual. Any internal line in a (one-particle irreducible) Feynman diagram represents a virtual particle, so increasing number of virtual particles do indicate higher orders in the Feynman diagram expansion; however, there may be terms at the same order that have different numbers of virtual particles.

              Finally, the appearance of virtual quanta is exactly as “uncaused” as any other quantum process, such as a radioactive decay. To address these questions definitively, one needs to have a complete interpretation of quantum mechanics. As I have previously commented, the prevailing view is now that this is really a question about the quantum nature of consciousness.

              • Steve Smith
                Posted July 25, 2011 at 2:02 am | Permalink

                Thanks again for your reply.

                non-observable objects such as propagators may be nonzero outside the light cone

                Agreed, but this brings us full circle to the original comment: the rules applied to virtual particles are noncausal because of superluminal propagation. That doesn’t mean that information can be sent outside the lightcone, but it does mean that applying a causal narrative of this-happened-then-that-happened just doesn’t make sense for virtual particles. Specifically, specifying the “cause” of a virtual particle is doomed to fail because the amplitudes outside the lightcone are nonzero.

                there are many ways to define a propagator, and it can be done so that even the propagator is always zero outside the light cone

                This is quite surprising, especially given the insight of the original path integral formulation as the logical extension of the double-split experiment. All my references make a pretty convincing case that the amplitude must be nonzero outside the lightcone. For example, Zee uses a Gaussian integral argument, and I especially like Feynman’s application of Wiener and Paley’s famous theorem that provides a sufficient Fourier transform condition for causality. Feynman observes in his Dirac lecture and elsewhere that this condition isn’t met for QED’s restriction to positive frequencies; therefore, there is necessarily quantum leakage outside the lightcone. For my own edification, would you please cite your claim that this can be done without quantum leakage above? I’d like to see how it evades Paley and Wiener’s theorem.

                the appearance of virtual quanta is exactly as “uncaused” as any other quantum process, such as a radioactive decay. To address these questions definitively, one needs to have a complete interpretation of quantum mechanics.

                I don’t follow you here. The process of radioactive decay is a consequence exchange of specific virtual particles, so let’s just talk about the virtual particle exchange. More generally, why would I need a complete interpretation of QM to say that if superluminal propagation is required to explain my observations, then anything that requires notions of temporal order just don’t make sense, whether or not we have a complete interpretation of QM, or even understand what a “complete interpretation” might mean.

              • Buzz
                Posted July 25, 2011 at 9:40 am | Permalink

                These are tricky issues, but I think you are getting two hung up on the idea of “virtual particles” as real entities. The term is just shorthand for one mathematical feature that arises in quantum mechanical calculations. They have the same discrete quantum numbers as a real particle excitation, but they can in no way be considered particles or observables. (Understanding what constitutes a particle was actually one of the main insights into renormalized QED, as developed by Schwinger, Tomonaga and Feynman.) For example after a process involving virtual particles, it is not possible to say where the virtual particles went, or even how many of them there are. Diagrams with different numbers of virtual particles interfere constructively or destructively, making it so that questions about what the virtual particles did do not have unique answers.

                You also seem to have a rather confused understanding of the history of this subject. There is nothing “original” about the path integral method. Systematic QED calculations were first performed using canonical quantization and proper time methods by Schwinger. A bit later, Feynman developed the path integral formulation, and the two methods were subsequently shown to be equivalent in ordinary QFT.

                It is Schwinger’s method, not Feynman’s, that was a natural generalization of nonrelativistic quantum mechanics. However, there are no modern textbooks that discuss Schwinger’s method as a computational technique, because it is much more cumbersome. The modern strategy (following Dyson) is to start basically along Schwinger’s lines, and use the canonical method to derive Feynman’s rules. The path integral is similarly justified by deriving it from canonical quantization. In odd situations, such as attempts at quantum gravity, people try to define path integrals without relating them to canonical field theory. Such path integral results can be very interesting, but they are generally not considered trustworthy unless they can also be derived by canonical methods.

                None of the conceptual issues relating to causes and effects in quantum theory are particular to QFT. The great conceptual advance that separates QFT from QM is renormalization, which has nothing to do with the issues we are discussing. For purposes of this discussion, QFT is just QM applied to a particular class of variable. If you are really interesting in these subjects, I suggest you focus your attention on QM first, before trying to grok QFT.

              • Steve Smith
                Posted July 25, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

                you are getting two hung up on the idea of “virtual particles” as real entities. The term is just shorthand for one mathematical feature that arises in quantum mechanical calculations … they can in no way be considered particles

                Not really. Virtual particles are not observable, so it’s meaningless to discuss if they’re real or not or particles or not because we can’t observe them.

                You also seem to have a rather confused understanding of the history of this subject. There is nothing “original” about the path integral method. Systematic QED calculations were first performed using canonical quantization and proper time methods by Schwinger. A bit later, Feynman developed the path integral formulation, and the two methods were subsequently shown to be equivalent in ordinary QFT.

                I actually haven’t discussed the history, but I defer to Zee and Weinberg, who say that the path integral for­malism was invented by Dirac long before Feynman. Whoever discovered it, I’m not sure why the history would be relevant here.

                None of the conceptual issues relating to causes and effects in quantum theory are particular to QFT. The great conceptual advance that separates QFT from QM is renormalization, which has nothing to do with the issues we are discussing

                Really? The example of radioactive decay as an example of something that has no cause is a consequence of the exchange of virtual particles—a specific feature of QFT—so the subject appears highly relevant along with QM itself.

                I suggest you focus your attention on QM first, before trying to grok QFT

                Thanks, but I’d appreciate a citation for your statement that “there are many ways to define a propagator, and it can be done so that even the propagator is always zero outside the light cone”—I’m very curious how this could fail to violate Wiener and Paley theorem.

    • Kevin
      Posted July 25, 2011 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      One does not have a “relationship” with an imaginary creature.

      Not without a very large dose of Seroquel in your future, at any event.

  14. Myron
    Posted July 23, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Here’s my rebuttal of the cosmological argument:

    If MEST (the matter-energy-space-time system) has an absolute beginning of its existence, then it must have begun to exist causelessly, because neither a nonspatiotemporal abstract object nor a nonspatiotemporal spiritual object (mind/soul/spirit) could be its cause. For abstract objects lack causal powers by definition, so they are essentially inactive, inert; and nonspatiotemporal spiritual objects are ontologically impossible objects, since having a spiritual/mental life entails being in time. There cannot possibly occur any perceivings, sensings, feelings, thinkings, imaginings in a timeless realm. All occurrent mental phenomena are essentially time-dependent phenomena; they are processes and thus dynamic rather than static. Consciousness is always in motion, and the concept of atemporal mental motion is plainly incoherent.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 23, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

      I would say that your rebuttal runs afoul on physics.

      Inflation, that preceded spacetime as we know it after the reheating phase,* doesn’t seem to have spacetime.

      It may have semiclassical worldlines since eternal inflation can be described in those terms. That means it has time, so energy, and quantum mechanics so “observer” particles of “fields”. (However field physics is without spacetime.)

      All of this is rather speculative physics since no one knows how to get rid of spacetime. But that inflation eventually spawns spacetime out of too small to have it Planck scale volumes is known.

      Inflation doesn’t seem to need initial conditions, but it is arguable and many physicists would like to think it has.

      As for the rest it sounds like “soul” dualism. That doesn’t apply at all for obvious reasons (none observed; impossible physics of “non-energy” systems).

      ———–
      * I’m sure Wikipedia have excellent articles on the standard cosmology here.

      • Myron
        Posted July 23, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

        – My argument doesn’t depend on any specific physical theory of the origin and development of MEST.

        – Where there is inflation, there must be something that is being inflated: spacetime or some part thereof.

        – Physical fields are spatiotemporally extended.

        • Myron
          Posted July 23, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

          In my view, fields are ontologically reducible to variable distributions of physical properties that are instantiated by spacetime itself.

          • Posted July 24, 2011 at 5:54 am | Permalink

            I would be wary about committing to spacetime substantivism.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 23, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

      Rather I should say that going back in time eventually spacetime breaks down (observer particles blueshift toward Planck scale energies – redshift run backwards). The more parsimonious and string theory compatible model is that it happens already at the end of inflation.

  15. 386sx
    Posted July 23, 2011 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    Edward says on his page: “A serious critic has to grapple with the details of the arguments. He cannot short-circuit them with a single smart-ass question. (If some anonymous doofus in a combox can think up such an objection, then you can be certain that Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, et al. already thought of it too.)”

    But I would submit that the serious defender should defend doofus questions. I would also submit that the mere act of saying a question is “smart-ass” is in fact in and of itself being a smart-ass. Thus Edward refutes himself. QED.

    • Kevin
      Posted July 25, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

      Of course, this is also trivially wrong.

      Because the most smart-assed question is one most likely to derail the argument completely.

      How do you know what you are saying is true?

      Someone can wrote on and on about their own fevered imaginations. But when they have to show their work … well, let’s just say that neither Feser nor Aquinas is up to the task.

  16. 386sx
    Posted July 23, 2011 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    Edward says on his page: “Aquinas in fact devotes hundreds of pages across various works to showing that a First Cause of things would have to be all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, and so on and so forth.”

    He must have done quite a good job with that. Because intuitively it sounds freaking idiotic. He must have done some serious fancy footwork. Because on the face of it, it sounds really freaking stupid.

    • Arthur
      Posted September 2, 2011 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      It doesn’t matter it seems “on the face of it”. Such superficial examinations can be relied upon to be unreliable. You’re almost admitting here that you haven’t investigated carefully. But then, why bother when you “already know” what you’ll find… right?

      It may sound “really freaking stupid” to you, presonally, but that says as much about your confirmation bias as the arguments themselves.

      Consider; how might a Creationist react “intuitively” to a biology textbook? We can both see that the answer doesn’t matter. We have a rational duty to engage carefully with out opponents and not to put too much stock in how things seem “intuitively”.

      • Posted September 2, 2011 at 9:44 am | Permalink

        There are most certainly entire swaths that deserve to be dismissed “on the face of it.” Yeti, anal-probing little green men from Uranus, flat-Earthers…and those who think that Aristotelean metaphysics have any more bearing on reality than astrology, humors, and the four elements.

        And, yes, the entire Bible falls into that category. There never was any magic garden with talking animals and an angry giant. Talking plants don’t give magic wand lessons to reluctant heroes. And it’s only in horror movies that zombies command their thralls to fondle their intestines through gaping chest wounds.

        A child can be excused for believing in such fantasies, but only if the adults in the child’s life encourage the child to remember that it’s all make-believe.

        Adults who persist in such nonsense don’t deserve to have their absurdities granted respect by giving them equal consideration with reality.

        Your “teach the controversy” and “let’s hear from both sides” is as invalid in this context as it would be from a lunar landing denialist at an AAS meeting.

        Cheers,

        B&


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