Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ the Uncaused Cause

In this week’s Jesus and Mo, the barmaid asks those who limn Uncaused Cause arguments—whether those arguments are cosmological or invoke A Cause that Exists of Absolute Necessity—the fatal question:

2015-10-07

I’m chuffed that the artist said this at the bottom of the strip: “Tip of the hat to WEIT.”

And I’ll insist again: there is no way you can have confidence in the existence of anything that supposedly exists in the universe based on philosophy alone. One must always use, in large part, empirical evidence.

117 Comments

  1. Heather Hastie
    Posted October 7, 2015 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    Excellent, as always. Pretty much the same as the, “Who made God?” question when people insist someone has to have made “creation.”

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted October 7, 2015 at 7:40 am | Permalink

      God made himself, of course. God is all powerful. He can do anything.

      🙂

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted October 7, 2015 at 7:45 am | Permalink

        It is maybe a blasphemy to say that god made himself as if at one time he did not exist. I just know that he just is and always was.

        • Anders
          Posted October 7, 2015 at 7:54 am | Permalink

          You’re playing fast and loose with the word “know” there. Exactly *how* do you know god “just is”? Did she give you her phone number?

          • darrelle
            Posted October 7, 2015 at 8:04 am | Permalink

            Mark was sarcasticaly characterizing a common believers’ response.

            • Mark Sturtevant
              Posted October 7, 2015 at 8:18 am | Permalink

              Or AM I? 😉

              • darrelle
                Posted October 7, 2015 at 8:44 am | Permalink

                Tune in next week for the shocking conclusion!

              • HaggisForBrains
                Posted October 8, 2015 at 3:45 am | Permalink

                You won’t believe what happened next!!

      • Tulse
        Posted October 7, 2015 at 8:33 am | Permalink

        Can He make himself non-omnipotent?

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted October 7, 2015 at 8:39 am | Permalink

          Of course he could. He’s God. As the all-powerful, He cannot be constrained by logical paradoxes.

          cr

          • Tulse
            Posted October 7, 2015 at 9:08 am | Permalink

            Could he make himself be constrained by logical paradoxes?

        • darrelle
          Posted October 7, 2015 at 8:46 am | Permalink

          Or, more importantly, non-impotent?

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted October 7, 2015 at 8:53 am | Permalink

          There’s a meme for that – can God make a rock so heavy he can’t lift it? You can work out the rest.

        • Les
          Posted October 7, 2015 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

          No, he takes viagra every day.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted October 7, 2015 at 8:48 am | Permalink

        God works in mysterious ways!

      • Posted October 7, 2015 at 11:28 am | Permalink

        There’s a saying that some weird folks use that’s something like “God is so powerful he doesn’t even have to exist to save us.”

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted October 7, 2015 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

        Can he produce a simultaneous pairing of an irresistible force and an immovable object? And which moves (or doesn’t).

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted October 7, 2015 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

          Now all you people are just trying to confuse God. He will not be confused by your amateurish attempts at paradoxes! God is all-powerful!!! He does not have to explain himself to you!!!! I know this because He told me so himself!!111!

          • Posted October 7, 2015 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

            The real question…can God come up with a theological apology so obviously idiotic that even William Lane Craig wouldn’t parrot it?

            b&

        • Posted October 7, 2015 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

          Yes!

          …and, facetious though I may well be, that actually is the sincerely expressed answer you’ll get from a great many theists. I’ve had a Christian come right out and say that Jesus can create a rock so heavy even he can’t lift it, and then Jesus is perfectly capable of lifting said too-heavy-to-lift rock.

          You’d be damned hard pressed to come up with a better example of either doublethink or duckspeak than that one….

          b&

    • Anders
      Posted October 7, 2015 at 7:51 am | Permalink

      Any theist who offers an argument for god’s existence to which a sensible response is “Well then why does god exist?” is a loon, uneducated, or both.

      And any atheist who doesn’t realize that, and as a result *asks* (or posts cartoons that ask) “Well then why does God exist?” is equally intellectually challenged.

      “Arguments” for the existence of God that are vulnerable to rebuttals of the form, “Why does God exist?” or “So what caused god then?”, are reminiscent of arguments for evolution that are vulnerable to rebuttals of the form “Well if evolution is true, how come no chimp has ever given birth to a human baby?” There are two key similarities:

      1. Such pro-god and pro-evolution arguments are brain-dead.
      and, just as important important:
      2. No one worth listening to is *making* such arguments

      Watch. My. Lips. Just as,
      there is *no form* of serious argument for evolution that is vulnerable to the rebuttal implied by “Well then why have no chimps ever given birth to human babies?”

      so too

      there is *no form* of serious argument for the existence of god that is susceptible to the rebuttal implied by “Well then why does god exist?”

      • eric
        Posted October 7, 2015 at 8:10 am | Permalink

        Your criticism consists of nothing more than repeating “it’s stupid” over and over again. Do you have a substantive criticism about why atheists should not point out theistic exception-carving?

        I also don’t get your comparison. The cosmological argument for God is one of the most famous and common defenses of theism. Aquinas used it. It’s vulnerable to the question being asked.

      • darrelle
        Posted October 7, 2015 at 8:13 am | Permalink

        The two cases you compare and then claim are equivalent are not equivalent.

      • Posted October 7, 2015 at 8:43 am | Permalink

        Oh dear:

        And any atheist who doesn’t realize that, and as a result *asks* (or posts cartoons that ask) “Well then why does God exist?” is equally intellectually challenged.

        Thank you, Anders, for your note that both the cartoonist AND the site proprietor is “intellectually challenged.” This is a Roolz violation, and you shall post here no more.

        I think they’d welcome you, though, on theist websites.

        Oh by the way, your Argument from Chimps is just dumb. We know where chimps came from, and so on back to the Universal Common Ancestor. Chimps were never an Uncaused Species, or a Necessary Rather then Contingent Primate.

        • Mark Joseph
          Posted October 7, 2015 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

          Superb response, as always, from PCC.

          And, “Necessary Rather than Contingent Primate” is a *great* name for a garage band!

          • Posted October 7, 2015 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

            The Necessarily Contingent Primates?

            b&

      • reasonshark
        Posted October 7, 2015 at 9:22 am | Permalink

        The problem with that analogy is that all god arguments that try to explain the existence of the universe are involved in a sleight of hand. They simply pass the buck of existence back to god and then invoke ad hoc special pleading to exempt him as opposed to the universe. This is a serious flaw for an idea posited with no evidence whatsoever.

        By contrast, a chimpanzee giving birth to a human – in other words, a monstrously improbable jump – would be antithetical to the theory of evolution by natural selection. That’s because one of the theory’s hallmarks is that it enables vast improbabilities (functional design) to arise through generations of relatively minor variation, each variation not being all that improbably different from its close ancestors. If functional design just dropped out in one big swoop – and note that this is an empirical and therefore demonstrable claim – it would contradict the gradual nature of natural selection.

        In short, asking “Why don’t chimps give birth to humans?” has nothing to do with the mechanics of how evolution by natural selection works and is a non-sequitur, whereas asking “Why does god exist?” strikes at the special pleading erected to make the god argument work in the first place.

        • jeremyp
          Posted October 8, 2015 at 10:51 am | Permalink

          asking “Why don’t chimps give birth to humans?” has nothing to do with the mechanics of how evolution by natural selection works and is a non-sequitur

          I think I disagree. I think if a chimpanzee ever did give birth to a human, it would be the end of the Theory of Evolution. We would have to think up a new theory. So asking the question has everything to do with the mechanics of evolution since it demonstrates that the person who asked it (in an attempt to discredit ToE) actually doesn’t understand it well enough to discredit it.

          • reasonshark
            Posted October 8, 2015 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

            I know all that. I even said it was antithetical. What I meant was that it’s a non-sequitur as a criticism of the theory because the theory itself says nothing of the kind. It would be like challenging Newtonian physics by asking Newton why the moon isn’t a falling apple.

      • Sastra
        Posted October 7, 2015 at 11:06 am | Permalink

        there is *no form* of serious argument for the existence of god that is susceptible to the rebuttal implied by “Well then why does god exist?”

        That’s only because theists like to place the concept of “God” into the same category as existence, reality, and the vague deepity known as “being.” Just as it would be pointless to ask why reality is real or existence exists, God is supposed to merit the same treatment. It’s a necessary premise.

        No. It’s. Not.

        For one thing, the idea of people needing to come up with “serious arguments” for what ought to be considered an uncontroversial tautology is ridiculous. And yet you do need to do this. Doesn’t work.

        But the main problem is that existence/reality/being isn’t necessarily intrinsically mind-like. Watch my lips. There’s your distinction.

      • Vaal
        Posted October 7, 2015 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

        Anders may have made his point in an unfortunate way, but to his general point, I agree.

        When it comes to the Cosmological Arguments that attempt to establish God, all too often atheists seem to think simply raising the question “Then who created God?” or “then what caused God?” are raised as if they were actually some form of rebuttal. In other words, they suggest the theist is clearly just special pleading for God and “what caused God then?” is a way of identifying this special pleading and hence can be used to dismiss the arguments.

        But the whole POINT of the cosmological argument is to argue FOR WHY the universe can’t “just exist” and for WHY God is a Necessary Being! To simply repeat the question that the argument “answers” is to just not engage the argument, and imagine somehow you have.

        And when the more “sophisticated” theists scoff at this method of engagement it pains me because we atheists have handed them the right to do so, whenever we answer in such a facile fashion.

        Once again: As an atheist I’m obviously not saying the cosmological arguments are sound, since I don’t think they are. But they are not defeated or engaged or even bruised by just raising the question that the arguments work to answer. If we think the arguments don’t support the conclusion, we have to get in there and show where exactly they are going wrong, special pleading, or whatever.

        • darrelle
          Posted October 7, 2015 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

          The cosmological argument is an exercise in special pleading in an attempt to justify a pre-selected conclusion. The special pleading is in the form of a string of groundless, mostly ludicrous, rationalizations FOR WHY the universe can’t “just exist” and for WHY God is a Necessary Being(!), embarked upon for the express purpose of arriving at the conclusion that God exists.

          Cutting through the torturous rationalizations to get directly to the point is not a misunderstanding of the argument. There is no good reason to give any respect to the cosmological argument. There is no good reason to constrain oneself to argue against it on its proponents own terms.

        • reasonshark
          Posted October 7, 2015 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

          But the whole POINT of the cosmological argument is to argue FOR WHY the universe can’t “just exist” and for WHY God is a Necessary Being!

          This is incorrect. Certainly, that’s what apologists want to portray it as – a serious logical argument to the issue of existence – but it’s made up of nothing but a lot of ad hoc special pleading. It doesn’t so much argue its case as just assert it and assert more invented stuff in order to assert what it had invented to begin with.

          All that talk about “necessary beings” is high-falutin’ smoke and mirrors to cover the fact that they have no genuine answer to questions like why “God” get special existential privileges.

          • Tulse
            Posted October 7, 2015 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

            It’s also not at all clear why the “necessary” has to be a being, as opposed to some mindless process that does the creating.

            Which, again, might as well just be called “the universe”.

            • Posted October 7, 2015 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

              Nor is it even established, for that matter, that “necessary” itself is even necessary.

              b&

        • Vaal
          Posted October 7, 2015 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

          darrelle, reasonshark,

          Ok but as it is you are giving string of assertions. You’ve provided a characterization, but no actual arguments engaging the premises of the theistic arguments.

          If we visit any number of theistic sites we’ll find commentators doing the same thing, basically characterizing atheist arguments as ludicrous and not worthy of discourse. But we’d want to demand more, right? As in “ok, back that up. Show exactly how the arguments we present fail.”

          And that’s all I’m saying. It’s one thing for us to dismiss arguments as fallacious, but shouldn’t we actually show them to be fallacious? And that takes engaging the arguments, right?

          • reasonshark
            Posted October 7, 2015 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

            Ok but as it is you are giving string of assertions.

            Excuse me if I don’t repeat myself. Read my comments here:

            https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2015/10/07/jesus-n-mo-n-the-uncaused-cause/#comment-1246862

            https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2015/10/07/jesus-n-mo-n-the-uncaused-cause/#comment-1246882

            And there’s no shortage of other points raised by other commentators, such as Ben Goren. You can’t act like we haven’t already engaged in this mess just because we didn’t take an umpteenth ride around the carousel in these particular comments to you specifically.

            One major point, though: I’m all for intellectual charity, but that also means not wasting my time on everything a disputant pulls out of its ass. To even begin to take any form of Ontological Argument seriously, you would, for the sake of argument, have to accept some presumptuous premises about conditionality, necessity, and causality, through a non-sequitur argument that dismisses any and all alternatives, and that ends up with a suspicious leap to presuming the existence of a god, deistic or theistic. If posited for a singularity, it would at best show no internal contradictions, which is a pretty lame benchmark for a supposedly strong or good argument.

            There really is nothing about the argument that merits any more respect than any other crank theistic argument. If you want to call that something worth serious rebuttal, then it seems the word “serious” has been devalued.

            • Vaal
              Posted October 7, 2015 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

              Ok, great, in those posts you have attempted to address some of the propositions of the arguments. Glad to see it. (Though, note that there is a LOT more to the arguments than that, and also that they have rebuttals to the points you’ve raised, so raising those objections doesn’t shut the lid on their case).

              But it is also the case that elsewhere you (and Ben) have not correctly characterized the forms of the arguments, for instance claiming they “merely assert” things that they do not, in fact, merely assert.

              If we want the other side to keep honest in how they engage us, we should reply in same.

              • reasonshark
                Posted October 8, 2015 at 4:37 am | Permalink

                Unless you want to argue that undefended assertion becomes argument when it is backed up by more undefended assertion, then I stand by my position that it is assertion. Assertion upon assertion, in fact. Fantasy doesn’t become reason by adding more fantasy.

                I dare say there is a LOT more to the arguments than that, just as there’s a lot more to the arguments for homeopathy, or intelligent design, or reflexology, or the concept of chi, or ufology, or New Age, or the tenets of Islam, or that kid who keeps insisting he saw a ghost in the castle last night. That’s why a fair discussion insists on putting best foot forward, and this particular argument has long since done that.

                Also, I’ll thank you not to creep towards ad hominem suggestions of my honesty in your comments, especially coming from someone who insists there’s a good bit in the argument while being perversely cagey about actually showing it to us.

          • Posted October 7, 2015 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

            You’ve provided a characterization, but no actual arguments engaging the premises of the theistic arguments.

            On the contrary. The theists are making all sorts of absurd superstitious claims that Newton very famously demonstrated false, and we’re referencing Newton to demonstrate why they’re bullshit.

            Using any physics from Newton to the Standard Model, explain to us how an unmoved mover imparts motion to baryonic matter, either directly or indirectly. No matter how you try to do it, the resultant vector is going to be zero.

            So why do we need to waste time on unnecessary contingencies?

            b&

        • Posted October 7, 2015 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

          In other words, they suggest the theist is clearly just special pleading for God and “what caused God then?” is a way of identifying this special pleading and hence can be used to dismiss the arguments.

          That’s because it’s the perfect example of special pleading.

          They start off insisting that everything needs a cause. They then take various tortuous routes to identify Jesus as said cause. And they then insist that Jesus doesn’t need a cause.

          Well, if Jesus doesn’t need a cause, then the first part is invalid — and insisting that Jesus is the only thing that doesn’t need a cause is the very definition of special pleading.

          b&

        • Diane G.
          Posted October 8, 2015 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

          “If we think the arguments don’t support the conclusion, we have to get in there and show where exactly they are going wrong, special pleading, or whatever.”

          You make that sound like it’s difficult. Just because they think they’ve “made an argument” doesn’t mean we have to take it seriously until they can somehow prove that their special pleading has a ghost (heh) of a chance of being true. With evidence. Otherwise our no-evidence is every bit as good as their no-evidence, and more consistent with the entire history of knowledge.

          • Diane G.
            Posted October 8, 2015 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

            Darrelle already said it better:

            “Cutting through the torturous rationalizations to get directly to the point is not a misunderstanding of the argument. There is no good reason to give any respect to the cosmological argument. There is no good reason to constrain oneself to argue against it on its proponents own terms.”

  2. Randy Schenck
    Posted October 7, 2015 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    The endless argument over nothing.

    • EvolvedDutchie
      Posted October 7, 2015 at 8:03 am | Permalink

      Would you say it’s much ado about nothing?

      • Randy Schenck
        Posted October 7, 2015 at 8:47 am | Permalink

        Yes, however after seeing the above dialog from the believing gentleman. The ball as always is in his court and yet he is full of nothing. God is just another word for I don’t Know.

      • steve
        Posted October 10, 2015 at 6:37 am | Permalink

        AKA A subject without an object (Hitchens ?)

  3. Tulse
    Posted October 7, 2015 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    there is no way you can have confidence in the existence of anything that supposedly exists in the universe based on philosophy alone

    I find it weird that the faithful will insist that there are rigorously logical arguments for the existence of their god, but then when one questions said god’s actions, the response is often “his will is beyond our limited comprehension”. Either human reason works or it doesn’t.

  4. Somite
    Posted October 7, 2015 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    I started a countdown for when someone who is philosophy-inclined reflexively responds “but, but, epistemology!”.

    I’m surprised it hasn’t happened already. For some, it’s like the 1800s never happened and science and empiricism didn’t show they can offer answers about how the natural world works.

    • Posted October 7, 2015 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      Epistemology does show that empiricism has to be tempered with rationalism – by looking at the history of science. For example, hypotheses are *invented*; coherence is a fallible truth indicator but a useful one all the same, etc.

  5. Posted October 7, 2015 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    As I recall, the argument for God’s existence from contingency is a bit more complicated than that. Of course, if someone simply asserts that God exists “just because” with no reasoning, then naturally that argument is indeed facile and circular. However, the argument from contingency essentially states that everything that exists has an explanation of its existence either (a) in the necessity of its own nature, or (b) in an external cause. In order to avoid an infinite regress of contingent causes, then the totality of existence must terminate in something that is the reason for its own existence and not caused by something else, which is then taken to be evidence of God. This in and of itself doesn’t get you the “Christian” God or any other God in particular, and one could raise numerous objections to the argument itself (such as rejecting the PSR). But it nevertheless *is* an argument, and not merely an exercise in ignorance. Cheers!

    • Somite
      Posted October 7, 2015 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      The ignorant part is proposing a god as the cause without any reason, evidence of observation to do so.

      I note at the end you try to squirrel in the gambit of “it’s a poor argument but it’s an argument”. This too is intellectually dishonest. Poor arguments should be discarded. Not continue to be considered as arguments.

      • Posted October 7, 2015 at 9:22 am | Permalink

        Well, I hope I wasn’t squirreling! That certainly wasn’t my intent. Rather, my intent was to be charitable and maintain intellectual humility. I happen to think it *is* a good argument. Nevertheless, the argument is not unassailable, and I would never arrogantly pronounce it to be otherwise. My point is simply that it is an actual argument, and cannot be dismissed immediately without analysis. Cheers!

        • reasonshark
          Posted October 7, 2015 at 9:40 am | Permalink

          My point is simply that it is an actual argument, and cannot be dismissed immediately without analysis.

          Any argument, however fabricated its premises or unconnected its syllogisms, is “an actual argument”. That’s a long way away from showing why, of the infinite number of such arguments possible, it merits special attention and is a “good” one, which is why your easy conflation of the two strikes me as a misguided attempt at intellectual humility.

          To say this particular theistic argument is a “good” one is peculiar, considering that its so-called sophistication is illusory at best. Downplaying the weakness of both the premises and the line of thinking by saying it’s “not unassailable” strikes me as an attempt to paint a horse skeleton brown and call it a decent contender for the races.

          • Posted October 7, 2015 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

            That’s a long way away from showing why, of the infinite number of such arguments possible, it merits special attention and is a “good” one

            See my comment #13 for an infinite list of such arguments.

    • Tulse
      Posted October 7, 2015 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      the totality of existence must terminate in something that is the reason for its own existence and not caused by something else, which is then taken to be evidence of God

      Why can’t it just be “the universe”? Why can’t existence itself be uncaused?

      • Posted October 7, 2015 at 9:33 am | Permalink

        QED

      • Vaal
        Posted October 7, 2015 at 11:49 am | Permalink

        “Why can’t it just be “the universe”? Why can’t existence itself be uncaused?”

        Tulse, a lot of atheists raise this question as if theists had never thought of that. (Not saying you are doing so here).

        But that is a basic question, long addressed by theistic arguments for God. In a nutshell, one reason given to reject that proposition is along these lines:

        The proposition you give there is generally what’s held to be a “Brute Fact” type proposition. Brute Facts are contingent, in that they are not tautological/necessarily true, and in that sense “could be otherwise.”
        But it may just be a Brute Fact that they *happen* to be true nonetheless.

        So it may well be a Brute Fact that the universe “just exists” without any further reason. The problem with Brute Facts though is there doesn’t seem any principled way of asserting them. Unless you can show it is a *necessary* fact, it remains a contingent fact, and so you are saying “I don’t know why this contingent fact is as it is, but I’ll just assert it to be the case without having to provide a reason for why it is the case.”

        But once you’ve allowed that type of assertion, where and why do you stop? Why can’t anyone assert whatever she wants as a Brute Fact? (By whatever she wants, I mean observable events, but not having to provide any reason for their occurrence). The Universe may seem on first glance to be a unique case, but when you get into it, it’s not so easy to use Brute Fact reasoning without special pleading. (Not saying it’s impossible necessarily, but that it’s not as simple as on first glance).

        This is why theistic philosophers seek arguments that arrive at a Necessary God.
        Necessarily true propositions, unlike contingent Brute Facts, MUST be true and can not be rationally doubted. Hence avoiding the special pleading of Brute Facts.

        I hope it’s obvious I’m not claiming the theistic arguments are ultimately sound.
        I’m only saying that their arguments have addressed “why can’t the universe exist, uncaused” for a long time. In fact, answering that question is pretty much the reason most cosmological arguments arose.

        (BTW, if you phrase it “why can’t existence itself be uncaused” then in a way, the argument for God from contingency says “sure, yes existence is uncaused, insofar as by ‘existence’ you include God who sustains all things that exist. This is not based on direct special pleading, since they offer arguments for that position, rather than simply assuming it).

        • Posted October 7, 2015 at 11:58 am | Permalink

          The answer to this has been known since the time of Democritus, at least to some degree.

          *The universe as a whole can only be said to be contingent in a theistic (or other supernaturalistic) world view to begin with!*

        • Posted October 7, 2015 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

          So it may well be a Brute Fact that the universe “just exists” without any further reason. The problem with Brute Facts though is there doesn’t seem any principled way of asserting them. Unless you can show it is a *necessary* fact, it remains a contingent fact, and so you are saying “I don’t know why this contingent fact is as it is, but I’ll just assert it to be the case without having to provide a reason for why it is the case.”

          You’ve just captured the essence of the distinction between empiricism and teleology.

          In science, we simply try to describe what is. In science, “why” is used as a shorthand for “how” or “by what mechanism” or similar constructs. There has never ever been even the slightest hint of an observation of something with an inherent meaning; all meaning is always observed to be given to something by an intelligent agent — and, so, naturally, science only considers “meaning” significant in the context of psychology and sociology and other studies of intelligent agents.

          But teleology insists that meaning is paramount — cue Sastra — and so demands that there must be some sort of cosmic meaning why this snowflake fell on a pebble but the other fell on a leaf.

          A scientist will simply observe that the one snowflake fell on a pebble and the other a leaf — and, if sufficiently curious, will trace the trajectories of air currents and masses and so forth to see if there’s any recognizable pattern that influences the final destination of snowflakes in general.

          Only the theists get hung up with insisting that there must be a reason why that particular snowflake fell on that particular pebble and so forth.

          b&

          • Vaal
            Posted October 7, 2015 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

            Ben,

            The cosmological arguments do not depend on the distinction you suggest. Whatever psychology may be behind them (and everyone has psychology behind their arguments), the arguments themselves do not start with searching for secondary “meaning” in the psychological sense.

            They start from the first, scientific sense, of presuming there is an explanation (not psychological purpose, just explanation) for contingent facts.

            • darrelle
              Posted October 7, 2015 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

              Could you please clarify, are you making a claim about the intentions of the people who formulated the cosmological arguments and or proponents of the cosmological arguments? Or are you making a claim about the form of the argument.

              In any case I am not seeing how your claim is a rebuttal of Ben’s arguments. “They” may indeed presume that there is an explanation for contingent facts but it is very evident that explanations that they find acceptable are not necessarily acceptable in the context of science, even broadly construed. Their concepts of what constitutes a valid explanation, the methods involved in constructing one and assessing it, are not equivalent.

              Also, it is not evident to me why psychological purpose can be ruled out. Particularly without knowing the minds of “they.”

              • Vaal
                Posted October 7, 2015 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

                darrelle,

                I’m talking about the form of the argument.
                The more careful forms of the Cosmological arguments don’t start with or assume teleology and purpose – they argue towards it.

                Yes it seems plain that the theist doing so typically is starting psychologically already having accepted teleology. We can speculate all we want about the psychology of anyone presenting an argument, but if we satisfy ourselves that way we are just sitting at the level of ad hominem.

                Ultimately what we have on either side of the debate are the arguments, and we should be looking at whether the premises themselves, and the supporting arguments for the premises, reveal fallacies. To do that entails engaging the arguments, and making sure we aren’t strawmanning the arguments.

              • Posted October 7, 2015 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

                To do that entails engaging the arguments, and making sure we aren’t strawmanning the arguments.

                No, it doesn’t.

                I don’t need to engage in the arguments for a flat Earth or geocentricism to dismiss them out of hand.

                Nor do I need to engage in the arguments for Aristotelian Metaphysics to dismiss it out of hand. Newton already did that for me. If nothing else, an “unmoved mover” is a gross violation of conservation — a perpetual motion machine.

                Do I really have to explain to anybody why perpetual motion machines are bullshit?

                b&

            • Posted October 7, 2015 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

              They start from the first, scientific sense, of presuming there is an explanation (not psychological purpose, just explanation) for contingent facts.

              And that presumption is, itself, completely unsupportable, unevidenced, and flat-out incoherent.

              Look, everybody likes car analogies, right? Let me try a car analogy.

              We all know that stepping on the loud pedal causes the car move. Anybody can tell you that, and nobody would argue with it.

              So, therefore, the car’s motion was caused by stepping on the loud pedal, right?

              WORNG!

              Time has an arrow, and it moves in one direction only. Causality is inextricably linked with time, and so it, too, only works in a single direction.

              If the car isn’t in gear, stepping on the loud pedal just makes the car get louder; it doesn’t move.

              But, if it’s got an automatic transmission, putting the car in gear causes it to move. So was the car’s motion caused by putting it in gear?

              Well, not if you’ve got the brake on.

              Okay; release the brake. If the car’s on an hill and the transmission is in neutral, it’ll start moving. But releasing the brake isn’t the cause of the car’s motion.

              If a drunk driver comes along and doesn’t stop in time, the car’s gonna move. But the fact that it’s Christmas, the only day of the year that the driver ever drinks anything, is not the cause of the car’s motion.

              A may well cause B, but there is never any circumstance in which “B was caused by A” is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

              Science is concerned with figuring out what causes things, not what something’s causes were. The latter is incoherent, and it’s also theology’s remit.

              Cheers,

              b&

        • Tulse
          Posted October 7, 2015 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

          Yes, a lot of theistic philosophers have addressed this issue, but the answers are profoundly unsatisfying, as they fail to explain why the “necessary” god they posit needs to have any qualities apart from “necessarily causes the universe to exist”. And if that’s the only quality such a god has, why not simply attribute that quality to the universe itself?

        • reasonshark
          Posted October 7, 2015 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

          This is why theistic philosophers seek arguments that arrive at a Necessary God.
          Necessarily true propositions, unlike contingent Brute Facts, MUST be true and can not be rationally doubted. Hence avoiding the special pleading of Brute Facts.

          And then they just assert that God is in this special class of necessary things, just because. Just because they can see the problem of special pleading, doesn’t mean they’ve actually addressed it.

          ays “sure, yes existence is uncaused, insofar as by ‘existence’ you include God who sustains all things that exist. This is not based on direct special pleading, since they offer arguments for that position, rather than simply assuming it).

          I’m sorry, but special pleading is precisely what it is. You keep talking about this clever and subtle bit where they sidestep the issue of special pleading, but every example you’ve offered is nothing but special pleading.

          • Vaal
            Posted October 7, 2015 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

            “And then they just assert that God is in this special class of necessary things,”

            No reasonshark, they really don’t “just assert” that. They argue for it.

            Thomists, for instance, first start by an analysis of movement, events, change in the world in terms of things like “actuality” and “potentiality” (concepts you can of course dispute, but to do so you need to engage them). And then they argue the nature of potentiality and actuality implies a regress that must be terminated in an entity of pure actuality. (The entity they will call “God,” the first cause, and there are further arguments drawing further lines of inference that suggest such an entity would posses various attributes, intellect, etc).

            There’s LOTS of supporting argument for all of this stuff. Can it be disputed? Of course. But I’m sorry it’s just not playing fair to characterize such arguments as merely “asserting” such propositions rather than arguing for them.

            • Tulse
              Posted October 7, 2015 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

              Thomists offer warmed-over Aristotelianism — we should engage with the specifics of those arguments? Should we likewise work to refute those who argue for Aristotelian physics as well?

              The point is that one can dress up the arguments with notions of “actuality” and “potentiality”, but the basic objection is still the same — there is no reason to assign a “First Cause” to entity outside of the universe, rather than simply attach that quality to the universe itself. All the arguments otherwise are mere Scholasticism.

            • reasonshark
              Posted October 8, 2015 at 4:25 am | Permalink

              And then they argue the nature of potentiality and actuality implies a regress that must be terminated in an entity of pure actuality. (The entity they will call “God,”

              Because they jump to shoehorning god into the discussion, and before that dismiss out of hand such concepts as an infinite regress or circularity. Much less half the information we now have about the physical universe that Ben Goren keeps bringing up; this is information that puts their “analysis” in the category of “obsolete”.

              I’m sorry, but they had their fair shot and you in particular have had ample chance to offer any defence of the argument that hasn’t been addressed over and over already. If all you’re going to do is keep reshuffling terms, recloaking them, and insisting that the good arguments are “over there” without actually putting them on the front line, then it is you who isn’t playing fair because you’re inexplicably showing favouritism for an argument that doesn’t deserve any.

    • reasonshark
      Posted October 7, 2015 at 9:28 am | Permalink

      But saying God necessarily exists is just a lofty and roundabout way of saying “just because”: the uncaused cause exists because it had to exist, and it had to exist just because. Defending assertion with more assertion doesn’t strengthen the argument any more than telling another lie to defend a prior lie makes either of them true.

    • reasonshark
      Posted October 7, 2015 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      However, the argument from contingency essentially states that everything that exists has an explanation of its existence either (a) in the necessity of its own nature, or (b) in an external cause. In order to avoid an infinite regress of contingent causes,

      Another example of the argument’s weakness; even taken on its own grounds, it’s dismissing two perfectly respectable alternatives. What is wrong with having an infinite regress of causes, whether by an eternal string or by a cyclic universe? And why can’t everything that actually happens be “necessary”, and our concept of conditionality just be a reflection of our own ignorance of the universe, which in any case is so chaotically immense that many causes are likely to slip by unobserved?

      Yet a third example: you say that

      “the totality of existence must terminate in something that is the reason for its own existence and not caused by something else, which is then taken to be evidence of God”

      That last part is a HUGE non-sequitur. Even supposing that there was a necessary uncaused cause, why jump specifically to taking it as evidence for God? Why not just a singularity, or a boring dot, or any of an infinite number of things you could concoct? The special pleading is leaking out of every joint in the argument, but here it’s gushing.

      And this is all before we bring what we currently know in physics about how causality works in a universe with both quantum mechanics and relativity. I suspect its treatment to this intuitive concept of causality would not be kind.

      I’m failing to see why anyone not biased in favour of a theistic conclusion would call this argument “good”.

    • Posted October 7, 2015 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      >the argument for God’s existence from contingency is a bit more complicated than that.>

      What, all of them?

    • Posted October 7, 2015 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      In order to avoid an infinite regress of contingent causes

      Woah, Nellie — hold it right there.

      Aristotle was terrified of infinities, which is why he insisted on the special pleading of arbitrarily bounding them.

      But he was also working with a number system that lacked ways of representing both zero and negative numbers, and the hot research topic of the day was figuring out what whole number ratio represented the proportion of the circumference to the diameter of a circle.

      Insisting that we must “avoid an infinite regress” is, in this day and age, as superstitiously ignorant as claiming that the Earth can’t possibly be spherical because that would mean that Australians would fall off the bottom. In stark contrast, many of today’s proposed cosmologies are equally infinite into the past as they are into the future — and, in the rest, asking what came “before” the “beginning” makes no more sense than asking what’s north of the North Pole.

      The other half of the problem, of course, is that we know full well that all sorts of things “just happen,” for no cause; as such, the argument doesn’t even get off the ground in the first place.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted October 7, 2015 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

        After reading through your back and forth with Vaal on the thread from a couple days ago, I still fall in the camp that Vaal is correct in that you are not criticizing the logical form of the Cosmological Argument, rather you are raising objections to the truthfulness of its premises. I think your final post there where you talked about the absurdity of applying causation as we use it when doing science to cosmogenesis finally clarified your point, but I still think you have not demonstrated that the argument itself is logically incoherent.

        Anyhow, I think you’re spot on with your point here about avoiding an infinite regress. Why can’t we have an infinite regress? We know that the Big Bang represents an asymptote where the laws of Physics break down, but as Sean Carroll points out, we don’t know that this event was “the beginning.” It is easy to imagine a Universe (or multiverse, whichever term you prefer) that acts in the manner of a sine wave. It heads in one direction for awhile, hits its upper bound, changes course and hits its lower bound. This type of Universe could go on infinitely in either direction; most people have trouble picturing an infinity going backwards, but much less trouble picturing one going forward, but intuition doesn’t play a role here. So long as the asymptotes represent breaks in the direction of change (picture entropy reversing), there’s no reason why we couldn’t have infinite loops in both directions where entropy alternatively increases and decreases. I’m not at all trying to make a claim this is the case; rather, I’m showing that if we’re operating in the realm of pure philosophy in the way that the Cosmological Argument does, we can make an infinite number of logically coherent claims, included among them, an infinite regress.

        • Posted October 7, 2015 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

          All the variations on the Prime Mover theme, no matter how allegedly “sophisticated,” boil down to this:

          1) If you stop pushing shit, it stops moving. 2) Therefore, if shit is moving, something’s pushing it. 3) Shit don’t push itself. 4) Ergo, Something is pissing on the shit and making it move that way.

          Newton showed us that the first premise just simply isn’t true, so of course the rest falls apart. But, for the sake of argument we’ll pretend it’s true and move on.

          If you swallow the first claim, the second doesn’t necessarily follow. You’d have to support that with evidence. And, again, this fails; the planets move, but nothing pushes on them.

          Pushing forward even further, the third is another claim that isn’t automatically derived from the first. You’d again have to supply evidence to support it…and, again, Heisenberg showed that even this one isn’t true.

          The fourth again follows the pattern. You need evidence of piss moving shit; you can’t just assert that that’s what’s going on.

          But here, of course, we also get special pleading. Piss motion is somehow magical and exempt from the requirement that something else must be moving it? Well, la-de-da, we’ve just invalidated the first premise.

          Not a single one of those steps was logically derived from any other; none are supported by evidence (and, indeed, all contradicted by evidence); and the last step contradicts the first.

          If that’s not the perfect example of incoherence, what the shit piss fuck is!?

          Now, theists will claim that some particularly obfuscated variation on the theme doesn’t actually distill down to that. But that’s just it…they do. Saying that crap doesn’t push itself unless you urinate it is no different from saying that shit doesn’t push itself unless you piss on it.

          b&

          • Posted October 8, 2015 at 12:05 am | Permalink

            Well, those arguments make no sense whatsoever. Try to pass them off as coherent and one thing will be demonstrated: Urine deep shit.

            • Posted October 8, 2015 at 10:01 am | Permalink

              Keep that up, and you’ll just piss me off!

              b&

          • reasonshark
            Posted October 8, 2015 at 4:53 am | Permalink

            I can’t exactly condone the toilet humour, but I won’t deny that’s a vivid way of making a good point. This argument’s well and truly flushed away. (Sorry :))

            • Posted October 8, 2015 at 10:02 am | Permalink

              …except it seems to be one of those floaters that just won’t go down….

              b&

        • reasonshark
          Posted October 8, 2015 at 4:50 am | Permalink

          I still fall in the camp that Vaal is correct in that you are not criticizing the logical form of the Cosmological Argument

          I don’t fall into that camp because the Cosmological Argument is a string of non-sequiturs that are only supposed to follow from flimsy premises, the most obvious of which is: “Well, now we have our uncaused causer, it must be god.” Hopefully, Ben’s post to you has clarified that.

          But let’s pretend for the moment that their logical syllogism is valid. Doesn’t the fact that the premises are untrue render the whole thing moot? It’s not hard to come up with a valid syllogism:

          Fairies exist.

          Wings exist.

          All fairies have wings.

          Tinkerbell is a fairy.

          Therefore, Tinkerbell has wings.

          Now, take my argument seriously. You can’t, can you? No serious biologist would fail to spot the nonsense in the premises.

          • Posted October 8, 2015 at 8:23 am | Permalink

            I don’t think you said anything there I disagree with. I would still say your fairies/wings argument doesn’t have an inherent fallacy is the logic. It is unfounded assertions in all the premises, and that is precisely what’s wrong with all versions of the Cosmological argument. You don’t have to delve very far into their claims about contingencies to find numerous problems, which many of us have already outlined in this comment section.

            I think it’s much easier to simply address their arguments as they present them rather than giving them the opportunity to say, “See, silly atheists can’t even read!” This has nothing to do with convincing them. Ed Feser has built up such a wall of obfuscation and special pleading, especially when it comes to jumping from deism to Catholicism that he’s unlikely to ever bend; rather, it lets other people see just who is being dishonest in their accusations. Sam Harris frequently writes about this when deciding whether to address his critics. Maybe Feser and his fellow Thomists aren’t a big enough target to even bother addressing these things, but that’s another discussion.

            My experience as a Catholic growing up, along with many other Catholics I knew, was learning that God is everything Feser says plus an Intelligent Designer who regularly interacts with the natural world. The arguments were that God created everything because nature cannot self-organize and that’s why God is necessary. It actually was the silly special pleading type of argument that Dawkins dismisses in The God Delusion. This is yet another point that seems to be ignored, would Thomas Aquinas have even developed these purely logical cosmological arguments if he hadn’t also posited that nature is designed and God is necessary for that reason? I don’t think that’s reasonable especially given the atheism of the vast majority of top scientists and philosophers who now understand nature is self-organizing; yet, Feser dismisses Intelligent Design, as he should. Then there’s absolutely insane claims like modern day priests capable of bilocation, which never seem to be brought up in these discussions. So, no I don’t think we should spend a lot of refuting every claim about the cosmological arguments rather than the type of God they actually believe in, but I will go a little past claiming the logical form of the argument is inherently contradictory.

            • Posted October 8, 2015 at 8:33 am | Permalink

              Put another way…God knows humans want evidence, therefore he occasionally makes crackers bleed, statues weep, the sun dance in the sky for large audiences, or creates a jam in the release mechanism of a aerial bomber, but he sure as hell won’t end WWII early altogether because sin exists. Now, I know these claims are hard to swallow in light of modern science, so you don’t actually have to believe them to be a good Catholic. Now…look over here at our sophisticated cosmological argument that uses logic but absolutely no evidence whatsoever and has nothing to do with the reasons 99% of the laity believes this stuff. Voila! Evidence and reason!

            • reasonshark
              Posted October 8, 2015 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

              Look, if you’re trying to say something, just say it. I’ve pointed out about umpteen different ways the argument fails, and I’m not the only one on this thread to do so. It’s bullshit on top of bullshit. Suddenly, that’s proof I can’t read?

              I don’t understand why you and Vaal are suddenly treating theology as if it were a precise science. It’s like arguing which kind of god is the most credible to believe in: a waste of effort, since none of them are.

              • Posted October 8, 2015 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

                What I’m driving at here is not that theology is a precise science, nor am I saying you haven’t refuted the argument. You have, Ben has, I have, and so have others. Yes, I agree, the premises contained in the basic argument can be shown to be incoherent via the evidence we have about reality. Vaal can speak for himself, but the way I take his comments and the point I am making is that many people (you are not one of them) address a straw man of the cosmological argument. I agree in light of evidence that the premises themselves are incoherent, and that’s exactly why they should be attacked. And, the argument should also be attacked for being a distraction from the type of god they are actually arguing for-one who intervenes in the Universe and performs miracles along with his legion of imaginary immortal angels and saints.

                The fear, again as I understand it, is that this gives the theistic crowd a “Gotcha” they can jump upon and discredit atheists with.

                It does only when we fail to address the argument they are making even though it is ultimately unsupported, but this fear is not entirely unfounded. It’s why I commend Jerry for slogging through mountains of this nonsense before writing his latest book; believe me, I am with you in seeing the pointlessness of reading a 300-400 page book about Thomas Aquinas when his contingency arguments can be refuted in a couple of pages, or if we want to get really precise, on a napkin with the Standard Model written on it.

                When I was a theist I was one of those who believe there’s very sophisticated theologians out there who know their stuff, so the rest of us can rest assured in our faith. But thanks to people thoroughly refuting these arguments, I’m not even sure sophisticated is the right word to describe this. The arguments are certainly more ambiguous, obfuscated, and full of shit, but if we’re going to call this sophisticated, then my large intestine is sophisticated every time I partake in a Chipotle burrito.

              • Posted October 8, 2015 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

                [T]he point I am making is that many people (you are not one of them) address a straw man of the cosmological argument.

                Then what is the non-strawman version of the cosmological argument you wish we would address but haven’t?

                (And I’ll bet you a cup of coffee that it inevitably relies on or reduces to Aristotelian Metaphysics, and that Aristotelian Metaphysics is what you have in mind as the “strawman” version.)

                b&

              • Posted October 8, 2015 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

                Then what is the non-strawman version of the cosmological argument you wish we would address but haven’t?

                As I said before, I do think you ultimately addressed it. I felt like you were taking a very roundabout way of getting there, but ultimately it comes down to causation being meaningless at a fundamental level, especially when applied to cosmogenesis–and you did get there.

                The strawman I’m referring to is the common argument that the claims boil down to the Universe can’t sustain itself without the occasional divine tweaking, thus we need a cause, in which case the obvious question becomes, “Well what caused God?” Yes, this does refer to causation, but not the Aristotelian kind. On that note, we could very well accept the entire framework they present with the argument from contingency and point out that we have very strong empirical evidence that the “final cause” of the Universe is heat death. Where does that leave us? Certainly not remotely close to where Catholicism wants to be. I do think that ultimately you are correct that you can reduce the cosmological argument down to special pleading that God doesn’t need a cause but literally everything else does. You just don’t get there in 1 step. You have to peel back a couple more layers of bullshit because unlike their creationist brethren, they claim to accept the empirical findings of science rather than directly presenting a series of non sequiturs about claims that are never made.

                And I’ll bet you a cup of coffee that it inevitably relies on or reduces to Aristotelian Metaphysics

                I’m not sure how to settle this bet as I think the strawman is simply addressing causation as it is typically used in colloquial language rather that Aristotle’s baffle-gab about everything having an end purpose. This is indeed incoherent as defining “end purposes” for things makes no sense without conceding that we’re arbitrarily picking end points. If the final cause of a contract to build a home is the house, what then of the fact that the house later crumbles? There’s nothing “final” about it. Anyhow, if you want to bet me a cup of coffee, I’d prefer we up the ante as the couple of thousand miles between us would result in quite the expense if we want that cup to be fresh. Perhaps a vacuum sealed bag of fresh coffee grounds?

              • Posted October 9, 2015 at 9:21 am | Permalink

                The strawman I’m referring to is the common argument that the claims boil down to the Universe can’t sustain itself without the occasional divine tweaking, thus we need a cause, in which case the obvious question becomes, “Well what caused God?”

                I think there might be a thinko in there. Is that the strong argument, or the strawman caricature of the strong argument?

                In the event that it’s the former…claiming that only some motions need a mover is just a weaker form of Aristotle’s that all motions need a mover. If we’ve already done away with Aristotle’s strong form, the weak version can’t possibly stand on its own. And, even if the general thrust is accepted, it then becomes an evidential claim whereby one must now separate out the particular motions that do require a mover from those that don’t — and it could well be that none of our motions require a mover, that the gods only move things well away from us, and so on.

                Anyhow, if you want to bet me a cup of coffee, I’d prefer we up the ante as the couple of thousand miles between us would result in quite the expense if we want that cup to be fresh.

                I’ve drawn inspiration from Jerry’s recent road trip and will do one or more of my own in the years to come…we can settle the account then….

                b&

          • Posted October 8, 2015 at 10:00 am | Permalink

            In reflection, I think some here are taking objection to my characterization of argumentation such as this faery example here as being incoherent.

            I’ll grant that this and similar examples follow the rules of a certain ancient parlor game…but since when is that all that’s requited for coherency?

            Let me demonstrate.

            What, exactly, is a faery? Unless we’re referring to the stereotypical resident of San Francisco’s Castro District, any definition that people are likely to agree upon…will be for an entity that is inconsistent with everything we understand about reality. How is that not incoherent?

            But even if we play the game…well, let’s pretend we find ourselves in Neverland, and Captain Hook has captured Tinkerbell, is torturing her, and has plucked her wings off. Is wingless Tinkerbell now not a faery? According to the parlor game’s rules, apparently not. But if these rules will tell us that even Tinkerbell herself isn’t a faery…how on Earth can we consider this coherent?

            Transferring this clear-as-day concept of incoherency to the Prime Mover arguments should be obvious and easy.

            b&

            • reasonshark
              Posted October 8, 2015 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

              The objection, as I understand it, is that we’re claiming the Cosmological Argument is a fallacy when it’s technically a string of untrue statements that are internally consistent, and so logically valid. The fear, again as I understand it, is that this gives the theistic crowd a “Gotcha” they can jump upon and discredit atheists with. Therefore, we shouldn’t ask where god comes from and why the buck arbitrarily stops with him, or indeed why the uncaused cause is being identified with God in the first place, or why circularities and infinite regresses are dismissed without thought, or why a pre-Newtonian concept of causality – heck, a pre-relativity and pre-quantum concept of causality – deserves credit. Apparently, there are subtle and sophisticated(TM) arguments from the theology department that make us look illiterate.

              I wouldn’t mind so much, except the only such arguments provided to show how incorrect our assessments are… fail to do so. Moreover, they fail to do so in ways that, even if actually valid, make me wonder what the “Gotcha” gang has to crow about. “Aha, the bullshit argument isn’t exactly bullshit in that particular way you think it is?”

              • Posted October 8, 2015 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

                Moreover, they fail to do so in ways that, even if actually valid, make me wonder what the “Gotcha” gang has to crow about. “Aha, the bullshit argument isn’t exactly bullshit in that particular way you think it is?”

                Exactly.

                Were the Prime Mover arguments really as sophisticated and difficult-to-refute as we keep hearing, then their defenders wouldn’t waste time whining about how we’re not properly addressing them; they’d simply present the arguments, which would speak for themselves.

                If I want to convince somebody of gravity, I’m not going to get all tied up in arguments over whether or not it’s philosophically valid to claim that bigger things fall faster. No; I’m just going to grab a grape and a grapefruit, drop both at the same time, and show that they both hit the floor at the same time.

                Where’s the equivalent for the Prime Mover?

                b&

            • Vaal
              Posted October 8, 2015 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

              Reasonshark, Ben,

              (I’m trying to be mindful of posting too much in this thread – da roolz).

              I’m not here to argue every detail of arguments from contingency or whatever. Why the heck would I care to do that? I’ve spent far too much time arguing that stuff already against the theists. But I did study up on the arguments before I did so, so I couldn’t be accused of arguing against strawmen. And to that degree, I recognize when those theistic arguments are being misrepresented here. And every time someone blithely characterizes the arguments as “merely asserting” things like an Uncaused Cause (God) that amounts to a mischaracterization, a strawman.

              They don’t assert; they argue for.

              There are premises, and then supporting arguments for the premises.

              Ben, you asked for a non-strawman version of the Cosmological argument. You can look at some here:

              http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cosmological-argument/#3

              Or you could go right to Aquinas’ Summa Theologica and his famous Five Ways section (arguing for God). It’s quite brief, and of course Thomistic proponents have expanded upon it quite a bit since then. But at just a few paragraphs long, you get the gist quite easily here:

              http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1002.htm

              Scroll down to: Article 3. Whether God exists?

              Now, surely as you read it objections will spring to mind. But you can not fairly characterize Aquinas as “only asserting” things. He’s doing standard argumentation “here’s the reason to accept this, here’s the reason to reject that” leading to his conclusion.

              As to the objections you raised to Ed Feser, appealing to Newton as obviating Feser’s Thomistic-Aristotelian Metaphysics, that objection has been around quite a while and you shouldn’t be surprised there are rebuttals. If you don’t prize your sanity, you can read Feser on the subject here:

              “The medieval principle of motion and the modern principle of inertia”

              http://faculty.fordham.edu/klima/SMLM/PSMLM10/PSMLM10.pdf

              A bit more on his blog here:

              http://edwardfeser.blogspot.ca/2012/06/oerter-on-motion-and-first-mover.html

              Will you find the arguments convincing? Do we even need to ask? 😉

              But the point is that it’s not right to characterize these people as merely asserting and not arguing for premises.
              And if we really want to be sure we’ve disposed of an argument, it might behoove us to realize we are probably not raising new objections, and then look in to the debate in more depth to see if those objections have been met. (We can always assume they have not been, of course…but then theists could take the same attitude towards us).

              Cheers,

              • reasonshark
                Posted October 9, 2015 at 4:37 am | Permalink

                Will you find the arguments convincing? Do we even need to ask? 😉

                But the point is that it’s not right to characterize these people as merely asserting and not arguing for premises.

                OK, fair enough. I think I see what you’re getting at. I still think the rebuttals and sophisticated bits don’t really address the issues we’ve been raising, and hence can be characterised as assertion, but it’s a structured argument by people who have put some (deeply misapplied) thought into it, and certainly more than I had previously thought (not that I consider that a good thing). I don’t have an adequate enough answer to your criticism beyond that much, though.

                By the way, I just had a peek at your foray into Fraser’s blog below. You’re tenacious, I grant you, but I don’t envy you. That looked like a depressing slog with no results to show for it. And that’s just a fraction of the whole population of believers. 😦

              • reasonshark
                Posted October 9, 2015 at 4:40 am | Permalink

                Feser, sorry, not Fraser.

                Can’t say I respect him, though. Intelligent religious believers are what delay the death of religion, and to me are about as helpful and welcome to weeding and pruning as an acre-wide thorn thicket.

              • Vaal
                Posted October 9, 2015 at 8:32 am | Permalink

                Yeah, my position is that such arguments are unsound, but they are not dumb arguments written by dumb people. And I guess there is a certain utility to some very smart people having put their best efforts to inferring a God from the universe. It helps us catalog the reasons why it’s a hypothesis we can dismiss at this point.

                But ultimately the amount of time devoted to it, especially in the form of religion, is a depressing misuse of human intellect. You have to wonder where we’d be if all those bright minds weaving theology had devoted their thoughts to engineering and natural science.

              • Posted October 9, 2015 at 9:43 am | Permalink

                Aquinas?

                Really?

                The dude’s the master of special pleading.

                His five ways you commend?

                The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion.

                What follows is pure Aristotelian Metaphysics, complete with the abhorrence of infinities and arbitrary insertion of God into the mix in order to break the infinite chain. This is the textbook example of special pleading.

                The second way is from the nature of the efficient cause.

                A recap of the first way, simply doing a search-and-replace of “motion” with “cause.”

                The third way is taken from possibility and necessity, and runs thus.

                Ditto, but with those terms in place of motion.

                The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things.

                He doesn’t even pretend to justify why some things should be considered “more” and others “less” — let alone consider the possibility that one thing could be more than another by one measure but less by another, or any other simple variation on the theme. He just simply pulls it out of his ass as obvious.

                The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world.

                You remember that whole discussion about “begging the question” in that pet peeves post? This is a perfect example. Aquinas sees patterns, asserts that patterns can only be created by an intelligence, and then uses the existence of patterns to “prove” the existence of the very intelligence who’s at the heart of the matter. But he never considers the possibility that patterns can be created by something other than an intelligence.

                Can we please stop pretending that there’s anything of substance to this bullshit?

                I mean, really. It’s riddled with the most transparently obvious logical fallacies, and the premises it starts with really are superstitions on the level of “the Earth is flat.”

                That phrase about an open mind without brains falling out comes to mind. Yes, sure, grant somebody the benefit of the doubt…but all doubt is gone once they start spouting this sort of nonsense.

                b&

  6. Posted October 7, 2015 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    There is no way you can justify confidence in the existence of anything that supposedly exists in the universe based on philosophy alone.

    You can have confidence though, and that assertion is based, in large part, on empirical evidence.

  7. Diane G.
    Posted October 7, 2015 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Atheist Eve:

    http://www.atheist-community.org/images/cartoon/IEUR221926XJAN1923174.jpg

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted October 8, 2015 at 3:59 am | Permalink

      Excellent!

  8. Kevin
    Posted October 7, 2015 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Fantastic logic in this one. A good reminder that all Christians feel safest in Deism, where the whole of the cosmos is indistinguishable from their deity. Why not just call it nature? And worse, why extend those beliefs from Deism to Theism? It is delusional, arrogant, naive, and empirically false.

  9. Posted October 7, 2015 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    It was an interesting touch, perhaps deliberate, perhaps accidental, that it was Jesus who said “I don’t know” and Mo who said “he just does.” If it had been the other way around then it might have provoked accusations of ignorance of Christianity from those who maintain that Jesus is God.

    • Posted October 7, 2015 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      One additional note: The image above is the original version with an extra “the” in the second panel. It has since been fixed by the author.

  10. Sastra
    Posted October 7, 2015 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    And I’ll insist again: there is no way you can have confidence in the existence of anything that supposedly exists in the universe based on philosophy alone. One must always use, in large part, empirical evidence.

    Philosophy always works with empirical evidence — which becomes obvious if we analyze how our concepts and ideas are grounded. Dualism is intuitive; that doesn’t automatically make it true. The underlying assumption behind theism is that mental things (such as concepts, ideas, abstractions, thoughts, intentions, emotions, and values) aren’t empirical. They’re not based on, concerned with, or verified by experience or observation. Instead, they’re all hanging from a skyhook coming out of metaphysics and essences.

    But once we stop thinking of minds as magic, theism disappears. And the evidence indicates that our minds aren’t magic after all.

    • Posted October 7, 2015 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      Philosophy always works with empirical evidence

      Not in my experience — not by a long shot.

      And, when it does…it becomes indistinguishable from science, as Jerry and I broadly construe it.

      b&

      • Sastra
        Posted October 7, 2015 at 11:48 am | Permalink

        Technically, rational concepts and ideas are still ultimately grounded in experience and observation. Even when they don’t want to test their conclusions, the premises come from somewhere.

        • Posted October 7, 2015 at 11:58 am | Permalink

          In that case, I think you’ve just demonstrated the worthlessness of philosophy.

          Science at least provides us a way of separating the accurate observations from the inaccurate one. Philosophy proceeds with the inaccurate ones as happily as it does the accurate ones.

          b&

          • Sastra
            Posted October 7, 2015 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

            No, if I’m right then philosophy is united with reason — and there can be accurate philosophies and inaccurate ones. Science is included in the former.

            • Posted October 7, 2015 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

              But the distinguishing characteristic is whether or not you’ve got evidence (etc.) to support your reasoning. Evidence + reason = science. Reason alone, lacking evidence, is bullshit. You never get science without evidence, but you get lots of philosophy without evidence.

              b&

      • Diane G.
        Posted October 8, 2015 at 1:35 am | Permalink

        “Not in my experience — not by a long shot.”

        + 1

  11. Vaal
    Posted October 7, 2015 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Prof CC Wrote: “And I’ll insist again: there is no way you can have confidence in the existence of anything that supposedly exists in the universe based on philosophy alone. One must always use, in large part, empirical evidence.”

    Agreed and well put as usual!

  12. Posted October 7, 2015 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    The “just does” answer is far less satisfying when it comes to God because there’s no evidence he does in the first place.

  13. Posted October 7, 2015 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    One must always use, in large part, empirical evidence.

    This is the biggest obstacle for the Uncaused Cause argument. I was browsing through the comments over on Edward Feser’s site after the post the other day and they were going on and on about how great discoveries such as the Pythagorean Theorem have been deduced purely by logic. Set aside the objection for a moment that the logical system that came to this conclusion was developed by humans based on observations of reality, and assume it is completely true. How was it verified to be true and and useful in making predictions about and verifying reality? Evidence! We see it work every day when we triangulate cell phone positions from towers (or at least we see the related theorems work this way).

    There are infinite things that can be logically sound and not only not manifest in reality, but be completely impossible were any one claim in the set true. A trivial example: The Universe has one creator and his name is N. Now apply that claim for all N in the set (0, ∞) and it is quite obvious that at most one of these claims can be true, yet there’s no logical contradiction in any single one of these infinite claims being made. Short of empirical evidence that any one of these infinite claims is accurate, your odds are quite literally 0 when it comes to guessing which one is right. And this doesn’t even begin to address the infinite sets of creators who have letters in their names and their names are of arbitrary length, or the infinite sets of engineering teams of creators with N necessary beings…

  14. Vaal
    Posted October 7, 2015 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    Gotta go do work, but if anyone is interested here are two of the (long) threads in which I engaged Edward Feser and company. Long slogs, but some fun stuff:

    On how Ed Feser misses the emphasis of the New Atheists (gets into long debate about moving from Metaphysics to Christianity and The Resurrection):

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.ca/2014/04/what-we-owe-new-atheists.html?commentPage=1

    This one tends to get a little more metaphysical, challenging the idea that Thomistic Metaphysics give any leg up to Christianity, and challenging some metaphysical claims such as that our end is to know God:

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.ca/2014/05/pre-christian-apologetics.html

    • Posted October 7, 2015 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

      That’s some good stuff and you really focus on the core problem-Feser makes an (unconvincing) case for deism. This gets us nowhere near the miraculous claims and divine revelation that all forms of Christianity assert. I did not see in those links you posted, nor have I seen anywhere an explanation for how God would perform a miracle without appealing to ignorance or asserting that God set things up that way when he created the Universe. In the latter case, everything then qualifies as a miracle.

      The fact is, in other contexts, the frequent commenters over there readily admit that miraculous claims fall under the purview of empiricism. Look no further than this site a few years ago:https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/08/13/macdonald-takes-down-fesers-theology/#comment-126346

      And, don’t even let anyone begin to tell you that Catholicism is replete with beliefs of protection from saints, angels, and God himself.

    • darrelle
      Posted October 8, 2015 at 8:21 am | Permalink

      Vaal,

      *Applause*

      • Vaal
        Posted October 8, 2015 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

        Thanks darrelle (and chrisbuckley80).

        Edward Feser, and his comments gang, regularly disparage New Atheists as toothless idiots. Those blog topics were a nice opportunity to show up and basically have a “put up or shut up” moment, by actually pressing the arguments against them to see what they have in response.

        As you can see…the results were predictable.

        I actually respect Edward Feser, cranky and as supercilious as he can be, because he is a bright guy who argues well, has some interesting things to say. When you get some of the smart guys on the other side it’s good for upping our game. While I don’t find the arguments from guys like William L. Craig or Edward Feser convincing, even if they don’t reason soundly about their position, they can be quite sharp about spotting weaknesses in their opponents arguments. (Not at all surprising as this is a feature of most bright people – better at reasoning consistently when critiquing other’s beliefs, prone to bias when working through their own).


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