Friday, January 11, 2013

Grundy Disagrees #3

I've been disagreeing all over the Internet, so I figure it's time to post a couple more.

I argue against the Fine Tuning Argument to find the debate branched into a subject I've never heard of before--a Boltzmann Brain universe. The blogger claims it is a problem for positing a multiverse as an avenue for the anthropic principle to make sense of our life-friendly fundamental constants. I actually consider the apparent fine tuning of the universe the best evidence for a designed universe, but mostly because all the other arguments are just so bad. The blogger then turned the debate to a version of the cosmological argument, which anyone can tell from my recent posts, I consider intellectually bankrupt at his point. I said...
The cosmological argument is constantly subject to new forms in an effort to adjust for legitimate criticism, but ultimately they all rest on the same assumptions–that the universe needs a cause and that the cause must be God. If you define God as simply the thing that causes the universe, then I freely admit that God could exist, but most define God as an agent possessing will/intellect/personality/and the like, which is an assumption unwarranted by the Leibnizian cosmological argument or any other form. I find the fine tuning argument superior because it implies the cause (God) had an active role in deciding the nature of the effect (the universe.) This choice is enough to show agency, at least for me.
Ironically, while this disagreement continued, I debated with the atheist author of Somewhat Abnormal for the Fine Tuning Argument (kinda.) He tried turning the argument on it's head to make it an argument for atheism, which just didn't hold up. He basically admitted as much. I said to a commenter:
There is a fine tuning argument for life within our universe and a fine tuning argument for life within any possible universe. You seem to be referring to the argument that life on earth is fine tuned. This appears true in that life as we know it could only exist under parameters very similar to earth’s--we aren’t too close or too far away from a star that isn’t too hot or too cold; we have the right atmosphere; we have Jupiter to catch or redirect asteroids and comets away from us; ect. However, there are so many stars and planets in our universe that the odds of other earth-like situations existing somewhere in the universe is high. The original poster is taking into account the anthropic principle which makes the fine tuning argument for life within our universe a very weak one. 
I disagree that the anthropic principal can be applied to the fine tuning argument for life within any possible universe because we don’t have the required information to make this judgement. We know that there are a shitload of stars and planets, we only know that there is one universe. There could be more, but we can’t assume that. The fine tuning argument for naturalism as stated here just doesn’t work. It’s true an omnipotent being could maintain life where life shouldn’t exist, but this is beside the point.
Then the conversation turned to poker and probability, both of which I love.

Bonus quicky: I debated the Kalam over here and then again here where he posted an explanation to a straw man version of my originally stated problems with the Kalam.


  1. A sign of true intelligence is admitting you might be wrong about something and being willing to change it, so kudos to the guy for saying as such.

  2. Hello Grundy. Thanks for the redirect to my blog. I'd like to issue a challenge, this time not on the Teleological argument (which ought to remain untouched for another while before we pick it up again to allow you and I to look at the argument afresh), but about the cosmological argument. I think one of the fascinating things about the cosmological argument is how little it has had to change its form over the ages to accommodate objections (consider, by contrast, the way ontological arguments have radically changed). As I shared with you, I believe that a properly articulated cosmological argument from contingency is probative (i.e., it seems to me to rationally obviate the existence of God, and make God's non-existence rationally untenable). That's perhaps contentious, and I know you've said as much, but I wonder how you would respond to the argument as it is stated. For example, I will here provide three forms of the argument (just differently expressed by different philosophers, but very much to the same effect).

    First, the argument as it was presented by Fr. Coplestone S.J. in his debate with Bertrand Russell. I would like to hear which part you disagree with given that articulation. You can listen to that here:

    Second, the argument from Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica, often called the second way:
    The second way is from the nature of the efficient cause. In the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes. There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity, because in all efficient causes following in order, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause be several, or only one. Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate cause. But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.

    You may also want to check out the third way:

    Finally, if you think there are any objections to those, they are likely going to be directed against the basic causal principle invoked, in which case I would invite you to take a careful look at this formulation of the cosmological argument from contingency:

    Even I might prefer an articulation of the PSR which is weaker than is argued for in that instant, but even a weaker PSR would satisfy the constraints of a properly formulated version of the same argument.
    I am still very curious what you would respond to these arguments, so if you're feeling up to it, humor me and take a look at them.

    1. The jump from something natural needing a cause to a supernatural, idealized intelligence is a crazy long distance to me and it should be to you. I can think of other causes just as likely or more so off the top of my head and there are other possibilities that we might never think of. Look at the strides taken in quantum mechanics, which the universe as a singularity would be subject to. At the quantum level particles may violate causality making this a mute point.

      If you are skeptical of this, fine, you should be, but I wonder if it becomes proven you would change your tune? I'd hope you would. Regardless, the premise of these arguments is that a cause must precede an effect because experience (so far) shows this to be true. We have no precedent for anything existing outside time and space as God would have to in your assumed scenario. How, specifically, is a where and a when not in relation to time and space not just as nonsensical and illogical as an effect without a cause?

    2. Ok, it seems that there are a few points at which you seem to misunderstand the essential thrust of the argument in any form. The first and most important point is just to say that the causal principle invoked here is not one afforded by experience (though it may be corroborated by experience). Even if it were only an empirical claim, it is the best supported empirical claim in the history of science, and thus ought to be accepted by anyone who takes science seriously. However, the claim is not supposed to be that weak - it is a rational claim. The principle that out of nothing nothing comes is literally a rationally self-evident proposition. One cannot deny this kind of causal principle without eroding dialectical reasoning itself. I don't know why on earth people think this is an empirical claim - just look at it. Notice that the way it is worded is such that it refers to efficient (not material or physical) causes. Efficient causes could be simultaneous with their effects, or they could even stand in the later-than relation to their effects (i.e., causation could, on this definition, go backwards through time). The point here is just to highlight that the causal principle invoked here is a Modal Principle, one which has to do with Logic, Semantics and Metaphysics, and is a consideration which is entirely prior to physics or the empirical sciences. As I said, if it were merely an empirical claim, then you would have no obvious excuse for not accepting it, but given that it's a claim about modal logic there isn't even a logically possible excuse! One cannot just wave one's hand and rehearse the popular rhetoric of the day and think that thereby the arguments have been dealt with - you haven't even done the work of understanding the arguments yet, let alone responding to them.

      Let me try to exemplify what I take to be your mistake by turning to a concrete example: Quantum Mechanics. Now, it is true to say that on the standard Copenhagen interpretation of QM there really are particles which pop in and out of the quantum vacuum (which some people have unscrupulously called 'nothing') without any efficient cause which science can discern. Now, let's just set aside the fact that there are competing alternative accounts of Quantum Mechanics which are broadly deterministic and thus which do not run any chance of violating the causal principle invoked in cosmological arguments; suppose that the Copenhagen interpretation were scientifically correct (by which I mean something like: will be part of the 'final-science'), would that entail the falseness of the metaphysical causal principle? No, obviously it wouldn't. There are any number of possible explanations of physical events being caused without being physically caused - Perhaps God intervenes at every moment to make this or that particle appear, or perhaps there really are teleological causes, or perhaps Chaos theory (which is deterministic by the way) could be appealed to in order to explain the apparent lack of causal accountability for these particles. Your misunderstanding should hopefully be palpable at this point: the point is that the causal principle is a logical principle, not a scientific principle. It is a semantic principle, without which one cannot even begin to make sense of the world at all. Now, if you are not a realist perhaps you could deny this causal principle and simply become a relativist about logic (as the Positivist doctrine entails, and as is clearest in Carnap), but why would you pay that price just to avoid Theism?

    3. Please do forgive how forward and forceful I'm being about this - I am doing in at least in part out of charity: I really do want you to come to understand these arguments, as I think these arguments are the central arguments for Theism. Take a look at the argument in any of the forms I have provided for you (pick any one of them) and if you bother to deal with it seriously, I invite you to get back to me concerning what your estimation of them is (that estimation only being possible once you have at least understood them). In order to be sure you are understanding them remember that the causal principle here invoked is NOT one which is based on our experience (even if it were derived from our experience, which it needn't be, that would be a merely epistemological point, and in no way would it mean that the causal principle is based on experience), but one which is based on reason itself. It is a principle which almost all philosophers (Including Hume) admit is a necessary principle for the human mind given the constitution of our cognitive faculties. Only if you cease to believe in the mind's ability to get at metaphysical truth by using reason (that's what Hume does) will you be able to escape the rationally obviated conclusion that God exists.

    4. Oh, I understand the argument fine, I just don’t understand how anyone who really considers it can find it convincing. You mention that you find that some unscrupulously claim quantum foam is “nothing.” This is a tell you don’t understand the opposing viewpoint. Apologists were the first to use the term “nothing” in regards to cosmological origins as a means to strengthen their argument, but it’s a straw man. We have no reason to think that nothing, as defined as that without the potential for something, ever existed. So, where do you get the certain knowledge that is required for the cosmological argument? How do you know about the absolute origin of matter, energy, space and time? How do you know nothing existed? Is it from the Genesis? I hope not because if everyone accepted the Bible, there’d be no need for these apologetic arguments. It is from the Big Bang Theory? If so, why, specifically, do you find the Big Bang Theory compelling when so much science that disproves parts of the Bible is found lacking? The Big Bang Theory only brings the origin of the universe to state just after what we think was a singularity, it never posits that the singularity ever wasn’t there, or what came before it, or what happened as a catalyst for the Big Bang. There are natural hypothesises on the matter, all of which are more credible, believable and preferable from a philosophical standpoint than a supernatural explanation.

    5. Well, there's a lot to disagree with there, but I think instead of pointing out where I take issue with what you've said (and I think I disagree with every single thing you said, comically), I'd like to just point out the most glaring and seminal problem with what you've said: The cosmological argument does not require or imply a beginning of the universe from nothing, or a big bang with a singularity. To think it does is to misunderstand the argument entirely (and I suspect it is to confuse the cosmological argument from contingency with a Kalam Cosmological argument, which is entirely different). Is this distinction clear to you?

      Moreover, concerning the word 'Nothing'. I take it that 'nothing' is a term of universal negation. We can symbolize this logically (in basic predicate logic) as follows:
      Where P stands for 'is a bearer of predicates'.
      Or perhaps we could say that when we say 'nothing' as in the sentence 'nothing is a unicorn' we could symbolize it as follows:
      The point here isn't hard to grasp. It is just to say that anything which bears any predicates at all cannot be 'nothing'. However, the Quantum Vacuum has properties, and thus can be described by/with predicates. Therefore the Quantum Vacuum is just not nothing. In fact, to say that any x is nothing is a syntactical foul - it violates basic linguistic rules which govern intelligible speech. To break those rules is just to speak unintelligibly.

    6. You said "The cosmological argument does not require or imply a beginning of the universe from nothing, or a big bang with a singularity." Some cosmological arguments do require this. Then you said I "confuse(d) the cosmological argument from contingency with a Kalam Cosmological argument." I did, it's hard to keep up with all the forms because when you said "I think one of the fascinating things about the cosmological argument is how little it has had to change its form over the ages to accommodate objections." that's just untrue. So I've only debunked the Kalam, please be specific which you need me to debunk next.

      I accept your definition of nothing. I grasped that point in my last comment. Why do you think nothing applys (or has ever applied) to reality as anything other than a concept?

      And if you expect me to address your questions any further, please address those from my last comment.

    7. Concerning nothing (hehe, see what I did there?) I would say that I do not believe that nothing applies or has ever applied to reality as anything other than a concept. Note that that's my seminal premise in my own modal-cosmological argument, which you can find on my blog. In fact, the seminal modal intuition to which a Theist who favours the cosmological argument from contingency maintains is that it is not logically possible for nothing to exist. It's literally logically/semantically absurd.

      Concerning the Cosmological argument, I apologize for using the short hand in referring to the standard cosmological argument as just the 'cosmological argument' but I do note that it is the standard one (and the Kalam is not) and that I have already specified that I am referring to the cosmological argument from contingency. Notice that all three of the forms I provided are forms which avoid any talk about the universe beginning to exist - the universe could have existed for an infinite amount of time, or there could be a multiverse-ensemble generating an infinite number of distinct incommensurable universes, and it wouldn't make any difference to the power of the cosmological argument from contingency. Read (or listen to) one, or two, or all of the arguments I provided in the original post and this should become palpably evident.

      Now, you say that you want me to respond to the points you made in the last comment; I'm happy to do so (though I think it might distract from the argument at hand, but if you make it a precondition for continuing our discussion then for the sake of argument, literally, I will interact with your previous comment). I shall have to post things separately due to word limit.

    8. You say "Apologists were the first to use 'nothing' in regards to cosmological origins..."
      This is historically inaccurate, unless of course you have a very wide definition of 'Apologist', since the first to do so were physicists who were Catholic (not theologians). However, even here this seems to me to be equivocation, as they meant only that it was a state in which nothing physical existed, and that isn't the same as saying that nothing whatsoever existed (after all, they obviously thought God existed). This point is sometimes made against Christians by people like Laurence Krauss, but I think the proper way to answer Krauss is just to show him that his argument is not only a straw man, but also literally incoherent because of its syntactical violation.
      "So where do you get the certain knowledge which is required for the cosmological argument?"
      From Rational reflection on metaphysical principles which are self-evidently true, such as ex nihilo nihil fit.

      "How do you know nothing existed? Is it from Genesis? I hope not because if everyone accepted the Bible, there'd be no need for these apologetic arguments."
      Either this is false, or on one interpretation it may be trivially true. Suppose I take it that Genesis does teach the beginning of the universe out of no prior existing matter (thus 'out of' nothing, but not 'from' nothing), and supposing I accepted that I had good reasons to believe that Genesis is correct, then it seems to me I would have good reasons for accepting that the universe began to exist, coming out of nothing. I think I do have good reasons to believe that Genesis is true (for example, all the reasons I have for thinking that Christianity is true, along with the reasons I have for thinking that if Christianity is true then Genesis is correct). Now, if I accept this, does that entail that there is no need for apologetic arguments? No, it seems to me that there may still be a need (for example if I think it's important to convince people of this point, and they do not share the same presuppositions I do nor do they agree with the conclusions I have come to adopt, then I need to find some common ground between myself and them, such as a commitment to logic, or scientific realism, and argue from there to my conclusion). Now, supposing that literally 'everyone' accepted the Bible - would there really be no need for these apologetic arguments? I don't think that would follow either. For instance, somebody may believe the Bible for the wrong reasons (eg. a Fideist) and I may want to convince them that while the Bible is correct, the reasoning which brought them to that conclusion is lame and perhaps dangerous. Moreover, I can imagine a logically possible world in which everyone accepted the Bible, and for the right reasons, and we would still have 'need' for these kinds of apologetic arguments, since we might have good reason to expect that in the coming generation people will no longer believe that the Bible is correct and will want to be convinced by something like the apologetic arguments we have here. Perhaps, though, you meant something strict by 'need', and you intended it in the sense somebody committed to presentism might - that we have no need for these at the present moment t0, where at t0 everyone accepts the Bible. On that interpretation what you say may be true, but it is rather trivial, and I can't imagine that you intended that by your statement (or if you did, I can't understand why you would have said it at all).

    9. "If so, why, specifically, do you find the arguments for the Big Bang so compelling when so much science disproves parts of the Bible is found lacking."
      Here I'm at a loss for understanding what you could be referring to. Obviously evolution doesn't conflict with the Bible, and obviously I accept Evolution, at least in basic outline, on the basis of the evidence I have for it (both scientific and theological/philosophical). Now, perhaps the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Mechanics challenges a principle which is a supposition to which Christians are bound to accept as part of a Christian worldview (or at least Catholics are, via Pius XII), but I've already dealt with that above. If you have something else in mind, perhaps it is something like evolutionary psychology? I actually think that most of evolutionary psychology could be admitted without doing violence to the essence of the Christian faith (though I don't myself accept the whole doctrine, since it is, as so many psychological theories are, a 'just so' story which is too easy to verify and too difficult to falsify). What else could you possibly have in mind I wonder?
      Nevertheless, let's suppose there's some scientific theory X which is empirically established such that we can say it has been empirically proven. And let us say that if X, then ~C, where C stands for at least one Biblical teaching. Would it then be the case that X would give me good reason to think I am wrong in accepting the Big Bang hypothesis? No. Would it be the case that X would give me good reason to think I am wrong for accepting the Big Bang hypothesis because I believe Genesis is true? No, not necessarily (I may have cumulative reasons for accepting Genesis, and have different non-overlapping reasons for accepting C, whatever C is supposed to be, such that X would be a defeater for C, but would not be a defeater for the Big Bang.

  3. "The Big Bang only brings the universe to a state just after what we think was a singularity, it never posits that the singularity wasn't there, or what came before it, or what happened as a catalyst for [you mean 'what happened to catalyze'] the Big Bang."
    This is a misunderstanding of the implications of the standard cosmological model, according to which there was literally a moment at which all matter, energy, space and time came into existence, in such a way that we can say that there was a first 'moment' of time. It is bad syntax to speak about anything 'before' the big bang if we mean temporally prior, but we can speak about what might be logically prior (for instance, any efficient cause would have to be logically prior). You're right to say that the Big Bang does not posit that the singularity ever wasn't there, but that's practically tautological, the whole point is that it does suggest that there was a singularity such that we must speak about a first moment of the universe' existence out of nothing (meaning not composed of pre-existent states of matter, energy, or space or time for that matter). However, again, the beginning of the universe out of nothing has absolutely no purchase on the soundness of the standard cosmological argument (from contingency), so it seems to me that we shouldn't have to belabour this point.
    "There are natural hypotheses on the matter, all of which are more credible, believable and preferable from a philosophical standpoint than a supernatural explanation."
    Unless this is an expression of feeling on your part, like an expression of autobiographical/psychological facts about yourself, I find it hard to interpret this charitably (meaning such that it even 'could' be true). Perhaps when you say 'from a philosophical standpoint' you use the indefinite article to mean a particular one which you have in mind, like a naturalistic one. However, clearly it isn't true of all philosophical standpoints (nor is it even true of most). Moreover, you seem to suggest that there are naturalistic hypotheses for the universe' existence. If you mean in order to account coherently for the universes' contingency without appealing to an incontingency, then you have lost me entirely, but along with me you have lost all the world's greatest atheists as well (see Russell in the argument I linked to above, for example). If, however, you mean (and this is perhaps more likely) that there are naturalistic hypotheses which give a naturalistic account for the Big Bang, then you must mean either with respect to efficient cause, or else with respect to broadly physical cause. If the former, then your point remains lost. If the latter, then I suppose you might have something like the multiverse in mind. If you do, I would say that I do not find the multiverse more plausible than Theism, but in any case they aren't even mutually exclusive, so I ought just to say that I don't find the multiverse hypothesis compelling at all. If you have something else in mind, like the theory of Quantum fluctuations able to bring Universes into existence like particles out of a Quantum Vacuum, then I would point out that in the case of those particles, you would still need the Vacuum, but in the case of the singularity, there is no analogy (at least without the Multiverse, which brings us back to the previous point).

  4. Now, as I've been more than charitable in acquiescing to your request, I want to reiterate one of my own: I really do want you to show me some evidence that you are ready to engage any one of the forms of the cosmological argument (from contingency) which I have provided you with. Unless and until you engage directly with one or more of those arguments, I may just have to manage my time differently (no offence intended, but I can't waste what precious little time I have engaging in a conversation you aren't willing to take seriously). Show me some sign that you are looking at the argument(s) and then I will respond to you again. Short of that, consider the challenge 'shelved' for future consideration.

    1. From listening to the Russell/Copleston Debate, Copleston says that we know that we are all contingent beings by experience. It strikes me as odd that is where experience ends as a meaningful process in deciding what to believe for a theist. Experience shows that there are no noncontingent beings, why can’t that conclude that noncontingent beings don’t exist. There could be something that is noncontingent, but not a being. (For that matter, if experience is meaningful to theists, they could never believe the bible because every miracle in that text is counter to experience.) I understand the concept of necessity, but I don’t understand why anything close to what we consider God must be the necessity. Why can’t the universe be the necessity? Or quantum foam? Causes don’t have to be intelligent or have agency, experience shows that. The argument either makes a huge assumption or defines God so broadly that quantum foam (or whatever) could match the definition of God.

      The takeaway from the Aquinas bit is his claim that causes can’t regress infinitely and that nothing can be the “efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible.” Maybe is he was up on modern physcs, he wouldn’t feel so strongly abut this, but regardless I have problems with the assessment. If the first effect we can determine is the Big Bang of the universe, then no cause can be prior to it because time began out of the singularity. If you say the cause (God) exists outside time and space, as God must, then that, again, is an assumption at odds with experience. If you say that some form of time (or any medium allowing action) exists prior to the Big Bang, then causes could very well regress infinitely--all you need is infinite time. I’ve asked math professors about this, it’s counterintuitive, like saying .9 repeating is equal to 1, but it’s true and the misuse of whichever first apologist (maybe Aquinas) who got it wrong is often repeated.

    2. Ah, I see, the first argument. Good choice.
      First, there is no experience we have which proves that there is no incontingent being (in fact, I can't even imagine what such an experience could be, and I suspect that's not just because I'm a Theist with a limited imagination). Moreover, Copleston's point was that if we have experience of even a single contingent being, then we have an experience from which, were it veridical, we could rationally infer that there is an incontingent being. Why? Because rational intuition and logical analysis demonstrate and obviate to us that if there is a single contingent being, in need of sufficient explanation, then there is an incontingent being, since the contingent being does not sufficiently explain itself, nor can it be sufficiently explained by any number (including an infinite number) of contingent beings which themselves require an explanation; it can only be sufficiently explained by recourse to an incontingent being. Copleston isn't an empiricist - he isn't appealing to experience to make his argument, but only just to establish the only premise one could rationally doubt (after all, as I have already highlighted - indeed I belaboured the point - the causal principle in use here is not one afforded by experience but is rational, logical and intuitive). One can rationally doubt that anything at all exists, or at least that anything contingent exists - that is why Copleston is pointing to experience here, since he believes we have experience of contingent beings, and that is enough for his argument. That is also why Russell denies that one premise (it's the only premise one can legitimately criticize). Russell takes issue with the very vocabulary of contingency - he counters with his peculiar theory of descriptions, which philosophers recognize today is miserably bad. Notice that Russell even wants to side-step having to admit that "the universe" as such exists, since his theory of descriptions suggests there's something wrong with speaking about the world as a whole.
      You say you understand the concept of necessity, but you don't think we consider God to be necessary. Well, perhaps you have something else in mind when you use, or think about, the word 'God', but when I use the word God I mean precisely a necessary being (that's also why Russell challenged the possibility of there ever being a necessary being, which is ironic since he believed in necessary subsistent platonic forms, as I've recently blogged about). More precisely, I take the word 'God' to be best defined as 'that than which nothing greater could be conceived', and that concept is just what philosophers today call a maximally great being. A Maximally great being would need to be a necessary being, and it is difficult or impossible to think of a necessary being which wouldn't just be God (for a thing to be necessary means that the very idea of it involves its existence - in other words, a necessary being is one which exists, if it exists at all, in all logically possible worlds). That, by the way, is why the Universe and the Quantum 'foam' cannot be 'necessary beings', because there are logically possible worlds in which neither exist.

    3. Now, it is a fair point for you to argue that the cosmological argument doesn't prove everything about God, but the Theist admits that. The only thing the cosmological argument is meant to prove is that there is an incontingent being, a being which exists necessarily, and which explains the totality of contingent beings. We can come to issues such as whether God is loving, or is personal, or has any of the other superlative attributes which Christians believe God does have, after we establish that God exists. What we mean by the word 'God' is first of all a being which is incontingent, and which explains the existence of all things. That is what the argument aims here to prove. The cosmological argument can also prove that God is personal, but we can come to that once we've mastered the argument itself. I think the theist can, as everyone always does, argue for what she believes piecemeal, instead of arguing for everything all at once. For the moment, we're just trying to establish whether a incontingent being which sufficiently explains the existence of all things in the world (i.e., which is the sufficient reason of the whole world) exists.

    4. Concerning Aquinas, let me just begin by saying that Aquinas has never made the mistake of thinking there cannot be an infinite regress. He argues at length in various writings that we cannot prove that the universe had a beginning, but must believe it on faith (even though he thought it was reasonable). What he means here by seeming to reject an infinite series is that he rejects the notion that an infinite number of intermediary causes could explain why there are any causes at all (in the same way Copleston rejects the idea that postulating an infinite number of contingent beings sufficiently explains why every/all contingent being(s) exist(s)).
      When you say that you think modern physics casts doubt on whether something can be the efficient cause of itself, I think you may be confusing categories of causation. Remember that efficient causes do not have to be temporally prior to their effects. They could be simultaneous with them. They could also be after them in time (backwards causation). They could also be completely non-temporal, such as certain logical causes. To say that something could be the cause of itself, though, is actually logically absurd. Think about it: suppose you tried to explain what caused the Universe, and your response was: "the Universe!" That would mean, though, that the Universe caused itself to begin to exist. However, for that to be the case it would already have had to exist (the word 'already' here operates not as a temporal designator, but as designating the antecedent in the material conditional statement). In that case though, all you've done is stated that the Universe DOES exist, and that the fact that it does exist itself is the sufficient reason for why it exists - but this is linguistically confused (at least unless you argue that the idea of the universe involves its existence). You wouldn't be satisfied with any such explanation of anything else because you would see right away how absurd it is. It is literally an instance of what philosophers like to call vicious circularity.
      You say "if you say God is outside of time and space, as God must, then that, again, is an assumption at odds with experience."
      I am particularly tickled by this - you know that the Thesis topic I'm currently pursuing is actually 'God's relationship to Time from the perspective of Analytic Theology'. So I have thought about this quite a lot. But, first of all, you're bringing in experience again where it doesn't belong. Moreover, we have no experience or set of experiences which demonstrates to us that nothing timeless or spaceless exists. You might argue that we have no experience of anything timeless and spaceless, but then you're begging the question of whether we do have any experiences of God - or indeed, we may have experiences in which we apprehend adjectives and prepositions which are themselves, arguably, timeless and spaceless subsistent 'things' (see my article on Russell and prepositions). In any case, I'm not sure we have no experiences of timeless and spaceless things (I think we do), and I'm not sure we have any experience which makes it less likely that timeless and spaceless things exist (absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence except in the case that we ought to have had evidence if the thing existed). Finally, experience is the wrong starting point to begin with: the argument is about Logic (more precisely 'Modal' Logic).

    5. I didn't start talking about the value of experience by myself, that was Coplestone's premise for why he thinks his argument is compelling. You said, "I'm not sure we have no experiences of timeless and spaceless things (I think we do)" I'd be interested to know what those are. And please don't reference concepts, I want experiences of timeless and spaceless things or beings every bit as real as you believe God is.

    6. Sure. We could begin with God himself, whom I think we can and, whether consciously or not, do have experiences of. We could also talk about experiencing Universals as concepts in the mind - at least if universals really exist mind-independently, which is what I was previously hinting towards. We could perhaps add others, but I'm not sure - for example we might want to add Angels, if we have experiences of Angels. We might want to argue as well that we apprehend ourselves as being essentially immaterial subjects.

      However, with regards to Copleston*, the reason I am weary about you putting too much weight on that comment is that it may lead you to misunderstand Copleston's position. He is not arguing that we know about this causal principle because of experience, but only that we have had experiences (even if the radical skeptic is right about our being brains in vats) of contingent beings.

      *proper spelling

    7. So you mention that we have experiences of timeless and spaceless things or beings in your argument for God, and your only examples are God and angels?

    8. Well, that's a relatively flippant response :p.

      Obviously we typically experience things within the context of time and space, and so, as I said, it may be difficult to think of examples of anything which we experience, and which is timeless and spaceless. I mentioned God, though obviously that wouldn't do much good in an argument for his existence. I also say that apart from God we might consider Universals, meaning platonic forms (here, even Russell accepts that we do experience these, so this isn't some peculiarly theistic example).

      However, perhaps it's more significant for me to draw your attention back to the relevant point (something we have to make a habit of doing). The relevant point is that no experience counts against the existence of a timeless and spaceless being, and that perhaps some experience, if veridical, logically entails the existence of a timeless and spaceless being. That is, in fact, what the argument is trying to show, so we can't assume that this cannot, or can, be done without following the argument (at least not while trying to appraise the argument).

      However, as a deeper point - is your imagination really so bad that you can't even imagine experiencing angels? Or indeed, can you imagine experiencing God... More broadly, can you imagine experiencing Universals (that is, cognitive experience, which is apprehension)? If you can, then perhaps you can reflect on what that would be like. If you cannot, then why are you asking for such examples - they aren't even relevant to the point at hand. Stay on target.

    9. What specific Universals apply? As long as they aren't concepts and are every bit as real as you believe God is, I'd be interested.

      If you want to stay on the origin topic, we should go back to the fine tuning argument. If we are continuing this line or reasoning, I need answers to these questions to take your relevent point seriously.

      My imagination is fine, but ideas floating around in my head aren't real examples. I can imagine experiencing hobbits easier than I can imagine experiencing angels, but that doesn't make them real. What's your point here?

    10. Well, the universals I had in mind are those represented by prepositions in particular, though I suppose I agree with Russell that once one admits these one might as well also admit the reality of those represented by adjectives. Examples of prepositions could include: "being similar to" or "being North of". If you want to explore this more, I highly recommend reading Bertrand Russell, or perhaps you could even read my blog about Bertrand Russell and Prepositions.

      The Fine-Tuning argument is one which we were having, and which we finished having, prior to beginning this present discussion concerning the cosmological argument from contingency. I recommend that we continue discussing the cosmological argument from contingency. Currently we're using the first argument, from Copleston. It goes, as I recall, something like this:

      1. God is a being distinct from the world, which is possibly the sufficient reason for the world.
      2. The world is nothing other than the totality or aggregate of beings which do not contain in themselves the sufficient reason of their existence (i.e., they do not explain themselves).
      3. All beings which do not contain in themselves the sufficient reason of their existence must have a sufficient reason of their existence in something else.
      4. The world is in no less need of a sufficient reason then its constituent parts, since the world is nothing other than the sum of its parts.
      5. Therefore, God exists.

      That may require some redaction later, as I did that off the cuff, but that's basically how the argument goes. Where, precisely, do you take issue with the argument?

    11. I say I want experiences of timeless and spaceless things or beings every bit as real as you believe God to be to support your claims and I get figures of speech? Your Universals are ways to describe things, nothing more. Please explain or admit that your previous point is baseless.

    12. Alright, so you seem not to understand Universals, or else you don't understand Cognitive experience, or you think that cognitive experience isn't 'experience' of the kind you have in mind, or you think that platonic realism isn't even logically possible. I have a feeling (forgive me if this guess is wrong) that the problem here is that you don't seem to understand what it is that Russell and other platonic realists have in mind when they talk about 'universals'. Here is an article which may help introduce you to the idea:

      If this is really a sticking point for you (though I'm at a loss for what it has to do with the argument) then I recommend reading such articles (and again, really try to get a hold of Russell's article).

      However, if I can try my hand briefly at making this a little easier to understand: it is important to recognize that people like Russell want to argue that ideas, such as those represented by adjectives, prepositions, substantives and adverbs, exist independent of human minds. In other words, even if there were no human minds, the colour green would really exist. Even if there were no minds, the relations of 'earlier-than' or 'later-than' or 'larger-than' (etc.) would still exist.

      Copleston doesn't have to hold that, and neither do I (obviously), but if you're interested in them then go for it.

      When you're good and ready to continue exploring the argument at hand, you let me know. If you want to call it quits because you're not interested in the cosmological argument from contingency (which, as I said, does prove that God exists), then feel free to say so.

    13. I believe "earlier-than" and "later-than" exist even if there were no minds because time exists even if there were no minds, although we can't know this for certain. Whether this is true or not is beside the point and not what I was asking for to support your claim. You said we have experiences of timeless and spaceless things to validate your argument, but you have provided none so I will assume you have none to provide.

      If you can't defend a previous claim yet accept it nontheless, even though you don't think it is the most important claim, I have no reason to believe I will convince you that future claims you make are incorrect. Understand that while not all your claims may be based on blind faith, this one surely is. Apologetics is said to be on a foundation of reason, but really it's just a method of convincing others using reason that only works given a foundation of blind faith.

    14. Notice that, as I have said numerous times but will not fail to say again, this point about universals has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the argument at hand - it doesn't support the argument at all. In fact, to say that we have no experiences of timeless or spaceless things would not entail that we don't have experiences of some thing, from the existence of which can be deduced a timeless and spaceless being. It is, in fact, the project of the argument to do just that.

      By the way, no joke, I was just this morning writing a post on the preposition 'before' or 'earlier-than'. Great minds think alike (and fools seldom differ). I think it's a good example: you have the power by reason to perceive of such a relation, and you know what such a relation exists, therefore, by cognitive experience. Isn't this a kind of experience? Moreover, these relations of 'earlier-than' or 'later-than' are not dependent upon our minds, but are perceived by us as existing - as already part of the fabric of the world. Therefore, in apprehending such a form, represented by a preposition, we are experiencing some real thing which is timeless and spaceless.

      I want to reiterate again that this has nothing to do with the argument we're discussing, but represents an interesting (though completely insignificant) tangent.

    15. This point has to do with Copleston's reasoning that experience contributes to why the argument at hand is compelling. You can't say a preposition about the relation of two different times is timeless or a preposition about the relation of two different sizes is spaceless. Without time or space the prepositions make no sense and hold no meaning. And even if there is a relational comparison that is spaceless and timeless, it isn't comparable to an timeless and spaceless being, which runs counter to experience.

      You keep saying this point doesn't matter to the argument, yet it's completely relevant to the first part of the argument! "1. God is a being distinct from the world, which is possibly the sufficient reason for the world." Assuming by "the world" you mean the universe or even reality, my first (but not only) problem with the argument is this assumption that is totally baseless and, by all accounts of experience, immpossible.

    16. Well, that's an interesting objection to prepositions about temporal or spacial relations, but the point would remain that the preposition 'to resemble' would subsist in all logically possible worlds (or perhaps you could say that it wouldn't subsist in a world where only God existed - though I'm tempted to say that there is not really such a logically possible world - in other words that that would be a violation of the 'possible-world-semantics' language game). Or, perhaps I'm wrong about the 'possible-world-semantics' language game (I'd like to be, for theological reasons, but I just can't seem to get there).

      Concerning Copleston, I will try to explain this another time: Copleston says we have experience of things in time and space. He argues that at least one such thing is contingent. He then argues that if there exists even a single contingent thing, then there is an incontingent thing. If you admit that we have even a single experience of a temporal spacial and contingent thing, then God exists (according to the argument)... Perhaps I'll say it again: So, Copleston is arguing that we have these experiences in which we apprehend that there are contingent objects. He then argues that a single contingent object logically requires a sufficient explanation, and then argues that the only logically possible sufficient explanation must be rooted in some incontingent being. Notice, of course, that Copleston hasn't had to say that we have experiences of an incontingent being (though actually he goes on to argue as much in one of the arguments with Russell following this first one, but let's stick to this first argument).

      Now, because I'm not sure the point is completely and entirely evident, I will say it a third time: Copleston's argument needs only that we experience one thing, which is contingent, and he says this is enough to license the claim, from experience and deductive logic (modal logic), that God exists.

      So, a fourth time should do it I think: Copleston is not arguing that experience itself contributes to the argument at hand being compelling - he is arguing that we all know by experience that at least one contingent being exists, and so we can all already deduce a priori that God exists (not deduce it a posteriori). How? Well, take a look at the argument - it goes from one contingent being needing a sufficient reason, to the only sufficient reason possible being an incontingent being.

      By the way, I'm not trying to be condescending, but by my count I have made this point in this string of comments no less than 5 times. In total, that's nine times. Now, perhaps I'll have to make it a tenth time - but, I did try really hard in this post to make this point as evident as possible, in as many ways as I can think to express it.

    17. The preposition 'to resemble' would subsist in all logically possible worlds...that have at least two things in them that can resemble each other.

      I feel like we're talking over each other here. You've made your point many times and I've made mine many times. Neither of us accepts the other point. You are being condescending because you think the only way anyone wouldn't find this compelling is if they don't understand it. No, I, and likely Russell, understand it fine. We can still reject it and I've offered the first way in which I can reject it. I see other flaws in the argument, but whats the point in moving on if you refuse (or don't understand :-) the flaws I've already presented. I'll also say your assessment of Copleston's argument as given by that link makes a some assumptions. They might not be assumptions from your point of view, I assume you've read more of Copleston's stuff, but judging from the debate you referred me to, I see nothing wrong with my assessment of his meaning of experience.

      There is one thing I admit I don't get that you might be able to clear up further. Why, specifically, does the incontingent thing that must exist must be a being?

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