‘God Did It’ is a Terrible Explanation

by Luke Muehlhauser on November 5, 2010 in General Atheism,Podcast

(part of the Why Christianity Is False series; you can also listen to this podcast online or in iTunes or via RSS)

This is a reply to The Christian Worldview is the Best Explanation by Jim Wallace.

Wallace says that just as a detective tries to come up with a story that best explains all the facts in a murder case, we all try to come up with a story – a worldview – that best explains everything we experience and know. So far, we agree.

Jim then says that Christianity offers a better explanation for things than naturalism does. And what does he mean by “better explanation”? He says that a good explanation

is feasible (it possesses “explanatory viability”), that it is simple (it has the most “explanatory power”), that it is exhaustive (it has the most “explanatory scope”), that it is logical (it has the most “explanatory consistency”) and that it is superior (it possesses “explanatory superiority”).

This is an “explanationist” account of abduction, according to which one compares rival explanations by the “explanatory virtues” they possess. But Jim’s account of explanatory virtues is strange, to say the least.

I’m not sure what it means for an explanation to be “feasible” or to possess “explanatory viability” – does that just mean it’s likely? Also, “explanatory power” is not simplicity – the two are different explanatory virtues. And what does “explanatory superiority” mean? That’s quite vague, and sounds like some kind of global assessment of explanatory virtue, perhaps.

To give you an idea of what a list of “explanatory virtues” or “explanatory desiderata” usually looks like when philosophers attempt this form of inference to the best explanation, here’s a list of explanatory virtues I’ve compiled from some of the leading thinkers on the subject from the past half-century: Peter Lipton, Gilbert Harmann, Wesley Salmon, William Lycan, Paul Thagard, and others.

  1. Testability: better explanations render specific predictions that can be falsified or corroborated.
  2. Scope (aka “comprehensiveness” or “consilience”): better explanations explain more types of phenomena.
  3. Precision: better explanations explain phenomena with greater precision.
  4. Simplicity: better explanations make use of fewer claims, especially fewer as yet unsupported claims (“lack of ad-hoc-ness”).
  5. Mechanism: better explanations provide more information about underlying mechanisms.
  6. Unification: better explanations unify apparently disparate phenomena (also sometimes called “consilience”).
  7. Predictive novelty: better explanations don’t just “retrodict” what we already know, but predict things we observe only after they are predicted.
  8. Analogy (aka “fit with background knowledge”): better explanations generally fit with what we already know with some certainty.
  9. Past explanatory success: better explanations fit within a tradition or trend with past explanatory success (e.g. astronomy, not astrology).

Even more surprising than Jim’s odd account of explanationism is the fact that he doesn’t give a single argument as to why Christianity is a better explanation for things, given his criteria, than naturalism!

In the second half of my lecture Why the New Atheists Failed and How to Defeat All Religious Arguments in One Easy Step, I considered a more standard list of explanatory virtues and explained why theism scores so poorly on all of them.

Indeed, theism as an explanation has much in common with what we know to be really bad explanations from pseudoscience and superstition, and almost nothing in common with what we know to be really good explanations from the physical sciences. So why should we think theism is a good explanation like those from science, rather than a really terrible explanation like those from pseudoscience and superstition? That’s what I’d like to hear from Jim Wallace.

Here is the relevant section of the transcript from my talk:

Let’s look at a list of arguments for the existence of God:

You’ve got cosmological arguments: God is the best explanation for why something exists rather than nothing.

You’ve got design arguments: God is the best explanation for certain complex things.

You’ve got moral arguments: God is the best explanation for why some things are really right and wrong.

And here are some other arguments proposed by the most important Christian philosopher alive today, Alvin Plantinga:

He says: God is the best explanation for the existence of mathematical sets.

God is the best explanation for our experience of flavor and color.

God is the best explanation for our appreciation of Mozart.

God is the best explanation for our experience of nostalgia.

So by now you might have noticed a problem. How does saying “God did it” explain any of these things? How does “God did it” offer a solution to any of the problems that philosophers and scientists are working on? When you’re confronted with a difficult problem, you can’t just say “Well, I guess it was magic.” That doesn’t solve anything!

“Poof! Magic” is not an explanation.

But I can’t just say that “Poof! Magic” is not explanation. I have to argue for it.

Scientists and philosophers, when looking for a best explanation, have identified some qualities that are often associated with good explanations. What is it that makes something a best explanation? What is it that makes one thing a good explanation, and another thing a not-so-good explanation?

Well, the first thing is that they are testable. In fact, if a theory wasn’t testable, it wouldn’t make much sense to say it’s the best explanation of something, because there’s no way for you to test whether it’s true or not! These theories render specific predictions, so you can go out in the world and see whether those predictions are true or false.

And of course, it should be not only testable, but it should pass the test…

Our most successful explanations also tend to be consistent with our background knowledge. If your new theory requires that we throw out everything we know about gravity and light and animals and humans, then that’s probably not the right theory. Consistency with background knowledge is important for a best explanation.

Successful explanations also tend to be simpler than alternatives. If a cookie is missing from a cookie jar, that’s probably just because Timmy took the cookie. It’s possible that the FBI and a gang of poltergeists conspired to use a time-stopping machine to freeze time and walk right past you and steal the cookie and then get away and unfreeze time again. That’s possible. But it’s extremely unlikely. Why? Because every element in that story is by itself unlikely, and the theory requires that they all be true, which is even more unlikely. So don’t add things to your theory that don’t need to be there.

Successful explanations should also have good explanatory scope, meaning they should explain a wide variety of data. Take, for example, the theory that those puffy white lines you see in the sky sometimes are from government planes dropping mind-control gas on all of us. One problem with this theory is that it might explain why New Yorkers see them, but it does not explain why you see lots of puffy white lines in the sky over deserts and oceans, where there are no minds to control. So that theory might explain some of the data, but it doesn’t explain all the data. It has weak explanatory scope.

So this is just the start of what scientists and philosophers look for in a good explanation, but we can already see there are major problems for the “God did it” theory.

For example, is the God hypothesis testable? No. Saying “God did it” renders no specific predictions for us to test, because God is all powerful and he could be responsible for anything. And theologians are very insistent on this because if they started to make the God hypothesis more specific and he would render specific predictions, it usually turns out that he fails the test. So they’ve been very careful to make God this mysterious, all-powerful thing and we don’t understand his purposes and he could be doing just about anything and we wouldn’t understand why. So there are no specific predictions that come out of the God hypothesis; there’s no way to test it. And it doesn’t make sense to say God is the best hypothesis if there’s no way to test whether or not that hypothesis is true.

What about the second criterion? Is the God hypothesis consistent with our background knowledge? Not at all. God is an extreme violation of our background knowledge about how things work. God is a person but he doesn’t have a body. God thinks, but without the passage of time. He knows everything, but he doesn’t have a brain. God is a terrible violation of our background knowledge in many serious ways.

Is the God hypothesis simple? If you’re talking about the God of the Bible, definitely not. The God of the Bible is an extraordinarily complex person; a being with thoughts and emotions who loves and hates and condemns and forgives; a being who turns a staff into a snake and a woman into salt; a being who changes his mind; a being who starts fires and throws rocks from the sky; a being who kills and resurrects; a being who takes part in personal relationships and political struggles; and a being who incarnates himself as a complex biological organism known as Jesus of Nazareth. The God of the Bible is far from simple.

And even if you’re talking about a more generic kind of God, God is not simple. Christian philosopher C. Stephen Layman lists four ways that a hypothesis can be simple, and in all 4 ways he admits that the God hypothesis is more complex than the atheistic hypothesis. But I don’t have time to go into that here. [See Letters to Doubting Thomas.]

What about explanatory scope? Does the God hypothesis have good explanatory scope? Again, no. I’ll give just one example. If you invoke God as the explanation for apparent design in the universe, you immediately run into the problem of all the incompetent and evil “design” in the universe.

So why is “God did it” a bad explanation? It’s because “God did it” lacks all the virtues we look for in successful explanations, and instead has many of the qualities that appear in terrible explanations, like explanations from pseudoscience and superstition.

Jim Wallace’s lack of care with explanationism, along with his total lack of interest in articulating why theism is a better explanation for things than naturalism, looks really bad. Frankly, it looks like he’s trying to sound philosophically informed so that he can reassure the masses: “Don’t worry, kids, smart people who use philosophical-sounding words believe Jesus is magic, too!”

If Jim was really interested in figuring out whether or not theism is a good explanation for things, he would have taken more care in examining his account of explanation, and he would have offered at least a hint of why he thinks theism is a better explanation for things than naturalism.

Frankly, Jim’s essay is a hallmark of apologetic method: a blissfully empty pretense of sophistication and truth-seeking, all to prop up ancient faith and dogma.

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{ 71 comments… read them below or add one }

Wes Widner November 5, 2010 at 5:44 am

“Nothing did it” is an even worse explanation.

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Lesiba November 5, 2010 at 6:14 am

“Nothing did it” is an even worse explanation.  (Quote)

Who says “nothing” did it?

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drj November 5, 2010 at 6:17 am

“Nothing did it” is an even worse explanation.  

Unless we have an infinite regress of explanations, explanations will have to terminate on something fundamental. So perhaps on naturalism, we end the explanatory chain at a quantum vacuum or something like that. With theism, we end the explanatory chain on God.

But in neither case is anyone saying “Nothing did it”… or they are both saying “Nothing did it” when it comes to the fundamental thing which ends the explanatory chain.

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Paul November 5, 2010 at 6:59 am

Also, there’s always “We don’t really know yet.”

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drj November 5, 2010 at 7:02 am

And btw Luke, this was an awesome post. Since I’ve been following your blog, I’ve noticed a steady upward trend in the quality of its content. Keep it up!

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James Onen November 5, 2010 at 8:01 am

“Nothing did it” is an even worse explanation.

Nice attempt at a false dichotomy, Wes. So it’s either ‘God’ or ‘nothing’?

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Patrick November 5, 2010 at 8:15 am

I don’t think abductive reasoning is as great a friend to the apologist as they think it is.

When reasoning abductively, you look for best explanations. Best explanations take into account all data. Its not like deductive or inductive reasoning which can be performed in whole or in part as closed systems.

So I choose to take into account that every single time in human history that a theologian has said “X can’t have a natural explanation, it must be supernatural,” that statement has eventually turned out to be either,

A. Indeterminate, or
B. Totally false.

With a heavy trend towards the “totally false” cateogry.

And in fact the course of human scientific progress has consisted of statements of this nature being proven false over and over, each time resulting in the theologian identifying a new event or happening that the theologian is convinced must be magical. And at this stage the theologians have been pushed back by scientific progress all the way to the beginning of time and space itself.

If you’re engaged in abductive reasoning, that’s data.

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Luke Muehlhauser November 5, 2010 at 8:24 am

James Onen,

Yes. Theists like to think it’s either “God” or “nothing.” But I can think of a million alternatives.

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Márcio November 5, 2010 at 9:10 am

“We don’t know what is the cause, but we know it was not God.”

That is the only thing atheists know.

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Chris November 5, 2010 at 9:12 am

I lol’d at “explanatory superiority.”

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Bill Snedden November 5, 2010 at 9:30 am

Marcio: NO; that is not at all what “atheists” know or say they know. If I was being uncharitable I’d accuse you of lying, but I imagine you really do believe that despite all evidence to the contrary…

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Luke Muehlhauser November 5, 2010 at 10:06 am

Marcio,

Yes, because the concept of God is incoherent and ridiculously implausible.

And even if atheists don’t think that, they can still defend a ‘negative atheism’ of the type: “We have no reason to think God exists.”

Just like, you know, I don’t have a disproof of fairies, but I have no reason to think fairies exist.

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Luke Muehlhauser November 5, 2010 at 10:06 am

Chris,

I know! Reading that list I said “WTF is that???” like five times.

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Hermes November 5, 2010 at 10:29 am

Wes Widner: “Nothing did it” is an even worse explanation.  

Wes, using your extensive blogging experience, and self-described Christian apologetic evangelism stance, tell me. Honestly. Can you cite a *SINGLE* instance where anyone except for a religious theistic person said — as you quoted — “Nothing did it” ? If not those direct words, can you cite a larger quote where someone said basically the same thing?

Bonus points for citing someone that has some credentials and for providing the context that they said such a thing, not just a vague memory.

If you can not do that, I suggest strongly that you retract your fictitious quote and drop parroting it in the future. If you can’t come up with something specific, and you don’t retract your claim, you will just reinforce (once again) what I’ve seen repeatedly from many Christian evangelicals; are both quick to offend and be offended, facts to them are irrelevant or cherry picked, and they have no morals that would contradict a point of dogma for their religious assertions nor bias against non-Christians.

Are you one of those? Are you a liar for Jesus? Do you skirt responsibility for your words?

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Hermes November 5, 2010 at 11:06 am

Wow, Wes, do you still mean this? …

Moving on; Sure, there is a lot of junk science out there like global warming and Darwinian evolution. However these share something in common, neither contain any evidence nor are they able to adequately answer competing evidence.

So, to sum it all up. Without explicit Biblical evidence one way or another and given the wealth of scientific evidence against a young earth view, I am inclined to favor an older view of the universe.

Source: http://reasontostand.org/archives/2010/06/28/on-the-old-earth-part-1-of-2

I consider that since the best available evidence is also easy to get, if you — or anyone — is not willing to look it over or flippantly reject it I consider that to be a moral failing. Boxing in your view of reality to meet a preconception is not an acceptable way to get out of this moral problem.

Are you responsible and do you stand by your words?

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Rob November 5, 2010 at 11:31 am

Patrick,

That’s a good argument, but we are all vulnerable to it.

Since the overwhelming majority of past successful scientific theories have turned out to be false, that gives us good reason to suppose that our current successful scientific theories are false.

This is called the pessimistic meta-induction.

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Luke Muehlhauser November 5, 2010 at 11:56 am

Hermes,

That’s a good challenge. Theists often claim that on atheism, the explanation is “Nothing did it.” But I can’t find any atheists who claim this. It appears to be blatant dishonesty on the part of theists.

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cl November 5, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Not much to say, but:

Theists often claim that on atheism, the explanation is “Nothing did it.” But I can’t find any atheists who claim this. It appears to be blatant dishonesty on the part of theists. [to Hermes]

Yes. Theists like to think it’s either “God” or “nothing.” But I can think of a million alternatives. [to James Onen]

It seems to me that anybody who has beliefs about the ultimate nature of existence must endorse one of the following:

1) all that is physical always existed in some form;

2) all that is physical came from *literal* nothing [as opposed to quantum soup];

3) all that is physical came from something non-physical.

You say you can think of “a million” alternatives, but surely that’s just loose talk, right? I mean, I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, and to date, I can’t come up with anything that doesn’t fall into one or more of those categories. So, I guess my question is, what other alternatives are there?

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cl November 5, 2010 at 12:16 pm

Rob,

Since the overwhelming majority of past successful scientific theories have turned out to be false, that gives us good reason to suppose that our current successful scientific theories are false.

I agree, yet, there are people on this thread who would imply that one is guilty of a “moral failing” for refusing to assert the age of the Earth in calendar years.

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cl November 5, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Rob,

To elaborate, this person might retort, “No cl, I didn’t say that. I said that being unwilling to look at or flippantly rejecting evidence is a sign of a moral failing.” Of course, to that, I would agree. The problem is that when somebody like myself comes along – somebody who has been willing to take a look at all the evidence and has not flippantly rejected it – I still get accused [via snide insinuation] of this same “moral failing.”

Anyways Rob, the real point is that I’m refreshed by comments like yours. They reassure me that people still have open minds and that not everybody swallows the proclamations of science and science writers without question.

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DZ November 5, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Hermes,
here is quotation from Quentin Smith for you, whom I hope you consider to have some credentials:
“The fact of the matter is that the most reasonable belief is that we came from nothing, by nothing and for nothing”.
Granted he does not say the exact words “Nothing did it”, but am I wrong to take him to mean exactly that?

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Eneasz November 5, 2010 at 12:31 pm

I predict that once the non-existence of Nothing finally filters down to the lay theists their pastors will start announcing that since Genesis starts with an existing timeless universe and never states that Nothing ever existed this is proof that Genesis was inspired by The Creator. “The waters” was obviously a metaphor.

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Kyle Key November 5, 2010 at 12:39 pm

@Rob:
“Since the overwhelming majority of past successful scientific theories have turned out to be false, that gives us good reason to suppose that our current successful scientific theories are false.”
True, but the critical, historical difference is that scientists freely admit as much. The answer will never come back: “Yes, we know this with absolute certainty, so let us never question it again, and to those who do, let us threaten them with eternal torture.”

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Drj November 5, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Not much to say, but:
It seems to me that anybody who has beliefs about the ultimate nature of existence must endorse one of the following:1) all that is physical always existed in some form;2) all that is physical came from *literal* nothing [as opposed to quantum soup];3) all that is physical came from something non-physical.You say you can think of “a million” alternatives, but surely that’s just loose talk, right? I mean, I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, and to date, I can’t come up with anything that doesn’t fall into one or more of those categories. So, I guess my question is, what other alternatives are there?  

Hmmmm…

Could be a committe of gods, zues, a demiurge, a Flying teapot, a spaghetti monster, or maye even super intelligent immaterial space pirates. Endless possibilities..

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Bill Snedden November 5, 2010 at 12:53 pm

cl: “I agree, yet, there are people on this thread who would imply that one is guilty of a “moral failing” for refusing to assert the age of the Earth in calendar years. ”

I don’t know about that…I can’t recall ever seeing anyone here say or argue such a thing. I DO recall seeing variations of a slightly more nuanced position: that anyone who insists that the earth is around 6-10,000 years old is guilty of a moral failing. And in terms of betraying one’s epistemic responsibilities, that’s certainly true. However, the two (yours and mine) are not equivalent statements.

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Gil S. November 5, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Hermes,That’s a good challenge. Theists often claim that on atheism, the explanation is “Nothing did it.” But I can’t find any atheists who claim this. It appears to be blatant dishonesty on the part of theists.  

How about Quentin Smith? During my time online, I have seen atheists take such an approach. There’s no manifesto, however, but we all acknowledge that nothing did it is a terrible explanation. For example, look at Alexander Pruss’s paper on Leibniz’s Cosmological Argument and you’ll see that one of the objections raised is that the universe simply exists, by brute fact. It’s another way of saying “Nothing did it *qualifier* because it just exists”. I believe he called it the “taxi-cab objection”. There’s no dishonesty on the theist’s part, but it definitely can be a false generalization.

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Heuristics November 5, 2010 at 2:46 pm

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/10/fusty_nonsense_from_a_creation.php
Michael:>”1) Why is there anything?”
Myers:>”1) Nothing is unstable.”

Nothing existed
Nothing was unstable
Nothing became anything

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Hermes November 5, 2010 at 3:06 pm

So, I guess my question is, what other alternatives are there?

Doesn’t matter. The implied claim Wes made was that atheist think that the universe came from nothing. That is the problem, not some hyperbolic comments that follow.

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Hermes November 5, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Hermes,
here is quotation from Quentin Smith for you, whom I hope you consider to have some credentials:
“The fact of the matter is that the most reasonable belief is that we came from nothing, by nothing and for nothing”.
Granted he does not say the exact words “Nothing did it”, but am I wrong to take him to mean exactly that?  

Thanks DZ, you’re the first person ever to rise to the challenge. Do you have a source reference?

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Hermes November 5, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Gil S. or DZ, if either of you have a source for what Quentin Smith said and as full as you are able a description outlining what he meant, I would appreciate it.

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DZ November 5, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Hermes,
This is a good place to see Smith’s reply to Craig’s criticism of atheism in Reasonable faith, where he quotes Smith as saying the above mentioned line.
http://www.mukto-mona.com/science/physics/bigbang_no_help_smith.htm
Unfortunately, I could not find the link to the original paper by Smith on line :(

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DZ November 5, 2010 at 3:50 pm

For those interested in Craig’s reply to Smith the link is here
http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/cossingu.html

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Hermes November 5, 2010 at 4:16 pm

DZ, thanks. I appreciate the links and the heads up.

Sincerely: I’m not so much interested in a Smith vs. Craig showdown or casual discussion, but Smith’s point of view. What Craig thinks of what atheists think (Smith or anyone else) is not very interesting. With that in mind, mentioning Craig’s involvement as little as possible becomes a bit of a struggle. Don’t get me wrong; I do appreciate knowing something I did not know. That said, I do have some comments that — if I’m missing the point — I would like your assistance in clarifying. If you don’t have additional resources or can’t otherwise help, don’t feel obliged. This is not a challenge to you. Thanks!

* * *

Comments;

I scanned through the text and didn’t find where Smith was advocating the position you had him quoting. It seems that Craig was quoting Smith who was commenting on Heidegger’s ideas.

Smith comments on what Craig wrote, saying;

In Craig’s and other theists’ causal principle, “cause” means something entirely different: it means creating material from nothingness. It is pure speculation that such a strange sort of causation is even possible, let alone even supported in our observations in our daily lives.

This seems that Smith is not advocating the idea that something from nothing was a valid option. He continues;

Is it nonetheless possible that God could have caused this universe? No. For the Wave Function of the Universe implies that there is a 95% probability that the universe came into existence uncaused.

This seems to me that Smith would bet on an uncaused source, not necessarily a literal nothing (unless you’re seeing that or Smith proposes that as nothing and that it does not need to be a a literal nothing but something akin to coming from a quantum vacuum).

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Lorkas November 5, 2010 at 5:40 pm

Nothing existed
Nothing was unstable
Nothing became anything

What about the PZ quote makes you think that he thinks that “nothing existed” (whatever that means)?

It sounds to me like PZ is saying that something exists rather than nothing because it’s impossible for “nothing” to exist.

The funny thing about the “God or nothing” false dichotomy is that neither of those things has been observed to exist in our universe. In any case, the best answer I’ve ever heard to the question is something along the lines of “I don’t know, but we do know that the total energy of the universe is equal to 0, so we know that it’s possible for the universe to exist without any net input of energy.”

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Caleb O November 5, 2010 at 6:42 pm

I thought Wes was Joking…

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Hermes November 5, 2010 at 7:03 pm

I thought Wes was Joking…  

Click on his name and go to his blog.

Is Wes a Poe? Sadly, I don’t think that is the case this time but I’d be glad to know otherwise.

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Eric November 5, 2010 at 10:13 pm

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/10/fusty_nonsense_from_a_creation.php
Michael:>”1) Why is there anything?”
Myers:>”1) Nothing is unstable.”Nothing existed
Nothing was unstable
Nothing became anything  

This implies that nothing is somehow the default and something needs explaining. I doubt PZ accepts this premise and, unless you can show he does, your argument is a straw man.

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Heuristics November 5, 2010 at 11:40 pm

This implies that nothing is somehow the default and something needs explaining. I doubt PZ accepts this premise and, unless you can show he does, your argument is a straw man.  

My argument? What argument? I posted a quote together with my understanding of that quote. If anyone wants to argue that my understanding of it is wrong they are free to do so but it appears to me to be obvious that PZ is stating that first there was nothing but that it was unstable so it became anything.

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Eric November 6, 2010 at 12:14 am

My argument? What argument? I posted a quote together with my understanding of that quote. If anyone wants to argue that my understanding of it is wrong they are free to do so but it appears to me to be obvious that PZ is stating that first there was nothing but that it was unstable so it became anything.  
Sorry. It wasn’t your “argument,” just your interpretation of what he said. The problem is that he never said, or even implied either “Nothing existed” or “Nothing became anything.” All he said is “nothing is unstable,” which doesn’t suggest that “nothing” existed before anything. Such a position would imply a premise PZ probably doesnt accept, which i mentioned earlier.
But then again, this could be a problem with mis-communication between PZ talking of “nothing” in the physical sense while Egnor talkes of “nothing” in the philosophical sense. Remember that “nothing” in the physical sense is still “something” in the philosophical sense. “nothing” in the philosophical sense may not even be justified in the physical sense.

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Heuristics November 6, 2010 at 12:56 am

The sentence “nothing is unstable” by itself does imply the following:
Nothing has the property of stability (and the value of that property is ‘unstable’)
Nothing exists (unless one were to say that non-existence can have properties)

When taken in context of being an answer to the question ”Why is there anything?” we also get that this nothing became anything.

So:
Nothing existed
Nothing was unstable
Nothing became anything

Notice here that I have not used the word “before” anywhere.
_________________________

Your interpretation of PZ has him not even answering the question but instead writing something irrelevant (ie. anything exists because anything became anything). My interpretation has him actually answering the question. I prefer my interpretation.

Too me it seems more likely that PZ meant the word “nothing” in the philosophical sense but he thought he was correct in writing what he did because he thought that it was the same as the philosophical sense. So he thought he was answering the question but was really confused.

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Heuristics November 6, 2010 at 12:59 am

That last bit came out wrong.

Should be:
“Too me it seems more likely that PZ meant the word “nothing” in the philosophical sense but he thought he was correct in writing what he did because he thought that it was the same as the physical sense.”

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drj November 6, 2010 at 8:13 am

For example, look at Alexander Pruss’s paper on Leibniz’s Cosmological Argument and you’ll see that one of the objections raised is that the universe simply exists, by brute fact. It’s another way of saying “Nothing did it *qualifier* because it just exists”. I believe he called it the “taxi-cab objection”. There’s no dishonesty on the theist’s part, but it definitely can be a false generalization.

Yea, but the very same objection can be raised to the theist as well, so its self-defeating for them to take that line of attack.

God is the brute fact for the theist. It just exists. Therefore, nothing did it.

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Tony Hoffman November 6, 2010 at 8:27 am

Honestly, I think Licona’s interview with Luke here (and his befuddled approach to the historical Jesus) establish him as one of the weakest apologists to be included in Luke’s Canon. But even establishing that as my baseline I’d run from Wes’s assertion that, “My friend and preeminent resurrection expert, Michael Licona…”

With friends like Wes…

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Eric November 6, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Heuristics –
Nothing has the property of stability (and the value of that property is ‘unstable’)
Nothing exists (unless one were to say that non-existence can have properties)

Something that does not exist can still have a theoretical property, or a property one assumes it to have if it ever did exist. An example would be: “Bigfoot is a carbon based life form”.

Heuristics –
When taken in context of being an answer to the question ”Why is there anything?” we also get that this nothing became anything.

This still does not necessarily follow. It still could mean that something always existed and if nothing ever were to exist, it would have the property of instability and would thus at least “quickly” not exist, or at most be a contradiction.


Nothing became anything

Notice here that I have not used the word “before” anywhere.

So when you say that X became Y, how do you avoid the interpretation that X existed then Y existed, in other words X then Y or X before Y?


My interpretation has him actually answering the question.

Your interpretation is specifically meant to have him answering the question in a way that conforms to the assertion given that atheists somehow say “nothing” became “something.”

Now it depends on how PZ interpreted the question:
“Why is there something rather than nothing?” can imply that the person asking the question instantly assumes “nothing” is the default state of being and is asking why “nothing” became “something.” I doubt PZ interpreted this question in this way. Another interpretation could as directly why nothing “exists nowhere” but yet “something” does. This question is more direct and does not assume a default state of being. PZ is likely answering this question because, if nothing ever “existed” it would be unstable. It is more direct than your interpretation.

Heuristics –
So he thought he was answering the question but was really confused.

He likely did not understand what questions were being implied by the one asking the questions. He probably took the direct interpretation which does not involve a default state of being outside what we know to exist. So yes he may have been confused about what was exactly being asked but this is also Egnor’s fault for not specifically stating everything he implied.

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Heuristics November 6, 2010 at 3:08 pm

>”Something that does not exist can still have a theoretical property”
No it can not, IT can not have the property, even theoretically, your idea of it can attach that property to it as part of the idea, but not as part of IT. If objectively theoretically, the theory would contain the property, not the IT.

>”This still does not necessarily follow. It still could mean that something always existed and if nothing ever were to exist, it would have the property of instability and would thus at least “quickly” not exist, or at most be a contradiction.”
If he meant that something always existed, that is he meant that nothing was something he would simply be stating that something became something. This seams very unlikely too me.

>”So when you say that X became Y, how do you avoid the interpretation that X existed then Y existed, in other words X then Y or X before Y?”
Example: The iron ball caused the glass to break by going through it.
The cause does not here happen before the effect, it is simultaneous too it.
X at the same time as Y, or perhaps even X timelessly causing Y.

>”Your interpretation is specifically meant to have him answering the question in a way that conforms to the assertion given that atheists somehow say “nothing” became “something.””
Which is what he wrote and what I think very clearly is what he meant at the time of writing.

>”“Why is there something rather than nothing?” can imply that the person asking the question instantly assumes “nothing” is the default state of being and is asking why “nothing” became “something.”
The question was not “Why is there something rather than nothing?” it was “Why is there anything?”. PZ was the one that started to use the word nothing.

>”It is more direct than your interpretation.”
It is built on a false idea of what the question was and therefore not direct at all.

>”He likely did not understand what questions were being implied by the one asking the questions.”
I doubt it, I think that he, as he usually does, was very sure that he knew what he was writing about. I think he actually thought that nothing as in actually philosophical nothing existed but was unstable and caused anything.

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Jim November 6, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Hi Luke!

Given the very brief parameters and original limitations for this project, I was only able to briefly address the issues in my short contribution. Yes, the definitions I use as an investigator are my own and they do not attempt to mirror the language or definitions offered by historians or philosophers. They are simply my own terms gleened from years of working cold cases. These more expansive definitions of my terms may be helpful (taken from an article on our website):

The truth must be “feasible”
(The true suspect has the most “explanatory viability”)
Before I even begin to think about who might have committed a crime, I need to make sure that a suspect in question was available to commit the crime in the first place. I investigate the “alibis” of potential suspects, eliminating those possible suspect explanations that are simply a physical impossibility based on confirmed alibis.

The truth will usually be “simple”
(The true suspect has the most “explanatory power”)
I next employ a version of “Occam’s Razor”. When considering a number of suspects or explanations in an effort to account for the evidence I have in a case, I look for the suspect (or explanation) that most simply accounts for every piece of evidence. If one person’s simple involvement can explain the evidence (rather than the complex coincidental involvement of three or four different potential suspects), this one person is most likely my killer.

The truth should be “exhaustive”
(The true suspect has the most “explanatory scope”)
I also consider the solution or explanation that most exhaustively explains the evidence that I have in a case. While a particular candidate may explain one, two or three pieces of evidence, the candidate that exhaustively accounts for all the evidence is typically my killer.

The truth must be “logical”
(The true suspect has the most “explanatory consistency”)
I also recognize the fact that truth is rational; for this reason the truth about the identity of my killer must also be rational. The scenario that involves the true suspect in a case must therefore be reasonable, logical, coherent and sound. Not every potential suspect ‘makes sense’ to a given case under investigation, but this cannot be the case with the true killer. The scenario involving my true suspect will be logically consistent.

The truth will be “superior”
(The true suspect has “explanatory superiority”)
Finally, I recognize that one of my suspect candidates is unique in the superior way that he or she accounts for the evidence. This particular suspect accounts for the evidence in a unique and particular way that no other suspect can match. In essence, this particular suspect is a far superior choice when compared to other possible candidates. When I see this quality of “explanatory superiority”, I know I have my killer.

Your statement, “Even more surprising than Jim’s odd account of explanationism is the fact that he doesn’t give a single argument as to why Christianity is a better explanation for things, given his criteria, than naturalism!” is fair given that my article for this series was so limited. Here is the larger article including more expansive arguments:

http://www.pleaseconvinceme.com/index/The_Christian_Worldview_is_the_Best_Explanation

I am in the middle of a rather lengthly court proceeding right now, but I hope this at least starts to address some of your comments!

jim

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Eric November 6, 2010 at 5:57 pm

Heuristics –
>”Something that does not exist can still have a theoretical property”
No it can not, IT can not have the property, even theoretically, your idea of it can attach that property to it as part of the idea, but not as part of IT. If objectively theoretically, the theory would contain the property, not the IT.

You seem to have completely missed the point of what I was saying. IT having a property is meaningless if IT does not exist (although IT CAN have a property since properties of ANY arbitrary set also hold for the empty set), so yes it is a theoretical property being attached to it. But, as was painfully clear by my bigfoot example, this was all I was talking about. And I see no reason to think this was not what PZ meant. This is similar to atheists talking about properties of God.

Heuristics –
>”This still does not necessarily follow. It still could mean that something always existed and if nothing ever were to exist, it would have the property of instability and would thus at least “quickly” not exist, or at most be a contradiction.”
If he meant that something always existed, that is he meant that nothing was something he would simply be stating that something became something. This seams very unlikely too me.

PZ NEVER said anything of this sort. He never implied that “nothing,” being “somerthing,” became “something.” This is the same problem you have been showing in your interpretation this entire time. He is not answering the question “why did nothing become something?” He was just answering the question “why is there something rather than nothing?” If I were to ask “Why is this tree brown and not grey?” I am not implying the tree was ever grey. I am not saying what you think was grey was actually brown either. Nothing of the sort is implied by this. If PZ were to answer, “because if a tree were grey, it would be dead” Does this imply the brown was once grey?

Heuristics –
>”So when you say that X became Y, how do you avoid the interpretation that X existed then Y existed, in other words X then Y or X before Y?”
Example: The iron ball caused the glass to break by going through it.
The cause does not here happen before the effect, it is simultaneous too it.
X at the same time as Y, or perhaps even X timelessly causing Y.

But that example is a misunderstanding of what is happening. The ball contacts the glass with enough force to break it. Then the ball goes through it because it was broken. In other words, the glass breaking was not caused by the bowling ball going through it. It was caused because of the impact force. There is no simultaneous cause and effect here, just word games.

Heuristics –
>”Your interpretation is specifically meant to have him answering the question in a way that conforms to the assertion given that atheists somehow say “nothing” became “something.””
Which is what he wrote and what I think very clearly is what he meant at the time of writing.


Yes I know this is what you wrote. What I have demonstrated is that this was NOT clearly what he meant, making your interpretation a straw man, if not intentionally. At the best, I can say your interpretation was a misunderstanding.

Heuristics –
>”“Why is there something rather than nothing?” can imply that the person asking the question instantly assumes “nothing” is the default state of being and is asking why “nothing” became “something.”
The question was not “Why is there something rather than nothing?” it was “Why is there anything?”. PZ was the one that started to use the word nothing.


Because the logical negation of anything (There exists an X such that X exists) is nothing (For all X, X does not exist), and they cannot be simultaneously true. “Why is there anything” is logically equivalent to “Why is there anything and not nothing.”
If P=T then notP = F.

Heuristics –
>”It is more direct than your interpretation.”
It is built on a false idea of what the question was and therefore not direct at all.


And, as I said, that is Egnor’s fault for not being specific. Neither interpretation of Egnor’s question is particularly strong. You assumed PZ interpreted his question one way and I assumed the other. Neither is more charitable to Egnor but mine is more charitable to PZ. So if your interpretation of PZs argument is not the most charitable, then you should abandon it.

Heuristics –
>”He likely did not understand what questions were being implied by the one asking the questions.”
I doubt it, I think that he, as he usually does, was very sure that he knew what he was writing about. I think he actually thought that nothing as in actually philosophical nothing existed but was unstable and caused anything.

PZ likely did think he knew what Egnor was talking about, even if it was not the correct interpretation. I know this is common with PZ. But this is not the issue. You have failed so far to show that PZ meant that actual philosophical “nothing” became “something.”

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Luke Muehlhauser November 6, 2010 at 6:22 pm

Jim,

Thanks for your clarifications and the link to your longer article.

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Heuristics November 7, 2010 at 1:18 am

>”IT having a property is meaningless if IT does not exist…And I see no reason to think this was not what PZ meant. ”
Feel free too see no reason for whatever. You seeing no reason is not impressive to me
http://crudeideas.blogspot.com/2010/10/on-reverse-strawmanning.html

>”He was just answering the question “why is there something rather than nothing?””
Again, for the second time. The question was “why is there anything?” Not “why is there something rather than nothing?””. PZ brought up the concept of nothing and we appear to be in some sort of weird discussion regarding PZs mental state at the time, (for some weird reason you appear to be under the assumption that I actually care about what you think in the matter and that I am interested in changing your mind).

>”The ball contacts the glass with enough force to break it. Then the ball goes through it because it was broken. ”
Model it as a physical simulation to see your error.
Time 0: The ball is touching the glass at point 1.
Time 1: The ball is touching the glass at point 1 and the glass breaks
Time 2: The ball continues to point 2 and the glass is still broken

That is not what happens, the ball does not stop and wait for the glass to break and then continues through it. Time 1 and 2 is simultaneous.

Time 0: The ball is touching the glass at point 1.
Time 1: The ball is at point 2 and the glass has broken

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Eric November 7, 2010 at 10:09 am

Heuristics –
>”IT having a property is meaningless if IT does not exist…And I see no reason to think this was not what PZ meant. ”
Feel free too see no reason for whatever. You seeing no reason is not impressive to me
http://crudeideas.blogspot.com/2010/10/on-reverse-strawmanning.html

Okay i fail to see how that article proves anything. I don’t think it has anything to do with this. I am not saying PZ did a good job of responding to Egnor. All I am saying is that PZ did not mean what you think he meant and that your interpretation is either a strawman or a misinterpretation. I see no reason for “whatever” because you have not provided any evidence for “whatever.” You have merely assumed “whatever.” I don’t think I can change your mind, but I hope at least now, anyone reading this can see you have no interest in having a correct interpretation, only one that best suits your a-priori assumptions. Also, FYI, I am not sure what this person means by a “New Atheist Faithul,” but as evident from my earlier quote (“PZ likely did think he knew what Egnor was talking about, even if it was not the correct interpretation. I know this is common with PZ.”) I do not think the new atheists are always correct in terms of philosophy. I second what Luke has always seemed to say; that they need to take religious philosophy seriously and study it if they want to continue bashing religion.

Heuristics –
>”He was just answering the question “why is there something rather than nothing?””
Again, for the second time. The question was “why is there anything?” Not “why is there something rather than nothing?””. PZ brought up the concept of nothing and we appear to be in some sort of weird discussion regarding PZs mental state at the time, (for some weird reason you appear to be under the assumption that I actually care about what you think in the matter and that I am interested in changing your mind).

SERIOUSLY? DID YOU JUST COMPLETELY IGNORE MY RESPONSE TO THIS? I already PROVED that “why is there anything?” is LOGICALLY EQUIVALENT to “Why is there anything and not nothing?” Are you just going to ignore what I said? Are you capable of serious discussion or are you just interested in maintaining your previous assumptions, no matter how wrong they may be. It doesn’t matter to me what you think. My point is to show, on this board, to anyone reading this, how your interpretations are false.

Heuristics –
>”The ball contacts the glass with enough force to break it. Then the ball goes through it because it was broken. ”
Model it as a physical simulation to see your error.
Time 0: The ball is touching the glass at point 1.
Time 1: The ball is touching the glass at point 1 and the glass breaks
Time 2: The ball continues to point 2 and the glass is still broken

That is not what happens, the ball does not stop and wait for the glass to break and then continues through it. Time 1 and 2 is simultaneous.

Time 0: The ball is touching the glass at point 1.
Time 1: The ball is at point 2 and the glass has broken

You are right. Time 1 and 2 is simultaneous. But, once again, the ball going through the glass is NOT what caused it to break, it was the ball touching the glass with enough force to break it. Time 0 is the cause and Time 1 is the effect. These, as you just pointed out, are not simultaneous. There is no simultaneous cause and effect at time 1, just two effects, one cause by time 0 (the glass breaking caused by the contact of the ball and the glass) and another by a separate cause at an earlier point in time (the ball falling caused by someone pushing it off a table or whatever). Maybe I should have been clearer with my second sentence. I was a bit careless in my wording. Let me be clear: I don’t thing the cause for the ball going through the glass is the glass breaking.

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Hermes November 7, 2010 at 9:30 pm

Gil S. & DZ, thanks. If anything else comes up, please let me know.

Bill Snedden, perfect as usual. I’m grinning. For extra effect, take a look at Ildi, Kaelik, Piero and MichaelPJ’s comments in another thread along the same lines. Much indignation followed by silence.

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Hermes November 7, 2010 at 10:24 pm

FWIW: Gil S. & DZ, Mojo.rhythm left this comment in another thread that I found informative;

Hermes,Smith does not believe that the universe popped into existence out of nothing.He believes that the universe is a self-caused entity, meaning that he thinks every time slice in the universe can be caused by an immediately preceding time slice because there is no actual time t=0.If I thought A-theory was right, I would adopt this view.He makes a pretty persuasive case for it.  

Source: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=12235

If this does not seem to be an accurate representation of what Mr. Smith intended and you have any comments or details to offer, I would appreciate it. As before, thanks!

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Hermes November 8, 2010 at 3:19 pm

Wes Widner: “Nothing did it” is an even worse explanation.  

Wes, I take it that you not responding means that you have no examples to back up your contention and thus as just slurring people who don’t follow your contentions? I am entirely unsurprised by your disinterest in standing behind your own claims or offering a retraction. You lived down to my expectations and experience from people who make such comments.

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mojo.rhythm November 14, 2010 at 4:14 am

Quentin articulates his case for a self-caused universe in the Cambridge Companion to Atheism. It is the chapter titled “Kalam Cosmological Arguments for Atheism”. It is a fairly recent position of his (circa 2003) which he defended in his second debate with William Lane Craig.

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Hermes November 14, 2010 at 5:00 pm

mojo.rhythm, thanks. I’ll take a look.

I’d like your opinion. From what you’ve seen, does Smith promote not only a self-caused universe but also a ‘from nothing’ universe?

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mojo.rhythm November 14, 2010 at 5:41 pm

Hermes,

I’ll comment in a bit more depth afterwards but for now I’ll mention that his endorsement of the universe coming into being uncaused does seem to be at odds with the Bohmian (deterministic!) interpretation of quantum mechanics that he holds to. But I’ll have a look later when I have some free time.

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Hermes November 14, 2010 at 5:54 pm

Thanks! No pressure. Anything is good, and no response is perfectly fine. You have already done me a favor already, and I appreciate that as I appreciate your insights and knowledge.

FWIW: I attempted to give you credit in the “Common Sense Atheism” explained in one cartoon thread, but Wordpress or some spam filter (?) ate my it (?).

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Hermes November 14, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Mojo, I went through the transcript for the debate you linked to and reposted the relevant parts to the other thread. Very helpful. Thanks!

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mojo.rhythm November 14, 2010 at 6:37 pm

Ah I should be working but this is so interesting I couldn’t help myself.

This article that I read which someone in another thread linked to is Craig’s rejoinder to Quentin’s earlier views (pre-2003) on cosmology.

His pre-2003 model of cosmology was way different. He used to say there was a time t=0, and that the t=0 point (aka the singularity) was metaphysically necessary. From this (and several other interesting facts about the singularity) he infers that the Big Bang model necessarily precludes the need for a divine cause of the universe.

Post-2003 things are different. He is now in the general consensus of physicists and cosmologists that there was not a time t=0. This view IMHO is a million times more coherent, simple and makes a ton more sense (if you buy the A-theory of time of course!).

This article (the article where Quentin argues for an uncaused universe) was most emphatically not published on February 13, 2007. The first and foremost reason is that it is anachronistic; it is completely incongruous with the Bohmian interpretation of quantum mechanics, which Quentin currently favors. The second reason is that mukto-mona.com said it was published in the Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 18, Number 2. This volume of Free Inquiry magazine is over 12 years old. It most certainly does not accurately represent Quentin’s current views on Big Bang cosmology.

I think that just about settles it. The take home message is that Quentin currently holds to a self-caused universe, not an uncaused universe.

Do take the time to read his article in the Cambridge Companion though, it is really good.

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mojo.rhythm November 14, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Addendum:

Hermes,

I just realized I didn’t adequately address your question about Quentin’s views on the universe coming into being out of nothing.

Since Quentin argues that there is no time t=0 (he in fact argues that it is a logical contradiction), it follows that if the Standard model is correct, it is logically incoherent that the universe came into existence out of literally nothing (on his interpretation). There was no first moment of the universe, and no time slice in which there was no universe. Hence, the universe did not come out of nothing but it is self-caused.

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Hermes November 14, 2010 at 7:07 pm

Mojo, thanks once again! I’ll read the Cambridge Companion article from end to end, but I’m curious if Mike Young has any comments on what I posted. The historic bit about Smith holding a different opinion 12 years ago is interesting. Maybe that’s where Mike and others are being mislead about ‘from nothing’ being a factual claim by some atheist?

If I had to make an informed guess, I’d say that the presumption is that ‘from nothing’ makes sense to an Abrahamic theist that expects that because in the beginning there was nothing — just their deity — so they assume that if you take away their deity then what makes sense is that other people are saying that there was nothing and then ‘bang!’ something.

The next step is by association. Smith and Craig have cooperated on books together. So, when Smith makes some comments in debates or books associated with Craig, the Christian theists (specifically) notice what Craig says since they are already more likely to read and listen to Craig. When Craig writes about Smith’s remarks the Christian theists attribute what Craig writes to what Smith intended. End of loop; an atheist says ‘the universe came from nothing’ so they can use remarks like Wes Widner did where he insinuates that people who aren’t in agreement with his theological ideas think that “Nothing did it” is a claim that is actually being made.

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mojo.rhythm November 14, 2010 at 7:22 pm

Hermes,

You’re probably right on all counts there. I think Craig does like to over-zealously libel Quentin as some sort of cosmological nihilist (the universe came from nothing and by nothing) and that message has trickled down to almost every Christian theist whom reads Craig’s critiques. Craig has already poisoned the well, so to speak, and that provides Christians with a pre-established interpretative context to read Smith’s writings in. It doesn’t help either that Smith is a genuinely enigmatic figure whom can be difficult to understand sometimes.

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Rick B November 24, 2010 at 9:48 am

Not much to say, but:
It seems to me that anybody who has beliefs about the ultimate nature of existence must endorse one of the following:

1) all that is physical always existed in some form;
2) all that is physical came from *literal* nothing [as opposed to quantum soup];
3) all that is physical came from something non-physical.

Cl,

with all due respect, your list must include:
4) I don’t know.

One’s position on this matter must needs not be dictated by your list-making ability – yet you leave no room for agnosticism on this question. In fact, physicists [and for you theists out there, theologians] don’t all agree on where everything came from – why then should any of us have to take a position on it the way you claim?

Given the choice between competing beliefs, it’s often assumed one buys into one belief or another exclusively. But I can be an agnostic about quite a few things, even though there are well-defined competing and mutually exclusive positions on them. For example, did my mother wear this pair of shoes or that today? How should I know? I specifically take the agnostic position on this belief, because I have no evidence to point to anything.

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Rick B November 24, 2010 at 9:54 am

mojo.rhythm wrote:

Since Quentin argues that there is no time t=0 (he in fact argues that it is a logical contradiction), it follows that if the Standard model is correct, it is logically incoherent that the universe came into existence out of literally nothing (on his interpretation).There was no first moment of the universe, and no time slice in which there was no universe.Hence, the universe did not come out of nothing but it is self-caused.  

Does Quentin understand the mathematical concept of a limit? I understand it to imply that even if a function (here, the universe) is undefined on one side (i.e. t<0), it does not mean there is can be no 'slicing' (I take this to be something like differential time – a dt in the direction of t>0.

Or perhaps I misunderstand entirely. I confess I have not read his works, including the one you linked (although it is downloading now).

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Hermes November 24, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Rick B., good point on ‘I don’t know’; it should always be in a list of knowledge claims. As for Smith and the mathematical concept of limits, I’m not sure. I’m not a mathematician.

Smith does comment on what Hawking thinks and how it applies to what Craig claims;

[Hawking] said the universe doesn’t go back to this abstract limit called the singularity. He said the universe goes back to a timeless 4-dimensional space that’s uncreated. So we have a timeless 4-dimensional space that’s uncreated on Hawking’s theory. There’s no need to create it, it has no beginning. And Bill [Craig's] basic argument is that everything that begins to exist needs a cause. Well, a timeless space, since it’s not in time, doesn’t begin to exist and needs no cause.

Note that time by definition does not exist in a timeless 4-dimensional space. Talk of change requires time, so there can be no precursor event prior to t=0.

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Rick B November 24, 2010 at 4:27 pm

Hermes,

now that makes a little more sense, describing space-time as without beginning. If I had to choose a theory to back, I’d probably choose something like what Hawking describes, and do away with beginnings altogether.

I’m still not sure what Craig’s big hangup is over spontaneous, uncaused events. Consider the decay of a radionuclide. We can describe the decay of an aggregate substance by giving it a half-life: the time it takes for half of any original amount to decay. But how would you describe the decay of a single unstable nucleus? It’s got a ’cause’ if you will – too many or too few neutrons to maintain the nucleus as it is for t-> infinty. That doesn’t describe the timing of its decay. We can’t, with current physics, describe the exact timing of each atom’s decay. The best we can do is give a statistical estimate of its half-life, and allow the law of large numbers to do its work.

So here we have an action whose timing is almost entirely unpredictable in the singular case. Or, if you will, spontaneous. A spontaneous cause like this is something that would explain ‘the beginning’ of the universe under the A-theory of time. Supposing the universe were like the atom: pregnant, unstable in a singular state, and spontaneous in its timing.

I don’t have any evidence for the universe having started the way I describe. But it seems more plausible to me than some indescribable sentient-like-us but incorporeal creator god. Who also happens to want a personal relationship with yours truly.

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Hermes November 24, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Rick B., thanks. That was informative.

As a payback, I’ll ramble on a bit. No good deed goes unpunished? :)

* * *

On the last note, coming at this whole thing from a literary and anthropological perspective, there are so many stories that attempt to describe out place in the universe.

One way anthropologists that focus on cultural myths approach it is that the statements about where the people — meaning the tribal group telling the story; the original or only real humans — are not taken as literal descriptions.

The stories are gap filler.

They are used to culturally tie that group into a single whole and allows them to talk about what they do not actually know. They take a form of fantastic unverifiable stories that nobody strikes out on a mission to check up on.

They are assumed to be real even though they simultaneously are not held as real. In modern terms, if the rain falls after you have washed your car, and the gods are screwing with you.

To continue: If you talk to a young child they will imaginatively describe many things that simply aren’t true. Press them, and they will admit it’s make believe, but some of them will be annoyed that you don’t get it. You don’t play along. In Dennet’s sense you are breaking the spell. Worse, you are being a bore.

Religions are organized children’s games, awashed with the brutality mimicked in traditional children’s tales. Take a look at Aesop’s fables or the brothers Grimm. The stories are bloody and compelling as well as heavily laden with moral edicts that made sense to our ancestors but in many cases today they are watered down or adapted for softer sensibilities. Switch to Genesis and the world wide flood — and children’s toys are being made out of that immoral just-so genocidal horror tale.

Now, there are instances where along with the fiction some facts are conveyed. People didn’t keep their fiction and facts in different boxes. They ate together from communal plates, leaders first. They personified the world, and acted upon those personifications when they detected threats like storms or winter coming on. So, why not mix real history with fiction at all times?

The question is: Why would they feel compelled to distinguish between imagination and observable facts?

Well, I think we have good reasons to keep them separate now. We can look and see how the world works much more effectively. Yet, some of the religious want to drag fiction into the realm of fact and toss out the fiction category. They even complain about ‘real witches’ and condemn Harry Potter books.

They’ve been pushed to do so by new religious factions that proclaim the literal truth of their religious texts and they assert them as actual facts when their own ancestors would wonder what they are talking about. Why are they being so boring!?!?! I think in the process of attempting to be relevant, they are destroying the best of their own myths and promoting ignorance of basic facts that can be investigated easily.

That’s why many religious people who don’t take religion as a literal source disregard the fundamentalists; they treat it as serious reality and not mystical gap filler for the things we can’t know or do not want to investigate.

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Hermes November 24, 2010 at 6:34 pm

Bah! I mangled that. Too many typos and I dropped out a few words in editing that were originally there.

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Rick B November 25, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Hermes,

I get what you’re saying, and I think it would be appropriate to describe some fundamentalist treatments of reality as psychoses: mental disorders needing treatment.

I also like how you characterized those who don’t play along as `boring‘ rather than deluded, insane, too adult, or some such pejorative. Boring allows one to change to become more interesting. So does describing it as a treatable mental disorder =D

Cheers, and if you’re celebrating it today, happy Thanksgiving!

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Hermes November 25, 2010 at 7:52 pm

Full of turkey.

Had some fun over here (thread on an Orthodox Christian site that discusses a recent debate with someone from the Atheist Experience) when someone decided to post a Cardinal’s disapproval of atheists saying strangely that atheism is irrational.

I’d not care one bit, but this is a guy who’s work clothes are a costume and who works for a group who’s upper management has a book on how to cover up child rape, hide the rapists, and silence their victims. Plus, he’s in that upper management. Tim Minchin got it right.

So it doesn’t go to waste, here’s my response (intended not to get me blocked but to get Tim’s secondary point across);

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Patrick, on the prelate;

Are puns and punctual precise pronouncements punished, or preferred by the people present?

Proceed if preferred.

Proceed *not* if prudish.

Paragraphs and phrases put forth for pleasure not paroxysms of pain…

Proceed? Precisely. Presently? Promptly.

* * *

Pontifications promoted in the press or in private by persons of a profession — practiced packaged parsons — popularly picked out for their private predatory pederasty, promotes possibilities for producing potential poppycock, but piddling else. Practical promoting of prosecution and prison of predatory pederests in public would be pleasing and productive. Popularly so. All else is the politics of pity, properly and popularly pshawed.

Pugilistic pronouncements of philosophers are peccadillos to protecting or not prosecuting practiced pederests. Prisons preferred for particular persons; proscribed predatory pederests and pederests protectors.

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Mark Strange December 5, 2011 at 8:04 pm

Just because most religious people don’t except evolution, doesn’t mean the argument “Who Created God?” is invalid. If the universe is too complicated to not to have a creator, then the creator of said universe must be even more complicated; therefore, must also have a creator. This is simple logic and not an “Epic Fail.” The Epic Fail is that the religious do not understand or except simple logic. You can not have science without asking “Why?” When, Where, Why and How are the basic question every scientist ask ever single waking moment. It is the foundation of science in all of its beauty. Just because the religious person gets tired of a simple question doesn’t make the question wrong.

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