Who Designed the Designer?

by Luke Muehlhauser on March 13, 2011 in Criticism of Atheists

Redated from Jan. 13, 2010.

creation

Today I want to kill one of atheism’s sacred cows. I want to kill one of atheism’s most popular and resilient retorts.

One of atheism’s sacred cows is the “Who designed the designer?” response. Here’s how it works:

THEIST: “There is so much complexity in the world, it must have been designed by an Intelligent Designer. The best explanation for our world is an Intelligent Designer.”

ATHEIST: “But then who designed the Designer?”

THEIST: “Nobody.” (Or perhaps: “I don’t know.”)

ATHEIST: “Well then you have explained nothing.”

This is a highly popular objection. For example, here’s Christopher Hitchens:

…the postulate of a designer or creator only raises the unanswerable question of who designed the designer or created the creator. Religion and theology… have consistently failed to overcome this objection.1

Or, philosopher Rebecca Goldstein:

Who caused God? [Theists offer] a prime example of the Fallacy of Passing the Buck: invoking God to solve some problem, but then leaving unanswered that very same problem when applied to God himself.

So this is fatal to theism, right?

No. Wrong. The atheist has not offered a strong objection.

Let me be clear. I agree that “God did it” is generally a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad “explanation” for complexity or, well, pretty much anything. “God did it” does generally fail as an explanation.2

But it does not fail merely because the theist has no explanation for his explanation (God). That is not the problem with offering “God did it” as an explanation.

The problem with offering “God did it” as an explanation is that such an explanation has low plausibility, is not testable, has poor consistency with background knowledge, comes from a tradition (supernaturalism) with extreme explanatory failure, lacks simplicity, offers no predictive novelty, and has poor explanatory scope. It fails to provide almost everything philosophers and scientists look for in a successful explanation. That is why “God did it” is generally a horrible explanation, not because it leaves the explanation itself (God) unexplained.

Let us ask ourselves what would happen if we required that a successful explanation must itself be explained.

This would lead immediately to an infinite regress of explanations. We would need to have an explanation of the explanation, and an explanation of the explanation of the explanation, and an explanation of the explanation of the explanation of the explanation… on into infinity. And thus, we would never be able to explain anything.3

Moreover, this is not how science works. Examples from physics are the most obvious. In order to explain certain quantum phenomena, scientists have posited the existence of dozens of invisible particles with very particular properties that yield predictable results. These have been some of the most successful explanations in all of scientific history, yielding the most accurate experimental results we have ever achieved. And yet we have no explanations whatsoever for the particles that we have offered as explanations for the quantum phenomena.

The reason that the details of the Standard Model of Particle Physics are accepted as good explanations for quantum phenomena is because these explanations are plausible, they are extremely testable, they have strong consistency with background knowledge, they come from a tradition (natural science) with great explanatory success, they are relatively simple, they offer much predictive novelty, and they have strong explanatory scope. It doesn’t matter that we have no explanation whatsoever for the explanations themselves.

One more example. Ludwig Boltzmann explained heat by positing tiny, unobserved particles (which we now call atoms). Boltzmann’s theory was superior to earlier phenomenological theories of heat, even though his explanation (a mess of tiny particles) was itself totally unexplained.

So the problem with the atheist sacred cow of “Who designed the designer?” is that it misses the point. “God did it” is a horrible explanation, but not because theists can’t tell us what the explanation for the designer is. There are other reasons why “God did it” is generally a horrible explanation, and that is what atheists should be trying to communicate.

Despite repeated attempts to explain all this to my atheist readers, many still insist that successful explanations must themselves be explained. At this point, I don’t know what else to do except to quote some scholars in an attempt to bludgeon my fellow atheists into accepting this basic principle in philosophy of science. :)

Here’s atheist philosopher of science Peter Lipton:

The why-regress is a feature of the logic of explanation that many of us discovered as children, to our parents’ cost. I vividly recall the moment it dawned on me that, whatever my mother’s answer to my latest why-question, I could simply retort by asking ‘Why?’ of the answer itself, until my mother ran out of answers or patience…

[But] explanations need not themselves be understood. A drought may explain a poor crop, even if we don’t understand why there was a drought; I understand why you didn’t come to the party if you explain you had a bad headache, even if I have no idea why you had a headache; the big bang explains the background radiation, even if the big bang is itself inexplicable, and so on…

…the [why-regress] argument brings out the important facts that explanations can be chained, and that what explains need not itself be understood…4

Or consider atheist philosopher of science Michael Friedman. Notice that he assumes our explanations may not themselves be explained, but that explanations succeed in increasing our understanding of the world:

[Consider] the old argument that science is incapable of explaining anything because the basic phenomena to which others are reduced are themselves neither explained nor understood. According to this argument, science merely transfers our puzzlement from one phenomenon to another… The answer, as I see it, is that.. we don’t simply replace one phenomenon with another. We replace one phenomenon with amore comprehensive phenomenon, and thereby… genuinely increase our understanding of the world.5

And here’s atheist philosopher of religion Gregory Dawes:

Richard Dawkins, for instance, writes that to explain the machinery of life “by invoking a supernatural Designer is to explain precisely nothing.” Why? Because it “leaves unexplained the origin of the designer.”

…[Dawkins' idea is] that religious explanations are unacceptable because they leave unexplained the existence of their explanans (God). Dawkins apparently assumes that every successful explanation should also explain its own explanans. But this is an unreasonable demand. Many of our most successful explanations raise new puzzles and present us with new questions to be answered.6

Finally, atheist philosopher of metaphysics John Post:

…there cannot be an infinite regress of explanations… Again the reasons are not practical, such as the finiteness of our faculties, but logic or conceptual, entailed by the very notions of explanations involved. Even for an infinite intellect, regresses of such explanations must end.7

Conclusion

Why do I want to kill this sacred cow of atheism?

First, because I am not loyal to atheism per se, but to truth and reason.

Second, because I want atheists to stop giving arguments and objections that are so easily rebutted.

Third, because I want atheists to focus on objections that really matter. When a believer offers “God did it” as the best explanation for something, our question should not be “Well then who designed the designer?” but instead “Why is God the best explanation for that? Will you explain, please?

The theist has a good answer to the first question. He won’t have a good answer for the second one. Not if you’re prepared:

theism and explanation big

This great book shows why God is a poor explanation for anything.

  1. God is not Great, page 71. []
  2. I am not saying I have an ‘in principle’ objection to theistic explanations. The merits of theistic explanation must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. But I do think it’s quite unlikely that theistic explanations will succeed in our universe. []
  3. Actually, there is a healthy debate over whether an infinite regress of explanations is a vicious regress or a benign regress. A good survey article with a great bibliography on the subject is Scott Aikin, “Who is afraid of epistemology’s regress problem?” (2005). But this does not change the fact that we regularly offer excellent explanations that are not themselves explained, especially in physics, where our most successful explanations are given. []
  4. Inference to the Best Explanation, page 24. []
  5. Explanation and Scientific Understanding,” pages 18-19. []
  6. Theism and Explanation, pages 15-16. []
  7. Infinite Regresses of Justification and Explanation,” page 32. []

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{ 349 comments… read them below or add one }

Piero January 13, 2010 at 6:29 am

I think we should take into account the nature of the explanation. It is true that we do not need to explain the causes of a drought in order to explain its effects, but the drought itself belongs to the same realm as the failed crop, and it remains explainable in principle.
This is not the case when God is invoked as an explanation: there is no plausible hope of explaining God, and so it is a sterile explanation.
A theory of heat that posits the existence of tiny particles leads to a search for those particles; a theory of heat based on God’s emanations leads nowhere.

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Reginald Selkirk January 13, 2010 at 6:46 am

Let me be clear. I agree that “God did it” is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad “explanation” for complexity or, well, pretty much anything. “God did it” does fail as an explanation.

But it does not fail merely because the theist has no explanation for his explanation (God). That is not the problem with offering “God did it” as an explanation.

But you are missing the prime motivation for the “God did it” explanation: The explanation itself, which you admit fails in all other respects, lacks evidentiality, etc. is based solely on the proposition that complexity needs a designer. The atheist is not raising some general requirement for good explanations, he is pointing out the self-defeat in this theistic explanation.

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Dan January 13, 2010 at 6:51 am

I’ve had the exact same thought, but not in such detail. I guess I’ thinking a bit like Peter Lipton?

One day I thought, “Well, if we accept the explanation of why things fall down as ‘gravity’, what explains gravity? Ok, it has to do with the movements of the planets and our galaxy, and the universe… well what explains THAT? The big bang, I suppose. Well what explains the big bang? We don’t know.

So it comes down to the fact that everything science has explained, those explanations still need explanations, every one of them. You can trace every scientific explanation back to the point where we don’t know.

Same thing with the God explanation, just in fewer steps.

But just as you said, Luke – for all the other reasons there can’t be a God, that’s why I don’t believe.

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John D January 13, 2010 at 7:18 am

I agree with this for the most part, but I think that criticism of atheists is only well-earned if the theist’s argument is an inference to best explanation. The problem is that most theists I encounter don’t think of the Goddidit explanation in terms of an inference to best explanation. They usually look at it as a deduction from certain premises.

The following is a formal version of an argument I have often had and I think it illustrates how the infinite regress objection can be a good way to get a more serious conversation about explanations started.

P1. Something requires an explanation, nothing does not.
P2. The Universe is something.
C1. The Universe requires an explanation.

This is probably uncontroversial. P1 is a principle I think is implied in the usual question “Why is there something rather than nothing?”. It can, of course, be challenged by arguing that we have no idea of what nothing is or that nothing is unstable etc.

The next part of the argument is messier, but usually runs along the following lines:

C1/P3. The Universe requires an explanation
P4. God can create something out of nothing (creation ex nihilo premise).
C2. God can explain the universe.

This is where the infinite regress objection is relevant.

The theist has started out with a principle stating that something requires an explanation and nothing does not. They have ended up with the conclusion that God explains something (in particular the universe). But unless they are willing to claim that God is literally nothing (or non-existent) they have an infinite regress on their hands: God, being something, will in turn require an explanation.

Once this is pointed out, I find I can move on to consider an inference to best explanation argument. I can then outline why I think Goddidit is, as you say, a terrible explanation for anything. But until you have exposed the fallacy of the “why is there something rather than nothing?” deductive argument, you can’t have that conversation.

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Charles January 13, 2010 at 7:47 am

My understanding of the argument goes like this.

THEIST: Everything has a cause. The universe too must have had a cause. That cause is God.

ATHEIST: Well what caused God then?

THEIST: God is uncaused. The existence of the universe requires a cause. God does not.

ATHEIST: But if you’re going to make an exception to the rule that everything has a cause, why not make the universe the exception? Why do you posit the existence of a further entity–God–for which we have no proof? Why can’t the universe itself be uncaused?

THEIST: Er … because?

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ayer January 13, 2010 at 8:10 am

http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1995/PSCF3-95Cramer.html

Charles: ATHEIST: But if you’re going to make an exception to the rule that everything has a cause, why not make the universe the exception?

No, the argument is that everything either has a cause for its existence, or exists by the necessity of its own nature. God exists by the necessity of his own nature. The universe, being only one of an infinity of possible universes, need never have existed at all and is thus contingent and does not exist by the necessity of its own nature. It therefore requires a cause. That cause is God. See Mortimer Adler’s version of this Leibnizian Cosmological argument:

http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1995/PSCF3-95Cramer.html

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Anders January 13, 2010 at 8:10 am

Could this tendency to ask “Who created god?” be explained by how bad the explanation (god) is? It doesn’t really have much content, so the atheist feels perhaps he or she has only been bested by the theist by him being able to “move a step up” – to name *something* as an explanation. Demanding an explanation for god illustrates how simply moving up a level in itself isn’t all that great. The theist, like the nontheist, must at some level admit ignorance. This is how the argument often goes, I think.

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ayer January 13, 2010 at 8:14 am

Reginald Selkirk: based solely on the proposition that complexity needs a designer.

No, the argument from complexity is that PHYSICAL complexity needs a designer. Even if Dawkins is right that evolutionary theory has refuted that argument (particularly in the area of biological complexity), it is irrelevant in the context of arguing the existence of God. God is an immaterial, necessarily existing being by definition.

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Derrida January 13, 2010 at 8:14 am

I accept, Luke, that the “who designed the designer” retort is sophistical, but theists are also guilty of a similar fallacy:

THEIST: “There is so much complexity in the world, it must have been designed by an Intelligent Designer. The best explanation for our world is an Intelligent Designer.”

ATHEIST: “We can account for such complexity. Natural selection, which must occur if there is heritability, variation and differing reproduction rates in a species, explains the diversity and adaptation of living organisms.”

THEIST: “But that’s no explanation! You still have to explain why the universe has just those conditions and laws that permit evolution to occur!”

ATHEIST: “Well, I don’t have such an explanation.”

THEIST: “Then you have explained nothing.”

You could call this the “who designed the laws that explain the appearance of design” argument.

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ayer January 13, 2010 at 8:20 am

Derrida: ATHEIST: “We can account for such complexity. Natural selection, which must occur if there is heritability, variation and differing reproduction rates in a species, explains the diversity and adaptation of living organisms.”

THEIST: “But that’s no explanation! You still have to explain why the universe has just those conditions and laws that permit evolution to occur!”

This may be a response given by certain creation-science advocates, but a theist who accepts evolution would not make such a response. He would simply say, “yes, natural selection explains the diversity and adaptation of living organisms. Explaining the fine-tuning of the universe to be life-permitting in the first place is an entirely different issue.”

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dguller January 13, 2010 at 8:23 am

I think a better objection to the argument that the universe required a cause is that this argument commits the fallacy of composition.

Just because everything WITHIN the universe requires a cause does not mean that the universe ITSELF requires a cause. The property of “requires a cause” does not necessarily translate from the contents of the universe to the universe in total. Similarly, just because atoms are invisible does not mean that objects composed of atoms are also invisible.

Any thoughts?

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Derrida January 13, 2010 at 8:30 am

This may be a response given by certain creation-science advocates, but a theist who accepts evolution would not make such a response. He would simply say, “yes, natural selection explains the diversity and adaptation of living organisms. Explaining the fine-tuning of the universe to be life-permitting in the first place is an entirely different issue.”

True, but the theist who starts off by saying that the pure complexity of the world, rather than the alleged fine tuning, is evidence for God already marks themselves out as a creation science advocate, since they would have anticipated the atheist’s answer that evolution explains complexity in the biological world.

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Charles January 13, 2010 at 8:33 am

Ayer,

I think the whole argument may be confused. Things don’t actually begin to exist. They are simply collections of atoms that existed before in different configurations.

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Penneyworth January 13, 2010 at 8:43 am

Even if an infinite regress of explanations is impossible, who can decide at what depth the lowest explanation lies? Theists demand that the complexity of human eyeballs be explained, but assert that the complexity of a thinking, foreskin-obsessed deity needs no explanation. Who are they to decide where the causal chain begins? If it is fallacious to ask who designed god, then it must also be fallacious to ask who designed the human eyeball.

When you explain “the way science works,” you seem to imply that certain particles are by definition unexplainable, and that no scientist is interested in explaining the existence of these particles. This is of course, nonsense. Science will always seek explanations, even of fundamental particles, and the possibility of an infinite regress of explanations in no way whatsoever “kills science” as Craig blabbers. Science simply works within the segment of the chain of explanations that is currently detectable.

I am in no way convinced that you have killed this sacred cow – perhaps buzzed enough to make its ear twitch.

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dguller January 13, 2010 at 8:45 am

Charles: Ayer, I think the whole argument may be confused. Things don’t actually begin to exist. They are simply collections of atoms that existed before in different configurations.  (Quote)

This trades on an ambiguity in the term “begins”. It could refer to the onset of something in the form of a new configuration of pre-existing components, but it could also refer to the creation of an entity from absolute nothingness. I think that we have lots of experience with the former, and can make all kinds of useful comments about it, but we have NO experience of the latter, and should just be silent and agnostic about it.

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cartesian January 13, 2010 at 8:45 am

I agree that “God did it” is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad “explanation” for complexity or, well, pretty much anything. “God did it” does fail as an explanation.

So you seem to be endorsing a general principle here: for any case of complexity, “God did it” is a terrible explanation.

Well, I think there are counterexamples. Consider this case of complexity: Tomorrow, we wake up and discover that the stars of the Milky Way have been rearranged and increased in brightness so that we can plainly read the text of John 3:16 in the sky, even during the day. What a weird phenomenon! Unsurprisingly, the Christians say “God did it!” Even many religious skeptics are convinced that God did it.

You respond: “Nope, sorry, ‘God did it’ is a terrible explanation of any case of complexity, and let me tell you why…”

The problem with offering “God did it” as an explanation is that such an explanation has low plausibility…

Why, in this case, is it not plausible to say God did it? Seems pretty plausible to me. Are you just reporting that it’s implausible to *you*, an atheist? Well why should that worry the rest of us? Why think that a good explanation must be plausible to those who disbelieve in the entities postulated by the explanation? That’s an unreasonably high standard for explanations!

…is not testable…

Why does it have to be testable to be a good explanation? I’m more convinced that, in this case, “God did it” would be a good explanation than I am that good explanations must be testable. And in a very broad sense of possibility, this explanation is testABLE: we could ask God if he did it, and he could say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. That’s a test for the truth of the explanation. So, in that sense of “testable,” this explanation is testable. Why do you think “God did it” isn’t testable? And why do you think that’s important?

…has poor consistency with background knowledge…

This seems pretty question-begging. I think “God did it” coheres quite well with *my* background knowledge, and the background knowledge of billions of other theists around the world and throughout history. Do you just mean to report why *atheists* won’t like “God did it” as an explanation? Again, why think that a good explanation has to cohere with the background knowledge of people who disbelieve in the entities postulated by the explanation? That’s an unreasonably high standard for explanations.

…comes from a tradition (supernaturalism) with extreme explanatory failure…

I have three worries about this: first, why think that this explanation has to “come from” any tradition at all? And what does it mean for an explanation to “come from” a tradition? When I see the hairdryer out and say “My wife did it,” did that explanation “come from” some tradition? Which one? If the wifediddit explanations don’t come from a tradition, why think Godiddit explanations must come from a tradition?

Second, it looks like we’ll have a generality problem here. How does one determine which tradition an explanation comes from? If we say that “God did it” comes from supernaturalism (a very general, broad tradition), then perhaps we’ll run into many problems (we can grant that there have been a lot of failed supernatural explanations in the past). But if we say “God did it” comes from Lutheran Protestantism Christianity (a more specific, narrow tradition), we’ll run into fewer problems (though the Lutherans may have offered some failed explanations in the past, surely they’ve offered fewer than all the supernaturalists in the past). And if we say “God did it” comes from the tradition of scientifically informed theists (a super specific tradition), we’ll run into very few problems, if any. So even if we grant that explanations must “come from” a tradition, why should the theist accept that his explanation “comes from” the problematic general tradition, rather than the unproblematic specific tradition?

Third, the history of naturalism itself is littered with explanatory failure. Read Lucretius’ De Rerum Naturae: completely naturalistic, and completely wrong. Read Aristotle’s naturalistic explanations of the natural world: he was really wrong very often. Ptolemy was wrong. Newton was wrong. Either special relativity or quantum mechanics is wrong, since they contradict. The entire history of science is a history of overturning wrong explanations. That overwhelming history of failure has even moved some people to be very skeptical of our current favored explanations! In any event, naturalists have been wrong at least as often as they’ve been right, throughout history. So if theistic explanations are in trouble because of their track record, so are naturalistic explanations! And even more so, from the perspective of a theist. I think theistic explanations have been right way more often than you do, and I think naturalistic explanations have been wrong way more often than you do. So the question of which has a better track record is really controversial, and it seems pretty question-begging to assert that theistic explanations have a worse track record. I’d think you’d actually need to prove that.

…lacks simplicity…

Why think that “God did it” lacks simplicity? How could any explanation be *more* simple, especially in the star-spelling-John-3:16 situation as I described it?

…offers no predictive novelty…

I’m not super-sure what this means, but I doubt it’s necessary for a good explanation. I guess it means something like “issues new predictions.” I see the hairdryer out again. I posit this explanation: “My wife did it.” Seems like a really good explanation to me. But does it “offer predictive novelty”? If not, then offering predictive novelty isn’t necessary for a good explanation. If so, what are the novel predictions, and why couldn’t “God did it” offer the same sort of novel predictions in the star-spelling-John-3:16 case?

…and has poor explanatory scope.

I don’t really get this one either. Do you mean that “God did it” doesn’t explain very much? Well, big deal. There are lots of good explanations that don’t explain very much. “My wife did it” explains why there’s a hairdryer out, and not much else. Still, it’s a darn good explanation. If we see John 3:16 written in stars, “God did it” seems like a darn good explanation, even if it doesn’t explain much else.

So, I don’t think you’ve given us much reason to think that “God did it” is a terrible explanation. You haven’t even given much reason to think that it’s not a good explanation! Is this what Dawes was up to, or did he have more to say?

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Torgo January 13, 2010 at 8:46 am

Ayer writes:

No, the argument is that everything either has a cause for its existence, or exists by the necessity of its own nature.God exists by the necessity of his own nature.

Your comment here is an example of my suspicions about most theistic arguments. They all must eventually invoke some version of the ontological argument insofar as the theist tries to sneak in claims about the God proven by the arguments being a necessary being. The cosmological and design arguments, if sound, do not establish the existence of a necessary being. But the theist usually tries to assert that such a being is what he means by God in these arguments.

I agree with Luke’s reasons about why it is wrong to ask “Who designed the Designer?”, but it is still possible that any Designer or Cause of life, or of the universe, might itself have a cause. So, you can’t just assert at the end of a cosmological or Design argument that God is by definition a necessary being. That claim must be proven separately.

Atheists have some house-cleaning to do with this “Who designed the Designer?” question, but theists need to stop smuggling in extra claims about their God when it comes to arguments like this one.

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cartesian January 13, 2010 at 8:48 am

Charles:
Things don’t actually begin to exist. They are simply collections of atoms that existed before in different configurations.  

Soooo… since you exist, and since things don’t begin to exist, I guess you’ve always existed then? You, Charles, are infinitely old? That’s a pretty weird view. Do you really believe that?

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Tony Hoffman January 13, 2010 at 8:50 am

So the problem with the atheist sacred cow of “Who designed the designer?” is that it misses the point. “God did it” is a horrible explanation, but not because theists can’t tell us what the explanation for the designer is.

I think you are continuing to throw out the baby with the bathwater here.

When the theist offer the “explanation” for the origins of the Universe, that response entails first cause and the Argument from Complexity. Both of these arguments can then be turned on the “explanation” of God, who, to be fair, must go “poof” by the argument that introduced him as the explanation.

It seems to me that all theistic arguments that try to circumvent this problem (Divine Simplicity, a “Necessary” God, etc.) are obviously ad hoc and/or special pleading.

I think you should allow that “Who designed the designer” is not, as you understand it, an assertion that all explanations must themselves be explained; it is a criticism that the arguments for God as an explanation for the Universe’s origins are self-defeating, and the attempts by the theist to rectify this amount to special pleading or incoherence.

I’m sorry to say that I still consider it a perfectly suitable retort, even though I agree that explanations themselves do not demand explanation. (I have enjoyed the series quite a bit so far, btw.)

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dguller January 13, 2010 at 8:53 am

Cartiesian:

>> If we see John 3:16 written in stars, “God did it” seems like a darn good explanation, even if it doesn’t explain much else.

I suppose if we see Jesus in a buritto, then Jesus is Lord? I mean, what are the odds of all the billions of molecules within the buritto coming together to form an image of Jesus Christ?

I think that you can see that this argument is fallacious.

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Rich January 13, 2010 at 8:55 am

Infinite regress or a prime mover seem to be options we’ve come up with so far.

“In many cultures it is customary to answer that God created the universe out of nothing. But this is mere temporizing. If we wish courageously to pursue the question, we must, of course ask next where God comes from? And if we decide this to be unanswerable, why not save a step and conclude that the universe has always existed?” [Carl Sagan, Cosmos, page 257]

Ontological economy. Or, turtles all the way down.

Side question for navel gazers: “Could God know there is no Meta-God”?

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majinrevan666 January 13, 2010 at 9:00 am

I think I’ve recently come to understand the nature of the “who created god?” question.
It’s just an argument(question?) ad absurdum for the idea that all intricate functional things require a designer.

If carried to its logical conclusion, IE, god requires no designer, then the whole premise has to be reconsidered.

That, I think, is Dawkins’ point in asking the question.

I do believe that it ultimately fails though since when god is usually evoked as an explanation for functional complexity, he is not evoked for an ULTIMATE explanation of functional complexity.
It has to be kept in mind that the design inference only refers to contingent complexity, not necessary complexity.
God falls under the category of the latter.

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Haukur January 13, 2010 at 9:07 am

dguller: I think that you can see that this argument is fallacious.

You’re actually going to bite the bullet on the stars spelling out John 3:16?

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Rich January 13, 2010 at 9:07 am

Also it is worth noting that positing ‘god of the gaps’ as a solution to unknowns is the antithesis of knowledge and inquiry. “We don’t know (yet)” is both honest and fine.

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cartesian January 13, 2010 at 9:10 am

dguller: Cartiesian:>> If we see John 3:16 written in stars, “God did it” seems like a darn good explanation, even if it doesn’t explain much else.I suppose if we see Jesus in a buritto, then Jesus is Lord? I mean, what are the odds of all the billions of molecules within the buritto coming together to form an image of Jesus Christ?I think that you can see that this argument is fallacious.  

Well, what’s most concerning is that you misspelled “burrito.” That’s embarrassing. And you’ve insulted millions of hard-working Hispanics. :-/

Also, I don’t know why you think I’m committed to saying anything about the alleged appearances of Jesus’ image in burritos. I’m not really sure why you’re bringing this up.

All I really asserted is that, in the star-spelling-John-3:16 case, “God did it” would be a good explanation. Do you really disagree with that?

That “God did it” is a good explanation in the star-spelling-John-3:16 case does NOT entail that “God did it” is a good explanation in the burrito case. It’s pretty clearly NOT a good explanation in the burrito cases, or at least not in the burrito cases I’ve seen. In the ones I’ve seen, the vague patterns of burning/browning are, though sort of reminiscent of an image of a person, not at all improbable. Given the number of tortillas that are browned every day, it’s inevitable that one will feature an interesting pattern. So no, I’m not committed to saying that “God did it” is a good explanation of the burrito case.

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Bryan January 13, 2010 at 9:13 am

While I do agree that the “who designed the designer” is a very weak point, it is a good jumping off point for a better argument.

The whole designer issue often surrounds the idea that the universe must have a “first cause” – i.e. a singular event from which all of time and space flows. Many religious individuals take the illogical position that god must have started it all, which leads to the obvious question of where did god come from.

Rather than ask the “who made god” question, I prefer something along the lines of:

“If you believe that god has existed forever, and therefore has no creator, than why can the universe itself not be the same?”

It puts a sharper point on the challenge to the creationist – rather than simply pulling out the “god did it”, they instead have to come up with reasons why god could exist forever (or self-create, etc) while a non-sentient universe could not…

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dguller January 13, 2010 at 9:14 am

Haukur: You’re actually going to bite the bullet on the stars spelling out John 3:16?  (Quote)

For the sake of argument, yes. That doesn’t mean that I think there is a hope in hell of this scenario ever happening. :)

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Rich January 13, 2010 at 9:15 am

cartesian, in your example you talk of probabilities. But isn’t it honest to say we have no sense of teh probabilities involved in universe creation? We don’t know how many there has been, how many there are, etc…

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Josh January 13, 2010 at 9:17 am

Tony Hoffman:
I think you are continuing to throw out the baby with the bathwater here.
When the theist offer the “explanation” for the origins of the Universe, that response entails first cause and the Argument from Complexity. Both of these arguments can then be turned on the “explanation” of God, who, to be fair, must go “poof” by the argument that introduced him as the explanation.It seems to me that all theistic arguments that try to circumvent this problem (Divine Simplicity, a “Necessary” God, etc.) are obviously ad hoc and/or special pleading.I think you should allow that “Who designed the designer” is not, as you understand it, an assertion that all explanations must themselves be explained; it is a criticism that the arguments for God as an explanation for the Universe’s origins are self-defeating, and the attempts by the theist to rectify this amount to special pleading or incoherence.I’m sorry to say that I still consider it a perfectly suitable retort, even though I agree that explanations themselves do not demand explanation. (I have enjoyed the series quite a bit so far, btw.)  

Exactly. I think Luke is sort of missing the point—who designed the designer arguments are useless because they literally get you absolutely nowhere. The thing to be explained (say the complexity of the universe, or even the mere existence of the universe) is explained by positing something that needs to be explained the EXACT SAME WAY.

Contrast this with the example of a drought. You observe that your crops died and you posit a drought caused it. Even without taking into account the fact that a drought is a operational definition, you have successfully explained something because explaining the drought is totally different from explaining the crop loss.

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cartesian January 13, 2010 at 9:22 am

dguller:
For the sake of argument, yes. That doesn’t mean that I think there is a hope in hell of this scenario ever happening.   

Usually, you temporarily grant your opponent’s position “for the sake of argument.” You don’t adopt a really implausible *denial* of your opponent’s position “for the sake of argument.” This actually shuts down the argument, and commits you to something really implausible.


ATHEIST: There’s a lot of evil in the world. That’s improbable, if God exists. So God probably doesn’t exist.

THEIST: For the sake of argument, I deny that there is any evil in the world. Everything is peachy-keen, you know, for the sake of argument.

ATHEIST: You’re lame.


CARTESIAN: If the stars suddenly clearly spelled out John 3:16, then “God did it” would be a good explanation. So “God did it” can be a good explanation of complexity.

DGULLER: For the sake of argument, I deny that “God did it” would be a good explanation of the stars’ clearly spelling out John 3:16. I don’t really believe this, but I adopt it for, you know, the sake of argument.

CARTESIAN: You’re lame.

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dguller January 13, 2010 at 9:28 am

Cartesian:

First, I’m sure my Mexican wife would be very displeased with my misspelling of burrito. :P

Second, I would say that “God did it” is a possible explanation, but not a good one. If that were a good explanation, then I suppose Orion is responsible for the collection of stars that resemble his image.

The point is that just because humans see a pattern of X in nature does not mean that the pattern of X is really indicative of a regular, underlying process. This is because we are cognitively equipped to see patterns EVERYWHERE, which is part of what has helped us survive in our history, but it also leads to various cases of false positives, which we must be careful of.

I brought up the BURRITO (!) scenario, because this is yet another example of a religious pattern that can be conceived as highly unlikely to occur, if you focus on the random chance of atoms forming a shape of Jesus, but that most reasonable people would reject as a justification of Jesus Christ’s divinity. And the reason why it is easily rejected, even by you, is that there is a plausible natural explanation for the shape’s appearance in the burrito PLUS our knowledge of human psychology and our tendency to see patterns all over the place, including in our food.

I like “intuition pumps” as much as the next guy, but let’s be clear about their limitations. They are just imaginary scenarios that are designed to challenge our intuitions. They are NOT justifications for changing our intuitions, unless there is good evidence that the imaginary scenario actually occurs in the real world. Without that evidence, it is just speculative fantasy, and can be dismissed as such.

So, if you are going to put some serious weight on this thought experiment, then the onus is upon you to show how it could happen in the real world. How would the billions of planets and other massive astronomical entities suddenly shift their positions, in violation of every scientific law that we know about, and form John 3:16? Otherwise, why should I engage in your fictitious scenario?

I mean, what if the stars suddenly formed “there is no God”. What then?

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cartesian January 13, 2010 at 9:28 am

Rich: cartesian, in your example you talk of probabilities.

I just read through it again, and I don’t think that I talk of probabilities.

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Rich January 13, 2010 at 9:33 am

cartesian: I just read through it again, and I don’t think that I talk of probabilities.  (Quote)

“, not at all improbable”

” Given the number of tortillas that are browned every day, it’s inevitable that one will feature an interesting pattern”

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Reginald Selkirk January 13, 2010 at 9:33 am

ayer: God is an immaterial, necessarily existing being by definition.

Are you touting this as the standard philosophical definition of God? I am aware that Plantinga, et al claim God is necessarily existing, but I understand this to be an argument rather than a widely-accepted definition.

ayer: No, the argument from complexity is that PHYSICAL complexity needs a designer.

Special pleading.

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dguller January 13, 2010 at 9:34 am

Cartesian:

>> Usually, you temporarily grant your opponent’s position “for the sake of argument.” You don’t adopt a really implausible *denial* of your opponent’s position “for the sake of argument.” This actually shuts down the argument, and commits you to something really implausible.

I accepted “for the sake of argument” that the stars COULD align themselves suddenly to form John 3:16, even though the reality is that this is wildly implausible. I was not referring to if “God did it” would be a good explanation of that event. That is a separate issue.

Hope this helps!

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Charles January 13, 2010 at 9:39 am

cartesian:
Soooo… since you exist, and since things don’t begin to exist, I guess you’ve always existed then? You, Charles, are infinitely old? That’s a pretty weird view. Do you really believe that?  

Ah, but your argument contains a sneaky proposition, the assertion that “I exist.”

If by “exist” you mean that I am a collection of protons and electrons that are constantly changing both in makeup and configuration, that existed before I was “born” and will continue to exist after I “die”, then I don’t see the contradiction. (That is unless we are talking about a few seconds following the Big Bang, but now we’re asking a rather different sort of question, aren’t we? The question is no longer, Where did “Charles” come from, but rather, Where did everything come from?)

However, if by “exist” you mean some idea of “Charles-ness”, then I dispute the claim. There is no such thing as “Charles-ness” aside from brain states that exist in our heads.

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ayer January 13, 2010 at 9:46 am

Bryan: “If you believe that god has existed forever, and therefore has no creator, than why can the universe itself not be the same?”

Actually, the Leibnizian cosmological argument (as opposed to the kalam cosmological argument) does not depend on the universe beginning to exist. Instead it posits that since the universe exists contingently (because it is only one of an infinite number of possible universes and thus need never have existed at all), it must have a cause for its existence in a necessary being. The universe could be held in existence eternally by that cause.

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Rich January 13, 2010 at 10:02 am

“Instead it posits that since the universe exists contingently (because it is only one of an infinite number of possible universes and thus need never have existed at all), it must have a cause for its existence in a necessary being.”

what a complete non-sequitur!

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Paul January 13, 2010 at 10:04 am

ayer: Instead it posits that since the universe exists contingently (because it is only one of an infinite number of possible universes and thus need never have existed at all)

So that I may better understand what is the reasoning that the universe exists contingently and God does not?

I will not accept the ontological argument as a valid response to this.

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Tony Hoffman January 13, 2010 at 10:08 am

Me: It seems to me that all theistic arguments that try to circumvent this problem (Divine Simplicity, a “Necessary” God, etc.) are obviously ad hoc and/or special pleading.
Ayer: Instead it posits that since the universe exists contingently (because it is only one of an infinite number of possible universes and thus need never have existed at all), it must have a cause for its existence in a necessary being.

I think it is your turn not to repeat the argument, but to show how the argument is not a case of special pleading or ad hoc.

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lukeprog January 13, 2010 at 11:05 am

cartesian,

I was generalizing. I don’t actually support any ‘in principle’ objection to theistic explanations. Rather, we must assess the explanatory merits of theism in each individual case. As for the details of theism and explanation, I will have more to write about all that later.

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cartesian January 13, 2010 at 11:14 am

Rich: cartesian, in your example you talk of probabilities. But isn’t it honest to say we have no sense of teh probabilities involved in universe creation? We don’t know how many there has been, how many there are, etc…

Oh, sorry, I thought you meant the star-spelling example. But you were talking about the burrito example. You’re right: I do think that, given the number of tortillas we brown/burn everyday, it’s highly probable that we’d see an interesting brown/burn pattern eventually.

So now you think it’s relevant to ask whether we really have any idea about the probabilities involved in universe creation. After all, you say, we don’t know how many universes there are, how many there have been, etc.

Well, I don’t really see how this is relevant. Would you mind telling me why you think this is relevant?

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cartesian January 13, 2010 at 11:21 am

dguller: I accepted “for the sake of argument” that the stars COULD align themselves suddenly to form John 3:16, even though the reality is that this is wildly implausible. I was not referring to if “God did it” would be a good explanation of that event. That is a separate issue.

When Haukur asked you “You’re actually going to bite the bullet on the stars spelling out John 3:16?” I take it the bullet was the claim that, if the stars did spell out John 3:16, “God did it” would NOT be a good explanation. That claim seems pretty darn implausible. To endorse that claim would be to bite a bullet.

Since you replied: “For the sake of argument, yes,” I took it that you meant to endorse that really implausible claim.

Instead, you seem to suggest that by biting the bullet here, you were granting for the sake of argument that the stars could align to spell out John 3:16. But that’s not a bullet. Nobody denies that this is possible, in the broad logical possibility required for my argument. It’s clearly contrary to the laws of nature, but nobody is claiming otherwise.

Anyway, I’m glad we have it all cleared up now. You are willing to grant that the stars could align to spell out the text of John 3:16.

Now let me ask you this: If that were to happen, would “God did it” be a terrible explanation?

If so, why? If not, then you agree with me that Luke is wrong, since Luke said “God did it” is never a good explanation of complexity.

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cartesian January 13, 2010 at 11:30 am

cartesian:
Soooo… since you exist, and since things don’t begin to exist, I guess you’ve always existed then? You, Charles, are infinitely old? That’s a pretty weird view. Do you really believe that?

Charles:
Ah, but your argument contains a sneaky proposition, the assertion that “I exist.”

Haha, I’ve never thought “I exist” was very sneaky. I always thought it was one of the clearest and most obviously true propositions in all of philosophy (though that’s not saying much!).

Why don’t you go ahead and just tell me which of these you deny:

(1) I exist.
(2) Nothing begins to exist.
(3) So, I didn’t begin to exist. (from 1&2)
(4) So, I’ve always existed. (from 3)
(5) So, I’m infinitely old. (from 4)

I’m pretty sure the inferences are valid, so I don’t think you can deny 3, 4, or 5, given 1 and 2.

You very clearly endorsed 2, so I don’t know if you want to give that up.

So, is it really 1 that’s going to go? Or are you going to accept 1, 2, and therefore 5?

You’re in quite a pickle here, given your endorsement of 2. As far as I’m concerned, 2 is pretty obviously false. That’s how I’d get out of this pickle, if I were you.

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Rich January 13, 2010 at 11:38 am

“So now you think it’s relevant to ask whether we really have any idea about the probabilities involved in universe creation. After all, you say, we don’t know how many universes there are, how many there have been, etc.

Well, I don’t really see how this is relevant. Would you mind telling me why you think this is relevant? ”

Of course. – arguing from ‘big numbers!’ or ‘improbability’ is actually ‘arguing from personal incredulity’ if you can’t provide any math. Empiricism will elevate the discourse.

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cartesian January 13, 2010 at 11:39 am

lukeprog:
cartesian, I was generalizing. I don’t actually support any ‘in principle’ objection to theistic explanations. Rather, we must assess the explanatory merits of theism in each individual case.

Can you see how this part of your post was a bit misleading?

lukeprog:
I agree that “God did it” is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad “explanation” for complexity or, well, pretty much anything. “God did it” does fail as an explanation.

That sounds like a pretty general claim. I agree that you were generalizing. I was just accusing you of OVERgeneralizing, i.e. endorsing a generalization that has counterexamples.

Here’s another way to see the problem: I completely agree with what you wrote in your last comment. I don’t support any in principle objection to theistic explanations, and we should take theistic explanations on a case-by-case basis.

But I do NOT agree with what you originally wrote in your post, namely that “God did it” is a terrible explanation for complexity or pretty much anything else, and that “God did it” fails as an explanation.

So I think your comment says something different from your post, since I agree with the comment but not the post.

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cartesian January 13, 2010 at 11:46 am

Rich: arguing from ‘big numbers!’ or ‘improbability’ is actually ‘arguing from personal incredulity’ if you can’t provide any math. Empiricism will elevate the discourse.

Just let me make sure I understand. I said that “God did it” is not a good explanation of Jesus-images in the burns on tortillas because, given the large number of tortillas that we burn each day, it’s not improbable that some vaguely Jesus-looking image will show up someday.

You seem to be balking here because I don’t actually know EXACTLY how many tortillas we burn everyday, or EXACTLY how likely it is for any given tortilla-burning that a vaguely Jesus-looking image will be produced.

Is that what’s going on? If so, I agree that it sure would be nice if I had those numbers for you, and that would surely “elevate the discussion,” as you say. But I don’t think these numbers are necessary for the argument to be compelling.

Given what you know about the world’s tortilla-eating habits, can’t you agree that there are very many burned/browned tortillas produced everyday? And given what you know about the burning/browning of tortillas, and given how vaguely these alleged Jesus-images actually resemble Jesus, doesn’t it seem not improbable that such a vague image would show up in the burns/browns of tortillas eventually? Are you really agnostic on some of these questions?

I wonder if you carry this skepticism out generally. Suppose someone reasoned this way: “I know people say you shouldn’t play soccer on the freeway. But until I know EXACTLY how many cars there are out there and EXACTLY how likely it is that I’ll be hit by one and EXACTLY how likely it is that I’ll die if hit, I’m just going to refrain from believing that playing soccer on the freeway is dangerous.”

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Rich January 13, 2010 at 11:54 am

No, the point concerns universes. The burrito case you can make some reasoned estimates or a formal study if you want. But universes, not so much.

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lukeprog January 13, 2010 at 11:55 am

cartesian,

Sure, no problem. I’ve now clarified my post.

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Alex January 13, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Little bit surprised you didn’t talk about Kant here Luke. Surely Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason offers the classic formulation of the “who made God” argument where he wonders why we should make an exception for a creator.

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Paul January 13, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Alternate form of Luke’s made up conversation -

THEIST: “There is so much complexity in the world, it must have been designed by an Intelligent Designer. The best explanation for our world is an Intelligent Designer.”

ATHEIST: “Ok, fair enough. For now I will accept this as the best explanation.”

ATHEIST: “So Theist, your Intelligent Designer is very complex. Does he have a designer?”

THEIST: “No”

ATHEIST: “Why not?”

THEIST: “Because he exists necessarily.”

ATHEIST: “Hmmm. Interesting. Why can’t this reasoning be applied to the original question?”

THEIST: “Because this universe is contingent.”

ATHEIST: “How do you know that this universe is contingent.”

THEIST: “Because there are many possible worlds and this is but one of them.”

ATHEIST: “Ok, so there are many possible worlds. But at least one of those worlds must exist necessarily.”

THEIST:

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dguller January 13, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Cartesian:

I explained why your thought experiment is not persuasive above. I’ll tell you what, IF your hypothetical scenario ever happens, then I’ll consider “God did it” to be a reasonable explanation.

I’ll add that if I suddenly wake up with two heads tomorrow morning, then I’ll conclude that the laws of biology, chemistry and physics are bullshit. Do you really take that as an argument against biology, chemistry and physics? Of course not, because it is based upon a highly implausible hypothetical scenario. Same with your thought experiment.

It really doesn’t show anything, except that if everything we know is false, then ANY explanation becomes possible. However, that isn’t really saying very much.

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PR January 13, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Luke,

Kudos to you for calling this one out. It actually makes a skeptic look either obstinate or ignorant. I was listening to William Lane Craig’s debate with Lewis Wolpert today and it was annoying that Wolpert kept putting this one forward after it had been answered repeatedly by Craig. It made Wolpert look like he wasn’t paying attention or really didn’t care to engage with the argument – just continue to tow the party line. Of course, the rest of his arguments (if one could call them that) were not much better.

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Sly January 13, 2010 at 1:45 pm

ayer:
God is an immaterial, necessarily existing being by definition.  

Right, god exists because we say that he must exist. That is convincing…

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Sly January 13, 2010 at 1:50 pm

cartesian:
Haha, I’ve never thought “I exist” was very sneaky. I always thought it was one of the clearest and most obviously true propositions in all of philosophy (though that’s not saying much!).Why don’t you go ahead and just tell me which of these you deny:(1) I exist.
(2) Nothing begins to exist.
(3) So, I didn’t begin to exist. (from 1&2)
(4) So, I’ve always existed. (from 3)
(5) So, I’m infinitely old. (from 4)I’m pretty sure the inferences are valid, so I don’t think you can deny 3, 4, or 5, given 1 and 2.You very clearly endorsed 2, so I don’t know if you want to give that up.So, is it really 1 that’s going to go? Or are you going to accept 1, 2, and therefore 5?You’re in quite a pickle here, given your endorsement of 2. As far as I’m concerned, 2 is pretty obviously false. That’s how I’d get out of this pickle, if I were you.  

You have missed the point IMO. Matter does not begin to exist, it just exists. Patterns of matter can begin to exist, so my personal pattern of atoms had a start point, however the matter/energy itself did not.

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Reasonist January 13, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Actually I disagree. The Failure to establish how a proposed god came into existence equates to not being able to use that god as an explanation. If you can’t get passed the first, and necessary step of being able to at least provide a plausible, albeit improbable way to justify the origins of god, you cannot progress to step 2, 3 etc.
And saying god is “the alpha and the omega” is a mere cop-out.

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cl January 13, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Nice post. You wrote:

The problem with offering “God did it” as an explanation is that such an explanation has low plausibility, is not testable, has poor consistency with background knowledge, comes from a tradition (supernaturalism) with extreme explanatory failure, lacks simplicity, offers no predictive novelty, and has poor explanatory scope. It fails to provide almost everything philosophers and scientists look for in a successful explanation. That is why “God did it” is generally a horrible explanation, not because it leaves the explanation itself (God) unexplained.

Though I would obviously object to parts of that, I agree with your overall objections against the “who designed the designer” trope. If you’re an atheist and you use “who designed the designer,” you’d better recognize how silly you look to a theistic philosopher with half a brain.

I’m also with you when you say you’re not loyal to atheism, but truth and reason. We agree there, too. It nauseates me to see anyone more loyal to party lines than truth and reason.

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Hermes January 13, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Paul: ATHEIST: “Ok, so there are many possible worlds. But at least one of those worlds must exist necessarily.”

THEIST:

Keeping it simple, and dropping my 2 page screed of comments, I’d like to see if any theists — Christians or not — want to take a stab at filling in the blanks. Well, by not presupposing a previous answer in their response, of course.

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cl January 13, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Paul,

ATHEIST: “So Theist, your Intelligent Designer is very complex. Does he have a designer?”

THEIST: “No”

ATHEIST: “Why not?”

God is eternal. I know certain atheists view this as a cop-out, but it’s really not. That which is eternal requires no cause, by definition. Overly simplistic, I admit, but sometimes it’s better to keep these things simple.

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Paul Wright January 13, 2010 at 2:57 pm

cl: Paul,
God is eternal. I know certain atheists view this as a cop-out, but it’s really not. That which is eternal requires no cause, by definition. Overly simplistic, I admit, but sometimes it’s better to keep these things simple.  

But the other Paul’s argument is not about cause, but about design. Why is whether God is eternal relevant to this?

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Duke York January 13, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Well, I’ve gotten into this late, but I still want to imput my thoughts.

First, I think that what Dawkins is getting at with “Who designed the designer” isn’t the philosophical infinite regress of causes, but rather that God is the sort of thing that we think needs to have a particular sort of cause. God is supposed to be (in all but the most Karen Armstrong-y styles of theism) something like a giant, very strong person. Giant, very strong people need giant, very strong frontal lobes to think and giant, very strong tongues to speak and giant, very strong buttocks for Moses to see (Exodus 33:23). If we think that frontal lobes, tongues and butts need an explanation when we see them in humans, why shouldn’t we need such an explanation for God?

Compare to the Darwinian explanation for complexity: time, imperfect reproduction, and sorting conditions. All of these (perhaps save the “reproduction” part) are the sort of things that don’t require explanation. Or, at least, require the explanation of simple things. (What is a “simple” thing? Let’s go with “things without a buttock”.)

As for the bible verse written in the stars, I’m sorry, but Goddidit still wouldn’t be a good explanation. All we could say is that it points some force vastly more powerful and/or subtle than our current understanding. Yes, the Christians’ God is one possible culprit, but so are: aliens (who perhaps put a holographic shell around the earth); a mad scientist (who perhaps infected the whole world with nanites that artificially stimulate the optic nerves to produces a virtual reality simulation across the sky); Loki, Hermes or Ganesha, trickster-Gods (playing their own tricks on their own times); some sort of epic-level illusion magic from D&D (Bigby’s Deceptive Divinity). I’m sure we could come up with other explanations. Why would the aliens or mad scientists or whatever be less likely than the Christian God? (And, of course, not the Judeo-Christian God, since that God didn’t send his son). I think the pre-existing evidence against the Christian God (the fact he came to earth to be recorded by incompetent men, in a series book that reads like historical fiction and contain escalating claims to miracles, to found a church that killed people for disagreeing with it, in a universe that was different than the one he described) counts heavily against the Goddidit explanation of the star-event. Just because we’ve seen a miracle doesn’t mean we should forget everything else we know! That’s how you get Pentecostals and schizophrenics.

Duke York

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kittykay4 January 13, 2010 at 3:17 pm

dguller: I think a better objection to the argument that the universe required a cause is that this argument commits the fallacy of composition.
Just because everything WITHIN the universe requires a cause does not mean that the universe ITSELF requires a cause. The property of “requires a cause” does not necessarily translate from the contents of the universe to the universe in total. Similarly, just because atoms are invisible does not mean that objects composed of atoms are also invisible.
Any thoughts?  

I think you’re right. Two additional points. First of all, GR just predicts that everything was once contained in a singularity. That’s it. Now, there are also singularities at the heart of black holes. To claim the big bang as an example of “something from nothing”, as a start of some sort, is to claim that black holes are a “nothing from something”, an end of sorts. I don’t quite know where to go here, but there could be something there (my logic is fairly bad, but doesn’t this establish a tautology between nothing and something? That seems bad. Although, it seems we live in a flat universe, sum zero energy, so that’s not too crazy).

On a second point, it seems to me that causality requires a change of time. Any cause must precede an effect. Even WLC has admitted that time began at the Big Bang. How can we ask for a t =0 with t=0 at the Big Bang. To demand a cause is to demand for something to exist prior, but there’s no such thing as prior to the Big Bang, if that’s when time began.

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cl January 13, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Sorry if this posts twice: got the “server timed out” message.

Paul Wright,

..the other Paul’s argument is not about cause, but about design. Why is whether God is eternal relevant to this?

Because the question was why God doesn’t have a designer (i.e. causal agent). We can consider whether or not God requires a cause and whether or not God requires a designer as separate questions, if you wish; I was just kinda lumping them together.

God doesn’t require a cause because being caused is not a necessary attribute of eternality (if that’s even a word). As far as why God doesn’t require a designer, well…

To grossly paraphrase, theists who use the argument from design essentially posit that the complexity in nature is beyond that which can be accounted for by chance. You know, the classic Paley teleological argument: “when you come across a complex object like a watch, you wouldn’t assume it made itself.” Okay, fair enough, which is probably why the atheist in Paul’s hypothetical exchange replies,

ATHEIST: “Ok, fair enough. For now I will accept this as the best explanation.”

When the atheist asks “who designed God,” he or she makes an assumption that is not based on empirical observation, but an assumed premise that complex phenomena require equally or more-complex causes. In pondering whether Nature is better explained by agent or non-agent causality, we have Nature to observe. The theist bases his or her argument from design on the observed complexity in Nature.

To contrast, we don’t have the luxury of observing God, so we don’t have any observed complexity to base an argument on. The assumption of a designer requires the observation of design. In the case of God, there is no “observation of design” to explain, because we’re not observing God. To ask “who designed God” is to simply assume that God requires a designer, but that is unjustified because we lack observed complexity such that the question “who designed God” might have warrant, and presumptuous because complex phenomena do not necessarily require equally or more-complex causes.

It’s an unsound premise contradicted by TENS and the Grand Canyon, among other things.

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lukeprog January 13, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Reasonist,

Does that mean that physicists are unjustified in positing quarks to explain quantum phenomena, because they cannot offer an explanation for the quarks themselves?

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Paul January 13, 2010 at 4:18 pm

If I understand CL correctly – here is a different version of it.

THEIST: “There is so much complexity in the world, it must have been designed by an Intelligent Designer. The best explanation for our world is an Intelligent Designer.”

ATHEIST: “Ok, fair enough. For now I will accept this as the best explanation.”

ATHEIST: “So Theist, your Intelligent Designer is very complex. Does he have a designer?”

THEIST: “No”

ATHEIST: “Why not?”

THEIST: “Because he is eternal.”

ATHEIST: “So God’s complexity doesn’t need explaining because he is eternal. Hmmm. Interesting. I agree that if something were eternal that its origin needs no explanation.”

a few moments later..
ATHEIST: Hey Theist so we know that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. We know that approx 15 billion years ago this universe came to be from a point singularity. Do you have any reason to think that the matter contained withing this incredibly dense and hot point singularity has not existed eternally? We know matter exists, so I don’t quite understand how God is eternal vs the material is eternal is a better explanation”

THEIST:

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Paul January 13, 2010 at 4:28 pm

Just as a side note – in Luke’s original hypothetical conversation and in my subsequent variations thereof instead of THEIST perhaps DEIST may be more appropriate place holder?

Possibly not an important to the point of the discussion…

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ayer January 13, 2010 at 6:53 pm

Paul: ATHEIST: “Ok, so there are many possible worlds. But at least one of those worlds must exist necessarily.”

THEIST:

John Cramer addresses this in the article I cited above, where he describes Mortimer Adler’s gloss on the Leibnizian cosmological argument:

JOHN CRAMER: “…whatever might be otherwise might not exist at all. Anything that necessarily exists must be exactly what it is; it cannot be other than what it is. The converse is also true then—whatever can be otherwise does not exist necessarily and must be able to not exist. However, for the cosmos to cease to exist, it must be annihilated and not merely transformed…Another way of arriving at the same conclusion is to rely on the principle of sufficient reason. Anything that exists does so because there is sufficient reason for it to do so. The cause that is the sufficient reason may reside either in the thing or in something else but the cause must exist. For a merely possible entity, the sufficient reason cannot reside in the entity but must reside in another. If the universe is merely possible, then the sufficient reason for its existence resides not in the universe but elsewhere. But the universe is all of the physical reality so the merely possible existence of the universe points “outside” the universe to the existence of a nonphysical reality…Adler concludes then that, by the previous premises, there exists a necessary supreme being so that the universe stays in existence. God must be there to sustain the universe even if the universe is eternal.”

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cbranch January 13, 2010 at 7:16 pm

I think Dawkins is a scientist first and an atheist second. To me, this means he expects that everything has a scientific explanation.

As a scientist, if you ask, “Where does lightning come from?” and the answer is “the sky”, then it just means you haven’t asked the right question. It may be true, as far as it goes, but it doesn’t give you a scientific explanation for the phenomenon. So the logical next step is to reframe the question so that you get a meaningful answer.

Therefore, when I ask “Where did the universe come from?”, if the answer is “God”, then the logical next step is to ask “Well then, where did God come from?”.

Maybe this doesn’t meet the rigorous test of formal logic, but it’s the way people actually think – which I guess is why there’s so much strong opinion on this subject!

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Charles January 13, 2010 at 7:31 pm

cartesian:
Why don’t you go ahead and just tell me which of these you deny:
(1) I exist.
(2) Nothing begins to exist.
(3) So, I didn’t begin to exist. (from 1&2)
(4) So, I’ve always existed. (from 3)
(5) So, I’m infinitely old. (from 4)

I’d be happy to. Do me a favor first. Please define the terms “I” and “exist”.

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lukeprog January 13, 2010 at 7:42 pm

Charles; good call. Given my previous exchanges with cartesian, I think it’s highly likely that you two are using different definitions for those two terms.

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Patrick January 13, 2010 at 9:26 pm

When a theist argues that everything has to have a cause outside of itself, therefore the universe has to have a cause outside the universe, therefore god created the uniform, its perfectly acceptable to point out that this presumes that god is an uncaused cause, which is impossible under their own argument. And if they want to claim that god is allowed to be an uncaused cause, then they should explain why other things can’t exist just because they do.

What you are doing in this post is rewriting the theist’s argument for him to make it stronger, and then refuting the stronger version.

That has its place. One should attempt to address the strongest possible arguments of one’s opponents, if one’s goal is to reach the strongest possible conclusion of the debate.

But one should also address the argument’s one’s opponents actually make, particularly when your goal is not only to reach truth, but also to convince.

Not only is it not your obligation to help your opponent make better but still invalid arguments, its also a bit demeaning to simply declare that your opponent is too stupid to hold up his side of the debate, so you’ll do both while he sits silent.

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Eneasz January 13, 2010 at 9:47 pm
Anaedo January 13, 2010 at 10:20 pm

This is my very first post on this blog. I have spent valuable time reading and and weighing Luke’s approach to the issues and I have to say that I find him to be frank and above all fair especially to the opposite side of the debate. His blog is indeed a testimony that online discussions of this sort can be very civil and educational.

Keep up the good work.

To the issue..

The problem I have with atheistic opposition to the simple theistic inference that the cause of the universe is not and could not be physical is that using Dawkins’ own criteria,at best what we can reasonably deduce is a naturalistic explanation to some aspect or substructure of the universe. There cannot be any naturalistic explanation for the origin of the universe, which when defined properly is the entirety of the physical, natural realm. Any explanation that seeks to validate that claim (the claim that one can adduce a proper and meaningful naturalistic explanation for the origin of the universe) will invariably turn out to be mind-shatteringly complex, highly implausible and I might even add non-testable. The ongoing research into multiverses readily comes to mind.

If Dawkins wants to make the argument that all explanations must be simple ( I suppose the term “simple” invites a bit of subjectivity) or we should regard them as explanations, then he should be getting slapped down by theoretical physicists. This is not biological evolution and I wonder why he appeals too strongly to an evolutionary model. Just think, the field of quantum physics is already driving the most intelligent insane how much more when we begin to talk about 11 dimensional hysperspace and all the academic jargon of brane cosmology.

In the end, even if we never settle the issue of whether a god created the universe out of nothing at the cosmological singularity, one needs to realize that this is an issue that will never be satisfactorily resolved or explained with our current understanding of physics. The best we can do is deal with physical reality AFTER a universe has mysteriously appeared. If this realization proves to be intellectual dissatisfying for the atheist, he simply has to hope that sometime in the future, some theory of cosmological beginnings can be shown to be infinite in the past. It is a position he has to hang his faith on if he doesn’t want to face the seeming unreasonableness of his atheistic commitments.

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Anaedo January 13, 2010 at 11:52 pm

Correction: I could not edit the post above. Barring any other minor spelling mistake, the second to the last paragraph, for clarity’s sake, should read:

“If Dawkins wants to make the argument that all explanations must be simple ( I suppose the term “simple” invites a bit of subjectivity) or else we should disregard them as “explanations”, then he should be getting slapped down by theoretical physicists.”

My bad…

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hedrick January 14, 2010 at 12:49 am

Creationist:

Assertion a: Some things are of sufficient complexity to necessitate a designer.

A-b: The universe is of such complexity.

A-a & A-b, therefore:
Conclusion 1: The universe necessitates a designer.

——-

Atheist:

A-c: Any designer is necessarily at least as complex as that which it has designed.

C-1 & A-c, therefore:
C-2: The designer of the universe is necessarily at least as complex as the universe, which is of sufficient complexity to necessitate a designer.

Further:
C-2 & A-a, therefore:
C-3: The designer of the universe necessitates a designer.

——-

In my experience with Christianity, the above is generally accepted until C-3, and so only C-3 must be explicitly stated as a rebuttal. The counter-argument from infinite regress comes not from the application of scientific standards, but rather from a demonstration of the creationist’s own fallacy.

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Sabio Lantz January 14, 2010 at 2:44 am

At first I read this and thought, “Wow, I am wrong again.” Then I read John D’s argument which agreed with part of Luke’s point but qualified it in a subtle way that allowed both the standard objection to be right but only if done right. So, does Luke agree with John D (4th comment) ?

PS – Luke, your site takes forever to load on my browser nowadays, any ideas why?

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Haukur January 14, 2010 at 3:34 am

Charles: I’d be happy to. Do me a favor first. Please define the terms “I” and “exist”.

He’s been asked before to define ‘exist’ and, if I understood him correctly, he regards the concept as fundamental and not in need of definition. He also regards the existence of people as fundamental in some way – at least that’s the only way I can make sense of his brain-splitting argument in his debate with Luke.

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Bryan January 14, 2010 at 6:50 am

ayer: Leibnizian cosmological argument

I prefer the scientific explanation. Space-time is flat, to within the ability of our instruments to measure. Ergo, our universe has zero net energy (i.e. “positive” energy [mass, photons, etc] and “negative” energy [cosmological expansion] are evenly matched).

The above means that our universe can be the product of nothing – literally – since the net energy of our universe is zero.

Ergo our universe – big bang and all – could be nothing more than a quantum vacuum fluctuation. No need for any external universes, creators, beginnings or ends.

And since I’m about as clear as mud, let a real physicist explain it (its an hour video, but well worth the watch):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo

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lukeprog January 14, 2010 at 7:40 am

Sabio,

Which browser?

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lukeprog January 14, 2010 at 7:46 am

John D and Sabio,

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a theist dumb enough to assert that everything requires an explanation. They are more likely to say something like “Everything contingent requires an explanation” or “Everything physical requires an explanation.” Which gets God off the hook.

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cartesian January 14, 2010 at 8:20 am

dguller: Cartesian: I’ll tell you what, IF your hypothetical scenario ever happens, then I’ll consider “God did it” to be a reasonable explanation.

Well, that’s all I ever wanted from you. I took Luke to be saying that “God did it” is always a terrible explanation. So I cooked up a case in which it wouldn’t be. Now you seem to agree that, in this (admittedly far out) case, “God did it” would be a good explanation. So we agree, and progress has been made. :-)

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Reginald Selkirk January 14, 2010 at 8:32 am

cl: That which is eternal requires no cause, by definition.

1) Naturally, that could apply to any other putative eternal entity, such as a universe.

2) What exactly does “eternal” even mean to an entity which, we are often told is “outside time and space”?

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cartesian January 14, 2010 at 8:32 am

Sly: Matter does not begin to exist, it just exists. Patterns of matter can begin to exist, so my personal pattern of atoms had a start point, however the matter/energy itself did not.

Well, I think Charles said that nothing begins to exist, and I took him at his word. In any event, I’m not a pattern (and neither are you). Patterns are abstract objects, and can be multiply instantiated. People aren’t and can’t. In other words, if I were a pattern (namely, this here very handsome pattern of atoms), then we could duplicate this pattern, say with a cool Star Trek duplication machine. We could make a literally identical twin of me. This person would instantiate the exact same pattern of atoms that I instantiate, and yet he would not be me. He would be me-ish, me-like, but he wouldn’t be me.

Also, the pattern of my atoms is constantly changing, and yet I persist. So, I am no this pattern of my atoms.

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Polymeron January 14, 2010 at 8:40 am

Charles,

I’ve done that already in the comments five posts ago (“rescuing Dawkins’ argument), in the exact same way.

This argument can be successfully attacked in a way we have identified:

The theist rejects your original assertion unless it reads “sufficient *physical* complexity”. This lets god escape that cycle, as it is not necessarily physically complex. Note that this requires the theist to accept mind/matter duality, but that usually isn’t a problem for them.

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Tony Hoffman January 14, 2010 at 8:43 am

Luke: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a theist dumb enough to assert that everything requires an explanation.

Well, there’s this:

Ayer quotes Cramer: “Anything that exists does so because there is sufficient reason for it to do so.”

Which I think is pretty much the same thing.

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Paul January 14, 2010 at 8:44 am

ayer: For a merely possible entity, the sufficient reason cannot reside in the entity but must reside in another. If the universe is merely possible, then the sufficient reason for its existence resides not in the universe but elsewhere. But the universe is all of the physical reality so the merely possible existence of the universe points “outside” the universe to the existence of a nonphysical reality…Adler concludes then that, by the previous premises, there exists a necessary supreme being so that the universe stays in existence. God must be there to sustain the universe even if the universe is eternal.

Ayer – I was going along with the quote you provided until it go to this.

“If the universe is merely possible”. Why is the universe merely possible? I am willing to grant you that it may have had different characteristics/properties or whatever. Or it may have remained as a point singularity eternally.

But even if the premises are valid the specifics of the conclusion are still invalid.
“by the previous premises, there exists a necessary supreme being”. Nothing, given the premises, requires a supreme being. I am assuming that by supreme being this implies some kind of disembodied mind.

The conclusion at best can be that something non-physical created the universe. Iit could have done it entirely by accident (for lack of a better word).

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Polymeron January 14, 2010 at 8:46 am

My last comment was meant for hedrick, not Charles. My bad.

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cartesian January 14, 2010 at 8:51 am

ATHEIST: “Ok, so there are many possible worlds. But at least one of those worlds must exist necessarily.”

THEIST:

I think you’re confused about the nature of possible worlds. On the most popular type of account of possible worlds, possible worlds are abstract objects: maximal states of affairs, propositions, or properties. These entities ALL exist necessarily. So, on such an account, your claim that at least one possible world exists necessarily is trivially true.

On a less popular account of possible worlds, they are actually existing concrete objects. To say “Possibly, there’s a golden mountain” is to say that there really is a golden mountain out there, though not spatio-temporally related to us. It’s a weird view, and you can thank David Lewis for it. I don’t know if any sense can be given to asking whether a possible world exists necessarily on this account of possible worlds. I may be wrong about this, but I think Lewis would only talk about individuals and sets existing possibly or necessarily, and he analyzes this talk in terms of those concrete worlds that really exist. So I don’t know what to make of your claim on this account of possible worlds.

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ayer January 14, 2010 at 8:56 am

Tony Hoffman:
Well, there’s this:
Which I think is pretty much the same thing.  

I think when Luke said “requires an explanation” he meant “requires a cause” (since the existence of something can be explained in one of two ways: by a cause or by the necessity of its own nature). But he can correct me if I’m misinterpreting him.

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Dave January 14, 2010 at 8:58 am

Luke,

Great to ponder your article, it’s a fantastic blog btw.

I’m not convinced by your argument in this case though.

I am pretty sure I understand Peter Lipton’s argument, which I feel is central to this post. The problem of infinite regress (the childlike, “Why? Why? Why?) is one I acknowledge. I understand and agree that not every explanation (Who ate the last slice of blueberry cheesecake? – Simon did) requires any further explanation, and that those that do need some further explanation (Where does rain come from? – The Sky – But why?) don’t need to be done so until we get to the beginnings of the universe or time itself.

However, I think it is important to acknowledge that this asking of Why? or How? or What makes you say that? is fundamental to the scientific (and indeed the socratic/philosophical) process, and whilst philosophically tricky when taken to extremes serves an essential purpose.

Finally, I haven’t used this argument much myself (it’s far from my favourite), but I do believe it is a legitimate argument against creationist/intelligent design positions. If a creationists insists that the human eye/lizards/the Tasmanian wilderness, the platypus, bonobos, etc are so irreducibly complex as to require a designer, why isn’t it OK to explain to them that by their own logic their designer must be so complex as to require a designer?

Is my logic wrong? I don’t feel as though the above is another Liptonesque Why? but rather a method of pointing out the absurdity and circular logic of a creationist argument.

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cartesian January 14, 2010 at 9:10 am

cartesian:
Why don’t you go ahead and just tell me which of these you deny:
(1) I exist.
(2) Nothing begins to exist.
(3) So, I didn’t begin to exist. (from 1&2)
(4) So, I’ve always existed. (from 3)
(5) So, I’m infinitely old. (from 4)

Charles:
I’d be happy to. Do me a favor first. Please define the terms “I” and “exist”.

Sigh. Really? You’re going to be like that? You really don’t have a sufficient grasp on “I” or “exist” to be able to evaluate “I exist” as true or false?

“I” is the first-person indexical. Its linguistic meaning is a function from possible contexts of utterance to possible contents. In the sentence “I am handsome,” uttered here in this context, “I” has the content of me, cartesian. If you were to utter that sentence in your context, “I” would refer to you.

To exist is to be the value of a bound variable. To say that “Socrates exists” is to say that “There is some x, such that x=Socrates.” Existence is the pertinent difference between me and Sherlock Holmes. Existence is the most valuable thing we lose when we die, and the most valuable thing we gain when we’re conceived. Imagine the perfect woman: existence is the most valuable thing she lacks.

I don’t know if any of this helps. I really don’t think I’m in a position to explain these extremely simple concepts to someone who genuinely doesn’t understand them. Like jazz, “…if you hafta ask, you ain’t never gonna know!” But I suspect you really DO understand them, and you’re just being difficult.

So, do you think you’re in a position now to evaluate the sentence “I exist”? Is that true or false?

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Tony Hoffman January 14, 2010 at 9:17 am

Dave: Is my logic wrong? I don’t feel as though the above is another Liptonesque Why? but rather a method of pointing out the absurdity and circular logic of a creationist argument.

You’re about the 19th person to bring this up. I think that Luke’s position is that when critics of the creationist (complexity) argument asserts that the creationist argument fails it is because those critics must be basing their criticism on the false premise that all explanations need to be explained. But there’s a problem in interpretation (in Luke’s stated position on this criticism), because it’s seldom clear if the critic who asks “But who designed the designer” is grounding this criticism on the (false) premise that all explanations must be explained.

I do think that Luke needs to address the fact that many people raise the criticism of the creationist complexity argument (summed up pithily in “Who designed the designer?”) in ways that remain valid (that the creationist complexity argument, in order to be defended, must resort to circularity, ad hoc, special pleading, etc.), and that it fails to be an explanation for those reasons.

So I think that Luke still needs to rescue these posts from a tautology — that when critics of the creationist complexity argument employ a fallacy to criticize that argument they are committing a fallacy. It appears to me, and about 19 others, I believe, that the creationist complexity argument can be criticized with the retort “But who designed the designer?” that is based on valid criticism and not a straw man premise.

The above is probably stated more harshly than I mean it to come across, and all due respect to Luke and the discussion here, but that’s how it appears to me at any rate. I also haven’t read “Theism and Explanation” and I’m sure that would help. (But man, have you guys seen the price on that thing? Stupid academic book pricing.)

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Paul January 14, 2010 at 9:41 am

cartesian: I think you’re confused about the nature of possible worlds. On the most popular type of account of possible worlds, possible worlds are abstract objects: maximal states of affairs, propositions, or properties. These entities ALL exist necessarily. So, on such an account, your claim that at least one possible world exists necessarily is trivially true.

On a less popular account of possible worlds, they are actually existing concrete objects.

It may be that I am confused about the nature of possible worlds. The following makes sense: “On the most popular type of account of possible worlds, possible worlds are abstract objects”. Not sure about, the implied necessity, of maximal states of affairs.

Then you say these all exist necessarily. I don’t know what you mean by this. Here is what Ayer said (which you may not agree with)

ayer: Instead it posits that since the universe exists contingently (because it is only one of an infinite number of possible universes and thus need never have existed at all)

It would be helpful to for me if either of you would provide clarity. As it seems to me there is a contradiction in the application of possible worlds.

Anyway, you further elaborate -

cartesian: On a less popular account of possible worlds, they are actually existing concrete objects. To say “Possibly, there’s a golden mountain” is to say that there really is a golden mountain out there, though not spatio-temporally related to us. It’s a weird view, and you can thank David Lewis for it. I don’t know if any sense can be given to asking whether a possible world exists necessarily on this account of possible worlds. I may be wrong about this, but I think Lewis would only talk about individuals and sets existing possibly or necessarily, and he analyzes this talk in terms of those concrete worlds that really exist. So I don’t know what to make of your claim on this account of possible worlds.

You are going to have to school me in philosophese because I don’t understand this at all.

When you say the following “On a less popular account of possible worlds, they are actually existing concrete objects. To say “Possibly, there’s a golden mountain” is to say that there really is a golden mountain out there, though not spatio-temporally related to us.”

I don’t see how this less popular account differs in any meaningful way from the more popular account. They both, effectively, state that possible worlds are also necessary.

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Francesco Orsenigo January 14, 2010 at 10:33 am

Physics gives a description not an explanation.

If you assume that the particular description and reality coincide, then you can use the description as explanation.
Explanations are best left to philosophers and theologians, while the cool guys do the real work.

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Charles January 14, 2010 at 10:53 am

cartesian:
if I were a pattern (namely, this here very handsome pattern of atoms), then we could duplicate this pattern, say with a cool Star Trek duplication machine. We could make a literally identical twin of me. This person would instantiate the exact same pattern of atoms that I instantiate, and yet he would not be me.  

Actually, you can’t. The no cloning theorem of quantum mechanics says you can’t make an exact copy of something without destroying the original.

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lukeprog January 14, 2010 at 11:06 am

Tony Hoffman,

Sounds like Cramer is citing the PSR, there, not asserting that everything must be caused.

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lukeprog January 14, 2010 at 11:07 am

ayer,

For clarification, when I say explanation I’m referring to causal explanation. Which, as I understand it, is different from a PSR.

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lukeprog January 14, 2010 at 11:08 am

Dave,

You are welcome to make an argument about how God must be so complex that he needs an explanation, or whatever, but that’s a different subject than this post addresses.

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lukeprog January 14, 2010 at 11:09 am

cartesian,

I think Charles had a legit question. For example, I know that you and I have different meanings for “I” and for “exist,” which caused a lot of confusion for me during our debate.

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Josh January 14, 2010 at 11:11 am

Charles:
Actually, you can’t. The no cloning theorem of quantum mechanics says you can’t make an exact copy of something without destroying the original.  

That is really cool. I love consequences of the uncertainty principle.

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lukeprog January 14, 2010 at 11:12 am

Francesco Orsenigo,

If I’m reading you correctly, I agree.

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Eneasz January 14, 2010 at 11:16 am

I think this is a misrepresentation of the “Who created the creator?” counter. The point of the counter is NOT to demand that an explanation have an explanation of itself. The point of the counter is to show the theist that demanding that all explanations have explanations is wrong, and leads to infinite regress.

Let’s remember why the Creator was even hypothesized. It’s because the theist demands that every explanation have an explanation of itself and thus created his own infinite regress. “Where did you come from? Oh, well, where did your parents come from? Ah, well, where did life come from? Erm, well where did matter come from?” Trapped in his own argument, he then special-pleads for a thing that is exempt from the infinite regress he advocated in the first place (and conveniently also happens to be his/her preferred deity).

Saying “who created the creator?” is a short-hand way of pointing out that requiring an explanation to explain itself was the error that created this problem in the first place, and there’s no particular reason to stop right here. You could just as well keep going back, or have stopped earlier. (Or, unstated, not gotten into the trap in the first place)

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lukeprog January 14, 2010 at 11:23 am

Eneasz,

I know MANY atheists who have used it in the way I’ve represented it. They say things like “Well, but saying ‘God did it’ doesn’t get you anywhere because it just begs the question of ‘Where did God come from?’”

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Tony Hoffman January 14, 2010 at 11:45 am

Luke: Sounds like Cramer is citing the PSR, there, not asserting that everything must be caused.

It’s probably just my ignorance, but I fail to see how the two should be meaningfully distinguished.

Wikpedia states this about the PSR — “For every entity x, if x exists, then there is a sufficient explanation why x exists.”

That seems very similar to me to saying that “everything requires an explanation.”

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lukeprog January 14, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Tony,

Yeah. When I use ‘explanation’ I’m using it in the sense that philosophy of science uses it: causal explanation. The PSR uses the term ‘explanation’ in a more general way. It’s confusing.

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cartesian January 14, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Paul:
You are going to have to school me in philosophese because I don’t understand this at all.

I’d recommend this book, for a nice contemporary overview:
http://books.google.com/books?id=H-Aeui5Kr38C

And this book, for some seminal articles:
http://books.google.com/books?id=ie6J_XoVJYEC

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cartesian January 14, 2010 at 1:57 pm

cartesian:
if I were a pattern (namely, this here very handsome pattern of atoms), then we could duplicate this pattern, say with a cool Star Trek duplication machine. We could make a literally identical twin of me. This person would instantiate the exact same pattern of atoms that I instantiate, and yet he would not be me.

Charles:
Actually, you can’t. The no cloning theorem of quantum mechanics says you can’t make an exact copy of something without destroying the original.

Well, according to that very link you provided, what the theorem really says is that the laws of nature forbid “the creation of identical copies of an arbitrary unknown quantum state.” Since nothing I said implies that the laws of nature permit the creation of identical copies of arbitrary unknown quantum states, what you say here seems pretty much irrelevant.

Suppose someone’s view is that I am a very highly specified pattern of matter, and this pattern is specified all the way down to the quantum level. This view has at least three problems: one, this pattern is constantly changing, and so I do not persist through time. Since I clearly do persist through time, I’m not this sort of pattern of matter. Two, patterns are abstract objects, and I’m not an abstract object. So this view is wrong. Three, it’s broadly logically possible that my pattern be duplicated in other matter (if the link you provided even speaks to this issue, AT MOST what it says is that such cloning is NOMOLOGICALLY impossible, not broadly logically impossible). Call that new patterned mass Twin-Cartesian. On the view of people as patterns, the pattern is multiply located, and so I am multiply located. I am both cartesian and Twin-Cartesian. But clearly I wouldn’t be multiply located, and I can’t be both cartesian and Twin-Cartesian (since cartesian =/= Twin-Cartesian, I can’t be identical with both). Therefore, for yet another reason, this view is false.

Was that your view?

Have you figured out whether you exist yet? I’m still waiting on that.

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ildi January 14, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Anything that necessarily exists must be exactly what it is; it cannot be other than what it is. The converse is also true then—whatever can be otherwise does not exist necessarily and must be able to not exist.

You eat a lot of acid, [Cramer], back in the hippie days?

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lukeprog January 14, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Good book recommendations, cartesian. Thanks.

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Paul January 14, 2010 at 2:17 pm

cartesian: I’d recommend this book, for a nice contemporary overview:
http://books.google.com/books?id=H-Aeui5Kr38C

And this book, for some seminal articles:
http://books.google.com/books?id=ie6J_XoVJYEC

Do these books explain what appears to me to be a contradiction between you and Ayer.

You hold that all possible world exists necessarily.

Ayer holds that if a world is one of many possible worlds then it is contingent.

If I have misrepresented someone, apologies.

cartesian: I think you’re confused about the nature of possible worlds. On the most popular type of account of possible worlds, possible worlds are abstract objects: maximal states of affairs, propositions, or properties. These entities ALL exist necessarily. So, on such an account, your claim that at least one possible world exists necessarily is trivially true.

ayer: The universe, being only one of an infinity of possible universes, need never have existed at all and is thus contingent and does not exist by the necessity of its own nature.

I don’t know how to rectify these two. It seems to me that your point seems to negate Ayer’s argument. Which is fine. I have no objection (at the moment) to your stance on possible worlds.

Maybe you or someone else can enlighten me.

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Paul January 14, 2010 at 2:43 pm

cartesian: People aren’t and can’t. In other words, if I were a pattern (namely, this here very handsome pattern of atoms), then we could duplicate this pattern, say with a cool Star Trek duplication machine. We could make a literally identical twin of me. This person would instantiate the exact same pattern of atoms that I instantiate, and yet he would not be me. He would be me-ish, me-like, but he wouldn’t be me.

Just for fun sake. You could create two copies and there would be three of you and yet there be only one of you. Thus we have the trinity.

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Charles January 14, 2010 at 2:53 pm

cartesian:
Well, according to that very link you provided, what the theorem really says is that the laws of nature forbid “the creation of identical copies of an arbitrary unknown quantum state.”

Right, and until the transport scans you, you may as well be an arbitrary unknown quantum state. In any case, Wikipedia wasn’t my source. It’s this.

I’ll get back to you on that other thing real soon.

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ayer January 14, 2010 at 5:54 pm

Paul: I don’t know how to rectify these two. It seems to me that your point seems to negate Ayer’s argument. Which is fine. I have no objection (at the moment) to your stance on possible worlds.

Maybe you or someone else can enlighten me.

Cartesian appears to be referring to the distinction between logically possible worlds and the world that is actualized. The logically possible worlds may exist as abstract objects, but our universe is the one that has been actualized and exists concretely. Thus, its concrete existence is contingent. Any of the infinite number of other possible universes could have been actualized, but were not. This, to me, appears consistent with Adler’s Leibnizian argument. Of course, cartesian can correct me if I have misinterpreted him.

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Paul January 14, 2010 at 9:28 pm

ayer: Cartesian appears to be referring to the distinction between logically possible worlds and the world that is actualized. The logically possible worlds may exist as abstract objects, but our universe is the one that has been actualized and exists concretely.

No issue with the distinction between a logically possible worlds versus an actualization of one of those worlds. However, if in my earlier comment I am addressing your actualized world based argument and then Cartesian counters me by saying I am may be confused and that [logically] possible worlds necessarily exist. Seems to me I am at a disadvantage here.

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TaiChi January 14, 2010 at 10:22 pm

ayer: Actually, the Leibnizian cosmological argument (as opposed to the kalam cosmological argument) does not depend on the universe beginning to exist. Instead it posits that since the universe exists contingently (because it is only one of an infinite number of possible universes and thus need never have existed at all), it must have a cause for its existence in a necessary being. The universe could be held in existence eternally by that cause.

Does anyone see what’s wrong here? The argument from contingency which Ayer is referring to takes the contingency of the universe as a premise, and then concludes that because there must be sufficient reason for it, something must necessitate it. But aren’t we now denying the plausible assumption that the universe is contingent by embracing the conclusion? Aren’t we making it necessary by citing a necessary cause?
One might as well argue that, since the universe is contingent, either the principle of sufficient reason is false, or God is not the creator of the universe.

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Bram van Dijk January 15, 2010 at 12:32 am

Ayer, you seem to like the ontological argument a lot. But I think that it is flawed for the following reason:

If the argument works, it should also be applicable to other things than god. Specifically, if it works for the maximum good being (god) it should also work for the maximum evil being (lets call him satan) in the following way.

p1. satan is the maximal evil being;
p2. satan can do more evil if he exists than if he doesn’t exist;
c. therefore, satan must exist, otherwise he wouldn’t be maximal evil.

Now, this is still not a problem for most christians who believe in satan. But consider this:

p3. if god is maximal good he must be more powerful than satan.
p4. if satan is maximal evil than he must be more powerful than god.

Which leads to a contradiction.

My conclusion is that the ontological argument cannot work. If the argument is sound, it must also hold for satan which leads to a contradiction. If it only works for god, you don’t have an argument at all, it’s just special pleading.

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Brandon January 15, 2010 at 1:05 am

Probably just a different way to say some of the things that have been touched on in these comments, but when a theist asks an atheist, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” then clearly they are assuming that nothing is the default. The idea being that nothing needs no explanation, but something does.

So, an atheist can reply, “Why is there God rather than nothing? Nothing is the default, right?”

The point being that theists and atheists are both in the same boat in terms of the “Why something?” question. After all, how can “God by his nature has to exist” defeat the almighty NOTHING which, assumed by the theist, is the natural order of things?

So, I think theists should stop pretending that it’s a kick ass question for which they have the superior answer.

Am I wrong here? Are theists and atheists not in the same boat in this regard? I also understand that, specific to Luke’s post, this is technically off topic.

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thecos January 15, 2010 at 1:17 am

Charles:
Right, and until the transport scans you, you may as well be an arbitrary unknown quantum state. In any case, Wikipedia wasn’t my source. It’s this.I’ll get back to you on that other thing real soon.  

So, when the theorem states that you can’t copy arbitrary quantum states, it means for any given copying mechanism, there exist states that can’t be copied. However, it doesn’t say that NO states can be copied. But that’s not even really the issue. In the same sense that the original quantum state must be “destroyed” when it’s copied, a quantum state is destroyed even when its simply measured. But if you can measure a state, you can copy the results of the measurement. If you measure the particles in a macroscopic object, you aren’t destroying the object, you’re just altering its quantum state. So, all the no-cloning theorem says about macroscopic objects is that you can’t copy them without disturbing their state. Well, duh… you can’t even observe an object without disturbing its state. I guess you can hold on to the fact that the EXACT quantum state of an object may not be able to be copied, but talking about the quantum state of a macroscopic object is pretty meaningless. Do you cease to be you every time you interact with your environment?

Blarg… sorry, that was kind of a tangent that really isn’t relevant to the actual point of the thread. This kind of stuff just bugs me. Don’t even get me started on peoples misconceptions about quantum teleportation and quantum computers.

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UNRR January 15, 2010 at 3:31 am

This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 1/15/2010, at The Unreligious Right

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dguller January 15, 2010 at 4:20 am

Cartesian:

>> if I were a pattern (namely, this here very handsome pattern of atoms), then we could duplicate this pattern, say with a cool Star Trek duplication machine. We could make a literally identical twin of me. This person would instantiate the exact same pattern of atoms that I instantiate, and yet he would not be me.

Actually, it WOULD be you, except for two differences. One, the clone occupies a different part of space than you do, and since personal identity requires space-time continuity, it would be different. Two, even if it WAS identical to you at the moment of instantiation, it would be different thereafter, because it would have different experiences than you do, and thus the pattern of atoms would begin to diverge from yours.

However, the underlying point is still the same. Your personal identity is due to a specific pattern of atoms within a specific region of space-time.

>> Suppose someone’s view is that I am a very highly specified pattern of matter, and this pattern is specified all the way down to the quantum level. This view has at least three problems: one, this pattern is constantly changing, and so I do not persist through time. Since I clearly do persist through time, I’m not this sort of pattern of matter.

You are a funny guy. Are you saying that YOU do not constantly change? Are you the EXACT same person as you were even a millisecond ago? Of course not, because you(now) have had different conscious and unconscious experiences than you(then), and thus are not exactly the same, especially since your physically brain is different due to the different experiences.

Also, how do you account for the fact that one’s personality changes over one’s lifetime? I mean, I am not the child I once was (except for certain childish qualities that just won’t go away, dammit!), right?

I think that one’s personal identity IS the specific pattern of atoms that one takes. That does not mean that that pattern must be static and unchanging, but rather that the pattern DOES change over one’s lifetime, and even from day to day. There is obviously some room for variability that still maintains the integrity of the pattern/identity, but when those bounds are exceeded, then we have personality change, such as during psychotic or manic states, or even personality loss altogether in the state of death.

>> Two, patterns are abstract objects, and I’m not an abstract object. So this view is wrong.

That is not the point. You are a PATTERN OF ATOMS. You are NOT a PATTERN, PERIOD. You are concrete, because you consist of ATOMS. Not abstract at all, but very, very real.

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Bryan January 15, 2010 at 6:24 am

There cannot be any naturalistic explanation for the origin of the universe…will invariably turn out to be mind-shatteringly complex, highly implausible and I might even add non-testable.

I’m sorry, but the above is simply nonsense.

1) We live in a complex universe, so not too surprisingly science describing it is also complex. But complex does not mean wrong, or impossible. Its beyond our computing capacity to model the gravitation interactions of the planets in our solar system; and yet, strangely enough, they somehow get by.

2) Implausible, by whose definition? Once something has been shown to occur it is no longer implausible – its fact. Atoms were once considered to be impossible – good thing we didn’t listen to those nay-sayers.

3) Current origin (cosmological) models make very specific and testable predictions about our own universe, meaning that they are to some extent testable. I posted a link to a video earlier in this thread that deals with this very issue. The classic example is the curvature of space-time – most cosmological models demand certain curvatures. We have measured the curvature of space, and thus have already been able to invalidate some models, and support other. Likewise, various cosmological models make other testable predictions – in regards to nature of vacuum energy, the interaction between gravity and the other fundamental forces, quantum entanglement, and so forth. As we become able to test those aspects of our universe we can further develop our cosmological models.

4) Not testable now does not equal not testable in the future. Until about two decade ago we had never directly imaged atoms; now, that tech is available in most unis. Until nine years ago it wasn’t possible to image below the diffraction limit of light – today myself and dozens of other scientists do it daily. Today, there are thousands of untestable questions. Tomorrow there will be a few less…

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ayer January 15, 2010 at 6:48 am

Bram van Dijk: Ayer, you seem to like the ontological argument a lot. But I think that it is flawed for the following reason:

Actually, we are discussing the Leibnizian cosmological argument, not the ontological argument.

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ayer January 15, 2010 at 6:52 am

TaiChi: Aren’t we making it necessary by citing a necessary cause?

No, because the crux of the argument is that God could exist without the universe (because his existence is by the necessity of his own nature) but the universe could not exist without God (because its existent is contingent and dependent upon a cause). But the universe need not have existed at all.

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ayer January 15, 2010 at 6:56 am

Brandon: After all, how can “God by his nature has to exist” defeat the almighty NOTHING which, assumed by the theist, is the natural order of things?

Because obviously if there is a being that must exist necessarily, then it must defeat nothing. That is why there is something rather than nothing–because there is a necessary being (who is the cause of the contingently existing universe). If there was not such a necessary being, then the contingent universe, which requires a necessary being as a cause, would not exist, and nothing (which is not a “thing”, just “the absence of anything”) would inevitably prevail.

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Sabio January 15, 2010 at 7:11 am

lukeprog: Sabio,Which browser?  

IE won’t even show the comments on this post.
Firefox takes a long time to open the blog over the last month. It flickers now while I type. If you ask me, you need code surgery.
Don’t let this fantastic site crash !

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Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth January 15, 2010 at 7:42 am

William Sahakian would state that we naturalists make the fallacy of of multiple questions in asking what made or what designed God, but no, because it it the theist who begs the question and special pleads to make Him the anomaly. Then the theist begs the question ins assuming that He has those attributes. One cannot postulate, as Lord Russell notes, anything into existence, and it begs the question of His existence. ” Logic is the bane of theists.
As Petet A. Angeles notes, time,event and cause presuppose previous times,events and causes- the infinite regress argument- in ” God: a Short Introduction.” H e also notes that as the Cosmos is all, there cannot exist a transcendent being!
Craig begs the question of a starting point. As Aquinas and Kyle Williams maintain, it’s day to day for eternity.
Aquinas himself begs the question in assuming necessary being with his notion of contingency and Necessary Being as Malcolm Diamond and Kai Nielsen note each in their introductory books on philosophy. He also begs the question in maintaining that should one take away the First Cause, one takes away all intermediate causes as Howard Jordan Sobel notes in ” Logic and Theism.”
All teleological arguments- from reason, fine -tuning, probability and design. assume that there was divine intent in our coming to be. As Jerry Coyne notes in ” Seeing and Believing” had [ My example] the flowering plants not evolved and the cooling off not occurred, neither we nor a comparable being not evolved, Kenneth Miller and Karl Giberson notwithstanding.
God did it can only mean that He uses natural causes for His purposes. That cannot gainsay the presumption of naturalism that not only are natural auses and explanations necessary and efficient but also primary and sufficient. They are thus the sufficient reason, Leibniz notwithstanding. This neither begs the question nor sandbags theists but is only the demand for evidence as Einstein did when he overcame Newton. The ignostic-Ockham challenge to theism is that as His attributes are incoherent and contradict each other He is as as a married bachelor or square circle, and thus cannot exist. Ockham’s Razor notes that He requires convoluted ad hoc assumptions whereas those natural causes and explanations just fit fine. Thus either He cannnot exist or He is an useless redundancy , Alister McGrath notwithstanding.
Furthermore the atelic [ teleonomic] argument buttresses here the Razor: the with of evidence presents no cosmic teleology-intenten- pre-prgarmmed outocmes, but teleonomy- no such outocmes. Thus teleology would contradict that very teleonomy, and thus it would definitely be that evolution cannot be His means creating!
Thus God did it is fatuous, nebulous, meaningless, otiose and vacuous. Keith Parsons notes that as an explanation, He is afig leaf for ignorance.

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lukeprog January 15, 2010 at 8:35 am

Sabio,

I’m planning a redesign whenever I have time, I just… never have time.

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TaiChi January 15, 2010 at 2:08 pm

ayer: No, because the crux of the argument is that God could exist without the universe (because his existence is by the necessity of his own nature) but the universe could not exist without God (because its existent is contingent and dependent upon a cause).

Suppose that the cosmos is created by God for a sufficient reason, that determines him in producing this cosmos rather than any other. Then this cosmos is what Leibniz would call “hypothetically necessary” – the conditional “God -> The Cosmos” is true in all possible worlds.
But God is necessary. God exists in all possible worlds, too. And if the conditional is true in all possible worlds, then in all possible worlds God creates this cosmos. So this cosmos is a necessary object. But, as everyone agrees, the cosmos is a contingent object. So no argument from contingency is sound.
It matters not that, as you say, God might exist without the universe, or that the universe could not exist without God. For, given that some version of the principle of sufficient reason is true and that God is necessary, these kind of counterfactuals must refer to impossible worlds rather than possible worlds, and only existence in possible worlds matters for necessity.

ayer: But the universe need not have existed at all. 

I quite agree, so I’m happy to deny the soundness of the argument from contingency. Supposing there must’ve been an ultimate reason is the exact opposite of accepting that the cosmos as contingent.

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ayer January 15, 2010 at 6:16 pm

TaiChi: Suppose that the cosmos is created by God for a sufficient reason, that determines him in producing this cosmos rather than any other.

The problem with this is that God is by definition a free agent who chooses to create as an act of pure grace.

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TaiChi January 15, 2010 at 6:37 pm

ayer: The problem with this is that God is by definition a free agent who chooses to create as an act of pure grace. 

That’s a problem for you, not for me. By claiming that God could’ve done otherwise, you’re denying the principle that any cosmos created by God was created for sufficient reason. Without the principle, you have no argument from contingency. You’ve proven my point.

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ayer January 15, 2010 at 7:11 pm

TaiChi: you’re denying the principle that any cosmos created by God was created for sufficient reason. Without the principle, you have no argument from contingency.

My position is the God is the sufficient cause for the existence of the universe. You seem to be referring to God’s intent in creating the universe, which is irrelevant to my position.

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TaiChi January 15, 2010 at 9:02 pm

Irrelevant how? Because you think God had no intent in creating the universe? That creating the universe was a whimsical, or to put it less flatteringly, irrational act?

Let me put it to you this way: either God had sufficient reason to create the universe or he did not. If he did, then he creates our cosmos rather than any other, and does so in all possible worlds – our cosmos is necessary. If he did not, then he is not the God of traditional theism – the God of traditional theism has a divine plan, is supremely rational, and serves as a satisfactory and full explanation of earthly goings on precisely because of this. You might reject the God of traditional theism of course, but then you cede the right to label anything proved by the argument from contingency as “God”.

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ayer January 15, 2010 at 9:46 pm

TaiChi: You might reject the God of traditional theism of course, but then you cede the right to label anything proved by the argument from contingency as “God”.

Are you saying that the doctrine that God is free to create or not create is not part of classical theism’s doctrine of God? I think you are quite wrong about that, but would be happy to see your evidence.

But on a larger point: on your argument, the universe exists necessarily, not contingently, because God is a necessary being who must necessarily create it in all possible worlds. Thus if God did not exist, the universe would not exist. But the universe does exist–thus God exists. Is that really the conclusion you want to argue for?

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TaiChi January 16, 2010 at 2:33 am

ayer: Are you saying that the doctrine that God is free to create or not create is not part of classical theism’s doctrine of God? I think you are quite wrong about that, but would be happy to see your evidence.

Is that what I said? I’m happy to leave open the question of whether God has free-will. If someone can square the principle of sufficient reason with God’s freedom, well and good. (I am a happy compatibilist after all, I should grant this possibility). If not, then it’s hardly my fault that the classical conception of God is self-contradictory.

ayer: But on a larger point: on your argument, the universe exists necessarily, not contingently, because God is a necessary being who must necessarily create it in all possible worlds. Thus if God did not exist, the universe would not exist. But the universe does exist–thus God exists. Is that really the conclusion you want to argue for?  

Thankfully, denying the antecedent is a fallacy. I can well believe that “God -> The Cosmos” without believing that a denial of God is a denial of the cosmos, just as I can believe that “If I am in Paris, then I am in France” without believing that my not being in Paris entails that my not being in France. Or, to parallel the way you twist your argument back, that because I know I am in France then I must be in Paris.

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ayer January 16, 2010 at 7:29 am

TaiChi: Is that what I said? I’m happy to leave open the question of whether God has free-will. If someone can square the principle of sufficient reason with God’s freedom, well and good. (I am a happy compatibilist after all, I should grant this possibility). If not, then it’s hardly my fault that the classical conception of God is self-contradictory.

As I suspected, your problem is not with the proposition that a contingent universe requires a necessary cause, but with the doctrine of God itself. There is no contradiction between the cosmological argument and the free God of classical theism–but then you are arguing against an entirely different, determined god (maybe the god of process theology?). Your attack is irrelevant to Adler’s version of the cosmological argument, and it stands. If you wish to refute it, you need to concentrate your criticisms on its premises.

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Piero January 16, 2010 at 8:10 am

TaiChi, ayer, Luke and everybody else:
Thank you for your comments on this thread. I’m learning heaps!

One question to anyone who cares to answer: is there a possible world in which God does not create anything?

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Anaedo January 16, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Bryan: ) We live in a complex universe, so not too surprisingly science describing it is also complex. But complex does not mean wrong, or impossible. Its beyond our computing capacity to model the gravitation interactions of the planets in our solar system; and yet, strangely enough, they somehow get by.

Unfortunately, your refutations seem to be missing the point. Of course, the science describing an existing complex universe is/can be very complex indeed. The point however, if you’ve noticed, is that scientifically describing an existing universe is quite different from scientifically describing the origin of the universe. To contextualize therefore: if Dawkins’ reason for rejecting the God hypothesis for the origin of the universe is erected on the grounds that in doing so, one is positing something very complex, it would appear that he imagines that acceptable explanations must be simple. Nevertheless, as you have noted, simplicity need not be the main/the only/ or the most important criterion for accepting or refusing explanations. Therefore, objecting to God as the reason or cause for the universe, on the basis of complexity or simplicity seems neither here nor there. In any case, the scientific explanations for many things in the universe are quite complex (not simple or intuitively apparent. I am not sure why many atheists seem satisfied with this pretension to simplicity. It is rather the case that as we progress in science, we would settle for explanations that are increasingly more complex than what we currently have. The difference would be that they’d have greater explanatory scope and power.

Bryan: 2) Implausible, by whose definition? Once something has been shown to occur it is no longer implausible – its fact. Atoms were once considered to be impossible – good thing we didn’t listen to those nay-sayers.

You are treating the word “implausible” as if it means “impossible”. They have different meanings and so I am not exactly sure what your objection is here. Explanations can be implausible and yet very possible; or plausible and unfortunately impossible. Once again, any attempt to give a naturalistic explanation for the origin of the universe would run afoul of Dawkins’ rigid devotion to simplicity. In attempting to provide such an explanation for the origin of the universe, one would invariably have to tender explanations that are not only non-observable, but non-testable and highly implausible as well.

Bryan: ) Current origin (cosmological) models make very specific and testable predictions about our own universe, meaning that they are to some extent testable. I posted a link to a video earlier in this thread that deals with this very issue. The classic example is the curvature of space-time – most cosmological models demand certain curvatures. We have measured the curvature of space, and thus have already been able to invalidate some models, and support other. Likewise, various cosmological models make other testable predictions – in regards to nature of vacuum energy, the interaction between gravity and the other fundamental forces, quantum entanglement, and so forth. As we become able to test those aspects of our universe we can further develop our cosmological models.

This is beside the point. Like I noted earlier, we can have reliable, reasonable and verifiable naturalistic explanations for some aspects of the universe. No one has posited that we can’t make specific and testable predictions about some phenomena in the universe. The problem lies in having a naturalistic explanation for the universe as a whole. Here, I am not saying that we are incapable of offering explanations for anything including the universe, but to assume there’s a naturalistic explanation for nature (the universe as a whole in its grandest scale) is to assume what you are trying to explain; it is assuming the prior existence of something that you are trying to show its origins. To think there is some naturalistic explanation for the origin of the universe is not to have understood what the universe properly means. All the talk about quantum entanglement, vacuum energy, gravity, space-time curvature and fundamental forces amply illustrates my point—we are merely investigating aspects of an already existing universe. When you happen on a genuine observable, testable and predictive naturalistic explanation for the very origin of the universe as a whole, I’ll be more than eager to hear it. Just don’t serve up another one of these many discredited theories out there.

Bryan: 4) Not testable now does not equal not testable in the future. Until about two decade ago we had never directly imaged atoms; now, that tech is available in most unis. Until nine years ago it wasn’t possible to image below the diffraction limit of light – today myself and dozens of other scientists do it daily. Today, there are thousands of untestable questions. Tomorrow there will be a few less…  

It would appear that you have failed to understand my position. I am not in the least bit interested in examples showing that human beings have improved their knowledge with time; Or that things once thought impossible or difficult to answer or understand have been successfully resolved. To me, that is quite obvious as not to merit some sort of argument or debate. Nevertheless, in all of these, we have concerned ourselves with learning more about the intricacies of phenomena in the universe. In the already existing universe, it is very plausible that with time, we’ll discover and experimentally verify (test) many things we have a poor understanding of today. It leaves untouched though the very question of the origin of the whole shebang known as the universe. How can any naturalistic hypothesis to that end be testable? It is one thing to test an explanation of some aspect or phenomena inherent in this or any kind of possible universes, but it is another thing altogether to test an explanation purporting to show the origins of this or any other universes. It is not a surprise therefore that astrophysics and cosmology is an observational science not an experimental one. I can be charitable for example, and grant that the current research in brane cosmology/multiverses may yet yield some interesting fruit and produce some deeper and relevant understanding of our own universe. If it wants to pretend an answer to the origins of the universe, testable or non-testable sub-universal phenomena will not suffice. We will need to test and experimentally verify that any such explanations lead to the actual birth of an entire universe—I suppose, with its own variegated and stunning physical laws and constants. This is a challenge that cannot be realistically met.

Be that as it may, you are free to hang your faith on some highly implausible, non-testable and non-actualizable future state of affairs—if it helps your worldview.

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TaiChi January 16, 2010 at 1:21 pm

ayer: There is no contradiction between the cosmological argument and the free God of classical theism–but then you are arguing against an entirely different, determined god

I’m happy to grant this for the sake of argument – didn’t I just say that I was open to the possibility that the principle of sufficient reason and God’s freedom might not conflict? But then you still have the problem that the principle of sufficient reason leads to the necessity of the cosmos, since the thesis that God had sufficient reason to create the cosmos is part of traditional theism.

ayer: Your attack is irrelevant to Adler’s version of the cosmological argument, and it stands.

My ‘attack’ is relevant to any argument which (i) assumes God is necessary, (ii) assumes the principle of sufficient reason to be true, and (iii) assumes that the universe is contingent. If you like, (i)-(iii) form an inconsistent set, so any larger set of premises which includes them is likewise inconsistent. All three of the assumptions appear in Cramer’s paper.

ayer: If you wish to refute it, you need to concentrate your criticisms on its premises.  

For the sake of argument, I’ll deny the premise that the universe is radically contingent. Specifically, I’ll maintain that the universe is contingent, but that nothing needs to sustain it in its existence. Perhaps you can tell me why I shouldn’t deny the premise.

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TaiChi January 16, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Piero: One question to anyone who cares to answer: is there a possible world in which God does not create anything?  

Piero, if God exists, I don’t think there is. If there was nothing but God, and God had sufficient reason to create the universe we now inhabit, then in any other possible world where there is nothing God would have the same sufficient reason to create a universe like ours. Since God is essentially rational, that is what he’d do, in all possible worlds.

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ayer January 16, 2010 at 3:36 pm

TaiChi: since the thesis that God had sufficient reason to create the cosmos is part of traditional theism.

The problem here is that, since you appear to deny libertarian free will, you exclude “God freely chose to create the cosmos” AS a “sufficient reason,” and so your conclusion is fixed a priori at the beginning of the inquiry.

TaiChi: Since God is essentially rational, that is what he’d do, in all possible worlds.

Why assume that God only one option is rational? God would be equally rational in choosing not to create, since under classical theism the triune God is self-sufficient in all ways. His decision to create is a supererogatory act of grace.

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TaiChi January 16, 2010 at 5:06 pm

ayer: The problem here is that, since you appear to deny libertarian free will, you exclude “God freely chose to create the cosmos” AS a “sufficient reason,” and so your conclusion is fixed a priori at the beginning of the inquiry.

I don’t at all. I’m perfectly happy to allow you to cite God’s free will as a sufficient reason, providing that you do treat it as a sufficient reason – that is, a reason for which this universe is created by him rather than any other. I wouldn’t even protest at a blind assertion that there is a sufficient reason, whatever it is. The fact remains that a sufficient reason would be one which made it rational for God to create this universe rather than any other, and that is all I need to rebut you.

ayer: Why assume that God only one option is rational?

Because that is what the principle of sufficient reason indicates – that there is an overriding reason to choose this universe over others. Given there is such a reason, choosing to actualize any other universe but our own is contrary to reason, i.e. it is irrational.
Suppose you like cake; suppose you like icecream. Suppose you are at a shop which sells both, but you only have the money for one of the two. Though you enjoy icecream, you absolutely love cake. Assuming ceteris paribus, you have a sufficient reason in this context to buy cake instead of icecream. Would it be rational, then, for you to buy icecream instead? Well, you do have a reason to buy icecream – you like icecream. But since you like cake more, it is irrational to plump for what you will enjoy less.

ayer: God would be equally rational in choosing not to create, since under classical theism the triune God is self-sufficient in all ways. His decision to create is a supererogatory act of grace.  

If God would be equally rational in not creating the universe, then there is no reason for choosing to create this universe, and consequently no sufficient reason for its existence. So you’ve denied the principle of sufficient reason.

Now that we’ve got your denial of traditional theism out the way, are you going to tell me why I shouldn’t deny the radical contingency of the universe?

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ayer January 16, 2010 at 5:55 pm

TaiChi: If God would be equally rational in not creating the universe, then there is no reason for choosing to create this universe, and consequently no sufficient reason for its existence.

God is not constrained by the sort of human limitations you describe, where one state of affairs is carefully calculated in a utilitarian way against another before a decision to create is made. The Christian God is the epitome of self-sufficient goodness, and any decision to create is purely gratuitous, since his condition of maxmimal goodness obtains both with and without creation. If you claim that is inconsistent with traditional Christian theism, I would be interested to see your evidence.

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TaiChi January 16, 2010 at 8:54 pm

ayer: God is not constrained by the sort of human limitations you describe, where one state of affairs is carefully calculated in a utilitarian way against another before a decision to create is made.

I find it bizarre that you describe rationality as a ‘limitation’ – as though it were a lamentable quality of human beings that they (sometimes) act on reasons. Given that view, I wonder why you’d bother looking at arguments for your beliefs. A dogmatist would be closer to God.
That said, the view does furnish you with an easy response to the problem of evil – “God cares, but of course he’s not rational“. The ‘God must be crazy’ defense, you might call it.

ayer: The Christian God is the epitome of self-sufficient goodness, and any decision to create is purely gratuitous, since his condition of maxmimal goodness obtains both with and without creation. If you claim that is inconsistent with traditional Christian theism, I would be interested to see your evidence.  

It is certainly true that theists take the creation event to be gratuitous in the sense that God did not create for his own sake, but this is not the same as saying that God did not have sufficient reason for doing so. Likewise, I’ll grant you that God is maximally good with and without the universe, but that does not imply that had God not created the universe then his moral character would’ve remained perfect. To make this last more lucid, we might say that God was maximally good before and after sending Jesus as his prophet, but that, had he not sent Jesus as his prophet, he would’ve been less than morally perfect.
Really, I owe you no such explanation of the consistency of theism. I don’t have to accept, as you are inviting me to, that because theists have some certain beliefs about God, they cannot also subscribe to other beliefs which contradict them. I don’t have to believe that theists are rational.

But I’m curious: why am I being asked for evidence here, when the very paper you cite makes use of the principle of sufficient reason? I quote…

What can be said in response to Mackie? Adler denies any form of the principle of sufficient reason that would amount to assuming God does not exist. Since the simple statement of the principle (used by Mackie and others) “everything that exists is caused to exist” runs into the problem that “God’s existence, if God exists, is uncaused,” Adler restates the principle: “Everything that exists or happens has a reason for its existing or happening either (a) in itself or (b) in something else.” In distinction from all other entities, the sufficient cause of God’s existence resides in God alone.
… and wonder: how can you deny what appears to be a central tenet of Adler’s argument and yet still claim it as sound?

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Thomas Reid January 17, 2010 at 5:30 am

TaiChi:

My ‘attack’ is relevant to any argument which (i) assumes God is necessary, (ii) assumes the principle of sufficient reason to be true, and (iii) assumes that the universe is contingent. If you like, (i)-(iii) form an inconsistent set…

I’m not seeing the inconsistency, neither here nor in your other responses to ayer. Could you be a little more explicit?

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ayer January 17, 2010 at 10:34 am

TaiChi: Likewise, I’ll grant you that God is maximally good with and without the universe, but that does not imply that had God not created the universe then his moral character would’ve remained perfect. To make this last more lucid, we might say that God was maximally good before and after sending Jesus as his prophet, but that, had he not sent Jesus as his prophet, he would’ve been less than morally perfect.

Here we see the confusion about the doctrine of God that results in your confused argument. Yes, God would be equally morally perfect, and would have remained morally perfect, had he not created the universe. The triune God is completely self-sufficient and morally perfect with or without creation. This is what is meant by creation being an act of pure grace, not a “moral obligation” on the part of God needed to “enhance” or “maintain”
his moral perfection.

And your phraseology about “sending Jesus as his prophet” betrays a startling ignorance of the doctrine of the incarnation. It is Muslims who hold that Jesus was a prophet of God; Christians hold that Jesus was the incarnated second person of the trinity.

TaiChi: … and wonder: how can you deny what appears to be a central tenet of Adler’s argument and yet still claim it as sound?

“God chose to create as a pure act of grace (even though he would have remained morally perfect without creating)” IS a sufficient reason. It is only your confused notion of the doctrine of God that deems it not sufficient. God created the universe as a pure act of grace, even though he would have remained necessarily morally perfect without creating–meaning that the universe need never have existed at all. Its existence is thus contingent.

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TaiChi January 17, 2010 at 8:38 pm

ayer: Here we see the confusion about the doctrine of God that results in your confused argument.

We?

ayer: Yes, God would be equally morally perfect, and would have remained morally perfect, had he not created the universe. The triune God is completely self-sufficient and morally perfect with or without creation. This is what is meant by creation being an act of pure grace, not a “moral obligation” on the part of God needed to “enhance” or “maintain” his moral perfection.

I’ve already granted this. I can only presume that you repeat it because you confuse a reason to perform an action with an obligation to perform that action, which are not the same things.

ayer: And your phraseology about “sending Jesus as his prophet” betrays a startling ignorance of the doctrine of the incarnation.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. ” – Luke 24:19. Not that this has anything to do with the actual argument.

ayer: “God chose to create as a pure act of grace (even though he would have remained morally perfect without creating)” IS a sufficient reason.

I’ve granted that also. I said that you could just assert that God had a sufficient reason for all I care. The point is that a sufficient reason would be one which made it rational for God to create this universe rather than any other. And so, as long as he is rational, he then creates this universe rather than any other.
I don’t need to know what the reason is. I don’t actually care. My argument follows from consideration of what a sufficient reason would minimally have to be.

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Hermes January 17, 2010 at 9:41 pm

TaiChi & Paul … it’s a bit late in the conversation, but I have appreciated both of your comments in this blog post and unlike your interlocutors, I ‘get it’. Good stuff. I need no more, but would be glad to see more.

On that note, I hear that plastic surgeons have new techniques for getting brick wall scars and other deformations out of foreheads.

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TaiChi January 17, 2010 at 10:40 pm

Thomas Reid: I’m not seeing the inconsistency, neither here nor in your other responses to ayer. Could you be a little more explicit? 

I think I’ve been clear enough, but here’s a rough sketch, which uses God’s necessity and the PSR to derive the necessity of the universe – that is, showing that (i), (ii) and (iii) are inconsistent:

(1) God had sufficient reason to create the universe as we know it.
(2) A sufficient reason is an all-things-considered reason to perform one action over any other alternative.
(3) So, when God created the universe, he had all-things considered reason to create the universe as we know it.
(4) To have an all-things-considered reason to act and refrain from acting (or to perform some alternative action) is irrational.
(5) God is essentially rational.
(6) Then, God would not choose otherwise than to create the universe as we know it.
(7) So, in every possible world in which God exists, God does choose to create the universe as we know it.
(8) God is necessary – he exists in every possible world.
(9) So the universe is necessary.

At short notice, that’s what I can offer, which should give you the idea.

Hermes: I need no more, but would be glad to see more.

Thanks Hermes. Hopefully I’ll get this argument down to something more formal that I’m happy with – if/when I do, I’ll post it.

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Thomas Reid January 18, 2010 at 5:02 am

TaiChi: I think I’ve been clear enough, but here’s a rough sketch, which uses God’s necessity and the PSR to derive the necessity of the universe – that is, showing that (i), (ii) and (iii) are inconsistent:
(1) God had sufficient reason to create the universe as we know it.
(2) A sufficient reason is an all-things-considered reason to perform one action over any other alternative.
(3) So, when God created the universe, he had all-things considered reason to create the universe as we know it.
(4) To have an all-things-considered reason to act and refrain from acting (or to perform some alternative action) is irrational.
(5) God is essentially rational.
(6) Then, God would not choose otherwise than to create the universe as we know it.
(7) So, in every possible world in which God exists, God does choose to create the universe as we know it.
(8) God is necessary – he exists in every possible world.
(9) So the universe is necessary.

At short notice, that’s what I can offer, which should give you the idea.

That’s helpful, thanks.

Now just so I’m clear, your premises appear to be (1), (2), (4), (5), and (8). Then:
(3) comes from (1) and (2).
(6) comes from (3), (4) and (5).
(7) comes from (6), with a clarifying statement that God may not be a necessary being.
(9) comes from (7) and (8).

As such, what I believe you are actually claiming is the inconsistency of the set comprised of these 5 premises plus your earlier:
(iii) The universe is contingent.

Have I got that right?

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ayer January 18, 2010 at 8:24 am

TaiChi: I think I’ve been clear enough, but here’s a rough sketch, which uses God’s necessity and the PSR to derive the necessity of the universe – that is, showing that (i), (ii) and (iii) are inconsistent:

(1) God had sufficient reason to create the universe as we know it.
(2) A sufficient reason is an all-things-considered reason to perform one action over any other alternative.
(3) So, when God created the universe, he had all-things considered reason to create the universe as we know it.
(4) To have an all-things-considered reason to act and refrain from acting (or to perform some alternative action) is irrational.
(5) God is essentially rational.
(6) Then, God would not choose otherwise than to create the universe as we know it.
(7) So, in every possible world in which God exists, God does choose to create the universe as we know it.
(8) God is necessary – he exists in every possible world.
(9) So the universe is necessary.

At short notice, that’s what I can offer, which should give you the idea.

Laying your entire argument out is actually quite helpful. However, in the Leibnizian argument, everything has an explanation for its existence, either in a cause, or in the necessity of its own nature (as God does by definition). Under your argument, the conclusion is not that the universe exists by the necessity of its own nature, but by a cause which DOES exist by the necessity of its own nature (God)–correct?

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Hermes January 18, 2010 at 8:35 am

Ayer, read it again. You’re missing quite a bit.

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ayer January 18, 2010 at 10:09 am

Hermes: Ayer, read it again.You’re missing quite a bit.  

Please elaborate.

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Hermes January 18, 2010 at 11:39 am

Ayer, I must be psychic. I knew you were going to write that and not actually address TaiChi’s quite clear post as it was presented.

It is possible that you did make a mistake in interpreting it. Yes, that is true.

Yet, I don’t think that’s the case.

I’ve seen enough of your messages to realize that you aren’t dumb, just stubborn. As such, why would you need me — ‘a mere non-mortal’ ;-} — to elaborate? Surely you could think — and probably have thought of — half a dozen possible weaknesses or faults in your own comments as well as potential ones in TaiChi’s.

Then again, I don’t think you did make a mistake in understanding what TaiChi wrote. I think you decided to reply as you did as a form of debate tactic, to deflect and infect the conversation, not as a part of a conversation that could lead to a better mutual understanding. For example, the last dozen or more words in your reply to TaiChi sound disingenuous. They sound as if you are attempting to shore up or defend a position, not to reach an understanding. Personally, I like being shown conclusively that I was mistaken. It makes it possible for me to instantly correct an error and then to address reality more fully.

Note, though, how TaiChi has replied to you by stating crisply and cleanly what the issues are and offering you an opportunity to clarify your own position formally so as to allow the conversation to come to a satisfying conclusion where all are in mutual agreement — or are more in agreement than they were at the outset.

So, no, I will not insult you by telling you what you probably already know. I will not enter as a contestant in that game. Please consider that in your future reply to TaiChi who has shown great care and patience in his(?) replies to you and Thomas.

Thanks for your consideration.

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ayer January 18, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Hermes: Surely you could think — and probably have thought of — half a dozen possible weaknesses or faults in your own comments as well as potential ones in TaiChi’s.

I appreciate your confidence in my intellectual facility, but I assure you that my comment was sincere and that “go read TaiChi again” was not helpful. If the argument from contingency is fatally flawed I would certainly like to understand why that is. But if you prefer not to respond, that’s fine.

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Hermes January 18, 2010 at 1:57 pm

I’ll wait to see how this continues. Maybe I was wrong?

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ayer January 18, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Hermes: I’ll wait to see how this continues.Maybe I was wrong?  

Ok, feel free to chip in. Under the argument TaiChi laid out, does the universe exist by the necessity of it own nature, or by a cause?

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Hermes January 18, 2010 at 3:04 pm

I don’t do full debates in blogs.

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ayer January 18, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Hermes: I don’t do full debates in blogs.  

How convenient.

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Hermes January 18, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Feel free to challenge me in a debate in a place that is designed for such a thing. Just click the link. I’ve got a topic just for you.

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TaiChi January 19, 2010 at 12:10 am

Thomas Reid:
Have I got that right?  

I think so.

ayer: Under your argument, the conclusion is not that the universe exists by the necessity of its own nature, but by a cause which DOES exist by the necessity of its own nature (God)–correct?  

No. My argument is intended to demonstrate that God’s necessity, the PSR, and the universe’s contingency are inconsistent. If you want to make it into an argument proper, and assign it a conclusion, the inconsistency of the three would be the conclusion. But here’s what I think about your proposed reading…
You make two claims. The first is that the universe is only hypothetically necessary. This does not follow from the premises for, although the set derives the necessity of the universe via God, that does not entail a relation of existential dependency. For example, you can prove, using the necessary truths “1+1=2″ and “2+2=4″, that “1+1+1+1=4″ is necessarily true, but this argument does not allow you to assert that the latter depends on the former two premises. So that’s a fine point. But of course I’m happy to concede the point – that if God does exist, then the universe is merely hypothetically necessary.
I’m not, however, prepared to sign up to your second claim, that God exists by the necessity of his own nature. For that, you’ll have to give me a sound ontological argument, and convince me that the argument form only applies to God. I’m happy to use God’s necessity in an argument against you, because that is what you believe and I want to show you the consequences of that belief, but make no mistake – this is not something I believe, so I’ll need an argument in favour of it if you wish to use it against my position.

Hermes: Feel free to challenge me in a debate in a place that is designed for such a thing. Just click the link. I’ve got a topic just for you.

If you do, can I get an invite?

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Hermes January 19, 2010 at 4:35 am

TaiChi: If you do, can I get an invite?

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No problem. I’d be glad to keep an eye out for you if Ayer takes me up on the offer. The moderated debate rooms are here …

http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/forums/index.php?&board=52.0

… though you might need to make an account to view them. I go by the same name on WWGHA as I do here.

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Thomas Reid January 19, 2010 at 10:07 am

TaiChi,
This is an interesting argument. If you don’t mind, I’ll lift it from here and interact with it over at my blog (just click on my name here for a hyperlink), simply because I’m too slow to respond sometimes in comment areas. If you prefer I not post there, just let me know and I’ll remove it.

Thanks,
T

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ayer January 19, 2010 at 10:33 am

TaiChi,

It’s entirely possible that we are using the same terms to refer to different things; such is quite common is discussions like this. From your comment, I understand that under your argument God would exist not by the necessity of his own nature–but neither would he exist by a cause. I suppose both God AND the universe would exist as contingent “brute facts”? I find that quite implausible, but then I am continuing to read in the area of philosophical necessity, so maybe this will become clear later. In the meantime, I would look forward to any interaction you have with Thomas Reid at his blog. Thanks.

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Hermes January 19, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Ayer, as I read it, your second sentence in your reply to TaiChi is not accurate.

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TaiChi January 19, 2010 at 9:25 pm

Hermes: No problem.

Thanks, Hermes.

Thomas Reid: This is an interesting argument. If you don’t mind, I’ll lift it from here and interact with it over at my blog (just click on my name here for a hyperlink), simply because I’m too slow to respond sometimes in comment areas. If you prefer I not post there, just let me know and I’ll remove it.

No problem. I’ll hold off commenting until your follow up post.

ayer: It’s entirely possible that we are using the same terms to refer to different things; such is quite common is discussions like this. From your comment, I understand that under your argument God would exist not by the necessity of his own nature–but neither would he exist by a cause. I suppose both God AND the universe would exist as contingent “brute facts”? I find that quite implausible, but then I am continuing to read in the area of philosophical necessity, so maybe this will become clear later

Ayer, my argument is neutral on the question of whether God exists by the necessity of his own nature or not. The nature of his necessity doesn’t matter for the argument, just that he is necessary.
For what it’s worth, I think your God is a brute fact. I have no idea what it would be for something to ‘exist by necessity of its own nature’, and I suspect, neither do you. Wise theists call God’s existence a mystery, but that is just a grandiose way of saying it is a brute fact.

***Can I suggest to all that we continue this on Thomas Reid’s blog, once he has his second post up? It’d be better to have the discussion in one place. ***

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cl January 20, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Paul,

Sorry for the delay; this thread kinda grew:

a few moments later..
ATHEIST: Hey Theist so we know that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. We know that approx 15 billion years ago this universe came to be from a point singularity. Do you have any reason to think that the matter contained withing this incredibly dense and hot point singularity has not existed eternally? We know matter exists, so I don’t quite understand how God is eternal vs the material is eternal is a better explanation”

THEIST:

If God exists as the Bible describes, God is eternally efficient. If matter exists as science describes, matter is not eternally efficient. I think an eternally efficient agent is a more parsimonious explanation than a dying one, though I’d be interested in hearing other ideas on that.

Reginald Selkirk,

1) Naturally, that could apply to any other putative eternal entity, such as a universe.

2) What exactly does “eternal” even mean to an entity which, we are often told is “outside time and space”?

1) Sure, if efficiency isn’t a concern.

2) Pretty much that; “executive of MEST” and “not decreasing in efficiency” seem to describe the Biblical God quite well.

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Hermes January 21, 2010 at 4:33 am

cl: If God exists as the Bible describes, God is eternally efficient. If matter exists as science describes, matter is not eternally efficient. I think an eternally efficient agent is a more parsimonious explanation than a dying one, though I’d be interested in hearing other ideas on that.

A few points;

1. Did you forget the 1st law of thermodynamics (via Wiki)? ;

* Energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It can only change forms.

* In any process in an isolated system, the total energy remains the same.

2. As such, _how_ does “efficiency” become an issue? It seems to be entirely efficient.

3. As such, adding a deity or other force to the system isn’t more parsimonious.

cl: 1) Sure, if efficiency isn’t a concern.

2) Pretty much that; “executive of MEST” and “not decreasing in efficiency” seem to describe the Biblical God quite well.

For both 1) and 2), see above.

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Hermes January 21, 2010 at 4:39 am

cl, also note your comment on “than a dying one” seems misplaced, even strange.

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cl January 21, 2010 at 11:06 am

Hermes,

Did you forget the 1st law of thermodynamics

No. I allude to the fact that MEST is dying and cannot sustain itself. Even if we can say MEST is eternal, we can’t say MEST is eternally efficient.

OTOH, if it’s not a fact that MEST is dying and cannot sustain itself, my argument requires emendations.

**MEST = matter, energy, space, time

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lukeprog January 21, 2010 at 11:09 am

MEST! That’s a Scientology term!

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Hermes January 21, 2010 at 2:50 pm

lukeprog: Hermes,

Did you forget the 1st law of thermodynamics

No. I allude to the fact that MEST is dying and cannot sustain itself. Even if we can say MEST is eternal, we can’t say MEST is eternally efficient.

OTOH, if it’s not a fact that MEST is dying and cannot sustain itself, my argument requires emendations.

**MEST = matter, energy, space, time

So…you say it’s a fact, and that means I’m supposed to then agree and forget physics?

The first two are *explicitly* covered by the 1st law. That’s why I starred the quotes of the 1st law.

As for ‘time’ or ‘space’ ‘dying’, I have to say that’s one of the strangest things I’ve heard this week and there have been some whoppers.

Disagree? Don’t repeat yourself with a nod and a wink and the word ‘fact’ thrown in haphazardly and then expect me to go “OK!”. It won’t happen.

If you think you are right, show me *why* I would consider such comments to be related to reality at all, and then work up from there. To do that, you’ll have to go over *how* you arrived at your conclusion.

You might also want to clarify what you mean by ‘dying’ in this instance. (You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.)

As for your deity, whatever it happens to be, you’d also have to show how *it* is ‘more parsimonious’ and not just by sniping at the competition.

At this point, even a generic placeholder deity let alone a specified one doesn’t seem to have much explanatory power. I take it you aren’t arguing for the generic category of ‘some arbitrary set of deities’, but a specific one derived from a specific lineage?

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Hermes January 21, 2010 at 2:58 pm

cl, the following in my earlier post were not addressed;

Hermes: 2. As such, _how_ does “efficiency” become an issue? It seems to be entirely efficient.

3. As such, adding a deity or other force to the system isn’t more parsimonious.

To be clear;

* The 1st law of thermodynamics describes matter and energy as unrelentingly efficient.

If you have proof that the 1st law should be discarded or amended because it does not describe reality, feel free to show me. You might also want to drop a note to the Norwegian Nobel Committee with the details as well.

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Hermes January 21, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Luke, mea culpa. I made a mistake when quoting cl two posts up. I didn’t notice that somehow(?) your name was inserted instead.

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cl January 21, 2010 at 7:29 pm

Luke,

You know I actually wasn’t too familiar with the etymology. I think it’s pretty useful as an acronym so I run with it. Do you have any posts about our Lord L. Ron?

Hermes,

In general, I define more parsimonious as “requiring the least amount of subsequent explanations.” Does that definition work for you?

If you have proof that the 1st law should be discarded or amended because it does not describe reality, feel free to show me. You might also want to drop a note to the Norwegian Nobel Committee with the details as well.

Condescension rarely helps, but answering the following question might clarify: would you agree or disagree that the universe cannot sustain itself eternally?

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lukeprog January 21, 2010 at 7:34 pm

cl,

There’s a category called ‘Scientology’ in my sidebar.

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Hermes January 21, 2010 at 7:58 pm

cl: In general, I define more parsimonious as “requiring the least amount of subsequent explanations.” Does that definition work for you?

Thanks for the refresher. Really. Are you capable of making it relevant?

cl: Condescension rarely helps, but answering the following question might clarify: would you agree or disagree that the universe cannot sustain itself eternally?

I’ve already answered that a few times. If you want to go beyond that, it would be nice if you were actually willing and able to actually address my comments. Maybe if you did or admitted what you don’t know you’d get fewer condescending remarks? Perhaps? Maybe?

Here’s a couple hints that might get you back on track (and no I’m not being condescending this time);

* What’s the universe?

* How does the 1st law of thermodynamics apply to it?

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Hermes January 21, 2010 at 9:23 pm

Cl, here, I’ll answer the first one with reasonable level of specificity, ignoring space time for the moment, and giving a definition in plain English;

Hermes: * What’s the universe?

The universe — our universe — is either a subset of everything that exists or is equal to everything that exists. There may be other universes and the current iteration of our universe may not be the first instance. In any case, we are limited in our direct observations to the available evidence, though we can deduce more based on that evidence.

You probably want to insert your deity into the above in some fashion. Let’s hold off on that for a moment and deal with what we can mutually agree on, if that is possible. With that in mind and realizing that there are a multitude of possible contingencies …

* Do you generally agree with the above definition of what the universe is?

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cl January 21, 2010 at 10:27 pm

Luke,

I’d seen those a while back. They don’t touch on our Lord L. Ron at all. I was just wondering if you had anything on him that for some reason might not be in the “Scientology” category.

Hermes,

In general, I define more parsimonious as “requiring the least amount of subsequent explanations.” Does that definition work for you? (cl)

Thanks for the refresher. Really. Are you capable of making it relevant? (Hermes)

Yes, but you didn’t answer: does that definition of more parsimonious work for you or not?

..would you agree or disagree that the universe cannot sustain itself eternally? (cl)

I’ve already answered that a few times. (Hermes)

Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to be saying it can, which is why I ask. Help me out with a clear yes or no, i.e., yes you think the universe can sustain itself eternally, or no you don’t.

If you want to go beyond that, it would be nice if you were actually willing and able to actually address my comments.

I’m both willing and able. I don’t know what else to tell you. You say you have difficulty understanding “the universe is dying” but I don’t know how else to explain entropy. I think von Helmholtz may have been among the first to refer to the universe as dying, in the mid-nineteenth century.

The universe — our universe — is either a subset of everything that exists or is equal to everything that exists. There may be other universes and the current iteration of our universe may not be the first instance. In any case, we are limited in our direct observations to the available evidence, though we can deduce more based on that evidence.

I agree completely.

Do you generally agree with the above definition of what the universe is?

Yes.

It’s still unclear to me what your objection is if you can state it clearly I’ll try one more time to continue but if not I gotta run.

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lukeprog January 21, 2010 at 10:40 pm

cl,

Ah. Not yet.

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Hermes January 22, 2010 at 9:21 am

Cl, you act as if my opinion on reality somehow impacts reality itself at a fundamental — some subatomic or otherwise elemental or foundational — level. Well, it doesn’t for me or you. Reality is a toolkit, not a wishing well.

Additionally, why you are so fixated on a simple vocabulary word I can’t tell. Once again, my opinion of the word doesn’t change reality.

What does interest me is that you went into the mode of defining the word instead of addressing *how* it applies to reality; how it is that you’ve got the better explanation. This is yet again another instance of you breezing by an issue and asserting you’ve got the facts by doing no actual work to demonstrate how you are correct. Well, show me and stop dodging.

With that nonsense out of the way, going with the 1st law of thermodynamics, can you back up your statement that ‘matter, energy, space, time … are dying’ or ‘the universe is dying’.

None of that is in line with the first law, and you have not specified how such things that were never alive can somehow be dying. (An exception being made for what we know of specific things on a certain watery and volcanic planet, of course.)

Yet, after you address that, we’re still not even close to you showing *how* your “the universe + your deity” idea is simpler yet more accurate than just “the universe”. Neither does it apply fully to the definition of the universe I gave in my previous post.

If you grow bored with this, then I suggest you give up. I’ll nether teach you nor have any interest in you thinking that dodging teaches anything except that I end up learning that you don’t actually know what you say is so.

Your choice is to just give up as you planned, or move it on to somewhere else. For example;

http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/forums/index.php?&board=52.0

If you don’t quit, just post a challenge there. I go by the same name here and there. Maybe you can show me that the universe is dying (if you think it is) and how your deity is the best possible description for the universe if not everything?

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cl January 22, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Hermes,

If you grow bored with this, then I suggest you give up.

Hey, gee, thanks for the advice! [/SARCASM]

Truth be told, I’ll never give up on nor grow bored of philosophy, religion, logic or science. We’ve taken enough of Luke’s thread (seemingly) for nothing already. Last try (here at least):

With that nonsense out of the way, going with the 1st law of thermodynamics, can you back up your statement that ‘matter, energy, space, time … are dying’ or ‘the universe is dying’. None of that is in line with the first law, and you have not specified how such things that were never alive can somehow be dying.

Are you assuming I meant they were alive in a literal sense or something? Did you even Google the “von Helmholtz universe dying” string I left? The “dying universe” is a figure of speech some scientists have used to describe the ramifications of heat loss applied to the universe as a whole. Extrapolating the second law of thermodynamics leads to the conclusion that the universe (MEST) cannot sustain itself eternally. I’m still not sure if you’re denying entropy or not. I hope not. If not, then it seems you agree that the universe’s potential to do work is decreasing, which suggests you sufficiently understand the “dying universe” metaphor.

The relevance to the OP is that atheists can certainly cite the first law to argue the eternality of MEST, but the second law robs MEST of eternal efficiency or creative power.

Your choice is to just give up as you planned, or move it on to somewhere else. For example;

I don’t need you to tell me what my choices are and I don’t give a damn about that forum. If you’re really interested in understanding my position track me down. I’ve got two posts on the argument from kinesis at thte top of my homepage and the second argues the Biblical God as the most parsimonious explanation.

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TaiChi January 22, 2010 at 3:53 pm

http://merelymist.blogspot.com/

Second post is up.

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Hermes January 22, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Cl, if you won’t write the words you mean, don’t blame me for not understanding what you mean. In the real world, there are no psychics. If you want me to give you my full attention, you know where to find me. After all, I did offer the proposal first.

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Hermes January 22, 2010 at 4:35 pm

TaiChi, great first reply.

I’ll monitor the thread at Merely Mist to see if you, Ayer(?), and Thomas can arrive at a mutual understanding and eventually agreement.

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Hermes January 22, 2010 at 5:20 pm

Cl, your blog post on ‘Proof of God’s Existence’ is amazing;

http://www.thewarfareismental.info/the_warfare_is_mental/2010/01/proof-of-gods-existence-1.html

On one hand you use words like ‘commonsense’, then on the other deny ‘commonsense’ when it is not in line with your initial biases. I hope that you are being paid for other skills, and not your grasp of logic.

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Polymeron January 22, 2010 at 5:29 pm

Hermes,

While I completely disagree with cl’s position and probably agree with yours, I find your last few comments to be offensive in tone.

I think the debate would go better if you stuck to the issue at hand rather than use personal attacks. While they do not detract from the validity of your arguments, they also don’t lend them more credibility.

Carry on…

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Hermes January 22, 2010 at 6:17 pm

Polymeron, I agree fully.

While it may not be obvious, I usually do have a clear awareness of what I intend to write as I write it, and how it will be understood by the reader. When I fail to deliver, and write what I did not intend or do so sloppily, it is a technical embarrassment.

On your entirely valid criticism, while I do not have a valid justification for my bad attitude — being overbearingly terse, arrogant, and unjustifiably snippy — I simply don’t care to play nice with people who are fervently not interested in reality. Few listen, but some do.

I do hand out the ambrosia hospitably, on a platinum tray, mainly to those who are interested in a conversation and are willing to change their minds, as I am. Ayer and Cl don’t seem to be willing or possibly able and I tire from bringing up points that are repeatedly ignored. They offer sophistication, clear thoughts, and a strong dose of intelectual blindness along these lines;

“Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.” — Michael Shermer

I should treat them better, but would it make any difference to anyone but me?

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cl January 22, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Polymeron,

While I completely disagree with cl’s position..

I’ve thrown a few statements of position around in this thread. Which did you disagree with?

Luke,

I pre-emptively apologize if you find the following comment inappropriate. On the one hand I want to be real, on the other I do not want to contribute to the dumbing-down of this resource of yours (note: resource, not blog). That being said, I think a tactful skewering is in order here.

[SKEWER]

Hermes,

I applaud you for being able to concede your bad attitude but I encourage you to take the extra step by considering how that bad attitude and your bad faith presumptions in general might be impeding clear resolution in your discussions with theists. If you are “tiring” after a mere six or seven comments of a discussion *you* started, perhaps you should acquire the spent philosopher’s equivalent of Viagra, or at least avoid the use of non-sequitur and condescension if nothing else, and distill your objections to clear, concise statements instead of making all sorts of bad faith assumptions about your interlocutor. The latter dissuades reasonable individuals from discourse and that’s unfortunate for philosophy and the pursuit of truth you claim to pay such homage to.

..if you won’t write the words you mean, don’t blame me for not understanding what you mean.

With that I empathize, but I wrote the words I meant in my very first comment and explained that I was referring to entropy in subsequent comments. You’re obviously rushing because you’re inserting Luke’s name into comments addressed to me. I don’t know what school of rationalism you subscribe to, but I was taught to doubt myself when things don’t add up, and to give the other person the benefit of the doubt, a courtesy I extended you until you crossed the line.

You write of “technical embarrassment” but if I was you I’d be technically embarrassed that I failed to make the connection between entropy and the “dying universe” metaphor, even after having it stated four or five times, along with the reference to Hermann von Helmholtz. Perhaps if you didn’t assume I was “not interested in reality” you would have been able to glean the salient point.

You challenged me to show how “my deity” was “more parsimonious” yet when given a provisional definition of “more parsimonious” you twice refused to answer a clear “yes” or “no” as to whether you’d accept it. You’ve twice refused to answer whether you think the universe can sustain itself eternally. I pointed you to a post where I explain my “God is more parsimonious” argument in greater detail, and instead of acknowledging or commenting on it, you came back here, insulted me and then cited an irrelevant post. You claim I was “not addressing you” when I pointed you politely to the answers you sought and you replied with fire and sword.

You then went on to *answer your own questions* instead of giving clear answers to mine but if answering your own questions will suffice, by all means leave me out of your conversations with yourself.

I’ll nether teach you nor have any interest in you thinking that dodging teaches anything except that I end up learning that you don’t actually know what you say is so.

I’m not dodging anything. I answered your questions clearly with “yes” or “no” answers, or by saying “I agree completely.” I invited you to my blog because that’s where my “God is most parsimonious” argument is. You ask me to catch up with you at Amputees but that assumes I want more discourse with you.

I should treat them better, but would it make any difference to anyone but me?

Certainly; it would make a difference to your interlocutor. You have the whole conversation framed in terms of yourself and that’s, well… self-centered.

And regarding the good ol’ them, that “gateway to other atrocities,” temporarily ignoring the questions privileged folks with computers can afford the luxury to pontificate on, recall that theists and atheists alike have one world to live in. Your tribalist use of them is the same sort of ideological fodder that fuels genocide when what we need is a new outlook for new times. When it comes to humanity there is no “them” only “us.”

If you want to apologize we could easily squash it and move forward, and if you respond with more fire and sword then I’ll be content to let the rational reader decide who’s erred and to what degree. Take care, cheer up a bit and try the benefit of the doubt once in a while.

[/SKEWER]

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Polymeron January 23, 2010 at 12:46 am

Just when one thinks the ad hominem is going to go away :|

cl: Polymeron,
I’ve thrown a few statements of position around in this thread. Which did you disagree with?

cl, I disagreed with your statement that (a) god is a more parsimonious explanation for the universe’s existence. By definition, the most parsimonious explanation would involve the smallest amount or complexity of additional mechansims required. It therefore falls to you to show that this additional mechanism external to the universe is indeed necessary.
Before you direct me to the argument in your blog, I’ll mention that this blog is our current debate medium and thus if you want to use other sources you should summarize them (if not bring them in full) so their full context can be gleaned without going over the entire source.

I further disagree that the biblical God, of all possible entities, is the most parsimonious explanation. I stipulate that this is a ludicrous proposition, considering:
- The vast amount of variance in the scripture describing said god: The apocryphal, the contradictory, and that which changed over time, in Christianity alone; the Muslim and Jewish scriptures referencing the same god; etc.
- The complete lack of evidence to suggest(almost) any one vision of god is a preferable explanation to (almost) any other.

I don’t see why the reduction in the ability to create work (that’s “Gibbs Free Energy” mind, not MEST itself), or the “dying” universe (which you have correctly labeled as a mere figure of speech) requires a creator. The assumption that something prefers to exist over nothing, that unlimited creation power is required for a limited amount of existence, is unfounded and I contest it as unsupported.

Lastly, and because I don’t want to go on another tirade, I’ll just note that calling people imbeciles does not tend to improve their attention to your arguments. One may criticize one’s style without getting personal.

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cl January 23, 2010 at 1:44 am

Polymeron,

By definition, the most parsimonious explanation would involve the smallest amount or complexity of additional mechansims required. It therefore falls to you to show that this additional mechanism external to the universe is indeed necessary.

I agree, and I acknowledge your opinion that my belief is a ludicrous proposition. If you’ll tell me your explanation I’ll tell you whether or not I think it’s more parsimonious than mine.

I acknowledge your claims of Biblical contradiction and inconsistency but object that such has no import to the question of the most parsimonious explanation for the universe.

I don’t see why the reduction in the ability to create work (that’s “Gibbs Free Energy” mind, not MEST itself), or the “dying” universe (which you have correctly labeled as a mere figure of speech) requires a creator.

Although I believe the dying universe was created, I’m not saying the fact of the “dying universe” requires a Creator. My original comment was in response to the “why can’t the universe be eternal” counter. I grant atheists and skeptics that the universe can be eternal, but counter that it cannot be eternally efficient. Instead of an infinite regress, we get an immanent discontinuity.

The assumption that something prefers to exist over nothing, that unlimited creation power is required for a limited amount of existence, is unfounded and I contest it as unsupported.

I don’t make the assumption that “something prefers to exist over nothing”, nor do I argue that “unlimited creation power is required for a limited amount of existence”. I simply accept the argument that transitions from potency to act require a mover, and go from there.

I’ll just note that calling people imbeciles does not tend to improve their attention to your arguments.

I agree and upon further reflection that’s why I refrained from calling Hermes an imbecile in my comment.

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Polymeron January 23, 2010 at 2:07 am

cl: Polymeron,
I agree, and I acknowledge your opinion that my belief is a ludicrous proposition. If you’ll tell me your explanation I’ll tell you whether or not I think it’s more parsimonious than mine.

I do not purport to have the “correct” explanation; we are unable to observe anything outside our universe, including anything *before* our universe. Hence any explanation not relying on this universe’s properties is less parsimonious than the null model, that is, that it simply exists – albeit an explanation may possibly never be derived by naturalistic means.

I acknowledge your claims of Biblical contradiction and inconsistency but object that such has no import to the question of the most parsimonious explanation for the universe.

I hold that they are relevant because you invoked the *biblical* god as the most parsimonious explanation. Considering the many versions, interpretations and contradictions in biblical accounts, I find the concept of “the biblical god” to be ill-defined, and you would need to elaborate on which specific account and interpretation you hold to be the most parsimonious explanation, as well as why it is more parsimonious than, say, Allah, Vishnu or the Flying Spaghetti Monster (in generalities, of course – I don’t expect one to start refuting deities one by one).

Although I believe the dying universe was created, I’m not saying the fact of the “dying universe” requires a Creator. My original comment was in response to the “why can’t the universe be eternal” counter. I grant atheists and skeptics that the universe can be eternal, but counter that it cannot be eternally efficient. Instead of an infinite regress, we get an immanent discontinuity.

Call it a discontinuity if you like; I don’t see where the logical contradiction is, or why a “dying” universe requires an external explanation. You still haven’t explained that point.

I don’t make the assumption that “something prefers to exist over nothing”, nor do I argue that “unlimited creation power is required for a limited amount of existence”. I simply accept the argument that transitions from potency to act require a mover, and go from there.

I apologize if I have misinterpreted the assumptions at the base of your argument, but that is because you have not, in fact, laid out your argument yet.

I agree and upon further reflection that’s why I refrained from calling Hermes an imbecile in my comment.  

I only read the first version of your comment; I’m glad you edited it to be more civil :)

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Hermes January 23, 2010 at 5:56 am

Cl, metaphor (personal desires) vs. actual (raw reality). I find it convenient how often those are swapped. Why not just deal with reality and say what you mean first (protestations otherwise, you did not)? I could deal with either fork, but I doubt you’re actually interested and may drift back to swapping words around as if they are interchangeable.

BTW, parsimonious doesn’t mean ‘I like it more’. You are still left with how.

As for boredom, that was your complaint. I suggest giving into it and letting this one die. Maybe a later draft will make things gel for you?

You know where to find me if you want a better attitude and my full attention. I’ve already spent enough on a soon to be abandoned blog comment thread. That is all. The rest is up to you.

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Hermes January 23, 2010 at 6:21 am

Polymeron, that was coherent and a joy to read.

I am in full agreement again, even though I don’t choose patience, and am siding with tactical impatience in this instance.

I am sure you are prepared for the tedium of dragging out each and every assumption. I suspect 3-4 more whoppers framed in the guise of ‘Well, of course I meant that, not the other thing!’. Blindness or an intentional attempt at dragging you down? It could be either.

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TaiChi January 23, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Luke,
I’ve found a source which offers argument from the same considerations as I have here:

The Blackwell Guide to Philosophy of Religion (2005), Cosmological Arguments, by William Rowe, pp. 107 onwards.

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lukeprog January 23, 2010 at 2:37 pm

TaiChi,

Thanks.

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cl January 23, 2010 at 9:16 pm

Polymeron,

I apologize if I have misinterpreted the assumptions at the base of your argument, but that is because you have not, in fact, laid out your argument yet.

Apology accepted, but note that I was never really making an argument here. I came to the thread, saluted Luke for debunking a bunk atheist objection to a common theist argument, then Hermes took some shots to which I responded, which may have lent the perception of an argument.

As far as my “argument,” it’s really quite simple and I laid it out in a clear, concise language in my last comment:

I’m not saying the fact of the “dying universe” requires a Creator. My original comment was in response to the “why can’t the universe be eternal” counter. I grant atheists and skeptics that the universe can be eternal, but counter that it cannot be eternally efficient.

If you think any of that is unreasonable, I’m open to hearing why.

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Polymeron January 23, 2010 at 10:09 pm

cl,
As I see it, your statement reasonably requires a clarification as to its relevance (to either the original topic, or the Atheism and Religion debate at large).

If your statement is a casual observation, then it can go uncontested and without further comment. We can likewise agree that the universe can be eternal but not orange, or eternal but not smell like lilacs – possibly correct observations that nonetheless have no bearing on the discussion.

If, however, the point about the free-energy efficiency of the universe is relevant to the debate in any way, it falls to you to explain how.

Regards,
Polymeron.

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cl January 24, 2010 at 12:18 pm

Polymeron,

If, however, the point about the free-energy efficiency of the universe is relevant to the debate in any way, it falls to you to explain how.

That’s why I asked what your preferred model was. Some posit matter, energy, space and time as an eternal series of iterations, but it would seem to me that a dead universe lacks potency. Of course if this universe is actually one of many sparks in a macro-explosion, that wouldn’t seem to be a problem.

Does that make sense?

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Polymeron January 24, 2010 at 12:24 pm

It might make sense, yes, but I still don’t see the relevance to the discussion. Would you care to explain?

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Hermes January 24, 2010 at 1:03 pm

cl: Some posit matter, energy, space and time as an eternal series of iterations, but it would seem to me that a dead universe lacks potency.

Why? Better yet, *how* does it ‘lack potency’ and more important *how* is that ‘lack of potency’ relevant in describing and understanding reality as it actually is? (Within the scope of the universe definition agreed on before.)

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cl January 24, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Polymeron,

In his hypothetical exchange back up in the thread, commenter Paul asked why the universe couldn’t be eternal. Though technically we could suppose it can, “why can’t the universe be eternal” is a poor counter for the reasons I went into. Without potency, it would seem this universe couldn’t “iterate itself” into the next.

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Hermes January 24, 2010 at 4:37 pm

cl: Without potency, it would seem this universe couldn’t “iterate itself” into the next.

Why do you need it to?

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Hermes January 24, 2010 at 5:11 pm

cl: In his hypothetical exchange back up in the thread, commenter Paul asked why the universe couldn’t be eternal.

No, he didn’t. Talk about ‘eternal’ was your addition, not his. In response to his long fictional conversation, you cut lopped off the end and made this comment;

cl: God is eternal. I know certain atheists view this as a cop-out, but it’s really not. That which is eternal requires no cause, by definition. Overly simplistic, I admit, but sometimes it’s better to keep these things simple.

As such, I refer back to the first law of thermodynamics.

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cl January 24, 2010 at 10:18 pm

If, however, the point about the free-energy efficiency of the universe is relevant to the debate in any way, it falls to you to explain how. (Polymeron, to cl)

Then,

In his hypothetical exchange back up in the thread, commenter Paul asked why the universe couldn’t be eternal. (cl, to Polymeron)

Then,

No, he didn’t. Talk about ‘eternal’ was your addition, not his. (Hermes, to cl)

Yet, keen readers will note that who introduced the term was never an issue which makes Hermes’ response a non-sequitur. In addition, earlier in the thread in commenter Paul’s hypothetical discussion – exactly as I allege – the reader will find,

ATHEIST: Hey Theist so we know that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. We know that approx 15 billion years ago this universe came to be from a point singularity. Do you have any reason to think that the matter contained within this incredibly dense and hot point singularity has not existed eternally? We know matter exists, so I don’t quite understand how God is eternal vs the material is eternal is a better explanation” (Paul, to cl, ital. mine)

So yes, he did, and it’s all right there in the thread for anyone to see.

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Hermes January 24, 2010 at 10:32 pm

cl: Without potency, it would seem this universe couldn’t “iterate itself” into the next.

Hermes: Why do you need it to?  

What? Silence? Hmmm…

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Hermes January 24, 2010 at 11:07 pm

cl: Yet, keen readers will note that who introduced the term was never an issue which makes Hermes’ response a non-sequitur. In addition, earlier in the thread in commenter Paul’s hypothetical discussion – exactly as I allege – the reader will find,

Exactly, a keen reader will indeed note things like the actual order of the quotes cited in each of our examples. That you made an issue of “eternal”, though, and did it first does indeed make it an issue. If not, why bring it up later on? Why not ignore it like a bad dream? Seems cluttered and inefficient if you didn’t mean it in each instance.

What Would E.B. White Do?

I will leave it to those keen readers to judge for themselves. All 5 (3?) of the remaining stalwarts at this point.

My question to you cl is this: Are you coming here with your A game? I’ll state right up front that I’m not. You have ~maybe~ 80% of my attention and quite a bit less of my care, yet I’m not someone who considers his livelihood to be writing. It’s good that you do have that profession, and I am not knocking it. Yet, it’s not mine. Because of that, I could be somewhat forgiven for making goofs (like the “you cut lopped off” mistake I made earlier). Order and attribution, though, seem like big errors unlike redundant extra words.

For the keen readers, I leave the following;

Cl’s comment: “eternal requires no cause” appears about 75 lines before Paul’s “I don’t quite understand how God is eternal vs the material is eternal is a better explanation”. No hand waving required.

Am I missing something?

(FWIW, I ignore E.B. White on a constant basis. It’s easy, though, he’s dead. Consistently so.)

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Hermes January 24, 2010 at 11:16 pm

Cl, anytime …

Hermes: As such, I refer back to the first law of thermodynamics.

Specifically, how does your comment “That which is eternal requires no cause, by definition.” not apply to both your preferred deity and the universe?

* If it does not apply to either, then I’m happy to drop it just on your assurance you that you swear not to argue that it applies to your deity again.

* If it does apply to your deity only, I’m still waiting for you to say *how*.

* If it applies to both, then I’d also like to know that is your position as well.

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John February 5, 2010 at 3:08 am

Infinite regress of explanations is irrational indeed. But I still fail to see how that makes God the best explanation as the first cause. Why must ‘it’ be personal, moral, or triune?

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Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth February 5, 2010 at 9:43 pm

Godists can neither by definition nor by postulation instantiate that married bachelor called God. As His incoherent attributes contradict each other, He is as a married bachelor or square circle, so we ignostics find then that He cannot exist. Google the ignostic-Ockham to see why in full. Michael Martin, Nicholas Everitt and Theodore Drange are making the incompatible properties argument.
One can understand the term God but as His properties so conflict, they make Him meaningless. I had to phrase it thus because David Ramsay Steele makes the point in his book that as we can understand the term, He isn’t meaningless. No, as stated.
We need to get theists to understand that from the very term, there is no there there!
Indeed, as we show that He cannot be the First Cause,etc., then those terms also show His meaningless. Again, this is my contribution.
Furthermore, theists ever beg questions in discussing that square circle: logic is the bane of theists.
Google also skeptic griggsy to see that I mean business!

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kilo February 6, 2010 at 3:22 am

“Many of our most successful explanations raise new puzzles and present us with new questions to be answered”.-Greg Dawes

To me,the key word in this sentence is “new”.
God is not a new question or a new puzzle to the question of complexity in the world. It’s the same question.

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Nathan Jacobson February 7, 2010 at 6:30 am

A great post, Luke. I have a bone to pick, but first agreement. It’s true and often frustrating, in scientific and philosophical endeavors alike, that the efforts to find ultimate explanations turn up all manner of primitives, brutes, givens, and postulates that defy further analysis. In some cases, these may be considered stop signs, in others, merely a yield. But, it cannot be elephants all the way down. Or, as Lewis pointed out, seeing through every veil is equivalent to seeing nothing at all. So, it is right, in principle, to allow ultimate explanations, though we should not be too hasty in conferring that status.

That being said, I think your shorthand use of “God did it” as the supposed conclusion of the arguments of natural theology is an unfortunate mischaracterization, especially considering the question at hand of appropriate explanation. These arguments, when carefully articulated, are indeed closely analogous to the forms of reasoning in theoretical physics: because of e, some entity x must exist with property p; we’ll give it the name y. The unseen postulate in such an argument is ascribed only the property or properties implicated by e, say a charge of -1. Likewise, as far as the argument goes, the careful theist will be content with stipulating only the properties that follow. That is why we have all those terms of art like “an uncaused cause”, “an unmoved mover”, “a designer”, “a necessary being”, etc.

If the theist has been appropriately modest in their conclusion, the question that you suggest should be asked instead — “Why is God the best explanation for that?” — will be answered by a return to the argument to see if it is valid. For, in that case, “God” is just y, the name he gave for x with property p, and the argument is supposed to have shown that such an entity must exist to explain e. “God” is a freighted term, and I don’t mean to deny that calling y “God” is bound to conjure up more than the argument is purported to demonstrate. But at least in academic philosophy of religion, I find that as a rule, care is taken to proscribe the entailments of a given argument. (Of course, if it needs to be said, if x is taken to be the God of Abraham, additional legwork will be required.)

By the way, if the slaughterhouse is still open, it may be time to give your tagline from Roberts another look (bit.ly/aIAtRG). Luke, you are a much appreciated voice in the conversation about ultimate reality from both sides of the aisle. No small feat. Thanks, and keep up the good work.

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lukeprog February 7, 2010 at 8:01 am

Nathan,

The question “Why is God the best explanation for that” comes in at one or another premise of the argument. For example, Craig’s version of the teleological argument:

1. The fine-tuning of the universe to support life is either due to law, chance or design.
2. It is not due to law or chance.
3. Therefore, the fine-tuning is due to design.

Here, the “Why is design the best explanation?” comes in to cast doubt on premise #2.

In the Kalam argument, this question comes into play on premise 4, which seeks to establish that God is the cause of the universe. Or, here is Craig’s moral argument:

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
2. Objective moral values do exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.

Here, our best explanation question comes into play on premise 1.

(I use Craig’s versions because they are short and syllogistic.)

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lukeprog February 7, 2010 at 8:07 am

Nathan,

Also, re: the quote at the top of my page, see here.

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cl February 7, 2010 at 2:36 pm

John,

I wasn’t sure if your comment was to anybody in particular, but speaking for myself, I frame the argument in Aristotle’s language which I find convincing. While I don’t want to copy and paste my entire argument here, Koons summarizes it well enough for a blog comment:

Aristotle argues that the First Cause must be a being of “pure act”, a being whose nature it is to be actual. This seems to mean that there is for the First Cause no distinction between potentiality and actuality. The First Cause has no accidents: every property it has, it has essentially. This entails that the First Cause is immutable, since it lacks exactly that feature that explains the changeability of other substances.

You can find more details here, if interested.

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Nathan Jacobson February 9, 2010 at 5:46 am

Luke, you’re quite right that in the abbreviated form of Craig’s moral argument, the move to “God” begs questions. In Craig’s case, unless he’s debating Shelly Kagan, he will be ready to provide the supplementary premises. For many others, including myself (who concedes the force of Euthyphro), it will be a struggle. Nonetheless, I think the arguments of natural theology more often conform to the outline I suggested above. For example, Craig’s version of the Kalam leads to some entity x with the property of personhood or agency.

Thanks for the link to your take on the Stephen Henry Roberts’ quote. Your principled objection to epistemic double standards is a bracing and worthy challenge. And, I might add (as you do), that no view is immune, as when belief in God is psychologized or located in the brain without noting the self-referential implications for not believing. I’ll be adding some engagement with your thoughts in my own essay on the “one less god” idea. Regards.

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lukeprog February 9, 2010 at 8:50 am

Nathan,

Just so you know, I don’t endorse a ‘one less god’ argument. ‘One less god’ is a rhetorical flourish meant to show believers that they know quite well what it is like to disbelieve in gods.

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Steve P February 21, 2010 at 9:07 pm

Something about this didn’t set right with me, and I think I see what now. When someone tells me that “God did it,” they’re saying that things are too complex. This isn’t the time to point out that God is improbable or untestable; they’ll merely say that this is the mysterious nature of God. Beyond empiricism.

This is the time to illustrate that their argument is a form of special pleading. That it is logically inconsistent, and fails immediately by way of reason, with no need for physical evaluation.

Good article though. I really had to delve deep into what my position is and why. I love that.

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Data April 11, 2010 at 11:12 am

I believe this argument is only effective in a taste-of-your-own-medicine sort of way. That is, this argument should only be used to demonstrate fallacious nature of the theist’s objection.

If a theist claims that the big bang is an insufficient explanation because it does not give causal explanation, then you can demonstrate that, by the same faulty logic, their own God fails to pass the same test.

I would only use this argument to show the failure of the principle objection when made by the theist.

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A1 May 5, 2010 at 7:03 am

I ended up on this website through a google search and didn’t see any thorough enough replies to cartesian’s first comment, so even though it was a while ago, I shall write a reply of my own.

So you seem to be endorsing a general principle here: for any case of complexity, “God did it” is a terrible explanation.
Well, I think there are counterexamples. Consider this case of complexity: Tomorrow, we wake up and discover that the stars of the Milky Way have been rearranged and increased in brightness so that we can plainly read the text of John 3:16 in the sky, even during the day. What a weird phenomenon! Unsurprisingly, the Christians say “God did it!” Even many religious skeptics are convinced that God did it.

In some sense you are correct, there are counter examples. But in another, you’re cheating, BIG TIME. To be full correct what needed to be said for full accuracy was “God did it is a terrible explanation…based on the data we have available to us at the moment.” But does that really need to be said? Can’t we automatically assume it’s true? I will assert with a high degree of confidence that human beings do not randomly turn into giant insects, despite what happens in Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”. And I think you would agree with such a claim But, what if we woke up tomorrow and witnessed this happening on a regular basis? We’d be forced to change our position wouldn’t we? But once again, this is true for any idea we have of how the world works. All our ideas are based off the information currently available to us. And you are being hypocritical in criticizing Luke for not making this clarifaction while not abiding by this standard yourself. Your counter example starts off with the idea of tomorrow, but what if there is no tomorrow? What if the world ends today, 5 minutes from now. Sure it might seem like there will be a tomorrow based on our current knowledge, but what if there isn’t? And as for waking up, that’s another whole set of assumptions…

You respond: “Nope, sorry, ‘God did it’ is a terrible explanation of any case of complexity, and let me tell you why…”
The problem with offering “God did it” as an explanation is that such an explanation has low plausibility…
Why, in this case, is it not plausible to say God did it? Seems pretty plausible to me. Are you just reporting that it’s implausible to *you*, an atheist? Well why should that worry the rest of us? Why think that a good explanation must be plausible to those who disbelieve in the entities postulated by the explanation? That’s an unreasonably high standard for explanations!

“Why, in this case, is it not plausible to say God did it? Seems pretty plausible to me. Are you just reporting that it’s implausible to *you*, an atheist? Well why should that worry the rest of us? Why think that a good explanation must be plausible to those who disbelieve in the entities postulated by the explanation? That’s an unreasonably high standard for explanations!”

-I’d say that it’s currently an implausible explanation, due to lack of any supporting evidence. This puts in on equal footing with any other explanation that could possibly be proposed for how the universe began. Sure, it could be right, but so could any arbitrary explanation I could propose.

“…is not testable…
Why does it have to be testable to be a good explanation? I’m more convinced that, in this case, “God did it” would be a good explanation than I am that good explanations must be testable. And in a very broad sense of possibility, this explanation is testABLE: we could ask God if he did it, and he could say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. That’s a test for the truth of the explanation. So, in that sense of “testable,” this explanation is testable. Why do you think “God did it” isn’t testable? And why do you think that’s important?”

-In the case of your counter example, God did it would be an explanation to consider. But what you’re proposing is an event unlike anything we’ve ever observed that would force us to fundamentally rethink everything we thought we knew about how the universe worked. But I could propose a similar event for any other idea that currently has no real evidence to support it. The point of testability is that it should ultimately let us determine if an explanation is true or false. And “God did it” is currently untestable. Is it really that surprising that an explanation without supporting evidence that can’t be tested is being called terrible? What term would you use to refer to it?

“…has poor consistency with background knowledge…
This seems pretty question-begging. I think “God did it” coheres quite well with *my* background knowledge, and the background knowledge of billions of other theists around the world and throughout history. Do you just mean to report why *atheists* won’t like “God did it” as an explanation? Again, why think that a good explanation has to cohere with the background knowledge of people who disbelieve in the entities postulated by the explanation? That’s an unreasonably high standard for explanations.”

-I think there are different definitions of background knowledge at work here. I’d be willing to assert that “God did it” as an explanation for the existence of the universe isn’t supported by any data we’ve obtained while studying the origins of the universe. We have certain information available to us, we want an explanation based on this information that is suggested by our data and does a good job of explaining it. I don’t think that’s unreasonable.

“…comes from a tradition (supernaturalism) with extreme explanatory failure…
I have three worries about this: first, why think that this explanation has to “come from” any tradition at all? And what does it mean for an explanation to “come from” a tradition? When I see the hairdryer out and say “My wife did it,” did that explanation “come from” some tradition? Which one? If the wifediddit explanations don’t come from a tradition, why think Godiddit explanations must come from a tradition?
Second, it looks like we’ll have a generality problem here. How does one determine which tradition an explanation comes from? If we say that “God did it” comes from supernaturalism (a very general, broad tradition), then perhaps we’ll run into many problems (we can grant that there have been a lot of failed supernatural explanations in the past). But if we say “God did it” comes from Lutheran Protestantism Christianity (a more specific, narrow tradition), we’ll run into fewer problems (though the Lutherans may have offered some failed explanations in the past, surely they’ve offered fewer than all the supernaturalists in the past). And if we say “God did it” comes from the tradition of scientifically informed theists (a super specific tradition), we’ll run into very few problems, if any. So even if we grant that explanations must “come from” a tradition, why should the theist accept that his explanation “comes from” the problematic general tradition, rather than the unproblematic specific tradition?”

-I think the worry here is mainly that “God did it” for the birth of the universe is simply another “God of the gaps” argument the likes of which has been seen time and time again throughout history. This isn’t a reason to automatically reject this explanation, but I’d say that it’s a strong hint that we should poke around for quite a while in search of a non-supernatural explanation before we begin to consider supernatural ones.

“Third, the history of naturalism itself is littered with explanatory failure. Read Lucretius’ De Rerum Naturae: completely naturalistic, and completely wrong. Read Aristotle’s naturalistic explanations of the natural world: he was really wrong very often. Ptolemy was wrong. Newton was wrong. Either special relativity or quantum mechanics is wrong, since they contradict. The entire history of science is a history of overturning wrong explanations. That overwhelming history of failure has even moved some people to be very skeptical of our current favored explanations! In any event, naturalists have been wrong at least as often as they’ve been right, throughout history. So if theistic explanations are in trouble because of their track record, so are naturalistic explanations! And even more so, from the perspective of a theist. I think theistic explanations have been right way more often than you do, and I think naturalistic explanations have been wrong way more often than you do. So the question of which has a better track record is really controversial, and it seems pretty question-begging to assert that theistic explanations have a worse track record. I’d think you’d actually need to prove that.”

-You are correct in that natural explanations have often been shown to to be wrong, that’s the real reason we require testability. Without it we can’t separate wrong ideas from right ones. With “God did it” there’s really no way to approach the question of whether this is a correct explanation or not. That’s why naturalistic explanations have always managed to eventually get it right in the past despite numerous failures. And if no data points to it, and we can’t test it, why should we even consider it?

“…lacks simplicity…
Why think that “God did it” lacks simplicity? How could any explanation be *more* simple, especially in the star-spelling-John-3:16 situation as I described it?”

-Well it introduces the concept of God which itself is very complex without really providing any information on what is going on.

“…offers no predictive novelty…
I’m not super-sure what this means, but I doubt it’s necessary for a good explanation. I guess it means something like “issues new predictions.” I see the hairdryer out again. I posit this explanation: “My wife did it.” Seems like a really good explanation to me. But does it “offer predictive novelty”? If not, then offering predictive novelty isn’t necessary for a good explanation. If so, what are the novel predictions, and why couldn’t “God did it” offer the same sort of novel predictions in the star-spelling-John-3:16 case?”

-I’d say that “God did it” does in that case, of course predictive novelty is based on the idea that future data you gather will support your theory, and in this case you’re waiting not on just mere data collection but on an event so fundamentally different from anything that has ever happened that it will cast doubt on much of what we know.

“…and has poor explanatory scope.
I don’t really get this one either. Do you mean that “God did it” doesn’t explain very much? Well, big deal. There are lots of good explanations that don’t explain very much. “My wife did it” explains why there’s a hairdryer out, and not much else. Still, it’s a darn good explanation. If we see John 3:16 written in stars, “God did it” seems like a darn good explanation, even if it doesn’t explain much else.
So, I don’t think you’ve given us much reason to think that “God did it” is a terrible explanation. You haven’t even given much reason to think that it’s not a good explanation! Is this what Dawes was up to, or did he have more to say?”

-”Wife did it” provides a model of how a specific household item moved from one location to another by interaction with living humans. This can be extended to other house hold items and beyond allowing for the creation of a theory on how humans interact with objects. “God did it” really doesn’t tell us anything. We want be able to use our theories to construct nice mathematical models of how certain events transpired. Ok, so lets model the beginning of the universe based on “God did it.” So God did it, and that’s basically as far as we can get, our understanding of what is going on hasn’t really improved.

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Clarence November 5, 2010 at 11:21 am

For something to exist there must exist that thing that takes for it to exist. What takes for the universe to exist cannot exist within the universe itself or be bounded by time and space. Us humans live in a time/space dimension where cause and effect happens. according to us everything created must have a creator and something else must’ve created the creator and etc. this is the atheist viewpoint “Who created God”? Well Im about to explain to you…
Either the universe was created from nothing or something immaterial, omnipresent, and timeless created the universe… in our space and time dimension you cannot have an infinite amount of finite things.. If I was to tell u that I will give u 100 dollars if you blink your eyes an infinite amount of times, that will never happen because we will never reach that moment in time. Time is the definition of the measure of change within matter. Now if you existed without time and time is the “measure of changes within matter” that means that you’ll never change you are timeless, there is no past or future only the eternal NOW and in the bible it clearly states that God is the same as yesterday, today, and forever.. so the past present and future are all one…. Now if you existed without matter that means you are immaterial, you cant be seen, tasted, touched, or smelled. Now space is the measure of distances between matter. Now if you existed without space that means you’re in-spacial and not bounded by spacial restrictions.. In other words You are everywhere and God says in his word that the eyes of the lord are every place beholding the evil and the good… Now WHAT DOES THAT TELL YOU?

If you look at the universe you noticed that its order within. scientist have found that out. The Big Bang Theory Violates the First Law of Thermodynamics which states that “matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed under normal circumstances.” yet Evolutionists say that matter came from nothing… Their theory is nothing more than just that… A THEORY!!!! Therefore the cause of everything created must be an agent operating in a dimension completely independent of and preexistent to the time dimension and the cosmos which is ETERNITY. and that force is known as GOD. Who can dispute that when he has made his presence known through his creation?

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Ignostic Morgan [ Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth] December 5, 2010 at 10:37 pm

Luke, both what made and what designed Him are actually to the point! William Sahakian begs the question and special pleads for God’s being different from other beings when he excoriates us for asking who made Him by stating that we use the fallacy of multiple questions. No, the supernaturalists are good at begging questions ” Logic is the bane of theists.” Skeptic Griggsy
We ignostics find that He has no referents and contradictory,incoherent attributes such that He perforce cannot exist!
What is the evidence that He has any attributes and referents? None!. The teleonomic argument alone eviscerates all arguments with intent-cosmological, teleological, miracles, actor in history and so forth that He has no referents . And then each of the arguments themselves reveals no referent for Him.
Yes, God did it or explains why depends on intent when the scientific weight of evidence shows none: thus not only does He violate the Ockham, and thereby is worthlessly redundant, that sophist Planting notwithstanding, He contradicts the scientific finding that teleonomy- no planned outcomes – with His teleology- His planned outcomes. Metaphysics cannot trump science, supernaturalists notwithstanding.
Stebbins, Mayr, Paul B.Weisz and Simpson all attest to no teleology at work! My Facebook friend Dr. Scott notwithstanding, their finding is scientific, not just philosophical as Paul Draper e-mailed me that she has the problem of demarcation wrong.
To find, nevertheless, that very teleology presents the new Omphalos argument that, like the old one, that He deceives, only this time with the appearance of teleonomy! No, no appearance of teleonomy or ages! Wide creationism intent= all theism!
Those two questions underline why His actions = He did it- fail to explain matters as you and Dawes so well put it! To find that teleology is just another argument from ignorance to which supernaturalists resort.
Oh, how about taking on that redoubtable Edward Feser who claims to eviscerate Gnu Atheism in his book against their arguments? He regurgitates Aristotle- Thomism teleology that Thales and Strato eons ago scrapped in science.
Feser argues indirectly that Thomas does not argue that in the contingent argument that everything could become nothing, but old atheists ,like Kai Nielsen, maintains otherwise. What then do you maintain?
Again, why not then take on Feser as trying to undermine the argumentation of the old atheists with his assertion that Aristotle and Aquinas knew better than they about God?
I think that the pre-Socratics are right and Aristotle very wrong in positing intent. One supernaturalist argues that their form of science was not instrumental, but that was because of the Aristotelian influence that whilst in some measure stands up for naturalism, utterly fails in this measure,Luke. And having faith in Aristotle as you know kept back science,albeit He helped in some respects.
I refer to ” Logic and Theism,” the Miracle of Theism,” ” God, Freedom and Immortality,”‘ Arguing about Gods,” ‘ Arguing for Atheism,” and “Atheism Explained: from Folly to Philosophy”‘ as examples of old atheism that call into question the Aristotelian-Thomistic synthesis. Any of those authors eviscerate theism!
Luke, make a map of “Logic and Theism” so to show the vacuousness of the supernatural,please!
Top theologians revel in solecistic, sophisticated sophistry- ignorant, complicated nonsense- of woeful, wily, woo! Theologians rank with the paranormalists, and their use of language cannot gainsay that as woo is woo, and as Paul Kurtz calls the two twin superstitions “The Transcendental Temptation.” Oh, perhaps a map of that book would be in order!
I’m a gnu atheist, because I objurgate the fallacious arguments of the supernatural and the falsity of revealed religions.
Clarence, misunderstands that law. Clarence, read with understanding ” The Grand Design.” Victor Stenger can refute any such misunderstandings!
Then as a fallibilist, along with Kai Nielsen and Oppy, I acknowledge then that I might just err!
Oh,Luke, how about interviewing Stenger, with querying him about where you disagree with him?
Again, thank you.

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Luke Muehlhauser December 5, 2010 at 10:41 pm

A map of Sobel’s “Logic and Theism” would be very nice, yes. :)

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Ignostic Morgan December 5, 2010 at 10:42 pm

Sorry, not Plantinga,but Alister Earl McGrath who finds Him a necessary redundancy.
Please comment on this post and my previous one as they are the essence of our naturalist case against that superstition.

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Ignostic Morgan December 6, 2010 at 12:09 am

Luke, thank you, thank you. I hope that someone wil map that book. Yes, the late Sobel has a formidable book alright! I find Jonathon Harrison’s an easy to read book.
I hope that you might sometime comment on my argumentation in that and other posts here so that I might improve it.
Gnu athiesm is trying to make atheism respectable. Dawkikns is quite nice and urbane in his presentations.
Maybe you could interviiew him and ask him those theologial arguments that his critics find he overlooks. And what do you maintain about Feser’s point about PZ’s courtier reply?
No intent . Know God= no God.
The control would not take my ignosticmorgan#gmail.com this time only.

Goood night.

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Ignostic Morgan December 6, 2010 at 12:12 am

Luke, Dawkins. atheism courtier’s
Yes, patience is such a virtue!

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Samuel Etoou December 18, 2010 at 1:47 am

I disagree with you for thinking that “Who designed the designer?” is a bad argument.Why?

Because the theistic argument itself is based on the idea that everything must have an explanation. So applying this recursively would reach the point of “God did it”. So “Who designed the designer?” is just another form of the question to the theist: Why do you stop at “God did it” and don’t go beyond.

My view is that not everything must have an explanation or else we will enter and endless loop. Somethings may need no explanation but this is to be determined scientifically.

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Rosita December 20, 2010 at 10:01 am

A very interesting article, Luke. It made me think. I like that.

@cartesian

Your celestial John 3:16 miracle argument has significant flaws. If this unnatural phenomena were created by a “god” why must it be the one you believe exists? Why would the text be in English rather than ancient Hebrew (the original Jewish god/s spoke this language) or Chinese (today more people speak Chinese than any other language)? Which English translation of the gospel according to John would it use? Why would it quote this book rather than a passage from one of the rejected Gnostic gospels or a Buddhist text? What would this say about the qualities of the entity or thing responsible? What precludes an imperfect or bad “god” from being responsible for such a display?

The word “god” is not defined, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks according to their background knowledge and experience of what the term means in their culture.

In other words, if such a message turned up in the sky my first thoughts would be that I was suffering from an hallucination or that some human with specific knowledge of the beliefs of late twentieth century American Mid-western Fundamentalist Evangelical Christians has constructed a huge prank. The chances of it being a supernatural event caused by a “god” with these historically insular and parochially unique characteristics defies everything I know about science, psychology and the history of religions.

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JPD February 6, 2011 at 8:02 am

This age old argument will go on. For regardless of who we are, and for that matter where we and our universal surroundings come from,science and,or spirituality will only bring about our true answers when our own consciousness can bring us to the knowledge we so desperately seek. There are many intriguing and stimulating arguments here, but neither atheist or theist or the chicken or the egg can begin to fully comprehend these answers or this knowledge at this point in time.

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Rosita February 6, 2011 at 11:55 am

“neither atheist or theist – - – can begin to fully comprehend these answers or this knowledge at this point in time”

Assertion without proof.

“science and,or spirituality will only bring about our true answers when our own consciousness can bring us to the knowledge we so desperately seek”

Assertion without sense.

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JPD February 7, 2011 at 1:46 pm

TaiChi, ayer, Luke and everybody else:
Thank you for your comments on this thread. I’m learning heaps!One question to anyone who cares to answer: is there a possible world in which God does not create anything?  

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Rosita February 8, 2011 at 5:16 am

@JPD,
That world exists right here!

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JPD February 8, 2011 at 9:07 am

Even though i did not submit the above comment,i would say if you believe in god then you believe he is responsible for all creation.If he does not then obviously none.

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JPD February 8, 2011 at 9:47 am

Religions and philosophers assert there ideas on to us without real proof. Even science is also only theoretical or asserted until proven with fact. Showing us that the lack of our understanding will take time until we ourselves can answer these many age old questions.

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George February 11, 2011 at 10:01 pm

I found this blog kind of by accident, simply by googling “who designed the designer?”. I am an atheist.
I think the original article by Luke, as well as most of the comments here, in my opinion miss the point almost entirely.
The question “who designed the designer?”, is merely an appetizer, a prelude to the real point. The main course, or deeper point is that invoking God as the creator using the logic that highly complex organisms such as living beings must have been designed also implies that God, necessarily more complex than that which he disigned, must also have been designed by a higher GGod and that GGOD by a higher GGGOD, and so on , leading to an absurd infinite regress.
In my case, as an atheist, I am not demanding that the theist have an explanation for God, in much the same way as I don’t demand that I have an explanation for what caused the Big Bang. What I am demanding, is that theists see that their proposition leads to a ridiculous infinite regress of designers….infinite regress…infinite regress, whereas the proposition that matter/energy has is eternal does not invoke a ridiculous infinite regress.
Theism works in opposite direction to evolution. Theism postulates that high order complexity comes first, in fact , that it is eternal. Evolutionary science posits that simple particles and simple natural laws come first, which then converge and evolve into more complex particles, laws, and organisms. Its ultimately a philosophical questions of which is more likely, that complexity slowly emerges from simplicity(evolution) or
that the highest possible complexity (God) comes first and all other things follow.

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Luke Muehlhauser February 11, 2011 at 10:27 pm

George,

The point you raise has been discussed elsewhere on this blog, in great detail – but it is beyond the scope of this post. This post doesn’t “miss” “the point”, it just focuses on one particular (other) point.

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Polymeron February 12, 2011 at 5:09 am

George,
I’ll sum it up for you. Yes, the main reason this is brought is as an answer to the Creationist argument that complex things imply design, and it does show the absurdity of this argument ending in “Goddidit”. But as a more general argument against god, the theists have several answers to it:

1. Only physical things require a designer. The theistic position postulates an immaterial designer. Personally I see this as special pleading, but it does stop the infinite regress.

2. This argument fails to address the KCA’s “uncaused cause”, which in fact uses infinte regress to show that such a cause must exist. I do think however that it makes a good start on challenging the theistic position that such a cause must be presonal.

3. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Dawkins’ argument (and your interpretation) is in probabilities – how probable or improbable a first designer is. The mainstream theistic position is that such a being is necessary rather than contingent; therefore probabilities do not apply. Either the theistic god is impossible, or it must exist. That’s actually a fancy bit of legwork on behalf of theologians, but what are you going to do. Dawkins does make a good case against the contingent god hypothesis; unfortunately that is not what most theistic dogmas include.

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Rosita February 12, 2011 at 8:20 am

Polymeron,
Thanks for the summary the list of objections. I have some comments.
1. Yes, I agree that exempting non-physical things from the need for creation or design is special pleading. It is purely conjectural. It cannot be empirically demonstrated, proved or disproved. It must be taken “on faith”. The argument also implies that non-physical things can create physical things. I cannot think of one instance where this has been demonstrated in our known universe – unless you count the extremely simple “potential energy” of quantum physics that has been conjectured to by astrophysicists to be the real cause of the universe. Of course, that would invalid the “necessary complex being” posited by theologians.
2. The KCM, as used by theologians, makes a conjectural leap from assuming that there must be a cause of the universe to assuming that this cause must be more complex than anything that has evolved from the universe so far. This is inconsistent with what we know about how complexity arises in this universe and is thus another instance of special pleading without empirical evidence.

The KCM also makes the leap of assuming that this ultra-complex entity is sentient, mindful and has a human-like personality and manner of thinking. There is no reason to suppose this other than human-generated religious text and dogma.

3. The theist god (super-complex, sentient and humanly personal) is a logical knight’s jump from a contingent “first cause” that is posited as necessary to begin the universe. A simple mindless quantum fluctuation in potential energy will fill the bill quite nicely. Theologians then leave the listener to infer that the contingent complex entity has all the attributes that their particular religious background attributes to something given the name of “god”. If this happens to overlap to a reasonable extent with the beliefs of the apologist then the apologist has won over his victim. This is devious sophistry. It might not work so well if the argument is used by a Muslim to persuade a Christian that Allah is the creator of the universe and that the Jesus mind had nothing to do with it at all.

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George February 15, 2011 at 10:36 am

Fully in agreement with you guys.
I am not a formal philosopher so I have to come at you with a somewhat simpler mindset.

The point of the main article is well taken, there is no question that rebutting a theist with “whe designed the designer?” is not fatal to his line of argument, and I agree that the best approach is to expound on the implausibility of the “god did it” explanation.

However , I do think that asking “who designed the designer?” is a good entry point to show that the Intelligent Design argument quickly makes a logical U-turn conveniently when their own argument of “complex, thus must have ID” is turned on their god.
At that point, the theist conveniently pulls a rabbit from under his sleeve and explains that “god” is a very special case that cannot really be argued with.

My point to the theist is that rather than invoking an eternal, all powerful , magical , “god”, is it not more reasonable, economical, and consistent with “reality”, that we posit that matter/energy and the simple fundamental laws that govern it are “eternal” and “uncaused”? Why invoke an undefined, magical entity, that we have absolutely no evidence for, and who was given birth in the myths and superstitions of primitive tribes?

The evidence that in nature complexity arises from simplicity is everywhere. Proteins, amino acids, RNA, DNA, are basically nothing more than complex arrangements of atoms, where the atom is the more simple and fundamental component, which itself is composed of simpler and more fundamental components.
Evidence abounds that matter tends to be stable in its simplest states, and unstable in complex states. Living beings are very complex arrangements of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, etc, that are very unstable…and at the slightest prompting will decompose and revert to a more stable and simpler configuration.
Therefore to posit that “god” is extremely complex , extremely stable(eternal), and also that it comes first….adds to the implausibility argument.

Scientific facts have been hard won as a result of arduous , hard work, rigorous cross-checking and verification, and based on repeatable observations and evidence. Science is based on fundamental honesty in the quest for answers…and when the point comes where there are no answers, science puts for the statement “we don’t know”, but it may be this or that, etc. Intellectual Honesty.

Theism and religion come from a different angle, purporting to be certain about things they are in fact not in the least certain of. So certain, in fact, that they are willing to kill for their beliefs at the slightest prompting. To me this equates to fundamental dishonesty, Intellectual Dishonesty.

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George February 18, 2011 at 11:37 am

Another couple of points I forgot to make to the theists that have posted here.

The validity of a Theory is reinforced by its ability to make predictions about reality, its ability to be a succesful model of what is real and what we can expect to occur when certain conditions are present.

The God theory, and much more the ” anthropomorphic, all-knowing, merciful, loving, omniscient, omnipotent, omni-everything, omni-jealous, omni-vengeful” God theory that gets pushed out onto society is absolutely the type of theory that has ALL the power in the world to MAKE PREDICTIONS and show to all without a doubt that it is correct. Yet it makes NO CREDIBLE PREDICTIONS, of the type that this theory should be able to make. An all knowing God should be able to know and tell us absolutely anything about the future,or make anything incredible happen upon command, things that no human could predict or make happen, yet all we get are vague garbled mumblings ,nothing concrete.
It is equivalent to making the statement “I have a cure for cancer”, but I am going to not prove it and just keep this info to myself, you guys can just have faith in my truthfulness. By refusing to prove my statement to anyone by curing some people, or all people with cancer, becoming richer than Bill Gates, etc all win-win motivations for proving my statement correct, the fact that I do not prove it and just mouth it, adds to the implausibility of my statement being correct, such is the case with the “anthropomorhpic god” theory that is pushed by religion.

It is absolutely funny to me that we as humans, require evidence for just about every aspect of our lives, can I trust this doctor, friend, mechanic, hairdresser, babysitter, etc, we look for evidence before we deposit trust in things that affect our daily lives, but in arguably one of the most important and life-altering concepts, that of “ultimate truth” many people rely on stories, fairytales, old books, what parents or pastors taught them as kids, all of which have no real evidence attached to them.

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Lukas March 13, 2011 at 4:48 am

While everything you write is true, I still think the “atheist objection” remains valid, because it attacks the logic of the believer’s argument, not the God hypothesis itself. After all, the believer makes a very specific argument: “Everything needs a cause. Therefore, the universe needs a cause. Therefore, God did it.” Now, there is a logical problem in that reasoning. If everything needs a cause, then gods need a cause, therefore “god did it” is not a solution to the problem.

If the believer then argues that God is the one thing that doesn’t need an explanation, then again, the argument doesn’t logically hold up, because if we’re making exceptions to the statement on which the whole argument is based (“everything needs a cause, expect one thing”), then it could be reasoned that (for example) the universe itself could be that special thing that doesn’t require an explanation, and that argument would be just as valid as the believer’s.

That doesn’t mean that the God hypothesis couldn’t be a good hypothesis if the believer arrived at it in some other ways, it merely means that this specific argument doesn’t work, because it’s internally inconsistent.

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Luage March 13, 2011 at 4:51 am

You got it all wrong, the argument goes like this (sorry for my bad english):

THEIST: The world is so wonderfull and complex that it must have had a creator.

ME: Well this creator must have been of equal complexity right?

THEIST: Yes…

ME: So with the same argument that creator MUST also have been created.

THEIST: Wait, what….

ME: And the creators creator must again have had a creator.

THEIST: ….

A SMART THEIST STEPS INTO THE SCENE: Well how do you know that the creator is of equal complexity to the world? And how do you know that there arn’t just an infinite line of creators?

ME: Well I don’t. However I have just show that with your logick a omnipotent being can not exist. So there are three solutions. (The infinite line of creators can not be. It’s a long argument but it has something to do with us being at the END of an infinite row, thus making it NOT infinite.)

1. There is an omnipotent creator, but the complexity of the world is NOT proof of his (her) existence.

2. There is a creator, and the complexity of the world is “proof” of it’s existence. However this creator is not omnipotent since if it were it would again have another creator.

3. There is no creator.

^You see wich of thouse makes the most sence?

(In my above statement I asume that a being that can oversee the whole world at once (omnipotent) has to be as complex as the the world.)

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Martin March 13, 2011 at 8:38 am

Lukas,

Everything needs a cause.

No cosmological argument says such silly nonsense.

Leibniz versions suggest that all contingent propositions have explanations, which leaves open the possibility of necessary propositions not requiring explanations.

Kalam versions say that whatever begins to exist has a cause, and leaves open the possibility of beginningless entities (like numbers) not requiring a cause.

And Thomistic versions argue for a first sustaining cause, not a first cause in time.

William Rowe, an atheist philosopher who formulated the most popular version of the argument from evil, is simultaneously a defender of cosmological arguments and wrote a whole book about them.

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poban March 13, 2011 at 9:49 am

How do we know that a god created the universes?? What is the methodology used to verify or deduce the characteristics of a god?? If the answer is by definition then its going to take the discussion nowhere as for eg yahwehfucker will be by definition a being which fucks yahweh. You might argue that yahweh is immaterial so he cannot be fucked but yahwehfucker by definition makes yaweh into the physical being and fucks him. No matter what the christians’ response will be, there can always be a counter response i.e. by definition he does that and by definition he exists..

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Esteban R. (Formerly Steven R.) March 13, 2011 at 10:22 am

Ah, good, I’ve been wanting to challenge this post of yours Luke. I agree that “Who Designed the Designer?” may not be an adequate response at times, however, the reasons why we can’t have an infinite regress of questions do not apply to the question when it is brought up most of the time.

Consider “A drought may explain a poor crop, even if we don’t understand why there was a drought”, but this is because the question “What caused the poor crop?” has been answered and “What caused a drought?” deals with entirely different concepts and by no means is related to the question of what caused the poor crops. On the other hand, when answering (stupid) questions like “Why is there something instead of nothing?”, the addition of God does nothing to help. After all, God is something so that doesn’t help; the explanation given doesn’t help answer the question, unlike the drought. The same goes for “Everything must have a cause” or any claim along those lines. Given this context, asking who caused God also seems appropriate, since the question was never answered, only postponed.

The Theist, of course, can play word games and say stuff like “God must necessarily exist”, but, upon analysis, this seems to fail. But until they do (and I’m not even convinced God is “necessary” in the same way as mathematics along with other criticisms that I want to develop) bring up stuff like that, asking this question is valid.

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Martin March 13, 2011 at 10:32 am

when answering (stupid) questions like “Why is there something instead of nothing?”

Generally, it is agreed that the existence of something needs explanation, not the non-existence. I don’t need to provide an explanation of why an elephant is not in my room. However, if there were an elephant in my room, this would require an explanation. I think most people would agree with this.

After all, God is something so that doesn’t help; the explanation given doesn’t help answer the question, unlike the drought.

Think of it like this:


(1) Everything contingent requires an explanation
(2) The set {all contingent facts} is itself a contingent fact
(3) Therefore, the set {all contingent facts} requires an explanation
(4) The explanation cannot itself be contingent (because then it would be just one more member of the set)
(5) Therefore, the explanation for the set {all contingent facts} must be a necessary fact

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Rob March 13, 2011 at 10:41 am

This is Luke’s worst post.

“Who Designed the Designer?” is an important rhetorical question. The question is an attempt to provide the theist with insight into her own confused reasoning.

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MauricXe March 13, 2011 at 10:41 am

Dawkins does make a good case against the contingent god hypothesis; unfortunately that is not what most theistic dogmas include

Exactly. Most of the objections against Dawkins’ argument, including Luke’s, is a strawman. Interesting because Dawkins makes a strawman himself lol.

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bob March 13, 2011 at 10:45 am

Thanks Luke!

I think this got stuck in my brain because of Dawkins but when you really think about it both Ts and ATs get stuck in the infinite regress. ATs have more explanatory power in science and that is what attracts me.
There is a tendency by some Ts to recognize normal events as miracles and to interpret everything in that way. So in normal conversation if a T sees many miracles credited to the supernatural what is to be done? I usally ignore such things or only address the most damaging ones.

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Martin March 13, 2011 at 10:53 am

Rob,

“Who Designed the Designer?” is an important rhetorical question.

Since in classical theism, the name “God” with a capital “G” is thought of as the “greatest conceivable being.”

So asking “Who made God?” can be translated as “Who made the greatest conceivable being?” or “Who is greater than the greatest conceivable being?”

It’s a nonsensical question. “Who is taller than the tallest man?” “Which mountain is taller than the tallest mountain?”

Secondly, since the God of classical theism is also thought of as necessary, not contingent, then this question is also like asking “Who created the number 3?”

So in addition to Luke’s (correct) argument that an explanation doesn’t need an explanation, that’s a triple whammy against this common atheist trope which never seems to die no matter how many times it’s shot in the head.

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Rob March 13, 2011 at 11:13 am

Martin,

Your reasoning is backwards.

With a design argument, the theist does not start off with (or should not anyway) some preconceived notion of God defined the way you have. So, my criticism stands.

Of course you see degenerate apologists try to sneak this kind of crap in the back door, as you have.

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Esteban R. (Formerly Steven R.) March 13, 2011 at 11:20 am

Generally, it is agreed that the existence of something needs explanation, not the non-existence. I don’t need to provide an explanation of why an elephant is not in my room. However, if there were an elephant in my room, this would require an explanation. I think most people would agree with this.

The problem with this is that when we extend it to the principle of anything existing at all, the question makes no sense. The explanation would be something and thus the question left unanswered. I agree, in most cases, the existence of something needs an explanation, but I’m not so sure there is a possible explanation to the question.

Even a necessary fact doesn’t answer the question. As I understand it, such a fact is something that cannot be untrue and no situation we can think of would make it untrue, or, as Wittgenstein put it, something true in all possible worlds. But this doesn’t help us when contemplating why something (and necessary facts are something) exists instead of nothing (AKA none of the possible worlds exist, and so, it seems that necessary facts are quite out of their scope when considering nothing). At any rate, I’m not convinced that we can even begin to address the question, since it is quite beyond our scope of reasoning.

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Esteban R. (Formerly Steven R.) March 13, 2011 at 11:30 am

Rob,
Since in classical theism, the name “God” with a capital “G” is thought of as the “greatest conceivable being.”
So asking “Who made God?” can be translated as “Who made the greatest conceivable being?” or “Who is greater than the greatest conceivable being?”It’s a nonsensical question. “Who is taller than the tallest man?” “Which mountain is taller than the tallest mountain?”

What the hell does the “greatest conceivable being” even mean? Classical Theism is infamous for spouting nonsense. Just like “God is” and passing that off as something of any value or coherence.

Secondly, since the God of classical theism is also thought of as necessary, not contingent, then this question is also like asking “Who created the number 3?”So in addition to Luke’s (correct) argument that an explanation doesn’t need an explanation, that’s a triple whammy against this common atheist trope which never seems to die no matter how many times it’s shot in the head.  

Well, you have to prove that God is a necessary being. The objection is valid until you prove God is necessary, and it seems to me that this definition of necessary is much more different than the one about numbers.

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Martin March 13, 2011 at 11:37 am

Esteban,

But then which premise is untrue in my admittedly quick and sloppy argument?
(3) and (5) are both conclusions that follow logically. (1) is true by definition. So that leaves (2) and (4).

(4) seems like it must be true, since its nonsensical to state that the explanation for the set {all contingent facts} is contingent, because then the explanation is just part of the set.

I presume you could have a problem with (2):

The set {all contingent facts} is itself a contingent fact

This seems to be where your objection lies. Perhaps you want to argue that the set {all contingent facts} is necessary, and not contingent. Hmm….

Try this on for size:

Let the set {all contingent things} = the universe = all spacetime, matter, and the laws of physics


(6) Everything that could conceivably have been different is contingent
(7) The universe could conceivably have been different
(8) Therefore, the universe is contingent

(6) is true by definition. (7) seems to be true because cosmologists are always theorizing how things would be if the universe had expanded slower, or faster, or if there had been less matter, or more, or if the physical constants had been different, etc.

Does that work?

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Martin March 13, 2011 at 11:46 am

What the hell does the “greatest conceivable being” even mean?

Knows everything, can do anything. Gaunilo provided the objection that he can conceive of a greatest conceivable island, and so the greatest conceivable being is nonsensical. But Guanilo’s island objection is what seems to be nonsensical. There are no inherent maximums in the qualities of an island: there can always be more beaches, more palm trees, etc. It’s like saying that you can conceive of the greatest conceivable integer.

But omniscience and omnipotence have inherent maximums. You can’t know more than everything. You can’t do more than anything.

Well, you have to prove that God is a necessary being.

Theists don’t have to prove that God is necessary to define him as such. Unicorns are defined as horses with one horn, without me having to prove they exist. And in fact, they don’t, but they are still defined that way. If someone railed against unicorns for having three horns, I would also respond that this is an attack upon something that is not a unicorn.

Similarly, whether God exists or not, he is classically defined as omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, and necessarily existent. If someone wants to object that “someone must have made God”, then inherently they are describing God as contingent, not necessary, and thus they rail against a strawman.

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Patrick March 13, 2011 at 11:53 am

Dear Luke,

I work in law. We have a concept called “legal engineering.” Its when someone wants to do something that is normally illegal or tortious or in violation of a contract, but they don’t want to get in trouble. So they hire a bunch of lawyers to come up with some roundabout way they can get the practical effect of the illegal or tortious or contractually prohibited action, but without technically violating these rules. For example, if you want to make it legal to imprison anyone you want forever without ever explaining why, you might argue that the President has the unreviewable power to determine who is a terrorist, that the President has the power to order terrorists arrested and held indefinitely as foreign combatants even if they’re not foreign and even if they are not engaged in combat for any particular combat organization, and that foreign combatants held in specific locations that are not technically American soil nor technically foreign soil are not subject to US or foreign laws. By putting all of these together you end up where you want to go.

In order to understand some particular piece of circuitous legal engineering, you first need to understand what it is that they are engineering around. If you didn’t know that the US has something called habeus corpus, that entire process wouldn’t make sense.

There is also philosophical engineering. Its called theology. Its a process by which people take the ancient documents of a bunch of raiders who worshiped a blood drenched war god called Yahweh, and adjust it little by little over the centuries to keep this intellectual tradition alive and in keeping with the moral beliefs and scientific knowledge of their generation. Slowly but surely, this monster of pillage and ruin who resided in a magical kingdom above the water dome covering the earth has moved to another dimension, where he is now the ultimate exemplar of loveliness and kittens. And arguments for his existence have grown in complexity from the utter stupidity of the ontological argument (it proves the existence of Santa Claus, guys) to the much more effectively hidden stupidity of the modal ontological argument, which is still dumb but at least is impenetrable to people who don’t understand modal logic.

And in every case, if you want to understand why theism is engineered over time in the way that it is, you have to understand what it is engineered around.

The first cause argument is a great example of this. The first cause argument has a major flaw in that it posits an infinite chain of causes and effects, includes in its premises that effects need causes, and then posits an uncaused cause… in violation of its premise. In modern times this level of dumb is no longer acceptable, so a veritable army of hidden premises and extra adjectives are employed to philosophically engineer around this problem. All CONTINGENT events, perhaps, have causes, and God is not contingent cuz I said. All NATURAL events have causes, so the argument works as long as you assume the existence of the supernatural as a premise. And so on. These are where most of the flaws in the modern incarnations of the first cause argument reside. The issue they’re engineering around is a big one.

Understanding this is important, and its not a trivial issue. People constantly forget to even do the philosophical engineering, because lets be honest, the problem is such a big one that its easier to ignore it than to work around it. And it either case its worth mentioning this because the moment one of the philosophical engineering efforts fails… the “who designed the designer” problem climbs back out of the woodwork and torches the kalam argument and drags its children off for breeding purposes in exactly the same way the ancient tribesmen believed Yahweh endorsed.

Patrick who is not Patrick

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Rob March 13, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Thanks Patrick. I did not have the patience, but that is exactly what I was getting at.

“In modern times this level of dumb is no longer acceptable, so a veritable army of hidden premises and extra adjectives are employed to philosophically engineer around this problem.”

And here we see Martin playing this shell game. Whether he realizes it or not.

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Martin March 13, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Rob and Patrick,

I provided a deductive argument. You have three choices:

1. Deny the conclusion anyway, on pain of irrationality
2. Provide an argument that shows one of the premises false
3. Provide an elaborate version of “Look over there! What in the world can that be?!” as you and Patrick have done

Number 2 is the path of rationality. 1 and 3 are the paths of rhetoric, and will place you right alongside the theists that you hate so much.

It’s your choice.

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Rob March 13, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Martin,

I do not recognize your contingent/necessary distinction. It’s a metaphysical word game. I don’t play. Bertrand Russell handles this well in his debate with Copleston.

But if I did play the game, then it seems to me the necessary fact would be the quantum void. And there is no sense praying to or worshiping the void.

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Luke Muehlhauser March 13, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Again, I’ll repeat:

There are many good objections to theism along the lines of ‘who designed the designer?’ What I did in this post is pick out a particular version of that objection that fails, and I explained why it fails.

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Martin March 13, 2011 at 12:34 pm

I do not recognize your contingent/necessary distinction.

It’s not mine. It’s from propositional logic. OK, so you want to deny the very existence of logic. I suppose you can do that if you want, but it doesn’t seem a fruitful avenue to me, and opens you up to criticisms from theists: “Look at those crazy atheists! They are so dogmatic they have to deny logic to keep their worldview intact!”

Have fun with that, but you can count me out.

Bertrand Russell handles this well in his debate with Copleston.

In the Copleston debate, Russell maintained that “necessary” can only apply to analytic propositions: “But, to my mind, a ‘necessary proposition’ has got to be analytic. I don’t see what else it can mean. ”

I.e., an analytic statement is one that is true by definition. But Kripke did away with this by showing synthetic necessary propositions (all horses are mammals) and analytic contingent propositions (the prototype metre bar is one meter long).

the necessary fact would be the quantum void.

A vacuum consists of spacetime, which seems to be contingent. Spacetime can be warped, as Einstein showed, and time can be slowed down and sped up. The spacetime of the universe is expanding as we speak. Spacetime consists of four dimensions: three of space and one of time. It seems that something that can be measured, warped, slowed down, sped up, expand, and contract is something that could conceivably be different and is, hence, contingent, not necessary.

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bram March 13, 2011 at 12:40 pm

This line of argument is used because of the way that the designer argument is issued. Usually it goes something like this:
-Something (like finetuning constants or something else) is very complex;
-complex stuff needs a designer;
-this something needs a designer.

In this case, it is not so weird to say:
-this designer must also be pretty complex;
-complex stuff needs a designer;
-this designer needs a designer himself.

Not because it is a great argument in itself (I agree with Luke here) but because it shows the flaw in the original argument. It is exactly the same argument and yet the theist would want to make us believe that the first one is valid and the second one is not.

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Rob March 13, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Martin,

You ignored the relevant part of Russell’s objection.

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Patrick who is not Patrick March 13, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Martin: Here, you can have this for free.

Y = X for all X > 0

That’s a mathematical set where every point in the set has an infinite number of prior points, but there is no infinite regress. The set has a left most bound.

If Kalam is deductive, then this refutes it. It provides a possible scenario under which the premises of Kalam are true, but no infinite regress is found. Without an infinite regress, no hypothesis to escape an infinite regress is needed, and the argument runs out of gas.

Now, it might be true that this mathematical function, while technically satisfying the premises of the Kalam argument, is not actually a good description of the universe. But in order for you to use that in your argument, you would need to do all of the following:

1. Admit Kalam fails as a deductive argument because its premises are not sound, but argue that its premises are plausible enough that Kalam is inductively useful, and

2. Explain whatever arguments you used to prove that time does not operate under Y = X for all X > 0, and

3. Explain how the methodologies used in developing those arguments don’t also destroy the hypothesis of a magical universe creating superbeing outside time and space.

My guess is that you won’t even be able to get past point 1, because “Dr.” William Lane Craig once wrote an article telling Christians how to do deductive logic, and he got it wrong. He claimed that if you “accept” the premises of a deductive argument, then it is irrational to reject its conclusions. This is of course stupid. Valid deductive arguments guarantee that IF the premises are true, THEN the conclusions must be true. They do not tell you anything at all about the likelihood of the truth of the conclusions if the premises are merely “accepted” as true under a particular methodology. To answer that you have to use the rules of inductive reasoning. Anyways, ever since Craig got that wrong, every Christian I’ve talked to on the internet has been committed to the belief that deduction can be valid even if possible counter examples exist. So… yeah.

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Haukur March 13, 2011 at 1:47 pm

This is a memorable post, Luke. It more or less convinced me that I don’t have enough philosophical skills or knowledge to properly evaluate arguments on theism/atheism. I’d always considered this “Who designed the designer?” argument to be strong but you demonstrate very clearly that it isn’t.

I conclude that reading a few popular books (and a very one-sided list at that) as well as some blogs probably hasn’t equipped me to have a very informed opinion on this sort of thing.

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Jugglable March 13, 2011 at 1:59 pm

The God I believe in is not a God of explanation. He’s not a scientific God. That’s insulting to God–it conceives of him as one competing force among many — electromagnetism, God, gravity, the atomic weak force, etc. — it’s a fundamental category error. God is NOT one fussy competing force among many, but the ground of contingency which exists in and through all things. His existence can be demonstrated by the argument from contingency, logically and deductively. And if the conclusion follows deductively, it doesn’t matter if you don’t like the argument or if it doesn’t “explain” anything. Poetry doesn’t “explain” anything. Moral values and duties don’t “explain” anything, either. But they’re valuable.

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Martin March 13, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Patrick,

The argument I presented above has nothing to do with Kalam, and is immune to the length of time the universe has been in existence.

They do not tell you anything at all about the likelihood of the truth of the conclusions if the premises are merely “accepted” as true under a particular methodology

Uhhhh…. what?

What he’s saying is that if you think the premises are true, then you cannot escape the conclusion. And so the debate boils down to whether the premises are true or not. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell, but this is true of any deductive argument.

All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Socrates is mortal.

I accept premise 1 and premise 2, but I can’t prove them. I accept them as more likely to be true than false, and so the conclusion is more likely to be true than false also.

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Luke Muehlhauser March 13, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Haukur,

Thanks!

Several other people have told me that this post really impacted them, but unfortunately they don’t tend to comment. :)

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Esteban R. (Formerly Steven R.) March 13, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Knows everything, can do anything.

Problem number 1: what is “everything” and “anything”? Both concepts seem pretty incoherent when applied outside what already exists. Can you know something that doesn’t yet exist or has never existed? It doesn’t seem so.

But no matter, let’s assume you can know something that doesn’t exist or has never existed. Let’s use your objection to Guanilo’s Island. There are no maximums to what can be had on the island, but they are part of “everything”, so it seems that there is, indeed, no maximum on what you can know, as there would be infinite beaches and more palm trees to know.

If you can’t know what hasn’t existed, then God is incapable of being the creator of anything because it wouldn’t have existed and thus, God would not know what to create. Not only that, but God’s knowledge of “everything” (that is, everything in existence) would always be changing, and be different and different points in time. Thus, the God of 200 years ago would be inferior to the God of today, as the God of today would know more. I’m not sure how this exactly fits with the concept of the greatest possible being.

What does it mean to be able to do anything? Can you create an unliftable rock? The request is, after all, logically possible, unlike a square circle. Indeed, does the illogical and contradictory qualify as “anything”? How does the concept of “anything” even work?

Furthermore, is nonsense knowable? It may not be possible of existing, or even being conceived, but it certainly is something, which, it would seem, would make it a part of everything. And isn’t nonsense also part of anything? Indeed, even illogical, paradoxical things seem to be part of “anything”. See, these terms are incredibly silly.

Also, knowing everything and being able to do anything doesn’t help you. You may know everything and be able to do anything, but that doesn’t make you logically exempt from having a creator. After all, the creator of the creator could also know everything and do anything. So, that objection doesn’t seem to work.

Gaunilo provided the objection that he can conceive of a greatest conceivable island, and so the greatest conceivable being is nonsensical. But Guanilo’s island objection is what seems to be nonsensical. There are no inherent maximums in the qualities of an island: there can always be more beaches, more palm trees, etc. It’s like saying that you can conceive of the greatest conceivable integer.But omniscience and omnipotence have inherent maximums. You can’t know more than everything. You can’t do more than anything.

1. If we assume infinity can exist, then an island with never ending sequences of beaches and palms is conceivable and would indeed lead to the greatest possible island
2. If we assume that infinity cannot exist, then whatever the limit is would apply and that would be our Island

Theists don’t have to prove that God is necessary to define him as such. Unicorns are defined as horses with one horn, without me having to prove they exist. And in fact, they don’t, but they are still defined that way. If someone railed against unicorns for having three horns, I would also respond that this is an attack upon something that is not a unicorn.
Similarly, whether God exists or not, he is classically defined as omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, and necessarily existent. If someone wants to object that “someone must have made God”, then inherently they are describing God as contingent, not necessary, and thus they rail against a strawman.  

Actually, when presenting a deductive argument as the one that would prompt the objection “who created the creator?” is valid. You deduct which qualities God has based on the argument, you don’t assume them. As Rob says, you’re having your logic backwards.

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Esteban R. (Formerly Steven R.) March 13, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Esteban,But then which premise is untrue in my admittedly quick and sloppy argument?
(3) and (5) are both conclusions that follow logically. (1) is true by definition. So that leaves (2) and (4).
(4) seems like it must be true, since its nonsensical to state that the explanation for the set {all contingent facts} is contingent, because then the explanation is just part of the set.I presume you could have a problem with (2):
This seems to be where your objection lies. Perhaps you want to argue that the set {all contingent facts} is necessary, and not contingent. Hmm….Try this on for size:Let the set {all contingent things} = the universe = all spacetime, matter, and the laws of physics
(6) is true by definition. (7) seems to be true because cosmologists are always theorizing how things would be if the universe had expanded slower, or faster, or if there had been less matter, or more, or if the physical constants had been different, etc.Does that work?  

No, my objection is that anything that is “fact” or “explanation” would seem to be something, making the question of “Why does something exist instead of nothing” a nonsensical question. Any answer given is something and thus, the question is left unanswered. This, I think, is a problem with the question itself. It makes no sense to ask it.

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Patrick who is not Patrick March 13, 2011 at 2:44 pm

I accept premise 1 and premise 2, but I can’t prove them. I accept them as more likely to be true than false, and so the conclusion is more likely to be true than false also.  

Fail.

This is going to be Craig’s greatest sin. And the man’s got a lot of them.

“I accept [the premises] as more likely to be true than false”

does not lead to

“and so the conclusion is more likely to be true than false also.”

That is not how logical deduction works. That’s just trivially obvious if you understand the slightest thing about reasoning. And the fact that Craig says otherwise enrages me because it literally hurts people like you who believe him. You might otherwise be a more rational person if he hadn’t written that bit of stupidity.

Let me just run a few proofs by you. Here’s the easiest one.

1. X is true.
2. Y is true.
3. If X and Y, then Z.
4. Therefore Z.

That’s a valid deductive argument. Now lets think about it under several different scenarios.

Suppose that our evidence that X is true is that its 60% likely, and we decide that makes it more likely than not. The same for Y. Can we conclude that Z is true? No! The probability that X and Y are simultaneously true is .6*.6 = .36, so the best we can conclude is that given this information Z is 36% likely. That is NOT more likely than not.

But Craig will come in at this point and claim that he doesn’t like assigning numbers to probability. Of course he’s a hypocritical liar who happily uses Bayes when it suits him, but he’s speaking to his serfs and knows they won’t catch him in this.

So lets run it without numbers.

Suppose I just think that X is more likely than not, and Y is more likely than not. Does it follow that the likelihood that BOTH X AND Y ARE SIMULTANEOUSLY TRUE is more likely than not? Of course it doesn’t! I can believe that a great many things are each individually more likely than not, but simultaneously believe that it is more likely than not that I got at least one wrong.

For example, I have done a lot of legal hearings. We’re talking hundreds. In each hearing I believe that it is more likely than not that I did a good job. However, I also believe that it is more likely than not that I have screwed up at least one hearing without realizing it. There is no contradiction. The former is a set of statements about individual hearings. The latter is a single statement about all hearings collectively. We can come up with examples all day. A judge might believe that every ruling he has made was individually more likely than not the right decision, but also believe that it is more likely than not that at least once in his career he has made an error. A basketball player may believe that it is more likely than not that he will sink any individual free throw, but also believe that it is more likely than not that he will miss at least some free throws.

This is NOT HARD. A valid deductive argument only tells us that IF its premises are true, THEN its conclusion is true. It doesn’t tell us anything at all about what happens if its premises are merely accepted a true under a given methodology because that methodology doesn’t go away once you accept the premises! The assumptions that went into the decision of what should or should not be accepted as true are still active, and still have an effect on the plausibility of the conclusion of the argument!

Deductive reasoning is not a bootstrap.

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Rob March 13, 2011 at 2:47 pm

I accept them as more likely to be true than false, and so the conclusion is more likely to be true than false also.

Oh boy. Epic fail.

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Esteban R. (Formerly Steven R.) March 13, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Luke:

Again, I’ll repeat:There are many good objections to theism along the lines of ‘who designed the designer?’ What I did in this post is pick out a particular version of that objection that fails, and I explained why it fails.  

Ah, sorry didn’t read the comments posted prior. Really busy at the moment. I thought you were saying that such an objection could never be valid, which, although I first accepted your argument (or, at least how I had understood your argument), I later realized that this may not always be the case.

Indeed, this is a great, great post, not the least of which it sets parameters for what questions can and should be asked. Despite my eagerness to challenge it, I did find it interesting. Now if only Dawkins would read this and drop that Gambit of his :P

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Patrick who is not Patrick March 13, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Heh. This example just occurred to me.

Imagine a student taking the SAT. He believes that on question 1, his answer was more likely than not correct. He believes that on question 2, his answer was more likely than not correct. He continues to believe this about each question, all the way through the hundreds of questions on the test. He also knows that if his answer on question 1 is true, and his answer on question 2 is true, etc, for all the questions on the test, then he has a perfect score.

Is it irrational of him not to believe that he has a perfect score?

If so, how many students do you think have no rational option but to believe they got a perfect score (because there is no individual question they think they more likely than not answered incorrectly), and yet nevertheless do not receive perfect scores?

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mopey March 13, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Jay Richards says there has to be a “resting place” for explanation. Maybe, but only to accommodate our current extent of explanation. Could we in theory explain it all? I’m not holding my breath. The god ‘explanation’ sure saves a lot of work and time.

However, I think it is a legitimate question to ask how could a being with all the sorts of qualities of god come to be. The only possible answer seems to be “it just is”. Now, in a naturalistic worldview we may settle for “it just is” as an explanation for certain phenomena until we’re able to come up with a better explanation. But in a theistic worldview it seems that one just has to settle. It seems that even god can’t ask himself how it is that he is.

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Patrick who is not Patrick March 13, 2011 at 3:05 pm

Oh, and Craig’s formulation of how to reason includes in it the implicit claim that it is irrational not to “accept as true” something that is merely “more likely than not.” Thank goodness the man doesn’t work in an actual intellectual discipline, like medicine, where probability matters.

Craig, MD: “I’m sorry Suzie, but your cancer has a 51% mortality rate even with chemo. That makes it more likely than not that you’ll die anyway, therefore I accept as true that you will definitely, definitely die whether or not we give you chemo. So why bother? I’m not even going to prescribe it.”

Suzie: “But, but, a 49% chance is still a chance! I have insurance, lets go with the chemo! A 49% chance of death is not a 100% chance of death!”

Craig, MD: “No, a 49% chance is less likely than not, therefore I accept it as false and the converse as true. Besides, ever since adopting this methodology my patients have had a 100% mortality rate, exactly as I predict. So obviously I am onto something.”

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Bob March 13, 2011 at 3:24 pm

To Patrick who is not Patrick

Thanks for your insight into the legal gyrations that get done in front of our faces! While we scratch our heads trying to make sense of it all the decision is made and we are going down a path we didn’t believe possible. It is a form of distraction or “watch the birdy”.

Biob

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Martin March 13, 2011 at 4:17 pm

Patrick,

It would seem that you are attacking all of deductive logic, somehow. Goodbye all atheist arguments as well, if you take that approach. My logic textbook says this:

“An argument is sound if it’s valid and has every premise true.”

The first part is easy; just make sure you follow valid rules of inference, like modus ponens and modus tollens.

The second part requires argumentation for each premise, and thus sub arguments supporting them.

What exactly do you want? The argument to go all the way back to first principles? I have absolutely no idea what you are getting at.

If Craig provides a logically valid argument, then he has the first part covered. And if he provides arguments for each premise, then the burden falls on the opponent to show how those arguments fail, and then should provide arguments that show the premises false.

This is all right out of my logic textbook: Introduction to Logic by Harry Gensler.

Explain. I really have no idea what you are talking about, and it seems in complete opposition to everything my logic book is telling me.

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Patrick who is not Patrick March 13, 2011 at 5:17 pm

There is a difference between “true” and “more probable than not.” You cannot transform “more probable than not” into “true” by declaring “I accept as true that which is more probable than not.”

The reason you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about is because you are a philosophical zombie running a script given to you by Craig. The script goes “If someone questions this system, assert that they are denying the validity of all deductive reasoning because absolute certainty is an impossibility. Then throw in something about relativism.” You aren’t the first person to say this, and you won’t be the last.

Break free. Assert your sentience!

The best I can do is demonstrate, with utterly conclusive examples as I’ve done above, that the purported benefit of deductive reasoning (if the premises are true, the conclusion necessarily follows) doesn’t follow if you use Craig’s “accept as true that which is more probable than not” rule. In fact, your mutilated version of the merits of deductive reasoning (if the premises are more likely than not, the conclusion is more likely than not) also doesn’t follow.

Those two things simply aren’t true, and that be demonstrated, and I have done so.

I only need one example of a valid deductive argument with premises that are more likely than not but where the conclusion is either false or less likely than not, and that’s the end of the debate. Its over, done, go home, nothing more to see here.

Look, I know what the problem is. Like I said, you’re running a script. If you want to break free, all you have to do is look up Craig responding to any deductive argument offered by an atheist. He will answer by attempting to show that the premises aren’t necessarily true, or that at least one possible situation exists where the premises are true but the conclusion is false. Either way, that NECESSARILY involves rejecting this formulation of deductive logic that he offers his followers. Find him responding to the Problem of Evil or something, and the moment he offers the free will defense (which relies not on attacking whether the premises are more likely than not, but rather on attacking whether the premises are absolutely certain and therefore appropriate for deductive reasoning) and you’ll know that he uses real deductive logic whenever he needs to. That should be enough to jolt you out of this morass.

Or just dig through your logic textbook and find where, in the chapters on deductive logic, it talks about more likely than not. You won’t find it.

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Martin March 13, 2011 at 7:48 pm

Patrick,

I don’t follow any “script”, so I don’t know what you are talking about. I get my logic from the Gensler book, and other sources online.

In fact, your mutilated version of the merits of deductive reasoning (if the premises are more likely than not, the conclusion is more likely than not) also doesn’t follow.

1. All men are mortal
2. Socrates is a man
3. Socrates is mortal

Lets say we are in a pre-scientific age, and so the only thing we have to go on for premise 1 is out induction. Premise 1 is very likely, so let’s call it 0.8. Premise 2 is very likely also; but Socrates is way smart for a human, so he could be a god of some type. Nonetheless, I’ll say it’s very likely true as well. 0.8 also.

So 0.8 x 0.8 = 0.64. Even though we are pretty confident of each premise, the conclusion is almost split in probability.

This doesn’t seem right.

What’s happening is that you are trying to apply Bayesian probability to a deductive argument. But deduction doesn’t involve probabilities. It only involves true or false premises. You assign a 1 or a 0 to each premise, not a probability. So with premise 1, although we might have some small doubts, we are rational to assign a 1 to that. And premise 2, although there is always the chance that he could be a god, we are fairly confident he is a human and so we assign a 1 to that as well. Thus, we are confident in the conclusion, unless something happens to make us think one of the premises is false instead of true.

You seem to think that when Craig says “more plausibly true than false” that he is trying to assign some sort of Bayesian probability to it. But that’s not the case at all. What he is saying is that we have better grounds for thinking X is true than for thinking X is false. He isn’t assigning a probability number, but a 1 or a 0. He is only pointing out that some premises are harder to tell if they are true or false than others, and thus the best we can do is make the best case for true that we can.

Atheist arguments are no different. William Rowe’s argument looks like this:

1. If God exists, then gratuitous evil does not exist
2. Gratuitous evil exists
3. God does not exist

Rowe could then provide reasons for thinking premise 2 is true and not false, but he won’t be able to provide a mathematical certainty of it. The best he can do is present further arguments (like his example of a doe burning to death in the forest) that support the truth of premise 2, thus in effect saying “it’s more plausibly true than false.”

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Reidish March 13, 2011 at 8:49 pm

Martin,

You wrote to Patrick:

What’s happening is that you are trying to apply Bayesian probability to a deductive argument. But deduction doesn’t involve probabilities. It only involves true or false premises.

I’ve had this same argument with Patrick, and he is impervious to this point. I suggest saving your breath.

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Patrick who is not Patrick March 13, 2011 at 9:00 pm

“So 0.8 x 0.8 = 0.64. Even though we are pretty confident of each premise, the conclusion is almost split in probability.

This doesn’t seem right. ”

But that IS right. That is exactly how logic works. You don’t get to change this by declaring that you are using deductive logic.

You started with the statements

1. All men are mortal
2. Socrates is a man

But in order for your conclusion to be true you need the following compound statement to be true:

All men are mortal AND Socrates is a man.

And even if each individual premise is more likely than not, it doesn’t automatically follow that the conjunction of all premises will be more likely than not.

In fact, if you assign numbers to the probability of the premises, we can mathematically demonstrate when this is or is not the case using the rules of probability. And if you don’t put numbers to the probability of the premises, the relationship still stands, its just murky… which actually makes things worse if you intend to claim for yourself the merits of a deductive argument.

You’ve basically been mind screwed to the point where you think the Paradox of the Lottery is sound reasoning. You’re running a script, and I’m not sure I’m pedagogically capable of pushing you off of it. If providing clear examples in which I follow all of your “rules” of deductive reasoning and yet reach conclusions that ought be impossible under deductive logic is not enough because you’re capable of just changing the subject to other parts of the discussion, I don’t know what else I can do. I’m feeling like unless this information comes to you from a Christian source, you’re just never going to acknowledge it.

“But deduction doesn’t involve probabilities. It only involves true or false premises.”

Right. And the solution to this isn’t to pretend that our probabilistic premises are in fact binary. Nor is it to pretend that the rules of deductive reasoning magically transform probabilistic premises into binary premises. The solution is to stop trying to do deductive reasoning with probabilistic premises.

We have a whole separate form of logic for those sorts of premises. Go use it!

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Patrick who is not Patrick March 13, 2011 at 9:04 pm

Martin,You wrote to Patrick:
I’ve had this same argument with Patrick, and he is impervious to this point.I suggest saving your breath.  

I have a toy with a round hole, but all I own is a square peg.

If I want to play with this toy, the peg must be round.

Therefore I should treat the peg as round.

Genius.

This is why we don’t respect you.

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Rob March 13, 2011 at 9:08 pm

“So 0.8 x 0.8 = 0.64. Even though we are pretty confident of each premise, the conclusion is almost split in probability.

This doesn’t seem right.”

LOL

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Reidish March 13, 2011 at 9:29 pm

Patrick,

You wrote:

This is why we don’t respect you.

Thank you. Rather than take up this debate again I would suggest you think through the meaning of “probably true”. Strictly speaking, it is simply incoherent with respect to propositions. Propositions are either true or false. What you seem to be doing is reifying your own attitude, or level of conviction, vis-a-vis the proposition and force-feeding the result through a deductive argument.

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Patrick who is not Patrick March 13, 2011 at 9:45 pm

“Rather than take up this debate again I would suggest you think through the meaning of “probably true”. Strictly speaking, it is simply incoherent with respect to propositions. Propositions are either true or false.”

This is madness of the highest order. A proposition itself might be true or false objectively, but we can still be in the epistemic position of believing that proposition to be, say, 60% likely to be true, and that’s the sort of information that is relevant to determining how confident we should be in an argument that relies upon the truth of said proposition.

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Esteban R. (Formerly Steven R.) March 13, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Martin and Reidish:

Propositions may be true or false, but how well we know whether what we assert is true or false is a whole ‘nother matter, and that’s when probability comes in. I do believe that Patrick pointed out you have to use induction for the premises of deductive arguments and I can’t see a way out of it. You’re just arguing, “Well deductive arguments MUST work like this because!!!” but I don’t see a reason for why we should say we have 100% confidence in a claim as you seem to believe. And, again, note that Plantinga’s Defense works because deductive arguments are open to doubt when it comes to premises….

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cl March 14, 2011 at 1:52 am

Esteban R.,

Did you move to Spain? Portugal? Some other Spanish-speaking country? Too many Steven R.’s in the blogosphere? Why the name change? Just curious. I like Esteban R. better, personally. It’s funner to pronounce and makes you stand out more. Now, I picture you as a sophisticated world traveler blogging from your custom Linux setup in the Bahamas while enjoying a cold one on the beach, instead of your run-of-the-mill college student stuck behind a dusty PC running Windows Vista.

Martin,

You have three choices:

You forgot #4, which is actually three-tiered: poison the well by denigrating Craig [Patrick], deny the cogency of the argument without meeting the burden of production [Rob], and reach with outstretched arms to the ad hominem fallacy [both]. Atheists and name-calling. It never fails. It’s an age-old smoke-blowing technique employed by the worst of ‘em.

Rob,

With a design argument, the theist does not start off with (or should not anyway) some preconceived notion of God defined the way you have. So, my criticism stands.

Did you mean with a cosmological argument? If so, no it doesn’t. The theist starts off with some variant of, “all contingent propositions have explanations” or perhaps, “all that begins to exist requires a cause,” or maybe, “what is actual is prior in substance to what is potential.” No preconceived notion of God is required and it might behoove you to recall that Aristotle was no Christian. The arguments are intended to reason towards God [or an unmoved mover in Aristotle's case], not begin with it. I suspect you might not listen because it’s “cl” telling you this, but… you’re wrong.

Of course you see degenerate apologists try to sneak this kind of crap in the back door, as you have.

Great strategy: call names and pass the real work off to Patrick that is not Patrick, who fares only a salt lick better in substance, but redeems himself because it’s so well-written.

Patrick who is not Patrick,

All CONTINGENT events, perhaps, have causes, and God is not contingent cuz I said.

Wow. Wrong as can be. Talk about philosophical engineering! The sad part is that you’re out here trying to check everyone from Aristotle to Aquinas to Leibniz, and less patient atheists like Rob are looking up to you without sufficient skepticism, in exactly the same manner you decry Craig’s “serfs” for looking up to him without sufficient skepticism. Tsk. Tsk. The real irony is that you treat Martin like a serf while Craig pays his interlocutors the semblance of respect. Mind you, this is coming from a theist who is not impressed with Craig’s Kalam, whatsoever. His language is too vague for my liking, and I get the impression you and I agree there.

In modern times this level of dumb is no longer acceptable … blah blah blah I’m a big smarty pants legal guy blah blah blah … The reason you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about is because you are a philosophical zombie blah blah blah I know so much about logic blah blah blah … Break free. Assert your sentience!

Silence, everybody… Patrick who is not Patrick has spoken! Come on. Yeah, you’re smart, yeah, you know a thing or two about logic, but now you’re just being arrogant, and quite frankly, what I’ve seen from you thus far–though very nicely written save one typo [nobody's perfect]–amounts to a little less than a hill of beans as far as sufficient rejoinders to these philosophical arguments are concerned. It seems to me you’re overusing your legal expertise to philosophically engineer yourself around the arguments here. Your “not contingent ‘cuz I said so” remark is a telltale sign suggesting you know as little about, say, Aristotle’s argument from kinesis as you allege Craig knows about deductive logic.

The best I can do is demonstrate, with utterly conclusive examples as I’ve done above, that the purported benefit of deductive reasoning (if the premises are true, the conclusion necessarily follows) doesn’t follow if you use Craig’s “accept as true that which is more probable than not” rule.

Of course, this is entirely irrelevant to whether or not Aquinas or Aristotle or Leibniz have sound arguments, which–so far–you’ve addressed out the side of your mouth at best. Deserved or not, all this anti-Craig vitriol suggests that you’re simply poisoning the well here, a bit odd for a “legal guy” don’t'cha think?

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Martin March 14, 2011 at 6:19 am

The solution is to stop trying to do deductive reasoning with probabilistic premises.

Exactly what I’m saying. You have to plug in 1 or 0, not a probability. The math won’t even turn out right. If you want to use probability, you need to switch over to Bayes or something.

But you can be .8 probability on one of the premises, and call it 1. And you can be .3 on one of the premises and call it 0. That’s how any deductive argument works. I’m pretty confident that all humans are mortal, .8, and so I’ll plug in 1. You won’t even get the right math if you plug in .8. If you want to do that you need to use Bayes, and know prior probabilities.

The “script” I’m following is propositional logic and Bayes theorem.

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Martin March 14, 2011 at 6:26 am

Esteban,

I do believe that Patrick pointed out you have to use induction for the premises of deductive arguments and I can’t see a way out of it. You’re just arguing, “Well deductive arguments MUST work like this because!!!”

You can’t use probability judgments in deductive arguments because the math won’t come out right. You have to use either 1 or 0 if you are using deduction. Guess how many premises we can be 1 or 0 for? Only mathematical ones, and we rarely use deductive reasoning for math. Instead, we use real world premises, and these are never 1 or 0. Nonetheless, if using a deductive argument you have to set the truth value to either 1 or 0. That’s how they are designed to work.

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Reidish March 14, 2011 at 7:28 am

Patrick who is not Patrick,

In response to my…

Rather than take up this debate again I would suggest you think through the meaning of “probably true”. Strictly speaking, it is simply incoherent with respect to propositions. Propositions are either true or false.

…you wrote:

This is madness of the highest order. A proposition itself might be true or false objectively, but we can still be in the epistemic position of believing that proposition to be, say, 60% likely to be true, and that’s the sort of information that is relevant to determining how confident we should be in an argument that relies upon the truth of said proposition.

First, what does “true or false objectively” mean? Is there a different kind of true or false? Second, what bearing does your epistemic position have on whether a proposition is true? Assigning a number to your level of confidence that the sky is blue is completely beside the point of whether or not the sky is indeed blue. It’s the truth value of the proposition that a deductive argument can help you evaluate formally, not your level of confidence in its truth.

Esteban R. (Formerly Steven R.),

I do believe that Patrick pointed out you have to use induction for the premises of deductive arguments and I can’t see a way out of it.

Sure, some true premises of certain arguments are known through induction. I’m certainly not questioning that.

You’re just arguing, “Well deductive arguments MUST work like this because!!!” but I don’t see a reason for why we should say we have 100% confidence in a claim as you seem to believe.

No. The conclusions of deductive arguments are true or false, in virtue of either the premises being either true or false, or the security of the inferences. That’s it. Furthermore, who said anything about being “100% confident”? So far as it relates to deduction, we are just interested in whether or not premises are true or false.

In essence, deductive arguments are a test for truth, while Bayesian formulations are a test for confidence (in the Bayesian, non-frequentist, interpretation). These purposes ought not be conflated, otherwise each can be misunderstood and lead to discussions like this.

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Martin March 14, 2011 at 7:56 am

Patrick,

A proposition itself might be true or false objectively, but we can still be in the epistemic position of believing that proposition to be, say, 60% likely to be true

But deductive arguments don’t work like this. You are trying to use a philips when you need a flathead. Your epistemic justification is irrelevant when using deductive arguments. Deductive arguments only know true or false and nothing else. The only premises you can have 100% justification for are mathematical premises. Everything else is going to be varying levels of justification, but it doesn’t matter: deductive arguments only care about true or false.

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cl March 14, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Martin,

So 0.8 x 0.8 = 0.64. Even though we are pretty confident of each premise, the conclusion is almost split in probability.

This doesn’t seem right.

Something about this has been bothering me, too. DISCLAIMER: I am not a probability expert. I’m not even a legitimate amateur. However, here’s my best take. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it appears to me that you intend your “0.8″ as an epistemic certainty rating more along the lines of the 1-10 scale, and not necessarily the result of a probability equation. Right?

Consider the probability that any given die will land on any given number [1/6]. Then consider the probability that any two dice will land on any given numbers [1/6 * 1/6 = 1/36]. That appears to be the basic reasoning Patrick who is not Patrick has applied here. However, this line of reasoning is for independent events, and that the premises in any given cosmological argument may or may not be independent, which means Patrick who is not Patrick’s reasoning may or may not be valid, and this can only be judged on a case-by-case basis. More importantly, note the asymmetry between figures arrived at via calculating the probability of independent events, and the “probability” or “likelihood” that the premises in any given deductive argument are true. In the former, we calculate from all known possibilities to arrive at the likelihood of any one possibility occurring. In the latter, all other possibilities are not weighed against the likelihood of any one possibility occurring. In short, it is erroneous to assess the soundness of a deductive argument the same way one would calculate the probability of a dice roll. Of course, this is all beside your well-stated point about the 1 / 0 truth value of the premises.

Therefore, it seems to me that terms like “probability” and “likelihood” are being confused with degree of epistemic certainty–which would seem to make Patrick who is not Patrick’s math misplaced–and if that’s true, well… I think he owes at least one person an apology, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

At any rate, if I’m correct, at least part of this disconnect is due to imprecision with language.

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Tony Hoffman March 14, 2011 at 1:15 pm

CL: “… I think he owes at least one person an apology, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.”

Speaking of, whatever happened to this from almost 4 weeks ago?

Derrida: “I’d like to see documented examples of veridical observations present in NDE accounts.”

CL: “No problem. Sit tight. It might not be today or even this week, but I will take the time to honor this request, so… keep an eye on this thread.”

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cl March 14, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Tony Hoffman,

Speaking of, whatever happened to this from almost 4 weeks ago?

What, can’t you read? I said, “It might not be today or even this week, but I will take the time to honor this request, so… keep an eye on this thread.” I made no fixed time promise because this is a busy time of year in my line of work, not to mention my personal life. There’s more to life than blogging, you know, and I assure you I won’t make Derrida wait upwards of two years like Luke and Alonzo have made us wait for the money on desirism. Nonetheless, I’ve been working on it and bouncing ideas off other atheists this entire time. If you participated at my blog as opposed to your usual routine of denigrating me here, you would know this.

So, if you have something salient to add to this thread, by all means let’s hear it. Else, troll me at my blog and spare Luke the noise.

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muto March 14, 2011 at 2:54 pm

to all who use deduction on uncertain premisses,

Cosider the following argument with n premisses:
Premise i: If I roll the hundred sided dice n times, dice roll number i will not result in a six.
0<i<n+1
If all of the premisses are true, the conclusion "If I roll the dice n times, it will never in a six" must be true.

Now we take WLC`s criterion to establish wheter we should accept premisse i.
Since its probability is ninety nine percent it is far more plausible than its negation. Hence we can accept it.
Ergo for a hundred sided dices, you can count on it never landing on a six, since this "logically and inescapably" follows from the premisses.
However our n is an arbitrary natural number and the probabilities of the premisses to be true, are independend from each other. Hence the probability of them all being true at the same time is (99/100)^n. If we choose n to be Graham`s number we get a result that is very close to zero.
We see that using deduction and probability theory on arguments with uncertain premisses can yield very different results. Practical success shows that we should prefer probability theory in such situations.

If I missapplied the criterion laid out by Craig in his q. and a., please tell me how exactly.

cl,

dIt is truly strange to say that the premisses of kca are not indepentend.
Since we are dealing with an epistemic notion of probability this would entail that one premiss follows from the other.

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cl March 14, 2011 at 4:27 pm

muto,

I didn’t say that. In the context of all cosmological arguments, I said, the premises in any given cosmological argument may or may not be independent. I wasn’t talking about the KLA in particular. I left it open to cover all of them, even versions I haven’t heard of.

On a different note:

If we choose n to be Graham`s number we get a result that is very close to zero.

Yeah, but still… as the late Carl Sagan remarked, a car will spontaneously ooze through the brick wall of it’s garage every once in a very great while, too. The point is, anything not 1 or 0 strikes me as too imprecise for creating a sound deductive argument. I prefer Boolean logic, but as a programming hobbyist I suppose I’m a bit biased.

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Patrick who is not Patrick March 14, 2011 at 7:44 pm

Esteban,
You can’t use probability judgments in deductive arguments because the math won’t come out right. You have to use either 1 or 0 if you are using deduction. Guess how many premises we can be 1 or 0 for? Only mathematical ones, and we rarely use deductive reasoning for math. Instead, we use real world premises, and these are never 1 or 0. Nonetheless, if using a deductive argument you have to set the truth value to either 1 or 0. That’s how they are designed to work.  

Hence my square peg, round hole example. You CAN’T put a square peg in a round hole! So if you are using a round hole and you have a square peg, just set the peg to round!

No, no.

If your information is probabilistic, you use probabilistic logic.* Its exactly like deductive logic, except designed to accept probabilistic information.

You do NOT bootstrap yourself into certainty just because that’s what you’d have to do in order to make your evidence fit the framework you want to use.

Or you could use fuzzy logic, but don’t do it on this site. Finding out that its literally possible for a statement to be 30% true, and that there’s an entire field of logic built around it, and that this field is incredibly useful in some computer programming applications? The shock might kill Reidish.

CL wrote

“However, this line of reasoning is for independent events, and that the premises in any given cosmological argument may or may not be independent, which means Patrick who is not Patrick’s reasoning may or may not be valid, and this can only be judged on a case-by-case basis.”

Credit where credit is due. Multiplying the probabilities of the premises only works if the premises are independent. If they are not independent, then the probability combines mathematically, but not with multiplication. I think I managed to remember to include the word “independent” at least at first, but I may have started to forget over time as I grew more and more frustrated. Sorry if I did.

Of course, even if the events are not independent, that just changes whether you multiply straight through versus whether you engage in other mathematical functions as defined by probability theory.

The problem is not originating with confusion of language. The problem is the difference between the three following statements:

1. In a valid deductive argument, IF the premises are true, THEN the conclusion is necessarily true.
2. In a valid deductive argument, IF YOU BELIEVE the premises are more likely true than not, THEN YOU MUST BELIEVE that the conclusion is true or else you are being irrational.
3. In a valid deductive argument, IF YOU BELIEVE the premises are more likely true than not, THEN YOU MUST BELIEVE that the conclusion is more likely true than not.

The first statement is true.

The second has been advanced by Craig and Martin, and is false.

The third has been advanced by Martin, and is false. I don’t know what Reidish thinks anymore.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Probabilistic_logic

Feel free to quote mine this while not understanding it, I’m given to understand its a hobby.

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Patrick who is not Patrick March 14, 2011 at 7:47 pm

Patrick,
But deductive arguments don’t work like this. You are trying to use a philips when you need a flathead. Your epistemic justification is irrelevant when using deductive arguments. Deductive arguments only know true or false and nothing else. The only premises you can have 100% justification for are mathematical premises. Everything else is going to be varying levels of justification, but it doesn’t matter: deductive arguments only care about true or false.  

As I’ve said, my car only cares about gasoline, but that doesn’t transform this jug of milk into gasoline just because I want to go for a drive.

If your information isn’t certain, then its probabilistic and you should go use probabilistic logic. Its exactly like deductive logic except WAY better… unless your goal is to create a false sense of certainty about things of which you are not certain.

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Esteban R. (Formerly Steven R.) March 14, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Esteban,
You can’t use probability judgments in deductive arguments because the math won’t come out right. You have to use either 1 or 0 if you are using deduction. Guess how many premises we can be 1 or 0 for? Only mathematical ones, and we rarely use deductive reasoning for math. Instead, we use real world premises, and these are never 1 or 0. Nonetheless, if using a deductive argument you have to set the truth value to either 1 or 0. That’s how they are designed to work.  

Well that’s the thing that’s being protested. You’re just assuming something is a 1 but just because you used deductive logic doesn’t all of a sudden mean that we can be certain it was a “1″. As Patrick noted, the relationship with probability is still there, just a bit murky. Try re-reading his comments, I think you’re getting him absolutely wrong.

It seems as if Patrick already clarified though (damn it, and I typed it before him).

@ Cl:

A Stephen R. (not too sure about the initial) began posting here so, to avoid confusion, I began to use my actual name. And, uh, glad you enjoy saying my name and that it now makes me cooler in your view, I guess…

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Reidish March 14, 2011 at 8:52 pm

Or you could use fuzzy logic, but don’t do it on this site. Finding out that its literally possible for a statement to be 30% true, and that there’s an entire field of logic built around it, and that this field is incredibly useful in some computer programming applications? The shock might kill Reidish.

“Literally possible” to be “30% true”? Are you sure you know what that even means? Look, fuzzy logic incorporates the confidence of the knower, it does not merely express a correspondence between propositions and states of affairs. Again, you are not understanding the idea that attitudes of knowers do not influence the truth value of propositions. Fuzzy logic is built on the notion of “inference under vagueness”. But “vagueness” is a property of the relationship between the knower and the proposition, not the proposition itself.

The problem is not originating with confusion of language. The problem is the difference between the three following statements:
1. In a valid deductive argument, IF the premises are true, THEN the conclusion is necessarily true.
2. In a valid deductive argument, IF YOU BELIEVE the premises are more likely true than not, THEN YOU MUST BELIEVE that the conclusion is true or else you are being irrational.
3. In a valid deductive argument, IF YOU BELIEVE the premises are more likely true than not, THEN YOU MUST BELIEVE that the conclusion is more likely true than not.

The first statement is true.

Not really. Conclusions of valid deductive arguments are not always necessary truths. What is true is the following:
1*. In a valid deductive argument: IF the premises are true, THEN, necessarily, the conclusion is true.

The second has been advanced by Craig and Martin, and is false.

The third has been advanced by Martin, and is false. I don’t know what Reidish thinks anymore.

I’ll let Martin speak to 2 and 3. I’ve never defended either one. I’ll bow out of the conversation now.

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Patrick who is not Patrick March 15, 2011 at 6:03 am

Fuzzy logic definitely lets you say that something is 30% true. For example, if a glass of water is 30% full, under fuzzy logic you could say

The statement “the glass is full” is 30% true.

It isn’t at all about the confidence of the speaker, and the whole point of fuzzy logic is that it accepts intermediate truth values between 0 and 1.

Not that I actually need this for my relatively simple point that the heuristic “accept as true that which is more probable than not” has implications for deductive arguments made from premises accepted under this heuristic, I just thought it would be fun to see how you reacted.

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Martin March 15, 2011 at 7:52 am

“accept as true that which is more probable than not”

Then chuck out all knowledge except a priori, because all a posteriori knowledge is only held as true because it is more probable than not. By your rationale, I guess I should not accept as true that the sun will rise tomorrow, because it’s “just” more probably true than false. We shouldn’t accept evolution, because it’s “just” more probably true than false.

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Reidish March 15, 2011 at 10:20 am

Patrick != Patrick,

…I’m trying to escape, seriously. You just make it so hard :)

Fuzzy logic definitely lets you say that something is 30% true. For example, if a glass of water is 30% full, under fuzzy logic you could say

The statement “the glass is full” is 30% true.

It isn’t at all about the confidence of the speaker, and the whole point of fuzzy logic is that it accepts intermediate truth values between 0 and 1.

Read carefully:

“Our knowledge structure as a perceptive reality that provides us with the understanding and awareness of the universe is a subset of space of actual reality. Thus a distinction is made between actual reality and perceptive reality. For analytical purposes toward general decision-choice activities, this subset (perceptive reality) may be decomposed into non-stochastic and stochastic subspaces. It may also be decomposed into non-fuzzy and fuzzy subspaces…The concept of non-stochastic refers to an environment where there is complete information and hence no stochastic uncertainties while the concept of stochastic refers to an environment of incomplete information that generates stochastic uncertainty.
The concept of fuzzy refers to environment with vagueness, inexactness, subjectivity and others that generate fuzzy uncertainty while non-fuzzy refers to environment where there is an absence of fuzzy characteristics and with exact knowledge elements and conceptual system. There are no fuzzy uncertainties associated with this environment. The uncertainties may thus be viewed as resulting from cognition. The implication here is that uncertainty is not a characteristic of attributes of of states, and processes. Uncertainty is simply a defective of human knowledge and universal order, states and processes through cognitive actions.”

Epistemic Foundations of Fuzziness: Unified Theories on Decision-Choice, Kofi Kissi Dompere, p.11-12

Not that I actually need this for my relatively simple point that the heuristic “accept as true that which is more probable than not” has implications for deductive arguments made from premises accepted under this heuristic, I just thought it would be fun to see how you reacted.

Right, it has implications. The problem all along has been that you are arguing a straw man, not Craig (nor myself, for that matter). Plausibility criteria are not identical to probability calculations. You are conflating them.

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jojo March 17, 2011 at 10:33 am

Craig says that in order to recognize an explanation is the “best” explanation, you do not have to have an explanation of the explanation. What does he mean by the “best” explanation? The term “best” is relative. “Best” explanations keep on changing.
I do totally agree with his fine-tuning argument. He has been “fine-tuning” his cosmological argument!!!!

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Martin March 17, 2011 at 11:14 am

What does he mean by the “best” explanation?

An explanation that most parsimoniously explains the phenomenon in question.

You don’t chuck an explanation just because the explanation itself is mysterious. There is discrepancy in the way the universe is expanding, and dark matter is the best explanation. The fact that we don’t even know what dark matter is or where it came from does nothing to reduce the fact that it’s still the best explanation.

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Kevin March 17, 2011 at 12:43 pm

^Dark matter is not an explanation. Nice try.

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Martin March 17, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Focusing on my specific example is not a refutation of my point. Nice try.

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Kevin March 17, 2011 at 1:37 pm

You tried to prove your point with an example. By pointing out that the example does nothing to show your point, it makes your point invalid, which is exactly what a refutation is. Don’t worry, if your point is valid, you should easily come up with another example that supports your point…or not.

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Kevin March 17, 2011 at 1:52 pm

“does nothing to show your point, it makes your point invalid”

Correction: valid should be unsound, which makes the point moot.

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Martin March 17, 2011 at 3:15 pm

“Examples from physics are the most obvious. In order to explain certain quantum phenomena, scientists have posited the existence of dozens of invisible particles with very particular properties that yield predictable results. These have been some of the most successful explanations in all of scientific history, yielding the most accurate experimental results we have ever achieved. And yet we have no explanations whatsoever for the particles that we have offered as explanations for the quantum phenomena.”

From here: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=6113

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Polymeron March 20, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Alright, let’s see if we can set the whole thing straight.
You say your God is a necessary entity. That means this entity’s existence (or impossibility) can be demonstrated via logic. I am very receptive to this idea. And as I said before on

However, we must understand what this entails. In order to be necessary, either positing God’s existence is self-contradictory, or positing God’s non-existence is self-contradictory. That is it. The only assumptions you are allowed to make are first principles.
Pretty much all the famous arguments that treat God as necessary – both theistic and atheistic – seem to make this mistake, by positing non-necessary premises. Problem of Evil? Assumes evil exists. Cosmological argument? Assumes things begin to exist. All good and well if you’re just trying to convince a mere fallible person, but not enough to settle the issue.

Either show why your premises are also necessarily true, or your conclusion is contingent on probabilistic logic. And it’s been asked here if it’s reasonable for one
to go back to first principles just to make an argument. Hello? Are we not trying to establish a fundamental fact about the very nature of existence here? You can be damn well certain that I would not be satisfied with less than a proof that harkens back to either self-contradiction or first principles (or any combination of the two).

Now, I can also be swayed by evidence – for *contingent* truths. Which use probabilistic logic. I don’t see this happening, because theists would not relinquish God’s necessity; but if so, then going back to first principles in your proof is the price you must pay for not playing by the rules that normally would require evidence.

It’s not nice to say, but contrary to what intuition may tell you, non-probabilistic deductive reasoning is dead outside an axiomatic system – it just doesn’t produce any meaningful result. Let’s all accept this and move on.

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Polymeron March 20, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Sorry for the cut-off sentence in the first paragraph. Should be:

*And as I said before on this thread, necessity does dismantle arguments like Dawkins’ to the improbability of such a being’s existence.

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Zeb March 21, 2011 at 1:44 am

Polymeron,
I see what you mean, but wouldn’t an argument of this kind work for you:
1. If anything exists, then God exists.
2. Something exists.
3. Therefore God exists.
In this kind of argument 1) is posed as logically necessary, and 2) is proposed as a contingent observation known with 100% certainty. Obviously the logical necessity of 1) is very contentious (I accept it but don’t want to argue it here), but I can’t see how anyone could detract from the certainty of the contingent observation of 2). As you point out, this does not show that God is necessary, but it does show that God is necessarily entailed by the existence of any thing (if 1 is indeed logically necessary). [I admit that, as a theist, it does make me uncomfortable to acknowledge that as far as I know God need not exist, but it just happens that he does given that I perceive stuff.]

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TruthOverfaith March 21, 2011 at 2:10 am

Gregory Dawes-”Many of our most successful explanations raise new puzzles and present us with new questions to be answered.”

The key word here seems to be the word “new”. New puzzles and new questions.
Saying god did it doesn’t raise a new question, it raises the same question. It answers nothing. So I still think Dawkins is right to raise this objection.

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Polymeron March 21, 2011 at 2:22 am

Zeb,
Your analysis is correct. In the argument above, IF you could show that (1) was necessarily true, then God would exist if anything exists. But God would not be necessary.

However, at this point I wouldn’t care that the requirements for a deductive argument for the existence of God have not been fulfilled. Accepting (1) as necessarily true (100% probability), and multiplying it by the probability that something exists (extremely high), this would satisfy my threshold for evidence under the probabilistic logic model. And should anyone’s, I suppose, except maybe solipsists.

So, I’ll slightly revise what I was saying – you can use both necessary and contingent statements to support the existence of God, or you can use only necessary statements to prove the existence of God.
Note however that the first option still leaves you in the contingent playing court. In most cases, This would leave the God hypothesis still vulnerable to arguments to improbability. However in your specific example, any such argument would need to undermine existence itself as part of its premises, which is a losing position.

This is all largely academic – I think you would have a hard time showing that (1) is a necessary statement. Of course, if you could have an argument for it like the above, that contains necessary and consensus views, this could again satisfy the standard for evidence, depending on the number and quality of the contingent statements. At that point I would have to shut up and multiply, and the saying goes.

My point was twofold: That non-probabilistic deductive reasoning is not useful for reaching conclusions* outside an axiomatic model, and that merely saying God is necessary is not strong enough to avoid using probabilistic reasoning to reach a conclusion.

*As a clarification, deduction does let you reach conclusions that are contingent on their premises being true. But only if those premises are necessary is the conclusion necessary. And this exists just fine in probabilistic reasoning as well, so no problem there.

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Luke Muehlhauser March 21, 2011 at 2:26 am

TruthOverfaith,

I’m not responding to that point, though. I’m responding to the claim often made that “God did it” is a poor explanation because it leaves unexplained the explanation given. Like I said, I already agree that ‘God did it’ is a poor explanation. I just disagree with one reason often given.

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jojo March 21, 2011 at 3:03 am

Who made Ram Setu? Lord Rama? The “best” explanation was “Lord Rama” until recently. It looks like a “designed” structure. But archeological survey of India says it is a natural formation. You could always invoke any “bad” explanation as the best explanation saying that in order to recognize an explanation is the “best” explanation, you do not have to have an explanation of the explanation.

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choupick March 24, 2011 at 4:13 pm

I’m not sure I agree with this. I’m not a philosopher, but if a theist claims that EVERYTHING needs a creator then I’m completely correct in asking who made the creator, because if an exception exist for god, then it could also exist for the universe as well. It doesn’t disprove theism, it just points out that the particular line of reasoning (IE the universe is complex, therefore needs a creator, but the complex creator doesn’t need a creator) is meaningless.

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Martin March 24, 2011 at 4:16 pm

if a theist claims that EVERYTHING needs a creator

Thank goodness cosmological arguments do not claim this, then.

They have nothing to do with complexity, either.

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Luke Muehlhauser March 24, 2011 at 5:38 pm

choupick,

Only very stupid theists say that everything needs a creator. Usually they say something like ‘Everything which begins to exist needs a cause.’ But in any case, your post is a change of subject from the topic of my original post.

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Karl March 24, 2011 at 6:37 pm

God is an immaterial, necessarily existing being by definition.

God, which I can only concede as an idea only meets the philosophical definition of existence. At best this idea can be hypothesized to be represented in the material world, but not tested successfully to become theoretical fact. Stating “God is immaterial” reinforces the classification of God’s existence as an idea that has no influence over the world we live in or the explanations we seek.

As for the article, the answer I usually get when I ask why is God the best explanation for the origins of the universe is that, “God is the only explanation available.” This is obviously terrible, but I usually retort with how, throughout history, God(s) have been the explanation for the unknown and that this “God of the Gaps” is evidence of the retreat of unprovable explanation due to scientific discovery. Any further retreat to fill in the gap is unacceptable argumentative position.

There are so many positions to take when debating God’s legitimacy to even be referred to as God, especially the Christian one. The deist, on the other hand is harder because you have to know the complexity of their God. However, they are not the ones that hold atheism in the negative light that theists do from my experience.

Neil Degrasse Tyson, as I am sure you already know covers “God of the Gaps” and several other arguments against intelligent design. Just Google the video “Neil Degrasse Tyson God of the Gaps”.

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JPD April 8, 2011 at 10:56 am

so much time spent on this issue. We exist . Deal with it. the universe seaming so random , but that is far from the fact. To believe that only a big bang created everything , including us,is to believe that an awful series of very lucky events just happen in our favor.So why not god or our perception of him. Seems to me alot of theories going either way without any real knowledge

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Adam April 15, 2011 at 12:18 pm

The problem isn’t that the can’t explain it: it’s that their solution violates their premises.

It could be summed up like this: everything we know of requires a cause. Therefore, there was something that requires a cause.

Alternatively: Everything complex was created by something even more complex. Therefore, there is something infinitely complex that wasn’t created by anything.

If you put it this way, it’s obvious that these arguments are self refuting. It’s not that the can’t explain “what caused God”. It’s that their conclusion violates their premises.

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Adam April 15, 2011 at 12:19 pm

The problem isn’t that the can’t explain it: it’s that their solution violates their premises.It could be summed up like this: everything we know of requires a cause. Therefore, there was something that requires a cause.Alternatively: \P>

Damn typo- therefore there was something that DIDN’T require a cause

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Martin April 15, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Adam,

everything we know of requires a cause.

Not a single cosmological argument has ever said anything this inane.

Everything complex was created by something even more complex.

And this one comes from William Paley’s argument, which was easily refuted by Darwin. Since most arguments for God do not involve Paley’s “complexity” argument, then most of them are not vulnerable to Darwin.

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JPD April 15, 2011 at 12:59 pm

Cause, requires reaction, for every action there is a reaction. Its in this obviously basic theory, i think that we base most of our answers/arguments on. It can work both ways leaving all answers unanswered by the best of us. Black -white, cold-hot,good-evil and then the theist or the atheist. Both have good arguments, though either thinks so, but neither have credible answers. Lets face it, its a good mind exercise, but not enough facts to come to a conclusion. But you can not win if you do not play.

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Jake April 23, 2011 at 4:12 am

While I think the author is technically right that in a superficial sense, it seems to evoke an infinite regress of demanding explanations, but what is really meant by the objection, “well, what created God then?” is not that God has no explanation for himself, but that he failed to actually explain what he was invoked to explain, namely, complexity. The creator/designer is usually invoked specifically as an explanation for the cited complexity/order of the universe, and its upon that basis that a designer is deemed necessary.

This is where the objection comes in; an intelligent entity capable of designing something as complex as a universe would be equal or greater in complexity, and thus require a “creator explanation” by using the theist’s original logic.

…at least this is how I’ve always viewed the issue, and I don’t think it reduces simply to demanding an explanation for an explanation.

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Martin April 23, 2011 at 6:15 am

The creator/designer is usually invoked specifically as an explanation for the cited complexity/order of the universe

This is the William Paley argument. Thinking that theism is based on this one (easily refuted) argument is like thinking that the entire case for evolution is based on the Piltdown Man. Most other theistic arguments do not make any use of complexity at all.

This is where the objection comes in; an intelligent entity capable of designing something as complex as a universe would be equal or greater in complexity, and thus require a “creator explanation” by using the theist’s original logic.

Since the God of classical theism is postulated to be a simple entity, this objection makes no sense. There’s even an excellent paper by an atheist philosopher explaining why Dawkins’ argument against theism is worthless: http://philpapers.org/archive/WIEDGH.1.pdf

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George April 23, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Adam,

everything we know of requires a cause.

Not a single cosmological argument has ever said anything this inane.

The way I see it, this is like a Baskin Robbins cone of “inane flavored ice cream” coated to the gills with “inane chocolate” and then having the gall to call anything else “inane”, wow , talk about the pot calling the kettle black.
Trying to even have a conversation with someone who does not even understand the most fundamental concepts of probability is like talking to a rock, actually talking to a rock is a lot more interesting.

While I think the author is technically right that in a superficial sense, it seems to evoke an infinite regress of demanding explanations, but what is really meant by the objection, “well, what created God then?” is not that God has no explanation for himself, but that he failed to actually explain what he was invoked to explain, namely, complexity. The creator/designer is usually invoked specifically as an explanation for the cited complexity/order of the universe, and its upon that basis that a designer is deemed necessary.

This is where the objection comes in; an intelligent entity capable of designing something as complex as a universe would be equal or greater in complexity, and thus require a “creator explanation” by using the theist’s original logic.

…at least this is how I’ve always viewed the issue, and I don’t think it reduces simply to demanding an explanation for an explanation.

Jake, thanks for that, it is so beautifully said , it is worth repeating.

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George April 24, 2011 at 9:21 am

Luke,
It would seem to me that you have held fast in the validity of your argument in this article, and keep telling us that we are “changing the subject”.

Are you at some point going to acknowledge that asking “who designed the designer?” is actually a very valid objection, simply because the “logic” that the thiest is using is contradictory and is violating its own premise : “complex-thus requires designer”?

There have been quite a number of lucid replies to this article showing why asking “who designed the designer?” is a valid objection, but of course my prediction is that you will not change your mind.
I am particularly impressed with the arguments of Patrick who is not Patrick, thanks for offering an island of brilliance in a sea of stupidity.

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Asifa Marriam May 5, 2011 at 6:04 am

Dear Sir / Madam,

Greetings in the name of our savior and Lord Jesus Christ, from His servant, Asphena Elizabeth Marriam from Pakistan.

Lord Jesus Christ you said to your Apostles, I leave you Peace, My Peace I give it to you ……….
The Peace of The Lord be with you….
Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations. Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

I am extremely overwhelmed in God to see your website and to come to know about your Ministry. I pray to God Almighty that more and more people may come to know Him and accept Lord Jesus as their savior, through your most noble evangelical service towards the mankind.

I too, as an evangelist and a servant of God in one way or the other am eager to join hands with your mission in proclaiming The Good News of God to the people still unreached, like in Pakistan, to The Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus etc.

That I accepted Lord Jesus Christ as my personal savior nine year ago when I was a young crusader with Holy Bible in my hands moving streets to streets proclaiming the Good News of God door to door, to the poor and rich alike, to Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus alike. By the great mercy of Our Savior Lord Jesus Christ I have saved scores of unguided people and with His mercy now they are believers and they are Christians now living meaningful lives. It is not easy and safe to evangelize Muslims in Pakistan though, I by the grace of God worked fearlessly and succeeded and am determined to go ahead against all odds. God is my savior and my protector. I shall not be harmed by any adversary. Lord Jesus Christ before His ascension into heaven commanded His apostles “Go and preach The Good News to all The Nations”

By associating myself with your noble Ministry I will acquire more wisdom and understanding of The Word of God .Besides I will be able in supporting my family especially providing my children with a good quality education so that they can become a responsible Christians in their future lives and on the platform of The Ministry of Christ, evangelize more and more people who don’t know Lord Jesus Christ and saving astray souls in Pakistan.

I have seen on your website that you have Gospel preaching in many languages including in Hindi the native language of India but to evangelize Muslims I strongly believe that you must also include the native language of Pakistan , Urdu besides Punjabi and Saraiki.
I am well versed with these languages spoken, written in Pakistan and am in a strong position to translate your message of God from English into Urdu, Punjabi and Saraiki so that the Muslims who speak, write and understand these languages can be benefited with The Word of God through you and can accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. I have always intended to save billion of misguided souls around the globe. Therefore it is our utmost responsibility as a disciple of Christ let them tell the truth about God. Those who understand the truth immediately embraces Christianity.

I therefore request you humbly in submission to God to post The Word of God in Urdu, Punjabi, Saraiki etc. so that more and more Muslims can take benefit from your Evangelical web site especially in Pakistan and for those who are living in various countries around the globe. As a translator of your ,messages the fund you will spend on translation will in turn be utilized in the work of God in Pakistan . More and more work is needed in Pakistan despite rampant persecution of Christians.

The Word of God and the Faith:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth with without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And The Spirit of The God (Holy Spirit) moved upon the face of the waters. Genesis 1:1 & 2
In the beginning was the Word (Jesus), and the Word (Jesus) was with God (God The Father), and the Word was God. John 1:1
Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrew 11:1
But without faith it is impossible to please Him (God): for him that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a redeemer of them that diligently seek him. Hebrew 11:6
By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. Hebrew 11:7
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go into a place ( Israel ) which he should after receive for an inheritance, Obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. Hebrew 11:8
About Pakistan :
Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a break away country from India. It has a 1,046-kilometre (650 mi) coastline along the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Oman in the south, is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, and India in the east and China in the far northeast.[7] Tajikistan also lies very close to Pakistan but is separated by the narrow Wakhan Corridor. Thus, it occupies a crossroads position between South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East.The region forming modern Pakistan was at the heart of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization and then later was the recipient of Vedic, Persian, Indo-Greek, Islamic, Turco-Mongol, and Sikh cultures. The area has witnessed invasions and/or settlements by the Indo-Aryans, Persians, Greeks, Arabs, Turks, Afghans, Mongols and the British.
The total area of Pakistan is 340,403 sq mi and the population is 170,328,000 The national language of the country is Urdu, whereas Punjabi, Saraiki, Sindhi, Hindco, Pashtoo, Farsi. English has a vital status among languages in the elite society of Pakistan as it is in India . This is because of the influence of British Rule in the India .
This invasion of India by all the above invaders has created a combination of socio-cultural variations and led vast diversifications in the creation of many languages in the Indian Sub-continent.
The history of Christianity in Indian Sub-continent goes back with the arrival of St. Thomas in India Christianity is India’s third-largest religion, with approximately 24 million followers, constituting 2.3% of India’s population. The works of scholars and Eastern Christian writings state that Christianity was introduced to India by Thomas the Apostle, who visited Muziris in Kerala in 52 CE to proselytize amongst Kerala’s Jewish settlements. It is generally agreed that Christianity in India is almost as old as Christianity itself and spread in India even before it spread in many, predominantly Christian, nations of Europe and America etc.
It has to be remembered at this point that the nations now, India , Pakistan & Bangladesh were undivided and One Nation, India .
Languages:

Native language of Pakistan is Urdu. The history of Urdu begins with the advent of Islam from Arabia , Persia and Afghanistan. In Lucknow the Persian speaking scholars with the combination of Hindi and Persian created a new language with Arabic fonts. This combination was so beautiful and sound so sweet, that it was immediately accepted by all the citizens of India (The undivided India ). After independence Pakistan was created and Urdu was adopted its National Language, in United Nations. Besides Urdu many languages are spoken, written in Pakistan . Urdu can be understood, spoken in many countries viz. India , Bangladesh, Afghanistan , Nepal, Maldives , Persia , Malaysia , Indonesia, in most of Arabic countries etc.

Demographic Distribution of Urdu:

India 150 million Pakistan 140 million
Bangladesh 700,000 Nepal 15,00,000
UK 600,000 America 1.5 million
UAE 10,00,000 Saudi Arabia 250,000
Canada 60,000 Oman 150,000
Germany 35000 Spain 20000
Sweden 15000 France 35000
Norway 35000 Holland 60000
Qatar 90000 South Africa 89000

N.B: There are many other countries where the migrant Pakistanis and Indians live and they speak Urdu.

For evangelizing the strayed lots I can translate and will do the voice work for your website for the proclamation of The Word of God and you will be blessed abundantly.

I would like you to share The Ministry of Christ through which we are working among poor Christians and unaware Muslim communities in Pakistan . The Christians in Pakistan are the most persecuted lots and have no rights in this Islamic country even though we are marching fearlessly as the crusaders of God in proclaiming His Word. As to the Christian values we must love our enemies and must let them know with our good deeds that they may repent and get converted to Christianity and saved.

The Ministry of Christ:

Our Ministry is based in one of the oldest cities in the province of Punjab , Toba Tek Singh. Toba Tek Singh is centrally located and is accessible to most of the cities in Punjab province. We therefore cover most of the unrepresented (virgin and not evangelized) places of Punjab . We offer Sunday church Services, Sunday school, Women Fellowship, Youth Fellowship. Health Camps for the underprivileged, Vocational Trainings and Schools for the poor Christian Children and Orphans etc. With your support we can do much more in future and build a better Christian Society in Pakistan .

For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Amen

I look forward to hear from your valued Ministry.

Thank you.

May God bless you and your Ministry abundantly!
In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ

Sr. Asphena Elizabeth Marraim
The Ministry of Christ
Shorkot Road, Lane # 4
Toba tek Singh 36050, Punjab
Pakistan
E-mail: translationasia@yahoo.com

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Daniel June 24, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Great write up Luke Muehlhauser,

I hold this article in good repute (little disagreements here and there but all is good). I appreciate how you acknowledge that God as an explanation is a valid one (though in your opinion not a good one), each to his own. If more atheists can get what you have brought across (that we all have explanations without explanations) then theists and atheists would have better ground to discuss.
I like:
“Third, because I want atheists to focus on objections that really matter. When a believer offers “God did it” as the best explanation for something, our question should not be “Well then who designed the designer?” but instead “Why is God the best explanation for that? Will you explain, please?””

Personally I would change “believer” to theist. Every person is a believer of something, directly or indirectly.

cheers,

Dan

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Gprano September 9, 2011 at 1:33 am

I don’t think that argument is a good one against theism, but i often use it against theists who pretend to explain everything. It could show them that indeed this isn’t a reasonable claim, and then if they accept we have the right not to know the answers to some questions, maybe we can avoid this whole god thing in the beginning.

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JOJO JACOB September 9, 2011 at 5:37 am

God is a poor explanation simply because it does not make any testable predictions. I think this question was asked to Craig in a debate and he gave some non-nonsensical answer as usual!!!

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JOJO JACOB September 9, 2011 at 5:50 am

What does he mean by the “best” explanation?

An explanation that most parsimoniously explains the phenomenon in question.
You don’t chuck an explanation just because the explanation itself is mysterious. There is discrepancy in the way the universe is expanding, and dark matter is the best explanation. The fact that we don’t even know what dark matter is or where it came from does nothing to reduce the fact that it’s still the best explanation.

Then, what prevents someone from offering this as the “best” explanation?
Our Universe was created by an alien civilization. This “best” explanation is at least falsifiable. Your God hypothesis is not. Your non-sense does not pass the falsifiability test. Could you please tell me what could falsify your God theory. I heard Craig asserting that if bones of Christ are discovered, that would nullify his God theory. Do you have anything other than this?

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Polymeron September 11, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Actually, a correction here.

Dark matter is not an explanation – best or otherwise. It is a placeholder, a confession of ignorance, a loud and clear “we don’t actually know why it’s expanding but it sorta looks as if there’s some more matter out there”.

But “Dark matter” is more catchy.

You DO chuck an explanation if it does not in any way translate to expectations any more than the original phenomenon it allegedly explains, because even though that may not feel useless, it in actuality is. So if by “mysterious” you mean “not fully understood” then yes, you wouldn’t lose an explanation just because of that. But the kind of mysterious that translates to “it just does” isn’t helpful.

Falsifiability and testable predictions are one and the same. Different theistic religions make different claims, but the theistic premise itself makes no claim that translates to expectations. As such, it’s not a bad explanation – it’s in fact not an explanation at all.

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Ray Thaw October 10, 2011 at 5:42 pm

Um, I think the “who designed(created) the designer(creator) is a just rebut. I (think I) understood your article and realise it may not be the best “comeback”; but it still is valid. In fact as I read on, esp. the parts where explanations lead to further(better) explantions/questions, it seemed to me to be a version of “what’s next”…ie, who designed the designer…

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Carneades Thales Strato October 11, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Supernaturalists beg the question and special plead that He is so different that we cannot ask what made or designed Him. They claim therefore that we cannot then note that why not let the Cosmos itself have the same properties of existence?
They cannot refute the argument from physical mind that we know only of embodied minds so that to postulate a disembodied one goes against- contradicts- our conservation of knowledge. As Lamberth’s teleonomic argument cogently notes, science finds no evidence of any intent-divine or otherwise- behind natural causes so that even had He intent, He does not operate in the Cosmos and thus could not be the Primary Cause behind the Big Bang or anything else, the Grand miracle monger and so forth and thus without referents as such, He cannot exist! Having, contradictory, incoherent attributes, He cannot exist!
To nevertheless, still argue for that divine intent is no more than the new Omphalos argument that whilst the old one claims that He deceives with apparent ancient ages, this implicit new one argues that He deceives us with that apparent teleonomy, confounding science, making John Hick’s inane epistemic argument that He makes evidence for Himself ambiguous. No, this no intent means no ambiguity! Supernaturalists have to overcome the presumption of naturalism with evidence instead of that false ambiguity!
No evidence and no reason can avoid those two begged questions and special pleading for His being different! Theologians regularly use it may be and it must be, theological guesswork!
They regularly use as their chief arguments , underlining also other ones, the ones from personal incredulity and from ignorance.
With Leibniz, they cannot fathom that Existence exists, order and regularity inhere in it, natural causes account for patterns and so forth.
Lamberth’s argument from pareidolia notes that like people see Yeshua in a tortilla or Mary on windows, so people see intent and design . Scientists are investigating how and why people see nonexistent patterns and patterns as designs.
No, causalism-mechanism-teleonomy- no directed outcomes rule rather than teleology-vitalism-animism-directed outcomes!
Carneades’s argument notes that supernaturalists ever beg the question of directed outcomes!

How then could a mindless, being with intent not found be God? Theism means no more than the superstition of reduced animism!
The Azande have learned about germs but they use the superstition that the germ spirit is nevertheless the primary cause of germs.Reduced animism thus fares no better than full animism!
And furthermore, He cannot be that Primary Cause because, He’d depend on natural causes instead of them on Him just as with morality as Plato notes!
As Victor Stenger notes and in line with Charles Moore’s auto-epistemic rule, evidence of absence is indeed absence of evidence and no argument from ignorance! Thus, with never any promising arguments for His very existence after eons and reams of paper, we gnu atheists can with warrant declare that God cannot exist1 This ensues by analysis and not by dogma. We don’t thus have to traverse the Cosmos or– have omniscience ourselves to do so!

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Carneades Thales Strato October 11, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Yes, we indeed should ask for the better explanation, but my remark on the two what questions really refers to their habit of using logical fallacies.
‘”Logic is the bane of theists.” Fr. Griggs

http://fathergriggs.wordpress.com
http://lordgriggs1947.wordpress.com
http://http://buy-bull.wordpress.com

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Pachomius October 19, 2011 at 4:10 pm

My thesis is that the universe is the evidence for the existence of God.

The default status of the universe is that the universe has always existed.

But we humans whether theists or atheists must come first to an agreed on concept of what is the universe.

How about this concept of the universe:

The universe for the discussion on its being the evidence of God’s existence is that it is the totality of existence, which totality includes everything that exists in objective reality outside of concepts and thoughts in the mind of humans, and also everything that is intrinsically possible i.e. objective possibilities, and to be absolutely complete, anything also at all imaginable and can be the subject of discourse among humans.

So, we are into the universe as the evidence for God’s existence.

On that definition of the universe which we both grant theists as also atheists to be always existing, there are entities which did not exist before then they existed and then they stopped existing, like for example, our ancestors, and also extinct species of life.

Who or what is the origin of these things which are not always existing?

What else but things which are always existing or one most special thing which is always existing, in one word, eternal.

This eternal thing is what Christians call God the maker of everything in the universe that is transient in its duration of existence.

The evidence therefore for God’s existence is the universe itself, its being composed of transient things which transient things point to an eternal always existing maker of everything that is transient.

What do you think, Luke?

Are you going to ask me why God is eternal?

Well, we agree that the universe has always been existing, so that in that status of the universe in which God has not yet created the transient things, God Himself is all the universe which is always existing because it is God Himself, so that in that status in which there had not been transient things created by God, the universe is all God, namely, God and the universe are identical.

Let me hear from you, Luke.

Pachomius

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curious_jim October 30, 2011 at 11:50 am

Pachomiusm

” things which are always existing or one most special thing which is always existing, in one word, eternal….itransient things point to an eternal always existing maker of everything”

There is a distinction between ‘always existing’ and ‘eternal’ – s if you hold that God is everlasting, that for any time t God exists at that time., then you hold that God is or sempiternal not eternal. If God is eternal then he is outside time. Obviously the universe is not outside time.

How an eternal thing – a thing outside time – could be a universe that has always existed seems a bit of a mystery.

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James November 1, 2011 at 7:35 am

So who did design the designer?

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curious_jim November 1, 2011 at 4:26 pm

So who did design the designer?

James,

I think it was done by committee.

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freethoughtful November 7, 2011 at 1:08 pm

I disagree with Luke’s diagnosis of this issue. The problem that Dawkins brings to light is that God is an extremely complex being- indeed, he must be at least as complex as the universe itself- after all, he designed it and possesses perfect knowledge of all of its microscopic details. This is easy to appreciate: Is a human mind complex? Of course. Now just extrapolate to God’s mind (recall that the term ‘God’ refers to an omniscient being who perceives, thinks, understands, deliberates, plans, acts, etc.).

Whereas science aims at discovering simpler explanations for more complex phenomena, the God hypothesis is far more complex in the informational sense than that which it attempts to explain. Thus, the question, who designed the Designer? is quite appropriate. If God is to serve as an Ultimate Explanation, he must be extremely simple (e.g., a Theory of Everything that can fit on a t-shirt). It is the mind-boggling complexity of the God hypothesis that makes it unsatisfactory as an Ultimate Explanation (apart from the fact that it has no explanatory power).

Even Dawkins has maintained that if it turned out that our universe was in fact designed by an alien civilization, the aliens themselves would need to have arisen from some kind of crane-like process (e.g., Darwinian evolution) from simple beginnings. In the absence of such a crane-like mechanism for explaining the existence of God, it’s quite reasonable to ask, Where did this complex being come from? And evading the question by asserting that God ‘exists necessarily’ does not in any way remove the need to explain why this complex God exists rather than nothing (or at least something vastly simpler).

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curious_jim November 9, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Interestingly enough Dawkins at least concedes that the God he envisages is a possibility – this being entailed by the claim that it is ‘very, very improbable’ that God exists. (Thus in some possible worlds presumably a Dawkins-type Designer does exist though there is no reasaon to think He is real in this one).

The naturalistic, physical, deistic and contingent being Dawkins conceives of as being the only intelligible notion to which we can match up the term ‘God’ ‘almost certainly’ does not exist – as Dawkins maintains. Of course a contingent God is only a possibility in the mind of Richard Dawkins’ – everybody else seems to take it as a contradiction in terms. Still it seems a fair response to the argument to design, an ‘argument’ that should have been killed off long ago (not that anybody believes God is real on account of it). The argument from Improbablity does indeed see to be his. And’ who designed the designer?’ whilst used clumsily by some, does seem fairly used by Dawkins as an argument against the idea that a complex contingent physical thing made things they way they are. Why there is somethign rather than nothing (if that question makes sense), and whether something must necessarily exist are questions well beyond the scope of the Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit. The Designer Dawkins postulates, if He existed, would provide no answer to either.

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sonic_blue December 23, 2011 at 8:22 pm

The purpose of asking “who designed the designer?” is more to illustrate that if god does not require a designer, then why would the universe require a designer?

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George January 1, 2012 at 11:26 am

The purpose of asking “who designed the designer?” is more to illustrate that if god does not require a designer, then why would the universe require a designer?

Thanks, sonic_blue, that is brilliant in its simplicity and clarity.

The whole theistic argument is a king walking around with no clothes. Now make him a moron king running around naked and spewing nonsensical but intelligent sounding words….and he is still a moron, naked king spewing gobblety-gook, the intelligent sounding words do not clothe him or make him intelligent.
Martin is a prime example that if you start with a moron, and enable him to , as a carnival trick, spew out some semi-intelligent-sounding drivel, at the end of the day…you still end up with a moron. Anyone that says .8 * .8=.64 does not “seem right” is a moron. Yeah, it does not “seem right” to a chimp or a horse either..sorry.

And at the end of the day..people on opposite sides of the cosmological argument will probably still disagree…all of this philosophical gobblety-gook back and forth notwithstanding….so it is reasonable to ask…why bother arguing about it?

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Martin January 1, 2012 at 4:40 pm

George ,

So no actual content from you. Just ad hominem. I’ll take that as a sign that you have nothing.

“When you have no basis for argument, abuse the plaintiff.” – Cicero

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George January 3, 2012 at 1:32 am

Martin,

Its so easy to refute your statements, its hilarious.

1)”So no actual content from you”- wrong, actually in my opinion I have submitted some content. See my few previous posts dating back to February 2011. Are you the sole judge of what “content” is? Of course not, far from it.

2)”Just Ad Hominem”- wrong. If I had some content, which I did, then its not just Ad Hominem. Is there any Ad Hominem in my comments about you?, thats debatable. I made no attacks on your character that are irrelevant to your arguments, I made attacks on your intelligence regarding your specific statement of ” 0.8 * 0.8 = 0.64, just doesn’t seem right” . This statement should seem right to anyone with a basic understanding of mathematics and probability theory. Two independent premises with 80percent probability of being true only have a 64percent probability of both simultaneously being true, this is fundamental probability mathematics, the 0.8 and 0.8 get multiplied, there is no problem here. The most important language of the universe is arguably Mathematics, so it is very relevant (and not Ad Hominem) to point out that a dunce in Mathematics is not qualified to discuss complex matters in regard to the universe.

3)”When you have no basis for argument, abuse the plaintiff”. You should apologize to the memory of Cicero for using his words so inappropriately here. I do have a basis for argument.
You are wrong again. See point 2 above.

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