“I Kalam Like I See ‘Em…”

by Luke Muehlhauser on July 19, 2010 in Kalam Argument,Video

In this video, soap star (and philosophy student) Scott Clifton offers some criticisms of William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument, about which I write quite often.

Scott presents Craig’s argument like so:

(1) Anything that begins to exist has a cause.

(2) The universe began to exist.

(3) The universe has a cause.

He then says:

The easiest… way to refute this argument is to point out that even if you completely grant the conclusion… that doesn’t lead you with God. Nothing about the universe having a cause [indicates] that there exists a personal, emotional, disembodied mind with moral concerns, infinite knowledge, and the superpower of causing events to occur just by thinking them.

But as far as I know, Craig has always explained that we may get from premise (3) to a theistic conclusion by doing conceptual analysis on what it means to be a cause of the universe. This is even true of his original work on the argument from 1979.1 So Craig has certainly defended the inference from (3) to theism, though of course you may not accept his arguments in favor of that inference. And in his latest article on the argument, Craig makes the inference explicit by adding two more steps:

(4) If the universe has a cause, then an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful.

(5) Therefore, an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful.

To argue for (4), Craig says, for example, that the cause of the universe must be timeless because there was no time ‘before’ the universe. And so on for the other properties attributed to this theistic cause of the universe. Of course, you may not accept his arguments, but it would be incorrect to say that the inference from (3) to theism has not been explained and defended.

Do things ‘begin’ to exist?

The second segment of Scott’s video tries to explain that we do not, actually, experience things “coming to exist.” Thus, we have no evidence in support of premise (1), since we’ve never experienced something coming into existence.

The first law of thermodynamics reminds us that us that matter and energy are neither created nor destroyed; they only change forms. In one sense, a stapler does not “come to exist” when it is manufactured. Rather, pre-existing material is re-arranged to have a shape and function that we have decided to call “stapler” for convenience’s sake. The same is true of human beings, galaxies, and laser beams. They “come into existence” only in the sense that a fist “comes into existence” when I clench my fingers into my palm, and “goes out of existence” again when I stretch out my fingers.

But this is not what Craig means by the phrase “began to exist” or “comes into existence,” and he is quite explicit about this. For example, he writes:

Because the atoms currently composing my body have always existed, have I always existed? Did I exist during the Jurassic Age and the era of galaxy formation? If such a conclusion is not evidently absurd, reflect: I have certain essential properties, properties without which I could not exist. For example, it is essential to me that I am a human being. But my atoms prior to my conception were not a human being. Therefore, they were not I.

Craig has explicitly defined what he means by the phrase “come into existence”:

[We might say] “In order for something to come into existence, there must be a time t such that the thing exists at t and there is no time t* earlier than t at which the thing exists,” or more simply, “In order for anything to come into existence, there has to be a first moment of its existence.”

And so Craig’s use of the phrase “begins to exist” does not assume that something begins to exist only if it pops into existence from nothing. Rather, he uses the common-sense meaning of the phrase which assumes that something can come into existence from the re-arrangement of pre-existing materials, such as when a new child comes into existence from pre-existing atoms inside the mother’s womb. Why does a new child “begin to exist”? Because there was a first moment of its existence. The stuff of which the child is composed existed before the child did, but that doesn’t mean the child has always existed.

One more thing about the first law of thermodynamics. You might think it implies that, since matter-energy cannot be created or destroyed, therefore the universe cannot have been created. But remember that the first law of thermodynamics is a “law” in that it is an observed regularity within the universe. We have no idea if it holds as a law ‘above’ or ‘beyond’ our universe, governing the universe itself in addition to everything within it. To make this inference from things within the universe to the universe itself could be a fallacy of composition.

  1. See pages 149-153 of The Kalam Cosmological Argument. []

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{ 116 comments… read them below or add one }

Justfinethanks July 19, 2010 at 8:44 pm

You might think it implies that, since matter-energy cannot be created or destroyed, therefore the universe cannot have been created.

That certainly is a fallacy of composition, but I think people bring up the FLOT in response to part of Craig’s defense of the first premise, that is, that it is “confirmed constantly in our everyday experience.”

I imagine that Clifton might argue that when you combine our everyday experience with deeper scientific knowledge, that seemingly common sense principle isn’t really confirmed in our everyday experience.

Another youtuber (and genuine pro philosopher) SisyphusRedeemed had a good video on the “nothing begins to exist” objection and how it relates the field of mereology.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a50XrpoNElo

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Bill Maher July 19, 2010 at 9:12 pm

I am with JFT.

I noticed a long time ago that the KCA seems to be committing a Fallacy of Composition.

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lukeprog July 19, 2010 at 9:25 pm

SisyphusRedeemed says that if you assume atomism (which entails physicalism), then the KCA fails.

This does not impress me.

His response about imagination and possibility, though, is spot-on.

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Bryan Elliott July 19, 2010 at 9:33 pm

“We have no idea if it holds as a law ‘above’ or ‘beyond’ our universe”

If making assumptions about fundamental laws exceeding the bounds of our universe is a fallacy of composition, then is Craig not making precisely the same error in assuming that cause and effect are active past the bounds of the universe?

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rvkevin July 19, 2010 at 9:39 pm

I think he’s saying that Craig has not demonstrated that because somethings in the universe begin to exist that the universe began to exist; it is this inference that he is trying to object to and tries to get straight to the point by pointing out the difference between arrangements of matter and matter beginning to exist. There may be some fundamental building block(s) that have always existed that all other things are composed of. To say that things (arrangements of building blocks) begin to exist, therefore the building blocks that compose those things begin to exist commits the fallacy of division. We have no observation or reason to believe that the building blocks (i.e. energy and matter) of things begin to exist, hence the first law of thermodynamics.

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lukeprog July 19, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Bryan Elliot,

Worse than that, Craig is assuming that our notions of personhood apply beyond brain and body, that ‘action’ applies beyond space, and that ‘thought’ applies beyond time.

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anonymous July 19, 2010 at 10:59 pm

We have no idea if it holds as a law ‘above’ or ‘beyond’ our universe, governing the universe itself in addition to everything within it.

I’m not sure I follow this bit. If we have no idea that it holds as a low beyond our universe — i.e., it’s inscrutable for us –, then how can the evidence at least slightly favor the hypothesis that the universe had an ex nihilo cause?

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Alexandros Marinos July 19, 2010 at 11:56 pm

Some questions on Craig’s quotes:

Craig says “I have certain essential properties, properties without which I could not exist”. Let’s take ‘the universe’ as Craig defines it, at three points in its lifecycle. The first moment, t0, the current moment, t1, and a moment in its ending state of heat death, t2. Now, which properties are stable in these three moments, without which the universe could not exist?

Also, he says “In order for anything to come into existence, there has to be a first moment of its existence.” So, according to this, what was the first moment of Craig’s existence? The moment that the specific sperm that ended up fertilising his mother’s egg entered said egg? The moment where the partial DNA strands merged? Each of these is not a moment but a process having a duration. Was it a specific interaction between two molecules that brought Craig into existence? At which point did they stop being sperm+egg and became William Lane Craig? Did they go through intermediate phases? Essentially we run into ‘Achilles and the turtle’ type paradoxes.

What I mean to say is that ‘things’ don’t really ‘snap into existence’, where at T(n) they exist but at T(n-1) they did not, but rather go through an (infinite?) series of transformations. We may label a swath of these transformations as a ‘thing’ but that is merely an approximation for daily reasoning that breaks down when you try to pinpoint the exact moment something ‘began to exist’. So if we’re being accurate, “Everything that begins to exist has a cause” is meaningless because the moment something begins to exist cannot be located. Or to put it differently, without human minds around to apply labels, everything is a quark soup operating in larger or smaller patterns. One may call this a presumption of naturalism, but I call it a summary of observations thus far. Surely any argument for the existence of god has to work from the observations, right?

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TaiChi July 20, 2010 at 12:36 am

Of course, you may not accept his arguments, but it would be incorrect to say that the inference from (3) to theism has not been explained and defended.” ~ Lukeprog

In defense of Clifton, Craig often presents the Kalam argument in this shortened form, particularly in debates.

And so Craig’s use of the phrase “begins to exist” does not assume that something begins to exist only if it pops into existence from nothing. Rather, he uses the common-sense meaning of the phrase which assumes that something can come into existence from the re-arrangement of pre-existing materials… ” ~ Lukeprog

There’s a problem with this reading. If ‘begins to exist’ is to be read as ‘comes into existence as an arrangement of material’, then the relevant understanding of ’cause’ is as a ’cause responsible for that arrangement’. So, on your interpretation, Craig’s argument reads..

1. Anything that comes into existence as an arrangement of material has a cause responsible for that arrangement.
2. The universe began to exist as an arrangement of material.
3. The universe has a cause responsible for its arrangement.

.. but this interpretation no longer supports Craig’s conceptual analysis. That the universe has a cause responsible for its arrangement does not support the timelessness or immateriality of that cause, for it leaves open the possibility of a spatio-temporally extended pre-universe.
No, what Craig needs to derive timelessness and immateriality are stronger notions of ‘begins to exist’ and ’cause’. He needs to be able to say that the universe not only began to exist in a particular form, but began to exist substantially. Only then can he say that time and space were non-existent before the origin of the universe, and so only than can he infer the timelessness and immateriality of the cause of the universe.

But remember that the first law of thermodynamics is a “law” in that it is an observed regularity within the universe. We have no idea if it holds as a law ‘above’ or ‘beyond’ our universe, governing the universe itself in addition to everything within it. To make this inference from things within the universe to the universe itself would be a fallacy of composition. ” ~ Lukeprog

It could be a fallacy of composition. But just because inference has been made from parts to whole does not automatically result in fallacy. Example:

4. Atoms are spatially extended.
5. Apples are constructed out of many atoms.
6. So, apples are spatially extended.

It all depends upon the kind of property belonging to the part which is being predicated of the whole. In fact, there seems to be nothing wrong with extending the uncreated nature of matter/energy to the universe, provided ‘the universe’ is taken to designate a collective like ‘the total quantity of matter/energy that exists’. Whether or not that is what ‘the universe’ typically means*, it would suffice to refute Craig’s argument, given the strong notions I say he needs above.

* I think it is, and think 2 above sounds peculiar precisely because it goes beyond this to treat ‘the universe’ as some specific arrangement of matter/energy.

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James Onen July 20, 2010 at 1:11 am

Thanks for finally reviewing this video, Luke!

A few things. You said:

“And so Craig’s use of the phrase “begins to exist” does not assume that something begins to exist only if it pops into existence from nothing.”

But I think this leads him to commit the fallacy of equivocation with regard to the term ‘begin to exist’. I say this because when Craig states in his second premise that ‘The universe began to exist’, he means it in the sense that it popped into existence from nothing (no antecedents). So if, as you say, that by ‘begins to exist’ Craig does not assume that something begins to exist only if it pops into existence from nothing – then does that mean he thinks the universe COULD HAVE come into existence as a result of certain antecedent materials coalescing to form the singularity which expanded (during the Big Bang) to form the universe? It would seem to be so, given what you said later, regarding his use of the phrase ‘begins to exist’:

“Rather, he uses the common-sense meaning of the phrase which assumes that something can come into existence from the re-arrangement of pre-existing materials, such as when a new child comes into existence from pre-existing atoms inside the mother’s womb. Why does a new child “begin to exist”? Because there was a first moment of its existence. The stuff of which the child is composed existed before the child did, but that doesn’t mean the child has always existed.”

But would Craig dare say (based on his logic) that “The stuff of which the universe is composed existed before the universe did, but that doesn’t mean the universe has always existed?”

I don’t think so.

If he attempts to get away from this by claiming that this definition of ‘begins to exist’ doesn’t apply to the universe – that the universe began to exist from no antecedent materials, yet when children ‘begin to exist’ they do so from antecedent materials – then indeed, he would be committing the fallacy of equivocation with regards to “begins to exist” and thus the argument is invalid.

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Tim July 20, 2010 at 3:33 am

I agree with the above comments. The definition of “beginning to exist” as a process of forming subsets from the set of material found in an extant universe is qualitatively different from the presumed beginning of existence of that universal set.

The biggest problem with the KCA is that premise 1 asserts what it aims to prove.

That KCA is such a key part of WLC’s presentations surely demonstrates that his intention in debates is to “prime the intuition pump” of the peanut gallery rather than deal with the philosophical concepts at hand rigorously

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RedKing July 20, 2010 at 3:44 am

Onen: “This leads him to commit the fallacy of equivocation with regard to the term ‘begin to exist.’”

I always thought this was so obviously the point of the “things don’t begin to exist” objection that I find it hard to understand how Craig is not being deliberately obtuse. Craig defends premise #1 by saying that it is verified by our experience and intuition. But while we certainly have observed tigers always coming into existence with causes, we have no such common knowledge or experience with universes coming into existence.

“In order for something to come into existence, there must be a time t such that the thing exists at t and there is no time t* earlier than t at which the thing exists.”

Wait a minute. Since there is no time before the creation of the universe, doesn’t that mean that, under this definition, God came into existence? Could someone clarify?

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Zeb July 20, 2010 at 4:21 am

I think the criticism that all “things” are artificial constructions imposed on the “quark soup” is good at first glance. Things don’t begin to exist in the material sense, only in their humanly defined arrangements begin to exist. But could that be enough to get the Kalam of the ground? Every particular arrangement of the universe began to exist (according to “In order for something to come into existence, there must be a time t such that the thing exists at t and there is no time t* earlier than t at which the thing exists.”), and if actual infinites actually are impossible, then you could could get to a version of point 3 where ‘the [first] particular arrangement of the universe must have a cause’ and not necessarily assert that the matter itself came out of nothing.

But I think the definition of come into existence ought to be changed to ‘In order for something to come into existence, there must be a time t such that the thing exists at t and there is a time t* earlier than t at which the thing does not exist.’ That’s the kind of beginning we experience every day, and it cannot not apply to the universe as Craig describes it.

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antybu86 July 20, 2010 at 4:24 am

If it’s true that humans are biological machines, then the question “did I exist during the Jurassic Age?” is synonymous with “did the particular arrangement of atoms that comprises my body exist during the Jurassic Age?”

…which Gets to the whole point that Scott was making. The universe “beginning to exist” is the creation of new matter whereas a human “beginning to exist” is the re-arrangement of pre-existing matter. These are two COMPLETELY different things.

Besides, Craig’s definition of “begins to exist” seems to only make sense on his Presentist theory (aka A-Theory/Tensed Theory) of time, and we all know that is complete crap.

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Ian July 20, 2010 at 5:14 am

“But this is not what Craig means by the phrase “began to exist” or “comes into existence,” and he is quite explicit about this”

Erm, no. Your point is correct when Craig is talking about regular things. But this is exactly what Craig means when he talks about the universe.

You could say, then, that he is using two different definitions of “begins to exist”.

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Zeb July 20, 2010 at 5:18 am

Somehow I missed that TaiChi addressed the same question as I did. But doesn’t TaiChi’s answer run into the problem of the actual infinite?

That the universe has a cause responsible for its arrangement does not support the timelessness or immateriality of that cause, for it leaves open the possibility of a spatio-temporally extended pre-universe.

TaiChi, do you assert that an actual infinite series of arrangements is possible, or that there could have been a static “first arrangement” that 14 billion years ago went into motion? By “pre-universe” do you mean something different from ‘prior [to the big bang or something] arrangements of the universe’?

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lukeprog July 20, 2010 at 6:02 am

TaiChi,

On your first point, that’s why I wrote “can” come into existence blah blah blah. I know I’m being vague there, but it’s at the sake of brevity.

I changed the other one to ‘could.’

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Torgo July 20, 2010 at 6:14 am

Craig: “I have certain essential properties, properties without which I could not exist. For example, it is essential to me that I am a human being. But my atoms prior to my conception were not a human being. Therefore, they were not I.”

Perhaps someone can help. Is there not a name for the fallacy of assuming that because we have a term for something that thing is real? Fallacy of misplaced ontological status? Sure, Craig is a human being, but this is not a property in the usual sense. It is not the same as saying someone is of a certain height, or is blue-eyed. “Human being” only signifies a way in which we classify certain biochemical configurations of matter, or certain experiential phenomena (the more philosophical or poetic sense of “being human”). Being human does not have any essence beyond these, and arguably existed before him, and before any human being, as a potential configuration of matter.

And can’t similar arguments be made for any other examples he raises?

As others have noted, Craig seems committed to arguing for dualism to make this argument work, which I’m sure he’s glad to do. Since human beings are the only beings on his worldview who are held to be something more than their material parts, he has to invoke dualism in order to make sense of his claim that he began to exist at some time as something more than a mere reconfiguration of matter.

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Alexandros Marinos July 20, 2010 at 6:21 am

Torgo, over at LessWrong we say that thinking confuses the ‘map’ and the ‘territory’.

http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/The_map_is_not_the_territory

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Alexandros Marinos July 20, 2010 at 6:22 am

(luke, we need that editing plugin)

further to my previous post, the confusion Torgo talks about is called the ‘Mind Projection Fallacy’ and is coined by E.T.Jaynes

http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Mind_projection_fallacy

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Zeb July 20, 2010 at 6:34 am

“Human being” only signifies a way in which we classify certain biochemical configurations of matter, or certain experiential phenomena (the more philosophical or poetic sense of “being human”). Being human does not have any essence beyond these, and arguably existed before him, and before any human being, as a potential configuration of matter.

What do you mean “arguably existed before him, and before any human being”? If they existed “as potential,” are you referring to the existence of abstract concepts prior to concrete forms, or logical possibilities (in the sense that a non-magical unicorn exists as a potential configuration of matter even if matter happens to never become configured in that way), or as predetermined necessary results given the prior conditions of the universe, or …?

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NAL July 20, 2010 at 6:50 am

WLC:

[We might say] “In order for something to come into existence, there must be a time t such that the thing exists at t and there is no time t* earlier than t at which the thing exists,” or more simply, “In order for anything to come into existence, there has to be a first moment of its existence.”

This argument is a little too cute. Note that he doesn’t say that “there is a time t* earlier than t at which the thing does not exist”. That would be a common-sense argument.

For spacetime to “come into existence” the concept of “earlier” is nonsense. WLC’s argument is nonsense with respect to spacetime.

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lukeprog July 20, 2010 at 7:01 am

E.T. Jaynes was a fucking judo badass.

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Martin July 20, 2010 at 7:12 am

Couldn’t all cosmological arguments be accused of committing fallacy of composition? What’s true of the parts (things in the universe) is not necessarily true of the whole (the universe itself).

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Zeb July 20, 2010 at 8:27 am

Couldn’t all cosmological arguments be accused of committing fallacy of composition? What’s true of the parts (things in the universe) is not necessarily true of the whole (the universe itself).

It’s only a fallacy if he is making the deductive argument
1. Everything that composes the universe began to exist.
2. Therefor the universe itself began to exist.

But I thought support for premise 2 was more inductive: since everything we know of began to exist, the universe probably did too. It’s not because the universe is made of things that exist, it’s that the universe is a thing, and so like other things probably began to exist.

And then there is the deductive argument from the impossibility of an actual infinite implying the necessity of a boundaries on measurable, numerable things.

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Paul July 20, 2010 at 8:36 am

can someone help me -

“And so Craig’s use of the phrase “begins to exist” does not assume that something begins to exist only if it pops into existence from nothing. Rather, he uses the common-sense meaning of the phrase which assumes that something can come into existence from the re-arrangement of pre-existing materials, such as when a new child comes into existence from pre-existing atoms inside the mother’s womb. Why does a new child “begin to exist”? Because there was a first moment of its existence. The stuff of which the child is composed existed before the child did, but that doesn’t mean the child has always existed.”

I think I understand the clarification that Luke is providing. If this is an accurate interpretation of Dr. Craig’s reasoning. And the KCA is not about how something, specifically matter and energy, can come into existence from nothing then for me the KCA argument has lost whatever meaning it had. How matter and energy change from one form to another has arguably easily explained naturalistic explanation.

I am certain I have misunderstood something. if someone would clarify I would be grateful.

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Torgo July 20, 2010 at 8:46 am

Zeb,

I was just referring to the matter and potential configurations, not abstract concepts.

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Torgo July 20, 2010 at 9:01 am

Alexandros,

Mind Projection Fallacy sounds like what I had in mind. Thanks.

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Reginald Selkirk July 20, 2010 at 9:08 am

The first law of thermodynamics reminds us that us that matter and energy are neither created nor destroyed; they only change forms.

Suck on it:
Energy Is Not Conserved
by Sean Carroll

I am not impressed by Clifton’s argument that nothing can be created, it seems like a combination of word games and begging the question.

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Como July 20, 2010 at 10:00 am

It seems to me that WLC commits a fallacy when he states that the cause of our universe must be timeless, spaceless and immaterial. Just because all of the matter/energy and space/time that we know of arose from our big bang quantum seed (singularity) does not imply that no other such stuff exists. This would be like an ancient Roman arguing that because all of the humans he knew of lived in Europe, Africa or Asia that therefore no other humans exist. What is this fallacy called? Hasty generalization or just a Non-sequitor? Craig is simply making an unsupported assumption when he asserts that the cause must be timeless, spaceless and immaterial. Assuming the existance of an Invisible Magic Person is no better than assuming the existance of some other kind of material substance. On the other hand, we have absolute proof that the existance of material substances is at least possible (they’re all around us). Whereas we don’t even know for sure if a timeless, spaceless, immaterial person is really possible.

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Tomasz July 20, 2010 at 10:58 am

Where is my comment :(??

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Tomasz July 20, 2010 at 11:08 am

NAL,

This argument is a little too cute. Note that he doesn’t say that “there is a time t* earlier than t at which the thing does not exist”. That would be a common-sense argument.

For spacetime to “come into existence” the concept of “earlier” is nonsense. WLC’s argument is nonsense with respect to spacetime.
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But here is special Craig definition.

e comes into being at t if and only if (i) e exists at t, (ii) t is the first time at which e exists, (iii) there is no state of affairs in the actual world in which e exists timelessly, and (iv) e’s existing at t is a tensed fact.

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Muto July 20, 2010 at 11:40 am

@tomasz
If one has a certain understanding of time Craig’s definition becomes problematic:
E.g. Assume that time in your frame of refference corresponds to the real numbers.
If a frog pops into existence between t=0 and t=1 and he exists in all times t* such that t*>0 but not at t=0 it did not beginn to exist according to Craig.

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Doug July 20, 2010 at 11:56 am

“We have no idea if it holds as a law ‘above’ or ‘beyond’ our universe”If making assumptions about fundamental laws exceeding the bounds of our universe is a fallacy of composition, then is Craig not making precisely the same error in assuming that cause and effect are active past the bounds of the universe?  

“We have no idea if it holds as a law ‘above’ or ‘beyond’ our universe, governing the universe itself in addition to everything within it. To make this inference from things within the universe to the universe itself could be a fallacy of composition.”
I have a problem with this argument, and I’m no logician so correct me if I’m wrong. Given that we can know nothing outside of our universe (lack of evidence), and given that within our universe energy/matter can neither be created or destroyed, I don’t see how Scott’s argument doesn’t hold for the universe as a whole. If energy can’t be created or destroyed within our universe, then it must imply that the universe could not have been created or destroyed, since that is what the universe is made of. A thing is only the sum of its parts.

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Hermes July 20, 2010 at 1:07 pm

[ sloppy quick comment -- company calls ]

Even if Craig means ‘begins to exist’ as ‘this construction begins to exist’, it doesn’t help him get to his narrow conception of deity at all. (Plus, he does not correct that misconception aggressively enough, allowing him to have a tactical advantage when he starts to bring up his conception of a deity.)

Without that bridge, or with it, it is still an assertion without positive support.

With only ‘begins to exist’ meaning ‘this construction begins to exist’ the most likely conclusion is that if deities (one or more) exist, and (by necessity) all that is came from that deity (by ‘will’ or as part of it’s substance), then the result is the responsibility of that deity or part of it’s nature (in the broadest sense). There are various theological pretzels to resolve that problem, but all of them are by assertion but not by logical necessity let alone shown with positive support beyond that assertion.

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Tomasz July 20, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Muto

@tomasz
If one has a certain understanding of time Craig’s definition becomes problematic:
E.g. Assume that time in your frame of refference corresponds to the real numbers.
If a frog pops into existence between t=0 and t=1 and he exists in all times t* such that t*>0 but not at t=0 it did not beginn to exist according to Craig.

But Im worried that Craig can easly refute such objection because such frog still must have first t in which frog exists. viz. every event has its own natural number. So for him time is like successive process of puting one brick after another, but the bricks are created by events themselves. I think that reason why he is so desperately trying to prove inital singularity is partially because if this is true, than first brick in sequence must have also both ends. So he is in my opinion treating Universe’s timeline as finite line and then he is able to devide that line by real “events” (not just as potential divsion) by changing length of bricks proportionally to number of actual successive events and ignoring simultaneous events!

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piero July 20, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Tomasz

But Im worried that Craig can easly refute such objection because such frog still must have first t in which frog exists. viz. every event has its own natural number

I doub that. I do not think time is “granular” in that way, but even if it were, we would still have the difficulty of determining when something “begins to exist”. When does a person begin to exist? When the fusion of the sperm and ovulum nuclei is completed? And when is it completed? When does a stapler begin to exist? Is a stapler with a missing rivet not yet a stapler? What if I hold did so that even with the missing rivet I can staple papers with it? Would be call it “a stapler with a missing rivet” or “not a stapler yet”?

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Tomasz July 20, 2010 at 2:04 pm

(iii) there is no state of affairs in the actual world in which e exists timelessly
Every one who is seriously interested in refuting Kalam should be aware that by this criterion God can escape beginning of existence.

Here is my definition

e comes in to being at t there is such S in the actual world in which is no e, and such S is not successor or simultaneous to any S in which e exists, and t is such S in which e exists that every other S in which e exists is successor to t, and number of all S in actual world is finite.

Notice that if according to Craig definition there is first moment of time in actual world, than must be implicitly timeless state of affairs in actual world in which time just can’t exist iven if explicitly all you need is first moment of time and absence of timless existence of time in actual world. Such state is impossible in any world and thus III is trivial in case of time. But you nevetheless still need such state of time absence if you want concept of coming in to being to be coherent. You need actual state of affairs when time is not actual.

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Shane July 20, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Not sure if someone may have mentioned this previously – firing this off quickly as I’m in a bit of a rush. However, Craig seems to be adopting an essentialist fallacy. Let’s be clear – there is no such thing as a “thing” that has “attributes” – these are just labels that we apply to SYSTEMS that exhibit BEHAVIOURS.

A chair does not “have” chairness; there is a class of subsystems of our universe (arrangements of atoms, which themselves are systems containing subsystems) that when prompted with a certain type of input A (i.e. someone sitting on them) exhibit a behaviour B, and that behaviour is part of what allows our information processing systems (brains, effectively) to apply the “chair” label to that subsystem.

Humans themselves are subsystems of the universe, and in turn contain subsubsystems and subsubsubsystems.

In this analysis, Craig’s argument for a “personal creator” is seen to lack any coherence.

But it is worse than that – essentially the key part of Craig’s argument that “everything that begins to exist has a cause” *must* reduce to “every state of a system has an antecedent state”.

And when you apply that to the universe, which is (I would suggest) self-evidently a system, the notion of creation by an external agent that is *other* than the system becomes very shaky indeed.

But things get even worse for Craig – poor Craig! – systems themselves are mathematical entities, and as mathematical entities, they do not need to be “actualised” to be accessible. There is no need for a deeper “reality” to ground a system – mathematics itself is sufficient. And we have plenty of examples of mathematical systems where the state at t[0] is not dependent on a state at t[-1] – the Fibonacci sequence is one such example.

Indeed, I rather think that the refutation of the Kalam cosmological argument (which, despite the attempt at intellectualisation and novelty by incorporation of the semitic klm root, is merely a warmed over re-hash of other cosmological arguments from time immemorial) necessarily implies that the universe IS a mathematical entity, and that it really is a matter of figuiring out (if possible) the Theory of Everything, which, when applied to any arbitrary number, necessarily specifies an entire family/set of universes of which ours is just one. But as subsystems, we perceive THIS universe as real, while all the others are mathematical abstracta.

Max Tegmark makes the most cogent (in my view) argument for this in “The Mathematical Universe Hypothesis”, although I accept that a lot of people have a hard time getting this concept.

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piero July 20, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Shane:
That sounds interesting. Thanks. One of the problems I had with a mathematical concept of the universe was to account for its “physicality”. I hadn’t thought that minds, as subsystems of the system, would perceive the larger system as being “of the same kind” as themselves.

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Hermes July 20, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Lukeprog: His response about imagination and possibility, though, is spot-on.

I think that’s the same point where JS Allen and my conversation went off the rails. JSA made an imaginative point and I was looking for a demonstratable point. SisyphusRedeemed’s description from 6:30-7:30+ and 8:15-8:45 in the video outlines much of what I think also would apply in that other conversation.

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Muto July 20, 2010 at 3:13 pm

tomasz

‘But Im worried that Craig can easly refute such objection because such frog still must have first t in which frog exists. viz. every event has its own natural number. So for him time is like successive process of puting one brick after another, but the bricks are created by events themselves.’

At least under some concepts of time my objection is good enough(eg. if time is a real number). Under Craigs concept it is not. I think it depends on which interpretation of quantum mechanics you prefer.

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NAL July 20, 2010 at 3:46 pm

WLC:

e comes into being at t if and only if (i) e exists at t, (ii) t is the first time at which e exists, (iii) there is no state of affairs in the actual world in which e exists timelessly, and (iv) e’s existing at t is a tensed fact.

Is not spacetime timeless since it has existed for all time? Therefore spacetime can not be e.

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Rhys Wilkins July 20, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Luke,

You should add “and philosophy undergrad” next to “soap opera star”, it sounds a little more charitable methinks. He is studying to be a philosopher after all.

:)

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TaiChi July 20, 2010 at 5:35 pm

TaiChi, do you assert that an actual infinite series of arrangements is possible, or that there could have been a static “first arrangement” that 14 billion years ago went into motion? By “pre-universe” do you mean something different from ‘prior [to the big bang or something] arrangements of the universe’? ” ~ Zeb

I’m making no speculations. What I mean to point out is that: (1) If we consider ‘the universe’ not as a totality of matter/energy but as some particular arrangement of the same, then this implies some contrasting arrangement which would not be correct to call ‘the universe’*. (2) If “The universe began to exist” means that some particular arrangement of matter/energy existed at one time and not at another, then this does not rule out other arrangements of matter/energy existing when ‘the universe’ does not. Therefore, (3) If ‘the universe’ has a cause, then it is possible that the cause is merely one of the arrangements of matter/energy which contrast with the arrangement called ‘the universe’. I use “pre-universe” to refer these possible non-universe arrangements of matter/energy.
Now, why does this possibility matter? It matters because Craig means to perform conceptual analysis on 3 – that is, he wants to deduce from 3 the immateriality and timelessness of the universe’s cause. But if the pre-universe remains a candidate cause, then he cannot deduce from 3 the immateriality and timelessness of that cause, because the pre-universe is spatially and temporally extended. This counterexample is sufficient to show the move to 4 to be invalid, at least on Luke’s proposed interpretation.

* Compare: a ‘human being’ is not just a collective of atoms, but some (disjunction of) particular arrangement(s) of atoms, and so there are other arrangements of the same atoms which would not be correctly called a ‘human being’.

On your first point, that’s why I wrote “can” come into existence blah blah blah. I know I’m being vague there, but it’s at the sake of brevity” ~ Lukeprog

Sorry to be dense, but I’m not sure how this helps.

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Como July 20, 2010 at 5:45 pm

Isn’t it a fallacy of hasty generalization to assert that because all of the matter/energy and space/time that we know of arose from our big bang singularity that no other such stuff exists?

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TaiChi July 20, 2010 at 6:05 pm

Is not spacetime timeless since it has existed for all time?” ~ NAL

Spacetime is sempiternal (everlasting), not eternal (timeless). Some stuff about that here.

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Zeb July 20, 2010 at 6:19 pm

TaiChi, Craig defines “the universe” precisely as the totality of matter and energy plus anything spatial or temporal that is causally connected to the totality of matter and energy (if I understand Luke’s coverage of the Kalam, that is). So your pre-universe would be a part of the universe. That totality does not negate the fact that at every instant, the universe does have a particular arrangement. Our observation is that every particular arrangement of the universe (or any part of it) always has a beginning. So, if the universe had a first particular arrangement it may be said to have a beginning, and to have begun, and thus to have been caused. I don’t see how your spatial/temporal pre-universe gets around having it’s own particular arrangements that must either extend back in time infinitely or have a beginning of their own.

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Hermes July 20, 2010 at 6:53 pm

Zeb, is that universe as Craig defines it inclusive of all entities/beings?

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Chris July 20, 2010 at 7:07 pm

Doesn’t Craig say that “everything that begins to exists has a cause” is a “metaphysical intuition” or something like that? That’s weird, because the more we learn about physics, the less intuitive it seems.

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lukeprog July 20, 2010 at 9:56 pm

Ah! Did not know this.

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Polymeron July 21, 2010 at 12:00 am

I would be very interested in knowing how the problem of the fallacy of equivocation raised above can be defended against. Clearly WLC is talking about two different things, both of which he calls “existing”.
Although, I’ve read the definition provided above and off the top of my head, I can’t punch a hole in it. I would be ESPECIALLY interested in knowing what Luke thinks about this, since he has clearly put a lot of time and thought into the KCA specifically.

As a side note, let me say that the great majority of this discussion has been strikingly interesting, thought provoking, deep yet not overly laden with jargon, to the point, and was just generally excellent in every way. Luke, I’m marking this up in your favor :)

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Yair July 21, 2010 at 1:05 am

Scott didn’t say there were no arguments to bridge the gap, he said that there are none that work, as far as he knows. That’s quite different, and he didn’t expand on that point so it’s unfair to judge whether he’s making an educated dismissal.

I find Scott’s main objection to the KCA is deeply mistaken, but in an illuminating direction. Scott maintains that it is impossible for something to affect something which doesn’t exist. But under the Presentism view of time [or The Growing Universe], it would then for the same reasons be equally impossible for something to affect itself at a later time, so objects cannot be the cause of their future existence. Or of anything else, since it doesn’t yet exist. This isn’t necessary. All one needs do is to suppose that an object can affect the composition of reality at a later time. Scott would then need to deny that any change or continuity is possible, if he is to maintain his thesis that affecting that which does not exist is impossible.

In truth, Presentism causality is nothing but magical thinking. It is a “god of the gaps” mindset where an object somehow has magical powers to affect stuff, leaving the description of how precisely he does that to the Great [Platonic] Causal Powers, They Who Exist Beyond Existence, Glory Be Their Names! Once you accept Eternalism, you realize that “[efficient] cause” is merely a particular type of relation within (the atemporal) reality. It then becomes irrelevant whether what is caused is the production of some electron-hole pair or the change of position of an electron. Scott’s contention that something cannot be meaningfully said to create ex nihilo hence also fails under Eternalism.

Scott’s argument fails under Eternalism, and also under Presentism or “Past & Present”/Growing Universe views of time (which is less important, because these are wrong, wrong, wrong).

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Shane July 21, 2010 at 2:12 am

While the Kalam Cosmological Argument undoubtedly fails at multiple points, and indeed teeters over long before Craig can claim any justification for ascribing “personal” or “powerful” attributes to his Pixie (“Primary Intelligent Cosmological Creator” – PIC-C), I still think it is a useful argument because its failures potentially give insights into what the universe actually *is*, and why there is anything at all.

I don’t find it helpful to introduce “isms” into arguments of this sort (e.g. “Presentism” and “Eternalism”), but I suppose it’s OK as long as we remember what we’re talking about, and strip ‘em down and build ‘em up again to see if they still fit.

Anyway, let’s be explicit here, and try another approach (and from my last post, some folks may know where I am hoping to end up ;-).

Let’s suppose the KCA is sound (I don’t even think it is actually *valid*, for the equivocational reasons given above, but let’s fire on anyway). Let’s suppose that if the universe begins to exist, then it has to have had a cause outside itself (note to Americans – there is no “of” after “outside” ;-), and that cause is PICC / Pixie.

Fine. But instead of picking the KCA apart, what about we examine another scenario – let’s assume for the moment that the non-existence of the Pixie is a matter of *fact* – does this allow us to say anything about what a universe in such a context can actually *be*?

It cross-cuts with “why is there anything at all?” (WITAA) – even the Pixie is susceptible to this question, and all the arguments about the “necessity” of PICC do not adequately address this (I don’t intend to get into that here).

Well, if there is no Pixie, does *anything* exist? We could say that *integers* exist, I suppose – even in the absence of a god or a universe to do counting, the concept of “1″ seems to have some timeless “existent” quality to it, although it is a different idea to the concept of my atoms existing (although they only “exist” as relationships between segments of whatever the underlying stuff of spacetime “is”). We could also say that Pi “exists” – after all, there is one correct answer for the sixty-squillionth digit of Pi, whether we are able to calculate it or not. It would also be fair to say that something like the Mandelbrot Set “exists” – it was not “invented” or “made” by Benoit Mandelbrot – he merely opened a window whereby our universe could access the Set.

So numbers and equations must “exist”, regardless of whether there is anything to “actually” compute them.

The same must (of course) apply to iterative mathematical functions, such as those carried out by computer simulations, so if we were able to simulate a consciousness (for example), all we would *really* be doing would be to open a window (one way, unless we were providing an input stream) into that eternal mathematical system, but if we unplugged the computer, the simulated consciousness would simply become disconnected from *our* universe, and although we would lose it, from its own perspective, operating as it does in its own mathematical realm, it merely continues on as if nothing had happened. Its “now” merely relates to the point of current calculation – nothing to do with our universe, and entirely contained within itself as a mathematical model.

All of which means that IF our universe is itself such a mathematical device (and I rather think that it is), there is no need for a Pixie, no need for a computer to simulate it, any more than the sixty-squillionth digit of Pi requires someone to actually calculate it in order for it to “exist”.

OK, apologies – that was too long AND too short, but I hope it helps explain how the KCA’s fatal flaws can actually be enlightening for those of us who think that the universe IS a purely mathematical structure, in the same way that the Fibonacci sequence, or any particular instance of the Game of Life is. And not a Pixie in sight! ;-)

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Tomasz July 21, 2010 at 2:59 am

..”Imagine God existing changelessly alone without creation, with a changeless and eternal determination to create a temporal world. Since God is omnipotent, his will is done, and a temporal world begins to exist…. Once time begins at the moment of creation, God either becomes temporal in virtue of his real, causal relation to time and the world or else he exists as timelessly with creation as he does sans creation. But this second alternative seems quite impossible. At the first moment of time, God stands in a new relation in which he did not stand before…this is a real, causal relation which is at that moment new to God and which he does not have in the state of existing sans creation.”…

But what if we ask question why Universe is not older o younger by one minute ?
Why our past consists for instance 100 moments instead of 101 or 99?? We can repeat this question at every moment of time except first moment.
But what is so special about first “moment”? Seems to me that first moment of time is changeless and eternal state. You cannot ask meaningful question why this “moment” is not second moment, because there is no such thing as past at this “moment”. But if Universe is eternal at S1 than it cannot cases to be eternal at S2 in exactly same way as God existing changelessly sans creation cannot cases to be eternal at the moment of first change. The first state of Universe “created ” second state, but than would be wrong to conclude if given state of Universe is contingent than all states of Universe are contingent. So it seems to me that all arguments for God based on impossiblity of infinite regres are just based on confusion. If totality of God states is finite than this means clearly that something can be eternal without actual infinity of states. But surce of confusion is concept of temporal world, and labeling every state of Universe as temporal and contingent.
So question what was before first state of Universe, or why not earlier is just ill formed question, and everyone who is asking such question is expecting implicitly infinite series, based on generalisation that every state must have predecessor because every state is event. But this turns out to be just circular reasoning, because to label state as event you mast assume that such state has predecessor.

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Emil Karlsson July 21, 2010 at 3:39 am

“To make this inference from things within the universe to the universe itself could be a fallacy of composition.”

This seems incorrect. Since the universe is nothing more than different forms of matter and energy, the law of conservation of energy applies to the universe as well. If you presuppose that there exists something immaterial or presuppose that it makes sense to speak of “above” or “outside” the universe, then such an argument would be a fallacy of composition. But then, you have made a circular argument, since you presuppose that which you are trying to prove.

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Bryan July 21, 2010 at 5:57 am

(1) Anything that begins to exist has a cause.

Not even science would agree with this statement. Much of what occurs at the quantum level is probabilistic – as in uncaused, simply a product of random chance, etc.

Examples abound – whether two colliding atoms bond chemically, Hawking radiation, virtual particles, etc.

The latter is particularity telling; virtual particles are matter or energy (photons, for example) that form spontaneously, due to the uncertainty principal. These particles really exist, and yet their creation is not caused – its simply a product of random chance. We can measure these things – the casimir effect, for example, meaning that these “uncaused” particles are, indeed, reality.

At least one physicist (Lawrence Krauss) thinks our universe may have come to be through such a quantum fluctuation. A good video on this:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo

The same is true throughout other areas of science as well. Take my field – biology. Mutations, for example, often occur during cell division (when DNA is copied). These mutations – and thus the evolutionary change they drive – is not caused by anything. They’re simply a product of the occasional [u]random error[/u] made by the DNA replication machinery. In fact, much of what occurs in our bodies, the environment, etc, is stochastic in nature – a fancy way of saying events occur due to random chance, rather than direct cause-effect interactions.

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Polymeron July 21, 2010 at 6:08 am

Bryan, this is very interesting! I’ll be watching that video soon.

A nitpick, though: Other than Quantum interactions, stochastic events still follow a causal chain. For instance, a mutation in the DNA can occur BECAUSE the DNA Nuclease (or whichever protein) bumped into the DNA at a wrong angle and thus missed a base pair. And it bumped into it wrong BECAUSE another molecule bumped into it and gave it angular momentum. And so on. Just because these effects are random does not undermine causation.

However at the Quatnum level your argument may well hold, because it appears to imply that several incompatible states exist at once, with different probabilities. Unless we find (or have reason to assume) anything controlling (causing) these probabilities and the collapse of the probability wave, a product of Quantum interactions would indeed be a state of events without a full causal chain.

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Shane July 21, 2010 at 6:35 am

Bryan, that is a great video, and Laurence Krauss is a star (but not a patch on his wee sister Alison! ;-)

However, I still think that *assumes* the system whereby quantum mechanics “works” to be present in advance, if you get my drift. QM works in *our* universe, but why indeed should that be so? It could have been otherwise.

I think Krauss (Laurence) is right about pretty much everything, given the rules of our universe, but in order to get the rules, that’s where the Mathematical Universe helpfully steps in :-)

OK, I’m off down in the river to pray…

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Yair July 21, 2010 at 6:42 am

The molecular mutations Bryan refers to already are at the quantum level and thus include a fair bit of true randomness (as opposed to just randomness as representing lack of knowledge, which Plolymeron refers to).

Since ultimately if you go back enough all evolutionary lineages and all gravitational structures (such as our Earth) are caused by quantum fluctuations, in a very real sense every thing is without a cause, instead being due to random chance.

Incidentally, deducing that everything (existence as a whole) has no cause from the (empirical) fact that every thing has no cause would be a good example of the fallacy of composition.

However, I’d note that the premise that things are not caused under quantum mechanics is founded on the Copenhagen (collapse) interpretation. Under the Everett (multiple worlds) interpretation there is still no cause for our world being a particular way. Under the Bohmian (hidden variables) interpretation, however, there are physical reasons for why things are the way they are in our world, we just can’t ever know them. (These three interpretations cover the range of possibilities, the rest are either variants or not purely quantum mechanics; I personally advocate for Everett.) Philosophically, it doesn’t matter – it’s enough that indeterministic physics is plausible to make the metaphysical assumption that “everything has an explanation” doubtful.

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lukeprog July 21, 2010 at 6:45 am

Thanks, Polymeron. It has been a good discussion.

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Yair July 21, 2010 at 6:46 am

Shane – as much as I like the Mathematical Universe idea, I think the arguments for it are fairly weak. You’ve raised one, and all I’ll say about it at this point is that I don’t believe mathematical entities exist as mind-independent things – I believe they are mind-dependent descriptions of conceptual possibilities. Likewise, logic is not something that is true in the world but rather something we describe the world through. But I don’t want to get bogged in these questions so much as I want to understand what makes you think the MU is true?

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Shane July 21, 2010 at 7:11 am

Hi Yair, I actually think the MUH is pretty much an inescapable conclusion if you accept naturalism (but then I hate “isms”!). Suppose I can accurately simulate everything about an atom in a computer. Then I could (in principle) simulate everything about interacting atoms, molecules, etc. Then I could simulate a cell; a tissue, an organ (e.g. Luke’s brain), the rest of Luke’s sexy body (I’m taking this on trust from the laydeez) – it’s all inside my computer. You will agree (won’t you?) that e-Luke is conscious, and has self-awareness? Then I simulate Luke’s environment – his home, his town, his small country, his Earth, his solar system, galaxy, etc.

OK, the old laptop is straining by now, but in principle it’s possible, yes?

Now, it is a Fact (great things, Facts!) that the state of my computer’s memory banks is describable entirely by an integer number – albeit a somewhat large one. Also, the equation by which my computer converts the state at one point (i.e. that big number) into the NEXT big number in the sequence is also an entirely mathematical thing. So state[t+1]=f(state[t]), where f is the equation, and state is the number. So far, so Matrix.

Horrors! William Lane Craig comes in and, with that evil smirk he does, he pulls the battery out of my laptop! Oh noes! What about e-Luke? Has evil Bill killed our virtual hero?

As it happens, my good friend Al Plantingpot has been wheedling away the hours secreted in my study by scribbling down a memory dump of my laptop’s RAM in crayon (state[t]) in the margins of Lee Strudel’s bestseller “The Case for Christmas”. While I am weeping into my now-dead keyboard, and Bill is hopping around taunting me with my Li-ion 6 cell battery, Al sneaks into the kitchen, and, with his crayon and some more paper that he has ripped out of the back of Joseph Rat Zingertowermeal’s mighty opus “That’ll be the Deus”, he uses the equation (that he knows) to calculate state[t+1].

Flushed with success, Al calculates state[t+2] and state[t+3] etc. Meanwhile, I kick Bill in the Kalams with my hobnailed boots, and get my battery back. I plug it in, and somehow manage to reclaim the program, but without the state information (should have hit Ctrl-S, I know).

While Bill writhes in well-deserved agony, Al dances back in with his crayoned outworking of state[t+100], and offers (how kind!) to program it back in while I make tea and get rid of my unwanted guest and battery-nabber.

And I set the program running again.

What has e-Luke experienced (from HIS perspective) during this unfolding drama? Certainly from *my* perspective he seems to be acting as if nothing had happened…

[Yes, I know this is not a full answer yet, but please let me lay down the tablecloth before serving the meal ;-)]

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Shane July 21, 2010 at 7:14 am

[Perhaps I should also add that it's hard to insist that mathematical entities can't "exist" other than as mind-dependent things, when the mind itself only exists by virtue of it being a mathematical relationship between a load of other systems, which themselves only do what *they* do by virtue of the mathematical arrangement of their *own* component systems. And Pi, for instance, is Pi, whether we're here to play with it or not]

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Yair July 21, 2010 at 7:51 am

What a dramatic tale, Shane. I cried, I laughed…

Anyways –

Sure, I’m willing to grant that e-Luke and the paper-Luke felt a single continuous stream of Matrix experiences, for the sake of argument. From your second post, I can see the line of argument that would lead you from this to the conclusion that all is maths – thanks for that much-needed addendum. Is this your primary motivation for believing in the MUH?

I will have to think about your claims more carefully, but I’m afraid they don’t appear convincing to me at this point. In other words, I don’t believe the mind exists by virtue of being a mathematical relationship between components. I believe rather that the mind exists, and we describe it by certain mathematical structures. Existence is prior to its description. Pi doesn’t exist whether we’ve invented it or not, what exists is the “model” (say, a circle) and Pi is just a useful concept to describe it.

Perhaps indeed whenever certain information processing occurs a mind occurs, but this doesn’t mean that the mind exists by virtue of information processing. It just means we call the same thing both “mind” and “information processing”.

I have to note that being a naturalist doesn’t commit you to the proposition that a complete physical description of reality is possible. I suspect you can’t actually accurately describe “everything about an atom”, because any finite description of reality would be incomplete (this is related to Godel’s incompleteness theorem). You also cannot simulate a very important property of the atom, namely its existence. I therefore find Functionalism (here I go again with my isms) rather suspect, but don’t pretend to have a better alternative.

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Polymeron July 21, 2010 at 8:33 am

Yair,
I mostly agree on all your points, though I’m not certain we can project from the non-causal nature of quantum events on that of non-quantum ones, that is, ones comprised of an assortment of quantum events. There may be reason or rhyme to those interactions that restores causality.

I also accept that not all quantum theories allow for this breaking of causation; if you notice, I alluded to that in my last post, in that this all hinges on there not being causation to how the wave function thing works. If we have reason to suspect that such causation exists, the whole argument comes crashing down and we’re back at complete mechanistic determinism.

Bryan,
I watched the video and it was absolutely brilliant! The beauty of a universe with a zero energy sum, coming into existence as a positive and negative manifestation of this nothingness, is staggeringly beautiful. Of course, I don’t know enough physics to be convinced either way, but it’s still a beautiful notion. I’m starting to get this “enchanted naturalism” vibe :)

Luke,
I will take your curt response to mean that future parts of the series will touch on the point of equivocation, rather than have your thoughts on it buried in the comments section.

(P.S. to Yair – your nickname causes me to suspect that we may be from the same tiny country. I don’t know many geographically close deep thinkers, and I’m starting to wonder if we have a community of such around here. Feel free to drop me a line to my nickname @gmail.com. If you feel like it.)

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lukeprog July 21, 2010 at 8:41 am

Polymeron,

Yeah. As you know, I have an ongoing, very long series on the KCA.

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Shane July 21, 2010 at 10:19 am

Hi Yair, Thanks for the comments – I do have a small embryonic attempt at a discussion gestating over at my blog – click my nickname – and if any of you chappies would like to come over and rip the bejaysus out of it, consider yourselves invited :-)

A couple of points – I think you may be misapplying Goedel’s theorem, which has more to do with what we can consider proven within a particular axiomatic system than with the concept of the underspecification of theories, i.e. just when you think you know everything about a system, you find that your theoretical framework is a special case of a broader framework, and in principle you can never tell whether or not it actually is complete. (Or maybe these are related, and I slept through that lecture ;-)

But I don’t think this affects the thrust of my argument at all.

What *would* put a spanner in my works is your other point about the mind being in some way “primary”, but I’m not at all sure what you mean by that. Do you (stop me if I’m wildly misrepresenting you here!!) conceive of some sort of pool of billions of disembodied mindlets floating around waiting for a sufficiently complex brain to evolve or be born/connected or something? I’m genuinely not sure what you mean here.

As for the “existence” of Pi, this is a tricky one, but there does seem to be some way in which Pi *exists* (it is much more than just a way to describe a circle!) that is objective, eternal, and entirely independent of the laws that describe our particular universe. It’s transcendent. Roger Penrose goes on a bit about this, and much as I disagree with some of Penrose’s ideas about quantum brains etc, I think he’s brilliant, and has a point here…

ATB,
-Shane (Belfast, so I imagine I’m not in your or Polymeron’s neck of the woods ;-)

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Polymeron July 21, 2010 at 10:28 am

Shane,
I think it means that the mind might not be possible to describe as a series of numbers a-la e-Luke. What we crudely call a “mind” may contain properties that are not subject to this sort of description.

I also remember that Godel’s theorem is that for every comprehensive, consistent mathematical set of axioms there are laws which are *true* but *cannot* ever be proven.

Pi is a derivation arising from certain mathematical axioms, with certain logic. I don’t see that it means it necessarily exists; it is contingent on the existence of the axioms. And the concept of Pi is, of course, contingent on the existence of someone conceiving of it.

(But this is Yair’s argument, so I might be misrepresenting it. Please correct as needed…)

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Shane July 21, 2010 at 10:29 am

Oops – forgot to answer the question – is this my primary motivation for believing the MUH?

I don’t know – I have to say the ideas formed in my head (before I knew anyone else was thinking about these things, or before I heard of Tegmark) when I was a medical student on secondment in Israel, and watching what happened when people went under anaesthesia, or even died, and thinking what it meant to have experiences or to “feel” the world. And what would happen if you removed a neuron at a time, replacing it with a neuron simulator… but I think it’s a bit strong to say that I *believe* it – I think it’s a pretty strong candidate for The Explanation, and I don’t think most of the counter-arguments actually hit the mark, as I think a lot are based on misunderstanding what it involves.

Present company excepted, of course ;-)

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Polymeron July 21, 2010 at 10:30 am

(Clarification regarding Pi – I don’t know enough about mathematics and my claims about it might be unsubstantiated. But I won’t know unless you explain to my why they’re wrong)

(As for the “concept of Pi” – mostly it’s a red herring to the discussion, but I wanted to cover all bases so we don’t fall into a Use Mention Error later on, so differentiated between the two)

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Shane July 21, 2010 at 10:34 am

Hi Polymeron,
Yep, that’s Goedel, so atoms it ain’t. Can you conceive a system where the value of Pi could be anything other than it is? I’m not talking about different space topologies rendering diameters & perimeters as having different ratios, but where the pure mathematical value would be different?

I think there is a lot more to this than imagining someone (some mind) “conceiving” it – I have yet to be convinced that minds bring anything to the party at all! :-)

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Polymeron July 21, 2010 at 10:40 am

I can conceive of a system where there is no value of Pi at all. It does not exist.

You claim that Pi “exists” whether there’s anyone to consider it or not, and whether there’s a universe to conform to it or not. But Pi only exists if the axioms of the geometries where it exists, exist themselves. Why do we assume their existence?

Your second comment makes me again interested in understanding whether we are discussing the existence of Pi the concept, or Pi the object. Don’t want to go into a UME here. (Though I hold that neither necessarily exists, not contingent on the universe)

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Shane July 21, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Hi Polymeron,
I think I understand what you’re getting at, but I’m not at all sure that I agree. I’m puzzled that you feel that it’s possible for Pi “not to exist” – I think that is even *less* comprehensible than my saying that it *does*! The dependence of the value of Pi on the axioms of geometry is actually very very slight indeed; you seem to speak as if the Euclidean axioms are somehow *arbitrary*, but I don’t think that is a fair painting of the picture. To be sure, insisting that Euclidean geometry should match our spacetime – THAT is conceivably arbitrary, but the Euclidean structure as a whole has something rather special – something “real” about it that climbs above the arbitrary.

I really need Roger Penrose on here, don’t I? :-)

But there is a deeper problem – you don’t actually need very many axioms *at all* to derive Pi – there are several power series that throw up Pi, or multiples or powers thereof, merely on the basis of straightforward integer mathematics involving only multiplication and addition. There is something distinctly non-arbitrary going on with maths.

Now don’t get me wrong – I am not pretending that the philosophy of mathematics is something I know more than diddly about, but if we accept that things like integers and multiplication and division are valid (for the sake of argument), they carry with them a truly vast panoply of mathematics, and (sit DOWN, Mr Goedel!) while not all the true statements within such a system can be *proven* to be such within the system, this is not a licence for arbitrariness; there is still a structure that seems to allow certain proposals to be true or false in a very objective way.

Now that’s just maths. But if we *could* show that all the observable features of our universe obeyed precise mathematical laws (the “Game of Life” presents one such class of universe types – we know the entirety of its laws!), then such a universe, from the viewpoint of its subsystem “inhabitants” is completely indistinguishable from a “real” universe, forcing us to ask whether “real” actually means anything at all; to ask whether “reality” is in fact simply the perception of a subsystem within a wider system.

And it kills Kalam, of course – that’s a bonus :-)

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Polymeron July 21, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Shane, I believe I understand what you’re saying, and I’ll be brief in answering.

“the Euclidean structure as a whole has something rather special – something “real” about it that climbs above the arbitrary.”

> What would that be? Without relation to a universe that exists, what is so special about it compared to any other set of axioms?

“But there is a deeper problem – you don’t actually need very many axioms *at all* to derive Pi ”

> But I need *some*. And the existence in the absence of a universe of whichever set of axioms you derive Pi from is so far completely assumed.

“to ask whether “reality” is in fact simply the perception of a subsystem within a wider system.”

> This is actually a great point. But I would contest that reality doesn’t go away just because you can’t observe it. e-Luke may not feel any different and have no conceivable way of knowing, but some things interacting with him DID undergo significant upheaval. That is still a reality, which I expect him in his limited tools to not acknowledge at all. But it’s still real.

I’m starting to think that maybe we need to define what “exists” means ;)

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piero July 21, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Shane:

I am weeping into my now-dead keyboard, and Bill is hopping around taunting me with my Li-ion 6 cell battery

LOL! The image that conjured up was just too funny. I did not spill my coffee, but only because I wasn’t having one.

A couple of points:

1. The computer simulation is discrete: it takes some finite time for it to calculate state n+1 from state n. Are we sure that is an accurate simulation of reality?

2. Luke happens to be the owner of the megalaptop you are using to run the simulation. When you simulate Luke’s environment, do you simulate the megalaptop too? Is it possible for the simulated megalaptop to simulate Luke’s “real” self? In other words, my objection is this: a true simulation would be indistinguishable from the original, and hence it could simulate the original. At which point there is no way to determine which one is the original.

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TaiChi July 21, 2010 at 7:56 pm

@Zeb
Craig defines “the universe” precisely as the totality of matter and energy plus anything spatial or temporal that is causally connected to the totality of matter and energy (if I understand Luke’s coverage of the Kalam, that is). Our observation is that every particular arrangement of the universe (or any part of it) always has a beginning. So, if the universe had a first particular arrangement it may be said to have a beginning, and to have begun, and thus to have been caused.” ~ Zeb

Ah. Then I can see I’m wrong and should concede the point. So, the interpretation stands..

1. Anything that comes into existence as an arrangement of material has a cause responsible for that arrangement.
2. The totality of matter/energy began to exist as an arrangement of material (i.e. it has a first arrangement).
3. The totality of matter/energy has a cause responsible for its arrangement.

1 is supported by observation. 3 only establishes a cause of form for the universe, not a substantial cause – therefore there is no equivocation of causes. I’m uncertain as to just how matter/energy is ruled out as cause here (it cannot be, for instance, because matter/energy does not exist prior to it’s first arrangement, since there is no prior time), but let’s suppose it is. Then the cause of the arrangement would be spaceless and timeless, perhaps God. Given that the arrangement cannot exist without also being substantial, a substantial cause must also be identified, and by considerations of parsimony, Craig can identify the cause of arrangement with the cause of substance.
Ok, that seems reasonable. I still think there’s an objection in the difference between everyday causes and the kind of cause needed for the totality of matter/energy, but I no longer believe the problem is equivocation. Perhaps it’s more this: the very same observations which would lead us to suppose an arranging cause must exist for any arrangement of the universe would also (were we being entirely faithful to them) lead us to suppose that the arranging cause is itself some prior arrangement of matter/energy. Having noticed the latter inference must fail, why should we continue to trust the former inference? The appeal to everyday observation in this context seems to be discredited by the fact that the cause must be radically disanalogous to the causes we observe everyday.

@Lukeprog
In order for something to come into existence, there must be a time t such that the thing exists at t and there is no time t* earlier than t at which the thing exists,” or more simply, “In order for anything to come into existence, there has to be a first moment of its existence.” ~ WLC

Potential problem here..

They “come into existence” only in the sense that a fist “comes into existence” when I clench my fingers into my palm, and “goes out of existence” again when I stretch out my fingers.” ~ Lukeprog

Presumably, your fist comes into existence and goes out of existence multiple times throughout your lifespan. Consider the first such instance of clenching your fingers into your palm – regarding this instance, there is a time at which your fist exists, and no earlier time at which it exists. Therefore, this first instance of hand-clenching satisfies Craig’s criteria for bringing something into existence. But notice that the same is not true of subsequent hand-clenchings: there will always be some earlier time at which your fist existed, namely, that first instance of hand-clenching. So your fist does not come into existence on subsequent hand-clenchings, and on Craig’s definition it is not true that your fist comes into existence multiple times. More generally, Craig’s definition makes it analytically true that objects can only come into existence once.

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piero July 21, 2010 at 8:18 pm

TaiChi:

regarding this instance, there is a time at which your fist exists, and no earlier time at which it exists

I disagree. Just as there is no definite number of hairs that turns a non-bald person into a bald one, there is no first instant in time when the fist exists. All we can say is that the fist definitely exists in some interval of time, and it did definitely not exist in some previous interval. The boundary between those intervals is fuzzy.

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lukeprog July 21, 2010 at 8:41 pm

TaiChi,

I swear I somewhere stumbled upon an essay where Craig noticed that exact problem and corrected his definition into a much longer one, but I can’t recall where. I think it was on his site, not in a book. Or maybe this is false deja vu.

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TaiChi July 21, 2010 at 10:51 pm

Piero,
Our inability to pin down the precise first moment of something’s existence is no reason to suppose that there is no such first moment – that would be to confuse what we can know with what is true. Fuzziness in predicate-use is, I take it, entirely the product of our ignorance of the determinate extension of these terms.

Lukeprog,
Odd: there’s a recent question on his site where he gives a definition with the same flaw, and I doubt Craig would be so incautious as to not give a better definition if he had one. Maybe he fixes it by saying there’s no time t* immediately earlier than t at which the thing exists? I guess that would do it.
Well, I’m glad someone’s drawing a map of this argument. It’s certainly necessary.

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lukeprog July 21, 2010 at 11:05 pm

TaiChi,

Or, maybe it’s my imagination.

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Bryan July 22, 2010 at 6:04 am

Wow, lot of discussion in the few hours I was away…all my replies in one post.

However, I still think that *assumes* the system whereby quantum mechanics “works” to be present in advance, if you get my drift.
I agree. But the flip side is there is no evidence he is wrong. And it is more logically consistent to expect that the “megaverse” that gave rise to our own universe follows similar “rules”. Likewise, that expectation is consistent with the data we have (as described in his video). So its a logical conclusion, albeit an unprovable (at the moment) one.

mutation in the DNA can occur BECAUSE…Just because these effects are random does not undermine causation
Actually, these “mis-writes” to DNA are considered to be a direct result of quantum uncertainty. What determines if the DNA polymerase incorporates the wrong DNA molecule into the growing DNA strand is hydrogen bonding between the old DNA and the DNA ‘bits’ being used to make the new strand. These bases “fit” due to hydrogen bonding – a process heavily influence by quantum uncertainty. Thus, it is thought that quantum uncertainty is the basis of these mis-writes.

To be clear, there are mutations which are unquestionably due to cause-effect systems – radiation-induced, chemical-induced, pathoghen-induced mutations (and many more) obviously have a causative agent. However, replication errors appear to be a direct product of quantum uncertainty.

ll evolutionary lineages…are caused by quantum fluctuations
This is a common mis-conception, but it is wrong. Mutations are random (in terms of their effects), and some are random (in terms of their cause). The remainder of evolution is a direct cause-effect system – selection “choosing” which genes survive, differential breeding causing drift, etc.

As for the “existence” of Pi, this is a tricky one, but there does seem to be some way in which Pi *exists*
I don’t think its as tricky as people make it out to be. Pi is simply the ratio of a circles diameter and radius in flat space. Change the curvature of space and the relationship between circumference and radius also changes. Same is true of things like pathagoras’s therom, or the sum of angles within a triangle. The specific value those numbers have are a product of the curvature of our universe, and (in theory) are mutable if one were to change the curvature of the universe.

It appears that our universe is flat. But if it were not flat pi, pathagora’s theorm, etc, would technically have been found to be “wrong”, in the sense that they would be approximations based on the “flatishness” of the universe on the local scale, while on the galactic scale the curvature of the universe would give these different “true” values.

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piero July 22, 2010 at 9:47 am

TaiChi:

Piero,
Our inability to pin down the precise first moment of something’s existence is no reason to suppose that there is no such first moment – that would be to confuse what we can know with what is true. Fuzziness in predicate-use is, I take it, entirely the product of our ignorance of the determinate extension of these terms.

I disagree again. It is not “true” in any absolute sense that a stapler exists at time t, because concepts are inherently fuzzy. We use them as convenient labels in order to speak about a continuous, inapprehensible universe. So the problem is not that we are unable to pinpoint the exact moment of birth of the stapler because we cannot know the truth: we are unable to pinpoint it because in order to make sense of the universe we have to split it into discrete categories which do not accurately describe “whatever is out there”.

Take any noun and you’ll see that it never refers to a perfectly self-enclosed chunk of reality. For example, see Pinker’s discussion of the concept of “bachelor” in his book “How the mind works”. A fortiori, it is an unwarranted assumption that the concept of “universe” is at all well defined, and hence the phrase “the moment the universe began to exist” makes as much sense as “the moment this stapler began to exist”.

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TaiChi July 22, 2010 at 9:28 pm

I disagree again. It is not “true” in any absolute sense that a stapler exists at time t, because concepts are inherently fuzzy.” ~ Piero

Well, you’ve just reasserted what I’ve denied here. Why should I agree, especially now that you tie the fuzziness of terms to a rejection of classical logic?

We use them as convenient labels in order to speak about a continuous, inapprehensible universe. So the problem is not that we are unable to pinpoint the exact moment of birth of the stapler because we cannot know the truth: we are unable to pinpoint it because in order to make sense of the universe we have to split it into discrete categories which do not accurately describe “whatever is out there”.” ~ Piero

I’m confused. First you say that our concepts are fuzzy, but now you say that our concepts are ‘convenient labels’ and that they carve up the world into discrete categories. Which is it?
Something’s gone wrong here, so let’s backtrack. As I see it, you’ve two ideas you want to honor: (i) that reality is continuous and messy, having no natural joints to predetermine how language carves it up, and (ii) that language is a human convenience, and therefore divides up reality in a metaphysically arbitrary though humanly significant way. But given (ii), shouldn’t we expect that our terms are determinate, necessary oversimplifications of a complex world? Combined with (i), shouldn’t we expect just the sort of pointless boundary disputes over the extension of terms we actually do see? Shouldn’t we expect Sorites cases to be met with puzzlement by competent language-users?
But now suppose that terms have fuzzy meaning: doesn’t this view ascribe a spurious sophistication to the terms you think of as rough-and-ready human conveniences? Doesn’t it predict that those with linguistic competence should see their concepts as fuzzy, and thus not be drawn into inane debates over whether, say, waterboarding counts as torture? That they should view with puzzlement, not the Sorites cases, but those who take such cases to present a philosophical conundrum? Yet, presuming language is conventional and that this implies linguistic competence is widespread, these predictions are obviously false. Therefore the thesis that our concepts are fuzzy is false also.

Take any noun and you’ll see that it never refers to a perfectly self-enclosed chunk of reality.” ~ Piero

I find it odd that you’d accredit me with the ability to just “see” what terms refer to, when you’re advocating surprising and revisionary doctrines concerning meaning and truth. In any case, what I “see” with respect to the terms I have is my own ignorance of their extension.

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piero July 22, 2010 at 10:48 pm

TaiChi:

I’m confused. First you say that our concepts are fuzzy, but now you say that our concepts are ‘convenient labels’ and that they carve up the world into discrete categories. Which is it?

Don’t see why it should be one or the other. Why can’t a convenient label be fuzzy?

I could not make sense of the rest. Sorry.

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TaiChi July 22, 2010 at 11:20 pm

Piero,
You said that we split the world into discrete categories which do not accurately describe “whatever is out there”. Discrete categories are not fuzzy. I presumed that their convenience resided in their discreteness, since there seemed to be no other reason to mention it.

I could not make sense of the rest. Sorry.” ~ Piero

If you bothered to engage with it, I’d explain it another way. Oh well.

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piero July 23, 2010 at 7:47 am

TaiChi:

A car is not a tree. In that sense they are discrete categories. The problem arises when trying to establish the boundaries betweee a tree and a non-tree, i.e. everything else. There is no way you can tell at any given moment which particles and fields constitute a tree and which do not.

I didn’t engage the rest because I didn’t uderstand it, not because I didn’t bother to.

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piero July 23, 2010 at 7:48 am

Damn! I mean “understand”.

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ShaneMcKee July 23, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Hi Piero,
A couple of good questions there. Here are my attempts at an answer; I cannot claim to be teh deepz philosopher of mathematics, but in the spirit of the thread I’ll try to call it as I see it, which might at least provide a basis for fleshing this out a bit.

1. The computer simulation is discrete: it takes some finite time for it to calculate state n+1 from state n. Are we sure that is an accurate simulation of reality?

Well, no, but it *can* be for *some* versions of reality. As you know, there is no general means of proving whether or not a particular algorithm will ever stop, and to be honest I don’t *know* whether the state[t+1] is necessarily algorithmically computable (by a Turing machine or some such) from state[t] (for *our* universe). I think it probably *is*, but the relationship between the two can still be “true” even if it is not strictly “computable”. If I’m talking cobblers here, I am prepared to stand corrected. Slightly outside the old comfort zone.

2. Luke happens to be the owner of the megalaptop you are using to run the simulation. When you simulate Luke’s environment, do you simulate the megalaptop too? Is it possible for the simulated megalaptop to simulate Luke’s “real” self? In other words, my objection is this: a true simulation would be indistinguishable from the original, and hence it could simulate the original. At which point there is no way to determine which one is the original.

Actually, in principle yes – although the chief problem would be memory storage. A Universal Turing Machine can simulate a Universal Turing Machine etc etc. Your mobile phone could in principle simulate an IBM BlueGene supercomputer – all you really need is memory and time. Which in turn could simulate your mobile phone. Which in turn could simulate e-Luke. In actual simulations you would run out of memory, but in a Mathematical Universe framework, such considerations only constrain the size of universes we can view.

Bryan, Pi is not simply the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter – it is much more fundamental than that, and pops up in all sorts of strange places that are not even directly related to euclidean geometry. Yes, the ratio of circumference to diameter changes as you change geometries, but *Pi* does not change. And in curved space, the smaller your circle, the closer the ratio *approaches* Pi, so the constant itself remains valid.

But yes, we do need to be careful when we use a slippery wee word like “exist”.

Cheers,
-Shane

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piero July 23, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Thanks, Shane.

I do not know whether the fact that the simulation can simulate the simulator implies that simulator and simulation have to be of the same “size”, for lack of a better word, but to me it seems plausible they must. If that’s the case, then we are in trouble: a simulation of the universe would contain the simulation itself (because the simulation is part of the universe), and then the R-simulator (the “real” simulator) and the S-simulator (the “simulated” simulator) would have to fight it out for resources.

Would make a nice sci-fi script, I think.

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TaiChi July 23, 2010 at 7:29 pm

A car is not a tree. In that sense they are discrete categories.” ~ Piero

I’d use the word ‘different’, not discrete, but whatever.

The problem arises when trying to establish the boundaries betweee a tree and a non-tree, i.e. everything else. There is no way you can tell at any given moment which particles and fields constitute a tree and which do not.” ~ Piero

You’ll find I’ve never disagreed with any of this. My position is that the extension of our terms is determinate, but that we do not or cannot know that precise extension. That is, I expect that we cannot establish the boundaries between tree and non-tree, I just refuse to take this epistemic fact to be evidence for semantics.
This seems to me a simple enough point. I think, perhaps, you’ve be lead astray by your use of ‘concept’, which has the dual use as ‘something terms stand for’ and ‘some idea in the mind’. In my view, these two things come apart, and so it is perfectly possible for the reference of terms to be more precise than the idea a speaker associates with the term.

I didn’t engage the rest because I didn’t understand it, not because I didn’t bother to.” ~ Piero

The problem is I have no idea why you didn’t understand, so I don’t know how to rewrite it to make you understand.

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piero July 23, 2010 at 7:55 pm

TaiChi:

I honestly don’t mean to be rude, but I just cannot make sense of your writing. It might be because you assume I know things which I don’t. For example: “I just refuse to take this epistemic fact to be evidence for semantics.” I’m afraid you lost me there.

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TaiChi July 24, 2010 at 7:41 pm

Piero,
‘Epistemic facts’ are facts to do with our knowledge of the world, and ‘semantic facts’ are facts to do with the meaning of terms. An example of the former is: “There is no way you can tell at any given moment which particles and fields constitute a tree and which do not“. An example of the latter is: “concepts are inherently fuzzy“. I take you to be arguing, e.g. ..

1. There is no way to tell which particles and fields constitute a tree and which do not.
2. If there is no way to tell which particles and fields constitute a tree and which do not, then the term “tree” is fuzzy, having no definite extension.
3. So, the term “tree” is fuzzy, having no definite extension.
4. Similar remarks apply to all our other terms.
5. So all terms are fuzzy, having no definite extension.

.. but I deny 2. I don’t think a lack of knowledge, even the unknowability of the extension of our terms, entails anything about the meaning of our terms. (By “extension of our terms”, by the way, I mean “the set of actual things to which our terms correctly apply”). I don’t, for instance, take the fact that we can’t know about many of the events in the past to show that “the past” only definitely refers to those events we do know took place, being indeterminate with respect to a host of others beyond our abilities to ascertain.

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piero July 24, 2010 at 10:29 pm

TaiChi:
OK, I understand now. But you seem to be implying that “meaning” is independent of extension. Of course, you can develop an algebra of axiomatic terms if you want, but the price you pay for it is irrelevance.

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TaiChi July 25, 2010 at 2:18 am

Piero,
I’ve no idea why you think I’m implying that “meaning” is independent of extension (or why you put meaning in scare quotes). I’ve also no idea why you think I’m developing “an algebra of axiomatic terms”. Feel free to elaborate.

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piero July 25, 2010 at 3:09 pm

TaiChi:
What I mean is this:

1. A concept such as “car” is inherently fuzzy, and we know it, but it doesn’t bother us because it is a handy label which works fine most of the time.

2. There is no real meaning of “car” which is somehow hidden from us because of epistemological limitations. A superior intelligence would have as much trouble as we have when trying to distinguish “car” and “non-car”.

3. So, pretending that the imperfection of labels somehow lies in our human limitations instead of in the labels themselves will get us nowhere. You can pretend that concepts are well-defined and start elaborating from there, but sooner or later you’ll reach an impasse when the divergence between the labels and whatever is out there becomes too noticeable.

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TaiChi July 26, 2010 at 12:32 am

Piero,
With regard to 1, we don’t know that our concepts are inherently fuzzy, which is why we recognize the Sorites paradox as a paradox. Check the page out: fuzzy logic is mentioned under the ‘Proposed Resolutions’, and is thus a response to the faltering of our natural assumptions about the discreteness of our terms. It is not a default understanding of our language. If you want more evidence that your fuzziness proposal is revisionary I point you here: see the ‘Comparison of Adjectives’ section, and notice the distinction between gradable and non-gradable adjectives that your proposal would obliterate. Notice too that the gradability, and so fuzziness, of a concept can be tested by appending grading adverbs: thus if “car” were a fuzzy concept, saying “X is very car” or “X is rather car” would make sense. They don’t, which indicates that these fuzzy constructions are not a natural part of our language.
Regarding 2, I never said that the meaning of “car” would be hidden from us, or anything like that. Look at it this way: We can be more or less competent with our use of terms, and more or less adept at applying them correctly to whatever they name. All I say is that we are not fully competent with a word like “car”, as we are ignorant about whether term applies in some few cases, or precisely what to include as the “car”. But this doesn’t stop us from being very competent nevertheless, from having a grasp, though imperfect, upon the meaning of “car”. You’re assigning me an extreme position I don’t hold.
Concerning 3, I’ve a couple of points. You say that I presume the perfection of labels and fob imperfection off on humanity. I say to you that you presume the perfection of humanity and fob imperfection off on language. Why is your charge more serious than mine? Don’t you know that humanity is imperfect? But, of course, I don’t actually think language is perfect either – it is not as though language miraculously accomplishes determinacy, but rather that we use language in a way that presupposes determinacy. Fuzziness is excluded by the very nature of our terms. Second, I don’t take concepts to be well-defined. Defining is what humans do, and given their epistemic limitations, I’m skeptical of exactly the sort of crystal-clear definitions you think I take for granted. Again, meaning is determinate, though our grasp on that meaning is imperfect, perhaps necessarily so.

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Yair July 26, 2010 at 1:05 am

A few days offline, and the posts just keep on piling…

Polymeron – I sent you an email. If you can pull off an atheist thinking group, I’m definitely interested.

Shane – I’ll take it to your blog.

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Zeb July 26, 2010 at 2:24 am

A fortiori, it is an unwarranted assumption that the concept of “universe” is at all well defined, and hence the phrase “the moment the universe began to exist” makes as much sense as “the moment this stapler began to exist”.

Your discussion about general language and extension aside, I think there a difference between “universe” and “stapler” above. While “stapler” refers to semi-specific configuration of matter, “universe” refers to everything that is spatial, temporal, and causally connected to the observer (to whose universe we are referring). I don’t see how there is any problematic fuzziness to the idea that there is a first time t at which something – anything – existed, and that whatever that was it had some – any – particular configuration, and that there is no time t-1 at which anything temporal or spatial existed. Can you help me see the problem?

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piero July 26, 2010 at 5:47 am

TaiChi:
“Car” is not an adjective, so of course “very car” makes no grammatical sense. It is nevertheless fuzzy – and “very car” does make sense – because:
1. conceptually, there are boundary cases where we would not be sure whether the term applies or not (is a Roman chariot fitted with a lawnmower engine a car? Is it “car enough”?)
2. physically, we cannot determine exactly what chunk of reality belongs to any given car.

The fact that the Sorites paradox is perceived as such indicates only that most people find the fuzziness of language unpalatable.

I agree with you on one point: we are competent in our incompetence: we treat the world as simpler than it is so we can speak about it.

Zeb:

“universe” refers to everything that is spatial, temporal, and causally connected to the observer

That’s pretty fuzzy, in my opinion. We have no definition of time, no definition of space, no definition of cause and no definition of “everything”.

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Zeb July 26, 2010 at 10:07 am

That’s pretty fuzzy, in my opinion. We have no definition of time, no definition of space, no definition of cause and no definition of “everything”.

I agree that these concepts are especially fuzzy, at least semantically, but I don’t think that fuzziness is problematic in the way the fuzziness of “stapler” is. The problem with “the stapler began” is that it is unclear (and perhaps impossible to identify) when the ‘stuff’ went from being ‘something else’ to being a stapler. But I don’t see that lack of clarity in supposing that the universe began. The line between {nothing or non-existenc} and {something existing} seems to me to be the clearest line conceivable.

Looking back at the OP and the comments though, I’m not so sure I see the problem in the stapler’s fuzziness. True, the exact definition of “began” given by Craig in the OP might be thwarted since the is no time t at which the stapler exists and prior to which it did not exist. But as you pointed out TaiChi, there is certainly a time t at which the thing we’re calling a stapler exists in a certain configuration, and a time {t – x} where it didn’t exist in that configuration. What does it matter if there is an interval in there during which “beginning” happened over time, rather than from one instant to the next?

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TaiChi July 26, 2010 at 5:02 pm

Piero,
Both your arguments for the claim that “very car” makes sense are actually arguments for us to accept that “very car” must make sense, given your commitments. You implicitly concede that the acceptance of constructions like “very car” has no independent motivation. I’m satisfied with that.

The fact that the Sorites paradox is perceived as such indicates only that most people find the fuzziness of language unpalatable.” ~ Piero

Equally, why not say that the liar paradox is perceived as paradox because most people find true contradictions unpalatable? Because people don’t recognize that there are true contradictions, just as they don’t recognize that language is fuzzy in the way you suggest.

I think we’re done, but I’m interested in what Zeb has to say.

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piero July 26, 2010 at 7:09 pm

Zeb:

What does it matter if there is an interval in there during which “beginning” happened over time, rather than from one instant to the next?

It is of the utmost importance for the Kalam argument. If “beginning to exist” is a process over time, then creation requires time, and hence a timeless God cannot create. It would take time to create time.

TaiChi:

I’m not sure what you are aiming at. Yes, “very car” must make sense. So what? Any fuzzy concept will admit of degrees; that’s the definition of fuzziness.

Concerning the liar paradox, I would say most people don’t realize it is a paradox at all. In fact, many people, upon having the paradox explained to them, retort (rationally, in my opinion): “Well, of course he means all Cretans but me. Don’t be silly.” When trying to distil the paradox to its essence, you end up with “I’m lying”, which is a silly thing to say and refers to nothing out there (when people do use the phrase, they refer to something they’ve said before, not to the phrase itself.) So the only way to obtain a true paradox is to forget about what is out there and play around with syntax and an artificially restictive semantics.

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ShaneMcKee July 26, 2010 at 11:11 pm

A lot of these supposed paradoxes arise from our sloppy use of the word “is”. THINGS do not “possess” attributes; SYSTEMS display BEHAVIOURS.

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piero July 27, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Shane, can you expand a bit on that?

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Zeb July 27, 2010 at 7:07 pm

If “beginning to exist” is a process over time, then creation requires time, and hence a timeless God cannot create.

Oh yeah, good point. You may have me convinced that the ‘actual infinite’ problem is the only reason to think the universe “began” as defined by Craig. I need to think about it.

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ShaneMcKee July 27, 2010 at 11:20 pm

Hi Piero,
I mean that a stapler does not possess “staplerness” – that is the essentialist fallacy. Instead, we have a system of atoms that, given the appropriate input stimuli, generates an output that makes us, as systems, attach the label “stapler” to the system. We could also discuss internal states, but that’ll do for now…
Cheers,
-Shane

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Polymeron July 28, 2010 at 5:27 am

Shane, you really made my week with this line. I don’t think anyone has ever covered the problem with descriptive language in so few words before. You managed it in eight words while sacrificing nothing in coherence or accuracy. Wow!

That’s very quotable :)

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ShaneMcKee July 28, 2010 at 6:28 am

Could go on a T shirt :-)

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piero July 28, 2010 at 7:05 pm

Shane:
Yes, I like that approach. It seems to correspond better to what is out there than the essentialist one. However, I don’t see how it does away with, say, the liar paradox. If it’s not too much to ask, could you explain how a systems approach would describe it? I can see how it can deal with the Sorites paradox, but not with the liar paradox. Unless we disregard it as meaningless, since it refers to nothing out there, but to its own structure, and language was not meant to talk about itself.

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Polymeron July 28, 2010 at 9:09 pm

I’ll try addressing that one.

Basically a statement can describe the behavior of a system that exists (a true statement) or the behavior of a system that does not exist – a behavior that is not, in fact, displayed at all (a false statement).

The liar paradox really can be reduced to “I am lying” or “This statement is false”. It is then easily resolved because there is no state of things in which it describes a real behavior, i.e., of a system that exists. It is invalid rather than false; a self-referential description of a behavior is not a useful one and as such has no place being used to describe systems.

In that sense, the so-called liar paradox is not a proper statement! It just semantically looks like one. But, as a statement, it does not display the behavior of describing a system fully external to itself.

Hope that made sense :)

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piero July 28, 2010 at 10:09 pm

Polymeron:
It does make sense. Thank you.

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ShaneMcKee July 28, 2010 at 10:46 pm

Hi chaps; polymeron, thanks – that’s how I see it, more or less. I’ve started a thread on my blog http://answersingenes.blogspot.com to try thrashing this out a bit; your comments would be very welcome :-)

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xanhny September 1, 2010 at 8:25 am

Author:

Is this the best conclusive agrument you got?

If the universe didn’t exist where would the law of thermodynamics come from? Did it exists before time where nothing else could have existed? What reason did it exists for?

From what you said, I can’t stop to think that thermodynamic is your God.

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Joel September 17, 2010 at 10:22 pm

I’ve always thought that there exists a self-defeating contradiction within the Kalam and the associated defences Craig uses.

The common evidential argument against Premise 1 (that everything that begins to exist has a cause) is that quantum events (e.g. photon emission, radioactive decay, the emergence of virtual particles) are uncaused. Craig responds by making recourse to probabilistic causation. The apparently spontaneous events at the quantum level are, according to Craig, caused, albeit in an indeterministic way. This is arguably consistent with our overall scientific knowledge, wherein causation plays an all important role.

However, at the usually unstated Premise 3 (that God is the best, or the only possible explanation for the universe being caused), Craig will argue that a physical/non-intelligent/non-personal cause is impossible since, if the sufficient cause is physical, it must always have been sufficient, such that its effect (the universe) must always have been – but the universe came into being 13.7 billion years ago. Thus a physical cause is impossible, Craig argues. Only an intelligent cause, which can decide ‘when’ to create, can explain the fact of the universe not existing from time eternal.

And here the contradiction exists: If probabilistic causation is indeed true, then we can use it to explain why a physical cause is compatible with a non-eternal universe. Thus the defence of the 2nd premise contradicts the essential logic of the 3rd.

A physical cause of the universe is further supported by evidence from cosmology. Space-time, as has been known since the establishment of general relativity, is flexible and can warp, pr even come into being; meanwhile, the universe explores the entire space of possibility, so events can simple occur (virtual particles etc); and thus space-time (of which our universe is but the most prominent example) can simply come into being. This view is defended by Stenger, Hawking, Krauss etc.

So, two main questions: Is the contradiction real, and if so, is it largely insurmountable? And, is the evidence from cosmology strong enough to support a purely physical cause of the universe?

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John Brandon October 4, 2010 at 9:40 pm

What can I say to the theist that argues the universe came from the existence of god? I found this critique very interesting but when I presented it the theist said God created the universe out of his very own immaterial essence. Someone may have covered this already but I haven’t read all the comments. Thanks again

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