What Must a Cause of the Universe Be Like?

by Luke Muehlhauser on April 26, 2010 in Kalam Argument

Part 12 of my Mapping the Kalam series.

hand galaxy

Last time, I surveyed how Craig & Sinclair respond to a few of the objections that have been leveled against premise (1) of the kalam cosmological argument, “Everything that begins to exist has a cause.”

Now we turn to their discussion of the properties of this first cause:

Conceptual analysis of what it is to be a cause of the universe enables us to recover a number of striking properties which this ultramundane cause must possess and which are of theological significance. For example, the cause must be uncaused, since, as we have seen, an infinite regress of causes is impossible.

Moreover, Ockham’s Razor enjoins us to posit a unified cause of the universe, rather than a plurality of causes. The first cause must also be beginningless, since the first premise entails that whatever is uncaused does not begin to exist. They also claim the first cause must be changeless “at least insofar as it exists sans the universe.” Why? “[Because] an infinite temporal regress of changes cannot exist.” I can’t follow their reasoning here, but let us continue:

From the changelessness of the First Cause, its immateriality follows. For whatever is material involves incessant change on at least the molecular and atomic levels, but the uncaused First Cause exists in a state of absolute changelessness.

And of course the Uncaused Cause must be timeless and spaceless sans the universe, for it is the cause of time and space itself. And such a being must also be enormously powerful, since it brought all matter and energy into being without any material cause.

Personal

Perhaps most controversially, Craig & Sinclair argue that this First Cause must be personal. Why? First, they argue that there are only two legitimate types of causal explanations: “scientific explanations in terms of laws and initial conditions and personal explanations in terms of agents and their volitions.” But the origin of the universe cannot have a scientific explanation, because there is nothing before it, and therefore it can’t be explained in terms of laws and initial conditions. Thus, the origin of the universe can only be explained by way of a personal explanation.

Second, they argue that there are only two things that can be described as “immaterial, beginningless, uncaused, timeless, and spaceless beings: either abstract objects or an unembodied mind.” But abstract objects cannot cause anything, so the only option left is to posit an unembodied mind.

Third, they argue that “only personal, free agency can account for the origin of a first temporary effect from a changeless cause… The question is: How can a first event come to exist if the cause of that event exists changelessly and eternally?”

The best way out of this dilemma is agent causation, whereby the agent freely brings about some events in the absence of prior determining conditions. Because the agent is free, he can initiate new effects by freely bringing about conditions which were not previously present. For example, a man sitting changelessly from eternity could freely will to stand up; thus, a temporal effect arises from an eternally existing agent.

After this defense, Craig & Sinclair say they have well-supported their argument:

  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
  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.

Next, we will look at some final objections to the argument by Adolf Grunbaum.

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{ 87 comments… read them below or add one }

Reginald Selkirk April 26, 2010 at 6:24 am

Moreover, Ockham’s Razor enjoins us to posit a unified cause of the universe, rather than a plurality of causes.

This is their attempt to dismiss a multiplicity of gods in favour of a monotheistic God. However, as Stenger and others have pointed out, Ockham’s razor refers to independent theoretical hypotheses, not deities. This is a misuse fo Ockham’s razor.

But the origin of the universe cannot have a scientific explanation, because there is nothing before it, and therefore it can’t be explained in terms of laws and initial conditions. Thus, the origin of the universe can only be explained by way of a personal explanation.

Argument from ignorance. Where is their positive case that the origin has a personal explanation?

Second, they argue that there are only two things that can be described as “immaterial, beginningless, uncaused, timeless, and spaceless beings: either abstract objects or an unembodied mind.” But abstract objects cannot cause anything, so the only option left is to posit an unembodied mind.

Where is their argument that an unembodied mind can exist? Followed with another argument from ignorance to discount the alternative.

For example, a man sitting changelessly from eternity could freely will to stand up; thus…

They have argued at length elsewhere that something “from eternity;” i.e. with an infinite past, could not exist. They seem to be contradicting that now.

After this defense, Craig & Sinclair say they have well-supported their argument

Except for the numerous logical fallacies so simple that an undergraduate who has taken his first course in logic should be able to find them.

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Jacopo April 26, 2010 at 6:27 am

“They also claim the first cause must be changeless “at least insofar as it exists sans the universe.” Why? “[Because] an infinite temporal regress of changes cannot exist.” I can’t follow their reasoning here, but let us continue.”

Perhaps, just perhaps, it makes more sense if you see all changes as having a beginning? Even changes in/of God.

Then you have to ask what caused Change 1 (as per the Kalam’s own first premis), which I guess would be Change 0, which would then itself be caused by Change -1, which would then be caused by Change -2, which would then be caused by [...] to infinity.

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John D April 26, 2010 at 7:07 am

How much detail does Craig go into on agent causation in that article? In everything I’ve read he just brings it up as though its a completely uncontroversial concept that neatly solves the problem of immaterial causation.

But it’s a hugely controversial concept.

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lukeprog April 26, 2010 at 7:20 am

John D,

You’ll find no different here.

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Charles April 26, 2010 at 7:43 am

1. The existence of God as brute fact. God made the universe.
2. The existence of the universe as brute fact.

All things being equal, the second idea seems simpler.

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Michael April 26, 2010 at 7:52 am

For example, a man sitting changelessly from eternity could freely will to stand up; thus…
They have argued at length elsewhere that something “from eternity;” i.e. with an infinite past, could not exist. They seem to be contradicting that now.

I believe this is used as a metaphor, since its something we can all think of, whereas in the case they present, it cannot actually exist. Metaphors are useful fictions that help get a point across, which was the function of that here. It has no real truth value.

But the origin of the universe cannot have a scientific explanation, because there is nothing before it, and therefore it can’t be explained in terms of laws and initial conditions. Thus, the origin of the universe can only be explained by way of a personal explanation.
Argument from ignorance. Where is their positive case that the origin has a personal explanation?

If there really was nothing before the universe, as they claim (this point has been recently disputed, since maybe our concept for a singularity is incomplete or something), then a natural explanation is impossible since there is no nature to cause anything to begin with. That’ would be akin to me asking you if you could be the cause of the Peloponnesian war. Since you did not exist, you can be ruled out as a cause, since something that does not exist cannot cause anything. So if no nature exists, it can’t be a cause. Notice, this all hinges on the idea that there was no nature. If one could show otherwise, then nature could possibly be the cause. But that’s yet to be done.

Moreover, Ockham’s Razor enjoins us to posit a unified cause of the universe, rather than a plurality of causes.
This is their attempt to dismiss a multiplicity of gods in favour of a monotheistic God. However, as Stenger and others have pointed out, Ockham’s razor refers to independent theoretical hypotheses, not deities. This is a misuse fo Ockham’s razor.

Agreed. This has to be the most misused idea in philosophy. It’s more about using common sense and preferring a “simple” explanation, if available, than an ad hoc complex one.

After this defense, Craig & Sinclair say they have well-supported their argument
Except for the numerous logical fallacies so simple that an undergraduate who has taken his first course in logic should be able to find them.

I have to disagree here. If this argument was so fallacious, then surely it would have been abandoned. If it is so easy to see these mistakes, how come many scholars simply try to bat around the idea of the universe not needing a cause since we don’t know anything about universes as wholes or that maybe it in fact is its own cause or that B-theory is correct and the argument becomes useless. They never say that the conclusion doesn’t follow logically. It is a valid argument, it is merely the question of its soundness that is debated.

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Reginald Selkirk April 26, 2010 at 8:12 am

Where is their positive case that the origin has a personal explanation?

If there really was nothing before the universe, as they claim (this point has been recently disputed, since maybe our concept for a singularity is incomplete or something), then a natural explanation is impossible since there is no nature to cause anything to begin with. That’ would be akin to me asking you if you could be the cause of the Peloponnesian war. Since you did not exist, you can be ruled out as a cause, since something that does not exist cannot cause anything. So if no nature exists, it can’t be a cause. Notice, this all hinges on the idea that there was no nature. If one could show otherwise, then nature could possibly be the cause. But that’s yet to be done.

Failure to address my objection noted. You have failed to make a positive case for a personal explanation for the origin of a universe.

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Zeb April 26, 2010 at 8:42 am

If they are saying the first cause is timeless then it would also have to be changeless because changes can only occur within time. But I thought their concept was that God existed infinitely back into the past prior to creating the universe.

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rvkevin April 26, 2010 at 8:52 am

A bit long, but very informative concerning the current topic: ‘A Universe From Nothing’ by Lawrence Krauss (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo)

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Torgo April 26, 2010 at 9:04 am

I’m glad we’re finally getting to this part of the Kalam Argument. For me, this is where things get really interesting, and desperate, for Craig. One of my biggest objections centers around his distinction between scientific explanations and personal explanations. In this part of the argument there’s a sort of equivocation going on. It occurs, I think, when we consider the reasons a person asks such questions as “Why is the kettle boiling?” (Craig’s example from REASONABLE FAITH). When a question like this is asked, the speaker has in mind either a scientific explanation or a personal one, but not usually both. It is one of the many unfortunate ambiguities of the English language that we use the same word to mean two different things. So, if I were to ask this question with the hopes of a scientific explanation, and my wife said, “It’s boiling because I want a cup of tea,” I’d immediately clarify my question. I wouldn’t accept her answer as an adequate one, given my intentions in asking. Craig is allowing the why-question to have two possible meanings, when typically it has one or the other.

To be more precise, though, when personal explanations are asked for, there is also some implicit expectation of a scientific explanation. Sometimes scientific explanations stand on their own just fine without the need for a personal explanation, but personal explanations do not stand entirely on their own.

When we are offered personal explanations of an event or object, there is an unspoken understanding of the scientific explanation that serves as the means by which the person acted. When persons do things to achieve some end, they always employ some means, and even if those means are not spelled out when a personal explanation is given, we typically have some idea of what they might be. For instance, if I ask, “Why is there a pyramid at Giza?,” one might answer, “To honorably bury a Pharaoh.” This would be a personal explanation that tells me why the ancient Egyptians built the pyramid. But such an explanation does not leave the means by which it was built (the scientific explanation) a complete mystery. Even if we are ignorant of exactly how the pyramids were built, we can make some educated guesses that get us within the ballpark of explaining how such a structure was built by humans. At the very least, we would already know some of the materials used and could speculate about the manpower and mechanisms needed to build the pyramid. BUT IT WOULDN’T MAKE SENSE TO SAY WE ADEQUATELY UNDERSTOOD WHY THE PYRAMID WAS THERE IF WE HAD ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA OF HOW IT WAS DONE. If this were the case—if the only explanation we had was, “To honorably bury a Pharaoh”—we’d think the existence of the pyramids is still not fully and adequately explained.

Notice that the example of a God creating the universe lacks precisely this feature that would make for an adequate explanation. Craig’s argument—and to my knowledge all such arguments—have no way of explaining the means by which God created, whether or what materials he used, etc. As I said, Craig points out that such a scientific explanation is impossible, since scientific explanations make sense only within the universe. But this doesn’t make his personal explanation any stronger.

What’s going on here, I think, is that the very concepts of explanation and causation are being used in unfamiliar and inappropriate ways. It’s not clear that we can meaningfully talk about explaining the universe, or the universe being caused, since those terms are always applied to things within the universe, within time and space and matter. Whether or how they apply to things outside the universe is unclear.

One final objection: The only examples of personal agents we have (i.e., humans) show us that simply willing something is not sufficient to make it exist. Agent causation, even assuming this is a viable concept, is never sufficient to bring about a material effect. If they are to act, minds must always do so through a physical body, with various limitations on what they can do (laws of nature, limitations on their physical abilities). With such things in mind, it becomes even more problematic to make sense of how a timeless, immaterial being can do anything. Our understanding of willing and acting is grounded in human beings. If we modify this too much in order to accommodate God, our explanations make less and less sense.

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Como April 26, 2010 at 9:14 am

I’m curious about the falsifiability of their theory. Does their theory predict that our big bang arose from nothing (no naturally occurring precursor substance)? And if we do end up finding such a substance (primordial quantum vacuum or high energy false vacuum) will they agree that their theory has been falsified? Or will they instead just abandon their previous argument and move on to the next available gap (where did the vacuum energy come from)?

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Mazen Abdallah April 26, 2010 at 9:43 am

Craig makes something of a contradiction
1) It has to be a simple cause
2) It has to be a complex cause

1) because of parsimony
2) because whatever it was, it’s a big enough deal to cause a universe

Effectively, we’re asking for a simple complex cause. I have no idea what that could be. As Russel put it, God becomes the sum of all the things we don’t understand
It’s a fundamentally flawed type of reasoning. While our logic demands that it be something that is not complex, the reality is something that is so far from our common understanding we must know more about it to proceed. This is why it is an argument from ignorance. While it appeals to our psychologucal need to know things, without any objective evidence we’re left very much in the dark by the KCA.

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Mike R. April 26, 2010 at 9:50 am

Oh, ok, so an uncaused, personal, timeless, unembodied mind willed the universe into existence. And the gobledork mabldarked into the babbaduoa bliken.

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Reginald Selkirk April 26, 2010 at 10:08 am

Or will they instead just abandon their previous argument and move on to the next available gap (where did the vacuum energy come from)?

Most likely. It takes a personal, all-powerful, monotheistic, etc. God to cause a quantum vacuum fluctuation in a non-Universe. Cuz that’s just the way God rolls.

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Michael April 26, 2010 at 10:28 am

Failure to address my objection noted. You have failed to make a positive case for a personal explanation for the origin of a universe.

Luke mentions their three arguments already. Unfortunately, that is all that they give. We know what regular “personal explanations are” like I moved my arm because I “willed” it, whatever that means. The sufficient natural conditions are always present for me to move my arm, but it is not constantly moving, so something else must explain what causes these things to become sufficient. At least that’s their argument.

Second, if there are only two options, and we eliminate one, that is a sufficient explanation. If I say that I am either a boy or a girl, but I am not a girl, then it follows that I am a boy, and you have no need of an explanation of the physical or psychological reasons that I am a boy. It seems to me that this is the first reason they give.

The second is that if time and matter came to exist at the big bang, then the cause, on A-theory, must be matterless (immaterial), and outside of time, though Craig clarifies only sans creation. Minds are proposed to be immaterial if they exist. Abstract objects are immaterial, and thoughts are immaterial. But thoughts don’t have causes, and are held in a mind (or so the theory goes). Abstract objects don’t have causal power. So the only immaterial thing we know of that can have any causal power is a mind. So this is somewhat of a response to Torgo’s final objection. That is, if a mind is the only thing that could have possible existed at the “time,” then this MUST be the cause, since we have eliminated all other options. Now a refutation would not be sufficient to simply deny that minds can have causal relations with the physical things themselves, because I can simply say that this proves that concept wrong since this is all that we have. The only adequate refutation would be to offer another explanation that could be possible. But then we would have to possible explanations and would have to weigh them accordingly. And that’s another story.

The third argument they make is the idea of a sufficient cause existing from eternity yet not actualizing from eternity, and that only a mind could do so. I would say this is the most controversial, since can a timeless and therefore changeless mind “change” its mind or make decisions and think in some order, since order seems tied to time?

So they do offer explanations, one being both positive and negative at the same time.

Craig makes something of a contradiction
1) It has to be a simple cause
2) It has to be a complex cause

I don’t think Craig affirms too. It must be a powerful cause, but not necessarily a complex one. Something can be simple and powerful.

I’m curious about the falsifiability of their theory. Does their theory predict that our big bang arose from nothing (no naturally occurring precursor substance)? And if we do end up finding such a substance (primordial quantum vacuum or high energy false vacuum) will they agree that their theory has been falsified? Or will they instead just abandon their previous argument and move on to the next available gap (where did the vacuum energy come from)

I would hope they would say the Kalam is defeated, but would possibly revert to a contingency argument or something else. Though that would falsify any argument from a “beginning.”I don’t really buy contingency arguments, since it seems the universe could be necessary and eliminate God. However, I have found some modal cosmological arguments interesting to say the least.

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Josh April 26, 2010 at 10:38 am

Torgo,

Bravo. Your exposition was excellent, and I would love to see how Craig would respond.

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Silas April 26, 2010 at 11:09 am

Oh, ok, so an uncaused, personal, timeless, unembodied mind willed the universe into existence. And the gobledork mabldarked into the babbaduoa bliken. Mike R.

Well spoken. Even Craig knows that it’s all a pile of rubbish.

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matt April 26, 2010 at 11:12 am

One of the things I find baffling in Craig’s Kalam argument is the reference to God as “enormously powerful”. To me, this is about on a par with Sam Harris’s empty blather about “wellbeing” as the root of morality. What can possibly be the meaning of “powerful” here? Why does creating matter out of mind require “power” in any relevant (or intelligeable) sense of the word? Is this just a sort of pseudophilosophical halleluja added for the effect, or is it because Craig needs this sort of qualifier to make the connection to miracles and resurrections? (creator—powerful–personal: Jesus does immortal cart wheels!) Wouldn`t it be more sensible to imagine an immaterial mind that once brought matter into being as in some sense utterly DEVOID of power? –at least devoid of power in any direct or derived sense of a “force that can move objects, act quickly, etc etc, all of which depends of material stuff for there to be something to have “power” over. Craig’s invocation of power just seems like an attempt to describe the creation of matter ex nihilo in a quasi-material fantasy world where some wizards’ magic wands are larger than others. …but then the whole paradox of craig’s algorhythmically “provable” God of is that all the abstractions he heaps on it are just so many adornments to another old-fashioned mythical thunder-flinger.

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Torgo April 26, 2010 at 11:16 am

Michael,

I didn’t mean to say that a mind can’t possibly be the cause of the universe. Instead, I was trying to show that this is far from a simple, comprehensible, straightforward notion, and that a mind is not likely the cause of the universe for this reason. For God/mind to be an adequate explanation, it needs to make sense, to be rendered in comprehensible terms. As long as there are the problems I noted, as well as others, then the viability of the explanation is in question. And I don’t see why I need to offer an alternative. Showing that one explanation is wrong or not likely right does not require providing the correct explanation.

And BTW, I don’t necessarily accept Craig’s two alternatives of scientific and personal explanations. No, I don’t have others, but that was part of my point. When we’re trying to talk about the cause or explanation of the universe, our usual concepts of explanation, cause, etc. become problematic, and perhaps meaningless.

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Torgo April 26, 2010 at 11:20 am

matt,

Are you comparing Craig’s use of “powerful” to the way “energy” is used by New Age, CAM types? This may be a good point to pursue, but I’ve no doubt that the term “power” has a very specific, long-established use in philosophy of religion. Which doesn’t necessarily make it coherent, but there might be more that needs to be dealt with before dismissing it.

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lukeprog April 26, 2010 at 11:25 am

Torgo,

You could submit that to Craig’s Q&A.

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Reginald Selkirk April 26, 2010 at 11:42 am

Second, if there are only two options, and we eliminate one, that is a sufficient explanation. If I say that I am either a boy or a girl, but I am not a girl, then it follows that I am a boy, and you have no need of an explanation of the physical or psychological reasons that I am a boy.

False dichotomy preceding the elimination of one of the two choices via an argument from ignorance. I could be neither a boy or a girl because: I’m a man, I’m an XXY human, I’m a non-human animal, I’m actually a software web-bot.

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matt April 26, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Torgo, point well taken, but then the truth is that quite a lot of the well-established ideas in the philosophy of religion are pretty dismissible, even if not in the off-hand way I dismiss Craig’s idea. I’ve seen and read quite a bit of WLC and never seen him even begin to articulate what he means by “power” or “powerful” vis a vis God. In fact, in some ways I think he is not using “powerful” to define God, but God–an intelligent designer/creater–as a definition of powerfulness. Either way, it rips the word out of any intelligeable language game in just the way that his use of the word “personal” does applied to a timeless, spaceless mind. And I think it says something about Craig’s philosophical ethic that he never bothers even to interrogate the idea, or flesh it out, in public fora.

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Haecceitas April 26, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Moreover, Ockham’s Razor enjoins us to posit a unified cause of the universe, rather than a plurality of causes.This is their attempt to dismiss a multiplicity of gods in favour of a monotheistic God. However, as Stenger and others have pointed out, Ockham’s razor refers to independent theoretical hypotheses, not deities. This is a misuse fo Ockham’s razor.

Why is it a misuse if they are comparing two independent hypotheses (monotheistic vs. polytheistic hypotheses about the ultimate reality)?

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matt April 26, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Are you comparing Craig’s use of “powerful” to the way “energy” is used by New Age, CAM types?

I don’t know if this is what I meant, but it sounds pretty good to me!

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Michael April 26, 2010 at 12:11 pm

And I don’t see why I need to offer an alternative. Showing that one explanation is wrong or not likely right does not require providing the correct explanation.

The reason I say that an alternative must be presented is only if one accepts that a natural explanation can’t be given. If it can’t be, and the ONLY other explanation is a personal one from a “powerful” something rather or another, then that is should be the “default” until something else is presented. However, the question here is if this is the ONLY explanation. If it is, showing that it may be unlikely means nothing, since even if something is unlikely, it can still happen. Somewhat ironically this is what an atheist must hold, that something highly unlikely happened, viz. our universe. They explain away the chances by multiplying their odds with more worlds, etc. But they accept the unlikely. The only way to render the personal explanation useless is to actually prove it to be impossible. In that case, we would have to say its not anything that we know of, but there is an explanation.

False dichotomy preceding the elimination of one of the two choices via an argument from ignorance. I could be neither a boy or a girl because: I’m a man, I’m an XXY human, I’m a non-human animal, I’m actually a software web-bot.

I agree that there are false dichotomies. That was not the point though, as it seems you misunderstood my argument, and I apologize for not being more clear. The point is that if it is a true dichotomy, then it necessarily follows. That is why I said If “I am either a boy or a girl, but I am not a girl, then it follows that I am a boy, and you have no need of an explanation of the physical or psychological reasons that I am a boy.” Of these are as a matter of fact the only two options, then my conclusion that I am a boy is correct. What you have just done by saying that I could be a man or an XXY person, etc., is to offer other options, proving it to be a false dichotomy. Which is exactly what one has to do to object in that manner of the Kalam, since, as currently defended, says these are our only types of explanations, and that if it is not one, then it is the other. So to deny this point means you have to show other options, which I have not heard presented. All we see is the claim that this is a false dichotomy, with the explanation that it is possible that it is a false dichotomy. But that is simply not good enough, for it is also possible that it is a true dichotomy.

But if you were to offer an alternative, as in the boy vs. girl case, then this argument for the argument would be invalid and useless. But until you have done so, it stands.

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Reginald Selkirk April 26, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Why is it a misuse if they are comparing two independent hypotheses (monotheistic vs. polytheistic hypotheses about the ultimate reality)?

Could someone else please address this? I don’t feel that I can do so without becoming abusive.

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matt April 26, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Somewhat ironically this is what an atheist must hold, that something highly unlikely happened, viz. our universe. They explain away the chances by multiplying their odds with more worlds, etc. But they accept the unlikely.

sorry to dissapoint you, but: no, that`s not what an atheist must hold. the whole concept of “likelihood” is ass-backwards here (literally). it’s increadibly unlikely that I’ll type the word “unlikely” here–think of all the other words I might have thought of! but I did think of it, and I did it wihout God’s help! In a metaphysical sense life is just another brute fact about the world–no more or less a brute fact than God’s thinking up life instead of thinking up one of an infinitely large number of other possibilities. No offence intended, but if there’s any argument in the theist’s medicine cabinet that drives me the craziest of all, it’s this stuff about how what is “unlikely” according to contrived, retroactive probabibilities needs an “explanation”. Moreover, if something is “likely”, that ALSO needs an explanation–the only explanation that doesn’t need an explanation, according to a theist, is God.

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Haecceitas April 26, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Could someone else please address this? I don’t feel that I can do so without becoming abusive.  

Perhaps you could try. Take it as an exercise in self-control. I’m not thin-skinned, so it’s not the end of the world even if you fail.

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Derrida April 26, 2010 at 1:16 pm

With regards to Ockham’s razor, the idea that simple explanations are prima facie better than less simple/more complex explanations, it is clear that some types of simplicity are truth-guiding, while others are not.

So, the intrinsic probability that:

1) I have a pet cat.

is less likely than

2) I have a pet.

Because (1) entails (2), but (2) doesn’t entail (1), as I could have a pet iguana, or dog. In other words, there are more cases where (2) is true than where (1) is true, and this is because (2) is simpler, has a wider scope, than (1).

On the other hand, the claim:

3) I have exactly two cats.

Isn’t, I think, intrinsically less likely than:

4) I have exactly one cat.

Because each entails the denial of the other. If I wasn’t aware that more people own exactly one cat rather than two, I wouldn’t be justified in assuming that (3) is more likely than (4), because while (4) posits more entities than (3), (4) doesn’t say any more than (3). Both have the same scope.

On the other hand, the claim:

3′) I have more than one cat.

Is wider in scope than (4), as (3′) is true in more cases. Maybe I have 2 cats, or 3, or 4, etc.

The same is true of the cause/s of the universe, if the universe was caused. The claim

5) The universe was caused by the Christian God.

is less likely than

6) The universe was caused by a person.

As (6) has a wider scope than (5). Maybe Allah created the world, etc.

But the claim:

7) The universe was created by exactly one person.

Is actually less likely than the claim

8.) The universe was created by more than one person.

Because the universe could be created by two, or three, or four, etc, people, rather than one.

So, since scope is a case where simplicity is truth guiding, the simpler theory appears to be that the universe was created by many beings rather than one.

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Haecceitas April 26, 2010 at 2:05 pm

So, the intrinsic probability that:1) I have a pet cat.is less likely than2) I have a pet.Because (1) entails (2), but (2) doesn’t entail (1), as I could have a pet iguana, or dog.

Yes, cases of this type are uncontroversial examples of simplicity as a guide to truth simply on a logical basis. My only issue would be whether this is the sole basis for seeing simplicity as truth-guiding.

On the other hand, the claim:3) I have exactly two cats.Isn’t, I think, intrinsically less likely than:4) I have exactly one cat.Because each entails the denial of the other.

Actually, I think that it might be somewhat less likely even apart from obtaining any direct empirical evidence. This would have to be worked out in terms of thinking about the relationships between motivating desires and the most likely resultant actions. Cat-ownership is (in many cases anyway) something that results from intentional action on the part of the owner.

If I wasn’t aware that more people own exactly one cat rather than two, I wouldn’t be justified in assuming that (3) is more likely than (4), because while (4) posits more entities than (3), (4) doesn’t say any more than (3).

However, doesn’t it presuppose a more complex story? The desires that lead people to want to get a cat can be met even by just one cat, and thus one would need to postulate something extra to make (4) equally likely.

Both have the same scope.On the other hand, the claim:3′) I have more than one cat.Is wider in scope than (4), as (3′) is true in more cases. Maybe I have 2 cats, or 3, or 4, etc.The same is true of the cause/s of the universe, if the universe was caused.

These cases are disanalogous at least to the extent that your cat example postulates multiplicity in the effects of intentional action, whereas in the case of the universe, it’s the causes that are being multiplied.

The claim5) The universe was caused by the Christian God.is less likely than6) The universe was caused by a person.

Obviously.

But the claim:7) The universe was created by exactly one person.Is actually less likely than the claim8.) The universe was created by more than one person.Because the universe could be created by two, or three, or four, etc, people, rather than one.

Right. If we are talking just about this type of logical simplicity, this is true. But it seems to me that this isn’t the only relevant sense in which simplicity is truth-guiding. When the effect is not such that it specifically calls for multiplicity of causes, we tend to assume (legitimately, it seems to me) that the effect has a single cause. It’s late here and my brain isn’t quite working at the full capacity, so I think I’ll try to argue for this in more detail some time later. I’ll just make one more point. When we are talking about a prime reality that forms the terminus of explanation, the situation isn’t the same as in the cases of other types. A multiplicity of causes as a terminus of explanation would mean a multiplicity of entities that are left unexplained whereas a singular cause would leave just one unexplained entity. Isn’t this much more attractive on grounds that don’t boil down to simply the type of logical simplicity that you suggest?

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Derrida April 26, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Haecceitas,

Actually, I think that it might be somewhat less likely even apart from obtaining any direct empirical evidence. This would have to be worked out in terms of thinking about the relationships between motivating desires and the most likely resultant actions. Cat-ownership is (in many cases anyway) something that results from intentional action on the part of the owner.

I think this would only be true if you assume knowledge about cat ownership, and the nature of cat owners with regards to desires and how they can be fulfilled. But I don’t see how this would affect the “intrinsic” probability of the claims.

However, doesn’t it presuppose a more complex story? The desires that lead people to want to get a cat can be met even by just one cat, and thus one would need to postulate something extra to make (4) equally likely.

Same problem.

These cases are disanalogous at least to the extent that your cat example postulates multiplicity in the effects of intentional action, whereas in the case of the universe, it’s the causes that are being multiplied.

I don’t see how that’s a relevant disanalogy. Does the fact that an event is an effect rather than a cause affect the intrinsic probability of its occurring?

Right. If we are talking just about this type of logical simplicity, this is true. But it seems to me that this isn’t the only relevant sense in which simplicity is truth-guiding. When the effect is not such that it specifically calls for multiplicity of causes, we tend to assume (legitimately, it seems to me) that the effect has a single cause. It’s late here and my brain isn’t quite working at the full capacity, so I think I’ll try to argue for this in more detail some time later.

I’ll look forward to that.

I’ll just make one more point. When we are talking about a prime reality that forms the terminus of explanation, the situation isn’t the same as in the cases of other types. A multiplicity of causes as a terminus of explanation would mean a multiplicity of entities that are left unexplained whereas a singular cause would leave just one unexplained entity. Isn’t this much more attractive on grounds that don’t boil down to simply the type of logical simplicity that you suggest?

Interesting. This strikes me as an argument not for the simplicity or parsimony of monotheism over polytheism, but the greater inexplicability of polytheism.

A couple of responses come to mind. First, if it were stated that the multiplicity of creators of the universe existed necessarily, as many believe God does, then wouldn’t the multiplicity of creators be just as explicable as God?

Second, what if the multiplicity of creators create each other timelessly, or are created by one being, as in henotheism. Then their existence would also seem to be just as explicable as God’s.

Also, this would seem to tell against God’s traditional attributes, such as omnipotence and omniscience. For isn’t there more to be explained about God if He is omnipotent (Why can God do w, x, y, z, etc), rather than finitely powerful?

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Torgo April 26, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Michael writes:

“The reason I say that an alternative must be presented is only if one accepts that a natural explanation can’t be given. If it can’t be, and the ONLY other explanation is a personal one from a “powerful” something rather or another, then that is should be the “default” until something else is presented. ”

Part of my point in my original message is that personal explanations don’t stand alone, but are always done through some natural means (scientific explanation). Thus, one can’t just assert that a personal explanation is sufficient without explaining how such a thing is possible on its own, without the use of some means to enact the agent’s will. With natural explanations ruled out, a personal one is not a default position simply because Craig set up the argument that way. I’m criticizing the coherence of a purely personal explanation, trying to show that it can’t serve as an explanation or cause of the universe.

Michael continues: “However, the question here is if this is the ONLY explanation. If it is, showing that it may be unlikely means nothing, since even if something is unlikely, it can still happen.”

I didn’t mean “unlikely” in the statistical sense. I meant to say that it’s unlikely that a coherent account can be given of this personal agent existing outside of time, freely choosing to create, and creating without the use of any means, raw materials, etc. There are good reasons to think such an account can’t be given when one considers questions like, How can a personal being exist timelessly? How can such a being freely choose and act? What can it mean to cause something outside of time and without doing so through any medium? And so on.

Michael: “Somewhat ironically this is what an atheist must hold, that something highly unlikely happened, viz. our universe. They explain away the chances by multiplying their odds with more worlds, etc. But they accept the unlikely. The only way to render the personal explanation useless is to actually prove it to be impossible. ”

Atheists are under no obligation to explain the origin of the universe. Atheism is simply the rejection of gods, and thus we are simply rejecting the claim that a personal god created the universe. There’s nothing wrong with admitting ignorance on the subject, even if we find some proposed answers unintelligible. And we don’t know yet how likely or unlikely the universe is. It may be that the universe was necessary, given some underlying facts about reality (e.g., one of the many String Theories).

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Michael April 26, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Apologies for misconstruing the idea of unlikely, that was my misinterpretation. However, I find it plausible to say that a personal explanation could be causally efficient. Yes, many personal explanations are accompanied by scientific ones. But what about what causes my arm to move? Yes, there is a scientific explanation of how neurons fire to contract certain muscles, etc, but what caused that chain to start? My mind did. I chose to move my arm, and subsequently caused the chain to begin that caused my arm to move. I definitely don’t endorse Aristotelian ideas of causation, which seems to me what your kettle example refers to. The personal explanation that you give is that it is boiling because you want some tea. Yet you claim that is not a very good explanation. You correctly point out that this could be a correct answer, unless you were asking about the scientific explanation. However, even in this case, one could say that the circumstances that allowed the scientific explanation to even occur was your willing to make some tea, and your personal explanation causing the natural one in that you willed your body to place the kettle on the stove. etc. So the final cause, or in Aristotle’s words, its telos, is the personal explanation of willing your body to put the kettle on the stove. For without this, the kettle would not have been in the position to be boiling.

But that actually fits somewhat into your idea that personal explanations don’t stand by themselves in a pure sense. I agree, oddly enough. But this is where the Aristotelian idea plays in. A purely natural explanation can be given of water freezing. Nobody says that the water willed to freeze. But certain things require an personal explanation as well. Moving my arm was one example, though this breaks down if we throw in reflexes or involuntary movement. The kettle one is another. While water boils at 100 degrees C at sea level. But when we boil water in a pot on the stove, it is not merely natural causes that are needed to explain how the water got there in the first place. For that, we had to resort to the personal. So you are absolutely correct to say that the universe could not only be cause by a personal cause, but would need so physical cause as well. One could say the Big Bang, or some sort of string theory, or what have you. But the underlying idea is that nature merely acts the same at all times, which means the universe should be eternal if the explanation was merely natural. This is due to the fact that water freezes at 0 degrees C, and if the temperature was below this from eternity, it would have always been frozen. Something would have had to change or cause change for it to be something else or to have a point in time at which it originally froze. And that is where Craig and other insert the personal cause, because it indeed is the only thing that we know even possibly could cause change that does not happen necessarily.

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TaiChi April 26, 2010 at 7:08 pm

“Abstract objects are immaterial, and thoughts are immaterial. But thoughts don’t have causes, and are held in a mind (or so the theory goes).” ~ Michael

It can’t be right that thoughts don’t have causes. Look:

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2. Thoughts do not have causes.
3. Therefore, thoughts do not begin to exist.

But, I tell you, the thought I’m expressing here is a new one, and not one existing from eternity. In fact, every thought I’ve had is like that, and I presume you can confirm this of your own thoughts.

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Michael April 26, 2010 at 7:37 pm

Ah, thanks for pointing that out. I meant to say don’t have causal powers. Thoughts don’t cause anything, but yes, minds do cause them.

Apologies for any confusion here.

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noen April 26, 2010 at 10:09 pm

“I meant to say don’t have causal powers. Thoughts don’t cause anything, but yes, minds do cause them.”

Thoughts are merely properties of minds. I have a thought to raise my arm and the damn thing goes up. So yes, thoughts can and do have casual powers.

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Torgo April 27, 2010 at 6:29 am

Michael,

Even assuming a dualist picture of things, your mind may cause your arm to move, but doesn’t create your arm (and all material things) out of nothing. Also, moving one’s arm, and all other acts of mind, occur in time, with decisions preceding actions. This is not a possibility for a timeless God. Thus it’s hard to make sense of how a person can exist timelessly (how can such a being think and reason, for instance?) and make free choices that result in actions.

As for the tea kettle, Aristotle, etc., I don’t see how this overturns the points I made before. Even if it takes personal agents to initiate a series of events with a final aim in view, it is still the case that natural means have to be employed to bring about this end. My point was that having only a personal explanation is not sufficient to explain an event if the scientific explanation (the means through which the agent’s will was enacted) is completely lacking. And it sounds like you agree.

“And that is where Craig and other insert the personal cause, because it indeed is the only thing that we know even possibly could cause change that does not happen necessarily.”

Again, how can a personal cause effect changes outside itself without the use of some means to do so? We don’t, in fact, know that a personal agent can do this without recourse to some natural means of doing so. And again, what sense does this make when we’re talking about a timeless being? How can a timeless being cause change in anything?

Thanks for talking.

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Reginald Selkirk April 27, 2010 at 6:48 am

Perhaps you could try. Take it as an exercise in self-control. I’m not thin-skinned, so it’s not the end of the world even if you fail.

Hypothesis one: Supernatural “persons” can “exist” (whatever that means) and can cause universes to start.

Hypothesis two: There can only be on supernatural person who can start universes.

WRT the cats, the hypotheses are:
1) I have (a) pet feline(s).
2) The exact number of pert felines I own is exactly 1, or is exactly 2, or is some other number, presumably an integer.

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Tony Hoffman April 27, 2010 at 7:06 am

Why is it a misuse if they are comparing two independent hypotheses (monotheistic vs. polytheistic hypotheses about the ultimate reality)?  

David Heddle is an ID proponent, and he agrees that a hypothesis that cannot be tested is inherently unscientific. Unless you have a way of scientifically testing a hypothesis that one god cannot be disproven but multiple gods can then it appears you are equivocating.

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Zeb April 27, 2010 at 7:57 am

For isn’t there more to be explained about God if He is omnipotent (Why can God do w, x, y, z, etc), rather than finitely powerful?

If God’s power is limited, that introduces the limit which must have its own nature, and the thing that causes or necessitates that limit, which also must have its own nature. If God’s power is limitless then all you have to explain is what it means for God to be omnipotent.

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Michael April 27, 2010 at 8:58 am

Thoughts are merely properties of minds. I have a thought to raise my arm and the damn thing goes up. So yes, thoughts can and do have casual powers.

But does me thinking about moving my arm actually cause my arm to move? If I think about being in Hawaii right now on a beach, does that thought cause me to be in Hawaii? Of course not. I think we are using different definitions of “thought.” I consider a thought different than a will. A will causes my arm to move, while a thought doesn’t. I hope that we can agree that if we separate the two, then the thought itself is not causally efficacious.

Torgo, I do agree that physical manifestations of mind caused events are seen through natural processes.But maybe that doesn’t mean that that is always the case. There could be exceptions. But you also could be correct. Maybe a god did create the universe through natural means, and maybe we will find this out. But I would still find it necessary to have a personal cause due to the finite aspect of the universe. Because for the same reasons that you assume that a personal cause is conjoined with a natural cause, we can assume that a personal cause is the only thing that can start a chain of natural causes. This is not to deny that some natural causes do not happen alone. Water freezes at the North pole and nobody “put” that water there. But this is simply the natural cause effecting the water as long as the water is in that situation. But in the case of the universe, we see a tea pot, and even if we figure out how the tea pot (universe) is the way it is, that does not explain how or why it got there to begin with. If the universe was eternal, this would not be a problem. But since it is not, it seems that we need an answer.

Since you agree that “Even if it takes personal agents to initiate a series of events with a final aim in view, it is still the case that natural means have to be employed to bring about this end,” then we can say the same of the universe, that is, that a personal agent initiated it, even if through natural means. And if this is in fact true, then it doesn’t matter that we don’t know how a personal agent exists timelessly, it simply is true. Maybe we will figure out how at another time. But saying that since we don’t know how something could happen that is, does not mean it is not. We don’t understand how the universe got here, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t here. I couldn’t tell you the exact biological processes that caused me, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t some that caused me. I am not invoking God of the gaps, and am not a proponent of such a view. We can say that we don’t know. But that is not to deny that something did or did not happen. It did, or did not, we just don’t know how.

Having said this, we can posit a personal agent using the same criteria we use for determining that a personal cause is enacted through a natural cause, viz. through experience.

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Derrida April 27, 2010 at 9:07 am

If God’s power is limited, that introduces the limit which must have its own nature, and the thing that causes or necessitates that limit, which also must have its own nature. If God’s power is limitless then all you have to explain is what it means for God to be omnipotent.

Zeb,

If this is correct, then the same objection could be made against monotheism. The fact that there is one particular creator, rather than an infinity of creators, is in need of explanation. What is the nature of the limit on the number of creators of the universe?

But I don’t see why God’s having all possible powers doesn’t cry out for explanation in the same way that having a particular set of limited powers does. If we ask why God is limited, we are asking why God is limited rather than unlimited. But then being unlimited is just as inexplicable, for we can ask why God is unlimited rather than limited. Why, in this case, doesn’t God’s power have any limits?

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Michael April 27, 2010 at 9:20 am

Derrida, this is where the concept of a maximally great being comes in, which is what the ontological argument attempts to prove. The idea of the Christian God is that He is the greatest of all possible beings, and that there is nothing even possibly greater. In that case, unlimited power, knowledge, etc. is necessarily predicated of Him.

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Tony Hoffman April 27, 2010 at 11:46 am

Since you agree that “Even if it takes personal agents to initiate a series of events with a final aim in view, it is still the case that natural means have to be employed to bring about this end,” then we can say the same of the universe, that is, that a personal agent initiated it, even if through natural means. And if this is in fact true, then it doesn’t matter that we don’t know how a personal agent exists timelessly, it simply is true. Maybe we will figure out how at another time. But saying that since we don’t know how something could happen that is, does not mean it is not.

I don’t know how a four sided triangle could happen, and I think that is the same thing as meaning it is not. It seems to me that you are stretching the definition of the possible to include the contradictory. Some things are contradictions, and they can be ruled out.

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Michael April 27, 2010 at 12:37 pm

I don’t know how a four sided triangle could happen, and I think that is the same thing as meaning it is not. It seems to me that you are stretching the definition of the possible to include the contradictory. Some things are contradictions, and they can be ruled ou

I agree. But I can prove that a four-sided triangle can’t exist, or a married bachelor, or a square circle. Those are indeed logical impossibilities. But there is nothing explicitly contradictory about an eternal immaterial mind. So until this can be proven, in the logical sense, to be contradictory, then my explanation stands. But I agree. If it were to be shown contradictory, then that would not be an option. But just because we have never encountered extra-terrestrials, we cannot say that this proves that there are none. So just because we haven’t encountered something doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. However, for a Christian, they can claim to know that such a thing exists since they know God personally. What we are then talking about is proving that the concept of God is incoherent, illogical, and contradictory so that He is impossible, and then go on to prove that not even a lesser mind or god could exist necessarily and timelessly. That is a hard task, and one that I think will never happen, since I think that this is in fact how it is.

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Haecceitas April 27, 2010 at 12:54 pm

I think this would only be true if you assume knowledge about cat ownership, and the nature of cat owners with regards to desires and how they can be fulfilled. But I don’t see how this would affect the “intrinsic” probability of the claims.

You’re right in saying that it assumes some of that. But I do think it doesn’t need to assume quite as much as to exclude a significant a priori element in this type of reasoning. I guess my more general point would be that if one needs to postulate a complex set of desires/motives to make it plausible to suppose that a person would act in some way (as opposed to another case where a more simple set of desires/motives suffices), this should be taken into consideration in some way, rather than just comparing the results of the action.

I don’t see how that’s a relevant disanalogy. Does the fact that an event is an effect rather than a cause affect the intrinsic probability of its occurring?

Well, the typical formulation of Ockham’s razor talks about multiplying causes. The most obvious application of the principle would be in the context of postulating a cause/an explanation for something.

Now returning to your previous message, when you say:

“If I wasn’t aware that more people own exactly one cat rather than two, I wouldn’t be justified in assuming that (3) is more likely than (4), because while (4) posits more entities than (3), (4) doesn’t say any more than (3).”

the part about saying less/more as the sole meaning of what it is for something to be simple/complex in comparison to something else would seem to be challenged by another sense of what it is to be simple. Would you not agree that universalizations of natural laws that cover the behavior of some particular entity so that the laws apply not just here and now, but across space and time, are in a very relevant sense very simple laws, not just despite of but actually because of how much they say? But as far as I can see, this shouldn’t be the case under the definition of simplicity that you presented – at least not if we agree that the claim is about the behavior of particular entities, rather than about “rules that govern” those entities.

Interesting. This strikes me as an argument not for the simplicity or parsimony of monotheism over polytheism, but the greater inexplicability of polytheism.

That may be so. In some way, I see them as very related concepts, but I guess I’d have to do some thinking on the exact relationship.

A couple of responses come to mind. First, if it were stated that the multiplicity of creators of the universe existed necessarily, as many believe God does, then wouldn’t the multiplicity of creators be just as explicable as God?

Yes, if one can make sense of the idea of multiple necessary beings of this type. However, I was thinking more along the lines of Swinburne’s type of theism that doesn’t see God as logically necessary (and I think he would also question the whole idea that there can be logically necessary existence of anything that would function as the terminus of explanation, so the best that we can hope for is to discover one entity that ends the chain of explanation while not being explicable.

Second, what if the multiplicity of creators create each other timelessly

I suppose they could have a mutually sustaining relationship, but I don’t understand how they could literally create each other timelessly.

or are created by one being, as in henotheism. Then their existence would also seem to be just as explicable as God’s.

This would still result in a creator-creation relationship, so this may lead into monotheism again. If by “God” we mean a being that is the uncreated creator, the created beings wouldn’t really count as Gods in the full sense. (And monotheism is perfectly compatible with the idea of having a number of created supernatural beings that are lesser than the creator.)

Also, this would seem to tell against God’s traditional attributes, such as omnipotence and omniscience. For isn’t there more to be explained about God if He is omnipotent (Why can God do w, x, y, z, etc), rather than finitely powerful?  

This may have an analogy in the case of universalizing natural laws that I mentioned above, so I’ll wait for your reply on that before commenting.

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Torgo April 27, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Michael writes:

“Since you agree that “Even if it takes personal agents to initiate a series of events with a final aim in view, it is still the case that natural means have to be employed to bring about this end,” then we can say the same of the universe, that is, that a personal agent initiated it, even if through natural means. And if this is in fact true, then it doesn’t matter that we don’t know how a personal agent exists timelessly, it simply is true. Maybe we will figure out how at another time. But saying that since we don’t know how something could happen that is, does not mean it is not. We don’t understand how the universe got here, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t here.”

Perhaps you have a different definition of “natural means”, but I was using this as synonymous with Craig’s “scientific explanations”. Scientific explanations are given in terms of natural means, i.e., natural laws, material elements, etc.

Unless you have a different meaning of natural, then you seem to be at odds with Craig’s argument, since he rules out any scientific explanation, which I take to be the same as ruling out any natural means of creating the universe.

All of that aside, how can we say that a personal agent caused the universe without making sense of such an agent existing timelessly? You claim above that we can know a personal agent caused the universe, and that we’ll figure out how such an agent can exist timelessly later. But this begs the question. You can’t know a personal agent did anything timelessly if the very notion is incoherent. You can’t make meaningful claims about timeless personal agents doing anything unless you make sense of this notion first.

Michael: “Having said this, we can posit a personal agent using the same criteria we use for determining that a personal cause is enacted through a natural cause, viz. through experience. ”

Actually, no. We conclude that personal agents are responsible for various events by making an inference from past experience. When I see a painting, I conclude a person created it because in my experience and that of others, people are always the causes of such things. But I have no such prior experience with universes being created, so I can’t conclude that a person is responsible. Moreover, the creation of the universe, on some accounts, is the creation of something out of nothing. If that’s the case, then I have no basis of comparison, since human beings never create something from nothing, but simply rearrange already existing matter.

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Michael April 27, 2010 at 3:04 pm

By natural I do mean something slightly different than the scientific explanation Craig says we can rule out. I would say we that there was a physical, real way in which God caused things to exist. I do not claim to know this method, just as if I look at a painting, I do not, personally, know whether the painted brushed this stroke left or right, but I see the result.

So then my question is, do you believe that a timeless immaterial personal agent is logically impossible? Do you think that such an agent could not make a decision in timelessness, since change, even of mind, is so closely connected to our idea of time? Do you think that since we don’t have a way notion of such things that they are impossible? I will try to respond to these questions as they are answered.

But as a note, as I said, not being able to explain something does not mean that it did not happen. So just as the naturalist has no current explanation for the universe, and is looking for one, since he knows it happened, I think that God exists and created the universe but don’t know exactly how He did so.

Actually, no. We conclude that personal agents are responsible for various events by making an inference from past experience. When I see a painting, I conclude a person created it because in my experience and that of others, people are always the causes of such things. But I have no such prior experience with universes being created, so I can’t conclude that a person is responsible. Moreover, the creation of the universe, on some accounts, is the creation of something out of nothing. If that’s the case, then I have no basis of comparison, since human beings never create something from nothing, but simply rearrange already existing matter.

But this is really the closest analogy that we can give right now. Of course we don’t know how universes are created, and even if we figure out how this universe was made, we could not say how other universes may be created. And again, the fact that we do not have a current schema, to use a psych term, for creation of universes, or the concept of true nothingness, or the concept of timelessness, or what an disembodied mind is like, does not mean that these things are impossible. It simply means we can’t explain them. As Craig famously says, we don’t need an explanation of an explanation for the former to be true. It may be helpful to have an explanation for the explanation, but not having one in no way discredits the former. So sure, humans can’t create something out of nothing. I mean, we can’t really get into a situation where there is true nothingness to even attempt to do so. But that does not mean that some very powerful being could not do so. It simply means that this being would have to be apart from everything physical and such, and would have been powerful enough to do such a thing.

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Tony Hoffman April 27, 2010 at 3:45 pm

So then my question is, do you believe that a timeless immaterial personal agent is logically impossible?

Yes, I believe that timeless agents are logically impossible. A capricious God is not a contradiction, at least. Your timeless one I’ll put on the shelf with my 4-sided triangle unless you can make an argument otherwise.

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David April 27, 2010 at 3:51 pm

So then my question is, do you believe that a timeless immaterial personal agent is logically impossible?

I’ll just jump right in here and offer my objection to the timeless unembodied mind that Craig is asserting as the cause. I don’t find the concept logically contradictory (as opposed to “perfect creator,” and “perfectly just and merciful”), but incomprehensible. What is a timeless thinking process like? As Reginald asked earlier, what is the evidence that an unembodied mind can even exist? I don’t say that such things are impossible, but without good reasons and evidence, Craig’s cause is nothing but a string of unsupported assertions.

It’s as if Craig is purposefully trying to present the layperson in the audience with a definition of God that will confuse them and make their head hurt just enough to get them to just accept it and not dwell too much on it. I’ve heard him say in a few debates when he’s telling the audience about his witness of the holy spirit that people shouldn’t “concentrate on the arguments, that [they] fail to hear the inner voice of God speaking to [their] own hearts.” When you’re trying to get people to accept a concept as inconceivable as a timeless, unembodied mind, I see why he doesn’t want people to really think TOO much about it; just long enough to listen to the soothing sound of his voice and supreme confidence in his own position that lets believers continue to believe that their faith is “reasonable”.

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Michael April 27, 2010 at 4:43 pm

David,
you make a good point. I disagree with Craig on quite a few issues, and this is one. I have found that a certain degree of skepticism in everything is healthy, in fact, necessary for truly reasonable belief in anything. So I would never encourage people not to really consider things for themselves. However, I would agree in the sense that you don’t want to focus so much on knowledge that one loses sight of God entirely as a real person, and loses their relationship with him and replacing that with their studies. But that is a quite different topic that one could discuss elsewhere. Something I intend to remark on at my site in the near future.

But to the issue at hand. Just because something is incomprehensible now does not mean that it is not true. To use the naturalistic argument in some sense, what was once attributed to “gods” and “magic” due to ignorance, we now have scientific reasons. In this same way, just because we don’t currently understand how something is does not mean that it is not. These people before never doubted what happened, just how it happened. We simply have a different way of looking at it now. So just because something is incomprehensible, as one might expect a truly omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, etc. being to be, does not mean that it is not the case. People once thought that we could not even talk about God or metaphysics and stuff meaningfully (wittgenstein), but now most believe that we can. We have progressed as time has passed in pretty much all fields. So it is very possible that one day we could comprehend this. It may not be until we die and see how things are after death if such a thing exists.

Having said this, I will repeat that positing a mind as the instigator of a chain of processes is nothing new, but rather something we do everyday. Paintings are painted by people even if you did not see a particular painting painted. Yes, we have no way to give a good comparison of universes, since we are stuck in one and can’t transcend it like we do the painting. But one could at least intelligibly infer the same of the universe, that it was started by a personal agent of some sort. I tried to give some arguments for this earlier, but I will try to clarify any of them if you have lingering questions.

Yes, I believe that timeless agents are logically impossible. A capricious God is not a contradiction, at least. Your timeless one I’ll put on the shelf with my 4-sided triangle unless you can make an argument otherwise.

Tony,
My question would be why. You have to be able to explain why this is not even possible. And if others are correct and this is incomprehensible, at least right now, then that would literally be impossible in and of itself. For, staying with the Wittgenstein theme, to be able to talk about something being possible or not possible logically, we must know about that which we wish to talk about. If we do not comprehend this entirely, or at least mostly, we cannot even begin such a task as to prove that it is impossible. That would be like me saying that bjungfsa is logically impossible. This sentence has no meaning because nobody understands what one means when they say “bjungfsa.” One would have to define it, give it a detailed description that somehow corresponds to reality, and then we could discuss it. So until we have a real grasp of timelessness, which seems impossible for timely creatures to do, then this will never truly be a logical contradiction.

But that is my humble opinion, and I would love for you to lay out the reasons why you have come to conclude that this concept should be placed on the shelf that has your four sided triangle and married bachelor on it.

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Zeb April 27, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Derrida,

There is a difference between having infinite power, and having an infinite number of powers. If God were thought of as an ultra-Superman whose list of enumerated powers one could never finish reading, then yes that god would be less simple than a god with the fewest necessary powers. But I imagine God’s omnipotence as ‘absolute potential’ rather than ‘infinite power’. It is not so much that he has strength or force or abilities that would be off the charts; it is more like he has the ability to bring about all things possible or conceivable.

Consider: if we could prove the necessity of the existence of some thing, such as physical space, but no other characteristics of it, we would presume that it exists without limit and without differentiation. If we found by direct examination that it is differentiated or limited, those would be new facts that we would need to explain. So consider the concept of an absolute god, versus an infinity of gods. Your infinity of gods introduces an infinity of differentiations and limitations, for if each god were not somehow limited then it would be identical with the other gods, and you would have only one god. We would then need an explanation for all those delineations and for the thing that caused them. If we have proven the necessity of divine power, until we discover or prove anything else about it, the most parsimonious way to meet that necessity is by believing in one god who is unlimited in any way, including in potency.

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noen April 27, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Michael
“But does me thinking about moving my arm actually cause my arm to move? If I think about being in Hawaii right now on a beach, does that thought cause me to be in Hawaii? Of course not. I think we are using different definitions of “thought.” I consider a thought different than a will. A will causes my arm to move, while a thought doesn’t. I hope that we can agree that if we separate the two, then the thought itself is not causally efficacious.”

In order for me to raise my arm I need to act in the gap between imagining myself raising my arm and willing my arm to rise. And not just any will, my will. It’s up to me whether or not I raise my arm.

Brains cause minds.
Minds are features of brains.

Thought is the result of the activity of minds. Since there is a direct causal chain reaching from the outside world into the mind and also a direct causal chain from the mind to the world there is no real paradox here. Some thoughts can cause events in the world if we intend for them to do so. It is my intentionality that matters.

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Michael April 27, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Brains cause minds.

And this is the heart of the question. For if God exists, then this is not true of in the very least Him, and unlikely of us as well. On naturalism, yes, this must be the case. All that you have done is shown that naturalism is incompatible with God, which is a given. But we have to question the mere possibility of these things on their own without a presupposition of naturalism or Christianity, for on naturalism, its not true, and Christianity, it is. The default position here is must be agnosticism, or ignorance. And then we evaluate what we know. But if we still don’t know it all, then how can we comment on whether the idea of a bodiless timeless mind is possible is possible or not? If we admit ignorance, then given the other arguments put forth, it would seem that it is not wrong to infer that it is possible.

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Torgo April 27, 2010 at 5:45 pm

I’ll let you have the last word after the following. Your whole point seems to be that we can assume a God created the universe because the universe is here. I don’t see how that follows, and I stand by my criticisms of your analogy to human creations.

I’m not prepared to say that the notion of a timeless God is logically impossible, but prima facie it seems so. But your responses to this and other points reminds of a common reaction to the problem of evil: “God has some reasons for allowing evil, but we can’t or don’t yet know them. But this doesn’t count against the existence of God, since he’s mysterious.” Are you not doing the same thing? You (and I think Craig) can’t render a meaningful explanation of a timeless God who freely chooses to cause the universe, but no matter, there must be such an explanation, so this doesn’t count against the soundness of the argument. Heads you win, tails I lose, I guess.

You are right that “not being able to explain something does not mean that it did not happen. ” But nor does this mean you get to insert any convenient explanation you want. Are you not treading close to, if not knee deep in, an argument from ignorance fallacy?

And as for needing an explanation of the explanation, that’s not what I’m asking for. I’m just asking whether Craig’s explanation is a meaningful and coherent one. He’s using words we all understand, but when you string them together in the way he does, it just doesn’t make sense, and creates more problems than it solves. Good explanations don’t usually do that.

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Sharkey April 27, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Michael: The default position [on brains causing mind] must be agnosticism, or ignorance.

I disagree. We have evidence that brains cause mind (via fMRI’s, animal models, computer models, psychological models), and very little for non-physical minds (the best evidence is NDE’s, but even they have an approximate natural explanation).

If the argument about the origin of the universe devolves into whether or not minds are non-corporeal, the smart money is on naturalism.

What evidence do you have that implies minds are separate from brains?

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Tony Hoffman April 27, 2010 at 6:07 pm

I don’t find the concept logically contradictory (as opposed to “perfect creator,” and “perfectly just and merciful”), but incomprehensible.

It’s a good point, and I admit to being somewhat torn as well.

Let me see if I can make a case for contradiction.

A personal mind has thoughts, and thoughts, in order to be thoughts, must be distinct from other thoughts. They are changes in state. Before I started writing this, I did not think I was going to write a comment. Then I thought I would write a comment. These thoughts could not exist simultaneously. For them to exist simultaneously, I would be both about to write a comment and not about to write a comment. The difference is time, and time is what distinguishes the thoughts in my mind.

In order for a personal God to exist (with a mind), he must have thoughts. If he has thoughts, how does he think about creating and not creating our universe without time?

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lukeprog April 27, 2010 at 6:09 pm

Tony,

BTW, the ‘thinking outside time’ question is addressed briefly in my interview with Timothy O’Connor.

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noen April 27, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Michael
“And this is the heart of the question. For if God exists, then this is not true of in the very least Him, and unlikely of us as well. All that you have done is shown that naturalism is incompatible with God, which is a given. “

Not at all, why should any concept of god resemble humans? Why should a naturalistic understanding of the world exclude a god which is thought to lay beyond it? The view of consciousness that I gave above is in line with the 1st century Christian ecumenical community. That is, that the “soul” is not an immaterial ghost in the machine but rather something that dies with the body because it is a part of the body. The conception that the soul is an immortal being came later when Greek Platonism influenced them.

“Methodological naturalism (or scientific naturalism) which focuses on epistemology: This stance is concerned with knowledge: what are methods for gaining trustworthy knowledge of the natural world.”

I see no conflict here with the idea there is another domain beyond what we can know. I’m agnostic so I don’t make that claim but if people wish to believe it I don’t really care.

“The default position here is must be agnosticism, or ignorance”

Yeah, I agree but only for ontological naturalism. I do not think that we can know that this world is all there is.

“But if we still don’t know it all, then how can we comment on whether the idea of a bodiless timeless mind is possible is possible or not?”

The same way that I can comment on whether or not “wet” can exist independent of water or some other liquid that possess the higher level feature we call wet. There is no need to assume property dualism. Bodiless timeless minds are not possible because there needs to exist a causal mechanism that creates a mind. All the same, minds are not reducible to neuron firings just as the property of being wet is not reducible to molecules of H2O.

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Tony Hoffman April 27, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Luke — thanks, I’ll give it a listen.

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Michael April 27, 2010 at 8:02 pm

noen, you say that early Christians did not believe in the immortality of the soul, but this is blatantly false. We see Throughout the entire Old Testament the idea of souls being in sheol, which is the equivalent of Hades, though developed separately. We also see Paul assert that to be away from the body is to be with God. He is affirming the existence of a soul. So that is not at all the position of the Church at any point in time.

You then say that a god is not incompatible with naturalism. You are the first person I have ever heard espouse this, and would love to hear more. I assumed that naturalism denied that immaterial beings existed at all, as that seems supernatural to me.

Next, I agree that this god/God may or may not be similar to humans, though the Christian idea is that there are commonalities, which is where the idea of imago dei comes from. But if this god/God is not like us, then I can accept the idea that our minds are merely the result of brain processes, but if he is not like us at all, then it is entirely possible that he could be some other sort of mind that has no need of a brain.

Obviously, we agree that agnosticism in this case is the default position. But I disagree with your final comment, however. We know a whole lot about water, and that is why we can say that about it. But we don’t know much at all about minds, though we know a lot about the brain, we don’t know near as much percentage-wise about the brain as we do water. Since this is the case, we are in an unfortunate place of ignorance about whether a mind could possibly exist apart from a brain. Having said this, you seem to ignore whether the concept of a timeless, bodiless mind is internally inconsistent. Which is what one must do in this case.

Michael: The default position [on brains causing mind] must be agnosticism, or ignorance.

Sharkey, I’m not sure why you change what I said very blatantly. I was speaking of the ontological idea of naturalism vs. other as we try to figure out what could cause the universe. So this is a very blatant changing of what I was saying, and it is not appreciated.

We are not questioning anything about our minds, other than their causal effects, not what causes them. For all we know, as has been said by many before in regards to knowing how universes begin and such, that whatever exists outside of the universe could be vastly different from how we are in the universe. Again, we must leave naturalism, etc. out of the picture, because naturalism assumes that the universe exists and by definition cannot explain how nature itself began to exist.

Torgo, I don’t mean to assume that the Christian God created the universe, as the Kalam does not even come close to doing so. But according to the argument, we can minimally postulate a powerful personal agent. The only problem we seem to be addressing now is the nature of this personal agent, and whether that is coherent or not. So apologies if it seemed otherwise.

You say that my responses remind you “of a common reaction to the problem of evil: ‘God has some reasons for allowing evil, but we can’t or don’t yet know them. But this doesn’t count against the existence of God, since he’s mysterious.’” I agree that my defense in many ways is similar. Because what one has to do to deny the conclusion is either deny a premise, or deny the second conclusion (personal agent), based on incoherence and say that it must be something else, though this can be undetermined. What has been done here is to try to deny that the second conclusion is coherent. So if I show a way that allows it to be possible, this conclusion still follows. But yes, it ends up coming down to a coin flip in ways since we are ignorant, unfortunately, about out of universe properties.

You then say that I am close to an argument from ignorance, to which I must respectively disagree haha. I am simply trying to follow the premises to a conclusion. If the cause of the universe has to be apart from the universe, and have this aspect of personal agency, then I feel wholly within the logic to say that this agent is God, or at least a god, as that this personal agent is the definition of this god.

Finally, I have to agree that Craig’s explanation of these things just sounds too easy and simple. Showing God exists is not easy, so something seems wrong. And this discussion is proof that he is not giving the whole story. Unfortunately, when he debates people, they want to attack his premises, which are pretty well grounded, rather than saying that his second conclusion does not follow. In fact, many seem unaware that he has a second conclusion. They want to deny that the universe has a cause, which certainly seems to carry the burden of proof since common sense says otherwise.

I appreciate the respect you have given in your responses, and I think that we really agree on more than we may think.

Tony,
I agree with pretty much everything you say in so far as it seems to be that way for us, but may not be the case for something that has a very different way of existing than we do. Also, you assume that we can know how timelessness functions, and whether thoughts can occur in such a state. We really have no concept at all of how a timeless state would be. I have tried to imagine it, but I simply can’t. All we can say is that if how we experience things is the way things really are and the way things are outside of this world as well, then it is impossible for such a being to exist. But it that this may not be the case, as we are in the dark regarding to the “nature” of the supernatural.

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noen April 27, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Michael
“you say that early Christians did not believe in the immortality of the soul, but this is blatantly false.”

All I know is what I’ve been told, that the early Christians believed that the soul was a substance that was a part of the body and dies with it. Their belief in immortality relied on the resurrection. That Jesus would come back, do his magic stuff and raise them body and soul from the dead and then they would live forever.

“You then say that a god is not incompatible with naturalism. You are the first person I have ever heard espouse this, and would love to hear more. I assumed that naturalism denied that immaterial beings existed at all, as that seems supernatural to me.”

Ontological naturalism makes the claim that this world is all there is. I think that’s a good assumption but I don’t think we can know that it is necessarily true. Methodological naturalism says that how we find out about the world is through empiricism, the scientific method, but empiricism can only give us contingent truths. I can imagine a possible world where there is a god who exists “beyond” space/time somehow but that for us in the here and now our only way to acquire knowledge is by the empirical method.

“but if he [god] is not like us at all, then it is entirely possible that he could be some other sort of mind that has no need of a brain.

Well, I don’t see how that would work. I can imagine a “Ground of all Being” or an “Infinite Field of Universal Intelligence”. Those are pretty abstract but I can imagine them. But I can’t imagine how a mind would work without a substrate to provide the causal means by which it is created.

“we don’t know much at all about minds, though we know a lot about the brain”

Correction: You don’t.

“Since this is the case, we are in an unfortunate place of ignorance about whether a mind could possibly exist apart from a brain.”

I am not. I know that minds cannot exist apart from some causal substrate which gives rise to them.

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Michael April 27, 2010 at 9:07 pm

What I see here is the assertion that you know that minds cannot exist apart from some causal substrate. In a way, though, this is unfalsifiable. We cannot actually test for minds in something. What I give as a property of the mind, you can simply say that it is just the result of brain processes. So in this way, this claim is not falsifiable.

My question is how you can so confidently know this. I can certainly imagine a mind outside of the body. I’ve heard many stories of people being dead on operating tables, with no heartbeat and no brain functions and somehow “feel” as if they are floating near the ceiling watching the attempt to resuscitate them. WHen they were brought back, they told others of this. My question is that if the brain had stopped functioning in a case like this, how could it produce a hallucination of such a sort, especially one that corresponded with exactly with reality in that this person was able to explain what the doctors did during that time. That would be like trying to explain how it rained with no clouds, or how a tv worked with no power supply. It would seem to mean that the mind functions apart in at least some manner from the brain. But maybe you have a response. And this is something that I am admittedly very open to.

But really what we have here are different definitions of minds. I mean mind to be synonymous with a soul that could at least possibly exist apart from a body, while you use it to mean the result of brain processes. So we have to first agree on a definition here. I agree that if minds are defined as the result of brain processes, then this hypothesis is invalid. But this is not the case when using my definition.

I have a feeling that this is where we part ways. So it may not be possible for us to agree on what we mean by mind.

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Derrida April 27, 2010 at 11:46 pm

Haecceitas,

I guess my more general point would be that if one needs to postulate a complex set of desires/motives to make it plausible to suppose that a person would act in some way (as opposed to another case where a more simple set of desires/motives suffices), this should be taken into consideration in some way, rather than just comparing the results of the action.

Well, maybe cat ownership was a bad analogy. I wasn’t assuming that owning a cat meant wanting and getting a cat, but anyway.

Well, the typical formulation of Ockham’s razor talks about multiplying causes. The most obvious application of the principle would be in the context of postulating a cause/an explanation for something.

I’m sure that you could make the claim “I have exactly one cat” an explanation for something, i.e. my telling you that I have a pet.

Would you not agree that universalizations of natural laws that cover the behavior of some particular entity so that the laws apply not just here and now, but across space and time, are in a very relevant sense very simple laws, not just despite of but actually because of how much they say? But as far as I can see, this shouldn’t be the case under the definition of simplicity that you presented – at least not if we agree that the claim is about the behavior of particular entities, rather than about “rules that govern” those entities.

Hmm, I’m not quite sure that’s right. Take this law:

- All toast lands butterside down.

It is wider in scope than:

- A particular piece of toast at time t and place p lands butterside down.

Since it doesn’t restrict its claims to space and time

But maybe I’m misunderstanding you, I’m not sure.

Yes, if one can make sense of the idea of multiple necessary beings of this type. However, I was thinking more along the lines of Swinburne’s type of theism that doesn’t see God as logically necessary (and I think he would also question the whole idea that there can be logically necessary existence of anything that would function as the terminus of explanation, so the best that we can hope for is to discover one entity that ends the chain of explanation while not being explicable.

Yeah, Swinburne’s view seems to get around that problem. Although as far as I can tell, WLC does think that God is a logically necessary being, as he accepts the ontological argument as sound.

I suppose they could have a mutually sustaining relationship, but I don’t understand how they could literally create each other timelessly.

Well, I think it’s at least possible, as I think it’s also possible that time is cyclical, and so events in the future create events in the past. I see no logical impossibility in this view.

This would still result in a creator-creation relationship, so this may lead into monotheism again. If by “God” we mean a being that is the uncreated creator, the created beings wouldn’t really count as Gods in the full sense. (And monotheism is perfectly compatible with the idea of having a number of created supernatural beings that are lesser than the creator.)

Indeed, though it would mean that the physical universe wasn’t directly created by God, which is I imagine something most theists want to assert.

This may have an analogy in the case of universalizing natural laws that I mentioned above, so I’ll wait for your reply on that before commenting.

It may be simpler to say:

- God has unlimited power.

than to say:

- God has powers x, y, z.

But not, I think, simpler than saying:

- God has limited power.

So I don’t quite see why simplicity calls for us to say that God has unlimited power.

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noen April 27, 2010 at 11:52 pm

Michael
“What I see here is the assertion that you know that minds cannot exist apart from some causal substrate. In a way, though, this is unfalsifiable.”

Nothing could be easier. Remove or destroy the brain and see if the mind disappears!

“We cannot actually test for minds in something.”

Sure we can. The test for a mind is to look for intentionality. Whether in language or in behavior it’s presence indicates a mind.

“My question is how you can so confidently know this.”

I can know that minds cannot exist without some substrate, (neurons, maybe someday silicon) because that is what it means to exist. Tables and chairs cannot exist without the materials needed to construct them. Everything around you is made of something else. That is what it means to be a thing.

To be a thing is to be composed of other things. A mind is a thing. Therefore a mind is composed of other things.

Things cease to exist when their composition is destroyed. A mind is a thing. Therefore a mind ceases to exist when it’s composition is destroyed.

“I can certainly imagine a mind outside of the body.”

I can imagine six impossible things before breakfast too. That I can imagine a thing need not imply it must exist.

“I’ve heard many stories of people being dead on operating tables, with no heartbeat and no brain functions and somehow “feel” as if they are floating near the ceiling watching the attempt to resuscitate them.”

And I’ve heard ghost stories and my brother once saw a UFO. Since anecdote is not evidence I remain unconvinced.

“But really what we have here are different definitions of minds.”

No, what we have here is fallacious reasoning on your part. You can define minds to be souls all you like but souls do not exist therefore your definition is false.

“I agree that if minds are defined as the result of brain processes, then this hypothesis is invalid. But this is not the case when using my definition.”

You don’t get to make up the rules. You don’t get to just make things up and then declare that minds are souls and souls are immortal and god is in his heaven and all is right with the world.

‘Tis not permitted. ;)

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Derrida April 28, 2010 at 12:00 am

Zeb,

There is a difference between having infinite power, and having an infinite number of powers.

Nowhere did I say that I thought God had an infinite number of powers. I said that God had unlimited power, but I don’t see why having unlimited power is less explicable than having limited power.

Consider: if we could prove the necessity of the existence of some thing, such as physical space, but no other characteristics of it, we would presume that it exists without limit and without differentiation.

I don’t think I would presume that, rather I would say that space is larger than we can see. But to presume that space is infinite, would, I think, be a leap in the dark. It might be that there is some limit on space, it might be that there isn’t: i would prefer to remain agnostic about such a possibility.

I think that the same is true about God. Given that the creation of the universe can be explained by postulating a somewhat powerful god, rather than an omnipotent one, we should be agnostic with regards to whether or not God’s power is limited or unlimited.

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Zeb April 28, 2010 at 5:42 am

Derrida, you’re right. I realized after I posted that my analogy to space was a non sequitur. Parsimony is not the reason to believe a first cause is unlimited (though it does seem obvious to me that any kind of delineation, be it limitation or internal differentiation, is less simple than the absence of delineation). Parsimony tells us what we should assume if we have to make an assumption, but if we don’t have to we should remain agnostic. Rather, the reason to believe that the first cause is unlimited and undifferentiated is that any delineation must have a cause, and by definition that cause must be the first cause. This seems to me to lead to the conclusion that God is not a being with different properties or powers, but an absolute and unlimited unity, but that’s well beyond the scope of this Kalam debate.

But I don’t see why God’s having all possible powers doesn’t cry out for explanation in the same way that having a particular set of limited powers does.

Nowhere did I say that I thought God had an infinite number of powers.

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Tony Hoffman April 28, 2010 at 7:52 am

Luke, I did listen to the O’Connor interview this morning. I thought the discussion of timelessness and minds was somewhat glancing. I did like the spaceless skyscraper thought, though.

Michael: I agree with pretty much everything you say in so far as it seems to be that way for us, but may not be the case for something that has a very different way of existing than we do. Also, you assume that we can know how timelessness functions, and whether thoughts can occur in such a state. We really have no concept at all of how a timeless state would be. I have tried to imagine it, but I simply can’t. All we can say is that if how we experience things is the way things really are and the way things are outside of this world as well, then it is impossible for such a being to exist. But it that this may not be the case, as we are in the dark regarding to the “nature” of the supernatural. 

Michael, I still think that timeless thought is a contradiction in the same way that a spaceless triangle is a contradiction. I see nothing rational in your defense of a God that we cannot imagine existing without contradiction.

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Zeb April 28, 2010 at 9:28 am

Michael, why are you even defending the possibility of a timeless thinking mind? It is not necessary for a personal uncreated creator to have a thinking mind. I agree with the atheists here; thought is a process and processes happen in time. Whatever the ‘mind of God’ is like, it cannot think outside of time. God could still have will and knowledge and relationship outside of time, and if we want to call those attributes “mind” than we can refer to a mind that exists outside of time.

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Michael April 28, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Nothing could be easier. Remove or destroy the brain and see if the mind disappears!
“We cannot actually test for minds in something.”
Sure we can. The test for a mind is to look for intentionality. Whether in language or in behavior it’s presence indicates a mind.

So if we destroy a brain, how do we test to make sure that there is no immaterial mind still. Unfortunately, we do not have the ability to test for immaterial things. That lies outside of the realm of science. We could only prove that the effect that a mind has on the body has been severed, not that the mind can’t exist apart from it.

Zeb, I agree entirely, except that thoughts are processes. But if one cannot prove that even the concept of a thinking timeless bodiless personal agent, that one can define as some sort of mind, then they surely have no way to prove that a non-thinking yet willful timeless bodiless personal agent can exist.

What do I mean that thoughts are not processes? Well, in time, we cannot have two thoughts simultaneously, just as somebody cannot be right and wrong objectively at the same time. But outside of time, it may be possible that thoughts are simultaneous, since there is no time to separate them. I do not know this for sure, and I’m not entirely convinced myself of this. But if this is even possible, then the concept remains consistent.

So if a mind can be separate from a brain, which is contested, and such a mind can causally effect things and bring them into being either through some process or not, then it seems that the Kalam holds. But, in order for it so be a sound argument, a mind has to be able to be bodiless, and if it isn’t then the argument fails to prove the god that Craig and others want it to prove. I have a feeling that this may be where we must agree to disagree, that is, whether a mind can be bodiless, or if it is simply the result of a brain. For if we accept that it can, then spacial limitations don’t apply to it, so maybe temporal ones don’t either? Or at least it is possible for such a mind to have will and knowledge, etc.

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rvkevin April 28, 2010 at 1:48 pm

So if we destroy a brain, how do we test to make sure that there is no immaterial mind still. Unfortunately, we do not have the ability to test for immaterial things. That lies outside of the realm of science. We could only prove that the effect that a mind has on the body has been severed, not that the mind can’t exist apart from it.

So when someone suffers brain trauma and their personality, thought-processes, etc. have changed since the accident, are you proposing that a portion of their mind is now immaterial and wandering off somewhere and the other part remains, waiting to reconnect with itself one day?

So, if we make a computer that has artificial intelligence, and someone takes a hammer to the processor, would its inability to function grant us any reason to think that its mind has taken on any other form other than a pile of scrap metal?

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Michael April 28, 2010 at 2:20 pm

The best analogy I’ve heard is a piano and a pianist. Even if the piano is not playing, brain being inactive or dead, that doesn’t mean there is no piano player. As long as the piano is fully functional, the pianist can play a nice piece. But if the piano is our of tune or a few hammers broken, no matter how good the pianist is they won’t be able to produce a well played piece. An even if the piano is destroyed, and the pianist left with no piano, we still have the pianist. But even when the piano is damaged, the fully functional pianist is trying to play i, the desired truly just don’t come about. Think of someone who had a stroke and has difficulty speaking. It is not that they don’t have cogent thoughts, just that they can’t articulate them. Or a paralyze person who wills to move but can’t.

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rvkevin April 28, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Think of someone who had a stroke and has difficulty speaking. It is not that they don’t have cogent thoughts, just that they can’t articulate them. Or a paralyze person who wills to move but can’t.

In these situations, the “pianist” is the brain, which is left undamaged. In the situations I described earlier, the brain was left damaged. So given these comparisons, it would be like saying a pianist was able to play music when he was paralyzed from the neck down or with one arm amputated, which is hard for me to imagine.

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Tony Hoffman April 28, 2010 at 4:53 pm

So if a mind can be separate from a brain, which is contested, and such a mind can causally effect things and bring them into being either through some process or not, then it seems that the Kalam holds.

Contested? One side has a huge set of scientific evidence that the mind is a product of the brain, and the other side has…? I would hardly call it a contest.

But, in order for it so be a sound argument, a mind has to be able to be bodiless, and if it isn’t then the argument fails to prove the god that Craig and others want it to prove. I have a feeling that this may be where we must agree to disagree, that is, whether a mind can be bodiless, or if it is simply the result of a brain. For if we accept that it can, then spacial limitations don’t apply to it, so maybe temporal ones don’t either? Or at least it is possible for such a mind to have will and knowledge, etc.

How can you explain the lack of evidence for any mechanism in the brain that receives instruction from your bodiless mind? Sound waves are invisible, but we know how the ear takes transforms these sound waves into neural signals. How do you explain that total absence, despite some looking around, for anything in the material brain that is set up to receive something from an immaterial mind? In other words, how can you speculate about the existence of an immaterial mind without needing to explain how it interacts with the material brain?

What is the point of this kind of fanciful speculation? What is the evidence for it? How would this be productively pursued?

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Michael April 28, 2010 at 5:07 pm

In these situations, the “pianist” is the brain, which is left undamaged.

The pianist analogy was meant to be interpreted as the mind being the pianist and the brain/body being the piano. When a certain part of the body/brain(piano) is damaged, that does not mean that the mind/pianist is not there, but that he cannot do what he usually does in the same manner.

Tony,
There was never any claim that, unlike Descartes, there is a specific area that the mind acts upon the brain. There is no need of a physical way in which they interact if the mind is not physical. Sound waves are a weak analogy, as while invisible, are physical nonetheless. A mind, if truly immaterial, would not interact materially upon something. A better example is gravity and how it affects objects. We do not see or are able to measure gravity like we measure sound waves. If we look at the ear and something that makes a sound, we can ask “where is the sound?” The answer is the sound waves are the sound. But if we take a tennis ball and drop it, we see the ball drop, but we cannot ask where the gravity is. It is not something that we can point to and say, “Here it is.” Yet we know that it still acts upon the ball. The mind is the same way, in theory. There is no way to point to where it interacts, and unlike gravity, where the effect is theoretically the same every time, the mind effects the brain in numerous ways, which would explain why we cannot give its force a pretty equation like we can for gravity or the weak force.

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noen April 28, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Michael
“So if we destroy a brain, how do we test to make sure that there is no immaterial mind still. Unfortunately, we do not have the ability to test for immaterial things.”

Immaterial material is a contradiction. We can no more test for immaterial material than we can test for square triangles. Besides, you are begging the question by assuming that immaterial things even exist.

You are committing a deep fallacy. I do not wonder where my table goes if I break up the bits of wood it is composed of. I do not think that it must have gone to table heaven. Even less do I imagine that I am the god of tables when I reassemble the bits of wood and resurrect my table from the dead.

“Table” is nothing more that the label we give to the functional relationship we have with the higher level feature descriptions of atoms in lattice structures. People used to think that we should give the forms of things a separate ontology. That was called Platonism. No one thinks like that any more.

Minds are also high level descriptions of their underlying structure but they are very different than tables so people still think that giving them a separate ontology, believing they must be made of “mind stuff”, makes some sense. I don’t think it does.

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noen April 28, 2010 at 5:20 pm

Michael
“The best analogy I’ve heard is a piano and a pianist.”

Yeah…. that’s dualism and suffers from all the problems that dualism is subject to. Such as….

How does the pianist play the piano? There must be some causal connection whereby the pianist’s fingers impact the keys on the piano in order to play it. But how can this be? The pianist is composed of “spirit stuff” which has no ability to causally influence the material world. If it could then it wouldn’t BE spirit stuff would it?

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Michael April 28, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Immaterial material is a contradiction. We can no more test for immaterial material than we can test for square triangles. Besides, you are begging the question by assuming that immaterial things even exist.

I agree that immaterial material is a contradiction. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t immaterial “stuff.” Numbers, propositions, abstract objects fall into this category. I am a realist about abstract objects, so I am not begging the question here. Now if someone is an anti-realist, then they have no reason to believe in immaterial “stuff” at all. So somebody like Craig has a major burden when it comes to showing that minds exist since he denies the reality of all other immaterial things.

I must admit that I, nor anybody that I know of, knows how the mind interacts with the brain. However, nor do we know how exactly gravity affects objects, other than that it does. We can only give a formula since it does so consistently. But ignorance about how things happen does not mean that we can deny that they do not happen. We know that physical things do not have intentionality, why is the brain different? That is a real question you must answer. What about identity? The brain’s cells are constantly replaced by new ones, yet we still say that our identity is the same today as yesterday and 10 years ago. If the brain is changing, then something entirely new is causing a mind, which would make the mind new as well, and give it a new identity. Do you accept this or do you agree that identity lasts over time?

Yes, dualism has some problems that are tough to answer or even can’t be answered right now, and maybe never. But that is not to say that physicalism does not have its own problems. Otherwise, I don’t think there would be any philosophers who denied physicalism if it was truly such a cut and dry case. If I was persuaded by physicalism, I do not think that it is incompatible with Christianity, as Peter van Inwagen seems to be just fine with his beliefs.

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TaiChi April 28, 2010 at 6:05 pm

“Just because something is incomprehensible now does not mean that it is not true.” ~ Michael

Correct. But if it is incomprehensible, then it is unbelievable, for belief requires understanding.

This really isn’t an option for the theist. If Craig’s conclusion is true, but unbelievable, then the argument has no persuasive force whatsoever.

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Michael April 28, 2010 at 6:37 pm

The universe’s beginning is currently incomprehensible. So we should not believe in the universe? We don’t entirely understand how the brain works, so we should deny that our brains do certain things that we can’t explain? There are many things that we aren’t sure of that are believable. Belief requires a certain minimum understanding, which I have offered. This is where Wittgenstein went wrong when he said that in order to speak of something meaningfully then we must know everything about that something. But this is not true, and he later rejected it. So we cannot apply this to our beliefs and what is or isn’t, because there is a lot that we still don’t understand, or once did not understand, yet that was no grounds to deny it.

Second, if the argument is sound and the conclusion follows, then it makes no difference whether we entirely understand the conclusion, we simply know that this must be the case. For example, the classic example of all men are mortal, so and so is a man, therefore he is mortal is true whether or not somebody can comprehend what mortal means. In this case, we do know what it means. The nice thing about deductive logic is that if the premises are true, and the argument is valid, then the conclusion necessarily follows. The only way to deny the conclusion is to show the argument invalid or to show one of the premises to be false.

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TaiChi April 28, 2010 at 7:55 pm

“The universe’s beginning is currently incomprehensible. So we should not believe in the universe? We don’t entirely understand how the brain works, so we should deny that our brains do certain things that we can’t explain?” ~ Michael

You’re equivocating. Firstly, the beginning of the universe is not incomprehensible, for we can well enough understand the idea that it began (Premise 2, I remind you). What may be incomprehensible is the why of its beginning, if it did indeed begin. If that’s the case, then there’s nothing for us to understand about its beginning, and so nothing to believe. Secondly, believing a particular account of how the universe came to be is a separate matter from believing that the universe exists, for one could well believe that the universe exists without having an opinion on its origin, or even on whether it began at all. Your other example is similarly equivocal.

“Belief requires a certain minimum understanding, which I have offered.” ~ Michael

Then you obviously don’t agree that Premise 4 refers to something incomprehensible. I think that’s the right way to respond – I’m merely pointing out that you don’t have a choice here.

“Second, if the argument is sound and the conclusion follows, then it makes no difference whether we entirely understand the conclusion, we simply know that this must be the case.” ~ Michael

We can’t know anything which is incomprehensible, for the simple fact that we can’t believe anything which is incomprehensible, and knowledge entails belief. Once again, I agree that this doesn’t show the argument to be unsound, but an argument can fail for reasons other than this, having to do with whether or not the argument achieves the purpose for which it is proposed – the rational persuasion of its audience. If a timeless being is truly incomprehensible, then this argument fails, along with every other argument amounting to a reductio ad absurdem.

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noen April 28, 2010 at 8:59 pm

Michael
“Numbers, propositions, abstract objects fall into this category. I am a realist about abstract objects, so I am not begging the question here.”

Yeah, that’s clearly wrong too. Math is a human language created to describe the world. It is not God’s nor Nature’s own language. If it were really true as you say that all analytic propositions have a separate ontology then there would only exist one math, one logic, one predicate calculus and that just isn’t so. There are many.

“I must admit that I, nor anybody that I know of, knows how the mind interacts with the brain.”

Well duh. That is why no one believes in dualism any more, it’s indefensible. There is simply no way that an immaterial mind could ever interact with the material body nor the body influence the mind. All you are left with is the absurd position of Malebranche’s occasionalism which says that you are God’s puppet and that when you raise your arm it is not you but God who raises it.

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Michael April 28, 2010 at 10:21 pm

TaiChi,
I would say that it is not entirely incomprehensible. And the claim that I thought was made was that since we do not understand how the mind would affect the body, then the mind doesn’t exist. Which, as you point out, is illogical, as we would not use this to say that about the universe, or anything else, if I understand you correctly. So we would agree upon that concept, that it is wrong to use that type of logic, and therefore wrong to apply that logic to our situation as well.

noen,
This will be my last post here, as we have hit a roadblock that has stunted productive discussion. You have resorted to stating facts without explanations to go along with them. You have not explained how the brain produces the mind, or how it accounts for intentionality that no other physical object produces or has, and you have not explained how physicalism accounts for identity. Then you say that there is no way that an immaterial mind could ever interact with anything physical. That is an awfully bold statement and seems to presuppose physicalism to begin with, which begs the question.

Second, as you are an anti-realist, if I understand you correctly, then we can make no ground on this matter, as you deny the existence of abstract objects. Yet again, you merely state what you claim to be fact but give no supporting explanation. You state that numbers are merely an invented human language, but give no reason as to why this is so.

So nobody believes in dualism anymore? So I don’t count, Plantinga, Swinburne, Moreland, to name a few. Unless you mean that anybody who is not a dualist does no believe in dualism anymore, or merely that theists are the only ones. Either way, there are still quite a few dualists out there,according to philpapers,org, about a quarter of philosophers are non-physicalists. According to the same survey, about 40% are realists, and 20% other, which could be conceptualism of some sort, which is a type of realist. So the first point is that the claim that nobody is a dualist is false, and the second point is that you are in the minority when it comes to realism vs. nominalism.

Once more, I will reiterate the point that because we don’t know how a mind and body would interact does not mean that they do not do so. You claim to know that they can’t interact. How do you know this unless you presuppose physicalism? If there is a mind, then they must interact, even if we don’t know how they do.

I thank you for the discussion and hope that you realize that you come off as very closed minded, though this is probably not be the case. Having said this, I also hope that you will give reasons for the “facts” that you assert rather than simply asserting them, otherwise no worthwhile discussion can take place. Philosophers too often lose any humility in their ideas and act as if they are right and cannot possibly be wrong. I always find it admirable when one admits that they could be mistaken about some things, or even better, when someone like Fyfe or N.T. Wright admits that at least some of what they say is wrong, but that they are not sure which parts those are. Such humility is the only way for real progress towards truth, otherwise we but up against a brick wall and get nowhere.

In Christ,
Michael

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noen April 29, 2010 at 12:58 am

Michael
“This will be my last post here, as we have hit a roadblock that has stunted productive discussion. You have resorted to stating facts without explanations to go along with them.”

I state broad facts as a way of understanding the lay of the land. People have so many odd beliefs, some far stranger than yours, that I need to at least get an idea of where they are. What I am looking for is at least a bridge, some way to have something like an understanding.

One of the big problems is that you, and it’s hardly restricted to you as I am at odds with many of the atheists here as well, one problem is that you keep telling me who I am and what I believe when you know nothing of the sort.

For example it may surprise you to know that I’m not a physicalist nor a materialist, but you just assume that I must be because I disagree with you. Not to worry though, you’re no different than the atheists here who assume I’m an evangelical because I disagree with them as well.

You’re both fundamentalists because it is impossible for either of you to imagine any other position than being in the black or white camp.

“You have not explained how the brain produces the mind”

No one knows this, but to have a discussion on that subject here is I think impossible. I would have to spend considerable time and energy just laying the foundations for a discussion and I’m really not interested in doing that.

“So nobody believes in dualism anymore?”

No, they don’t, and there are good reasons why but if it looks as though it’s going to be impossible to even explain those reasons why should I try? I am sure that you can work the Google on your own.

“Philosophers too often lose any humility in their ideas and act as if they are right and cannot possibly be wrong.

Could you be wrong? Could you be completely and utterly deluded? Why is it only others who need to be humble? I understand that more than just an argument is at stake here, an entire life-world is threatened. Well, that is also true for everyone else too ya know.

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Derrida April 29, 2010 at 4:10 am

Rather, the reason to believe that the first cause is unlimited and undifferentiated is that any delineation must have a cause, and by definition that cause must be the first cause. This seems to me to lead to the conclusion that God is not a being with different properties or powers, but an absolute and unlimited unity, but that’s well beyond the scope of this Kalam debate.

Well, that’s an interesting claim, that any delineation must have a cause. I wonder what kind of argument could be put forward for that.

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Michael April 29, 2010 at 5:37 am

noen,
I know I said that that would be my last post but I felt it necessary to apologize for assuming that you were a materialist. It was how I interpreted your arguments. Second, I agree that some things require an unnecessary amount of effort, like explaining certain things. But you can always post links to the arguments for those interested.

Finally, I could be dead wrong. I have a feeling that at least between a quarter and third of my beliefs are false, I just don’t know which ones. And yea, my whole worldview would change off there was no God or certain other beliefs I hold were shown to be false. And while that would be hard, it would be something I wanted. I would rather live in truth than lies, even if lies are more comforting. There are many things I abstain from because I am a Christian and would behave otherwise if I was not. Murder and rape are not among the things I would do, as I don’t buy the “atheists are evil” thing. But if I am wrong, I want to know. Which is why I engage in discussion like this, so that I can try to narrow down the number of false beliefs that I hold.

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