Thinking Christian

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Which Extraordinary Claims?

Posted on Mar 30, 2009 by Tom Gilson

From Triablogue:

Carl Sagan famously said that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. In this he was popularizing a Humean rule of evidence…. Unbelievers invoke this maxim because they think it undercuts the Christian faith…. Let’s grant, for the sake of argument, that this is a sound maxim. The problem with this maxim is that it cuts both ways.

Hat Tip: Mark Olson

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55 Responses to “ Which Extraordinary Claims? ”

  1. Jordan says:

    I don’t get it. By his logic, we could defend the existence of anything simply by definition. For example: People who believe in unicorns believe that unicorns actually exist; so, their claim “unicorns that actually exist, exist” is not an extraordinary claim. In fact, it would be extraordinary if unicorns that actually exist didn’t exist!

    Therefore… what? Unicorns exist?

    At any rate, I think he’s complicating what ought to be a very simple (and universally agreed upon, except when it becomes inconvenient) principle: An ordinary claim is one that coheres with, and mutually corroborates, our day-to-day experience; an extraordinary claim is one that doesn’t. An extraordinary claim, since it lacks the support of our day-to-day experience, begins with an epistemic deficit compared to an ordinary claim, and thus requires evidence outside of our day-to-day experience (i.e., extraordinary evidence) in order to be treated the same as an ordinary claim.

  2. Tom Gilson says:

    Jordan, could you please do us the favor of showing how his logic regarding theism parallels that of unicorns? Note that he actually presented an argument, so we’ll be expecting one in your parallel. Thanks.

  3. Jordan says:

    Tom,

    He’s defining God into existence by calling him a “necessary being” (and, no, he did not support that assertion with an argument); likewise, my unicorn believers defined their unicorns as ones that exist.

  4. SteveK says:

    Here’s a hint:

    On the one hand, Christians don’t regard the existence of God as extraordinary. Rather, they regard the existence of God as necessary. There’s nothing extraordinary about the existence of a necessary being. To the contrary, it would be extraordinary if a necessary being did not exist. Indeed, it would be impossible.

    Conversely, Christians regard nature as extraordinary. And that’s because nature is contingent. Its existence is unnecessary. Therefore, the existence of nature demands a special explanation.

  5. Jordan says:

    SteveK: Yes, I know. That’s the part I’m responding to!

  6. Tom Gilson says:

    Okay, then, I’ll grant he did not make the argument for God as a necessary being. It has been made elsewhere, and he did not go into it there.

    But nobody is arguing, or ever has argued, or ever will argue, that unicorns are necessary beings, or that they are less contingent in essence than the rest of nature. That nature came about just by chance and necessity is an extraordinary claim. That the universe is fine-tuned for life (or for any complexity at all) just by chance and necessity (or by the infinite multiverse) is an extraordinary claim. There is no evidence for a naturalistic origin of life. There is no evidence for a multiverse. There is no evidence for any other chance-and-necessity-driven way by which the universe could be so fine-tuned for life.

    Either the universe and nature, without God, are eternal and necessary, or they are contingent on something else that is eternal and necessary. That the universe and nature should be necessary existents is an extraordinary claim, no less than that God is necessary or that something/someone else is.

    I’d like to see some sign, Jordan, that you are taking this discussion seriously; or at least, if you don’t think that worth your time, then I’ll feel free to consider it not worth my time to answer. Comparing God to unicorns (really, now!) in a hit-and-run comment sans argument does not look like taking it seriously.

  7. Jordan says:

    That the universe is fine-tuned for life (or for any complexity at all) just by chance and necessity (or by the infinite multiverse)…

    …or by God…

    …is an extraordinary claim.

    Either the universe and nature, without God, are eternal and necessary, or they are contingent on something else that is eternal and necessary.

    Only if you share the philosophers’ strange fear of infinite regress. At any rate, even if you do share their fear, why can’t the universe be necessary, and, even if it isn’t, why does the the “something else” have to be necessary, and, even if it is, why should we think it resembles any reasonable conception of God (Christian or otherwise)?

    Comparing God to unicorns (really, now!) in a hit-and-run comment sans argument does not look like taking it seriously.

    Tom, you should know by now that I like the bring out (what I see as) the latent absurdity of an argument or proposition by drawing parallels to a more obviously absurd argument or proposition (one that isn’t cloaked in centuries of “tradition”). It’s not sophistry or glibness. It’s an informal reductio ad absurdum. In this instance: If its ok to simply define God as a being that exists, then its also ok to define unicorns as beings that exist; but, we all know unicorns don’t exist, so it must not be ok to define them into existence, which means it must not be ok to do likewise with God.

  8. Tom:

    There’s a little devil-in-the-details issue with any appeal to “extraordinary” claims atheists/agnostics make—not because it’s a rigorous argument on their part (it certainly is not!), but because the discussion invariably strays into not understanding the distinctions demanded for epistemological “experiences” of ontological types… with the atheists/agnostics/materialists deeply burdened by the inherent reductionism of their position and woefully ignorant of philosophically very important considerations. With all due respect, I have yet to see any of the participants of this blog—especially on the loyal opposition side of the bench—provide a rigorous and non-contradictory explanation of, for example, what an “idea” is. You either have Paul reducing ideas to “it’s all just neurons,” or DL obfuscating with neo-Kantian nonsense, or hand-waving somewhere in between.

    Consider a simple example from physics: have Jordan show you (using any of his senses and hopefully with some empirical data) what an “object” is. I don’t want him (per the young man’s mistake in Plato’s Meno) to say “that’s an object, and that’s an object… and over there is another object, etc.” I want him to show us WHAT an object is. If he responds with, “well, it’s an abstraction applied to any and all bodies considered from the perspective of physics,” then that begs the question of what an abstraction (hence “idea”) is. If Jordan falls back on Paul’s reductionism, then there is no such thing as an object—just complex, time-dependent, electro-chemical signals crossing synapses in our brains—and one of the bases for doing physics is destroyed. Usually, the reductionist interlocutor then falls back on hand-waving “common experience” or “common knowledge” obfuscation… because they simply don’t know and can’t answer your question.

    My point? What we’re asking Jordan qua physicist is to play the game by his own rules: to provide us evidence for the existence (meaning sensory accessible empirical data per his implied epistemological limitation) of an “object” used by physicists. If Jordan can’t provide me with sensory evidence for “object” (or the rules of chess, for that matter), then we should assert he’s making an extraordinary claim and we should demand “extraordinary” evidence for the existence of “object” or the rules of chess.

    The problem, of course, is that Jordan is not equipped to deal with ontological types or kinds… which means he doesn’t understand that the existence of sensory inaccessible entities and verities is not arrived at directly through the senses but by rigorously and soundly arguing to their existence employing sensory input data as, perhaps, premises. To employ my oldie-but-goodie example: neutrinos don’t exist in the same way as the rules of chess or the abstract term “object” in physics, and so the existence of neutrinos is arrived at differently from the existence of “object.”

    It is this that stands at the bottom of why Jordan (and others) reject arguments that go beyond immediate sensory data: they dismiss outright arguments, for example, in support of objective moral principles because these principles cannot be captured by the modern empirical sciences (MESs). A related example: Atheists laugh at believers, foolishly thinking they’ve cornered believers when they ask the question, “how many angels can fit on the head of a pin?” The last laugh is on them because the existence of immaterial entities is not demonstrated by means of the MESs but through philosophical arguments (perhaps buttressed by revealed knowledge), and hence the question itself is an apples-and-oranges non-starter: it’s foolish to ask how many immaterial things fit inside an area defined by measurable material space.

    (Other issue: Jordan claims “we could defend the existence of anything simply by definition.” That’s right, but only as far as it goes. Jordan’s criticism is correctly aimed at those who would claim things exist simply by definition. However, Jordan also appears quite ignorant of centuries of philosophical and theological inquiry that eschew such crap, and hence Jordan is implicitly accusing believers of thinking God exists “by definition.” THAT is nonsense. Jordan appears also to be unaware that the topics of unicorns or angles on the head of a pin were used by medieval philosophers and theologians to trap students looking for a fideistic “easy way out” who leaned upon “exists by definition” foolishness. This is related, by the way, to why St. Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God fails: God is not the highest thing we can think of, He does not exist “by definition,” He is THE necessary (philosophically speaking) being (i.e., He is existence itself) reasoned to by arguments that don’t appeal to the Scriptures.)

    Bottom line: Jordan himself is making an extra-ordinary implied claim (only sensory evidence and the MESs count as valid knowledge), and so he should be held to supplying extra-ordinary evidence that does not circularly depend on the privileging of scientific knowledge.

  9. Tom Gilson says:

    @Jordan:

    You wrote,

    Only if you share the philosophers’ strange fear of infinite regress.

    I don’t call that an argument, do you? Is there some reason I should not share that “strange fear?” I think it’s a pretty sensible position to take.

    At any rate, even if you do share their fear, why can’t the universe be necessary, and, even if it isn’t, why does the the “something else” have to be necessary, and, even if it is, why should we think it resembles any reasonable conception of God (Christian or otherwise)?

    Why can’t the universe be necessary? That’s the only question you’ve asked here that’s relevant to the discussion, because the discussion is about its being an extraordinary claim that the universe be necessary.

    My answer is first of all, that if the universe is a necessary existent, that’s a prima facie extraordinary claim, and that’s all I needed to show in order to make my case. But I can go further by outlining the skeleton of an argument (this can easily be expanded, but I’m hoping you are aware enough of these things that I do not have to do that). Here it is, very briefly: (1) We don’t have any reason to think the universe has existed from eternity past; (2) there are philosophical and scientific reasons to think that it could not have existed from eternity past. But (3) a necessary existent must exist from eternity past, for if it were to come into being at some time past, then its coming into being must be contingent on some other cause or event, and in that case it is not a necessary existent. So therefore (4) to call it a necessary existent is truly extraordinary, for it would require it to violate any number of well-established principles of being.

    Tom, you should know by now that I like the bring out (what I see as) the latent absurdity of an argument or proposition by drawing parallels to a more obviously absurd argument or proposition (one that isn’t cloaked in centuries of “tradition”).

    First problem: You have not only stripped it of “tradition,” you have stripped it of centuries of evidences, documentation, intense argument, inspection, debate, attack and answer, and development of thought. You think you can trivialize it by using an empty term and placing that term in scare quotes, but you really can’t succeed with that. You publicly trivialize your own thinking if you try.

    Second problem: This parallel you think you see between God and unicorns is silly and for our purposes here completely nonexistent. Or, if it does exist, you have been repeatedly evading my request to show the parallel. (I suggest you continue evading it, because if you try to show that parallel, you’ll likely end up looking even more silly.)

  10. Tom Gilson says:

    @ Jordan:

    I refer you also to Holopupenko’s excellent challenge. Can you even, in a non-circular fashion, tell us what an “object” is? How about (I’ll add my own here) an “event”? If not, can you present us with any credible challenge to provide sufficient evidence for an object or event?

  11. Tom Gilson says:

    Note that I edited comment 9 at about 4:37 for improved clarity.

  12. Jordan says:

    I don’t call that an argument, do you? Is there some reason I should not share that “strange fear?” I think it’s a pretty sensible position to take.

    How is it sensible? Why can’t there be an infinite regress?

    Why can’t the universe be necessary? That’s the only question you’ve asked here that’s relevant to the discussion, because the discussion is about its being an extraordinary claim that the universe be necessary.

    Convenient… And you accuse me of evasion!

    My answer is first of all, that if the universe is a necessary existent, that’s an extraordinary claim.

    No more so than the claim that God is a necessary being.

    We don’t have any reason to think it has existed from eternity past; there are philosophical and scientific reasons to think that it could not have existed from eternity past; but a necessary existent must exist from eternity past.

    Interesting… So, what are these philosophical reasons to think the universe (actually, let’s choose a better term: Reality, which may include more than just the universe) could not have existed from eternity past?

    If it were to come into being at some time past, then its coming into being must be contingent on some other cause or event, and in that case it is not a necessary existent.

    Why do you believe this? Before you dismiss the question out of hand, consider this: Our knowledge of cause & effect comes entirely from events that occur in our physical universe. How do we know that these same cause & effect laws apply within the context in which the universe came into being (and, therefore, outside of the universe)?

    You have not only stripped it of “tradition,” you have stripped it of centuries of evidences, documentation, intense argument, inspection, debate, attack and answer, and development of thought.

    You’re always making these vague references to “centuries of evidence” and “debate” and “argumentation.” I’m unimpressed. There are numerous ideas which were taken seriously at one time but, in light of modern science/philosophy, have been shown to be ridiculous.

    This parallel you think you see between God and unicorns is silly and for our purposes here completely nonexistent. Or, if it does exist, you have been repeatedly evading my request to show the parallel.

    Incorrect. I explained the parallel earlier in our discussion (post #3).

    I refer you also to Holopupenko’s excellent challenge. Can you even, in a non-circular fashion, tell us what an “object” is? How about (I’ll add my own here) an “event”?

    You first, then I’ll have a go.

  13. Be awfully honest with us, Jordan: do you know what the difference is between a linear causal series and a hierarchical causal series… without using wikipedia or google? If you don’t, drop your argument for you have a lot of catching up to do. Also, your infinite regress doesn’t do anything to support the universe as being necessary–in fact, you push an explanation for the existence of the universe ever further away… like the “just-so” cosmology of the Hindus” turtles standing upon backs of turtles all the way down. (What explains the existence of the totality of the turtles?) Finally, if the universe has existed infinitely long, how could you be here? If time stretches back infinitely, then it would take an infinite time for you to appear… and yet, here we are reading your foundering attempts to avoid God. (Hint: my last point CAN be readily challenged if you do understand the liner-hierarchical distinction I noted above… but then you’ll realize why Aquinas’ First Way is correct, and why Dawkins’ attempt to discount it is so foolishly philosophically inept.)

  14. Tom Gilson says:

    @Jordan:

    You are losing credibility–fast! You are the one who said an infinite regress should not be considered a problem, and now you want me to prove you’re wrong. You want to overturn what you call the philosophers’ fear, and all you’ll do to support that is make prove you wrong. If you’ve ever heard of infinite regress, Jordan, then you know the problem. It’s your turn. The burden is on you, my friend.

    Convenient… And you accuse me of evasion!

    Jordan, I’m staying on topic. And you haven’t answered a thing, you’ve just thrown epithets at me. Credibility drops further.

    No more so than the claim that God is a necessary being.

    Now I’m ready to believe you didn’t even read the Triablogue post: because that’s exactly what they wanted to show! (I won’t rehearse it here—please do us all the favor of reading it for yourself.)

    nteresting… So, what are these philosophical reasons to think the universe (actually, let’s choose a better term: Reality, which may include more than just the universe) could not have existed from eternity past.

    For one, the impossibility of traversing the infinite to reach a defined point infinitely distant from the beginning.

    Those are developed in more detail elsewhere. If you’re serious about wanting more information I’ll write more, but not based on the trivial approach you’ve been taking so far.

    Why do you believe this? Before you dismiss the question out of hand, consider this: Our knowledge of cause & effect comes entirely from events that occur in our physical universe. How do we know that these same cause & effect laws apply within the context in which the universe came into being (and, therefore, outside of the universe)?

    I would say that if you propose a different sort of cause and effect, then you have made an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence, which is the point I’ve been trying to make. I don’t need to prove you wrong on this to make the overall point, I only need to establish that this is an extraordinary claim and therefore on your position, it requires extraordinary evidence. The purpose of the Triablogue post was, after all, to show that it is not only the theist who makes extraordinary claims. Q.E.D.

    You’re always making these vague references to “centuries of evidence” and “debate” and “argumentation.” I’m unimpressed.

    I’m unimpressed with your being unimpressed. You speak as if theism has been completely defeated, as on a par with belief in unicorns, and I say, with considerable obvious evidence that I need not bore you by listing, that it has not been so defeated.

    Incorrect. I explained the parallel earlier in our discussion (post #3).

    Which I quote:

    He’s defining God into existence by calling him a “necessary being” (and, no, he did not support that assertion with an argument); likewise, my unicorn believers defined their unicorns as ones that exist.

    I could just write LOL and leave it at that. Let me add this: there is a parallel between Jordan and unicorns: people who believe in Jordan defines him as one who exists. What philosophical conclusions should we draw about Jordan (or unicorns) from that information? I should say it’s just a tad sketchy. Not enough. Completely overlooking the vast differences between the putative parallels. Trivial. Unimpressive, and contributing to a further loss of credibility.

    Jordan, look at yourself. Please. You’re not arguing, you’re just tossing verbal sand in the air. Why don’t you recognize it? Take a closer look, for your own sake, not for mine, and man up to the discussion.

  15. Jordan:

    It just occurred to me that you’re bandying about the term “necessary” because you don’t understand what “necessity” and “contingency” mean as philosophical terms of art.

    Something either is actually the case, or is possibly/potentially the case, or is necessarily the case. Take the modal category of necessity. For example: if A is greater than B, and B is greater than C, then A is greater than C. The syllogism flows to a necessary truth. However, nothing in the world of sensible matter is what it is necessarily. Try denying this. Moreover, you cannot possibly get the concept of necessity by way of experience. Nothing you can or ever will experience in the sensible world is of such a nature that it could not be different… which is another way of saying things in the sensible world are contingent. (You may say that a body dropped near the surface of the earth will hit the ground, but you could never say this is necessarily so… which is why the knowledge of the MESs is contingent upon new information.)* In the realm of mere physical reality, the existence of everything is contingent. The concept of “necessarily x” can’t possibly be the gift of experience—provided empirically. Notice: something is only “probable” only to the extent that a) it isn’t happening (it isn’t actual), and b) it isn’t necessary. Why? Because, if it’s necessarily x then it’s not something that’s probably x, it’s necessarily x.

    Now, my question to you is: you are surrounded by entities accessible to your senses, and ALL of these entities are contingent upon other things for their existence. This is something you can’t deny–whether you’re talking about galaxies or birds eggs or bacteria or Shakespearean dramas—ALL of them are contingent for their existences upon some other entities. Yet, you claim (without a shred of evidence or reasoned argumentation, with nothing but “why can’t the universe be necessary?”) the universe’s existence IS necessary. Apart from your not having provided reasoned argumentation in support of your assertion, think about how wrong your assertion is: the material universe, which contains the totality of contingent entities, is somehow not contingent itself but is necessary… just because you want it that way in order to avoid the inevitable. In fact, the universe is radically contingent if it itself contains contingent beings.

    What is the “inevitable” which you are trying to avoid? There must be something to explain why the universe exists. Since the universe could, under different circumstances, conceivably not exist (contingency), its existence must have a cause—not merely another contingent thing, but something that exists by necessity (something that must exist in order for anything else to exist). Contingent beings are insufficient to account for the existence per se of contingent beings, and certainly insufficient to account for the radical contingency of the universe: there must exist a necessary being whose non-existence is an impossibility, and from which the existence of all contingent beings is derived. The “inevitable” as I’ve just presented it (which you are avoiding) is Aquinas’ so-called Third Way, which is something that you will not to accept, not something you can provide a cogent, sound argument against.

    So, you can’t claim the existence of the universe is necessary, for the universe can’t explain itself. You can’t claim the universe created itself, for this would imply the universe existed before it existed. And, you won’t get away with claiming the universe is “just-so” necessary merely because it supports your a priori ideological or emotional commitments. I have to agree with Tom: you’re not presenting sound arguments; you’re effusing for the effect.

    * Actually, that’s not completely true: there’s no new information that we could ever obtain that would contradict the scientific finding that a healthy, normal human heart is composed of four chambers. But here, we must distinguish between necessity based on the nature of the thing and necessity from the perspective of its existence.

  16. Jordan says:

    Holopupenko,

    Be awfully honest with us, Jordan: do you know what the difference is between a linear causal series and a hierarchical causal series… without using wikipedia or google?

    Nope, but a “hierarchical causal series” sounds suspicious. What is it?

    If you don’t, drop your argument for you have a lot of catching up to do.

    Maybe, maybe not.

    Also, your infinite regress doesn’t do anything to support the universe as being necessary

    It wasn’t meant to. I was responding to Tom’s dichotomy between the the universe being contingent upon a necessary being or being necessary itself. My point was that there is a third option (infinite regress).

    What explains the existence of the totality of the turtles?

    The question makes no sense if the series of turtles is infinite.

    Finally, if the universe has existed infinitely long, how could you be here? If time stretches back infinitely, then it would take an infinite time for you to appear… and yet, here we are reading your foundering attempts to avoid God.

    That (tired) argument assumes that we start at the beginning of the time series, which makes no sense if time is infinite, since an infinite “series” (so to speak) has no beginning.

  17. Jordan says:

    Tom,

    You are losing credibility–fast! You are the one who said an infinite regress should not be considered a problem, and now you want me to prove you’re wrong.

    I’m asking you to explain why you think we have to avoid infinite regress, since you are the one implying that we do. Why would I assume that infinite regress is impossible?

    If you’ve ever heard of infinite regress, Jordan, then you know the problem.

    Of course I’ve heard of it. I have not, however, seen any actual argument as to why it must be avoided. All I’ve seen is what amounts to an asthetic preference.

    It’s your turn. The burden is on you, my friend.

    How is the burden on me when you and your ilk are the ones claiming that we must invoke a first cause (which conveniently turns out to be the Christian God) in order to avoid infinite regress? I’m asking the (reasonable) question: Why must we avoid infinite regress?

    Now I’m ready to believe you didn’t even read the Triablogue post: because that’s exactly what they wanted to show!

    I did read it, and I had assumed that our conversation had moved on since then. You and I both know what he was driving at.

    For one, the impossibility of traversing the infinite to reach a defined point infinitely distant from the beginning.

    As I mentioned in my response to Holopupenko, that argument only makes sense if time had a beginning, which it didn’t if it is infinite.

    I would say that if you propose a different sort of cause and effect, then you have made an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence, which is the point I’ve been trying to make.

    No more extraordinary than the claim that the laws of cause & effect within our physical universe apply outside of it as well.

    The purpose of the Triablogue post was, after all, to show that it is not only the theist who makes extraordinary claims. Q.E.D.

    You realize conversations can evolve, right? If you mention the weather today, and later we find ourselves discussing the motorcycles, we won’t be arrested by the Conversation Police.

    I could just write LOL and leave it at that.

    I wouldn’t be surprised.

    Let me add this: there is a parallel between Jordan and unicorns: people who believe in Jordan defines him as one who exists. What philosophical conclusions should we draw about Jordan (or unicorns) from that information?

    But I’m not defined, prior to other considerations, into existence. People conclude, based on their experience, that I exist. If someone were to say, “I know Tom exists because I have defined Tom as a person who exists”, wouldn’t you have a problem with that? Don’t you see how it’s different from saying, “I know Tom exists because I have interacted with him on the internet”?

  18. Jordan says:

    Holopupenko,

    It just occurred to me that you’re bandying about the term “necessary” because you don’t understand what “necessity” and “contingency” mean as philosophical terms of art.

    No, I understand what the terms mean. I have no problem admitting when I don’t understand something.

    However, nothing in the world of sensible matter is what it is necessarily.

    That is debatable, isn’t it? What if physicists discover a genuine TOE that shows the universe (including physical laws, constants, structure, etc.) couldn’t have been other than how it is?

    Yet, you claim (without a shred of evidence or reasoned argumentation, with nothing but “why can’t the universe be necessary?”) the universe’s existence IS necessary.

    No I did not! I asked a question.

    What is the “inevitable” which you are trying to avoid? There must be something to explain why the universe exists.

    Why on earth would I want to avoid that conclusion?

  19. SteveK says:

    I would say that if you propose a different sort of cause and effect, then you have made an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence, which is the point I’ve been trying to make. I don’t need to prove you wrong on this to make the overall point, I only need to establish that this is an extraordinary claim and therefore on your position, it requires extraordinary evidence. The purpose of the Triablogue post was, after all, to show that it is not only the theist who makes extraordinary claims. Q.E.D.

    That about sums up the intented meaning of this post. We can argue over the details, but the fact remains that the burden is just as high for Jordan (I would say higher). I mean, does God’s existence become less likely to be true simply because a non-believer can imagine a necessary and eternal universe? No. I can imagine that same universe and it still doesn’t measure up to God.

    Fortunately, Christianity has more going for it than mere philosophical argument coupled with a vivid imagination. Philosophy alone can lead you to God, but it can also lead you to the gates of hell.

  20. SteveK says:

    Jordan,

    That (tired) argument assumes that we start at the beginning of the time series, which makes no sense if time is infinite, since an infinite “series” (so to speak) has no beginning.

    This is related to Zeno’s paradox [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeno's_paradoxes] **

    We don’t need to do any math to figure this one out. If time had no beginning then what do you call T=0 (right now) or T=-1 (one second ago)? Does time exist in either of these instances? Yes. Then time had a beginning, even if it began one second ago, one day ago, 13 billion years ago or whenever. Your claim says time never began to exist, which extends for all (nonexisting) time – which is one heck of an extraordinary claim that nobody, and I mean nobody, is buying.

    ** Tom: my links disappear when I post. Am I doing something wrong?

  21. Jordan says:

    If time had no beginning then what do you call T=0 (right now) or T=-1 (one second ago)? Does time exist in either of these instances? Yes. Then time had a beginning, even if it began one second ago, one day ago, 13 billion years ago or whenever.

    I don’t understand your argument, Steve.

    Your claim says time never began to exist

    I never made this claim–I merely suggested that it is a possibility that Tom is rejecting out of hand.

    Also, if time began to exist, then (presumably) you believe it was created by God. But how is that possible when creation is an event, and events require a temporal context in which to occur? In fact, how can anything (including God) exist “before time”, when “before” is a relation that only makes sense within time?

  22. SteveK says:

    I don’t understand your argument, Steve.

    I don’t know how to make it more clear without making it more complicated. Perhaps someone else can.

    I never made this claim–I merely suggested that it is a possibility that Tom is rejecting out of hand.

    What is logically possible via imagination doesn’t trump what we have confidence in by experience – which is, time had a beginning.

    In fact, how can anything (including God) exist “before time”, when “before” is a relation that only makes sense within time?

    I don’t know. I also don’t know how something comes from nothing. Do you?

  23. Jordan says:

    What is logically possible via imagination doesn’t trump what we have confidence in by experience – which is, time had a beginning.

    I agree whole-heartedly with the first part, but I don’t see how our experience tells us that time, per se, had a beginning.

    I don’t know. I also don’t know how something comes from nothing. Do you?

    No, but that doesn’t give us license to latch on to whichever hypothesis we find most comforting.

  24. Tom Gilson says:

    Jordan,

    This is tiresome. You keep implying that I have to prove an infinite regress is impossible, as if I brought up the topic. You did, with this stellar argument:

    Only if you share the philosophers’ strange fear of infinite regress.

    Further, you did that in rebuttal to this:

    Either the universe and nature, without God, are eternal and necessary, or they are contingent on something else that is eternal and necessary.

    You did not even explain how your stellar argument rebuts my statement. I don’t even have confidence that this whole business of infinite regress is even relevant to the question we started with. Even if an infinite regress were possible (which I deny), I still don’t see why that necessarily makes the universe non-contingent. And I really don’t know—and you haven’t said—how that rebuts the original point: that there are extraordinary claims involved in positing the universe as it is without God.

    So all of this is not only poor argumentation on your part, it’s also functioning in the role of a red herring. I challenge you with this: Can you explain the existence of the fine-tuned universe and the origin of life without making any extraordinary claims?

    Holopupenko and SteveK, I’m going to request that you help keep the topic focused on that question. It is the question we started with, and which ostensibly Jordan has been trying to address with his responses. His answers have led us down other trails, and have taken us off the main one; I’d prefer to return to that main one and stay there if it’s okay with you.

  25. Tom Gilson says:

    Let me illustrate:

    I would say that if you propose a different sort of cause and effect, then you have made an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence, which is the point I’ve been trying to make.

    No more extraordinary than the claim that the laws of cause & effect within our physical universe apply outside of it as well.

    Q.E.D. The claims of non-theists are at least as extraordinary as the claims of theists.

    And I need to respond to this as well:

    You realize conversations can evolve, right? If you mention the weather today, and later we find ourselves discussing the motorcycles, we won’t be arrested by the Conversation Police.

    Arguments are a special form of conversation. If someone really wants to pin me down on, say, infinite regress, I have a right to ask, “Why are we talking about this? What brought it up? Is it relevant to the point we started on?”

    That does two things in this case. One, it keeps you from using infinite regress in the role of a red herring with respect to the point of the original post. Two, when you’re claiming I have a burden of proof, and I’m saying that you do, the answer to that sub-dispute depends on the answer to, “Who brought this up and why?”

    And then there’s this: when one person is on one subject in conversation, and the other person evolves off that subject, it doesn’t take some [sarcastic smirk] “Conversation Police” [/sarcastic smirk] to say, “let’s stay on topic, okay?” It just takes some normal human interaction.

  26. Jordan says:

    This is tiresome. You keep implying that I have to prove an infinite regress is impossible, as if I brought up the topic. You did, with this stellar argument:

    Only if you share the philosophers’ strange fear of infinite regress.

    Further, you did that in rebuttal to this:

    Either the universe and nature, without God, are eternal and necessary, or they are contingent on something else that is eternal and necessary.

    You did not even explain how your stellar argument rebuts my statement.

    Your statement is a false dichotomy unless infinite regress is impossible, since otherwise there could be an infinite chain of contingency, in which case the universe could be contingent and finite without any necessary being/existent–i.e., it could be “turtles all the way down.”

    You brought up infinite regress by presenting a dichotomy that depends on the former’s impossibility. That’s what my argument was directed at. The fact that you then took me to task for derailing the conversation, and went on to imply that I’m some sort of idiot, hopefully says more about the mood you’re in than your general character.

    Can you explain the existence of the fine-tuned universe and the origin of life without making any extraordinary claims?

    If the universe is fine-tuned (in the sense in which you’re using the term), then of course not.

    By the way, I think its worth noting that, when we’re faced with two extraordinary claims, one naturalistic and one supernaturalistic, I think we should have bias towards the former, since our day-to-day experience tells us that naturalistic explanations almost always win out over supernaturalistic ones–i.e., our bias is supported by an ordinary claim.

  27. Jordan says:

    Q.E.D. The claims of non-theists are at least as extraordinary as the claims of theists.

    I disagree. I think there are degrees extraordinariness, and the degree of a naturalistic claim’s extraordinariness is lessened by our day-to-day experience, including the triumph of naturalism over supernaturalism–e.g., meteorology over rain gods, astronomy over astrology, modern medicine over shamanism, etc. We can reason, inductively, that naturalistic claims tend to be true more often than supernaturalistic ones.

  28. Tom Gilson says:

    Jordan,

    First of all, thank you and congratulations for presenting an actual argument (in comment #26) for why infinite regress is relevant. That’s one of the main things I’ve been asking for: something beyond mere assertion.

    You say that it’s possible that the universe could be contingent all the way down. In keeping with the theme of this post, I would say that is an extraordinary claim that requires some evidential (or in this case logical) support.

    Later in your comment you speak of degrees of extraordinariness. Let’s consider two claims:
    (A) There is a self-existent God, who is being itself, from whom all other being derives its existence.
    (B) There is a beginningless series of causes; the first cause does not exist, because there is no first.

    I say (B) is at least as extraordinary as (A), and if you propose an infinite regress as part of your answer to the claim of the original post (the one on Triablogue), your answer does not succeed. Remember the point of that post was that non-theists’ claims are at least as extraordinary as theists; so if you intend to rebut that, you must do so through a claim that is not itself as extraordinary as theists’ claims.

    The necessity for a First Cause was presented by Aristotle, who was not using it to argue for the Jews’ or Christians’ God. Physics VIII:

    Now this may come about in either of two ways. Either the movent is not itself responsible for the motion, which is to be referred to something else which moves the movent, or the movent is itself responsible for the motion. Further, in the latter case, either the movent immediately precedes the last thing in the series, or there may be one or more intermediate links: e.g. the stick moves the stone and is moved by the hand, which again is moved by the man: in the man, however, we have reached a movent that is not so in virtue of being moved by something else. Now we say that the thing is moved both by the last and by the first movent in the series, but more strictly by the first, since the first movent moves the last, whereas the last does not move the first, and the first will move the thing without the last, but the last will not move it without the first: e.g. the stick will not move anything unless it is itself moved by the man. If then everything that is in motion must be moved by something, and the movent must either itself be moved by something else or not, and in the former case there must be some first movent that is not itself moved by anything else, while in the case of the immediate movent being of this kind there is no need of an intermediate movent that is also moved (for it is impossible that there should be an infinite series of movents, each of which is itself moved by something else, since in an infinite series there is no first term)-if then everything that is in motion is moved by something, and the first movent is moved but not by anything else, it must be moved by itself….

    From what has been said, then, it is evident that that which primarily imparts motion is unmoved: for, whether the series is closed at once by that which is in motion but moved by something else deriving its motion directly from the first unmoved, or whether the motion is derived from what is in motion but moves itself and stops its own motion, on both suppositions we have the result that in all cases of things being in motion that which primarily imparts motion is unmoved….

    Moreover a conviction that there is a first unmoved something may be reached not only from the foregoing arguments, but also by considering again the principles operative in movents….

    Aquinas, who of course was arguing for the Christian God, presented infinite regress as a contradiction:

    What’s wrong with infinite regress as such? Nothing at all. Infinite regress becomes a problem in only two types of circumstances:

    1) The infinite regress arises in an attempt at explanation that involves the endless deferral of what actually explains the explanandum.

    2) The infinite regress implies a contradiction given the nature of the regress.

    An example of (2) occurs in Aquinas’s ways to God, some of which use the impossibility of certain kinds of infinite regresses to prove the existence of something that’s the sort of thing human beings call ‘God’. Aquinas does not appeal to the impossibility of infinite regress as such; indeed, he is quite insistent that some infinite regresses are possible, which is a reason why he believes that we cannot demonstrate that the world had a finite past. What Aquinas does is argue that in certain cases, e.g., a regress of movers, or a regress of efficient causes, positing an infinite such regress implies the existence of something both unmoved and moved, or both caused and uncaused.

    I think the denial of this requires more support than what you’ve been saying, viz., “It’s up to you to prove I can’t deny it, Tom.” Again: a beginningless universe is an extraordinary claim.

    (It’s also extraordinary with respect to the Big Bang and the Second Law of Thermodynamics, by the way.)

    Can you explain the existence of the fine-tuned universe and the origin of life without making any extraordinary claims?

    If the universe is fine-tuned (in the sense in which you’re using the term), then of course not.

    Thank you. There is widespread agreement that this is the case. Unless you consider all these cosmologists wrong, then, I think that settles our discussion, even apart from the infinite regress question.

  29. Paul says:

    I haven’t read all the comments, but it seems like some are misinterpreting what “extraordinary” means in this context. It doesn’t mean “unbelievable” or “astounding,” etc. An extraordinary claim is one that is contrary to a claim that has a large weight of evidence for it. So, to accept the extraordinary claim, one has to counter all that other evidence for the contrary claim, on the principle that we accept competing claims that have more evidence.

    That’s the only way that the idea “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” makes sense. Any other interpretation of “extraordinary claim” is going to fail at some point, I think.

  30. Tony Hoffman says:

    Jordan, Tom, et al.,

    Sorry I missed this one. I agree with Paul in that I think the original post basically equivocates on the term “extraordinary” as well. To say that the big bang was extraordinary doesn’t really make sense – how do you determine the frequency of an event that began time? How would you rate the extraordinariness of God versus a multiverse?

    But the implication of the original post is that, because of cosmological explanations, non-believers and believers are on equal footing when it comes to all claims. This is preposterous, because (cosmology aside) believers and non-believers do not make the same number or kind of extraordinary claims about reality.

    The original post writes, “So this maxim doesn’t assign a distinctive or disproportionate burden of proof on the Christian.” But the Christian makes more claims about reality (that God intervenes in reality today). This, perforce, results in a greater burden of proof that the Christian places squarely on their own shoulders, and that neither Sagan nor non-believers put there.

  31. Tom Gilson says:

    How would you rate the extraordinariness of God versus a multiverse?

    I don’t know how I would rate them on a 1-10 scale, certainly. But I do maintain that the multiverse theory is an absolutely extraordinary claim, and there is reasonably good reason to think the atheist is stuck with multiverses.

    The “number of extraordinary claims about reality” does not so obviously tip toward God as you think. Here’s why. The naturalist claim, in general (though some may quibble with details) is that:

    1. The universe is eternal, or, it came into being uncaused at some finite time in the past. Either one is extraordinary.

    2. There is an infinite multiverse, with an infinite number of universes, where anything not physically or logically impossible actually happens in at least one of them (or possibly, infinity being what it is, in an infinite number of them).

    3. Ethics, meaning, free will, purpose, and human significance have real meaning in spite of their being the product of mindless, purposeless, blind interactions of physical things on submicroscopic levels, and also in spite of causality being closed off at any level above the physical.

    4a. Humans are more special, important, worthy of honor and dignity than animals, in spite of being evolved from the same stuff and bearing the same “selfish genes;” or

    4b. Humans are of no more worth than plants and animals (take your choice on 4; both are extraordinary).

    Now to a great extent 1 through 4 are logically independent of each other. There are four independent claims there, all of them extraordinary. How many claims does theism make? Really just one, with supporting evidences and ensuing implications:

    1: There is a good, all-powerful, all-wise, personal, timeless creator God who has revealed himself in history to humans whom he created.

    The other “extraordinary claims” of theism are all tied to that one, and serve as evidences for it. If that one can be established, then none of the other related claims (such as God answering prayer) are extraordinary at all, they become quite ordinary in fact. Sure, on a micro-scale, Christianity makes unusual claims all the time about God changing hearts and lives. There’s one right here. But on a macro-scale, I don’t think Christianity’s claims are a bit more outlandish than naturalism’s. (In fact I don’t think they’re outlandish at all, but I recognize that’s because I’ve accepted the testimony of the evidence in favor of them.)

    Therefore I don’t see any reason to call the thesis here preposterous at all.

  32. Tom,

    I would say that among the very extraordinary claims made by ex nihilo theorists is that God is needed in order for the ‘bang’ to happen when there is fundamental ignorance about the exact nature of the singularity. You have claimed in the past that it is more likely (or plausible; I can’t remember your exact terminology) that God caused the ‘bang’ than a multiverse, but on what probabilistic grounds can you make such a claim given our (at present, and perhaps long-standing) fundamental ignorance of the nature of the ‘singularity’ (if it existed in the first place)?

  33. Tom Gilson says:

    It’s a toss-up at worst, Kevin. And that’s the point of the post. Either there’s an unknown cause, or no cause, or God. Take your pick, and tell me which one isn’t extraordinary.

  34. SteveK says:

    Kevin,
    Adding to what Tom just said, points 3, 4a and 4b (and others) make the toss-up less of an actual toss-up….but Tom already said that too.

  35. SteveK,

    But the lack of a toss-up is only because you are using Evangelicals’ favorite whipping boy: reductionism. If we posit some form of emergentism as central to both the micro- and macro-level, then the comparison loses some (maybe even a lot) of its starkness. This usually brings up the common response that the exact mechanisms of emergentism are unclear, but the same could be said for dualism, so again we are at an impasse.

  36. SteveK says:

    I wouldn’t say emergentism helps to even the score, Kevin. It attempts to explain reality through a different process, but a high-degree of extraordinariness remains at bottom. I could grant you the unexplained process that results in emergentism being a reality, but that same emergentism produces a highly skeptical reaction in most people when it is explained to them that random, purposeless forces are the only things behind the emergentism that they value so highly…

    …but that’s a separate topic altogether.

  37. Tom Gilson says:

    @Kevin Winters:

    This usually brings up the common response that the exact mechanisms of emergentism are unclear, but the same could be said for dualism, so again we are at an impasse.

    SteveK is right on this. Emergentism, if it were true, would arise out of an environment where all causation is that of the four fundamental physical forces (which I’ll abbreviate here as necessity) and quantum chance. It’s a closed causal system. For emergentism to arise as another causal principle it would have to muscle the first two out of the way. Further, there would be, as you said, the need for some mechanism to explain how it arose, because the are (in the relevant sense) mechanisms themselves. They could not produce anything, even another causal principle, in any way except through their own mechanistic processes.

    But why would anybody even begin to think that dualism requires some “mechanism” to explain it? (Steven Schafersman and Michael Shermer have made similar mistakes.) Mechanism is physical. Dualism posits the physical and the non-physical. It takes it as a given that one non-physical person, God, can causally affect the physical world, and that that effect is not mechanical. So in the very foundation of reality we have the non-physical able to affect the physical. Of course we can’t explain the mechanism whereby that happens! It would be silly to try, because part of the process happens in a sphere where there is no mechanism.

    You said, “the exact mechanisms of emergentism are unclear, but the same could be said for dualism.” But that is clearly wrong. Sure, the exact mechanisms of emergentism are unclear, but nobody in their right mind would suggest the same question even applies to dualism.

    Actually it’s not just that the mechanisms are unclear. Emergentism amounts to another extraordinary claim: the mechanistic processes originating at the Big Bang, which involve a completely closed causal system operating mechanistically, produce emergentism. The four blind, mindless fundamental forces graciously step aside and say to personal freedom, agency, and rationality, “Welcome, you can dance with the world, too! We’ll cease being the cause of everything, and let you participate as causes along with us.” And although they have treated every entity as completely the same, when humans show up they say, “Wow, you’re special!”

    Extraordinary.

  38. Tony Hoffman says:

    Sure, the exact mechanisms of emergentism are unclear, but nobody in their right mind would suggest the same question even applies to dualism.

    Maybe I’m totally missing something here, but doesn’t dualism posit that the brain must receive instructions from the will in some way – the brain must have a mechanism for “will instruction perceptions” for dualism to exist. We know how the brain receives and processes light, sound, etc., but there’s nothing similar for receiving instructions for the will – where is that mechanism, and why am I am out of my mind for asking?

    I believe that questions of origins risks digression, but I disagree that a multiverse and God are on equal footing for plausibility – we have no ordinary experiences with God, but we have billions of ordinary experiences with the universe. Positing “many more of something we know” is less extraordinary than positing “one of something we don’t know exists.” My claim that floods come from the accumulation of lots and lots of little raindrops is a less extraordinary claim than floods come from God. If you want to argue fine tuning (which I’ve never found persuasive as an argument), positing a multiverse is still less extraordinary than God.

  39. Tom Gilson says:

    Who says we have no ordinary experiences with God?

    And if you claimed that floods came from the accumulation of infinite numbers of raindrops, invisible ones, undetectable ones, you’d be making an extraordinary claim.

    As for the dualism mechanism, what I have observed has been requests for how the soul’s or the supernatural’s “mechanisms” work. This has been in other places, already alluded to, besides here. They don’t have mechanisms, so the question is an odd one at best.

    The brain as a receptor to the soul’s effect is an interesting question. If you had a radio and were trying to determine how it works, and yet had no understanding of radio waves, you’d never guess what the antenna was for, or the front-end detector, amplifier, etc.

    Similarly I don’t think it’s a trivial problem to describe what in the brain connects with the non-physical, or how it does so. It’s a good question, in other words. We do know that there are quantum-level things going on in the brain all the time, and we even have one interpretation of quantum physics that says observers (persons) affect quantum phenomena. Maybe there’s a connection there. But the real answer for now is, “I don’t know.” Still, on philosophical and theological grounds I think there is ample reason to think dualism is a more satisfying theory than naturalistic monism.

  40. Tom,

    Whether you call it a “mechanism” or something else, the fact remains that how the interaction occurs is a complete mystery. Yes, traditional Christian theism posits from the very beginning that an immaterial being can work on material things, but how it occurs isn’t (and perhaps cannot) be explicated.

    As the mind-body problem has been one that I have done a decent amount of work on, I’d be interested in your arguments for why dualism is philosophically and theologically “more satisfying” than some form of monism (yes, I’m vague on the kind of monism because we both agree that “naturalistic [by which I think you mean reductionistic] monism” doesn’t have a strong case). I’ve done a decent amount of work on Moreland’s arguments for dualism (have a paper on it, if you’re interested), but are you refering to other arguments that I haven’t heard yet?

  41. Tom,

    Who says we have no ordinary experiences with God?

    Apparently Tony does and responding with a question doesn’t answer the question. We deal with the physical world literaly 24/7, even when we’re unconscious and the plability or firmness of our mattress influences our sleeping or various physiological changes in the body and brain are highly correlated (’causes’ may be too strong; it’s hard to say) with maintaining the comatose state. As such, to think that there is more of this (even infinitely more) isn’t a huge stretch. What “ordinary experiences with God” can you give that would have such inferential strength?

  42. Tom Gilson says:

    Kevin,

    To infer unlimited, infinite, undetectable, invisible universes is (you say) not such a huge stretch. But to infer God from the evidence in nature is a pretty huge stretch, if I read you rightly.

    Tell me, please, toward which of these inferences has most of humanity throughout most of history been more inclined? Which of these inferences has come more easily to people? What does that suggest to you about which is more of a huge stretch?

    Also: as I read the literature, I find that this almost universally: that those who infer unlimited, infinite, undetectable, invisible universes, do so from premises like this:

    1) Quantum physics in one or more interpretations indicates the (untestable) possibility of multiple universes.
    2) The inflationary model of early cosmology indicates the (untestable) possibility of multiple universes.
    3) We don’t believe in God, or as Bernard Carr said, we don’t want God.

    Therefore we infer multiple universes.

    I’ve seen this played out with either 1, 2, or both; but I’ve not seen it without 3. “There is no God” seems to be an essential piece of the data feeding the inference. It’s not always explicit; sometimes it’s just that people play out the scenarios based on naturalistic assumptions. But it’s just about always there. (Exception: science fiction novels. It makes for great plot lines, and a convenient escape for time-travel paradoxes.)

    So I caution you against thinking that the multiverse is an inference from the evidences of nature. It’s an inference from the evidences of nature, plus a theological position.

  43. Tony Hoffman says:

    Who says we have no ordinary experiences with God?

    Yes, I imagined that you would contend that one. Still, you can’t mean that you don’t know that a substantial percentage of the population that is agnostic or atheist contend that we do not, nor have ever, had such ordinary experiences? And are you suggesting that we have a testable experience of God, one that is testable in the same way that all other ordinary experiences are? And if you contend that your experiences are ordinary, why do they defy ordinary testing?

    (By the way, I think an interesting assertion might be that the perception of God is so ordinary that it doesn’t require extraordinary explanations. At least I think that would make my brain short circuit for a few moments, maybe longer.)

    And if you claimed that floods came from the accumulation of infinite numbers of raindrops, invisible ones, undetectable ones, you’d be making an extraordinary claim.

    I don’t know what is more extraordinary, that there could be infinite aspects to reality or that there could not be. I probably want to think about that one for awhile. But I would lean toward agreeing that the infinite should qualify as an extraordinary claim, mainly because I don’t see how it can be experienced. Also, I don’t believe that all theories of a multiverse exclude as a possibility that we could ever somehow, eventually, perceive them.

    I see that the conversation is drifting, but I will point out again that I think this (albeit interesting) talk of origins skirts the issue of ordinary and extraordinary claims in the way that Sagan intended it to be interpreted – re our (ordinary), daily experiences. Both sides must make extraordinary claims, by definition, regarding origins. But the fact is that believers make more extraordinary claims about both our recent history and our daily reality, and so I doubt Sagan would concede that believer and non-believer are thereby on equal footing regarding his maxim.

  44. Tom,

    Well, to begin with, I’ve never found the “evidence of nature” to be very cogent. I would also add that these universes are not “invisible” and “undetectable” in the same way that God is, so you might be equivocating in relation to the plausibility of both on that matter.

    Second, in relation to your three premises, a number of Mormon physicists, which most certainly posit the existence of God, accept and argue for a multiverse approach to cosmology, so the supposed universality of 3 is not airtight. It is only when you demand that theism entails creatio ex nihilo that this becomes an either/or scenario.

    As for your very last claim, you’ve already admitted in 1 and 2 that the evidence may point to (“indicate”) the existence of multiple universes, whether proveable or not, so you’re contradicting yourself. If such does indicate the possibility of a multiverse, then the “theological position” is contingent and not essential, even if some (both proponent and opponent) think it is essential.

  45. SteveK says:

    Kevin,

    As such, to think that there is more of this (even infinitely more) isn’t a huge stretch. What “ordinary experiences with God” can you give that would have such inferential strength?

    The fact that I more frequently (or intensely) experience the warmth of the sun or the wind in my face has nothing to do with experiencing God or God’s existence. You are setting up a false dilemma.

  46. SteveK,

    Ok, then give me a handful of examples of “ordinary experiences with God”.

  47. SteveK says:

    To name a few…

    mercy/grace
    forgiveness
    blessing
    love
    patience
    peace
    spiritual transformation
    physical healing
    council
    knowledge

  48. Tom Gilson says:

    @Kevin Winters:

    You wrote,

    These universes are not “invisible” and “undetectable” in the same way that God is, so you might be equivocating in relation to the plausibility of both on that matter.

    Of course. And God is not “invisible” and “undetectable” in the same way these universes are.

    I was unaware of the Mormon cosmologists, and still am, really.

    As for your very last claim, you’ve already admitted in 1 and 2 that the evidence may point to (”indicate”) the existence of multiple universes.

    Very, very indirectly, and (certainly so far, and possibly beyond that) only with the inclusion of 3, as indicated here.

  49. SteveK,

    Those aren’t experiences of God, they are experiences that you claim to be effects of God’s work. In short, they are indirect and largely (if not wholly) infered. I’ve experienced all of them in my own formal meditation practice, but I don’t see any reason there to say that they are the result of some external being ‘bestowing’ such things on me.

  50. SteveK says:

    Tony,
    Re: extraordinary

    As I said to Kevin, regardless of the process that resulted in reality as we know it, few accept the claim that random, purposeless forces are the orchestrators behind it. Most don’t accept the claim because it goes against their experiences and perceptions. Because it goes against their experiences and perceptions, most consider it to be an extraordinary claim.

    I know it sounds like I’m only appealing to popular opinion, but it’s difficult to get away from that connection completely when it comes to terms like “ordinary” or “normal”. These are statistical terms where numbers tell the story.

  51. Tom Gilson says:

    @Kevin Winters:

    But you had said that a multiverse was more easily inferred from nature than God, and you haven’t responded to my question about how many people have made each inference.

    As far as I see in this discussion, it’s not about whether this is an airtight deduction. I mean, come on, nobody’s going to claim that. It’s about whether the naturalist’s claims are at least as extraordinary as the theist’s. When you said that the multiverse was a more natural inference than the existence of God, I challenged that. I haven’t heard back from you on that yet.

  52. SteveK says:

    Kevin,

    Those aren’t experiences of God,

    An extraordinary claim compared to those who make the more ordinary claim in the opposite direction.

    they are experiences that you claim to be effects of God’s work. In short, they are indirect and largely (if not wholly) infered.

    They are equally inferred by you. This is not about proving who is correct, it’s about who is making an extraordinary claim and in what way the claim is extraordinary. An extraordinary claim isn’t necessarily a false claim, it’s just less than ordinary when viewed from a specific context. Here you are making an extraordinary claim by saying that each and every one of these experiences doesn’t point to God.

    Theists make an extraordinary claim of another kind. While our claim that God exists is rather ordinary by historical and experiential standards, it is considered extraordinary in some circles. Likewise, claims made by realists are ordinary, but they are considered extraordinary by the idealists and the subjectivists.

  53. Tom:

    Let’s pursue this “inference” thing by Tony. Here’s an example of the kind of multiverse inferences world-renowned cosmologists make:

    “Dr. Martin Rees, a University of Cambridge cosmologist and the Astronomer Royal of Great Britain noted that it is not necessary to observe other universes to gain some confidence that they may exist. He was referring to certain solutions of string theory equations that allegedly indicate a range of other universes actually exist.” [Dennis Overbye, “A New View of Our Universe: Only One of Many,” NY Times, 29 October 2002]

    Note that Rees is an atheist. Note that, to this day, not a single shred of scientific (empirical) evidence has been presented in support of the existence of a multiverse. Ironically, those that support the multiverse idea are quite vociferous in their criticism of Intelligent Design for (allegedly) not presenting a single shred of empirical evidence in support of inference to design. Note also Rees’ philosophical ineptitude in believing that mathematical equations are sufficient to prove the existence of things—in this case entire universes!—as if mathematical equations actualize reality rather than describe reality based on correlated empirical data.

    Finally, note a preposterous mistake made by multiverse proponents (hat-tip—Maverick Philosopher): It is incorrect to conflate the modal notion of possible worlds with the cosmological notion of a multiplicity of universes. If there are many physical universes, as some cosmologists speculate, they are parts of total physical reality, albeit disconnected parts thereof, and therefore parts of the total way things are, using ‘are’ tenselessly. But the total way things are is just what we mean by the actual world. What the Maverick Philosopher is saying is that if another (alleged) universe is physically/empirically detected (i.e., not just speculated about through solutions of mathematical equations), then it is part of our ONE universe.

    To the atheist, a spiritual dimension is a preposterous idea, while the notion that there are infinite numbers of universes that cannot be detected gives no pause. Yet, which idea sounds more far-fetched: one unseen mode of reality (which can nevertheless be reasoned to) or billions of universes with no hope of detection?

    Atheism, naturalism, materialism: extraordinarily impotent and disordered worldviews indeed! From where I’m standing I see extraordinary grasping at straws—not sound arguments.

  54. Tony Hoffman says:

    Holopupenko,

    While I share your annoyance over scientists (and anyone, for that matter) making pronouncements beyond their understanding, theorizing has (as I’m sure you know) contributed to empirical discovery. Rutherford was so productive largely because of the talented theorists in his generation, I believe Uranus or Pluto was discovered (astronomers were told where to go look) because neighboring planets did not conform to the theory of gravitation, and even though I’m sure this will annoy a lot of readers here it is true that many transitional forms that Darwin’s theory predicted have later been found, etc. Theories have to describe reality, yes, but there are times when experiments on reality are fueled by theory as well. I don’t mean to pronounce on science here, but I think this is a pretty well established routine.

    I am not so sure, though, that Rees is even making the claims that you say he is. The quotation you cite states that Rees pointed out solutions “that allegedy indicate,” but you go on to say that Rees is contending that “mathematical equations are sufficient to prove…” So I think you’re putting a level of stridency (and foolishness) in Rees’ comments that the article, at least the part you quoted, did not.

    Along that line, what’s wrong with Rees et al. speculating that our current understanding of reality is incorrect? For that matter, what’s wrong with speculating that philosophical naturalism might be correct? Is that somehow a thought we should not dare allow to cross our minds? Is inquiry truly inquiry if there are things that cannot be imagined to be true? Wouldn’t true faith be fortified more by questions answered than assumptions left untested?

    On a last note, though, I would say that if speculation about a multiverse concluded that such a reality could never be detected I agree it would be guilty of every aspersion cast on religious explanations. I don’t believe, though, that such a conclusion is a sine qua non of the idea of multiverse.

  55. I stumbled on this discussion of the multiverse (linked from Scriptorium Daily. Thought some here might find it interesting.

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