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Coyne Explains His Philosophical Superiority Over Plantinga

Posted on Mar 2, 2012 by Tom Gilson

Jerry Coyne explains today why Alvin Plantinga is “so in violation of the normal canons of reason,” such an “infuriating” example of the “drivel” that “passes for sophisticated philosophy in theology.” Plantinga missed this possibility, you see:

Couldn’t God, if he’s omnipotent, commit divine suicide?

And he really ought to understand, says Coyne, that God need not be viewed as the First Cause, for just like God,

as we know, the Universe could have “caused” itself.

Take that, Dr. Plantinga! Got you lassoed around the logical throat now, don’t I? Hah!

I wasn’t going to bother pointing out what’s so mistaken about these two points—it ought to be plain enough—but in case Coyne comes and reads this:

1. God’s omnipotence is not (and no thinker has ever thought it was) his ability to do anything at all. It is his having the power to do anything that power can do.

There are many things God cannot do. He cannot lie. He cannot deny himself, for he himself is truth. When humans do those kinds of things they are not acts of power; rather they are acts in propositional, logical space. God cannot perform what is logically impossible. No amount of power could create a square circle, for example. Nor could power make being into non-being. That last clause relates to the fact that God is being itself, and that all else that exists derives its existence from him.

What Coyne is really telling us is that he doesn’t know the meaning of the term omnipotent. Yet he feels to mock Alvin Plantinga over it anyway.

2. Nothing can cause itself. No thinking person thinks that God caused (or causes) himself. God is self-existent, but not self-caused. In order to cause itself, the Universe would have had to exist before it existed.

“As we know,” that’s not possible.

Once again Dr. Coyne reveals how little he knows what he’s talking about. He thinks he’s smarter than Plantinga. I’m sure that in matters biological he is, and that Plantinga would agree that he is. In philosophy and theology, however, he’s making a sad spectacle of himself.

*************

P.S. Not that this makes the slightest difference in any way, but…

Some time ago Coyne posted on my “lucubrations,” as he called them. Today when he also described Plantinga’s work as lucubrations, I thought I was in good company. Then for laughs I did a site-specific search, and discovered how much he loves the word. Bertrand Russell (elsewhere, “Bertrand Russell et al.”), compatibilists, Charles Darwin, Terry Eagleton, Mark Vernon, Ken Ham, Elaine Ecklund, Muriel Barbery, Alvin Plantinga, C.S. Lewis, Karen Armstong, a Templeton grant requester, John Haught, John Polkinghorne, Simon Conway Morris, “philosophers and journalists,” Jan Sap, Phila Borgeson, P.Z. Myers, Aquinas, Duns Scotus, Jerry Coyne himself, and I all (Is there a verb form? I’ll make one up) lucubrate.

It’s a fine word, isn’t it?

111 Responses to “ Coyne Explains His Philosophical Superiority Over Plantinga ”

  1. d says:

    Do you ever have comments to make against formidable naturalists,
    rather than guys like Coyne? Do you just feel your time is better
    spent pecking at the low hanging fruit, rather than grappling with the
    guys who put out serious, challenging work?

  2. The Deuce says:

    Jeez, that’s embarrassing. You’d think that, after interacting with and getting smacked down so hard by multiple philosophers, Coyne would have tried to read enough philosophy by now to at least get to ground 1 and not seem like a complete ignoramus every time he opens his mouth. But no, here he is still floating basic “could God create a stone too heavy for him to lift?” objections as if they were serious arguments.

    Honestly, this makes me doubt Coyne’s veracity even in his own field, even though I’m in no position to judge it, just because it seems unlikely that someone so logically incompetent doesn’t bring at least some of his irrational thought processes into the rest of his life.

  3. Tom Gilson says:

    d,

    Well, I suppose it’s been a while, but there have been Tom Clark, Barbara Forrest, Robert Pennock, Daniel Dennett (sorry I don’t have links there to the whole series I did on that), and (not so long ago after all), Stephen Law.

    What about Sam Harris? Is his work serious and challenging or not?

    What about articles and series aimed straight at the heart of naturalism itself?

    Coyne thinks he’s serious and challenging. He thinks he’s more challenging than Plantinga.

  4. Tom Gilson says:

    Thanks, Victoria. It wasn’t in the source I checked.

  5. Charlie says:

    How come everywhere I go some atheist is complaining that Christian websites are picking on the lowest hanging fruit, like Dawkins, Coyne, Harris, P.Z. etc.
    Well, why is it these are the popular ones with lots of traffic and booksales? Should a multitude of words go unanswered, and a man full of words be judged right?
    Since they obviously have the ears of thousands and millions of atheists then obviously their lucubrations ought to be shown for what they are. Especially since the case for Christianity is made in the process.

    Maybe these very popular atheists, appealing as they do to so many internet atheists are the low hanging fruit. There is higher hanging fruit, of course. People very rational, who respect theology, philosophy and the reasons for belief, but who merely don’t agree. What’s the response to them supposed to be? …. just go ahead and change your mind? If a person says something stupid like “there is no evidence” then he can be shown the evidence. If he says something smart like ” there is evidence enough to convince rational people, but other rational people will not be convinced, and I am one of those people” then there is not much to say.

  6. SteveK says:

    It would be one thing if the ideas spouted by people like PZ, Harris and others got a lot of press but had few followers (of the ideology). Then we could write them off as fringe people with kooky ideas, much like the Westboro Baptist Church. But when these people have a lot of followers because of the ideas they hold, you are obligated to respond.

  7. The Deuce says:

    Charlie:

    How come everywhere I go some atheist is complaining that Christian websites are picking on the lowest hanging fruit, like Dawkins, Coyne, Harris, P.Z. etc.

    It’s especially strange when you consider that the “low hanging fruit” happen to be the movements’ leaders.

  8. Charlie says:

    Exactly, Deuce.
    If they aren’t worthy of a response then they ought not be worthy of a following.

  9. robert landbeck says:

    Both Plantinga and Coyne are just two sides of the same profound ‘unknowning’[polite for ignorance]
    innate to human nature itself. And all human intellectual conceptions to either prove or discredit the reality of God is just chasing after wind!

    Alvin Plantinga recently wrote in one of his many apologist rants: “You really can’t sensibly claim theistic belief is irrational without showing it isn’t true.” And that is exactly what’s happening right now, but not by any atheist raving, theological or philosophical ‘logic’.

    For what science and religion thought impossible has now happened. History has its first literal, testable and fully demonstrable proof for faith.

    The first wholly new interpretation for two thousand years of the moral teachings of Christ is published on the web. Radically different from anything else we know of from history, this new teaching is predicated upon a precise, predefined and predictable experience and called ‘the first Resurrection’ in the sense that the Resurrection of Jesus was intended to demonstrate Gods’ willingness to real Himself and intervene directly into the natural world for those obedient to His will, paving the way for access, by faith, to the power of divine transcendence.

    Thus ‘faith’ is the path, the search and discovery of this direct individual intervention into the natural world by omnipotent power to confirm divine will, Law, command and covenant, while “correcting human nature by a change in natural law, altering biology, consciousness and human ethical perception beyond all natural evolutionary boundaries.” So like it or no, a new religious teaching, testable by faith, meeting all Enlightenment criteria of evidence based causation and definitive proof now exists. Nothing short of an intellectual, moral and religious revolution is getting under way. To test or not to test, that is the question? More info at http://www.energon.org.uk,
    http://soulgineering.com/2011/05/22/the-final-freedoms/

  10. Tom Gilson says:

    From Robert’s second link:

    The first wholly new interpretation for 2000 years of the Gospel/moral teachings of Christ is on the web. Redefining all primary elements including Faith, the Word, Law, Baptism, the Trinity and especially the Resurrection. Questioning the validity and origins of all Christian tradition, and focusing specifically on marriage, love and human sexuality; it overturns all natural law ethics and theory, and at stake is the credibility of several thousand years of religious history.

    What first appears a counter intuitive challenge to the religious status quo, on closer examination contains a wisdom the theological history of religion either ignored, were unable to imagine or dismissed. An error of presumption which could now leave ‘tradition’ staring into the abyss and prove humbling for secular speculation.

    Bzzzz!!

    1 point for prose style, none for knowing what he’s talking about. Next…

    (On his first link, a poem by “Langston Hughs.” Zero points for literary awareness.)

  11. Tom Gilson says:

    Or maybe it’s the same kind of joke it acts like it is. Click on the first link and it automatically redirects in a few seconds to another one. There’s a “Previous” link at the bottom of that page. Click it and you’ll go back to the page you first landed on, which (you guessed it) redirects you back…

  12. Victoria says:

    @Tom
    you really need the Internet equivalent of citronella candles :)

    Yet another example of someone who claims that the truth has been hidden from everyone else for 20 centuries, and only he has figured it out – hmmm, isn’t that how cults get started?

  13. Tom Gilson says:

    By the way, I didn’t just buzz him out based on one paragraph. I’ve read some of his lengthy PDF. Enough to find, for example, that salvation is only for the married, and the woman is the “ark of the covenant” for the man and herself.

    And worse.

    But the first chapter or so was reasonably close to the truth, in its discussion of the fall (I was only reading the words of the compiler/author, not all the stuff he quoted). Thus indeed are cults born.

  14. d says:

    Duece and Charlie,

    If one wants to discredit (sloppy) ideas of some popular athiests, the going after Coyne, Dawkins, is fine, and the appropriate thing to do – just like its fine and appropriate to dissect idiots like Ravi Zacharias or Rick Warren (each probably more popular than all the famous new atheists combined), if one wants to discredit their sloppy, popular ideas.

    If one has ambitions to discredit naturalism/atheism in general, one has to engage its best thinkers… just like if one wanted to discredit Christianity, one coudlnt do so by discrediting Rick Warren or Zacharias.

    For all the strong posturing against naturalism here, it seems like the latter is considered important… but the content doesnt seem to reflect that (at least lately – I’m looking over some previous stuff).

  15. BillT says:

    d,

    You do know it’s one thing to actually make cogent arguments in response to a Coyne like Tom has done and entirely another to simply call Ravi Zacharias or Rick Warren idiots. Perhaps you could enlighten us as to the specifics as to what inspires what is otherwise an entirely ad hominem attack. This is, of course, not to mention that Tom has done exactly what you request in regards to atheism’s “best thinkers” (if there is such a thing) in the links of his comment #4. After all, if I didn’t misinterpret you question about Bart Ehrman in the other thread, you thought he was one of atheism’s “best thinkers”.

  16. G. Rodrigues says:

    @BillT:

    While d appeals to these nameless mythical naturalists he himself, if his performance in this blog is anything to go by, is incapable of making a cogent argument, not even if his life depended on it.

  17. JAD says:

    d@ 15
    Rick Warren is a pastor, not an apologist or theologian. I wasn’t aware that he was passing himself off as one. As for Ravi Zacharias, I am not that familiar with him and I don’t know many people who are (including Christians “I meet” on-line). So, I don’t think he is all that popular in evangelical circles.

    The problem with atheists like Coyne, Dawkins and P.Z. Myers etc. is that they think “reason” requires a take-no-prisoners posture of contempt, condescension and ridicule. I would argue that that kind of pretension and posturing is a actually a sign of poor reasoning and a weak argumentation. It becomes dangerous, however, when these so called “new” atheist gurus try to use their popularity to convince others, mainly young people, that this is how reason will triumph over superstition and ignorance. Their approach has more in common with Saul Alinsky’s, Rules For Radicals, than it does good logical reasoning.

    In other words, it is for cultural reasons that their poor reasoning is far more a concern at the moment than winning arguments with the more traditional atheist/materialist/ naturalist. At least the traditional atheists understand somewhat what good reasoning is. Furthermore, they are not overtly trying to radicalize anyone.

  18. I’m shocked at the level of this rebuke from a purported thinking person. Let me just point out ;

    1. “It is his having the power to do anything that power can do.”

    This begs more questions than that statement is meant to clear up, smack down in the territory of theology and – dare I say it? – sophistry. Sorry, but as thousands of years of theology has proven, there is no one definition of omnipotence even if you act as if it is so.

    2. “Nothing can cause itself.”

    Except, I presume, your god? Got any logic to back up such an argument? And define “cause” in a manner that excludes the notion of a god from it. And also read “Universe from nothing” by Lawrence Krauss.

    You’re all harping on Dennett, Coyne and his gang as “easy pickings”, yet you’re not engaging with what they’re saying, nor actually referring to the argument, showing us the logic behind it, or the evidence against it. Surely, for people who are *so* sure that they’ve got a better grasp on the argument, it should be easy to swat the argument? I dare you; hop to the comments at Coyne’s place, and engage, dammit. Of all the comments here so far, not one of you have pointed out flaws in the arguments used by “the other side”, only snided that they obviously know nothing about your theology. Prove it.

    And sorry for getting my knickers in a knot over this. It’s the weather, or something.

  19. Doug says:

    Um, @Alexander?
    Since when does omnipotence need a definition? As if God would jump into a little linguistic box on command so we could examine Him?

    Since when does anyone claim God caused Himself? And since when does He need to? But as for logic backing up the (actual) argument, viz “nothing can cause itself”, can I remind you that causation is one of the fundamental bases of modern science — you know, that thing Coyne and his gang claim to champion?

    And as for logic backing up God’s not requiring a cause, there are literally centuries of philosophical support for this. If you want a place to start, consider the number three. Or a triangle. Do either of them exist? What caused them? How about the laws of logic? These are examples of things that philosophers throughout the centuries have tended to consider “necessary” rather than “contingent”. Necessary entities are not caused, Alexander.

  20. Tom Gilson says:

    Alexander,

    1. I’m sorry, but there seems to be a misunderstanding on your part. I think you, like Dr. Coyne, would likely say that you place a high value on evidence. I’m going to call your bluff, then, and ask you to produce evidence that there exists anywhere some logically coherent definition of omnipotence that includes (for God) the ability to do that which is logically impossible. Of course this must be a definition proposed by someone who thinks it might be true, not by some anti-theist. (I do hope you can see why that stricture is logically entailed by the context of the discussion, including Plantinga’s and Coyne’s statements. If not I’ll explain.)

    There is nothing sophistical, my friend, about saying that omnipotence is an attribute of God that has to do with power; or that maximal power can do what maximal power can do, but that maximal power still can only do what power can do. That was the statement that I made, and you’ll need more than frenzy to rebut it. You would need to show that power can do what power cannot do. (Good luck.)

    2. God does not cause himself. I already said that.

    I’m looking forward to reading Krauss. Maybe you could tell me, though, whether his “nothing” is materially different from Hawking’s nothing.

    Maybe you could also (evidence, again) point to one reputable thinker who disagrees with me that nothing can cause itself. If it’s Krauss, I’d like to see a quote. Otherwise you’re bluffing on this point, too.

    I did leave a comment on this post at Coyne’s blog, but he deleted it while it was in the moderation queue. Coyne won’t let a lot of us theists leave comments at his place, including me. Otherwise I would be more than pleased to engage there. He won’t face opposition, so he makes it look as if the opposition won’t face him. See here for the last time he allowed one of my comments there to stand. Before that he was inconsistent. Since then he’s been very predictable. If you need evidence that he won’t let other theists comment there (many of us, at least), I’ll provide that, too, since I’m not opposed to backing up my own assertions.

    And frankly, my friend, I have indeed argued two reasons why Coyne doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He doesn’t know the definition of omnipotence, he doesn’t realize that Christian theology never claims that God caused himself, and he doesn’t realize that nothing can cause itself.

    Your counter-arguments are lacking, to say the least. Here’s your chance to show me you can back them up. I don’t delete comments or ban commenters as Coyne does for simple disagreement. (If you care to read it, my discussion policies can be found above the combox.)

  21. Tom Gilson says:

    BTW, I do not mean to overly restrict you in my call for you to produce some “logically coherent definition of omnipotence that includes (for God) the ability to do that which is logically impossible.” I’m not asking you to agree that the concept of God is logically coherent. I’m only asking for you to produce that definition, from someone who thinks it might possibly be true; and, as I should have said earlier, from someone who thinks it about God as Christians conceive him to be (Muslim views of God, for example, would be irrelevant to this discussion).

  22. Tom Gilson says:

    Doug, omnipotence definitely requires a definition. Otherwise we can’t use the word in conversation, except as an Alice-in-Wonderland portmanteau word. It’s not a matter of God jumping into a box. It’s a matter of our being able to speak about (for example) ways in which God is not limited, and ways in which he is. (I’m not sure that “limit” properly applies to God’s inability to do that which is inherently self-contradictory, but I’ll go with it for now.)

  23. Tom Gilson says:

    I have another way to pose Question 1 to you, Alexander. You can take it in either of two ways.

    A. Given the hypothesis “The God of Christian theism exists,” and given the definition of God that comes with that ex hypothesi, can you defend Coyne’s position that such a God ought to be regarded as potentially being able to commit divine suicide?

    B. Given that Alvin Plantinga thinks that the God of Christian theism exists, can you explain how within Plantinga’s framework of belief he ought to regard God’s divine suicide as not impossible?

    Coyne made a positive claim, you see: Divine omnipotence entails at least the logical possibility of divine suicide. You’re defending him in that claim. Since you are defending that claim, it’s on your shoulders to explain it coherently and provide some reason to believe it. (I would settle for your explain it coherently, for that matter.)

    As for B, and why Plantinga’s framework of belief is relevant rather than question-begging, recall that Coyne said in effect that Plantinga should recognize that divine suicide is not impossible in view of divine omnipotence.

    Now consider what would happen to the dialogue if someone were to say that Plantinga’s framework of belief ought to be considered just one of many possible such frameworks. Suppose there is some theistic religion Osmoism, for example, in which Osmo (this religion’s God) is not limited by requirements of logical coherence. Suppose that Osmoistic theology agreed with you that Osmo could commit divine suicide (or, it is not logically impossible for him to do so).

    In that case, you or Coyne might say, “Plantinga should know that divine omnipotence means it’s logically possible that the (hypothetical) Osmo could commit suicide.” But Plantinga would say, fine. I wasn’t talking about the Osmo. I was talking about the Christian God.”

    You or Coyne might say then, “But there are also Christian theologians who think divine suicide is not logically impossible.” At that point, besides asking for actual examples of such theologians, Plantinga would undoubtedly say, “Well, I think they’re wrong; but in any case, that kind of God is not the God of which I have been speaking; and it is after all the case that you are trying to show that I’m not thinking straight about the God of which I’m speaking. You’re not trying to show (or I hope you aren’t, for your own sake) that I’m not thinking straight about some God I’m not even thinking about as I speak.”

    Again: Coyne’s charge is that Plantinga is mixed up concerning God as he speaks about God. But Plantinga can only be mixed up concerning the God he is thinking/speaking about. Coyne’s charge sticks only if it sticks with respect to the God Plantinga is thinking/speaking of. So it is not question-begging to limit the discussion concerning Coyne’s charge, to a discussion concerning God as Plantinga conceives God to be.

    So please feel free to answer the question in either form, A or B. If you can’t do it, then your bluff is called (again).

  24. Doug says:

    @Tom,
    To suggest we need to fully delineate and explicate something before it can enter coherent conversation means that we could never talk about God Himself.
    We can attempt to make projections of God onto “linguistic space” but it is idolatrous to suggest that such a human construction is any more than what it is.

    But my question to Alexander was of a different nature, addressing the unstated atheist preference: not for a definition per se but for a definition they like.

    I find it curious that Alexander references “arguments” (plural), when the neo-atheist arguments typically boil down to one:

    1. If God exists, his primary concern would necessarily be to justify His existence to me (since I, the Rational Man [tm], demand it).
    2. Inexplicably, God declines to play by my rules and jump through my hoops (to be known hereafter as “evidence”).
    3. Therefore, God does not exist.

  25. Charlie says:

    When Rick Warren and Ravi Zacharias write articles printed in the NY TImes or some other paper then it is perfectly appropriate to respond to their arguments and to show the (alleged) errors. When they publish their books then it is incumbent upon people to write reviews of them. The first out of the gates will be Christians, and if they make errors then the Christians will call them on it.
    A better popular example than these so-called “idiots” would be what happened when Rob Bell published his latest book. He was answered comprehensively on blogs, websites and then in books. If you want to pick at this low hanging fruit then you will be in good company and, rather than bluster and wring their hands, anyone responding to you will point directly to his higher-hanging predecessors as well as current respondents.

  26. Tom Gilson says:

    Doug,

    We are substantially in agreement. I want to avoid the false dichotomy, though, of words like omnipotence not needing a definition (implied here), vs. needing to “fully delineate and explicate something before it can enter coherent conversation.” The words with which we converse need definitions adequate to the conversations in which we are using them, nothing less, and nothing more.

    Still, as I said, we are mostly in agreement.

  27. Doug says:

    @Tom,
    Agree about the agreement. But just to mention: Alexander’s complaint was that there was no single agreed-upon definition of “omnipotent”, hence the implication was intended to be more that the word doesn’t need a single agreed-upon definition than that it doesn’t need a definition at all.

  28. Tom Gilson says:

    I got it now. That’s helpful. Thanks, Doug.

  29. JAD says:

    Alexander @ 19

    “Nothing can cause itself.”

    Except, I presume, your god? Got any logic to back up such an argument? And define “cause” in a manner that excludes the notion of a god from it. And also read “Universe from nothing” by Lawrence Krauss…you’re not engaging with what they’re saying, nor actually referring to the argument, showing us the logic behind it, or the evidence against it. Surely, for people who are *so* sure that they’ve got a better grasp on the argument, it should be easy to swat the argument?

    No theist here is making the argument that God caused himself, rather they are arguing that God is uncaused. The logic is really quite basic.

    Premise: It’s logically possible that Something has always existed.

    I would argue that this premise is valid because there is nothing logically contradictory about the idea of an always existing, or eternally being.

    Yet atheists for some reason seem to have difficulty grasping the logic here. For example, in his book, Why I Am Not a Christian, British logician Bertrand Russell makes a fundamental logical error when he argues that “God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause it may just as well be the world as God”

    Most theologians define God as an uncaused, self existent, eternal or always existing being. Using the premise “everything must have a cause,” Russell argues first that God must have a cause but then in the very next sentence he exempts the universe. Once again, he argues that if anything can exist “without a cause it may just as well be the world.” However, if the universe can exist eternally without a cause then it means that Russell is contradicting himself here when he argues that God must have a cause.

    According to theologian RC Sproul, Russell got himself in trouble because he began with the following argument:

    If everything must have a cause,
    then God must have a cause.

    Sproul argues that you cannot use this argument and then decide arbitrarily not to include the universe.

    However, if Russell had instead used this argument:

    If something may be self-existent,
    Then something may exist without a cause,

    His argument for an eternal universe would have been valid , but then he would also have had to extend the same courtesy to God.

    Again, there is nothing logically contradictory about the premise “that Something has always existed.”

  30. d says:

    JAD,

    Reading Russel more charitably, it looks like he does agree with that premise.

    It seems he is precisely taking issue with the fact that theists take that premise to be true, but only seem extend that courtesy TO God and, according to Russel, for no good reason, fail to extend that courtesy to the universe itself.

    The full paragraph is here: http://users.drew.edu/~jlenz/whynot.html

  31. BillT says:

    Isn’t there a problem with a self-existent universe as compared to a self-existent God? The universe is a material thing. How is a material thing self-existent? We also know that the universe had a beginning. It doesn’t seem it could be self-existent as things with a beginning have to be begun. You’re back to the universe being self-caused not self-existent and that isn’t possible.

  32. d says:

    BillT,

    First, it’s not clear why immaterial things are any more plausibly “self-existent” than material things – and even more questionable is why an immaterial mind (whatever that means) ought to be plausibly “self-existent”. This just highlights the double standard Russel was touching on.

    We know the universe (as we know it) probably had a beginning, (whatever that means to say, when the thing in question possibly gave rise to time), but we don’t know whether the stuff this universe is made from, has always existed in some form or another. Whatever that stuff may be, why couldn’t it just exist?

  33. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    First, it’s not clear why immaterial things are any more plausibly “self-existent” than material things – and even more questionable is why an immaterial mind (whatever that means) ought to be plausibly “self-existent”. This just highlights the double standard Russel was touching on.

    No, it just highlights that you (and Russell) are not acquainted with the arguments. Ignorance is no sin properly speaking, and after all, we are all ignorant, just about different things. Squeezed out, your argument is just an argument from incredulity and ignorance (just note the expressions: “it is not clear”, “more questionable”, “ought to be plausibly”, “why couldn’t it”), that is, it is no argument. The arguments themselves may be ultimately incorrect, but throwing out a string of mights and ifs is not a rebuttal, is not an argument, it is just an expression of your ignorance.

  34. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    And just so you do not get the impression that I am throwing around the ignorant charge without backing it up, here is a closer scalpelization of your post:

    First, it’s not clear why immaterial things are any more plausibly “self-existent” than material things and even more questionable is why an immaterial mind (whatever that means) ought to be plausibly “self-existent”

    That is not the assertion. There are non self-existent immaterial minds. On why material things cannot be self-existent, if that is not obvious to you, just go read the arguments (in short, and in Scholastic jargon, since they are of necessity a compound of act and potency and not purely actual, they are contingent and thus they have a reason for existence outside themselves).

    We know the universe (as we know it) probably had a beginning, (whatever that means to say, when the thing in question possibly gave rise to time)

    There is a perfect sense to be made of that — read the arguments.

    but we don’t know whether the stuff this universe is made from, has always existed in some form or another.

    If “the stuff this universe is made from” always existed then the universe always existed and did not have a beginning. In other words, you are equivocating on the word “universe”.

    Also note, that Aquinas (to take one example) does *NOT* assume that the universe is past-finite, that is, even if the universe were past-infinite it would still be the case that it would have to be created and conserved in existence at every moment. So whether the universe had a beginning is *irrelevant* for Aquinas’ arguments — although it is the subject of the Kalam.

    Whatever that stuff may be, why couldn’t it just exist?

    Once again, read the arguments — see the parenthesis above.

  35. JAD says:

    @d

    It seems he is precisely taking issue with the fact that theists take that premise to be true, but only seem extend that courtesy TO God and, according to Russel, for no good reason, fail to extend that courtesy to the universe itself.

    Well, I for one am willing to make an apples oranges comparison. Why should I accept an eternally existing universe over an eternally existing transcendent Mind (God)? Which is the better explanation? Is the concept of an eternally existing universe supported by the empirical evidence? In other words, did the universe have a beginning? If it did, did it have a cause? What was the cause? If something begins to exist does it require a cause?

  36. d says:

    JAD,

    In that passage, Russel was merely explaining (briefly – it was a speech to a secular group, not a book) why he doesn’t find the first-cause argument convincing.

    One might read some subtext into it, that Russel feels an eternally existing universe is the simpler, preferable explanation – but he’s really just saying something about the success (or lack-there-of) of the first cause argument.

  37. G. Rodrigues says:

    I read B. Russell, specifically the “Why I am not a Christian” in my teenager days and I remember having the distinct impression of thinking “hey, this guy has some good points”. Reading him back now — and I only embraced Christianity in early adulthood, and earnestly so only in my 30’s — is just embarrassing. The paragraph on the first cause argument (see the link above provided by d) is really, really bad. The rest do not fare much better.

  38. Melissa says:

    G. Rodrigues,

    How do people who propose a self-existent universe avoid the conclusion from this that nothing is contingent?

  39. Melissa says:

    Just to be clear in my comment above I meant no thing is contingent not nothing.

  40. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Melissa:

    How do people who propose a self-existent universe avoid the conclusion from this that nothing is contingent?

    I like your modus tollens, but there may be loopholes (e.g. appeal to the indeterministic nature of QM or some variant thereof). Anyway, either the issue is sidestepped because they are unaware that there is a genuine problem that needs to be met (e.g. over-specialized physicists ignorant of even the most basic philosophy) or simply posit brute facts, which is fraught with loads of problems. I know of no serious, cogent response (but this may well just be my ignorance) and even a good argument can be made that there is none to be had, at least for your usual naturalist. See Edward Feser – Can we make sense of the world? for why.

  41. Hi,

    Sorry for the late post; was away yesterday, and because the comments were so complex and plentiful, I decided to wrap it up in a blog response which you’ll find over here.

    The only thing I’ll say here is that I’m not sure Coyne would do that, but I’ve written him to verify the details on it.

  42. Grace says:

    Alexander,

    What’s the point of you creating a response on your own blog? Is your blog is in need of some traffic? It would be a waste of time going from blog to blog trying to chase a conversation every time a commenter wanted to reply somewhere else. Sorry, but you were responded to by others here. You need to make your response here.

  43. Tom Gilson says:

    Alexander, on your blog you say, “By changing one of the premises by upping the complexity without defining further premises to define them, you are essentially begging the question.” I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re referring to. Which premises did I change? Where did I do it? This is opaque.

    Also on your blog you say,

    Tom used as part of his rhetoric that “Nothing can cause itself.” Now, I admit that perhaps my wording here was a bit clumsy, but even if me begging for the logical reason for the argument – even when clumsy – still dives into the problem that believer of a thing that has always existed face as they bring out the everlasting god vs. everything else is caused;

    We don’t know that everything else is caused.

    I’m curious what “we don’t know that everything else is caused” has to do with “nothing can cause itself.” The latter statement is analytically true. For something to cause itself it would have to exist chronologically or logically prior to itself, which is impossible. If your long discourse on the mysteries of origins was intended to answer that statement of mine, it was completely off the point. And remember why I said that nothing can cause itself: because Jerry Coyne had bumbled his way onto that error, and I was pointing that he was wrong. He is wrong even if we don’t know that everything else is caused.

    You say,

    Yes, you’re right. However, the point admittedly clumsily made was that Christians refuse to give anything but their god the privilege to having always existed, like matter, energy, empty space, or the universe – as opposed to the more popular known universe – and they refuse this not because it isn’t plausible or logical, but because they don’t like it or don’t agree with it.

    Two answers. One, that’s not why I refuse it. I refuse it because there are good reasons in science and in philosophy to refuse it. Two: the reason you don’t like the idea of God always existing is because you don’t like it or don’t agree with it.

    You also run a long riff on my statement, ” I think you, like Dr. Coyne, would likely say that you place a high value on evidence.” It’s utterly irrelevant to the reason I said it. Did you notice that? You talk there about what enters scientific consensus. But this was why I mentioned it:

    I’m going to call your bluff, then, and ask you to produce evidence that there exists anywhere some logically coherent definition of omnipotence that includes (for God) the ability to do that which is logically impossible. Of course this must be a definition proposed by someone who thinks it might be true, not by some anti-theist. (I do hope you can see why that stricture is logically entailed by the context of the discussion, including Plantinga’s and Coyne’s statements. If not I’ll explain.)

    My point was that you were making evidence-free assertions. Your point that science deals in evidence is astonishingly oblivious to the fact that your bluff has been called, you made a claim with no support, and you were wrong. Where do you think you get by talking about something else?

    Your tried to answer my question, “Given the hypothesis ‘The God of Christian theism exists,’ and given the definition of God that comes with that ex hypothesi, can you defend Coyne’s position that such a God ought to be regarded as potentially being able to commit divine suicide?” You failed utterly.

    First, you pointed out that one can pick and choose all kinds of things out of thousands of years of theology. That’s not exactly a responsible way of dealing with “the definition of God that comes with that ex hypothesi. Do you even know what Christian theism teaches about God?

    I doubt it, because the way you deal with the suicide question is in terms of whether suicide is a sin, and that you cannot be sure suicide is a sin. That has nothing to do, my friend, with whether the God of Christian theism can will himself out of existence. He is being itself. He cannot will that being not be. Nor can he will harm to himself, for multiple reasons, one of which is that just as God cannot will being not to be, the concept of harm to God is meaningless in Christian theism. You are displaying your ignorance of what you claim to be talking about, and you are (quite simply) wrong.

    You find it curious that I said this:

    Tom moves to a further comment: “I find it curious that Alexander references “arguments” (plural), when the neo-atheist arguments typically boil down to one:
    1. If God exists, his primary concern would necessarily be to justify His existence to me (since I, the Rational Man [tm], demand it).
    2. Inexplicably, God declines to play by my rules and jump through my hoops (to be known hereafter as “evidence”).
    3. Therefore, God does not exist.”

    I found it curious that I said it, too. I didn’t remember writing it. So I checked, and indeed, I did not. Doug did.

    Then you say,

    So, let’s look at the real world, which, incidentally, is a fun way to summarize the only argument atheists, in fact, do make;

    “1. There is no evidence for a god. 2. Therefore, there probably isn’t any god.”

    Have evidence? Then bring it; surely a few thousand years should be enough to dig up at least a smidgen of something that claims to be such an integral part of everything.

    Define evidence, please, without begging the question. We have evidence, if you know what evidence means in a non-circular definition of the word.

    You throw in a straw man for good measure:

    so the danger of bringing in this New Age version of god is a testament to the undefined, to the flaky thought-through concepts that you build your argument on.

    It is undefined in your own imagination. You don’t know how well defined it is, do you? (See above.)

    And you accuse me of sophistry?????

  44. Doug says:

    @Alexander:

    Yes, Tom is correct, it was I who claimed that atheist arguments all amount to:

    1. If God exists, his primary concern would necessarily be to justify His existence to me (since I, the Rational Man [tm], demand it).
    2. Inexplicably, God declines to play by my rules and jump through my hoops (to be known hereafter as “evidence”).
    3. Therefore, God does not exist.

    In response, you wrote that all atheist arguments are really:

    1. There is no evidence for a god.
    2. Therefore, there probably isn’t any god.

    I rest my case :D

    But let me attempt to make myself a little clearer…

    Your preference to define evidence as the kind of thing that only a god-which-doesn’t-exist would ever evince doesn’t make your conclusion very surprising.

    Too bad you choose to be blind to the mountains of evidence for the God-Who-Exists:
    – Existence. Really. There is no explanation for existence apart from God. Existence is evidence for God.
    – Life. There is no explanation for life apart from God. Life is evidence for God.
    – Consciousness. There is no explanation for consciousness apart from God. Consciousness is evidence for God.
    – Language. There is no explanation for language apart from God. Language is evidence for God.
    – Rationality. There is no explanation for rationality apart from God. Rationality is evidence for God.
    – Art. There is no explanation for art apart from God. Art is evidence for God.
    – Morality. There is no explanation for morality apart from God. Morality is evidence for God.
    – Humanity. There is no explanation for humanity apart from God. (Understand that I am talking about what really makes us human — all those things that modern biology is at a loss to explain). Humanity is evidence for God.
    – You, Alexander. Every rational, conscious, introspective, artistic inclination you’ve ever had; every inclination to kindness; every exercise of communication or understanding. You, bearing the “image of God” are all the evidence that anyone should ever need to conclude that God exists. Look in the mirror. Know thyself. You are evidence for God.

  45. JAD says:

    Alexander wrote on his blog:

    Quick aside, though, as this whole section stands as an answer to another commenter JAD who said “Again, there is nothing logically contradictory about the premise “that Something has always existed.”” Yes, you’re right. However, the point admittedly clumsily made was that Christians refuse to give anything but their god the privilege to having always existed, like matter, energy, empty space, or the universe – as opposed to the more popular known universe – and they refuse this not because it isn’t plausible or logical, but because they don’t like it or don’t agree with it.

    That is not my reasoning at all. I believe that the origin of the universe is best explained by an eternally existing transcendent mind (God) because THAT IS THE BEST EXPLANATION. Naturalism doesn’t really give us an explanation because it assumes that natural causes (or natural explanations) are the only kind of explanations that are acceptable.

    At it’s very best, however, naturalism can only explain the origin of the universe by appealing to some kind infinite regress. But an infinite regress is not really an explanation, because any explanation it arrives at must be explained by something else, which must in turn be explained by something even further down the natural causal chain etc. etc. etc. In other words, you end up with an explanation of an explanation of explanation… forever and ever and ever… (like turtles all the way down.) I suppose that is possible but how in the world would you ever prove it?

    By the way, naturalistic explanations about the origin of the universe are not scientific explanations. Astronomy and physics can take us back to the big bang but not before the big bang. In other words, to explain the big bang we have to consider what existed, both logically and chronologically, “before”– if there was a before– the big bang

  46. Tom writes: “I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re referring to. Which premises did I change?”

    Ok, tricky quoting back and forth, but basically Coyne wrote in his commentary on Plantingas argument that “Couldn’t God, if he’s omnipotent, commit divine suicide?” Coyne is being tongue-in-cheek (but not that easily dismissed), referring to the general application of omnipotancy ;

    1. A deity is able to do absolutely anything, even the logically impossible, i.e., pure agency.
    2. A deity is able to do anything that it chooses to do.
    3. A deity is able to do anything that is in accord with its own nature (thus, for instance, if it is a logical consequence of a deity’s nature that what it speaks is truth, then it is not able to lie).
    4. Hold that it is part of a deity’s nature to be consistent and that it would be inconsistent for said deity to go against its own laws unless there was a reason to do so.
    5. A deity is able to do anything that corresponds with its omniscience and therefore with its worldplan.

    You then say that it is *one* of these (or some version of it), to which I said that you’ve narrowed down the scope of your gods omnipotancy that wasn’t in Coynes nor Plantingas definition at the time the argument was made, and that you can’t ridicule Coyne for not latching on to your specific definition that Plantinga and / or Coyne may or may not support. I then go on to discuss a little bit about which omnipotancy you’re talking about, but that’s addressed elsewhere.

    Onwards, you write (snippet): “If your long discourse on the mysteries of origins was intended to answer that statement of mine, it was completely off the point.”

    I’m kinda sad that you didn’t understand this part. No, I went into a long explanation of the origin of the caused universe by pointing out that since we don’t *actually* know if it is caused or simply have been around forever, there is no basis for Plantinga to define your god as eternal but not the universe. We don’t know that the universe isn’t eternal, only that the known universe – defined painstakingly on my blog – had a beginning; this is a human construct in trying to understand a certain abstract concept, and like all human constructs fuzzy and probably wrong the bigger and more encompassing they become. His argument is that only your god is uncaused and eternal. And I’m asking why. We don’t know that the universe isn’t eternal, it just might be. So why omit it in the argument? Ie. it becomes an argument where the ignorance and arrogance are part of the premises, and that, my friend, is just uncooth. You define the universe to *be* caused, therefore it works for you. I’m pointing out the fallacy of that definition.

    You go on to say on this that “Two answers. One, that’s not why I refuse it. I refuse it because there are good reasons in science and in philosophy to refuse it. Two: the reason you don’t like the idea of God always existing is because you don’t like it or don’t agree with it.”

    One: Ok, show me. Two: no, it’s because of lack of evidence. (And before you leap to a JAD answer, I mean scientific evidence, not some wishy-washy “evidence” which means very little)

    Onwards, you say “My point was that you were making evidence-free assertions. Your point that science deals in evidence is astonishingly oblivious to the fact that your bluff has been called, you made a claim with no support, and you were wrong. Where do you think you get by talking about something else?”

    I’ve tried to parse this (and your preceding paragraphs) a few times, and every time I get close to thinking I’ve got it, I realize that I don’t. Maybe I’m lacking something, but I can’t figure it out. Could you be more specific as to what claims I’ve made that aren’t evidence-based? I fear we’re talking past eachother on this.

    However, you go on to chastise me with: “I doubt it, because the way you deal with the suicide question is in terms of whether suicide is a sin, and that you cannot be sure suicide is a sin. That has nothing to do, my friend, with whether the God of Christian theism can will himself out of existence.”

    Explain why not. If you’re going down the path of something being logically consistent, then fine, make that argument, but I dare say that the more you try to pin it down, the less Christian your god becomes (which, again, I thought I made clear. I wasn’t being mean to Christians for their beliefs, just that the Christian god isn’t defined easily as Plantinga there was doing). But please explain why god can’t will himself out of existance.

    “He is being itself.”

    This is a non-answer.

    “You are displaying your ignorance of what you claim to be talking about, and you are (quite simply) wrong.”

    As a former Christian I do have a fairly good idea about this, and I’m not simply wrong; I might concede to be jaded or seeing things differently, I certainly see things from a different angle, but wrong? Demonstrate it without snark.

    “I found it curious that I said it, too.”

    Yes, I made a mistake, my appologises. I’ve fixed it in the post. You dig into my reply, though, with: “Define evidence, please, without begging the question.”

    Scientific evidence. I thought I made that very clear at the top, but I’ve made it even more clear now, I hope. On a scale of “evidence”, I don’t mean circumstantial evidence, but direct evidence, something that is clear and understandable, something that fits the data from when we measure the universe.

    Tom continues: “We have evidence, if you know what evidence means in a non-circular definition of the word.”

    I would love to see that evidence, unless you mean ‘revelation’ which – as I pointed out in my post – isn’t evidence that some guy in an asylum actually is Jesus.

    “You don’t know how well defined it is, do you? (See above.)”

    Yes, I do. Poorly. Or, to be a bit more specific, one can always create an internally logically consistent argument, it’s when you try to link it to reality it most often falls apart. Yours and Plantingas definitions do just that; fall apart under scrutiny.

  47. Grace: “What’s the point of you creating a response on your own blog?”

    Because that is how the blogosphere works. I’m sorry you don’t like it.

  48. Doug writes: “There is no explanation for existence apart from God. Existence is evidence for God.”

    You’re joking, surely? You go on and on that all things have no other explanation than “god did it”, therefore god did it. You say “You are evidence for God”, and I think I realize what the real problem here is;

    Your usage of the word “evidence” is so abstract that it means absolutely nothing. All of those things you claim to be evidence for *your* god can equally well be evidence for any other god. Your argument is just, well, bizarre; you’re just defining the problems of your argument away, invoking the biggest god of the gaps I have ever seen. Sorry that I can’t take that seriously.

  49. JAD writes: “I believe that the origin of the universe is best explained by an eternally existing transcendent mind (God) because THAT IS THE BEST EXPLANATION.”

    This is your opinion, of course, but you realize that there is no explanation in your preferred explanation, right?

    “At it’s very best, however, naturalism can only explain the origin of the universe by appealing to some kind infinite regress.”

    No, it doesn’t, and I think your knowledge in this area is, hmm, wanting. Yelling “infinite regress” doesn’t make it true. Are you going to imply second law of thermodynamics next? There’s plenty of cosmological and physics concepts that are trapped in simplistic mathematics, however if one take a few steps up the ladder of complexity things are looking up. :)

    “In other words, you end up with an explanation of an explanation of explanation… forever and ever and ever… (like turtles all the way down.)”

    If *you* can explain your god without infinite regress, why can’t others? What is it about your god that avoids this trap? Eternal? Note my blog post and why I went on about cosmology; for all we know, nature is eternal. You have no better explanation, and, to be quite honest, the god hypothesis is terrible in *explaining* stuff; “god did it” doesn’t explain it, it waves the problems away so that you won’t need to think too much about it. *That* is how you come across.

  50. Grace says:

    Wow, Alexander. You really need someone to talk to you, don’t you? I’ll oblige you for a short time. It has already been explained that the universe can’t be eternal. If you don’t want to take my word for it or others on here, then take Akexander Vilenkin’s word. Here is the link that has his notes from his presentation on a PDF link where he had given a speech on Friday around 4 pm. Lisa Grossman quoted Vilenkin in the New Scientist magazine as saying, “All the evidence points to the universe as having a beginning.” That means that it’s not eternal, and you can read why in his notes. http://www.ctc.cam.ac.uk/stephen70/programme.html. So your explanation of the universe being eternal fails to replace God as the First Cause. That’s the little bit of time I will give to you.

  51. Grace says:

    Let me say this so that there is no confusion this time. You’re wrong. You’re wrong about the universe being eternal when all the EVIDENCE points to the universe as having a beginning as was demonstrated by Vilenkin. There’s no way around that, do you understand?

  52. Grace: “Wow, Alexander, you really need someone to talk to you, don’t you?”

    Huh? What is that supposed to mean?

    About Vilenkin: My first question is, of course, do you understand what his presentation is arguing for? Do you understand the different models talked about? And, did you know, that not all agree that his probability is anywhere near correct? Guth in the same conference is arguing eternal inflation which Vilenkin introduced! What reason should I have to take either seriously? Because they support your pet theory? Because he says so? I could point to other esteemed astrophysicist who hold different views, and they will claim that evidence point some other way. Vilenkov is limited in scope here, probably because of the context of the conference. What is needed is direct evidence, as discussed further up, of which there is a sad scarcity of. Read Krauss’ “Universe from nothing” for more details on infinite regress, static open universe vs. the multi-verse, and so on, fun stuff. I can sum up at least one argument that goes against a singular beginning (which is what you want), which is that energy and anti-energy measured in the universe is precisely zero, and this means that the universe *can* have one beginning . or an eternal of them. The evidence doesn’t point either way (and Vilenkov’s presentation says very little about the evidence as opposed to point out theoretical problems with some of the proposed models. I’m not a theoretical physicist and can’t vouch for the accuracy of that simpler model he presents; I remember Feynman was famous for reversing time-space to calculate quantum mechanics, so we know that models are useful even if they are, probably, incorrect) All of this is part of the discourse at this time, though, and note that even Vilenkov doesn’t make huge, stupid claims like you do that others are absolutely wrong because they don’t completely agree with something (that you don’t seem to understand). In fact, there is absolutely no discrepancy between what I’ve said about the state of the universe before the big bang and what Vilenkov is postulating, and it leads me to the conclusion that you’re jumping on guns you don’t know how to use. He hasn’t got the absolute knowledge you claim to have, he has a hunch. Which brings us to this; even if the universe did have a beginning, how – exactly – does that imply your Christian god? Even if the universe began none of this talks about the need for a cause, some magical being causing it; the null hypothesis is actually stronger, and *that* is saying something (that I suspect you’ve missed). Forgive me in advance if I’ve misrepresented your knowledge of these things, but deary, deary me; yelling “YOU ARE WRONG!” is just so idiotic. Do you understand?

  53. Doug says:

    @Alexander,
    So there appear to be four options, starting with your preference(s):
    1. The Universe had no “beginning”, and does not require a cause.
    2. The Universe had a “beginning”, but does not require a cause.
    3. The Universe had no “beginning”, but still requires a cause.
    4. The Universe had a “beginning”, and requires a cause.
    As you likely know, there is a large body of philosophical work (associated with Thomas Aquinas) that covers #3 and #4 — that is, “reasonable” grounds exist to claim that the Universe requires a cause whether or not it had a beginning.
    On the other hand, #2 requires a suspension of scientific and logical principles. To claim that it could be a better “explanation” than “God did it” is entertaining.
    That leaves #1, which is offered in spite of some strong evidence. Granted this evidence is not conclusive. But at a minimum, the evidence against it invalidates any claim on its behalf to “scientific truth”.
    So, even if you dismiss the Thomistic arguments, pitting #1 against #4 is by no means a Naturalistic slam dunk. You might not like “God did it” as an explanation, but when the only alternative is “Nothing did it”, you shouldn’t be surprised if folks aren’t particularly impressed by the attempt — particularly from an advocate of “scientific evidence”!

    you realize that there is no explanation in your preferred explanation, right?

    On the contrary… but you realize that there is no explanation apart from “our” preferred explanation, right?

    Your usage of the word “evidence” is so abstract that it means absolutely nothing.

    Not guilty. “Evidence” is much more nuanced than you might be likely to admit, but for it to mean anything at all requires (at a minimum) the miracle of communication. You might prefer to overlook the fundamental philosophical difficulties with ‘explaining’ such a commonplace, but they don’t magically vanish on that basis.

    All of those things you claim to be evidence for *your* god can equally well be evidence for any other god.

    Newsflash: there is no such thing as “*my* god”. I am equally an atheist when it comes to such a non-entity. But this isn’t about me. Really. I was talking about God. Not one-of-many. The One.

  54. d says:

    You might not like “God did it” as an explanation, but when the only alternative is “Nothing did it”, you shouldn’t be surprised if folks aren’t particularly impressed by the attempt — particularly from an advocate of “scientific evidence”!

    That’s a false dichotomy.

    A third alternative is “something did it, that wasnt God”. Something perhaps timeless, perhaps non-temporal, and perhaps mindless possibly did it.

  55. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    A third alternative is “something did it, that wasnt God”. Something perhaps timeless, perhaps non-temporal, and perhaps mindless possibly did it.

    A string of perhaps does not an argument make.

    And before you respond, acquaint yourself with the relevant arguments on the theistic side, which are *deductive* metaphysical arguments that do purport to show that the cause of the universe *must* be God as conceived by classical theism, not inductive, probabilistic arguments to a best explanation — although those types of arguments also exist, but of necessity they are not only weaker on probative force, they also do not get us to the fullness of God but arguably something less, say a demiurge, as posited by the ancient Gnostic sects.

  56. Grace says:

    Alexander,

    What it means is that you have already been responded to, yet you still want to rehash the arguments and insist that you are right. Is there something that you know about the universe that cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin does not?

  57. @Doug: There is just so much wrong with what you write, so many logical twists and turns that one cannot help feeling a little bit overwhelmed by the feeling that you are on a different planet from mine. I don’t mean this in a bad way, I’m not calling you names, but your logic seems to be, um, well, not of the kind I’m used to, let’s just say it that way.

    When I say that all of those things you claim to be evidence for *your* god can equally well be evidence for any other god, the comeback to this isn’t to say”I’m not talking about other gods, only god.” You are unfortunately missing the fact that you are excluding what I say from this discussion because you have defined your world in which counter arguments of this kind don’t exist. To you there is only god, so there are no other gods (or no other non-god states) to compare it to. On this basis there is no basis for argument.

    Also, why the quotation marks in ‘The Universe had a “beginning”’?

  58. @Grace: What an arrogant reply. I’m truly saddened by this kind of lazy righteous kind of tactics, but, if nothing else, it says something about your character.

    Why don’t you instead actually engage with the questions I asked you, and then we can all determine whether you understand enough of Vilenkin’s argument to merit that you have absolute knowledge about my ignorance towards his argument and other subjects of this kind, and how they diverge from what I’ve previously stated? That would be, well, the honest thing to do.

  59. Tom Gilson says:

    Alexander, why is it that you would not engage Doug’s four options for where the universe came from? Surely on all planets it should be possible to recognize that there is something there to chew on, and he didn’t even use the word “God” until late in the discussion.

  60. @Rodrigues: “A string of perhaps does not an argument make.”

    Neither does a “get a clue.” Pointing out a false dichotomy should be taken seriously. You should argue that it doesn’t; all those “perhaps” point to a wealth of counter-arguments that needs to be addressed if the theist model were to be taken seriously. You are shifting focus away from what matters onto stuff that doesn’t.

  61. @Tom: Actually, I did at the end there, in fewer words than normal, perhaps. I need to know why he wraps quotation marks around the universe for every proposition. It makes me suspect the worst, and I need to know before venturing down another garden path. What is meant by “universe”?

    Besides, Doug hasn’t engaged with my original questions, only tried to summarize with the four possible propositions (which, like ‘d’ wrote, I can’t accept are the only options. There’s *many* options, and this kind of simplification is too close to wrong for my tastes).

  62. Tom Gilson says:

    I don’t know what Doug means by universe, but I think it’s probably best to speak of it in terms of the totality of physical reality for these purposes. For example, if one takes it as possible that our presently observable universe is one of many, or the most recent in a long series of universes, or some combination of those options or even something more intensely confusing, and if one takes that to be something like the “Grand Multiverse,” then Doug’s 4 options seem to apply to that “Grand Multiverse.” Wherever and whenever it began, it began, for instance, or else it didn’t begin; and if it began, it began by way of some external causative principle (external to all physical reality, that is) or else it began by way of some causal principle that was internal to it, which seems logically impossible. And so on.

  63. @Tom: No, Doug’s number 4 does not apply, as it doesn’t allow anything to be eternal; it’s specific about the need for causes. Again, this is just going round in circles, you people demanding that anything except your god needs to be caused. *That* is the problem.

  64. Doug says:

    @Alexander,
    Seriously, I thought (like Tom) that the four options pretty much were the four options. No tricks. If you think I missed one, please feel free to fill us in. As for “beginning”, the scare-quotes were simply to indicate that the origin of time-space likely presents itself differently than we typically mean by “beginning” is all.

    you people demanding that anything except your god needs to be caused.

    This does indeed suggest the need for some inter-planetary communication. :)
    You really don’t get what I said earlier, so likely repeating myself isn’t going to help. But just like “the truth holds us”, we don’t “own” any god. The God who created the world, the God who (at least relative to this time-space-matter-energy contigency-party we call a universe, and since we don’t know any better we can leave it at that) is indeed uncaused. He is not “a god”. He is not “my god”. He is God. If He were caused, he wouldn’t be God. If He were material, he wouldn’t be God. If He were conceivable, he wouldn’t be God. Being immaterial, inconceivable and uncaused are part of the nature of the Cause of the universe. When I point to God, it is more than just the hiccup of subjective juice sloshing around in my meat-computer that you might prefer it to be. I (the person) am connected to Him (the origin of Personhood, communication, reason, and consciousness). And if you weren’t in such profound denial, you could be, too :-)

    but your logic seems to be, um, well, not of the kind I’m used to, let’s just say it that way.

    very charitably put, thank you.

    you have defined your world in which counter arguments of this kind don’t exist.

    might you have defined your world without any room for God to reveal Himself?
    (btw, if you reread Tom careful, you will see that he is quite correct … my #4 does not apply to what?)

  65. @Doug: “You really don’t get what I said earlier”

    You’d be surprised. No, I got it fine enough, I just don’t think I have been successful in explaining what is wrong with that.

    “The God who created the world, the God who (at least relative to this time-space-matter-energy contigency-party we call a universe, and since we don’t know any better we can leave it at that) is indeed uncaused. He is not “a god”. He is not “my god”. He is God. If He were caused, he wouldn’t be God. If He were material, he wouldn’t be God. If He were conceivable, he wouldn’t be God. Being immaterial, inconceivable and uncaused are part of the nature of the Cause of the universe.”

    A better definition of a wishy-washy New Age all-is-love god-of-the-abstract I couldn’t have asked for. Thanks. :)

    Don’t you see just how much certain knowledge you propose here? And yet, why are you so certain? What evidence have you got for any of it?

    You say “just god” instead of “my god” as if that makes the slightest difference to your epistemic framework, and that this ontological tweak somehow saves you from semantic corruption of the argument you’re making.

    “And if you weren’t in such profound denial”

    I’m not in denial; I want evidence. Good evidence. I don’t want to live out and waste my life believing in things that aren’t true; unlike you, I only have one to live, and I’d like to live it well. Although, I have to admit, engaging in this kind of discussions online doesn’t help my case, although I chalk it up to my passion for truth and altruism and empathy :)

    “might you have defined your world without any room for God to reveal Himself?”

    I don’t define much of anything. In a good moment I might even say that all ontological definitions are false models, that our ability to remember corrupts discourse more than enhance it, that our thirst for abstracts hinders our true understanding of our world. In fact, I’m rather open to the mysteries that lie behind the big bang, to whatever puzzles we find behind our efforts at a unified theory of everything, of what we can hope to find inside whatever the smalles waveform swims in.

    But I can only with certainty say one thing; that we have no idea of what that is. None. Zilch. Any bias is, by its very nature, wrong in some form. And that include your conception of god. Or just god.

  66. Tom Gilson says:

    It’s Doug, not Dough. Mangling others’ names is a far too common form of disrespect. There are discussion policies here that you agree to abide by if you’re commenting here.

  67. @Tom: Uh, that’s called a spelling-mistake. Or, more likely, fat-fingers disease for writing to fast. Don’t apply to malice where stupidity (or haste) is sufficient. :)

  68. Doug says:

    @Alexander,

    A better definition of a wishy-washy New Age all-is-love god-of-the-abstract I couldn’t have asked for.

    please pay closer attention.

    What evidence have you got for any of it?

    You mean, what evidence besides existence, besides life, besides consciousness, besides communication, besides language, besides rationality, besides emotion, besides morality, besides art, besides love…? You mean what evidence-that-we-could-never-expect-in-the-first-place? Please.

    You say “just god” instead of “my god” as if that makes the slightest difference to your epistemic framework, and that this ontological tweak somehow saves you from semantic corruption of the argument you’re making.

    You use words like “ontology” “epistemology” and “semantics” to pretend that what we are discussing is in my head. But like I’ve been trying to tell you, that’s not what I’m discussing! :-)

    Any bias is, by its very nature, wrong in some form.

    Does that include bias against (even entertaining the existence of) the Source of Life, Rationality, and Morality?

  69. @Doug: “please pay closer attention.”

    You seem to have glossed over most of what I wrote in relation to the definition of god in the argument. I don’t understand why you can’t or seem unwilling to address it.

    “You mean, what evidence besides existence, besides life, besides consciousness, besides communication, besides language, besides rationality, besides emotion, besides morality, besides art, besides love…?”

    *sigh* How is any of this evidence for a god? We’ve been at this junction before, and you seem unwilling to see that all those things are actually explained (as opposed to say “god did it”) in other epistemic models. You are not presenting evidence, you’re just pointing to stuff you think is complex and say “god did it”, as if that somehow fixes the underlying problem of the argument.

    Anyway, it seems that me using big words is now becoming problematic, so I won’t enquire about what’s in your head any more.

  70. Melissa says:

    Alexander,

    I, for one, am very interested to know what option Doug is missing here:

    1. The Universe had no “beginning”, and does not require a cause.
    2. The Universe had a “beginning”, but does not require a cause.
    3. The Universe had no “beginning”, but still requires a cause.
    4. The Universe had a “beginning”, and requires a cause.

    What is offered here is a launching pad for a discussion of what kinds of things need causes, what kind of things could be self-existent etc. Surely these questions are pertinent to the conversation and yet you seem to be avoiding addressing them.

  71. Doug says:

    @Alexander,
    I’ll be delighted to respond more fully tomorrow, but why should I address a question that has been “framed” outside of reality-as-I-know-it?

    all those things are actually explained in other epistemic models.

    “Explained away,” perhaps. “Explained”? Not at all. Not even close. My research is in language. There is no naturalistic explanation for language. None. You can check it out yourself. And language is much easier than morality or consciousness. You’re bluffing.

  72. @Melissa and Doug: Ok, let’s go through this ;

    1. The Universe had no “beginning”, and does not require a cause.
    2. The Universe had a “beginning”, but does not require a cause.
    3. The Universe had no “beginning”, but still requires a cause.
    4. The Universe had a “beginning”, and requires a cause.

    First, what is “the universe”? This is the fundamental problem I tried to explain in my original blog post; the difference between the all-encompassing universe which contain everything that could possibly ever exist – or a version of it with what exists right now – and the known universe which is 13.7 billion years old and we started counting its age of from the big bang. Also, as a sub-point, what are the constraints of any universe that isn’t all-encompassing, which also *includes* the super-natural and gods?

    Second, what does it mean that something begins? When did I, as a human being, begin? Conception when my mums egg blended with dads sperm, or first cell split, or first trimester, or birth? Does the universe begin at one point even though all its components already existed but a big bang put them together?

    Third, which dips into the second point, is that whatever it means that something begins in our case, I suspect you mean when something went from nothing to something. I am guessing, of course, so feel free to jump in, but there are some pretty serious consequences to our 4 propositions depending on whether something starts as an event, or is created from something, or spring from nothing, or created from nothing, and even what this “nothing” really is. What do you mean by nothing?

    Four, causality (or causation) from nothing is very distinct from causality from events, which are distinct from causality in physics. It is dangerous to mix up these three, and I see no definition of it anywhere in these propositions. From context I can also point out that causality of science, law, psychology and so forth is rather distinct from omnicausality in religion, and again I’m pointing out the troubles of mixing these up (although I think we can see it clearly in action :) )

    Five, causality is irrelevant to eternal things. You define your god as eternal to get away from this problem, yet refuse to allow others to define, say, the universe or nature as eternal to do the same. If the propositions are to be taken seriously, causation needs a better treatment.

    Six, we’ve still got quotation marks around “beginning.” Why?

    Seven, why the false dichotomy of whether a cause is either required or not? Something can have causes without them being required, likewise eternal things don’t have causes but may need a cause to begin. It’s partly this latter point I’ve been trying to get across, unsuccessfully.

    Eight, is your god part of the universe, or distinct from it? The propositions don’t mean a thing if they are part of an argument *for* god but exclusive to its definition. Apart from “god is the gaps of our knowledge”, what is god in the original four propositions?

    Here I’ll try rewrite the propositions without all the baggage;

    1. Nature is eternal (no causality)
    2. Nature is now eternal (beginning causality)
    3. Nature is finite (beginning and end causality)
    4. Nature is now finite (ending causality)

    Now we need an additional 12 points if we add the dimension of the super-natural. Each new dimension (sub-atomic realities, dimensions as applied to string theory, and so on) requires power^2 definitions for *each* new dimension, so it doesn’t take us long to get into a serious mess, and certainly outside the bounds of a comment field of a blog somewhat unrelated (although, I can tell that you people don’t like to click on links to other places that responds to this stuff, so I won’t do that).

    However, I know that you’re not going to allow for or agree to this rewrite of the propositions, so no need to comment on that, it was just an example of something that is less loaded with shaky definitions (although I can go into a long spiel on the definitions of eternal, finite and causality where they aren’t as solid as even I would like them to be). Let’s just say that I disagree strongly to the way the propositions are set up because they are undefined and poorly explained.

    Anyway, hastily replied.

  73. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Alexander Johannesen:

    A string of perhaps does not an argument make.

    Neither does a “get a clue.”

    Actually it does in this case, because saying that “something perhaps timeless, perhaps non-temporal, and perhaps mindless possibly did it” just betrays a profound ignorance of what the metaphysical deductive arguments purport to prove.

    all those “perhaps” point to a wealth of counter-arguments that needs to be addressed if the theist model were to be taken seriously. You are shifting focus away from what matters onto stuff that doesn’t.

    Then make the counter-arguments and I will respond to them. But I doubt you will even get off the ground judging by such howlers as (post #64):

    No, Doug’s number 4 does not apply, as it doesn’t allow anything to be eternal; it’s specific about the need for causes. Again, this is just going round in circles, you people demanding that anything except your god needs to be caused. *That* is the problem.

    Now what did Doug say in point 4? Let’s see:

    The Universe had a “beginning”, and requires a cause. As you likely know, there is a large body of philosophical work (associated with Thomas Aquinas) that covers #3 and #4 — that is, “reasonable” grounds exist to claim that the Universe requires a cause whether or not it had a beginning.

    Doug is factually correct as Aquinas famously held that it was impossible to prove from reason alone that the universe was past-finite, in other words, that the past-finiteness of the universe was a piece of revealed knowledge. So he concocted his arguments in a way that even *if* the universe were eternal — as Aristotle, the major influence in Aquinas’ thought, thought it was — it would still be the case that it would have to have a cause and be conserved in existence at each and every moment. Now it is obvious that you do not have the faintest clue of what Aquinas means (proof: “you people demanding that anything except your god needs to be caused”. Wrong, as the arguments *prove* that God is a necessary being, they do *not* assume it. Or the fact that the arguments *prove*, or purport to prove, that God is ipsum esse subsistens so that your question amounts to ask what causes existence itself to exist…). Really, learn and understand first, and only *then* lodge your objections. Otherwise, we will be doing nothing but correcting your ignorance.

  74. @Rodrigues: “Otherwise, we will be doing nothing but correcting your ignorance.”

    Good grief, you are so condescending to anyone that don’t adhere to your opinion. You come across so righteous in this by throwing friggin’ Aquinas and necessary being at us (is this more inspiration from Plantinga, I wonder?), all this venomous “you are ignorant, and you need to read more theist philosophy” when it is absolutely clear that you don’t accept any other philosophy (by intent or ignorance) or opinion; Let’s put it mildly and just say that I don’t think the majority of professional philosophers agree with Aquinas’ argument. The eternal universe does not *have* to have a cause, even if you shout it or think Aquinas agree with you. Show me.

    As for your proof of my ignorance, you provide out-of-context snippets that you somehow failed to comprehend (willingly or ignorantly). Are you sure you are engaging here, or are you just being pissed off?

  75. Melissa says:

    Alexander,

    I was going to reply to most of your objections but Tom addressed your concerns in 1 and 2 in his comment at #63. Point 3 highlights a problem with your worldview in dealing with change and permanence. I’m not sure exactly what you expect me to do about that. As for the rest we are unlikely to make any headway in this discussion until we deal with:

    Five, causality is irrelevant to eternal things. You define your god as eternal to get away from this problem, yet refuse to allow others to define, say, the universe or nature as eternal to do the same. If the propositions are to be taken seriously, causation needs a better treatment.

    The first sentence is just an assertion. You would need to back this up with an argument. The second sentence is false and you have been told this multiple times now so you don’t even have the excuse of ignorance. As for the third sentence I agree. How about everything has an explanation that way everything begins on an equal footing. What kind of explanation will depend on what is being explained.

  76. Tom Gilson says:

    Alexander, I appreciate that it was a spelling mistake. Thanks for clarifying that.

  77. Doug says:

    @Alexander

    we’ve still got quotation marks around “beginning.”

    I responded earlier:

    As for “beginning”, the scare-quotes were simply to indicate that the origin of time-space likely presents itself differently than we typically mean by “beginning” is all.

    Is there an objection to that?

    Something can have causes without them being required, likewise eternal things don’t have causes but may need a cause to begin.

    Seriously? These two statements, I’m afraid, are indicative of our miscommunication. Please provide some support for either of them, as they appear (on the basis of how I use those not-even-big words) to be quite false. I think you summed it up well with:

    causation needs a better treatment.

    Perhaps we should begin there.

  78. @Melissa: So, a non-answer, then. To sad, I was hoping someone would actually engage with the problems, but I see only the old “you don’t agree with me, therefore you’re wrong” approach, exemplified by me “having a problem with your worldview” rather than a different epistemology than yours. What I expected to do with that? clarify. Engage. Demonstrate. Agree and disagree. Make me feel like you give a crap by explaining where and why I’m wrong.

    As to the main problems of my point five, everything here are assertions, so clamping down on it for existing instead of asking for clarification is, hmm, disappointing, nor are you engaging with the assertion by giving me contra. And my next statement isn’t unambigiously false, and instead of just saying it is so you could explain what in it is false? That you declare your god eternal? Hardly false. Refuse other concepts the same rights as your god is also arguably true. Only thing I can think of which may be false is the accusation that you define your god eternal to get away from the problem of the first cause, and I’ll admit it’s speculation, however the way to deal with that is to clarify instead of this kind of dismissal.

    Surely, if I am so mistaken and ignorant and careless as you people claim, why does it seem so hard for you to engage with the argument rather than shoo it away? I don’t understand these interactions, and I certainly don’t feel any level of engagement.

  79. Tom Gilson says:

    Alexander,

    Excuse me, but what’s this about a non-answer? You asked “first, what is the universe?” I had already answered, and Melissa referenced that. You’ve ignored it. You complain, “but I see only the old ‘you don’t agree with me, therefore you’re wrong” approach,'” while at the same time you practice, “I don’t care whether you’ve answered a question, I’m going to say you didn’t therefore I’m justified in using scatological language on you.”

    Your complaints regarding answers given to point five are simply opaque. I mean, it’s really hard to know what you’re saying. Let me see what I can do with them anyway. You had said in your point five,

    Five, causality is irrelevant to eternal things. You define your god as eternal to get away from this problem, yet refuse to allow others to define, say, the universe or nature as eternal to do the same. If the propositions are to be taken seriously, causation needs a better treatment.

    Melissa pointed out that your second sentence was wrong. It’s not that we refuse to allow others to define the universe or nature as eternal. As “a launching pad for discussion,” this has been on the table since Doug proposed it as one option:

    1. The Universe had no “beginning”, and does not require a cause….
    3. The Universe had no “beginning”, but still requires a cause.

    If there is any “refusal” at all, it is that 1 and 3 seem to make no coherent sense. God, if God exists, is by definition that which is necessarily eternal; therefore the statement, “God is eternal” is logically coherent. The corresponding statement, “Nature is eternal,” is not clearly coherent at all. There are multiple problems with it: (a) That got the causal chain started? (b) Everything we know about nature leads us to conclude that nature as a whole is contingent, which implies contingent upon something else. (c) The second law of thermodynamics mitigates against an eternally old natural order. (d) Theories of prior universes leading up to our current one seem to resolve to the necessity of an ultimate beginning.

    In other words, God is not the kind of entity such that if he exists, his eternality requires further explanation. Nature is that kind of entity: its eternality does require explanation.

    Now: did I “refuse” you anything there?

  80. Tom Gilson says:

    BTW, here’s part of how eternality fits into the larger discussion.

    If the universe came from literally nothing (as in nothing-nothing; no physical laws, no potentialities, no quantum gravity, just nothing), then that requires explanation. Good luck.

    (If the universe came from Hawking-Mlodinow “nothing,” that’s just a semantic error; their “nothing” is not nothing; and the something that comprises their “nothing” requires explanation for where it came from. That something is natural, a part of nature, so by resorting to that “nothing,” one only pushes back the question of the origins of nature to an earlier stage; it’s still the same question.)

    If the universe did not come from literally nothing, then there is something that has existed eternally. Call that something “e.” If we want to propose some e that has existed eternally, we need to propose some e that can logically, coherently be the kind of thing that could conceivably exist eternally. If we propose that nature is that e, we need to understand how that could be possible. If we propose that God is that e, that explanation is in the definition of God as proposed.

  81. Melissa says:

    Alexander,

    You are attempting to raise objections to our arguments for God but what you are doing is raising objections to what you think are our arguments. The two do not coincide. This has been stated with reasons why but you persist in trying to saddle us with an argument that is not ours. You ask why no one is engaging with your objections, because you are not engaging with what we believe you objections are red herrings. There isn’t much more to say except you’re wrong about what we believe and why we believe it. I’ll give it one more go though, I am an optimist after all. Being eternal is not sufficient to qualify as the first cause.

    exemplified by me “having a problem with your worldview” rather than a different epistemology than yours.

    You where the one complaining about not knowing when a human being begins. That’s a consequence of your materialism. Given what we know of human biology and if you accept A-T metaphysics human beings begin at conception because they have the form of a human being.

    As to the main problems of my point five, everything here are assertions, so clamping down on it for existing instead of asking for clarification is, hmm, disappointing, nor are you engaging with the assertion by giving me contra.

    OK, maybe I was too hasty. Can you fill us in on what kinds of things need causes and why they do or do not need causes. We would say contingent things need a reason for existence outside themselves.

    Only thing I can think of which may be false is the accusation that you define your god eternal to get away from the problem of the first cause, and I’ll admit it’s speculation, however the way to deal with that is to clarify instead of this kind of dismissa

    Generally people will proceed with caution into those areas that they are unfamiliar with. The fact that you would think that is a viable statement is evidence that you are almost completely unfamiliar with any Christian thought (or theistic thought in general). God is clearly portrayed as eternal in the bible, so the idea dates back a long way. Aristotle concluded that there must be something that is purely actual, what he termed the first cause. Building on these ideas Aquinas argued that Aristotles first cause and God as revealed in the bible were the same. That is the condensed version.

  82. Doug says:

    @Alexander,
    Let me get this straight: you would impose constraints on the discussion based on ungrounded, untested, unscientific speculation about the universe, but insist that every reference to God is actually a reference to “our god”?

  83. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Alexander Johannesen:

    Good grief, you are so condescending to anyone that don’t adhere to your opinion. You come across so righteous in this by throwing friggin’ Aquinas and necessary being at us (is this more inspiration from Plantinga, I wonder?), all this venomous “you are ignorant, and you need to read more theist philosophy” when it is absolutely clear that you don’t accept any other philosophy (by intent or ignorance) or opinion

    The adjective “ignorant” is used in its etimological, original sense — a person who ignores or does not know. That you are ignorant of that which you criticize is an objective claim based on your posts. On the other hand, you responded with aspersions (“condescending”, “righteous”, “venomous”) and blind guesses of what I know or do not know.

    Just in the paragraph quoted there are at least two examples of your ignorance and misunderstanding. First, Aquinas is a whole different kettle of fish from Plantinga. In particular, necessary in the Thomistic sense is very different from necessary in the modal sense that Plantinga employs. Since I favor an Aristotelian-Thomist philosophy I have several criticisms of Plantinga (a brilliant philosopher, nonetheless). Your lumping everything together just proves my point. Second, I am talking metaphysics, not “theist philosophy”. Now, I do not know exactly what you mean by the latter, however, if you want to see a thoroughly de-Christianized defense of some of these arguments that go back all the way to Aristotle, see David Conway’s “The rediscovery of Wisdom”.

    Let’s put it mildly and just say that I don’t think the majority of professional philosophers agree with Aquinas’ argument.

    A fallacious appeal to authority.

    The eternal universe does not *have* to have a cause, even if you shout it or think Aquinas agree with you.

    That every contingent being needs to have a cause — and cause here is also a *be*cause, a mode of explanation — is a fundamental principle of being and follows from certain basic metaphysical premises. I will not go over this, but if you want an online reference I can give you, instead I will show some (not all) of the problems with what you are saying.

    1. You are confusing having a beginning in time (and in the case of the universe, also beginning *of* time, or at least “our” time since time is the measure of change) with having a cause, and a sufficient reason, for its existence. The principle of causality, along with the principle of sufficient reason (PSR for short) refers to the latter, not the former, so that being eternal or not is besides the point.

    note: and by the way, just to correct another sloppiness of yours, God is not eternal, God is timeless or outside of time (because He is impassible and devoid of any passive potentiality), which is a different thing.

    2. Aquinas’ was aiming at something much deeper than simply saying that the universe had a cause, but that God, as ipsum esse subsistens, must be sustaining it in its existence at each and every moment, so if per absurdum God were to disappear, the universe and every existent being would likewise cease to be and disappear. Once again, whether the universe is eternal or not, is simply *irrelevant*.

    3. If you wish to maintain that the universe, which for now I will take to be the sum total of things physical (space-time, matter, energy, etc.), does not have a cause, then you have to explain us why are you not special-pleading, since the principle of causality is a cornerstone of science (in the broadest, Aristotelian sense) and denying it is tantamount to stop doing science. If there is no cause or ratio for the universe, then why are there causes for anything at *all*? And note that this is a *metaphysical* question, not a question for the empirical sciences, so invoking whatever scientific facts you care to name, while it certainly can *inform* the argument, it does not suffice to establish it.

    4. If you wish to maintain that the universe does not have a cause, then you are *literally* saying that there is no reason or ratio for the universe, which is embracing irrationality and destroys the very possibility of (empirical) science, for science consists in noting regularities and proposing causes thereof, and thus *presupposes* the principle of causality.

    5. If you wish to maintain that the universe does not have a cause, then you must provide an argument, simply waving your arms about is not enough.

    6. You seem to elide the simple fact that all the empirical evidence we have points to the universe having had a beginning. The Kalam argument (which I think it is a good argument overall but *not* as powerful as Aquinas’ arguments for reasons I will not explain here) purports to give a metaphysical, deductive proof that the universe is past-finite and thus it came into existence, and thus it had to have a cause by the principle of causality.

  84. JamesM says:

    Your rebuttal is to Coyne is to make up attributes about God out of thin air. That’s it?

  85. Tom Gilson says:

    No, JamesM, that’s not it, thank you.

  86. JamesM says:

    Au contraire

    “1. God’s omnipotence is not (and no thinker has ever thought it was) his ability to do anything at all. It is his having the power to do anything that power can do.”

    An attribute you pulled out of thin air. Some more attributes you pull out of thin air:

    “There are many things God cannot do. He cannot lie.”

    He lied in the garden of Eden when he declared that whosever shall eat of the fruit of the tree knowledge shall die that very day. The serpent comes around and tells eve that God lied and she found that out aftering eating the fruit.

    “He cannot deny himself, for he himself is truth. When humans do those kinds of things they are not acts of power; rather they are acts in propositional, logical space.”

    Provide evidence for that. Of course you don’t have any because it was pulled out of thin air.

    “God cannot perform what is logically impossible. No amount of power could create a square circle, for example.”
    That is a statement a humble mortal topologist would never make, let alone an all knowing, all powerful God.

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxicab_geometry

    ” Nor could power make being into non-being. That last clause relates to the fact that God is being itself, and that all else that exists derives its existence from him.”

    Pulled out of thim air. Being itself? Pre-scientific Aristotelian nonsense. Evidence? You have none.

    “What Coyne is really telling us is that he doesn’t know the meaning of the term omnipotent. Yet he feels to mock Alvin Plantinga over it anyway.”

    Kettle. Meet pot.

    “2. Nothing can cause itself. No thinking person thinks that God caused (or causes) himself. God is self-existent, but not self-caused. In order to cause itself, the Universe would have had to exist before it existed.

    No one has demonstrated that God exists, that God is being, that God is uncaused. It is only postulated with the qualifications that nothing else has these properties but God and therefore God. All pulled out of thin air.

    ““As we know,” that’s not possible.”

    The cause of the universe does not point to any cause, but you say that is impossible and you use your assumptions to prove that your assumptions are correct with only your assumptions as evidence.

  87. Tom Gilson says:

    Thin air?

    No, my friend, apparently you do not know where I obtained those characteristics from, do you? And not knowing, nevertheless you have boldly told me what is not true, as if it were. That’s not wise, you know.

    I am working on another project and I do not have time this late in the evening (U.S. Eastern Time) to explain it all. But I assure you that thin air is not the answer.

    I will at least offer you this much. You are irrational to argue anything at all here on the basis that

    No one has demonstrated that God exists, that God is being, that God is uncaused. It is only postulated with the qualifications that nothing else has these properties but God and therefore God. All pulled out of thin air.

    One reason that’s irrational is (among other things) we can talk about God in these terms arguendo (or ex hypothesi), without having first demonstrated their truth. The demonstration is irrelevant to our doing so in those terms; and if you read Plantinga carefully, he does something much like that.

    Another reason is because there is a centuries-long heritage of thinking behind those attributes. It goes back at least to Aristotle. I did not invent them. Thin air did not support them for all those many years. You do not know of what you speak.

    A third reason is because the question Coyne raises is whether Plantinga is being rational in Plantinga’s own terms. Plantinga’s terms are relevant to such a question, are they not?

    In fact it would be more accurate to say that your accusation that I pulled these things out of thin air was something you pulled out of thin air. You do not have centuries of thinkers backing you in that assertion, after all, do you?

    Oh, by the way, your taxicab square circle is an equivocation at best. Where it is on your wikipedia page, I cannot tell, but I’ll grant you the benefit of the doubt on that; still I’m sure that if there is some topological trick to create a square circle, the definition of one or both of those terms gets altered to suit the purpose: a classic instance of the fallacy of equivocation.

    I do get tired of atheists who cannot stumble through one comment like this without multiple identifiable logical fallacies and/or bold authoritative statements without knowledge, who also purvey themselves as being the defenders of reason. Incompetence in reason is no defense of reason.

  88. Tom Gilson says:

    And why is it that of those here who have objected to my statement, “nothing can cause itself,” none of you have explained how something could do that? Why have none of you grappled with the requirement that for a thing to cause itself, it must exist (logically and/or chronologically) before it exists? You just complain that I’m talking about theology. But that’s not a theological problem. It’s a logical problem.

  89. Melissa says:

    Where it is on your wikipedia page, I cannot tell, but I’ll grant you the benefit of the doubt on that; still I’m sure that if there is some topological trick to create a square circle, the definition of one or both of those terms gets altered to suit the purpose: a classic instance of the fallacy of equivocation.

    I do get tired of atheists who cannot stumble through one comment like this without multiple identifiable logical fallacies and/or bold authoritative statements without knowledge, who also purvey themselves as being the defenders of reason. Incompetence in reason is no defense of reason.

    Isn’t Coyne’s original mistake a fallacy of equivocation as well. He seems to be referring to god rather than God?

  90. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Tom Gilson:

    Oh, by the way, your taxicab square circle is an equivocation at best. Where it is on your wikipedia page, I cannot tell, but I’ll grant you the benefit of the doubt on that; still I’m sure that if there is some topological trick to create a square circle, the definition of one or both of those terms gets altered to suit the purpose: a classic instance of the fallacy of equivocation.

    You are completely right, of course. The taxicab metric is a metric for the plane (more generally, any finite-dimensional linear space) where the circles of radius r centered at a point p — *defined* as the set of points that are at a distance less than or equal to r from p — have the shape of lozenges or a rotated square. But there is also the supremum metric where the circles do indeed have the shape of a square or the discrete metric, where the circle of radius r, any r, centered at a point p consists solely in the point p, etc.

    As you said, it is just the fallacy of equivocation at work.

    Edit: correction of a factual mistake.

  91. JamesM says:

    Thin air?

    No, my friend, apparently you do not know where I obtained those characteristics from, do you? And not knowing, nevertheless you have boldly told me what is not true, as if it were. That’s not wise, you know.

    Thomisian/Aristotelian nonsense. Same difference.

    I am working on another project and I do not have time this late in the evening (U.S. Eastern Time) to explain it all. But I assure you that thin air is not the answer.

    I will at least offer you this much. You are irrational to argue anything at all here on the basis that

    Thin air is the answer.

    One reason that’s irrational is (among other things) we can talk about God in these terms arguendo (or ex hypothesi), without having first demonstrated their truth. The demonstration is irrelevant to our doing so in those terms; and if you read Plantinga carefully, he does something much like that.

    Demonstrating the truth of your propositions proving God are irrelevant. And that is why philosophy is useless.

    Another reason is because there is a centuries-long heritage of thinking behind those attributes. It goes back at least to Aristotle. I did not invent them. Thin air did not support them for all those many years. You do not know of what you speak.

    And yet, it is all out of thin air. It doesn’t matter that you are regurgitating Aristotelian Metaphysics or Thomisian Ways. It all remains thin air.

    A third reason is because the question Coyne raises is whether Plantinga is being rational in Plantinga’s own terms. Plantinga’s terms are relevant to such a question, are they not?

    And Platinga is being irrational.

    In fact it would be more accurate to say that your accusation that I pulled these things out of thin air was something you pulled out of thin air. You do not have centuries of thinkers backing you in that assertion, after all, do you?

    Your attributes that you give to God have no support outside of your imagination. It is thin air.

    Oh, by the way, your taxicab square circle is an equivocation at best. Where it is on your wikipedia page, I cannot tell, but I’ll grant you the benefit of the doubt on that; still I’m sure that if there is some topological trick to create a square circle, the definition of one or both of those terms gets altered to suit the purpose: a classic instance of the fallacy of equivocation.

    I suggest you read further. A circle is the locus of all points equidistant from a central point. A circle will look different depending on your metric of choice. A circle in the Taxi Cab metric happens to be a square. It is no more an equivocation than to say that postulates that hold in Euclidean Space do not hold in Non Euclidean space.

    The fact of the matter, attributes given to God that have not been demonstrated at no point at no time are thin air arguments

  92. JamesM says:

    @G. Rodrigues

    You are completely right, of course. The taxicab metric is a metric for the plane (more generally, any finite-dimensional linear space) where the circles of radius r centered at a point p — *defined* as the set of points that are at a distance less than or equal to r from p — have the shape of lozenges or a rotated square. But there is also the supremum metric where the circles do indeed have the shape of a square or the discrete metric, where the circle of radius r, any r, centered at a point p consists solely in the point p, etc

    And what is the fallacy of equivocation being committed here? That’s like saying tables can only have four legs and upon being shown a table with three legs, you declare that both are tables while also stating that a fallacy of equivocation is being committed. Be consistent.

    As you said, it is just the fallacy of equivocation at work.

    Edit: correction of a factual mistake.

  93. “Melissa referenced that. You’ve ignored it”

    No, I didn’t.

    “I mean, it’s really hard to know what you’re saying”

    Yes, this seems evident, and I’ve pretty much given up on getting through here. It’s not that what I say is complex, nor do I suspect that you do, it seems more that I’m arguing that our epistemic frameworks are incompatible, and if we’re to have an engaging discussion around this we need to agree on that platform. Getting that platform from you has been like pulling teeth, but I think I see a correspondence theory of truth around here, I just fail to see it in practice.

    Let’s take a step back, and just clarify what seems to be my biggest problem with the 4 propositions; I don’t think my lengthy comment with 8 points failed to state this, but I’ll deal more specifically with this fabled number 5;

    Your propositions of a universe doesn’t contain everything we want to talk about from the main argument.

    I’ve been chasing this round and round here, without much luck in pointing out that a Thomian first cause is exempt from Doug’s propositions, it’s only the naturalistic universe you’ve trying to nail down in the proposition, so how can we have a fruitful discussion about the all-encompassing universe (which also contain things we don’t know about, and things like gods and stuff we think are there but we can’t measure) when we can’t agree on the scope of it? That’s it, in a nutshell. Everything else seems to be bickering about details around it.

    “‘Nature is eternal.’ There are multiple problems with it: (a) That got the causal chain started?

    Then you need to explain why nature *must* have a cause.

    “(b) Everything we know about nature leads us to conclude that nature as a whole is contingent, which implies contingent upon something else.”

    No, it doesn’t. Everything we know about nature leads us to conclude that we just don’t know, and I’d venture that making bold statements of fact about stuff we don’t know is just stupid.

    “(c) The second law of thermodynamics mitigates against an eternally old natural order.”

    No, it doesn’t. It applies to closed systems, not to full quantum systems.

    “(d) Theories of prior universes leading up to our current one seem to resolve to the necessity of an ultimate beginning.”

    No, it doesn’t. An eternity of universes is just as likely as it isn’t. We simply don’t know.

    Now, from this exchange we have learned that you and I disagree rather fundamentally on all the four problems you have for saying that nature is eternal. You seem okay to use unknows as definite in your argumentation, while I don’t, and I think that’s the main problem.

    “If the universe came from literally nothing (as in nothing-nothing; no physical laws, no potentialities, no quantum gravity, just nothing), then that requires explanation. Good luck.”

    Explain nothing-nothing. Good luck.

  94. Btw, Melissa, Doug and others; more to come, it’s nighty-night.

  95. Melissa says:

    Alexander,

    “Melissa referenced that. You’ve ignored it”

    No, I didn’t.

    I think I can safely say no one knew what you were referring to in your “reply”. You raised no objections to Tom’s proposal for how we might understand the word universe. What you did raise was a nonsensical objection to Doug’s proposed 4 positions:

    No, Doug’s number 4 does not apply, as it doesn’t allow anything to be eternal; it’s specific about the need for causes.

    Seriously, what about option #1. An eternal universe (or physical stuff if you prefer) that does not require a cause. That’s what you’re arguing for if I’m not mistaken so why do you keep insisting that we keep “demanding that anything except your god needs to be caused.” as if we have ruled out your option without reason.

    I’ve been chasing this round and round here, without much luck in pointing out that a Thomian first cause is exempt from Doug’s propositions, it’s only the naturalistic universe you’ve trying to nail down in the proposition, so how can we have a fruitful discussion about the all-encompassing universe (which also contain things we don’t know about, and things like gods and stuff we think are there but we can’t measure) when we can’t agree on the scope of it? That’s it, in a nutshell. Everything else seems to be bickering about details around it.

    And I offered up a solution to that problem (here I’ll quote myself)

    As for the third sentence I agree. How about everything has an explanation that way everything begins on an equal footing. What kind of explanation will depend on what is being explained.

    You ignored that. You ignored what G. Rodrigues had to say about the PSR.

    “(b) Everything we know about nature leads us to conclude that nature as a whole is contingent, which implies contingent upon something else.”

    No, it doesn’t. Everything we know about nature leads us to conclude that we just don’t know, and I’d venture that making bold statements of fact about stuff we don’t know is just stupid.

    Maybe Tom wasn’t including you when he wrote “we”.

  96. Doug says:

    how can we have a fruitful discussion about the all-encompassing universe … when we can’t agree on the scope of it?

    Funny. You didn’t seem to engage-or-agree with Tom’s definition of the universe (but as Melissa suggests, the content of that disagreement was incomprehensible, and you ignored my request for clarification). And you didn’t seem to engage-or-agree with my definition of the universe. But now you’re telling us that this is because we don’t know enough about the universe to engage the concept full-stop?

    Everything we know about nature leads us to conclude that we just don’t know

    Really? Really, really? Forgive us for not seeing this coming. You know that this is a thoroughly agnostic stance, right? You know that it is logically inconsistent with the claim that there is no God, right?

  97. JamesM says:

    All of theology comes down to this statement right here:

    One reason that’s irrational is (among other things) we can talk about God in these terms arguendo (or ex hypothesi), without having first demonstrated their truth. The demonstration is irrelevant to our doing so in those terms; and if you read Plantinga carefully, he does something much like that.

    The Baconian program for science has been the success that it has been because Bacon in his first formulation of the scientific method explicitly rejected the techniques of syllogistic musings as being a valid way to come to any truthful conclusions about absolutely anything prior to knowing anything about them.

    Theology, as it is with philosophy, and there really isn’t much of difference, is the practice of asserting your conclusion, that God exists and created the Universe etc, and working backwards to justify the conclusion with premises that are equally exempt from demonstration of their truth. Hence

    without having first demonstrated their truth

    If you have not demonstrated the truth of any of your hypotheses, propositions and premises, you have no way to claim that your conclusion is true. In the case of theology, the hypotheses are formulated under the assumption that “God exists” is true. It’s a great big exercise in question begging. This is the failure of theology and philosophy.

    And why is it that of those here who have objected to my statement, “nothing can cause itself,” none of you have explained how something could do that? Why have none of you grappled with the requirement that for a thing to cause itself, it must exist (logically and/or chronologically) before it exists? You just complain that I’m talking about theology. But that’s not a theological problem. It’s a logical problem.

    Because saying, “a thing can cause itself to come into existence,” is a scientific question, not a philosophical question. It cannot be answered with logic alone because you don’t know enough about the universe to make any declarations required of a logical deduction. The statement, “God has always existed and doesn’t have a cause,” is an unjustified declaration designed specifically to avoid the question by defining God as such to with no evidence that the definition corresponds to something or anything that is real. No evidence whatsoever. How do you know that God has always existed and doesn’t have a cause? How do you know that God exists in the first place? How do you know that the answer isn’t something else? You don’t. The answer is pulled out of thin air with no justification except:

    we can talk about God in these terms arguendo (or ex hypothesi), without having first demonstrated their truth. The demonstration is irrelevant to our doing so in those terms;

    That is unfortunate for philosophy and theology.

    Why have none of you grappled with the requirement that for a thing to cause itself, it must exist (logically and/or chronologically) before it exists?

    Space-time. How do you talk about anything existing prior to space-time existing? Ordinary language can’t handle that. That’s why we have the language of the physical sciences to handle these questions. If you want to talk about God always having existed, then space-time also always existed. But then you will return with, “God is outside of space and time.” Then God has no causal connection to space-time. A causal connection between two events assumes a pre-existing space-time for those two events to be causally connected to. You have posited that space-time is a thing that you can exist outside of without providing any evidence that that even makes sense. No evidence. Logic has failed you. And then we return to the old chestnut,

    we can talk about God in these terms arguendo (or ex hypothesi), without having first demonstrated their truth

    The only way a philosopher or theologian can get away with these pronouncements about God is by declaring that they are exempted from having to demonstrate that what they say is true. Complete and total exemption from from a basic onus. Do you not see the problem here?

  98. Tom Gilson says:

    JamesM,

    I’ve approved your last three comments for release from moderation. For me to do that again will require that you offer something more substantive than this. Your assessment of philosophy in general is quite in error, more so than I think any of us here will have energy to try to correct. Let me offer some reasons I say that.

    1. “Thin air.” You keep repeating it. That’s not an argument.

    2. “Thomisian/Aristotelian nonsense.” A label is not an argument.

    3. “Demonstrating the truth of your propositions proving God are irrelevant. And that is why philosophy is useless.” That’s a complete non sequitur, provided I understood your sentence fragment the way you intended it; otherwise it’s not even a meaningful statement.

    4. “And Platinga is being irrational.” A bare assertion is not an argument.

    5. You completely misunderstand what an equivocation is, and yet you speak authoritatively as if you knew. (By the way, that’s part of philosophy, it’s not useless, but you don’t know it.)

    6.

    Theology, as it is with philosophy, and there really isn’t much of difference, is the practice of asserting your conclusion, that God exists and created the Universe etc, and working backwards to justify the conclusion with premises that are equally exempt from demonstration of their truth.

    That’s a highly prejudiced, dare I say bigoted, and of course false statement.

    7.

    If you have not demonstrated the truth of any of your hypotheses, propositions and premises, you have no way to claim that your conclusion is true. In the case of theology, the hypotheses are formulated under the assumption that “God exists” is true. It’s a great big exercise in question begging. This is the failure of theology and philosophy.

    That was your response to what I said about taking up propositions arguendo or ex hypothesi. Your response shows that you don’t understand how that form of discussion works.

    8.

    Because saying, “a thing can cause itself to come into existence,” is a scientific question, not a philosophical question. It cannot be answered with logic alone because you don’t know enough about the universe to make any declarations required of a logical deduction.

    Thus you display that you lack understanding not only of philosophy but also of science.

    9.

    Space-time. How do you talk about anything existing prior to space-time existing? Ordinary language can’t handle that. That’s why we have the language of the physical sciences to handle these questions.

    Thus you punctuate your display of misunderstanding science. Science does not have tools to discuss these things. If for example you think you are referring to what might have existed prior to the Big Bang, and if you are thinking it is something science can handle, then you will find that you are not talking about “prior to space-time;” you are only talking “prior to our space-time.” Or if that’s not the case, you will at all accounts find that science is leaning very heavily upon philosophy in such discussions. And you will also find that such discussions, if kept within the realm of science alone (to the extent possible), still won’t provide your answer to how something could exist prior to itself (logically or chronologically).

    10.

    But then you will return with, “God is outside of space and time.” Then God has no causal connection to space-time. A causal connection between two events assumes a pre-existing space-time for those two events to be causally connected to.

    Congratulations for committing two quick logical fallacies in a row: a non sequitur and a begging of the question.

    11.

    The only way a philosopher or theologian can get away with these pronouncements about God is by declaring that they are exempted from having to demonstrate that what they say is true. Complete and total exemption from from a basic onus. Do you not see the problem here?

    Do you not see the problem here? This form of argumentation takes these so-called “pronouncements” as hypothetical, and uses such hypotheses as steps toward discovering what is true. You do know, don’t you (since you put such stock in science!), that hypothesis do not have to be known to be true before they can become useful for discovering what is true.

    But there is too much here to work with, and I find that already we are running in circles. This is a blog for thinking, not for spouting labels and bare assertions as if they were arguments; not for displaying ignorance beyond our space to help with, especially since you are manifestly unwilling to listen; not for hearing commenters philosophize over the uselessness of philosophy; not for forcing us into dealing with fallacy upon fallacy upon fallacy.

    I strongly recommend you take a close look at yourself: you are not as skillful in these matters as you think you are. You have reached your conclusions by means of demonstrably false thinking. If you are wise, you will recognize what that means: your conclusions are likely just as false as the thinking that got you there.

    I pray God will give you wisdom.

  99. Robert OBrien says:

    Jerry Coyne is a loudmouth ignoramus, who is equal parts odious and otiose. His posts on mathematics (my background is in mathematics and statistics), physics (where he tends to lean on mediocre physicist Victor Stenger), analytic philosophy, and theology (where he relies on the long-winded, inept apostate Eric MacDonald) are an absolute embarrassment; it is as if Jerry’s sole purpose in life is to validate the work of Dunning and Kruger.

  100. @Melissa: “as if we have ruled out your option without reason.”

    I’ve explained in too much detail what the various problems are including the stuff you claim I’ve ignored or didn’t deal with or didn’t approve of or whatever, and if your reading-comprehension is this lacking, I’m not really surprised we’re stuck in the hag-mire of bickering. Yes, you’ve now chucked in the fancy “without reason” as an escape clause, but I think I know perfectly well how you’ll use your clause and how it will play out. I’m done. I’m giving up at this point. Feel good about yourself.

  101. me: “”Everything we know about nature leads us to conclude that we just don’t know”

    @Doug: “Really? Really, really? Forgive us for not seeing this coming. You know that this is a thoroughly agnostic stance, right? You know that it is logically inconsistent with the claim that there is no God, right?”

    Oh my, how ridiculously stupid this is getting. I can’t tell you how much expletive juices are bubbling up through my spline in frustration, but; Yes, really, really, really, Really! The agnostic stand-point *is* science where we don’t have direct evidence!

    And have I ever made the claim that there is no god? No. You” find some statements on the evidence for such a thing, sure, but don’t turn that into something it is not just because it pleases your argument. No, I have never said as such, because – tada! – I’m agnostic about many, many things, I’m humble about the stuff I don’t know about and I’m not stupid enough to use purported absolute knowledge as the premise for my arguments, especially approaching the big questions.

    What is it about this which is so hard for you to grasp? Why is it so hard to admit that none of your four propositions contain the super-natural which is the very thing your main argument is trying to prove? You claim it a starting point; I call it an ill-defined set of trickery propositions, a set-up for future logical bending. I’ve listed heaps of objections you people try very hard not to deal with, bickering about, well, a lot of piffle around the edges, “you said, she said, you’re ignorant” rather than, you know, repeat, reinstate, make it clear, work towards that middle ground. Again, I think I can guess how this will play out; you may want to swoop in a perform some logical tricks to somehow prove that it is reasonable to believe in a god, or that only a god can be the first cause or some other Thomian or Plantingian already-refuted wax, and later you’ll paint the god you prefer in the colours of this hypothetically logically internally consistent god that passes for ‘irrefutable evidence’, or conclusive, or ‘the best explanation.’ Yeah, yeah, scream straw-men all you like. Call me out on not representing you perfectly. Tell me that I’m ignorant, or that I haven’t addressed some minor point in order to gloss over the larger ones I made. But most importantly, ignore me, because I’m cooked.

  102. Melissa says:

    Alexander,

    I’ve explained in too much detail what the various problems are including the stuff you claim I’ve ignored or didn’t deal with or didn’t approve of or whatever, and if your reading-comprehension is this lacking, I’m not really surprised we’re stuck in the hag-mire of bickering.

    Quite a few people have had trouble understanding what on earth you meant in your “reply”. Many of your comments were littered with red herrings and straw-men I would suggest that it is not my reading comprehension that is at fault here.

    Yes, you’ve now chucked in the fancy “without reason” as an escape clause, but I think I know perfectly well how you’ll use your clause and how it will play out. I’m done.

    Really, I don’t know what your problem is, it is quite normal to rule out a possibility if you have reasons to believe it is likely false. The insinuation (or in some cases openly stated opinion) you have made throughout this discussion is that we rule out the possibility of eternally existing material stuff either because we don’t like it or a prior. In this discussion the possibility has been on the table since Doug’s proposal. It is up to you to provide support for why it should be considered a legitimate possibility. You haven’t, all you’ve done is whinge and moan.

    Also In future may I suggest that if you are replying to a particular point for instance my suggestion that we start with everything needs an explanation you quote it because I have gone back through and I still cannot work out where you addressed that.

    Feel good about yourself.

    This isn’t about proving anything about myself, it’s about the truth and in this case the truth really matters, for you, if you are wrong are rejecting God and in the process cutting yourself off from life in all it’s fullness.

  103. Tom Gilson says:

    Alexander, I need to take some time to show you by clear demonstration just how mixed up you have been here. This is just by way of example; there are probably other illustrations I could offer alongside this one.

    The topic I will explore here is a supposed “non-answer.” I wrote in #80,

    Excuse me, but what’s this about a non-answer? You asked “first, what is the universe?” I had already answered, and Melissa referenced that. You’ve ignored it. You complain, “but I see only the old ‘you don’t agree with me, therefore you’re wrong” approach,’” while at the same time you practice, “I don’t care whether you’ve answered a question, I’m going to say you didn’t therefore I’m justified in using scatological language on you.”

    It is necessary to trace the link inside that quote. You had asked in #62, “What is meant by ‘universe?'” I answered in #63,

    I don’t know what Doug means by universe, but I think it’s probably best to speak of it in terms of the totality of physical reality for these purposes. For example, if one takes it as possible that our presently observable universe is one of many, or the most recent in a long series of universes, or some combination of those options or even something more intensely confusing, and if one takes that to be something like the “Grand Multiverse,” then Doug’s 4 options seem to apply to that “Grand Multiverse.” Wherever and whenever it began, it began, for instance, or else it didn’t begin; and if it began, it began by way of some external causative principle (external to all physical reality, that is) or else it began by way of some causal principle that was internal to it, which seems logically impossible. And so on.

    So to review, we have a question, what is meant by “universe”? and we have an answer on the table for all to deal with. But “in #73 you asked again,

    First, what is “the universe”? This is the fundamental problem I tried to explain in my original blog post; the difference between the all-encompassing universe which contain everything that could possibly ever exist – or a version of it with what exists right now – and the known universe which is 13.7 billion years old and we started counting its age of from the big bang. Also, as a sub-point, what are the constraints of any universe that isn’t all-encompassing, which also *includes* the super-natural and gods?

    In other words, you blew off the answer that was on the table for discussion. Totally ignored it.

    Then Melissa wrote in #76,

    I was going to reply to most of your objections but Tom addressed your concerns in 1 and 2 in his comment at #63. Point 3 highlights a problem with your worldview in dealing with change and permanence.

    And you described that in #79 as a “non-answer.” To wit,

    @Melissa: So, a non-answer, then. To sad, I was hoping someone would actually engage with the problems, but I see only the old “you don’t agree with me, therefore you’re wrong” approach, exemplified by me “having a problem with your worldview” rather than a different epistemology than yours. What I expected to do with that? clarify. Engage. Demonstrate. Agree and disagree. Make me feel like you give a crap by explaining where and why I’m wrong…. Surely, if I am so mistaken and ignorant and careless as you people claim, why does it seem so hard for you to engage with the argument rather than shoo it away? I don’t understand these interactions, and I certainly don’t feel any level of engagement.

    That’s very ironic, because you are the one who has demonstrably failed to clarify, engage, agree, disagree. It’s right here before your eyes now. I called you on it in #80.

    Then when #95 rolled around, you said you didn’t ignore it after all, and you referenced #64 where you said,

    @Tom: No, Doug’s number 4 does not apply, as it doesn’t allow anything to be eternal; it’s specific about the need for causes. Again, this is just going round in circles, you people demanding that anything except your god needs to be caused. *That* is the problem.

    … which has nothing to do with the topic I had said you ignored. Since this is going around in circles, I will quote that one more time:

    Excuse me, but what’s this about a non-answer? You asked “first, what is the universe?” I had already answered, and Melissa referenced that. You’ve ignored it. You complain, “but I see only the old ‘you don’t agree with me, therefore you’re wrong” approach,’” while at the same time you practice, “I don’t care whether you’ve answered a question, I’m going to say you didn’t therefore I’m justified in using scatological language on you.”

    Whether Doug’s number 4 applies or not, the fact is that you had asked what is the universe, I answered, Melissa referenced it, and you can’t call that a non-answer; and you can’t say address it by referencing something else entirely.

    Now you tell Melissa,

    I’ve explained in too much detail what the various problems are including the stuff you claim I’ve ignored or didn’t deal with or didn’t approve of or whatever, and if your reading-comprehension is this lacking, I’m not really surprised we’re stuck in the hag-mire of bickering.

    No, it’s not her comprehension that’s lacking. You’ve accusing her (and others of us by extension) of failing to engage in arguments when you have demonstrably failed. You’re now accusing her of failed reading comprehension, while at the same time your own responses to our arguments are demonstrably unrelated to what we’ve said.

    Now, having said all that, I’m going to ask you to examine yourself and your self-awareness until you don’t feel so good about yourself; for you do not need to continue this kind of illicit argumentation and accusation; and change is very difficult without at least some pain motivating it.

  104. Tom Gilson says:

    You write,

    Oh my, how ridiculously stupid this is getting. I can’t tell you how much expletive juices are bubbling up through my spline in frustration, but; Yes, really, really, really, Really!

    and

    Yeah, yeah, scream straw-men all you like. Call me out on not representing you perfectly. Tell me that I’m ignorant, or that I haven’t addressed some minor point in order to gloss over the larger ones I made. But most importantly, ignore me, because I’m cooked.

    And in between you wax really quite eloquent, all the while oblivious to how really difficult it has been to get you to engage with certain arguments of ours, and to clarify certain arguments of yours.

    If you are going to continue here, I strongly recommend you take Melissa’s recent advice of writing more clearly, using fewer ambiguous and undecipherable references to previous points further up the thread, not failing to respond to answers already given, etc. But if you choose not to do that, I do call on you not to blame everyone else for your lack of success in getting your points across. Thank you.

  105. @Rodrigues: I have a long reply written on all (as far as I can tell) your points and references, but I’m not going to post it; not from not wanting to do so – I love truth, and will always strive for it – but because I can’t seem to express myself in the right way to appease you or make myself understood enough for you to concede anything I argue, and no matter how you claim to be digging into what is being said in a reasonable way, I feel sad from the many snide comments you make, and the thrust of which you make them. No, even more specifically, I fear your condescending style and vigour, I don’t really enjoy the righteousness with which you slash your sword of debating around. You are a self-confessed testy, cold, heartless bastard, a snob and a pedant, and I don’t enjoy your company nor this debate.

    You clearly have a sharp grasp on a number of subjects, and your head is clearly screwed on tight. Only, perhaps, a smidgen too hard. And I don’t mean that in a condescending way.

  106. @Tom:”Alexander, I need to take some time to show you by clear demonstration just how mixed up you have been here.”

    Yes, well done, you’ve demonstrated how seriously twisted this place is. I’ve addressed it, you didn’t like or understand it, therefore I’ve ignored it, amirite? No need to answer. We’re done.

    “I’m going to ask you to examine yourself and your self-awareness until you don’t feel so good about yourself”

    Smug righteousness now? I think you need to practice what you preach.

  107. Tom Gilson says:

    Alexander, I showed what you didn’t address, but you continue smugly (righteously?) and without a smidgeon of explanation, refutation, correction or anything of the sort to say that you’ve addressed it and “I didn’t like or understand it.” I think it’s time to recognize this for what it is—either an unresolvable situation, or a farce—and to say goodbye.

  108. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Alexander Johannesen:

    No, even more specifically, I fear your condescending style and vigour, I don’t really enjoy the righteousness with which you slash your sword of debating around. You are a self-confessed testy, cold, heartless bastard, a snob and a pedant, and I don’t enjoy your company nor this debate.

    Fair enough. Not liking people or their debating styles has never stopped me from engaging in discussion, even when it gets testy, but this is just my personal opinion, not a gospel for anyone else to follow. At any rate, for someone who directed “Oh my, how ridiculously stupid this is getting. I can’t tell you how much expletive juices are bubbling up through my spline in frustration, but; Yes, really, really, really, Really!” at Doug — this is just an example, others could be gathered — methinks this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black (not that it excuses me in anyway).

  109. Tom Gilson says:

    Alexander will not be returning to the conversation here. He has his own blog, I think, at any rate.

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