Did god create the laws of physics? | Secular News Daily

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At Secular News Daily, Andrew Zak Williams puzzles over the origin of the laws of physics. He acknowledges that science has no answers, at least so far, but he has these objections to finding the explanation in God:

The universe comprises four primary dimensions – three of time and one of space. Since theologians tend to define God as existing outside space and time, it’s consistent with Christian theology for God to play the role of super turtle. Even so, this still amounts to wheeling out God as the answer when difficult questions come along. You know the kind of thing: “There are some things about the universe I don’t understand. Therefore God exists!” And in the words of the atheistic mantra oft-repeated in school debating classes, it is illogical to try to explain away a difficult scientific question (the origin of the laws of science) by invoking an even more difficult one (the origin of God).

But believers have a response: Because of God’s divine properties, he must be outside the laws of science and so they don’t need to explain in scientific terms where he came from. However this does rather smack of believers defining their god in whatever way answers difficult questions, a particularly easy task if you’re constrained by the imagination rather than by evidence.

[From Did god create the laws of physics? | Secular News Daily]

I’ll give him credit for stating the problem somewhat thoughtfully (though see below). Granted, God is not easy to explain. In fact theologians don’t even try, and with good reason. To explain some entity w is to provide an account for w in terms of some x, y, …; with x, y, … being prior to w in some logical or temporal sense. But in the case of a necessary being, there can be no prior x, y, ….. God is by definition the being who precedes all else, logically, temporally, and in any other conceivable way. To speak of explaining God is to speak a contradiction, just as much as it would be for me to speak of my being my own grandfather’s (genetic) grandfather. It’s nonsense.

Williams’s challenge of explaining “where he [God] came from” is the same error in particularly egregious form. It is equivalent to, “Where did that which came from nothing beyond his own being, come from (beyond his own being)?”

This is not just a matter of God being “outside the laws of science, and so [we] don’t need to explain in scientific terms where he came from.” Logic alone, apart from and prior to any science, is sufficient to show that the question is meaningless—just as I doubt any reader will think an empirical study is necessary to show I’m not my grandfather’s grandfather. The only meaningful way, and the correct way, to view God’s explanation is that God is the only explanation of God’s existence; or, that God is the necessary being who needs no explanation outside himself.

That still leaves three questions for us theists to answer. First, as Williams wondered, isn’t our conception of God ad hoc, a conveniently adaptable invention, able to morph into any form science requires him to take? That charge might have some force had it happened that way historically. But theologians have defined God (not tended to, but actually defined) as being outside space and time since at least Augustine. The same answer has worked for some 1600 years now.There’s just no truth to the ad hoc charge.

Second, why should we settle on God as our explanation for the laws of physics, when it’s possible that science will come up with a better answer? I have two responses. First, though, let’s take the word “science” out of it; for science is not an answer to questions, it is a means of discovering answers, specifically answers within and concerning nature. So the options are not God or science, they are God or nature.

Which, then, is more likely to be the kind of thing that could conceivably be the originator of the laws of nature? The God of theism clearly has what it takes. That alone doesn’t prove God exists, but it shows that God is a possible answer to the question. Could the same be said about nature? Could nature be the originator of the laws of nature? Only if its existence and its character (its nature) were self-caused in the same sense God is conceived to be. Otherwise, nature would be dependent on some laws to explain the existence of laws, which is hopelessly circular. So then is nature really self-caused? I can’t think of anyone who has proposed a good model for it being that way. Hawking and Mlodinow certainly failed.

Williams acknowledges that problem, but he doesn’t seem to see where it leads with respect to the question of God. God is conceivably a good answer to where the laws of nature came from. Nature is not conceivably a good answer to the same question. Note well that the problem with nature is a logical one, not a “scientific” one. Science could never go so far as to explain where all the laws of nature come from, because (again) that explanation would have to be in terms of some natural law, which would in turn require explanation. From there (as Williams alludes to in his article) it’s turtles all the way down. Another way to say the same thing is that science simply doesn’t have the tools to explain explanation, and these are not the kind of tools science is ever going to acquire. That’s not what science does.

This then is not God of the Gaps argumentation, as one of the article’s commenters claims. It’s not using God as a stand-in for explanation, with risk that science will soon boot him out with a better one. Science isn’t going to solve this question. It’s not in its purview, not in its competence.

Third, is God really an evidence-free invention of believers’ imagination? I hardly know where to begin with answering that one. At this point I take back my appreciative words for Williams’s thoughtful approach. Believers’ view of God is constrained by what we know of his self-revelation in Scripture, by what we see of his works in history and in our personal lives, by what we know of human nature and other nature, and by philosophical considerations. Theologians have been debating the nature of God for centuries, and guess what they’ve turned to in support of their positions? Evidence. It’s not all scientific evidence, but I hope Williams doesn’t need anyone to explain to him the obvious truth that science isn’t the only source of evidence in the world.

I also don’t have time to respond to Williams’s un-subtle, between-the-lines charge that believers are stupid ignoramuses. It’s just obviously false.

I have a question for Williams as I close. His complaint about God as an explanation is that it’s hard to explain where God came from. But he also complains, “Even so, this still amounts to wheeling out God as the answer when difficult questions come along.” Doesn’t his approach amount to kicking out God as the answer just because a difficult question came along? Sauce for the goose…

128 Responses

  1. Bill R. says:

    Excellent post. Thank you, Tom.

  2. Tom Gilson says:

    Thank you, Bill.

  3. Good point! I hate it when non-believers state that science hasn’t come up with an answer, but using God as an explanation is a “cop out”. It doesn’t even make sense! Great post!

  4. The real issue about bringing in God to solve the problems in science depends on where you begin. If you start with God as the central basis of your understanding of the universe then it makes sense to explain that He solves the problems that here difficult or impossible to solve without Him. But it you start with a commitment to understand everything naturalistically and only bring God in because you are desperate and have no other solution it is suspect.

  5. Victoria says:

    As a PhD physicist and long-time Christian, I really appreciate your posts, Tom. This one is especially well said.

  6. BillT says:

    I would add my kudos as well. If there is someone in the blogosphere who is better than Tom at dissecting the inconsistencies of the scientific mindset I’d love to read them. I know I’ve looked and from what I can tell, it just doesn’t get any better than this.

  7. olegt says:

    Tom wrote:

    Science could never go so far as to explain where all the laws of nature come from, because (again) that explanation would have to be in terms of some natural law, which would in turn require explanation.

    Science does not even promise to go that far. It can, however, explain where some laws of nature come from. For instance, the laws of conservation of energy and momentum used to be regarded as fundamental postulates. Now we understand that they are merely consequences of symmetries: conservation of momentum and energy follows from homogeneity of space and of time. Other types of symmetry are responsible for conservation of electric charge.

    One can always ask OK, but where do symmetries come from? There are some answers to that question as well, but it is again worth stressing that science is not in the business of providing the ultimate answer. It is, however, in the business of providing some answers, and on that front it is quite successful.

    If any discipline sets the lofty goal to provide the ultimate explanation for everything, theology and philosophy come closest. Unfortunately, that lofty goal is forever out of reach, at least in the case of philosophy. Philosophers operate with such general categories (e.g., matter) that it is impossible to say virtually anything that applies to all kinds of matter. In contrast, physics, which is more myopic than philosophy, is able to say quite a bit about all sorts of matter. Not surprisingly, the interaction of physics ad philosophy is a one-way street: discoveries in physics influence philosophical debates but not the other way around.

    Theologians, on the other hand, are pretty sure that they have already found their ultimate answer, so trying to dissuade one from that is an impossible task. If a theologian changes his mind, he is no longer a theologian. Answers provided by theologians are sweeping but again, useless in practical terms. God specially created humans? OK, what are the practical ramifications of that? Does that shed any light on how humans should be treated for a particular disease? Besides, the answer is infinitely malleable. At some point, it was understood as special creation, now it seems to allow physical ancestry from great apes. Again, this seems to be a one-way street with theology adjusting to scientific findings but not the other way around.

  8. Tom Gilson says:

    olegt,

    I agree with much of what you write as you begin your comment. I think you might have an incomplete conception of philosophy, for philosophers do take other knowledge into account. Maybe Descartes didn’t, but he’s the exception, not the rule. And you are wrong about philosophy not influencing physics; but it is a meta-influence: working physicists generally do not need to keep up with the philosophy in order to do what they do.

    And biblical theology is not infinitely malleable. Neither is physics, even though once it was thought that light propagated through ether. Both theology and physics have boundaries. There are theologies that are not biblical, and perhaps they are as loose as you say. Biblical theology is however constrained by what can be reasonably interpreted from the Bible.

    Is it a one-way street from science to theology? I think that’s a fair statement, in a limited sense. Science at its founding was very much influenced by theological understandings of nature, and the same foundation continues to work as science’s underpinning, though rather invisibly now. It’s quite possible to do science without recognizing its theological roots.

    Both science and theology base their findings and interpretations on the best data at hand. Theology’s effect on science is stable: it’s not providing much new material to science from year to year. What information it does provide, some scientists tend to ignore (be oblivious to, often) or to resist. That’s no particular credit to science, if you ask me. But science is providing new material daily, some of which is relevant to theology. Some theologically minded people also ignore or resist science, which is also no credit to them. (I distinguish resisting from questioning, by the way. Frequently, findings on either side really do need to be put to the test.)

    So yes, if you’re looking at how one discipline effects changes in the other, science provides much more to theology than theology does to science. That’s just sensible given the two disciplines’ relative pace of change.

  9. Tom Gilson says:

    Hey, BillT, be careful: your last comment almost got marked as spam 😉 . But I’ll say thanks to you and also to Victoria anyway. I appreciate the encouragement, and I hope God is glorified in it.

  10. Tom Gilson says:

    By the way, I would want to “dissect” one more thing. It’s not the scientific mindset that needs correcting; it’s the scientistic mindset. I think that’s what you meant. I’m all in favor of being scientific, properly understood.

  11. Tom Gilson says:

    Mike Erich: good points.

    I have a question for you: do you think those two starting points are the only two options, or were you just mentioning them as (perhaps) two ends of a continuum, or … ?

    Thanks.

  12. Tom Gilson says:

    There was a very long comment left here by Gregory last night, which I’ve emailed him about. I asked him if it would be okay to move it over to a main blog post instead of a comment here, because it would be a whole lot easier to respond to there. Gregory, in case I got your email address wrong, you can also feel free to answer me here.

  13. BillT says:

    “God specially created humans? OK, what are the practical ramifications of that? Does that shed any light on how humans should be treated for a particular disease?”

    Humm? You want to know the practical ramifications of that? Well it may not be how humans should be treated for a particular disease. However, it would certainly be in how humans should be treated in general. Though I would think it hardly needs to be said on this site, one example of the ramifications of the reality of God as creator is that morality actually exists. I can’t think of anything more important to human beings and the way they are treated then that. I could go on but the thousands of books already written on the practical ramifications of the existance of God would probably suffice to make my point.

  14. Which, then, is more likely to be the kind of thing that could conceivably be the originator of the laws of nature?

    So, is God the originator of God? I think that’s plainly nonsense.

    Instead, when you say that God is “self-caused” or “necessary”, you simply mean to say he has no prior cause. (And the term “necessary” here is a different usage than “necessary for a thing”.)

    But if I side with Nature, then I can likewise declare that Nature is necessary, as in, having no prior cause. And, if “self-causation” is synonymous with having no prior cause, I could just as well say that the laws of Nature are also self-caused.

    To avoid declaring Nature as having no-prior cause, you’re assuming there’s a god with no-prior cause who magically caused Nature to exist. This maneuver does no work, and adds needless complexity and a ton of fine-tuning. It would be like me proposing that since God couldn’t originate himself, there must be some necessary unknown physics that did.

  15. Tom Gilson says:

    God being self-caused may be nonsense to you, doctor(logic), but if that’s the case, then I’m sorry that you can’t see how it makes sense.

    I don’t “simply” mean to say God has no prior cause. That is part of what it means; but God is not just some necessary being, not a necessary being; he is being itself. Being has no prior cause, true; but the meaning of being’s necessity is not exhausted just by saying that about it.

    Feel free to declare that Nature is necessary, but please be aware that with that declaration there ought to be some reason to think it might conceivably be true. You need some kind of theology-analogue with nature at the center rather than God, some system of thought wherein such a statement makes sense. Otherwise your declaration is just fluff. I don’t know of anyone who has accomplished that theology-analogue. If nature is necessary, does that mean that nature is being itself? Does it mean that it has existed eternally from time past? How does that play with the second law of thermodynamics? If nature is necessary, are its physical laws necessary as well? These are the kinds of questions your system would need to answer.

    My post here did not take the stance of assuming there’s a God with no prior cause. It set up two possibilities: God as necessary being, and Nature as necessary being, and compared the implications of the two options.

    Your word “magically” is tendentious and actually rather ignorant, if it’s meant to imply there’s anything the least bit strange in God’s ability to be Creator. I suggest for your own sake you drop it.

    To say it’s a maneuver that does no work is a maneuver that does no work. Obviously if God is, and if he is Creator, that knowledge does considerable work on our behalf. To say that it adds “needless complexity and tons of fine-tuning” sounds to me like you don’t know theology well enough to dispute it. Same with proposing (even as a potential move in the discussion) some unknown physics as the cause of God.

    With another interlocutor here, I would say let’s work together on that. With you, doctor(logic), having had all your years of discourse here, at Reppert’s blog, and probably at a lot of others I don’t know about, I would say it’s time you stepped up to the table yourself and did your homework. There’s no excuse any longer for the ignorance you’re displaying. You’re disputing that which you do not understand well enough to dispute. If I were to contest naturalistic evolution, or naturalistic moral positions, as clumsily as you’re disputing God, I would quite rightly be laughed out of the discussion. Do yourself a favor and learn something about when we mean when we speak of God.

  16. Crude says:

    Tom,

    God being self-caused may be nonsense to you, doctor(logic), but if that’s the case, then I’m sorry if you can’t see how it makes sense.

    Before anyone else jumps in on this: The claim isn’t that God is self-caused, as far as I’ve ever read. It’s that God is uncaused. Self-causation (as in “brought Himself/itself into existence from nothing”) is always denied strongly, at least by those I’ve read.

    There are some atheist philosophers, however, who have explicitly claimed that the universe is self-caused. Dennett comes to mind. And I think it’s fair to call that “magic”, if anything can be called that.

  17. Tom Gilson says:

    Right, Crude: self-caused could not mean “brought himself into existence from nothing.” I was carelessly using “self-caused” when I should have been saying self-existent.

    I extend my apologies to all, especially doctor(logic), for the error.

    Further: http://www.mercydrops.com/Attributes/aseity.htm

  18. Jared Asay says:

    I didn’t realize there was a statute of limitations on ad hoc explanations.

  19. Tom Gilson says:

    Cute. But misinformed. I’d be embarrassed if I were you, Jared. Just as I said doctor(logic) should know better, the same goes for you. You’ve had enough experience in this that you ought to know better.

    But since you’re the one who said “I didn’t realize…”, let me remind you.

    Ad hoc literally means, “for this.” An ad hoc explanation is one that is tacked on to a prior explanation, or a re-versioning of a prior version, in order to save it from some newly arising contrary argument or information; and without any clearly necessary connection to the prior version other than to save it from attack.

    In this case the supposedly ad hoc explanation preceded the contrary arguments by centuries. The charge was made, “It’s awfully convenient the way you came up with this thing about God being outside time and space, in response to the difficult questions you’ve been presented with now.” But that’s not how Augustine came up with it, that wasn’t when he came up with it; and it certainly wasn’t ad hoc, it was integral to the fabric of theism.

    Clear enough now?

  20. Jared Asay says:

    Augustine was a pretty smart guy. You don’t think he was capable of making a preemptive argument (that, in my view, is unfortunately ad-hoc)?

    edit:spelling (capapble?)

  21. Tom Gilson says:

    Your view of ad hoc is unfortunately wrong. Whether or not Augustine was strong, capable, or whatever, has nothing to do with whether his argument was ad hoc. It wasn’t, and you’re barking up the wrong tree.

  22. Tom Gilson says:

    I would be quite willing to bet you don’t know how or why he came to the conclusion that God is outside of space and time, and therefore you don’t know that it really is integral to theism, and therefore by virtue (so to speak) of that ignorance you have the capacity to consider his approach to be ad hoc.

    When a feature f of theory T is integral to the core of T, f cannot be ad hoc. If f long anticipates and successfully meets some future challenge C, typically we call that a success for both T and f, not an indication that they are fallacious. Science, you may recall, thrives on predictions and theories remaining robust in the face of future discoveries, and generally considers such a thing good, not bad. You knew that, right?

    Now, let’s apply the definition of ad hoc to this:

    Augustine was a pretty smart guy. You don’t think he was capable of making a preemptive argument…?

    You have suddenly introduced into your theory of Augustine that he has made a preemptive argument against 20th/21st challenges against the Christian faith. That move is clearly an after-the-fact attempt to save your theory that the timeless/spaceless God is an ad hoc addition to theism. It is obviously forced: to say that Augustine could have done that 1600 years ago is not exactly integral to your theory, and it’s more than a tad bit unlikely.

    You are better at this ad hoc thing than you realize: you pulled off your own example of one right in the middle of trying to argue that someone else was doing it. What can I say Jared, but LOL?

    I said it before, and I’ll say it again: you’ve been at this a long time. You ought to know better.

  23. BillT says:

    Even in light of the many questionable things that DL has written here, I thought that his post #14 might have been his personal low point. Now we have Jared Asay lowering the bar even further. Is it a full moon or something?

  24. Jared Asay says:

    Alright, let’s hear how Augustine came to the conclusion that his deity is conveniently outside the bounds of space and time.

  25. Tom Gilson says:

    I don’t accept the premise of the question (“conveniently”) and you don’t get the error of your ways.

  26. Jared Asay says:

    If it pleases you, consider the question restated, this time without “conveniently”.

  27. Tom Gilson says:

    It doesn’t please me. You got off on the wrong track, you used ad hoc reasoning to try to prove Christianity uses ad hoc reasoning, you haven’t acknowledged that you did that, you’re playing games with the word “conveniently,” and now, even though you’re the one who raised the charge on Augustine, you’re asking me to do the work.

    The prima facie answer is that Augustine did not come to his conclusions ad hoc with respect to modern challenges. If you want to lay a charge that he did, you can do the work to prove it yourself. I’m not going to play your game.

  28. Tom Gilson says:

    By the way, if anything about your prior comments here had given me reason to hope that you might actually be interested in Augustine’s theology, I would have been glad to go there with you.

  29. Jared Asay says:

    Tom, you operate a frequently updated blog, and comment regularly on pretty much every post. I find it hard to believe you can’t lay out a quick sketch of Augustine’s argument, or even provide a helpful online resource when someone is honestly inquiring about it. It’s pretty revealing when someone seemingly dedicated to proselytism, when presented with an avenue of such, suddenly clams up.

    So I used an ad hoc argument (and you, a tu quoque, so nanner nanner*), what remains to be seen is whether I’m right about it – and things could go a lot smoother if you’d take some time out of your busy day of responding to blog comments by responding to my blog comment.

    So help a guy out, point me in the right direction at the very least.

    *Take it easy, that was joke.

  30. Tom Gilson says:

    Jared, our last two comments probably crossed each other in the mail. Do you honestly want to know? It sure hasn’t been apparent.

    If it “remains to be seen whether [you] are right about it,” then it remains in your court to show that you are. At this point, you’ve made an assertion without any backup. Try googling, “Augustine God outside of time and space.” I haven’t gone there myself, but I’m guessing it will lead you to an answer. Or look up Augustine in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. You’re likely also to find it if you do a search at reasonablefaith.org, I would guess.

    The burden is on you, not me. At this point the burden also rests on you to show that you’re not just playing games here.

    I might as well point out there is no tu quoque fallacy where there is no fallacy—which there wasn’t. I’m not upset about it, I’m just laughing again.

  31. Jared Asay says:

    Will you at least tell me if I happen upon the relevant passage(s)? Tell me it’s not along the lines of the whole “time and space require a creator” business.

    (I accused your “side” of a fallacy, you responded that I had done the same thing – tu quoque. Again, I guess it remains to be seen if my accusation is correct).

  32. Tom Gilson says:

    My answer to your unsupported charge of a fallacy was actually to identify (not just by accusing, but by demonstrating) an extremely ironic fallacy in your charge. As you work on discovering the meaning of ad hoc, perhaps you might also study the meaning of tu quoque. What is the point of giving my response to you the name of a fallacy when it was not fallacious?

    Wikipedia puts it succinctly:

    This form of the argument is as follows:

    A makes criticism P.
    A is also guilty of P.
    Therefore, P is dismissed.

    But I did not dismiss P because you were guilty of P. I dismissed P because your charge P contained within it an identifiable fallacy. It was only a point of delicious irony that the fallacy happened to be the very one contained in your accusation P. I could have dismissed P on grounds of its being obviously fallacious without dwelling on that irony, and without pointing out anything like “you, too!”, but it was too sweet to pass by.

    As for Augustine: when you find the relevant passages you will know without my telling you. Enjoy the search!

  33. Charlie says:

    Just read your copy of his Confessions or City Of God.

  34. JAD says:

    From the OP:

    Which, then, is more likely to be the kind of thing that could conceivably be the originator of the laws of nature? The God of theism clearly has what it takes. That alone doesn’t prove God exists, but it shows that God is a possible answer to the question. Could the same be said about nature? Could nature be the originator of the laws of nature? Only if its existence and its character (its nature) were self-caused in the same sense God is conceived to be. Otherwise, nature would be dependent on some laws to explain the existence of laws, which is hopelessly circular. So then is nature really self-caused?

    As has already pointed out God is not self caused (see comments #16 & 17) He is “self existent” or uncaused. There is nothing logically impossible about something being self-existent or uncaused. If God is by definition uncaused, as theologians and philosopher have argued since at least Aristotle, it is absurd to ask what caused something that’s uncaused to come into existence, because both ontologically and temporally nothing can precede a being that by it’s very nature is uncaused.

    On the other hand, there are serious problems with the idea of self causation. In his book, Not A Chance, R.C. Sproul explains “that even God, no matter how powerful he may be, cannot make himself. For God to make himself he would have to be before he was. In other words, he would have to be and not be at the same time and in the same relationship, which violates the law of no contradiction and necessitates a leap into the absurd.” (p169)

    Could nature and therefore the laws of nature be uncaused? If we accept standard Big Bang cosmology it does not appear that this could even be a possibility. If we “run the movie” of our universes’ expansion backwards we ultimately end up with a singularity which can be described as a state of space-less timelessness, which implies that both space and time came into existence at time zero and therefore, there was no before. Therefore we are left with (1) the absurdity that the universe is self caused, or (2) that whatever caused the universe to come into existence transcends space and time.

    Of course one could invoke the existence of other universes, or even resurrect the idea of an eternally oscillating universe, but both of these options leaves us with an infinite (“turtles all the way down“) regress. Maybe something like that is true, but how would you ever prove or falsify it? Clearly any kind of infinite regress moves the question beyond empiricism. In other words, we are not talking here about science vs. metaphysics, but rather naturalistic metaphysics vs. theistic metaphysics.

    The advantage of theism here is that it provides an explanation; naturalism does not.

  35. Jared Asay says:

    What justifies asserting your god is uncaused other than “because I say so”?

  36. Tom Gilson says:

    You’re forgetting where this discussion came from and where it’s been aiming. We have been comparing two possible explanations for the origin of nature, one of which (God as uncaused self-existent eternal creator) has been proposed in a plausibly coherent form; and another (nature as eternal, self-existent or whatever) which at best, as far as I know, awaits being proposed in some coherent fashion, for as far as I know that has never been accomplished.

    So this is not “because I say so.” Your question is entirely misdirected if you think that’s what we’re doing. This is presenting each theory as it is and dealing with each as such.

    Now, if you seriously want to know what justifies our seeing God in this way, besides his being the better of two options for the origin of nature, I’d be interested to talk about it. Before we go there, though, I’d like to know if you still see God’s timelessness/spacelessness as ad hoc. That’s still hanging out there as an unresolved issue, even though it shouldn’t be hard at all to settle. If we can’t solve an easy one like that I doubt there would be much hope of making progress on other topics. If we can, then I would have more hope that this could continue to be a fruitful discussion.

  37. Jared Asay says:

    No, I don’t see your god’s timelessness/spacelessness as ad hoc, but I do see those attributes as unjustified – made up out of whole cloth. I haven’t come across any reasoning as to why a skeptic should believe these things about your particular deity, but I’d love to find out. I don’t mean to be offensive, but when theists just assign any attribute they want to their god, it has always reminded me of kids making up superheroes. “Oh yeah? Well mine can fly AND lift mountains!”

  38. Tom Gilson says:

    Where do you see theists doing that? Really, now. Do you know where we get these attributes from? Do you really think we make them up that way?

    (I think you’re building a straw man to attack, or else maybe you’ve had one foisted upon you by someone who was either lacking in knowledge or was not being fully honest with you.)

  39. Jared Asay says:

    It’s probably more likely I’ve had a straw man foisted upon me by less sophisticated theists.

    I would love to know where you get these attributes.

  40. Sorry, Tom, but this isn’t a good argument. You seem to lack a systematic way of evaluating theories, and resort to an organic, holistic, gut sense of whether a theory is good or bad.

    In this case, you’re resorting to the genetic fallacy. Who cares who came up with theism or what that theism consists of? You would only care if you were concerned with whether it was rational for those historical figures to have made the inference that they did. Our job is to make our own assessment based on theory and experiment.

    You’ve already admitted that self-cause really means self-existent. Historically (well, for centuries), Christian theists have considered a theory in which God is self-existent. Fine. But this is because they their concerns were historically different from those of scientists. This is no reason to think that self-existence is something that fits better with God than with an ultimate physics.

    Self-existence is just another label for “brute” or “ultimate”. And you don’t have any good reason why God can be a brute fact, but why physics cannot.

  41. Tom Gilson says:

    Jared,

    You don’t seem to understand what a straw man is. It’s a misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. If you’re listening to “less sophisticated theists,” then why not pay attention to the ones who know what they’re talking about instead? What’s the point even of listening to the wrong version of our position?

    doctor(logic), I’ll have to return to you in a bit; I’m on a phone call now.

  42. Jared Asay says:

    Nah, too easy, I’m not going to make that joke.

    But it’s time I stop giving you opportunities to not answer my question. So again, I would love to know where you get these attributes.

    If anyone else is following this thread, I’d be happy to hear from someone who doesn’t feel like bobbing and weaving. I’d simply like to know what justifies the assignment of attributes like timelessness/spacelessness/uncaused that, like doctor(logic) says, couldn’t also apply to a natural paradigm.

  43. Tom Gilson says:

    If you think there’s an easy joke there, you’re not paying attention.

    Still on that phone call, can’t give a more substantive answer right now.

  44. Holopupenko says:

    DL:

    It’s your scientism and your atheism that stunts your ability to think, and what you put in place of critical thinking is–again and again–convenient straw men. The implied reductionism to an “ultimate physics” is laughable… as if this assertion of your is self-referential testable with “ultimate physics.”

    resort to an organic, holistic, gut sense of whether a theory is good or bad That’s so prima facie incorrect it won’t be dignified with a response. Go ahead, keep on tilting at windmills of your own making. Have you ever thought of appearing on Comedy Central?

    Christian theists have considered a theory in which God is self-existent Really? Where? Please show us with verifiable reference a Christian source that holds such presuppositional nonsense. Are you really so daft as to think Aristotle–let alone others throughout the centuries have presupposed the “self-existent” thing… or could your self-serving scientism permit you to examine that actual structure of the arguments to see they reason to that, i.e., they don’t presuppose it?

    You can’t get beyond your reductionist narrow-mindedness that demands one can only reason to physical existents. And, as you’ve been asked before but conveniently ignore: WHERE is the scientific method? Can you provide some physics characteristics for it?

    And then there’s this little gem: I’ve just shown how ignorant and incorrect your straw man of “God as a brute fact” assertion is, yet you feel free–with NO intellectual justification–to believe “physics” is a brute fact. “Fact”?!? Physics is a modern empirical science, i.e., it is both a method and a habit of mind for obtaining knowledge of physical facts–you’re equivocating (as on many other occasions) what empirically-referenced facts are (like the mass of an electron) with means by which we obtain such knowledge. You just don’t get how far you’ve gone off the rails, do you?

  45. Holopupenko says:

    Jared:

    You’re a close-second to DL’s mindless repetition of convenient (and incorrect) atheistic mantras.

    I’d simply like to know what justifies the assignment of attributes like timelessness/spacelessness/uncaused

    Well, any critical thinker would “simply like to know” what reference you can provide in which Christian philosophers assert these attributes are presupposed as propositions in an argument. Do your homework first and listen to what the arguments build upon before setting up your convenient straw men. Ignorance of the arguments won’t get you a “get out of intellectual jail” card.

  46. Tom Gilson says:

    I’m not bobbing and weaving, Jared. I’m staying quite focused on the question: which theory is more plausibly able to account for the origin of nature. You’ve tried to steer us off topic with odd objections like this one about our theory being ad hoc, which you’re holding on to even though you said a few minutes ago you were giving it up.

    Let me then seek some clarification:

    If you’re asking what justifies the assignments of attributes like timeless/spaceless/uncaused in theism, and if that’s all you’re asking, part of the answer is simple: Those who develop the theory can develop the theory. Then the theory can be tested against reality. What’s the problem? If a theory’s being adjustable in light of new thinking or evidence makes it invalid, then science is dead.

    But in fact even though that would be a sufficient answer on the level of theory here, it is decidedly not how we came to it. Let me ask: are you (or are you not) familiar with the Unmoved Mover, and why Aristotle postulated it? That’s one source of it. If you want the Cliff’s notes version of how Augustine came to his conclusions, here it is (literally).

    But the same is found throughout Scripture, our primary source. God is “in the beginning,” he is always described as being before all things, the one with no precursor, no greater, the one than which no greater is or could be. He is described as always present, fully powerful (having the ability to do everything that power can do), knowing all things that could conceivably be known, and on and on. From this data follows the picture of God that we are working with.

    It’s been there for thousands of years. If that’s bobbing and weaving, then it’s miraculous bobbing and weaving: the writers of Scripture knew you were going to ask this question and bobbed and weaved right into place for you all these millennia ago.

  47. Tom Gilson says:

    And again, seconding Holopupenko, please feel free to look this up in the original sources. I’ve already encouraged you to do that.

    I’ll even make a deal with both you and dl: If either of you want to offer me your best version of how nature came to be on its own, I’ll read your original source(s). Will you do the same with our original sources?

    I’ve read a lot of yours already, by the way.

  48. Tom Gilson says:

    doctor(logic),

    Sorry, Tom, but this isn’t a good argument. You seem to lack a systematic way of evaluating theories, and resort to an organic, holistic, gut sense of whether a theory is good or bad.

    You seem to be doing exactly the same thing. Show me the argument that makes mine fail. Try not to make it too organic, holistic, or gut-sense-y, please, unlike what you’ve done here. Tell me this: what systematic method of evaluating theories should I employ with respect to the naturalistic origins theory that no one seems to have offered so far? If there’s one out there, rest assured I’ll be glad to study and evaluate it, as I just told both you and Jared.

    I’m not resorting to any genetic fallacy, so don’t offer that again against what I’ve written. The reason it matters where theism came from is because Jared made it an issue with his clumsy charge of its being ad hoc.

    I have not admitted that self-caused really means self-existent. I started out with an incorrect statement and corrected it. I do not think there is any such thing as a self-caused being.

    This is no reason to think that self-existence is something that fits better with God than with an ultimate physics.

    Can you give me a coherent picture of an ultimate physics that would lead to nature originating itself? I can give you a coherent picture of a self-existent God originating nature. That’s one reason to suppose that self-existence fits better with God. A very good reason, I would submit.

  49. Tom Gilson says:

    Re-labeling self-existent to “brute” or “ultimate” leaves you with all the same questions, by the way. How could “brute” or “ultimate” nature create nature? I’m stumped. Feel free to enlighten me.

  50. Tom Gilson says:

    Here’s another useful pointer for you toward references for your homework, Jared: http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/14745.htm

  51. Holopupenko says:

    Hi Tom:

    Small–but important–correction: Aristotle did not “postulate” the Unmoved Mover (postulate: A thing suggested or assumed as true as the basis for reasoning, discussion, or belief); he employed empirical observation and logic to reason to the inescapable conclusion that the Unmoved Mover must exist. Note that hardly moves an inch toward a Christian understanding of WHO He is, but merely provides a microscopically-small cross-sectional insight into what He is not (via negativa). We cannot assert anything univocally about God because we limited humans cannot grasp even His attributes in their entirely. We can, however, make many assertions about what He is not, and hence we must employ analogical language to deal with His attributes, i.e., those things sometimes referred to as the “Names of God.” It’s revealed knowledge that is both authoritative AND informs us as to WHO He is and His relationship with/to us.

  52. Charlie says:

    Tom, and Holopupenko, too, how you can deal with this from the same characters year after year after year after year (and more) who show not the slightest ability or intention to grow, learn or listen amazes. Kudos to you.

  53. Tom Gilson says:

    Thanks for the correction, Holopupenko. You’re more well-versed in this than I.

    Charlie (and Jared and dl), I am actually trying to turn a corner here. I’m calling on Jared to do his homework if he wants to engage in this. I’m not doing it for him.

    Jared, if you’re interested in growing, learning, or listening, by all means let it show. If not, then I see no reason to consider this a serious discussion.

    Same for you, doctor(logic).

    I’m offering to do my own homework in return.

  54. Jared Asay says:

    Holopupenko,

    It’s telling when someone genuinely inquires about certain apologist arguments (at least half a dozen times now) and all he gets in response is finger-wagging.

    Is it just too sophisticated that no mortal could possibly summarize it in a few paragraphs on a blog comment? If that’s why the subject has been avoided like the plague, then I can accept that.

    Is it too much to ask? I mean, if someone honestly inquired as to my interpretation of one of our age-old “mantras of atheistic scientism (TM) ” by some “mindless stunted thinker” like Epicurus, I’d be happy to explain, rather than brow-beat them, then shoo them away from my blog.

    Here’s hoping that 6th time’s a charm, anyone want to take a stab at it?

  55. Holopupenko says:

    It’s a team effort, Charlie. Some of what you’ve said in the past has amazed me: kudos to you for your sense of humor and non-confrontational style.

  56. Jared Asay says:

    Finally. Ok, consider the last comment retracted. I’ll check these links out.

  57. Holopupenko says:

    Jared:

    I throw up my hands from the ignorance reflected in your very first line… really.

    “Apologist arguments”?!? Is that what you think Aristotle and Aquinas and others were doing? Really?

    You have not demonstrated any serious understanding of the terms utilized–let alone the arguments themselves.

    Apart from that, I’m with Tom: do your own homework–its a rhetorical ploy to get us to do it for you. Understand the terms, understand the arguments… THEN come back with criticisms of specific points… and leave your straw men at the door.

    Or, is that too much to expect?

  58. Tom Gilson says:

    I know about Epicurus, by the way. If you think he has a plausible argument supporting nature as the self-existent cause of nature (or any decently thought-through variation on that theme), then by all means help me find where I missed it. I’ll dig right in.

  59. Tom Gilson says:

    Thanks for looking through those links. They are only starting points, but they’ll get you somewhere.

  60. Jared Asay says:

    OK, I’ve read both links you provided, Tom/Holopupenko, now perhaps you can help me out with your own interpretations.

    Beginning with the CliffNotes source, let’s start with the fact that Augustine is starting out with a presupposition that the Bible is true and his deity exists and skips ahead to making arguments in support of the “timeless” attribute of said deity.

    Question 1. Why should a skeptic allow him to presuppose the existence of this deity and the truth of the Bible?

    Let’s allow that his deity exists and ignore his reliance on the Bible (a book of assertions, not actual evidence), but we still have a problem:

    “Augustine replies that there was no time, because God created time itself”

    Question 2. The question I’ve been repeating ad naseum this whole time. All I’m seeing is an assertion that your god created time, what I’m asking for is an argument TO your god creating time. Why should I believe it just because Augustine says so?

    The rest of the CliffsNotes source does not address my question.

    Tom’s second source has the exact same problem, and almost immediately begins with it.

    “You are the Maker of all time”

    Augustine, how do you know?

    Is there something I’m missing that explains how these assigned attributes aren’t just a convenient presupposition? These aren’t getting me anywhere, and I’d genuinely like to hear someone’s own interpretation.

  61. Crude says:

    Some notes, more for fun than anything.

    * Whatever ‘ultimate physics’ may be, I think it’s safe to say that DL does not know what it is. And considering the twists we’ve seen in the 20th century alone, speculating about such should give one pause.

    Still, the question I have is this: What guarantee is there that ‘ultimate physics’ wouldn’t include God as part of the explanation? Now, I’m sure Holopupenko would quickly point out to me that ‘God is not part of nature, and thus could not be filed under physics’ – I’d agree. At the same time, scientists seem comfortable with including transcendent laws as part of physics.

    What I’m getting at here is that appealing to ‘ultimate physics’ as a rival to God seems a lot like appealing to a ‘first cause’ as a rival to God. Maybe not necessarily the same thing, but not automatically rivals either.

    * Here’s something I’ve always wondered: Why would any person who wasn’t outright trying to make a religion ever posit a brute fact? Now, I agree with Holo that calling God a brute fact is incorrect. However, DL regards God as one, regards ‘ultimate physics’ as one, and seems to be arguing over which one to endorse.

    But what’s driving him to choose a brute fact anyway? You can’t verify a brute fact’s bruteness. It seems to me that for someone who praises science up and down, brute facts would be anathema.

  62. Tom Gilson says:

    Jared,

    You keep asking the wrong question. You keep presenting our argument as if we were saying, “In view of the fact that we know God exists, how can we know God exists?” No one here is doing that.

    Here’s another version. You keep presenting our argument is if we were saying, “In view of the fact that we know God exists, and we know that God created time itself, how do we know that God created time itself?” I’m not doing that. No one here is doing that.

    You’re complaining about having to repeat things ad nauseum. Stop complaining and start paying attention to what I have repeated over and over again, in the original post, and here and here (especially) and here and here and here. I am not nauseated by the repetition, but I am certainly growing weary of it.

    Here is what I have said over and over again in multiple ways. The question I am raising is this: which provides a more plausible theory of nature’s origin: God (as defined in theism) or nature (defined in any way you want to propose)?

    Note that the question I have raised does not expect anyone on either side of the argument to:

    1. Presuppose the existence of this deity
    2. Presuppose the truth of the Bible
    3. Presuppose it is actually true that God created time

    What it does expect is that one would investigate whether 1, 2, and 3 taken together provide a coherent explanation for the origin of nature, and to compare it to competing explanations that may be on offer.

    Besides misconstruing me completely as I’ve just explained, what you’re also doing, Jared, is really quite illegitimate as an arguing technique. You’re expecting us to demonstrate the truth of all our conclusions before you’ll consider their relative merits vis á vis your own (unstated, unargued, undeveloped) position, whatever it might be. May I gently but firmly and decisively inform you that it’s long past time to cut that out now? What you need to do is take our theory as it is, evaluate it on its merits, and tell me whether you think it stands on its merits.

    I’m willing to do that with your theory. So far I don’t have one of yours to proceed with, though.

  63. Tom Gilson says:

    Whatever ‘ultimate physics’ may be, I think it’s safe to say that DL does not know what it is.

    🙂

  64. Holopupenko says:

    Jared:

    First, I commend you for actually checking and trying. I caution you, however, not to label our explanations as “interpretations.” They’re not… and Tom nicely addresses this in this latest (62) response.

    Second, to unfairly sound-bite address your overall search, what’s “wrong” with it is you’re missing the context. St. Augustine was not trying to convince 20th century scientists, nor does he have to. He was attempting to share some of the deepest effects his Christian faith had on his intellectual life… among other things. If, as Charlie correctly suggested, you actually read and struggle with The City of God—NOT as a scientific manual, but as reflective of a soul in deep reflection upon certain truths of faith—you may actually gain something. AND, don’t forget YOUR context: you live in a western 20th century society that eats, lives, and breathes rapid-fire sound-bites… which is most manifestly not the context in which the ancients lived and thought.

    (I’m a university professor of physics: if I knew you were using Cliff Notes to delve into these deeply important issues, you’d be called onto the carpet of my office in a heart beat. That’s why reading original sources—as well as other sources from that period for context—is so important. You are in deep danger of sound-bitizing Augustine with Cliff Notes… and missing the boat. Of course the Cliff Notes aren’t going to satisfy you—let Augustine himself do that.)

    Third, at some point you’ve got to understand the difference between univocal definitions (what the modern empirical sciences employ), equivocal, and analogous language. Without understanding the distinctions, you’re dead on arrival in terms of understanding.

    Four, let’s talk about Aquinas: His arguments were not intended as “proofs” but “ways” that presuppose context and prior knowledge. None of Aquinas’ writings exist in a vacuum: it is assumed one has read and understood: (1) prior parts of that particular work, (2) all his earlier works, (3) all of Aristotle’s works, (4) the entire Bible, (5) many other writings. Also, he was extremely fair to the opposing position: he was known as painfully correctly presenting the opponents argument in the best light possible. He was a straw man-free zone. The Summa Theologica was meant to be used in formal debates in which the opponent and audience were familiar with the philosophical underpinnings of the subject. The intended audience included Christian scholars and followers of certain Muslim and Jewish philosophers—all who accepted the existence of God. Thomas was, in a sense, “preaching to the choir.”

    The modern empirical sciences (MESs) developed in the High Middle Ages because (for among other reasons) these guys worked so hard at getting the philosophical bases for the sciences well-grounded in empirical observation and pain-staking logical rigor. The MESs cannot exist without this work. Period. All their work actually caused a “pregnant pause” in history where more knowledge was needed about the real world, but which philosophy and theology are incapable of providing. Ultimately, that led to an explosion of new knowledge (the so-called “scientific revolution”) as the power of the philosophical underpinnings made the individuals MESs so, so, so effective. St. Augustine held tenaciously to the principle that if our observations of nature seemingly conflicted with our interpretations of Scripture, then it is the latter that are to be suspected—not the former. Ever hear of an atheist praising that approach?

    Some more on the Summa: A very small portion of the beginning of this huge work (Part 1, Question 2) concerns the existence of God and is subdivided into three articles. The last article concerns the famous “five ways.” There are no presuppositions of attributes. He arrives at several “names of God” and then spends the rest of the Summa to reflect upon them. Having presented the “five ways” for the existence of God, Aquinas goes on to discuss God in terms of His (1) Simplicity, (2) Perfection, (3) Power, (4) Goodness, (5) Boundlessness, (6) Knowledge, and many other attributes. And this discussion then this leads into a protracted consideration of questions pertaining to (1) Creation, (2) nature of angels and demons, (3) work done during the six days of the Creation… which culminated with the creation of man, and many more things… and that’s only the first of the three parts of the Summa.

    Now, why do you think DL’s world view is so narrow-minded? Because he a priori doesn’t want there to be a God. (It’s some emotional need or something.) He begins from that premise without checking it… and crashes and burns… over and over and over again.

    I invite you not to become a believer (it’s not in my job description to force that on you… as nice—for you—as eternal life would be), but to actually examine the evidence in the context in which it is given… and not to have the arrogance to throw away 2,000 years of thinking by many, many people. Do you really want to fall into the fallacy of historicism (which DL does) by discounting a book simply because it’s “old”, or the genetic fallacy of discounting a book simply because its source is Christian? Don’t you want to know whether what all these books reflect upon is actually true?

  65. Tom,

    Can you give me a coherent picture of an ultimate physics that would lead to nature originating itself? I can give you a coherent picture of a self-existent God originating nature.

    What is “self-originating” supposed to mean? Self-existent does not mean self-causing. Is God the originator of himself? Or does self-origination mean the same thing as self-existent, i.e., having no prior cause?

    Because if self-existent and self-originating means having no prior cause, then I no more need something to originate nature than you need something to originate God.

    The fact that you can imagine a God originating nature is irrelevant.

    Let’s just use symbols.

    We have a chain of causation (A, B, C, D,…) where the symbols represent states of affairs, and the notation means A causes B causes C causes D, etc.

    As we work our way back up the chain, we’ll either have an infinite regress, or else we’ll reach a first state of affairs, A.

    You are saying that this first state of affairs is self-existent (not self-caused) by definition. That is, any first state of affairs is self-existent by definition. I’m happy with that definition.

    Your claim is that God makes a better self-existent thing than does some physical state. But you haven’t explained why.

  66. Holopupenko says:

    We have a chain of causation (A, B, C, D,…) where the symbols represent states of affairs, and the notation means A causes B causes C causes D, etc.

    Again, with the daftness… and mathematically reductionist to boot. Did you ever entertain the possibility at even something as trivial as a chain of physical causality does not contain within itself the explanation for the existence of the chain itself? Tell me you don’t understand that even some physical causes are simultaneous with their effects. Tell us you missed the point that “first” doesn’t mean temporally or even ordinally but primarily. When, oh when, are you going to do some homework to at least understand what’s being talked about? Spare us your impositional scientistic ignorance.

    Dumb. There’s no other word for such half-baked nonsense…

  67. Tom Gilson says:

    dl, if you can’t make sense of “self-originating,” in the context of physics or nature, neither can I. Do you have a theory to offer that either of use could make sense of?

    Let’s drop the term self-caused from the conversation, okay? None of us thinks it’s real or applicable to any theory. Self-existent is something else, as you have aptly noted.

    The fact that I can imagine a God originating nature is one thing. The fact that you can’t imagine anything else originating nature is another. If you want us to explain why God makes a better self-existing thing than some physical state, why don’t you suggest some self-existent physical state for us to compare God to? I don’t think you can do that successfully, because I think it’s impossible. Feel free to prove me wrong.

    We have a plausibly coherent theory of the origins of nature. Do you have a plausibly coherent competing theory or not?

  68. Crude,

    Whatever ‘ultimate physics’ may be, I think it’s safe to say that DL does not know what it is.

    You know God a lot less than I know ultimate physics.

    Look, if I call ultimate physics “God”, I don’t suddenly know physics. Knowing a theory entails being able to use it to predict future events, or being able to constrain states of affairs. It’s not enough to give a name to it.

    In physics, knowing a theory means parametrizing the theory and coming up with a specific formula.

    For God, you would need to know the mind of God well enough to state what he will do. Or at least what God will be more likely to do. But you don’t know the mind of God at all. All you know is his name, i.e., God, and what (you think) he did in the past. Just having a name for a theory and declaring it ultimate doesn’t make it explanatory. And it’s not sufficient to say that God could do it, because physics could do it too.

    As for whether ultimate physics includes God, I think that’s a legitimate question. If you understand God’s mind to the point that he becomes a sort of predictive physics, I’m on board. But good luck getting any support from your pals on that idea.

  69. Tom Gilson says:

    You know God a lot less than I know ultimate physics.

    Wow. Jared was (illegitimately) harping on us for assuming our conclusions. Jared, would you please explain to doctor(logic) how he has just done what you accused us of? Thank you.

    If you understand God’s mind to the point that he becomes a sort of predictive physics, I’m on board. But good luck getting any support from your pals on that idea.

    In other words, if we understand God not to be God, then you would be willing to accept that God could be God. Good luck indeed getting anyone here to think that makes sense. What kind of idiocy do you think you can get away with here, anyway?

    By the way: totally agree with you, just having a name for a theory and declaring it ultimate doesn’t make it explanatory. Can you imagine how embarrassed I would be if I had actually said anything like that? (What kind of idiocy do you think you can get away with here, suggesting that anybody ever had that idea?)

  70. Holopupenko,

    Really? Saying that there are states of affairs sequenced in time is reductionist? Is that wrong? Can you argue against that picture without relying on apparent states of affairs sequenced in time? Gimme a break.

    You take medieval philosophy as truth. It’s obsolete rubbish, and yelling at your critics as if Aquinas was the end of philosophy isn’t going to work (except in your own mind, of course).

  71. Tom Gilson says:

    Medieval philosophy should not be regarded as shared truth these days; it needs to be supported and argued for, as if for the first time. And Aquinas wasn’t the end of philosophy. So just quoting Aquinas, I agree, is inadequate for these discussions. I”m not sure Holopupenko has actually made that error. Has he? (In the past, yes, but recently?)

    It’s rather charming to hear you put your own position this way: “Medieval philosophy is … obsolete rubbish, and yelling at your critics … isn’t going to work.” It’s an amazingly serene experience for me to reflect on how exquisitely there you supported your point with argument rather than yelling at your critics.

  72. Tom,

    I just gave an example of how something non-physical could originate physics. A mind with a will and values could do so, in principle. That’s fine.

    In that case, state of affairs A is that mind. No problem.

    I don’t understand why you’re having so much difficulty, but I wonder if the following is a clue:

    If you want us to explain why God makes a better self-existing thing than some physical state, why don’t you suggest some self-existent physical state for us to compare God to? I don’t think you can do that successfully, because I think it’s impossible. Feel free to prove me wrong.

    Suppose that state A is the singularity at the start of the physical universe. If it has no prior cause, then it is self-existent by definition. Mission accomplished.

    In theory, self-existent state A could be the state of the entire universe 200,000 years ago. The reason we reject that is that, thanks to physics, we know enough about history to trace history back further in time.

    One more possibility. The entire universe with its entire history (a four-dimensional entity) is self-existent. History just is, eternally (since there’s no time outside spacetime). That works, too.

  73. Tom Gilson says:

    If A is the singularity at the start of the physical universe, why did it begin its originating action when it did, and not some other time? How did it decide to do its originating thing? What moved it to move? What principle(s) can you point to by which you can explain how nature came out to be the way it has? What distinguishes this conception of yours from that of nature being (incoherently) the cause of nature?

    One difference between nature and God is that no one denies that causation acts upon nature; and therefore to remove causation from nature’s very first steps is very problematical. God is by definition not caused; nature is not so.

    Another difference between nature and God is that no one seems to be denying that nature is contingent: it could have been other than it is. If not, if it’s completely deterministic in every possible sense of the term, then you run into other insurmountable problems in your theory.

    Do you have any source for me to go to for further working out of your conjectures? Is it possible that you’re making something up that has been thought through in some detail already? Where could I go to find out? I’ll be glad to do the homework. If my questions are leading me down some false trail, surely you can explain how, or point me to some source that could do it. If you can’t, I’ll have to wonder if you’re blowing smoke.

  74. Crude says:

    DL,

    You know God a lot less than I know ultimate physics.

    Tom’s pointed out a problem with this, and I’ll point out another: If any selection of the various arguments for God work (any of the Five Ways, etc), then no – I actually know some important things about God. You dismiss those arguments (apparently without knowing much about them): Great. It’s not convincing.

    Knowing a theory entails being able to use it to predict future events, or being able to constrain states of affairs. It’s not enough to give a name to it.

    In physics, knowing a theory means parametrizing the theory and coming up with a specific formula.

    You’re making assumptions about the UP: That it will be formulaic in the relevant ways, that the relevant aspects of it will be predictive rather than bedrock. Our inability to know things can also be part of physics – look at the uncertainty principle.

    There’s another funny twist to all this too. You concede that God can indeed be included as a fundamental part of any UP. But that means talk like “And it’s not sufficient to say that God could do it, because physics could do it too.” is wrong, because what physics does and what God does are not in conflict, certainly not necessarily.

    Which again means, putting God in the running against Ultimate Physics doesn’t work. Why, at the end of the day, those medieval philosophers you dislike could have been correct (as opposed to those ancient greek atheists prefer.)

  75. Jared Asay says:

    “Medieval philosophy should not be regarded as shared truth in these days; it needs to be supported and argued for, as if for the first time. And Aquinas wasn’t the end of philosophy. So just quoting Aquinas, I agree, is inadequate for these discussions.”

    Thank you! That’s what I’ve been asking for. Let’s try and accomplish this then, how about it? Why give me the “homework” runaround when this has been your position the whole time?

    Tom, I’ll reword the question to make it more palatable to you, but it’s still basically what I’ve been trying to understand this whole time:

    “In view of the fact that we BELIEVE God exists, how do we BELIEVE that God created time itself?”

    Simply put, I’m asking for yours, or Holopupenko’s, or anyone else’s supporting arguments, as if for the first time, for why I should BELIEVE your god is timeless/spaceless/etc.

    Here is my position on the merits of your arguments thus far: we do not know what caused the Big Bang. The closest we can get is mere conjecture, and whatever you posit (without support thus far) as an attribute of your god that allows for the universe’s creation can just as easily be ascribed to a paradigm of physics (outside of and undetectable by the paradigm we live in, timeless, etc). Furthermore, believing that something sentient created this universe smacks of our human tendency to anthropomorphize events we don’t understand, and I have not been given any reason to believe this is not the (classic) case.

  76. Tom Gilson says:

    I wasn’t giving you the homework runaround, Jared. You still don’t get it. I’m about to lose hope.

    I said that medieval philosophy cannot be assumed as shared truth. What I meant, obviously, was that if we’re going to take a stand on the findings of medieval philosophy, we need first to establish our reasons for taking that stand. We can’t simply assume its truth.

    But as I have said over and over again (now it actually is ad nauseum), what we’re talking about here is the comparison of two theories, neither of which (for purposes of this discussion) we are taking a stand on as if they were known to be true. I’m asking you to study what the theory says. I”m inviting you in return to give me a theory to study. I’m not asking you as you study to assume, believe, presuppose or any such thing that my side’s theory is true. I’m not asking you to take medieval philosophy as established fact. I’m just asking you to look at some of it as a description of what is is we’re trying to talk about.

    How could I be any clearer than that????? Just do some homework to find out what it says so we can talk about what it says. But you keep bobbing and weaving out of it.

    You can ask, why should you BELIEVE our God is timeless/spaceless/etc.. if you want. But if we were to go there with you, we’d be changing the subject—which I really don’t think you recognize. The question we’ve been asking here has never been, why should you believe x about God. I haven’t asked you to believe x about God for purposes of this discussion. The question in this thread has always been this: given a certain theory of God for consideration, does the theory work, and how well does it work in comparison to non-theistic theories?

    (Here’s my quick answer, though: the reason you should believe in God as revealed in Christianity is contained in the Evidences category of this blog, all the posts thereof. It’s also on the Stand to Reason website, the LeaderU website, the Reasonable Faith website, and a thousand others. It’s on the shelves of a thousand libraries. Was that helpful? I thought not. Wouldn’t it make more sense to just stick with one question and try to pursue it instead?)

    The question again is, given two competing theories of the origin of nature, which is more plausibly coherent? That’s the question I raised, that’s the question I’m choosing to stick with, and I really don’t have time to rewrite all of those thousands of websites to answer the other question you’ve tried to ask in its place.

    If you think that whatever we posit of God as the cause of nature, could as easily be posited of physics as the cause of nature, then please explain how nature can cause itself; and you might want to try your hand at some of the questions I just asked doctor(logic), too. Otherwise you’re making bare assertions with no force of argument.

  77. Tom Gilson says:

    If this last attempt of mine doesn’t get us successfully on topic, Jared, then I will conclude that you lack either the will or the capacity to carry on the discussion, and I will declare myself done with trying to help you get there. Enough is enough.

    But I wish you luck. I don’t want it to be necessary to give up. I’ll only do it if it proves necessary.

  78. Tom Gilson says:

    Note: I just edited my second-to-last comment for clarity. You might want to re-check it before replying.

  79. Jared Asay says:

    A natural paradigm outside our own, that caused our own, could be timeless and self existing. There. It carries all the same weight as any argument for your god, and that is mere conjecture.

  80. Holopupenko says:

         “In view of the fact that we BELIEVE God exists, how do we BELIEVE that God created time itself?”
         Simply put, I’m asking for yours, or Holopupenko’s, or anyone else’s supporting arguments, as if for the first time, for why I should BELIEVE your god is timeless/spaceless/etc.

    I agree with Tom: you’re not listening–which is different from agreeing. We’re not asking you to agree–that’s for you to deal with. What we’re asking, time and time again, is not to import and impose your incorrect assumptions and ignorance of these matters.

    You ask the following (above): …why I should BELIEVE your god is timeless…? I’ll go you one better: it’s easy to show YOU are timeless. You were Jared as a baby, you were Jared as a teenager, you’re Jared now, you’ll be Jared when you retire, etc. You–yourself, i.e., the substance Jared–is timeless… but your accidents (age, height, color of hair, position in space, etc.) vary all the time without changing WHO you are. Yet, you keep asking about time as if it’s substantial (by implication) not only to yourself but (by direct attribution) to God. You don’t understand, like many other things you don’t understand, that time is an accident, that it is the metric of change: that which is changing–the substance–is important… not what hair color the thing has.

    How much more so for God?

  81. Tom Gilson says:

    I give up. You think you can follow your opening sentence with “There.” As if “could be” were all it took. Your refusal to take either naturalism or theism and their implications seriously, even for purposes of comparing their explanatory potential, speaks for itself.

  82. Holopupenko says:

    A natural paradigm outside our own, that caused our own, could be timeless and self existing. There. It carries all the same weight as any argument for your god, and that is mere conjecture.

    Therefore, YOU are mere conjecture.

  83. BillT says:

    “If my questions are leading me down some false trail, surely you can explain how, or point me to some source that could do it. If you can’t, I’ll have to wonder if you’re blowing smoke.”

    You’re wondering if the same person who attributed the creation of the universe and everything in it to “ultimate physics” (Is that like ultimate frisbee?) is blowing smoke? Oh, ye of little faith.

  84. Mike Anthony says:

    “Simply put, I’m asking for yours, or Holopupenko’s, or anyone else’s supporting arguments, as if for the first time, for why I should BELIEVE your god is timeless/spaceless/etc.”

    Well since I qualify under “anyone else’s”

    Simply put – because timelessness is INEVITABLE. You have two choices

    A) infinite regression
    B) or an entity of some sort that has no beginning , was not caused and therefore partook in no process of time to be created from which everything else proceeded.

    However it is a false choice because option A would still be a system that had no beginning
    (because infinite regressions is defined as such)

    So logically there must be or have been an entity that has no beginning and is therefore timeless (or you can go trotting back into the infinite regression of a domino train that has no start point – same thing).

    You may argue that such an entity or system need not be God but just the fact that such an entity MUST logically exist is enough to blow the cob webs off of the idea of the supernatural being absurd. Whatever the entity is it must logically be Self existent, all powerful (since all power comes from it) and since we have a created universe that is not self existing and full of timed processes must be creative.

    No one would claim that any entity that has no cause or beginning or process at work within itself qualifies as “natural” to our own universe. Everything within our world has cause and so Not invoking a scientific explanation is not a cop out but a logical conclusion of this present universe not being that entity since it most obviously is not ( it has process at every turn. One thing always leads to another which is the basis of science which cannot exist in an entity without cause.)

    All characteristics are embodied in the word God. The only out you have is to claim it need not be personal or intelligent but since even intelligence owes its ultimate root to the causeless entity it will have to be your burden to show why intelligence would not be a property of the entity or intrinsic rule from which it was ultimately derived from.

    However we do have another piece of evidence once we logically get this far that makes denial of intelligence that much weaker –

    We live in a universe which requires process that inevitable comes from a “universe” where it was neither used nor required. IF you think about it for a second you will then see that there is no reason to believe the properties of the first entity included any cause and effect rules (theres none that governed its being since it was causeless).

    The rules in our universe of cause and effect were therefore invented by the causeless entity and a rule separate from a property of an entity is bonafide proof of information being applied by an intelligence.

    Simply put

    Balls in your court.

  85. Mike Anthony says:

    “Suppose that state A is the singularity at the start of the physical universe. If it has no prior cause, then it is self-existent by definition. Mission accomplished.”

    common and popular word game. The physical universe we now can empirically study has cause and effect at every turn. If we argue that it had no beginning then we are essentially changing what we now see and have learned from it. In other words its not the same physical universe that we observe now and therefore would be something else entirely.

    The singularity even on the hypothetical level leaves us with a universe where the laws we observe would break down into something that isn’t even explainable in our present physical universe. Using the term physical universe is a game to make it sound as if its all explainable based on present observations or what we can know of the present physical universe. The singularity is in itself a superantural explanation – by any logical definition of what we now call natural or physical

  86. Ronn Breidenbach says:

    the post reads: “The universe comprises four primary dimensions – three of time and one of space”. Just to keep things correctly said, should that not read: “three of space, and one of time”?

  87. mikespeir says:

    “Could nature be the originator of the laws of nature? Only if its existence and its character (its nature) were self-caused in the same sense God is conceived to be. Otherwise, nature would be dependent on some laws to explain the existence of laws, which is hopelessly circular. So then is nature really self-caused? I can’t think of anyone who has proposed a good model for it being that way.”

    So, is there a good model for how God is self-caused?

  88. Tom Gilson says:

    God is not self-caused. See the ensuing discussion for a correction of my mistake there.

    Is there a good model for how God is self-existent? What could that mean? Please see the first long paragraph that I wrote in the original post (following the quoted material), and then help me understand just what it is you’re asking for. Thanks.

  89. mikespeir says:

    What I’m asking, Tom, is for you to let go of the special pleading. If I have to come up with a model for how the universe is self-caused–or self-existent, if you prefer–then you need to do the same for God. In fact, I don’t know that the universe is any more “caused” than the god you posit would be. Insistence on ultimate “causation” could be nothing more than evidence for the limitations of our imaginations. And that could be whether there’s a god or not. The whole idea of “infinite regression” becomes a non-issue then. (In fact, it pretty much is anyway. The fact that such a thought makes us uncomfortable–because our teeny brains could probably never understand why–doesn’t make it illogical.)

    In fact, neither of us has any such model. That poses no problem for my side of the fence, other than the nag to keep pushing in hopes of finding out whatever the truth is. For those who posit a “first cause,” however, and further insist that there’s no honest excuse to doubt such a thing, it is a problem indeed.

    But even if there could be shown that there is an ultimate cause, is that your god? How so? What does it buy you to claim that “God” is “whyever there’s something rather than nothing”? Can you step back far enough to see that your attempts to answer that question could only satisfy those who already agree with you? You’ve got a spattering of dots on the page and you connect them to your liking. There’s really nothing that demands they be drawn that way.

  90. Tom Gilson says:

    Sorry I do not have time right now for a longer answer than this, mikespeir, but one quick question: do you really doubt there is a first cause?

    I’ll come back for more later. Thanks for your patience with me.

  91. mikespeir says:

    You’re asking a peculiar question. Do I “doubt” first cause? I don’t think of it in those terms. I simply don’t know there is a first cause. I mean, really, should I? Why?

  92. mikespeir says:

    Reading back through my previous post, I realize that’s going to come across as evasive. I don’t quite know what to do about that. I was a Christian myself until I was 48. And, really, I don’t mean for you to infer, “but now I’ve become enlightened.” On the other hand, looking back, it’s hard to believe how my perspectives have changed since. Back then, I could not have seen that kind of comment as anything but a “cop-out.” Now, it’s as honest as I know how to make it.

    I liken knowledge to a rope: twisted tightly in our hands, but becoming looser and increasingly frayed as it stretches farther into the metaphysical fog. Before long it’s just a bunch of fibers with little obvious connection and, a little farther yet, out of our sight completely. We can use our minds to divine (Don’t you dare capitalize that!) some of what’s out there. But what we think we know becomes more and more sketchy as we venture into the haze. The issue of ultimate origins is probably as far as we can even guess at. (Although, there may be even more fundamental considerations we do not and, perhaps, cannot suspect.) I see it as pretty much the height of arrogance to state with confidence that we know what lies that far away from our day-to-day reality.

  93. BillT says:

    mikespeir,

    Did you read Mike Anthony’s post #84? I thought he addressed your question pretty directly. Just my own observation on your comment. It seems your main point is “Hey, we just can’t know for certain what’s true so I’m going to give up trying.”

    The understanding of the necessity for a first cause dates back something like 3,000 years. It’s an agrument that has never had it’s central premise refuted as Mike Anthony explained. Hard to understand how it’s intellectually defensable to claim that isn’t a reliable understanding.

  94. Mike,

    The physical universe we now can empirically study has cause and effect at every turn. If we argue that it had no beginning then we are essentially changing what we now see and have learned from it.

    I’m afraid this reasoning doesn’t work. Here’s an analogy to explain why. Suppose you were born on a ship on the ocean. You know you can sail in any direction and still be on the ocean. You have never seen a shore. There are two possibilities. The ocean is bounded (at least on one side) by a shore, or it isn’t.

    It’s certainly possible that the ocean is infinite in all directions. It’s also possible that there is a shore. But if all you have to go on is your experience on the deep ocean, why think there is a shore at all?

    Moreover, in this analogy, there being prior cause is analogous to water astern. You’re claiming that because you have never seen a shore (a lack of water) behind your boat, no ocean can have a natural boundary. It just doesn’t follow.

    You’re saying that because in our experience there is a continuous chain of causation within spacetime, therefore, spacetime can have no natural boundary.

  95. Tom Gilson says:

    It’s certainly possible that the ocean is infinite in all directions.

    Really?! All directions? (I certainly hope you’re not thinking of a sphere here.)

  96. JAD says:

    Once again,the logic here is really pretty basic. If we accept the standard Big Bang model then not only the universe but also space and time as well as the laws of nature had a beginning. In other words, whatever caused the universe must be something that transcends space and time. Theists have an explanation here; naturalists do not.

    It’s amazing to watch the contortions that critics like Dr. Logic and Jared Asay will go through to try to escape the obvious implications here. It appears to me that either (a) they do not understand logic or (b) their own a priori commitment to naturalism has blinded them to any other possible explanation. So either they are ignorant or blatantly prejudiced.

    Whatever happened to open minded rationality?

  97. JAD,

    Once again,the logic here is really pretty basic. If we accept the standard Big Bang model then not only the universe but also space and time as well as the laws of nature had a beginning.

    This non sequitur is getting pretty tedious.

    NO, the universe does NOT need to have a transcendent creator. It can simply have a first event. In the Big Bang model, that event is the initial singularity. There is no need to embed the system in another dimension or to create the universe. The universe just exists. That’s what the model says.

    Some people want to speculate on alternative theories. What if the universe came from something else? What if there’s something outside our universe that gave rise to it? Fine, but that’s optional. You’re taking the optional stuff and claiming it’s mandatory. That’s just incorrect.

    The universe with all its history could be the only existent thing, and it would be self-existent. It would have a beginning, and perhaps an end. There’s no need to embed this in some other superworld. And if you embed it in a superworld, your superworld had better make predictions about this world, or else it’s idle speculation. Christians accuse multiverse theories of being idle speculation, and I agree – if a multiverse theory doesn’t make any predictions, it’s just speculation. But what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. The same applied to a creator. Speculate on a creator if you want, but don’t pretend it’s better than a multiverse.

  98. Holopupenko says:

    The universe just exists.

    Anti-intellectual nonsense: the universe is a brute fact, and you faithers have to deal with it. DL asserted it, you must believe it, that settles it. No need to explore, no need to study, no need to seek explanation, no need to do science or philosophy, and nothing to back it up. It just IS because atheists are too emotionally tied to making sure God doesn’t exist–evidence or not. Why truth when imposition works quite well. Talk about the dark ages of atheism…

  99. BillT says:

    No, this non sequitur is getting pretty tedious.

    “NO, the universe does NOT need to have a transcendent creator. It can simply have a first event. In the Big Bang model, that event is the initial singularity.”

    And just where does the initial singularity come from? Postulating a self-existant initial singularity is speculation. As are multiverses. Neither fit the facts of the universe as we know it nor are they testable in any way. They are the very definition of speculation.

  100. BillT says:

    And before you ask, no, God is not speculation like a self-existent initial singularity or multiverse. Why? Because the universe and its inhabitants exhibit characteristics that are best explained by a creator. Just a few examples among many would include the fine tuning of the universe, the consciousness of its inhabitants and the existence of morality. None of these are best explained by singularities or a multiverse.

  101. mikespeir says:

    Actually, BillT, some of my comment was in response to Mike Anthony’s post. And, no, it’s not so simplistic as, “We can’t know, so why try?” It’s that what we know of what lies way “out there” is too iffy to insist that anybody share our beliefs about it. And yet, Christianity has historically insisted just that. Sometimes that’s done at the point of a sword and sometimes with just the threat of some flavor of eternal unpleasantness. Is it so hard to understand why some of us revolt at that; that we demand better evidence than what really amounts to speculation, however sincerely or confidently asserted?

    One doesn’t have to have answers to, for instance, “where did the initial singularity come from?” (Although, I think the idea of an initial singularity isn’t current anymore.) All one needs to do is demonstrate that the certainty theists claim isn’t warranted. I realize that it’s almost intuitive, in light of a prior-cause bias, to suppose that Nature must have come from something beyond Nature. It’s a fair question, but a prejudiced one. Then, when I turn it around and ask whether “the divine” would have come from something “beyond divine,” theists respond as if I were crazy. But that, too, is a fair question. Tailoring the definition of “the divine” to suit your assumptions isn’t an answer. “God” doesn’t need to be defined as “First Cause.” Even if he were to exist, he might be nothing more than a demiurge. Do you know he’s not? My point isn’t that there’s a demiurge. I don’t believe in that, either. My point is that it’s a viable possibility in light of a prior-cause bias, one you can’t really argue against effectively. And that, in turn, demonstrates that you’ve entered a realm about which no speculation is sure enough to foist onto others.

  102. Tom Gilson says:

    mikespeir, it seems to me my most recent blog post addresses what you wrote in your second paragraph here, or at least begins to address it. Have you read it yet?

  103. BillT says:

    First of all, the existence of God isn’t speculation as I gave examples of in my post #101. Second, in my post to you I offered a 3,000 year old unrefuted argument that explains the need for and existence of a first cause. You ignored it.

    Your belief that Christians “foist “ their beliefs and that is ” …done at the point of a sword and sometimes with just the threat of some flavor of eternal unpleasantness.” is at once historically inaccurate and misstates Christian theology. Christianity has spread historically by voluntary conversion and it doesn’t threaten anyone. It explains the reality of our spiritual lives.

    Your claim that “All one needs to do is demonstrate that the certainty theists claim isn’t warranted.” is a straw man. Theists don’t claim certainty. Theists reason to best possible inference. To claim “All one needs to do…” is selling yourself and your intellectual integity short. If you have a worldview that better explains our existance and reality then please enlighten us. Instead you resort to tilting at straw men without having to justify or explain an alternative. It’s not a particularly compelling position.

  104. Tom Gilson says:

    Hard to disagree with this:

    Second, in my post to you I offered a 3,000 year old unrefuted argument that explains the need for and existence of a first cause. You ignored it.

    Ignoring an argument is no way to establish that it’s wrong.

    And I agree also with BillT’s second paragraph. Yes, there have been exceptions, but by far the greatest proportion of Christian conversion through the centuries has been voluntary. You’re poisoning the well if you try to claim otherwise. That’s a fallacy, as I suppose you might already know. The question is not how do Christians carry out the process of persuading people, it’s whether Christianity’s claims are true and can be credibly thought to be true.

  105. JAD says:

    Doctor Logic wrote:

    The universe with all its history could be the only existent thing, and it would be self-existent.

    Could be? Did the universe have a beginning? If it did then it cannot be self existent rather you must claim that it is self caused. But the idea of self causation, as I have argued above(#34), is logically problematic, because for something to cause itself it would have to be before it was. In other words, it “would have to be and not be at the same time and in the same relationship, which violates the law of no contradiction and necessitates a leap into the absurd.”
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2011/05/did-god-create-the-laws-of-physics-secular-news-daily/#comment-25900

    The theist argument is:

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

    Any thing that does not begin to exist is the kind of thing that is described as self-existent. If the universe began to exist then it cannot be self existent.

  106. Bill R. says:

    mikespeir,

    what we know of what lies way “out there” is too iffy to insist that anybody share our beliefs about it.

    You’re partially right: it is hard to know what’s “out there” – i.e. God is so foreign to our minds that we cannot be expected to know him by our own power. But that’s the beautiful thing about God: he does not demand that we successfully navigate the metaphysical fog (or cross wastelands of ascetic self-denial, or climb mountains of selfless altruism, for that matter) before we can reach him. It would be impossible to follow such a deity, and unreasonable to expect others to do so, as you’ve said, but fortunately that’s not the way God works.

    Instead of letting us find our way to him, he comes to us, most clearly in the form of Jesus Christ. He penetrated the fog for us, in order to lead us through it. Christians still engage in metaphysical reasoning, of course (as this blog demonstrates), because i) we love exploring the truth about God, and ii) it may help remove some people’s obstacles to accepting what God has done for them, but we don’t claim that accepting philosophical arguments for God is the first step, or even a necessary step, towards a relationship with God.

    The Christian message is not: “you must accept our metaphysical reasoning and come to God, or else!”, but rather “God has come to you; now you have no excuse (be it metaphysical ambiguity or anything else) for rejecting him anymore, and everything to gain from following him… so what are you waiting for?! Come on in!”.

  107. mikespeir says:

    Wow, what a swarm! I can’t imagine any way to deal with all that here. Let’s try a few, anyway.

    “Because the universe and its inhabitants exhibit characteristics that are best explained by a creator. Just a few examples among many would include the fine tuning of the universe, the consciousness of its inhabitants and the existence of morality. None of these are best explained by singularities or a multiverse.”

    In the first place, I’m not offering singularities or multiverses. As I’ve pointed out repeatedly, there’s simply no good evidence for God. And, regardless, who offers up singularities or multiverses as the causes for such things as consciousness and morality? That would be absurd! Even “fine tuning” doesn’t argue for a god, and certainly not your God. (And it might benefit you to note that the fine tuning argument was not advanced in the interest of propounding special, direct creation, anyway.) The fact that we’re here, that we’re conscious enough to notice, and that we have impulses (call them “morals”) that help us survive long enough to notice–none of that would cause, “Wow! Must be God,” to enter into the mind of anyone who hadn’t already been inculcated with the notion. Claiming this “3000 year-old” argument is “unrefuted,” means nothing if it wouldn’t show up on its own on a tabula rasa. It’s a nonstarter without prior assumptions.

    “Yes, there have been exceptions, but by far the greatest proportion of Christian conversion through the centuries has been voluntary.”

    Yes, and? Was I arguing against Christianity on the basis of its malign past? I was not. I was pointing out that the evidence for it is far, far too weak to justify punishment for disbelief either here or in some supposed hereafter. Being that it’s that weak, why should I believe it?

    “Theists don’t claim certainty. Theists reason to best possible inference.”

    No, theists reason to the preferred inference. And if you don’t claim certainty, on what basis do you insist others have no right to disagree with you about the existence of God? And let’s be clear. When I say, “have no right,” I’m talking about the traditional teaching that those who disbelieve are so dishonest in doing so that they are justly subject to punishment for it. Or, to perhaps be more theologically correct, that unbelief robs them of their opportunity to escape said punishment. It’s a quibble, really.

    And BillR:

    No offense, but that’s just preaching. The very kind I used to do. There’s nothing compelling in it.

    Now, look how long this comment is, even without trying to deal with every response in detail! How long should I keep this up?

  108. Crude says:

    As I’ve pointed out repeatedly, there’s simply no good evidence for God.

    You haven’t pointed this out – you’ve just asserted it and little else, and complained that other arguments and evidence don’t count because… well, let’s look.

    The fact that we’re here, that we’re conscious enough to notice, and that we have impulses (call them “morals”) that help us survive long enough to notice–none of that would cause, “Wow! Must be God,” to enter into the mind of anyone who hadn’t already been inculcated with the notion.

    Again, bare assertion along with sneaking in assumptions (that morals are just impulses, and they’re around only due to some survival benefit), and that nothing about regularity, consciousness, morality, etc grants, upon examination, evidence to conclude that a creator exists.

    Not to mention that saying, in essence, “Nothing about the world would ever cause someone to conclude God’s existence without their ‘being inculcated with the notion to begin with'” makes the very existence of God-belief itself out of place and in need of explanation. Who inculcated the first believers? Squirrels?

    You’re making some kind of weird ID argument that way. Think it through.

    Claiming this “3000 year-old” argument is “unrefuted,” means nothing if it wouldn’t show up on its own on a tabula rasa. It’s a nonstarter without prior assumptions.

    You want arguments without reasonable axioms? The external world and other minds must amaze you.

    And let’s be clear. When I say, “have no right,” I’m talking about the traditional teaching that those who disbelieve are so dishonest in doing so that they are justly subject to punishment for it.

    What’s there to complain about on the atheist worldview? That ‘justice’ and ‘right’ stuff is just, what’d you call ’em… impulses. Or preferences. But if you’re talking about the Christian worldview, then you’re going to have to grapple with a number of arguments about what constitutes justice and right, who is owed what, etc. That before realizing that the ‘traditional belief’ is more complicated than that – some people are just invincibly ignorant, for instance, by Catholic (and others’) understanding.

    Now, look how long this comment is, even without trying to deal with every response in detail! How long should I keep this up?

    If you’re finding the length of these responses taxing, you can just could out the naked and baseless assertions and stick to arguments and evidence. Would save you a lot of time. Hell, at the current rate, you may not even need to click ‘submit comment’.

  109. mikespeir says:

    It’s a “bare assertion,” Crude, to insist that any of your so-called “evidences” actually speak to the probability of God. You can’t just erase the question mark out of the blank whenever you run into a phenomenon, pencil in G-O-D, and call your stance proven. If I answer with with bare assertions, it’s because bare assertions are what I’m answering.

    “You want arguments without reasonable axioms? The external world and other minds must amaze you.”

    Really? That’s what you got from what I said? I’m all for reasonable axioms. (BTW, axioms should be the foundation for reasoning, not products of it.) What I’m not for are claims based on presuppositions that no one is obliged to accept. To point to morals, say, and suggest they argue for the existence of deity is non sequitur. The phenomenon we agree on is that there are morals. After that, we can speculate as to why. But I’ve never seen a good chain of logic starting with the fact of morals and running unbroken back to the existence of God. The error here is simple. You’re (I realize you didn’t specifically bring up morals, but you’ll do) trying to account for something by positing an unseen and unproven entity. That’s backward. Nonexistent entities don’t do, cause, or serve as sources for anything. First, prove to me there’s a God. Then we can talk about whether he might have had something to do with morality–or existence, or the apparent order of the universe,or life, or, well, you name it.

  110. Crude says:

    It’s a “bare assertion,” Crude, to insist that any of your so-called “evidences” actually speak to the probability of God

    No, Mike, it’s not. When evidence and arguments are provided with reasonable axioms or assumptions, it’s not bare assertion – it’s arguments and evidence or varying strength, open to examination or dispute.

    “There’s no evidence!” or “That’s not evidence!” on its own is bare assertion – and it’s all you’ve produced so far. Apparently you think so long as you do it often enough and with enough spirit that it will somehow have more intellectual force. Sorry – it doesn’t.

    What I’m not for are claims based on presuppositions that no one is obliged to accept.

    Who is “obliged to accept” any axiom or presupposition? Morally obligated? Wait, we’ll need axioms and presuppositions to run that. Rationally obligated? Whoops – same situation.

    You seem to think that so long as you, personally, refuse to grant any relevant axiom or assumption that therefore nothing counts unless you say it does. But alas, you’re not the High Pontiff of Reason and Philosophy. You’re just some guy, like me. If I say “a finite whole is greater than any of its parts, therefore…” and you stamp your feet and say “No! Prove it! Prove that first or I won’t agree!”, that’s that. You go right on insisting parts can be greater than finite wholes if you wish. Avoid jobs that involve tangible assets.

    You’re (I realize you didn’t specifically bring up morals, but you’ll do) trying to account for something by positing an unseen and unproven entity. That’s backward. Nonexistent entities don’t do, cause, or serve as sources for anything.

    I love that. “You didn’t say this or anything like it, but this is what I’ll say you’re doing anyway because that’s what I need here.”

    Anyway – that something is unseen or unproven does not therefore make it nonexistent. And you can have evidence, direct and indirect, for something that is unseen and/or unproven. You can also have arguments for it.

    That you seem to think you have to prove that something exists, and prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt such that no one ever doubts it (in a world where solipsists and worse exist), before you can even make an argument for it or find evidence for it, doesn’t say much for your reasoning skills.

    Then again, you admitted that by your own standard you were pretty horrible at evaluating evidence for, what.. something on the order of several decades?

  111. Tom Gilson says:

    mikespeir,

    I strongly recommend you give up on this charge of “bare assertions.” All you’re doing with it is demonstrating that you don’t know what the phrase means. A bare assertion is one that has no attempt at reason or logic associated with it. Crude (along with others of us) has been bringing forth arguments that, if successful, do very much speak to the probability of God. Only by showing them unsuccessful do you show that they do not do that. Inaccurately labeling an argument as you have done here does not show that the argument fails; it shows rather that you have.

    Also: If you want us to agree with you that to point to morals and suggest that they argue for the existence of deity is a non sequitur, you might actually make that point with some kind of argument. Simply to say you’ve never seen a good argument to that effect is just to say that you’ve never seen a good argument to that effect. From “I’ve never seen a good argument…” to “therefore it is a non sequitur” is a non sequitur.

    But wait a moment: I’ve accused you falsely, perhaps, for you did supply an argument. It goes like this: First you jump directly from “unseen and unproven” to “nonexistent” entities. That sounds an awful lot like, God is an unseen and unproven entity, so let’s consider him a nonexistent entity. Does that same principle also apply to the Higgs boson, dark matter, dark energy? Did it apply to photons a couple hundred years ago? Or have you really blundered as badly as it appears you have done?

    But that’s not the whole of your argument. You also seem to be telling us, if we want to show that morals are evidence in favor of the existence of God, you want us to “First, prove to me there’s a God.” From mislabeling to non sequitur to non sequitur to circularity. Good show, my friend!

  112. Tom Gilson says:

    Let me ask you a question. This is a serious and honest question, directed toward any atheist/skeptic reading here. I’m asking the theists to be silent on it until you’ve had your turn.

    Do you believe that rationality and atheism go together? Do you believe that clear thinking is associated with rejection of belief in God? Do you believe that fuzzy thinking and irrationality are associated with faith?

  113. Tom,

    Do you believe that rationality and atheism go together? Do you believe that clear thinking is associated with rejection of belief in God? Do you believe that fuzzy thinking and irrationality are associated with faith?

    Short answer, yes.

    Long answer is that having the right answer doesn’t mean you got there by rational means. I’ve met atheists who don’t have good rational justification for their beliefs.

    Moreover, being rational doesn’t guarantee your beliefs are true. You could be perfectly rational, but, through accident of circumstance, end up at a false conclusion. (This is why practical jokes work.)

    But if you’re asking whether I think the best rational arguments support atheism, obviously, I think they do.

    Everyone has cognitive bias, and so no one on this planet thinks rationally without thinking critically. Science is about critical thinking and eliminating bias. Religion fans the flames of bias, and aims to exempt beliefs from critical thinking. You guys prove that in almost every debate by rejecting scientific tests as “testing God”. Well, if you can’t do the test to distinguish your belief from bias, then you have no claim to hold that belief as rational.

  114. Crude says:

    You guys prove that in almost every debate by rejecting scientific tests as “testing God”. Well, if you can’t do the test to distinguish your belief from bias, then you have no claim to hold that belief as rational.

    So rejecting scientific tests based on the fact that what’s in question reasonably cannot be subject to a scientific test, makes belief in such irrational? That’s ridiculous. Plenty of things, fundamental ones even, are not given to a scientific test just by their nature – an external world, the existence of other minds, and so on.

    But your claim would also cuts both ways: Atheists “can’t do the test to distinguish their belief from bias” either. There is no scientific test to determine the truth of atheism, or plenty of other things.

    Really, suggesting that “either you test any belief you hold scientifically or you can’t claim to be rational in holding your belief” commits you to some crazy conclusions.

  115. Tom Gilson says:

    Have you read any good book on epistemology, dl, or just on psychology?

    It boggles my mind the way you continually insist the only way to know anything is through science, the only way to eliminate bias is by science, and the only form of critical thinking is scientific.

    It boggles my mind the way you fail to observe that you are running smack into genuine critical thinking right here.

    You see it otherwise, and you say so with this closing paragraph of yours on bias and etc. Yet it boggles my mind the way you think that God could only be known to be true if he could be known by scientific methods. As we’ve discussed often in the past, that principle of yours requires God to be controllable/predictable on the experiment’s terms, which means that God could only be known to be God if he weren’t God. If you think that’s a good demonstration of critical thinking, you’re just obviously wrong: it’s really quite poorly disguised question-begging. Your principle also makes it impossible in principle for God to be a God who can communicate truth about himself to humans; it requires that God not be God in order for us to consider whether he might be God.

    If, by the way, you can’t do the test to distinguish your belief from a physically/deterministically produced neurochemical brain state, then you have no claim to hold that belief as rational.

  116. Tom Gilson says:

    Hearing nothing further, I’ll let you know why I asked this question.

    Atheism presents itself as all about reason. There’s Sam Harris’s Reason Project, there’s the Day of Reason, and there are assertions like doctor(logic)’s here.

    But it doesn’t come out that way in practice. How many fallacies have we theists identified in this thread? Question-begging, ad hoc argumentation, red herrings (changing the subject), equivocation/imprecision, non sequitur, over and over again. This is not a demonstration of rational thinking!

    Sure, it’s a small sample. But it’s all over the place. Dawkins’s The God Delusion is incredibly anti-scientific in places, and embarrassingly poorly argued in others. Sam Harris’s response to W.L. Craig in their recent debate was to sidestep Craig’s logical arguments, including two “knock-down” arguments he never even acknowledged, much less responded to rationally. His first rebuttal was a litany of straw-man mischaracterizations of Christianity, appeals to emotion, and a series of themes that he seemed to think were related to the debate question, but weren’t. Reason Project, indeed! Is this what you call correcting for bias, doctor(logic)?

    Jared, mikespeir, and doctor(logic), do you see this? I’m not calling on you to believe in Christianity or theism here. My hope is for something much less ambitious than that; that you would just open your eyes. Do you see that your claim to be more rational than theists loses credibility when you advance your arguments through plainly identifiable fallacies, appeals to emotion, mischaracterizations, and so on? Do you see how you contradict your own stated principles?

  117. Holopupenko says:

    Tom:

    No, they don’t see it because they won’t see it: atheism is ultimately about power… not truth.

  118. Tom Gilson says:

    It does seem strangely silent on this thread right about now.

  119. Tom, Crude,

    I have a philosophical system that I’ve described here many times before. It’s not scientism. It’s based on axioms of logic and induction that are necessary for all reasoning. Science is a consequence of those axioms. God is not necessary. If you want to believe in God, you have to provide a Bayesian case for it.

    Given logic and induction, do we or do we not know about human cognitive bias? I think you’ll agree that we do know about human bias. So, we can be quite confident that people would make supernatural claims even if supernatural events never occur. This is a mainstream scientific result.

    But just look at Crude’s response:

    So rejecting scientific tests based on the fact that what’s in question reasonably cannot be subject to a scientific test, makes belief in such irrational?

    In other words, we ought not try to see whether people might be making up their stories about God.

    This is a pervasive error among theists. They assume that God is philosophically necessary (not in the uncaused sense, but in the sense of “reasoning is impossible without a first assumption of God”). This is false. If it were true, then theists would have an airtight rational proof of God’s existence. If God isn’t necessary for reasoning, then you can only believe God is likely to exist based on inductive inference from experience. And if you want to reason inductively, you need to account for false positives. But that’s something that Crude (and other theists here) want to exempt themselves from doing. That’s why I think theism is irrational.

    Basically, if I have a gut sense that X is true, I don’t know a priori whether X is true or whether X is just how things seem to me. To make the case that X is true, and not just my bias, I need to control for my biases. This is not controversial, even in mathematics. What would it say to you if someone stuck to their X, and rejected any controlled study that showed X was illusory?

  120. Tom Gilson says:

    Classic!

    Right in the middle of talking about how atheists fail in reasoning, you illustrate my point for me once again:

    But just look at Crude’s response:

    So rejecting scientific tests based on the fact that what’s in question reasonably cannot be subject to a scientific test, makes belief in such irrational?

    In other words, we ought not try to see whether people might be making up their stories about God.

    Thank you for supporting my point with that non sequitur.

    And then this…

    This is a pervasive error among theists. They assume that God is philosophically necessary (not in the uncaused sense, but in the sense of “reasoning is impossible without a first assumption of God”).

    This is a different kind of error: it’s either gross imprecision or it’s not paying attention. You’ve been in enough of these discussions to know that we do not assume this, we conclude it. Even if you disagree with someone’s conclusions, that doesn’t give you license to call it an assumption.

    And if you want to reason inductively, you need to account for false positives. But that’s something that Crude (and other theists here) want to exempt themselves from doing.

    I asked you earlier whether you had ever read any good epistemology, not just psychology. You are incredibly aware of the psychological risk of false positives, which is commendable. But you seem to lack awareness that there are more ways than one to guard against them.

    And you are very, very much at risk of a false negative. That particular kind of risk is better addressed in logic books than in psych.

    I told you in a recent comment on this thread, as I have told you umpteen times before, that your approach to the knowledge of God is irrational. It is question-begging. It is logically deficient, fallacious. As you think our approach is open to false positives, yours is not just open to false negatives, it says, hey, knowledge, if you’re out there, I don’t intend ever to look for you! I’m excluding you in principle!

    You parry by saying there’s something psychologically deficient in our approach to knowledge. I challenge you now to stop parrying. Answer this: is your approach to the knowledge of God not question-begging?

  121. Crude says:

    DL,

    In other words, we ought not try to see whether people might be making up their stories about God.

    That’s a downright dishonest way to put what I said, and I think you know it.

    I don’t believe that scientific study is the only way to investigate claims, and the idea that “if your belief is not subject to scientific investigation, you are irrational to hold it”, or better yet, “if your belief has not been vetted by scientific investigation, it is irrational to hold it” is silly. I gave some reasons why I think that.

    I think you’ll agree that we do know about human bias. So, we can be quite confident that people would make supernatural claims even if supernatural events never occur.

    That bias flows in both directions: We can be quite confident that some people would deny supernatural claims, even if supernatural phenomena do occur. Forget for a moment that ‘supernatural’, like ‘natural’, hardly has any meaning anymore.

    If God isn’t necessary for reasoning, then you can only believe God is likely to exist based on inductive inference from experience. And if you want to reason inductively, you need to account for false positives. But that’s something that Crude (and other theists here) want to exempt themselves from doing. That’s why I think theism is irrational.

    First, I’m not convinced that God is not necessary for reasoning.

    But second – again, this is a downright dishonest way to frame my response. That something is not open to scientific investigation does not mean it is not open to investigation, period. That something cannot be scientifically verified does not mean that it is irrational to believe in. I gave a few examples of beliefs that are not open to scientific investigation, which I think would be ridiculous to claim are therefore irrational to believe in.

    Again: Atheism is not open to scientific verification either. Under your standards, I should conclude that atheists are also irrational. As are, it would seem, people who believe in an external world, or someone who believes much of anything about (for example) Socrates, including whether he existed or not.

    What would it say to you if someone stuck to their X, and rejected any controlled study that showed X was illusory?

    What would it say to you if creationists argued that Lenski’s bacteria experiment disproved Darwinism, on that grounds that after 20+ years of watching his bacteria, no rabbit evolved even once?

    You’re taking the claim that X is not reasonably subject to scientific investigation as “X is reasonably subject to scientific investigation, but I’m denying all the results” or “X is reasonably subject to scientific investigation, but I don’t want to do that”. No, man: X is not reasonably subject to scientific investigation. Science has numerous limits: This is one of them.

  122. Tom Gilson says:

    Maybe you’re right, Crude. Maybe his “In other words…” wasn’t a non sequitur that he slipped into, unaware of the fallacy he was committing. Maybe it was dishonesty and he was aware of it. Either way…

    Is there a third option, doctor(logic)?

  123. JAD says:

    Tom asked(#113):

    Do you believe that rationality and atheism go together? Do you believe that clear thinking is associated with rejection of belief in God? Do you believe that fuzzy thinking and irrationality are associated with faith?

    One of the reasons that I could be never be an atheist is because of it’s irrationality, dishonesty, arrogance and hypocrisy. For example, I have repeatedly asked atheists, in on-line discussions like this, how atheism would make my life better? With very few exceptions the question has been answered with silence. Why waste other peoples time if you are not going to honestly answer their questions? If your world view is more rational than anyone else’s, shouldn’t you be able to explain it? If you know you are better than your fellow man shouldn’t you have the honesty and decency to explain why you’re better?

    Atheist’s are not only irrational and dishonest but hypocritical because they try to pass off their unbelief as if it were some kind of belief. This is especially true of the so called “new atheists” who like an organized religion are blatantly trying to make converts. To do this they organize speaking tours, rallies and fellowships, employ advertising campaigns and utilize hot emotional “fundamentalist style” rhetoric, by which they denounce evils of religion. But if atheism is unbelief there is nothing promote or believe. It is certainly not justifiable to push it on other people.

  124. olegt says:

    JAD wrote:

    One of the reasons that I could be never be an atheist is because of it’s irrationality, dishonesty, arrogance and hypocrisy.

    We love you, too, JAD.

  125. Holopupenko says:

    Which is an admission that atheists believe it is acceptable to be irrational, dishonest, arrogant, and hypocrites as long as they can impose their atheism (and scientism). Dark ages indeed…

  126. Tom,

    You are incredibly aware of the psychological risk of false positives, which is commendable. You seem to lack awareness that there are more ways than one to guard against them.

    Please, enlighten me.

    As you think our approach is open to false positives, yours is not just open to false negatives, it says, hey, knowledge, if you’re out there, I don’t intend ever to look for you! I’m excluding you in principle!

    You always say this, but it’s simply not true.

    It’s possible for a god to exist and to hide himself so that no rational being will believe in his existence. It’s also possible for a god to leave plenty of evidence for his existence, so that rational minds will believe he exists.

    Human minds are noisy. We have biases. In order to rationally conclude God exists, we have to overcome the noise.

    On the new thread I gave examples (as I have, numerous times in the past) of things a supernatural creator could do to make it rational for us to believe in his existence. For example, I could get hit by lightning every time I blaspheme. Or praying could have reliable effects, e.g., on patient health, or on my ability to solve puzzles, or to stack my larder with food.

    We all have biases, and one can fall prey to confirmation bias, cherry-picking facts to justify existing beliefs. But science gets around this problem, by, for example, testing whether prayers have any effect on food stocks or patient health. We know that people count the hits and not the misses. A person who believes in prayer might remember success and ignore failure, while a person who dislikes the idea that prayer works would do the reverse, and count only the misses. Science gets around this problem.

    But we’ve had this discussion before. You claim prayer works, BUT ONLY WHEN we’re not scientifically testing it. That’s not a necessary fact about a theistic universe. It’s a fact of our universe that prayer doesn’t work in our universe. If you don’t believe that, then you should believe vaccines cause autism.

    Near as I can tell, your overriding concern is that your epistemology always be adequate to claim God’s existence if God exists, no matter how well God hides himself. That’s just not a rational epistemology. God can hide from rational people.

    A responsible person knows that he is subject to cognitive bias, and takes steps to neutralize that bias using blind testing and randomization in experiment. This is what you object to. You claim that I’m excluding theism by this process. Not true. I’m only excluding theism that looks just like superstition and bias.

  127. JAD says:

    olegt wrote:
    “We love you, too, JAD.”

    Are you being sarcastic, or do you believe you have an ethical duty to love your fellow man?