Is There a Difference Between Theist and Atheist “Irrationality”?

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Defining “Irrationality”

It seems to me there’s a difference between theists’ and atheists’ ideas of “irrationality.”When Christian apologists speak of reason and rational thinking, more often than not they’re talking about the practice of moving from carefully evaluated evidences and premises through a valid process of logical reasoning to a sound conclusion. They’re talking about reasoning. Irrationality, for apologists, is typically definable as, applying unsound and/or fallacious reasoning.

In my experience with leading New Atheist authors and in online debates, more often than not their conception of reason and rational thinking is that rationality is defined by rejecting all knowledge that cannot be acquired through empirical methods, preferably scientific. Irrationality for them is often definable as, concluding that the supernatural exists when there is no empirical evidence for it.

I am not saying that atheists care nothing for logical validity, but rather that (in my experience) they tend in practice to make empiricism primary, and to subordinate the quality of reasoning processes to the acceptability of the reasoning outcome.

I’m also not saying that theists never commit the same error. I’m saying rather that the most prominent anti-theistic apologists do seem to do it much more than the leading theistic apologists. I say this with full recognition that I can’t demonstrate this through any quantitative analysis. In my reading, however, of Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Coyne, Krauss, and others of their tribe, I have seen much more emphasis on “you must rely only on empirical results” than “you must exercise reason validly.”

Atheist Irrationality

Disclaimers made, there is folly in what I have observed as atheists’ outcome-centered way of assessing rationality: it encourages people to consider themselves rational if they deny the supernatural, regardless of how they reached that conclusion.

Here’s how I explained it in chapter five of True Reason.

Harris’s image of rationality needs a closer look, however. A complete analysis of the term is beyond the scope of this chapter, but clearly it cannot just be a matter of holding one set of beliefs and rejecting another. In fact, it cannot even be defined simply as holding true beliefs and rejecting false ones. Suppose George believes the earth is round. That’s true, but is it rational? We can’t answer the question until we know why George believes the earth is round. If he believes it (as most of us do) because trustworthy authorities agree on the matter, that’s rational. But maybe George believes it because he likes basketball, basketballs are round, and therefore the earth is round. That’s irrational.

Suppose on the other hand Antonius in 7th-century Italy believed that the earth was at the center of the universe. He was wrong, but was he irrational? I don’t think so. Based on the best evidence at hand, and the overwhelming consensus among authorities on the subject, he drew an appropriately rational conclusion. I do not mean that he came to the right conclusion, but that there is nothing to indicate a flaw in his reasoning processes. He simply lacked important evidence.

Current discussions here serve as an illustration of this effect, if I read them right. I’m naming names here, and I trust I’m being fair even if I’m also being forthright with my opinions. Knowing how my own cognitive biases could mislead me, I conclude this post with an invitation to be corrected if and where I’m wrong. It is an honest invitation and I ask you to read this with that in mind.

You can read the discussion for yourself in its original location, starting at comment 45, but I really advise you to refer to this shorter summary page where I’ve lifted out just the most relevant passages, with some commentary along the way. Here on this page I’m including the bare minimum to be able to identify what I’m talking about.

Circular Reasoning

The discussion there is still in progress, though I won’t be surprised if this part of it moves over here. Here’s where it stands, with respect to the portion I’m looking at.

Bob seems to be saying there are no supernatural explanations for anything. That’s a common enough opinion. The interesting question is, how does he get there? First, though, how do I conclude that that’s his position? He wrote in #87,

If substantial evidence pointed to a supernatural explanation and it became the scientific consensus, I’d have no option but to accept it as the best provisional explanation of the truth.

To require scientific consensus is equivalent to saying that they must be explanations in the natural realm, not the supernatural realm, since that is the only way they could achieve such consensus.

This is circular reasoning, as I wrote in #96 there. His defense? “I wasn’t talking about the supernatural explanation that wasn’t.” True. He wasn’t talking about supernatural explanations at all. He was defining them out of existence instead. He was announcing his conviction that the only evidence he would accept for supernatural explanations would be evidence that they were not supernatural explanations.

A Surprising Lack of Response

I find it fascinating that Bob hasn’t so far actually responded (at least not directly) to my charge of circularity. Unless I’ve missed it, he also hasn’t tried to identify any logical fallacies in our side of the argument. He seems to be satisfied with his conclusion, regardless of the logic that got him there, and he seems dissatisfied with ours, regardless of the validity of our logic.

His main objections seem to be, I’m not interested in that argument, which is hardly a response; I’ve written about the flaws in the Transcendental argument, which none of us has been arguing; and you have no empirical evidence for your position, which translates to, your evidence for your position doesn’t support my position so I don’t accept it.

(Again, please see the supporting summary page where I show how this seems to be the case, and note also my closing paragraph in this blog post.)

Further Into Fallacy: A Conclusion that Requires No Evidence

The implications of this go even further into fallacy.

Bob is saying that if there is evidence for supernatural explanations, it’s actually evidence for natural explanations instead. So if there is any evidence for any explanation, it is evidence for a natural explanation. By definition, there is no evidence for any supernatural explanation. Therefore Bob can conclude without even examining any evidence that there are no supernatural explanations. He seems unaware of the dangers of conclusions that can be reached without any evidence—though I’m quite sure that in other contexts that’s the charge he would bring against Christian theism!

See how this works out in action. If we bring him evidences for such explanations—as several commenters did in all the comments I skipped over—he can say, as he did in #58, “You can make that claim. I don’t find it compelling.” That was it: no further explanation, no reasoning, just “I don’t find it compelling.”

(He did make reference to something he had written elsewhere on the Transcendental Argument, which unfortunately had nothing whatever to do with the discussion we were having. See #58 and #59.)

By the apologists’ definition of rationality (see above), Bob is demonstrating irrationality at this point. He’s relying on circular reasoning and evidence-free conclusions.

Concluding Thoughts and Questions For Bob

Now at this point I need to back up and acknowledge I’ve done very little reading in Bob’s own blog. I don’t know if he has a definition of rationality there, and I don’t know whether, if asked, he would give a definition matching the “New Atheist” definition I gave above. I do know that he thinks we Christians are playing fast and loose with evidence; for example,

The problem, of course, is that no open-minded person interested in the truth comes at the question with a bias that they’re trying to support. Rather, they set their beliefs and assumptions aside and go where the facts lead. Whether they like the consequences of that conclusion or not is irrelevant. The solution is easy: go with the flow. Follow the facts where they point, and the problems answer themselves.

Christians, be honest with yourselves. If your worldview is nonnegotiable, admit it—to yourself at least. In this one area of life, you don’t much care what the evidence says. But since you didn’t come to faith by evidence, don’t expect that evidence to convince someone else.

It’s good advice for Christians; it’s also good advice for Bob Seidensticker. I think I’ve shown here that he has created the opportunity (at least) to deny the supernatural regardless of any evidence. I think I’ve also shown that he’s committing irrationality in the form of fallacious (circular) argumentation, and that he has persisted in it as if he is content with it, or as if he doesn’t recognize it for what it is.

I could be wrong. It’s certainly my opinion, and at this point I believe it’s accurate, but I’d prefer to treat this as a dialogue, not a pronouncement. What do you say about this, Bob? Do you see (or do you agree) that there is circularity and evidence-free conclusion-drawing in your comments here?

Update: Bob posted a comment answering the charge of circularity on the previous blog post. I responded here. I do not think he has escaped the charge.

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176 Responses to “ Is There a Difference Between Theist and Atheist “Irrationality”? ”

  1. The problem, of course, is that no open-minded person interested in the truth comes at the question with a bias that they’re trying to support.

    Is Bob claiming here to be completely open-minded and unbiased? Is he claiming he has no biases of any kind? How about honesty? Is he completely honest with himself and others? Has he ever told a lie? Does he ever rationalize?

    As far as truth goes, does he know the truth because he has found the truth? Or, is he someone who is still seeking the truth? If he does not really know the truth how could he tell anyone else about the truth? So far, in my view, Bob has not been exactly truthful about truth. So far all he has given us are his ill informed opinions.

  2. Christians, be honest with yourselves. If your worldview is nonnegotiable, admit it—to yourself at least. In this one area of life, you don’t much care what the evidence says. But since you didn’t come to faith by evidence, don’t expect that evidence to convince someone else.

    Pretty revealing. In the same paragraph that Bob is challenging Christians to be honest with themselves Bob isn’t being honest in his characterization of Christian beliefs. Our worldview isn’t nonnegotiable. That question has been posed here many times and Tom along with a number of other posters have answered it.

    Further, Christian beliefs can be and are supported by evidence and we care very much what the evidence says. And not just one kind of evidence either. We rely on historical, archeological, textual philosophical and theological evidences. All these evidences have been and are being written about extensively, those writings published, reviewed, critiqued and defended.

    We do care about honesty Bob. And given the above and our latest exchange where you ignored what I said, changed what you said and engaged in childish word games it seems we may be the only ones.

  3. Bob is saying that if there is evidence for supernatural explanations, it’s actually evidence for natural explanations instead.

    It would certainly help to see Bob’s definition of “supernatural explanation” to judge the correctness of the statement, but the most useful definition I’ve found is that supernatural explanations reduce to mind as an explanation while natural explanations reduce to non-mind, physical processes.

    So naturally, I’m going to be uncomfortable with a supernatural explanation right off the bat because mind seems to me to be way too complicated to pose as an explanation. Mind is the ultimate question, not the ultimate answer in my view.

    But evidence for mind behind a phenomena is never in principle out of the question; archeology, SETI, irreducible complexity, etc, make valid assumptions about detecting mind-like signals among the noise of natural processes. If these efforts pay off and it becomes consensus that mind is behind certain phenomena, I’d have no option but to accept it as the best provisional explanation.

    However, in such cases, it is also a given that science would go on trying to understand and explain the mind itself. The supernatural explanation would be accepted but a natural explanation for the mind itself would go on being explored. That’s because science sees the mind as the ultimate question, not the ultimate answer.

  4. Hi Tom,

    Reading through the summary you posted and after Comment #60 you have

    “Summary to this point:

    Bob has said that if there is a natural explanation for things, the natural has no value (#45), and that “God did it” is virtually equivalent to “I don’t know.” BillT has begun to explore the premise, “if there is a natural explanation for things,” and whether Bob can really affirm it. I’m about to respond to another question his position raises.

    I believe you meant ‘super natural’ in the highlighted section. Please delete this post once you’ve read this.

    Cheers
    Shane

  5. Hi Tom,

    “Irrationality for them is often definable as, concluding that the supernatural exists when there is no empirical evidence for it.”

    I would replace the word “supernatural” with the word “anything” but that seems a reasonable definition. Believing in anything in the absence of evidence does not seem rational. Your argument regarding the belief that the earth is the centre of the universe was bolstered by the evidence that you could observe everything revolving around it. A rational belief. The belief that the Universe was created by God is not founded in any evidence, but in the absence of any evidence to the contrary. We don’t have the answers yet.

    “1. There is definitely no supernatural explanation for anything, even for things we do not yet understand naturally, or
    2. We don’t know whether there could be some supernatural explanation for some phenomena, but if there were, it would have no value for us—not even if it were true.”

    I think the problem is inherent in the word explanation, and as Bob suggested giving the credit to God does not help explain anything. It raises more questions, being, “Why did God do it? How did God do it? Where did God come from?” An explanation, that arises not in evidence but in the absence of evidence, that also raises 3 more questions is not a useful explanation.

    Sincerely
    Shane

  6. Shane,

    Believing in anything in the absence of evidence does not seem rational.

    Except that that is not what Tom wrote but rather, believing in something for which there is no empirical evidence. Do you understand that they are not the same thing?

    The belief that the Universe was created by God is not founded in any evidence

    Wrong. Philosophical arguments count as evidence, unless you want to refute yourself before you even get started.

  7. And just like that Shane gives us a live demonstration of atheistic irrationality right here on the thread where it is explained.

  8. Shane, do you believe there is no evidence for anything, except for empirical evidence?

    Do you believe it’s a bad idea to believe anything that has no empirical support?

    Would you show us the empirical evidence supporting that belief?

    Thank you.

    (If you succeed you will be the first ever. I kind of hope you do. We could all be famous!)

  9. Here is an interesting little scene from the movie Contact:

    Young Ellie: Dad, do you think there’s people on other planets?

    Ted Arroway: I don’t know, Sparks. But I guess I’d say if it is just us… seems like an awful waste of space.

    This is philosophical not a scientific discussion, but still there is something compelling about it. If our Galaxy contains hundreds of billions of stars and the known universe contains billions of galaxies, and if it is at least possible for life to exist somewhere else in our universe, isn’t it at least reasonable to expect that life and perhaps intelligent life exists somewhere else?

    Is it rational to believe that extraterrestrial intelligent beings do not exist if it is logically possible that they do exist?

    Is it rational to believe that they do exist even if we have no evidence?

  10. JAD,

    I’d say either position was reasonable. I’d add though that “the universe is so large for just us” reasoning may not be all that solid. I’ve seen it explained that the universe isn’t “so large” in order for it to be what it is. That is, it would have to be this large to be able to create the planets and starts and elements that make life possible even on one solitary planet. Could there be others. Sure. But, that’s not a necessity nor does it necessarily follow from the observation of its size.

  11. Tom, RE:#10

    Just this week on the airplane flying to a business meeting, I was reading William Lane Craig and Joseph Gorra’s book “A Reasonable Response: Answers to Tough Questions on God, Christianity and the Bible.” They include an appendix on “Civility Guidelines for Online ‘Third Places.'” Craig and Gorra describe perfectly my experience on Bob Seidensticker’s blog site in their analysis of “three behavioral problems that may shape online discussions.” They call these the “got you” scenario, the “informationally overwhelming” scenario, and the “reductionistic” scenario that take place in on-line forums. On the Friendly Atheist site, the “reductionistic” scenario is seen in their attempt to reduce to a “creationist” so they can attack creationism rather than engage with your comments, and more importantly, with you!

    Craig and Gorra make some very important points about Christian apologetics in internet environments (communities) that deserve our attention. Remember a while back when we talked about how interesting it would be for someone to conduct research on the content and processes of Christian-atheists discussions and interactions on these blogs? I still hope that some foundation or organization may take up this challenge.

    Thanks for your courage and your faith. JB

  12. Melissa @6

    You say “Philosophical arguments count as evidence, unless you want to refute yourself before you even get started.”

    An argument is not in itself evidence. An argument needs evidence to support it. A philosophical argument without evidence, such as the Cosmological Argument and the Argument from Reason, simply leads to “arguments” – an impasse of arguments and counter-arguments relying on the subject notion of what is “convincing”. This is because there is no evidence, one way or the other, to arbiter a result. I am not saying these arguments are wrong, just relatively useless to get a conclusion everyone agrees on.

  13. Tom

    I think the most interesting debate on this site I have read is your exchange with Tom Clark on Knowledge and Evidence back in 2009. If I was to suggest a difference between Theists and Atheists rationality is what Tom Clark concluded, copied below, that atheists (or naturalists in this case at least) do not have a prejudicial starting point. To me that seems to be the crux…

    “Like you, naturalists admit there are many mysteries out there waiting to be investigated, and some might be forever resistant to explanation (like consciousness, my favorite conundrum). Wanting good, transparent explanations, and yes, backed up by knowledge with a high degree of certainty (but of course never infallible), naturalists are the first to admit we don’t yet have the answers to many central questions, and it’s because we have such high epistemic standards. But what I see among many dualist theists is a refusal to admit that naturalistic explanations, for instance of purposive action, love, ethics, consciousness, personal identity, etc., could *possibly* be true or ever forthcoming.

    This is because of what I see as their prior ontological commitment to God, and to mind, free will and identity as essences (not constructions) that are irreducibly basic to the world, and of a different ontological category from “dead,” insensate matter. Naturalists, at least of my variety, don’t have prior ontological commitments.”

  14. BillT:

    I’d say either position was reasonable. I’d add though that “the universe is so large for just us” reasoning may not be all that solid.

    I’m just trying to compare apples and oranges here, not settle the issue. So then you would side with the skeptics who believe that ETI’s do not exist? If you do, is it because the skeptics are more warranted in their position? What would make their position the more warranted one? Do the believers in ETI have the burden of proof, or is it more or less equally shared?

  15. Naturalists, at least of my variety, don’t have prior ontological commitments.”

    Except, of course, to naturalism. What I see as the biggest difference between Theists and Atheists is the inability of Atheists to see their own prior ontological commitments to a purely naturalistic worldview. Don’t you see that in you own comment where you say “Like you, naturalists admit there are many mysteries out there waiting to be investigated, and some might be forever resistant to explanation.” Are they really “forever resistant to explanation” or are they forever resistant to naturalistic explanation.

  16. JAD,

    Good question. I think the believers in ETI have the burden of proof. Especially, given my above understanding. Does that make their position more warrented? Not sure. Is that the same as them having the burden of proof. However, I’m not sure though I completely understand you position. Could you clarify a bit.

  17. Graham H.,

    A sound philosophical argument is in fact evidence – irrefutable evidence in fact. There may be disagreements over whether an argument is sound. Now a valid argument will be sound if the premises are true. Can that naturalist reject the premises of theistic arguments coherently? I don’t think so.

    A philosophical argument without evidence, such as the Cosmological Argument and the Argument from Reason

    This is ultimately an intellectually lazy move. You declare it is not based on evidence (on what grounds) and therefore don’t need to consider it. What the rational thing to do would be to show either that the arguments are invalid or that one of the premises is false. Denying a premise where the denial ultimately leads to incoherence on your part is not a reasonable response either.

  18. @GrahamH:

    An argument is not in itself evidence. An argument needs evidence to support it. A philosophical argument without evidence, such as the Cosmological Argument and the Argument from Reason, simply leads to “arguments” – an impasse of arguments and counter-arguments relying on the subject notion of what is “convincing”. This is because there is no evidence, one way or the other, to arbiter a result. I am not saying these arguments are wrong, just relatively useless to get a conclusion everyone agrees on.

    This is just wrong.

    (1) If the argument is (deductively) valid and the premises are true, the conclusion is true. Period, end of story. If there are people that “do not agree”, then either they are not grasping the argument (intellectual error), or they do grasp it but choose to behave irrationally and deny the conclusion (error in the will).

    (2) You seem to imply that there is on the one hand “arguments” and on the other “evidence”. But this is also wrong. Evidence is only evidence in the context of an argument (more generally, in the context of a theory), where it figures as premise. There is no such thing as raw evidence, uninterpreted data that comes with a label attached “I am evidence for X”.

  19. BillT,

    What I see as the biggest difference between Theists and Atheists is the inability of Atheists to see their own prior ontological commitments to a purely naturalistic worldview.

    The contrast was between an “ontological commitment to God, and to mind, free will and identity as essences (not constructions) that are irreducibly basic to the world”, and rejection of that ontological commitment.

    Is a rejection of an ontological commitment to God, mind, etc., an ontological commitment itself? I don’t think so. We atheists are just saying that “God”, “mind” is probably reducible and explainable in simpler parts. That’s not a leap of faith, either, it’s an inductive argument based on the success of reductionism so far.

  20. GrahamH,

    Could you supply evidence that the Cosmological Argument and the Argument from Reason are arguments without evidence?

    Please quote a version of either that does not make reference to evidence.

    A definition of evidence might be helpful.

    Unless and until you do so, you have made an assertion lacking in, yes, evidence. And while we can continue to debate over this or that argument, or this or that evidence, let’s land quickly on the easy conclusion: if you have neither argument nor evidence, you have nothing whatever.

  21. G Rodrigues & Melissa:
    Do you notice people debate over whether the premises are true? This is where evidence supports an argument.

    Tom:

    Remember the type of evidence I mentioned is one strong enough to arbiter a result. The Cosmological Argument and the Argument from Reason are arguments without evidence strong enough to arbiter a result. I think you will agree these are controversial arguments. To me they result in an unsatisfying impasse of counter-arguments and a subjective reliance on what one deems convincing. Otherwise these arguments would not be so controversial.

  22. GrahamH.,

    Do you notice people debate over whether the premises are true? This is where evidence supports an argument.

    Of course I notice that people debate over whether the premises are true, the question is whether there really are good rational reasons to deny the premises of an argument. Just because there is debate does not show that there is not evidence, as G. Rodrigues has already pointed out, people could either have misunderstood the argument or are being irrational.

    To me they result in an unsatisfying impasse of counter-arguments and a subjective reliance on what one deems convincing. Otherwise these arguments would not be so controversial.

    No evidence is strong enough to force people to accept a conclusion, there is always the possibility of a defect in intellect or will. Maybe the reason the arguments are so controversial is because people just don’t like the conclusion.

  23. “Maybe the reason the arguments are so controversial is because people just don’t like the conclusion.” That’s imputing motive. Shall we stick to reason and evidence?

    Some conclusions require very high levels of evidence to support them. If someone concludes “The universe has a cause of its existence”, this is a 100% certain claim, requiring 100% certain premises. The introduction of any doubt into the premises collapses the argument.

  24. Graham H.,

    Some conclusions require very high levels of evidence to support them. If someone concludes “The universe has a cause of its existence”, this is a 100% certain claim, requiring 100% certain premises. The introduction of any doubt into the premises collapses the argument.

    No Graham I think you are confused about how the arguments work. There is no such thing as 100% certain premises if you mean that they are unable to be denied. The real questions that needs answering is which premise do you deny? What reasons do you have for denying it? Can you coherently deny it? By that I mean, does your denial of the premise entail that some of the other statements that you claim to be true must also be false.

  25. djc,

    Your “…rejection of an ontological commitment…” isn’t just that. It’s also an ontological commitment that “God”, “mind” is probably reducible and explainable in simpler parts.” Those are your own words. That’s how you just described your own ontological commitment. (At the same time claiming you didn’t have one.)

    And no, it’s not an inductive argument based on the success of reductionism so far. It’s a prediction based on the success of reductionism so far. (i.e., Because reductionism has explained X it will explain Y.) But you have no evidence or argument that it will.

  26. So, GrahamH, you conclude that philosophical arguments should not be used unless they have enough evidence associated with them to arbiter a result.

    It seems to me that’s a philosophical position. On what evidence is it based? Is it strong enough to arbiter a result?

    That’s not intended just as a gotcha, although I think it might have that flavor to it. It’s a way of asking a serious question about your epistemological stance. I’d like to hear from you, a step at a time if you prefer or else all at once, how you came to the conclusion that you have stated here, and whether you agree with me that it’s a self-contradictory conclusion, and (if so) whether that’s a point of concern to you.

  27. @GrahamH:

    Do you notice people debate over whether the premises are true? This is where evidence supports an argument.

    I do not understand what you are trying to say here. Yes, people debate whether the premises are true; which just means that in a given argument there are usually subarguments that establish a given premise, all the way back to starting premises or undisputed first principles. It can happen that the starting premises are still disputed, in which case dialectical discussion proceeds to hash out what exactly is the disagreement, which are better supported, etc. In certain cases (pretty much, in anything that really matters), the discussion can be so broad and sweeping that you end up covering a frightening amount of ground, since ideas are tightly inter-connected and usually come bundled in whole packages.

    You seem to think that this state of affairs is somehow special to Philosophy, but once again you would be wrong. This is common to every single field of human knowledge, science and mathematics included (although in Mathematics, things are a bit different, at least in practice, for reasons I will not go over).

    If someone concludes “The universe has a cause of its existence”, this is a 100% certain claim, requiring 100% certain premises. The introduction of any doubt into the premises collapses the argument.

    There is no such thing as 100% certainty in anything concerning human knowledge. And the introduction of doubt does not destroy any argument; if it does, well, I just have to introduce doubt in *your* argument, so your claim refutes itself.

  28. Tom, G.Rodrigues and Melissa

    Guys we could be talking past each other here a bit. Re: the certainty comment: I am talking about the relationship between the premises and the conclusion and the level of doubt/certainty that relationship allows. If the conclusion demands a certain level of confidence, the premises must support that level of confidence.

    Do you not agree that the conclusion of the Kalam is very certain by saying “The universe has a cause of its existence”? It does not say that it is feasible or possible that the universe has a cause of its existence. That would be a very different thing, you agree? It instead says, cut and dry, the universe has a cause of its existence.

    I am saying if someone successfully introduces doubt into the premises of an argument where the conclusion does not allow such doubt, the argument collapses. Do we really disagree on this?

  29. Graham H.,

    I am saying if someone successfully introduces doubt into the premises of an argument where the conclusion does not allow such doubt, the argument collapses. Do we really disagree on this?

    Any conclusion to an argument cannot be any more certain than the premises of the argument, that much is obvious, but that is true of any argument not just arguments for God. Do you have anything that is particularly relevant to the various cosmological arguments that would cause them specifically to become “not evidence”.

  30. BillT @ #17

    Good question. I think the believers in ETI have the burden of proof. Especially, given my above understanding. Does that make their position more warrented? Not sure. Is that the same as them having the burden of proof. However, I’m not sure though I completely understand you position. Could you clarify a bit.

    Here is what I am trying to say. What would the ETI skeptic have to do prove his position? In practical terms the skeptic’s position is unprovable. That’s not my opinion; it’s a fact. Just think what it would require. To prove that no intelligent life exists anyplace else in the universe, you would have to investigate every single potentially habitable environment in entire universe, past and present, almost simultaneously. If the position is unprovable, is it unwarranted? I don’t think so, but I’ll come back to that later, in a subsequent post.

    On the other hand, what would an ETI believer have to do? One discovery would prove his position to be true. Is there any doubt that he is warranted in his belief?

    What happens if the ETI believer has some evidence (though not “proof”) to support his position? Isn’t he now more warranted in his belief? I think he is. Can the skeptic become more warranted in his belief? Does he even have a belief?

    What I am trying to do here is draw analogy between a belief in ETI with a belief in God. Of course there are some big differences. With ETI we are considering the warrant of believing in the existence of something that like us exists within the universe– God “stands” apart from the universe. So the kind of evidence we need to look at is a different type of evidence. For example even though God may be the cause of the universe He is not like the causes that operate in the universe.

  31. GrahamH, when I’ve heard WL Craig speaking on the Kalam, he has always framed it this way: “The argument is valid, so if the premises are true the conclusion is sound. The premises are more plausible than their denials, so the conclusion is more likely to be true than its denial.”

    Of course he argues for why the premises are more plausible than their denials, and it comes out as a case that they are considerably more plausible. That’s not certainty. But it’s not collapse. The conclusion is considerably more likely to be true than its denial.

    That’s an intellectually responsible approach, and I think it’s correct on every level.

  32. @GrahamH:

    Guys we could be talking past each other here a bit. Re: the certainty comment: I am talking about the relationship between the premises and the conclusion and the level of doubt/certainty that relationship allows.

    The “level of doubt/certainty” is a complete red herring, irrelevant to *any* analysis of *any* argument whatsoever.

    And I already critiqued it (assuming I am understanding you right, which indeed is not at all clear), but apparently you missed it. You are making a claim; either you substantiate it via an argument or you do not. If the latter, no one is compelled to agree with because it is unsubstantiated, if the former, then by your own criteria, it refutes itself since *I* have introduced doubt, and cogently so.

    The only relevance “someone successfully introduc[ing] doubt” could possibly have, is if said someone actually refutes the argument, that is, it shows there is a logical misstep, an equivocation, a premise is shown to be false, etc. But this just *is* to show that the argument fails. *If* this is what you mean, then who could possibly disagree? And exactly what is the relevance of this to the particular discussion of arguments about God?

    And when I write “shown to be false”, nowhere I am invoking “100% certainty” or whatever; the terms are meaningless, and, as far as I can understand you, only reflect a subjective feeling nothing more — not that feelings are not important, just that they are not important in the way you seem to think they are (read say, the late James Ross’s “Reason and Reliance” — just google for it, there is at least an early html version available online).

  33. When you say “incoherent to me” are you asking for clarification or are you suggesting that his comment is incoherent?

    I ask because your comment is incoherent to me.

    :p

  34. I’ll try to translate.

    By definition, an argument is valid if the conclusion follows deductively from the premises. The following is a valid argument:

    1. All apples are blue.
    2. Zeus is an apple
    3. Therefore Zeus is blue.

    If the premises were true, the conclusion would necessarily be true. The syllogism (argument) is valid. Of course the premises are false, so the argument is unsound, and in this case the conclusion is false.

    It’s possible to have an unsound argument with a true conclusion:

    1. All apples are blue.
    2. Zeus is an apple
    3. Therefore Zeus is a mythical Greek god.

    The conclusion has nothing to do with the premises, which are false besides, so the argument is as unsound as it could be, even though the conclusion is true.

    The Kalam is a valid syllogism: if the premises are true, then the conclusion follows necessarily.

    1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existing other than itself.
    2. The universe began to exist.
    3. The universe has a cause of its existing other than itself.

    What G. Rodrigues is saying is that the question of whether the premises are true just is the question we’re asking when we argue for or against the syllogism. The deductive validity is not in doubt. The premises may be.

    To say, however, that the premises must be 100% certain in order for the argument not to “collapse” is to misunderstand the nature of the conclusion. Yes, a perfectly unassailable conclusion requires perfectly unassailable premises, but we don’t have that in real life, only in ideal systems like defined mathematical constructs. Take the famous example syllogism,

    1. All men are mortal.
    2. Socrates is a man.
    3. Therefore Socrates is mortal.

    Number 2 could be contested. Maybe there never was a Socrates. Fine. We can debate that, explore it, research it, and draw our own conclusions, however firm or tentative, about premise 2. Then we consider our conclusion in light of the conclusions we draw about the premises. If we think we have good reasons to think there really was a Socrates, then we conclude that this was a mortal Socrates. If we withhold all judgment about premise 2, then we simply agree that if there was a Socrates he was mortal, but who knows? If we think Premise 2 is false, then we say the conclusion is worthless, since it applies to no one.

    This is just what it means to argue for premises and for conclusions, especially when dealing with a deductively valid syllogism like the Kalam.

    Now, we could also talk about whether some syllogism is deductively valid: whether it includes an equivocation, as G. Rodrigues alluded to, for example. But that’s not the case for the Kalam argument; no one doubts that it’s valid. The question is whether the premises are true, and when all is said and done and argued we all measure our agreement with the conclusion according to our agreement with the premises. They don’t have to be 100% certain for us to do this.

    G. Rodrigues, is that reasonably close to a good translation of what you were saying? GrahamH, does it makes sense?

  35. Tom #32 Yes I agree with the approach you outline when the argument is framed as quoted by WLC. Collapse occurs when enough doubt is successfully introduced to make the premises less plausible than the denials.

    It is then possible to have arguments where the strength of the evidence or level of doubt in the premises and denials are lets say pretty much evenly matched, or have that effect. The two sides may still be polarised based on what they think is convincing to them (using their best judgement in the absence of stronger evidence). But one does not have to be either a supporter or outright denier of the argument. They can say it is inconclusive and not useful because there is no evidence to reliably arbiter one way or the other.

  36. @Tim Gilson:

    Yes, pretty much. Thank you.

    @GrahamH:

    It is then possible to have arguments where the strength of the evidence or level of doubt in the premises and denials are lets say pretty much evenly matched, or have that effect.

    Yes, it is possible. Plantinga gave the example of P = “The number of stars in the universe is odd”: there is no evidence to substantiate it, and it is hard to fathom what exactly could possibly be the evidence (it would be a most fantastic occurrence if the laws of physics dictated as a matter of nomological necessity that the number of stars was odd) short of performing the impossible task of actually counting them. Of course, just because we do not know whether P is true does not mean we are thereby justified in asserting its falsity (a fallacy common among a certain subset of atheists). You may retort that the example is frivolous and no one cares about the truth value of P; sure, but the principles underlying the rational evaluation of any proposition are the same, whether we personally are interested in its truth value or not.

    The two sides may still be polarised based on what they think is convincing to them (using their best judgement in the absence of stronger evidence).

    Ok, but assuming both parties are behaving rationally, they must have *some* reason to tilt them to either side. And since they disagree, it must be the case that at least one of them is wrong. So they come together and discuss to clarify where the disagreement lies exactly. And this is the *main* aim and purpose of dialectical discussion; to clarify the issues.

    But one does not have to be either a supporter or outright denier of the argument. They can say it is inconclusive and not useful because there is no evidence to reliably arbiter one way or the other.

    They *can* say that, but the sword cuts both ways. In particular, they also have an onus of substantiating what they say, meaning, that it is indeed the case that the available evidence does not allow to arbitrate either way. And for that, they have to produce arguments, either in the form of refutations of existing arguments, or in producing arguments to bolster their own position. That is, they have to actually *argue* their own position and as such, they are in no different a position than the opposing parties, and *any* general principle you care to name applies to them equally.

  37. BillT,

    Your “…rejection of an ontological commitment…” isn’t just that. It’s also an ontological commitment that “God”, “mind” is probably reducible and explainable in simpler parts.” Those are your own words. That’s how you just described your own ontological commitment. (At the same time claiming you didn’t have one.)

    I wouldn’t call that a commitment as much as a hypothesis that reductionism can be successfully applied to concepts of “mind” and “God”. It’s worked in the past on other things that were thought indivisible, surely that makes it at least reasonable to use it now?

    And no, it’s not an inductive argument based on the success of reductionism so far. It’s a prediction based on the success of reductionism so far. (i.e., Because reductionism has explained X it will explain Y.) But you have no evidence or argument that it will.

    I don’t see the difference between an inductive argument and a prediction based on past behavior, seems like the same thing. An inductive argument should count as a valid form of reasoning, although I fully understand the uncertainty involved in relying too heavily on past behavior to predict future performance. That’s why a good prediction must be falsifiable.

    Adopting reasonable strategies does not seem like the sort of commitment that could be criticized so I’m not getting your point.

  38. djc,

    I wouldn’t call that a commitment as much as a hypothesis that reductionism can be successfully applied to concepts of “mind” and “God”. It’s worked in the past on other things that were thought indivisible, surely that makes it at least reasonable to use it now?

    Not unless you have an answer to the reasons given why it isn’t reasonable. Anyway the arguments are against mind being nothing but particles in motion so whether things that were thought to be indivisible are known known to be divisible is irrelevant.

  39. djc,

    I think if you look at what reductionism has been successful in parsing about humans you’ll find things like the circulatory system and cancer. The mind/consciousness is in a different category. That’s just not deniable. Until reductionism shows it can provide explanations in that area and/or for those kind of things it’s within reason to assume it can’t.

  40. Just to followup on what I wrote @ #31. I don’t believe that skeptics are always unwarranted in their skepticism. Afterall, everyone is at some time skeptical of something. (Furthermore, it’s impossible to consider every belief out there.) For example, I am skeptical that the Loch Ness monster exists or that an extraterrestrial spacecraft crashed near Roswell NM in 1947. Have I done exhaustive research into either one of those subjects? No. But what I have looked at is not all that compelling. However, even as a skeptic, I would not off hand reject new evidence supporting either possibility. On the other hand, I don’t consider my particular kind of skepticism to be a belief. I don’t think any kind of skepticism can be considered a belief. It’s nothing more than provisional disbelief.

    The problems begin when people try to turn skepticism into some kind of belief system which they believe is intellectually superior to all others. (Turning it into sort of a belief about beliefs.) As either a belief or as a world view skepticism is unwarranted. Atheism appears to be the result of this kind of erroneous thinking.

  41. Melissa,

    BTW, thanks for those links in a prior thread, I believe I have a somewhat better idea how to relate to A-T… for the next discussion on intentionality anyway.

    Not unless you have an answer to the reasons given why it isn’t reasonable.

    The reductionist approach I mentioned to BillT is not a conclusion or a philosophy, it’s a process. It doesn’t stop at atoms, it goes on to find electrons. It’s not content to consider electrons properly basic, it goes on to find quarks, and so on. It keeps trying to break things down until there is nothing further to break down.

    There has been progress in decomposing the concept of mind by breaking it into smaller problems: neurobiology, computational models, evolutionary psychology, awareness and theory-of-mind, for example. But there is certainly no claim that mind is now reduced to particles. The claim is only that as long as subproblems are successfully carved off the central problem, then isolated and better understood through further decomposition, reductionist assumptions should be considered perfectly reasonable.

    In short, I don’t want to be making the mistake of those who claimed atoms were properly basic. Aspects of mind, consciousness and God may be properly basic but we won’t know that until we’ve made every effort to disprove it.

  42. @ G.Rodrigues #40

    Agree with most of what you say, however:

    Of course, just because we do not know whether P is true does not mean we are thereby justified in asserting its falsity (a fallacy common among a certain subset of atheists).

    I don’t think you can infer fallacious logic is only common to “a certain subset of atheists”. That seems a very broad brush generalisation not in the spirit of rational discourse I think this blog is trying to promote.

    Also, when you say:

    And since they disagree, it must be the case that at least one of them is wrong. So they come together and discuss to clarify where the disagreement lies exactly.

    Sure. And where evidence is weak, it may not be possible to resolve. Where the argument has little evidence of fact for example, sometimes people turn to “values” to exercise judgement, such as something “just makes sense” to them or is “intuitively” true based on our experiences. These can be very unreliable and subjective methods to achieve resolution.

    We know from physics for example, our experiences are forged on “middle earth” within certain boundaries. Our intellectual preferences don’t work well when we enter the realms of the very large (cosmology) or very small (sub-atomic) without some hard facts to help us.

  43. I’d like to take a shot at the Kalam argument following the methods that are endorsed here. I am a physicist, not a philosopher so have some patience.

    First, I’m quoting the argument directly from Tom’s #37

    1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existing other than itself.
    2. The universe began to exist.
    3. The universe has a cause of its existing other than itself.

    The argument is valid, but I don’t think that we have any confidence in premise 1. I’m not saying that premise 1 is probably false, I am arguing that we simply have no way of knowing, much like the claim that “the number of stars is odd.”

    Premise 1 is an extraordinary generalization. Certainly many things that begin to exist have a cause of their existing other than themselves, e.g. chairs, chickens, neutron stars, and photons. However, it is a big leap to go from a long list of things to “everything,” where “everything” includes the universe itself. All of the items on my list have some features in common, but the universe lacks these features, making the generalization unsound.

    Everything I know of began to exist in a smooth part of space-time. Smooth space-time is well described by General Relativity, and we can prove that General relativity has a causal structure (except at singularities, which are not smooth anyway). I would revise premise 1 to state:

    1′. Everything that begins to exist in a smooth part of space-time (curvature much less than Planck scale) has a cause of its existing other than itself.

    For argument to remain valid with this premise 1′, we would need to change premise 2 to read

    2′. The universe began to exist in a smooth part of space-time (curvature much less than Planck scale).

    Premise 2′ is certainly false. Singularity theorems guarantee that there are moments in the past when the curvature approached the Planck scale, forcing us to abandon General Relativity. Without General Relativity we have no concept of time and no idea whether causation even makes sense.

    Does someone have a physically sensible argument for why I can generalize ideas about “beginning to exist” and “having a cause” and “other than itself” to situations where we have no concept of time or space? That is a very big leap. Again, I’m not saying premise 1 is necessarily false, I just don’t have any idea whether it is true. I don’t think anyone else does either.

  44. Hi Tom

    “Do you believe it’s a bad idea to believe anything that has no empirical support?

    Would you show us the empirical evidence supporting that belief?”

    Jamie Coots was a snake handling preacher who believed he could handle venomous snakes without fear of death. He believed this with no empirical evidence. He was bitten and died. This is empirical evidence that believing something with no empirical evidence is a bad idea.

    I was going to list a bunch of these but you get the idea.

    Now I didn’t use the term ‘bad idea’ … that was your spin. But let’s run with that for the moment, and it’s your turn. When is it a good idea to believe something that has no empirical support?

    Thanks
    Shane

  45. Hi Melissa,

    “Wrong. Philosophical arguments count as evidence, unless you want to refute yourself before you even get started.”

    Having read through the posts till the bottom it seems that all the philosophical arguments put forward are grounded in empirical evidence. Can you supply one that isn’t?

    Cheers
    Shane

  46. Shane,

    Having read through the posts till the bottom it seems that all the philosophical arguments put forward are grounded in empirical evidence. Can you supply one that isn’t?

    Since I was responding to your argument that belief in God is not founded in any evidence, my point is made as you now agree that is not true.

  47. Hi JAD,

    “Here is what I am trying to say. What would the ETI skeptic have to do prove his position? In practical terms the skeptic’s position is unprovable. That’s not my opinion; it’s a fact. Just think what it would require. To prove that no intelligent life exists anyplace else in the universe, you would have to investigate every single potentially habitable environment in entire universe, past and present, almost simultaneously. If the position is unprovable, is it unwarranted? I don’t think so, but I’ll come back to that later, in a subsequent post.

    On the other hand, what would an ETI believer have to do? One discovery would prove his position to be true. Is there any doubt that he is warranted in his belief?

    What happens if the ETI believer has some evidence (though not “proof”) to support his position? Isn’t he now more warranted in his belief? I think he is. Can the skeptic become more warranted in his belief? Does he even have a belief?

    What I am trying to do here is draw analogy between a belief in ETI with a belief in God.”

    And you’ve done it very well. This is why atheism is not a belief, but a lack of belief. In your example they don’t believe there is no ETI, because as you point out that is unprovable. They believe that no-one has shown evidence that there is ETI.

    To make it closer to an analogy with the Christian God, the ETI skeptic believe that the stories and evidence that are put forward as having been caused by ETI visiting earth and interacting with the inhabitants here can be explained via perfectly natural explanations.

    Respectfully
    Shane

  48. Hi Melissa,

    “Since I was responding to your argument that belief in God is not founded in any evidence, my point is made as you now agree that is not true.”

    But your statement was that philosophical arguments are not grounded in empirical evidence. So now you agree with me, correct? The difference between our views is how strong the empirical evidence is.

    Sincerely
    Shane

  49. djc,

    I’m sorry you missed the point I was making, I will try to be clearer. The problem with a reductionistic approach is not the idea that things are divisible into parts or that understanding these parts increases our understanding of how things work but rather that things are nothing but the sum of their parts. There is nothing in the truth of the first two that leads us to conclude the last is true.

  50. Shane,

    But your statement was that philosophical arguments are not grounded in empirical evidence.

    No that was not my statement.

  51. Shane,

    Also you are treating philosophical demonstrations as if they are scientific hypotheses.

  52. Hi Melissa,

    I think you are correct in my mistaking the implied connection in your post for an actual assertion. Let’s clear that up.

    What type of evidence isn’t empirical? A generality and a specific with regard to God creating the universe is what I am after, as that was the example you responded to.

    Sincerely
    Shane

  53. Shane,

    What type of evidence isn’t empirical?

    Empirical evidence is generally considered to be that provided directly by the senses. Other evidences, even though they might ultimately trace back to the senses, are not generally classed as empirical evidence. If that’s not what you meant when you used the term then I agree with you re evidence. My question then is why did you label the “belief that the Universe was created by God is not founded in any evidence, but in the absence of any evidence to the contrary.”

  54. Hi Melissa,

    “My question then is why did you label the “belief that the Universe was created by God is not founded in any evidence, but in the absence of any evidence to the contrary.”

    Because we have no idea what happened prior to the Big Bang. There is currently no evidence as to what caused it, because we are talking about a time and place that we have no method of accessing, at the time of writing.

    It was certainly influenced by a quote of BillT’s on the Summary Page which read

    “It’s you that have to explain how all this order, all these laws, all these constants that ensure life and the very existence of the universe came from the randomness and chaos of nothing. How does all this just appear out of nowhere Bob? I’m sure you have a fascinating explanation for us.”

    The inference is that because we do not know the natural explanation then a supernatural one gets more credibility. Even though we are both in the same boat of having no empirical evidence of the state of things before the universe. Now BillT was trying to exploit a perceived loophole about how Bob was valuing explanations, but as I suggest an explanation that raises more questions than it answers is not a useful explanation.

    Cheers
    Shane

  55. @GrahamH:

    I don’t think you can infer fallacious logic is only common to “a certain subset of atheists”.

    You misunderstand me (or I was not clear enough); what I pointed was that a *specific* fallacy is commonly committed among a certain subset of atheists.

  56. @Shane Fletcher:

    Because we have no idea what happened prior to the Big Bang.

    Irrelevant. For cosmological arguments or the Kalam itself.

    Furthermore, you misunderstand Science itself (this is, once again, an unfortunately typical phenomenon: there is not only a wide misunderstanding of the arguments, those that most fill their mouths with undying love for Science ™ are usually the ones who least understand it). *If* the Big Bang was the absolute beginning of the universe, there is no “prior” to it — and this is *why* Kalam say, proceeds the way it does.

  57. Shane, you’ve offered one anecdote supporting your belief that it’s a bad idea (or something like that) to believe anything that has no empirical support.

    But one example does not generalize to “anything.” Every scientist knows this. Every empiricist knows this. Your “empirical evidence” is no such thing—not unless you want to wrench the meaning of empirical evidence completely out of recognizability.

  58. Gavin @ #47,

    What are you trying to say? Are you claiming that the universe could have come into existence uncaused from nothing? How is that even logically defensible?

  59. Gavin,

    Great post. Kalam is the strongest argument out of a lot of weak arguments in favour of a creator-deity, and that was a very interesting take on it.

    Thanks!

  60. JAD,

    I am claiming that we don’t know enough about the rules that govern the beginning of the universe to say anything about causation. Maybe the rules require a cause. Maybe they don’t. We have no knowledge.

    We do have a lot of theories. Some of them require a cause. Some of them do not. It is especially difficult to make models of either type. I don’t see anything from our experience in smooth space-time convinces me that one type is better than the other.

    Keep in mind that in General Relativity causation is a theorem, not an axiom. We can show that GR with exactly 1 time dimension has a causal structure. I don’t have any reason to expect that time makes any sense if we can’t trust General Relativity.

    I hope that answers your question. I’m not sure what you are getting at with the question, “How is that even logically defensible.” I’m saying that premise 1 is not defensible with our current knowledge. Premise 1′ is defensible, but it doesn’t work with the argument.

  61. Here is what I think the cosmological argument(s) is in a nutshell:

    There is some x that exists necessarily and is the explanation (the cause) of everything else that exists.

    What could x possibly be?

    I can see only a couple of logically defensible possibilities.

    1. x is what theists refer to as God. God is an eternally existing uncaused being.

    There is nothing illogical about the possibility that something has “always existed”, exists necessarily or is self existent.

    2. Nothing exists necessarily (IOW there is no x) which leaves us with an infinite regress of contingent causes.

    Are there any other possibilities?

  62. Chris,

    Great post. Kalam is the strongest argument out of a lot of weak arguments

    Actually, I think properly understand Aquinas arguments are the strongest.

  63. Gavin,

    I am claiming that we don’t know enough about the rules that govern the beginning of the universe to say anything about causation. Maybe the rules require a cause. Maybe they don’t. We have no knowledge.

    We do have a lot of theories. Some of them require a cause. Some of them do not. It is especially difficult to make models of either type. I don’t see anything from our experience in smooth space-time convinces me that one type is better than the other.

    You are treating cosmological arguments as if they are some kind of alternative scientific hypothesis. The questions answered by these arguments are more fundamental than those answered by science. How things change in conditions that are very different to what we know (which is the question you are addressing) is not the question that cosmological arguments are answering.

  64. JAD,

    The discussion is about making rational arguments. I’m trying to improve my rational arguing skills by working with one example under discussion—specifically Kalam, as stated by Tom in #37. Tom’s form of the argument is common and clearly lays out the premises, the logic, and the conclusion. I, and others, have been asked to either find a flaw in the logic (there is none) or explain why a premise is not warranted. I tried to do the latter.

    You have presented a different form of the argument, and I don’t know what to do with it. Your argument is in the form of a single declarative sentence (in bold). What are the premises? Where is the logic? What is the conclusion? I think the philosophers call that an assertion, not an argument, but I could be wrong.

    I don’t want to play Whack-a-Mole with different forms of the cosmological argument, so I’m going to stick to Tom’s. Premise 1 of that argument, with our present knowledge, is indefensible (although it might happen to be true).

  65. Shane,

    The inference is that because we do not know the natural explanation then a supernatural one gets more credibility

    I’m sorry Shane but you are obviously not referring to cosmological arguments but something else. What that something else is I am not sure of. Cosmological arguments are not alternatives to scientific hypothesis.

  66. Melissa,

    I’m sorry you missed the point I was making, I will try to be clearer. The problem with a reductionistic approach is not the idea that things are divisible into parts or that understanding these parts increases our understanding of how things work but rather that things are nothing but the sum of their parts. There is nothing in the truth of the first two that leads us to conclude the last is true.

    But positing that things are nothing more than the sum of their parts is not a prerequisite for doing good science or any other reductionist methodology. I am explicitly rejecting any ontological commitments of that nature as unnecessary. That was my point to BillT. It is a reasonable strategy to try to reduce “God”, “mind”, “consciousness” based solely on the success of reductionist techiques so far.

    And reductionism as a philosophy will thrive or die based on the success or failure of its approach to “mind” in the next couple decades, I’d say.

  67. Melissa,

    Ok, I think I understand what you are saying. Can you help me out by saying what evidence we have for premise 1? Perhaps a link would work.

  68. Gavin,

    If you have ever seen W.L. Craig present the Kalam cosmological argument argument, you will perhaps recall that he makes it very clear he is not presenting a scientific argument but using a scientific discovery (the Big Bang) as a premise in a metaphysical argument. Did the universe have a beginning? The Big Bang suggests that it did. Many, perhaps most, cosmologists would agree and even ask what might have come “before”? (if there was a before)

    The nut shell “argument” I gave above @ #65 was a very brief summary of several cosmological arguments including the Kalam. Again, I have heard Craig “unpack” the premises of the Kalam and discuss the ideas of necessary vs. contingent being and an absolute beginning vs. an infinite regress. If you don’t understand those concepts how can you possibly refute the argument?

    Here is a link to one of Craig’s shorter talks (9-10 minutes).

  69. JAD,

    I have not seen WLC present the Kalam cosmological argument. Can you direct me to some evidence for premise 1?

  70. This is the thing with Kalam and the point I was originally making about evidence-free philosophical arguments. When I say evidence I mean reliable evidence…

    Where is the evidence that whatever begins to exist has to have a cause? We do naturally have experience of things being caused, like the birth of a baby, or the building of a house. But these are rearrangements of existing matter. We have never experienced things coming into existence from nothing. In fact the closest thing to it we know of (and admittedly not the same), is the quantum level where things pop into existence seemingly uncaused. So we can’t infer from our own experience that we can reasonably expect causal creation from nothing.

    So basically there is no reliable (or even experiential) evidence for that claim. The Kalam then relies on an appeal to your “rational intuition” free of any experiential facts. So we depart facts, and enter the world of “values” about whether fact-free rational intuition is reliable. These values polarise the protagonists and the argument fizzles out into an unsatisfying impasse of counter-arguments along those sort of lines.

    Now I might subsequently be persuaded otherwise, but for this reason I don’t think Kalam can be relied upon by theists. It is not a potent argument and is fraught with strong doubts in its premises.

  71. You missed the point JAD. The things you know began to exist was rearrangement of existing material (matter and energy). They already existed. The point is the causal creation of matter and energy (being the stuff the universe is made of). The proponents of the Kalam have to answer: Where is the evidence that whatever begins to exist has to have a cause?

  72. JAD,

    Thanks for adding the link to 72. I will watch it.

    Regarding 75. How did you conclude that everything you know which began to exist had a cause? That seems like a lot of work.

  73. Graham, RE: #74

    Are you aware of how you just contradicted yourself? First you say this: “We do naturally have experience of things being caused, like the birth of a baby, or the building of a house. But these are rearrangements of existing matter. We have never experienced things coming into existence from nothing…”

    And then a few sentences later you say this: “So basically there is no reliable (or even experiential) evidence for that claim.” By “claim” you mean that everything that begins has/had a cause.” How can you claim that something that we all experience, not just you, is not evidence? This is where I see many atheists asking us to suspend common sense and obvious rationality in order to buy into their/your negation of reality.

    Have you considered the possibility that scientists simply cannot explain what makes these “things” at the quantum level “pop into existence” so the cause is unknown to us although there is a cause? Is not knowing the cause of something sufficient to postulate that its existence is un-caused? This is an extremely slim argument against the validity premises of the Kalam.

  74. JAD

    Re your link to your Gods not Dead comment: If God can be eternal or exist without a cause, the onus is on the theist to explain why the same can’t be said of the universe. All our knowledge of this I believe says our own intuitions are not reliable and we have to rely on experience as well. We don’t have any experience of things coming into existence ex nihilo, with or without a cause (except possibly quantum particles).

  75. Gavin, RE: #73

    You might try viewing this debate between Sean Carroll and William Lane Craig at this URL:

  76. Jenna

    Can you tell me where you have experienced a causal creation of something that did not include the rearrangement of existing things?

  77. Graham,

    I’m not quite sure I understand your question about what I have “experienced” but I will say this: Creation is a causal process, and yes, from the material standpoint it involves the rearrangement of existing things. But all of those rearranged things are caused to exist (created). In this sense, nothing that exists in the material natural world (universe, cosmos) is/was not created (caused to exist). This is the premise of the Kalam, no?

    This conversation reminds me of the story about the scientists who went before God claiming that they could create life? They reached down and grabbed a handful of dirt and proceeded with their experiment. A booming voice came from heaven and God said, “No, you guys. This doesn’t prove anything. Make your own dirt!” Until humans can make the ingredients of life ourselves, we cannot claim to create life. Remember Genesis 3:19 “For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

  78. Gavin,

    How did you conclude that everything you know which began to exist had a cause? That seems like a lot of work.

    Okay I see your point. I have a pet cat, a stray who adopted me about five an half years ago. I didn’t witness him being born and don’t know where he came from. Should I assume that because I didn’t witness him coming into being that he didn’t begin to exist? Sorry, I could never accept that level of skepticism. Is that what you believe?

  79. Jenna

    “But all of those rearranged things are caused to exist (created). ” How so? We have only so far established they have been rearranged. We have not experienced the components being created.

  80. Graham,

    You keep using the term “experienced.” What are you getting at? Just because I haven’t “experienced” the creation of air does not mean that I cannot know that air must have been created because air exists. I sense that you are playing word games rather than addressing the premises of the Kalam.

  81. JAD,

    I have a pet cat, a stray who adopted me about five an half years ago. I didn’t witness him being born and don’t know where he came from. Should I assume that because I didn’t witness him coming into being that he didn’t begin to exist? Sorry, I could never accept that level of skepticism. Is that what you believe?

    The argument is laid out in detail by Jonathan MS Pearce here. Under a deterministic view of the universe, one can’t arbitrarily quantize causality, it is one long, continual chain going back to the Big Bang. Therefore, to say that anything at all in this universe came into existence is to say no more than that it was caused by one event, the Big Bang. Thus the argument becomes

    (1) All that begins to exist was caused by the Big Bang
    (2) The universe began to exist
    (3) Therefore, the universe was caused by the Big Bang

    Which is not a very helpful argument for the existence of God.

  82. Jenna

    When I say “experience”, I mean more than intuition alone.

    I guess you need to work through the implications of your argument.

    I am not the one claiming the Kalam is true (or more plausible than not). I am simply asking: Where is the evidence that whatever begins to exist has to have a cause?

    If you deny premise 1 in this way, what are the implications for the existence of things as we know them?

    Good question, but it certainly would not be good to Theism I would think. There are counter arguments to my criticism that seems to ultimately rest on intuition.

    But I did not originally raise this to debate the Kalam as such. My comments relate to rationality and what I stated in #46 #22 and #13. These type of philosophical arguments, due to the poverty of evidence, lead to an impasse at best; and possibly a reliance on a prejudicial state (such as intuition uncorrected by fact or experience) which could be the “prior ontological commitment” Tom Clark quote referred to in #13.

  83. JAD

    Re 84: I stated earlier that I believe premise 1′:

    1′. Everything that begins to exist in a smooth part of space-time (curvature much less than Planck scale) has a cause of its existing other than itself.

    I have some pretty good reasons to believe this, which I can share if anyone cares. I am confident that your cat is in this category, since a region of Planckian curvature big enough to produce a cat, or anything else that you know about, would certainly have caused a significant disruption to our planet.

    I have still not found any evidence that this generalization can be extended to things which did not begin to exist in a smooth region of space-time. Since you and others have recommended WLC on youtube, I’ve gone to his website and am reading articles there. I search and read written articles much more quickly and effectively than videos.

    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/kalam

    So far I’ve found 2 pieces of unconvincing evidence (paraphrased):

    1) It’s obvious. Lots of people say it’s obvious. It’s obviously obvious, etc.
    2) It’s reasonable to think it is true for anything you find in the universe. It continues to be true no matter how big that thing is. The universe is a really big thing. Therefore it is true of the universe. (I don’t buy this for because the universe is not a thing in the universe.)

    There are more pieces of evidence that I am trying to understand.

  84. GrahamH @ #76 & 79,

    Okay, so I don’t know that matter and energy began to exist. That doesn’t really negate ther first premise of of Kalam because, at least implicitly, the argument is about things that I know of that come to exist. So it still follows from the things that I know about that if the universe began to exist, it had a cause.

    But if the universe, along with space and time, began to exist, I am assuming that matter and energy also began to exist, so it is at least logically possible to conceive of matter and energy beginning to exist. Are you arguing that matter and energy transcend space and time and are the cause of the universe? We’re just random fluctuations in the vacuum? Can you prove that? Or is that what you believe by faith? Why should I become an atheist if it’s something I have to believe by faith? (Talk about absurd.)

    Again I wrote in my post on the “God’s Not Dead” thread:

    Oh sure, a non-theist could argue that the universe or “the multiverse” could be eternal or “self existing”. But notice that is not necessarily true. Even before the rise of big bang cosmology it was logically possible to conceive of the universe as having a cause or a beginning. It is impossible to conceive of God (correctly understood) as having had a cause [or, a beginning.] Something that exists without a cause needs no further explanation. Therefore, God is the ultimate explanation for why anything at all exists.
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2014/03/gods-not-dead/#comment-84757

    What you end up with, if matter/energy as brute stuff is eternal, is an infinite regress of contingent causes, not a necessary “uncaused cause.” Contingent things by themselves and collectively do not appear to be sufficient to sustain an infinite regress, so how is it sustained? You need to explain how matter and energy acting alone is sufficient to explain the “apparent” design we see in the universe. Why not consider with an open mind that what we see as apparent design is because it is real design?

  85. JAD

    Okay, so I don’t know that matter and energy began to exist. That doesn’t really negate ther first premise of of Kalam because, at least implicitly, the argument is about things that I know of that come to exist. So it still follows from the things that I know about that if the universe began to exist, it had a cause.

    So you don’t know that some of the “basic building blocks” of the universe (matter and energy) began to exist, but you do know of other things that came to exist (made only of basic building blocks), so therefore it follows that you know the universe (consisting of those basic building blocks) began to exist and had a cause. Is that what you are saying?

    It is one thing to say you can create things from the most basic components already available, but it is another thing to say those basic components in themselves were created out of nothing and with a cause. Why? Because there is no evidence for it.

    The following reasonable question has not been answered yet:

    Where is the evidence that whatever begins to exist has to have a cause?

  86. Graham,

    You are being stubborn. You ask yet again for evidence that whatever begins to exist is caused to exist. Yet you can provide no examples of anything that exists that is not caused to exist. If this reality and consensus about reality doesn’t count as evidence, then what does, in your view?

  87. Jenna

    I am sorry I appear stubborn, but it is more the case I do not see the evidence for the claim. I am not the one making the claim. The proponent of the Kalam is. To accept the Kalam argument you must know that whatever begins to exist has to have a cause. How can we know that?

    Where is the evidence that whatever begins to exist has to have a cause?

  88. Also JAD:

    If you allow one thing to exist without cause, you contradict your own premise. And if you do, there is no reason why the universe should not be the one thing that exists or originates without cause.

  89. djc,

    Which is not a very helpful argument for the existence of God.

    And even less helpful for any kind of scientific realism, because the things that science studies do not exist.

  90. Gavin,

    I am not the one claiming the Kalam is true (or more plausible than not). I am simply asking: Where is the evidence that whatever begins to exist has to have a cause?

    A reasonable person would accept the conclusion of an argument if the truth of the premises is more plausible that their denial. You are claiming the Kalam is false by denying that premise 1 is true. Premise 1 is argued in various ways. If you go to Craig’s website you will find plenty of information on this.

    These type of philosophical arguments, due to the poverty of evidence, lead to an impasse at best; and possibly a reliance on a prejudicial state (such as intuition uncorrected by fact or experience) which could be the “prior ontological commitment” Tom Clark quote referred to in #13.

    Both you and tom Clark misunderstand things badly here. In general I would say that theists find the arguments compelling because the denial of the premises leads to absurdities. You yourself seem not to have considered the implications of your position. If the ordinary everyday things of our experience do not begin to exist then what is science studying?

  91. Melissa

    Both you and tom Clark misunderstand things badly here. In general I would say that theists find the arguments compelling because the denial of the premises leads to absurdities. You yourself seem not to have considered the implications of your position.

    You seem to be making an argument from personal credulity to label something absurd. I see no basis in applying our common intellectual preferences (or intuition) to a circumstance completely different to the one it was forged in.

    If I firstly said I created a house from bricks and mortar that I had procured from an already available supply, that would be an unremarkable example of what is deemed “creation” in that context. If I instead said that the bricks and mortar had been procured by popping into existence out of nothing and that this was caused, surely you would say “nonsense!” or “show me the evidence”. Why would it persuade anybody if I said the evidence of this is: “well I created things the first way, so obviously things can be created the second way as well – what’s the matter with you? Stop being absurd”. This is what the kalam requires.

    If the ordinary everyday things of our experience do not begin to exist then what is science studying?

    Well things at least, but science is trying to study non-everyday things (to us). Like I have said previously, the physics of the very large (cosmology) and very small (quantum/sub-atomic) are very weird to us as casual observers. We have no right to use intuition alone on such things. You would have also said the results of the Double Slit Experiment are impossible based on intuition, but it is a known fact.

    So my unanswered question is: Where is the evidence that whatever begins to exist has to have a cause?

    The only answer I know of to this question is essentially an impassioned defence of using intuition, and the sort of personal incredulity you express.

  92. Graham H.,

    Well things at least, but science is trying to study non-everyday things (to us).

    Science does in fact study the ordinary everyday things but the non-everyday things count as things too, they don’t exist either if what you are arguing is true.

    You seem to be making an argument from personal credulity to label something absurd. I see no basis in applying our common intellectual preferences (or intuition) to a circumstance completely different to the one it was forged in.

    You are mistaken if you think this is what is happening. If you wish to deny science studies real things that’s your business but for consistency please don’t then point us to the findings of science to support your assertions.

  93. Melissa

    Where have I said science does not study real things? I don’t know what you are saying here.

    There is no evidence whatsoever that material reality had an absolute beginning, preceded by nothing. And if so there is no evidence of whether this was caused or uncaused. And when I say evidence, I mean evidence more reliable than subjective intuition.

    There is also some error of fact for WLC. He also claims there is a singularity where most modern cosmologists don’t believe there is one, and that the singularity is equivalent to “nothing”. How does he know this? Well he doesn’t actually. It is by inference of his intuition.

    The fact is we don’t know what happens before the first Planck second, and we may never know. Trying to speculate it on the basis of intuition is serious woo-woo in my books I am sorry to say – for all the reasons I have given. Happy to be corrected.

  94. Graham H.,

    Where have I said science does not study real things? I don’t know what you are saying here.

    Sorry I misread your statement about the things we know being created where just rearrangements, I thought you were arguing in a similar vein to the link posted by djc.

    The fact is we don’t know what happens before the first Planck second, and we may never know. Trying to speculate it on the basis of intuition is serious woo-woo in my books I am sorry to say – for all the reasons I have given. Happy to be corrected.

    You are treating cosmological arguments as if they are alternative scientific hypotheses which they are not. Further up I notice that you claim to be making a point about all cosmological arguments but what happens before the first Planck second is irrelevant to them because they are not arguments concerned with positing a first cause in the temporal sense. Aquinas for instance did not think you could show by philosophical reasoning that the universe had a beginning. Most of the cosmological arguments are actually concerned with the existance of this particular thing in the here and now.

    It seems to me that you are arguing against arguments that you are unfamiliar with. For instance further back you wrote:

    If you allow one thing to exist without cause, you contradict your own premise. And if you do, there is no reason why the universe should not be the one thing that exists or originates without cause.

    Which if you were familiar with the arguments would understand has already been answered.

  95. No I am talking about the KCA to make the point it has a key premise that relies on intuition only. We haven’t got to Aquinas. If you are not convinced by the Kalam, this example obviously does not apply to you.

  96. GrahamH @ #95:

    If you allow one thing to exist without cause, you contradict your own premise. And if you do, there is no reason why the universe should not be the one thing that exists or originates without cause.

    Not at all.

    Many philosophers (Aristotle, Aquinas and Leibniz, for example) explain that there are two basic kinds of being: (1)things that exist necessarily or in themselves and (2) things that have been caused by something else or, contingently existing being. Setting aside for the moment the problems raised by modern cosmology, let’s consider the possibility that only contingent things exist– after all, those are the only kinds of things that we observe. To explain why any contingent thing exists we need to assume that there is an infinite regress of causes, because to be contingent means that a thing is caused by something else.

    The claim is that necessary being is uncaused, not that it was “self caused.” The idea of self causation is logically contradictory. Monotheists have traditionally argued that God has no origin because He has always existed– He is uncaused. This is a logically valid and rational concept.

    For example, in his book, Not a Chance: The Myth of Chance in Modern Science & Cosmology, R.C. Sproul, outlines the parameters of logic on this question– whether or not the idea of a necessarily existing being is logically valid– as follows:

    “Logic requires that if something exists contingently, it must have a cause. That is merely to say, if it is an effect it must have an antecedent cause. Logic does not require that if something exists, it must exist contingently or it must be an effect. Logic has no quarrel with the idea of self existent reality [or an uncaused cause]. It is possible for something to exist without an antecedent cause. It remains to be seen if it is logically necessary for something to exist without an antecedent cause. For now it is sufficient to see that self-existence is a logical possibility. The idea is rationally justified in the limited sense that it is not rationally falsified. Something is rationally falsified when it is shown to be formally or logically impossible.” (p172-173)

    I am not claiming that I can prove that God exists. My argument is really very modest. I am only arguing that (1) the concept of God is a logically valid and rational. And, (2) God is the best explanation why anything at all exists. The philosophical arguments for God’s existence are not the only reason Christian theists believe in God. Indeed, many people become Christians without even knowing about them.

  97. To JAD

    If you are implying God is a metaphysical necessity then this is simply a bald assertion. Why should we think God is the metaphysically necessary being? You need to provide an argument for it more than just the logical framework it aspires to. You can not just define God into existence. That does not seem very rational to me.

    So is there a metaphysical necessity? One answer that is probable, with some basis in science, is the presence of some form of energy (likely at the quantum level) existing outside the space time of our universe.

    You also state that God is the best reason anything exists. But why does anything need a reason to exist, in terms of purpose if that is what you mean? Does matter, energy, space and time have purpose? We know stuff exists. We don’t know that we even need a reason for it. It is certainly up to us to define the purpose of our own existence.

  98. Graham, I’m going to suggest you consider a discussion that many have misunderstood, so please try to follow me carefully. It’s basically this: that the universe is not the kind of thing that could exist without a cause, whereas God is that kind of being, if there is a God.

    If I’m right about that, then either there must be a God, or else we have no solution at all to the question of first causation for the universe. This is not just defining God into existence. This is recognizing that God’s existence solves an otherwise unsolvable problem.

    I pointed out that many misunderstand this. The first conceptual trap there is that some people will say, “you’re just assuming God can exist uncaused.” You said as much to JAD just now, but really it’s not so. Related to that, some will say, “you’re just defining God into existence, saying that there has to be a God who is uncaused.” Anselm might smile and nod his head knowingly, and I’m heading now in a direction that has some things in common with the ontological argument, but not quite that.

    Now allow me to explain all that, in some feeble way at least. It is a large topic.

    First, on the matter of definitions. If God is self-existent and uncaused, this is perfectly consistent with everyone’s conception of what the word “God” means. I could leave it at that and God’s other perfections, with a view to Anselm. Or I could point you to some ancient scribe who wrote, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” and (whether it was the same scribe or not), “I am that I am. Tell them I AM sent me.”

    Do not brush that aside too quickly: these are astonishing statements. Whoever wrote Genesis and Exodus got God’s self-existence right. He/they (Moses, I’m convinced, but you need not agree with me) did so without having given it the slightest evidence of engaging in philosophical reflection. There’s no evidence that this author was schooled by the Greeks.

    So from the very beginning we have God’s aseity (self-existence) taught by the Hebrews, anticipating discussions like these by hundreds of years, in complete and utter contrast to all other cultures’ conceptions of God (see the link). From where did this wisdom arise? Not from philosophical schooling. Not by learning from other cultures.

    On that linked page I draw the conclusion that this is evidence of God’s revealing himself, but here instead I want you to see that the idea that God can exist uncaused was not invented for the purpose of solving a problem of general causation. It was only much later that the causation problem was formulated and then met up with the Hebrew conception of God.

    It seems highly plausible, in fact likely, that if anything exists uncaused, it must exist independently of time. Otherwise one faces the problem of an infinite temporal regress in steps of causation.

    It seems likely as well that if something exists uncaused it must do so without having dependent relations in it, where one aspect of that entity’s being or state is dependent on another aspect, which in turn is dependent another’s and so on. Otherwise one runs into a different infinite regress of dependency, where nothing can be what it is because everything is dependent for its being or state on some prior being or state, every one of which is likewise dependent on prior beings or states, every one of which is likewise dependent …

    This latter argument is not about temporal dependency (one thing happening after another) but dependency per se, where for example I have a recognizable human shape at this moment because I have bones providing me that structure at this moment; or the planets orbit the sun right now because right now gravity and momentum cause them to do so.

    These are short re-statements of two or maybe three distinct cosmological arguments, the Kalam and the Aristotelian/Thomistic, with possibly a touch of Leibniz, since I’m not seeking to state them rigorously. JAD did that better than I’m trying to do it here.

    Thomas looks at the kind of being his argument describes, and concludes, “this all men call God.” It’s an interesting formulation. He doesn’t say, “therefore we must hypothesize some being with no dependent relations in it.” He says, “this is a description of that which we already know of as God.” God was not invented as a solution to a cosmological problem, at least not in Thomas’s view of things. Thomas just recognizes that when we apprehend what it takes to solve this cosmological problem, we realize we are apprehending what we have independently understood to be God.

    Meanwhile, when one considers the likely necessity that the uncaused entity that must exist, and that it must be timeless and without internal dependent relationships, one does not say, “this all men call the natural universe”—right?

    So for these and other reasons I conclude that the universe is not the kind of thing that could exist causelessly, whereas God, as Jews and Christians understand God, is that kind of being.

  99. Melissa,

    And even less helpful for any kind of scientific realism, because the things that science studies do not exist.

    In general I would say that theists find the arguments compelling because the denial of the premises leads to absurdities.

    That’s actually rather accurate in my view. Things that seem to be absurdities when judged by human intuition are the things that scientific realism is discovering to be true (or any philosophy of science that favors empiricism over intuition). Likewise, the things that are common sense when judged by human intuition are being shown not to exist. This is dramatically true in studies of mind, psychology, evolutionary biology, cosmology and physics.

    Now that’s from my (biased) perspective. From your perspective it must look like the sciences are slowly but surely being infiltrated and corrupted by the worst kind of insanity. I would suggest, though, that when you look at the actual discoveries in detail and at length, you might think differently. My views would have never changed without extremely detailed exposure and analysis of the actual science behind these “absurdities”. No amount of philosophy can substitute for empirical data.

  100. djc,

    That’s actually rather accurate in my view. Things that seem to be absurdities when judged by human intuition are the things that scientific realism is discovering to be true (or any philosophy of science that favors empiricism over intuition). Likewise, the things that are common sense when judged by human intuition are being shown not to exist. This is dramatically true in studies of mind, psychology, evolutionary biology, cosmology and physics.

    I’m sorry djc but you misunderstand what I mean when I say absurdities because they are not the kind if thing that come out of science but rather the logical implications of a philosophy. The article you pointed me to made the bold claim that all the particular things we think exist don’t. This is consistent materialism and it clearly and obviously undermines scientific realism. The biologist does not study a gorialla-they don’t exist. The geneticist does not study genes – they don’t exist. The chemist does not study amides, nor atoms, the physicist does not study electrons.

    So djc I have zero problem with the hard science, as you say it is based in a lot of evidence, I do have major issues with a philosophy that rules out scientific realism for little reason other than a desperate clinging to a philosophy that itself has some if the weakest arguments in it’s favour.

    I’ll also add that I have issues with the type of “science” that is just a reading of it’s own metaphysical biases back into the data.

  101. Graham H.,

    No I am talking about the KCA to make the point it has a key premise that relies on intuition only. We haven’t got to Aquinas. If you are not convinced by the Kalam, this example obviously does not apply to you.

    There is one problem I have with this rebuttal if yours -I very much doubt that your statement intuition is woo-woo is applied by you consistently across the board. Also if something is considered intuitively true that is not the same thing as being fact free as you state further up the thread.

  102. Tom,

    Thanks for your careful comment. You say many things about God and, since I am not a theologian, I have no reason reason to doubt them. I am a cosmologist, so I hope to understand the things you say about the universe. You say at the top of the comment that “the universe is not the kind of thing that could exist without a cause.” That is the part of the argument that interests me.

    It seems highly plausible, in fact likely, that if anything exists uncaused, it must exist independently of time.

    You argue that this tells us something about God. I’m not sure if you intended for us to apply it to the universe. I think that the universe exists independently of time. Time is a feature of the universe. There has never been a time when the universe did not exist, because without the universe there is no time. Do you agree?

    It seems likely as well that if something exists uncaused it must do so without having dependent relations in it, where one aspect of that entity’s being or state is dependent on another aspect, which in turn is dependent another’s and so on.

    I’m not entirely sure how to evaluate the universe on this score. The universe has certain relationships within it that are part of its nature. I don’t think those relationships are dependencies, but I’m not quite sure. Can you help me out on this?

  103. Hi Tom,

    #61

    “Shane, you’ve offered one anecdote supporting your belief that it’s a bad idea (or something like that) to believe anything that has no empirical support.

    But one example does not generalize to “anything.” Every scientist knows this. Every empiricist knows this. Your “empirical evidence” is no such thing—not unless you want to wrench the meaning of empirical evidence completely out of recognizability.”

    Are you saying my evidence doesn’t support the theory? Can you supply evidence that refutes the theory? How many examples would we need in the absence of any contrary examples for it to be empirical evidence?

    Thanks
    Shane

  104. Hi Melissa,

    “Shane,

    The inference is that because we do not know the natural explanation then a supernatural one gets more credibility

    I’m sorry Shane but you are obviously not referring to cosmological arguments but something else. What that something else is I am not sure of. Cosmological arguments are not alternatives to scientific hypothesis.”

    You are correct, I wasn’t. I was referring to giving God the credit for something we don’t know the answer to.

    Cheers
    Shane

  105. Shane, am I saying your evidence doesn’t support the theory? Well, of course! What else would I have been saying?

    You have further questions, which I probably can’t answer properly unless we return to the original context. Recall that I had asked a two-part question:

    Shane, do you believe there is no evidence for anything, except for empirical evidence?

    Do you believe it’s a bad idea to believe anything that has no empirical support?

    Would you show us the empirical evidence supporting that belief?

    You pulled out only the second half of that to answer. Maybe that was my fault for saying “that belief,” which could quite naturally be construed as only applying to my second question.

    But let’s go back a bit further to your own statement:

    Believing in anything in the absence of evidence does not seem rational.

    What I was getting that there, and may not have stated clearly enough, was more in line with, do you believe there is no evidence for anything, except for empirical evidence?, than with, Do you believe it’s a bad idea to believe anything that has no empirical support?

    So how about if I just say in response to your follow-up questions in #114 that they refer to something I said that I said in a mixed-up manner, which was my fault.

    Let’s go back instead to this:

    You say, Believing in anything in the absence of evidence does not seem rational.

    I wonder whether you think that all evidence must be rational, so I’ll re-ask, Shane, do you believe there is no evidence for anything, except for empirical evidence?

  106. Shane,

    You are correct, I wasn’t. I was referring to giving God the credit for something we don’t know the answer to

    And how is that relevant to the current discussion about the cosmological arguments?

  107. Hi Tom,

    “I wonder whether you think that all evidence must be rational, so I’ll re-ask, Shane, do you believe there is no evidence for anything, except for empirical evidence?”

    Yeah, I think so. I asked Melissa for an example of non-empirical evidence and she suggested that all evidence has as it’s base empirical evidence. I find it hard to think of an example of something that wouldn’t or couldn’t. But this is why I ask the question.

    Sincerely
    Shane

  108. Shane,

    Yeah, I think so. I asked Melissa for an example of non-empirical evidence and she suggested that all evidence has as it’s base empirical evidence. I find it hard to think of an example of something that wouldn’t or couldn’t. But this is why I ask the question.

    What did I really say? But if you going to take a more general approach to evidence then why this statement:

    Because we have no idea what happened prior to the Big Bang. There is currently no evidence as to what caused it, because we are talking about a time and place that we have no method of accessing, at the time of writing.

    Assumes that empirical evidence (as in the standard way it is used not in your more generalised way) is the only type of evidence. I suggest you stop equivocating.

    In reference to your other comment I was quoting a comment you made in #58 and we were discussing cosmological arguments directly prior to it. I’ll join the dots. My point was that if cosmological arguments can be considered empirical evidence by your expanded definition then why would you contend that there is “no evidence” for the belief that God is creator of the universe.

  109. Hi Tom,

    “that the universe is not the kind of thing that could exist without a cause”

    Why is that?

    “If I’m right about that, then either there must be a God, or else we have no solution at all to the question of first causation for the universe.”

    We agree here. At least for the moment. The thing is if the universe is caused we aren’t worried about not having the solution to that right now.

    “This is not just defining God into existence. This is recognizing that God’s existence solves an otherwise unsolvable problem.”

    But it creates more problems/questions relating to God’s origins, powers and motivations.

    “It seems highly plausible, in fact likely, that if anything exists uncaused, it must exist independently of time. Otherwise one faces the problem of an infinite temporal regress in steps of causation.”

    As has been mentioned, particles pop into existence all the time, and exist within the universe, and therefore dependently with time. Arguing that these particles do actually have a cause, and that cause exists outside of time doesn’t help us.

    Regarding the universe, if we say that time began at the same instant the dimensions of space began as the universe began to expand then everything that happened before that, include the cause of the universe if it had one, must necessarily exist outside of time and therefore independent of it.

    “It seems likely as well that if something exists uncaused it must do so without having dependent relations in it, where one aspect of that entity’s being or state is dependent on another aspect, which in turn is dependent another’s and so on.”

    I don’t really understand the tack you’re taking here. Can you give me specifics on how God doesn’t have dependent relations and how the universe does?

    I will also point out that looking at the expanding universe and working out the point in time when the universe was minutely small and all matter occupied the same point is not the same as “the universe began to exist”. We don’t know what happened before slightly after the expansion started. No-one can say that the universe began to exist and therefore needs a cause, even if that assertion were true.

    Sincerely
    Shane

  110. Hi Melissa,

    “My point was that if cosmological arguments can be considered empirical evidence by your expanded definition”

    Where did I say that cosmological arguments can be considered empirical evidence? Or more accurately have empirical evidence as their base? Please quote the actual argument and the empirical evidence that it is derived from which supports that.

    Respectfully
    Shane

  111. Shane,

    Where did I say that cosmological arguments can be considered empirical evidence?

    Here:

    Having read through the posts till the bottom it seems that all the philosophical arguments put forward are grounded in empirical evidence.

  112. Shane,

    As has been mentioned, particles pop into existence all the time, and exist within the universe, and therefore dependently with time.

    They have no deterministic efficient cause which is not the same as no cause.

    Regarding the universe, if we say that time began at the same instant the dimensions of space began as the universe began to expand then everything that happened before that, include the cause of the universe if it had one, must necessarily exist outside of time and therefore independent of it.

    Exactly. Since material things exist in time and space any cause that is independent of time will be immaterial. So that gives us two properties of a potential cause that are consistent with that which we call God.

    Keep going, you’ll get there.

  113. Tom re: #107

    Thank you for your response and explanation. The only problem, I am sorry to say, is I don’t think it helps much in addressing some objections I have made, and I will condense into 2 key points:

    Firstly, the “universe is not the kind of thing that could exist without a cause”. I have asked the following question without success: where is the evidence that whatever begins to exist has a cause? The only answer to this question I am aware of is intuition, which is subjective, wildly diverse and has neither the experience nor applicability of things coming into existence (from nothing) with or without a cause – only the rearrangement of existing things.

    I note Gavin has asked similar questions along these lines relating to the understanding of the universe.

    Secondly the basis for accepting as truth that God is something uncaused is not very impressive as evidence and I think you implied as much. Yes I agree the scripture has astonishing statements, and they may have represented some original thoughts by authors untouched by Greek canon, but astonishing statements do not equal truth. I know this may otherwise be a good reason for some to be attracted to theism, however seems to be irrelevant in judging whether for example the Kalam stacks up on its own merits.

    If God can be eternal or exist without a cause, I see the onus is on the theist to explain why the same can’t be said of the universe. Simply saying the “universe is not the kind of thing that could exist without a cause”, with no apparent evidence, seems a bald assertion to me.

  114. Melissa #111

    There is one problem I have with this rebuttal if yours -I very much doubt that your statement intuition is woo-woo is applied by you consistently across the board. Also if something is considered intuitively true that is not the same thing as being fact free as you state further up the thread.

    Tell me where I have been inconsistent and I will correct it.

    While you are at it, do you have any evidence for the cosmological argument that whatever begins to exist has to have a cause (temporal or otherwise)?

    Also I will pull myself up on something before anyone else does. I should not have used the word “woo-woo”. Although it is simply my own rhetorical style, it may be interpreted as a subtle form of ridicule, which is not at all what I wish to do.

  115. GrahamH to Melissa:

    While you are at it, do you have any evidence for the cosmological argument that whatever begins to exist has to have a cause (temporal or otherwise)?

    How would you answer the question I asked @ #112?

    Everyone,

    I think there are a couple things that perhaps we need to remind ourselves of here at this point. The subject of the OP is about the rationality of the arguments for God’s existence. Tom did not begin by presenting a specific argument. (Though later in a comment he alluded to the Kalam as an illustration of an argument.)

    Personally, at least in spirit, I have been trying to stick with the subject so neither have I been trying to present the Kalam. To be honest, the Kalam is not an argument that I would personally champion, though I have no problem using it as a secondary argument.

    In keeping with the subject of the OP I just came across this comment by W.L. Craig in the Q & A section of his blog. I think it is highly relevant to the discussion.

    Now keep in mind what I mean by a “good argument.” I mean an argument which (i) is logically valid; (ii) has true premisses; and (iii) has premisses which are more plausible than their negations. In order to show that an argument is no good, it is not enough for the sceptic to show that it’s possible that a premiss is false…

    Similarly, it’s not enough for critics of an argument to show that one of the premisses may be rationally denied. A good argument need not compel the assent of a rational person. Hence, I’ve never claimed that those who reject the theistic arguments I defend are irrational for doing so. Since plausibility is to a good degree person-relative, I’m not even unduly bothered by the fact that some people may not find one of the premisses more plausible than its contradictory. If someone, for example, thinks that it’s just as plausible as not that things can come into being utterly uncaused, I figure that’s his problem, not mine. My different assessment of the plausibility of the causal principle is perfectly reasonable whether or not he sees the point. Hence, my confidence in the argument’s worth as a good one is not shaken by the sceptic’s merely saying that a premiss doesn’t seem more plausible than not to him.

    Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-leibnizian-cosmological-argument#ixzz2xXuHPtWN

    Ironically he is not even defending the Kalam in this post.

  116. Good point. Picking up on this,

    Hence, I’ve never claimed that those who reject the theistic arguments I defend are irrational for doing so.

    I do not claim that atheists are irrational on that basis either. My issue is with the ability some of their leaders display in producing a line of thought consistent with,

    I mean an argument which (i) is logically valid; … and (iii) has premisses which are more plausible than their negations.

    His point “(ii) has true premisses” feels like a typo in there to me. He knows that true premisses are necessary to a sound argument. He knows likewise that the question in practice usually is the one he stated in (iii).

  117. GrahamH,

    I’ve thought through JAD’s response just now, and I think there’s wisdom in it. This wasn’t a post about the Kalam.

    And yet I am puzzled by this:

    I have asked the following question without success: where is the evidence that whatever begins to exist has a cause? The only answer to this question I am aware of is intuition, which is subjective, wildly diverse and has neither the experience nor applicability of things coming into existence (from nothing) with or without a cause – only the rearrangement of existing things.

    What’s puzzling is that I wrote a long comment (#107) that included an answer extending well beyond intuition. You might disagree with what I wrote, or you might think a rebuttal could be made, but “I’m not aware of it” is not a rebuttal.

    Is this (I could be wrong) another illustration of the point I was making in the OP? Is this a case where a theist makes a case for a position, and the non-believer responds by ignoring it? That’s not your usual style, GrahamH, so I could be wrong, as I said. Feel free to correct me.

    (Granted, Gavin attempted a rebuttal in 113. I don’t think what he said about the universe existing independently of time, because time is a feature of the universe, is coherent. It seems to imply some kind of meta-time or meta-space-time or meta-something-inconceivable inside which the universe resides. The multiverse could not be that meta-something, because everything that’s been said about “universe” so far in this discussion could apply mutatis mutando to the multiverse. What is that meta-something and how does our universe relate to it?

    And the dependencies of which I spoke within the universe are simply this: where x goes and what it does depends on some interacting body, field, etc. y. That’s a dependency, in the same I was speaking of.)

    Shane had some similar things to say in #121, but again, I’m not sure I want to continue on the Kalam when (as JAD said) it’s off topic anyway.

  118. Here’s the topic again: I propose that there is a characteristic difference between the way leading theists and leading New Atheists (and many internet atheists) define irrationality. For theists, rationality is in the process, for atheists it’s in the product. For theists, it’s in demonstrating the ability to think from first principles, evidences, premises, etc. through to a conclusion, using valid logic and relevant information. For the atheists I have in mind, rationality is in agreeing that there is no supernatural reality, regardless of how one reaches that conclusion.

    That’s the topic of the OP, summarized (Note: it’s the topic not the argument. If you want to find where I make a case for that thesis, you know where to look.)

    The rest was illustration.

  119. Recall also, by the way, that the Kalam was brought into this discussion to illustrate a question about the role of certainty and uncertainty in logic.

    Let’s get back to where we started from, please.

  120. Melissa,

    The article you pointed me to made the bold claim that all the particular things we think exist don’t. This is consistent materialism and it clearly and obviously undermines scientific realism. The biologist does not study a gorialla-they don’t exist. The geneticist does not study genes – they don’t exist. The chemist does not study amides, nor atoms, the physicist does not study electrons.

    In the context of determinism, everything is a direct consequence of the big-bang through a continuous chain of events. Therefore, to claim that something far down that chain “comes to exist” can not really mean coming into existence in any physical sense. A rearrangement of particles is not existence.

    Under materialism, gorillas and genes are ultimately in the mind, not in the real world, true. But that’s because the collection of atoms that is gorilla-like or gene-like out in the real world is vastly more complex and nuanced than any abstraction of it can be. Mental conceptions of chunks of matter and energy are harshly reductive, they carve off only useful features (useful to one species of evolved primates) of the real world and abandon everything else while giving the feeling that “full understanding” is achieved; it isn’t. Materialism is therefore being careful, mistrustful of our perceived relationship between mind and matter because our sensory perceptions and abstraction mechanisms are reductive and self-serving.

    Consider, how can an object made up of more atoms than your entire brain be completely represented and grasped by your brain? It can’t, the vast majority of that object is stripped away and ignored by perception algorithms until what’s left is manageable and useful. But then it is simply not correct to claim that the object is exactly what our brain represents it as.

    Even for simple particles like electrons, we have no way of knowing if what we understand of the essence of “electron” now is truly the way it is. Indeed science has shown that our understandings of even elementary particles may need to undergo dramatic revision from time to time.

    Abstractions like gorilla, genes, atoms, electrons exist, but the mapping between abstractions and the real world is never simple, and should never be considered one to one. But abstractions are useful and none of this affects the way materialists go about their lives except to introduce a strong element of caution: don’t confuse the abstraction with the reality.

  121. Oops, I had a response open from last night and didn’t see Tom’s admonition to get back on topic until after I’d posted, sorry.

    I don’t personally believe “irrationality” is a useful concept in arguments as I find it is always completely synonymous with “confusion” either by the person making the accusation or by the person demonstrating “irrationality” or both. But the original comment I replied to was:

    Bob is saying that if there is evidence for supernatural explanations, it’s actually evidence for natural explanations instead.

    If Bob is saying that evidence for supernatural explanations is “mind” and “mind” is a phenomena open to natural explanations, this would explain why it seems that Bob is saying evidence for the supernatural will also lead eventually to the natural. But this is speculative unless or until Bob clarifies what he means.

  122. How about we add in incoherence. I guess it falls under fallacious arguments but it’s a special case I think because it’s very common. Premises of arguments are denied but the denials are not consistently carried through to the rest of their beliefs. This is often accompanied by the use of “” in their explanations around words that they realise have no meaning in their worldview but that they need to make the explanation work.

  123. djc,

    This is off topic and Tom can delete it if he wishes but you may want to do a bit more reading in A-T. Briefly no one argues that the form completely captures any particular so your critique is off base.

  124. Hi Melissa,

    “Having read through the posts till the bottom it seems that all the philosophical arguments put forward are grounded in empirical evidence.”

    I didn’t mean

    All philosophical arguments are grounded in empirical evidence.

    I don’t know all philosophical arguments so I can’t know that. What I meant was that the arguments put forward here come from grounding in physical observations. I also didn’t mean

    All philosophical arguments are sound or accurate.

    That entirely depends on the factual accuracy of the empirical evidence used.

    “Exactly. Since material things exist in time and space any cause that is independent of time will be immaterial. So that gives us two properties of a potential cause that are consistent with that which we call God.

    Keep going, you’ll get there.”

    lol. You make me smile.

    But the cosmological argument makes the assumption that a. things that begin to exist require a cause and b. the universe began to exist. You don’t have evidence that either of these statements is true.

    As Graham pointed out, there is only one thing we know of that may have began to exist, that being the universe (leaving aside quantum particles for the moment). Trying to make a generalisation based on one example, is a bad idea, or so Tom tells me. Trying to use it as proof of itself seems like very poor circular logic.

    Secondly we have no idea that the universe began to exist. We just know that about 13.72 billion years ago it started to expand. It is impossible for us to know what happened until just after the beginning of the expansion.

    I’m also wondering a bit on labels … is ‘the universe’ meant to encompass all the matter and energy (anti matter, dark matter, etc) that is around us, or just the boundary that all this ‘stuff’ is in (which might include the natural laws at work). The universe is expanding, whilst the ‘stuff’ in it is not. When people say it had a beginning, do they really mean the matter had a beginning which then caused the universe to form around it? Or perhaps the other way around?

    Sincerely
    Shane

  125. Shane,

    I’m not going to keep going with the off topic discussion about the Kalam but I will say that a common error of skeptics is to label the premises of various theistic arguments as assumptions when they are anything but, all that does is expose their own ignorance (or worse if they have already been pointed towards places where they can access a detailed discussion of the argument).

  126. Hi Melissa,

    “I’m not going to keep going with the off topic discussion about the Kalam”

    As I have said, I didn’t bring this up or was arguing any case relating to it. I had to look up what Kalam was when I saw it mentioned in this thread. I’m merely asking for a rational reason to believe in something when there is no observational evidence for it.

    Respectfully
    Shane

  127. Tom

    I will indeed heed your advice and restrain myself from further arguments about the Kalam. Hopefully the opportunity to get into it more will come in future. But I have learnt an awful lot from the discussion anyway so it was very useful to me.

    I relation to my response in my 125 to your 107, I hasten to add that I have not brushed your comment off so lightly if not at all. You went to appreciable efforts to write it when I am sure you have better things to do! You asked me to read it carefully and I have done so quite a few times, and copied it into my diary to stimulate further thoughts. I am very interested in the claims of assuming cause of the universe and the apparent metaphysical necessity of God. Like you said, it is a large topic, probably not suited effectively to such small exchanges.

    Getting back to the OP, I am interested in in your quoted extract from your book:

    Suppose on the other hand Antonius in 7th-century Italy believed that the earth was at the center of the universe. He was wrong, but was he irrational? I don’t think so. Based on the best evidence at hand, and the overwhelming consensus among authorities on the subject, he drew an appropriately rational conclusion. I do not mean that he came to the right conclusion, but that there is nothing to indicate a flaw in his reasoning processes. He simply lacked important evidence.

    Is there a lesson here about placing too much weight on for example intuition alone? Yes the world appeared to be the centre of the universe, but the appearance also supported the theory of the earth tracing an elliptical orbit around the sun. The former was more obvious to the casual observer, but the more inquisitive and sceptical detractors must have been ridiculed as absurd. I have felt like that before (perhaps we all have).

    So should not rationality and intuition be balanced with an appropriate degree of actual experience or empirical evidence? Is it folly to trust intuition alone?

  128. @GrahamH:

    Is there a lesson here about placing too much weight on for example intuition alone?

    In the *very* portion you quote, Tom says “Based on the best evidence at hand, and the overwhelming consensus among authorities on the subject, he drew an appropriately rational conclusion”, so where did you get the “intuition alone”? If on the other hand you are making the question

    Is it folly to trust intuition alone?

    about a scenario where indeed someone trusts his intuition *alone*, then the first question to make is in what *exactly* does the intuition consists of? Can it be articulated? If it can, it is no longer an intuition but an argument. The argument may be flawed, but it must be shown to be flawed. But even if it stays at the “intuition alone” level, it will not do to simply say that it rests on “intuition alone” to refute it. You must have *some* positive reason to believe in the denial.

    There is a common skeptical MO that goes like this: label the ground of your opponents “mere intuitions” or some equivalent of it to discredit their position. Usually this is done in complete and blissful ignorance of the existing arguments in favor; but let that pass for now. The fact that P is discredited does not by *itself* lend credit to not-P so one would expect that they would give *some* reason for not-P (to allude to an earlier illustrative example, the a-causal coming into existence) but we hardly ever hear that. They are skeptical, but their skepticism only extends to the positions they already deny. And this dovetails nicely into Tom’s point, because it is symptomatic of the irrational (e.g. inconsistent) behavior of a certain subset of atheist skeptics.

  129. @G.Rodrigues

    Yes it is interesting that Geocentrism (earth center of the universe) was supported by both rational intuition (it seemed more “obvious” than Heliocentrism – which had been around since at least 3rd century BC) and by the strong reluctance of Christian theologians to depart from Bible passages (e.g. “Sun, stand you still upon Gibeon”, Joshua 10:12).

    Although there was equally strong evidence for both Geocentrism and Heliocentrism in observation at the time, the forces for “obvious” intuition and Biblical authority declared the argument resolved with much more confidence than was justified. It also caused the harassment, vilification and house arrest of some outstanding scientists (such Galileo and Copernicus), retarding scientific advancement. These “rational” forces supporting the now incorrect Geocentrism, even continued to hold that position after the advent of technology, such as telescopes and trigonometry showing the stellar parallax. It took around 150 years after overwhelming evidence proved it correct for Heliocentrism to be accepted – so deep was this sort of intellectual prejudice and “rationality”.

    Intuition and Biblical passages were shown to be absolutely wrong to something once deemed so “obvious”.

    Sometimes when the evidence is weak, it takes a little humility to say “we don’t know for sure”.

  130. @GrahamH:

    Nothing you said addresses one iota of what I have said.

    It also caused the harassment, vilification and house arrest of some outstanding scientists (such Galileo and Copernicus), retarding scientific advancement.

    Please learn the History of Science.

  131. @G.Rodrigues

    If there is an argument between two where there is no or equal evidence, I say the matter can not be relied upon to be resolved by intuition alone.

    But even if it stays at the “intuition alone” level, it will not do to simply say that it rests on “intuition alone” to refute it. You must have *some* positive reason to believe in the denial.

    You might not get that far. The claimant must have positive reason for the argument to start with. A tarted up version of “I reckon” may not be worth arguing with.

    Please learn the History of Science.

    Yes my telling of the Heliocentrism controversy – it is hard for us to believe such ignorance occurred. But if you do a cursory google search for this fellow (you may not have heard of), Galileo Galilei, it should verify what I stated. I am happy to help you out there GR – here is an extract:

    “Responding to mounting controversy over theology, astronomy and philosophy, the Roman Inquisition tried Galileo in 1633 and found him “gravely suspect of heresy”, sentencing him to indefinite imprisonment. Galileo was kept under house arrest for the rest of his life.”

    Some other interesting examples we can learn from are:

    Flat earth theory
    Creation – evolution
    Stem cells
    Birth control.

  132. Well I made clear I was talking about Geocentrism and Heliocentrism. I didn’t mention Tycho as another theory but I did state fairly that “there was equally strong evidence for both Geocentrism and Heliocentrism in observation at the time”.

    I am not an astrologer (I am an engineer) but harking back to my math and physics, Copernican math lay the foundations for Galileo and Newton and led eventually to the discovery of stellar parallax (along with better telescopes). From what I remember Galileo understood the strength of Copernican math and these are the beginnings of modern calculus. Your link (which is very interesting by the way) was in relation to the telescopic data, which back then not strong enough for anyone in fairness to calculate stellar parallax.

    I think it is well accepted Galileo’s Heliocentrism offended religious authorities. He was arrested and later proved correct. The essence of his maths (and what it has since evolved into), is the calculus we use today.

  133. Holopupenko #147

    @146… as GrahamH’s view of reality is wrong, burdened by his ideology.

    Well we don’t want that. Please point out where I am wrong and I will correct it.

    Also, what ideology do you refer to? I don’t feel any burden.

  134. @GrahamH:

    I do not know what you think you are addressing in your response to me, but it was nothing that I have said. If I was unclear at some point, I can try to clarify, but you have to help me here.

    As far as the rest, just a couple of points:

    From what I remember Galileo understood the strength of Copernican math and these are the beginnings of modern calculus.

    You remember wrong. Since you pulled out your rank as Engineer and tried to be helpful and educate me over the Galileo affair, I will pull out my rank as a mathematician and help you as well. The *first* google hit on “History of Calculus” is this, so really, it is not hard to see that you are wrong.

    I think it is well accepted Galileo’s Heliocentrism offended religious authorities.

    You think wrong.

  135. G. Rodrigues

    So why you think it wrong that Galileo’s Heliocentrism offended religious authorities? You haven’t provided a reason. I have.

    Also, I didn’t pull any rank, and of course I did not attribute calculus to Galileo, but the quest to refine those elliptical models was indeed the beginnings of how calculus came to be. Newton was asked what he thought the curve would be that would be described by the planets supposing the force of attraction towards the Sun to be reciprocal to the square of their distant from it (later to be known as inverse square law). This paper turned into, with much more, the Principia. But, seriously…are you splitting hairs over this stuff? Is there some point?

  136. @150: Your ideology is your imported scientism, and you breathe it so deeply that you deny it exists, in the same way a fish would be confused if you told it that it was wet. Permit me to quote PBXVI (emeritus) as to precisely what game you’re playing:

    The arrogance that would make God an object and impose our laboratory conditions upon him is incapable of finding Him. For it already implies that we deny God as God by placing ourselves above Him, by discarding the whole dimension of love, of interior listening; by no longer acknowledging as real anything but what we can experimentally test and grasp. To think like that is to make oneself God. And to do that is to abase not only God, but the world and oneself, too.

    Spare us your know-it-all scientistic arrogance and imposition of what God must do for you in order to be known.

  137. GrahamH:

    I did not attribute calculus to Galileo, but the quest to refine those elliptical models was indeed the beginnings of how calculus came to be.

    Galileo believed/understood that the orbits of the planets were elliptical? Where did you learn that?

  138. So why you think it wrong that Galileo’s Heliocentrism offended religious authorities?

    I think the issue here is that the story of Galileo has often been cast as the Roman Catholic Church standing in the way of scientific progress. This was, for example, one of the narratives Carl Sagan spun in the original Cosmos series. Now in the remake of Cosmos, Neil deGrasse Tyson spins a similar tale of woe about Giordano Bruno.

    Claiming that religious authorities were “offended” is an unhelpfully vague thing to say. For my part I’ll agree with you and disagree with G. Rodrigues. Some of the religious authorities were probably highly offended by Galileo’s claims. But so what? Being offended is hardly damning. So how about you elaborate on what you think happened with Galileo because you are obviously implying something quite specific.

  139. @GrahamH:

    So why you think it wrong that Galileo’s Heliocentrism offended religious authorities? You haven’t provided a reason. I have.

    You have provided no reasons at all, unless that is, if making groundless baseless claims is your codeword for “providing reasons”. The fact is that the story is more complicated than your simpleton version pitting the Church against the Brave and Bold Explorer Galileo. Just read some decent History of Science. For a very nice account start here and work your way backwards to the first post in the series. But I suggest you take a gander at the paragraph titled “Aside: The Crucial Role of Galileo”.

    edit: and while I am at it, read also this.

    Also, I didn’t pull any rank, and of course I did not attribute calculus to Galileo, but the quest to refine those elliptical models was indeed the beginnings of how calculus came to be.

    The Elliptical model was a discovery of Kepler, not Galileo. Really, stop embarrassing yourself. And yes you pulled rank and so will I: I am a mathematician, so yes, I know what I am talking about, far better than you.

  140. Indeed, according to the NASA page on Kepler, Kepler was the…

    “First to correctly explain planetary motion, thereby, becoming founder of celestial mechanics and the first “natural laws” in the modern sense; being universal, verifiable, precise.”
    http://kepler.nasa.gov/Mission/JohannesKepler/#anchor779268

    Did Galileo agree with Kepler here? I vaguely remember reading somewhere that he rejected Kepler’s elliptical theory.

    BTW I own, and have studied, about half a dozen biographies of Galileo. I have also done extensive research (with copious notes) focusing on the “Galileo incident” at a major university library and have even given a lecture on that subject at a meeting of a local amateur astronomy club. But I am just amateur when it comes to the history of science; so I don’t want to be guilty of shooting from the hip.

  141. JAD

    Yes, I stand corrected I should have mentioned Kepler in the events leading up to Newton.

    With your research on Galileo, do you have any view on whether there was any justification for his persecution and house arrest (and is that in contention) – regardless of how modest his contribution was to the progress of planetary motion?

  142. Tom – It doesn’t involve Christian theists so probably is not quite as exciting. I want to get over this Galileo thing first.

  143. GrahamH @ #162,

    Was the Roman Catholic Church unjust in it’s treatment of Galileo? If we are talking about 17th century politics or human rights, I will agree that it was. If you argue that the church was badly mistaken in rejecting the Copernican theory, again I agree with you, it was. But rejecting a theory that was still in dispute doesn’t make the church anti-science. My one and only point is that the Catholic church WAS NOT and IS NOT anti-science. The so called “warfare myth” was something that was created by John Draper and Andrew Dickson White in the 19th century.

    Yes, what happened to Galileo was unjust and tragic, but it had more to do with the politics of the time than science. It’s a mistake to think that the church had a policy that was anti-science or was at war with science. For example, as a young aspiring mathematician Galileo traveled to Rome to meet with and obtain a letter of recommendation from the famous Jesuit mathematician Christopher Clavius. That letter would prove to be key to launching Galileo’s career.

    Who was Clavius? Clavius was the scientist chosen by Pope Gregory XIII to reform the calendar. At the time the old and inaccurate Julian calendar from the Roman era was more than a week out of date with the solar calendar. Clavius headed up a commission of astronomers and mathematicians, who relied upon the most up to date astronomical data of the time to try to find a solution. The calendar that they developed will not require any additional corrections for 3000 years. That calendar, known as the Gregorian calendar, is not only still in use but it has been adopted world wide by modern culture. It was one of the great scientific achievements of the late 16th century. It would not have been possible if the church had policy that was anti-science.

    Of course, it’s true that there were people in the church who were vehemently opposed to Copernicus’ theory, but not everyone was. Indeed, Galileo had a lot of friends and admirers. The truth is that if Galileo had played his cards differently what happened to him could have been avoided.

    However, Galileo had an ego. On the positive side it was his ego that fueled his drive and ambition. It’s what made him successful and famous. On the negative side it made him enemies. Furthermore, Galileo did not suffer fools kindly. The problem was not everyone he treated as a fool was one, and they resented it. For example, in the autumn of 1618 three comets appeared in quick succession. Like the Aristotelians,Galileo incorrectly argued that comets were a meteorological or atmospheric phenomena. On the other hand, Jesuit astronomer Orazio Grassi after observing the comets , argued that they were interplanetary objects, with orbits outside the orbit of the moon. Galileo, thought that was silly. He wrote a book, The Assayer, which mocked, attacked and ridiculed Grassi’s conclusions even though Grassi had written nothing attacking either Galileo or the Copernican theory. Ironically we now know that Grassi’s conclusions were the scientifically correct ones.

    Galileo’s attack on Grassi alienated the Jesuit’s many of whom up till then, at least tacitly, had been his allies. But at the time Galileo thought he had a better friend, Maffeo Barberini, aka Pope Urban VIII, who had his own feud with the Jesuits. Fifteen years later when Galileo’s enemies were able to turn his friend the pope against him, Galileo could have used some powerful friends and allies.

    After his trial in 1633 one of the Jesuits wrote, “If Galileo had known how to keep on good terms with the Fathers of the College, he would live gloriously in this world. None of his misfortunes would have come to pass and he would have been able to write as he wished about anything, even about the motion of the world.”

  144. @JAD
    Hiya JAD – how are you? I’ve been too busy to post, so I’ve been content to just browse for now.
    That was a great synopsis of Galileo, and I’d love to read some of those biographies. Can you post some references?

    Thanks,
    Victoria

  145. Hi Victoria,

    Good to hear from you again. Here is a list of a few of my favorite Galileo bio’s (plus a few bonus suggestions.)

    #1.

    Galileo in Rome: The Rise and Fall of a Troublesome Genius, by William R. Shea and Mario Artigas

    “The book offers a fascinating account of the six trips Galileo made to Rome, from his first visit at age 23, as an unemployed mathematician, to his final fateful journey to face the Inquisition. The authors reveal why the theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun, set forth in Galileo’s Dialogue, stirred a hornet’s nest of theological issues, and they argue that, despite these issues, the Church might have accepted Copernicus if there had been solid proof. More interesting, they show how Galileo dug his own grave.”
    http://www.amazon.com/Galileo-Rome-Rise-Troublesome-Genius/dp/0195177584

    In my view this book goes a little too far in the “blame the victim” direction. But other than that it’s very informative and very well written.

    #2.

    Galileo, Courtier: The Practice of Science in the Culture of Absolutism,
    by Mario Biagioli

    Informed by currents in sociology, cultural anthropology, and literary theory, Galileo, Courtier is neither a biography nor a conventional history of science. In the court of the Medicis and the Vatican, Galileo fashioned both his career and his science to the demands of patronage and its complex systems of wealth, power, and prestige. Biagioli argues that Galileo’s courtly role was integral to his science—the questions he chose to examine, his methods, even his conclusions.
    http://www.amazon.com/Galileo-Courtier-Absolutism-Conceptual-Foundations/dp/0226045609

    This is a very scholarly work, but it offers some original insights into Galileo’s mind, motive and character which was shaped by the court life of the Duke of Florence and the Pope. Biagioli’s premise is that Galileo was actually a “courtier” in both courts. The 17th Century Baroque culture was quite different from our own.

    #3.

    Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love, by Dava Sobel
    http://www.amazon.com/Galileos-Daughter-Historical-Memoir-Science/dp/B008PHMGHU

    Sobel uses the real life letters (translated into English) that Galileo’s daughter, Maria Celeste, a cloistered nun, wrote to her father to give us another perspective on Galileo. Sadly, Galileo’s replies have been lost, but you can still pick up much of the context from what Maria writes.

    I also recommend Sobel’s, Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time.

    Also, A & E made Sobel’s latter book into a mini-series which is avaliable on DVD.

    Finally, for a little more historical context:

    #4.

    Tycho & Kepler, by Kitty Ferguson

    http://www.amazon.com/Tycho-Kepler-Kitty-Ferguson/dp/0802713904

    Tycho was the last great astronomer to work without a telescope. He was a non-Copernican who formed a partnership with Kepler who was. Ironically, it was Tycho’s highly accurate observations that along with Kepler’s mathematical brilliance that helped confirm the Copernican paradigm. Ferguson understood that the two biographies needed to be interwoven as one.

    The tragedy (and irrationality) of turning Galileo into a “martyr for science” is that this overshadows the work of both Tycho and Kepler. For example, on November 7, 1631 French astronomer Pierre Gassendi became the first human to observe telescopically the “transit of Mercury… This transit had been predicted by Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), however, Kepler never lived to see this vindication of his precise Rudolphine Tables based on his new theory of planetary motion.”
    http://sunearthday.nasa.gov/2007/locations/ttt_transit.php

    Galileo had nothing to do with this.

  146. JAD

    Thank you very much. So there was a good deal of politics involved as well obviously.

    I should hasten to add that I have never argued Galileo should earn more praise than anyone else, and earlier when I mentioned “those elliptical models” I was referring to those that Newton’s contemporaries were grappling with, not “those elliptical models” that came from Galileo! (very poorly worded by me). To me, Newton was an extremely pivotal moment.

    Newton was approached to help resolve the math to show Heliocentrism. This resulted in his celebrated Principia and the advancement of math into calculus; and explained mathematically the orbits and gravity.

    Although you have given a more balanced view of the Galileo affair, and a little more sympathetic view of the role of the Church in that, what do you think of the following recently quoted by Peter Boghossian “Every time you bring in faith into any equation, it makes problems more difficult to solve.”

    Although it is a provocative statement, is it too harsh or something we still need to be careful of?

  147. Although it is a provocative statement, is it too harsh or something we still need to be careful of?

    We have already seen that Boghossian (PB) offers a peculiar and tendentious definition of faith. So when he goes on to make a bland statement like this it should be noted that he isn’t doing anything other than appeal to the preconceptions of his intended audience. He hasn’t actually said anything of worth. Rather, he’s just throwing red meat to the lions.

    Tom has spent a considerable amount of time on PB in the past. I’d also highly recommend that you read through aRemonstrant’s continuing series on PB’s atheist making manual. At one point Episcopius, the blog author, had a brief exchange with an atheist who was so inspired by PB that he was trying his hand at street epistemology spreading the good news of one-way doxastic openness.

  148. GrahamH:

    Although you have given a more balanced view of the Galileo affair, and a little more sympathetic view of the role of the Church in that, what do you think of the following recently quoted by Peter Boghossian “Every time you bring in faith into any equation, it makes problems more difficult to solve.”

    One of the reasons I think Kepler gets overshadowed by the “Galileo: martyr of science in the on-going war with religion myth” is because Kepler effectively explodes that myth. Kepler was a devout Christian who had wanted to be a Lutheran pastor, who was not persecuted by the church for his scientific research. In fact, being a reknowned scientist was actually kind of a “plan B” (maybe even “plan C”) for Kepler. Did his religious faith have any influence on his science? According to Kepler himself it did. He said that when he was doing science he was, “Thinking God’s thoughts after Him.”

    Before Kepler discovered “natural law” he assumed “natural law”. Why?

    Arno Penzias (1978 winner of the Nobel Prize in physics and co-discoverer of the cosmic background radiation) makes a very interesting point [about faith and reason in the work of ] Johannes Kepler… Speaking about the scientific goal to find the simplest answer possible [“Occam’s razor”] Penzias says:

    “That really goes back to the triumph, not of Copernicus, but really the triumph of Kepler. That’s because, after all, the notion of epicycles and so forth goes back to days when scientists were swapping opinions. All this went along until we had a true believer and this was Kepler. Kepler, after all, was the Old Testament Christian. Right? He really believed in God the Lawgiver. And so he demanded that the same God who spoke in single words and created the universe is not going to have a universe with 35 epicycles in it. And he said there’s got to be something simpler and more powerful. Now he was lucky or maybe there was something deeper, but Kepler’s faith was rewarded with his laws of nature. And so from that day on, it’s been an awful struggle, but over long centuries, we find that very simple laws of nature actually do apply. And so that expectation is still with scientists. And it comes essentially from Kepler, and Kepler got it out of his belief in the Bible, as far as I can tell. This passionate belief turned out to be right. And he gave us his laws of motion, the first real laws of nature we ever had. And so nature turned out to redeem the expectations he had based on his faith. And scientists have adopted Kepler’s faith, without the cause.”
    http://www.ldolphin.org/bumbulis/#anchor5343749

    I think Boghossian and his followers need to do a lot more reading in the history of science. His conclusions about faith and reason (science) appear to be based on what he pretending to know about history, not the real thing.

    In Kepler’s case his faith allowed him to see in his equations a more easy way to solve the problems.

  149. Here is a quote that I think is very relevant to our discussion.

    We must not let Galileo’s fate at the hands of the Inquisition blind us to Christian theology’s contribution in sweeping away the rubbish of… pagan beliefs from science, which kept science from becoming self sustaining and modern. These [pagan] beliefs, if accepted, turn the human mind inward, causing it to accept too blindly what occurs in the real external world, making it impossible to develop the most basic science of moving bodies (physics). However, notice that the Christian contribution is not so much as creating a broad respect for rationality, or the discovery of the basic laws of logic used in scientific reasoning (as found in the Organon, Aristotle’s body of logical works). Rather, Christian theology (by chance conflict, someone could argue) shot down the false, self inhibiting ideas of pagan Greek science, absorbed much of its respect for reason from them, and then allowed science to blossom forth. However, since the God of the Bible operates in a much more rational manner than the stories of the pagan gods non Christian cultures believed, Christianity helped promote rationality to a degree as well. (Doubters of this should carefully read Genesis 1-2, and then compare read the bloody battles among the gods involved in the creation of the world in the Babylonian myth Enuma elish, which is absurdly asserted to have influenced Moses/the writer(s) of Genesis). Christian theology removed the intrinsic stunting inhibitions of Greek science. It did not create science by itself mostly from scratch. However, neither could have the philosophy of the Greeks without the theology of Judeo-Christianity have created modern science by themselves either, for it took Christianity to remove various science inhibiting false metaphysical concepts from the former’s philosophy to have modern science born.

    Christianity: A Cause of Modern Science? Author: Eric V. Snow
    http://www.rae.org/pdf/jaki.pdf

    One of the unanswered questions about the rise of modern science is, why did it occur in western Europe? Why didn’t it rise in other cultures like China, India or ancient Greece? All these cultures had long periods of peace and prosperity as well as knowledge and technological know-how. What was unique about the Christian west?

  150. JAD

    There is an argument that it is the rise of secular democracy, human rights and rejection of monarchism and theocracy that cultivated a pluralist society conducive to unmolested science. Particularly the Modern History period from the English Bill of Rights and the French Revolution, including the likes of Thomas Paine and birth of the US constitutionally free from monarchy or religion (I would not call the US “Christian West”).

    Science, industry, economics, democracy and human rights flourished in this period that also saw the curtailment of the power of the Church in government and society.

    So the argument goes. I am no historian but seems to have merit. I would be interested in your views because I think the question you asked is a very good one.

  151. GrahamH,

    Well, that’s off on another tangent. I’m trying to stick with the topic of the O.P. However, freedom of religion, which naturally entails freedom of conscience and thought (along with the freedom to express those thoughts), has been part of Christian teaching since ancient times. For example, Tertullian in the 2nd century wrote:

    “It is a fundamental human right, a privilege of nature, that every man should worship according to his own convictions: one man’s religion neither harms nor helps another man. It is assuredly no part of religion to compel religion— to which free-will and not force should lead us— the sacrificial victims even being required of a willing mind. You will render no real service to your gods by compelling us to sacrifice. For they can have no desire of offerings from the unwilling.”

    Maybe Tom would be interested in doing a post on Christianity and human rights.

  152. JAD and Graham,

    I recommend that you read David Bentley Hart’s 2009 book. “Atheist delusions: The Christian revolution and its fashionable enemies, most especially his chapter titled ” A liberating message” about the paradigm shift brought about by/through Christianity in regard to social justice, human rights. Hart frequently makes the point in his book expressed in this sentence (p. 159): “…here I wish simply to caution against the anachronism of allowing our own cultural premises to determine our understanding of ancient society.”

    BTW, Hart also has an extensive and insightful treatise in this book of the case of Galileo and the Church.

  153. Atheist delusions: The Christian revolution and its fashionable enemies is most certainly recommended. The tilte, which was chosen by the publisher, may serve to erroneously convince you that this the book in intended to act as an apologetic tool. However, the aim is rather different. Hart attempts (successfully in my mind) to refute some of the common notions that are often levelled against Christianity as a whole. It has been a number of years since I last read it (time for a reread, I think) but I believe that he addresses you last two questions (Galileo and secularism).

    Also, the book may be of interest – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Science-Religion-A-Historical-Introduction/dp/0801870380. As may this – http://www.amazon.com/Galileo-Other-Myths-Science-Religion/dp/0674057414/ref=pd_sim_b_3?ie=UTF8&refRID=0CQWMS4786783QCGQH13 (Note that Numbers contributes to the previous book mentioned and you can listen to some talks he gave at The Faraday Institutes’ media section)

  154. Here is a link to a dialogue that took place in 2008 between two New Zealanders, Peter Cresswell and Matthew Flannagan, about the historical effect of Christianity on the rise of modern science. Cresswell basically believes (according to Flannagan) that “prior to the rise of Christianity was the ‘classical period’ where science and reason flourished among the ancient Greek thinkers (of which Aristotle is the par excellence). This learning was extinguished by the rise of Christianity, which hated reason and science in favor of a superstitious faith.”

    Cresswell: In fact the the scientific revolution came about because of a rejection of the Church’s intellectual domination.

    Flannagan: The thesis that the Church for centuries consistently suppressed science and prevented its flourishing (known as the conflict thesis) originates in two works, John Draper’s History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874) and Andrew Dickson White in his book A History of The Warfare Between Science and Theology in Christendom. The conflict thesis is now widely rejected by historians of science. Several people such as Stanley Jaki, (The Road to Science and the Ways to God (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978)); Alfred Whitehead, (Science and the Modern World (New York: Macmillan, 1925); Peire Duhem, (L’Aube du savoir: épitomé du système du monde (histoire des doctrines cosmologiques de Platon à Copernic), ed. Anastasios Brenner, Paris, Hermann, selections from Duhem 1913-59). Michael Foster (“The Christian Doctrine of Creation and the rise of Modern Natural Science,” Mind 43 (1934), 446–468 “Christian Theology and Modern Science of Nature (I)” Mind 44 (1935) 439–466; “Christian Theology and Modern Science of Nature (II)” Mind 45 (October, 1936), 1–27. Also, Reijer Hookykaas (Religion and the Rise of Modern Science (Grand Rapids, MI: William B Eerdmans, 1972) and Stark have all called this thesis into question and argued that Christian ways of understanding lead to the rise of Science.

    Based on my own research, I have to agree with Flannagan. His interpretation is closest to the historical facts as we presently know them.