Low Hanging Fruit

Over on For the Sake of Science (Another mislabeled blog which rarely deals with science) Michael Hawkins purports to deal with “the top five worst theistic arguments”. For the purposes of this response, I am only going to deal with one, partly because he gives the others short shrift in a typically strawman-ish way. Also, if he were approaching the issue seriously, you think he would deal with the top five best arguments; after all, what does it prove if you deal with your opponent’s weakest points?

It really should suffice to demonstrate how strong this one argument really is – once that is demonstrated that this argument doesn’t ‘fail’ at all, it should put to rest the notion that there are no strong arguments for the existence of God. The argument he addresses is as follows, and I quote:

1. The first cause argument: This posits that everything in the Universe has a cause, therefore something outside the Universe must have caused the Universe itself to exist.

Actually, this is a very simple version of the argument, which I laid out in its complete form here. But we will deal with his objections as he stated them.

First, why not say Nature is the first cause? Not Nature in the sense of all that is within the Universe, but in the sense of a mindless actor which exists independently of the Universe, a sort of God without the intention; God only acts as a middleman.

I found this response rather hilarious. So based on our observation of the universe we can apparently assume there is a Nature beyond nature, one that ‘exists independently’ of the laws that govern this universe.

And what should we call this ‘Nature’ that exists outside of nature? I believe it already has a name – the Supernatural. So apparently the refutation that God exists is that the Supernatural exists. I believe this is referred to in debates as ‘giving away the store’.

Second, what caused God? If he is without cause, where is the evidence?

It’s not a matter of evidence, it is a matter of logic – if the cause of the universe was caused, then we can ask, what caused that cause? And the cause before that? Very shortly we realize this leads to an infinite regress, which is an impossibility. So then it follows there must be at some point an ‘uncaused cause’ which is the point of the whole argument.

Third, we don’t even know if everything must have a cause. Of course, we know that everything which exists within the Universe must have a cause, but that says nothing of whether or not the Universe itself must be caused. (Note the distinction I wish to make: we know that what is within the Universe has cause, but the Universe as a complete entity is a different story.)

Now, contrary to the previous point that we have to have evidence that God was uncaused, we apparently need no evidence that the universe was uncaused; that would be an internal contradiction. It also leads to a few other problems.

For example, we know the universe as it is began to exist; if there was no cause of its existence then somehow the universe caused itself to exist, another logical impossibility.

And if we assume that entities or objects can simply exist without cause, then how do we know anything was ’caused’ to exist? It completely undermines the principle of causality all together, the foundation of scientific exploration – not to mention the basis for rational thought, since a reality where events could occur and objects come into existence with no cause would not be subject to rational consideration, undermining any logical consideration of any subject.

So that pretty much demolishes his objections – he acknowledges a ‘supernatural’ cause is a reasonable conclusion from what we know of the universe, he tries to employ a fallacious infinite regression to counter the argument, and then after arguing God requires a cause, he suggests the abandonment of rational thought by dismissing the need for causes all together completely undermining the rational basis of his own objections.

Thus, the need for a uncaused first cause is affirmed, and this evidence for God stands.

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19 Responses to Low Hanging Fruit

  1. Grant Dexter says:

    Atheists are silly. 🙂

  2. These also happen to be five of the most popular theistic arguments.

    I found this response rather hilarious. So based on our observation of the universe we can apparently assume there is a Nature beyond nature, one that ‘exists independently’ of the laws that govern this universe.

    And what should we call this ‘Nature’ that exists outside of nature? I believe it already has a name – the Supernatural. So apparently the refutation that God exists is that the Supernatural exists. I believe this is referred to in debates as ‘giving away the store’.

    Quote me where I said “we can assume there is a Nature beyond nature”. Aside from the fact that I would have capitalized the word in each instance, I never even indicated we can assume anything. What I said was to declare something outside Nature that has intention makes less sense than to declare something outside Nature without intention. You’ve added a middleman, not out of philosophical and intellectual honesty, but pure emotional drive. You fear death; God must exist.

    So then it follows there must be at some point an ‘uncaused cause’ which is the point of the whole argument.

    So God has explained nothing. The argument fails.

    Now, contrary to the previous point that we have to have evidence that God was uncaused, we apparently need no evidence that the universe was uncaused; that would be an internal contradiction. It also leads to a few other problems.

    Go ahead. Quote where I said that incoherent rubbish.

    1. We have no evidence of God and it’s a jump to posit his existence since if all we’re looking for is something infinite we can posit anything; it’s more parsimonious to posit something without intention (especially since there is no evidence of intention within the Universe that isn’t human).

    2. I didn’t say we need no evidence the Universe was not caused. If you would like, you can quote me where I said that. Or you could realize that I said we don’t know. Logical “if,then” claims don’t hold up in practice when the “if” is empirically unknown and can actually be precisely the opposite of what is being said. That is, the Universe could be on an infinite cycle of Big Bangs/Big Crunches. If that is true, then the first cause argument fails even more obviously.

    Thus, the need for a uncaused first cause is affirmed, and this evidence for God stands.

    Logic is not evidence. It gives you no new data.

  3. jackhudson says:

    These also happen to be five of the most popular theistic arguments.

    I am not sure how ‘popular’ they are; they certainly aren’t stated in their current forms.

    Quote me where I said “we can assume there is a Nature beyond nature”. Aside from the fact that I would have capitalized the word in each instance, I never even indicated we can assume anything. What I said was to declare something outside Nature that has intention makes less sense than to declare something outside Nature without intention. You’ve added a middleman, not out of philosophical and intellectual honesty, but pure emotional drive. You fear death; God must exist.

    You said, “First, why not say Nature is the first cause? Not Nature in the sense of all that is within the Universe, but in the sense of a mindless actor which exists independently of the Universe”

    A nature that exists independently of the Universe (which is what we know as nature) is beyond the nature we know. And I have no fear of death whatsoever, not that is has anything to do with subject at hand.

    So God has explained nothing. The argument fails.

    Well, no, God is the uncaused cause. His existence is logically consistent (and I would argue necessary) to the existence of the universe as we observe it.

    Go ahead. Quote where I said that incoherent rubbish.

    “Second, what caused God? If he is without cause, where is the evidence?”

    “Third, we don’t even know if everything must have a cause. Of course, we know that everything which exists within the Universe must have a cause, but that says nothing of whether or not the Universe itself must be caused.”

    Contradiction.

    1. We have no evidence of God and it’s a jump to posit his existence since if all we’re looking for is something infinite we can posit anything; it’s more parsimonious to posit something without intention (especially since there is no evidence of intention within the Universe that isn’t human).

    No, we can’t ‘posit anything’ because the universe has specificity, a definite beginning, and ultimately resulted in reasoning spiritual creatures in accordance with its finely-tuned design. Whatever caused the universe to act specifically to do so, which indicates intention.

    Anything that is truly infinite (that is, uncaused and exists outside of temporal considerations) would be different than anything we are familiar with within the universe, so we can’t posit ‘anything’.

    2. I didn’t say we need no evidence the Universe was not caused. If you would like, you can quote me where I said that. Or you could realize that I said we don’t know. Logical “if,then” claims don’t hold up in practice when the “if” is empirically unknown and can actually be precisely the opposite of what is being said. That is, the Universe could be on an infinite cycle of Big Bangs/Big Crunches. If that is true, then the first cause argument fails even more obviously.

    “we don’t even know if everything must have a cause. Of course, we know that everything which exists within the Universe must have a cause, but that says nothing of whether or not the Universe itself must be caused.”

    If the universe can begin to exist uncaused, then the notion of causality is suspect altogether.

    Logic is not evidence. It gives you no new data.

    If your ‘data’ defies logic, then you need new data. Logic allows us to understand the data we have.

  4. You said, “First, why not say Nature is the first cause? Not Nature in the sense of all that is within the Universe, but in the sense of a mindless actor which exists independently of the Universe”

    Okay, so where do I say we can assume anything?

    Well, no, God is the uncaused cause. His existence is logically consistent (and I would argue necessary) to the existence of the universe as we observe it.

    Well, I condescending say, why?

    Contradiction.

    Where, again, did I say we need no evidence? I seem to recall saying in both of my points that we don’t know. But you wholly missed that.

    No, we can’t ‘posit anything’ because the universe has specificity, a definite beginning, and ultimately resulted in reasoning spiritual creatures in accordance with its finely-tuned design. Whatever caused the universe to act specifically to do so, which indicates intention.

    No science supports your contention, creationist.

    Anything that is truly infinite (that is, uncaused and exists outside of temporal considerations) would be different than anything we are familiar with within the universe, so we can’t posit ‘anything’.

    Time is a product of the Big Bang. Within the point infinitesimal point of the Big Bang, time did not exist. Thus, an unending series of Big Bangs/Big Crunches are without time when within a certain state. (I would say “at a certain point” and cite the linguistic limitations here, knowing everyone understands what is meant, but I’ve come across too many dishonest theists.)

    “we don’t even know if everything must have a cause. Of course, we know that everything which exists within the Universe must have a cause, but that says nothing of whether or not the Universe itself must be caused.”

    Which words mean “we need no evidence” again? Please, analyze the quote.

    If your ‘data’ defies logic, then you need new data. Logic allows us to understand the data we have.

    You aren’t on point. You claimed a philosophical argument constitutes evidence for God. It doesn’t since evidence is had by data, not logic. Neither my post nor your post has offered any new data.

  5. jackhudson says:

    You know Micheal, I am not particularly interested in a verbal round of tiddlywinks where you make claims, then back off of claims, then make new claims, so lets start simple – did something cause the universe to come into existence?

  6. The Big Bang caused the Universe to come into existence. What caused the infinitesimal point, the precursor to the Big Bang, however, is unknown since it was without time.

  7. jackhudson says:

    Well, I didn’t ask ‘what’ caused the universe (or the Big Bang) to come into existence, I asked whether something caused it. You seem to agree something did.

    Do you believe an infinite regress is impossible?

  8. I’m not letting you lead me down a booby trapped road. The Universe and the infinitesimal point from which it sprang are two separate issues. That the Universe was caused to exist says nothing of the infinitesimal point.

    If you actually understoond what I said instead of drawing random conclusions from my quotes, you would realize that I’m saying no one knows anything about that infinitesimal point. If we wish to posit something causing it (not the Universe) to exist, then it makes sense to not arbitrarily add intention.

  9. jackhudson says:

    It’s not a ‘booby trapped road’ – it’s an establishment of whether you are familiar with basic logical foundations by which we understand our universe. By all accounts, an infinite regress is impossible – we know that. And we know that the Big Bang was an event, caused by something else. Either that something else was caused to happen or existed without a cause, i.e. an uncaused cause. This is true regardless of the presence of temporality.

    So we do know something, and what we know is that things don’t begin to exist without a cause, and that events and objects cannot exist as an infinite series.

    Thus at some point an uncaused cause must have initiated those events that culminated in the existence of our universe. This a a rational neccesity. This cause that exists timelessly acted to initiate these events is best understood as God, who fits that description, and has the means to initiate such an an action and is thus is the most reasonable conclusion from those set of facts.

    It is hardly a weak argument, it is actually quite robust logically, and I think it takes considerable faith alternate imagined entities to not accept it.

  10. And we know that the Big Bang was an event, caused by something else.

    The Big Bang refers to the expansion, indeed the creation, of time. The infinitesimal point from which the Big Bang occurred was without time. It is impossible to move forward so long as you are unable or unwilling to make this distinction.

    So we do know something, and what we know is that things don’t begin to exist without a cause, and that events and objects cannot exist as an infinite series.

    We know things within the Universe don’t begin to exist without a cause. That doesn’t give some magic leeway for you to go beyond science, indeed abuse physics, and say you also know that things outside the Universe don’t exist without a cause.

    Of course, after arguing that everything must have a cause, you’re positing something without a cause. Even if I was to allow this, you may as well be positing absolutely anything while calling it uncaused.

  11. I think it takes considerable faith alternate imagined entities to not accept it.

    I reject the substance of what you’re saying, but I accept the sentiment that faith is not a virtue.

  12. jackhudson says:

    The Big Bang refers to the expansion, indeed the creation, of time. The infinitesimal point from which the Big Bang occurred was without time. It is impossible to move forward so long as you are unable or unwilling to make this distinction.

    It’s not a ‘distinction’. The point you speak about, the initial singularity, is merely the boundary point of space in time in the past, our universe’s earliest initial state, it’s not something that exists as a separate entity. It does not nothing to negate the necessity for a cause for our universe.

    We know things within the Universe don’t begin to exist without a cause. That doesn’t give some magic leeway for you to go beyond science, indeed abuse physics, and say you also know that things outside the Universe don’t exist without a cause.

    I am not making any claims about ‘physics’ outside the universe. It may very well be that ‘outside’ the universe (a term that is problematic in this context) is a magical place where some imaginary physics fulfills all the dreams of an atheist about how universes come into existence. But I haven’t been talking physics; I have been talking about logical and rational possibility. A different physics might exist, but things that are inherently impossible (in any rational consideration) like an infinite series, do not.

    Of course, after arguing that everything must have a cause, you’re positing something without a cause. Even if I was to allow this, you may as well be positing absolutely anything while calling it uncaused.

    This is what I often find about atheists who challenge the cosmological argument; they frequently don’t understand the basic premises of the argument. I did not say, nor does the proof say that, “everything must have a cause”. Everything that begins to exist must have a cause. By necessity, something must not have begun to exist,. Because it never began to exist, it needs no cause for it’s existence – and it is the cause for the existence of all things that did begin to exist, like the universe.

    As an aside, just because I have often thought about it, it is amazing to me that the reality of such a being is recorded in the book of Exodus. Here we have some 3000+ years ago a fundamental philosophical and cosmological principle in bodied in the name of God, YAWEH, or ‘I am that I am’. Unlike every other proposed god at the time which existed in some imagined history and which began to exist through various mythological means, YAWEH just is, He neither begins nor ends, He is ever in the present at any point of time, existing timelessly not bound by the limits of this universe. In short, He fits the exact expectation of a First Cause before anyone considered the necessity of a First Cause. People underestimate how important this reality is to historical thought and understanding.

    I reject the substance of what you’re saying, but I accept the sentiment that faith is not a virtue.

    Everyone employs faith, but faith is only a virtue when we ascribe it to the right object, person or purpose. Faith in and of itself is useless.

  13. It’s not a ‘distinction’. The point you speak about, the initial singularity, is merely the boundary point of space in time in the past, our universe’s earliest initial state, it’s not something that exists as a separate entity. It does not nothing to negate the necessity for a cause for our universe.

    I’m glad we’ve identified the issue.

    The Universe is composed of space and time. Neither of those things existed prior to the Universe.

    I am not making any claims about ‘physics’ outside the universe. It may very well be that ‘outside’ the universe (a term that is problematic in this context) is a magical place where some imaginary physics fulfills all the dreams of an atheist about how universes come into existence. But I haven’t been talking physics; I have been talking about logical and rational possibility. A different physics might exist, but things that are inherently impossible (in any rational consideration) like an infinite series, do not.

    The claim that everything must have a cause is a claim based purely and entirely in physics. You’re applying it to a point where physics (at least as we know them within the Universe) did not exist.

    This is what I often find about atheists who challenge the cosmological argument; they frequently don’t understand the basic premises of the argument. I did not say, nor does the proof say that, “everything must have a cause”. Everything that begins to exist must have a cause. By necessity, something must not have begun to exist,. Because it never began to exist, it needs no cause for it’s existence – and it is the cause for the existence of all things that did begin to exist, like the universe.

    You’re still applying physics beyond physical space and time while also declaring a scenario that allows for absolutely anything.

    In short, He fits the exact expectation of a First Cause before anyone considered the necessity of a First Cause.

    So at what point in eternity did he decide to start time?

  14. jackhudson says:

    I’m glad we’ve identified the issue.

    The Universe is composed of space and time. Neither of those things existed prior to the Universe.

    Right, the universe didn’t exist prior to it’s beginning. I thought that was a given.

    The claim that everything must have a cause is a claim based purely and entirely in physics. You’re applying it to a point where physics (at least as we know them within the Universe) did not exist.

    I am not claiming everything had a cause, and the impossibility of infinite series is not a matter of physics.

    You’re still applying physics beyond physical space and time while also declaring a scenario that allows for absolutely anything.

    No, as I stated above, the impossibility of an infinite series, and the impossibility of a thing causing itself to come into existence are not claims of physics, but logic and rational thought.

    So at what point in eternity did he decide to start time?

    That question doesn’t even make sense. He exists timelessly, He didn’t ‘decide’ to do anything at any point in time.

  15. No, as I stated above, the impossibility of an infinite series, and the impossibility of a thing causing itself to come into existence are not claims of physics, but logic and rational thought.

    There. Right there. You did it again. The claim, however you prefer to word it, that everything which begins to exist must have a cause is based upon physics. You can’t apply that beyond physics. You just don’t know.

    That question doesn’t even make sense. He exists timelessly, He didn’t ‘decide’ to do anything at any point in time.

    Your argument implies there is an answer to the question. I agree there isn’t, but your argument says otherwise.

  16. jackhudson says:

    There. Right there. You did it again. The claim, however you prefer to word it, that everything which begins to exist must have a cause is based upon physics. You can’t apply that beyond physics. You just don’t know.

    You keep avoiding the whole notion of the impossibility of an infinite series; I do know that cannot exist. And I can know that something cannot cause itself to come into existence, since logically, if something doesn’t exist to begin with, it can’t cause anything.

    Where is ‘physics’ necessitated in that thought process?

    Your argument implies there is an answer to the question. I agree there isn’t, but your argument says otherwise.

    Where does the cosmological argument ‘imply’ that God had to make a decision at a particular point in tme?

  17. kenetiks says:

    @Grant Dexter

    Nice. Any actual input to go along with that?

    @jack

    I think that entire exchange was a waste of time either not conceding the right points or completely missing the point enough to actually have an entire discussion that was actually arguing nothing at all.

    Time itself had it’s birth at the big bang. If you try to imagine any event before the big bang because time is meaningless in that context.

    I think the point is that the universe always existed. It simply did not exist in it’s current state. A cause for the universe is unneeded. What actually caused the inflation is a different matter entirely. This may be a point of discussion and hypothesizing by cosmologists, astrophysicists and other researchers. The answer will lie in future advances and research and not from injecting the metaphysical or supernatural explanations just because someone does not currently have an explanation.

    regards

    kenetiks

  18. Grant Dexter says:

    @kenetiks.

    I think it has all been pretty well said. :idunno:

    Atheists mock Christians for believing God created the world out of nothing, I mock atheists for believing something else created the world.

    Sound fair to you?

  19. jackhudson says:

    I think the point is that the universe always existed. It simply did not exist in it’s current state. A cause for the universe is unneeded. What actually caused the inflation is a different matter entirely. This may be a point of discussion and hypothesizing by cosmologists, astrophysicists and other researchers. The answer will lie in future advances and research and not from injecting the metaphysical or supernatural explanations just because someone does not currently have an explanation.

    I think the problem with this alternative is that it essentially proposes an actual infinite – that is a series that is infinite. That is impossible – it can’t have been a series of other things, and be infinitely so. And while cosmologists can hypothesize to their hearts content, there is no science which can apply to things occurring outside of the existing universe – indeed such things are virtually by definition, supernatural.

    Regards

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