Edward Feser has posted a reply of sorts to my two essays from last week (Part One, Part Two.) Turns out he’s pretty touchy about people who are dismissive of the cosmological argument. The post is quite long and only a small portion of it is directed specifically at me. Since most of that portion is just a temper tantrum about the lack of respect shown to the philosophy of religion, I feel no desire to respond in detail.

But there is one place where the magnitude of Feser’s rudeness is so out of proportion to the strength of his argument that I do think some response is called for. In Part One of my earlier post I wrote:

If the cosmological argument is the best theology has to offer then we atheists do not need to worry that we have overlooked a good argument for God’s existence. Feser seems rather taken with it, but there are many strong refutations to be found in the literature. Off the top of my head, I found Mackie’s discussion in The Miracle of Theism and Robin Le Poidevin’s discussion in Arguing for Atheism to be both cogent and accessible.

Feser had much to say about this, most of it silly. For example:

Does Rosenhouse really think that we defenders of the cosmological argument aren’t familiar with Mackie and Le Poidevin? Presumably not. But then, what’s his point? That is to say, what point is he trying to make that doesn’t manifestly beg the question?

My point was simply that I think the cosmological argument is not very good, and that I think Mackie and Le Poidevin provided cogent and accessible refutations of it. How could I have been clearer? I have no idea what question I was begging by expressing those particular opinions.

Feser continues:

After all, what would Rosenhouse think of the following “objection:”

Rosenhouse seems rather taken with the materialist view of the mind, but there are many strong refutations to be found in the literature. Off the top of my head, I found Foster’s The Immaterial Self and the essays in Koons’ and Bealer’s The Waning of Materialism to be both cogent and accessible.

Or, while we’re on the subject of what prominent mainstream atheist philosophers have said, what would he think of:

Rosenhouse seems rather taken with Darwinism, but there are many strong refutations to be found in the literature. Off the top of my head, I found Fodor’s and Piatelli-Palmarini’s discussion in What Darwin Got Wrong and David Stove’s discussion in Darwinian Fairytales to be both cogent and accessible.

Rosenhouse’s answer to both “objections” would, I imagine, be: “Since when did Foster, Koons, Bealer, Fodor, Piatelli-Palmarini, and Stove get the last word on these subjects?” And that would be a good answer. But no less good is the following answer to Rosenhouse: Since when did Mackie and Le Poidevin have the last word on the cosmological argument?

Actually, it would not even occur to me to reply as Feser suggests. I would not take either of his hypothetical objections to mean that he thinks defenders of Darwinism or of a materialist view of mind are simply stunned into dumbstruck and embarrassed silence by the arguments in the books he recommends. I would take them to mean simply that in his opinion the authors he cites have provided good arguments against Darwinism and materialist views of mind.

With respect to the objection about Darwinism I would reply simply, “I have read both Stove and Fodor and Piatelli-Palmarini, and I don’t think their major arguments are strong at all.” As for the one about materialist views of mind, my reply would be, “The philosophy of mind is not an interest of mine, but if I ever decide to start writing about it I will be sure to check out those books.” But I certainly would not reply, “How dare you beg the question by recommending a couple of books you liked!” In fact, I would consider it downright weird to respond in such a way.

As I said, very silly stuff. But elsewhere Feser writes this:

The atheist Robin Le Poidevin, in his book Arguing for Atheism (which my critic Jason Rosenhouse thinks is pretty hot stuff) begins his critique of the cosmological argument by attacking a variation of the silly argument given above — though he admits that “no-one has defended a cosmological argument of precisely this form”! So what’s the point of attacking it? Why not start instead with what some prominent defender of the cosmological argument has actually said?

Suppose some creationist began his attack on Darwinism by assuring his readers that “the basic” claim of the Darwinian account of human origins is that at some point in the distant past a monkey gave birth to a human baby. Suppose he provided no source for this claim — which, of course, he couldn’t have, because no Darwinian has ever said such a thing — and suppose also that he admitted that no one has ever said it. But suppose further that he claimed that “more sophisticated versions” of Darwinism were really just “modifications” of this claim. Intellectually speaking, this would be utterly contemptible and sleazy. It would give readers the false impression that anything Darwinians have to say about human origins, however superficially sophisticated, is really just a desperate exercise in patching up a manifestly absurd position. Precisely for that reason, though, such a procedure would, rhetorically speaking, be very effective indeed.

Compare that to Le Poidevin’s procedure. Though by his own admission no one has ever actually defended the feeble argument in question, Le Poidevin still calls it “the basic” version of the cosmological argument and characterizes the “more sophisticated versions” he considers later on as “modifications” of it. Daniel Dennett does something similar in his book Breaking the Spell. He assures us that the lame argument in question is “the simplest form” of the cosmological argument and falsely insinuates that other versions — that is to say, the ones that philosophers have actually defended, and which Dennett does not bother to discuss — are merely desperate attempts to repair the obvious problems with the “Everything has a cause” “version.” As with our imaginary creationist, this procedure is intellectually dishonest and sleazy, but it is rhetorically very effective. It gives the unwary reader the false impression that “the basic” claim made by Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, et al. is manifestly absurd, that everything else they have to say is merely an attempt to patch up this absurd position, and (therefore) that such writers need not be bothered with further.

And that, I submit, is the reason why the stupid “Everything has a cause” argument — a complete fabrication, an urban legend, something no philosopher has ever defended — perpetually haunts the debate over the cosmological argument. It gives atheists an easy target, and a way rhetorically to make even their most sophisticated opponents seem silly and not worth bothering with. It’s a slimy debating trick, nothing more — a shameless exercise in what I have elsewhere called “meta-sophistry.” (I make no judgment about whether Le Poidevin’s or Dennett’s sleaziness was deliberate. But that they should know better is beyond question.)

That’s not silly. That’s actually pretty vicious. And if you are going to throw around words like “sleazy,” “slimy,” and “contemptible” you had better have the goods to back them up.

In a moment I am going to make Feser look very foolish, by the simple expedient of transcribing precisely what Le Poidevin said. But even if we just go by Feser’s version, we might suspect that he is overreacting just a tad. If Le Poidevin’s intent was to make Aristotle, Aquinas and Leibniz look foolish by putting a bad argument in their mouths, one wonders why he explicitly said that no one defends the basic form of the argument that he presents. Moreover, it doesn’t take much imagination to answer Feser’s questions, “So what’s the point of attacking it? Why not start instead with what some prominent defender of the cosmological argument has actually said?” The answer, we might suspect, is that there are complexities to what Feser’s prominent defenders actually say, meaning that you might want to introduce the topic by showing why simpler forms of the argument do not work. This answer becomes all the more plausible when you consider that Le Poidevin was writing an introductory text directed at undergraduate students, and did not want to assume that his readers had any prior familiarity with the argument.

Now here, in its entirety, is the section of Le Poidevin’s book that has Feser so upset:

There are, in fact, a number of cosmological arguments. What they have in common is an observation about some very general feature of the universe, and the assertion that something must be the ultimate cause, or at least the ultimate explanation, of that feature. The arguments we shall examine conclude that the existence of the universe itself must have a cause. This cause cannot be part of the universe itself, for otherwise there would be something that caused itself to exist, and this, we intuitively think, is impossible. For example, suppose we believe, on the authority of a number of physicists, that the universe originates in the so-called `Big Bang': an explosion from an almost infinitesimally small region of enormous density. We might say that everything that occurred after the Big Bang was caused by the Big Bang. But since the Big Bang is part of the universe’s history, we must include the Big Bang as part of what we are referring to by `the universe.’ It would then be quite mistaken to say `The Big Bang was the cause of the universe’, for this would mean `The Big Bang was the cause of the Big Bang and everything that came afterwards’. So, if the universe as a whole has a cause, this cause is not the Big Bang.

In this chapter we shall look at three versions of the cosmological argument. The first I shall call the basic cosmological argument, because the other two are modifications of it. It goes as follows:

The basic cosmological argument:

  1. Anything that exists has a cause of its existence.
  2. Nothing can be the cause of its own existence.
  3. The universe exists.

Therefore: The universe has a cause of its existence which lies outside the universe.

Although no-one has defended a cosmological argument of precisely this form, it provides a useful stepping -stone to the other, more sophisticated, versions. Before discussing it, we might note that the view that the cause of the universe’s existence should be an intelligent, benevolent creator who has an interest in his creation clearly requires more than this very brief argument. An argument for God, as he is conceived of by the theist, must surely involve a series of interconnected arguments, each contributing some further aspect to our understanding of God. Nevertheless, being persuaded by an argument for a cause of the universe is to take a large step towards theism.

Most proponents of cosmological arguments insist that the universe has not merely a cause but a first cause: something which is not caused by anything else. Now the first two premises of the basic argument:

  1. Anything that exists has a cause of its existence.
  2. Nothing can be the cause of its own existence.

are actually incompatible with the existence of a first cause. For if everything has a cause outside itself, then we are inevitably led to an infinite regression of causes: A was caused by B, which was caused by C, which was caused…etc. So, if we want to allow the possibility of a first cause, we must modify either (1) or (2). We could restrict either or both of them just to the parts of the universe, being careful, however, to include the universe itself as something which has a cause. Premise (1) could thus become: Anything which exists and is not outside the universe has a cause of its existence. We are, presumably, safe in assuming that the universe itself is not outside the universe. The problem with this amendment of the first premise, however, is that it seems rather arbitrary. We need to specify what it is about the universe which requires both it and anything within it to have a cause. This takes us to the two influential variants of the basic argument.

End of section. We shall come to the two influential versions momentarily.

That is what provoked Feser to paragraph after angry paragraph about how sleazy and contemptible Le Poidevin is. Seriously. But I’m afraid I missed the part where Le Poidevin either said or implied, “Idiot theistic philosophers used to claim that everything that exists has a cause of its existence. When atheists finally got them to realize that this implies an infinite regress of causes, they desperately revised their premises to protect their dumbass beliefs.”

It sure looks to me like Le Poidevin provided a very brief discussion of the “basic” argument simply to show why a more sophisticated version is needed. I would note that, in the book’s introduction, he writes (referring back to things he said earlier in the intro):

Accordingly, in Chapter 1, I begin with a more refined version of argument (a), namely the cosmological argument. Two versions of this are explored. The first argues that the universe must have had a cause, because it had a beginning, and nothing can come into existence without a cause. The second argues that the universe must have a cause, or at least an explanation of its existence, because it might not have existed. This suggests that something whose existence is necessary — i.e. it is impossible for it not to exist — would not need an explanation for, or a cause of, its existence. (Bold face added).

That bold face remark seems relevant here. Did Le Poidevin simply forget that he actually discussed three versions of the argument in Chapter 1? Or is this proof that he mentioned the “basic” version solely for pedagogical purposes?

Now notice the two versions of the argument Le Poidevin mentions here. These are the two versions which, in the excerpt, he describes as influential, unlike the basic version, which he dismisses very quickly. They are the two versions which take up the remainder of his lengthy first chapter. Now compare them to the very next thing Feser wrote after the portion I quoted above:

What defenders of the cosmological argument do say is that what comes into existence has a cause, or that what is contingent has a cause. These claims are as different from “Everything has a cause” as “Whatever has color is extended” is different from “Everything is extended.”

So let’s take stock. Le Poidevin briefly explained why an overly simplistic version of the cosmological argument does not work as a way of introducing more sophisticated versions, making it unambiguous that no one actually defends the simplistic version. Feser describes this as sleazy and contemptible, pretending that Le Poidevin’s intent was to make certain great philosophers look foolish by placing a bad argument in their mouths. He then describes two standard versions of the argument, without mentioning that they are precisely the two versions Le Poidevin spends most of his time discussing.

Res ipsa loquitur.

Incidentally, it is now clear why Feser’s analogy to the creationist’s abuse of Darwinism does not work at all. The claim that a monkey gave birth to a human is not an oversimplified version of Darwinism that might serve as a helpful stepping stone into a complex topic. It is just a completely made up idea tossed off specifically to make evolution look foolish. The relationship of “Everything that exists has a cause,” to the most common versions of the cosmological argument is far, far closer than the relationship of “A monkey gave birth to a human,” is to Darwinism.

As for the cosmological argument itself, I make no apology for being dismissive. Depending on what version you are considering, you can expect to find concepts like causality or probability being used in domains where they do not clearly apply, or dubious arguments for why an actual infinity cannot exist, or highly questionable premises about the beginnings of the universe or about how everything that began to exist must have had a cause, or groundless invocations of the principle of sufficient reason. You inevitably come so perilously close to assuming what you are trying to prove that you may as well just assume God exists and be done with it.

Comments

  1. #1 Chris Hallquist
    July 22, 2011

    This reminds me of a quote from Steven Pinker’s The Stuff of Thought:

    “Sometimes we have glimpses of our own self-deception. When does a negative remark sting, cut deep, hit a nerve? When some part of us knows it is true. If every part knew it was true, the remark would not sting; it would be old news. If no part thought it was true, the remark would roll off; we could dismiss it as false.”

  2. #2 Hercules Grytpype-Thynne
    July 22, 2011

    Res ipsa loquitor.

    Loquitur, actually.

  3. #3 Valhar2000
    July 22, 2011

    Daniel Dennett does something similar in his book Breaking the Spell. He assures us that the lame argument in question is “the simplest form” of the cosmological argument[…]

    Does Dennett do this in Breaking the Spell? I don’t remember that at all. As I recall, Dennett assumes that religious ideas are independent or external reality, and then discusses the how and why those ideas propagate from person to person. Arguments for or against the existence of a god are only considered in this light.

    I am misremembering the book?

  4. #4 Jason Rosenhouse
    July 22, 2011

    Hercules —

    Thanks for catching the error. I’ve now corrected it.

    Valhar2000 –

    Dennett’s book contains a single paragraph discussing the cosmological argument. Here it is:

    The Cosmological Argument, which in its simplest form states that since everything must have a cause the universe must have a cause — namely God — doesn’t stay simple for long. Some deny the premise, since quantum physics teaches us (doesn’t it?) that not everything that happens needs to have a cause. Others prefer to accept the premise and then ask: What caused God? The reply that God is self-caused (somehow) then raises the rebuttal: If something can be self-caused. why can’t the universe as whole be the thing that is self-caused? This leads in various arcane directions, into the strange precincts of string theory and probability fluctuations and the like, at one extreme, and into ingenious nitpicking about the meaning of “cause” at the other. Unless you have a taste for mathematics and theoretical physics on the one hand, or the niceties of scholastic logic on the other, you are not apt to find any of this compelling, or even fathomable. (Breaking the Spell, 242)

    I wouldn’t say this was Dennett’s finest moment. I think his desire to write at a popular-level got the better of him here, and he ought to have been a bit more careful about explaining what the issues are. But it’s still a far cry from how Feser makes it sound. And I certainly agree with Dennett’s conclusion that the lucubrations devised by theistic philosophers to prop up the argument are not compelling.

  5. #5 Pierce R. Butler
    July 22, 2011

    Not having heard of David Stove or Darwinian Fairytales before, I just spent some minutes reading reviews of the latter at Amazon.com and tracking down every reference to same on scienceblogs.com.

    Tentative but otherwise totally unphilosophical conclusion: judging from the caliber of thought exhibited by those praising DF most highly, I haven’t missed much.

    Whew – what a relief!

  6. #6 eric
    July 22, 2011

    Rosenhouse quote Feser: What defenders of the cosmological argument do say is that what comes into existence has a cause, or that what is contingent has a cause.

    Yeah, but that’s wrong. The uncertainty principle allows for the spontaneous creation of stuff from nothing on planck-lengths.

    Now I grant you, before the 1950s that part of the cosmological argument may have been a good assumption. QM is, after all, in a lot of ways counter-intuitive. Even absurd. But nevertheless, once you’ve got a theory that says it can happen and experimental evidence that it does (the Casimir effect), that premise needs to be thrown out. It’s a “no black swans” premise at this point.

  7. #7 Patrick
    July 22, 2011

    1. How could the thief have broken in without being seen by the guards? He would have to have been invisible!

    2. But no man is invisible!

    3. Therefore the thief was a woman!

    That’s the squirmy little dodge that the cosmological argument centers around. You can’t argue that everything has a cause other than itself, because then God needs a cause other than himself. So you argue that everything that “X” needs a cause other than itself, and claim that God doesn’t “X.” But it does not follow from the claim “everything that X has a Y” that “everything (or even some things) that not X does not have a Y.” That needs to be justified.

    This is particularly true when you’ve given reasons why “everything that X has a Y.” You need to make sure those reasons don’t prove more than you want them to.

    Naturally this entire issue is glossed over whenever the argument is presented.

  8. #8 Hercules Grytpype-Thynne
    July 22, 2011

    Tentative but otherwise totally unphilosophical conclusion: judging from the caliber of thought exhibited by those praising DF most highly, I haven’t missed much.

    Stove was actually a perceptive and entertaining writer who did some very good work skewering various academic fashions of his day, particularly of the social constructivist/postmodernist variety. He was also an atheist and far from being a creationist (or cdesign proponentsist) of any kind. I haven’t read his book on “Darwinism”, but I wouldn’t dismiss him out of hand, particularly on the grounds that some idiots see some of his arguments as favoring their side.

  9. #9 Raven
    July 23, 2011

    There are 400 comments on that post, all going in circles. I really and truly don’t understand how philosophizing about “first causes” could possibly lead to anything convincing about the existence of a god. It just has nothing at all to say about the universe we can observe.

  10. #10 eric
    July 23, 2011

    Patrick: You can’t argue that everything has a cause other than itself, because then God needs a cause other than himself.

    Just to be clear, that’s what Feser et al. are calling the simple and non-used version of the cosmological argument. So you are doing exactly what Feser is complaining about and attack a bit of a straw man.

    The version Feser (and others) use says that necessary things don’t need causes other than themselves, only contingent things do. They then also premise that (2) the universe is contingent and (3) God is necessary.

  11. #11 Patrick
    July 23, 2011

    eric- read the sentence after that one.

  12. #12 Vincent Torley
    July 23, 2011

    Professor Rosenhouse:

    I don’t know whether you’ve seen this post of mine over on Uncommon Descent: http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/no-good-theology-you-say-oh-yes-there-is/
    It has links to “the best of the best”: a dozen or so online articles containing the best arguments for the existence of God that I’ve come across – and I don’t say that lightly, as I’ve been studying the arguments for God’s existence for over 30 years.

    Professor Feser can be a little prickly, and his style is rather combative at times, but I would strongly urge you to look past his personal faults and read his book, “Aquinas”. While I don’t agree with everything Feser says and wouldn’t call myself a Thomist, I have to say Feser’s book is far and away the best modern summary of Aquinas’ philosophy that’s ever been written, period. Please read it.

    Regarding Poidevin: I hadn’t heard of him until you mentioned him (I’d heard of Mackie, of course), but I have to say his approach to the cosmological argument leaves me cold. Any good exposition of an argument should (a) present it in its strongest form, and (b) attempt to convey to the reader the intellectual “pull” of the argument – make it as tempting as possible, even if the expositor intends to refute it later. From the quotes I’ve seen on your blog, Poidevin never really tries to make the cosmological argument look appealing to the reader. If you want to appreciate its full force, please have a look at Herrick’s article, which heads the list of online articles that I’ve linked to in my post on Uncommon Descent.

    By the way, I’ll be putting up a few articles on the multiverse over the next week or so, at Uncommon Descent. If you think it makes God redundant, you need to talk to Dr. Robin Collins – or have a look at his Web page. Bye for now, Professor, and happy hunting.

  13. #13 Novak
    July 23, 2011

    Dr. Rosenhouse said:Le Poidevin briefly explained why an overly simplistic version of the cosmological argument does not work as a way of introducing more sophisticated versions, making it unambiguous that no one actually defends the simplistic version.

    Dr. Rosenhouse said: It sure looks to me like Le Poidevin provided a very brief discussion of the “basic” argument simply to show why a more sophisticated version is needed.

    Dr. Rosenhouse said: Or is this proof that he mentioned the “basic” version solely for pedagogical purposes?

    Le Poidevin said: The basic cosmological argument:

    1. Anything that exists has a cause of its existence.
    2. Nothing can be the cause of its own existence.
    3. The universe exists.

    Therefore: The universe has a cause of its existence which lies outside the universe.

    “Overly simplistic version” is a far cry from “basic version,” for the simple reason that “overly simplistic” =/= “basic.” Two completely different connotations. “Basic” means “fundamental.” “Simplistic” manifestly does not, let alone “overly simplistic.” Additionally, unlike you, Le Poidevin does not use quotation marks around the word to give off an air of non-seriousness. Again, a vastly different connotation.

    Feser is well-aware of Le Poidevin’s further claims. Nevertheless, he is completely justified in being irritated here. This is linguistic vandalism on Le Poidevin’s part.

    Though by his own admission no one has ever actually defended the feeble argument in question, Le Poidevin still calls it “the basic” version of the cosmological argument and characterizes the “more sophisticated versions” he considers later on as “modifications” of it. Daniel Dennett does something similar in his book Breaking the Spell. He assures us that the lame argument in question is “the simplest form” of the cosmological argument and falsely insinuates that other versions — that is to say, the ones that philosophers have actually defended, and which Dennett does not bother to discuss — are merely desperate attempts to repair the obvious problems with the “Everything has a cause” “version.” As with our imaginary creationist, this procedure is intellectually dishonest and sleazy, but it is rhetorically very effective. It gives the unwary reader the false impression that “the basic” claim made by Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, et al. is manifestly absurd, that everything else they have to say is merely an attempt to patch up this absurd position, and (therefore) that such writers need not be bothered with further.

    Frankly, Dr. Rosenhouse, this post of yours is an object lesson in sleight of hand.

  14. #14 funnyatheists
    July 23, 2011

    “lucubrations devised by theistic philosophers to prop up the argument are not compelling.”

    Sounds more like “lucubrations devised by atheistic philosophers to misrepresent the actual argument to make it look as if it is not compelling.”

    Intellectual dishonesty or ignorance?

  15. #15 funnyatheists
    July 23, 2011

    Novak, well spotted. It looks like Dennett used Le Poidevin’s “basic cosmological argument” in his popular book. Again, intellectual dishonesty or ignorance?

  16. #16 Rob
    July 23, 2011

    You certainly have made Feser look foolish. One wonders if Feser’s wildly inaccurate portrayal of Robin Le Poidevin is due to sloppiness or intentional deception. Because Feser is an apologist, I would tend to favor the later explanation.

  17. #17 Observer
    July 23, 2011

    No, Novak, the sleight of hand is Feser’s. Anybody with minimal reading comprehension can see that basic is not being used to connote fundamental in the passage quoted.

  18. #18 Patrick
    July 23, 2011

    Understanding why the “basic argument” is bad is key to understanding the role played by “natural” or “contingent” or whatever key word is used to distinguish the proposed supernatural being from the rest of the universe. It helps elucidate often hidden premises, and points out what parts of the argument need evidential support.

  19. #19 Novak
    July 23, 2011

    “Anybody with minimal reading comprehension can see that basic is not being used to connote fundamental in the passage quoted.”

    Well, sue me for thinking that words have meanings that cannot be completely jettisoned simply because they’re situated in varying contexts. The usage of “basic” was completely inappropriate by Le Poidevin. Arguing for Atheism: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion is a popular introductory text, and, moreover, there was a countless number of felicitous words he could have chosen. If one were to write a popular introductory text for other fields (science, economics, mathematics, etc.), this sort of linguistic vandalism wouldn’t fly and would be met with harsh censure from academics to change the wording, regardless of whether it was intended to be merely for “pedagogical purposes.”

  20. #20 Rob
    July 23, 2011

    Novak,

    You are being asinine. Just read the chapter. The meaning of ‘basic’ is quite clear in the context. Your use of phrases like ‘linguistic vandalism’ is flaky. Le Poidevin has used the word in an entirely usual manner, which you simply misunderstood.

  21. #21 eric
    July 23, 2011

    The usage of “basic” was completely inappropriate by Le Poidevin.

    But Le Poidevin’s word choice was not Feser’s argument. Feser’s argument was that Le Poidevin is falsly promoting a simpler (I’ll use your word) version as the one philosophers use. And very clearly from the passage Jason quoted, Feser is wrong about that. Le Poidevin clearly isn’t promoting it as the one philosophers use.

    Here’s what your argument boil’s down to, Novak:
    Le Poidevin: there’s an A and B version. Nobody uses A, but I’m going to talk about A before I go on to B because it makes sense to do so.
    Feser: He’s claiming we all use A!
    Rosenhouse: No, he clearly isn’t. What a silly thing to say.
    Novak: Oh yeah? Well, he should’ve called A “Aye,” so therefore, Le Poidevin is wrong!

    You see how irrelevant your argument is?

  22. #22 cwfong
    July 23, 2011

    How about the ‘what was there that was never there before’ question? The answer would seem, no matter how you parse it, nothing.

  23. #23 Eric
    July 23, 2011

    Novak’s comments are spot on, and crisply expose the silliness of Professor Rosenhouse’s long wided, rhetorically hysterical, foot-stomping temper tantrum.

  24. #24 MikeN
    July 23, 2011

    The whole point here is that the initial objection to the Cosmological Argument is perfectly valid.

    From that point on theologians have to introduce the oxymoronic concept of a ‘Necessary Being’to explain why their argument doesn’t blow up in their faces. This involves a deep philosophical process that atheists don’t understand- the name of this irrefutable argument is “Making Stuff Up”.

  25. #25 MikeN
    July 23, 2011

    Just see this scholar, based on his deep understanding of a medieval monk who believed that the sperm was the sole carrier of human essence and that part of the joy of the saved in Paradise was to gloat over the suffering of the damned,, explaining why Stephen Hawkings is a simpleton for proposing an explanation of the origin of the universe.

  26. #26 MikeN
    July 23, 2011

    One thing I do object to is that many commenters here judge philosophy on their brief brushes with philosophy of religion as represented by Prof. Feser.

    This is a small and insignificant corner of modern philosophy, usually placed in Hisory of Philosophy sections.

    Check out any modern textbook on “Intro to____ [any field of philosophy you care to examine] and religious answers are usually dealt with in the first chapter; generally treated with less respect than that accorded to the belief that everything is composed of four elements, which is seen as at least an honest try.

    Aquinas and the Scholastics are generally lumped in with people like the Marxists; essentially clever hacks, able to twist everything according to the most recent Party line.

  27. #27 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 23, 2011

    The best science based argument against Feser et al today should be that it is as inconsistent with modern physics. It isn’t likely a cosmological “cause” exist since inflation looks eternal.

    But there is still a gap where you can cram a hail mary argument in. Possibly Planck can constrain inflation physics to be eternal inflation.

    In fact you can argue that we are already there, since the last decade has revealed that the universe, which looks zero energy, in fact belongs to a huge class of cosmologies that _are_ zero energy.

    That is, we can never know whether an inflationary universe tunneled out of another inflationary regime. (Even though we can be pretty sure our observable universe actually stems from a local end of inflation.)

    Since I (obviously O_o) have “a taste for mathematics and theoretical physics”:

    @ erik:

    “The uncertainty principle allows for the spontaneous creation of stuff from nothing on planck-lengths.”

    In the sense of zero energy systems (say, universes) that I described above, you don’t need quantum physics for creation, destruction or the eternal lifetime zero energy gives you. What quantum physics adds is indeed spontaneity.

    Conversely, Heisenberg uncertainty doesn’t give you creation. Virtual particle-antiparticle pairs will fluctuate but obeys uncertainty. It takes energy to create actual particles out of virtual (pair production, Unruh effect radiation from acceleration, Hawking radiation from Unruh effect close to black holes).

    “QM is, after all, in a lot of ways counter-intuitive. Even absurd.”

    Agreed, if you mean absurd contra intuition formed from everyday physics. QM is not physically absurd, on the contrary it is parsimonious on variables (no hidden variables) and parameters (minimizes degrees of freedom) both! In the sense of natural parsimony it is “the least absurd” theory we have ever seen.

    [Yeah, it is specious. But so is the “absurd” claim. So what to say?]

    “once you’ve got a theory that says it can happen and experimental evidence that it does (the Casimir effect)”

    The static and recently observed dynamical Casimir effect [touts the horn for swedish physicists!] do not differ from the other particle production effects described above, energy is needed. Here separating (static) or vibrating (dynamical) mirrors.

  28. #28 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 23, 2011

    “It takes energy to create actual particles out of virtual”. To see that it helps to understand [which I doesn’t really, no theoretical physicist :-P] that virtual particles have complex, not real, energy. Hence they are decidedly different, and need to get real energy to have an existence.

  29. #29 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 23, 2011

    OK, so I make a mess of this.

    Know we would like to ask “if virtual particles don’t exist, what are they”!? As I understand the QFT that I have never actually studied, virtual particle are relativistic effects of quantum field descriptions. I.e. they are observer dependent local frame descriptions of what seems to happen to others which actually are in their own frames. So they are not really “there”; compensating effects if you will.

  30. #30 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 23, 2011

    Any good exposition of an argument should (a) present it in its strongest form, and (b) attempt to convey to the reader the intellectual “pull” of the argument – make it as tempting as possible, even if the expositor intends to refute it later. From the quotes I’ve seen on your blog, Poidevin never really tries to make the cosmological argument look appealing to the reader.

    Yes, that would be true for arguments that have some bearing on facts.

    However it doesn’t apply to arguments that “come so perilously close to assuming what you are trying to prove that you may as well just assume [what you want to assume in the first place]”.

    For instance, if a homeopath asks us to consider that dilution “potentiates the solute” instead of the fact that homeopath solutions are so diluted that they are “just water”, we would not feel obliged to consider “potentiation” (whatever that makes of ubiquitous water).

    Similarly, if a theist asks us to consider that causation as a physics observation and process “is caused by gods” instead of the fact that human history “causes gods”, would not feel obliged to consider “cosmological arguments” (whatever that makes of ubiquitous religion).

  31. #31 Daniel Smith
    July 23, 2011

    Le Poidevin: “The basic cosmological argument: 1. Anything that exists has a cause of its existence.”

    WRONG!!!

    It’s not “anything that exists” that must have a cause, it’s “anything that comes into existence“. Big difference.

    If he can’t get the first premise right – why bother going any further?

    Feser’s right, you’re wrong. Get over it.

  32. #32 Owlmirror
    July 23, 2011

    If he can’t get the first premise right – why bother going any further?

    If you can’t be bothered to read for context and comprehension, why bother commenting?

    Feser’s right, you’re wrong.

    Feser apparently cannot be bothered to read for context and comprehension either.

  33. #33 anthrosciguy
    July 23, 2011

    So Feser uses logical fallacies and quote-mines Le Poidevin. This does not make me want to look into his writings any further.

  34. #34 386sx
    July 23, 2011

    It’s not “anything that exists” that must have a cause, it’s “anything that comes into existence”. Big difference.

    Oh, well then that makes it even dumber because it’s tantamount to saying that anything that has a cause has a cause. Big whoopie-doo. And then from there they pull a god out of their “hats” from out of nowhere. Lol.

  35. #35 JimV
    July 23, 2011

    @34,

    That’s only if you disagree with modern physics that some things, like radioactive decay, come into existence without a proximate cause – but probably the people you’re addressing do disagree, so carry on.

    @27, Dr. Larsson,

    I share your fascination with physics and have less of a background in it, so maybe I’m wrong, but that reference you gave on the zero-energy paper (not here but in a similar discussion I think at Dr. Coyne’s blog) rang a bell with me. I believe Dr. Carroll at “Cosmic Variance” did a post on it saying that it proves zero-energy based on some assumptions which we do not know to be fact, and while he found it interesting, he is not yet convinced our universe has zero net energy. I was disappointed to hear that, being a fan of the simple idea that 0 =+1 -1, i.e. something and anti-something can come from nothing. Well, it makes more sense to me than the cosmological argument.

    Speaking of which, a catholic friend of mine, Mario, once gave me a phamphlet entitled, “Seven Proofs of the Existence of God” (or something like that). Number one was the CA, stated in about half a page. As best I recall, it was pretty much the “basic” version. So maybe Dr. Feser should argue with the catholic hierarchy, who issued that phamplet.

  36. #36 386sx
    July 24, 2011

    That’s only if you disagree with modern physics that some things, like radioactive decay, come into existence without a proximate cause – but probably the people you’re addressing do disagree, so carry on.

    This whole “cause” thing sounds very wishy-washy and unscientific, and prone to people defining it however they want to define it if they are put into a corner. I wouldn’t know, but I’ll bet they argue all the time over what a “cause” is.

  37. #37 Kel
    July 24, 2011

    Is there any reason to take the cosmological argument seriously? i.e. if the cosmological argument would be shown wrong, would that be grounds for atheism?

  38. #38 James Sweet
    July 24, 2011

    I think it is clear why Feser is so angry at Le Poidevin: What LP has done here is attempt to provide a clear and methodical explanation for why the most common versions of the Cosmological Argument have the features that they do (and BTW, not being particularly familiar with “sophisticated” theology, I found even this short excerpt illuminating). Notice two words in the previous sentence: “clear” and “methodical”. The twin banes of the the theologian.

    Seriously, I think Feser is pissed off, not because Le Poidevin disputes the Cosmological Argument, but because he attempts to do so in as clear a manner as possible and without obfuscation. How dare he!

    Regarding the analogy to the Creationist, I think a better one would be this: This would be like a Creationist who wanted to attack descent-with-modification on the basis of some (he felt) implausibility in the idea of DNA-based inheritance and the appearance of useful mutations within that framework; and our hypothetical Creationist began the first chapter showing that natural selection can be shown not to work if the offspring is a continuous blend of the two parents — a problem which Darwin was well aware of in his lifetime, and which was finally resolved by an awareness of Mendel’s work.

    This would IMO be a pretty clear and methodical way of introducing the reader to how crucially the plausibility of Darwinian selection as a mechanism for evolution hinges on some sort of digital inheritance. If someone wished to attack that concept, despite how wrong they might turn out to be in subsequent chapters, there would be nothing wrong in beginning by articulating why natural selection cannot generate diversity if inheritance is a continuous blending.

    The question remains, of course, as to whether Feser is being intellectually dishonest, or if this was a facepalming breakdown in reading comprehension. One is almost tempted to suspect that Feser has been as remiss in studying the “sophisticated” arguments of his opponents as he accuses atheists of being…

  39. #39 James Sweet
    July 24, 2011

    Novak:

    FWIW, that short quoted passage from LP helped clarify for me why theologians find this word “contingent” so important. It just seemed like big words for no reason. By clearly and methodically showing why the basic objections to the “basic” cosmological argument are at least partially avoided by the idea of contingency, I now understand why that word is so important to theologians.

    I still think it’s a load of malarkey :D And in any case, arguments rooted in pure reason can be discarded without refutation if they contradict observation. But LP is doing theologians a favor here, I think, at least in articulating their arguments in a way that seems intended to convey understanding rather than to obfuscate.

  40. #40 James Sweet
    July 24, 2011

    @13, Novak supports my contention that the real reason for the contempt here is that LP is presenting information in a methodical fashion. In the world of the theologian, words don’t have meanings, they have connotations. What is actually said is less important than what it might sound like you are saying to the uncareful reader. Linearity is treated with contempt, and logical arguments are to be expressed as a collage rather than as straightforward prose.

  41. #41 Rob
    July 24, 2011

    James Sweet,

    I think you are spot on. Le Poidevin has done a great job of explaining why cosmological arguments take on the peculiarities that they do. Theologians must insist that the universe is contingent (but god is not contingent!), or that the universe began to exist (but god did not begin to exist!) in order for the argument not to devour itself.

    This is all just a silly word game.

    Feser’s lame attempt to claim that these maneuverings are not pure sophistry exposes him as the pseudophilosopher he is.

    All cosmological arguments make this claim: the universe has some property X, and all things with property X require a cause. And then the theologian declares by fiat that god does not have property X.

    Do they really think no one will see through this transparent sophistry?

  42. #42 Heleen
    July 24, 2011

    On David Stove and his book Darwinian Fairytales:
    I’ve read it and never met a less informed and more stupid book.

  43. #43 The MadPanda, FCD
    July 24, 2011

    Is it just me, or does the whole Cosmological Argument basically boil down to special pleading?

    I first got it, formally, at the hand of the Jesuit priest who taught freshman year religion at the (private) high school I attended: the whole uncaused cause bit, cannot have an infinite series in regression, yadda yadda yadda, therefore (Jesuit’s version of) god. I didn’t know enough to specifically state what seemed wrong about it at the time, but these days I’d be laughing at him for using such a threadbare justification.

    It wasn’t convincing then, and it hasn’t improved much with age.

    But I’m sure our good theistic types will gladly point out to me where and why I’ve missed The One Key Bit that makes this such a killer argument…which leaves them only another zillion barriers to go.

    The MadPanda, FCD

  44. #44 Jason Rosenhouse
    July 24, 2011

    Vincent Torley (@ 12)

    Hi Vincent.

    Thanks for providing the link, which I hadn’t seen. I don’t know if you’ll believe me or not, but I’ll take your suggestions very seriously. Incidentally, “EvolutionBlog” is one word. A made-up word, granted, but still.

    Professor Feser can be a little prickly, and his style is rather combative at times, but I would strongly urge you to look past his personal faults and read his book, “Aquinas”. While I don’t agree with everything Feser says and wouldn’t call myself a Thomist, I have to say Feser’s book is far and away the best modern summary of Aquinas’ philosophy that’s ever been written, period. Please read it.

    I intend to read it. For what it’s worth, I’ve actually enjoyed some of Feser’s purely philosophical posts in the past. But the fact remains that in the posts that triggered this little kerfuffle he has been behaving very badly indeed. Prickly and combative is one thing, but flinging ad hominem attacks (as he did with Eric MacDonald), or calling someone sleazy and contemptible based on a gross distortion of what they said (as he did in pretending that Robin Le Poidevin was trying to make theistic philosophers look foolish by placing a bad argument in their mouths when it’s completely unambiguous that he was doing no such thing) is quite another.

    Regarding Poidevin: I hadn’t heard of him until you mentioned him (I’d heard of Mackie, of course), but I have to say his approach to the cosmological argument leaves me cold. Any good exposition of an argument should (a) present it in its strongest form, and (b) attempt to convey to the reader the intellectual “pull” of the argument – make it as tempting as possible, even if the expositor intends to refute it later. From the quotes I’ve seen on your blog, Poidevin never really tries to make the cosmological argument look appealing to the reader. If you want to appreciate its full force, please have a look at Herrick’s article, which heads the list of online articles that I’ve linked to in my post on Uncommon Descent.

    I’m not sure where point (b) came from. I thought the whole point of philosophical analysis was to strip away emotional appeals and to look at arguments dispassionately. If Le Poidevin leaves you cold that’s your business, but the fact remains that he presented the two most common versions of the argument fairly and correctly. He then very calmly and non-polemically goes on to explain why the premises of those versions are very debatable, to put it kindly. Surely he fulfilled his obligations as a scholar?

    From my perspective you have simply set Le Poidevin an impossible task. It’s impossible to make the cosmological seem tempting because even the most carefully formulated versions of it are plainly based on dubious premises.

    By the way, I’ll be putting up a few articles on the multiverse over the next week or so, at Uncommon Descent. If you think it makes God redundant, you need to talk to Dr. Robin Collins – or have a look at his Web page. Bye for now, Professor, and happy hunting.

    I’m familiar with Collins’s writings about the multiverse, but I’ll look forward to your post. Just to be clear, though, it’s not that the multiverse, all by itself, makes God redundant. It’s that it shows that the lottery analogy often used by proponents of the “fine-tuning” argument is inapt.

  45. #45 sailor1031
    July 24, 2011

    Any variant of the cosmological argument starts by making unsupported (and unprovable) statements as premises. Stating that whatever is contingent must have a first cause, then stating that doG is not contingent therefore……is nonsense. Assuming doG exists how does anyone know, and how can anyone prove, that doG is not contingent. By this argument the proposer is merely defining an answer and circling back around to it.
    Current theory concerning the cyclic universe indicates that it is possible that the universe did not in fact have a first cause and that there exists no requirement for it to have had one. This is what Hawking means when he says there is no need for doG.
    As for “big bang” – that’s sooooo last century. Do Feser and other “philosophes” actually get paid for this kind of pathetic mental masturbation? And is there one problem that philosophy has solved – ever?

  46. #46 SinSeeker
    July 24, 2011

    Vincent Torley (@12) directs us to (in his opinion) “the best of the best” arguments for god at uncommondescent. I’m a bit pushed for time, but I’ve had a quick look at one of these “bests,” Collins’ “The Teleological Argument: An Exploration of the Fine-Tuning of the Universe.” Unfortunately, even a cursory look reveals some immediate problems. I’ll briefly mention a few of them here:

    1. Collins defines a life-permitting universe (LPU) as “a material spatiotemporal reality that can support embodied moral agents” (EMA), and defines an “embodied moral agent” as “an embodied conscious being that can make morally significant choices … relevantly similar to humans.” He then assumes without further argument that we live in a LPU. While this is certainly true on first blush (after all we are EMAs and we are here), this statement raises an issue that is not addressed at all by Collins, and would need to be countered before we could accept his declaration that a LPU is more likely the result of a theistic origin than a naturalistic one.
    The universe is approximately 13 billion years old (rounding down), and a generous estimate of the existence of EMAs is 1 million years. This means that EMAs have only been in existence for 0.0076923076923% of the universe’s existence. At the moment we are the only example of an EMA we know. My calculator exploded when I tried to calculate the percentage of the known universe occupied by the earth, so I was unable to calculate the percentage of the “spatiotemporal reality” than contains “embodied moral agents.” Perhaps you can do this for me.
    This creates a serious problem for theists. Why should an “omnipotent, omniscient, everlasting or eternal, perfectly free creator of the universe” use such a small proportion of the known “spatiotemporal reality” to produce EMAs? One would expect a universe “fine-tuned” for life by a creator to be teeming with more of it for longer. Why this is not the case needs to be explained by the theist.

    2. Unfortunately Collins states the “theistic hypothesis (T)” as “there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, everlasting or eternal, perfectly free creator of the universe whose existence does not depend on anything outside itself.” The “omnipotent, omniscient, everlasting” description immediately leads to the problem of evil, including the existence of suffering in animals with a nervous system for the last billion years.
    Incidentally the use of the phrase “whose existence does not depend on anything outside itself” is just a synonym for god. It’s a nice empty phrase that says no more than “god is god.”

    3. Is god constrained by physical constants? Collins declares god is “omnipotent,” so presumably it could construct any universe it wanted, so the fact that we have a universe with the “correct” physical constants could mean either a) god is constrained by physical constants and hence not omnipotent, or b) the universe developed naturally. I would be a lot more impressed with the fine-tuning hypothesis if we had found that the universe is impossible for EMAs, and appears to be sustained by some sort of continuous miracle.

    Finally, Collins does an awful lot of spluttering about the “god of the gaps,” but does not seriously counter it in any way. At its core, the cosmological argument is a god of the gaps argument, and hence subject to overturning at any point in the future as our scientific knowledge grows.

  47. #47 Rob
    July 24, 2011

    “At its core, the cosmological argument is a god of the gaps argument, and hence subject to overturning at any point in the future as our scientific knowledge grows.”

    This is something that Feser has explicitly denied. Specifically, he says that no possible finding from science could undermine his argument. He will say that his argument is “metaphysical”, and therefore immune to any specific findings in physics.

    Adorably, Feser and his crew seem to think this immunizing move strengthens his argument. In other words, Feser has a dragon in his garage, and no possible test could convince him otherwise.

  48. #48 SinSeeker
    July 24, 2011

    Collins makes the following statement regarding the god of the gaps argument:
    “Many theists will claim that ultimately we should avoid a God of the gaps explanation because it is bad theology. According to these theists, God would be greater if God created a material order that could function on its own without God’s needing to intervene and fill various gaps. If these theists are correct, then for theological reasons one should strenuously avoid appealing to divine intervention in the natural order to explain phenomena that science has not yet explained and instead trust that God has created a material world with its own integrity. Such theological reasons, however, will not apply to the structure of the cosmos itself – its basic laws, its initial conditions, and the values of its constants – since these do not require any intervention in the natural order. Other theists, such as intelligent design theorists, will be even more lenient concerning those cases in which it is appropriate to invoke God as an explanation.”

    This paragraph, and others further in this section of his chapter, suggests that he fundamentally misunderstands what the god of the gaps argument is actually saying. In addition, surely saying that the “structure of the cosmos … [does] not require any intervention in the natural order” is arguing against any “fine tuning”?

  49. #49 Daniel Smith
    July 24, 2011

    It’s really hard for me to comprehend how so many people can fail to understand a simple premise!

    I thought atheists were supposed to be smart and rational!

    From what I’m seeing here, atheists would rather accuse their opponents of some unethical debating strategy than actually try to understand the real argument they are faced with.

    Owlmirror,
    Explain how “reading for context and comprehension” changes “anything that exists” into “anything that comes into existence”?

    anthrosciguy,
    Explain how Feser “uses logical fallacies” in his version of the cosmological argument and show how he “quote-mines Le Poidevin”.

    386sx,
    You are actually closer to understanding the real cosmological argument than you think you are. You at least recognize that effects must have causes. What you don’t seem to understand is that the argument is for a first cause only and not specifically for the Christian God. When Aquinas adds “to which everyone gives the name of God”, he is essentially saying “this is consistent with what everyone calls God” (and that’s true.) His arrival at the Christian God from the first cause is another topic altogether.

  50. #50 386sx
    July 24, 2011

    @Daniel Smith What you don’t seem to understand is that the argument is for a first cause only and not specifically for the Christian God.

    I understand that. I look at it as the “hat” necessary for pulling out the rabbits. Whatever rabbits they feel like pulling out of it.

    Aquinas:

    “Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause,”

    It is not necessary to admit a first efficient cause. (That one I can forgive a little.)

    “to which everyone gives the name of God.”

    Not everyone gives it the name of God. That one, I have to wonder why it would not be an “unethical debating strategy”.

  51. #51 Robert O'Brien
    July 24, 2011

    Yeah, but that’s wrong. The uncertainty principle allows for the spontaneous creation of stuff from nothing on planck-lengths.

    Are you prepared to argue that the vacuum state is nothing?

  52. #52 Owlmirror
    July 24, 2011

    Explain how “reading for context and comprehension” changes “anything that exists” into “anything that comes into existence”?

    Sigh.

    The entire context of the post, by Jason, which cites Le Poidevin in several places, demonstrates that Le Poidevin was addressing different formulations of the cosmological argument.

    If you had bothered to read the entire post, making sure that your eyeballs passed over every quoted word by Le Poidevin, they would have eventually arrived at this, which I am simply copying and pasting from Jason’s post:

    The first argues that the universe must have had a cause, because it had a beginning, and nothing can come into existence without a cause.

    (emphasis, in this case, mine)

    Clearly, the context of the post, when read for comprehension, demonstrates that Le Poidevin did, indeed, address that particular formulation of the argument that Feser, and you, claim that he did not. Which was the entire point of Jason writing the post in the first place.

    I do hope that wasn’t too hard for you to understand.

  53. #53 eric
    July 24, 2011

    Sinseeker: My calculator exploded when I tried to calculate the percentage of the known universe occupied by the earth,

    I one of Jason’s other threads I calculated the % of the solar system habitable to life to be about 1E-22. As I said there, the universe is incredibly hostile to our forms of life, and it is only because it is so big that we can expect habitable zones to exist. There are huge number lottery players (possible locations for life) in this lottery, and at least one wins. There’s nothing surprising about that.

    Such a small % of habitable area is also completely counter to expectations of rational design. If the universe were designed for us, why not 100%? Heck, I’d take 1%.

    Let’s consider a simple analogy: imagine you have a hamster, and you are considering different cages. One consists of a 4-foot by 4-foot glass enclosure, has a wheel, some wood chips, etc… The other consists of a 4-foot by 4-foot vacuum chamber kept at 4 kelvin, with a 4-inch by 4-inch box in it kept at standard temperature and pressure. How would anyone ever consider the second cage to be the “intelligent” choice? It’s not even just a dumb choice – you’d have to be downright malicious to buy the second one. Or, alternately, you’d have to be unable to choose the first – i.e., impotent.

  54. #54 Kel
    July 25, 2011

    @Daniel Smith
    “When Aquinas adds “to which everyone gives the name of God”, he is essentially saying “this is consistent with what everyone calls God” (and that’s true.)”
    I’m really not sure what this could possibly mean – beyond the most trivial sense of the word consistent. If the argument is merely meant to say there was a first cause, it’s a pretty useless argument. But to then say “to which everyone gives the name of God” is carrying along baggage of agency and intelligence, yet that’s not established at all. It’s consistent in the same sense that fires in a forest are started by dragons – after all dragons breathe fire and live in forests right?

    Consistency is very different to attribution. What men call “God” and what people say about what God is in this case are wildly different.

  55. #55 386sx
    July 25, 2011

    It takes an amazing amount of brainwashing and conditioning for one to wind up at the conclusion that one has proven their god with this stuff. Congratulations St. Thomas Aquinas for being completely freaking brainwashed. At least you got to be a saint out of it. Lol.

  56. #56 orjin krem
    July 25, 2011

    When Aquinas adds “to which everyone gives the name of God”, he is essentially saying “this is consistent with what everyone calls God” (and that’s true.)”
    I’m really not sure what this could possibly mean – beyond the most trivial sense of the word consistent. If the argument is merely meant to say there was a first cause, it’s a pretty useless argument. But to then say “to which everyone gives the name of God” is carrying along baggage of agency and intelligence, yet that’s not established at all. It’s consistent in the same sense that fires in a forest are started by dragons – after all dragons breathe fire and live in forests right?

    Consistency is very different to attribution. What men call “God” and what people say about what God is in this case are wildly different.

  57. #57 386sx
    July 25, 2011

    A quick “good news/bad news” joke, compliments of Mr. Aquinas:

    http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3011.htm

    First the good news:

    “But when they fall again, after having been received, this seems to prove them to be inconstant in faith, wherefore when they return again, they are admitted to Penance, …”

    Now the bad news:

    “…but are not delivered from the pain of death.”

  58. #58 Stephen Wells
    July 25, 2011

    Here’s a couple more ways the cosmological argument fails.

    We have the apparently reasonable premise that everything which comes into existence has a cause. Even if this is true, it’s true only of things we see coming into existence within the universe. The claim that the universe itself needed a cause is still unsupported. Even if everything in my suitcase is an article of clothing, I cannot conclude that my suitcase is itself an article of clothing.

    It gets worse! Cosmological arguments require that the universe be contingent, that is, that the universe be something that might or might not have existed. We know the universe CAN exist, because it does. But we do not know if it’s possible for the universe not to exist. You need to prove that- the contingency of the universe- before you get to use any cosmological argument.

  59. #59 Jon Jermey
    July 25, 2011

    We have only observed things ‘coming into existence’ — whatever that means — in a tiny corner of the universe over a tiny fraction of the universe’s history. To generalise from that to ‘nothing comes into existence without a cause’ is like saying that because my dog has one eye, all animals everywhere in the universe have one eye.

    The only sensible response to this assertion is “Who says?”

  60. #60 James Sweet
    July 25, 2011
    Explain how “reading for context and comprehension” changes “anything that exists” into “anything that comes into existence”?

    Sigh.

    The entire context of the post, by Jason, which cites Le Poidevin in several places, demonstrates that Le Poidevin was addressing different formulations of the cosmological argument.

    I would just like to reiterate that the only reason I grasp the significance of the distinction Daniel Smith alludes to is as a direct result of reading the LP passage quoted by Jason above. Reading actual theologians ramble on about contingency never quite made sense to me; it just seemed like big words for no reason. LP’s explanation, in contrast, makes perfect sense to me. (I still think it ultimately boils down to word games and gobbledygook, but at least I get which word games they are trying to play now)

    Once again, it seems to me that LP’s real crime here is presenting the information in a clear, linear, and methodical form. How dare he!

  61. #61 James Sweet
    July 25, 2011

    It just occurred to me that if we want to go the route that Feser, Daniel Smith, Novak, etc., are taking, we might just as easily argue that LP has done intellectual violence to those who would rebut the Cosmological Argument, by first presenting only the most naive and indefensible version of that rebuttal.

    Of course, I would never deign to make such a silly contention, because as an engineer by both education and trade, it makes perfect pedagogical sense to me to proceed into a complex topic as follows:

    1) Here is a problem we wish to solve.
    2) Here is a naive solution we (hypothetically) might put forward as a first attempt to solve that problem.
    3) Here is why our naive solution fails.
    4) Now possessing a greater understanding of the breadth of the problem, we now proceed to offer a solution which addresses the issues we encountered in step 3.
    5) Iterate over steps 3 and 4 until we either converge on a solution; or for an unsolved problem, have given reasonable coverage to current attempts at a solution.

    In fact, I’d bet money that if we went back over Jason’s math-related posts, we’d find one where he takes this EXACT pedagogical approach. It’s quite common in the maths and sciences, as it presents a very orderly way of building up towards what may be a very complex solution. It spares the student an endless succession of “Wait, why does the solution have feature X?”-type questions. You have an intuitive understanding of why the solution has all the features it does, because you yourself participated in working through why solutions lacking those features failed.

    It seems that in the domain of the theologian (and in the minds of many philosophers in general, I’m afraid) this type of clarity is naughty.

  62. #62 James Sweet
    July 25, 2011

    Perhaps some of the issue is that an argument based in pure reason but lacking in evidential support is less like an attempt at describing reality, and more like art. It hangs there on its own in mental space, with connections to the real world always a possibility but never a necessity.

    And I suppose if a critic of a particular piece of art were to start by first showing why a simplified version of that same work were not worthy of merit, the artist might understandably be a little pissed off. “To understand why Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture sucks, we must first understand why the old Russian national anthem sucks.” heh…. :D

    My mistake, perhaps, is in looking at theology as an intellectual endeavor aimed at convincing, rather than as an artistic endeavor aimed at moving the spirit of those so inclined. Perhaps my disdain for the Cosmological Argument is no more meaningful or important than my disdain for so-called New Country music. I find both rather facile and ultimately irritating… but whatever floats your boat, right? You take Hank Williams Jr. and Aquinas, I’ll take Hume and Hank Williams III.

  63. #63 Kevin
    July 25, 2011

    For me, it’s quite simple.

    Even if the premises of the CA in all of its various subtleties are correct, the conclusions do not follow from the premises.

    To read “god” (meaning per Feser, et al, Yahweh), one has to ignore Brahma, the Titans, Ea, Ra, Quetzalcoatl and all the other creator gods. Why Yahweh? Where is the proof WITHIN THE ARGUMENT that Yahweh is the only god who could possibly have been responsible for the universe?

    Which ignores the fact that the universe could have been created by some minor junior baby god playing at the knee of a much larger god — no wonder so many things are screwed up. Or that the universe was created by a god-by-committee. Or by the Flying Spaghetti Monster or giant interdimensional aliens.

    And then there’s the small issue of the physics. As many many real physicists have pointed out, the universe does not require any sort of supernatural intervention for its inception. You have to rule out all natural causes before you get to supernatural causes. The CA doesn’t even attempt to do this. It just blindly reaches its own conclusion without doing any of the heavy lifting.

    And I’ll say this as a materialist and a naturalist. If there were one single shred of evidence in support of the existence of a creator god (of any stripe), then the millions upon millions of words shed in all of the arguments would be moot.

    Where’s the proof of god and only god? Not argumentative proof, but objective, observable, verifiable proof?

    They have none, so resort to “arguments”. Arguments without evidence prove nothing.

    Frankly, the CA annoys me the most because it refuses to consider the null hypothesis. If you can start from the premise that the universe is all-natural and that no god exists, and then disprove this null hypothesis, you’ll get my attention.

    The “simple form” un-CA in my view is:
    1. The universe is all-natural.
    2. In an all-natural universe, supernatural entities cannot exist except as the product of human imagination.
    3. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, positing a supernatural inception to the universe (and/or the multiverse) can be dismissed as a product of human imagination.
    4. No evidence exists for a supernatural inception to the universe/multiverse. And in an all-natural universe, such evidence cannot exist.
    5. Therefore, the inception of the universe was an all-natural event, following as-yet to be described/fully delineated natural processes.

  64. #64 Vincent Torley
    July 25, 2011

    Hi everyone:

    I’d just like to make a few quick remarks on the cosmological argument.

    1. One reader asks how we can know that the universe is capable of going out of existence. Short answer: we don’t have to. The cosmological argument is ultimately grounded in two principles of human inquiry.

    The first is what Professor Paul Herrick refers to as the Daring Inquiry Principle in his essay on the cosmological argument at http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/paul_herrick/parsons.html : “When confronted with the existence of some unexplained phenomenon X, it is reasonable to seek an explanation for X if we can coherently conceive of a state of affairs in which it would not be the case that X exists.” We can coherently conceive of the entire universe going out of existence. That doesn’t prove it can, but it does mean that it’s reasonable to seek an explanation for its continued existence.

    The Canadian philosopher Germain Grisez puts forward a similar version of the principle in his 1974 book, “Beyond the New Theism”. He says we should ask a question unless there’s some obvious reason why we shouldn’t ask it. There’s no obvious reason why we shouldn’t ask what keeps the universe in being – especially since we can conceive of it as going out of existence. To those who might be inclined to retort, “We can conceive of God going out of existence too,” I would answer: we don’t yet have a notion of God. At the outset of the cosmological argument, we haven’t even established what God is, let alone whether He exists or not. The cosmological argument does not start with a pre-fabricated notion of God and ask whether anything exists answering to this description. Rather, the argument is an inquiry into the ultimate explanation of the world, which draws certain conclusions as to what that explanation must be. The argument concludes that the ultimate explanation of the world must be a Necessary Being. Asking what explains the existence of a Necessary Being is obviously nonsensical. Aquinas then gives the name “God” to this being, but he does not mean that he has established the reality of the God of classical theism, let alone a personal God, let alone Yahweh. He simply means that most people would call a Necessary Being God.

    The second principle of human inquiry that the cosmological argument makes use of is the Final Explanation Principle: every series of critically dependent explanations must come to an end somewhere – i.e. an independent ultimate explanation. More precisely, you cannot have an infinite regress of explanations where each term in the series depends vitally on its predecessor in order to explain anything. You can have an infinite series of past conditions, however, because the terms here are not vitally dependent on one another: each one depends on its predecessor for its coming into being, but exists independently of its predecessor after that. Thus the “Who designed the Designer?” objection to Intelligent Design would be a good one, IF a designer were always dependent on its designer when designing something new – which isn’t the case. A child produced by IVF is quite capable of creating an artifact, even if the scientists who brought her into being have long since passed away.

    If we grant these two epistemic principles then the cosmological argument is a breeze. It’s reasonable to ask why the universe continues to exist, so there must be some ultimate explanation of this fact, for whom the question “Why does it exist?” makes no sense. But this question still makes sense for any contingent being; hence the ultimate explanation must be non-contingent – i.e. necessary. We haven’t got to an intelligent being yet, let alone a personal one. Aquinas addresses the question of God’s attributes after the Five Ways.

    2. Some readers object to Aquinas’ use of the phrase “And this we call God.” He’s not arguing for any kind of God yet; all he’s saying is that most people would refer to an Unmoved Mover, Uncaused Cause, Necessary Being, Unrestricted Being or Intelligent Law-giver as God. Aquinas goes on in question 3 of his “Summa Theologica” to inquire as to what this “God” is like: e.g. is it material? does it have parts? Later, he asks if God is good. He doesn’t take anything for granted, and he certainly hasn’t been brain-washed. I can’t think of a philosopher who considers more objections to his position than Aquinas.

    3. Other readers attack the Kalam Cosmological Argument as flawed. Aquinas didn’t like it either: he thought you couldn’t rationally prove that the world had a beginning. Aquinas’ First Cause is not a temporally prior cause, but one required to explain the continued existence of the cosmos.

    4. Some readers have asked why God took so much time to create the cosmos and why so much of it is hostile to life. Short answer: the simplest and most mathematically elegant set of laws and initial conditions that generate a life-supporting universe do indeed give us a planet where life can flourish (Earth), but they also entail that most other planets can’t support life, as well as the fact that life on Earth requires a long slow wind-up. You could have a universe with a very short history and much smaller in extent, with fewer barren stretches of the cosmos, but it would require God to do a lot more tinkering, and it wouldn’t be as mathematically elegant as the one we live in.

    That’s all for now. Hope it helps.

  65. #65 Rosemary
    July 25, 2011

    New and improved Cosmological Argument:

    Whatever begins to exist must have a cause
    The universe began to exist
    Therefore it had a cause
    The cause was an uncaused random quasi energy particle (quantum particle)
    By definition, anything that exists without a cause is God
    Therefore a random quasi energy particle is God.
    By definition, my version of God is a sentient being capable of personal interaction with humans
    Therefore I can have a personal relationship with a quantum energy particle called God.
    QED

  66. #66 Rosemary
    July 25, 2011

    In the above example it should be clear that the flaws in any of the cosmological arguments for the existence of a “god” is the definitions by fiat for both “god” and for the properties of any particular “god”. There is no other reason for supposing that a god is eternal, causeless, non-material and capable of having an effect on the material. There is no other reason to suppose that this defined god has any of the characteristics attributed to any of the gods that humans have worshiped through the ages.

    There is also an unspoken assumption that the “god” being “proved” is the one that fits the preferred personalized definition of the arguer but not necessarily the one held by a member of his or her audience.

  67. #67 Dan L.
    July 25, 2011

    Eric@23:

    Novak’s comments are spot on, and crisply expose the silliness of Professor Rosenhouse’s long wided, rhetorically hysterical, foot-stomping temper tantrum.

    I’ve read both posts beginning to end. Feser’s reads like a temper tantrum and Rosenhouse’s reads like an adult explaining to a temperamental child that he can’t get his way just by throwing a tantrum.

  68. #68 Agent Smith
    July 25, 2011

    I have more respect for the outright fundamentalists that merely reject the findings of science in favor of their own special, faith-based epistemology compared to these worthless theologians that engage in the cosmological sophistry. All of them are currently engaged in counting fairies on a pinhead rather than actually attempting to rectify their philosophical system with modern empirical evidence.

    The Cosmological argument, as completely flawed as its assumptions are, only even makes sense in a clockwork, newtonian universe. We don’t live in such a universe, as string theory and quantum mechanics have shown. The multiverse theories make this discussion even more interesting.

  69. #69 Jim Harrison
    July 25, 2011

    I’ve thought for some time that one could save the cosmological argument if and only if it turned out to be an argument for the eternity of the world. The old Stoics–I’m thinking particularly of Pliny the Elder–seem to have thought about things in this fashion, though I doubt if their god, which is pretty much the deus sive natura of Spinoza would be of much consolation to the faithful. For Pliny, atheism amounts to the weird notion that there is no world. At the very start of his Natural History, he expresses amazement that any one could suggest such a thing.

    Here’s a reconstruction of what he may have had in mind: one way of construing modal logic takes possible as meaning “existed or will exist at some time,” impossible as “never existed and never will exist at any time,” and necessary as “exists, always has existed, and always will exist.” By these definitions, an uncreated, eternal world is a necessary being. “And this we call god.” Note that this version satisfies the daring inquiry principle invoked by Mr. Torley since the application of the rule implies that the universe itself is its own explanation or, if you prefer, that we can’t coherently conceive of the world as going out of existence. Of course one would be free to argue on some other basis that there is another necessary being besides the world. I guess the sporadic arguments against creation ex nihilo one encounters in the history of philosophy and theology would fall in this category.

    For the record, I’m not endorsing the Stoic view. I’m not sure that it makes sense to talk about the universe as a whole; and whether the universe did or did not have a beginning in time may turn out to be, as Kant suggested, an undecidable proposition. I also don’t think that explanations must have an end, as per Mr. Torley’s suggestions, just that we insist they have an end when we get impatient.

  70. #70 Kevin
    July 25, 2011

    @61:

    Regarding:
    1. No. The “why does it exist” makes no more logical sense for contingent beings than noncontingent ones. Why does the universe exist? We can grant that it does (and I’m not one to argue otherwise), but asking the “why” question here presupposes an intelligent agent with a purpose in mind. It’s the most egregious presuppositional error possible. You’ve already arrived at a conclusion and are trying to fit your argument around inconvenient facts.

    2. How does he know what he says is true? He describes attributes for his god that again conform to his preconceived notion of what he thinks the creator god should have. Why should a god be immaterial? Why should a god be “outside of time”? Why should a god be “eternal”, for that matter? Aquinas is merely describing his preference, with absolutely no evidence that anything he says is true.

    And if you have no evidence at all for the attributes of god, what evidence is there for its ontology? Careful with your answer, you might make Cthulhu angry.

    3. Well, at least we agree on something.

    4. A mathematically elegant universe would be quite different from the one we live in. One that was built specially with humans in mind would be much, much smaller.

    Frankly, it’s hard for me to fathom how any of the CA has survived once Copernicus discovered Earth wasn’t at the center of the universe. And once we determined the sheer size of the universe as well as its age … well, the party should have been over.

    When the universe was tiny, when the Earth was at its center, then it’s quite plausible to think that it was created with “us” in mind. Why not? There’s no contradictory evidence.

    However, that evidence came along 400 years ago. Frankly, all of the evidence points to the fact that we might just as well not be here; that the universe far from being “fine tuned” for life is a universe devoid of any possible life except in the most extraordinary circumstances, and here we are on one of those anomalies. When we’re all gone (in about a billion years or less) the rest of the universe will continue churning along just as it did in the previous 14.7 billion years. Uncaring whether or not “life” existed on this tiny rock.

    Theism is like a punch-drunk fighter who keeps swinging even though the referee has already called the fight. Trying to convince itself that unicorns are pink and fairies have wings made of spun silver.

    It’s an exercise for otherwise intelligent people to cling to their superstitions. I suspect the fear of the after-death is at the root of this exercise for many.

  71. #71 Verbose Stoic
    July 25, 2011

    Kevin,

    “1. No. The “why does it exist” makes no more logical sense for contingent beings than noncontingent ones. Why does the universe exist? We can grant that it does (and I’m not one to argue otherwise), but asking the “why” question here presupposes an intelligent agent with a purpose in mind. It’s the most egregious presuppositional error possible. You’ve already arrived at a conclusion and are trying to fit your argument around inconvenient facts.”

    Asking a or the why question does not, in fact, presuppose an intelligent agent or purpose. You can USE the term “why?” to ask about purposes, but you can also use it to ask for non-purposeful reasons. For example, I can ask why that tree fell over, and I don’t expect the answer to reflect an intelligent purpose at all. I expect the answer to be “There was a strong wind and the tree was a bit rotten, and that’s why it fell over”. So the sorts of “why?” questions in the CA are the sorts of questions like “Why is that tree on the ground instead of standing?” and “Why is there a tree there instead of nothing?”. None of those presume agency at all, so there’s no presumption of agency in the question. In fact, one of the best responses to the CA is that it doesn’t presuppose agency and cannot establish it.

    “2. How does he know what he says is true? He describes attributes for his god that again conform to his preconceived notion of what he thinks the creator god should have. Why should a god be immaterial? Why should a god be “outside of time”? Why should a god be “eternal”, for that matter? Aquinas is merely describing his preference, with absolutely no evidence that anything he says is true. ”

    Presumably, in those many, many pages of examining the question he ARGUES for those attributes. You probably should read the arguments before accusing him of mere description.

    “Frankly, it’s hard for me to fathom how any of the CA has survived once Copernicus discovered Earth wasn’t at the center of the universe. And once we determined the sheer size of the universe as well as its age … well, the party should have been over.

    When the universe was tiny, when the Earth was at its center, then it’s quite plausible to think that it was created with “us” in mind. Why not? There’s no contradictory evidence.”

    Nothing in the CA presumes any specialness of humans at all, or a universe built for us. So it surely wouldn’t be affected by the arguments you list here.

  72. #72 386sx
    July 25, 2011

    Presumably, in those many, many pages of examining the question he ARGUES for those attributes. You probably should read the arguments before accusing him of mere description.

    I’ve only skimmed over parts where he argues for angels and their attributes and for death for heretics. Knock yourself out if you want to, but we both know where he gets the data for “examining” those things. (Clue: the Bible.)

  73. #73 Patrick
    July 25, 2011

    @Vincent Torley-

    You unwittingly reveal in your post (one of) the reason(s) the Final Explanation Principle is unbelievably stupid, and borderline incoherent.

    You discuss at length the question of the “why does the universe not go out of existence,” and demand that this requires an ultimate explanation. You conclude that this ultimate explanation is going to have to be a necessary being.

    But we can flip the question around pretty easily.

    “Why would the universe go out of existence if there were no necessary being?”

    From that, you should see that you’re assuming a natural state of affairs in which things go out of existence without a sustainer. But if the principle of final explanation holds, that trait of the cosmos needs an explanation. And it can’t be the necessary being, because in a possible universe where he doesn’t exist he’s clearly not annihilating the universe. Something else is doing that.

  74. #74 JimV
    July 25, 2011

    I’ve told this story before; here I go again.

    A very bright nephew, about 12 years of age, had just gotten “The Encyclopedia of Basketball”, and was happily looking up things in it as I posed him questions (over the phone). I always remember “Nate the Great” Thurmond of the San Francisco Warriors being introduced as “Six feet, 11 and 1/2 inches tall”, so I asked him to look up Nate Thurmond’s height. “Six feet 1 and 1/2 inches”, he replied, after checking. That must be a misprint, I told him. No, he insisted, his sacred book could not be wrong. How could a center (which the book correctly listed him as) in the NBA be 6’1-1/2″, I asked him? “Maybe he was a great leaper,” he replied.

    What brought that to mind was Mr. Torley claiming that this universe was the most elegant, best way a God could create intelligent beings.

    Speculating without facts, a bright person can always postulate something to rationalize one’s pet notions, from phlogiston to luminiferous ether. I’m probably been guilty of that at various times myself. But I’ll believe there could be a 6’1-1/2″ NBA center long before I’ll believe this is the most elegant of all possible universes. (In the time I took to write that, a super nova blow up somewhere and destroyed the life of half a galaxy.)

    For that matter, I don’t see an average IQ of 100 as all that impressive an accomplishment. I’ll bet if I had God’s time and money, I could produce beings with an average IQ of 1000.

    As for the Daring Inquiry Principle, sure ask whatever question you like, such as “how did Nate Thurmond play center in the NBA at 6′-1-1/2″?” – just don’t assume there is an answer, because there may not be.

    And for the “no infinite explanations”, it would be nice if that were the case, but it’s an unproven assumption as far as I know. Personally, I can conceive of an infinitely cycling universe, a “steady-state” universe, and and endless series of inflationary bubble universes of which this is one. I can also conceive of the universe as being its own, natural cause. The goddidit hypothesis seems so anthropomorphic as to be the least likely of those. Like the man said, because moles make mounds in my backyard doesn’t mean that mountains were made by bigger moles.

  75. #75 Tom C
    July 26, 2011

    After reading Feser’s post about how the New Atheists (and other philosophers) just don’t understand the CA at all, I saw that he never once gives a logically precise formulation of it himself, only referring to his books, where, presumably, he treats it carefully and fully. I did a quick web search on any careful reviews of his books by atheists, but came up empty-handed. Does anyone know if there are critiques of his books out there, just for starters?

  76. #76 386sx
    July 26, 2011

    I did a quick web search on any careful reviews of his books by atheists, but came up empty-handed. Does anyone know if there are critiques of his books out there, just for starters?

    I didn’t see much either. Good luck finding careful reviews of books that belong in the freaking Dark Ages. Lol.

  77. #77 386sx
    July 26, 2011

    Jason Rosenhouse said: It sure looks to me like Le Poidevin provided a very brief discussion of the “basic” argument simply to show why a more sophisticated version is needed.

    That’s exactly right. Le Poidevin was, at that point, actually being helpful for the cosmological argument by explaining why it can’t be stated as “Anything that exists has a cause of its existence.” He was building a case from the ground up to explain why it is deemed necessary to state it as either “Everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence”, or “Everything whose existence is contingent has a cause of its existence.” He wasn’t attacking anything at that point. He was being helpful for the reader.

    Feser’s question: “So what’s the point of attacking it? Why not start instead with what some prominent defender of the cosmological argument has actually said?” looks very silly and lacking in reading comprehension. +1 for tag team Jason and Jerry. :P

  78. #78 Kevin
    July 26, 2011

    @71:

    1. Pure sophistry on your part. Clearly, the context of “why” in the case of “why does the universe exist” is meant to invoke intent and purpose. In other words, an intelligent agency.

    2. He argues. He does not prove. There is a difference between argument and PROOF. One requires nothing more than one’s imagination, the other requires EVIDENCE. In the millions and millions and millions of words shed over the CA by its proponents, not a single shred of EVIDENCE has been presented for why the causative agent should have the attributes ascribed to it by Aquinas. And those attributes are not only in direct conflict with attributes of other non-Christian religions, they’re also at odds with non-Catholic denominations. So. Bring the facts, or admit that it’s being made up out of whole cloth. There’s no other way around it.

    3. Oh please. The point was about the validity of superstitious beliefs about the creation of the universe. When the universe was small and the Earth was at its center, then it was more logical to assume something built it for the inhabitant. As the Earth got smaller, the universe got larger (and MUCH MUCH older), all superstitious beliefs regarding the origins of the universe should have been rejected. Because they no longer make logical sense and do not comport with the obvious facts of nature.

    The CA, at its very core, seeks to explain why the universe — with us in it — exists. And invokes a superstitious answer. Because some intelligent agency decided that it wanted an Earth with humans in it.

    BTW: At aquinas.com, they summarize the CA with this…

    The proofs do not definitively prove the existence of God because they can be argued.

    So, if the folks at aquinas.com don’t think the arguments do the job, then why in the world should I bother with Feser?

  79. #79 NJ
    July 26, 2011

    Rosemary @ 65:

    New and improved Cosmological Argument:

    Whatever begins to exist must have a cause
    The universe began to exist
    Therefore it had a cause
    The cause was an uncaused random quasi energy particle (quantum particle)
    By definition, anything that exists without a cause is God
    Therefore a random quasi energy particle is God.
    By definition, my version of God is a sentient being capable of personal interaction with humans
    Therefore I can have a personal relationship with a quantum energy particle called God.
    QED

    In this case I have to ask: Do you mean quod erat demonstrandum or quantum electrodynamics?

    It could go either way…

  80. #80 Robert O'Brien
    July 26, 2011

    The Cosmological argument, as completely flawed as its assumptions are, only even makes sense in a clockwork, newtonian universe.

    I am not so sure about that.

    We don’t live in such a universe, as string theory and quantum mechanics have shown.

    String theory hasn’t shown us anything re: the physical universe.

    For me, it’s quite simple.

    Even if the premises of the CA in all of its various subtleties are correct, the conclusions do not follow from the premises.

    To read “god” (meaning per Feser, et al, Yahweh), one has to ignore Brahma, the Titans, Ea, Ra, Quetzalcoatl and all the other creator gods.

    The only one of those other gods you list who is remotely a candidate for the necessary being entailed by the argument is Brahma. I suggest less time posting drivel and more time reading. (Even with your obvious cognitive deficit it is bound to help.)

    Why Yahweh? Where is the proof WITHIN THE ARGUMENT that Yahweh is the only god who could possibly have been responsible for the universe?

    Professor Feser already addressed this. Either read his response or have it read to you.

    Which ignores the fact that the universe could have been created by some minor junior baby god playing at the knee of a much larger god — no wonder so many things are screwed up. Or that the universe was created by a god-by-committee. Or by the Flying Spaghetti Monster or giant interdimensional aliens.

    The FSM is a parody created by a pretentious moron that has been glommed on to by other pretentious morons, losers, the socially inept, noxious mediocrities, etc. (These are neither mutually exclusive nor exhaustive descriptors.) It cannot, therefore, be a candidate. I suggest expanding your library beyond Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett, Grayling, and comic books.

  81. #81 Kel
    July 27, 2011

    “The FSM is a parody created by a pretentious moron that has been glommed on to by other pretentious morons, losers, the socially inept, noxious mediocrities, etc.”
    Someone sounds bitter. The FSM is just an embodiment of the ad-hoc invocation of agency that AC Grayling calls Fred arguments (We don’t know, so lets say Fred did it). That the FSM is a made-up example doesn’t take away the underlying point, that we call it God is no more justified than saying it was Brahman, FSM, or the 5th-dimensional planet smasher – or any other invocation of magic agency we can think of.

    As philosopher Stephen Law puts it: “Trouble is, these arguments are very weak. The most they establish, if anything, is that the universe has some sort of creator or designer. It is, as it stands, a huge further, unwarranted leap to the conclusion that this creator-designer is all-powerful and maximally good. These arguments, as they stand, no more support that conclusion than they support the conclusion that the creator-designer is, say, maximally evil (which they don’t support at all).”

  82. #82 Kel
    July 27, 2011

    “lack of respect shown to the philosophy of religion”
    What’s next, a temper tantrum about the lack of respect shown to astrology and to psychic research?

  83. #83 Kevin
    July 27, 2011

    @80..

    Re: My reading habits.

    As it happens, I was just reading the Summa Theologica the other day.

    I was especially interested in Question 92 — You know, why woman was made after man, why she was made from a rib, and all that. I love the part about why this makes man naturally dominant and women naturally submissive.

    The whole output of Aquinas is silly superstitious nonsense.

    Be careful what you wish for.

  84. #84 Pete D
    July 27, 2011

    VT @#64:

    We can coherently conceive of the entire universe going out of existence.

    We can? I can’t coherently conceive of every bit of matter and energy going out of existence. Even in the heat death of the universe there is matter and energy. Can you coherently describe your conception of the universe going out of existence?

  85. #85 Pete D
    July 27, 2011

    VT @#64

    You could have a universe with a very short history and much smaller in extent, with fewer barren stretches of the cosmos, but it would require God to do a lot more tinkering, and it wouldn’t be as mathematically elegant as the one we live in.

    What are you using for comparison with our universe?

  86. #86 Lenoxus
    July 27, 2011

    Le Poidevin is being too generous when he says that no one uses his basic version. I estimate that 85% of the instances of the cosmological argument I have seen are in fact this “basic version”. Not from philosophers and theologians, perhaps, but from average Netizens, absolutely.

    Granted, when the obvious error is pointed put, they do modify the argument afterwards to clarify God’s exceptionalism. I’m happy to accept that that’s what they had in mind all along and they were speaking casually. (If I say “There’s nothing in the fridge”, I don’t mean there are no shelves or air.)

    Vincent Torley @ 64:

    There’s no obvious reason why we shouldn’t ask what keeps the universe in being – especially since we can conceive of it as going out of existence. To those who might be inclined to retort, “We can conceive of God going out of existence too,” I would answer: we don’t yet have a notion of God.

    And yet we have “some notion” of the entire universe?! Give me a break.

    the simplest and most mathematically elegant set of laws and initial conditions that generate a life-supporting universe do indeed give us a planet where life can flourish (Earth), but they also entail that most other planets can’t support life, as well as the fact that life on Earth requires a long slow wind-up. You could have a universe with a very short history and much smaller in extent, with fewer barren stretches of the cosmos, but it would require God to do a lot more tinkering, and it wouldn’t be as mathematically elegant as the one we live in.

    This is a somewhat interesting possibility, but it runs into conflict with the views of most theists. Most theists believe that life on Earth could not possibly have arisen naturally, and must have required divine intervention then and there. This means that it truly is superfluous to have all the other planets, because God wasn’t counting on the odds alone to be sufficient. (In many people’s mental model, the odds never could be sufficient.) Altogether, the “mathematical elegance argument” practically demands deism, since any post-creation intervention would reduce elegance.

  87. #87 Owlmirror
    July 27, 2011

    Altogether, the “mathematical elegance argument” practically demands deism, since any post-creation intervention would reduce elegance.

    Good point! He implicitly cuts the throat of the design argument. If a designer needed to personally futz around with proteins so that bacteria could have flagella and such, that would be so much less elegant than bacteria that simply evolved flagella from pre-existing components. Ditto with immune systems and eyes.

    So… Why does Mr. Torley support Uncommon Descent?

  88. #88 Chris Lawson
    August 1, 2011

    With regards to David Stove: he was a clever and quick-witted philosopher but he had no understanding of science. While he made his name attacking “irrationalism” in post-modern theory, he also resoundingly supported Velikosvky and complained that the astronomy community was involved in a terrible conspiracy to suppress his work. He did this in 1972. He called Velikosvky’s opponents “the scientific mafia”.

    In short, Stove was a terrifically entertaining writer, but he didn’t understand the slightest damn thing about the physical sciences and should have kept well away from writing about them. He also, just to add salt, argued that women were intellectually inferior to men, and remarkably, that racism was justifiable on cultural grounds even if it had no basis in biology. He was more of a philosophical conservative than a rational empiricist.

  89. #89 Chris Lawson
    August 1, 2011

    @81 —

    Interestingly, FSM did not start as a parody. It was invented as a response to the “teach the controversy” argument of creationists by proposing an absurd creation myth that ought, using creationist logic, be taught alongside evolution as well. Anyone who followed the driver’s-licence-with-pasta-strainer story from last week will recognise just how effective FSM has been at illustrating the point.

    All the parodic elements glommed on later. May you be touched by His Noodly Appendage.

  90. #90 York
    August 20, 2011

    How do you explain plutonium and uranium co-existing in granite rock formations? Darwin’s theory is an observation that when scientifically tested leads to the conclusion that
    uranium and plutonium “halos” cannot co-exist in these granite rock formations, yet they do. It seems that all arguments, for or against human evolution, should center around this argument and this argument only. Study of human evolution dead-end at granite rock. The problem is the emotional “evolution is just too good of a story not to be true” syndrome. But what do I know. I’m just a guy who happened to stumble across this blog by accident.

  91. #91 Owlmirror
    August 20, 2011

    Darwin’s theory is an observation that when scientifically tested leads to the conclusion that uranium and plutonium “halos” cannot co-exist in these granite rock formations

    LOLWUT?

    Darwin’s theory has nothing to do with actinides in granite.

    It seems that all arguments, for or against human evolution, should center around this argument and this argument only.

    No, they shouldn’t.

    Study of human evolution dead-end at granite rock.

    Nonsense. It does nothing of the sort.

    The problem is the emotional “evolution is just too good of a story not to be true” syndrome.

    No, it isn’t. Evolution is a scientific theory that fits the facts of biology, and is consistent with other science — including the science of geology.

    But what do I know. I’m just a guy who happened to stumble across this blog by accident.

    And you’re also more than willing to pontificate on biology and geology, which just happen to be subjects on which you are completely and painfully ignorant.

    If you happen to return, educate yourself before embarrassing yourself again.

  92. #92 Kel
    August 20, 2011

    Post 90 is worse than when Ben Stein complained that evolution doesn’t explain gravity, or that Ray Comfort complained that the first male and female dogs evolved separately and wouldn’t have been able to find each other because they were blind.

    Darwin’s theory is about biological organisms, in what possible world does that have to do with granite formation?

  93. #93 York
    August 20, 2011

    And that’s what I get for stepping onto unfamiliar terrain. I’m a fiction writer and I did stumble across this site. Instead of pontificating I should have asked it in the form of a question.
    You guys are intelligent (and awake at strange hours of the night) so help a horror writer out: is it theoretically possible that darkness and cold have always existed? And over time the cold and darkness created enough friction to cause the Big Bang. Do you have any personal ideas on what caused the Big Bang?

  94. #94 Owlmirror
    August 20, 2011

    is it theoretically possible that darkness and cold have always existed?

    Well… Given that darkness is the absence of light, and cold is the absence of heat, I suppose it might be that they “always” existed, in some sense.

    And over time the cold and darkness created enough friction to cause the Big Bang.

    No, that wouldn’t work at all. “Friction” is an effect of matter that already exists, and would not take place between absences.

    If you want to create some mythology where cold and darkness are somehow “things” in and of themselves, which can have friction between them, well, that’s your business.

    Do you have any personal ideas on what caused the Big Bang?

    I would recommend reading popular works on cosmology by Stephen Hawking, Brian Greene, and Sean M. Carroll, if you’re really interested.

  95. #95 eric
    August 22, 2011

    York: How do you explain plutonium and uranium co-existing in granite rock formations?

    First, the creationist argument is about polonium halos, not plutonium. When citing a bad argument, at least cite it accurately. ;)

    Second, this has been extensively refuted…decades ago. Type “polonium halo talk origins” into google and it’ll lead you to two links on the subject (I’m not linking beacuse Jason’s page auto-holds posts with links). The short summary is: alpha particles of about the same energy leave indistinguishable tracks in rock. So creationists were wrong to attribute them to polonium; they could be from pretty much any alpha emitter.

    Do you have any personal ideas on what caused the Big Bang?

    In addition to Owlmirror’s suggestions, physicist Ethan Siegel just did a quick summary of Hawking’s argument a week or so ago on his blog. Look up the blog “Starts with a Bang,” article name “The Physics of Nothing; The Philosophy of Everything.”

    Basically, according to QM ‘nothing’ and ‘equal and opposite subatomic particles’ are equivalent. The universe can (and does) switch between those two equivalent states, all the time, pretty much everywhere. They are two sides of the same coin. Asking how something came from nothing is as nonsensical as saying you understand where the tails side of the coin came from, but not the heads side.

    And, incidentally, physicists have known this since the 1950s. The reason its coming up now is physicists weren’t sure whether the universe as a whole could arise by this spontaneous particle formation. Our earlier models of it said no. But our current best models point to yes. (Colloquial “our” – IANA Cosmologist)

  96. #96 rgb
    August 23, 2011

    To York:
    “How do you explain plutonium and uranium co-existing in granite rock formations? Darwin’s theory is an observation that when scientifically tested leads to the conclusion that
    uranium and plutonium “halos” cannot co-exist in these granite rock formations, yet they do.”

    As eric mentioned earlier: “polonium halos, not plutonium”.

    Regardless, how this can occur is through ground water percolation, by depositing material in porous material, and/or along boundary lines of that material. It is commonly studied by those in the field of Limnology.

  97. #97 Wow
    August 24, 2011

    “York: How do you explain plutonium and uranium co-existing in granite rock formations?”

    And since others have told you how science explains it, care to tell us how the bible explains it?

  98. #98 Steersman
    September 13, 2011

    You inevitably come so perilously close to assuming what you are trying to prove that you may as well just assume God exists and be done with it.

    Certainly seems that way to me as well, although they wouldn’t be able then to claim any of the cachet or credibility associated with logic and mathematics – and would then be in the same camp as astrologers and other “mystery mongers”.

    But some very questionable logic and premises on the part of theologians in general and Feser in particular – which is rather surprising as he, at least, seems to make a reasonable stab at trying to be logical. But he also admits the highly contingent nature of those premises yet still insists – rather dogmatically I would say – on the truth of the conclusion – God exists – which is highly dependent on those premises. For instance:

    But if universals, propositions, and mathematical [objects] are eternal and necessarily existing entities … [The Last Superstition; pg 90]

    Now if the essence of a thing and the existence of a thing are distinct in this way … [pg 104]

    Now if there really are Aristotelian natures, essences, final causes, etc., then the lesson of all this … [pg 145]

    Most illogical and rather unreasonable to then conclude:

    The most important thing to know about [God’s existence] is that it is true, and demonstrably so. [pg ix]

    Looks to me like assuming the “existence of those entities” is tantamount to assuming the existence of God, all wrapped-up in some highly specious, if not actually fraudulent, “reasoning” (I use the term loosely). Interestingly another philosopher – Bill Vallicella, whom Feser regards as a “friend” – raises that same question (although you may need to dig into the relevant definitions and background somewhat):

    The problem here, in short, is that there is a tension between soul as substantial form and soul as substantial subsistent form. Ontologically, one wants to protest, a form is not the sort of entity that could be subsistent. Necessarily, a form is a form of that of which it is the form. But a subsistent form is possibly such as to exist apart from that of which it is the form. These propositions cannot both be true.

    Very much reminds me of Russell’s paradox and, the more tractable one (to my mind at least), that of Grelling–Nelson. And both of those are, as you no doubt know, related to the issue of whether sets can be members of themselves. Not at all a trivial problem – apparently, from the little I know – so it may not be quite cricket to fault Feser for stumbling over those hurdles. However, the dogmaticism would seem to be an entirely different kettle of fish ….

  99. #99 tütüne son
    December 11, 2011

    Understanding why the “basic argument” is bad is key to understanding the role played by “natural” or “contingent” or whatever key word is used to distinguish the proposed supernatural being from the rest of the universe. It helps elucidate often hidden premises, and points out what parts of the argument need evidential support.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.