The Big Carroll vs. Craig Debate

We just had our second straight snow day around here (in a winter that has already had a lot of snow days). That did provide me with some unexpected free time, which I used to watch the big debate between Sean Carroll and William Lane Craig. All two and a quarter hours of it! Click here for the video.

If you’re unfamiliar with the players here, Sean Carroll is a physicist at CalTech, specializing in cosmology. He is the author of a terrific book called From Eternity to Here: The Search for the Ultimate Theory of Time. More recently he is the author of The Particle at the End of The Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us To The Edge Of A New World, but I have not yet read that one.

William Lane Craig is the author of several books about Christian theology and apologetics. He is mostly famous as a debater, however. I do not think much of his arguments, even relative to those of other Christian apologists, but no one denies that he is a formidable opponent. He handily defeated Christopher Hitchens, for example, and Hitchens knew a few things about debate.

So how did it go? Carroll won. Easily. To be blunt, this is the first time I’ve ever seen Craig look bad. He’s a very polished speaker and he’s never at a loss for words, but there were two simple facts he was not able to overcome. The first was that this was specifically a debate about cosmology, and Carroll just knows that material much better than Craig does. The second is that Carroll had the facts on his side. The latest work in cosmology does not support the conclusions Craig is trying to draw.

If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, just watch Craig’s twenty minute opening presentation and Carroll’s reply. That will give you a good idea of how the whole thing went. Craig used a lot of jargon–de Sitter space, unitarity, Boltzmann brians–that I’m not sure he really understood. He certainly made no attempt to explain things clearly to the audience. When it was Carroll’s turn he was able to say repeatedly that Craig was making statements about the physics that were just flatly false. Craig had little to offer in reply, but instead mostly just kept repeating his same arguments over and over again.

A large portion of Craig’s presentation was devoted to the idea that the universe must have had a beginning, the implication being that the universe must therefore have had a transcendent cause. He made free use of the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem in making this argument, which has recently become a commonplace of apologetic arguments. He even, rather cheekily I thought, went after the Carroll-Chen model of the multiverse, in which the universe exists eternally. Yes, that Carroll. The one who was on stage with him to explain how badly he was misunderstanding the physics.

Carroll was eloquent in pointing out that this was all just nonsense. The Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem does not have the awesome consequences Craig wants to draw from it (what abstract theorem could?). With regard to his own model he retorted, “I’m the first one to say that it has problems. None of the problems that it has are the one’s that Dr. Craig raised.” Zing!

But there was one big issue that came up where, to my mind, Carroll has it exactly right and the folks on the other side are just confused. Since I cannot improve on Carroll’s eloquent statement, let me transcribe (verbatim):

[T]he universe is different from our everyday experience. That doesn’t sound like a surprising statement, but we really need to take it to heart. To look at a modern cosmological model and say, “Yes, but what was the cause?” is like looking at someone taking pictures with an iPhone, and saying, “Where does the film go?” It’s not that the answer is difficult or inscrutable, it’s completely the wrong question to be asking. …Why should we expect that there are causes, or explanations, or reasons why in the universe in which we live? It’s because the physical world in which we are imbedded has two important features: There are unbreakable patterns, laws of physics, things don’t just happen, they obey the laws. And there is an arrow of time, stretching from the past to the future. The entropy was lower in the past, increases toward the future. Therefore, when you find some event or state of affairs B today, we can very often trace it back in time, to just one or a couple of possible predecessor events, that we therefore say is the cause of that, which leads to B according to the laws of physics. But crucially, both of these features of the universe that allow us to speak the language of causes and effects are completely absent when we talk about the universe as a whole. We don’t think that our universe is part of a bigger ensemble that obeys laws. Even if it’s part of a multiverse we don’t think the multiverse is part of a bigger ensemble that obeys laws. Therefore, nothing gives us the right to expect some kind of external cause. The idea that our intuitions about cause and effect that we get from our everyday experience of the world should somehow be extended without modification to the fundamental nature of reality is fairly absurd.

Craig was uncomprehending of this point, but Carroll has it exactly right. The issue Carroll raises here is one reason I tend to be suspicious of a lot of metaphysical analysis. Almost inevitably we try to take concepts that are useful in daily life, and try to extend them into realms where they don’t clearly apply. This is a fundamental problem with arguments along the lines of Aquinas’ five ways, for example. (More precisely, the first three ways).

There are a great many concepts that we use–like cause and effect, matter and energy, actuality and potentiality, form and essence–to help order our experiences of the physical world. They are useful concepts in many contexts. But there is simply no justification for extending them to the universe as a whole. These concepts are so natural and even unavoidable in our daily life, that it is hard to imagine a realm in which they do not make sense. But Carroll has it exactly right. Talk of cause and effect seems natural only because of certain peculiarities of our physical world. They are concepts we impose on nature, and not fundamental aspects of reality.

Craig simply could not comprehend this. When the issue arose in the Q and A, Craig said, “It seems to me it is fantastic to say that the universe could just come into being from non-being. That it just pops into existence.” He even went on to ask, rather bizarrely, why, if universes can just come into being, then bicycles cannot do likewise. During the debate, Carroll provided some of the reasons that’s silly.

I would make a different point. I also find it fantastic that the universe could just come into existence. But what is your non-fantastic alternative? That there’s a disembodied intelligence able to conceptualize a functional universe, and then somehow, by an application of His will, cause matter to appear where no matter was before? That’s not fantastic? (I discussed this in more detail in this post.)

Whatever it was that brought our universe into being was nothing like the sorts of things with which we have everyday experience. It’s nothing that’s going to seem ho-hum and reasonable to us. Theists have to face that fact no less than atheists.

But let me end by calling attention to one thing Craig said that I agree with. During the Q & A, a person asked Craig what he thought of Aquinas’ five ways. The context was that Craig had been arguing from modern science, whereas Aquinas was attempting to make demonstrations of a more metaphysical character. I was pleasantly surprised when Craig began his answer by saying bluntly, “I would say that Thomas Aquinas’ own metaphysical principles are highly dubious and in doubt, and that therefore I have little confidence that his arguments are, as he claimed, demonstrations.”

Indeed. They are dubious. I just wish that Craig were as critical of his own strange ideas.

Comments

  1. #1 Jeffrey Shallit
    March 5, 2014

    After watching a bunch of Craig’s performances, my conclusion is that Craig is, at heart, a run-of-the-mill Christian apologist whose only real interest is evangelism. And for apologists like Craig any technique — no matter how misleading — that saves souls is acceptable.

  2. #2 Shecky R
    March 5, 2014

    Carroll did a great job, but I agree I wish he had taken Craig more to task for this inconsistent notion that the Universe MUST have some kind of causative beginning (because the confines of human logic demands it), and yet some postulated (though barely definable) Creator can be transcendent/eternal (with no beginning) and moreover is able, at will, to create something out of nothing.

  3. #3 Patrick Sele
    March 5, 2014

    When the issue is whether or not there can be miracles it is obviously legitimate for atheists to appeal to our everyday experience, to supposedly unchangeable natural laws and the like in order to point out that there can be no miracles. With respect to the universe, however, such a view is no longer legitimate. But I think one cannot have it both ways. If “the fundamental nature of reality” does not follow our intuitions with respect to the universe, why cannot this be the case with respect to miracles as well?

  4. #4 James A. Brown
    March 5, 2014

    I’ve used the “wrong question” argument myself against apologists to explain that the cosmos is not just one big ‘thing.’ My analogy: All novels have an author; Literature consists of all novels; Therefore, does that mean that Literature has an Author?

  5. #5 peter hoffman
    March 5, 2014

    Many theologians seem to maintain that there was a time at which time did not exist, without thinking about the logic of that claim.

    I agree with Jason about this overall, though I am surprised that he even writes the phrase “Whatever it was that brought our universe into being…”

    A possible answer to James might be that the human species is the author of Literature. It’s all within the universe, so that Carroll’s argument would not apply. And I wish the verb ‘imply’, rather than “mean”, was used more often. Teaching somewhat theoretically minded young students mathematics with definitions sometimes is more difficult when you fail to remember that they probably have a pretty ‘loosey-goosey’ sense of the verb ‘to mean’. But it’s pointless I guess to fight the ‘evolution’ of the English language, despite that evolution being almost always in the direction of less precision.

  6. #6 George
    March 5, 2014

    I find it strange that you make this statement. Perhaps the answer is nothing. Perhaps it has always been. It seems you may have fallen into the the same trap of thinking you criticize Craig for using. Although, I agree it is very hard not to do so.

    “Whatever it was that brought our universe into being was nothing like the sorts of things with which we have everyday experience.”

  7. #7 proximity1
    March 5, 2014

    RE: (citing Carroll)

    “Why should we expect that there are causes, or explanations, or reasons why in the universe in which we live? It’s because the physical world in which we are imbedded has two important features: There are unbreakable patterns, laws of physics, things don’t just happen, they obey the laws. And there is an arrow of time, stretching from the past to the future. The entropy was lower in the past, increases toward the future.

    Tell me again—how much of “the universe” consists–according to standard current theory–of so-called “dark matter”? –Nevermind, I looked it up: about 84%.

    Given that it’s thought that present theories account for only some 16% of the supposed total matter in the universe, how can physicists or anyone else, for that matter, seriously contend that, even if “there are unbreakable patterns, laws of physics, things don’t just happen, they obey the law.,” we have correctly identifiied some of them? We suppose that scientists have and we have what are, for us, the best of our reasons for thinking so, but we really don’t know that these reasonings are correct; instead, we take them to be correct until we can find another working hypothesis.

    Such views, while scientifically-based— that is, they are based on observations such as we’re able to make–they are assumptions, and, beyond that, basic articles of faith, among the most fundamental such articles that science has. I don’t think that it helps us to deny that these are articles of faith on the part of scientists and that, of course, we can’t do science without them.

    RE: “I also find it fantastic that the universe could just come into existence. But what is your non-fantastic alternative?”

    I view “the universe” as being synonymous with “reality” and suppose that it always existed and, thus, never “came into existence, never had any ultimate space-time point of origin.

    (from “What scientific idea is ready for retirement?”

    http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/jan/12/what-scientific-idea-is-ready-for-retirement-edge-org )

    INFINITY

    MAX TEGMARK
    Physicist, researcher, precision cosmology; scientific director of the Foundational Questions Institute; author of Our Mathematical Universe

    I was seduced by infinity at an early age. Cantor’s diagonality proof that some infinities are bigger than others mesmerised me, and his infinite hierarchy of infinities blew my mind. The assumption that something truly infinite exists in nature underlies every physics course I’ve ever taught at MIT and indeed all of modern physics. But it’s an untested assumption, which raises the question: is it actually true?

    There are in fact two separate assumptions: “infinitely big” and “infinitely small”. By infinitely big, I mean the idea that space can have infinite volume, that time can continue for ever, and that there can be infinitely many physical objects. By infinitely small, I mean the continuum: the idea that even a litre of space contains an infinite number of points, that space can be stretched out indefinitely without anything bad happening, and that there are quantities in nature that can vary continuously. The two are closely related because inflation, the most popular explanation of our big bang, can create an infinite volume by stretching continuous space indefinitely.

  8. #8 proximity1
    March 5, 2014

    “If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, just watch Craig’s twenty minute opening presentation and Carroll’s reply. ”

    Thanks for this thread. This is interesting and, yes, I’d like to view it. Link?, please.

  9. #9 George
    March 5, 2014

    The link is provided near the top of the post. You can also go to Sean Carroll’s blog to view.

  10. #10 Blaine
    March 5, 2014

    per Carroll: ‘Why should we expect that there are causes, or explanations, or reasons why in the universe in which we live? …But crucially, both of these features of the universe that allow us to speak the language of causes and effects are completely absent when we talk about the universe as a whole. ‘ – EXACTLY!

    Most Christian apologists unproblematically assume the principle of sufficient reason. Once that is brought into question, the edifice is without foundation. This is the unspoken assumption behind Craig’s argument.

    Christian theology has been loathe to go down this path however ( with some notable exceptions however like Ockham and Barth ) and assert the freedom of god because it founds the universe on contingency. As Ockham saw, if the universe is founded on god’s freedom ( aka contigency ), then god’s reasons are a mystery and are not based on any necessary laws that reason can decypher( this dovetails with divine command ethics ).

    Knowledge of god must be based on private revelation and is based on pure raw faith. According to him, only science could result in certain knoweldge, but this knowledge is no help in arguing a necessary connection between the universe and god. Ockham would laugh to derision arguments like Craig’s. So would fall Plato’s argument for the immortality of the soul, and the arguments for the existence of god. These things can by known only by revelation.

    Ockham explicitly rejected the principal of sufficient reason. Unfortunately, revelation is problematic, so we are left with only pure raw contingency.

  11. #11 proximity1
    March 5, 2014

    @ 9 : Thank you, George. My eyesight isn’t what it used to be.

    Well, I simply skipped the opening presentation by Dr. Craig. That’s not a flattering admission but I didn’t think it could possibly be worth listening to it. I bet most people who aren’t already partisans of Craig’s views would also be tempted to skip it and I bet many of us did or would.

    But, as I watched Carroll present his views, it wasn’t long before my attention wandered. Some of my thoughts included, “Wow! I really miss the way Richard Feynman spoke to audiences!” and, “I just can’t see people on the other side of Carroll’s case following his presentation, much less being won over by it. I can imagine them nodding off.”

    Dr. Carroll has lots–if not all–of the facts on his side but his presentation just isn’t engaging. I hope that if he presents lectures to classrooms of students, they aren’t typical of what we have in this video. I’d rather read his comments from a printed page than listen to him present them orally.

  12. #12 MNb
    March 5, 2014

    @1 JS: “whose only real interest is evangelism”
    Do you know any apologist then who has an interest that’s more important to him/her than evangelism, in the broadest meaning of the word? In my experience every single apologist knows at beforehand at which conclusion to arrive at.

    @2 PS: “why cannot this be the case with respect to miracles as well?”
    Oh, that’s totally possible. Problem is that you can’t call this reasonable faith anymore.

    “such a view is no longer legitimate”
    You miss the point here. If you want miracles to be possible you are going to conflict with natural law. Problem is we don’t know how the natural law looks like that describes how universes come into existence; extrapolation from natural laws that describle our daily reality is not so much incorrect as it is unjustified. Craig though assumes it is justified.

    @7 Prox: “these are articles of faith on the part of scientists”
    Articles of faith are not the same as testable speculations due to lack of empirical data.

  13. #13 Lenoxus
    March 5, 2014

    Apologists do understand the idea that certain broad phenomena cannot be treated with everyday logic — they apply this to God all the time. Examples include their assertion that God is exempt from the principle that everything has a cause, and one of their responses to moral objections to God: “Why should God’s morality be limited to human morality?”.

    One big difference is that nobody questions the existence of the universe, and everyone tends to acknowledge that cosmologists know what they’re talking about, so it makes sense to defer to their expertise. Whereas the fact that theology may be (and probably is) about something that literally doesn’t exist means that non-theologians have much more of a basis to reject the theologians’ reality and substitute our own. Someone who says God is female has just as much standing as someone who says he is male, and likewise with the question of which logical principles ought to apply to God.

    Another issue involves the extent to which religion is more than just flatly descriptive of reality, but has other purposes. God is supposed to be at some level relatable to human beings, and every time you dodge questions with appeals to “higher ways than ours”, you lose this aspect of religion and its power.

    For example, in ascribing omnibenevolence to God, you’re making more than a factual claim, but a moral one. I’m perfectly willing to accept that an interdimensional creator-being would probably not share my morality — I’ve read a bit of science fiction and feel that there’s no reason to expect humankind’s particular moral views to be found universally. But when you apply the label “good” to so many apparent evils (including ones entirely invented by religion, like Hell or the Biblical genocides), something has to give. You’re essentially speaking in metaphor at that point, rather than using “good” in the everyday sense of “good from conventional human ethical perspectives”. Maybe God’s good isn’t our good, but why is our good the one that has to go out the window? Unless you want to say that humans and God do share ethical views, we just lack his complete knowledge of ultimate consequences.

  14. #14 Miles Rind
    March 5, 2014

    I just watched Carroll’s first speech and the beginning of Craig’s reply. Craig leads with a big fat red herring when he says: “He [Carroll] is very concerned to show that God’s existence is improbable relative to certain non-cosmological data.” Since Craig has criticized others for committing the fallacy of inversion in probability judgments, I’m sure he knows perfectly well that this is not at all what Carroll was doing. The arguments of Carroll to which he was referring concerned what we ought to expect–that is, what is probable–on theism versus what we ought to expect on naturalism, and finding that in every instance naturalism predicts what we actually observe, while theism predicts something else entirely.

  15. #15 Miles Rind
    March 5, 2014

    Watched a bit more. It is hilarious to see Craig left with nothing to do but (1) repeat arguments that Carrol has already eviscerated and (2) be reduced to professions of incredulity. E.g., at the beginning of the discussion session: “It seems to me that it is just fantastic to think that the universe can just come into being from non-being—that it just pops into existence.” Never mind all the arguments that Carroll has made for why such talk is simply inapplicable to the topic: the universe just has to have a cause!

  16. #16 couchloc
    March 6, 2014

    “Perhaps the simplest and easiest to understand is the argument of the First Cause…..That argument, I suppose, does not carry very much weight nowadays, because, in the first place, cause is not quite what it used to be. The philosophers and the men of science have got going on cause, and it has not anything like the vitality it used to have……There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination.” (Bertrand Russell, 1927).

    I didn’t watch the debate unfortunately. Is there anything that Carroll is saying that is different from Russell basically? It sounds like he’s making the same point which is dressed up in our modern language for the most part.

  17. #17 MNb
    March 6, 2014

    @Lenoxus: “in ascribing omnibenevolence to God”
    It’s quite an interesting though experiment to replace omnibenevolence with omnimalevolence and see how the apologetics work out. Usually there is no difference but the conclusion “there is a devil” iso a god.

    “It sounds like he’s making the same point”
    It basically is because all physics Carroll describes is offspring from quantummechanics and Russell was referring to it.

  18. #18 proximity1
    March 6, 2014

    MNb @ 12: “Articles of faith are not the same as testable speculations due to lack of empirical data.”

    I think you meant to write,

    …”are not the same as un-testable speculations due to lack of empirical data.”

    What does Jason mean when he writes, above,

    “But there is simply no justification for extending them to the universe as a whole.” ?

    Or Carroll, when he says,

    “But crucially, both of these features* of the universe that allow us to speak the language of causes and effects are completely absent when we talk about the universe as a whole” ?
    ————
    * “these features” refers to Carroll’s

    “two important features: There are unbreakable patterns, laws of physics, things don’t just happen, they obey the laws. And there is an arrow of time, stretching from the past to the future. The entropy was lower in the past, increases toward the future.”

  19. #19 eric
    March 6, 2014

    Patrick Sele:

    I think one cannot have it both ways. If “the fundamental nature of reality” does not follow our intuitions with respect to the universe, why cannot this be the case with respect to miracles as well?

    A miraculous universe-creation is possible under Carroll’s argument, but it (Carroll’s argument) still presents the religious with two key issues:
    (1) it doesn’t require sentience, omniscience, or benevolence – i.e., nothing godlike to work the miracle
    (2) it still rules out religious claims of miracles at the human scale (at which physical laws are well understood).

    Proximity @7:

    Given that it’s thought that present theories account for only some 16% of the supposed total matter in the universe, how can physicists or anyone else, for that matter, seriously contend that, even if “there are unbreakable patterns, laws of physics, things don’t just happen, they obey the law.,” we have correctly identifiied some of them?

    I don’t think Carroll is contending that we have reached the end of science and that the laws we have now are THE laws, the only laws, and nothing but the laws. I think he’s making the normal science claim that the laws we have now are, for the most part, very accurate models of the world. That we have high confidence in them. They predict a lot of experimental results to many significant digits, and can be relied upon to make working airplanes, circuits, shoot rockets to distant places, etc…

    I don’t think he’d have any problem admitting that when someone comes up with a more accurate model, science will revise its laws. This happens all the time; a simple example would be real gas equations supplanting the ideal gas law. A more complex example would be Newtonian laws of motion being supplanted by relativistic ones that include a Lorentz transformation term. Maybe next year, the relativistic ones will be replaced by an even more accurate model.

  20. #20 John
    March 6, 2014

    There is a considerable amount of follow-up on the site http://www.greerheard.com/ . Included is Craig’s and Carroll’s post debate comments and a Q&A session.

    I think that Carroll (a physicists) showed that Craig (a philosopher) had some incorrect views of modern physics. But Craig may have helped convince an average person who doesn’t understand all the esoteric language of physics that ID should be taught in the science curriculum in high schools.

    Again, it seems we are letting the creationist determine the argument is the details of some field of science such as biological evolution and not in the place of science and religion in society.

    I think Carroll could have addressed some of the Craig’s philosophical points. For example, the fine-tuning argument does have a physical analogy called a feedback loop. An example is the thermostat in a room fine-tunes the temperature.

    An issue that was danced around that I would like further discussion is how is the morally right determined. Theists have supported slavery in the past. Science seems to have no method to determine morality.

    I think Carroll summed his whole point in the very first comment he made. If he is wrong and the roof falls in, he’ll change his mind.

  21. #21 MNb
    March 6, 2014

    @18 Prox: “I think you meant to write”
    You think wrongly.

    “But there is simply no justification for extending them to the universe as a whole.”
    Exactly what JR writes. We can describe a lot of phenomena from our daily life in terms of causality. That’s no reason to assume we can for the Universe as a whole as well. Extrapolation is always tricky.
    Let me give a trivial example. Consider a simple electric circuit with a very strong variable voltage source and a limited resistor. According to Ohm’s Law the electric current doubles when voltage doubles.
    I guarantee you that the electric current won’t become a thousand times as big if you increase voltage with a thousand times, for a very simple reason: the resistor will melt.
    Extrapolation fails in that case.
    Now what guarantees that extrapolation will succeed if we apply causality to the Universe as a whole? Especially as causality seems to fail at (sub)atomic level?
    But that’s exactly the first assumption (there are a few more) the Cosmological Argument is build upon.

  22. #22 eric
    March 6, 2014

    Proximity:

    What does Jason mean when he writes, above,

    “But there is simply no justification for extending them to the universe as a whole.” ?

    Carroll’s post-debate blog article goes into this in a bit more detail. Carroll’s point is that the models of the universe are what matters for cosmology, not some overarching philosophical concept of causation. There are viable, scientific cosmological models in which our universe is embedded in some earlier structure (and thus “has a cause”). But there are other viable models where it isn’t. There are models where our universe has a beginning. But there are also models where it doesn’t. All of these are currently in play. When folk like Craig make a kalam-like argument, they are rejecting all the models in which the universe is self-contained (i.e. doesn’t need a cause or beginning) without any scientific or rational justification for doing so.

    Same issue with Craig’s bringing up the Boltzmann Brain issue. This is an issue for some models. But not others. So someone like Craig can only claim its a problem for naturalist cosmology if they first reject all those models for which it isn’t a problem, and there is no good reason to do that.

  23. #23 proximity1
    March 6, 2014

    @ 19 & 21

    Well, I’m all for avoiding undue extrapolation. So, without it, how did we get to determining the size of the universe–even beyond the part visible to us? How did we get so far as to weigh it precisely and give a total estimated number of atoms in the entire universe? And how, with only a fair notion of 16% of its total matter, did we presume the former measurements and, from them, all sorts of other assertions?

    Indeed, if “causality” breaks down (seems to fail) at the sub-atomic level, how do we apparently “skip” that signal failure and then re-assert causality at the supra-atomic level?

    Do you agree with Eric’s comment that,

    “I think he’s (Carroll) making the normal science claim that the laws we have now are, for the most part, very accurate models of the world. That we have high confidence in them. They predict a lot of experimental results to many significant digits, and can be relied upon to make working airplanes, circuits, shoot rockets to distant places, etc… ”

    and that our “high confidence” is there as Eric claims and that it is fully warranted?

    Eric and MNb,
    What would Lee Smolin, author of The Trouble With Physics say about our high confidence? What do you say about his very different assessment of the degree of confidence that is warranted?

  24. #24 eric
    March 6, 2014

    how did we get to determining the size of the universe–even beyond the part visible to us?

    Let’s say a model makes predictions A-Z. You test predictions A-W and they turn out to be right (or at least: more right than the predictions of any other model). But you can’t test X-Z. Nevertheless, you are warranted in provisionally accepting that X-Z are more likely to be right than other models’ alternatives, X’-Z’. Just like if you’ve got two cannons and one has shot very accurately the last 9 times while the second has been less acurate the last 9 times, when it comes time to predict which is going to be more accurate for the 10th shot, you go with cannon number one. If you’ve got two models of the universe and one makes accurate predictions about density, red shift, CMB, etc. while the other makes less accurate predictions, and they both also predict something not directly measurable (such as extent of the unobservable universe), you go with the model that gave you more accurate results in the testable claims.

    if “causality” breaks down (seems to fail) at the sub-atomic level, how do we apparently “skip” that signal failure and then re-assert causality at the supra-atomic level?

    AIUI, QM and theories like that don’t predict utter randomness, they predict some things are more probable than others. When you combine huge numbers of such stochastic sytems, they can yield a very stable and predictable result. Thus, individual atomic kinetic energies are highly variable, but room temperature is stable. Individual craps rolls are random, but do enough of them, and the distribution you’ll get is very predictable: that is how the casino sets the right odds and determines their edge.

    Eric and MNb,
    What would Lee Smolin, author of The Trouble With Physics say about our high confidence?

    I haven’t read him. But I doubt he asserts that our confidence in modern physics so low that we have no reason to think a plane will fly, or that GPS won’t work, or that a set of equations for satellite launch won’t lead to the path we set for it. We are talking here about questions of the origin of the universe; our confidence that our theories accurately model reality for 99% of earthly phenomena is (IMO) pretty high.

  25. #25 Verbose Stoic
    March 6, 2014

    Jason,

    There are a great many concepts that we use–like cause and effect, matter and energy, actuality and potentiality, form and essence–to help order our experiences of the physical world. They are useful concepts in many contexts. But there is simply no justification for extending them to the universe as a whole. These concepts are so natural and even unavoidable in our daily life, that it is hard to imagine a realm in which they do not make sense. But Carroll has it exactly right. Talk of cause and effect seems natural only because of certain peculiarities of our physical world. They are concepts we impose on nature, and not fundamental aspects of reality.

    The problem is that that might be why, say, the everyday person on the street finds the arguments convincing, but you’re dealing with philosophical arguments here based on the concepts as they’ve been used in philosophy. To assert that those concepts are used the way they are in those arguments because of the specific circumstances of our physcial world compeltely misses the massive philosophical work around those concepts, and that philosophy in and of itself is committed to being consistent with but not bound by everyday concepts. Causation has a long history in philosophy, and it’s far too quick a move to say that we have no reason to think that it would apply to the universe without addressing those considerations.

    eric,

    So someone like Craig can only claim its a problem for naturalist cosmology if they first reject all those models for which it isn’t a problem, and there is no good reason to do that.

    But what’s the current most accepted scientific model? If there is one, then we can certainly use that one for examining these theological and philosophical issues, and if there isn’t one then you don’t HAVE a naturalistic cosmology, which is certainly a problem for it.

    If the current best model is a Big Bang model, and a Big Bang model implies a beginning to the universe, then isn’t the burden of proof on the person claiming that another model SHOULD be the most accepted one and shouldn’t philosophers/theologians be considered perfectly reasonable to use that model until the new one becomes the accepts model?

  26. #26 George
    March 6, 2014

    @23 Proximity

    I think Eric’s comment is not stated quite correctly. I heard Sean’s point to be that with respect to our everyday lives. The natural laws we have are very accurate. BTW these include relativistic effects, e.g. to model planetary motion and to have accurate GPS.

    But our models do not extend as well beyond this level so far. Work in progress.

  27. #27 Reginald Selkirk
    March 6, 2014

    John #20: I think that Carroll (a physicists) showed that Craig (a philosopher)…

    You are very generous in your designation. I would call WLC an apologist, a theologist, or a professional debater. Massimo Pigliucci wonders why philosophy gets no respect these days. Perhaps it is because the public face of philosophy is sophists such as WLC and Plantinga.

    An issue that was danced around that I would like further discussion is how is the morally right determined. Theists have supported slavery in the past. Science seems to have no method to determine morality.

    Morality is a whole other issue, which was outside the scope of the recent debate. I will make just a few statements about it.

    There are both theist philosophers and atheist philosophers who believe in objective morality. There are both theist and atheist philosophers who reject objective morality.

    If one supports the existence of objective morality, then one must deal with the observed fact (which you point out) that moral standards have shifted over time.

    If one is to posit objective morality as evidence for the existence of God, one has more work to do: 1) demonstrate that objective morals exist and 2) Argue convincingly that they must come from God (see Euthyphro dilemma).

    I don’t think that science can determine morality. That takes values, whereas science is about searching for truths. Of course science can inform morality. An example: once science tells us that ingesting lead harms children’s development, then society can make an informed value decision about putting lead in paint, gasoline, etc.

  28. #28 eric
    March 6, 2014

    But what’s the current most accepted scientific model?

    For the origin of the universe? I don’t think there is one single model that is accepted in terms of what happened before 13.8 bililon years ago – there are many. They are all, however, constrained in that they must yield predictions which align with what we know about the universe since that time. They must result in universes with flat spacetime, for instance, and a CMB, and so on.

    if there isn’t one then you don’t HAVE a naturalistic cosmology, which is certainly a problem for it.

    Cosmologists have proffered up a bunch of models, which the community will probably try and test as best they can. You and your compatriots are welcome to join in the fray. When you come up with a non-naturalistic model for testing, and which predicts the flatness, CMB, and so on that we observe today, they’ll consider that model. Until then, I am not sure its really fair to complain that scientists aren’t considering all these nonnaturalistic testable models, if nobody has come up with any.

    Also keep in mind that part of the nature of science (and philosophy too, I believe!) that proposers of some new idea are the ones expected to do the legwork to show how it would work and how it might be worth investigating, before anyone else pays attention. “Have you thought about researching the snipe theory of cosmology?” is not a good enough starting point to get other people to look for snipes. You have to tell us what a snipe is (in your hypothesis), what evidence for a snipe might look like, how the snipe theory explains what we see, and so on, and so on.

    Now, regardless of whether you ever come up with a testable, non-naturistic model of cosmology, I think we can both agree that Craig’s approach to the situation is not good. His argument first ignores the models which don’t require an external cause to the universe, and then says the cause associated with the remaining models must be God. Both steps are unwarranted. There is a lot of god-of-gaps and incredulity in his approach.

  29. #29 eric
    March 6, 2014

    George – that’s a fair correction.

  30. #30 eric
    March 6, 2014

    Verbose stoic:

    Causation has a long history in philosophy, and it’s far too quick a move to say that we have no reason to think that it would apply to the universe without addressing those considerations.

    Well, and Newtonian mechanics had a very good run too, but once the evidence starts coming in that it’s fundamentally not how things work, its time to admit that and move on. There is certainly causality in QM, but its not the common-sense version. Things like spontaneous creation ex nihilo can occur within its rules. Are observed to occur, in fact. So, that concept should no longer be off the table no matter what philosophical objections there are to it. Now I’m purposefully using NM as an example because it should be pretty clear that people still use it to do a lot of good, important work. Its still valuable for helping to solve many everyday problems. So saying the universe may be self-contained (i.e., not require an external cause) is not to throw out all of causation. It can stil be a valuable concept and be useful to explain a lot of things. Its just no longer the explanation for everything.

    Moreover, AIUI, cosmology has not rejected ‘externally caused’ models of the universe as a class. What has happened is more of an expansion of the range of hypotheses being considered – they are no longer the only types of mobels being considered. With your complaint about science not considering non-naturalistic models, I would think that you would view this expansion as a good thing. Isn’t this exactly the sort of response to new ideas that you (i) wish science would show and (ii) don’t think it is willing to show?

  31. #31 Jason Rosenhouse
    March 6, 2014

    Verbose Stoic

    The problem is that that might be why, say, the everyday person on the street finds the arguments convincing, but you’re dealing with philosophical arguments here based on the concepts as they’ve been used in philosophy. To assert that those concepts are used the way they are in those arguments because of the specific circumstances of our physcial world compeltely misses the massive philosophical work around those concepts, and that philosophy in and of itself is committed to being consistent with but not bound by everyday concepts. Causation has a long history in philosophy, and it’s far too quick a move to say that we have no reason to think that it would apply to the universe without addressing those considerations.

    Oh please. I’m not obligated to write a monograph addressing all previous work every time I express an opinion at my blog. As it happens though, in the context of this debate we were not discussing some abstract, philosophical notion of causation. This came up explicitly during the Q and A. Moreover, that we’re using the standard, layperson’s understanding of causation here was pretty strongly implied by many of Craig’s arguments. For example, the only justification he gives for his premise that “Everything that begins to exist has a cause for its existence,” is that it’s a common sense inference from our daily experience.

    couchloc

    Is there anything that Carroll is saying that is different from Russell basically? It sounds like he’s making the same point which is dressed up in our modern language for the most part.

    I don’t think Carrol’s point is different from Russell’s, but I do think the phrase “dressed up” was a bit snide. As I see it, Carroll was putting some meat on the bones of Russell’s suggestion. Carroll’s observation that talk of cause and effect seems so natural in our daily lives only because our physical reality has certain attributes is very insightful, and certainly adds something to the discussion.

  32. #32 Michael Fugate
    March 6, 2014

    SEP has a nice, as usual, commentary on the argument:
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cosmological-argument/

    As Reichenbach points out, even if there is a final cause, it isn’t necessarily a god and there are good reasons to doubt there is a final cause.

  33. #33 Verbose Stoic
    March 6, 2014

    Jason,

    If you wanted to say that, you shouldn’t have attached it to Aquinas and, as you yourself stated, arguments LIKE his, which don’t rely at least directly on the everyday notion of causation. You made this about those sorts of arguments in general, not just about what Craig said in one debate, and Carroll’s comment also seems to be aimed at a more general point and not just at Craig … and that’s where it becomes problematic. You can indeed say that CRAIG just bases it on an everyday understanding of causation, but not that Aquinas did — because he doesn’t — nor that cosmological arguments IN GENERAL fail because of that.

    I don’t ask for a monograph detailing all previous work, and in fact ask for the opposite: that you not try to brush all of the previous work with a specific criteria that fails for almost all of them.

    eric,

    For the origin of the universe? I don’t think there is one single model that is accepted in terms of what happened before 13.8 bililon years ago – there are many. They are all, however, constrained in that they must yield predictions which align with what we know about the universe since that time. They must result in universes with flat spacetime, for instance, and a CMB, and so on.

    So, then, you say that there’s no current favourite. That might be true, but it used to be the Big Bang that was the favourite, at with point all you can accuse Craig of is being outdated.

    Until then, I am not sure its really fair to complain that scientists aren’t considering all these nonnaturalistic testable models, if nobody has come up with any.

    You’ve rather missed the point, I’m afraid. My comment there is aimed at saying that if there isn’t even a preferred naturalistic model, then from the perspective of naturalism you have absolutely no idea how the universe was created. At which point, while philosophy/theology can’t use the preferred model to justify their claims — which is what Craig is really trying to do — they also have no need to worry at all about being consistent with a preferred naturalistic model, even to the point of it being testable; their guesses are as good as yours, and most of the candidates being considered allow for pretty much all predictions that we can see in the current universe to work out.

    Or, to put it better, if naturalists have no idea how the universe came into existence, then “God did it” is just as reasonable as any of the models they’re tossing around … and potentially better, given the arguments that a naturalistic explanation simply isn’t going to work.

    There is certainly causality in QM, but its not the common-sense version. Things like spontaneous creation ex nihilo can occur within its rules. Are observed to occur, in fact.

    Well, not in the philosophical sense. Assume that we take Jason’s and Carroll’s claim that the uncaused cause could be the universe. That means that the universe has to be a thing, in and of itself. QM creations occur in the universe, the universe is an existent thing, and so these things aren’t ex nihilo. Alternatively, we reject that possibility because “universe” is just a name for all of the things that exist and isn’t a thing in and of itself. Then you can get the possibility of QM being creation ex nihilo … except that you still don’t claim that it happens for no reason at all, but instead in accordance with laws, and if that’s the case then something must ground those laws — the laws themselves don’t need to actually exist, though — and you still don’t have creation ex nihilo, because that ground must exist first.

    A lot of these thoughts fall out from the Scholastic/classical theistic notion … which is what Craig flat-out rejects, but I suspect that he doesn’t understand it. They may not be right, but they raise some interesting questions.

  34. #34 Darth Dog
    March 6, 2014

    @Verbose Stoic
    “So, then, you say that there’s no current favorite. That might be true, but it used to be the Big Bang that was the favorite, at with point all you can accuse Craig of is being outdated.”

    I think that you need to read a popular book on cosmology. What Eric said is correct. What the Big Bang theory says is that 13.7 billion years ago the universe was in a hot, dense state and expanded from that to produce the current observable universe. It is not known what came before that, or even if there was a before. It’s not known if the universe is part of a larger multiverse or not. So none of this discussion says the Big Bang is incorrect, it just tries to build and extend it.

  35. #35 Verbose Stoic
    March 6, 2014

    Darth Dog,

    At what point in the story do you say that THIS universe exists? Does this SPECIFIC universe exist before the Big Bang?

  36. #36 couchloc
    March 6, 2014

    Jason,

    I wasn’t meaning to say anything snide about Carroll’s approach—apologies if the language I used gave that impression. I was just curious if something new was being added regarding Carroll’s understanding of recent physical theory that changed the argument a lot. You answered well, thanks.

  37. #37 MNb
    March 6, 2014

    @VS: “At what point in the story do you say that THIS universe exists?”
    That’s not entirely clear, but it’s only a fraction of a second after the singularity which was derived from General Relativity by Alexander Friedmann. One candidate is Planck-time.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planck_time

  38. #38 MNb
    March 6, 2014

    @Prox: ” if “causality” breaks down (seems to fail) at the sub-atomic level, how do we apparently “skip” that signal failure and then re-assert causality at the supra-atomic level?”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correspondence_principle

    This makes a lot of sense. Causality is a special form of probability, ie with correlation 0 or 1. So what happens is that the supra-atomic level probability approaches 0 and/or 1 so closely that a calculation based on causality gives almost the same result.
    Compare with Flat-Earth Theory. We know it’s wrong and why. Still we use it to calculate the time we need to go from home to the next supermarket. Nobody incorporates the curve of the Earth here.

  39. #39 proximity1
    March 7, 2014

    @ 24 : …”Let’s say a model makes predictions A-Z. You test predictions A-W and they turn out to be right (or at least: more right than the predictions of any other model). But you can’t test X-Z. Nevertheless, you are warranted in provisionally accepting that X-Z are more likely to be right than other models’ alternatives, X’-Z’.”

    You say that one “is warranted in provisionally accepting that X-Z are more likely to be right than other models’ alternatives” or, more precisely, you assume that this is true. But I don’t see why we should assume it, since the claimed validities for A-W are, one, themselves, based on a certain set of assumptions being true and, two, unless demonstrated to be related to predictions about X-Z, may not be related at all and thus, the validity of the former aren’t reliably related to a presumed validity in the others, X-Z. I think that in each case, we need specific evidentiary-founded reasons to suppose that, because a theory helps us understand A-W, that X, Y, and Z are relevant to these cases as well.

    You’d find Smolin’s The Trouble With Physics to be a real eye-opener. The more reluctant one is to read it, the greater one’s need for its challenging arguments and the more one ought to read it.

    @ 38 MNb:

    thank you for the recommendation. I’ll read it.

  40. #40 Sean T
    March 7, 2014

    proximity,

    While causation breaks down at subatomic levels, it is maintained at macroscopic levels simply because of the nature of randomness. A given random process is inherently unpredictable. You cannot, for instance, consistently make correct predictions of the outcome of a coin flip. However, when there are large numbers of random processes, the aggregate becomes essentially deterministic.

    As an example, if you flip a coin ten times, you expect that there will be somewhere close to 5 heads flipped, that is 50% heads. You would not be too surprised, however, if you see anywhere between 30% and 70% heads in such an experiment. Randomness still holds. However, the limits of randomness become more apparent when you flip the coin more times. It’s not particularly intuitive to most people, for instance, but what percentage of heads would you think surprising if you flipped a coin 1 million times? Answer: I would be pretty surprised to see any percentage outside of the range of 49.87%-50.13%. There is a 99% probability of the actual percentage falling within that range. For a billion flips, that range becomes 49.996 to 50.004%. For ten billion it’s 49.999% to 50.001%.

    Remember that for subatomic particles, numbers like a million, a billion, or ten billion are actually SMALL numbers. Surely, given the above, you can see why the behavior of aggregates of subatomic particles becomes very predictable; ie. why we see causation at the macro level.

  41. #41 proximity1
    March 7, 2014

    MNb @ 38

    I’m interested in better understanding where you agree or disagree on certain controversial matters here. For example, from the Wikipedia page you suggested, do you agree or disagree with the position desribed here as Bohr’s —

    “Because quantum mechanics only reproduces classical mechanics in a statistical interpretation, and because the statistical interpretation only gives the probabilities of different classical outcomes, Bohr has argued that classical physics does not emerge from quantum physics in the same way that classical mechanics emerges as an approximation of special relativity at small velocities. He argued that classical physics exists independently of quantum theory and cannot be derived from it. His position is that it is inappropriate to understand the experiences of observers using purely quantum mechanical notions such as wavefunctions because the different states of experience of an observer are defined classically, and do not have a quantum mechanical analog. The relative state interpretation of quantum mechanics is an attempt to understand the experience of observers using only quantum mechanical notions. Niels Bohr was an early opponent of such interpretations.”

    or, is this not an accurate presentation, as you see it, of Bohr’s views?

    And, on the following, I’m interested to know what’s your position–

    “The kinematic origin of the cosmological redshift”
    Bunn and Hogg

    http://arxiv.org/abs/0808.1081

  42. #42 proximity1
    March 7, 2014

    @ 40:

    Is it just me or is there a valid objection to the appropriateness of the word “maintained” in your remark here? :

    “While causation breaks down at subatomic levels, it is maintained at macroscopic levels simply because of the nature of randomness.”

    What I want to emphasize is not just that the use here of “maintained” is problematic but also that, if I am correct, you used it reflexively, without the slightest hesitation about it. If so, I think that is significant–as is, in my opinion, your use of the passive voice, “it is maintained”. It’s not that I don’t understand that scientists commonly talk this way, it’s that their doing so suggests some interesting things about the way they think about matters.

  43. #43 eric
    March 7, 2014

    VS:

    So, then, you say that there’s no current favourite. That might be true, but it used to be the Big Bang that was the favourite, at with point all you can accuse Craig of is being outdated.

    Inflationary BBT is still the reigning theory for what happened at the point about 13.8 billion years ago. Which is why I was very careful to emphasize “before.” AIUI, Carroll is talking about models for what went on before the inflationary “bang,” and again AIUI, there is no one leading model or theory about that.

    My comment there is aimed at saying that if there isn’t even a preferred naturalistic model, then from the perspective of naturalism you have absolutely no idea how the universe was created.

    No frontrunner /= all explanations are equally likely. We can certainly rule out any explanation that could not yield the universe we observe today; and this is probably how real theorists work (start with a set of equations defining your model, see what they would produce, and if it doesn’t produce something like our universe, abandon or modify your model).

    IMO the problem with insisting this opens the door to non-naturalistic causes is that you can’t (or won’t) parse what you mean by that in a specific enough way for the process of science to work on your idea. Science is supposed to consider non-naturalist causes…okay, what does that cause look like in terms of model parameters? What are its equations? How does a cosmologist turn the crank on your hypothesis’ premises and find out what sort of universes it predicts? Do you have a model that is quantitative enough that the crank-turning exercise can be independently reproduced, or is it so vague and qualitative that everyone who turns the crank on your premises ends up with a different result?

    My point is, you have a lot of work to do between “other hypotheses are philosophically possible” and “consider my hypothesis as a viable option.”

  44. #44 proximity1
    March 7, 2014

    @38 :

    coincidentally, of related interest, on correlations:

    See also

    http://www.reddit.com/r/statistics/comments/1ygpqa/correlation_is_evidence_of_causation/

  45. #45 eric
    March 7, 2014

    proximity

    You say that one “is warranted in provisionally accepting that X-Z are more likely to be right than other models’ alternatives” or, more precisely, you assume that this is true. But I don’t see why we should assume it,

    I am assuming the basic process of induction, yes, if that is what you want to point out. Everything beyond that is using induction on evidence, not assuming. Your arguments seem to be rehashes of the problems of induction itself – i.e., we could read the patterns of nature wrong, or misclassify phenomena as being similar/related when they are really very different, or ‘overfit’ our physics by incorrectly seeing a pattern where there isn’t one. Yes, those are all possibilties. But until you come up with an alternative to induction that produces results more effectively than induction does, science is going to use induction.

    Want to convince people that you have a better-than-induction way of developing cosmological theories that predict things like the CMB and large-scale structure of the universe? That job is very simple in principle, though very difficult in practice: you convince them by using your process to develop a cosmological theory that predicts things like the CMB and large-scale structure of the universe.

  46. #46 proximity1
    March 7, 2014

    @ 45

    See, for example, Chapter 16 “Non-demonstrative inference”, from My Philosophical Development, by Bertrand Russell @ page 153

    … “In the transition from crude fact to science, we need forms of inference additional to those of deductive logic. Traditionally, it was supposed that induction would serve this purpose but this was an error, since it can be shown that the conclusions from inductive inferences from true premises are more often false than true. The principles of inference required for the transition from sense to science are to be attained by analysis.” …

  47. #47 proximity1
    March 7, 2014

    @ 45:

    correction– the sentence should have read,

    …” that the conclusions of (rather than “from”) inductive inferences from true premises are more often false than true.”

  48. #48 eric
    March 7, 2014

    proximity (quoting Russell):

    it can be shown that the conclusions from inductive inferences from true premises are more often false than true.

    Sure. And the theory of evolution doesn’t explain everything about evolution. But just as the latter is a fallacious argument for creationism, Russell’s is a fallacious argument for adopting some other investigative method. One technique or theories’ gaps is not evidence that another technique or theory is better. To show better, you have to demonstrate the value your proposed alternate technique or theory directly. You have to use it. Before the Seattle Seahawks will run your armchair quarterback play in an NFL game, they are going to want to see you make it work at the HS and collegiate level first.

    The principles of inference required for the transition from sense to science are to be attained by analysis.”

    Okay, you do non-inductive analysis and let us know when you’ve got a competitive cosmological theory as a result. After you do that, you will be much more likely to convince scientists to switch methods (or use both, or whatever).

  49. #49 MNb
    March 7, 2014

    @41 Prox: sorry, I don’t know nearly enough about the subject to answer your question in a sensible way.

  50. #50 Lenoxus
    March 7, 2014

    eric:

    Want to convince people that you have a better-than-induction way of developing cosmological theories that predict things like the CMB and large-scale structure of the universe? That job is very simple in principle, though very difficult in practice: you convince them by using your process to develop a cosmological theory that predicts things like the CMB and large-scale structure of the universe.

    But even if such a method were shown to be successful once or twice, on what grounds would we suppose it to be successful in the future?

    ;)

  51. #51 Blaine
    March 7, 2014

    As science moves away from the everyday, causality comes to mean inference within a theory. At this point, common sense notions of causality break down. This move in abstraction is difficult for some to make – certainly the average ‘man in the street’ seems to find it difficult. According to a recent survey, 25% of Americans think the sun orbits the earth ( http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-02/msu-sas021314.php ).

    In my view, this move in abstraction divides history between modern and pre-modern.

  52. #52 proximity1
    March 8, 2014

    @ 40:

    “Remember that for subatomic particles, numbers like a million, a billion, or ten billion are actually SMALL numbers. Surely, given the above, you can see why the behavior of aggregates of subatomic particles becomes very predictable; ie. why we see causation at the macro level.”

    Of course it’s true that in matters of cosmology billions of units constitute tiny fractions of the general “whole”. Trillions of units do, as well. Nor am I disputing the fact that various physical phenomena influence other physical phenomena. Far from it. I’m questioning the degree of soundness in some the claims of causal relationships between certain of these influences, in the claims about the meaning of, the significance of, various observed phenomena.

    I suppose that particle physicists recognize as a given that, in actual fact, we, humans, like all other “macro” entities in the universe, are infused in and infused by the sub-atomic environment, that, at such a scale, our physical discreteness, our boundaries with other adjacent objects, is only very approximate rather than sharply defined. I suppose that their work-a-day view is that just as we “swim” in and through a “bath” of neutrinos (and other such tiny sub-atomic particles?), so that “bath” is moving in and around and through us.

    I suspect that some scientists are too quick to assume a causal relation where instead there is merely a frequent but not a necessary coincidental occurrence of fluid events. In molecular biology, a hard-core determinist view has, until relatively recently, completely dominated the interpretation of cell and sub-cell activities and of the molecular activities of these entities. So, we have genes which “read” proteins, “code” for them, etc.

    Do we know why energy is found as quanta rather than as continuous amplitudes? Is there a distinction between the “photon” per se and its “energy” ? What, exactly, is “energy” as opposed to “matter” ? And, does the former move through the latter “on its way from ‘A’ to ‘B’ ? ”

    —————

    @ 48: “And the theory of evolution doesn’t explain everything about evolution.”

    My hunch is that the theory is so powerfully explanatory that there are realms of natural processes which it clarifies but which remain overlooked by too many biologists who think only at the phylogenetic level.

    I wonder what it is about “evolution” as a set of natural phenomena for which the theory does not and conceivably cannot account. For example, if, right down to the cellular level, ontogenesis ( or morphogenesis) and phylogenesis constitute a single seamless continuum, then what, I wonder, is “left out” of the picture of life it offers us?

  53. #53 musical beef
    March 8, 2014

    I thought Craig also looked pretty bad in this debate with Yale philosopher Shelly Kagan. It was more of a conversation, so Craig wasn’t able to gallop quite so much Gish around before Kagan would call him on it. In this encounter as well Craig was reduced to repeating the same arguments over and over, often in reply to an obvious refutation of that very argument.

  54. #54 Adrian Morgan
    Adelaide, South Australia
    March 8, 2014

    One of Craig’s rhetorical tricks was to expand the definition of “transcendent cause” to a tautology when it suited him, and then retract it, hoping that nobody would notice.

    Craig explicitely states that his premise about causes does not presuppose any particular theory of causality. From that it follows that an “unbreakable pattern”, as Carrol puts it — the fact that reality just happens to operate in a particular way — IS a perfectly valid “transcendent cause”, under Craig’s rules …

    … except when he doesn’t want it to be.

  55. #55 eric
    March 8, 2014

    But even if such a method were shown to be successful once or twice, on what grounds would we suppose it to be successful in the future?

    The more often its successful, the more weight people are going to give it.

    Now if you are again questioning how we justify induction at all – why don’t YOU tell ME how you justify your use of it? You came to this page by using induction – you thought that typing a specific combination of keys on a plastic box would have the same effect now as it did yesterday. And if you respond to this post, you will do so using actions you’ve inductively assessed will send a message. If you don’t think induction is justified, why not just think your response to me? Why not eat your mouse as a way of convincing me? Why not send the message by hopping on one foot?

  56. #56 Bob Carlson
    March 9, 2014

    It would appear that the folks that hold the copyright to the video don’t wish have people see Craig getting beaten. When I tried to watch the video last night and tonight, YouTube said: “‘Sean Carroll vs William Lan…’ This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Tactical Faith, Inc.. “

  57. #57 proximity1
    March 9, 2014

    Some interesting related reading on these topics–

    this comes from one of my favorite science blogs, http://www.scienceoveracuppa.com , by Emily L. Williams, a molecular biologist in Louisville, Kentucky. She has a rare gift for asking brilliant questions and seeing things that many others miss.

    Concerning Richard Dawkins and the Selfish Gene meme, she discusses this, by David Dobbs, published at Aeon Magawzine ( “Die, selfish gene, die” ) /
    http://aeon.co/magazine/nature-and-cosmos/why-its-time-to-lay-the-selfish-gene-to-rest/ ) at her article entitled,
    “In Answer to David Dobbs’ Recent Question, “Why Bother Rewriting the Genome to Evolve?” /

    Link : http://scienceoveracuppa.com/2013/12/08/in-answer-to-david-dobbs-recent-question-why-bother-rewriting-the-genome-to-evolve/

    On the issue of the many and varied ways that biological systems evolve, there is her essay entitled, “The Prion Hypothesis: How Proteins May Create Heritable Memory,” (link : http://scienceoveracuppa.com/2014/02/16/the-prion-hypothesis-how-proteins-may-create-heritable-memory/ ) in which she cites a Nature Reviews Genetics article, “Prions as adaptive conduits of memory and inheritance” by James Shorter & Susan Lindquist.

    And, last, but certainly not least, this very brief post of 19 January, 2014, “The Evolution of Genetic Evolvability”

    http://scienceoveracuppa.com/2014/01/19/the-evolution-of-genetic-evolvability/

  58. #58 MNb
    March 9, 2014

    “Now if you are again questioning how we justify induction at all”
    In the end we cannot justify induction. This has been known since David Hume. In the end we cannot justify deduction either. This has been known since René Descartes.
    The answer widely accepted by science since about 200 years is remarkably simple: give up the claim that we can know the absolute 100% eternal undoubtable truth. Every theory, every hypothesis has a temporary, provisional character. We accept it as long as all the empirical data confirm it. As long as that’s the case we claim knowledge. That’s the secret of the success of science: walking two objective roads (induction and deduction). If they lead to the same destination we have knowledge. If they don’t we need more research; maybe there is something wrong with the observation, maybe the theory must be adapted.

  59. #59 Peter Ozzie Jones
    March 9, 2014

    @56, Bob they didn’t want their videos edited. The originals, with ads, breaks etc are at Sean Carroll’s blog:

    http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2014/02/27/godcosmology-debate-videos/

  60. #60 Lenoxus
    March 9, 2014

    eric: I absolutely do accept induction. In fact, I was trying to jokingly suggest that it is very difficult to imagine how an alternative to induction would itself be justified. I hadn’t considered how my logic could easily be flipped around, but indeed it can. My point was more, “Obviously we all have to assume induction just to get anything done.”

    When you talked about a hypothetical alternative making successful predictions, I couldn’t help but make the joke that seemed obvious — namely, anyone trying to present such as alternative as signifying that induction is “wrong” will have a devil of a time trying to point to their alternative’s repeated success as an indicator of its value! “Empirical induction is baloney. Instead of the idea that we should use whatever techniques have proven themselves to work time and again, we should use astrology, because it’s been shown to be accurate time and again.”

    I do think that various philosophers have done a decent job addressing the supposed problems of induction, such as the provisional nature of our knowledge.

  61. #61 Verbose Stoic
    March 9, 2014

    eric,

    Inflationary BBT is still the reigning theory for what happened at the point about 13.8 billion years ago. Which is why I was very careful to emphasize “before.” AIUI, Carroll is talking about models for what went on before the inflationary “bang,” and again AIUI, there is no one leading model or theory about that.

    My last Astrophysics course was about 20 years ago, so maybe things have changed, but my understanding of IBT is that it was that event that created this universe, which includes the natural laws that we can observe, since those may only hold for the universe that we are in. Since that event created this universe, then Carroll would be absolutely incorrect and actually unscientific to suggest that this universe might be an “uncaused cause”, since it clearly did have a beginning with is what the cosmological arguments often rely on, and if we at least use the philosophical definition of cause it definitely had one. We aren’t sure what that cause is, but we know it had one. Thus, that counter would look a lot like rhetoric as opposed to actual philosophically or scientifically sound argumentation.

    No frontrunner /= all explanations are equally likely.

    Not the point, really. The point is that with the philosophically/theologically worked out theories or hypotheses, they only have to worry about these “naturalistic” contenders if there’s some reason to think that those naturalistic contenders are actually TRUE. Being the scientifically accepted theory gives us that reason, but what reason would we have otherwise? If Carroll comes up with an “eternal” model that he claims eliminates the need for or gives us the First Cause, why would that be more credible than the existing theological/philosophical ideas just because it’s a naturalistic one? He would have to demonstrate that hypothesis likely true before anyone who holds a different hypothesis would have to worry about his hypothesis trumping theirs, no?

    Again, also note that most hypotheses that posit a “supernatural” hypotheses also include reasons why a naturalistic hypothesis, no matter how clever, simply CAN’T solve the problem. Can you do the same for purported non-natural hypotheses?

    IMO the problem with insisting this opens the door to non-naturalistic causes is that you can’t (or won’t) parse what you mean by that in a specific enough way for the process of science to work on your idea. Science is supposed to consider non-naturalist causes…okay, what does that cause look like in terms of model parameters? What are its equations? How does a cosmologist turn the crank on your hypothesis’ premises and find out what sort of universes it predicts? Do you have a model that is quantitative enough that the crank-turning exercise can be independently reproduced, or is it so vague and qualitative that everyone who turns the crank on your premises ends up with a different result?

    And you don’t find it odd that you’d be holding non-natural hypotheses to naturalistic criteria? Don’t you think you should do, in this case, what the philosophers actually do and ASK what sorts of evidence are applicable for this sort of thing? Why would we, for example, think that we can justify metaphysical claims through physics? Certainly, metaphysical claims have to work for the physics we see in some way, but pretty much all of them do — even the derided Aristolean view — even if they don’t predict it specifically. But there’s no reason to hold them to having to make predictions about the physics, because that’s the job of physics, not metaphysics.

    And that’s really the problem with, at least, those who are “naturalists”; they demand and prefer naturalistic solutions only because they are naturalistic, not because they are necessarily better. Philosophically, that’s a bad way to do things, at least when you’re arguing beyond your own personal beliefs.

  62. #62 Kel
    March 9, 2014

    I guess when you take into account “omnipotence”, anything attributed to God doesn’t appear to be fantastical. Since God can do anything, anything attributed to God will fit. The goal of apologists, it seems, is to find things where we don’t have a good explanation and say “God did it”. The problem is that apologists kept injecting God into areas where science has superseded, and apologists have learnt their lesson and now injecting God where science cannot come and offer a better explanation.

    The fantastical thing then becomes that there is an omnipotent being to begin with. Now *that’s* beyond all experience we have, and against all reason we have to suppose it. Somehow an omnipotent omniscient bodiless person can exist (and exist uncaused, necessarily and eternally), yet applying this kind of thinking to universes is absurd?

  63. #63 eric
    March 9, 2014

    VS:

    my understanding of IBT is that it was that event that created this universe, which includes the natural laws that we can observe, since those may only hold for the universe that we are in.

    Science has progressed since then. As I’ve said above and as Carroll discusses on his pages, there are multiple models about what came before the inflationary period. Some posit a pre-universal state, some don’t. I am not sure on the details, but my guess would be that some of them posit the pre-universal state had the same physical laws (or some version of them), while other model’s don’t.

    Since that event created this universe, then Carroll would be absolutely incorrect and actually unscientific to suggest that this universe might be an “uncaused cause”, since it clearly did have a beginning with is what the cosmological arguments often rely on, and if we at least use the philosophical definition of cause it definitely had one. We aren’t sure what that cause is, but we know it had one.

    IANAC but I believe that when Carroll etc. say that the universe may be uncaused, what they mean is that some models don’t require anything beyond the model itself to instantiate them. They are their own cause. As you note, he also says explicitly that some models posit an eternal universe or pre-universe, which would also technically be ‘uncaused’.

    As for how such models could have these properties, you’d have to examine the math yourself to figure that out. However, I don’t think Carroll is lying about them having the mathematical properties he says they have. Calculus allows us to add together an infinite number of terms, something which is intuitively baffling. If the folks who know these models tell me that they can self-arise, I don’t see any reason to dispute that merely because I am ignorant about how, mathematically, that could be.

    And you don’t find it odd that you’d be holding non-natural hypotheses to naturalistic criteria?

    Asking for a testable claim has nothing to do with naturalism. The claim “if you say ‘Klaatu, Berada, Nicto incorrectly’ then zombies will rise from the ground” is a testable, non-natural claim. So no, I don’t find it odd to hold non-natural explanations to testable criteria. What I’m really asking for is for you to clarify what you mean by “non-natural explanation” in sufficient detail that scientists could work on it. If that level of detail is lacking, or if your metaphysical causal hypotheses lead to no predictions and are untestable even in principle, then I don’t really see what you want scientists to do about them.

    You keep stressing that philosophy has this great body of important work that we shouldn’t ignore. Okay… if its untestable, makes no predictions, has no mechanism, etc., etc., etc..then how, exactly, are we to consider it? What do you want us to DO with all these untestable-in-principle claims? Just accept them because philosophy says so?

    But there’s no reason to hold them [metaphysical theories of the universe] to having to make predictions about the physics, because that’s the job of physics, not metaphysics.

    Again, if you want to maintain an inherent untestability in your ideas, you are welcome to. But then there is no way science can work on such ideas.

    This is a situation where the ball is in philosophy’s court. If you give us interesting and testable hypotheses about non-natural causes, some scientist might want to work with you on figuring out whether they are accurate models of the world we see. Whether they are useful for understanding the world. Whether they appear to be credible, and true. But as long as you don’t give us anything like that, science can’t really do anything with your ideas.

  64. #64 Michael Fugate
    March 9, 2014

    The issue seems to be how does one decide between differing philosophical/theological ideas (we know how to do this with science). I understand theology is not science (unless of course you happen to be trained as a physicist and a priest), but one still needs to evaluate ideas and I have yet to find anyone who can explain how theology really works – what its methods are. Ok, there is hermeneutics, but it is religion specific – not universal – and it assumes the supernatural is real without any critical evaluation.

  65. […] William Lane Craig on the subject of cosmology. I didn’t watch it, but Jason Rosenhouse wrote a summary on his blog. I quite liked this part, and think it’s applicable […]

  66. #66 John
    March 10, 2014

    Michael Fugate @64

    How does religion work?
    Consider 2 religions, each with their own moral systems. After a few generations, the people of the religions fight. One wins. The morals of that religion are by definition better than the other. Truly, the Gods (morals) of each battle. Along with the morals goes the myths and parables.

    Each religion says to their followers, believe in … and we will win (survive, live forever, etc.). This is a form of a prediction of life. If the group wins, the religion is useful. As the religion ages over the centuries, the leaders experience many long-term observations. They change the moral doctrine to incorporate the new lessons or die.

    For example, the Galileo trial was a turning point in the test of tolerance. The Italian renaissance was caused by a shift to tolerance by the Church authorities. The Ottoman Muslims were invading and winning Europe in the east. The Moors were leaving Europe in the west. Spain had been given approval for a really tough inquisition and near total intolerance. The lesson learned appears to be intolerance – good for the Church. Hence, Galileo experienced a radical shift in Church policy. But science moved north and the Church suffered. The Church seems to be trying over the last century to learn the lesson.

    Science test many differing competing models by testing the predictions of each. Those that predict better survival. So does religion. Science is useful to produce new technology that drives economic and military power. Modifying morals does the same for religion.

  67. #67 proximity1
    March 10, 2014

    @ 58 :

    Thank you for that.

    Please pardon this one quibble with an otherwise vital observation of yours—

    You write, “That’s the secret of the success of science: walking two objective roads (induction and deduction). If they lead to the same destination we have knowledge.”

    I think that another possibility is that, sometimes, the conclusions might be erroneous in “each” of these two supposed objective roads (induction and deduction)—and, this, maybe for the same or maybe for different reasons.

    In that light, it could be that the most reliable part of the results of science are those that refute or reject what was previously thought to be “knowledge” and, so, in that way, science’s results tend to tell us more about what we don’t have in “knowledge” than in what we do have.

    “If they don’t we need more research; ” –true, of course. But, in general, there’s going to be more research in any case. And it’s just as likely, if not more likely, that the further research discovers where the previous errors are and were than that this is revealed in a failed attempt to find a confirmation in the congruence of inductive and deductive inferences.

  68. #68 eric
    March 10, 2014

    proximity

    it could be that the most reliable part of the results of science are those that refute or reject what was previously thought to be “knowledge” and, so, in that way, science’s results tend to tell us more about what we don’t have in “knowledge” than in what we do have.

    The computer you’re using does not rely on science’s conclusion that NM is wrong to work. It relies on explicitly positive statements about the behavior of eletricity, materials, etc… that arise from science. Now maybe you can technically argue that those positive conclusions aren’t “most reliable,” they are less phisolophically reliable than the negative conclusions such as “NM is wrong.” But they still seem to be reliable enough for you to count on them. The same is true for most mainstream scientific conclusions (though cutting-edge stuff will certainly be considered less reliable by all parties).

  69. #69 MNb
    March 10, 2014

    @Prox: “I think that another possibility is that, sometimes, the conclusions might be erroneous in “each” of these two supposed objective roads (induction and deduction)”
    Sure. But like Eric wrote, concluding that NM is wrong is a non-sequitur. In the first place we can shrug this off until we recognize the error, exactly because we admit that all knowledge is temporary and provisional. In the second place there is quite a reward for those scientists who find such errors. I assure you that the paleontologist who finds a cat fossil from the Cambrian will be famous for eternity. In the third place we don’t have anything better; anyone who develops a method that works better will be hailed too. In the fourth place the problem is even bigger than you may assume: there are unknown unknowns.

    http://www.livius.org/theory/testis-unus-testis-nullus/

    Unless some genius comes along we’ll have to do with this.

  70. #70 Blaine
    March 10, 2014

    The Christian belief system has an answer for everything. It is a wonderful example of a mind-control system. A decent book which analyses the New Testament from this persepctive is _The Mind of the Bible-Believer_, Edmund Cohen ( http://www.amazon.com/The-Mind-Bible-Believer-Edmund-Cohen/dp/0879754958 )

    If X, Y, and Z things happen, that in no way disproves the existence of god. However, if A, B and C things happen, that proves the existence of god.

    Thunder from the pulpit:
    You can’t see the truth because of your ‘false consciousness’ – you are a stubborn sinner who refuses to see.

    The problem with ideologies ( and Christianity certainly is one ), by explaining everything, you actually explain nothing.

    A theory which can explain everything must prima facia be false because there is no fact of the matter which it could not explain, ie there is no possible observation or fact which it cannot explain.

    Under the Christian scheme, our only crime was being born.

  71. #71 proximity1
    March 10, 2014

    @ 68 : …”Now maybe you can technically argue that those positive conclusions aren’t “most reliable,”…

    You gloss over a important, albeit subtle, distinction. My point isn’t accurately captured in the formula you write as: “such as ‘ NM is wrong’ .” It’s rather that something –and something significant–is bound to be wrong “about NM ” or, indeed, anything that may one day supersede its place as a comprehensive view of the particulars of domain it concerns.

    I mean only that, overall, the dis-confirming (exclusionary) results of science (i.e. corrections in our mistaken beliefs as to what we “know” to be factually true) shall be more likely to stand over time (less often false than true) than shall the (inclusionary) positive claims as to what is factually true— rather than that each discrete, particular positive “finding,” taken in isolation, is always and necessarily less reliable than a presumption that the finding is false, even as “the conclusions of inductive inferences from true premises are more often false than true.” (emphasis added).

    and 69 : “there are unknown unknowns”. Indeed. These being perhaps, if not certainly, the largest set of the unknowns.

    “anyone who develops a method that works better will be hailed too.”

    By “method”, are you referring to any one of a number of given competing theories in science? or to the general scientific approach to inquiry itself?

    If it’s to the former that you refer, then the crux of the matter turns around agreements and disagreements about what, precisely, constitutes “a method (theory?) that works better,” since, bound up in the notion of a superior method are the contested virtues or defects of the method’s results themselves, right? In other words, not every superior theory (or method) is recognized and vindicated.

    And that brings us to the matter which concerns not the general necessity of having to use science’s methods for lack of anything better, but rather of the average relative quality or lack of it in the actual prevailing practices of scientists. From one period to another, scientists’ work, taken as a large collectivity, can be rather better or rather worse in the quality of the practical application of investigatory principles.

    How are things going, relatively speaking, today? In my personal opinion, not terrifically well. There’s more undue overconfidence than undue skepticism in actual practice, it seems to me. If I’m correct, then that tendency can lend undeserved aid to those who would like to borrow the halo of science and place it where it doesn’t properly belong.

  72. #72 MNb
    March 10, 2014

    “By “method”, are you referring to any one of a number of given competing theories in science? or to the general scientific approach to inquiry itself?”
    The general approach – I’m not even sure if it still can be called scientific, because I even can’t imagine how such a method would look like. My point is only that NM doesn’t reject such a method a priori.

    “In other words, not every superior theory is recognized and vindicated.”
    No. That’s why the project called science never will be finished.

    “the average relative quality or lack of it in the actual prevailing practices of scientists”
    That’s a serious concern. Scientists also are only humans. Moreover science tends to get more and more expensive.

    “not terrifically well”
    Depends how you look at it. There are serious problems – if you remove some salt this article describes them:

    http://www.cracked.com/article_20789_6-shocking-studies-that-prove-science-totally-broken.html

    At the other hand there has been some remarkable progress in many fields. And I don’t only think of the higgs-boson; for instance we know more about Caesar’s Gallic Wars now than some decades ago, especially the campaings in what’s now Belgium and Germany.

  73. #73 Verbose Stoic
    March 10, 2014

    Kel,

    The goal of apologists, it seems, is to find things where we don’t have a good explanation and say “God did it”. The problem is that apologists kept injecting God into areas where science has superseded, and apologists have learnt their lesson and now injecting God where science cannot come and offer a better explanation.

    Really? Because it actually seems to be the exact opposite: apologists are taking areas where God was already claimed to have done the necessary work and pointing out that even if God hasn’t done certain other things, science hasn’t shown that it can get these things done without God. The cosmological argument is a prime example of that, since those arguments came — and had acceptance and criticism — LONG before anything like science came up with ANY idea about how that all happened.

    I can see both perspectives, actually. From the naturalist side, it looks like apologists find the areas of their hypotheses that they haven’t explained yet and insert God into that. From the apologist side, it looks like the naturalists are claiming that there’s no need for God and yet leave out certain important areas where God traditionally fit. Neither side is completely right or completely wrong about this.

    The fantastical thing then becomes that there is an omnipotent being to begin with. Now *that’s* beyond all experience we have, and against all reason we have to suppose it. Somehow an omnipotent omniscient bodiless person can exist (and exist uncaused, necessarily and eternally), yet applying this kind of thinking to universes is absurd?

    You do realize that there’s a long history and a lot of arguments over whether the universe could be that sort of thing, right? Including arguments over whether anything material could, in fact do that? For the most part, the well-developed arguments don’t just say that it’s absurd that it could be the universe, but argue for WHY it’s absurd. The best philosophical arguments, I think, accept that it might be the universe but will note the problems that the other arguments cite for that explanation.

    eric,

    IANAC but I believe that when Carroll etc. say that the universe may be uncaused, what they mean is that some models don’t require anything beyond the model itself to instantiate them. They are their own cause. As you note, he also says explicitly that some models posit an eternal universe or pre-universe, which would also technically be ‘uncaused’.

    As for how such models could have these properties, you’d have to examine the math yourself to figure that out. However, I don’t think Carroll is lying about them having the mathematical properties he says they have. Calculus allows us to add together an infinite number of terms, something which is intuitively baffling. If the folks who know these models tell me that they can self-arise, I don’t see any reason to dispute that merely because I am ignorant about how, mathematically, that could be.

    My first challenge to this would be how they can use mathematics to demonstrate that the universe can “self-arise”. That doesn’t seem like a mathematical concept to me, and since mathematics only describes the world and doesn’t create/justify it it seems rather odd to say that mathematics can prove or demonstrate that. And you should be aware of this sort of argument, since a common counter to the Ontological Argument is that purely conceptual arguments of that type aren’t the right sort of argument to prove the existence of something, but then how do you know that a mathematical modelling argument is the right sort of argument to prove self-arising in the right way?

    This is kinda what I mean when I argue against there being an at least purely scientific argument for the First Cause; you have to settle what sorts of arguments would indeed work, and that’s pretty much a philosophical argument at that point.

    Asking for a testable claim has nothing to do with naturalism.

    Note, though, that you didn’t just ask for “testable” there. You asked for:

    …okay, what does that cause look like in terms of model parameters? What are its equations? How does a cosmologist turn the crank on your hypothesis’ premises and find out what sort of universes it predicts? Do you have a model that is quantitative enough that the crank-turning exercise can be independently reproduced, or is it so vague and qualitative that everyone who turns the crank on your premises ends up with a different result?

    You asked for model parameters. You asked for equations. You asked for quantitative measures. All of which are, essentially, what science/naturalism want and deal with. Except that there’s no reason to think you can GET to that answer using models, equations, or quantitative measures. You are indeed biasing things towards naturalistic answers by asking for the things that naturalistic answers love to give, and there’s little reason to think that other answers have to limit themselves to that way of getting knowledge. Putting aside the fact that when you say “testable” you tend to mean “empirically testable”, as per your comment about asking what predictions it makes about this universe (which is also odd, since any model that incorporates the Big Bang really ought to produce the same sort of universe, since no matter what we talk about a lot of the key parameters of this universe are indeed determined then).

    The claim “if you say ‘Klaatu, Berada, Nicto incorrectly’ then zombies will rise from the ground” is a testable, non-natural claim.

    I only bring this up because you ask to distinguish between non-natural and natural explanations later, and thus point out that if we did test that claim, and discover it to be true, it is quite likely that scientists and naturalists will NOT say “Oh, a non-natural explanation worked out” but will instead say “I guess they were natural all along”. Thus, if you are going to divide the world into natural and non-natural explanations, you need to tell us what determines a natural and non-natural explanation. Most of those who argue that some questions don’t have naturalistic explanations outline what they mean by naturalistic, but naturalists tend to be a bit more slippery about that definition.

    You keep stressing that philosophy has this great body of important work that we shouldn’t ignore. Okay… if its untestable, makes no predictions, has no mechanism, etc., etc., etc..then how, exactly, are we to consider it? What do you want us to DO with all these untestable-in-principle claims? Just accept them because philosophy says so?

    The problem is that you don’t know anything about the explanations or about how philosophy works, and are insisting that people are asking you to accept them just ’cause because they don’t give you the attributes YOU want. A purely conceptual argument isn’t going to be something that you can go out and test empirically, but it can be analyzed and verified, and might actually be able to make an existence claim or, at least, be the best explanation for a phenomena. To test a conceptual argument, you’d do two things:

    1) See if the description of the concept seems to match the concept as we use it/see it (this might include looking at instances).

    2) See if the logical consequences of the concept and the argument are valid.

    In short, you take the argument and determine if it is valid and sound, using whatever means are appropriate for the premises of the argument. This is a superset of what science does. Why do you find this problematic?

    Michael Fugate,

    Theology worth listening to will either be scientific or philosophical in nature, and will be tested the way they are tested.

  74. #74 MNb
    March 10, 2014

    @VS: “apologists are taking areas where God was already claimed to have done the necessary work and pointing out that even if God hasn’t done certain other things, science hasn’t shown that it can get these things done without God.”
    I actually agree with this. Problem of course is the god of the gaps issue. As soon as science shows these things can be done without god – the cosmological argument is an excellent example indeed and in our days falls in the same category as thunder and lightning caused by angry Zeus or Thor – the apologists do not accept that their argument is refuted and certainly do not take it as an argument to reconvert (the cosmological argument works better for polytheism than for monotheism; the Problem of Evil is eliminated by polytheism as well). This is why apologetics tends to be thoroughly intellectually dishonest. In fact I never have met an apologist who is intellectually honest.
    I think that even more damning.

    ” From the apologist side, it looks like the naturalists are claiming that there’s no need for God and yet leave out certain important areas where God traditionally fit.”
    This is a strawman and thus the apologist is completely wrog indeed. Naturalists are ready and willing to admit that science is imperfect. It’s not a matter of leaving out; it’s a matter of science not having made enough progress yet.
    Once again this shows the intellectual dishonesty of the apologist. If he/she meant what he/she wrote he/she would also bring up superconductivity at relatively high temperatures as an argument for god. It fits perfectly in the apologist strategy: design,science can’t explain etc. Still no apologist gives this picture

    http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Meissner_effect_p1390048.jpg

    and claims: “God at work!”

  75. #75 MNb
    March 10, 2014

    @VS: “”A purely conceptual argument ….”
    You are contradicting yourself. There are only two options.
    1. Either an argument is completely rational. Compare the axioms of Euclides. Any such argument is based on assumptions which can’t be addressed.
    2. You can only meaningfully comparing with instances if you formulate the argument in such a way that falsifying instances are at least thinkable. As such it becomes testable and makes predictions which can be compared with empirical data.

    Further: how are you going to check if “… are valid.” if not by comparing with empirical data, ie instances which might falsify the conclusions?
    You cannot have it both ways.

    Extrapolating experience in the past I predict you will address these points with verbose gibberish that actually don’t address these points. I’ll be happy to be proven wrong.

  76. #76 MNb
    March 10, 2014

    “philosophy has this great body of important work that we shouldn’t ignore.”
    Btw I do think that philosophy has this great body etc. But most philosophers correctly accept that as soon a claim can be tested it belongs to science. Hence they restrict themselves to untestable claims, which explains why philosophers have a hard time to reach consensus on almost anything.

    http://philpapers.org/surveys/results.pl

    If philosophy restricts itself to deduction indeed (using induction implies making testable claims) then it should accept only those assumptions which are not rejected by science – that is, if philosophy wants to make sense in the Age of Science.

  77. #77 Kel
    March 11, 2014

    Verbose Stoic:
    “Really? Because it actually seems to be the exact opposite”
    I’m really not sure how you can say this with a straight face (indeed, it seems you backpeddled quite quickly.) The exact opposite? Teleological explanations such as the eye come to mind. Not to mention claims like illness (and especially mental illness), human psychology, etc.

    “yet leave out certain important areas where God traditionally fit.”
    Where God traditionally fit has been a lot of areas, many of which are now being superseded by science. The point isn’t that science can explain Everything, but that the march of scientific explanation has been to replace religious explanation. Why is it that the order of life, or the formation of the solar system, are areas where God can so easily be supplanted but we don’t have grounds to say that we should think it shows a problem with god-of-the-gaps type arguments? Is it simply that theists called dibs on cosmology so we should acknowledge that despite the ease at which god-based explanations can be supplanted by scientific ones should count for naught?

    “You do realize that there’s a long history and a lot of arguments over whether the universe could be that sort of thing, right?”
    Yes, I do. I didn’t realise the mere existence of discussion on the issue was sufficient to negate my point. I think the better way to address my point would be to show how it’s not special pleading to give God an external existence but not the universe. Perhaps some sort of argument from contingency? But then the issue is trying to say how all things in the universe being contingent means the universe itself is contingent, or why it is that same logic doesn’t apply to God.

  78. #78 eric
    March 11, 2014

    VS:

    From the apologist side, it looks like the naturalists are claiming that there’s no need for God and yet leave out certain important areas where God traditionally fit. Neither side is completely right or completely wrong about this.

    We are not “leaving out areas.” We are pointing out that the God used to traditionally fit in a lot more areas, but has turned out to be the wrong causal explanation in the vast majority of those traditional areas. Which gives us inductive reason to think that the God is probably the wrong causal explanation for many currently unexplained phenomena.

    My first challenge to this would be how they can use mathematics to demonstrate that the universe can “self-arise”. That doesn’t seem like a mathematical concept to me

    Well, as I said, you’re going to actually have to do the math if you want to see how. Otherwise, you’re basically stuck with claiming either (i) Carroll et al. are lying about the properties of their models, or (ii) the argument from incredulity. “VS doesn’t see how” /= impossible.

    Note, though, that you didn’t just ask for “testable” there. You asked for:

    [eric’s text truncated]How does a cosmologist turn the crank on your hypothesis’ premises and find out what sort of universes it predicts?

    Sure looks like I did ask for testability. I admit I asked for a lot of quantitative characterization too, but in my mind that goes hand in hand with reproducible testability. “My explanation predicts the half-life will be short” is much sloppier and harder to definitively test (i.e., confirm or falsify) than “my explanation predicts the half-life will be between 0.00001 seconds and 0.001 seconds.”

    But rather than quibble about it, I’ll just stick with the notion of empirically testable from now on.

    All of which are, essentially, what science/naturalism want and deal with.

    VS, your initial post @25 stated that you think philosophy has a massive body of knowledge about causation. You also (IMO) strongly implied that you think scientists ought to consider this, and somewhat implied that you think science is unfairly discounting it now.

    But look, if you want science to consider this large body of work, you have to tell us how to consider it. You have to tell us what it means in terms of scientific hypotheses, and experiment design, and so on. You’re trying to sell phisolophical theory of causation in the marketplace of ideas. To get scientists to buy it, YOU have to tell THEM why its a product that is going to make their research better. If your answer is that it’s not going help them do their research, but rather you think they shoudl be doing a differen sort of research altogether, you aren’t going to get many buyers.

    Except that there’s no reason to think you can GET to that answer using models, equations, or quantitative measures.

    “No reason to think?” No reason? All our successful physycal models, equations, and quantitative parameters for a multitude of observable phenomena are reasons to think. The fact that in the entire history of human explanatory endeavor, no successful, testable explanation of any observed phenomena has needed a diety is ‘reason to think.’

    I’ve used the horse race analogy before, so I won’t belabor it, but its worth repeating the conclusion: you can certainly argue that the Deity horse may win the next explanatory race and the Naturalism horse will lose. But at this time in history, its absurd to claim that the Naturalism horse should not be considered the favorite. It clearly should be. Doesn’t mean it’ll win, but implying that bettors have ‘no reason to think’ its the favorite is just silly.

    A purely conceptual argument isn’t going to be something that you can go out and test empirically…[long elision]…
    …In short, you take the argument and determine if it is valid and sound, using whatever means are appropriate for the premises of the argument. This is a superset of what science does. Why do you find this problematic?

    Its problematic because when you are making arguments about the physical, empricial world, testing is how you assess the correctness of your premises. It is how you go from validity to some confidence of soundness. Your step #1 is vastly inferior to empirical testing. You’re basically substituting a human judgement call about whether one concept “seems to match” another for hypothesis testing. What a terrible basis for accepting premises as true! Emprically based induction may have a lot of problems, but we don’t move forward to higher confident explanations by doing the equivalent of substituting eyewitness testimony for DNA analysis when it comes to cosmology – that’s a backwards move, to a less reliable method of drawing conclusions.

  79. #79 Verbose Stoic
    March 11, 2014

    MNb,

    This is a strawman and thus the apologist is completely wrog indeed. Naturalists are ready and willing to admit that science is imperfect. It’s not a matter of leaving out; it’s a matter of science not having made enough progress yet.

    The claim, though, is that some scientists seem to be claiming that there is no need for God at all anymore, but have rather large gaps in their theories, gaps where God normally was. Saying “We haven’t made enough progress yet” doesn’t, in fact, solve the problem in any way, because that’s just a statement that you think you eventually will, even though you haven’t yet.

    If he/she meant what he/she wrote he/she would also bring up superconductivity at relatively high temperatures as an argument for god. It fits perfectly in the apologist strategy: design,science can’t explain etc. Still no apologist gives this picture …

    The fact that they don’t refutes your claim and supports mine. Why don’t apologists grab ANYTHING that science can’t explain and stick God in there? Because their method is NOT to stick God anywhere science can’t give a full explanation, but is instead to simply retain God where God was already posited to be a good explanation and where natural explanations aren’t or aren’t necessarily the best explanations. For superconductivity, that really looks like something that a natural explanation would work best for. For the First Cause, not so much.

    You are contradicting yourself. There are only two options.
    1. Either an argument is completely rational. Compare the axioms of Euclides. Any such argument is based on assumptions which can’t be addressed.
    2. You can only meaningfully comparing with instances if you formulate the argument in such a way that falsifying instances are at least thinkable. As such it becomes testable and makes predictions which can be compared with empirical data.

    I’m not contradicting myself; you are misunderstanding what a concept is. A concept is, essentially, a generalized idea of what an instance of that concept has to have to be considered an instance of the concept. Thus, all instances of a concept will have certain attributes, the ones that are necessary to make that an instance of the concept. Thus, if you think that something is an instance of a concept — whether in the real world or in a possible world — then it will have to have those attributes, and if that instance doesn’t have those attributes then either you don’t understand the concept properly or else that thing is not really an instance of that concept. Thus, you can indeed in some sense test your concepts against instances. However, just because you have a set of instances that doesn’t mean that you can take all attributes that they have in common and take that to be what the concept really is, but some attributes of objects are specific to them and do not follow from the concept itself.

    For example, is it part of the concept “moon” that a moon is spherical? All of the moons we can see in this universe are spherical, but if we posit a world where the laws of physics are different such that the things that we call moons here are all cubical, would that mean that they aren’t moons? Likely not, so being spherical is not a property of the concept, but is specific to moons in this universe.

    Further: how are you going to check if “… are valid.” if not by comparing with empirical data, ie instances which might falsify the conclusions?
    You cannot have it both ways.

    I said logically there, which doesn’t require empirical examination or testing.

    Btw I do think that philosophy has this great body etc. But most philosophers correctly accept that as soon a claim can be tested it belongs to science.

    They accept that once we determine that a claim ought to be demonstrated empirically that science is best suited to do that, yes. What they don’t accept is that all claims about the world need to be so tested … or, rather, they don’t claim that the claim that all claims about the world need to or can be tested empirically is a claim that doesn’t itself require justification.

    Which also explains why philosophy doesn’t converge on answers all that often: you not only have to justify your claims, but that the methods you are using to justify your claims are the right ones to justify that claim. That’s really, really hard. It’s also passed on the easier questions — the ones that can be settled by looking at the world really hard — to science, and kept the ones that can’t be settled so easily.

  80. #80 Verbose Stoic
    March 11, 2014

    Kel,

    I’m really not sure how you can say this with a straight face (indeed, it seems you backpeddled quite quickly.) The exact opposite? Teleological explanations such as the eye come to mind.

    Assuming you mean an argument like “The eye is irreducibly complex” here, that’s an excellent example of my point: scientists were claiming that God had no part in creating us, and the apologists were countering that the naturalistic explanation could not handle the eye as it actually was, and so God was still needed. They were not simply sticking God into the gap, but retaining God in the gap that science left.

    Why is it that the order of life, or the formation of the solar system, are areas where God can so easily be supplanted but we don’t have grounds to say that we should think it shows a problem with god-of-the-gaps type arguments? Is it simply that theists called dibs on cosmology so we should acknowledge that despite the ease at which god-based explanations can be supplanted by scientific ones should count for naught?

    Why cosmology stays is mostly because there isn’t a good naturalistic explanation yet that doesn’t eliminate God, unlike some of the other areas. It’s also a philosophy of religion/theological argument to determine if God can be supplanted from an area and still retain anything of the religion if you do so. For example, it is indeed a decent theological argument to claim that there not being two humans that we are all descended from spells the death of Christianity, because without that we don’t have Original Sin and without that we don’t have a reason for the death and resurrection of Christ. I don’t think the argument works — I have a way of still making that meaningful even just as an allegory and a symbol — but it is a good theological argument that Christianity has to take serious. The Big Bang? Not so much.

    Yes, I do. I didn’t realise the mere existence of discussion on the issue was sufficient to negate my point. I think the better way to address my point would be to show how it’s not special pleading to give God an external existence but not the universe. Perhaps some sort of argument from contingency? But then the issue is trying to say how all things in the universe being contingent means the universe itself is contingent, or why it is that same logic doesn’t apply to God.

    Your third sentence proves why the second sentence is indeed the case: you cannot accuse anyone of “special pleading” if they give reasons for singling out what they single out, or at least for not singling out the thing you want to claim could be just as easily singled out. They do indeed argue for why God would work and not the universe. For example, I just read Hart’s book and it reminded me of what I read of Feser’s, and at the end of the day both of them derive God from the qualities the Ground of Being has to have (ie they get omnipotence, omniscience and omnibenevolence FROM how the Ground of Being works, and not the other way around). The universe is not that, we think. (I go into this in more detail in my review of the book on my blog). As for contingency, if we can say that this universe was created by the Big Bang — which it still seems to me is the accepted scientific view — then this universe IS contingent: it wouldn’t exist if the Big Bang had never happened. That’s not going to work. Also, going back to Hart and Feser et all, if the universe is composed of parts, they argue, then it cannot be the GoB because then it is dependent on the explanations for the existence of its parts before they come together to make it up.

    There are lots of these sorts of explanations. They aren’t all convincing. In fact, I’m not sure I’m convinced by the GoB arguments of people like Hart and Feser. But they’re far, far better than the simple assertions and special pleading that you seem to claim are all the apologists have.

  81. #81 Verbose Stoic
    March 11, 2014

    eric,

    Which gives us inductive reason to think that the God is probably the wrong causal explanation for many currently unexplained phenomena.

    Unless, of course, we can put forward an argument saying why God, notwithstanding, is a better or more likely explanation than the naturalistic alternative. Which is what they do. Inductive arguments aren’t really justified, and so the instant someone has some reason to think that the inductive step doesn’t hold one cannot rely on induction to justify making their conclusion … or, at least, not to anyone other than themselves. So if you’re willing to accept that preferring a natural explanation is just what makes sense to you but that others are not irrational or unreasonable for not making that inductive step along with you, then you’re on justified ground. But not so much otherwise.

    Well, as I said, you’re going to actually have to do the math if you want to see how. Otherwise, you’re basically stuck with claiming either (i) Carroll et al. are lying about the properties of their models, or (ii) the argument from incredulity. “VS doesn’t see how” /= impossible.

    Neither, actually. My claim is actually that “self-arising” does NOT seem to be something that you can prove mathematically. How would you do that? First, mathematics tends to work on axioms, and that would mean that I could reject any mathematical axiom that led to that conclusion and build my own system without it, and that wouldn’t be a proof of anything. Second, the only concept in mathematics that might relate to that seems to be “infinity” (since mathematics doesn’t really have a concept of “cause”) and it’s not enough to use the concept THEY use to demonstrate something outside of mathematics; they’d have to instead build a conceptual argument exactly as I outline below: demonstrate that their concept of infinity is what the concept of infinity REALLY is, and THEN derive their conclusions from that. My question is asking them to demonstrate the concept of infinity by a purely conceptual argument, at which point I’d say they’ve got a bit beyond mathematics already.

    In either case, I don’t need to see the math until I know that they’ve got the concept right. You seem to be asking me to check the math before they demonstrate that they’re even talking about the same question as everyone else.

    VS, your initial post @25 stated that you think philosophy has a massive body of knowledge about causation. You also (IMO) strongly implied that you think scientists ought to consider this, and somewhat implied that you think science is unfairly discounting it now.

    My comment was actually that before Carroll and Jason insist that the concept of cause is just based on our everyday notions that don’t apply to what happened before the Big Bang, they should really check into what the fields that are looking to clarify the concept of cause beyond just our everyday notions have to say about it … especially since most of the arguments — Craig’s MAY be an exception — use the philosophical concept of cause and not the every day one. At that point, I don’t see why I should have to explain to scientists how to use that; they can easily go and look up the conceptualizations and see what they say, and then see how they fit into their own theories.

    But let me give you an example. I was once arguing with a physicist who gave this argument: A cause must precede its effect in time, but since time doesn’t come into existence until the Big Bang there is no way for there to be a cause of anything before the Big Bang. Thus, the Big Bang cannot have and doesn’t need a cause. My reply was that because it doesn’t seem to violate the concept of cause — or at least doesn’t violate it obviously — to have backwards or simultaneous causation you can’t say that a cause must precede its effect in time, and if that can happen then his argument doesn’t work. He replied that the scientific definition of cause insisted that that was the case, to which I replied that that seems to work for this universe, but he had no reason to claim that it was true about anything other than this universe … or that it was even necessarily true about this one.

    In the question, we are using the philosophical definition of cause because we have to; the scientific one is limited to this universe. And once we understand what the concept of cause is without tying it to this universe, we can see why we’d still need causes in most of these cases.

    “No reason to think?” No reason? All our successful physycal models, equations, and quantitative parameters for a multitude of observable phenomena are reasons to think. The fact that in the entire history of human explanatory endeavor, no successful, testable explanation of any observed phenomena has needed a diety is ‘reason to think.’

    As long as we don’t have reason to think that a scientific answer doesn’t work here. Which we do. Let me spin this out a bit for you:

    1) You can’t empirically examine what happened before the Big Bang, because that would be trying to look at something that either a) doesn’t exist anymore or b) is outside of this universe and we have no way and no reason to think that we’ll have a way to look at things outside this universe.

    2) We can’t presume that the natural laws of this universe hold outside of this one because it is more likely that they only apply to this one than that they apply universally across all reality, including universes other than this one. You can presuppose it, but it isn’t justified. Not that this would also cause problems for some counters to the Fine Tuning argument, which require fundamental parameters of the universe to be malleable resulting in much different behaviour.

    3) You can’t look at features of this universe and extrapolate from them to how things must have been before because it seems likely that the features of this universe arise because of the features of the Big Bang itself. All theories that posit that we had a Big Bang like the one we had will thus explain all the same phenomena, and any theories that don’t are plainly wrong and so don’t need to be considered.

    So, given that we have to give up these three things, what can science do here without essentially doing conceptual analysis, or philosophy?

    And there are other arguments as well (Hart goes on and on about the failings of naturalism in his book, to the detriment of actually making his own case).

    Its problematic because when you are making arguments about the physical, empricial world, testing is how you assess the correctness of your premises.

    And where is your proof that all claims about the physical, empirical world must and even CAN be demonstrated or assessed that way? And that the question under consideration really IS about the physical, empirical world? Remember, ultimate reality is metaphysics, not physics, and metaphysics has to try to get at the world outside of our impressions of it, denying you the blase use of empirical data.

    Your step #1 is vastly inferior to empirical testing. You’re basically substituting a human judgement call about whether one concept “seems to match” another for hypothesis testing.

    It’s not anywhere near as trivial as that; I just stated it simply. There’s a LOT of work that goes into examining if a concept is right, using a lot of examinations and thought experiments and challenges and seeking out contradictions and the like. But if you read my moon example to MNb, I’d like to see you answer how to determine if a moon must be spherical any other way.

  82. #82 eric
    March 12, 2014

    VS:

    Unless, of course, we can put forward an argument saying why God, notwithstanding, is a better or more likely explanation than the naturalistic alternative. Which is what they do.

    Perhaps we are arguing over what “better” means. To me, a “better” hypothesis is one that explains a wider variety of phenomena in a consistent manner. One which makes testable predictions (and then passes more tests). One which is able to distinguish itself empirically from the infinite number of other possible contradictory hypotheses that might also be used for explanation. “God did it” is none of these things. It has no wider explanatory power, is not testable, and is not distinguishable from Odin did it, Vishnu did it, Nyarlathotep did it, etc., etc.

    When an argument (such as yours) provides equal support for the “rationality” of an infinite number of contradictory opinions, I suggest that that argument has a severe problem. The parallels to Pascal’s Wager are pretty clear, and that is not generally considered a good defense of God belief.

    My claim is actually that “self-arising” does NOT seem to be something that you can prove mathematically. How would you do that?

    Using capitals to emphasize your assertion doesn’t make it less of an assertion. You’re still using an argument from incredulity: VS doesn’t understand how math can do X, therefore VS believes math can’t do X. The only reply I can give you is, do the math before making that judgement.

    1) You can’t empirically examine what happened before the Big Bang, because that would be trying to look at something that either a) doesn’t exist anymore or b) is outside of this universe

    How do you know? Cosmology’s counter is pretty clear and obvious: you create models of how the universe arose that predict its features, and which provide additional testable (in principle) predictions. Then you go out and test those models. The one which fits the data is the inductively most credible one. The same answer is perrfectly adequate for 2 and 3. Are different physical laws in the pre-universe a possibility? Okay, form an hypothesis/make a model of such a pre-universe and see what that model predicts we might observe different from other models today.

    I kind of understand your defense of God as a possible explanation. Having had many conversations with you, I expect that. But what I really don’t understand is that you are now arguing that we should close down scientific cosmology because you don’t think it will ever yield an answer. Its sort of the double theological whammy: accept our preferred explanation even though we don’t currently make any testable predictions about it and has never once shown itself to be the right explanation for any observed phenomenon, ever, in the past. And stop doing normal science in this area because we God-believers don’t understand how you might come up with a different explanation.

    It’s not anywhere near as trivial as that; I just stated it simply. There’s a LOT of work that goes into examining if a concept is right, using a lot of examinations and thought experiments and challenges and seeking out contradictions and the like.

    Seeking out contradicions is validity testing. I already granted you could do that. To get to soundness (or at least more confidence in it), you have to have a method to distinguish a correct internally consistent set of premises from an incorrect internally consistent set of premises. I don’t see how you do that without comparing your premises to the world. I.e., testing them. And if you aren’t or can’t do that, your conclusion is on shakier grounds than the conclusions for which that has been done, and for which the premises have passed the tests we’ve given them.

    In response to Kel:

    Why cosmology stays is mostly because there isn’t a good naturalistic explanation yet that doesn’t eliminate God,

    Wow. I’m bolding this because I think its remarkable you would defend that position. If you only answer one thing in my post, please have it be this section. Okay, so according to this argument it appears that you are saying that during the 250 years between Newton developing orbital mechanics and Einstein’s development of relativity, the explanation “angels push Mercury” was a valid and rational explanation of the orbit of Mercury. Is that right? It meets all your criteria: celetial mechanics is certainly an area where God was traditionally used as an explanation, and Newton’s mechanics (the overwhelmingly best science at the time) had no explanation for Mercury’s orbit. So, you would defend the angel theory being used in that time period, correct?

    Do you understand that most people consider that a god of the gaps argument? Maybe it’s a more limited gap argument because you won’t use it for superconductors, but only using god-of-the-gaps in a few places does not make god-of-the-gaps more rigorous or defensible.

    if you read my moon example to MNb, I’d like to see you answer how to determine if a moon must be spherical any other way.

    You define what you mean by the word “moon” and you observationally test which objects qualify. If something doesn’t fit and you think it should (or it fits and you don’t think it should), you have a choice: accept the results, or redefine what you mean by the word ‘moon.’ We just went through such a debate a few years ago, with the word ‘planet.’ That is how you determine if a moon must be spherical, or whether Pluto is a planet.

    There are two points about this which shows you are wrong and MNb is right. First, such conceptual debates tell us nothing new about the world. We did not learn anything new about the universe by delisting Pluto. Pluto is still exactly the same, we humans just linguistically pigeonhole it differently now. If we argue over whether a cubic rock orbiting a planet is considered a moon or not, we are not learning anything about the universe, we are simply deciding how to linguistically pigeonhole some object. And just as such arguments don’t tell us anything new about that square rock orbiting a planet, your method of conceptual comparison, on its own, can’t tell us anything new about the cause of the universe. Second, that debate was resolved in part through empirical testing to see how well actual, empirical objects fit the conceptual categories that humans came up with. So your method of conceptual comparison does not avoid the need for empirical testing; you still need such testing to help resolve the debate. Which undermines your entire point about using it.

    ***

    Look, if you want your God-concept to stand as a viable explanation for the cosmos, you’re going to eventually have to go beyond whether your concepts and premises are fully self-consistent and ‘seem right’ to human opinion. You’re going to have to develop some objective test to see whether the premises you make about the universe actually reflect the universe you’re trying to explain or not.

  83. #83 eric
    March 12, 2014

    VS:

    There’s a LOT of work that goes into examining if a concept is right, using a lot of examinations and thought experiments and challenges and seeking out contradictions and the like.

    One addendum about this, just because of its historical significance. Probably the most famous thought experiment of the modern era was Einstein’s gedankenexperiment about shooting light from a moving train. Do you understand, VS, that science did not see that experiment as evidence for relativity? What it did was serve as an hypothesis: it helped scientists decide what sort of experiments to design and run. It gave scientists an idea of what to test. It was the results of those physical, empirical tests that helped drive the acceptance of relativity as theory. Not the gedankenexperiment itself.

    If philosophers (of science or otherwise) are considering the results of thought experiments to be evidence, they are really misunderstanding an important part of science. Or, at least, they are using an alternate methodology that has far lower standards of what counts as evidence than what science has.

  84. #84 Verbose Stoic
    March 12, 2014

    eric,

    One addendum about this, just because of its historical significance. Probably the most famous thought experiment of the modern era was Einstein’s gedankenexperiment about shooting light from a moving train. Do you understand, VS, that science did not see that experiment as evidence for relativity? What it did was serve as an hypothesis: it helped scientists decide what sort of experiments to design and run. It gave scientists an idea of what to test. It was the results of those physical, empirical tests that helped drive the acceptance of relativity as theory. Not the gedankenexperiment itself.

    I don’t think anything could highlight clearer your absolute blindness to anything other than science … and, particularly, what you yourself consider science. Because the most famous thought experiment of the modern error is, in fact, almost certainly Searle’s Chinese Room, and the most famous scientific thought experiment is likely Shrodinger’s Cat. NEITHER of which do what you say Einstein’s thought experiment was about.

    But that’s neither here nor there, actually, because by far the more interesting part is that when we were talking about doing conceptual analysis, your reply here is basically to say that science doesn’t use thought experiments as evidence for scientific claims. Which, of course, I already knew. But what does that have to do with conceptual analysis and the use of thought experiments in doing that? Philosophy is the field that does the most and the most in-depth conceptual analysis, and as you should know it relies on thought experiments quite a bit to do so. Thought experiments are, in fact, BETTER than empirical examination at doing conceptual analysis because a) they stop you from getting too caught up in the things you see every day and b) they allow for a much greater range of explorations and the ability to test out individual parts of a concept which you might not be able to do with the instances you can go and look at. Since concepts have to apply to all worlds and not just this one, they work really well. That philosophy then can use them as “evidence” (since it isn’t clear what counts to you as evidence when you use the term a lot of the time) for conceptual claims is NOT an indication that they have a lower standard of evidence than science, but that they are allowing as evidence the things that count AS evidence for concepts, while science is counting as evidence the things that count as evidence for instances. They are different, but one is not inferior to the other.

    If someone wanted an example of scientism, your reply couldn’t be a better example of it.

    Look, science does some conceptualizing, but its concepts are impoverished compared to those of philosophy. This is not a problem, because science only cares about concepts to the extent that it helps them form theories that explain instances in this world. And philosophy is not a very good way to look at instances in the world, but again that’s not a problem because it generally only cares about instances to the extent that they allow it to understand concepts. You don’t use the scientific method to do conceptual analysis and you don’t use philosophy to do empirical science, even though you could if you tried hard enough. If a philosopher went up to a scientist and gave the “cubical moons” argument I just gave, the scientist is quite likely to first ask “Are you saying that we have cubical moons in this universe?” and upon being told “No” is likely to reply “Well, then why should I care?”. And a scientist who replies to a philosopher who posits that the concept of cause allows for backwards causation that we can’t have that in this universe is again likely to be met with a “Why should I care?” Their main goal is different, and thus their methods are different.

    However, there is overlap. Sometimes a scientific argument will depend on a concept, and sometimes a philosophical argument will depend on instances. When this happens, it is always a bad idea for the one side to ignore the other, and the work that has gone on in the field on the issue. In the past, philosophy tended to do that more often, and it still does it at times today, but as science expands its range, it is more and more stumbling into areas that were traditionally philosophical and tripping over the concepts involved. That was the point of the example I gave of the physicist, as that person was trying to make a conceptual argument and ignoring that their concept of cause was overly simplified and so likely not correct … and certainly wasn’t the the one that the First Cause arguments were using. I essentially accused Carroll and Jason of the same thing. But the ur example of this has to be Krauss, who claimed to solve the Something from Nothing problem by positing a Nothing that was a Something, and then reacted badly when the philosophers pointed out that he wasn’t actually answering the question. At the very least, if you are going to engage in questions that critically depend on concepts AND on concepts that philosophy has studied for years, it would behoove you to understand what those are and be prepared to argue FOR your concept beyond “It’s scientific”, just as you’d expect philosophers who wanted to argue for, say, how quantum mechanics can produce the mind to give some empirical evidence of that relation.

    I argue that this First Cause issue is more conceptual than empirical, and have given arguments for it. Are you prepared to defend your contention that it is scientific beyond “It’s about something that exists”?

  85. #85 Verbose Stoic
    March 12, 2014

    eric,

    To me, a “better” hypothesis is one that explains a wider variety of phenomena in a consistent manner. One which makes testable predictions (and then passes more tests). One which is able to distinguish itself empirically from the infinite number of other possible contradictory hypotheses that might also be used for explanation.

    I don’t disagree with these, with one caveat: for these to actually count in making an explanation better than another, your explanation already has to have explained what needs to be explained. If it explains less than another theory about the specific phenomena under consideration then it’s not a better explanation no matter how testable or empirical it is. This, for example, is what I talk about when I talk about disliking neurological/scientific explanations of mind; I find no room there for phenomenal experience and its qualities, and to me that’s what you need to explain about consciousness, thus it doesn’t even rise to the level of an explanation for consciousness until it does that. Note that that’s just an example; I expect that you have a different take on what needs to be explained or how it explains it than me.

    God did it” is none of these things. It has no wider explanatory power, is not testable, and is not distinguishable from Odin did it, Vishnu did it, Nyarlathotep did it, etc., etc.

    Again, you assert that when it simply isn’t true. Take the classical/Scholastic theistic explanation. It uses Aristotle to get to a Ground of Being, and then derives from that that the Ground of Being must be omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, and conscious. That’s pretty much a God, and certainly isn’t Odin, who’s actually one of these. Yes, there’s some work to do to get to a specific God in some cases, but it eliminates some gods and some entities right off the bat, if it’s right. You, again, don’t understand the arguments that you are so quick to dismiss.

    (For more detail, you can check my review of Hart’s book on my blog).

    Using capitals to emphasize your assertion doesn’t make it less of an assertion. You’re still using an argument from incredulity: VS doesn’t understand how math can do X, therefore VS believes math can’t do X. The only reply I can give you is, do the math before making that judgement.

    This would be more reasonable if a) the entire rest of that paragraph hadn’t been me arguing for why mathematics can’t do it and b) if the entire premise of most of your comments hasn’t essentially been you saying that you can’t see how any non-empirical — or purely conceptual — argument can establish the existence of things. At least I, in general, do try to argue for my positions. You, on the other hand, have simply been asserting the need for empirical data in determining these things.

    How do you know? Cosmology’s counter is pretty clear and obvious: you create models of how the universe arose that predict its features, and which provide additional testable (in principle) predictions. Then you go out and test those models. The one which fits the data is the inductively most credible one. The same answer is perrfectly adequate for 2 and 3.

    It’s clear that you didn’t read them, since 3 states point blank that you aren’t, in fact, going to get any features of this universe that matter as long as the models posit the same Big Bang, which is what determines the features of this universe. You can’t use an argument that I’m arguing is false without really simply looking like you’re saying “Nuh-uh!”.

    Again, any model that predicts the Big Bang will predict the same qualities of this universe. If you disagree, then show the physics that says that the Big Bang does not determine the features of this universe. Given 3), you have no answer for 1) and 2), so we can start there.

    I kind of understand your defense of God as a possible explanation. Having had many conversations with you, I expect that. But what I really don’t understand is that you are now arguing that we should close down scientific cosmology because you don’t think it will ever yield an answer. Its sort of the double theological whammy: accept our preferred explanation even though we don’t currently make any testable predictions about it and has never once shown itself to be the right explanation for any observed phenomenon, ever, in the past. And stop doing normal science in this area because we God-believers don’t understand how you might come up with a different explanation.

    Despite your having had many conversations with me, it is clear that you don’t actually understand me, or else you’d understand that my focus here is more philosophical than theological, and that my objection to science coming up with an answer here is not an attempt to defend theological answers — at least, not directly — but to point out the limits of science. I don’t say that science can’t do it because I want there to be a God there, but because philosophically speaking science CAN’T do it; you can’t answer the question empirically. Or, at least, that’s my argument.

    Okay, so according to this argument it appears that you are saying that during the 250 years between Newton developing orbital mechanics and Einstein’s development of relativity, the explanation “angels push Mercury” was a valid and rational explanation of the orbit of Mercury. Is that right?

    No. My answer to MNb about superconductivity is relevant here as well: it makes little sense to say that all of the orbits except Mercury’s are natural and not done by God or angels, and theologically only having angels for Mercury makes little sense as well. However, creation of all there is is indeed something that fits theologically, and without a good naturalistic explanation or the sort of obvious inductive link that we had for the orbits it’s far more reasonable to say that you haven’t seen anything yet that can justify a claim that this must be natural. Again, that’s why it stays in cosmology and not in other areas.

    You define what you mean by the word “moon” and you observationally test which objects qualify. If something doesn’t fit and you think it should (or it fits and you don’t think it should), you have a choice: accept the results, or redefine what you mean by the word ‘moon.’ We just went through such a debate a few years ago, with the word ‘planet.’ That is how you determine if a moon must be spherical, or whether Pluto is a planet.

    Here you insist that concepts are merely arbitrary classifications, which implies that there is no really “right” way to conceptualize something. That’s not how philosophy — whose main subject matter is concepts — sees them. Nor is it how science sees them; look at “natural kinds” to see how science thinks that it can find real conceptual distinctions and not just arbitrary ones. In fact, you need it to be the case that you can say that, say, “bats are not birds” is just a TRUE statement and not just an arbitrary classification for convenience, because if you don’t say that then contradictions like “The Bible says that bats are birds, but they aren’t” isn’t in any way a contradiction.

    Now, you’re free to argue that concepts can’t be right or wrong or true or false in that way, but you’d have to make a philosophical argument to do it. I’m all ears.

    First, such conceptual debates tell us nothing new about the world.

    And this is your assertion, repeated again: you assume that no conceptual argument can ever tell us something about the world, and that it can never be the case that we need a conceptual argument to determine if something exists because we can’t do so empirically. That is not a justified stance. Yes, most arguments over instances are not conceptual arguments, and so you do go and test them empirically. I’ve never denied that. But some seem to be ones that have to follow from the concept, such as:

    1) Proving that something necessarily — meaning logically — exists.

    2) Proving that something is self-actualizing/self-arising (because that seems to follow from the conceptual properties of the thing, since it has to follow from a property that exists before it is instantiated, obviously).

    3) Saying things about objects in another universe (since conceptual properties are true in all universes and instance properties aren’t).

    The cosmological argument seems to rely on all three of these. So it certainly seems reasonable to think that a conceptual argument is required here. Again, you may argue otherwise, but at this point at least stop claiming that I am merely asserting things.

  86. #86 couchloc
    March 12, 2014

    1. No object can have a surface which is red all over and green all over at the same time.

    2. No object can be both round and square at the same time.

    I think I know both of these claims are true, and neither relies for its justification on doing experiments or empirical evidence. These would appear to be a priori truths of reflection. Both of them also tell me something about the world. Where did I go wrong?

  87. #87 Ça alors!
    March 12, 2014

    Verbose Stoic: “I don’t say that science can’t do it because I want there to be a God there, but because philosophically speaking science CAN’T do it; you can’t answer the question empirically.”

    Exactly. And for some people, when you try to argue that science can’t explain EVERYTHING, it is because you are a creationist or/and anti-science…

  88. #88 Sean T
    March 13, 2014

    couchloc,

    Just to play devil’s advocate:

    No entity can both be localized and extended at the same time.

    That seems to have the same form as the ones you’ve posted, except that scientific investigation has found that my example just simply is not true. I think that your statements are considered true, not just based on their content, but on the fact that we haven’t happened to observe any objects that are simultaneously red and green or any that are simultaneously round and square. Sorry if this seems weird, but quantum mechanics has led us to this type of weirdness.

  89. #89 couchloc
    March 13, 2014

    Thanks for the suggestion. I don’t know what “localized” means in this context and so I’m unsure how to evaluate your example. I agree that the suggestion about quantum mechanics is something that presents us with a potential answer. But at present I’m still bothered by the fact that the terms involved in my examples are incompatible. To say that the exclusion between red and green surfaces is based “on the fact that we haven’t happened to observe any objects….” suggests it’s possible to have such an observation. But this doesn’t seem the right way to describe things, because I cannot even imagine what would be involved in having such an observation. There doesn’t seem to be any state of affairs in the world that could satisfy this description in fact.

  90. #90 Iapetus
    March 13, 2014

    couchloc,

    “1. No object can have a surface which is red all over and green all over at the same time.

    2. No object can be both round and square at the same time.

    I think I know both of these claims are true, and neither relies for its justification on doing experiments or empirical evidence. These would appear to be a priori truths of reflection.”

    Are you seriously claiming that you have discovered two synthetic truths a priori here? I would be very interested to hear how you justify this assertion, especially given the general, vague nature of both statements containing a multitude of unstated assumptions and preconditions.

    In addition to lacking any kind of justification, it is trivially easy to think of counterexamples.

    For instance, it is conceivable that a certain coating compound will reflect light of different wavelengths depending on the angle of view. Thus, an object which is coated with this compound will appear red to one observer looking at it under a certain angle while it will simultaneously appear green to another observer looking at it under another angle. Alternatively, we might conceive of two observers whose neurological make-up will let them perceive red and green inverted, so that the object appears red to one observer and green to the other.

    As to your second example, nothing we have found thus far in nature is a mathematically perfect circle or perfect square. Thus, one can argue that every object can be described as both circle and square, while in most instances one description will be a superior approximation compared to the other.

    Essentially, your argument seems to rest on our conventions concerning identity and non-contradiction, i.e. that A cannot be non-A at the same time and in every aspect. Well, how do you know that this is true a priori, i.e. without looking at reality and seeing if it pertains and has absolutely no exception? I could mention things like the particle/wave duality or superposition which render many of our traditional ways of thinking highly suspect when it comes to the atomic and sub-atomic realm. But even in the absence of such concrete counterexamples, the onus would be on you to show beyond a reasonable doubt how your two statements necessarily hold true in reality. I don´t see how you can do that from pure a priori grounds.

    In my view, there generally is no reason to accept any non-analytical assertion about certain aspects of reality based solely on conceptual/logical analysis. You can tag fancy labels like “necessary”, “self-arising”, “self-actualizing” etc. pp. onto your concept all you like, it cannot and will not ensure that your concept is in fact referring to an existing thing. This can only be done by looking at the world and trying to find direct or indirect evidence for it. If anyone can provide an example to the contrary, I´m all ears.

    As for the origin of the universe, I wager cosmologists are not overly impressed with armchair declarations from the theologians/philosophers about what they can and cannot investigate. When comparing the progress that was achieved regarding our understanding of the universe in the last centuries of doing cosmology as a natural science with the progress of the past millennia of doing cosmology mainly as an exercise in theological/philosophical argumentation and concept analysis, everybody can draw their own conclusions. Given this, I find it amazing how people can denounce scientists as being arrogant and venturing beyond their expertise when addressing questions of the origin of the universe or the human mind, but then turn around and make grandiose ex cathedra decrees about what is or is not within the purview of empirical science. Naturally, scientists will ignore such artificially imposed boundaries and continue to research these matters.

  91. #91 Verbose Stoic
    March 13, 2014

    Sean T,

    That’s a good example, and gives me a chance to expand on why we can say the things that couchloc says while still at least being able to address comments like that.

    The argumentst hat couchloc makes are summarized versions of conceptual arguments. The concepts of red, green and coloured and the concepts of round and square are such that they create a contradiction, and so we can say that there are no objects that are both coloured red and green at the same time and that are round and square at the same time. This is precisely because conceptual properties — if we get them right — must apply to all instances of the object.

    Now, let’s take a look at your example. At first blush, it looks like the concepts of “localized” and”extended” have properties that are contradictory, so you can’t be both. So what happens if we find something in the world that seems to be BE both? Well, there are two options: either we say that those things in the world aren’t REALLY instances of the concepts “localized” and “extended”, or we say that we got our concepts of “localized” and “extended” wrong, possibly by mistaking instance properties of localized and extended things for conceptual properties. This isn’t, however, a major problem for conceptual analysis, but is instead its actual procedure: since conceptual properties, as I said, must apply to all instances if you find something that is an instance of a concept that doesn’t have those properties then either that instance is not an instance of that concept or else you’ve gotten the conceptual properties wrong.

    So, instances that we find in the world can be very useful for conceptual analysis. However, they aren’t any more useful than instances we find in thought experiments. ANY instance or possible instance that would be an instance of that concept but would lack a conceptual property is a challenge to the concept. That’s just fundamental to conceptual analysis.

    From this, I can answer lapetus:

    Are you seriously claiming that you have discovered two synthetic truths a priori here? I would be very interested to hear how you justify this assertion, especially given the general, vague nature of both statements containing a multitude of unstated assumptions and preconditions.

    Obviously, there’s much more to these concepts, but that wouldn’t mean that the overall justification for these statements wouldn’t be conceptual rather than empirical.

    For instance, it is conceivable that a certain coating compound will reflect light of different wavelengths depending on the angle of view. Thus, an object which is coated with this compound will appear red to one observer looking at it under a certain angle while it will simultaneously appear green to another observer looking at it under another angle. Alternatively, we might conceive of two observers whose neurological make-up will let them perceive red and green inverted, so that the object appears red to one observer and green to the other.

    In order to make this move, you would have to define the concept of “coloured” as applied to an object completely subjectively, as the colour the object appears to an individual. This means that if someone has jaundice, you’d have to concluded that it is reasonable for them to say that all objects are REALLY coloured yellow instead of saying that they SEE all objects as being coloured yellow. This means that you could never advance any idea of an object having any kind of objective colour, independent of a particular observer (and you can’t even make it for the average observer, as your neurological example proves). You’d also have to accept that if you have a red car but look at it at night, then it’s really coloured black. You’d also have problems saying what colour that car is when you aren’t looking at it, since you’d have to make it dependent on your own direct experiences, and when you aren’t experiencing it you a) don’t have that anymore and b) you don’t know under what conditions you will see it next, and so can’t even extrapolate from what you saw previously.

    So, yes, you can try to define the concept of “coloured object” that way, but if you do so you run into a lot of absudities. Probably best to use the more standard concept that allows for coloured objects to be spoken of objecitvely AND implies that an object cannot be coloured two different colours at once under the same conditions.

    As to your second example, nothing we have found thus far in nature is a mathematically perfect circle or perfect square. Thus, one can argue that every object can be described as both circle and square, while in most instances one description will be a superior approximation compared to the other.

    Except you can’t do that, because while the properties are contradictory they are exclusionary; it is posible to be OTHER than circular or square, and therefore a deformed and not perfect circle is probably best described as “elliptical”, which is in no way square. So not being able to find perfect circles or perfect squares in reality in no way implies that all objects are partially circular and partially square.

    Essentially, your argument seems to rest on our conventions concerning identity and non-contradiction, i.e. that A cannot be non-A at the same time and in every aspect. Well, how do you know that this is true a priori, i.e. without looking at reality and seeing if it pertains and has absolutely no exception?

    If you don’t accept the laws of identity and non-contradiction, how do you prove ANYTHING about the world? You wouldn’t be able to, for example, appeal to the object you just looked at being the same object you are looking at now — requires identity — and couldn’t argue that something cannot be true because it leads to a contradiction. At that point, you could never empirically investigate things and couldn’t ever prune your hypotheses down. So it seems reasonable to assume that those two things hold and then work on how things work outside of that, since we have no hope of understanding anything otherwise.

    I could mention things like the particle/wave duality or superposition which render many of our traditional ways of thinking highly suspect when it comes to the atomic and sub-atomic realm.

    But do they really challenge the presumptions of identity and non-contradiction, or do they just challenge our conceptualizations? For example, why did we think that something acting like both a wave and a particle was CONCEPTUALLY contradictory? Were we right to think that? Or did we just get it wrong?

    You can tag fancy labels like “necessary”, “self-arising”, “self-actualizing” etc. pp. onto your concept all you like, it cannot and will not ensure that your concept is in fact referring to an existing thing.

    Interestingly, “self-arising” is what the SCIENTIST we are talking about is talking about: that’s what eric, at least, says Carroll says. And he does so because if you can’t get something self-arising or necessary then you can’t get to any kind of First Cause, since it would depend on something else for its existence and so not be a First Cause, and no way around that can avoid that chain.

    When comparing the progress that was achieved regarding our understanding of the universe in the last centuries of doing cosmology as a natural science with the progress of the past millennia of doing cosmology mainly as an exercise in theological/philosophical argumentation and concept analysis, everybody can draw their own conclusions.

    Of course, the fact that philosophy/theology wasn’t interested in DESCRIBING the universe, but instead in its ultimate existence, and that science hasn’t made any measurable progress on THAT question doesn’t mean anything right?

    Philosophy does not denigrate cosmology or its role in describing the state of the current universe. Cosmology is, in fact, the absolute right way to do that, and philosophy isn’t. It’s just that that ultimate existence question isn’t the same sort of question, and looks like one that science can’t realyl get at.

    Given this, I find it amazing how people can denounce scientists as being arrogant and venturing beyond their expertise when addressing questions of the origin of the universe or the human mind, but then turn around and make grandiose ex cathedra decrees about what is or is not within the purview of empirical science.

    Except they are not making grandiose ex cathedra degrees, but instead are making conceptual arguments. Since science also makes conceptual arguments on occasion, it doesn’t work out well for science to dismiss those as unfounded. And so doing so would be an example of unacceptable arrogance … just as if a philosopher insisted that their conceptual argument said something about the instance that science was looking at that contradicted the observed instance properties. Neither science nor philosophy can or should dismiss the other, but that does not mean that either side cannot point out when a certain problem is not a scientific/philosophical problem.

  92. #92 couchloc
    March 13, 2014

    Thanks for your response. I don’t have time for a lengthy reply, so I’ll be brief here.

    “this compound will appear red to one observer looking at it under a certain angle while it will simultaneously appear green to another”

    I’m not talking about two individuals who may have different perceptual experiences. I’m thinking of colors objectively, in terms of the objective reflectance properties of the objects themselves (Verbose Stoic gets this right). I’m talking about “a surface which is [itself] red all over and green all over at the same time.”

    “one can argue that every object can be described as both circle and square”

    These properties are exclusionary as I understand it. So no object can be both at the same time. I think VS account of “round” and “square” is right on this point.

    “the onus would be on you to show beyond a reasonable doubt how your two statements necessarily hold true in reality.”

    Well I would merely like some plausible explanation of how these statements’ truth has to be an observable matter. Nothing said so far provides me with such an account, so I think the burden of proof hasn’t been met. The wave/particle example is interesting but it’s not clear to me that it concerns exclusionary properties.

    “I find it amazing how people can denounce scientists”

    Please point out where I “denounced” scientists. I don’t recall doing anything of the kind and am pretty fond of science. It’s interesting that you should think that a legitimate issue about the nature of human knowledge in relation to our rational faculties is beyond the pale. It surely doesn’t follow from anything you’ve said that science can know everything there is in the universe, or that all problems are empirically resolvable. That reason might inform us of certain things doesn’t strike me as so troubling.

  93. #93 Science Avenger
    March 13, 2014

    Wading through the debate now, Craig is making his second talk. I find it interesting that I find the scientist’s talk fairly straightforward, whereas Craig’s mostly impenetrable. His basic strategy seems to be to hide his lack of content behind arcane vocabulary.

  94. #94 Iapetus
    March 14, 2014

    ”Obviously, there’s much more to these concepts, but that wouldn’t mean that the overall justification for these statements wouldn’t be conceptual rather than empirical.”

    So do you want to take a stab at providing a synthetic truth a priori? By all means, the floor is yours…

    “Except you can’t do that, because while the properties are contradictory they are exclusionary; it is possible to be OTHER than circular or square, and therefore a deformed and not perfect circle is probably best described as “elliptical”, which is in no way square.”

    Since we have never seen any perfect circles, squares, ellipses or whatever in our universe, all our abstract geometric descriptions are merely approximations of the real object. As I said, you can argue over which abstract shape is the best approximation in any given instance, but not that one approximation is perfect while all others are a prioriinconceivable. And you certainly don´t get to prove couchloc´s supposed synthetic truth a priori that way.

    “So not being able to find perfect circles or perfect squares in reality in no way implies that all objects are partially circular and partially square.”

    Which is not what couchloc and I were talking about. His assertion was that an object cannot be a circle and a square at the same time, not partially circle and partially square. While this might be true analytically if we define a circle and a square respectively, additional justification is needed if this is supposed to be a synthetic truth a priori.

    ”In order to make this move, you would have to define the concept of “coloured” as applied to an object completely subjectively, as the colour the object appears to an individual.”

    Couchloc´s assertion was that no object can have a surface that is red all over and green all over at the same time. As I stated, this general assertion carries with it a plethora of unstated assumptions and presuppositions. If those are not explicated, it is completely legitimate to interpret the assertion broadly when providing counterexamples.

    ”Probably best to use the more standard concept that allows for coloured objects to be spoken of objectively AND implies that an object cannot be coloured two different colours at once under the same conditions.”

    Why should I accept that approach? Because this would make it easier for the one forwarding the assertion and claiming that it is a synthetic truth a priori? The concept of an “objective” color is deeply problematic, since colors do not exist “out there” but are generated by the input of electromagnetic waves into a complex nervous system. Thus, you are bound to have a subjective component.

    However, this whole discussion about details regarding shapes and colors is not very productive. I already addressed the main issue by pointing out that both of couchloc´s examples, however flawed they may be, ultimately boil down to our conceptions of identity and non-contradiction. What he really wants to get at is that an object cannot be A and non-A in every aspect at the same time and claim that this assertion is a synthetic truth a priori. I don´t see any reason to accept this.

    “If you don’t accept the laws of identity and non-contradiction, how do you prove ANYTHING about the world? You wouldn’t be able to, for example, appeal to the object you just looked at being the same object you are looking at now — requires identity — and couldn’t argue that something cannot be true because it leads to a contradiction.”

    I could discuss all the different reasons as to why I disagree with this, but it is not necessary. It is enough to point out that what you are offering here is a pragmatic argument in favor of accepting said conventions, not a justification as to why an assertion based upon them is a synthetic truth a priori.

    “But do they [wave/particle duality and superposition] really challenge the presumptions of identity and non-contradiction, or do they just challenge our conceptualizations? For example, why did we think that something acting like both a wave and a particle was CONCEPTUALLY contradictory? Were we right to think that? Or did we just get it wrong?”

    The fact that you have to ask those questions proves my point, i.e. not only is there no justification for basing a purported synthetic truth a priori on said conventions, but you have to check them against reality in order to test their validity. And as it turns out, there is compelling empirical evidence that seems to if not invalidate them then at least limit their universal applicability.

    “Interestingly, “self-arising” is what the SCIENTIST we are talking about is talking about: that’s what eric, at least, says Carroll says.”

    The difference being, of course, that a scientist will not claim that his theory is correct based solely on conceptual analysis. A prerequisite for a theory to be accepted as a scientific endeavor is the ability to make predictions that are empirically testable. If and when said tests are successful, the theory and its proposed entities/structures are provisionally accepted. So in case Carroll´s theory should, after rigorous empirical testing, emerge as the leading candidate for an explanation of the history of the universe, then and only then would science accept it along with its implications, which might include the fact that the universe was self-arising.

    “Of course, the fact that philosophy/theology wasn’t interested in DESCRIBING the universe, but instead in its ultimate existence, and that science hasn’t made any measurable progress on THAT question doesn’t mean anything right?”

    Oh please.

    Philosophy/theology was never interested in describing the universe? So people in former times never turned to philosophical/theological explanations for observed phenomena like storm and thunder, earthquakes and volcanoes, mental and physical illness etc. pp.? Philosophy/theology was always and exclusively concerned with “ultimate existence” and never presumed to be able to describe and explain the natural world? This is completely preposterous.

    Concerning that quest of elucidating the “ultimate existence” of the universe, how has that progressed during the last two or three millennia, based solely on conceptual and logical analysis? What is the mechanism by which we can ascertain, based on conceptual/logical analysis alone, whether the Five Elements form the “ultimate reality” of the universe?

    As for science allegedly making no inroads here, I find it incredible that you can utter such a sentence with a straight face. Scientific investigation on the micro- as well as the macroscale has enabled us to dive deeper into the structure, history and origin of our universe than any other method ever tried. It has furthermore unveiled a fundamental strangeness on the quantum scale that no armchair philosopher doing conceptual analysis would have considered possible. Our current scientific theories are by far the best, most thoroughly tested description of reality we have. The time that pure conceptual analysis yields superior or at least similar results will be the time your position will have a leg to stand on.

    “It’s just that that ultimate existence question isn’t the same sort of question, and looks like one that science can’t really get at.”

    You can repeat this assertion as often as you want, it will not make it any more justified. Nor will it stop scientists from researching this matter.

    I also don´t consider these artificial demarcations in any way useful. Such moves are frequently motivated by a desire to protect one´s turf from unwanted intruders and not borne out of a genuine desire to use the best available methods to address the problem at hand.

    “Except they are not making grandiose ex cathedra degrees, but instead are making conceptual arguments.”

    I have yet to see a conceptual argument which shows a synthetic truth a priori. What´s more, in your case it would not only be a conceptual argument about a certain object within the universe, but one which purports to adjudicate on the origin of the universe itself, its ultimate nature and cause. I almost have to admire the bravery of someone who believes that such a feat is possible.

    “Since science also makes conceptual arguments on occasion, it doesn’t work out well for science to dismiss those as unfounded.”

    Again you fail to mention the crucial fact that science does not rely on conceptual arguments alone, but couples them with empirical facts. Of course it is legitimate to try and explicate logical/conceptual consequences of any given theory; however, first of all the theory itself was only provisionally accepted because it passed certain empirical tests. Second of all, the predictions/consequences that are generated by undertaking this logical/conceptual analysis are again tested empirically. If said tests fail, it is a strong indication that the theory is false.

    I am baffled as to the reason why you think you can cut out the empirical part, rely on conceptual/logical analysis alone and still arrive at synthetic truths about reality, let alone “ultimate reality”, whatever that is supposed to be.

  95. #95 Iapetus
    March 14, 2014

    Couchloc,

    I have already addressed the main points in my previous post, so I will just leave some additional comments.

    ”Please point out where I “denounced” scientists. I don’t recall doing anything of the kind and am pretty fond of science. It’s interesting that you should think that a legitimate issue about the nature of human knowledge in relation to our rational faculties is beyond the pale.”

    The charge of denouncing scientists was not levelled at you personally, but in response to philosophers/theologians who presume to be able to tell scientists what they can and cannot investigate, while reserving the right to generate knowledge about those domains that science allegedly cannot reach. This despite of the poor historical track record of philosophy/theology in this regard and furthermore despite the fact that I have yet to see a plausible mechanism which could be used to a) show that said domains do in fact exist and b) reliably obtain knowledge about them in the complete absence of empirical facts.

    ”It surely doesn’t follow from anything you’ve said that science can know everything there is in the universe, or that all problems are empirically resolvable.”

    Which is not what I said. What I object to are declarations of immunity from scientific investigation for certain aspects of reality solely based on the analysis of certain concepts.

    I don´t know whether you are familiar with Heidegger. For me he epitomizes the folly of devising grand metaphysical constructs grounded exclusively in the analysis of concepts/words. He took this method to the extreme while insisting that no empirical fact would ever be sufficient to disprove the “knowledge” he gathered through his conceptual ruminations. It is the perfect immunization strategy and at the same time a complete dead end.

    ”That reason might inform us of certain things doesn’t strike me as so troubling.”

    Neither does it trouble me. However, we have to carefully consider when pure reason alone is sufficient for addressing a problem and when it needs help from empirical observation. And my point is that we have every indication to believe that generally our reason is not capable of supplying us with synthetic truths a priori, let alone when it comes to the origin of the universe or the nature of “ultimate reality”.

  96. #96 Verbose Stoic
    March 14, 2014

    lapetus,

    I am baffled as to the reason why you think you can cut out the empirical part, rely on conceptual/logical analysis alone and still arrive at synthetic truths about reality, let alone “ultimate reality”, whatever that is supposed to be.

    I skipped these before, because they didn’t really seem to be all that relevant, but since you are now very heavily relying on my having to prove a synthetic a priori in your counter I’ll point out that you seem to be mistaking a purported analytic argument for a synthetic one. From http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/analytic-synthetic/ :

    “Analytic” sentences, such as “Ophthalmologists are doctors,” are those whose truth seems to be knowable by knowing the meanings of the constituent words alone, unlike the more usual “synthetic” ones, such as “Ophthalmologists are rich,” whose truth is knowable by both knowing the meaning of the words and something about the world.

    Couchloc’s example are all analytic, and if you followed my definition of a concept and a conceptual argument you’d see that my argumets are, in fact, also analytic. Synthetic does not mean “about the world” but means that you can only know it — to translate it into my way of talking about things — by appealing to conceptual properties and at least one instance property. Anayltic statements are those that are justifiable by appealing only to conceptual properties. So to make your argument stick here, you’d have to argue that analytic properties can’t tell us anything about the world without adding in an empirical observation. But we know otherwise. Take this statement:

    1) All bachelors are unmarried.

    Once we know what it means to be a bachelor — ie what concept the word “bachelor” points at — we know that no matter how hard we look, we will never find a married bachelor, in this or any other world, and if you ever manage to find one you’d be using a different concept for at least either bachelor or married to make that work (in short, you’d be playing word games).

    The same thing applies to couchloc’s examples. If I know what a circle and a square is, then I know that you can’t have an object that’s both. If I know what red, green and coloured mean, then I know that you can’t have an object that’s coloured both at the same time (all over). Any arguments you make against it will be challenges to the analytic argument and our conception of those things, and not an empirical disproof. Empirical disproof and confirmation is limited to instance properties, not conceptual ones.

    Now, onto your specific points:

    Since we have never seen any perfect circles, squares, ellipses or whatever in our universe, all our abstract geometric descriptions are merely approximations of the real object. As I said, you can argue over which abstract shape is the best approximation in any given instance, but not that one approximation is perfect while all others are a prioriinconceivable.

    This doesn’t help you in any way, because it will still never be the case that a) we’ll have more than one “best approximation” for something, which means that you still couldn’t say that something be both circular and square at the same time and b) Squares and circles are conceptually incompatible and so there is NO distortion you could make to result in an object that you could say can be approximated equally well by either a square or a circle. And even if you could, that’s a fallacy of the heap. This “imperfect” argument doesn’t prove anything except maybe that some people really can’t draw [grin].

    Which is not what couchloc and I were talking about. His assertion was that an object cannot be a circle and a square at the same time, not partially circle and partially square.

    Why is it that I end up arguing with so many people who seem to forget their own arguments? YOU said:

    Thus, one can argue that every object can be described as both circle and square, while in most instances one description will be a superior approximation compared to the other.

    While you can quibble over whether you implied that they were partially circular or partially square, my point should be obvious: because there are a number of other shapes in the world, you can’t actually argue that, and you need that for your argument. For example, are you going to call a triangle both square and circular, and leave off triangular?

    Couchloc´s assertion was that no object can have a surface that is red all over and green all over at the same time. As I stated, this general assertion carries with it a plethora of unstated assumptions and presuppositions. If those are not explicated, it is completely legitimate to interpret the assertion broadly when providing counterexamples.

    Except you didn’t interpret it broadly but interpreted it narrowly, as your examples only work for a concept of coloured as being completely subjective and fails otherwise. Note that his argument works for the completely subjective concept as well (since you won’t experience two different subjective experiences at the same time) while yours doesn’t.

    Why should I accept that approach? Because this would make it easier for the one forwarding the assertion and claiming that it is a synthetic truth a priori?

    No, because, as I pointed out, using that as the concept for coloured leads to absurdities, which strongly suggests that its the wrong concept.

    The concept of an “objective” color is deeply problematic, since colors do not exist “out there” but are generated by the input of electromagnetic waves into a complex nervous system. Thus, you are bound to have a subjective component.

    A subjective component isn’t a problem, but it being purely subjective — as you’d have to have it to make your counters work — IS, as I demonstrated.

    I could discuss all the different reasons as to why I disagree with this, but it is not necessary. It is enough to point out that what you are offering here is a pragmatic argument in favor of accepting said conventions, not a justification as to why an assertion based upon them is a synthetic truth a priori.

    Let me remind you of what you said, again:

    Essentially, your argument seems to rest on our conventions concerning identity and non-contradiction, i.e. that A cannot be non-A at the same time and in every aspect. Well, how do you know that this is true a priori, i.e. without looking at reality and seeing if it pertains and has absolutely no exception?

    You seemed to be demanding an empirical justification for identiy and non-contradiction. I was point out that without your presupposing these, you can’t justify any empirical claims either, and so you certainly aren’t going to be able to look at “reality” and see that they have no exceptions unless you assume them first. Which then makes it perfectly acceptable for us to presuppose them as well — since you’re doing it anyway — and since we’re all presupposing them then couchloc’s arguments work, since by your own admission they rely on those assumptions. So your counter would only work if you could ignore them IN GENERAL and not just when they lead to conclusions you don’t like. Since you can’t, your counter doesn’t work.

    The fact that you have to ask those questions proves my point, i.e. not only is there no justification for basing a purported synthetic truth a priori on said conventions, but you have to check them against reality in order to test their validity. And as it turns out, there is compelling empirical evidence that seems to if not invalidate them then at least limit their universal applicability.

    Again, you don’t seem to understand the relation between conceptual properties and instances. All instances of a concept must have all of its conceptual properties. If I ever find an undeniable instance of a concept that lacks one of those properties, then all that means is that I conceptualized wrong. But whether that instance is a “real-world” example or a thought experiment example doesn’t change anything, and that an empirical example can be an example of an instance that may cause me to revise my concept in no way implies that in order to be justified in making a knowledge claim about the world based on conceptual properties I have to go out and check it first. I don’t; I can indeed claim to know that that is the case until something — real or imagined — proves otherwise.

    Oh please.

    Philosophy/theology was never interested in describing the universe? So people in former times never turned to philosophical/theological explanations for observed phenomena like storm and thunder, earthquakes and volcanoes, mental and physical illness etc. pp.?

    Two poitns here:

    1) Before there was actual science, philosophy did look at those phenomena (let’s drop theology for a minute because it’s more convoluted than philosophy is for these points). When science came, philosophy moved away from that, mostly because science was better at it and it wasn’t what philosophy really did. So my statement is indeed accurate for at least the current state of the issue, and in debating science vs philosophy you really do have to start AFTER science has decided what it does and proven its worth at it.

    2) We were actually talking about cosmology here, not those other areas. And, again, beyond the times when there was no science in this issue philosophy has always been concerned with ultimate reality more than specifics, right back to the pre-Socratics. They’ve always been interested in the “Something from Nothing” question more than specific details, which is why that question has lasted so long in philosophy. So, for the issues we are addressing in this context, it’s totally true. Science went heavily into the details of stars and orbits and the like, but philosophy itself rarely has — mostly they’ve been asides, especially since science has proved its worth — and theology tends only to bother when it seems to contradict its theology.

    And in light of that, you should now be able to see why i calim science has made no progress either: it has no idea how to get something from nothing or what — or if there — is something that exists just for the sake of existence that can cause or create the universe as we see it. And that’s the relevant philosophical question here. Come up with a scientific answer that isn’t just a variation on a philosophical answer and then we can talk.

    You can repeat this assertion as often as you want, it will not make it any more justified. Nor will it stop scientists from researching this matter.

    Again, why do I get some many people who claim I assert things that I’ve argued for?

    Tell me how to empirically observe something that simply must exist. Again, empirical observation justifies instance properties, and something that has to exist or self-arises has to have that follow from a property that would accrue to it before it is instantiated, or else you’re in deep, deep trouble. You can argue this if you wish, or ask me to clarify, but please stop insisting that I’m asserting things that I’m actually arguing for.

    I also don´t consider these artificial demarcations in any way useful. Such moves are frequently motivated by a desire to protect one´s turf from unwanted intruders and not borne out of a genuine desire to use the best available methods to address the problem at hand.

    This is a bit rich coming from someone who is insisting that conceptual arguments simply CAN’T settle ANY such questions without empirical proof, about someone who is simply saying that for some questions empirical/scientific methods AREN’T the best method and giving arguments for why it isn’t in these cases, while conceding that in a lot of cases science really IS the best method for that. As an example, I agree entirely that a philosophical approach would never have found out the quantum stuff you refer to later. It’s just not good at that sort of thing. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t the right approach for the First Cause.

    Again you fail to mention the crucial fact that science does not rely on conceptual arguments alone, but couples them with empirical facts.

    There are absolutely cases in science where a theory is dismissed simply because when the concepts are worked out they lead to a contradiction with themselves, and since science allows for that sort of purely conceptual argument it shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss one for the existence of something either, as long as the argument works. Especially since science qua science has no way to argue that you can’t have a purely conceptual argument that proves existence anyway.

  97. #97 Sean T
    March 14, 2014

    VS and couchloc,

    I think you are missing my point. The idea that a single entity can be both localized and extended, prior to the development of quantum mechanics, would have been considered just as absurd as the idea that an object can simultaneously be red and green all over. The concept of “localized” means, at least loosely speaking, that one can point to an object and say “it is here and not there.” The concept of extended means that one cannot do this. For instance, when you go to a beach and observe a water wave, you cannot point to a single location and say that the wave is at that location. The wave is an extended entity. You can do so with a grain of sand.

    Prior to the development of QM, it certainly seemed that these were concepts that are mutually contradictory. Prior to QM, the electron, for instance, was considered to be much like a grain of sand. If you shoot a single electron at a screen with two holes in it, according to our pre-quantum notions, the electron had to either hit the screen or pass through one hole or the other. According to our pre-QM understanding, we would have considered it a logical contradiction to say that the electron passed through both holes at the same time.

    QM tells us differently. The electron can indeed pass through both holes simultaneously and interfere with itself. The fact that this seems like a logical contradiction is irrelevant; QM gives correct answers about the real world in all instances so we believe the QM description and reject (at least in this case) the logical description. (BTW: the idea that our system of logic is incorrect has been very seriously floated as a result of the development of QM. QM gives correct answers, but there are various interpretations of what actually is going on to give us these answers. Many physicists just ignore these, but a modified logic is one such interpretation). Lest you think that perhaps electrons are different and that the concepts of localized and extended objects are still contradictory in other cases, QM tells us that ALL objects behave this way. The reason we don’t see grains of sand pass through two holes simultaneously, though, is that the wavelength of a sand grain is vanishingly small. In order to see interference, the holes must be of comparable size to the wavelength, so we have never observed this behavior for sand grains because we don’t have small enough holes.

    I would maintain that the reason we still hold statements such as couchloc’s one about red and green objects to be true is that we have yet to see a red/green object. If we do, we will certainly adjust our ideas on the concept of color.

    The mathematical example may really be a good example of the law of non-contradiction, but it really is not a good example of a priori knowledge of the actual world; there is no such thing as a perfect square or a perfect circle. We know this empirically; quantum mechanics tells us that due to the uncertainty principle you can never say that all of these points are equidistant from some center point. You can also never say that all four of these lines have equal length. The concept of perfect circle or perfect square makes no sense in our physical universe. Therefore, any statement about perfect squares or perfect circles cannot add to our knowledge of the physical world.

  98. #98 Verbose Stoic
    March 14, 2014

    Sean T,

    I’d have to say here that you are at least completely missing my point, since what you say about the quantum level in no way affects that. When we came up with the concepts of localized and extended, there was something about those concepts and the properties they had as concepts that, presumably, led us to claim that they were LOGICALLY incompatible instead of just being EMPIRICALLY incompatible (ie the instances of objects that we’ve seen have instance properties that make them incompatible). So, when we find a case where we really have an object that has both at the same time, we have to re-examine our conceptualization. Again, not an issue since any instance — “real” or imagined — that contradicts a conceptual property is, in fact, evidence (or, at least, potential evidence) that we’ve gotten the concept wrong. So we have to decide, in these cases, what we’ve gotten wrong. Maybe that instance isn’t really an example of localized/extended. Maybe we’ve gotten some conceptual properties of localized/extended wrong. Maybe our concepts of logic are wrong, or don’t apply to this world. All of these need to be considered, but these are conceptual arguments that may have an impact on what we know about the world.

    I would maintain that the reason we still hold statements such as couchloc’s one about red and green objects to be true is that we have yet to see a red/green object. If we do, we will certainly adjust our ideas on the concept of color.

    The problem is with your first statement: that isn’t what justifies our claiming that there CAN’T be objects that are red and green because, well, it doesn’t. That’s the inductive fallacy and leaves you open to black swan issues. We do it because we think we know what it means for an object to have a colour, and that precludes it having two all over at once. But your second statement holds, for the reasons I’ve given before: if we ever find ANY instance that contradicts the conceptual properties, it means that our concept was wrong. But that does not mean that the statement about colour that couchloc is making is or can be justified empirically, or needs empirical justification for us to be able to claim that we know it. We know it based on the concepts involved, not because it has been observed (or not observed).

    The mathematical example may really be a good example of the law of non-contradiction, but it really is not a good example of a priori knowledge of the actual world; there is no such thing as a perfect square or a perfect circle. We know this empirically; quantum mechanics tells us that due to the uncertainty principle you can never say that all of these points are equidistant from some center point. You can also never say that all four of these lines have equal length. The concept of perfect circle or perfect square makes no sense in our physical universe. Therefore, any statement about perfect squares or perfect circles cannot add to our knowledge of the physical world.

    The problem here is in moving to “perfect circles” and “perfect squares”, when the argument is not about that, but is about the CONCEPT of a square or circle (it was lapetus who introduced the “perfect” part of it). So, the question is: are circles and squares instances of the concepts of circle and square, despite not being perfect circles and squares? If they aren’t, then we know that this world doesn’t actually contain circles and squares; we don’t have instances of those concepts in this world. (For lapetus, this would be synthetic because it relies on things we have to find out about this specific world). If they are, then couchloc’s examples hold, and we do know something about the world that follows from and is justified by the conceptual properties alone, and not from any instance or empirical properties.

  99. #99 couchloc
    March 14, 2014

    Since I gave the example I will offer some replies. But I’m grading now and don’t have time to address all the concerns that have been raised. I will only comment on a few things that caught my attention.

    1. At the risk of making things more complicated, I’ll note that VS doesn’t get the example right, which was intended to be synthetic and not analytic. The reason for this is that the form of exclusion involved in “red all over” and “green all over” is not analytic. For that to be the case, I think it would have to be that the term “red” included in its conceptual content the negation of all other colors. So, e.g., “red” would analytically imply “not green”. But I don’t see that the concept of “not green” is part of the “meaning” of the term red, or any countless other things: “not yellow,” “not blue,” “not a table,” “not a cow,” etc. The proposal was that it is a metaphysical fact that an all red surface cannot be green at the same time. So the proposal was that the statement is metaphysically true (the second example may differ).

    2. The issue is raised about the laws of identity and non-contradiction. I think VS has it best here: “You [lapetus] seemed to be demanding an empirical justification for identity and non-contradiction. I will point out that without your presupposing these, you can’t justify any empirical claims either, and so you certainly aren’t going to be able to look at “reality” and see that they have no exceptions unless you assume them first. Which then makes it perfectly acceptable for us to presuppose them as well — since you’re doing it anyway.”

    3. On the other examples mentioned (wave/particle, localized/extended, etc.). It would take me too far afield to address all these. I’m not sure how I want to handle these anyway. E.g., it’s unclear to me that the wave/particle example is an example of one thing with two natures at the same time. Scientists usually claim that “for some experiments, it’s best to think it terms of waves; for others, particles are better.” That’s not the same as claiming that one thing is, at the same time and in the same respects, both a wave and a particle. But let me put this aside and simply say that I’m not committed to anything more than fallibilism about a priori knowledge. So even if these examples mentioned aren’t examples of synthetic apriori knowledge, one can’t infer that there aren’t other examples.

    4. The last point I want to make comes up in discussion about the “history of science” vs. “philosophy” about cosmology. I would second VS’s response here that lapetus’s historical narrative is misleading (science and philosophy didn’t really split off until the 1700’s; no modern philosopher doesn’t do “armchair physical cosmology”). Philosophical work since the 1700’s in this area hasn’t been concerned with the empirical details of how the universe developed, its features, etc., since science does a great job at that. The concern has been with worries about “origins” and “how something can come from nothing.”

    In this vein it may help to recall the recent exchange on this issue with Krauss. Krauss claimed that science had answered the classic philosophical problem of how a universe could come from nothing. And he made similar responses as lapetus’s about how worries from philosophers and others were “irrelevant” because “science empirically progresses and philosophy doesn’t!” In response I’ll merely point you to the review of his book by Albert, who, it should be noted, is a theoretical physicist, in which he replied that “all there is to say about this, as far as I can see, is that Krauss is dead wrong and his RELIGIOUS and PHILOSOPHICAL critics are absolutely right” (NYT). Whatever question Krauss was answering wasn’t the philosophers’ question. It’s not that I’m unappreciative of the broader worries that motivate lapetus here, and I’m not opposed to science or something. It is just that I don’t see that empiricism has settled this issue somehow.

  100. #100 couchloc
    March 14, 2014

    sorry

    “for some experiments, it’s best to think in terms of waves; for others, particles are better.”

    “no modern philosopher does ‘armchair physical cosmology’”

  101. #101 MNb
    March 14, 2014

    “no modern philosopher does ‘armchair physical cosmology’”
    WLC and Feser, to name the Americans; you won’t be familiar with Dutch speaking examples.

  102. #102 proximity1
    March 15, 2014

    Jason,

    IPSOS Mori just published

    “Public Attitudes to Science (PAS) 2014″ is the fifth in a series of studies looking at attitudes to science, scientists and science policy among the UK public.

    Link : http://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/3357/Public-Attitudes-to-Science-2014.aspx#gallerym/0/

    I think you should consider taking a look at the findings and then maybe opening a thread for some discussion of the study. Too bad it concerns only the U.K. public.

  103. #103 Iapetus
    March 17, 2014

    “Couchloc’s examples are all analytic, and if you followed my definition of a concept and a conceptual argument you’d see that my arguments are, in fact, also analytic.”

    Couchloc already corrected you on your misunderstanding of the nature of his argument, so I consider that part of the discussion closed, unless you also want to dispute that empirical data is relevant for a synthetic argument a priori. Thus, I will address some issues left over.

    “Synthetic does not mean “about the world” but means that you can only know it — to translate it into my way of talking about things — by appealing to conceptual properties and at least one instance property. Analytic statements are those that are justifiable by appealing only to conceptual properties.”

    I am well aware of the analytic-synthetic distinction. When I said that synthetic statements are about “the world”, I was referring to the fact that said statements provide us with new information that is not simply something already contained within the meaning of words.

    As for analytic statements telling us something about the world, that is only true in the most trivial sense of the word. How you want to get from pure analytic statements/concept analysis to knowledge about the origin of the universe or its “ultimate existence” is completely beyond me.

    “This doesn’t help you in any way, because it will still never be the case that a) we’ll have more than one “best approximation” for something, which means that you still couldn’t say that something be both circular and square at the same time […]”

    Since you´re not omniscient, you are in no position to claim that something will “never” be the case. The best approximation for an electron is a particle or a wave, depending on experimental setup, ease of calculation, required level of detail etc. pp. Even if you want to dispute that the particle/wave duality is a true case of an object being A and non-A at the same time, it should still give you pause about making such categorical statements.

    “b) Squares and circles are conceptually incompatible and so there is NO distortion you could make to result in an object that you could say can be approximated equally well by either a square or a circle.”

    Unless we find an object that displays the geometric equivalent of the particle/wave duality. Since the assertion is supposed to be synthetic a priori, the structure of the world is relevant for it. And as mentioned before, you are not omniscient and therefore are not in a position to finally adjudicate based on mere conceptual grounds here.

    “No, because, as I pointed out, using that as the concept for coloured leads to absurdities, which strongly suggests that it´s the wrong concept.”

    I fail to see any absurdities. You listed some banal examples of what the fact that “colour” is subjective to the individual´s perception entails and called that “absurd”. E.g., a car that appears red in bright daylight will appear grey or black at night. Why is that absurd? To me it seems that this is what we would expect from our knowledge of physics and neuroanatomy. If there is no electromagnetic radiation emitted by the object and analyzed in a complex nervous system, there is no colour. In our everyday parlance we would probably continue to call it a “red car” at night, but this is because we are silently attaching the addendum “when viewed under certain conditions”. “Colour” is not in the same class of properties as “mass” or “charge”, unless you´re a Platonist about colours.

    “Note that his argument works for the completely subjective concept as well (since you won’t experience two different subjective experiences at the same time) while yours doesn’t.”

    And your justification for this assertion is? Are you arguing inductively? From our knowledge of physics/neuroanatomy? Whatever it is, since it is supposed to be synthetic a priori, it better be more than concept analysis.

    “You seemed to be demanding an empirical justification for identity and non-contradiction. I was pointing out that without your presupposing these, you can’t justify any empirical claims either, and so you certainly aren’t going to be able to look at “reality” and see that they have no exceptions unless you assume them first. […] So your counter would only work if you could ignore them IN GENERAL and not just when they lead to conclusions you don’t like. Since you can’t, your counter doesn’t work.”

    I see no reason to accept your artificial all-or-nothing dichotomy. It is perfectly appropriate to use conventions like non-contradiction and identity where they seem applicable and useful, while abandoning them when the evidence seems warranted.

    Regarding non-contradiction, I already mentioned particle/wave duality. Sean T. provided the example of localization/extension. I could also add qubits which are in a state of superposition of 0 and 1. All these are real-world examples where the classical law of non-contradiction seems not to hold anymore. Science has no problem incorporating such results, since it has no a priori commitment to certain logical rules. Science will take the tools best suited to understanding its subject matter. It is usually the philosophers who want to elevate certain logical conventions to the status of metaphysical laws that govern the whole of reality without any exception whatsoever.

    Concerning identity, a similar assessment applies. E.g. the six electrons in the three double-bonds of a benzene molecule are in a state that chemists call “delocalization”. This means that all six electrons are evenly distributed over the entire ring structure, so even though we know that they are there it is impossible to tell one electron from the other. Likewise for a Bose-Einstein condensate, where formerly discrete particles lose their individuality and behave as a single object and vice versa.

    I have yet to see an adequate response from you concerning these matters. Thus far, you basically just shrugged your shoulders and maintained that they are not really a problem for your concept analysis approach. However, if logical principles you rely on are not applicable to all of reality, this throws another wrench into your methodology: not only are analytic statements not giving us any new information about the world like synthetic statements do, but the very logic you use to arrive at your “knowledge” claims may not be applicable to the subject matter at hand. Which again leaves me baffled as to how you can maintain that empirical input is not only superfluous to your endeavor, but any method based on said input is even inferior to it. And to top it off, the subject matter you are interested in is nothing less than the origin and “ultimate existence” of the universe…

    ”Before there was actual science, philosophy did look at those phenomena”

    Yes it did, which is why your original assertion that philosophy was always and exclusively dedicated to the “ultimate existence” question was disingenuous.

    ”We were actually talking about cosmology here, not those other areas.”

    The problem is that you cannot argue meaningfully about cosmology without those “other areas”. The further we go back in time in the history of the universe, the more important the influence of quantum mechanical effects becomes. Which again makes me wonder how you ever expect to make a noticeable contribution to this question based on pure conceptual analysis.

    ”And in light of that, you should now be able to see why I claim science has made no progress either: it has no idea how to get something from nothing or what — or if there — is something that exists just for the sake of existence that can cause or create the universe as we see it.”

    First of all, without looking at the actual properties and history of the universe you don´t even know whether asking how something can come from nothing is the right problem to address when it comes to the origin of the universe. Possibilities like a cyclical universe or a multiverse would render the whole question moot.

    Second of all, how do you get from conceptual analysis alone to knowledge about an object not only existing, but existing “necessarily” without looking for direct or indirect evidence of it? Tagging the label “necessary” onto a concept will not ensure that it does have an existing referent.

    The fact remains that it was the scientific discoveries of the last centuries and decades both pertaining to the micro- as well as the macroscale that have resulted in real progress concerning questions about the origin and nature of the universe. Has science figured it all out or will it do so in the future? “No” and “I don´t know”. What I do know is that philosophy´s track record in that regard is distinctly underwhelming. What I do further know is that any approach that tries to address these issues on a purely conceptual basis and sees no need for any kind of empirical input whatsoever is doomed to failure.

    ”Again, why do I get so many people who claim I assert things that I’ve argued for?”

    Well, you might want to consider the possibility that the failure here is not on the side you thought it was…

    ”Tell me how to empirically observe something that simply must exist.”

    Why should that interest me? I am not even sure what an object “that simply must exist” is supposed to be (and spare me the official definition, I am familiar with it). When you have found one, let me know. Meanwhile, I am concerned about learning as much as possible about the structure and history of the actual universe we live in.

    Moreover, in my view the laws of nature we have discovered thusfar come as close to determining that something must happen/exist “necessarily” as we have ever been able to achieve. Of course, this entails a certain metaphysical commitment on my part as to the existence of said laws, but at least this commitment is based on mountains of corroborating evidence.

    But if your method is so superior, give me a concrete example. Based on pure conceptual analysis, what object has the property of “necessary existence” and how do you propose to confirm that said object really does exist?

    ”As an example, I agree entirely that a philosophical approach would never have found out the quantum stuff you refer to later. It’s just not good at that sort of thing. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t the right approach for the First Cause.”

    The problem here is, again, that the “quantum stuff” is actually important for solving the problem at hand, i.e. the origin/early history of our universe. I don´t see how you can expect to make interesting contributions here based solely on conceptual analysis. In order to ascertain whether there is a need for a First Cause in the first place, you need to consider what science currently knows about the earliest moments of the universe. You also need to take into account the possibility that even if our universe had a definite beginning, it may have arisen in an a-causal fashion. How is the analysis of concepts/analytic statements alone ever going to further our knowledge in this area in a verifiable/falsifiable way?

    ”There are absolutely cases in science where a theory is dismissed simply because when the concepts are worked out they lead to a contradiction with themselves”

    Examples?

    ”Especially since science qua science has no way to argue that you can’t have a purely conceptual argument that proves existence anyway.”

    Are you asking me to prove a negative here?

    But again, if your methodology works you should be able to provide me with an example. What object can be proven to exist based on conceptual analysis alone and how do we gain confidence in its existence without any empirical input whatsoever?

  104. #104 couchloc
    March 17, 2014

    I’m just getting to this now. I think the two original examples are different from one another, and that VS is closer to being right about the second circles and squares example. I’ll leave some comments tomorrow since it’s too late now.

  105. #105 Sean T
    March 18, 2014

    The more I think about the “square circle” example, the more convinced I am that it is devoid of any actual knowledge about the universe. It certainly contains mathematical content, but even in that context, I am not convinced it is universally true.

    To see this consider the definition of circle and square. A circle is the set of all points equidistant from a given point. A square is a set of four straight lines of equal length meeting at right angles. Delving deeper into this definition, a straight line is the path between two points that has the shortest distance. Looking at this, it is apparent that any statement about squares and circles is inherently dependent on the concept of distance.

    Now, intuitively, it would seem that the concept of distance should present no difficulty. However, within the realm of mathematics, there are a wide variety of conceptions of distance. A geometric space often can be imbued mathematically with a metric. The one we are familiar with is called the Euclidean metric. However, there are many other possible metrics. One that is interesting for this discussion is called (informally) the taxicab metric. This metric (in two dimensions) defines the distance between two points as the absolute value of the difference of the x coordinates of the points added to the absolute value of the y coordinates of the two points. The really interesting thing in this metric (for our discussion) is that a circle in this metric can be shown to be a square rotated 45 degrees with respect to the coordinate axes.

    It is true that a circle in the taxicab metric is not equivalent to a square in that metric. However, considerations such as these should at least give one pause when asserting that there is no such thing as an object that is both a square and a circle. I am not familiar with a metric where a square circle is possible, but I am not willing to boldly assert that such a metric is impossible.

  106. #106 Blaine
    March 18, 2014

    @105

  107. #107 Blaine
    March 18, 2014

    @105 A square and a circle are certainly topologically equivalent. But this is being pendantic. I think his assertion was about the logical principle of non-contradiction which does not really say anything about the world per se, but is certainly a minimal condition of intelligibility. Accepting this principle is the minimal condition to engage in debate. Many would dispute that it is an a priori truth of reflection however.

  108. #108 couchloc
    March 18, 2014

    Let me offer a few comments on the above.

    1. There is a difference in the two examples I could have made clearer before, since I see it has become an issue. I understand the color example as an example of a synthetic apriori statement. This is because, as I said, I do not see it is part of the conceptual content of “red all over” that it excludes “green all over.” For that to be the case the content of “red” would have to include all sorts of things we don’t normally include. The suggestion is rather that we have an understanding of what it means for an object to be red all over. Once we understand this property, we come to see rationally that an object cannot at the same time be green all over. We see this not because of our understanding of “concepts,” — but because we understand the nature of being an all-red surface (a property). Once we grasp this, we recognize that no other thing could exist in the object incompatible with it. So it is a form of metaphysical exclusion, not a conceptual one.

    Let me add the following points here as well. First, the reason I said this example is synthetic apriori is that it is usually described this way (try google).

    Second, the way I use the term “apriori” allows that we can acquire our knowledge of concepts from experience. I have to look at the world and observe that it contains redness to understand what “redness” is. But once we’ve got this concept/understanding we can reason about it and derive further knowledge about the world. This is a standard way of understanding a priori knowledge. I note this because Lapetus sometimes says the issue is to show that we can have “purely conceptual” knowledge of the world. I’m not sure what this is. I have not denied that we need experience to inform us about the relevant properties.

    Finally, the infelicities with the color example and how to define colors is unfortunate. I’m aware that there are disputes about this. But I would suggest that this is merely a feature of the example. The same point could be made with a different one that isn’t about perception I think: “Nothing can be both a cow and the Grand Canyon at the same time.” To me it would be odd to say that this is a fact about the meaning of concepts (it doesn’t seem that “is a cow” includes the meaning “not the Grand Canyon”). But it would seem we know this is true nonetheless. (And it would be odd to me to say this is known empirically. Do we really need someone to go and look?)

    2. The second example about “round” and “square” works differently to me. It seems like an analytic statement whose truth can be known apriori. To be round means “curved like part of a circle,” and to be square means “a rectangle having four sides of equal length.” The exclusion involved in this case is conceptual. So VS’s point about conceptual analysis can be applied here. This means that the only issue remaining is whether the example tells us anything “about the world.” Some might say that the claim “no object can be both round and square at the same time” is trivial and uninformative. But I’m not sure this is right (it is not the same as claiming A is A). Notice that if the statement is true then we have learned that the world cannot contain certain objects. (Compare: someone who learns that “there are no witches in the closet” has learned something about the contents of the closet, right?) I will grant that this is a limited sort of knowledge, though.

    3. The third point I will make concerns how broad the proposal is. Lapetus says that “Even if you want to dispute that the particle/wave duality is a true case of an object being A and non-A at the same time, it should still give you pause about making such categorical statements.” This seems directed to VS, but I’ll note that I’m not making categorical statements and accept fallibilism about apriori knowledge. So the mere presence of counterexamples doesn’t show that there are no good cases. Whether this analysis can be extended to the First Cause argument I won’t say. I’m inclined to think that philosophers and scientists are answering different questions (cf. my remarks above about Albert). I don’t think the First Cause argument works in the end. But that is not because I think science has done a better job explaining this particular question or something. I just think that the argument is a draw and neither side really has a good answer.

  109. #109 couchloc
    March 18, 2014

    I’ll make that my last comment. I have appreciated the comments from others on this thread.

  110. #110 Verbose Stoic
    March 20, 2014

    I’ll try to get to lapetus’ comment later, but I do want to talk about this a bit because I think it’s one of the big stumbling blocks with my view, at least:

    It is true that a circle in the taxicab metric is not equivalent to a square in that metric. However, considerations such as these should at least give one pause when asserting that there is no such thing as an object that is both a square and a circle. I am not familiar with a metric where a square circle is possible, but I am not willing to boldly assert that such a metric is impossible.

    What I’m after is being able to say, with justification, that I KNOW that you can’t have a square circle, and have that at least be as justified as any scientific knowledge claim. Since scientific knowledge doesn’t require certainty, I don’t think I should be held to certainty either, and am certainly not claiming that. What might be causing the confusion is that since my claim is analytic, it’s deductive, and deductive claims provide logical certainty and in this case would give logical impossibility. True. However, my claim is not certain because it has “If I have the concepts of square and circle right” as a precondition … and I could be wrong about them. So, to me, one of the big litmus tests between a conceptual argument and an empirical argument is that if I find an instance that violates the argument, for a conceptual argument that means that I got the concepts wrong and for an empirical argument it means that I need to adjust the theory (or, perhaps, abandon it).

    For square circles, for them to exist in this world we’d have to have a radically different concept of square and circle than we do now. For wave/particle it might well be more reasonable to say that our theory was based on never having seen something with both sets of properties, which is neither a wave nor a particle itself.

    I admit I’m having a really hard time thinking of an empirical example to demonstrate the empirical disproofs, since a lot of them end up pushing for us to change theories or concepts. But I hope this is clearer.

  111. #111 Verbose Stoic
    March 20, 2014

    And just as I hit send:

    Think of the white/black swan case. If there is a theory that the genetic structure of swans happens to be such that they could never produce black pigment, and then we find black swans and discover that in that case they can, then that wouldn’t be a conceptual argument since what it means to be a swan wouldn’t change, but only our theories about how the instances in this world act and what the genetics we have in this world will allow. That’s empirical, not conceptual.

  112. #112 Verbose Stoic
    March 21, 2014

    lapetus,

    This will probably be short, as I’m going to skip a lot that’s already covered:

    Couchloc already corrected you on your misunderstanding of the nature of his argument, so I consider that part of the discussion closed, unless you also want to dispute that empirical data is relevant for a synthetic argument a priori.

    Well, you have to make it clear who you’re actually arguing with, me or him. If him, you can’t argue that purely conceptual arguments aren’t sufficient to give real knowledge, because he doesn’t claim that, I do. If me, you can’t demand a synthetic a priori, because I rely only on analytic arguments. So which of us are you going to argue? And if both, then this comment is rather odd, don’t you think?

    I fail to see any absurdities. You listed some banal examples of what the fact that “colour” is subjective to the individual´s perception entails and called that “absurd”. E.g., a car that appears red in bright daylight will appear grey or black at night. Why is that absurd?

    Because we aren’t arguing over “appears red”. We’re arguing over “COLOURED red”. In short, the ability to say “That’s a red car’. If you argue that saying that a car is red is only saying that the car appears red to a specific person at a specific time, the absurdities follow: eg a red car becomes a gray or black car at night (or all cars are black at night). That’s the problem there.

    I see no reason to accept your artificial all-or-nothing dichotomy. It is perfectly appropriate to use conventions like non-contradiction and identity where they seem applicable and useful, while abandoning them when the evidence seems warranted.

    The problem is that In order to claim that the evidence warrants abandoning them, you would have to use the laws of identity and non-contradiction. And if you use them to argue that they should be abandoned, your opponent can claim that THEY can abandon them to refute your refutation. Taking the superposition case, in order to claim that there is even a problem you have to be able to identify the same object and claim that it being in two different levels is a contradiction. If you then argue that to make this make sense we should abandon identity and non-contradiction, they can counter that we should, but not with respect to the phenomena itself, but with respect to it being a problem for the law of non-contradiction. After all, that relies on you pointing out the contradiction with the law of non-contradiction, and if you can dismiss the law wrt your phenomena, why can’t they do it wrt your objection? At that point, there’s really no principled way to settle the dispute.

    Since this isn’t productive, what we would do instead is look carefully at the phenomena and decide to update our concepts and ensure that they describe things properly, and do so without contradictions. Again taking the superposition case, that would probably mean simply saying that being a 0 and 1 is not a logically/conceptual impossibility, and that we confused that with an instance impossibility. In short, we thought it was something true of the concept of superposition, when it was only true of the instances we had seen so far. That’s pretty much how the wave/particle thing, it seems to me, worked out: sure, waves have certain properties, and particles have certain properties, but that doesn’t mean that you couldn’t have something that had both (and likely shouldn’t be called either a wave or a particle).

    First of all, without looking at the actual properties and history of the universe you don´t even know whether asking how something can come from nothing is the right problem to address when it comes to the origin of the universe. Possibilities like a cyclical universe or a multiverse would render the whole question moot.

    Except that they don’t. We’ve already considered them. A multiverse still needs an explanation for the first or encompassing universe, and a cyclical universe still needs an explanation for the first Big Bang. All answers of that sort end up requiring something to exist rather than nothing, in philosophical terms, which is indeed one answer to the question, but one that tends to require using necessary existence. Is it possible that we can find an answer to this that doesn’t require necessary existence? Maybe, but that would be a philosophical and not an empirical answer because it would have to address the philosophical problem. Even if you empirically found something that looked like a candidate, we’d have to run it through the philosophical problem to see if it fits.

    Second of all, how do you get from conceptual analysis alone to knowledge about an object not only existing, but existing “necessarily” without looking for direct or indirect evidence of it? Tagging the label “necessary” onto a concept will not ensure that it does have an existing referent.

    Which is not what is done. What is done is that we examine the conceptual properties and, once we’ve done that, note that the thing HAS to exist. If we have the concept right, then that it is necessarily existent follows and then it also follows logically that it exists. That would certainly be enough for knowledge.

    Well, you might want to consider the possibility that the failure here is not on the side you thought it was…

    I have, but dismissed it on discovering that I could go back to the original comments and find the arguments that were not addressed and paste them into later comments. That the arguments may not be convincing doesn’t mean they aren’t there, and accusations of assertions mean that they aren’t there, not that they aren’t convincing.

  113. #113 Iapetus
    March 24, 2014

    “Well, you have to make it clear who you’re actually arguing with, me or him. If him, you can’t argue that purely conceptual arguments aren’t sufficient to give real knowledge, because he doesn’t claim that,”

    That´s really rich.

    Let´s recapitulate here:

    I addressed couchloc´s examples in my post no. 90 under the explicitly spelled out premise that they were supposed to be synthetic a priori. I furthermore stated: “In my view, there generally is no reason to accept any non-analytical assertion about certain aspects of reality based solely on conceptual/logical analysis”.

    You then jumped in and started to dispute my points in your post no. 91 under the mistaken assumption that couchloc was referring to analytic statements only. And now you intend to lecture me about the nature of his statements? That´s what I call chutzpah.

    As for analytic statements, I have repeatedly said that I do not consider them to be very interesting and/or informative. And I most certainly do not see how they can provide us with reliable knowledge on the origin and “ultimate existence” of the universe.

    ”Because we aren’t arguing over “appears red”. We’re arguing over “COLOURED red”. In short, the ability to say “That’s a red car’. If you argue that saying that a car is red is only saying that the car appears red to a specific person at a specific time, the absurdities follow: eg a red car becomes a gray or black car at night (or all cars are black at night). That’s the problem there.“

    I fail to see any problems or absurdities here.

    An object is not “coloured red” in the same sense as it has a mass of “x kg”. Our knowledge of physics and neuroanatomy tells us that “colour” is the end result of a process involving a) an object, b) electromagnetic radiation of a certain wavelength that is emitted by/reflected from the object and c) processed in a nervous system of sufficient complexity. Take away any of these components and you will have no “colour”.

    It makes no sense to talk about a “coloured object” in completely objective terms like we do with other intrinsic properties like charge or mass. For instance, while humans are trichromatic, other animals like fish or spiders are tetrachromatic, enabling them to discriminate between more wavelengths compared to humans. An object will appear different to them than it will to humans. Do you want to argue that their colour perception is objectively “wrong” while that of humans is objectively “right” or vice versa?

    Or to take your car example, do you really want to maintain that when you´re standing in the black of night beside a car, you are justified in labelling it “coloured red”? That when you shine monochromatic blue light on it, you are still justified in labelling it “coloured red”? That “coloured red” is an intrinsic property of the car and totally independent from the presence and nature of an observer as well as the observing conditions?

    If there is any absurdity here, it is in a position like yours.

    ”The problem is that In order to claim that the evidence warrants abandoning them, you would have to use the laws of identity and non-contradiction. And if you use them to argue that they should be abandoned, your opponent can claim that THEY can abandon them to refute your refutation. […]After all, that relies on you pointing out the contradiction with the law of non-contradiction, and if you can dismiss the law wrt your phenomena, why can’t they do it wrt your objection?”

    Maybe we will be forced to abandon/modify our logical conventions to accommodate certain scientific findings, as people like Putnam have argued. Maybe we will have to live with paradoxes. Maybe we will have to recognize that there are realms of reality which defy the logical conventions we are used to. However, the point is that we have to take such scientific findings into account when venturing into the unknown. Thus, concerning a subject like the origin and “ultimate existence” of the universe, conceptual analysis alone using our everyday logic will not cut it.

    ”Again taking the superposition case, that would probably mean simply saying that being a 0 and 1 is not a logically/conceptual impossibility, and that we confused that with an instance impossibility. In short, we thought it was something true of the concept of superposition, when it was only true of the instances we had seen so far.”

    Either that, or we have found a unique phenomenon which defies the non-contradiction convention as we understand and apply it. Either way, it is an issue that pure conceptual analysis could never have anticipated.

    ”A multiverse still needs an explanation for the first or encompassing universe, and a cyclical universe still needs an explanation for the first Big Bang.”

    No, both the Eternal Inflation as well as the vast majority of Cyclical Universe models do not postulate a definite beginning, but consider the inflation/cycling process to be eternal. There is no absolute “first” Big Bang or universe.

    ”All answers of that sort end up requiring something to exist rather than nothing, in philosophical terms, which is indeed one answer to the question, but one that tends to require using necessary existence.”

    How so? If the spawning of new universes or the cycling is eternal, there never was a “nothing”, so there is no need for an explanation as to why there is something in a sense that you would need for any First Cause argument to be relevant.

    Furthermore, on what basis do you declare that “necessary existence” is meaningful, let alone required here? The existence of the universe/multiverse might simply be a brute fact that neither requires nor is amenable to any additional justification. As a matter of fact, I am not even sure whether it is coherent to demand any kind of justification for the existence of the universe/multiverse. If it is all there is, there can be no “external” factor involved in its existence.

    There is also the issue that, as I see it, declaring that an object “simply must exist” based on logical/conceptual properties alone is simply an attempt to cut off the inevitable justification regress. I could always demand a justification as to why I should accept this conceptual definition. Moreover, as you admitted, it may be that your conceptualization is erroneous or that the logical conventions you use do not apply to the subject matter at hand. And until you can show me an object with the property “necessary existence” in the metaphysical/logical sense that you want to understand it and how you know about said object apart from conceptual analysis, I am highly doubtful whether such a thing is possible.

    ”Maybe, but that would be a philosophical and not an empirical answer because it would have to address the philosophical problem. Even if you empirically found something that looked like a candidate, we’d have to run it through the philosophical problem to see if it fits.”

    So you accept that empirical data is not necessarily superfluous to the problem to be solved.

    Regarding the “philosophical problem” you want to address, I already noted philosophy´s distinctly underwhelming track record. I have furthermore not seen anything in your posts that indicates as to why your attempt would fare any better, especially if you insist on eschewing any current and future empirical knowledge about the nature and origin of the universe.

    ”What is done is that we examine the conceptual properties and, once we’ve done that, note that the thing HAS to exist. If we have the concept right, then that it is necessarily existent follows and then it also follows logically that it exists. That would certainly be enough for knowledge.“

    Which is what the Ontological Argument tried and failed to prove. You cannot force something into existence on logical/conceptual grounds alone. The best you could achieve is to provide an argument as to why we might consider it worthwhile to search for corroborating evidence for the thing you propose exists.

    I have to say that I really don´t understand the motivation behind your approach. Why this aversion against empirical input and the vigorous turf-protection? Instead of a priori insisting that science is irrelevant to your problem, you might consider allying with it, which is what many other philosophers do. Rigorous examination of scientific theories regarding their logical/conceptual consequences is always welcome since it may lead to new ways of validating/falsifying them. Even metaphysical speculation based on our current scientific knowledge can be useful if it leads to novel approaches and sparks concrete research programs that nobody had considered before. However, insisting that conceptual analysis alone will lead to real knowledge about the origin and “ultimate existence” of the universe will, given the history of this endeavor and the scientific progress of the recent past, result in foreseeable failure.

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