Tag Archives: Cosmological Argument

Mind Over Matter

mind_over_matter_by_sarbzIn discussing Mackie’s “Miracle of Theism”, we’ve covered quite a bit about morality, and are now moving into an argument from consciousness.

This was put forward by Locke, and is essentially the idea that mind only comes from mind. If one accepts that, it appears that there must have been some first mind that is the original source of mind.

Leibnitz (of the famous cosmological argument for God’s existence) rejected this argument for what, in my opinion, are more valid reasons than why Mackie does so. That is, Leibnitz pointed out that the argument, if you follow the details, reaches the conclusion that there was always a mind, but not that there is a single, eternal mind.

This option isn’t open to Mackie who, as a materialist, can’t accept the idea that there has always been at least one mind. Instead, he asserts that mind can come from matter alone.

He does so in a fairly standard way: appealing to computer science to question the idea that all material particles can do is “knock, impel, and resist one another”. At the time of writing, it was widely believed that minds aren’t fundamentally different from computers.

But, if that makes Mackie’s (mis)use of the idea understandable, it does not excuse those who are still using it. A computer isn’t anything like a conscious mind, as it is pure supposition to think this explains consciousness.

However, Mackie also makes a much better, and much more interesting objection. He points out that anyone who believes that material substances could be conscious (that is, someone who believes that brains can think) already agrees with the basic idea that matter can give rise to consciousness.

The trouble is that it is only the materialist who believes this.

Brains don’t think; minds think. And it is only by demanding that there is nothing more to the mind that the physical processes going on in the brain that one can make this argument.

But I’ve argued (perhaps ad nauseum) that, unless we’re willing to take a broader definition of “matter” and “physical” than is allowed by science, there is more going on in the mind than just the physical. It has been demonstrated, in many ways, that the actual experiences of everyday life aren’t physical. It isn’t that they aren’t explained by science “yet”; it is that the definition of science forbids it from ever explaining those things.

Mackie knows this, and approvingly quotes this passage from Swineburne:

“Any world-view which denies the existence of experienced sensations of blueness or loudness or pain does not describe how things are–that this is so stares us in the face. Consequently ‘Some kind of dualism of entities or properties or states is inevitable.”

This seems rather obvious. So, what is Mackie’s response? He makes the fairly reasonable point that this only supports property dualism, and otherwise points out that substance dualists haven’t solved “the interaction problem”.

These are both true, but neither of them help Mackie’s case.

First is because theism doesn’t require substance dualism. Modern, atheist philosophers seem to think that this view of the mind is somehow umbilically linked to belief in God in general or Christianity in particular. In fact, Christianity got on for more than a dozen centuries without it. And, yes, it had a well-developed concept of the mind.

To the first point, property dualism isn’t a way out of this bind for the materialist. This is for the very simple reason that property dualism isn’t materialism, but a denial of it. It is the explicit statement that there is more to objects than the physical. If one is willing to concede that much, one has conceded that the entire support for modern atheism is false.

Of course, property dualism has its own problems, and the more it sorts them out, the more it starts to look like either the substance dualism that so many equate with theism or the hylemorphic dualism that Christianity embraced prior to modern philosophy.

Of course, it is perfectly reasonable to suggest that this, by itself, hasn’t proved God’s existence. I find myself in agreement with Leibnitz–that this particular argument does not do so. What is has shown, and what so many devout atheists have been banging their heads against, is that materialism is false.

And that is a point of no small concern.


No Reason Whatsoever

no_reasonIn our last discussion of “Miracle of Theism” Mackie was questioning the validity of the idea that, for anything that exists, there is a reason why it exists (known as sufficient reason).

I accused him of simply doubting this idea, without giving any argument for his rejection of such an obvious position–that is otherwise the basis of all rational inquiry. To be fair to Mackie, that isn’t quite right. He does offer some counter explanations, and a more rational objection.

But, to be fair to my response, none of these are an actual argument for the idea that some things exist inexplicably, but simply attacks on sufficient reason.

Take, for instance, his response that sufficient reason is based in the composition fallacy. He argues that you can’t argue that, because all the parts of a thing have a property, that the whole has that property. Every cell in an elephant is light, after all, but the whole elephant is heavy.

But there are two very strong (I would say devastating) responses to this.

The first is the simple fact that this isn’t the main basis on which Leibnitz argues for sufficient reason. It is its status as the basis of inquiry and its a priori obviousness that are the key points.

Still, I’d argue that composition reasoning is valid in addition to this.

If it’s worth pointing out that reasoning from parts to the whole is sometimes wrong-headed, it is also worth pointing out that, at other times, it is entirely appropriate. To throw out another example, if every lego brick used to build a wall is red, then it does indeed follow that the wall is red.

And it seems fairly obvious that the case of the universe is more like the lego wall than the elephant. All the universe is, after all, is a collection of things (space, particles, planets, etc) that need explanations. It is entirely strange to say, then, that the whole collection wouldn’t need one.

Arguing otherwise would be rather like claiming that, though there must be reasons why the links of a chain exist, there is no explanation for the chain itself. This seems obviously false.

At the very least, Mackie owes us an argument. What he does instead is suggest that the universe might be eternal. But, to those who know this argument, this is irrelevant. Leibnitz’s case doesn’t assume the world had a beggining. Even an eternal universe, after all needs to be explained.

Mackie closes his discussion of the argument by claiming that it “fails completely”. But this, more than anything else in his book, struck me as completely wrong. His refutation seemed more a grasping at straws than anything that should shake a theist.

In the end, I find it hard to believe that a non-theist would accept “some things just don’t have explanations” as a defense of theism, and I don’t see any reason why I should accept it as a defense of Mackie’s atheism.


By “Nothing” I Don’t Mean Nothing, I mean “Nothing”

hsc4364lI promise I’ll get back to my response to Chris Hallquist’s book, but, in the mean time, I’d like to comment on Lawrence Krauss. At the moment, he seems to be getting more press than the other New Atheists. And, as long as he’s still garnering attention for peddling bad philosophy as good science, I think it worthwhile to continue to point out the reasons why he’s wrong.

Really, I wanted to discuss his Big Think video, it is a good summary of his central argument, in which he takes the position that science has shown it plausible that the universe can come from nothing.

On the face of it, the claim seems ridiculous. This is, I would argue, because the claim is ridiculous. Krauss seems to think otherwise, and his fans seem to think that expertise in theoretical physics is required to understand the point–often accusing anyone who disagrees with Krauss of speaking out of ignorance of science.

In reality, the question isn’t scientific, but metaphysical. And it is Krauss who is speaking out of ignorance. His oft-repeated refusal to learn anything about philosophy maintains that ignorance. How so? That brings us to the video.

He opens with this:

[T]he simplest kind of nothing is the kind of nothing of the Bible. Say an infinite empty space, an infinite dark void of the Bible. 

My Bible doesn’t seem to have a dictionary attached to it–certainly not one that defines ‘nothing’ as ‘an infinite dark void’. The fact that Krauss can, with a straight face, claim that this is the ‘nothing of the Bible’ tells me that he’s spent a lot more time listening to fundamentalists and angry atheist rants than actually reading the Bible he claims to be explaining to the rest of us.

As Craig pointed out in the debate ‘nothing’ means ‘no thing’ or ‘not anything’. It’s always meant that, not ‘empty space’ or ‘void’ or anything else. And only someone either ignorant of both philosophy and the English language or with a deep personal motivation to dismiss theism could fail to understand this.

There’s more that could be said, but let’s move on:

Well, that kind of nothing turns out to be full of stuff

It’s an elementary point that anything which is ‘full of stuff’ is not nothing. And even Krauss admits this in A Universe From Nothing (albeit, not until spending the overwhelming majority of the book on it as if it were relevant to the point).

Of course, the fact that he admits this in his book doesn’t prevent him from constantly talking as if the quantum vacuum is, in fact, nothing:

So the difference between empty space with stuff in it and empty space with nothing in it is not that great anymore. In fact, they’re different versions of the same thing. So the transition from nothing to something is not so surprising.

Is Krauss insisting that the quantum vacuum is nothing? That seems to depend on whether or not he’s being challenged on the point. This a classic bait-and-switch, where Krauss claims to be answering one question (‘can something something come from nothing’) but is actually answering something else (‘can one physical state come from another physical state’).

Of course, Krauss isn’t done yet:

[A] more demanding definition of nothing is no space, but, in fact, once you apply the laws of quantum mechanics to gravity itself, then space itself becomes a quantum mechanical variable and fluctuates in and out of existence and you can literally, by the laws of quantum mechanics, create universes.

Krauss goes on to suggest that some might complain that the laws of physics aren’t nothing (which would be fair, they aren’t). But he never seems to realize that gravity isn’t ‘nothing’ either. It is, specifically, something. Isaac Newton never had a critic accuse him of ‘discovering nothing’.

Anyone who understands the subject realizes that neither the laws of science nor gravity is actually nothing, including Krauss himself. This is why he moves on to ever more ‘demanding’ definitions of nothing–but note that he never actually gets to the actual definition: not anything.

To the claim that the laws of physics aren’t nothing, he has this to say:

But even there, it turns out physics potentially has an answer because we now have good reason to believe that even the laws of physics themselves are kind of arbitrary.

There may be an infinite number of universes, and in each universe that’s been created, the laws of physics are different. It’s completely random. And the laws themselves come into existence when the universe comes into existence. So there’s no pre-existing fundamental law. Anything that can happen, does happen. And therefore, you got no laws, no space, no time, no particles, no radiation. That’s a pretty good definition of nothing.

Here, Krauss is invoking the concept of the multiverse. But it never seems to occur to him that an infinite number of universes, each with random values and more universes popping into existence isn’t nothing. I think it’s pretty obvious that it’s a whole lot of something.

In fact, if ‘anything that can happen, does happen’, Krauss has no reason why Thor, Zeus, and the whole string of ancient deities he likes to cite when mocking theism don’t exist. And discovering that one’s defense of atheism supports the existence of Zeus should give one pause. But apparently Zeus isn’t ‘nothing’ in the same sense that an infinite number of physical universes are ‘nothing’.

This is his climax, then. Proposing a physical thing (the multiverse) that may-well be infinitely larger than the universe and calling that ‘nothing’ is so strange as to be beyond parody. It’s not a ‘pretty good definition of nothing’. If Krauss’ materialism were correct (it isn’t), it would be a lot closer to ‘everything’. But Krauss didn’t title his book ‘A Universe from Almost Everything”.

The implication here seems to be that, since science has found causes that are smaller and harder to detect as it advances, it will someday find a cause that is literally nothing. This makes as much sense as the man who, after halving his gas bill by cleaning his oven, cleans it again expecting that this will reduce his gas bill to zero. Science simply isn’t in the business of studying nothing for the very simple reason that nothing is not a ‘thing’ that can be studied.

And Krauss would know that if he’d learn something about logic and philosophy, rather than demanding the right to remain ignorant about it.


And it’s Always Been Forever…

Mea_Culpa_(After_Forever_album)_coverartIn attacking the Kalam Cosmological Argument for God’s existence, Chris Hallquist has insisted that the universe can be past eternal (and therefore doesn’t require a cause).

But, among the scientific reasons why the universe cannot be past-eternal, there is this argument:

1. The series of events in time is a collection formed by adding one event after another.

2. A collection formed by adding one member after another cannot be actually infinite.

3. Therefore, the series of events in time cannot be actually infinite.

Essentially, this is the argument that you can’t put together an infinite collection of things one step at a time because you’d (literally) never get there.

Now, Hallquist makes the objection that this assumes that the universe started at a certain point, and that this is wrong-headed. The idea of an infinite past is that the universe has always been here, so that it didn’t ever start. Thus, it was always infinite–there’s no need to build it up to an infinite age one moment at a time.

Admittedly, someone as formidable as J.L. Mackie takes this approach. Still, I think it misses the real point of the argument. The claim of an infinite past is, after all, the claim that there are moments in history which are infinitely distant from the point we are now at. And that it is a logical impossibility for us to have reached this moment from those times in the infinite past. It makes no difference whether or not any of them are the “starting point” of the universe, or even that there would be no starting point.

So, one cannot get out of the argument simply by denying that infinitely distant moments weren’t the beginning. One would have to deny that there are no infinitely distant moments at all. But this last is agreeing with the idea that the universe isn’t past-eternal.

That being the case, Hallquist has not given us a reason to doubt that the universe has a cause of its coming into existence. In fact, he’s not adequately refuted any of the reasons for thinking that it has a cause.

But he needs to refute all of them for his argument to work.


Explaining the Universe

grand_universe_by_antifan_real1If the universe has an explanation, that explanation is God.

This statement is actually much less controversial than one might think. In fact, it is simply a restatement of something one often hears out of atheists. Steven Hawking, for instance has said that the universe will not have an explanation, but “simply be”. Bertrand Russell has suggested that the universe is our terminus of explanation. Many others have made the same intimation.

These men are saying that, from their atheistic perspective, the universe has no explanation. This is equivalent to saying that the universe is either explained by God, or by nothing.

Of course, it is not simply that this is what is being said, it is the fact that there is good reason to say it. Certainly, the materialist is convicted that everything which exists is composed of matter. If this is true, there can’t possibly be an explanation of all the matter and energy that exists (which is how “universe” is being defined in this argument).

I won’t discuss the much longer (and much less relevant) arguments against non-materialist atheists here. Rather, I’ll point out that the most common move I’ve encountered among atheists is off topic.

That is, many begin emphasizing at this point that this doesn’t prove the truth of any particular religion. But, of course, that is a separate discussion. Showing theism to be the most reasonable case precedes an argument for a particular form of theism. And claiming “but the Muslims might be right” does not support atheism.

Rather, the inability of materialism to offer an explanation as to why matter exists is a reason to move materialism off the table in this discussion. Unless, of course, the  materialist wants to argue that there simply is no explanation.

Personally, I don’t see how this last differs from an appeal to magic. Halting inquiry in order to conclude that there is nothing beyond the point where we halted is not a good way to get at truth, after all. I think it much more reasonable, and much more in line with inquiry, to take the view that things have explanations.

Of course, some will press the multiverse as an explanation of the universe. I’ll discuss that in a future post.


The Thing that Started it All

human-space-universe-cosmosIf the universe has a cause, that cause is transcendent.

This seems rather obvious, and, if it strikes you as a tautology to say that the universe’s cause exists beyond the universe, you aren’t alone. I mention it because Lawrence Krauss is trying to popularize the idea that the quantum vacuum (which is part of the universe) created the universe.

But that is rather nonsensical. A more reasonable view would be to bring up the multiverse. Of course, the multiverse doesn’t explain nearly so much as most think, but the more pertinent issue is that it doesn’t cause the universe. That is to say, the idea that there are many universes doesn’t tell us how any of them (in particular, this one) might have come into being.

More than this, many don’t appreciate what the Big Bang Theory actually claims. If time, matter, and space came into being with the universe, then the cause of the universe is neither temporal, material, nor spacially extended.

Once one sees that the cause of the universe (and of any other universe which may exist) would be beyond space and time, and be powerful enough to create the universe (or even many), one is moving pretty quickly toward theism.

Of course, theism would require that there is something like a mind or will here. Admittedly, I’m not myself fully convinced of this until we get to the fine-tuning discussion. Still, there is a good reason to think this is the case even before we leave the cosmological argument. I’ll discuss that tomorrow.


If You Don’t Think, You Can’t be Wrong

ignorance_of_faculty_answer_2_xlargeAtheist philosopher Alex Rosenberg is confident that the multiverse exists. I suspect this is partially because he realizes that a failure to believe in the multiverse is a failure to engage rationally with theists.

Unfortunately, he’s willing to fudge the facts in order to help make his readers as confident as he is:

Where did the big bang come from? The best current theory suggests that our universe is just one universe in a “multiverse”…

One remarkable thing about this best current cosmological theory is the degree to which physicists have been able to subject it to many empirical tests, including tests of its claims about things that happened even before the big bang (Atheist’s Guide to Reality, pp. 36-37)

Yes, it can now be said that the multiverse has been tested (though the test failed to turn up any evidence whatsoever). But, unless the scientific method has been seriously altered since I’ve last checked, there is a difference between one test and “many”, and between being inconclusively tested and deserving the confidence Rosenberg exudes.

This is relevant because, given the state of cosmology, the multiverse is the only viable option to the idea of a designer of the universe, and there is no empirical evidence to support it. This leaves atheists at something of a crossroads: either accept the multiverse at the cost of admitting that some things can be accepted without evidence, or reject it at the cost of admitting that there is at least one large hole in one’s philosophy.

Personally, I find the former view easier to respect. There are, after all, quite a few things in life that we believe without empirical verification. Adding the multiverse to this list is an issue, but isn’t nearly so much of a sacrifice as failing to offer an alternative to theism on such a fundamental question.

This might run counter to what many assume. Certainly it runs counter to what the New Atheists seem to assume. But, in a world full of uncertainties, we need to chose the most reasonable option available. And simply claiming “I don’t like this question” isn’t an answer.

That is to say, any argument can be countered by saying “I don’t know, but I’m sure there must be some idea out there that is more reasonable than your answer”, but this is closer to an appeal to magic than logical discourse.

Refusing to answer such a basic question about the nature of reality is rather like taking the fifth amendment in court. It adds up to grounds that may incriminate one’s philosophy– that it lacks answers to the questions that theists have always claimed non-theistic views can’t answer. This doesn’t show that any particular theistic answer is correct, of course, but it does mean that the atheist’s position hasn’t even made it into the pool of live options.

But, as Rosenberg sees, none of this applies to the atheist who accepts the multiverse. I’ll have some things to say about that position in a future post.


Dumping the Baggage of Logic and Science

img_trashTreasureA fairly common objection to theism is the idea that appeals to God to explain the universe actually explain nothing because (so it is claimed) God himself cannot be explained. This is the core of Richard Dawkins’ famous “Boeing 747 Gambit”, for instance.

Of course, several problems have been pointed out with this: that the concept of God is far better understood by theologians and philosophers than this, and that constantly demanding an explanation of the explanation is not a valid argument, among others.

But atheist Alex Rosenberg inadvertently gives us an even more fundamental reason why modern atheists are in no position to make such complaints. From his view as an atheist:

Why is there something rather than nothing? Physics, especially quantum physics, shows that the correct answer to this question is: No reason, no reason at all. (“The Atheist’s Guide to Reality”, p. 38)

For modern atheists, the universe (or multiverse) is simply a “brute fact”. That is, it is something that just exists, which has no apparent explanation. Surely, this is an appeal to magic in all but name. Proponents of it certainly should stop throwing rhetorical bricks.

Nor does trying to appeal to authority help. Rosenberg would have us believe that he wasn’t led into this corner by his atheism, but by science. Of course, this is contradicted by the actual facts.

Quantum mechanics has not remotely shown that anything (let alone everything) comes into existence for “no reason at all”. And this is only one more example of the New Atheists being more in love with science fiction and bad science documentaries than actual science.

I’ve often been frustrated with the New Atheists that, in the name of science, so many of them have been willing to jettison the fields of Sociology and Anthropology in order to cling to the (false) idea that religion causes great evil in people. But I now think it is time to add Quantum Physics to the list of sciences they reject.

That is to say that Rosenberg, like the other New Atheists, is completely willing to horribly distort the findings of Quantum Physics if it will serve their purposes. Every time a field of study opposes their platform, they have no scruples about doubling down and denying or distorting the facts.

One begins to wonder, then, what will be left of science once the New Atheists are done with it.