T Nation

Proof of God, Continued

[Note: I’m writing this note after having finished with this post. This thing is complex. I have used a little logical notation, only because I do not have the time to keep rewriting the same premises. We may need to clarify some aspects of what I’ve written here, which I do want to do, because I want to have been fully clear before you respond to me. Also, I used underlines and italics to try to make sentences with multiple premises clearer, but I think they are hurting rather than helping. I simply don’t have time to go through and delete them, so I’ll just offer a “sorry about that.”]

Alright. I have identified what I think is the fundamental argument.

The universe must have a cause.

This will be referred to as P.

P is implicit in the argument you offered earlier, and, indeed, in every cosmological argument. Now, over the course of this debate, you attacked this premise’s denial, which I will refer to as ~P. But in doing so, you took the following premise (or a variation thereof):

The universe cannot have caused itself, and it cannot have been caused by nothing.

I will focus on the latter of those two statements. You argued that [nothing] could not have caused the universe because [nothing] has no properties and cannot “do,” etc. But this was fallacious in that it did not respond to ~P. Allow me to explain: The contention of ~P is not that [nothing], an actor, caused the universe. The contention is that the universe was not caused.

So, that [nothing] has no properties and therefore no causal power has no bearing on ~P, which, again, claims not that something without properties caused the universe, but that the universe was not caused.

Now, you want to disprove this. So you argue P–the universe must have a cause. But why?

Well, let me try.

  1. Everything that exists must have a cause.

  2. The universe exists.

  3. Therefore, the universe must have a cause.

But now I find myself obliged to prove premise 1: Everything that exists must have a cause.. The theist’s manner of doing this is to formulate an argument which takes as its most essential premise:

That which exists, cannot come from that which does not.

You will find this premise in or implied in every cosmological proof of God ever offered. But, at this point, the argument has circled around. Here is why: [That which exists, cannot come from that which does not] really means [That which exists, cannot [be caused by] that which does not], which presupposes that that which exists must have been caused, which means that the conclusion has been taken as a premise, which is begging the question.

What all this means is that a denial of ~P–which is an affirmation of P, your premise–cannot rely on any variation of the maxim that that which exists cannot have been caused by nothing, because this presupposes that a cause must be found for that which exists.

But, such a thing cannot be done without fallacy or assumption. And it is for this reason that I say that the causal principle is assumptive.

I would also like to add that, of course, there are nuances throughout the above that can be debated. It can be claimed that the universe’s existence is an assumption, etc. But those kinds of tangents will be resolved by simply altering (and greatly complicating) the language of the discussion, so let’s stick to what matters re: causality.

When did this argument pop up again? Anyway, I like logic so I will join in. I am assuming that you are using first-order logic, which is what the cosmological argument uses. If I am mistaken, then please let me know because if you are using higher order logical arguments, then my post needs some tweaking. First, the logic of the argument is infinitely regressive. For example, assuming that 1 and 2 are true, this implies that 3 is true, but this implies that the cause of 1 exists and by 1 must itself has a cause. Only by claiming that something exists un-caused can stop the infinite regression, but this invalidates 1 and 2 and thus the entire argument is invalid.

Now, how could 1 ever be considered a valid proposition? Because until the last hundred years or so it was, and could be proven with a strong inductive argument using what is now referred to as naive set theory. Here is a basic sketch of how such a proof would go: let A be the set of all natural numbers ( A = {1,2,3,…}) with 1 representing any event at a certain time and each successive natural number representing the cause of the event before it (this is allowable under naive set theory using first order logic but not higher order axiomatic set theories for reasons that I will explain in a moment). This can be shown by observation to hold (at the macroscopic level we have yet to find an event that cannot be contributed to a specific cause. This does not hold true for some events on sub-atomic scales). Thus by the principle of strong induction it must hold true for every event. It was arguments like this that led to the discovery of the Burali-Forti paradox (basically, this states that since a set, Q, containing all ordinal numbers, allowable under first-order naive set theory, then it has all the properties of an ordinal number and thus Q+1 is defined and is an ordinal number but this leads to the contradiction that Q+1 must already be in Q, and thus Q<Q+1 and Q+1<Q.) This was one of the catalysts that led to the development of higher order logic systems and axiomatic set theories.

*edited for translation errors.

I was going to say that I don’t think 1. is necessarily a premise of most cosmological arguments.

It would’ve never gotten by “then what caused God?”

  1. The argument does NOT rest on the premise that “Everything has a cause.”

Lots of people–probably most people who have an opinion on the matter–think that the cosmological argument goes like this: Everything has a cause; so the universe has a cause; so God exists. They then have no trouble at all poking holes in it. If everything has a cause, then what caused God? Why assume in the first place that everything has to have a cause? Why assume the cause is God? Etc.

Here’s the funny thing, though. People who attack this argument never tell you where they got it from. They never quote anyone defending it. There’s a reason for that. The reason is that none of the best-known proponents of the cosmological argument in the history of philosophy and theology ever gave this stupid argument. Not Plato, not Aristotle, not al-Ghazali, not Maimonides, not Aquinas, not Duns Scotus, not Leibniz, not Samuel Clarke, not Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, not Mortimer Adler, not William Lane Craig, not Richard Swinburne. And not anyone else either, as far as I know. (Your Pastor Bob doesn’t count. I mean no one among prominent philosophers.) And yet it is constantly presented, not only by popular writers but even by some professional philosophers, as if it were “the” “basic” version of the cosmological argument, and as if every other version were essentially just a variation on it.

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

[quote]Sloth wrote:
I was going to say that I don’t think 1. is necessarily a premise of most cosmological arguments.

It would’ve never gotten by “then what caused God?”

  1. The argument does NOT rest on the premise that “Everything has a cause.”

Lots of people–probably most people who have an opinion on the matter–think that the cosmological argument goes like this: Everything has a cause; so the universe has a cause; so God exists. They then have no trouble at all poking holes in it. If everything has a cause, then what caused God? Why assume in the first place that everything has to have a cause? Why assume the cause is God? Etc.

Here’s the funny thing, though. People who attack this argument never tell you where they got it from. They never quote anyone defending it. There’s a reason for that. The reason is that none of the best-known proponents of the cosmological argument in the history of philosophy and theology ever gave this stupid argument. Not Plato, not Aristotle, not al-Ghazali, not Maimonides, not Aquinas, not Duns Scotus, not Leibniz, not Samuel Clarke, not Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, not Mortimer Adler, not William Lane Craig, not Richard Swinburne. And not anyone else either, as far as I know. (Your Pastor Bob doesn’t count. I mean no one among prominent philosophers.) And yet it is constantly presented, not only by popular writers but even by some professional philosophers, as if it were “the” “basic” version of the cosmological argument, and as if every other version were essentially just a variation on it.

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

That’s fine: Substitute his preference–Everything that comes into existence has a cause–and everything is stands perfectly well. It’s just that then, the theist must also prove that the universe came into existence.

Edit: And the first of my propositions, that the universe must have a cause, is the big one, and is a necessary premise of the Cosmological Proof. The later everything must have a cause can be exchanged with Feser’s preferred premise, which is really just a way to allow God into the equation. But it doesn’t matter: The objection is unchanged.

[quote]smh_23 wrote:

That’s fine: Substitute his preference–Everything that comes into existence has a cause–and everything is stands perfectly well. It’s just that then, the theist must also prove that the universe came into existence.[/quote]

  1. “Why assume that the universe had a beginning” is not a serious objection to the argument.

The reason this is not a serious objection is that no version of the cosmological argument assumes this at all. Of course, the kal�?m cosmological argument does claim that the universe had a beginning, but it doesnâ??t merely assume it. Rather, the whole point of that version of the cosmological argument is to establish through detailed argument that the universe must have had a beginning. You can try to rebut those arguments, but to pretend that one can dismiss the argument merely by raising the possibility of an infinite series of universes (say) is to miss the whole point.

The main reason this is a bad objection, though, is that most versions of the cosmological argument do not even claim that the universe had a beginning. Aristotelian, Neo-Platonic, Thomistic, and Leibnizian cosmological arguments are all concerned to show that there must be an uncaused cause even if the universe has always existed. Of course, Aquinas did believe that the world had a beginning, but (as all Aquinas scholars know) that is not a claim that plays any role in his versions of the cosmological argument. When he argues there that there must be a First Cause, he doesnâ??t mean â??firstâ?? in the order of events extending backwards into the past. What he means is that there must be a most fundamental cause of things which keeps them in existence at every moment, whether or not the series of moments extends backwards into the past without a beginning.

The best I can say is to look through his blog. I believe he has two books that lay it out fully. I’m not up to it. A man has to know his limitations. Especially in this kind of communication medium. But, I thought you might like to be aware of his writings.

[quote]Sloth wrote:

[quote]smh_23 wrote:

That’s fine: Substitute his preference–Everything that comes into existence has a cause–and everything is stands perfectly well. It’s just that then, the theist must also prove that the universe came into existence.[/quote]

  1. “Why assume that the universe had a beginning” is not a serious objection to the argument.

The reason this is not a serious objection is that no version of the cosmological argument assumes this at all. Of course, the kal�??m cosmological argument does claim that the universe had a beginning, but it doesn�¢??t merely assume it. Rather, the whole point of that version of the cosmological argument is to establish through detailed argument that the universe must have had a beginning. You can try to rebut those arguments, but to pretend that one can dismiss the argument merely by raising the possibility of an infinite series of universes (say) is to miss the whole point.

The main reason this is a bad objection, though, is that most versions of the cosmological argument do not even claim that the universe had a beginning. Aristotelian, Neo-Platonic, Thomistic, and Leibnizian cosmological arguments are all concerned to show that there must be an uncaused cause even if the universe has always existed. Of course, Aquinas did believe that the world had a beginning, but (as all Aquinas scholars know) that is not a claim that plays any role in his versions of the cosmological argument. When he argues there that there must be a First Cause, he doesn�¢??t mean �¢??first�¢?? in the order of events extending backwards into the past. What he means is that there must be a most fundamental cause of things which keeps them in existence at every moment, whether or not the series of moments extends backwards into the past without a beginning.

[/quote]

Of course it depends on which proof is being bandied about. Feser is pretending that only one exists–this is nonsense. But assume a proof for which the universe does not need to have come into existence. Then the secondary portion of my objection is dealt with, but not by any means the primary.

[quote]Sloth wrote:
The best I can say is to look through his blog. I believe he has two books that lay it out fully. I’m not up to it. But, I thought you might like to be aware of his writings.[/quote]

Indeed I have read through his blog many times. I suggest reading the other end of the debate as well, with Oerter (sp?).

But, like I said, my objection is not really dealt with by him.

[quote]Dr.Matt581 wrote:
When did this argument pop up again? Anyway, I like logic so I will join in. I am assuming that you are using first-order logic, which is what the cosmological argument uses. If I am mistaken, then please let me know because if you are using higher order logical arguments, then my post needs some tweaking. First, the logic of the argument is infinitely regressive. For example, assuming that 1 and 2 are true, this implies that 3 is true, but this implies that the cause of 1 exists and by 1 must itself has a cause. Only by claiming that something exists un-caused can stop the infinite regression, but this invalidates 1 and 2 and thus the entire argument is invalid.

Now, how could 1 ever be considered a valid proposition? Because until the last hundred years or so it was, and could be proven with a strong inductive argument using what is now referred to as naive set theory. Here is a basic sketch of how such a proof would go: let A be the set of all natural numbers ( A = {1,2,3,…}) with 1 representing any event at a certain time and each successive natural number representing the cause of the event before it (this is allowable under naive set theory using first order logic but not higher order axiomatic set theories for reasons that I will explain in a moment). This can be shown by observation to hold (at the macroscopic level we have yet to find an event that cannot be contributed to a specific cause. This does not hold true for some events on sub-atomic scales). Thus by the principle of strong induction it must hold true for every event. It was arguments like this that led to the discovery of the Burali-Forti paradox (basically, this states that since a set, Q, containing all ordinal numbers, allowable under first-order naive set theory, then it has all the properties of an ordinal number and thus Q+1 is defined and is an ordinal number but this leads to the contradiction that Q+1 must already be in Q, and thus Q<Q+1 and Q+1<Q.) This was one of the catalysts that led to the development of higher order logic systems and axiomatic set theories.

*edited for translation errors.[/quote]

I hate to be that guy, Matt, and it could be that if I look at this when the workload is not crushing me that I will understand it, but as of right now, I don’t follow in the slightest.

I can imagine two states. Absolutely zilch. Or, an existing universe. So, we have an existing universe, are there conditions that, if we could, remove them, would the universe cease to be? What do you think?

[quote]Sloth wrote:
I was going to say that I don’t think 1. is necessarily a premise of most cosmological arguments.

It would’ve never gotten by “then what caused God?”

  1. The argument does NOT rest on the premise that “Everything has a cause.”

Lots of people–probably most people who have an opinion on the matter–think that the cosmological argument goes like this: Everything has a cause; so the universe has a cause; so God exists. They then have no trouble at all poking holes in it. If everything has a cause, then what caused God? Why assume in the first place that everything has to have a cause? Why assume the cause is God? Etc.

Here’s the funny thing, though. People who attack this argument never tell you where they got it from. They never quote anyone defending it. There’s a reason for that. The reason is that none of the best-known proponents of the cosmological argument in the history of philosophy and theology ever gave this stupid argument. Not Plato, not Aristotle, not al-Ghazali, not Maimonides, not Aquinas, not Duns Scotus, not Leibniz, not Samuel Clarke, not Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, not Mortimer Adler, not William Lane Craig, not Richard Swinburne. And not anyone else either, as far as I know. (Your Pastor Bob doesn’t count. I mean no one among prominent philosophers.) And yet it is constantly presented, not only by popular writers but even by some professional philosophers, as if it were “the” “basic” version of the cosmological argument, and as if every other version were essentially just a variation on it.

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

You might want to read Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas, specifically Part 1 Question 2, Article 3 second proof. If you do not know Latin, then there are many reputable translations, but this entire argument is based on the premise of efficient cause.

To clarify my position, it is this:

Any cosmological proof will use or reduce to the premise that the universe must have a cause. I believe that while this is an assumption with a very strong foundation, it is an assumption nonetheless.

I believe this in part because proofs that try to prove it commit an informal logical fallacy (they beg the question) by taking as a premise ex nihilo nihil fit–that nothing comes from nothing. The problem with this premise is that comes from is used here as an exact euphemism for causes, which means that we can restate the premise as nothing causes nothing. But the contention is not that nothing has caused something–it is that something has no cause, and thus ex nihilo is stabbing in the dark (by continuing to search for the universe’s cause where none has been averred). In other words, it presupposes the principle of causality in endeavoring to prove the principle of causality.

[quote]smh_23 wrote:

[quote]Dr.Matt581 wrote:
When did this argument pop up again? Anyway, I like logic so I will join in. I am assuming that you are using first-order logic, which is what the cosmological argument uses. If I am mistaken, then please let me know because if you are using higher order logical arguments, then my post needs some tweaking. First, the logic of the argument is infinitely regressive. For example, assuming that 1 and 2 are true, this implies that 3 is true, but this implies that the cause of 1 exists and by 1 must itself has a cause. Only by claiming that something exists un-caused can stop the infinite regression, but this invalidates 1 and 2 and thus the entire argument is invalid.

Now, how could 1 ever be considered a valid proposition? Because until the last hundred years or so it was, and could be proven with a strong inductive argument using what is now referred to as naive set theory. Here is a basic sketch of how such a proof would go: let A be the set of all natural numbers ( A = {1,2,3,…}) with 1 representing any event at a certain time and each successive natural number representing the cause of the event before it (this is allowable under naive set theory using first order logic but not higher order axiomatic set theories for reasons that I will explain in a moment). This can be shown by observation to hold (at the macroscopic level we have yet to find an event that cannot be contributed to a specific cause. This does not hold true for some events on sub-atomic scales). Thus by the principle of strong induction it must hold true for every event. It was arguments like this that led to the discovery of the Burali-Forti paradox (basically, this states that since a set, Q, containing all ordinal numbers, allowable under first-order naive set theory, then it has all the properties of an ordinal number and thus Q+1 is defined and is an ordinal number but this leads to the contradiction that Q+1 must already be in Q, and thus Q<Q+1 and Q+1<Q.) This was one of the catalysts that led to the development of higher order logic systems and axiomatic set theories.

*edited for translation errors.[/quote]

I hate to be that guy, Matt, and it could be that if I look at this when the workload is not crushing me that I will understand it, but as of right now, I don’t follow in the slightest.[/quote]

Sorry, let me try to be more clear. Most of my post was explaining that the cosmological argument is based off of the premises of first order logic and naive set theory, which are known to be insufficient for this kind of argument since their proof is based on strong induction, which until recently was thought to have been proven for all first order logic (in fact, it is still taught as such in introductory logic courses) but it was shown to fail under certain conditions.

Anyway, even without the failings of first order logic, the reasoning behind the causal argument invalidates it. If we accept that everything has a specific cause (not necessarily true, but that doesn’t particularly matter right now) and nothing can cause itself, then there must exist an uncaused-cause, but if there is an uncaused-cause then that invalidates the premise of causality itself so there really is no argument.

[quote]Dr.Matt581 wrote:

[quote]smh_23 wrote:

[quote]Dr.Matt581 wrote:
When did this argument pop up again? Anyway, I like logic so I will join in. I am assuming that you are using first-order logic, which is what the cosmological argument uses. If I am mistaken, then please let me know because if you are using higher order logical arguments, then my post needs some tweaking. First, the logic of the argument is infinitely regressive. For example, assuming that 1 and 2 are true, this implies that 3 is true, but this implies that the cause of 1 exists and by 1 must itself has a cause. Only by claiming that something exists un-caused can stop the infinite regression, but this invalidates 1 and 2 and thus the entire argument is invalid.

Now, how could 1 ever be considered a valid proposition? Because until the last hundred years or so it was, and could be proven with a strong inductive argument using what is now referred to as naive set theory. Here is a basic sketch of how such a proof would go: let A be the set of all natural numbers ( A = {1,2,3,…}) with 1 representing any event at a certain time and each successive natural number representing the cause of the event before it (this is allowable under naive set theory using first order logic but not higher order axiomatic set theories for reasons that I will explain in a moment). This can be shown by observation to hold (at the macroscopic level we have yet to find an event that cannot be contributed to a specific cause. This does not hold true for some events on sub-atomic scales). Thus by the principle of strong induction it must hold true for every event. It was arguments like this that led to the discovery of the Burali-Forti paradox (basically, this states that since a set, Q, containing all ordinal numbers, allowable under first-order naive set theory, then it has all the properties of an ordinal number and thus Q+1 is defined and is an ordinal number but this leads to the contradiction that Q+1 must already be in Q, and thus Q<Q+1 and Q+1<Q.) This was one of the catalysts that led to the development of higher order logic systems and axiomatic set theories.

*edited for translation errors.[/quote]

I hate to be that guy, Matt, and it could be that if I look at this when the workload is not crushing me that I will understand it, but as of right now, I don’t follow in the slightest.[/quote]

Sorry, let me try to be more clear. Most of my post was explaining that the cosmological argument is based off of the premises of first order logic and naive set theory, which are known to be insufficient for this kind of argument since their proof is based on strong induction, which until recently was thought to have been proven for all first order logic (in fact, it is still taught as such in introductory logic courses) but it was shown to fail under certain conditions.

Anyway, even without the failings of first order logic, the reasoning behind the causal argument invalidates it. If we accept that everything has a specific cause (not necessarily true, but that doesn’t particularly matter right now) and nothing can cause itself, then there must exist an uncaused-cause, but if there is an uncaused-cause then that invalidates the premise of causality itself so there really is no argument.
[/quote]

Ah, ok. Thanks for translating. I can’t say I’m anything less than very relieved to know that you are taking the same general position, at least here, as I am.

I did try the If God exists and is uncaused then the uncaused exists line in the last thread, but it got lost in the muck.

[quote]smh_23 wrote:

Ah, ok. Thanks for translating. I can’t say I’m anything less than very relieved to know that you are taking the same general position, at least here, as I am.

I did try the If God exists and is uncaused then the uncaused exists line in the last thread, but it got lost in the muck.[/quote]

Yeah, sorry about that. Since I moved I haven’t been speaking English hardly at all so my skills are fading a it.

[quote]Dr.Matt581 wrote:

[quote]smh_23 wrote:

Ah, ok. Thanks for translating. I can’t say I’m anything less than very relieved to know that you are taking the same general position, at least here, as I am.

I did try the If God exists and is uncaused then the uncaused exists line in the last thread, but it got lost in the muck.[/quote]

Yeah, sorry about that. Since I moved I haven’t been speaking English hardly at all so my skills are fading a it.[/quote]

No, no. I meant the translation from what knowledgeable math people say to what not-math people say. “Dumbing it down” would have been a better choice of words. Was not making any comment on your English whatsoever, though I empathize with your saying that it’s fading, as I was once perfectly fluent in Spanish and am now sorta, kinda semi-fluent after years of neglecting it.

[quote]Dr.Matt581 wrote:

If you do not know Latin…[/quote]

Heh. Heck no. I’m only now trying to pick up a foreign language while in university.

German. And it’s taking up a lot more of my study time than I thought it would.

[quote]Sloth wrote:

[quote]Dr.Matt581 wrote:

If you do not know Latin…[/quote]

Heh. Heck no. I’m only now trying to pick up a foreign language while in university.

German. And it’s taking up a lot more of my study time than I thought it would.[/quote]

Languages always do, I am learning Norwegian right now and am on a steep learning curve (I need to start lecturing in Norwegian so that my students can understand me better). German is a good language to learn if you are majoring in any of the hard sciences.

[quote]Dr.Matt581 wrote:

[quote]Sloth wrote:

[quote]Dr.Matt581 wrote:

If you do not know Latin…[/quote]

Heh. Heck no. I’m only now trying to pick up a foreign language while in university.

German. And it’s taking up a lot more of my study time than I thought it would.[/quote]

Languages always do, I am learning Norwegian right now and am on a steep learning curve (I need to start lecturing in Norwegian so that my students can understand me better). German is a good language to learn if you are majoring in any of the hard sciences.[/quote]

Are you near to any of the stave churches? Fantastic things to visit. Some of the most remarkable buildings in the world, even up against Gothic cathedrals.