# No, the Universe can't "Just Exist"

"If you think God just exists without a cause, why can't the Universe just exist without a cause?"

There are several different problems with this commonly heard response.

One is that it fails to be responsive to the nature of cosmological arguments.  As I've said before, any cosmological argument will explicitly state some property P of things which need a cause, and conclude to the existence of something without that property P.

A second issue is that in traditional Natural Theology, proponents of cosmological arguments don't usually think that God "just exists" in the sense that he's a brute fact who freakishly exists, randomly and for no particularly good reason.  Rather, God is a necessary being who has to exist, by the very nature of "God" and "existence".  In this viewpoint, although God is uncaused, there is still a very good reason for his existence!  (And according to traditional Natural Theology, anything which "just exists" in this strong sense, would need to have a bunch of other divine properties as well.)

Suppose you think that some things have a cause and some things don't.  Then it seems reasonable to think that whether or not a thing needs a cause depends on what kind of thing it is.

But as soon as you admit this, you are committed in principle to accepting some sort of cosmological reasoning, even if you don't think the proper conclusion is Theism.  If Type A things don't need a cause, but type B things do need a cause, then it seems to me that if you work out these principles in a sensible way, you're ultimately going to end up with a hierarchical picture of the world: in which the type B things depend in some way on the type A things to exist, but not vice versa.  This implies that the existence of type B things should testify in some way to the existence and nature of the type A things.  And that's a cosmological argument!

Can we avoid this kind of reasoning by saying that "The Universe just exists"?  (Thus putting the term "Universe" in the category of type A things, that don't require an explanation.)

In my opinion, that statement is fatally ambiguous, so that it simply can't be accepted as meaning anything definite, unless further clarification is given.  Even if Naturalism is true, the cosmological argument demands a more complicated response than that.

The problem I want to highlight here arises from a very simple, and I hope uncontroversial fact:

"The Universe" refers to a collection of multiple things.

Of course, there are lots of collections of diverse entities which the mind can consider — your uncle's stamp collection; the ecology of all living species in the planet Earth; the natural numbers; the United States of America; the Grand Canyon; a deck of playing cards; a nuclear family; the "set" consisting of my left Big Toe and the Washington Monument; etc. Some of these entities have a natural or artificial "unity" that makes them function in certain definite respects as a single entity.  Others, are just random collections of entities, which we can still name linguistically as a collection, if we have some reason to do so.

Now the Universe is a really, really big collection of things.  In fact it is defined to be the collection of everything — or more precisely, everything that exists in the particular way that physical things exist.

The caveat is important.  Some might prefer to define the "Universe" to consist of everything that exists in any way whatsoever.  But then even God would be part of the Universe (assuming he exists at all, he exists in some way, even if that way transcends the way any of us exist).  And that would mean that an atheist couldn't express their Atheism by saying "Only the Universe exists" (because saying that wouldn't exclude God), nor could a theist express their Theism by saying "God created the Universe" (because God didn't create God).

Since such an unrestricted definition of "Universe" would be annoying for both theists and atheists, I take it that it is bad form to define it that way.  "God" and the "Universe" are sufficiently different that they can't be reasonably regarded as belonging to the same category of entity.  (Indeed, in a Monotheistic worldview, God is so unique that he can't really be categorized into a common category with anything else.)

Someone might therefore reasonably propose the following definition:

The Universe is the collection of every entity that exists in space and time.

(Some Naturalists might quibble about whether this "spacetime" criterion is the best way to pick out the class of entities they believe in; others might welcome it.  Most of what I say below won't depend on that.  The most important thing here is that the Universe is a collection.  And that now, if you say "The Universe is the only thing that exists", you are making a substantive claim, that could be right or wrong.)

Now, supposing someone claims "The Universe just exists", my question for them is this: what does it mean for a collection to "just exist"?  I would like to argue, that in order for an assertion about a collection to be a meaningful statement, it has to be made clear how the assertion relates to the individual members of the collection.

For example, America is a collective noun referring to a political union which (in addition to being a government, and the territory in which that government has legal jurisdiction) is also a specific collection of individual humans: namely those with American citizenship.

So if a political commentator says "We need to prevent America from dying", there are multiple ways this statement about the collective might relate to individuals.  The political pundit might be afraid of any one of the following outcomes:

(A) that all individual Americans are about to die (e.g. from a nuclear war or meteor strike that leaves no survivors);

(B) that some particular subset of individual Americans are about to die (e.g. from Covid-19);

(C) not that any specific American is about to die, but that some property held in common by many American individuals (like the "American spirit" or "American project" or "American respect for the Bill of Rights) is about to perish (e.g. if the country were in danger of becoming a one-party totalitarian state).

(D) that the United States federal government (i.e. the union which stands for Americans collectively) will formally cease to be (e.g. if all 50 states were to secede simultaneously, or if the government disbanded after being conquered by another country).

Of course a patriot would regard all four of these interpretations as bad news, but they are logically distinct meanings, even if some of them might imply or lead to each other.  A pundit who confused these outcomes with each other, would be guilty of mushy thinking.

So now let's consider this mushy slogan:

"The Universe Just Exists"

What does it even mean?  It seems to me that the options are similar to the case of America dying.  If you endorse this slogan, do you mean:

A) Every single entity in the Universe (e.g. rocks, trees, cats, galaxies, etc.) just exists, without any cause.

This interpretation has the advantage that, if it were true, it would be very reasonable to summarize it with the slogan: "The Universe Just Exists".

But it is also manifestly absurd.  If we pick this option, then nothing has an explanation, nothing makes any sense, and nothing we do can make any difference to anything else.  And yes that would also mean that Science is impossible.

B) Some specific entity or entities just exists, without any cause.

OK, in that case you need to tell me which specific entities these are.  In other words, you have more work to do before you've succeeded in expressing an actual philosophical position.

Once you have found whatever thing(s) X you think just exists', it seems to me it would be much clearer to state your position as "X just exists", not "the Universe just exists".  After all, on this hypothesis, the Universe contains many other things, which are not X's.

If you pick this option, it had better be plausible that your X is able to give rise to all of the non-X's, without any features left over which X is unable to explain.  (And it would be nice to have an account of which specific features of X, as compared to not-X's, make it reasonable to think they don't need a cause.)

C) No specific entity just exists without a cause, but something which these entities have in common just exists without a cause.

Again, you have more work to do here.  You need to tell me what specific common factor F you believe "just exists".  And whatever this thing is, since you've distinguished it from all the collected members of the class "Universe", it's unclear that your position will be best summarized by the phrase: "the Universe just exists".  You should say "F-ness just exists".

Of course, if you thought that F was a concrete entity existing in space and time, it seems you should have said "yes" to option B, rather than select this option.  To avoid (B), you are forced to pick one of the following 2 options:

1. the thing which "just exists" is not an entity at all, or
2. the thing which "just exists" is an entity that exists outside of spacetime

This puzzle is related to the fact that things which are held in common tend to be abstract qualities, e.g. both apples and fire engines can be red, so redness is an abstract quality rather than being a concrete entity.  If you are a Platonic or Aristotelian "Realist" who believes that abstract universals really exist in some transcendental or immanent way (a position I have some sympathy with), then maybe this is okay.  But if you are a hard-nosed Nominalist who doesn't like forms, then you might be in danger of implying this:

the factor F which "just exists" (and which explains everything else), doesn't actually exist at all in the way normal things do (except in a sort of purely conventional or descriptive way)

or shorter:

that which explains everything else by its existence, doesn't exist except in our minds

or more provocatively still:

that which exists most, exists least

which seems like a bit of a paradox!

Incidentally, if you think that the reason why the Universe doesn't need a cause is because of some infinite causal regress, then your position is probably best thought of as an example of position (C).   To give an example, an oak tree usually grows from an acorn dropped by a previous tree.  Darwin would say that trees evolved from simpler life forms, while Young Earth Creationists think the first oak tree was immediately produced by God without forebears.  But suppose, contrary to both of these views, that the Universe were infinitely old and that oak trees go back in time forever, in an infinite regress.  Then in this silly hypothetical, there would be a cause for why any particular oak tree exists, but it would seem there is no cause of why oaks as a species exist, nor is there a cause of why the arboreal nature which is common to all trees is instantiated in the world.

Yet the existence of oaks is still a rather peculiar and interesting fact, which we might like to have an explanation for.

If a Naturalist thinks that the most basic reality is the laws of physics (as I've previously suggested is the most plausible form of Naturalism), then this might also be regarded as a form of option (C).  Note however, that the laws of physics would transcend space and time (in the sense that they hold equally in all times and places) and on this view they would also seem to transcend the distinction between abstract reality and concrete reality (since they take the form of mathematical equations, but they also govern the universe).

D) No specific entity exists without a cause, but collectively they form a united whole which, considered in this collective identity, exists without a cause.

This option was supposed to be parallel to the "United States government" option for "America", but I confess I'm have some difficulty making much sense of it as applied to the subject "the Universe" and the predicate "just existing".

First of all, it is not clear whether the Universe, which is after all just about the broadest category there is, has any collective identity above and beyond the coexistence of the individual entities which exist within it.

If it does have some collective identity, it's hard to see how that collective identity doesn't depend on the individual parts to exist.  If you try to make a brick house, but you don't have any bricks, then you won't be able to build the house.  But if something depends on other things to exist, then it doesn't "just exist", now does it?

(Otherwise, if the identity of the Universe didn't depend on the parts in any way, such that it could exist even if none of its parts do, then maybe the thing you have in mind isn't a collection of entities at all, and you should have called it "God" instead of "Universe"?)

Of course if you just replace a few of the bricks from a house, you could still have something that might recognizably be considered the "same" house.  Just as individual Americans can die (in fact everyone who was alive at the founding has died, and been replaced by new generations) without the United States of America ceasing to exist.

But, if it is coherent to say that the USA of 1790 is the same as the USA of 2020 (or a counterfactual USA which lost the Civil War and had fewer states), then it must be true that there is some abstract feature, which is common to all of these versions of the USA, and which makes them the same.

Similarly, we could imagine the history of the universe turning out differently.  E.g. imagine an possible world W' in which the Solar System had never formed.  We can now ask, does W' count as the same "Universe" for purposes of the slogan, as the actual world W?

(To some extent this is an ambiguous question.  You can define "this Universe" however you like, and there may well be fuzzy boundaries about exactly when normal people would count a universe as the "same" or "different".  But the relevant question is this: is there any specific way to define "the Universe" that makes the slogan "the Universe just exists" true?)

If W and W' count as distinct Universes, then it is neither W nor W' which you are specifically asserting "just exists", but rather some common aspect which is the same for both W and W' — and that pushes us back into option (C), or maybe (B) if there are some spacetime entities which exist in all possible worlds.

If on the other hand, we interpret "Universe" in the slogan sufficiently narrowly that any changes to W would make it no longer count as the same universe — then in that case asserting that the Universe just exists, means asserting that W obtains as a brute fact, where W implies that every single thing in the universe is exactly the way it is.  But in that case it seems that the slogan implies (A), which is still absurd.

_____________________________

In conclusion, every single interpretation of "The Universe Just Exists" that I can think of seems to be either absurd, or else it uses the word "Universe" to refer to something far more restricted and definite than what it is normally taken to mean.

Thus, my message for Naturalists is simple:

1. The Universe can't "just exist"

2. So something else must exist without a cause

3. Come back when you think you know what it is,
and then we can have a real conversation about the
Cosmological Argument.

I am a Lecturer in Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my postdocs at UC Santa Barbara, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and Stanford. The views expressed on this blog are my own, and should not be attributed to any of these fine institutions.
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### 100 Responses to No, the Universe can't "Just Exist"

1. I appreciate this post as I appreciate the majority of your posts. Thank you and I hope you finish your earlier series.

What I was hoping for you to address as I read this post, and what I feel that you didn't address, is Pantheism. This stands out because of history (notably Spinoza and Einstein) and because, at least in my experience, many physicists, at least when speaking in private, will express sympathies towards Pantheism while openly opposing Theism.

Jon

2. Mr. C says:

Apparently, you've raised this question before, but what are your thoughts considering the omnipotence paradox? There's a very nice rebuttal of it here (https://www.sfu.ca/~swartz/modal_fallacy.htm#omnipotence and also https://www.sfu.ca/~swartz/kurtenbach/necessary_omnipotence.htm), but it implies that God does not necessarily exist. Do you have any thoughts on it?

3. Aron Wall says:

Mr C,
All of these arguments are completely misguided, for several different reasons:

1. This account of omnipotence as the ability to make any proposition true, is not how omnipotence was traditionally defined. For an account of the philosophical history, see here.

2. Even on a more modern account, God's power should be defined to only extend to that which is intrinsically possible to be done. God causing a logical contradiction to obtain, is not intrinsically possible. Therefore, God's power does not extend to it.

If we take modal logic seriously enough to use it to argue against God's attributes, we also need to take it seriously enough to include it in our ideas about what counts as "intrinsically possible". In particular, in S5 modal logic, all modal statements are themselves necessary; i.e. $\Diamond P$ implies $\boxempty \Diamond P$ and $\boxempty P$ implies $\boxempty \boxempty P$. Hence, no being whatsoever has the power to make such modal statements true or false; it follows that this is not the sort of thing we ever mean when we talk about "power". For example, if I go to the store at noon, that act does not remove the fact that counterfactually it was possible for me to not have gone to store, and it is hard to see what it would even mean for me to have the power to remove that possibility. I can of course take actions which preclude me going to the store (like being somewhere else during the relevant time period, or promising that I won't go while being the sort of person who always keeps my promises), but that doesn't change anything about what I hypothetically could have done, had I not taken those actions.

3. Logical possibility should also be distinguished from real possibility (also called 'metaphysical possibility'). The mere fact that we humans don't see a contradiction in a certain state of affairs, does not imply that it is really possible. There is no reason to believe the human mind is capable of perceiving every type of impossibility. Therefore, the fact that a statement is logically possible (i.e. that the human imagination does not detect a contradiction in it), does not imply that it belongs to the set of intrinsically possible outcomes.

4. To quote from the first link:

The problem, in other words, arises with the mistake, common among analytic philosophers today, of thinking that arguments and claims just spring out of nowhere and therefore don't need anything other than themselves in order to be understood properly. In actual fact, the interpretation of arguments and claims must be constrained by the reasons for putting them forward in the first place.

Thus, if your reason for believing God is omnipotent is from philosophical theology, then you need to examine your reasons for thinking God is omnipotent, and doing this will guide you to seeing how to resolve these issues.

And if your reason is from Scripture, then you need to see how the doctrine of omnipotence functions within the canon of Scripture, and let Scripture qualify your account of what omnipotence means.

4. Mactoul says:

Aron
Though you expressed hope that your definition of universe as a collection of things will not be controversial I would like to remark that the essence of the term universe is that it is one--it expresses a certain unity --that the said unity is far from obvious.
Consider the currently trendy multiverse and the older idea of island worlds, later figured out to be part of our universe.
I refer you to the writings of Fr Jaki.

Again, your argument that there are things like rocks, planets etc have a cause that makes them to exist so the universe must also have a cause.
But it can be argued that there are no such things -- they are just collections or heaps of actually existing things aka fundamental particles which are causeless.

5. Mactoul says:

Classical arguments proceed from premises that are undercut by modern physics (or some interpretations thereof). For instance, the substantial unity of things. Do you believe that living things possess substantial unity, are they substances in Aristotelian sense? Or do you call this view outdated and unscientific vitalism?

In modern physics there are only quantum fields or fundamental particles which came into existence with Big Bang and thus do not require any further cause. Everything else is just accidental heaps of these fundamental particles and heaps do not require any cause.

6. I think the meaning of "cause" relies on a context-dependent background framework of which things can be implicitly accepted. For example, "The paperclip moved because there was a magnet" may be a satisfactory explanation to someone who accepts that magnets works but wanted to know how objects were arranged around the paperclip, but it won't be satisfying to someone who wants to understand how/why magnets work. Discussions of the cosmological argument or the question of why there is something rather nothing are seeking out an "ultimate" cause, a cause in the empty background framework, a cause that does not presuppose anything else. I do not believe ultimate causes exist. This is unsatisfying, and if there were such an ultimate cause I would like to know but it, but I spend little time seeking it out and I do not accept arguments based on the assumption that an ultimate cause exists.

To fit this in your classification, in terms of ultimate causes I believe A, that every individual object does not have an ultimate cause. This does not render science impossible. Science involves noticing patterns in the universe, building frameworks for these patterns, and explaining things within these frameworks. The universe does have patterns: Partly we know this from observation, and partly we believe this for things we haven't observed from extrapolating from what we have observed. So science has been possible up to now, and we believe it will continue to work in the future. Just as science is based on causes but does not require ultimate causes, our desire to affect our surroundings does not require the effects to be transcendent and independent of anything else but merely that we accept an ability to perform actions and incorporate it in our planning.

7. Unrelated to my last comment, I want to question your own views about initial causes in light of other posts you made. How does your belief in free will affect your thoughts on the simplicity or unity of any first cause(s)? (I was sure you believed there is a singular and unified first cause, but I couldn't find a specific blog post that was a good reference.) Isn't each act of free, by definition, an uncaused cause? These aren't causes for an entity to come into existence, as this blog post is concerned with, but they are still causes for why they the world is the particular way it is. I don't mean why that Alice has the free will to go either left or right, which you presumably attribute to a dispensation from God, but, given that she has free will, why did she go left or why did she go right. Any sufficient cause other than "Alice chose this" is a denial of her free will. And yet, if no act of free will has a sufficient cause, that is a huge number of separate events that are necessary in explaining the way the everything is, rather than a single simple uncaused causer.

8. Matt says:

To me this was amazingly well written, so thanks for this.

9. Aron Wall says:

Itai,
1. Thanks for your response. However, I'd like to push back on a few aspects.

I don't think that cosmological arguments, as formulated by somebody like St. Thomas Aquinas, are based on "the asumption that an ultimate cause exists". The proposition that an ultimate cause exists is supposed to be the conclusion of the argument, not one of the premises. The premise is that ordinary sorts of causation exist (e.g. "the paperclip moved because of the magnet").

Because of this, I think that the question "Why is there something rather than nothing" is a rather poor formulation of this sort of Cosmological Argument. A better question would be "Given that there is something (this premise comes from observation), and that this something does not seem to be fully intelligible on its own without inquiry into deeper causes (this premise comes from reason), what is the most rational account of the structure of existence?

(You seem to admit that not believing that ultimate causes exist is "unsatisfying". Now in some situations, it may be irrational to allow your emotions to prejudice whether or not to accept the conclusion of an argument. But when the part of you that is unsatisfied is your reason, then surely it is almost by definition "rational" to take that into consideration? A "prejudice" in favor of the world being intelligible seems like a necessary prerequisite to do any reasoning at all.)

In any case, this blog post was not about the convincingness of Cosmological Arguments per se. Rather it is about the convincingness of one particular reply to the CA, namely, "why can't the Universe be the thing that just exists' the way Theists think God just exists?". Now, in Theism, God does not merely lack an ultimate cause, rather he lacks any sort of cause whatsoever. Therefore, to say that the Universe "just exists" would mean not merely that it lacks an ultimate cause, but that it lacks any cause.

So if you want to understand what I'm saying, please re-read my blog post, and assume that whenever I say the word "cause" without an adjectival modifier, I mean what you mean by cause---that is, the ordinary sort of causation implied in a narrative like "the paperclip moved because of the magnet", rather than meaning an "ultimate cause". If you interpret my blog post in this way, I think you will agree that your position (which seems to be similar to that of Sean Carroll's) is not an example of (A), but would be more plausibly classified under something like (C): certain aspects of the universe have an intelligible explanation, while others do not.

By the way, while I strongly disagree with Carroll's views on causation, he was not at all the target I was trying to refute in this blog post. Carroll is always very careful to explain in what domains he thinks concepts like causation and explanation play a role, and in which domains they don't apply. That is why I have said before that I think even Carroll implicitly accepts some form of the cosmological argument. The purpose of this blog post was to get people who reject the Cosmological Argument in a knee-jerk sort of way, to start actually engaging in some critical analysis about metaphysics (as Carroll does).

2. I'm willing to agree that any act of free will is, in certain respects, a godlike power. Just as existence, knowledge, and beauty are also godlike attributes, whereby material entities reflect their Creator. The difference is, that we have these powers from another' and in a limited degree, whereas God has them in himself' and to an unlimited degree.

I am not sure what tension with the rest of my views on "simplicity and unity of any first causes" you are referring to---perhaps you were thinking of this paragraph?:

I said that explaining everything in terms of one thing is the best we can do. We might have to settle for less, such as a plurality (hopefully small) of unexplained fundamental principles. However, that would not only be more complicated, it would also raise questions about what is it that joins these (supposedly separate) principles together. We might therefore reasonably hope that the principles in question would at least have some type of internal unity, without being too dogmatic at this stage about what kind of unity we are looking for.

which seems sufficiently wishy-washy that it would be hard to derive a direct contradiction... But let me discuss this a bit anyway.

There are two types of unity one might worry about here. One is the plurality introduced by the fact that there are multiple creatures with free will that are distinct from their Creator. Here there is a real distinction, but only one of the entities (God) is fundamental, and it is only by means of his power that the the others are able to act, so I think the simplicity of ultimate causes is still thereby maintained.

The second type of unity to consider is the internal unity of a single creature with free will. Since human actions are partially free, and partially conditioned by circumstances, it seems like the appropriate conclusion is that we can only be understood by a model that regards us as simultaneosuly composite in certain respects, yet unified in other respects. (Whereas God, who is entirely free and unconditioned, is perfectly simple and doesn't reduce to any kind of parts.)

When I was at St. John's College, one of the tutors there said that he accepted an argument for immortality based on the premise that the human soul is simple (not composed of parts) and hence could not be created or destroyed by any process. I used to think this was a really dumb argument---even apart from brain research, isn't the human mind pretty obviously composite from a phenomenological perspective, since e.g. we have lots of different sense data and thoughts, which coexist and even compete with each other?

And yet, this very fact that we can be aware of multiple things at the same time, does seem to imply a certain sort of unity. At least some of our properties (e.g. conscious experiences) are holistic properties that cannot be fully reduced to the behavior of our parts (I presume that individual neurons lack conscious exprience). In the case of a human being the degree of unity that we experience is extremely weak (e.g. we change with time, have fallible memories, competing drives, and can only be simultaneously aware of a few things at once). But I am not sure that Materialism is compatible with there existing any degree of unity in the mind at all, however weak. After all, the laws of field theory (to which Materialism seeks to reduce everything) seem to be completely local; that is, they can can be expressed in terms of differential equations, which make assertions only about what takes place in arbitrarily small neighborhoods of individual points. But the rules about which entities possesses consicous experience do not seem to be able to be formulated in this way!

(Actually I still don't think this is a convincing argument for the immortality of the soul. But I do think it is an argument for taking seriously the concept of "soul" in the first place, so long as "soul" is understood in something closer to the Aristotelian sense, as the unifying "form" which allows us to talk about an animal's body acting as a single system; rather than in the Cartestian sense, as a totally distinct mental substance which has no a priori relationship with physical substances.)

10. Aron Wall says:

Mactoul,
You don't seem to have read my post very carefully. I explicitly stated that it was not obvious that the universe has the requisite type of unity:

First of all, it is not clear whether the Universe, which is after all just about the broadest category there is, has any collective identity above and beyond the coexistence of the individual entities which exist within it.

(In the case where a Multiverse exists, for purposes of this post the word "Universe" should be taken to refer to the entire Multiverse.)

I am broadly sympathetic with Aristotelian accounts of substantial unity. But the target audience of this post probably mostly isn't. In any case, everything you say only supports my thesis, which is that those Naturalists who believe that something "just exists" ought to be careful to state exactly which aspect of reality they are talking about.

By the way, if by "fundamental particles" you mean things like electrons and photons, these certainly can be created and annhilated in the Standard Model of particle physics. (It is probably better to regard the field theory description as more fundamental, since in QFT there is no fully local description of what one means by a "particle", and there are also some exotic field theory processes which don't seem to have a good description using the language of particles.)

11. Mactoul says:

Aron,
Your argument is that there are things in the universe that require a cause to exist and thus universe, being a collection of these things, requires a cause to exist.
1. Universe is not just a collection of things but a unity (itself implied in the term Universe, other wise how could you write a wave function of the universe or a general relativity solution of the universe.
2. That there are things in the universe--A person could simply deny that there are any things at all. All things you see, chairs, rocks etc are heaps of the fundamental entities. If electrons are not fundamental, perhaps strings are. And heaps do not require any cause.
3. The strings etc do not require any cause to exist. They are self-existent and eternal. They may even pre-date Big Bang itself. Perhaps there is an infinity of Big Bangs.

12. Aron Wall says:

Mactoul,
Nowhere in this post did I make the argument you attribute to me. You are reading in between the lines, and ignoring what I actually said.

Here's a hint: if you think I am formulating a specific version of the cosmological argument for Theism in this blog post, you are mistaken. Rather, this is a more dialectical blog post, in which I am responding to a particular atheistic slogan which is intended as a rebuttal of the cosmological argument, and asking those who say it to clarify more precisely exactly what they mean by it (and suggesting multiple options for how to proceed).

By the way, in string theory, individual strings can also be created or destroyed (by merging with each other, or splitting off from other strings). So in that respect, an individual string is no more self-existent and eternal than an individual electron is.

13. Matt Ntiros says:

Hi Aron,

Great post! I enjoyed reading it. I have one question for you following one of your comments about the unity of the mind and the locality of field theory. I'm not exactly sure how these considerations translate to field theory from the non-relativistic context, but I know that there are a number of people out there (e.g. Tim Maudlin) who argue that EPR coupled with Bell's theorem leads to the conclusion that non-locality is a fundamental part of (at least non-relativistic) quantum mechanics on any viable interpretation, at least in the sense that outcomes of experiments can depend upon experiments carried out in a remote region of spacetime. What do you make of that contention, and if you agree, in what sense then is field theory completely local?

14. Aron Wall says:

It is certainly true that entangled quantum systems display correlations which cannot be accounted for in any local, classical field theory. Although to be clear this is only a matter of the outcomes being correlated---nothing about the setup of the first experiment (the part the experimenter actually has control over) can affect the odds of anything in a spacelike separated experiment.

This is connected to a weaker form of locality which QFT's do satisfy: namely that spacelike separated observables always commute. This is way QFT's encode the causality principle, implying that no signal can be sent faster than light. Because of this, there is a sense in which even the laws of QFT can be expressed in a local form.

Ideally I would end this comment by saying how the seeming nonlocality in QM might be related to the nonlocality of consciousness. But since nobody really understands QM, and nobody really understands consciousness either, I don't really know how to do that! Maybe there is no relation.

15. Mactoul says:

Aron,
I am sorry to belabor the point which I haven't succeeded in conveying.
The theist proofs in general depend upon presuppositions that modern physics undercuts.
For instance, existence of things such as rocks and trees.
By modern physics, there are no such things, only heaps of fundamental particles or states of quantum fields.

Thus, it is odd for you to start with things such as rocks and trees because as a physicist you usually start with quantum fields as what exists.

Isn't it a case of special pleading that you would regard ordinary things as existent as per classical theism and then deny the fundamental existence of these things as a physicist ?

16. Aron Wall says:

Mactoul,
You seem to be treating "existence" and "fundamental existence" as if they were synonyms.

Why should we do that? Can't something exist, without existing fundamentally?

I certainly don't agree that anything that physicists do denies the mere existence of rocks and trees. If that were true, we would have to start over, because to say that trees exist, is nothing other than to assert that there are trees. And there certainly are trees (I see some outside my window right now).

If you walk into an astophysics conference and say "stars don't exist" all the physicists there will think you are crazy. Physicists don't talk like that. That is the sort of stupid thing that philosophers say.

Even on an Aristotelian metaphysics, a tree is a substance, and therefore "subsists". But other types of entities can exist without subsisting. For example, as relations or accidents. Or as accidental forms (like heaps). So I don't think you are using the word "existence" properly on an Aristotelian viewpoint either.

17. Mactoul says:

Aron,
The accident so exist but don't require cause in the sense substances require cause. And that's the point I am trying to make.

That your classical theist argument requires substances but modern physics reduces substances to accidents.
This modern physics undercuts the classical arguments.
And the classical argument is particularly odd coming from you since I had the impression that you hold the modern physics view in particularly strong form.

18. Belfast says:

I really do not see why the thrust/parry in Russell’s ‘just is’ argument has any relevance since the discovery of the cosmic microwave background.
Am I wrong?

19. Aron Wall says:

Belfast,
The cosmic background radiation makes it clear that the Universe has not always existed in its present form. But a person who says today that the Universe "just exists" probably agrees with that aspect of Big Bang cosmology.

If you think that scientific cosmology refutes this claim, you'll have to back this up with a specific argument (for example the kalam argument). It sounds like you think the argument is too obvious to even mention. But usually in philosophy, once you say explicitly the thing that seems too obvious to you to even mention, a lot of people will then say that they disagree with it...

Mactoul,
The viewpoint you were describing (that things composed of parts do not really exist) is called merelogical nihilism. It is a metaphysical thesis, not a physical one. To call it "the modern physics view" is a serious category error, since nothing done in modern physics requires one to endorse this view. Just look at the proponents that are listed in the wikipedia article! For example, Peter Unger, Cian Dorr, and Ross Cameron are all philosophers, not physicists.

You seem to be arguing with an imaginary person whose beliefs have little relation to my own. Nowhere in my writings have I ever endorsed mereological nihilism, and I certainly don't believe it! Indeed, not only do I think that wholes really exist, I have explicitly argued that there exists at least one feature of certain wholes (consciousness) which cannot be logically deduced from the laws of physics.

At one point I pushed back on certain of your arguments for biological vitalism; but just because I didn't endorse your specific arguments, doesn't automatically imply that I must necessarily must have the most extreme possible beliefs on the other side.

Also, in Aristotelian metaphysics, surely accidents do usually require causes! For example, if a rock becomes hotter, or turns a different color, then normally we expect there to be a reason why that happened, even if the substance of the rock persists through the change.

20. Miloš M. says:

It is interesting to note that philosophers who endorse mereological nihilism (including Peter van Inwagen, in specific form) disagree validly on other issues. Unger, for example, accept dualism about mind and libertarianism about free will. Van Inwagen is materialist about human persons, theist and libertarian. And Dorr is physicalist. However, some philosopher believe that mereological principles have strenght of logical laws (see for example Philip Bricker).

21. Matt Ntiros says:

Mactoul,

It might be worth taking a look at the literature in contemporary philosophy on grounding and fundamentality. At most, the existence of the fundamental entities of modern physical theories (e.g. fields or particles, depending on your ontology and interpretation of QFT) as genuine substances in composite objects would only serve to call into question the existence of such composite objects as fundamental (i.e. ungrounded) entities. Contemporary physics, even when granting the full blown priority of all parts to their respective wholes, is still completely consistent with the existence of composite entities whose existence is grounded in their parts. All that to say, it is no part of modern physics as such that only fundamental entities exist, nor that only fundamental entities are subject to causal principles. Indeed even if as you argue modern physics reduces what were formerly thought of as substances to accidents (I assume by this you mean that modern physics reduces composite objects to accidents such as a certain structure exemplified by fundamental entities?), as Aron pointed out, accidents on an Aristotelian view are just as subject to causal principles as substances. After all, on Aristotelianism, accidents are existing things, they are just things that exist by inhering in other things. Also, for what it's worth (and being pretty Aristotelian myself), I also don't see any reason why it is a necessary consequence of the truth of theories of modern physics that such theories explain all of the material world and that all of the properties and facts of the material world are in principle deducible from fundamental physics (e.g. consciousness as Aron pointed out). Anyway, just my two cents.

22. Aron Wall says:

Let me also note that many modern physics theories exhibit a phenomenon called duality, where there are two or more different descriptions of the theory, in which different entities are taken as "fundamental".

For example, gauge theories are formulated in terms of gauge fields which are coupled to electrical charges (which appear as an example of "fundamental fields" in the action). But in some theories the gauge fields admit stable topologically twisted configurations called "solitons", for example in some cases they look like magnetic monopoles.

For some highly symmetric QFT's, people have discovered an alternative description of the same physics, where the magnetic monopoles are instead regarded as fundamental, and the electric charges are regarded as composite particles made out of them.

These dual theories lead to the exact same predictions for scattering processes, but take different entities as fundamental. If you think that these dual theories should be regarded as two equally valid descriptions of the same physics (which seems reasonable), then that problematizes the notion of "fundamental particle".

23. Andrew says:

Hi Aron,

Just to clarify, can this alternative approach of taking the magnetic monopoles as fundamental be applied in QFTs that form part of the Standard Model (e.g. QED)? Or is it only a feature of toy models? Or some other option?

24. Aron Wall says:

Andrew,
Good question! A lot of the best examples are strong/weak coupling dualities, where the theory has a parameter $\lambda$, and for small values of $\lambda$ one of the two descriptions is weakly interacting, whereas at large values of $\lambda$ the other description is weakly interacting. This makes sense, because at weak coupling ($\lambda \ll 1$ for the first description) the Feynman diagram description of the theory is useful, and then you can clearly identify which particles are running around, but at strong couppling the Feynman diagram description breaks down, and you need some other methods for studying the theory. (If there is a weakly coupled dual description at large $\lambda$, then that means that there is a different Feynman expansion valid there, involving a different set of particles.)

For this reason, a lot of the most celebrated dualities involve highly symmetric theories, in which powerful symmetry principles allow you to make statements even about strong coupling (and then you can check if it matches the weakly coupled description of some other theory).

For example, almost all examples of AdS/CFT involve supersymmetry. Supersymmetry has never been discovered in Nature, and could well be false as a theory about the actual world. Nevertheless, if you take the theories in which we can do calculations as a guide to what might happen in the theories where it is harder to do calculations, then one might think that such dualities also exist for non-supersymmetric theories, they are just harder to discover.

In the case of pure QED, there are no magentic monopoles because the theory is abelian (photons don't interact with themselves) and hence there is no way to make the required topological twist. Also, the coupling constant gets strong at tiny distances, and it is believed that, rather than a dual description emerging, the coupling constant actually goes to infinity at finite distance (a Landau pole) which would mean the theory is actually inconsistent. Fortunately, the universe does not involve pure QED, but there are other forces as well. If you incorporate QED into a grand unified theory (GUT), then there are ways to construct magnetic monopoles using the additional fields. (But I am somewhat skeptical of GUT's as there is little direct evidence for them, aside from the supposed meeting of the coupling constants at high energy.)

QCD is a nonabelian gauge theory (gluons do interact with themselves) which gets strongly coupled at sufficiently low energies, resulting in confinement of quarks and gluons into protons and neutrons. It has been speculated that there might be a dual description, in which a certain dual magnetic symmetry group gets spontaneously broken, and in which the strings connecting quarks look like solitonic twists. But if this is true, the dual description would always be strongly coupled, so this proposal is very difficult to study.

25. Mactoul says:

Merelogical nihilism isn't ruled out by modern physics and then the question arises whether these classical theist arguments hold given merelogical nihilism.

26. Matt says:

I've never even taken a single physics class, but since I've started studying "Apologetics" to get a better understanding of the subject on justification for belief in God anyhow.
It has fascinates me to see the extent that those in the atheistic community do not choose to, or simply lack the understanding, to discern between "physics" and their favorite philosophy, or "science" and some philosophy they favor. This seems to be a systemic confusion within their community.
It also seems to me most think "Science" is like all equal, as though they are all equal in obtaining epistemological justification, when that's not remotely the case.
I'm not judging who and who isn't an atheist here, because I don't think anybody said that, just commenting in general on the subject. It's fascinating to read comments from people who understand the subject of physics! *Eating my popcorn* :)

27. Aron,

Your response to what I wrote was thorough, but I don't expect to be equally thorough responding back. In this comment, I will focus on responding to your defense of the cosmological argument. As you point out, your blog post is just about a particular response to the cosmological argument, but I think it's natural for it to prompt a more general discussion of the cosmological argument.

The reason I pointed the context-dependence of the meaning of "cause" is to point out that we can't just rely on the everyday meaning of "cause" while following the cosmological argument. It's too ambiguous. So I gave one interpretation of "cause", and got the answer A. This is not to deny that by a different interpretation of "cause" I won't ever get a different answer. I'm not familiar with Sean Carroll's views here, but I imagine he would answer C based on different, also valid, interpretation of "cause" to this context.

As for the claim that God "lacks any sort of cause whatsoever", this cannot be true, because then nobody can say that "God exists because of the cosmological argument." or "God exists because he is testified in the Bible by reliable witnesses." You might think this is just word-play, merely showing that the language of causality can be used in ways that are not actually about causes of entities. In fact, I think the "causality" involved in deriving God from an argument is very similar to the "causality" in explaining one law of nature in terms of other laws of nature. I was thinking about elaborating further on this and giving examples of how explanations of laws of nature can be bidirectional depending on what's presupposed. However, that is more relevant for the formulation of the cosmological argument involving explanations like the one you argued before.

It does require some (somewhat arbitrary) philosophical judgement to separate causes from explanations in casual language in ordinary language. I propose a disambiguation of "ordinary causes" based on when it is appropriate to use the verb "cause", as well as the prototypical example "the paperclip moved because of the magnet". Indeed, "The cosmological argument causes God's existence." or "Electroweak theory causes Maxwell's equation" don't sound like good English. As far as I can tell, this is the same as physical causality between an earlier and a later event, although it may involve abstraction that could be considered non-physical like mental entities and social constructs like "inflation of the euro". Causation may presuppose laws of nature. Under this definition, I can answer B, all entities in the universe are caused by the Big Bang, as far as is known under current cosmology. Of course, this is very unsatisfying as an explanation of everything in the universe, as you've pointed out in the past, but it is not meant to be an explanation, merely the most antecedent cause within any ordinarily acceptable use of causation.

28. As for me being unsatisfied with there not being an ultimate cause for anything, I agree with you that this feeling comes from my reason and it is rational for me to take it into consideration. What I take that to mean is that a theory that includes within it a specific reason why the universe is the way it is without any presuppositions on the universe would be more correct than a similar theory that doesn't include such a reason, I would be obligated to accept this theory if I were to encounter it. However, I don't believe there exists any theory of the former kind, and I haven't encountered any. I don't think it is reasonable to favor a theory that merely states the existence of a non-contingent explanation without providing any, like many theistic theories.

By analogy, it is unsatisfying in a similar way that the results of quantum measurements are unpredictable. A theory that gave correct predictions to quantum measurements would clearly be an improvement to our understanding of the universe. However, accepting this does not obligate me to accept a theory like superdeterminism which states that quantum measurements are predictable without making any predictions for them.

29. Aron Wall says:

Itai,

1. There is an important distinction between God (the source of all being) and Theism (the proposition that God exists). Sometimes people say "God" when they mean "Theism", but this is at best a metonymy, not a literal identification. Personally, I try to never conflate to these two terms, since the distinction is often important. For example, from time to time I have been known to defend Theism on this blog, but it would be quite presumptuous for me to say I was therefore defending God. God can take care of himself without my puny help, that's for sure!

Thus, I'm going to flat out deny this proposition: "God exists because of the cosmological argument". God pre-exists the cosmological argument, and in no way depends on the CA for his existence.

The correct statement is an epistemic one: "Belief in God is caused [in some individuals] by the CA." (Or perhaps, in a mode of causality more similar to formal causation'', the CA might be interpreted as a partial explanation of why it is rational to believe in God, though obviously this depends on to what extent the argument is actually valid.)

Just as, dinosaurs were not caused to exist by paleontologists (they would have existed regardless of whether anyone dug up their bones) rather, paleontologists are the cause of why we know things about dinosaurs. Something can be evidence without being a cause. (Indeed, prototypical examples of evidence are effects of the things they point to, not causes.

Now obviously, when we talk about physical causes, we aren't just talking about something epistemic. If a meteor makes a crater in a planet, the crater could indeed be evidence for the meteor if we know about it. But all of this could also happen in a distant galaxy far from human observation, and that wouldn't detract in the slightest from the meteor being the cause of the crater (or that it serves as its explanation in some objective, non-epistemic sense of the word "explanation").

2. As you say, there are different notions of "cause", and also different philosophical beliefs about which sorts of causation actually exist in the world. In order for a CA to be supported, one has to think deeply and carefully about what types of causal concepts have proved to be indispensible in other parts of Science and Philosophy. In this sense the "roots" of the argument are potentially extremely broad: one has to take into account other subfields of philosophy besides the one you are working in. For example, lots of eliminationist arguments (There are no A's, but only B's!) seem very plausible if you take them in isolation, but you only need to find a single context in which the concept of A is indispensible, in order for this not to work.

It is easy enough to propose a sufficiently skeptical or restricted notion of causation that the CA won't follow. Anyone can do that. The more difficult task is showing that such notions are at the same time sufficiently robust to do all whatever heavy lifting we expect from a good theory of causation, in all other contexts.

3. Your second comment resonantes more with me a lot more than your first one. You are, of course, appealing to the principle of Bayesian reasoning that in order for a hypothesis H to be strongly confirmed by some observation O, it needs to predict O with higher likelihood than ~H does. As a result, it is difficult to strongly confirm hypotheses which make vague predictions (in the sense that they could explain a very large number of possible observations about equally well.)

That is a fair point, but don't forget that Bayesian epistemology also allows for H to end up being more probable than ~H if the prior probability is much higher.

Let me tentatively try to sketch out an example of a metaphysical principle which could rationally support such a large difference in prior probabilities. In order to try to illustrate the principle involved, I'm going to start with a much more extreme form of skepticism than Atheism, and try to explain why Solipsism should be assigned a low probability.

Let R (realism) be the hypothesis that there exists an external physical world governed by simple scientific laws, which can be observed through sensation.

Let S (solipsism) be the hypothesis that I have the exact same sensations, thoughts, etc. that I would have if R were true, but that in fact there is no external world and only I exist. The fact that these senations fall into patterns is just a brute fact.

These two theories, as I have formulated them, make exactly the same predictions, so we cannot distinguish them by observation. (And while R, as I have stated it above, doesn't say what the laws actually are, for any more specific version R_n of Realism which specifies the actual laws of Nature, we can also imagine a correspondingly more specific form S_n of Solipsism, which says that the same sensory patterns predicted by R_n hold but as a brute fact.)

What about Occam's razor? Well, S seems to postulate far fewer entities than R does, so there it has an advantage. If you prefer a criterion more like information complexity of the theory, it seems like a given S_n is at worst only slightly more complex than R_n, since once I have specified R_n, I only need to say a few extra words ("the sensory predictions of R_n hold as a brute fact") beyond the words needed to specify R_n. And if I wanted to program a computer to make predictions for what I see, obviously the length of the computer program would be identical, since the predictions are the same.

Nevertheless, intuitively S is a much worse theory than R. Why is this?

Well, for one thing, any given S_n seems to "cheat" by parasitically exploiting R_n to define its predictions, without actually allowing for any of the structure implied by R_n to exist. I would suggest that most of us have some heuristics which cause us to find hypotheses of this sort repugnant. For example, we might have a heuristic like:

Do not accept complicated propositions as "brute facts" that are unmoored from actual existence claims, but rather strive to explain such facts by postulating the existence of actual structures / powers / entities underlying whatever patterns are observed.

or perhaps:

If some X's behave just "as if" a certain other entity Y exists, then we should normally* accept that a Y-like entity really does exist.

[*I say normally, because there might be examples where some other set of entities Z provides an equally well-grounded, but more plausible explanation for the "as if Y" behavior. For example, a work of fiction is written "as if" the characters actually existed, but this pattern is better explained by the existence of an imaginative author. Or an evolved animal may act on instinct "as if" it were behaving intelligently.]

Another illustrative example of this principle comes in Eq 28-2 and 28-3 of Feynman's Lectures in Physics, where he writes down a force law between two electrons as if the electromagnetic field had no independent reality, but was purely determined by the positions of the other electrons. In this formulation of physics, there is no need to solve the Maxwell equations. The price he pays for this, is that the force law is now nonlocal in time (it depends on the past) and space (there is action at a distance). This may or may not be convenient from the perspective of doing calculations, but as far as ontology is concerned, it seems obvious to me that the theory in which the electromagnetic field actually exists is the superior one.

30. Mactoul says:

Solipsism can be ruled out or refuted with the fundamental argument that any philosophic argument must be able to account for the medium by which it is communicated.

This elegant principle is helpful in refuting plenty of pseudo-philosophical arguments.

31. Aron Wall says:

Mactoul,

Merelogical nihilism isn't ruled out by modern physics and then the question arises whether these classical theist arguments hold given merelogical nihilism.

I do think that merelogical nihilism is refuted by quite convincing metaphysical arguments. As for the question you raise, this presumably depends on: (1) what the MNist does still believe, and (2) which particular argument for classical theism one has in mind (there are many).

Regarding solipsism, the more general point here is that to predict a certain outcome is not the same as to account for it. S, as I have stated it, does indeed predict the exact same things as R, but it doesn't properly account for any of them!

32. Matt says:

@Mactoul, Sorry to butt in, I'm just following this thread, and wanted you to explain further the statement "Solipsism can be ruled out or refuted with the fundamental argument that any philosophic argument must be able to account for the medium by which it is communicated."
I don't get how that rules out S? That didn't make sense to me, so i probably didn't understand something.
The idea behind S, is everything pertaining to external reality is an illusion, and only exists in my mind. Obviously, it seems the notion that you are communicating anything at all (thus implying there is actually some other person who exists), does not undermine S. Any semblance of some medium of communication, or that you're communicating at all, would only exist in the mind.
Sorry, not trying to argue with you, I just want to fully understand the point you were making.
Thanks if you have the time!

33. Matt Ntiros says:

Mactoul,

Which version of the cosmological argument are you thinking would be refuted if MN were true? I myself think MN is clearly wrong, but even if it were true, I'm not sure how it would affect a cosmological argument. Cosmological arguments I'm aware of don't at all seem to rely on there existing objects with mereological complexity. Some rely on forms of metaphysical complexity like being composed of essence and existence, for example, but that is a different matter.

34. James H says:

“Apparently, you've raised this question before, but what are your thoughts considering the omnipotence paradox? There's a very nice rebuttal of it here (https://www.sfu.ca/~swartz/modal_fallacy.htm#omnipotence and also https://www.sfu.ca/~swartz/kurtenbach/necessary_omnipotence.htm), but it implies that God does not necessarily exist. Do you have any thoughts on it?”

The stone paradox- one of the paradoxes referred to in the article-was originally presented in a theology magazine, and was never intended to be taken seriously.

The problem with the stone paradox is this: God is, by definition, capable of doing anything that it is logically possible to do, and it is logically possible for Him to lift a stone of *any* weight. Hence, it is incoherent to posit a stone that is too heavy for him to lift. Another way of putting this is to say that the implicit premises of the argument are inconsistent. So our response to the stone paradox should be to point out there can be no such thing as a stone which is too heavy for God to lift, since He is capable of lifting a stone of any weight.

35. Zsolt Nagy says:

Hallo Aron Wall,
I really enjoy your posts and coverage of topics and in particularly this one.

As a naturalist I think, that you are correct and that by arguing for the law of physics as the basics and fundaments of nature or the universe your only choice is only truly option C).

But I also like to argue here for a bit weaker version than that.

C) No specific entity just exists without a cause, but energy which these entities have in common just exists without a cause.

Energy $E$ seems to me as the most common thing among all existing things and appears to cause all existing things without being caused by anything else given the relation by Einstein between energy $E$ and matter $m$ : $E=mc^2$ and the energy conservation law: $E=const$ at all times if (a big IF) the considered physical system, where all existing things caused or uncaused are, can't exchange energy with another physical system.
Not just the caused matter $m$ in the closed physical system is explainable through the total energy $E$ of the closed physical system, but also all the dynamics involving the inner of the closed physical system are explainable and basically caused by energy $E$ :
kinetic energy: movement and motion of the particles due to momentum $p$ of the particles
thermal energy: movement and motion of the particles due to temperature $T$ of the closed physical system
potential energy: interactions between particles through conservative forces $F$ or potential fields $V$

It seem to me, that the only objection to my weaker version of C) with energy $E$ is the big IF, which entails the considered physical system to be closed for energy-exchanges.
But other than that, this weaker version of C) with energy $E$ appears to be very solid and at least appealing to me as a naturalist with the assumption of the closed for energy-exchanges physical system and with the assumption, that energy $E$ can't be caused by anything else (or even destroyed by anything else).

Best regards,
Zsolt Nagy

36. Aron Wall says:

Zsolt,

There are some interesting metaphysical questions that could be asked about your proposal---for example, about the transitition from "energy" as a numerical quantity, to energy as some sort of substance which just exists without a cause (but still has the potential to be transformed in various ways?).

But I'm not sure it's necessary to go there, considering that the physics is out of date.

In Special Relativity, Energy is just momentum in the time direction, and time needs to be treated on the same footing as space. So if you think Energy is fundamental, Momentum should be as well.

On the other hand, in General Relativity, there is no useful notion of conserved, nonzero energy in cosmology. See these posts for more explanation:

37. Zsolt Nagy says:

Hallo Aron,

I wouldn't say, that CP (classical physics), which has been used implicitly for my formulation of my proposal for C) with a touch from Einstein, is 'out of date'. But my formulation of my proposition for C) is a special case for small masses, small velocities, very small or negligible gravitation and very small or negligible quantum effects.

CP is the limit of QM (quantum mechanics) for Planck's constant $h$ going to zero ($h\rightarrow 0$). Also CP is the limit of GR for small or negligible gravitation and small masses and small velocities. So classical physics is a special case and not really a thing to be considered 'out of date'.

Further not all but a lot of physical quantities, laws and relations from CP correspond to other physical quantities, laws and relations in other (or 'modern') physics.

From GR the energy-momentum tensor $T^{\alpha\beta}$ corresponds to energy $E$ from CP and further the energy conservation law $E=const$ or $\frac{d}{dt}E=0}$ from CP corresponds to the vanishing divergence of energy-momentum tensor $div\;T=0$ with covariant derivatives from GR.

From QM the Hamiltonian operator H correspond to the Hamiltonian $H=H(q,p,t)$ from CP and further the energy conservation law $H=E=const$ or $\frac{d}{dt}H=\{H,H\}+\frac{\partial}{\partial t}H=\frac{d}{dt}E=0}$ from CP corresponds to the von Neumann equation for time evolution of the Hamoltonian operator $\frac{d}{dt}H=\frac{i}{\hbar}|H,H|=0$ from QM. Also the measurable energy values $E$ are the eigenvalues of the Hamiltonian operator H.

So all in all my given proposition for C) is a special case considering CP and could be generalized for QM or GR or maybe one day for QM with gravity.

As for metaphysical applications I can't imagine a possible world, where I could have formed these thoughts and written this reply to you without taking energy from somewhere. Also I can't imagine a possible world, where perpetuum mobile of the first kind would be possible or where energy could be destroyed.

Best regards,
Zsolt

[That's fine. I deleted the bad one.---AW]

38. Zsolt Nagy says:

Hallo Aron,
I think, that the energy-momentum tensor $T^{\alpha\beta}$ doesn't quite correspond to energy $E$ at least not to the total energy $E_{tottal}=E_{matter}+E_{kin}+E_{pot}$, but it corresponds to $E_{matter}+E_{kin}$.
On the other hand the Landau-Lifshitz pseudotensor $t_{LL}^{\mu\nu}=-\frac{c^4}{8\pi G}(G^{\mu\nu}+\Lambda g^{\mu\nu})+\frac{c^4}{18\pi G(-g)}((-g)(g^{\mu\nu}g^{\alpha\beta}-g^{\mu\alpha}g^{\nu\beta}))_{,\alpha\beta}$, gravitational energy-momentum tensor, corresponds to $E_{pot}$.
So the combination of of the two tensors corresponds to the total energy $E_{total}$ and its vanishing divergence corresponds somewhat to the energy conservation law $\frac{d}{dt}E_{total}=0$.

Best regards,
Zsolt

39. Aron Wall says:

Zsolt,
Thanks for your comments. It's not often that I get the sort of commenters who need to use the latex feature to push back on what I say. But a few counter-reactions:

1. My objection to your energy proposal had to do with classical relativity (SR and GR), not QM, so I'm not sure why you are bringing $\hbar$ into this.

2.

But my formulation of my proposition for C) is a special case for small masses, small velocities, very small or negligible gravitation and very small or negligible quantum effects.

That is fine for physics, but if you are going to talk about some quanity as being metaphysically fundamental, then it needs to be defined even apart from these approximations. (And yes, this is one reason why metaphysics is so difficult compared to physics.)

(But even in the limit where velocities are small, momentum is also conserved, so I also don't see how this affects my point that momentum should be treated as equally fundamental to energy.)

3. You are correct that it is possible to define an exactly conserved energy-momentum tensor if you use pseudotensors. But pseudotensors are called "pseduo" because they transform weirdly under a change of coordinates. For example, simply by doing a coordinate change to flat Minkowski spacetime, I could make it look like there is a nonzero pseduo energy tensor there.

In my opinion, one of the philosophical lessons of GR is that anything which depends on coordinates should not be regarded as objectively real. Hence, this conserved energy density is not a promising candidate for an ontologically basic entity. Not only does it not "just exist", it doesn't even exist at all! (Except in a purely conventional way after we've picked a particular coodinate system.)

4.

As for metaphysical applications I can't imagine a possible world, where I could have formed these thoughts and written this reply to you without taking energy from somewhere. Also I can't imagine a possible world, where perpetuum mobile of the first kind would be possible or where energy could be destroyed.

On the contrary, it is very easy to imagine such a world. For example, I don't have any difficulty imagining a ball coming to a stop when it hits a wall without bouncing back or heating up the wall. If there is a thermometer on the wall, I could even imagine the murcury level going down whenever the ball hits it. Why not?

It is a fact that this never seems to happen in the physical world, but I don't think it is an a priori truth. It's something we learned by a combination of experiment and careful thought regarding the implications of Newtonian laws (which are themselves justified primarily by their utility in explaining observational data). Before St. Leibniz the modern concept of conserved energy did not exist in physics, so prior to the mid 1600's, conservation of energy didn't place any constraint on people's imaginings.

Mathematically, another method to theoretically violate energy conservation, is to simply write down an action which is not time-translation invariant. Then Noether's theorem will not apply with respect to conservation of energy. Or you could simply reject the principle that the equations of motion should come from an action in the first place. Most random differential equations you might write down, won't respect conservation of energy or momentum.

40. Zsolt Nagy says:

Hallo Aron,
In some points I agree with you and in others I can't say, that I agree.

I agree with your explanation and conclusion, that the conserved pseudo energy-momentum density is not a promising candidate for an ontologically basic entity, which you suggested to "just exist".
But I can't see the reason, why it can't simply exist. So according to you abstract physical entities like energy don't exist. Why not?
For me if I can reasonably or rationally assign a value for an entity (in other words I can physically measure or observe it), then in my books the entity with its assigned value exists.
For example in an inertial reference frame $K$ an object has a measurable velocity $v\neq 0$. so in my books velocity is a measurable entity, which exists. Yes, there is a reference frame $K'$, where the measured velocity $v'=0$ for the same object, but that doesn't mean at least for me, that velocity as a measurable entity doesn't exist. In my opinion this is still true for the conserved pseudo energy-momentum density. In some reference frames it has a non-zero value and in others has zero value, but that doesn't mean, that it doesn't exist.

A simpler mathematical example would be this:
Let be the following two functions be given $f:\R\rightarrow\R$ with $f(x)=x$ for all $x\in\R$ and $g:\R\rightarrow\R$ with $g(x)=x^2+1$ for all $x\in\R$.
Obviously function $f$ has one zero point at $x=0$ and function $g$ has no zero points (at least not in $\R$).
A lot of undergraduate students might think, that the function $f$ has also no zero points, because the value of $x$ is zero and zero is "nothing". But mathematically speaking value zero as a solution is not the same as having no solutions. In my opinion this is also true in physics: Value zero as a measurement of an entity is not the same as having no measurements at all for that entity.

Further it appears to me, that in metaphysics the only things, that are not existing, are contradictions and paradoxes. I think, that we both can agree upon, that a married bachelor doesn't exist. Any other non-contradictory thing is at least possible. So according to you how does a physically measurable entity such as energy not exist in the metaphysical or in the ontological sense? I don't see any contradictions there. Maybe I just don't have enough insights of metaphysics and ontologics to see this as clearly as you do. Would you be so kind to give me something to read as a recommendation on that subject matter?

Further I also don't have any difficulty imagining a ball coming to a stop when it hits a wall without bouncing back or heating up the wall, because then the kinetic energy of the ball has been "lost" into deformation of the ball and wall or because then the kinetic energy of the ball has been formed into thermal energy of the ball and wall. If there is a thermometer on the wall, I also could even imagine like you the mercury level going down whenever the ball hits it, because then it's possible, that some energy due to the motion and movement of the mercury atoms in the thermometer is transferred to the ball and wall. It's unlikely but still possible.
What I can't imagine is an out of nothing suddenly appearing elephant between the ball and wall.
I mean, that I can imagine a suddenly appearing elephant between the ball and the wall from a pair production of elephant and anti-elephant from a photon with enough energy for it, but I couldn't say truly, that this elephant comes from nothing.
Note that with this I don't really want to ridicule your examples (maybe just a tiny bit).
What I really wanted to show with this, that you didn't really addressed with these examples my concerns about the possibility of perpetuum mobile of the first kind (producing energy and therefore anything out of nothing) and the possibility of destroying energy (losing energy into nothing).
In neither of your given examples with the ball, wall and thermometer is energy gained from nothing or lost into nothing.

I also agree with you, that any statement about energy given by physics is an a priori truth in combination of experiment and careful thought regarding the implications of Newtonian laws (which are themselves justified primarily by their utility in explaining observational data). But I don't see bad reasons not to try to establish a physically measurable entity as an entity, that "just exists". Sure my reasons might be not sophisticated or even good enough reasons to do so. I think, that we both can agree upon this.
But in general having insufficient reasons in order to do a thing is not equivalent to having bad reasons in order to do the same thing. Also in general having insufficient reasons in order to do a thing is not equivalent to having sufficient reasons in order to not do the same thing.

So to summarize my last two horrible sentences I agree with you, that I didn't give you sufficient reasons to think, that the case is "energy just exists", or that it might be irrational to think today, that “energy just exists”. But I think, that you also didn’t give me sufficient reasons to think, that the case is not “energy just exists”. According to you how is it rational to think today, that the case is not “energy just exists” or that any other physically measurable entity couldn't “just exist”?
Sure, I can also write down all sorts of physical differential equations, which violate the energy conservation law. Yet it still appears to me not worth it to write down a physical differential equation, that produces elephants out of nothing.

Best regards,
Zsolt

41. Aron Wall says:

Zsolt,
The energy-momentum pesudotensor depends on the choice of coordinate system. But there are no coordinate lines predefined by Nature, they are just human conventions. So they don't exist in themselves, but only as a social convention like the borders of a nation. Arbitrary conventions cannot be regarded as metaphysically ultimate.

For me if I can reasonably or rationally assign a value for an entity (in other words I can physically measure or observe it), then in my books the entity with its assigned value exists.

My point is that you can't reasonably or rationally assign a unique value to the energy-momentum pesudotensor. There are multiple values you can define, and it depends upon the convention. It's similar to how there is no measuremnt or observation you can do to determine that the zero point of longitude should pass through Greenwich, England. Rather, you pick this to be zero as an arbitrary convention, and then measure other longitudes relative to it.

I also agree with you, that any statement about energy given by physics is an a priori truth in combination of experiment and careful thought regarding the implications of Newtonian laws (which are themselves justified primarily by their utility in explaining observational data).

I hope this is a typo and you meant to say that energy conservation is NOT an a priori truth. Otherwise you are disagreeing with me, not agreeing with me.

What I can't imagine is an out of nothing suddenly appearing elephant between the ball and wall.

Well I can imagine that quite easily. Anything that could be done as a special effect in a movie, can be imagined.

Superhero movies violate conservation of momentum all the time, and they are almost by definition imaginable (because anything you can show in a movie is by definition capable of being visualized.)

Sure, I can also write down all sorts of physical differential equations, which violate the energy conservation law. Yet it still appears to me not worth it to write down a physical differential equation, that produces elephants out of nothing.

No offense, but I think you are missing the point here. Suppose I made the (obviously correct) claim that it possible to imagine a pink elephant.

If you said that in the real world all elephants are a different color, and that it wasn't "worth it" to you to visualize a pink elephant, that wouldn't change the fact that it is perfectly possible to imagine them, and that there is no logical contradiction in some elephants being pink.

It seems you have internalized the principle of energy conservation so throughly, that you refuse to imagine the possibility of it being violated. But it's not like you were born with this knowledge. There is no inherent logical contradiction with energy conservation being violated.

(Of course, the next crackpot who tries to sell you a perpetual motion machine is overwhelmingly likely to be deluded. But that doesn't mean it's logically impossible for him to be correct. It just means that claims of this type have been wrong so many times in a row, that severe skepticism is called for.)

42. Zsolt Nagy says:

Hallo Aaron,

I agree to, that there is no measurement or observation you can do to determine that the zero point of longitude should pass through Greenwich, England. Yet again that doesn't mean, that there are no measurable distinct positions on the surface of the planet earth.
This is also true for the energy-momentum pseudotensor. Sure, the energy-momentum pseudotensor depends on the choice of coordinate system and further there are no coordinate lines predefined by Nature. But again that doesn't mean, that there is no measurable energy-momentum pseudotensor.
On the one side you might be not hesitant to disregard it to be "metaphysically ultimate". On the other side I still think, that if the energy-momentum pseudotensor is not physically ultimate, then some other measurable entity might still be physically ultimate.

Also you are right. It was a typo from me and I also think, that the energy conservation law is not an a priori truth. But it could be easily made into an a priori truth. We could postulate something similar, such that postulation entails that conservation law.
Postulate of strictly conserved energy: Energy can be neither produced from or lost to nothingness. Then the energy conservation law follows from this postulate.
Note that quantum information behaves actually in this kind of manner. Quantum information can be neither produced from or lost to nothingness. So why could we not consider quantum information as physically ultimate?

Also I'm not missing your given point of some physical differential equations violating the energy conservation law. Further I also think, that pink elephants are as much possible as red herrings. But I'm not interested in those possibilities.
I'm rather concerned with the possibility of a perpetual motion machine producing energy from nothing. If there would be a perpetual motion machine producing energy from nothing, then zero wouldn't equal zero anymore, because if there would be a perpetual motion machine producing energy from nothing, then one could make one apple, two apples, three apples,... out of no apples. How could then someone distinguish between existing and non-existing objects? Would there ever be an object with a “hole” in the universe? I think not.

Best regards,
Zsolt

43. Mactoul says:

If I might inject myself in this debate, I think that energy is a quantity that is posited in physics as a book-keeping device. Why is kinetic energy 1/2 m v**2? Why is potential energy m*g*h?
Energy is not a thing and the postulate of energy conservation is essentially the same as a book-keeping accountancy convenience.

44. Zsolt Nagy says:

Hallo Mactoul,
here is a question fo you: If you burn a book, is it then gone for good?
You might say yes, but the answer is actually physically speaking no.
Yes, the content of the book might be gone for good, but the materials, which constituted the book itself, are still there in a different form. You see, burning is a chemical reaction - a physical prozess -, where different matter is reforming while acting and reacting with each other and also where matter and energy conservation still applies.
So then how do you suggest to burn/destroy the energy conservation law as a "book-keeping accountancy convenience"? Just because you might want to dismiss it for "conveniences", it does not necessarily mean, that it is gone for good just like with a burned book.

Best regards,
Zsolt

45. Mactoul says:

Physicists posit new forms of energy. For instance, electrostatic energy, magnetic energy, chemical energy, nuclear energy, energy of electromagnetic waves and so on.
These forms of energy and their mathematical expressions are posited as book-keeping strictly speaking.

Material things are material but energy as such is something posited in physics. Energy has no meaning outside of physical theories

46. Zsolt Nagy says:

Hallo Mactoul,
Did you ever hear of Einstein's famous equation $E=mc^2$ ?
What about the famous quote from Archimedes "Give me the place to stand, and I shall move the earth."?
So give Archimedes our current knowledge of physics and enough energy, and he shall give you a whole universe back.

Also if energy has no meaning outside of physical theories, then why do everybody pay so much for it? If energy would be that meaningless, then also energy shouldn't be that much worth.

Best regards,
Zsolt

47. Mactoul says:

Energy is defined as capacity to do work.
It is material things that actually do work and how much capacity a particular thing has in a certain situation-- this may be calculated in physics but the actual equations that does calculate ate a part of physics and doesn't exist outside physics.

48. Zsolt Nagy says:

Hallo Mactoul,
I know all of it, what you are saying about energy regarding physics.
But it appears to me, that you can't comprehend, what the implications are from it and what that all means to your own life.
Let's make a thought experiment. In this thought experiment the sun doesn't have to disappear, but the sun must not provide any amount of energy for the earth. No radiation, no sunlight, no heat and no particles from the sun for the earth.
In this thought experiment you will find very soon how generally essential energy is not just for your own life but also for all life.

Best regards,
Zsolt

49. Mactoul says:

There is something material that is arriving on Earth from Sun i.e sunlight. The sunlight is assigned certain energy values that works in physics book-keeping.

Plants absorb this material sunlight to grow. It is convenient to say that plants absorb solar energy but we must be clear. Plants do not absorb a number but something material.

50. Zsolt Nagy says:

Hallo Mactoul,
Yes, plants do not absorb a number but something material and that material is another form of energy or its origin is energy.
By the way energy is not defined as "capacity to do work", but physical work $W$ is another form of energy: $W=\int Fds=\int Pdt$ with physical power $P$.

Matter with mass $m$ from energy $E_{matter}$: $m=\frac{E_{matter}}{c^2}$ with speed of light $c$.
Motion and movement via momentum $p$ from kinetic energy $E_{kin}$: $p=\sqrt{2mE_{kin}}$.
Motion and movement via temperature $T$ from thermal energy $E_{therm}$: $T=\int\frac{dE_{therm}}{S}$ with Entropy $S$.
Interactions between particles via conservative forces $F$ from potential energy $E_{pot}$: $F=-\nabla E_{pot}$.

Sure, for the distinguishing between different quantity of energy we use numbers, but in physics energy itself is more than just a "number". It is a physical measurable entity, that appears to be as the most common, which all other physical measurable entities possess.

Best regards,
Zsolt

51. Mactoul says:

I know these formulae of physics --- as I said energy is something posited in physical theories. But what is energy outside of these formulae?

How do you define energy?

52. Zsolt Nagy says:

Hallo Mactoul,
As you see, energy is not and does not one thing, but can be in different forms and can do lots of things. You can define the different forms from energy from all those given equations.

Kinetic energy $E_{kin}$: $E_{kin}=\frac{p^2}{2m}\;\Rightarrow\; E_{kin}\propto p^2\;\vee\; p\propto\sqrt{E_{kin}}$.
This means, that with more kinetic energy $E_{kin}$ the object has more momentum $p$, so that momentum $p$ always indicates kinetic energy $E_{kin}$ and so that kinetic energy $E_{kin}$ is defined as the ratio between momentum $p$ squared and two times the mass $m$ in classical physics. Kinetic energy $E_{kin}$ in this way is well defined, if momentum $p$ and mass $m$ are well defined.

Thermal energy $E_{therm}$: $E_{therm}=\int SdT\;\Rightarrow\; E_{therm}\propto T\;\vee\; T\propto E_{therm}$ for entropy $S$ independent of temperature $T$.
This means, that with more thermal energy $E_{therm}$ the system has more temperature $T$, so that temperature $T$ always indicates thermal energy $E_{therm}$ and so that thermal energy $E_{therm}$ is defined as entropy $S$ times temperature $T$ for entropy $S$ independent of temperature $T$. For temperature $T$ dependent entropy $S$ thermal energy $E_{therm}$ is defined as the temperature $T$ integral over entropy $S$. Thermal energy $E_{therm}$ in this way is well defined, if entropy $S$ and temperature $T$ are well defined.

Potential energy $E_{pot}$: $E_{pot}=k\cdot\varphi^2\;\Rightarrow\; E_{pot}\propto\varphi^2\;\vee\;\varphi\propto\sqrt{E_{pot}}$.
This means, that with more potential energy $E_{pot}$ the vector field $\varphi$ is more strong, so that vector field $\varphi$ always indicates potential energy $E_{pot}$ and so that potential energy $E_{pot}$ is defined as some constant $k$ times vector field $\varphi$ squared (scalar product with itself) in classical physics. Potential energy $E_{pot}$ in this way is well defined, if constante $k$ and vecorfield $\varphi$ are well defined. Note that conservative forces between objects $F$ are proportional to this vector field $\varphi$: $F\propto\varphi$.

Energy for mass and matter $E_{matter}$: $E_{matter}=mc^2\;\Rightarrow\; E_{matter}\propto m\;\vee\; m\propto\sqrt{E_{matter}}$.
This means, that with more energy for mass and matter $E_{matter}$ the object has more mass $m$, so that mass $m$ always indicates energy for mass and matter $E_{matter}$ and so that energy for mass and matter $E_{matter}$ is defined as mass $m$ times speed of light $c$ squared. Energy for mass and matter $E_{matter}$ in this way is well defined, if mass $m$ and speed of light $c$ are well defined.

Further we generalize the energy conservation law to constitute, that energy regardless of its form or function can only be transformed or transferred into other forms and functions, but it can not be produced from nothing or destroyed and lost into nothing.

You might still be unsatisfied with this definition of energy, but it pretty much explains everything, what we see*.

*Note that, what we always see with our eyes are electromagnetic waves (light) of electromagnetic vector fields. So with our eyes what we always see is energy in a dynamical electromagnetic potential form.

Best regards,
Zsolt

PS: Sorry, last time I forgot a couple of \$-signs.

53. Mactoul says:

So you have defined various forms of energies by their formulae. Precisely as I said, energy is just a term in physics. And how are these formulae arrived at?
Why is KE=1/2 mv**2?

54. Zsolt Nagy says:

Hallo Mactoul,
Let's suppose, that a physical object has no or zero initial kinetic energy $E_{kin,initial}=0$ and therefore no or zero initial velocity $v_{initial}=0$. Let's further suppose, that we get some energy $E$ from somewhere (again nobody can produce energy out of nothing) and transform it into the object's kinetic energy.
How is this done? Well, it's done with physical work $W$ and force $F$ of course:
$E=E_{kin,final}-E_{kin,initial}=E_{kin,final}=W=\int_{s_{initial}}^{s_{final}} Fds$
$=\int_{s_{initial}}^{s_{final}} m\dot{v}ds=\int_{t_{initial}}^{t_{final}} m\dot{v}vdt$
$=\left[\frac{1}{2}mv^2\right]_{v_{initial}=0}^{v_{final}}=\frac{1}{2}mv_{final}^2$.
So all in all we get: $E_{kin,final}=\frac{1}{2}mv_{final}^2$, if $E_{kin,initial}=0$.

Best regards,
Zsolt

55. Mactoul says:

So you have derived the expression for KE assuming that energy is conserved.
This is what I meant by saying that energy is book-keeping device.
There isn't an independent expression of KE --it isn't like you have find that energy is conserved. You postulate that energy is conserved and then derive expression for some form of energy.

56. Zsolt Nagy says:

Hallo Mactoul,
It's not much of an assumption, that energy is conserved, but rather an observation and description of reality. Besides that the purpose of postulations are to account for accurate description of reality. I'm still not quite sure, what you mean by "book-keeping device". I think, that my personal ID is more of a “book-keeping-device” than the observable and measurable entity energy by all physical processes.
But you are right with your assumption, that I haven't "found" that energy is conserved philosophically, but I’ve found that energy is conserved empirically. I know about the problem of empirical induction. But in this case it's really easily solvable. Just give me a reasonable account for the proposition, that energy is not conserved or describe an observed physical phenomenon, where energy is produced out of nothing or destroyed and lost into nothing. Otherwise you're not going to convince me, that the proposition of conserved energy is not correct.

Best regards,
Zsolt

57. Aron Wall says:

Zsolt,
I originally wrote a response in this thread, but I've decided to promote it to a main post. Please see here:

Saving Energy Conservation

58. Mactoul says:

Aron,
The argument starts by defining universe to be the largest set containing entities like rocks, trees, cats, galaxies, etc and considering whether these things exist by some cause or not.

This is fine but you have also maintained that the fundamental constituents of the universe are quantum fields. Now, fields are continuous things, defined over all spacetime. How do we reconcile this view from the view demanded in the argument that depends upon existence of discrete entities like rocks, trees, cats, galaxies etc?

In other words, how can a 21c physicist use an argument from 13c classical theism?

59. JamesH says:

Here’s an interesting argument to a *necessary causal power* . It is found in a footnote to a paper by John Turri and was, apparently, sent to him anonymously.

P1: It is possible that the first contingent causal power is caused to exist.

P2: In the possible case where the first contingent causal power is caused to exist, a necessary causal power must cause it to exist.

:. A necessary causal power exists.

The idea here is that the causal powers of a contingently necessary being would themselves be contingent.

It’s possible to construct a Biblical variant of the argument:

P1: It is possible that the exercise of causal power described in the Book of Genesis -an instance of the first contingent causal power-is caused to exist.

P2: In the possible case where the exercise of causal power described in the Book of Genesis-an instance of the first contingent causal power-is caused to exist, a necessary causal power must cause it to exist.

:. A necessary causal power exists.

If the variant works, a sound argument can be based on the Biblical account even if we do not wish to read it literally, but are willing to allow that it is possibly true.

60. JamesH says:

Correction: above I said “The idea here is that the causal powers of a contingently necessary being would themselves be contingent..” I should have said “...the causal powers of a contingently powerful necessary being etc..”

61. Aron Wall says:

JamesH,
Thanks for relaying this argument.

It seems to me that this argument for a "necessary causal power" is just a lightly disguised version of the Modal Ontological Argument, and fails for the exact same reason. Namely, that it conflates the notion of epistemic possibility with metaphysical possibility.

I agree that it is clearly logically impossible for a "first" (in order of causality) contingent causal power to be caused to exist, if there is no such thing as a necessary causal power. But for that precise reason, a person who disbelieves in the possibility of a metaphysically necessary being will reject the metaphysical possibility of a "first contingent causal power caused to exist".

The only way this argument would be more powerful than the standard MOA is if we have some independent reason to think that a first contingent power was caused to exist!

Do we have such a reason? Only, in my opinion, if we have reason to believe that such an event actually occurred. You write that "a sound argument can be based on the Biblical account even if we do not wish to read it literally, but are willing to allow that it is possibly true", but I do not think an atheist should concede the latter point, becasue I reject the Humean assumption that if we can imagine something then it is metaphysically possible. (In fact, I think this Humean assumption is quite inconsistent with Classical Theism.)

Hence, in my opinion any valid Cosmological Argument must be based, not on the conceivability of a certain state of affairs, but on the actual existence of a certain state of affairs. Actuality does imply metaphysical possibility.

(Of course as a Christian I do think the biblical account refers to God's actual creation of the real world... this is different from saying that everything about the structure of days was intended to be taken literally. But that doesn't mean it's referring to some counterfactual world that doesn't exist! It's talking about God creating the actual plants and animals and stars etc. that exist in the real world.)

Mactoul,

62. JamesH says:

“I agree that it is clearly logically impossible for a "first" (in order of causality) contingent causal power to be caused to exist, if there is no such thing as a necessary causal power. But for that precise reason, a person who disbelieves in the possibility of a metaphysically necessary being will reject the metaphysical possibility of a "first contingent causal power caused to exist”.
The only way this argument would be more powerful than the standard MOA is if we have some independent reason to think that a first contingent power was caused to exist! “

Perhaps there is such an independent reason. Rasmussen-whose “Is God the Best Explanation of Things?” I recommend, if you have not already encountered it, argues that there are three ways a potential might become actual. 1. It could make itself actual-but this would mean a potential would be both actual and not actual, which is incoherent. 2. It might be actual without anything making it actual. But (a) this conflicts with experience and (b) violates a Principle of Irrelevant Differences: a chaos of Disney Princesses (Rasmussen’s example) and any other potentials never appear from nowhere. That leaves the option that only an actual can make a potential actual, which is what the argument supposes implicitly.

“You write that "a sound argument can be based on the Biblical account even if we do not wish to read it literally, but are willing to allow that it is possibly true", but I do not think an atheist should concede the latter point, becasue I reject the Humean assumption that if we can imagine something then it is metaphysically possible. (In fact, I think this Humean assumption is quite inconsistent with Classical Theism.) Hence, in my opinion any valid Cosmological Argument must be based, not on the conceivability of a certain state of affairs, but on the actual existence of a certain state of affairs. Actuality does imply metaphysical possibility. (Of course as a Christian I do think the biblical account refers to God's actual creation of the real world... this is different from saying that everything about the structure of days was intended to be taken literally. But that doesn't mean it's referring to some counterfactual world that doesn't exist! It's talking about God creating the actual plants and animals and stars etc. that exist in the real world.)”

Perhaps the argument should best be seen as an argument for the benefit of the skeptic. He might reason: “It seems to me highly unlikely that God would create the universe as described in Genesis, but I concede that it is at least possible that He did. “ So even from this doubting perspective, the skeptic has an option for belief. I don’t think that there is a compelling argument from atheists that the literal Biblical account is impossible.

63. Aron Wall says:

JamesH,
I think you might have missed my main point. Let me try again.

Perhaps there is such an independent reason. Rasmussen-whose “Is God the Best Explanation of Things?” I recommend, if you have not already encountered it, argues that there are three ways a potential might become actual. 1. It could make itself actual-but this would mean a potential would be both actual and not actual, which is incoherent. 2. It might be actual without anything making it actual. But (a) this conflicts with experience and (b) violates a Principle of Irrelevant Differences: a chaos of Disney Princesses (Rasmussen’s example) and any other potentials never appear from nowhere. That leaves the option that only an actual can make a potential actual, which is what the argument supposes implicitly.

All that is fine (and could be made into a premise for a more traditional cosmological argument) but note that it relies on first knowing that a genuine (actualizable) potential exists. The mere fact that we can conceive of a scenario as being true does not imply that there is any genuine potential to produce that scenario.

The only way that would follow is if you think our imagination is already aware of all possible constraints on reality, but I see no reason why we should believe that this is the case. Indeed, this principle is inconsistent with Christianity, since at least some attributes of God (like the fact that he is a Trinity) are both metaphysically necessary and yet not deducible by reason alone.

Perhaps the argument should best be seen as an argument for the benefit of the skeptic. He might reason: “It seems to me highly unlikely that God would create the universe as described in Genesis, but I concede that it is at least possible that He did. “

In my opinion this is a bogus argument, for the reason I stated previously. Conceivability does not imply real possibility.

I can conceive of God either existing or not existing, but at least one of these scenarios is metaphysically impossible.

<So even from this doubting perspective, the skeptic has an option for belief. I don’t think that there is a compelling argument from atheists that the literal Biblical account is impossible.

On the contrary, there is an obviously compelling argument. The literal Biblical creation in Genesis is impossible, because it cannot happen unless there is a God, and we are discussing an individual who is not yet convinced that God exists. If no potential can actualize itself, then the default philosophical presumption should be that things are not possible unless there is a reason to believe that there is a power capable of producing them. I can tell a story in which elephants fly, but that does not imply that there is any power in the real world capable of making elephants fly (in fact there are such powers, but their existence has to be proven by some means OTHER than by watching the Dumbo movie.)

I think trying to give atheists more "options" to believe, at the price of loss of coherence of the real foundations of the cosmological argument, is not a good trade. I'm a philosopher, not a debater. I want to believe in God for the right reasons, not to simply throw as many arguments to the wall as I can and see what sticks.

64. JamesH says:

‘Aron Wall: I think you might have missed my main point. Let me try again.’

“Perhaps there is such an independent reason. Rasmussen-whose “Is God the Best Explanation of Things?” I recommend, if you have not already encountered it, argues that there are three ways a potential might become actual. 1. It could make itself actual-but this would mean a potential would be both actual and not actual, which is incoherent. 2. It might be actual without anything making it actual. But (a) this conflicts with experience and (b) violates a Principle of Irrelevant Differences: a chaos of Disney Princesses (Rasmussen’s example) and any other potentials never appear from nowhere. That leaves the option that only an actual can make a potential actual, which is what the argument supposes implicitly.”

‘All that is fine (and could be made into a premise for a more traditional cosmological argument) but note that it relies on first knowing that a genuine (actualizable) potential exists. The mere fact that we can conceive of a scenario as being true does not imply that there is any genuine potential to produce that scenario.’

I do actually agree with this anti-Humean point, but it cuts both ways: if conceivability doesn’t provide evidence for possibility, then the atheist cannot argue that his conception of non-existence is possible. It could be argued that someone who rejects the premise would need to replace it with something better. It isn’t obvious that the atheist has a better candidate explanation for there being a first contingent causal power. With this sort of deductive argument-as Plantinga has argued in relation to the first premise of his modal ontological argument-perhaps the best we can do is to argue for a premise which is more plausible than alternatives.

[…] “So even from this doubting perspective, the skeptic has an option for belief. I don’t think that there is a compelling argument from atheists that the literal Biblical account is impossible.”

‘On the contrary, there is an obviously compelling argument. The literal Biblical creation in Genesis is impossible, because it cannot happen unless there is a God, and we are discussing an individual who is not yet convinced that God exists.’

The premises of the argument only refer to- or could easily be reworded so that they only refer to-the ‘coming into being’ of the stars, earth etc. as named in Genesis-there is no reference to God, but to a causal power. So really, it just restricts the first contingent entities named in Genesis without any additional baggage. Causal power” could, in turn, be construed in different ways-perhaps as a causal state of affairs. Then one gets from that causal state of affairs to God via an independent argument.

Funny to see theist attack a good point by asking more questions when their only answer to the same question is " because my skydaddy wanted it "

The universe just exist refer to its laws (c), because applied upon nothing, they create it. Krauss explained it simply.

66. ererwwer says:

67. Doc says:

^^ What's actually funny is seeing typical internet atheists, with nothing to add to the conversation, trying to simplify something so wildly complex by deflecting the questions and saying something deliberately trollish like "skydaddy".

68. NoughtPoint says:

Your points regarding what gets defined as "the universe" are interesting.
I have a few questions regarding the nature/constitution of God (so far as can be understood at a human level), and how this makes God more legitimate as a first cause.

Firstly, you suggest (if I understand correctly) that 'the universe' often refers to a plurality (i.e. space and time and all its contents. Thus by saying the universe just exists, an atheist unintentionally suggests that all those things exist without causation, perhaps calling into question reason.
My question is this: could God be thought of in the same way? I often think of the universe as an irreducible plurality (as opposed to, say, the 'oneness' of pantheism, or duality of substances proposed by dualism) . I think God could be thought of the same way if you hold to Trinitarianism.
I'm having trouble trying to imagine God as different from a plurality of manifestations, acts, intentions, and personality traits.
This means that I'm unsure whether saying 'the universe can't just exist because then all its contents would exist without cause' is refuted by saying God is the ultimate cause. God seems to have the same traits of being a plurality; saying that he just exists might lead to the same problem.

Secondly, in regard to causation, what's your views on metaphysics of movement, such as that of Henri Bergson or Heraclitus? The latter said you can't step in the same river twice, and Bergson suggested that movement/flux/duration were a fundamental element in many cosmic affairs, particularly our experience at least.
I get why a theist might doubt that the individual contents of the universe 'just exist' if they are inert/inactive; what made such inactive things move? But maybe a metaphysics of flux could contend that it's in the nature of a moving cosmos to carry on moving, and that this is why the universe expands.

Thanks,

NoughtPoint.

69. Aron Wall says:

NoughtPoint,

1. Indeed, my argument would also undermine Theism if God were regarded as being a plural collection of "manifestations, acts, intentions, and personality traits." However, it is for this precise reason that Classical Theism holds that God is NOT to be understood in this way, but rather is absolutely "simple", where "simple" is a technical term meaning non-composite. I've discussed this issue before.

Your phrase "I'm having trouble trying to imagine God as" may be a symptom of the underlying problem here. Let me be blunt: you can't imagine God. We can know that God exists, we can even experience his presence in various ways, but this is different from saying that we are capable of visualizing or imagining what his essence actually consists of. As St. Thomas Aquinas argued, if we did have such a clear conception we would know why God's existence is necessary, rather than having to argue indirectly from his effects in creation. You might also find this brief note about apophatism illuminating. What we can say is that whatever degree of relative goodness and wisdom and love we possess, is a limited and partial participation in something which exists in an absolute way in God (and, as it exists in God, is God).

2. Orthodox Trinitarianism holds that the 3 persons of the Trinity are not to be understood as parts, which could exist independently of one another. Rather, the 3 persons are correlative relations, which cannot exist independently of one another, so that e.g. the Father and Son have no existence apart from their relation to the other, and are in fact one indivisible Being. (In the case of human beings, to be a "father" is an `accidental' (nonessential) role since a man has existence before he begets a child, and could have instead chosen to remain childless, while remaining the person that he is. Similarly a "son", although he cannot come into existence without being begotten, can certainly continue to exist even after his father dies. But in the case of the divine nature, the terms "Father" and "Son" refer to an eternal, essential relationship; whereby the Father eternally and necessarily produces the Son, prior to all creation. And a similar statement can be made about the Holy Spirit's relation to the other two persons.)

This does introduce a type of plurality into the Divine Nature (plurality of relations, not parts) but it is not the sort of plurality which is objectionable, because (if we fully comprehended the divine essence, which we don't) we would see that the existence of any one person implies the existence of the other two. The same cannot be said of the individual constituents of the physical universe, e.g. it is not true that if I fully specify all physical information about one molecule, that one can use that information to determine the physical structure of everything else the Universe.

3. Regarding motion, that is a deep question. In Scholastic theology, motion is used to argue for the distinction between act and potency, and ultimately leads to Aquinas' Argument from Motion for the existence of God (the First Way). This argument has deep roots in Aristole's doctrines about motion which navigated a middle way between Haraclitus (everything is flux, denying the reality of act) and Parmenides (everything is eternal, denying the reality of potency). I go back and forth about this because, in a more skeptical mood, I would say that Aristotle's analysis of motion (and resolution of Zeno's paradoxes) is predicated on him not yet understanding calculus, and the nature of time as a dimension.

Even so, I think that modality (things could have been otherwise) plays an essential role in physics and philosophy, and could also be used to argue for something like act/potency. But that gets into something more like Aquinas' Third Way. Once you think that some things could be otherwise, it is natural to ask the question: what could not have been otherwise? These sorts of considerations will take you to the doorstep of Theology, if you let them do so. However, God is not a scientific hypothesis in the usual sense, since you can't make a mathematical "model" of God as a system of moving parts, because he is absolutely simple. Another way to say this, is that you can't get to God if your sole purpose in doing Science is trying to expand your range of technological control over the world.

70. NoughtPoint says:

Hi Aron.
Interesting response, thank you!
First, I’ll respond regarding plurality and the difference between nature and God.

First you say this

“The Father and Son have no existence apart from their relation to the other, and are in fact one indivisible Being”.

I think I can agree with this, at least conceptually, that an irreducible plurality can mean that something doesn’t exist in isolation, or being cut off, so to speak.

You then say this:

_“The same cannot be said of the individual constituents of the physical universe, e.g. it is not true that if I fully specify all physical information about one molecule, that one can use that information to determine the physical structure of everything else the Universe.”_

My question would be of how to separate God from this problem. I had trouble with picturing Jesus as being eternal if part of his nature was to exist as a temporally active being in a finite or temporal world (our world). How could he exist from eternity prior to us, if part of what makes him Jesus is how he acts among humans that have yet to be created? This is important considering that in your post on divine simplicity, you say this:

_“While it is true that the Second and Third Persons in some way originate from the First, I do not think it is orthodox to say that only the Father is the First Cause, apart from the other two persons.”_

This links with what I’m saying about irreducible plurality (obviously do say if I'm mistaken here!); some things are defined in part by their relation to other things, even though they aren’t the same thing in a homogeneous sense.

Secondly, you say this:

_“Another way to say this, is that you can’t get to God if your sole purpose in doing Science is trying to expand your range of technological control over the world.”_

That’s fine, I’m more interested (at the moment at least) in understanding whether or not God exists, than technological mastery. I’m wondering however if God goes into the realm of being unfalsifiable, if we deem him unable to be fully comprehended. To expand on this, I concede that there’s things in the universe I haven’t experienced (due to limitations in human senses; some tones, colours, etc are outside human reach) but these are things which exist in the universe as comprehended within its structure. I worry that a conception of God which appears to have logical problems might detract from legitimacy, if we consider the issue of relations of Jesus to time for example, aforementioned.

Thirdly, I confess that my influence of Heraclitus is looser than I perhaps implied; I use his analogy to understand the world, but there’s some things I think I’d disagree with him on. In any case, I don’t think acts are non-existent if flux is true; acts require a state of flux in order to be made manifest. In other words, acts require a state of change, whether in line with a theory or b theory of time. The latter perhaps might be understood as changing in the same way that a yardstick changes further along its structure. At least that’s how I try to picture it, but I’m not a trained physicist.

Finally, you say this:

“God is not a scientific hypothesis in the usual sense, since you can’t make a mathematical “model” of God as a system of moving parts, because he is absolutely simple.”

This suggests irreducibility, which I can be on board with. There’s some things we can’t divide up or explain any further except through referring to the things themselves. How to explain what joy is like except through just experiencing it? That’s just one example. But I also think there are things which are inexplicable due to them being logically impossible; we can’t imagine square circles or married bachelors, as they’re impossible. I wonder if this might be the same with conceptions of an unchanging, eternal creator. Of course, this doesn’t refute God more broadly; open theism, or God in another universe are alternatives. But it’s something worth discussing, I think.

71. Aron Wall says:

NoughtPoint,

With respect to Jesus, orthodox Chalcedonian theology asserts that he is one person with two different natures, so that he is both fully human and fully God. Statements about divine simplicity refer only to his divine nature (that he shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit), not to his human nature (that he shares with us). So it is correct to say that Jesus is composed of parts, changes with time etc. so long as it is understood that this is speaking with respect to his human attributes, and it is also correct to say that Jesus existed before his miraculous conception within St. Mary, so long as it is understood that this is speaking with respect to his divinity. But there is a single person who experiences both of these realities.

"Act" is a technical term, not in theoretical physics, but in aristotelian philosophy / scholastic theology. It refers not to action in the modern sense but rather to existing in a state of definite reality. In the context of the philosophy motion/flux, "act" refers specifically to existing in a definite state of completion; while "potency" would refer to that which has the ability to be in more than one state. Aristotle argued that both of these elements were required in order to understand change. For example, if an egg becomes a bird than the continuously existing entity which is at first an egg and secondly a bird can't be called either "egg" or "bird" because it is the thing which has the ability to be either. So he would say the egg has a "potency" to become a bird, but only after it actually becomes a bird is it a bird in Act. In scholastic theology, God is "Pure Act" in the sense that he is exactly what he is without having any potentials requiring actualization. Now perhaps you can go back and read what I wrote before and hopefully it will make more sense... (You can read more about this sort of idea at St. Ed Feser's blog (or in his book Scholastic Metaphysics if you want to get really technical), but he argues for this position as an A-theorist, whereas I accept the B-theory of time, and so there are questions of to what extent these ideas can carry over to that perspective.)

That’s fine, I’m more interested (at the moment at least) in understanding whether or not God exists, than technological mastery.

I know this, I just made the remark because I thought it would be illuminating.

To expand on this, I concede that there’s things in the universe I haven’t experienced (due to limitations in human senses; some tones, colours, etc are outside human reach) but these are things which exist in the universe as comprehended within its structure. I worry that a conception of God which appears to have logical problems might detract from legitimacy
[...]
I also think there are things which are inexplicable due to them being logically impossible; we can’t imagine square circles or married bachelors, as they’re impossible.

As I think you are suggesting, there is a difference between things which are incomprehensible because they are beyond our understanding, and things that are incomprehensible because they are logically contradictory. In the case of a "square circle" we can state that it is a contradiction because we do understand "square" and "circle" well enough to know they can't go together. But any view of God where we fully understand God is obviously too limited to be God in the first place.

This of course raises some questions about how we come to know that this type of God exists in the first place. There are multiple approaches here, ranging from very philosophical approaches to very experiential approaches. But if the conversation concerns Christian doctrines about Jesus, then we are specifically talking about the idea of a God who (a) has chosen to actively reveal himself to (certain) human beings, rather than merely being the passive conclusion of a argument based on stuff we can figure out on our own, such that (b) that revelation is most clearly expressed in the life, teachings, passion and vindication of Jesus, which (c) is accurately described by the canonical and inspired words of the New Testament.

A person who accepts (a)-(c) is obviously going to hold to a bunch of very specific (and somewhat paradoxical) doctrines about God, which nobody would ever come to if they were merely working based on what makes the most sense to them philosophically. (This does not mean that it is impossible to figure out anything about God from philosophical reasoning, just that it is very limited in comparison to what God reveals to us.)

Then (d) the later Creeds and so on, are attempts to state these most basic revealed doctrines in a systematic manner, that is adequate to the historical revelation, at least in the sense of not collapsing any of the paradoxes onto a single side, e.g. by saying that Christ only appeared to be human (Docetism) or wasn't fully divine (Adoptionism, Arianism...) etc.

72. flavio says:

Hello,
Going back to the discussion of cosmological arguments, what's your view on the kalam cosmological argument? Do you think it fails because of the b-theory of time? By the way, should bell's theorem and aspect's experiment clash with orthodox relativity? By that i mean, that a spooky action at a distance defines an absolute simultenaety relation.

73. NoughtPoint says:

“With respect to Jesus, orthodox Chalcedonian theology asserts that he is one person with two different natures, so that he is both fully human and fully God. Statements about divine simplicity refer only to his divine nature (that he shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit), not to his human nature (that he shares with us).”

It still however looks as though Jesus has these two natures, one human and the other divine. How would his divine nature be separated from his human nature? How could his divine nature also be separated from the father and holy Spirit? I wonder if there’s something I’m missing, but when I attempt to look at this as a whole, it still seems that there’s parts which the unified God experiences. Take for instance the following:

“So it is correct to say that Jesus is composed of parts, changes with time etc. So long as it is understood that this is speaking with respect to his human attributes, and it is also correct to say that Jesus existed before his miraculous conception within St. Mary, so long as it is understood that this is speaking with respect to his divinity. But there is a single person who experiences both of these realities.”

The single person is important here. If God is simple, is it possible for him to have a plurality of components in this way?
Another question is what the single person experiences outside the temporal manifestation of Jesus. What traits does the divine manifestation have? Is this divine manifestation aware of the temporal Jesus?
Also, is the fact that there is a case of there being both realities as you put it maybe suggest that Jesus is in fact composed of parts in that way, as opposed to being a metaphysical unity?

“Act” is a technical term, not in theoretical physics, but in Aristotelian philosophy / scholastic theology. It refers not to action in the modern sense but rather to existing in a state of definite reality.”

So in the sense of being ‘actual’ perhaps. Would that be accurate?

“In the context of the philosophy motion/flux, “act” refers specifically to existing in a definite state of completion; while “potency” would refer to that which has the ability to be in more than one state. Aristotle argued that both of these elements were required in order to understand change. For example, if an egg becomes a bird than the continuously existing entity which is at first an egg and secondly a bird can’t be called either “egg” or “bird” because it is the thing which has the ability to be either. So he would say the egg has a “potency” to become a bird, but only after it actually becomes a bird is it a bird in Act.”

I think I agree with this. Terms like egg and bird are descriptions/signs we use to point to a part of reality as we perceive it, though there is also something which becomes both of them. I’m not sure if my idea of a universe in flux has to be challenged by this though. It could in fact affirm that an overarching reality is subject to changes in form. Those forms can become actualised within the overarching flux.

“In scholastic theology, God is “Pure Act” in the sense that he is exactly what he is without having any potentials requiring actualization.”

Does this include his creation as well? Could this imply that he had always created in a metaphysical sense? I’m wondering whether this might conflict with the life of Jesus (the manifestation where he lives within our spatiotemporal universe, that is) if there’s no potentials requiring actualisation in the case of God.

“(You can read more about this sort of idea at St. Ed Feser’s blog (or in his book Scholastic Metaphysics if you want to get really technical), but he argues for this position as an A-theorist, whereas I accept the B-theory of time, and so there are questions of to what extent these ideas can carry over to that perspective.)”

Ah yes, Feser’s blog is interesting. My question regarding his Thomistic contention that there is a hierarchy of causation, is whether God could be at the top of this hierarchy if there’s nothing he can be aware of outside himself. Usually when we look at our own actions in so far as we are higher in the hierarchy of causation (e.g. moving a rock), we do so within a state of affairs in which we are aware of an external reality. I think this requires us to have a fluctuating experience of a reality in which we’re aware of something else which we’re compelled to move. Following this, I’d ask what God is aware of prior to creation, whether his eternal self knows of creation, or whether his knowledge becomes complete during creation. The latter could imply open theism, I think. Of course, I could be wrong.

“But any view of God where we fully understand God is obviously too limited to be God in the first place.”

Could an atheist come back at this by saying that the universe can in the same way be only partially understood? This is a guess, but I think they’d contend that the universe isn’t interested in explaining itself, and thus is more likely to be mysterious than God. I worry that both of these competing ideas are in danger of going into unfalsifiable territory.

“But if the conversation concerns Christian doctrines about Jesus, then we are specifically talking about the idea of a God who (a) has chosen to actively reveal himself to (certain) human beings, rather than merely being the passive conclusion of a argument based on stuff we can figure out on our own, such that (b) that revelation is most clearly expressed in the life, teachings, passion and vindication of Jesus, which (c) is accurately described by the canonical and inspired words of the New Testament.”

These experiences, teachings, and writings are certainly something to study, consider and take into account (I differ in that way from atheists like Lawrence Krauss who say that biblical writings can’t be considered as evidence.) However, I don’t know if these factors alone explain the issues we’re discussing here. Endeavours in metaphysics seem to suggest that there’s more to figure out on top of the initial religious experience.

“A person who accepts (a)-(c) is obviously going to hold to a bunch of very specific (and somewhat paradoxical) doctrines about God, which nobody would ever come to if they were merely working based on what makes the most sense to them philosophically. (This does not mean that it is impossible to figure out anything about God from philosophical reasoning, just that it is very limited in comparison to what God reveals to us.)”

Whilst it could be argued that there’s other means of knowledge (such as aforementioned experiences) on top of reasoning, I wonder if conceding to paradox nevertheless leaves divinity in the square circle category. While it’s not unreasonable to believe in the existence of experiences and things beyond yourself, I think affirming paradoxes could weaken the theist position, if they intend to argue against an atheist who they see as being paradoxical in arguing for the universe that “just exists”.

74. Aron Wall says:

It still however looks as though Jesus has these two natures, one human and the other divine. How would his divine nature be separated from his human nature?

"Separated" is not the right word here as this word is only appropriate for parts that make up a whole that can be divided. Neither the union of two natures in Jesus, nor the union of 3 persons in the Trinity, are traditionally understood as part-whole relationships.

The word you are looking for, I think, is not "separated" but "distinguished". Things can be distinguished if they have different properties even if they cannot be divided into pieces. (For example, if there is river there is necessarily both an "upstream" direction and a "downtsteam" direction, which can be distinguished from each other. But you can't separate it into two different rivers, each having only one of the two directions.)

How could his divine nature also be separated from the father and holy Spirit?

It is not in any way a different nature. There is only a single divine nature/being, which is shared (in an undivided manner) among all 3 persons of the Trinity. (The Trinity is 3 persons with 1 nature. The Incarnation is 1 person with 2 natures.)

The single person is important here. If God is simple, is it possible for him to have a plurality of components in this way?

As I already said, simplicity has to do with the divine nature of Jesus, not his human nature. It would contradict simplicity if the divine nature were transformed or changed into human nature, but in the Chalcedonian understanding, the Son took on a human nature as an additional experience, without changing or converting his divine nature into something else. The theological term for this is the Hypostatic Union.

Another question is what the single person experiences outside the temporal manifestation of Jesus. What traits does the divine manifestation have? Is this divine manifestation aware of the temporal Jesus?

"Manifestation" is not really the right word either since this term means "becoming apparent", and so an invisible reality cannot be referred to as a "manifestation", except to the extent that it is revealed to humans by some means. (The human nature of Jesus was of course manifested in the same way that other historical persons are, but as God he is invisible.)

But we can re-ask your question with respect to the word "nature", since a nature comes along with a set of powers (including various mental powers when the nature in question is that of an intelligent being). In this case, the answer is straightforward: the divine nature of Jesus has all the usual attributes traditionally assigned to God, including omnipotence, omnisicence, omnipresence, eternity etc. As God, Jesus is omniscient and thus knows everything, including (but not limited to) every detail of his human Incarnation.

The more interesting and less clear-cut question, is to what extent his human nature was aware of his divine knowledge. Since Jesus claimed to be God (e.g. John 8:58), he certainly knew THAT he was divine. But the Gospels also assert that Jesus "grew in wisdom and stature" as a child (Luke 2:52), that he asked seemingly non-rhetorical questions (e.g. Luke 8:43-48), and about at least one imporant theological topic (the date of his Second Coming) he confessed ignorance. On the other hand, Jesus also seems to have had an uncanny ability to know what other people were thinking in their heads (e.g. Mark 2:8, Luke 6:8, John 2:25). Presumably, while he was on Earth, Jesus' human brain was only capable of storing a finite amount of information, but that allows for the possibility that he might selectively "import" knowledge into his human mind, to the extent that this was necessary and appropriate.

The value of the Chalcedonian framework is that it gives a language in which these statements can be consistently reconciled into one picture, but obviosuly this has to be combined with some amount of humility, since obviously it doesn't answer every question about how Jesus self-consciousness worked.

Also, is the fact that there is a case of there being both realities as you put it maybe suggest that Jesus is in fact composed of parts in that way, as opposed to being a metaphysical unity?

That might be true on a (non-orthodox) Adoptionist Christology, but it is false in the Chalcedonian Christology where the divine and human natures of Christ are united in a single entity (the Hypostatic Union).

Act” is a technical term, not in theoretical physics, but in Aristotelian philosophy / scholastic theology. It refers not to action in the modern sense but rather to existing in a state of definite reality.”

So in the sense of being ‘actual’ perhaps. Would that be accurate?

Yes.

I’m not sure if my idea of a universe in flux has to be challenged by this though. It could in fact affirm that an overarching reality is subject to changes in form. Those forms can become actualised within the overarching flux.

This statement seems compatible with the Aristotelian view, in the sense that you acknowledge that understanding Nature requires acknowledging the reality of both act (which is associated with specific forms) and potency (associated with the matter that can take on different forms).

Incidentally this perspective highlights a problem with the idea of materialism as a philosophical system, which is that matter was originally defined as an opposing pair matter/form. If one sacrifices the dual idea of "form", then the term "matter" no longer has much content and the materialist is left with only somewhat circular definitions of what they mean by the term "matter.)

Does this include his creation as well? Could this imply that he had always created in a metaphysical sense?

Creation is a relation between God and creatures, where God supplies the creature with existence and being. Considered from the side of the Creator, creation is eternal, since God is outside time, and therefore his will is "from eternity". But considered from the side of the creature, the creation of temporal beings is temporal, since that is the sort of being/reality which temporal beings possess.

I’m wondering whether this might conflict with the life of Jesus (the manifestation where he lives within our spatiotemporal universe, that is) if there’s no potentials requiring actualisation in the case of God.

Jesus' human nature does have potentials, but it is Jesus' divine nature which creates the Universe (and his human nature, for that matter).

My question regarding his Thomistic contention that there is a hierarchy of causation, is whether God could be at the top of this hierarchy if there’s nothing he can be aware of outside himself. Usually when we look at our own actions in so far as we are higher in the hierarchy of causation (e.g. moving a rock), we do so within a state of affairs in which we are aware of an external reality. I think this requires us to have a fluctuating experience of a reality in which we’re aware of something else which we’re compelled to move. Following this, I’d ask what God is aware of prior to creation, whether his eternal self knows of creation, or whether his knowledge becomes complete during creation. The latter could imply open theism, I think. Of course, I could be wrong.

Thomism is of course a type of Christian theology, and Christian theology asserts that God is omniscient. So necessarily God is aware of everything outside of himself, including all times. The only question is how this can be reconciled with the other Thomistic idea that God is "pure act" and thus has no intrinsic potencies.

St. Thomas' own answer to that question can be found in the Summa Theologica Question 4 Article 5, where he asserts that God knows all things by knowing his own being. I find this solution to be questionable, given the existence of contingent truths about the world, since God's being is not contingent.

My own small contribution to the question is my article "Does God Need a Brain?", where I deny the implicit premise that God's knowledge is representational. Our knowledge is representational, so we can't know things without our brain changing, but I don't think God knows in this way. For God, to create something and to know it, are one and the same action. Just because God is in no way passive to creation, does not mean he is in no way receptive to creation. Certainly the biblical picture of God is that of a knowing, judging Creator. So one needs to accept that God can know, without changing.

Could an atheist come back at this by saying that the universe can in the same way be only partially understood?

Well, it's not like I deny this as a theist, either.

Whilst it could be argued that there’s other means of knowledge (such as aforementioned experiences) on top of reasoning, I wonder if conceding to paradox nevertheless leaves divinity in the square circle category. While it’s not unreasonable to believe in the existence of experiences and things beyond yourself, I think affirming paradoxes could weaken the theist position, if they intend to argue against an atheist who they see as being paradoxical in arguing for the universe that “just exists”.

I think one needs to distinguish here between natural theology and revealed theology. Or more precisely, the appropriate epistemic response to large quantities of data versus small quantities of data. When you have large quantities of data (e.g. experiments about atomic physics, the Bible from the perspective of a believer) then it is sometimes appropriate to affirm deeply paradoxical truths such as Quantum Mechanics or the Trinity, because you can have strong evidence for two apparently contradictory propositions, which need to be sythesized into some sort of paradoxical union. (These paradoxes do make the resulting worldview somewhat less believable, but not necessarily dramatically so since it is not that unusual for the human intellect to be faced with paradoxes).

On the other hand, when you are dealing with only a small amount of data, usually it is inappropriate to postulate highly paradoxical solutions, unless perhaps you have a situation (like the mind-body problem) where all plausible positions seem to involve some elements of paradox.

Despite the fact that we are currently discussing revealed theology (the Incarnation of Christ) the original blog post had more to do with natural theology (the cosmological argument). Obviously, if someone decides that God exists on the basis of the Cosmological Argument, they are not yet committed to any weird doctrines about Jesus. (But, they are one step closer to doing so, since the weird doctrines about Jesus make reference to God, and are thus more plausible to somebody who comes into the discussion already believing in God.)

75. NoughtPoint says:

Thanks for your response! There's lots to discuss here, and I might take a while to respond to the points on distinction (as opposed to separation), and Chalcedonian theology.

Here's my questions on some other points you raise:

_“St. Thomas’ own answer to that question can be found in the Summa Theologica Question 4 Article 5, where he asserts that God knows all things by knowing his own being. I find this solution to be questionable, given the existence of contingent truths about the world, since God’s being is not contingent.”_

If I’m reading the Thomist position here correctly, Aquinas seems to be saying that God knows creation as an extension of his own being, the same way someone might know a part of their body, or body movements, as an extension of themselves. My own contention is that this might imply that creation is eternally present, that it had never not been created by God under this particular conception. Such a picture seems to me to call his sovereignty into question, depending on your views on that.

_“My own small contribution to the question is my article “Does God Need a Brain?”, where I deny the implicit premise that God’s knowledge is representational. Our knowledge is representational, so we can’t know things without our brain changing, but I don’t think God knows in this way. For God, to create something and to know it, are one and the same action.”_

Is it conceivable that this leads to open theism? Would it entail that God’s creation is a spontaneous outburst, where he has no knowledge of something prior to creating it? Would this conflict with foreknowledge?

_“Could an atheist come back at this by saying that the universe can in the same way be only partially understood?”
“Well, it’s not like I deny this as a theist, either.”_

That’s reasonable. I just think that the atheist isn’t going to be convinced by a claim that God can’t be fully understood when they might just as easily say the same of the universe. They even suggest saying such a statement about the universe (and proceeding no further) is one less assumption than saying so about both God and universe. They might then suggest that such a position is more in line with Ockham’s razor.

Whilst it could be argued that there’s other means of knowledge (such as aforementioned experiences) on top of reasoning, I wonder if conceding to paradox nevertheless leaves divinity in the square circle category. While it’s not unreasonable to believe in the existence of experiences and things beyond yourself, I think affirming paradoxes could weaken the theist position, if they intend to argue against an atheist who they see as being paradoxical in arguing for the universe that “just exists”.

_“I think one needs to distinguish here between natural theology and revealed theology. Or more precisely, the appropriate epistemic response to large quantities of data versus small quantities of data. When you have large quantities of data (e.g. experiments about atomic physics, the Bible from the perspective of a believer) then it is sometimes appropriate to affirm deeply paradoxical truths such as Quantum Mechanics or the Trinity, because you can have strong evidence for two apparently contradictory propositions, which need to be synthesized into some sort of paradoxical union. (These paradoxes do make the resulting worldview somewhat less believable, but not necessarily dramatically so since it is not that unusual for the human intellect to be faced with paradoxes).”_

I think an alternative can be to simply say “I don’t know” but assuming we want to go further (I know I do), let’s look at quantum mechanics. Could you list some aspects you see as paradoxes within quantum mechanics? I confess I’m not well educated in quantum theory.

In addition to this question, I still think accepting paradoxes whether quantum or Trinitarian leads us into dangerous territory. Do we end up accepting logical impossibilities? Where does that lead? Wouldn’t it perhaps open the door to any claim, however illogical, if logical laws don’t hold? An example might be someone claiming that something can be both true and untrue. Such a statement would be unacceptable to myself (and I think probably yourself too). But if we unravel the basic predicate with which we use to observe reality, what would prevent a slip towards epistemological chaos in this way? Moreover, if such epistemological chaos is true, that also leads us to a “don’t know” situation, if it calls our entire cognition into doubt.

An alternative is to perhaps accept the explanation with the least number of paradoxes. Another use of Ockham’s razor, in other words. But here I think the atheist might have a point if they say they make one less assumption regarding the universe, especially if the universe is conceived of as a bit more indifferent to humans than a God who urges us to worship him is believed to be.

Even if the human intellect is often faced with paradoxes, it’s also the case that we often look for answers. I think several theologians attempt to do just that, and thus overcome whatever deficiencies in knowledge they may encounter. I’d also like to ask which paradoxes you think are demonstrably true so we can discuss the ins and outs of them from there.

_“On the other hand, when you are dealing with only a small amount of data, usually it is inappropriate to postulate highly paradoxical solutions, unless perhaps you have a situation (like the mind-body problem) where all plausible positions seem to involve some elements of paradox.”_

Could you expand? Why must we be content with paradox if it blocks understanding? Couldn’t there simply be a solution that we haven’t found yet?

76. Zsolt Nagy says:

Hello NoughtPoint,

The word "paradox" rather means "apparent contradiction" - a counterintuitive factual connection, but not necessarily an actual contradiction.
For example the statement

"There are as many odd numbers as even numbers and there are as many odd numbers as natural numbers and there are as many even numbers as natural numbers."

might appear to be a contradiction, but that statement is more of a paradox. Very counterintuitive for a lot of people as specially for William Lane Craig, but there is no actual contradiction to be have, if you understand, what cardinalities are.
Since there are bijections between the set of all odd numbers, the set of all even numbers and the set of all natural numbers, those sets have the same cardinality.

Maybe Aron does mean by his usage of the word "paradox" that - counterintuitive factual connections. Maybe not. I don't want to put words in his mouth. He knows the best, what he meant by his words.
But it would be surprising for me, if he would actually mean by that word, what you have implied with your previous comment - “actual contradictions”.

By the way, you seem to not be familiar with HTML and HTML-tags.
This is not the comment section of youtube and the commands for writing formats for that don’t apply here.
Here is a link for HTML Formatting.
(Place > for ] and place for < for [.
if I would do that there, after posting this comment that command would compile and those commands [i] and [/i] wouldn’t be visible anymore.)
If you want to make a more visually pleasing citations, like Aron does, then you might use the command [blockquote]”text”[/blockquote] instead of the command [i]”text”[/i].

Best regards,
Zsolt

77. Aron Wall says:

Zsolt,
Yes, thanks. You are quite correct that by a paradox I don't mean a flat-out logical contradiction, but rather an apparent conflict between truths which can resolve into a higher truth. Flat logical contradictions (of the form "X & not X", with the exact same meaning for X on both sides), necessarily do not obtain.

I also agree that set theory is a good example of a place where there are demonstrably true paradoxes. It shows that they appear even in mathematical contexts that are extremely logical and precise.

Another good example would be Russell's paradox, which taken in itself an actual contradiction (there cannot be a set R of all sets that do not contain themselves, because if R contained itself it wouldn't, and if it didn't it would), but the point is that to avoid Russell's paradox one needs to place restrictions on one's ability to name sets which are themselves counterintuitive. You have to deny one of the following propositions: (A) there is a set of all sets, or (B) given a set S and property P, there exists a subset of elements of S also having property P. (Standard ZF set theory denies A, but there are alternative approaches to set theory, in which one denies B instead.)

NaughtPoint:

In addition to this question, I still think accepting paradoxes whether quantum or Trinitarian leads us into dangerous territory. Do we end up accepting logical impossibilities? Where does that lead? Wouldn’t it perhaps open the door to any claim, however illogical, if logical laws don’t hold?
An example might be someone claiming that something can be both true and untrue. Such a statement would be unacceptable to myself (and I think probably yourself too). But if we unravel the basic predicate with which we use to observe reality, what would prevent a slip towards epistemological chaos in this way? Moreover, if such epistemological chaos is true, that also leads us to a “don’t know” situation, if it calls our entire cognition into doubt.

A fruitful expression of a genuine paradox should always involve something more, than simply stating that one and the same proposition X is both true and false. Even if we assert that there is some hidden reason why the X's don't mean the same thing (avoiding a true contradiction), it isn't very useful if I have no idea how I use the statement that X is true and how to use the statement that it is false.

Instead, it should always be possible to unpack any given fruitful paradox in a way that illuminates the distinction between the two sides of the statement.

Let's take Zsolt's statement as an example. I could say: "The set of all odd numbers is both less than the set of all natural numbers, and yet it is not less than the set of odd numbers". But this is not an ideal way of phrasing things, since it only communicates what is going on in shorthand, to somebody who already knows what is going on mathematically! A better statement would be, "the set of odd numbers is lesser in the sense of being a proper subset of the naturals, and yet it is equal in the sense of ability to establish a bijective map with the naturals. Now I have a useful statement because I have some idea of how to establish each of the two sides, and what to deduce from them.

A genuine paradox is like binocular vision: precisely because the image seen by the left eye differs from the image seen by the right eye, we can see in 3D. Even though each eye's vision is 2D, we see in 3D by somehow fusing together in our brain propositions, which would be contradictory if the object being perceived were 2D. This is similar to how genuine paradoxes allow us to "see" things which would otherwise be incomprehensible to the human intellect.

Could you list some aspects you see as paradoxes within quantum mechanics? I confess I’m not well educated in quantum theory.

Well the famous one, that even the journalists have heard of, is how matter is both waves and particles. Again, for this to be useful, you have to know in what respect they behave like waves (display of interference patterns) and in what respect they behave like particles (a measuring device will always detect a particle in one specific location).

In this case, if you know the mathematics of QM / QFT, you can do better, and see how they are two sides of a consistent mathematical structure. On the other hand, if you aren't mathematically inclined then you'll probably just have to take the word of physicists that both sides of the paradox are reconcilable. (On the other hand, it's not like this deeper picture is in accord with human intuition either. It requires replacing the usual notion of probability with complex numbers, and accepting the idea of quantum interference between different possible ways things can happen, something which nobody really knows how to interpret in a sensible manner!)

This is similar to how Christians take on faith that the Trinity is reconcilable. Note that the doctrine of the Trinity satisfies my necessary condition for a fruitful paradox, since the doctrine attempts to distinguish in which respect God is one (the substance/nature), and in which respect he is three (the persons). (Christians never phrase paradoxes like this: "God is three, and also not three", or "Jesus is God, but also not God".) Hence, the Trinity is not a sharp logical contradiction, but that doesn't mean we can "see in what sense both sides can be simultaneously true" either.

An alternative is to perhaps accept the explanation with the least number of paradoxes. Another use of Ockham’s razor, in other words.

This assumes that paradoxes are rare when dealing with fundamental questions. But I'm not sure that this this is true. (It would be like using St. Ockham’s razor to predict that all biological cells should be simple and easy to understand, and then being perpetually surprised when even the smallest ones are still fiendishly complicated!)

That's why a better approach is to try to distinguish fruitful paradoxes (which illuminate other truths, help us to see in 3D) from a mere bull-headed attempt to appeal to mystery in order to avoid accepting some (otherwise compelling) conclusion. I agree that nobody should accept a paradox that is easily resolved (i.e. where there are not compelling reasons to accept both horns of the paradox) but often this is not possible, at least not without denying some even deeper conviction.

That’s reasonable. I just think that the atheist isn’t going to be convinced by a claim that God can’t be fully understood when they might just as easily say the same of the universe.

But such full understanding is not necessary to implement a cosmological argument.

For example, consider the minor premise of an Argument from Contingency that contingent objects exist). It certainly doesn't require fully understanding the Universe, to know that our best understanding of physical objects allows them to be in more than one position/velocity, or more generally a state space of some sort. It is logically open to us, to try to say that this is an illusion, and in fact there is total determinism: no physical could have been otherwise than it is. But that doesn't change the fact that our best possible current description of such objects allows for them to have multiple states!

So our best physical understanding of a chair, seems inconsistent with saying that a chair just exists. We do not need to fully understand the chair to say that, we just need to not reject an element of our partial understanding. This is very different from the case of God, where saying that God does not depend for his existence on anything else, is part of the definition of what it would mean to be God. (And then, many of the other divine attributes are deduced by asking what else would follow from that.)

I think affirming paradoxes could weaken the theist position, if they intend to argue against an atheist who they see as being paradoxical in arguing for the universe that “just exists”.

I think this somewhat misses the point of my blog post. I wasn't arguing "Atheism is paradoxical, therefore it is wrong". That would indeed be a problematic argument, from a proponent of a paradoxical religion. In fact, I wasn't even making a direct argument against Atheism. Rather, I was arguing something closer to this: Saying that the Universe just exists is paradoxical, therefore atheists owe us a better explanation of what they actually mean by that. Which aspect, exactly, of the universe are they saying "just exists"? And how does this truth fit into relationship with the scientific method, which is predicated on (certain things, at least) having explanations.

But I think a lot of atheists (excluding those who are real philosophers, of course) who bring up the "Why can't the Universe just exist?" objection aren't actually interested in having a conversation about the metaphysics of the Universe. They just want to shoot down the Cosmological Argument and call it a day, without actually grappling with the implications of what they are saying.

_“For God, to create something and to know it, are one and the same action._”
Is it conceivable that this leads to open theism?

That might follow if God were inside of time. But if you believe that God is outside of time, then he knows the future in the exact same way he knows the present or past, by seeing it directly.

Would it entail that God’s creation is a spontaneous outburst, where he has no knowledge of something prior to creating it? Would this conflict with foreknowledge?

Again, expressing this puzzle requires thinking that God's internal life involves a sequence of experiences. There is no "before God creates", in the sense of some interval of time when God is sitting around wondering what he's going to freely choose do in the future. (Although God can be said to be "prior to creation" in the sense that his existence is a metaphysically necessary truth, which does not depend on what happens in creation.) When we speak of God's foreknowledge, the "fore" in the word refers to before from our perspective, not from God's perspective. From a timeless perspective, the correct statement is just that God knows all time "at once".

As for "spontaneous outburst", if by spontaneous you mean involuntary then no. When I said that God's act of creation and his knowledge (of creation) are the same thing, I meant that God's act of relation to creatures involves the perfections of both full knowledge and total power, but in a unified way. It is easy to assume that God's knowledge of creation must somehow involve passivity, but I'm claiming that actually God's knowledge is entirely the same thing as his activity. (God's knowledge may well be characterized as "receptive" to creation, but his knowledge does not involve God having a divine "space of possible states" which created beings can tamper with, as if he were a physical system.)

We humans only act involuntarily because we are composite creatures (e.g. if our body acts independently from our minds, or one part of our mind acts independently from our full deliberative facilities). As a result our own knowlege and power are not perfect and coextensive. But none of this would apply to God, who isn't composite. As a result, he can't ever be in a situation where part of him does something, even though there was another part that would have preferred to do something else.

78. Aron Wall says:

flavio,
1. I think whether the B-theory conflicts with the kalam argument probably depends on your other beliefs about time and causality.

2. Suppose you have a quantum entangled system with two subsystems A and B which are spacelike separated, and suppose that 2 experimenters perform measurements on A and B independently, and then come together into one place to compare notes. The rules of QM are such that, the probabilities of obtaining various outcomes do not depend on which of the two experimenters made their measurement "first". (I'm putting that in scare-quotes, because this depends on your frame of reference).

IMO this means that a reasonable interpretation of QM will not ascribe ontological significance to the time ordering. If this principle appears to be violated in the usual way of describing QM wave function collapse, then this just means that things are not being described in the best possible way.

79. NoughtPoint says:

[Fixed the blockquote formatting---AW]

A big thanks to both Zsolt and Aron for the clarification on paradoxes! (As well as to Zsolt on formatting). I think this allows us much mutual understanding to work from.

“A better statement would be, “the set of odd numbers is lesser in the sense of being a proper subset of the naturals, and yet it is equal in the sense of ability to establish a bijective map with the naturals. Now I have a useful statement because I have some idea of how to establish each of the two sides, and what to deduce from them.”

This example, as far as I understand it, appears to solve what might at first seem like a contradiction in the way things are phrased. It does so by clarifying specific properties that once understood show what the original paradox implies. In this way, by delving deeper, we can come to accept it more fully. I’m not a theologian, but I imagine the trinity might be viewed the same way. God is both fully God and fully human, in the sense of being fully human in a specific way, a specific manifestation, as opposed to there being a logical contradiction between the two.

“But I think a lot of atheists (excluding those who are real philosophers, of course) who bring up the “Why can’t the Universe just exist?” objection aren’t actually interested in having a conversation about the metaphysics of the Universe. They just want to shoot down the Cosmological Argument and call it a day, without actually grappling with the implications of what they are saying.”

This is unfortunate but no doubt true. I can’t speak for them, as I’m interested in looking at these deeper issues and thus don’t want to shoot anything down.

“That might follow if God were inside of time. But if you believe that God is outside of time, then he knows the future in the exact same way he knows the present or past, by seeing it directly.”

This maybe leads us further out to considering metaphysics of time, which is different to what was discussed in the original post, but I’ll briefly ask a few questions.

Is it possible that God can operate this way and still be the cause? It seems to me that when we talk about causes, we’re often talking about phenomena that operate within our physical time frame. How can we suggest it’s possible that God causes time timelessly and isn’t simply an observer if he knows all that happens prior to creation (i.e., prior in a metaphysical sense, not a temporal sense, as we’ve established)?
What likelihood is there of this being the case as opposed to the universe either existing without a cause or having a cause we don’t know about yet?

Is a conscious mind able to operate this way? Often when we look at our own conscious minds, such appear as a flow of change and receptivity. Conscious minds are described by some as a process, for example. There are both atheists and theists (e.g. process theologians) that suggest conscious minds to be more of a flow than something eternal and unchanging. The latter is perhaps more like a platonic form.

Well the famous one, that even the journalists have heard of, is how matter is both waves and particles. Again, for this to be useful, you have to know in what respect they behave like waves (display of interference patterns) and in what respect they behave like particles (a measuring device will always detect a particle in one specific location).
This is similar to how Christians take on faith that the Trinity is reconcilable. Note that the doctrine of the Trinity satisfies my necessary condition for a fruitful paradox, since the doctrine attempts to distinguish in which respect God is one (the substance/nature), and in which respect he is three (the persons). (Christians never phrase paradoxes like this: “God is three, and also not three”, or “Jesus is God, but also not God”.) Hence, the Trinity is not a sharp logical contradiction, but that doesn’t mean we can “see in what sense both sides can be simultaneously true” either.

This is an interesting way of linking up these concepts. I think a counter argument on the universe from an atheist might be that we should look at the universe the same way. In what sense it is a unity, and it what sense a plurality. I can imagine certain things as pluralities that seem irreducible. A marriage for example might consist of a relation between two persons that forms a situation of unity.

“As for “spontaneous outburst”, if by spontaneous you mean involuntary then no.”

I wouldn’t have assumed he acts without agreement with an action. It’s more a case of identifying where causality lies. If knowledge and action are the same thing, is it possible this implies a spontaneity that more closely resembles pantheism or process theology than a more platonic conception? Additionally, how can we identify that he is the cause, and how can we separate him as a cause from the underlying physical forces that perpetuate the nature of the universe?

“Rather, I was arguing something closer to this: Saying that the Universe just exists is paradoxical, therefore atheists owe us a better explanation of what they actually mean by that. Which aspect, exactly, of the universe are they saying “just exists”? And how does this truth fit into relationship with the scientific method, which is predicated on (certain things, at least) having explanations.”

It’s a good question. I think atheists might have a number of answers. Some might believe that the universe is a self contained plurality, in other words ontologically autonomous. Others might simply say we don’t yet know the cause, and that invoking God doesn’t reasonably follow. Some might say that the laws of causation only apply within the universe and thus aren’t sensible to invoke in discussions of what lies outside it.
These are all guesses however, as I’m agnostic, taking a position of simply being unsure, yet curious.

80. JamesH says:

Noughtpoint writes: ""This is similar to how Christians take on faith that the Trinity is reconcilable. Note that the doctrine of the Trinity satisfies my necessary condition for a fruitful paradox, since the doctrine attempts to distinguish in which respect God is one (the substance/nature), and in which respect he is three (the persons). "

Informally, a paradox may be seen as a *seemingly* contradictory statement or proposition which, on investigation, may prove to be well-founded. So, in that sense, I suppose the doctrine could be said to be paradoxical. However, I don't agree that Christians must "take it on faith" that the doctrine is "reconcilable", since there is no good reason to suppose that it is not in the first place. The doctrine simply states that God is one *being* who exists as three *persons*. The claim is not that God is one person and three persons. The latter formulation is contradictory, but the former is
not.

81. JamesH says:

“Noughtpoint: It’s a good question. I think atheists might have a number of answers. Some might believe that the universe is a self contained plurality, in other words ontologically autonomous. “

To take this position they would have to abandon PSR. But as Alexander Pruss has pointed out, if PSR is false, then there could be no reason for us having the perceptual experiences we have, i.e. no connection between these experiences and the external objects we suppose cause them. Nor could we even say such a disconnect is even improbable. So there is a heavy price to pay for taking such a position.

“Others might simply say we don’t yet know the cause, and that invoking God doesn’t reasonably follow. “

I don’t think that the theist is claiming that it “follows” that God exists; really this is an inference to best explanation.

“Some might say that the laws of causation only apply within the universe and thus aren’t sensible to invoke in discussions of what lies outside it.”

Completely ad hoc. And in any case, the theist doesn’t need to say that the universe is “caused” by God; it could be argued that the universe is necessitated by Him.

82. Zsolt Nagy says:

Hallo James,
You appear to have a similar understanding to Mactoul's understanding of knowing about the existence of chairs given this from you:

To take this position they would have to abandon PSR. But as Alexander Pruss has pointed out, if PSR is false, then there could be no reason for us having the perceptual experiences we have, i.e. no connection between these experiences and the external objects we suppose cause them. Nor could we even say such a disconnect is even improbable. So there is a heavy price to pay for taking such a position.

Would you be so kind as to elaborate on that and enlighten me, since I just couldn't understand, what Mactoul has meant by us not knowing about the existence of micro particles such as the existence of electrons as we know about the existence of macro objects such as the existence of chairs?

I know about the existence of chairs by my senses and I trust my senses to be capable of somewhat observing, measuring and processing those measurements while more or less accurately representing the world out there.
Since I'm trusting my senses, I likewise tend to do the same for other physical measuring devices.
Mactoul wasn't such a fan of trusting those physical measurement devices or making with them inferences to the existence of micro particles such as electrons.
Okay, but then why would such a person trust his senses informing him about the existence of macro objects such as the existence of chairs and at the same time not trust other physical measurement devices?
That's weird, since how eyes generally and physically work and since there are so much similarities between eyes and physical measurement devices such as photocameras.
It just appears to me being nonsensical (pun intended) and to be honest I would consider it to be a bad double-standard.

Sure, that's not the same exact opinion of yours, JamesH, on this subject matter as from Mactoul, but given that quote of yours you seem to possess the same scepticism towards making those inferences from physical measurement devices other than your own "physical measurement devices" and senses.
So I wonder: Is that so? Is that also your opinion about the inferences of the existence of micro particles such as electrons? If so, then how do you come to that opinion and knowing of the existence of chairs other than your own “physical measurement devices” and senses?

To NoughtPoint:
You're almost there with your html-tags, body.
Next time just replace ] with > and replace [ with <.
Also don't forget at the beginning of the second command word the /.
You did forget that a few times in your last comment. If you do so, then the html-tag and command won't work.
You might want to test your html-tags and commands here before you post it here.
Delete the left side and copy paste your quote with the html-tag there. Hit the green "Run" button above.
If on the right side your quote appears without the html-tags, then your html-commands have been compiled successfully (or to say "it worked").

Best regards,
Zsolt

83. Mr. C says:

Dear Aron,

Can it be that for an infinite amount of time there existed the initial singularity (I believe that’s how it’s called), and, for some reason, it just exploded through Big Bang (with known consequences) at the moment t=0? It would seem that “the universe” indeed just exists, if not to touch any timeless causality.

84. JamesH says:

"Zsolt wrote: "Hallo James,
You appear to have a similar understanding to Mactoul's understanding of knowing about the existence of chairs given this from you:
To take this position they would have to abandon PSR. But as Alexander Pruss has pointed out, if PSR is false, then there could be no reason for us having the perceptual experiences we have, i.e. no connection between these experiences and the external objects we suppose cause them. Nor could we even say such a disconnect is even improbable. So there is a heavy price to pay for taking such a position."

As I did not comment on the existence of chairs I do not understand why you think my understanding of them is similar to Mactoul's. My recollection of Mactoul's post was that he was making a completely different point.

"Would you be so kind as to elaborate on that and enlighten me, since I just couldn't understand, what Mactoul has meant by us not knowing about the existence of micro particles such as the existence of electrons as we know about the existence of macro objects such as the existence of chairs?"

My point was just that when some atheists say something like the universe "is just there and that's all" (the most famous example here would be Russell), they are opening up a Pandora's box. By denying PSR in one area, they leave themselves vulnerable to the charge that it may not obtain in other areas. So there could be no reason for us having the perceptual experiences we have with there being no connection between perceptual experiences and the physical objects we suppose cause them. So the Russellian claim opens the door to a radical scepticism-not something which sits well with the commitment to science which many atheists profess.

"...I know about the existence of chairs by my senses and I trust my senses to be capable of somewhat observing, measuring and processing those measurements while more or less accurately representing the world out there."

I have no problem with this at all. It's only a problem if you deny PSR.

85. Zsolt Nagy says:

Hallo JamesH,

I certainly appreciate, that you are less sceptical than Mactoul about postulating the existence of microparticles by inferring that from measurement and observations from physical devices other than your own "physical measurement devices" and senses. At least that appears that way, from your last response.

Though I wouldn't consider it to be an elaboration rather than a simple reiteration of your position.
I somewhat understand your point and position more and somewhat I don't really understand it at all.

My point was just that when some atheists say something like the universe "is just there and that's all" (the most famous example here would be Russell), they are opening up a Pandora's box. By denying PSR in one area, they leave themselves vulnerable to the charge that it may not obtain in other areas...

Firstly your position as a theist, occasionally claiming and referring to the postulation of God's existence "being an inference to best explanation" - simultaneously and indirectly stating with it, that God's existence is necessary; it's in God's nature to be necessarily existent or to simply put it, that God's existence is a "brute fact" of reality, is somehow better than atheists stating the existence of universe itself to be a "brute fact" of reality or in your words "It (the postulation of God's existence) is an inference to best explanation"?
I think, that in regard to making exceptions to the PSR you as a theist and I as a non-theist, atheist and naturalist might have a lot in common than you might want to admit.
You are making an exception to God's existence and I am making an exception to the existence of the universe. Or is there a sufficient reason to God's existence other than God's nature making it that way, other than God himself?
If not and if according to you that supposed to be "the inference to the best explanation", then I'm similarly making an inference to the best explanation since I suppose, that it's in the universes nature to be existent or to put it simply: The existence of the universe is a brute fact of reality.
Secondly it's not, that I would deny the PSR, but I also wouldn't consider it to be necessarily true.
The PSR is a very strong statement - postulating the existence of a sufficient reason for everything (except the existence of God of course).
It's similar to stating, that "Every Swan is White.". It wouldn't be the first time or the last time, that humans and philosophers make such a mistake by stating and believing such a strong claim, and the PSR might be such a kind of mistake or it might be not.
Since the PSR is more of a postulation than a demonstration of a claim - a very strong claim, I'm withholding my judgement about it.

... So there could be no reason for us having the perceptual experiences we have with there being no connection between perceptual experiences and the physical objects we suppose cause them...

Quite a convoluted sentence from you here.
I think, that you rather wanted to say here, that "there could be no ultimate reason for us having the perceptual experiences we have there being no" sufficient reason for the existence of the universe. Maybe? I don't know exactly.
I don't know exactly, what you mean by "there being no connection between perceptual experiences and the physical objects". What do you mean by "connections between perceptual experiences and the physical objects"? Are you by chance a dualist?
How would stating the existence of the universe to be a "brute fact" be the same as stating "there to be no connection between perceptual experiences and the physical objects"?
I guess, that I'm simply missing something from you here.

... So the Russellian claim opens the door to a radical scepticism-not something which sits well with the commitment to science which many atheists profess.

Given humans and philosophers making mistakes quite frequently, a door to moderate scepticism should always be open - something, which sits quite well with the commitment to science, which many atheists profess.
You know, the statement and claim "Every Swan is White." might be true. But after finding a Non-White/Black Swan - falsifying that strong statement and claim empirically, that strong statement and claim simply becomes false - no matter how strong of a statement, claim, postulation or "principle" that might have been.
As for the Russellian claim opening the door to a radical scepticism, I don't see or understand, how the claim of the existence of the universe being a "brute fact" would in any given way imply solipsism. I consider and associate "radical scepticism" with solipsism. Do you mean anything different by "radical scepticism" than solipsism and how exactly does that Russelian claim imply such a thing?
Sure, the Russelian implies an alternative explanation to yours or theist's explanation and it is as much of a "sufficient" explanation as yours or theist's explanation is supposedly a "sufficient" explanation.
It might even imply moderate scepticism. But it supposedly implies radical scepticism? How exactly?

God might be responsible for cretio ex niholo and the conservation ex niholo and God's nature might be a sufficient reason for the existence of God. But then what is the sufficient reason for God's nature being the way it is given that everything has a sufficient reason - given the PSR?
Till that is "sufficiently" answered or the following claim has been falsified, I'm sticking to the following claim:
The brute fact of the existence of the observable universe and the uniformity of nature or Uniformitarian Principle are a "sufficient" enough explanation for every observation, that has been made, that is made and that will be made.

Best regards,
Zsolt

86. JamesH says:

Hello Zsolt:
""Zsolt: If not and if according to you that supposed to be "the inference to the best explanation", then I'm similarly making an inference to the best explanation since I suppose, that it's in the universes nature to be existent or to put it simply: The existence of the universe is a brute fact of reality."

You are not making an inference to best explanation when you say that it's in the universe's nature to exist. In fact this is not even an explanation at all; an explanation requires an explanans and an explanandum- the former is missing. Or rather, the most that could be said is that you have produced a circular explanation.

'... So there could be no reason for us having the perceptual experiences we have with there being no connection between perceptual experiences and the physical objects we suppose cause them..."

"Quite a convoluted sentence from you here.
I think, that you rather wanted to say here, that "there could be no ultimate reason for us having the perceptual experiences we have there being no" sufficient reason for the existence of the universe. Maybe? I don't know exactly.
I don't know exactly, what you mean by "there being no connection between perceptual experiences and the physical objects". What do you mean by "connections between perceptual experiences and the physical objects"? Are you by chance a dualist?"

I meant that if there can be a "brute fact" universe, then we cannot assume that PSR applies in other cases. So it could be that there is no reason for our perceptual experiences: when we suppose that we perceive a chair, there may be no connection between our perception and an actual physical object, i.e the supposed connection is merely illusory. So the atheist has to admit the possibility of a very radical scepticism- not something that sits well with his professed commitment to science.

"God's nature might be a sufficient reason for the existence of God. But then what is the sufficient reason for God's nature being the way it is given that everything has a sufficient reason - given the PSR?"

That is an entirely separate question. We are discussing the metaphysical fact of there being a universe and which explains this better, theism or atheism.

"Till that is "sufficiently" answered or the following claim has been falsified, I'm sticking to the following claim:
The brute fact of the existence of the observable universe and the uniformity of nature or Uniformitarian Principle are a "sufficient" enough explanation for every observation, "

Again, that is not an explanation. See above.

87. Zsolt Nagy says:

Hallo JamesH,

Thank you again for your response.
But that still doesn't really address the core of my concerns.

You are not making an inference to the best explanation when you say that it's in the universe's nature to exist. In fact this is not even an explanation at all; an explanation requires an explanans and an explanandum- the former is missing. Or rather, the most that could be said is that you have produced a circular explanation.

Sure, but your and theist's "explanation" isn't anything better, or is it?
Explanandum: Why is there God?
Explanan of theists: Because it's in God's nature to exist necessarily.
Come on, body. And this isn't supposed to be likewise a circular explanation somehow?
How is this the "best explanation" and if God can necessarily exist, then why can not the universe necessarily exist? Because the observable universe is supposed to be contingent upon an imaginary being?
Surely, that's the case or supposed to be the case.

I meant that if there can be a "brute fact" universe, then we cannot assume that PSR applies in other cases. So it could be that there is no reason for our perceptual experiences: when we suppose that we perceive a chair, there may be no connection between our perception and an actual physical object, i.e the supposed connection is merely illusory. So the atheist has to admit the possibility of a very radical scepticism- not something that sits well with his professed commitment to science.

Ah, now I understand, what you have ment there.
Hm, logically speaking the negation of "Everything has a sufficient reason and explanation." is, that "Something has not a sufficient reason or explanation.". That something might be the existence of the universe itself, I suppose, and I guess, that you would rather suppose the existence of God there as something, that has not a sufficient reason or explanation (besides S5 modal logical and ontological nonsensical reasons and arguments).
So denying the PSR is logically the same as claiming the negation of "Everything has a sufficient reason and explanation." to be the case or saying, that "Something has not a sufficient reason or explanation." is the case.
This is not the same as stating, that "Everything has neither a sufficient reason nor an explanation.".
Yeah, aristotelian categorical logic is not everyone's parler and not everybody understands the Traditional Square of Opposition.
So denying the PSR is not the same as stating, that there are no sufficient reasons and explanations at all, just that some things might have no sufficient reasons and explanations and despite, that some other things might have a sufficient reason and explanation. Sure, from that one might take it to a radical scepticism like René Descartes did. But before that I would rather explore the possibilities of somethings possessing sufficient explanations and postulating axiomatically the necessity of some other things, which appear to not possess any sufficient reasons or explanations.
Maybe the existence of the universe or maybe the existence of God?
Hm, but from those two options one appears to be more simplistic than the other. Since one of those two options can be at least measured, observed and is somewhat comprehendable, I would pick that one candidate, which is measurable, observable and somewhat comprehendable, over the other candidate, which is not so much directly measurable, observable and somewhat comprehendable, as candidate for being postulated axiomatically to be necessarily existent. I guess, then the rest might follow naturally from that and this sits quite well with any professed commitment to science.

God's nature might be a sufficient reason for the existence of God. But then what is the sufficient reason for God's nature being the way it is given that everything has a sufficient reason - given the PSR?

That is an entirely separate question. We are discussing the metaphysical fact of there being a universe and which explains this better, theism or atheism.

So then according to you what exactly is that "inference to best explanation"?
You surely like to mention that phrase quite a lot, but till this day and moment I still don't understand anything about that phrase of yours and about what you exactly mean by that. As far as I can tell from your responses that supposedly "best explanation" according to you is nothing better than the naturalistic explanation really. That "best explanation" appears to be quite the same as the naturalistic explanation in regard to making a postulation of an axiomatically necessarily existing being.
As far as I'm concerned, that question of mine "What is the sufficient reason for God's nature being the way it is given that everything has a sufficient reason - given the PSR?" is relevant to this debate and discussion and further you don't appear to make the theistic explanation in any given way better than the non-theistic/atheistic explanation. Sure, I also don't make the non-theistic/atheistic explanation in any given way better than the theistic explanation, but that was never my point and is not my point here.
My point was and still is, that the theistic and the "atheistic" explanations are on pair with each other and to claim, that the theistic explanation would be the better one or would be even the "best explanation" is simply preposterous.

Till that is "sufficiently" answered or the following claim has been falsified, I'm sticking to the following claim:
The brute fact of the existence of the observable universe and the uniformity of nature or Uniformitarian Principle are a "sufficient" enough explanation for every observation,...

Again, that is not an explanation. See above.

But it is an explanation. Maybe not a "sufficient" explanation, but it is an explanation.
By the way, what's your "sufficient" explanation? What's the theistic explanation?
I wonder, is that a "sufficient" explanation in any given way?

Best regards,
Zsolt

88. JamesH says:

‘You are not making an inference to the best explanation when you say that it's in the universe's nature to exist. In fact this is not even an explanation at all; an explanation requires an explanans and an explanandum- the former is missing. Or rather, the most that could be said is that you have produced a circular explanation.'

"Sure, but your and theist's "explanation" isn't anything better, or is it?
Explanandum: Why is there God?"

As I pointed out, we are discussing the metaphysical fact of there being a universe. This can be explained theistically. If I explain x (the fact of there being a universe) by means of y (God) but do not explain y, it doesn't thereby follow that I have not explained x. So your implicit argument is fallacious.

"Come on, body. And this isn't supposed to be likewise a circular explanation somehow?"

Again, the subject on the table is the metaphysical fact of there being a universe. I am not trying to "explain God." Any failure to do this on my part does not undermine my explanation for the fact of there being a universe.

" why can not the universe necessarily exist? "

The universe changes. That which changes is contingent. That which is contingent cannot be necessary. Therefore the universe cannot be a necessary entity.

“I suppose, and I guess, that you would rather suppose the existence of God there as something, that has not a sufficient reason or explanation (besides S5 modal logical and ontological nonsensical reasons and arguments).”

Well, I think that you are saying that S5 etc. is nonsense because you don’t like the conclusion which one can reach using this form of reasoning.

“...Since one of those two options can be at least measured, observed and is somewhat comprehendable, I would pick that one candidate, which is measurable, observable and somewhat comprehendable, over the other candidate, which is not so much directly measurable, observable and somewhat comprehendable, as candidate for being postulated axiomatically to be necessarily existent. “

I explained above why the universe cannot exist necessarily. And furthermore, this claim would seem to be at loggerheads with contemporary cosmology which doesn’t posit an eternal universe.

“My point was and still is, that the theistic and the "atheistic" explanations are on pair with each other and to claim,”

We have just seen that there *isn’t* an atheistic explanation which is non-circular. Just saying “the universe exists as a brute fact” isn’t an explanation.

89. Zsolt Nagy says:

Hallo JamesH,

I still have a lot of unanswered questions left.

... If I explain x (the fact of there being a universe) by means of y (God) but do not explain y, it doesn't thereby follow that I have not explained x. So your implicit argument is fallacious.

But if we would consider "is explained by" to be a transitive relation (to say, that for any x, y and z if x is explained by y and y is explained by z, then x is explained by z) in conjunction with the PSR (For every proposition p, if p is true, then there is a sufficient explanation for why p is true.), then the question "Why is there y (God)?" (or to ask, that "What is z, such that y (God) is explained by z?" is still legitimate since according to you the PSR is not to be doubt with, such that for every and any proposition p, if p is true, then there is a sufficient explanation for why p is true - in this case there is a sufficient explanation z for why y (God or God exists) is true.
And if we would consider "is explained by" to be a transitive relation, then given x (the fact of there being a universe) is explained by y (God) and y (God) is explained by z (necessity?!?) then the x (the fact of there being a universe) is explained by z (necessity?!?).
This is not fallacious. But this is logic 101 for you.
You might take that taxicab for a short ride - a very short ride. But I'm practically living in that taxicab.

The universe changes. That which changes is contingent. That which is contingent cannot be necessary. Therefore the universe cannot be a necessary entity.

First, the universe is not changing. Only the universe's contents might be considered to be changing. The universe itself is not changing. The universe has been, is and will be the universe.
Even if the universe's contents is to be considered to be changing, then it doesn't necessarily follow, that the universe as a composition is also a changing entity. That's a separate issue. If someone considered the universe as composition to have also some property following from the universe's contents to have those properties, then that would be a fallacy of composition. (You see, that's how you point out a fallacy. You give a proper explanation, why something might be fallacies; not just stating and claiming it to be the case without any explanations.)
Second, symmetries in mechanical or dynamical processes imply conserved quantities given Noether's theorem.
Sure, if there might be no conserved quantities in a particular dynamical process, such that that particular dynamical process is contingent. But if there is even one such conserved quantity and entity, then the above statement of yours is only partially true.
As far as our observable universe as a dynamical process goes, it apparently contains the CPT symmetry. So given Noether's theorem our observable universe considered as a dynamical process contains conserved properties - with time unchanging quantities and entities. So the observable universe as a dynamical process containing a symmetry and conserved property is only considerable to be partially contingent. Maybe that part is only contingent upon that symmetry, conserved property and maybe some boundary conditions.
So yeah, your explanation for our observable universe to be contingent upon something is not quite a sufficient one, or is it?

Well, I think that you are saying that S5 etc. is nonsense because you don’t like the conclusion which one can reach using this form of reasoning.

I don’t dislike S5, because of its conclusion. But it is true, that I do dislike S5, because of it being in itself nonsensical.
What is a possible necessity? It is a necessity. Then why not directly state, that it is a necessity?
It’s like stating, that if something is a rectangularly square, then that thing is a square.
Sure, a rectangularly square is a square or in that regard a squarely rectangle is also a square. But we also already know, that if something is a square, then that thing is a rectangle, since every square is a rectangle (or to say, that the set of all squares is a subset of the set of all rectangles). But it is not necessarily, that if something is a rectangle, then that thing is a square, since not every rectangle is a square (or to say, that the set of all rectangles is not a subset of the set of all squares).
In my opinion this is also analogously true for all possibilities and necessities:
If a proposition is necessary, then that proposition is possible, since every necessity is a possibility (or to say, that the set of all necessities is a subset of the set of all possibilities).
But it is not necessarily, that if a proposition is possible, then that proposition is necessary, since not every possibility is a necessity (or to say, that the set of all possibilities is not a subset of the set of all necessities). In these regards any formulation of a possible necessity is obsolete just like any formulation of a rectangularly square is obsolete or nonsensical.

… furthermore, this claim [the directly measurable, observable and somewhat comprehensible universe is to be postulated axiomatically to be necessarily existent rather than the non-directly measurable, observable and somewhat comprehensible God is to be postulated axiomatically to be necessarily existent] would seem to be at loggerheads with contemporary cosmology which doesn’t posit an eternal universe.

Really? And how is that claim of mine in conflict with contemporary cosmology exactly?
Sure, the contemporary cosmology doesn’t posit an eternal universe, but it also doesn’t posit any eternal deities.
As far as I understand the CPT symmetry and Noether's theorem at the fundamentals of contemporary physics, they imply conserved properties, quantities and entities, which are unchanging and therefore noncontingent (or to say, that they are apparently not contingent upon anything) and on which the rest of the changement and contingency can be dependent upon. I don’t understand, what exactly is supposed to be in conflict with contemporary cosmology here.

“My point was and still is, that the theistic and the "atheistic" explanations are on pair with each other and to claim,”
We have just seen that there isn’t an atheistic explanation which is non-circular. Just saying “the universe exists as a brute fact” isn’t an explanation.
(No, the Universe can't "Just Exist"), if and only if (No, God can't "Just Exist") given the PSR.
And if God can "Just Exist", then why can the Universe not "Just Exist"?
Because of the PSR? Really? You might have left that taxicab for your very, very short ride, but I’m still in it. So what’s that “best explanation” exactly supposed to be and what exactly is a sufficient explanation for that supposedly "best explanation" given the PSR - what is a/the sufficient explanation for the existence of God?
I still can not tell that from your responses.

Best regards,
Zsolt

90. JamesH says:

Hello Zsolt: '...If I explain x (the fact of there being a universe) by means of y (God) but do not explain y, it doesn't thereby follow that I have not explained x. So your implicit argument is fallacious.'

"But if we would consider "is explained by" to be a transitive relation "

But it isn't a transitive relation nor did I state or imply that it was. You are attempting to introduce a red herring. A transitive relation is one that holds between a and c if it also holds between a and b and between b and c for any substitution of objects for a, b, and c. This has nothing to do with what I said above which was simply that if I explain something (x) but do not explain the explainer (y) of that something, it doesn't follow that I haven't explained something. Your comment about transitive relations is irrelevant.

'The universe changes. That which changes is contingent. That which is contingent cannot be necessary. Therefore the universe cannot be a necessary entity.'

"First, the universe is not changing. Only the universe's contents might be considered to be changing. "

By "the universe changes" I clearly meant that change occurs in the universe. To deny that change occurs in the universe, it seems to me, would be absurd.

"Even if the universe's contents is to be considered to be changing, then it doesn't necessarily follow, that the universe as a composition is also a changing entity. That's a separate issue. If someone considered the universe as composition to have also some property following from the universe's contents to have those properties, then that would be a fallacy of composition.'

There is no fallacy of composition. I stated that the universe changes, by which I meant change occurs in the universe. Again your comment has no relevance to what I actually said.

'We have just seen that there isn’t an atheistic explanation which is non-circular. Just saying “the universe exists as a brute fact” isn’t an explanation.'

"And if God can "Just Exist", then why can the Universe not "Just Exist"?"

I didn't say that the universe couldn't just exist; I said that to assert that the universe is a "brute fact" is not an *explanation*.

"Because of the PSR? Really? You might have left that taxicab for your very, very short ride, but I’m still in it. So what’s that “best explanation” exactly supposed to be and what exactly is a sufficient explanation for that supposedly "best explanation" given the PSR - what is a/the sufficient explanation for the existence of God?"

I explained that theism was an inference to best explanation since it can explain the metaphysical fact of there of there being a universe. By contrast you offer either no explanation or a circular explanation.

An explanation for there being a necessary being is as follows:
1. Possibly a first contingent causal state (FCCS) is caused to exist.
2. In the possible case where an FCCS is caused to exist, it must be caused by a necessary causal state (NCS).
3 :. It’s possible that there is an NCS.
4. If an NCS is possible then it exists.
C :. An NCS exists.

91. JamesH says:

...If I explain x (the fact of there being a universe) by means of y (God) but do not explain y, it doesn't thereby follow that I have not explained x. So your implicit argument is fallacious.'

"But if we would consider "is explained by" to be a transitive relation "

But it isn't a transitive relation nor did I state or imply that it was. You are attempting to introduce a red herring. A transitive relation is one that holds between a and c if it also holds between a and b and between b and c for any substitution of objects for a, b, and c. This has nothing to do with what I said above which was simply that if I explain something (x) but do not explain the explainer (y) of that something, it doesn't follow that I haven't explained something. Your comment about transitive relations is irrelevant.

'The universe changes. That which changes is contingent. That which is contingent cannot be necessary. Therefore the universe cannot be a necessary entity.'

"First, the universe is not changing. Only the universe's contents might be considered to be changing. "

By "the universe changes" I clearly meant that change occurs in the universe. To deny that change occurs in the universe, it seems to me, would be absurd.

"Even if the universe's contents is to be considered to be changing, then it doesn't necessarily follow, that the universe as a composition is also a changing entity. That's a separate issue. If someone considered the universe as composition to have also some property following from the universe's contents to have those properties, then that would be a fallacy of composition.

There is no fallacy of composition. I stated that the universe changes, by which I meant change occurs in the universe. Again your comment has no relevance to what I actually said.

'We have just seen that there isn’t an atheistic explanation which is non-circular. Just saying “the universe exists as a brute fact” isn’t an explanation.'

"And if God can "Just Exist", then why can the Universe not "Just Exist"?"

I didn't say that the universe couldn't just exist; I said that to assert that the universe is a "brute fact" is not an *explanation*.

"Because of the PSR? Really? You might have left that taxicab for your very, very short ride, but I’m still in it. So what’s that “best explanation” exactly supposed to be and what exactly is a sufficient explanation for that supposedly "best explanation" given the PSR - what is a/the sufficient explanation for the existence of God?"

I explained that theism was an inference to best explanation since it can explain the metaphysical fact of there of there being a universe. By contrast you offer either no explanation or a circular explanation.

An explanation for there being a necessary being is as follows:
1. Possibly a first contingent causal state (FCCS) is caused to exist.
2. In the possible case where an FCCS is caused to exist, it must be caused by a necessary causal state (NCS).
3 :. It’s possible that there is an NCS.
4. If an NCS is possible then it exists.
C :. An NCS exists.

92. Zsolt Nagy says:

Hallo JamesH,

Apparently the point, which I'm making about the PSR, and the question regarding "What exactly is the sufficient explanation for the existence of God given the PSR?" are still not addressed and answered by you.

... [Transitive relations have] nothing to do with what I said above which was simply that if I explain something (x) but do not explain the explainer (y) of that something, it doesn't follow that I haven't explained something. Your comment about transitive relations is irrelevant.

So is the relation "is explained by" not a transitive relation, because you said so?
Hm, that's not a sufficient explanation. I still think, that the relation "is explained by" might be transitive and in my opinion it is actually transitive.
Why? Not because I said so, but because I can't think of a counterexample against it.
But I know about a lot of examples for the relation "is explained by" to be transitive.
For example: Me writing this post to you and on this blog is explained by me existing & me existing is explained by my previous birth & my previous birth is explained by my parents loving each other very much approximately 9 months prior to my birth.
So me writing this post to you and on this blog is basically explained by my parents loving each other very much approximately 9 months prior to my birth.
Maybe there is a counterexample to the relation "is explained by" being transitive, which I might not know about. But till then I'm guessing, that the relation "is explained by" is probably a transitive relation.

By "the universe changes" I clearly meant that change occurs in the universe. To deny that change occurs in the universe, it seems to me, would be absurd.

Thank you for your clarification on that one.
But if any changement is contingent and any changement only is occuring in the universe, then how supposed the universe itself to be contingent?
The universe itself still appears to me unchanging and noncontingent.

There is no fallacy of composition. I stated that the universe changes, by which I meant change occurs in the universe. Again your comment has no relevance to what I actually said.

Does a car work, move and change, if its motor in that car is working, moving and burning fuel - changing some chemicals into other chemicals? No, the car itself might not work, move or change, even if its motor in that car is working, moving and burning fuel - changing some chemicals into other chemicals while gaining free energy.
Does the universe change, if anything in the universe is changing? No, the universe is not necessarily changing, if anything in the universe itself might change.
To assume otherwise would be and is actually a fallacy of composition.

An explanation for there being a necessary being is as follows:
1. Possibly a first contingent causal state (FCCS) is caused to exist.
2. In the possible case where an FCCS is caused to exist, it must be caused by a necessary causal state (NCS).
3 :. It’s possible that there is an NCS.
4. If an NCS is possible then it exists.
C :. An NCS exis

So the existence of a NCS is explained by the possibility of a FCCS?
Yet supposedly the existence of a FCCS is to be explained by the existence of a NCS, because according to you that's the "best explanation"?
The relation "is explained by" might be transitive, but I would be very very careful to consider that relation to be a symmetric relation since that might then really end up in a circular explanation like A is explained by B and B is explained by A and A is explained by B and so on in a circle.
So is it, that the existence of a FCCS is explained by the existence of a NCS OR the existence of a NCS is explained by the existence of a FCCS?
Or ist it, that the existence of a FCCS is explained by the existence of a NCS AND the existence of a NCS is explained by the existence of a FCCS AND the existence of a FCCS is explained by the existence of a NCS AND so on in a circle?

You also said earlier, that "So the Russellian claim [the existence of the universe being a brute fact] opens the door to a radical scepticism...".
If the Russellian claim [the existence of the universe being a brute fact] opens the door to a radical skepticism according to you, then why does the theistic claim [the existence of God being supposedly a brute fact] not also similarly open the door to a radical skepticism according to you?
I still don't understand this. You seem to be proclaiming the PSR and based upon that you are criticising the Russellian claim. You are justifying your very lackluster of a criticism (given the Traditional Square of Opposition and your false interpretation of, what the denial and the negation of the PSR is actually implying,) with the PSR.
Yet if you would correctly and fully embrace your proclaiment of the PSR, then in my opinion you should at the same time apply the same very lackluster criticism of yours to the theistic claim.
I'm honest and very clear about my position on the PSR and the "Russelian" claim.
You on the other hand don't appear that way with your own position on the PSR and the theistic claim.
Maybe read then Matthew 7:1-5 again.
As a naturalist I might have a bad position as far as having a "sufficient" explanation for my position.
But please do not mistake that as you having therefore a better or even "the best position and explanation" since that supposedly "best explanation" of yours is also not really a "sufficient” explanation either.

Otherwise I wish for you and everyone else here on this blog to have a good weekend.

Best regards,
Zsolt

93. JamesH says:

"Zsolt: So is the relation "is explained by" not a transitive relation, because you said so?Hm, that's not a sufficient explanation."

You have the burden of proof here, not me. Once again: if I explain x by means of y but don't explain y, it doesn't follow that I haven't explained x. This is a simple valid inference and has nothing to do with transitive relations; nor have you been able to present any argument to the contrary. You are simply trying to introduce a red herring.

"Does the universe change, if anything in the universe is changing? No, the universe is not necessarily changing, if anything in the universe itself might change.
To assume otherwise would be and is actually a fallacy of composition."

I didn't argue that "the universe is not necessarily changing, if anything in the universe itself might change."
This is a straw man argument, and has nothing to do with what I said. My argument is that a necessary entity cannot undergo change, as change is a transition from potentiality to actuality, and only an entity that is pure actuality can be ontologically necessary. I would appreciate if you would not "reword" my arguments, as these rewordings are often inaccurate.

An explanation for there being a necessary being is as follows:
1. Possibly a first contingent causal state (FCCS) is caused to exist.
2. In the possible case where an FCCS is caused to exist, it must be caused by a necessary causal state (NCS).
3 :. It’s possible that there is an NCS.
4. If an NCS is possible then it exists.
C :. An NCS exists.

"So the existence of a NCS is explained by the possibility of a FCCS? Yet supposedly the existence of a FCCS is to be explained by the existence of a NCS, because according to you that's the "best explanation"?

This comment, and your further comments below, do nothing at all to undermine the argument. You need to state *specifically* which premise or premises are false and/or where there is an invalid inference. Otherwise it's a successful argument.

94. Zsolt Nagy says:

Hallo JamesH,

And you are a proclaimer of the PSR? Then where are those sufficient explanations of yours, since I don't see any of those from you.
Sure, you explain a lot. But I wouldn’t consider any of that to be a proper “sufficient” explanation for anything relevant.

You have the burden of proof here, not me. Once again: if I explain x by means of y but don't explain y, it doesn't follow that I haven't explained x. This is a simple valid inference and has nothing to do with transitive relations; nor have you been able to present any argument to the contrary. You are simply trying to introduce a red herring.

Sure, if you explain x by means of y but don't explain y, then you have explained x by the means of y. I have never claimed otherwise.
But that doesn't automatically mean, that you have sufficiently explained x by any means.
Apropos sufficient explanations and reasons. Your last response is what now - the third response from you without any addresment on my issue with your false interpretation of the negation and denial of the PSR?
And you want to proclaim the PSR for yourself?
Then please start explaining things sufficiently and not just claiming things insufficiently.
You want to have an argument for the relation "is explained by" being transitive?
I already gave you that, but if you are that keen to have a proper argument for that, then here it is:

1) If there are a lot of examples of the relation "is explained by" being transitive, then the relation "is explained by" is probably a transitive relation.
2) There are a lot of examples of the relation "is explained by" being transitive.
For example: Most life forms, if not all life forms, being naturally made out of heavy elements is explained by the naturally occurring existence of heavy elements and the naturally occurring existence of heavy elements is explained by naturally occurring processes producing such heavy elements from naturally existing light elements such as hydrogen H and helium He. So most life forms, if not all life forms, being naturally made out of heavy elements is explained by naturally occurring processes producing such heavy elements from naturally existing light elements such as hydrogen H and helium He.
Or for example: The sky being blue is explained by the natural process of the earth's atmosphere diffusing the light of the sun and the natural process of the earth's atmosphere diffusing the light of the sun is explained by the Rayleigh scattering. So the sky being blue is explained by the Rayleigh scattering.
Or for example: Your existence is explained by your birth and your birth is explained by your biological parents loving each other very much approximately 9 months prior to your birth. So your existence is explained by your biological parents loving each other very much approximately 9 months prior to your birth.
...
From 1) and 2) via modus ponens therefore,
C1) the relation "is explained by" is probably a transitive relation.
Just in case you don't know, what type of an argument this is, this is an inductive argument.
3) x [the fact of there being a universe] is (supposedly) explained (sufficiently) by y [God] (given the “best explanation” according to you, JamesH).
4) y [God] is (supposedly) explained (sufficiently) by z [necessity] (given the PSR and S5, I guess).
5) If the relation "is explained by" is probably a transitive relation and x [the fact of there being a universe] is explained by y [God] and y [God] is explained by z [necessity], then x [the fact of there being a universe] is probably (supposedly) explained (sufficiently) by z [necessity].
From the conjunction of C1), 3) and 4) and 5) via modus ponens therefore,
C2) x [the fact of there being a universe] is probably explained by z [necessity].

Now happy? I don't see any red herrings here, but slowly I do see a pink elephant suddenly reappearing out of nothing.
Sure, x [the fact of there being a universe] might be explained by y [God] or to say, that y [God] might explain x [the fact of there being a universe]. But given the PSR and the relation “is explained by” being probably a transitive relation y [God] is not a “sufficient” explanation probably.

[Assuming the universe to be changing and therefore contingent due to a fallacy of composition] is a straw man argument, and has nothing to do with what I said. My argument is that a necessary entity cannot undergo change, as change is a transition from potentiality to actuality, and only an entity that is pure actuality can be ontologically necessary. I would appreciate if you would not "reword" my arguments, as these rewordings are often inaccurate.

I recall, what you and not me have said:

The universe changes. That which changes is contingent. That which is contingent cannot be necessary. Therefore the universe cannot be a necessary entity.

This is not my wording of your statement and claim.
You are welcome to rephrase, to reformulate, to clarify and to reiterate your statement and claim.
But please do not claim, that I have reworded some statement or claim of yours, if I have not reworded any statement and claim of yours. I have not reworded any statement and claim of yours (- not any, which I would sincerely know about) and it is crude of you to claim otherwise.
Besides that since the universe as a whole appears to be pure actuality given that the universe appears to be staying the universe at all times, I do think, that the universe resembles quite nicely your (and not my) description of a necessary entity. Or to put it more simply: The universe appears to be unchanging and noncontingent at all times.
Did I "reworded" something this time around? If so, then please clarify.

So the existence of a NCS is explained by the possibility of a FCCS?
Yet supposedly the existence of a FCCS is to be explained by the existence of a NCS, because according to you that's the "best explanation"?...

This comment, and your further comments below, do nothing at all to undermine the argument. You need to state specifically which premises are false and/or where there is an invalid inference. Otherwise it's a successful argument.

I DON'T NEED to state specifically and directly which premises are false and/or where there is an invalid inference in your argument. A Reductio ad Absurdum is already sufficient to show, that there is certainly a problem with your argument.
My comments and arguments are a reductio ad absurdum - maybe not in the strong sense showing your conclusion entailing a contradiction, such that the negation of the conclusion must be true and in the case of a valid argument at least one of your premises must be also false then. But in a loose sense my comments and arguments are a reductio ad absurdum showing your conclusion of that argument of yours explaining a NCS by a FCCS in conjunction with your supposedly "best explanation" for the existence of the universe entailing a FCCS to be explained by a NCS resulting in a circular reasoning and explanation, which is obviously absurd in itself.
(Hm, maybe that previous sentence is a bit bloated - just a little bit bloated. How can I put this more simply?)
You are nagging about "[me offering] either no explanation or a circular explanation.", yet you can also not offer a better explanation for your case than a circular explanation.
Sure, the existence of the universe being a "brute fact" might not be a "sufficient" explanation, but it is AN explanation regardless of whether or not you accept it as a plain and simple explanation. If the existence of the universe is a "brute fact", then the existence of the universe is a "brute fact" and then the existence of the universe is explained by the existence of the universe being a "brute fact".
Note, that this is not a circular explanation. I repeat: [the existence of the universe is explained by the existence of the universe being a "brute fact".] is not a circular explanation.
It would only be a circular explanation, if the existence of the universe being a "brute fact" is to be explained by the existense of the universe and who wants to have that, since that is obviously stupid to have besides the previous explanation?
As for what might explain the existence of the universe being a "brute fact"?
Well, I'm fine with there being a Black Swan and with that Not Every Swan being White and similarly I'm fine with something being true without any sufficient explanation for that thing being true or even not having any explanation at all for that thing being true and I’m fine with not everything, which is true, having a sufficient explanation for that thing being true.
No radical scepticism is involved here at all. On the other hand a moderate scepticism should be always involved in all considerations.

I guess, then according to you the answer to my question is yes, the existence of a FCCS is explained by the existence of a NCS and the existence of a NCS is explained by the existence of a FCCS and the existence of a FCCS is explained by the existence of a NCS and so on in a circle.
(You might now legitimately consider and claim me to "reword" something from you or put words in your mouth. But hey, if you are not answering any of my questions addressed to you, then that task is left to be done by me, I guess.)
So you don't want to go to the bottom of the truth, but you want to rather circle around and around in a circle. Sure.
And you want to play a philosophically empty and worthless "game" - you want to know directly and specifically, which premises are false and/or where there is an invalid inference?
Sure thing. You can have that philosophically empty and worthless "game".
That conclusion 3 of yours from your premise 1 and 2 via modus ponens is invalid.
This is the correct and valid modus ponens and conclusion 3' there:
1. Possibly a first contingent causal state (FCCS) is caused to exist.
2. In the possible case where an FCCS is caused to exist, it [supposedly a possible FCCS] must be caused by a necessary causal state (NCS).

3' :. A possible FCCS must be caused by a NCS.
This is not quite the same as your conclusion 3 "It’s possible that there is an NCS.".
Or is it the same?
Or am I again unwillingly rewording here from you something? I don't know exactly, what that might be.
Would you be so kind as to clarify this.
Game on!

Have you and the rest of you here on this blog have a nice week ahead of you.

Best regards,
Zsolt

95. JamesH says:

"Hallo JamesH,
And you are a proclaimer of the PSR? Then where are those sufficient explanations of yours, since I don't see any of those from you."

Hello Zsolt. This comment suggests that you are confused about the meaning of PSR. There are different formulations, some stronger than others, but, in one of its formulations, simply put, PSR states that everything must have a reason or a cause. In the present context I am arguing that your assertion of a 'brute fact' universe amounts to a denial of PSR. I explained the implications of this- that this would lead to radical skepticism about sense perception. As I have not proposed any brute fact non-explanations myself the question of PSR doesn't arise in connection with what I have argued. You are simply introducing another red herring.

"Sure, if you explain x by means of y but don't explain y, then you have explained x by the means of y.
But that doesn't automatically mean, that you have sufficiently explained x by any means."

The term "sufficiently explained" is so vague as to be meaningless here. Unless you can define "sufficiently explained" there is nothing I need address.

"1) If there are a lot of examples of the relation "is explained by" being transitive, then the relation "is explained by" is probably a transitive relation."
2) There are a lot of examples of the relation "is explained by" being transitive.
From 1) and 2) via modus ponens therefore,
C1) the relation "is explained by" is probably a transitive relation.
Just in case you don't know, what type of an argument this is, this is an inductive argument."

No it's not. It's a *deductive* argument (logical form of affirming the antecedent: A->B, A:. B). And your term "a lot" in the first premise is , again, vague, rendering the argument useless in terms of establishing the conclusion you want.

'This comment, and your further comments below, do nothing at all to undermine the argument. You need to state specifically which premises are false and/or where there is an invalid inference. Otherwise it's a successful argument.'

"I DON'T NEED to state specifically and directly which premises are false and/or where there is an invalid inference in your argument. "

Yes you do, if you want to undermine the argument. If the premises of the argument are true and the reasoning valid (i.e. a sound argument) then the conclusion *has* to be true.

"A Reductio ad Absurdum is already sufficient to show, that there is certainly a problem with your argument."

Any supposed reductio would be a component of your own argument, not mine. Again, to undermine my argument you have to show that one or more of the premises is false or that the reasoning is invalid.

"My comments and arguments are a reductio ad absurdum - maybe not in the strong sense "

There isn't a 'strong' or 'weak' sense of a reductio. I think you are unclear about the meaning of a reductio in logic. And to be clear: there is no reductio ad absurdum in your earlier post.

"But in a loose sense my comments and arguments are a reductio ad absurdum "

Again, your 'loose sense' of a reductio is meaningless in terms of logic.

To clarify the earlier argument, the first part runs: "1. Possibly a first contingent causal state (FCCS) is caused to exist.
2. In the possible case where an FCCS is caused to exist, it must be caused by a necessary causal state (NCS).

This is because an FCCS cannot be caused by another FCCS since that would be contradictory.

3 :. It’s possible that there is an NCS.

By way of rough analogy: in the possible case where a car crash is caused by a falling tree, it's possible that there is a falling tree. It could not be that it's possible that a car crash is caused by a falling tree and a falling tree is not possible. I'm not going to get drawn into your 'rewording' of the argument as this would simply lead to a wild goose-chase.

96. Zsolt Nagy says:

Hallo JamesH,

Yeah, I guess, that with every new response from you I get new questions to ask from you rather than the old questions from me to be answered.
Sure, an explanation, a supposedly ”sufficient” explanation, might answer a lot of old questions and might even point to a few more new questions. But it shouldn’t be the case, that a supposedly ”sufficient” explanation would rather point to a lot of new questions than answer less old ones. Or should that be the case for “sufficient” explanations according to you? I don’t think so.

This comment [“And you are a proclaimer of the PSR?...”] suggests that you are confused about the meaning of PSR. There are different formulations, some stronger than others, but, in one of its formulations, simply put, PSR states that everything must have a reason or a cause...

And you are a proclaimer of the PSR - the Principle of Sufficient Reason? What does that letter “S” mean in “PSR” exactly according to you as a proclaimer of the PSR then?
I think, that there are sufficient explanations and sufficient reasons and there are explanations and reasons, which might be not sufficient - similarly to there being squares, that are rectangles and there being rectangles, which might be not squares.
The set of all squares is a subset of the set of all rectangles and the set of all rectangles is not a subset of the set of all squares and I also think, that similarly the set of all sufficient explanations and sufficient reasons is a subset of all explanations and reasons and the set of all explanations and reasons is not a subset of the set of all sufficient explanations and sufficient reasons. You might want to assume y [God] being in the set of all sufficient explanations and sufficient reasons. I on the other hand assume y [God] not being in that set of all sufficient explanations and sufficient reasons. Sure, y [God] might be in the set of all explanations and reasons, but not in that particular subset.

... In the present context I am arguing that your assertion of a 'brute fact' universe amounts to a denial of PSR...

x [the fact of there being a universe] is explained by y’ [the existence of the universe being a “brute fact”]. So even in YOUR CURRENTLY CHOSEN CONTEXT the assertion of the existence of the universe being a “brute fact” doesn’t amount to a denial of your PSR.
Again claims upon claims from you without any sufficient explanations for your claims or even a proper explanation.
Hm, given my PSR I would also consider, that y’ [the existence of the universe being a “brute fact”] is in the set of all explanations but not in the set of all sufficient explanations just like y [God] might be in the set of all explanations but not in the subset with all sufficient explanations.

... I explained the implications of this- that this would lead to radical skepticism about sense perception...

Would you be so kind as to explain again, how exactly the denial of (yours or mine) PSR would lead to a radical skepticism about sense perception - or in other words the denial of (yours or mine) PSR would lead in any given way to solipsism?
Given the Square of Opposition and the proper denial and the proper negation of (yours or mine) PSR a radical skepticism about sense perception doesn’t directly follow from the denial of the PSR [NOT everything must have a reason or a cause ⇔ Somethings must not have a reason or a cause.].
This is basic logic 101.
I guess, that I’m missing something very important here. But since you are not that explanative but rather presumptive I might never understand, what you are meaning with “I explained the implications of...”.

... As I have not proposed any brute fact non-explanations myself the question of PSR doesn't arise in connection with what I have argued. You are simply introducing another red herring.

Yet you are proposing the existence of God as a brute fact. Oh sorry, in my context that is supposedly a brute fact of reality. In your current context the existence of God is necessary or to say, that God is a necessary being. What is then the reason or the cause of the existence of God since everything (including the existence of God) must have a reason or a cause given the PSR? Sure, the existence of God might be not caused by anything (other than maybe wishful thinking and assertions). But then what is the reason for the existence of God since everything (including the existence of God) must have a reason or a cause given the PSR?
Sure, that reason is not x [the fact of there being a universe], since y [God or the existence of God] is supposed to be the reason for x [the fact of there being a universe].
If x [the fact of there being a universe] is the reason for y [God or the existence of God] and y [God or the existence of God] is the cause or reason for x [the fact of there being a universe], then that is a circular reasoning and explanation, which is obviously absurd.

The term "sufficiently explained" is so vague as to be meaningless here. Unless you can define "sufficiently explained" there is nothing I need address.

There are explanations and there are sufficient explanations. The set of all sufficient explanations is a subset of the set of all explanations, but the set of all explanations is not a subset of the set of all sufficient explanations.
As for what are or might be a necessary or sufficient criterions or conditions for any explanation to qualify or to become a sufficient explanation, well that’s really a good question?
Is the explanation of my existence by my biological parents loving each other very much approximately 9 months prior to my birth a sufficient explanation or just a simple one?
Is it at all an explanation? Sure, I guess, that it is an explanation. And by not questioning ever “Why my parents have loved each other very much 9 months prior to my birth?” that explanation of my existence might even be considerable as a sufficient explanation since it is sufficiently explaining my existence.
You might not want to accept that, since according to you y [God] is supposed to be the “sufficient” and “best explanation” for the universe or really for anything and everything similarly to God supposedly being to Creator for anything and everything including me and my existence. But then again there is your precious PSR postulating everything including God (there are no exceptions by the word “everything”, at least not, that I know of) must have a reason or a cause. So then again, what is the reason or the cause of God itself?
Apropos the PSR? You’re the proclaimer of the PSR here. So what does that “S” specifically mean in that acronym “PSR” according to you?
If that “S” is not necessary for that acronym “PSR”, then I would suggest shortening and simplifying that acronym “PSR” by leaving that unnecessary letter “S” out in that acronym.

No it's not. [Inductive argument for the relation “is explained by” being probably transitive] is a deductive argument (logical form of affirming the antecedent: A->B, A:. B). And your term "a lot" in the first premise is , again, vague, rendering the argument useless in terms of establishing the conclusion you want.

'This comment, and your further comments below, do nothing at all to undermine the argument. You need to state specifically which premises are false and/or where there is an invalid inference. Otherwise it's a successful argument.'

Dito. This comment, and your further comments below, JameH, do nothing at all to undermine my argument of the relation “is explained by” being probably transitive and therefore x [the fact of there being a universe] being probably explained by z [necessity]. You need to state specifically which premises are false and/or where there is an invalid inference. Otherwise it's a successful argument.
“A lot” just means, that there are no counterexamples of the relation “is explained by” being transitive or to say, that there is no such an example of the relation “is explained by”, where A is explained by B and B is explained by C and therefore it’s not that, A is explained by C.
Give me a proper counterexample, otherwise x [the fact of there being a universe] is probably explained by z [necessity].
Oh, and you might want to expand your horizon and understanding of deductive and inductive arguments with this here.
Sure, I gave it a lock and a shell of a deductive argument. But in its core it is really just an inductive argument from 1) to C1). After that it is actually a deductive argument.

I DON'T NEED to state specifically and directly which premises are false and/or where there is an invalid inference in your argument.

Yes you do, if you want to undermine the argument. If the premises of the argument are true and the reasoning valid (i.e. a sound argument) then the conclusion has to be true.

No, I don’t need that to undermine your argument. If your conclusion of your argument or your argument as an explanation for a NCS by a FCCS further results in an absurdity, then that resulting absurdity is sufficient for undermining your arguments and I have shown, that your conclusion and that specific argument/explanation in conjunction with your supposedly “best explanation” for the existence of the universe results in a circular reasoning and explanation and that is simply absurd and undermining at least one of those arguments or explanations.

Any supposed reductio would be a component of your own argument, not mine...

Not any supposed reductio would be a component of my own argument.
(Nah, what’s the correct implication of that negation? It’s this:)
Some supposed reductio would not be a component of my own argument, but a component of your argument or an entailment of your argument - namely a NCS is explained by a FCCS.
I recall:

An explanation for there being a necessary being (- a NCS) is as follows:
1. Possibly a first contingent causal state (FCCS) is caused to exist.
2. In the possible case where an FCCS is caused to exist, it must be caused by a necessary causal state (NCS).
3 :. It’s possible that there is an NCS.
4. If an NCS is possible then it exists.
C :. An NCS exists.

So you (and not me) are here explaining a NCS by a FCCS and according to you a FCCS is explained “best” by a NCS. And that is obviously a circular reasoning and explanation, which is absurd. Yes, that’s my point: GIVEN YOUR “explanations” and “arguments” as a whole - your explanations and arguments are absurd entailing circular reasoning and circular explanations.

To clarify the earlier argument, the first part runs: "1. Possibly a first contingent causal state (FCCS) is caused to exist.
2. In the possible case where an FCCS is caused to exist, it must be caused by a necessary causal state (NCS).

This is because an FCCS cannot be caused by another FCCS since that would be contradictory.

3 :. It’s possible that there is an NCS.

By way of rough analogy: in the possible case where a car crash is caused by a falling tree, it's possible that there is a falling tree. It could not be that it's possible that a car crash is caused by a falling tree and a falling tree is not possible. I'm not going to get drawn into your 'rewording' of the argument as this would simply lead to a wild goose-chase.

1) It could not be that it's possible that a car crash is caused by a falling tree AND a falling tree is not possible.
C1) It is NOT possible, that a car crash is caused by a falling tree, OR a falling tree is not not-possible. (from 1 by de Morgan's laws)
C2) It is NOT possible, that a car crash is caused by a falling tree, OR a falling tree is possible. (from C1 by double negation)
C3) IF it’s possible, that a car crash is caused by a falling tree, THEN a falling tree is possible. (from C2 by material implication)

Should this somehow be analogous to one of your premises of your argument for a NCS?
It comes close to your premise 2 “In the possible case where an FCCS is caused to exist, it must be caused by a necessary causal state (NCS).”, but then it isn’t clearly analogous to that premise.
Did you know, that de Morgan’s laws, double negation and material implication are not just logical inferences but also logical equivalences?
Yes, the statements ”It could not be that it's possible that a car crash is caused by a falling tree AND a falling tree is not possible.”, “It is NOT possible, that a car crash is caused by a falling tree, OR a falling tree is not not-possible.”, “It is NOT possible, that a car crash is caused by a falling tree, OR a falling tree is possible.” and “IF it’s possible, that a car crash is caused by a falling tree, THEN a falling tree is possible.” appear to be “rewordings” of your statement, but actually they are all logically equivalent to each other and are representing the same exact thing and statement or claim.

So then how exactly is your conclusion 3 “It’s possible that there is an NCS.” deduced from your premises 1 “Possibly a first contingent causal state (FCCS) is caused to exist.” and 2 “In the possible case where an FCCS is caused to exist, it must be caused by a necessary causal state (NCS).”? Is that even a modus ponens?
Now, I’m not even sure about that.
Would you be so kind as to properly explain, how you deduce that conclusion of yours with your premises? Which logical inferences are you using there?
If that logical inference is a modus ponens(, I suppose?!?), then is your premise 2 even a material conditional - the proper material conditional for that specific modus ponens, which you are supposedly making there to deduce your conclusion 3?
Again, I didn’t choose this meaningless game. You did that by necessitating me with finding and directly showing problems with your deduction and your premises.
How am I supposed to find and show those problems, if your deduction isn’t even properly formulated and therefore not properly comprehensible in the first place? You see, that is already a problem, that shouldn’t be there in the first place.
So, yes your deduction there doesn’t appear to be valid. But until you clarify that very carefully, I’m sticking with my reductio ad absurdum for your arguments as a whole, which is really absurd by the way - your arguments as a whole is and not my reductio.

Best regards,
Zsolt

97. Zsolt Nagy says:

Do you, JamesH, mean by any chance this maybe?
1. Possibly a first contingent causal state (FCCS) is caused to exist.
2. IF In the possible case where an FCCS is caused to exist, it must be caused by a necessary causal state (NCS), THEN it is possible, that there is an NCS.
3 :. It’s possible that there is an NCS.
This is for sure a valid logical inference.

1. Possibly a first contingent causal state (FCCS) is caused to exist.
2. IF In the possible case where an FCCS is caused to exist, THEN it [supposedly a possible FCCS] must be caused by a necessary causal state (NCS).
3' :. A possible FCCS must be caused by a NCS.
This is also for sure a valid logical inference.

But your argument in the current form is neither of those vald logical inferences.
In its current from it doesn't really appear to be valid. So what is your argument then exactly? Please clarify.
That's the game, that YOU have chosen, not me.
Till that clarification I won’t say a d*mn thing about your premises.

98. JamesH says:

Zsolt: I did ask that you not "reword" my arguments as these rewordings are invariably inaccurate. I will reply to your earlier post when I have a bit more time.

99. Aron Wall says:

MODERATOR'S NOTE:

I have deleted 54 consecutive comments on this post by Zsolt Nagy and St. JamesH on the grounds that they contained too many insults to be compatible with Rule 7 of this blog's comment policy, which requires commenters to be civil to each other.

Please note that this rule does not contain any exception for "the other person was rude first" or "the other person was rude worse". I am therefore taking this action without making any statement regarding which of the two interlocutors is more to blame for this state of affairs. I have my own opinion about that, but it isn't really important.

In general, the correct response to "a person is wrong on the internet, and is resistant to all of my attempts to correct them" is to STOP TALKING TO THEM. Seriously, there are better things to do with your time.

Another factor in my decision to delete the comments is that it didn't seem like anyone else was following the conversation, and it seemed to result in choking off any discussion of the other blog posts. While people are welcome to engage in conversations here that I am not a direct part of, I expect people to keep it classy, and to recognize when an email discussion (or ending the conversation) would be more appropriate.

Both of you have been warned about this on a previous thread, and you should consider this a warning regarding the possibility of a ban if this conduct is repeated.

If anyone is interested in receiving a record of the removed comments, please email me within 30 days of this notice.

100. Zsolt Nagy says:

Hallo JamesH,

look, what I found the other day:
"Skepticism and the principle of sufficient reason"
by Robert C. Koons & Alexander R. Pruss

First, I guess, that according to Koons & Pruss the PSR is still the PSR - the principle of any causation occuring due to a sufficient reason according similarly to my understanding and definition of the PSR.
Sure, this can be and have been restricted by Koons & Pruss in their paper here, but they didn't do a good job of keeping track of their version by using appropriate notions and acronyms for their version of the PSR. Koons & Pruss go from unrestricted PSR to the Restricted and Non-Circular PSR [RPSR - By the way, this acronym has been only used once in the whole paper of theirs at the introduction of that acronym, only one time!!! For the search-term "unrestricted PSR" there are 7 hits and for the search-term "PSR" there are 82 hits. Do the math and see for yourself, what that entails here regarding, what the PSR is supposed to be and mean here.]. Further Koons & Pruss introduce basic natural facts and go from that Restricted and Non-Circular PSR to the Restricted and Non-Circular PSR for Basic Natural Facts, or short RPSR-BNF, which short-term/acronym is by the way NOT in that paper of Koons & Pruss for whatever reason.
So I guess then your "limited" understanding of the PSR is not your fault even as a proponent and proclaimer of (whatever version of) the "PSR". But your "limited" understanding of the PSR is due to this inconsistent usage of the notion/acronyms of the PSR by Koons & Pruss.
Me, doing an "Etymological fallacy"?!? Tsss...
Second, from that paper:

Transitivity of explanation (complete and partial).
If x explains the yy’s, and one of the y’s explains the zz’s, then x explains the zz’s, and if x partially explains the yy’s and one of the y’s explains the zz’s, then x partially explains the zz’s.

If you, JamesH, don’t listen to me and reason, then listen to your authorities conveying and stating basically the same thing about the relation “is explained by” being a transitive relation.
If you as a human are not capable of rationally processing, what another human is conveying, then follow your shepherd and authority as a not much thoughtful sheep and simultaneously pray for that sheperd and authority to always be correct. Good luck with that. You’re going to need that and any luck, which you can get.

Hallo Aron,

I hope, that my previous last sentences and lines are “in line” with your codex here.
I wouldn’t write such harsh propositions, if they weren’t warranted and justified.
And those harsh propositions are justified given my exchange with JamesH in my opinion at least. At one point I basically begged/asked very nicely (“Would you kindly…?”) JamesH for any reasonable answer, explanation and clarification for my questions and propositions. Besides that nice segment with the explanation and proposition of the property of contingency being analogous to the property of colour I didn’t get any of my requests fulfilled. Besides that nice analogy I just gained unsubstantiated claims upon unsubstantiated claims.
Yeah, I guess, that this was or is still on my chest. Hopefully, this has now been taken off.
I don’t really want or need to know, what your opinion on this exchange and debate is, Aron. But I do actually like to know, what you think about this "Skepticism and the principle of sufficient reason" by Robert C. Koons & Alexander R. Pruss:

“Why is the PSR in this form a presupposition of empirical knowledge? If this [RPSR-NBF] is false, either in the actual world or in “nearby” worlds in any epistemically possible scenario, then we must take seriously the possibility that some natural facts are uncaused. By considerations of symmetry [...], if any natural fact might lack a cause, then any relevantly similar natural fact might lack a cause. We will argue that any natural fact is relevantly similar to any other. So, if there is some natural fact that might (in nearby worlds) lack a cause, any natural fact might lack a cause.”

Please note, that I purposefully have not used the html-tag “blockquote” here for this quoted segment here, since the format of the made statements and claims is quite essential here.
The first italic “any” actually means here “some” and the second italic “any” actually means here “all” and further the first relevant normal “any” actually means here “all”:

”... By considerations of symmetry [...], if [some] natural fact might lack a cause, then [all] relevantly similar natural fact might lack a cause. [...] So, if there is some natural fact that might (in nearby worlds) lack a cause, [all] natural fact might lack a cause.”

I mean, that it’s not necessarily false to try going from an O-statement “Some natural fact might lack a cause” to an E-statement “All natural facts might lack a cause, or to say, that no natural fact might have a cause.”.
Even if the conjunction of those two statements is undetermined on the modern square of opposition and even if on the traditional square of opposition it’s only certainly true, that “if E-statement, then O-statement” and that “if not-O-statement, then not-E-statement”, then one might still try argue for “if O-statement, then E-statement” by inductive and abductive reasoning. But this requires a lot of, and I mean, A LOT OF WORK in order to be a convincing proposition and I don’t think, that this has been done in that paper by Koons & Pruss. It just appears to be a hasty generalization. Especially with that usage of those italic “any” in this context ambiguous words that claim of “If O-statement [some natural fact might lack a cause], then E-statement [no natural fact might have a cause].” is simply ambiguous and therefore, well not necessarily false but also not necessarily true. And basically this is my evaluation about this whole paper by Koons & Pruss and about their proposition of the denial and negation of the RPSR-BNF implying scepticism. I guess, that I finally understand, that original ridiculous claim of JamesH “But as Alexander Pruss has pointed out, if [the A-statement “RPSR-BNF”] is false [or to say, that the O-statement “not-RPSR-BNF” is true], then there could be [the E-statement] no reason for us having the perceptual experiences we have, i.e. no connection between these experiences and the external objects we suppose cause them…”.
Well, I understand this claim in the sense of where this “idea” and proposition has originated. But if I think about this claim in any given way being true, then PHSSS… - my head is exploding by “thinking” about that claim.
On the other hand it’s quite easy to think, why this claim might be false.
You can find additional thoughts of mine about that here on Alexander Pruss's Blog.
So what do you, Aron, think about this proposition of “the denial of the PSR implying skepticism” by Koons & Pruss?

While I’m at it posting this, I take this opportunity to wish for you, your family and all of the readers of this blog to have wonderful and happy holidays.

I also wish for you JamesH to have wonderful and happy holidays.
And a last word of advice from me for you: It’s not bad, if you don’t always follow your shepherd and once in a while you break up from your herd to see the big, big world out there. After all this world is here for us and for you to be discovered. While you are at your journey for your discoveries, you might not just encounter another maybe black fellow sheep, but you might also encounter a Black Swan in this world, where supposedly all Swans are White, or you might encounter a Blue Tile in a supposedly entirely Red Floor or you might even encounter Some Unchanging Things in this supposedly Changing Universe on your standalone journey, where supposedly Everything is Changing.
Again nothing but best of luck from me to you by that.
(I guess, that this also is, hopefully, was on my chest.)

Best Regards,
Zsolt