Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The birth of a snowflake

In the comments section of a recent blog post of mine, Chris wrote:

I just recently had a son. The process of conception to delivery is very beautiful. Do you really believe in your heart that the "designs" or the "creation" that you use big words for, happened without a creator?

Thanks for your thoughts, Chris, and welcome! I can imagine how incredible it must have been for you to experience the birth of your boy. My brother and his wife had a daughter last year, and everyone in the extended family felt the same feelings of wonder and amazement at her birth.

You asked a fascinating question: do I believe that birth happens without the intervention of a supernatural agent? The answer is yes. And I will explain my reasoning by introducing the story of the humble snowflake. When snowflakes are placed under a microscope, one can observe patterns that are intricate, complex, and beautiful. It is often said that each snowflake exhibits a unique pattern; of all the trillions of snowflakes falling around the world, there are no two which are exactly alike.

When I see these patterns, it is tempting to think that such complexity was put into place by something more complex, by an intelligent designer, perhaps. But we know how snowflakes form, and we know that these patterns come about naturally from something far simpler: a few water molecules exposed to specific weather conditions. In other words, this is a case where natural simplicity begets complexity.

I believe the same bottom-up approach to complexity applies to living organisms, including human beings. A human baby is a complex organism that has developed from something far simpler (a microscopic sperm and egg). Sure, a baby is far more complex than a snowflake, but
like the snowflakewe know fairly well how a baby develops in the womb. We know most of the steps involved, the complex interplay between specific genes, cells, hormones and chemicals. There is no point in the development of a baby where we observe any clear or direct intervention from a supernatural agent. This doesn't mean that there isn't any intervention – it's just that we don't need to posit a supernatural agent when discussing how a foetus develops.

I'm not trying to persuade you that God is not involved in the birth of a child; I'm just answering your question regarding what I personally believe. And what I believe doesn't make the event of birth any less wondrous to me. The birth of a child is incredible as it shows how nature – over millions of years – has produced something as complex as a human being from something relatively simple as a few carbon atoms. It also signifies the birth of a sentient being, a conscious individual who will have the ability to one day look upon the universe ask: "Why am I here?"

For me, this is why birth is so beautiful.

57 comments:

Cobus said...

Kevin, again I feel like we are placing two positions against each other which simply leave some of us out of the equation. Supernatural theism against atheism.

The supernatural theist says that God created the baby, but says it in such a way that it must mean that God was involved in some special way, in a way which must be in some way literally direct, and different from the way in which God was involved with the fact that i got up this morning.

On the other hand the atheist, with whom I might share more points of contact than with the supernatural theist, I'm not sure. The atheist sees everything as the similar. The birth of a baby can be beautiful, and so can a snowflake. Both can be explained by science, and God is not needed.

But then some of us exclaim that yes, things can be explained by science, but not everything. Yes, I know how a baby get's formed (or at least, I don't really, but I know I can find out if I want to), but I believe in God. And everything happens within this great reality which we call God, whether it's the baby or the snowflake. I choose to view it through the God-lens, I think that makes more sense in the long run (among other reasons), but I need not deny science at all.

Scott Andersen said...

Cobus,

I am perplexed by your representation of belief systems into what appears to be 3 distinct classes. Two such classes you mention, i.e "supernatural theism" and "atheism". These seem to imply a third option in which a deity exists entirely within nature, a "naturalistic theism", if you will. If this implied option is unintended then I cannot comprehend why the word "supernatural" would be attached to the word "theism" at the beginning.

Is not theism, by definition, supernatural?

With respect to viewing the world through a God-lens I am not sure I see the point of doing so.

Reason and faith are incompatible. When you have good reason to believe in something there is no place for faith. For example, we know that our hearts pump blood through our bodies. It makes no sense to then in addition say that we have faith that our hearts pump blood through our bodies. We might claim to have faith that our hearts will continue to do so but that a statement about something unknown.

Faith functions, and can only function, where rational demonstration fails. We might, through reason, predict that our hearts will continue to pump blood but that is an expression of probability, not knowledge. And that is where faith has its role, giving "knowledge" where else we would have none.

Hence, where is God in reason and where is faith without God?

Lui said...

Just to elaborate further on Kevin's answer to Chris's question.

A human being is no doubt an enormously complicated entity. To account for the existence of such an entity, we need to posit whether there is a process that can do the necessary "R&D" (research and development) "work" required. Traditionally, many people have thought that the only way to account for what we'll call "adaptive complexity" (ie. complexity in the service of some "goal" or "purpose") was that there must be a super-intelligent "engineer", as it were. Most religious people who still accept this causal link - from super-intelligent being to highly complex creations - identify this engineer as the deity they believe in. This deity is meant to have done the "heavy lifting" required, the R&D, to bring about things like trees and lizards and, especially, human beings. In much the same way that no one ever sees a horseshoe creating a blacksmith, it is often presumed, something far grander than any human artificer is required to explain an organism, which is far more complicated than even our most advanced technology.

With Charles Darwin (and Alfred Russell Wallace, another English naturalist who independently hit upon the idea of natural selection), we were given, for the first time, a really coherent picture of how the teleological bias in traditional thinking could be inverted. Simplicity, with the aid of a cumulative process, could now beget complexity, and it could do so without requiring the lifting power of a deity. Gradually, over countless generations, lineages of organisms could be modified (in Darwin's time, genetics was still poorly understood, but it eventually came to be more widely known about and is today fully integrated into evolutionary biology and forms an indispensable component of it, called "evolutionary genetics"); some modifications are detrimental to survival, and they are "discarded" by selection, while those changes that confer some advantage to an organism will tend to get passed on. How? Well, it's best not to think of selection as a "thing" that exists independently of the organisms that we are considering. "Selection" is really just a short-hand way of saying something slightly more long-winded: certain changes have CONSEQUENCES for the organisms that exhibit them, and by virtue of those consequences, those changes can become more prevalent in a population or decrease in frequency. It's exactly the same in artificial breeding, where WE select changes based upon some criterion we have in mind (for example, fluffiness of coat). In the case of artificial selection, however, "selection" can of course be understood more literally, because there really is an agent (the human breeder) that is consciously doing the selecting. In nature, there is no such conscious overlord, but rather it's the environment itself that is doing the "selecting". In some environments, certain changes will be "favoured" because they allow organisms to survive more readily under the constraints and demands of that environment, whereas in an alternative environment, other changes will be favoured (owing to the particularities prevailing there). An extremely important part of any environment is the other inhabitants that live there, and these inhabitants will come to shape members of other lineages, which will in their turn come to be shaped by the other lineage, and so on, in a giant interlocking web of interactions (the science of ecology is the field that deals with these interactions, like how food chains get established, how species extinctions effect the prospects for other species, and so on). In a sense, then, an organisms' genome is a sort of "book" that can be read about to determine what sorts of environmental factors were faced by a lineage throughout its evolutionary history. The environments of the past have "written" this book, by favouring certain mutations (again, by virtue of their consequences) and seeing to it that these mutations have come to high frequency in a species or population. The genomes of organisms are being written to this day, and there are numerous examples of evolution rapid enough to be detected within our lifetimes (this goes against the common misconception that evolution only ever occurs so slowly that humans can only discern it by looking at the fossil record, for example).

Admittedly, the concept of natural selection is initially rather counter-intuitive (like many things in science), because it really does seem to be saying something quite outrageous. We just "know" that animals and plants and babies are designed; we "feel" it because we are animals with design on our minds (ironically, this very predisposition is likely the result of evolution). But "Darwin's strange inversion of logic" will be made clearer by always keeping in mind the notion of consequences influencing a change's prospects of being copied to the next generation, and by discarding the notion that the only alternative to intelligent design is a completely random process.

Here's a great resource for understanding evolution, called, appropriately enough, Understanding Evolution". It has several case studies, clear and simple explanations for exactly what evolution is and what it isn't, as well as the ways in which knowledge deriving from evolutionary theory is used in such fields as agriculture, medicine, fisheries management, and chemical engineering.

Here are some links on the site to get you started if you're interested:

Natural selection

Spection (the process whereby new species are generated from an ancestral stock)

The eye and its evolution

Greg said...

I just stumbled upon this blog. I REALLY like that people are conversing/debating without throwing insults at each other. Maybe this has been discussed before on this blog, but I would recommend the book "The Language of God: A scientist presents evidence for belief". It's got solid science in it (from the guy who headed up the Human Genome Project), and it's got good philosophical reasoning for God as well, showing that real science and God both have a place, and can co-exist.

Along the lines of the snowflake thing, I commonly explain my view through thunder and lightning. Back in the day, people would attribute it to God (or gods), now days, we can scientifically explain how it happens. It makes it no less amazing, ..and for me, it in no way takes the credit away from God. I think this is an amazing world that he designed (not as in the 'intelligent design' theory), but God has to be the ultimate mathematician/physicist to have come up with such a complex system, that even after hundreds of years, we're still trying to work out the math governing it all. I dunno, my explanation probably sucks compared to the book I recommended above, so check it out.

I still haven't settled on where I'm at, but that book was a good one to think about.

Lorena said...

To me, the comparison between a snowflake and a human is highly pertinent.

Just consider that science has, of late, started to understand there are reasons for birth defects. So, we can no longer attribute the make up of a baby to a celestial being, since it can all be mapped out to the genetic make up of the newborn.

We come to this world as a 100% product of what our parents directly contribute--as much as snowflake is a product of its environment. There is no room for assuming that a god willed us.

I know that perhaps Christians refer to ultimate creation, meaning Adam and Eve specifically, but we know that humans have been evolving ever so slowly over hundreds, thousands, and even millions of years. And all the changes--e.g. less hair--can be reasonably explained by looking at environmental conditions. The purported divine intervention, therefore, is of human creation.

Jim said...

Hello Kevin, I like this post very much. I have recently linked to your blog from mine.

With regard to this post. I'm happy to see that you have such sane discourse happening here. I have a bit more fireworks. :)

Anonymous said...

Quick question for Lorena. You mentioned, "So, we can no longer attribute the make up of a baby to a celestial being, since it can all be mapped out to the genetic make up of the newborn."

Why is this so? I understand how some could argue that such information makes the idea of God "unnecessary," or that there simply isn't enought evidence to conclude that God is involved (I disagree with those two points, but that's another area of discussion). But why does the fact that we can scientifically understand how something works serve as evidence that God did not create and does not maintain His order trhough those scientific processes?

phil

CyberKitten said...

phil said: But why does the fact that we can scientifically understand how something works serve as evidence that God did not create and does not maintain His order trhough those scientific processes?

Erm... Because there's no evidence to support those ideas....

You might just as well say that life on Earth was seeded and is maintained by slime creatures from the planet Zerg by means beyond our understanding. It makes about as much sense!

How does saying that "God uses the Laws of the Universe to make things happen as we understand them" add *anything* to the debate? If we cannot prove that this is actually taking place then what do we achieve by stating it except to muddy the waters of our already acceptable understanding?

Anonymous said...

Good question, Cyberkitten. Your contention, however, more resembles those which I said I could "understand" (though not agree with) in my previous post. My question to Lorena more addresses the issue of whether knowing "how" something works would, of necessity, discredit a theory about "why" it works. In other words, if the intricate details of human genetics have been made known to humanity, why should the theist think anything of that other than that God was pleased to reveal a little about "how" He does something? If you view these scientific understandings from a theistic worldview, there is really no contention. Atheists would argue otherwise, but again, this is a worldview distinction, not a matter of bad science.

As for your equation of the rationality of belief in a theistic God with the belief in "slime creatures from the planet Zerg," I believe there is a mountain of rational evidence in support of the former over the latter. Again, this is another discussion altogether, but one I'd be happy to address if we get the chance.

phil

CyberKitten said...

phil said: If you view these scientific understandings from a theistic worldview, there is really no contention. Atheists would argue otherwise, but again, this is a worldview distinction, not a matter of bad science.

True. If you believe that everything is caused by the hand of God then simply knowing the mechanics of how things work would take nothing away from that belief. However, if the mechanics of something is known in sufficent details to understand - and maybe replicate - how something works without the additional need of the hand of God then that would lead me to the opinion that God was not necessary for the mechanical process to do its thing on its own - which, as you will no doubt point out, does not disprove the existence of God either.

phil said: I believe there is a mountain of rational evidence in support of the former over the latter. Again, this is another discussion altogether, but one I'd be happy to address if we get the chance.

I am certainly unaware of any rational evidence to support the God Hypothesis so would be happy to see what you have. Maybe another time? But I'm already getting myself ready for the age old 'what constitutes evidence' debate - again...... [grin]

Anonymous said...

Cyberkitten,

Thanks for the thoughtful responses. You commented, "I am certainly unaware of any rational evidence to support the God Hypothesis so would be happy to see what you have."

I'd be glad to! Much of what you and others on this post have said or intimated is the belief that God is unnecessarily added on to our understanding of the universe. You previously commented that adding God to the equation will simply "muddy the waters of our already acceptable understanding." However, I believe it is completely rational to find belief in God as properly basic. In fact, the very existence of our universe necessarily depends on it. I don't have time at the moment, but I'll be back shortly to try to explain why this is so. Hopefully, it will shed light on why practically every known society in history has exercised belief in God. This is exactly what the Bible says should happen when we examine the evidence.

phil

CyberKitten said...

phil said: However, I believe it is completely rational to find belief in God as properly basic. In fact, the very existence of our universe necessarily depends on it.

[laughs] Erm... No it doesn't.

Is this the old "Why is there something rather than nothing?" question....

We actually don't know what, if anything, 'caused' the Universe to come into existence or even if that's a meaningful question to ask. Though if Kevin is ameanable I'd like to hear your argument. Don't be surprised if I'm not exactly impressed though....

Lorena said...

But why does the fact that we can scientifically understand how something works serve as evidence that God did not create and does not maintain His order trhough those scientific processes?

Because scientific processes that work naturally need no maintenance.

If an atomic explosion were to exterminate most of the earth's life, today, which is perfectly possible, life as we know it would never be the same again.

It may continue to be, but heavily modified by the nuclear disaster. Now, why does God need to control the flow of events after such a disaster, when the outcome is so horrible?

You could sell me on the "the hand of God," if his so-called design were to stop the bad consequences of the "order." But good, bad, horrible, and unexpected all happen due to environmental, explainable reasons. The fact that when damage is only avoided by human intervention tells us that THERE IS NO outside order being followed.

Anonymous said...

Cyberkitten,

You commented "We actually don't know what, if anything, 'caused' the Universe to come into existence or even if that's a meaningful question to ask."

Perhaps, for you, that is not a meaningful question. However, this question has been asked by scores of people from diverse educational backgrounds, cultures, and faiths/non-faiths for thousands of years... so, regardless of your individual position, it is certainly a meaningful question for many. If there is evidence that could help answer that question-- be it in the realm of biology, philosophy, physics, psychology, etc.-- the evidence is worth examining.

You also asked whether this is the old, "why is there something rather than nothing" question. My response is yes, that issue is considered, but you can determine whether it's the same "old" question or not. I'm especially curious to know which step in this argument you (or others) might disagree with or find less than "meaningful."

The following is a variation of the classic cosmological argument, but this particular one is articulated in Winfried Corduan's "No Doubt About It." To clarify, this is not a position that specifically points to the God of the Bible (we can take further steps to get there). The purpose of this argument is merely to demonstrate that it is perfectly rational to state that enough evidence exists to believe in theism. Kevin, this is your call, so if you'd rather this lengthy post not take up too much space, feel free to erase it; no hard feelings.

1. Something exists. Hopefully, we can all agree with that. Whether it's your computer screen, your best friend, microscopic bacteria, or the galaxy, hardly anyone would deny that existence is a reality (there are some eastern faiths that deny the existence of matter, but probably no one reading is in that camp. Besides, even their ideas about non-existence, in essence, "exist").

2. Each thing that exists is either necessary or contingent. Contingent means "dependent on something else" while necessary means "totally independent of anything else." Each thing in existence must be either one or the other; it cannot be both. A contingent being is caused, sustained, and determined by outside forces. If a necessary being exists, it does so independently of any outside influence including time and space.

3. If a necessary being exists, it would have to be God. Such a being would neither require nor be compelled or limited by any other beings or forces. Therefore, a necessary being, by definition, would be independent, infinite, eternal (unrestricted by time), omnipresent (unrestricted by space), unchangeable, and in possession of all its properties in an equally unlimited way (obviously, slime creatures from the planet Zerg would fall short of these characteristics). Regardless of what you call it, a necessary being would have all the properties normally associated with what is often called "God."

4. The world cannot be a necessary being. To believe this is a pantheistic view, which is logically impossible (I'm not sure any pantheists are reading, but if so, we could have a separate discussion on that). In any event, every examinable phenomena in our world (regardless of how old the earth is) has a cause; the world itself is a contingent being.

5. There can only be one necessary being. If two things are distinct from each other, they must differ in some respect. If they don't, they must be one in the same thing (this is called the principle of the identity of indiscernibles). Therefore, if God does exist, there is only one God (i.e., polytheism is impossible).

6. Unless there is a necessary being, there cannot be any contingent beings. If I have a cup of coffee and you wanted to know where I got it, it would not satisfy you if I said I poured it into my cup from another cup. In fact, the coffee may have been poured from cup-to-cup a hundred times, but you'd know that somewhere in history past, there is a coffee maker somewhere that produced the coffee. The coffee could not have been poured from cup-to-cup for eternity past because the law of infinite regress is impossible (this is a well-attested assertion in science and philosophy). In the same way, the chain of contingent beings in our universe can go back in history for a long time, but ultimately, a necessary being is required to have begun the chain. An endless chain of contingent events is metaphysically impossible; you cannot give what you do not have.

7. A necessary being exists. Since the existence of contingent beings (our universe) necessarily requires a necessary being, it can be concluded that such a being must exist.

8. God exists. Since a necessary being would have to possess the attributes of what we'd normally call "God," (see step 3) and a necessary being exists, then God exists. Consequently, though it hasn't yet been demonstrated here, the God who exists would strikingly resemble the God of the Bible.

Cyberkitten, you said "Don't be surprised if I'm not exactly impressed," and I promise I won't be surprised. I know that arguments alone do not produce personal faith apart from the work of the Holy Spirit (though they can help with unbelief by opening minds). Hopefully, this at least demonstrates that, given the existence of the world, it is more plausible to believe in a theistic God than to disbelieve. Or (at the very least), hopefully it demonstrates that those who believe in God do not do so irrationally.

By the way, this argument is mostly just an intellectual fleshing out of what the Bible says in Psalm 19:1-4 and Romans 1:20.

phil

CyberKitten said...

phil said: regardless of your individual position, it is certainly a meaningful question for many.

Which doesn't actually prove that it is a meaningful question - just that people consider it as such. It's a bit like asking "Why is cake?" It's a question that can be asked - but it has no meaning.

phil said: Something exists. Hopefully, we can all agree with that.

No. We do not, and indeed cannot, know that things exist. We assume they exist because we 'experience' them. But we cannot experience them directly. It is actually very easy to doubt the existence of things. If I try reasonably hard I can even doubt my own existence. After that doubting the universe is easy!

phil said: hardly anyone would deny that existence is a reality

I do - and have publically... must to the consternation of my tutors!

phil said: If a necessary being exists, it does so independently of any outside influence including time and space.

That's a *very* big if!

phil said: There can only be one necessary being.

... and there you have just made a *huge* and *unsubstantiated* leap. You start off by saying "*If* such a being exists..." and now you are implying or simply asserting that one does indeed exist - and is, of course God. There is absolutely no reason to draw this conclusion from your chain of reasoning up to this point.

phil said: Unless there is a necessary being, there cannot be any contingent beings.

That is simply an assertion and nothing more. You are already starting from a position where God exists and are trying to reason your way to Him. There is no basis for this claim you are making.

phil said: In the same way, the chain of contingent beings in our universe can go back in history for a long time, but ultimately, a necessary being is required to have begun the chain.

...and another assertion. We simply don't know how things started. You are *assuming* that God starting things off. Your chain of reasoning does not lead to this conclusion.

phil said: Since the existence of contingent beings (our universe) necessarily requires a necessary being, it can be concluded that such a being must exist.

It does nothing of the sort!

phil said: Consequently, though it hasn't yet been demonstrated here, the God who exists would strikingly resemble the God of the Bible.

What a shockingly unexpected conclusion! [laughs]

phil said: Hopefully, this at least demonstrates that, given the existence of the world, it is more plausible to believe in a theistic God than to disbelieve.

Nope. Not at all.

phil said: Or (at the very least), hopefully it demonstrates that those who believe in God do not do so irrationally.

Nor that I'm afraid [grin]

phil said: By the way, this argument is mostly just an intellectual fleshing out of what the Bible says in Psalm 19:1-4 and Romans 1:20.

Really? I guess that I'll have to take your word on that one.

Anonymous said...

Cyberkitten,

Thanks for actually taking the time to read all that. However, if you re-read it carefully and not just with a skeptic's eye, I believe you'll be able to answer your own criticisms. Nevertheless, I'll address them.

First of all, asking why the universe exists has tremendous meaning for many people, because if the answer can be ascertained, it bears implications for how we should live and what decisions we should make. The fact that you call the question meaningless is what you have referred to as a mere "assertion." As I've said, many will disagree with you on that, regardless of their spiritual convictions. Regardless, each person can decide for him/herself what is meaningful for him or her.

Second, I can see why your doubting the existence of reality has been much to the "consternation" of your tutors! We can have a tangent metaphysical discussion about this if you like, but that's really besides the point of the argument. The fact is, the extremely vast majority of both the secular and religious world believe in existence as properly basic. Now, just because you hold a minority position doesn't necessarily make you wrong, but you should ask yourself why you are getting opposition on this point even from those you've allowed to instruct you. If my argument above is intended to demonstrate that people are acting rationally when they believe in God, the argument is in tact. It is not rational to abandon basic beliefs like existence based on the unsubstantiated opinion of an obscure minority such as yourself (I apologize if that comes off as abrasive; I really don't intend it that way. It's difficult to indicate tone in print).

Third, in response to my comment in Step 5, "There can only be one necessary being," you accuse me of making the unsubstantiated leap to God's existence. That is untrue; no such leap has been made yet. The statement for a necessary being's existence does not occur until Step 7. All Step 5 is saying is that if a necessary being does exist (hypothetically), there can be only one. I apologize if I worded it poorly and confused you.

Fourth, you take issue with the statement, "Unless there is a necessary being, there cannot be any contingent beings." You accuse this step of falsely starting from the position of theism to prove theism. Actually, this is a statement of mere logic and rationality if you understood the previous steps (and your comments indicate that may not be the case). This statement is merely asserting that it makes sense that if things exist, there must be an ultimate cause for their existence somewhere in history past which is uncaused. As I mentioned in the argument, this is a well-attested principle (the impossibility of infinite regression) in secular sciences and philosophy as well as religious faith.

Fifth, you state that "We simply don't know how things started." The whole point of the argument is to demonstrate that we CAN know how things started (or at least, by Whom things were started). Simply stating that we can't know something in the face of rational evidence to the contrary is illogical.

Finally, you indicated that you would "take my word" on what the Bible states. I sincerely-- and in the spirit of friendship-- wish you might not take my word and that you would spend time with an open mind checking out the Bible for yourself. Someday you might be amazed at how much you can know that you once thought was unknowable. I'm guessing you're not ready to take this advice right now, but hopefully some day you will.

phil

CyberKitten said...

phil said: However, if you re-read it carefully and not just with a skeptic's eye, I believe you'll be able to answer your own criticisms.

I'm a skeptic by nature - it's the only way I read things.

phil said: Regardless, each person can decide for him/herself what is meaningful for him or her.

When I say that the question is meaningless I am not saying that an answer, if such were possible, would not be meaningful to people. I'm saying that the question "Why is there something rather than nothing" might very well be in the same category of questions as "Why is 3" It is a question that can be asked but is has no meaning in itself.

phil said: The fact is, the extremely vast majority of both the secular and religious world believe in existence as properly basic.

Irrelevant. Truth is not a numbers game.

phil said: you should ask yourself why you are getting opposition on this point even from those you've allowed to instruct you.

You mean that I should trust my teachers? [laughs] That's what education is about - *challenging* your teachers! I was debating the issue with two of them last year and after several hours not only had I convinced them that I was sincere in my arguments but they had failed to find any holes in them. It was fun to see them at a loss. [grin]

phil said: It is not rational to abandon basic beliefs like existence based on the unsubstantiated opinion of an obscure minority such as yourself.

I'm not expecting you to. I was just cutting the ground from under your most basic premise. We cannot *know* that anything exists. Our knowledge of everything is provisional. It is quite possible - though impossible to prove - that I am a brain in a vat somewhere hooked up to machines that feed me information about the world that doesn't actually exist. There are many other possibilities too well beyond our present discussion. My point is that you are taking things for granted that need not be so taken - and not just that we and the rest of the universe actually exists.

phil said: Third, in response to my comment in Step 5, "There can only be one necessary being," you accuse me of making the unsubstantiated leap to God's existence. That is untrue; no such leap has been made yet.

It is clear from your chain of reasoning that you have indeed already arrived at this conclusion and are using your argument as a way of substantiating a belief you already hold. That alone blows your whole argument out of the water from my perspective.

phil said: This statement is merely asserting that it makes sense that if things exist, there must be an ultimate cause for their existence somewhere in history past which is uncaused.

That's *only* an assertion (again). You assume/believe that there must be an ultimate uncaused cause (already having one in mind of course).

phil said: Simply stating that we can't know something in the face of rational evidence to the contrary is illogical.

[laughs] Erm... *What* evidence? You have presented a deeply flawed chain of reasoning based on a prior belief in God. Is this your *best* shot?

phil said: I sincerely-- and in the spirit of friendship-- wish you might not take my word and that you would spend time with an open mind checking out the Bible for yourself.

I was, of course, being sarcastic. I would not take your word for it.....

Of the many books that I hope/intend to read before I die the Bible is not one of them. I read books for entertainment and to (hopefully usefully) expand my knowledge. I doubt very much if the Bible would fit into either category.

Anonymous said...

Thanks again for your comments, Cyberkitten; I do enjoy this discussion.

Your hesitance to accept the reality of existence seems to be hinged on an underlying belief that is is impossible to "know" anything for certain. You stated, "We cannot *know* that anything exists. Our knowledge of everything is provisional." If the best we can hope for is provisional knowledge (or "assumptions" as you said earlier), that's fine and doesn't actually damage the argument at all. The point of my argument is that belief in God is rational. Whether our understanding of existence is actually knowledge or only "provisional knowlege," it is still completely rational to form our worldview from this understanding, since it is the best we have. Kevin had some good insight on Part 4 of his post about how we can come to claim something as "true" (although we don't always agree on what is true). And you're right; truth is not a numbers game (I certainly feel outnumbered by the majority of commentors on this post!).

You also commented, "It is clear from your chain of reasoning that you have indeed already arrived at this conclusion and are using your argument as a way of substantiating a belief you already hold." Can you show me where I've done this in my reasoning? You have yet to do so. The only things presupposed in the argument are the reality of existence (which we've already discussed) and the usefulness of reason and logic.

phil

CyberKitten said...

phil said: Your hesitance to accept the reality of existence seems to be hinged on an underlying belief that is is impossible to "know" anything for certain.

Partially - that and my skepticism. I find that it is possible to doubt everything. The more you work at it the easier it becomes.

phil said: The only things presupposed in the argument are the reality of existence (which we've already discussed) and the usefulness of reason and logic.

Its actually fairly clever what you have done and the way your argument slides from one thing to another... For example you started talking about *things* that are either contingent or necessary. You also made out that things are either one or the other - implying (but not stating) that both types of *thing* exist and implying that other types of things apart from these two categories you gave do not exist.

Then you moved from *things* to *beings* which implies a whole raft of presuppositions. You made no comment on this less than subtle change of wording.

Then of course (no surprise here) you immediately labelled a neccesary being God - already we have the underlying assumption that God exists (despite your 'If' statement). Then you quickly moved onto the idea that there can be only one necessary being.

Step 5 is just bable. You say that there can be only one necessary being because two separate things must be distinct & different. Are not two protons identical in every way? Yet they are distinct and separate entities. You attribute things to God that forces the conclusion that He must be only one - yet such statements are your opinions based on your belief. The *actual* attributes of God - if such a being existed - might be quite different. Your statements are presuming your already preformed conclusion.

Step 7 clinches it for me. You baldly state that God exists because He must exist - as if His existence can be 'free standing'. You have constructed the idea of God in order that this argument will lead to Him.

At first glance your chain of reasoning might seem very clever but it is very much a paper tiger argument full of assumptions, assertions and falacies.

Anonymous said...

You're thinking hard, Cyberkitten, but I can again address your concerns.

First, you claim that you can "find that it is possible to doubt everything." Perhaps it's possible, but it's not necessarily rational, and it certainly can't be lived out in everyday life. We make decision every day based on what is normally called "knowledge" (whether or not you personally call it that). Even your responses on this post utilize the "knowledge" you believe you posses to refute my position.

Second, you say that I made a distinction between "things" and "beings" which "implies a whole raft of presuppositions." Actually, I meant those terms to be interchangable. Beings, in my thinking, are simply "things" which are (i.e., which exist). If it makes you more semantically comfortable, you can replace the term "beings" with "things" in the argument, or vice versa; it has no effect on the outcome.

Third, you accuse me of having "immediately labelled a neccesary being God - already we have the underlying assumption that God exists." However, what did I actually say?-- "Regardless of what you call it, a necessary being would have all the properties normally associated with what is often called 'God.'" When someone describes an omniscient, infinite, all-powerful, independent being, isn't that a description of how most people would describe God? Again, you can label that being however you like, but I would choose to call it God because most others would understand what I meant by using that term.

Fourth, you asked, "Are not two protons identical in every way?" No, they are not. The reason we believe that two protons exist instead of one is because they are identifiably distinct in some way (e.g. they occupy two different units of space). If two things are completely identical according to every observable property, there is every reason to think that it is actually only one thing.

Fifth, you claim that I have "baldly stated that God exists because He must exist." This is true; all the previous steps in the argument have demonstrated that His existence is necessary. We have not presupposed God or unnecessarily added Him to the equation-- we have reasoned our way to Him.

phil

CyberKitten said...

phil said: You're thinking hard, Cyberkitten

[laughs] Gee, thanks! I'll take that as a compliment.... [grin]

phil said: Perhaps it's possible, but it's not necessarily rational, and it certainly can't be lived out in everyday life.

I think its quite a rational position - and I seem to be managing OK with my skepticism...

phil said: Actually, I meant those terms to be interchangable. Beings, in my thinking, are simply "things" which are (i.e., which exist).

Sounds damned sloppy to me....

phil said: When someone describes an omniscient, infinite, all-powerful, independent being, isn't that a description of how most people would describe God?

Only because our conception of God has already been labelled that way.

phil said: If two things are completely identical according to every observable property, there is every reason to think that it is actually only one thing.

So are you saying that there is only one proton in the universe? Or are you saying that they are different merely because the occupy different locations are the same time - even if they are *indentical* in every other way?

phil said: all the previous steps in the argument have demonstrated that His existence is necessary.

Oh no they haven't!

phil said: We have not presupposed God or unnecessarily added Him to the equation-- we have reasoned our way to Him.

I beg to differ and, as you might expect, am *far* from convinced!

Where did God come from? How do you explain His existence? What makes Him so unique?

Anonymous said...

You should take it as a compliment that you are thinking hard, Cyberkitten :-) If you weren't, I would've lost interest in our discussion a while back.

You mentioned that you "seem to be managing OK with your skepticism," but this is only because even though you claim to be a skeptic, you actually live and behave as if things are knowable (your arguments on this post are one example: you wouldn't be arguing if you didn't think I am wrong, and you wouldn't think I am wrong unless you believed you "knew" why I was wrong). So, skepticism is an easy position to claim, but an impossible one to live out.

You called it sloppy to use the terms "thing" and "being" interchangably. Again, I'm sorry if that confused you, but what's sloppy about using synonyms?

You said that a being with the aforementioned traits would be called God "only because our conception of God has already been labelled that way." That's exactly my point. You don't have to label the necessary being in question "God." It's just less of a mouthful than constantly saying and typing "eternal, unchangable, omnipotent, independent thing/being." You can change my "label" from Phil to Jim, but I'll still be the same being with the same characteristics.

You also asked, "So are you saying that there is only one proton in the universe? Or are you saying that they are different merely because they occupy different locations at the same time - even if they are *indentical* in every other way?" My answer is the latter of the two options. Wouldn't you agree?

You also asked, "Where did God come from? How do you explain His existence? What makes Him so unique?" The answer is, God did not come from anywhere. He is a necessary being, which means He always was (infinity past) and has never changed. What makes Him unique is that He is the only necessary being (something we've already examined). Again, these truths are also asserted in the Bible.

phil

CyberKitten said...

phil said: You should take it as a compliment that you are thinking hard, Cyberkitten :-) If you weren't, I would've lost interest in our discussion a while back.

I'm afraid that flattery will get you nowhere [laughs]

phil said: You mentioned that you "seem to be managing OK with your skepticism," but this is only because even though you claim to be a skeptic, you actually live and behave as if things are knowable

Of course! Just because we might be living in the Matrix doesn't mean that imaginary bullets can't kill you. You *have* to assume things are real until proved otherwise. That doesn't mean you can't still be skeptical about it.

phil said: So, skepticism is an easy position to claim, but an impossible one to live out.

I would have to disagree with you.

phil said: Again, I'm sorry if that confused you, but what's sloppy about using synonyms?

Oh, you didn't confuse me and they're not synonyms. You were just using them as if they were.

phil said: My answer is the latter of the two options. Wouldn't you agree?

No. You have two identical objects - indistinguishable from each other. They just happen to be in different locations at that time. If they swapped position would you be able to tell them apart? No. Because they're *identical*.

phil said: Again, these truths are also asserted in the Bible.

Yeah, right. I'm afraid that assertions are two a penny - and even cheaper now as we head deeper into recession. Easy to say and essentially meaningless.

I must say that I remain *totally* unconvinced by your argument - as I expected.

Anonymous said...

Cyberkitten,

You disagree with my comment that a philosophy of skepticism is impossible to live out, but offered no tangible reason for your disagreement. You said, "You *have* to assume things are real until proved otherwise." Exactly! That is why the reality of existence and knowable facts is an acceptable starting point for the argument. Show me someone who claims facts are unknowable, and I'll show you someone who just claimed to make a factual statement. In other words, if your position is true, then it is false. This position is logically impossible, and hence, irrational to hold onto.

Now, on to your comment-- "You have two identical objects - indistinguishable from each other. They just happen to be in different locations at that time. If they swapped position would you be able to tell them apart? No. Because they're *identical*." Perhaps they are indistinguishable from one another, but they are clearly not one in the same object because they do not possess all the same properties (location is at least one property on which they differ). You've misunderstood this argument. We are not talking about whether two things resemble one another, but rather whether there is any reason to think that there is in fact more than one thing in question. In your proposed example of protons, there is reason to think that more than one exists because they do not possess an identical location. In the case of a necessary being, there is no such justifiable basis for claiming that more than one exists.

phil

CyberKitten said...

phil said: This position is logically impossible, and hence, irrational to hold onto.

Do you mean that skepticism is impossible or that absolute skepticism is impossible? Just how skeptical can you be about things?

As to holding on to irrational ideas... is that always a bad thing? I for one consider that religious belief is irrational....

phil said: In the case of a necessary being, there is no such justifiable basis for claiming that more than one exists.

I know of no justifiable basis for claiming that *one* exists - never mind more than one!

Anonymous said...

Cyberkitten,

You asked, "Do you mean that skepticism is impossible or that absolute skepticism is impossible?"

Skepticism in the sense that you have adopted it--the postition that facts are unknowable-- is impossible.

You also stated, "As to holding on to irrational ideas... is that always a bad thing? I for one consider that religious belief is irrational" Holding onto irrational ideas is always incorrect and logically fallible, whether or not you realize the idea is irrational at the time. You have not at any point demonstrated that holding religious belief is irrational. I have actually shown that the opposite is true, and you have not successfully shot a single hole in my argument. All of your criticisms reflect either the abandonment of reason, or the fact that you simply do not understand the argument.

phil

CyberKitten said...

phil said: I have actually shown that the opposite is true, and you have not successfully shot a single hole in my argument.

I may not have demonstrated that to you but from my perspective your argument for God is riddled with holes, assertions and unfounded assumptions. I found it deeply unconvincing and obviously predicated on a belief that you already hold. If this is the best that theists can come up with it is no surprise to me that I remain an atheist despite many attempts by believers such as yourself to convince me otherwise.

phil said: All of your criticisms reflect either the abandonment of reason, or the fact that you simply do not understand the argument.

Well, at least you appear to have abanoned flattery... [rotflmao]

Anonymous said...

Cyberkitten,

Trust me, you'll receive flattery again when it is due :-)

You said, "I may not have demonstrated that to you but from my perspective your argument for God is riddled with holes, assertions and unfounded assumptions." This comment of yours, without any proof or evidence, is actually nothing more than, as you say, your "perspective." And, as we have already seen, your perspective on this matter is irrational.

Actually, it's not surprising that you refuse to accept the argument in spite of the evidence. The Bible explains why some people will reject the truth despite having clear evidence for it (Rom. 1:18-19; 2 Cor. 4:3-6).

phil

CyberKitten said...

phil said: Actually, it's not surprising that you refuse to accept the argument in spite of the evidence.

As far as I'm concerned you are yet to present any.

phil said: The Bible explains why some people will reject the truth despite having clear evidence for it (Rom. 1:18-19; 2 Cor. 4:3-6).

Quoting The Bible... Works every time with me... [laughs]

Ali P said...

Phil said:
Actually, it's not surprising that you refuse to accept the argument in spite of the evidence.

I can't see any evidence in your argument. Why is there only one necessary thing? And why does it have to be God?

Anonymous said...

Ali P,

Thanks for the questions; it is encouraging to know that others are reading the argument.

You mentioned that you can't "see" any evidence in the argument, when in fact, the entire argument represents a logical progression of thought that, if properly understood, leaves no room for any rational alternative conclusion. The evidence, therefore, is the consistently faithful appeal to logical reasoning with no possibility of an acceptable alternative conclusion.

You asked, "why is there only one necessary thing?" The reason for this is given in Step 5, but I'll expand a bit. If you are told that two things have exactly the same properties in every imaginable way, there is in fact no logical reason to believe that the two things are not in fact only one thing (Cyberkitten tried to throw this point off course by suggesting that two protons are alike in every way, but the fact is they are not alike in every way because they do not share an identical location. If they did, you would conclude that there was, in fact, only one proton). Since we identified the inherent characteristics of a necessary being in Step 3, and there is no way of asserting how two necessary beings could possibly be distinct from each other in any regard, we can reasonably conclude that there is only one necessary being. Corduan does a more complete job of explaining this in his book, which I strongly recommend if this subject is of much interest to you. Or, you could read up more on the philosophic principle of the identity of indiscernables.

You also asked, "And why does it (the necessary being) have to be God?" As I explained to Cyberkitten, the necessary being would, by definition, have all the properties normally associated with God. I suppose you don't technically have to refer to God as "God," but changing the label won't change His nature or characteristics, just like changing my name from Phil to Jim won't change the being that I am.

phil

Anonymous said...

Cyberkitten,

You said, "Quoting The Bible... Works every time with me..."

I know, I know, but keeping yourself intentionally uninformed about theology will never help your attempts to discredit it. I'll give reference to Scripture when I believe it is relevant, and let each reader do with it what they may.

phil

CyberKitten said...

phil said: I know, I know, but keeping yourself intentionally uninformed about theology will never help your attempts to discredit it.

Being unable to quote chapter & verse from the Bible and being unwilling to wade through it hardly constitutes being "intentionally uninformed about theology". Living in the West its difficult to avoid knowing at least the highlights of the Bible stories. It is after all part of our culture. I also took a comparative religions unit over 2 years at university and have even read several books on the subject - they just didn't happen to be on Christian theology.

I have a passing interest in religion - mostly because it continues to confound me - but tend to 'follow my nose' where reading is concerned. I'm also studying philosophy so at least some of my reading is focused there.

Personally I don't think that the Bible is all that important so it continues to remain off my 'must read' list. After all time is limited but publishing goes on...

Anonymous said...

Good points, Cyberkitten, and really do understand some of your reasoning there, even though I disagree with your position and believe that you are depriving yourself of the best source of truth.

Your comment about just "following your nose" reminds me of the lyrics to a Rich Mullins song (a now deceased Christian musician) called "The Maker of Noses," that I can't resist sharing with you. I know you will not relate to this perspective, and I don't share it for the purpose of further debate, but merely to give you (and others reading) more insight into my own philosophy on life and finding direction...


Do I turn to the left?
Do I turn to the right?
When I turned to the world they gave me this advice:

They said "boy you just follow your heart,"
But my heart just led me into my chest;
They said "follow your nose,"
But the direction changed every time I went and turned my head;
And they said "boy you just follow your dreams," but my dreams were only misty notions.
But the Father of hearts, and the Maker of noses, and the Giver of dreams, He's the one I have chosen
and I will follow Him.

phil

Ali P said...

Anonymous said...
You mentioned that you can't "see" any evidence in the argument, when in fact, the entire argument represents a logical progression of thought that, if properly understood, leaves no room for any rational alternative conclusion. The evidence, therefore, is the consistently faithful appeal to logical reasoning with no possibility of an acceptable alternative conclusion.

The problem I have, is that you have simply stated a set of definitions. When something fits into your definition, you call this evidence - that's not evidence.

Altering the definitions would alter the outcome of many of the following points. i.e. You can have more than one necessary thing = Gods

Plus if there were one necessary thing, I think it would be energy or matter.

CyberKitten said...
Personally I don't think that the Bible is all that important so it continues to remain off my 'must read' list.

Not a great reader myself, but I find the Bible mostly irrelevant. I mean, it's an old book written by people telling me how to live my life - like an out of date self help book.

CyberKitten said...

phil said: I disagree with your position and believe that you are depriving yourself of the best source of truth.

Oh I hardly think that the Bible is *a* source of truth never mind the best source.

If truth actually exists (which i personally doubt) it can probably be best attained via science & philosophy with an deep understanding of history thrown in for good measure.

Anonymous said...

Ali P and Cyberkitten, I'll respond to you both here, and thanks once again for the great discussion.

To Ali P: You stated, "The problem I have, is that you have simply stated a set of definitions. When something fits into your definition, you call this evidence - that's not evidence." Actually, the "evidence" for God in this argument is the existence of the universe itself (Step 1). The argument in its entirety demonstrates, using sound principles of reasoning, that the existence of the universe is sufficient "evidence" to reasonably believe in the existence of God (or, if you don't like using the term "God," then the existence of a being that contains all the properties of what is commonly referred to as "God").

You also stated, "Altering the definitions would alter the outcome of many of the following points. i.e. You can have more than one necessary thing = Gods" I'm not sure I'm following your point here, but if you're trying to say the argument uses subjective definitions, you're mistaken. You could argue that it uses subjective "labels," but as we've covered at length, it doesn't really matter what you label something; a label has no bearing on a being's properties-- it's simply a name we have chosen to call that being. If you mean that I narrowly applied the identity of indiscernibles to God alone, I have not. This principle works with any being (necessary or contingent); God just happens to be the being in question here. If you meant something different than this in your comments, I could use a little more clarification.

Also, you have suggested that perhaps matter or energy could be the necessary being in question, but neither of these qualify, and I'll explain why.

Remember that a necessary being is something that is completely independent of anything else. This means that it does not require, nor is it affected by, any outside forces for its existence or sustenance. Every form of matter that we have ever observed is undoubtedly contingent upon outside forces (i.e., it is subject to temperature, pressure, the effects of time, the presence of other matter, etc.), and we have yet to observe an object of matter that does not appear to have been created/caused by a specific event or circumstance. Therefore, every object of matter is, by definition, a contingent being and not a necessary one. If you were referring to the concept of matter in general (in its ever-transitioning forms), that would simply represent an ongoing chain of contingent beings. And, as we noted in Step 6, this chain cannot logically extend into eternity past (i.e., the impossibility of infinite regression). Likewise, energy is not a necessary being because the very recognition of energy's existence is contingent on the presence of matter (what is energy if there is no matter for it to act upon?). Furthermore, energy has never been observed to create matter from non-matter (it can only alter and affect pre-existing forms of matter), so it is scientifically inappropriate to assert that pure energy could have been the agent that brought matter into existence without the presence of matter for it to initially act upon.

To Cyberkitten: You stated, "If truth actually exists it can probably be best attained via science & philosophy with a deep understanding of history thrown in for good measure."

I'm not sure you can rightly claim philosophy as one of your tools. At its core, philosophy employs logic and reason, and you have chosen to abandon these elements in our debate (particularly with your assertion that facts are unknowable). At best, you could claim that you attempt to appeal to philosophic principles when they happen to support your pre-existing viewpoints.

phil

Ali P said...

Anonymous said...
Actually, the "evidence" for God in this argument is the existence of the universe itself

That's evidence of the existence of the universe, nothing else.

Anonymous said...

Ali P,

You stated, "That's evidence of the existence of the universe, nothing else."

Actually, no evidence was given in the argument for the existence of the universe; that was our pre-supposed starting point (Step 1). If the existence of the universe naturally and rationally leads to the existence of God (and the full argument shows that it does), then the universe serves as evidence of God. It's why I can state that belief in God is as rational as belief in the world around me.

phil

Ali P said...

Anonymous said...
If the existence of the universe naturally and rationally leads to the existence of God (and the full argument shows that it does)

Sorry, but it doesn't. If you can present some evidence of the existence of God, that would help - though to be fair, I don't think that's possible.

Anonymous said...

Ali P,

Can you show me how the above argument is flawed or less than sufficient for rationally leading one from the universe to God's existence? Simply saying the argument doesn't work is not the same as showing why it doesn't work.

phil

Ali P said...

Actually, the "evidence" for God in this argument is the existence of the universe itself

That bit.

Anonymous said...

Ali P,

I definitely want to make this argument clearer to you if you're confused, but I'll need you to clarify a little more. The argument systematically carries a logical progression of thought, leading from the existence of the universe (Step 1) to the existence of a being that is commonly referred to as "God" (Step 8). Read through each step again and let me know which one you find disagreement with and we'll discuss it, because if each step makes sense (which I believe they do), the whole argument then is a logical progression of thought which demonstrates that the universe does rationally give evidence of God's existence.

phil

Ali P said...

2. Each thing that exists is either necessary or contingent. Contingent means "dependent on something else" while necessary means "totally independent of anything else." Each thing in existence must be either one or the other; it cannot be both. A contingent being is caused, sustained, and determined by outside forces. If a necessary being exists, it does so independently of any outside influence including time and space.

"If a necessary being exists" We have no evidence of this. Just stating it is necessary doesn't make it so.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the question, Ali P. However, I think perhaps you are misunderstanding this step in the argument; this is a good example of how each step is a building block in the logical process. At Step 2, the case has not yet been made for a necessary being; it is hypothetical (hence, the word "if"). All Step 2 is saying is that IF a necessary being did exist, it would have to possess, by definition, the mentioned characteristics. We do not conclude whether, in fact, a necessary being does exist until later in the argument.

phil

Anonymous said...

Ali P,

Upon re-reading your last comment, I'm led to think that perhaps you were misled by the use of the term "necessary." The term necessary being is not meant to refer to a "required" being (although, the argument does eventually find that such a being is required), but it refers simply to a being that is totally independent of anything else. Thought I'd throw that out there as well in case it helps makes things clearer.

phil

Ali P said...

That makes a bit clearer.

Anonymous said...
7. A necessary being exists. Since the existence of contingent beings (our universe) necessarily requires a necessary being, it can be concluded that such a being must exist.

We don't know this. And to follow the line of thought through (everything has a cause), something would still have to cause a necessary thing i.e. there is no such thing.

CyberKitten said...

phil, what you're basically doing is putting forward an untestable hypothesis - rather than any factual information.

You say that the universe is made up of caused things and non-caused things (or in the case you put forward *one* non-caused thing). How do you know that there are *any* non-caused things? You apparently believe in such a thing but can you point to it and say "See, there it is"? No... because it doesn't exist except in your belief system.

You say that there can only be one non-caused being (mainly because the way you initially definied it). But the universe might have been created by a committee of lesser 'gods' who individually where incapable of doing so but collectively it was in their power - and we're back to polytheism.... of which there is also no proof.

I think that the Judeo-Christian God was probably the result of a theological 'pissing contest' - that of 'my gods bigger than your god'. A pagan beliver says "My god is immortal" Christian replies "My god existed before time and will exist eternally" Pagan believer says "My god created the winds and the seas" Christian relies "My god created the universe and everything in it - including your god" etc..... Eventually you get to the all-powerful, all-knowing yadda yadda god of Christianity.

You have offered no proof for the existence of this God except for a highly questionable chain of reasoning based on (obviously) previously held assumptions and beliefs. If you expect your argument to convince non-Christians to change sides I'm afraid that you will be greatly disapointed.

Anonymous said...

Good comments again, Ali P & Cyberkitten. I'll respond to you both here, repsectively.

To Ali P: In response to Step 7 in the argument, you said, "We don't know this [that a necessary being must exist]." Your statement that we cannot know if Step 7 is true would depend on whether or not Step 6 is a rational argument, because Step 7 is logically deduced from Step 6. Since Step 6 shows why a necessary being is required in order for contingent beings to exist, it rationally follows that because contingent beings exist, a necessary being must also exist-- there is no logical alternative.

You also stated, "And to follow the line of thought through (everything has a cause), something would still have to cause a necessary thing i.e. there is no such thing."

Nowhere in the argument did I assert or intimate that "everything has a cause." What I said is that all things which exist are either necessary or contingent. If something is contingent, then it must have a cause. However, if a necessary being exists, it has no cause and, therefore, has always existed.

To Cyberkitten: You claimed that the argument is an "untestable hypothesis - rather than any factual information." This is not true. Of course, we cannot set up a lab experiment here because we are dealing with metaphysical principles rather than physical substances, but the argument is perfectly testable. The appropriate examination technique for metaphysical ideas is the application of principles of reason. If each step in the argument, along with the inter-connectedness of the steps, withstands scrutiny according to the principles of reason (and they do), then the argument passes all necessary tests.

You also asked, "How do you know that there are *any* non-caused things?" Because the argument logically presents a case that demonstrates that it is reasonable to believe in one.

Also, you suggested that "the universe might have been created by a committee of lesser 'gods' who individually were incapable of doing so but collectively it was in their power." Any being which is "incapable" of doing something, is, by definition, a contingent being. The only thing that could limit one's ability to perform a given function would be because it is subject to external forces. And, simply adding together a collection of contingent beings will never add up to a necessary being (the whole is simply the sum of the parts). Each individual contingent being would have had to come into existence as a result of a greater necessary being which was unlimited in all ways, and has always existed.

Your belief that the "Judeo-Christian God was probably the result of a theological 'pissing contest'" is understandable, but you have not begun to try to show why that is true. I could also likewise assert that the evolutionary idea that all forms of life represent the common descent from an original, single-celled organism was due to a vast conspiracy within the scientific community, but you'd have serious doubts about such a claim without me offering proof to back it up (just to be clear, I don't believe that's how the theory of evolution came about. I just wanted to demonstrate that outlandish claims require sustantiation).

phil

Ali P said...

Anonymous said...
"Your statement that we cannot know if Step 7 is true would depend on whether or not Step 6 is a rational argument, because Step 7 is logically deduced from Step 6. Since Step 6 shows why a necessary being is required in order for contingent beings to exist, it rationally follows that because contingent beings exist, a necessary being must also exist-- there is no logical alternative."

I said we 'don't' know this, which is key - there is no 'usable' (there must be a better word) evidence, and without evidence a theory is groundless. i.e. (I'm stretching this!)The sun is yellow, so I believe it is made of cheese - there are many other resons it could be yellow (butter!), so there is no (not really)evidence to suggest the sun is made of cheese.

"Nowhere in the argument did I assert or intimate that "everything has a cause." What I said is that all things which exist are either necessary or contingent. If something is contingent, then it must have a cause. However, if a necessary being exists, it has no cause and, therefore, has always existed."

That's my interpretation of what you posted.

BTW, anyone got a craving for cheese on toast?

Anonymous said...

Ali P,

Since you asked, I've recently discovered that I love toasting cheese on bread with sliced tomatoes.

Your comment, "The sun is yellow, so I believe it is made of cheese" uses far less rationale than the argument with which you are debating. There are plausible alternatives for why the moon would appear to be a certain color, but the above argument for belief in God leaves no such room for plausible alternatives. Each step in the argument is logically derived from the previous. Therefore, since there are no plausible alternatives, the argument in its entirety does demonsrate that the universe's existence is sufficient evidence to warrant rational belief in God.

phil

CyberKitten said...

phil said: Therefore, since there are no plausible alternatives, the argument in its entirety does demonsrate that the universe's existence is sufficient evidence to warrant rational belief in God.

If things are *that* clear I wonder why we just don't 'get' it.

Just prideful I guess.... and enjoying all that sin... [laughs]

Anonymous said...

Cyberkitten,

You're laughing, but I honestly think that's certainly part of it. Of course, some people just never take the time to rationally think through this issue, and therefore remain needlessly ignorant of the logical conclusions. In any case (here I go with the Bible again), God does think things should be "that clear" to us because the Bible states that mankind is "without excuse" if we do not acknowledge His revelation in creation (Rom. 1:20). However, this passage also states that some people will "suppress the truth" in unrighteousness even though it should be plain to them (v. 18-19), and other passages indicate that some fail to see what should clearly be the truth because their minds have been blinded by demonic forces (2 Cor. 4:4).

I know you are far from buying into this, but I mention it because I believe there are reasons for rejecting God other than "lack of evidence," whether or not some people realize it. Some issues are issues of the heart, not of intellect.

phil

CyberKitten said...

I'm sorry phil but you're just too funny for words.... demonic forces already... whatever next! [rotflmao]

Anonymous said...

"Whatever next"? Whatever the conversation warrants, I suppose. Glad to provide you another laugh (Ecclesiastes 7:6).

phil

Ali P said...

Therefore, since there are no plausible alternatives, the argument in its entirety does demonsrate that the universe's existence is sufficient evidence to warrant rational belief in God.

The lack of evidence, is not evidence.

Just because we don't know, doesn't mean we should accept any idea.

Anonymous said...

That's true, Ali P. We shouldn't accept any idea, only rational ones (and the above argument qualifies).

phil