Saturday, October 9, 2010

Larry's Comment

The cosmological argument doesn't solve the problem of infinite regress. That's why I asked the question.

The CA just pushes the regress problem down the line by invoking God without explaining what causes God. If God is uncaused, then why can't the universe be uncaused? If God is super mysterious and inscrutable, then you really have no explanation at all.

The idea of causing in CA arguments is puzzling to me. We know that throwing a ball off a ledge will cause the ball to fall to the ground, but what causes a universe? That's what science is trying to figure out! So, I don't think we have a very good notion of cause as it applies to the universe itself.

My response:

The whole point of the Aquinas CA is to solve the issue of the infinite regress via. the uncaused cause stuff. That's the whole point of God as uncaused cause, he has to be there by necessity. We have the best notion of cause as it applies to the universe itself, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth." Science does say the method of creation, but science has no competing notion of what the cause is.

My question to you Larry is, how can you scientifically look for the cause of the universe from inside the universe? Seems to me you gotta go outside the universe to get that kind of a vantage point, which is impossible from a human perspective.


Larry Tanner said...

I understand what you are saying is the point of Aquinas' CA. My position, however, is that Aquinas fails to solve the problem.

It fails for reasons I gave before--naming the uncaused cause "God" without warrant and applying the concept of "cause" to something we don't know it applies to.

It's precisely these failures that prompt William Lane Craig to go to the Kalam Cosmological Argument and its weasel wording.

The answer to your question is the field of cosmology. Cosmology is the science of understanding the cause(s) of the universe. The problems are difficult but not impossible. I am not a cosmologist, however, so I would recommend that you take my opinion as suspect and read up yourself from cosmological experts.

My question to you: Your question to me suggests that there is another way, besides science, to look for or know the cause of the universe. This is an astounding suggestion, if I read you correctly. If so, please tell me what this method is for gaining such great knowledge of the true cause of the universe. What's the method? Who can use it? How long has it been around? Why is it not used as part of science, if indeed it is not?

I'm being a bit coy, of course. I imagine you are going to tell me something of having personal experience with the truth of God's existence and therefore you interpret the christian and/or jewish bible as already giving the answer of the universe's beginning.

All I'll say is that the bibles had long before been taken to explain the universe and its history. Whatever explanations the bibles give are now insufficiently detailed, if not outright incorrect.

SJ said...

The thing is, we define God as an entity that exists in its own right. Anything less and the entity isn't God.

>> The problems are difficult but not impossible. I am not a cosmologist, however, so I would recommend that you take my opinion as suspect and read up yourself from cosmological experts.

When the experts come up with a theory that covers not just method, but also cause, then let me know.

Larry Tanner said...

Deine all you like. The next task after defining is to establish that the thing exists. So results.

There are several theories, some more viable than others. But I'm not going to do your homework for you, as I assume you are not a child. If you choose not to know about a subject, that's your issue. If you really want to know, then do some reading.

Anything else?

SJ said...

I imagine that if physicists had an answer it would be well publicized. Dawkins and Hitchens wouldn't stop talking about it.

Larry Tanner said...

I never said there was an "answer." There are theories, some better supported than others. All of them, however, are better supported than a faith-based hypothesis.

You seem to want the issue settled. Maybe you think your particualar brand of religion has "the answer"--many of the brands advertise themselves as offering one. Well, what is it? SJ, please tell me "the answer" or point me to the resource where it's found (chapter, paragraph or page, please).

You called me out for a "debate." Are you going to make this a debate or what? So far, your responses have been quite flaccid.

SJ said...

My nonexpert understanding is that the cosmology side is based on lots and lots of mathematical conjectures and undiscovered particles. Is that really thaaat much "better" from an observational standpoint than what metaphysics does?

What the cosmologists do with math, the metaphysicists do with language.

Secondly, how do we know that the cosmologists aren't delving into more method instead of cause? What is the secular equivalent of Genesis 1:1? There is none.

Larry Tanner said...

"Is that really thaaat much "better" from an observational standpoint than what metaphysics does?"

I think you're selling the work of cosmology short, as it's about so much more than your characterization. I don't know what you've read in recent cosmology--and even if we both read the same materials, we would perhaps arrive at our current argumentative viewpoints--but to me the gap between cosmology and metaphysics is significant.

The same basic point applies to your second question. How you know depends on how you read whatever cosmology you read.

I don't know how you read "Genesis," but I think you are fooling yourself to suggest it explains a damn thing about the universe we inhabit. Feel free to explain how my view might be in error.

SJ said...

I think you're selling the work of metaphysics short. It takes Newton's law of motion and deducts God's existence from there.

How does Genesis expain the universe?


Genesis says that there's a beginning, confirmed by the big bang theory.

The Biblical flood story provides an adequate reason why there's flood stories all over the world.

The Elba archives corroborate place names and customs of the patriarchs.

That's coming from someone who isn't even an expert in biblical archaeology. An expert can give you a neverending list.

Also, genetic studies of Jews show similarities that can be corroborative of the Biblical narrative.

Larry Tanner said...

I'll only comment on one item: "Genesis says that there's a beginning, confirmed by the big bang theory."

No, that's actually not what Genesis says. And no, the big bang theory doesn't confirm that there was a beginning.

Here's Bereishit 1:1--"In the beginning of God's creation of the heavens and the earth."

"In the beginning" is a vague expression (and let's remember tat we are reading a translation, so our starting point at the text already contains ambiguity be default), but it seems to me we start here in media res, in the middle of things. Genesis doesn't begin at the very beginning but rather as it is occurring.

"God's creation" posits that God created the heavens and the earth. We have no way, so far as I know to test the proposition that "God created the earth." And we certainly need to clarify what is meant by "the heavens." Does it mean the skies? Does it mean a magical realm invisible to humans but inhabited by deities and supernatural beings? If the second, the again we need to say how we might we test the validity of such propositions.

Moreover, there's nothing (even as you go forward into the text) that plausibly refers to the solar system, the galaxies, or the universe as a whole. It's as if the writer of Genesis was not aware of the solar system and universe, and their vastness in time and space.

Finally, we have legitimate reason to say that big bang does not "confirm" there was a beginning. Rather, big bang is an attempt to explain what happened. However, that explanation cannot as yet get to the very beginning and before, if the term "beginning" means anything in the context of the universe.

Now, what does BBT really say? It says the universe was initially in a hot dense state that expanded and it still expanded. It's not an explosion but an expansion. There's not matter flying outwards but space expanding. Matter which was standing still was pulled along by expanding space.

The problem with your comment about Genesis and too many of the statements you have made so far is that they break down under scrutiny. You throw out a vague and superficial comment about what Genesis says as if it's all that clear or uncontroversial about what it does say. You casually assume it says whatever you want it to. Until you drop assumptions like this, I don't see us having a very productive or interesting discussion.

Why don't we stop this foolishness? You want to be a believer. You like it. That's great for you, and I hope you have a fun and rewarding life in your belief. But you're getting nowhere by trying to make science "fit" or "confirm" your belief. The fact is that science demystifies all the elements of religious belief--gods, miracles, mythic origins and endings, priests and prophets, rituals and prayers, and so on. So, I'm not having a lot of fun having to do your work and delve into messy details.

I hope you take my advice and look more carefully at things. Good luck.

SJ said...

Here's Bereishit 1:1--"In the beginning of God's creation of the heavens and the earth."

The problem with Artscroll's translation is that there don't seem to be an implied word "of" in between noun and verb. berashith barah is not berashith shel barah.

My understanding is Hebrew verbs don't even have an imperfect indicative so there is no direct equal to In the beginning God creating. Also, barah is past tense which is another nail in Artscroll's translation.

Artscroll's translation is in the minority.

Larry, also your interpretation of BBT is in the minority, it clearly says the universe is not eternal and that it had a beginning.

You have not mentioned one thing I brought up that fails under scrutiny instead you go into a dungeons and dragons rant.

You clearly aren't going to look in an objective manner; at archaeology that corroborates the Bible.

Larry Tanner said...

You're missing the larger point, which doesn't depend on the translation issues you raise:
(1) When is "in" the beginning?
(2) How do we test whether a god created anything?

My "interpretation" (as you put it) of BBT does not (and did not) say the universe was eternal and/or did not have a beginning. And, again, you are missing the larger point: BBT and Genesis are not compatible in a meaningful way.

I am happy to see you go into some detail with Hebrew grammar. I'm sure you'll now want to talk about some archaeology that corroborates the bible. Unfortunately, lots of the key parts are not corroborated and not very clear, as I've written:

Historical Exodus: Probably Not--

Mt. Sinai in Negev, not Egypt?--

Let the Dead Bury Jesus--

Of course, you started this whole thing by declaring the cosmological argument to be the greatest thing since sliced bread. Have you abandoned the CA, or do you have anything else that's going to defend the damn thing?

If you still want to talk CA, maybe we can cut to the chase. Even if a CA is sound, the difficult task remains to show that the necessary being to which the CA concludes is the God of religion, and if so, of what religion.

To give any religious substance to the concept of a necessary being, you'll need to discuss all the supreme beings found in all the religions. You'll need to carefully correlate the properties of a necessary being with those of a religious being, and to itemize the compatibilities and incompatibilities.

This is your burden as someone who thinks the CA is cogent. Have fun meeting it. I have better things to do.

SJ said...

OK 2 points, 1 is I don't look at any one argument as the magic bullet that proves religion. It does require an element of faith and I think there is enough out there to make it rational.

And secondly the ancient Egyptians never recorded defeats so looking to them for proof of the Exodus is futile.

Larry Tanner said...

"It does require an element of faith"

Yes, it does. I decided that for myself, my faith was better placed in reality and in real people.

"there is enough out there to make it rational"

No, there's enough to allow rationalization. It's no longer rational. We already dismiss other miracle and supernatural claims with better evidence than God, Jesus, the soul and so on.

I assume you dismiss Islam, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Voodoo, Asatru, Druidism, Wicca, and countless other religions. If so, I don't know why you dismiss the supernatural claims of these but not your own religion. I don't know why your religion's claims get special treatment against scrutiny if these others don't.

of course, the case against the Exodus is much more involved than a lack of records in Egypt.

As I have said repeatedly: If you want to be a believer, then fine. I personally don't care. But science doesn't help a religious case. Our history and knowledge disciplines don't support the accounts of holy texts.

I'm sorry, but you cannot have it both ways. If you want to take reality and the past seriously, you have to diminish the status of religion. If you want to maintain your religion and be happy in it, then you need to live your life away from a serious engagement with science and knowledge.

SJ said...

Larry, I assume you are an objective individual. Can you even cite a few of the pro-bible arguments from archaeology?

Or do you just dogmatically claim no evidence?

Larry Tanner said...

I have read and reviewed several books and articles. They tend not to tell you whether they are "pro-bible" or "anti-bible." In fact, I think many researchers would not see these categories as applicable.

No, I don't claim "no evidence." I'm claiming that the currently available evidence does not warrant much, if any, confidence in the historicity of the major events reported in Torah.

SJ said...

In other words you are unaware of pro-bible arguments from archaeology.

I would encourage you to look some up as an objective individual.

Larry Tanner said...


Why don't you recommend some titles. I imagine you'll want Ken Kitchen and Bill Dever in there.

If their arguments and use of evidence are not compelling to me, can I still be objective, or by "objective" do you mean that I need to share your viewpoint?

SJ said...

This goes back to my previous point, the Bible does need a certain amount of faith, however when you get so many pieces, you can form a correlation that points towards faith.

Larry Tanner said...

Oh. So you're saying I should make up my mind to believe and then everything else will start to conform that viewpoint and I'll see how "right" it is.

SJ said...

Naa. I'm saying look at the facts presented, and say it's probably right. I'll say it's easier for me because I believe that Christ fufilled the Old Testament, it's probably possible to do so with the Old Testament alone. XD

SJ said...

The thing is in religion it's important that there's room for doubt for free will to be possible.

Larry Tanner said...

Except the facts don't support the claims of any religion. Heck, the facts don't even allow us to say whether or not there was a historical Jesus.

Maybe this is where your "faith" comes in? The facts don't support what you want to believe, but you believe anyway and as long as the facts don't directly contradict you, you let the beliefs stand.

I'm sorry, but this is not good enough for me.

SJ said...

From what I've read, the facts corroborate, not contradict.

Larry Tanner said...

I imagine it's more how you've read than what you've read.

SJ said...

I imagine it's what I've read.

Larry Tanner said...

FYI and full disclosure--

My assessment of our recent discussion.