Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Toward a theory of why atheists think there is a moral obligation to have an opinion on the age of the earth

Okay, I think I've figured this out.

Several posts ago, I asked whether it was reasonable to ask people who didn't have any expertise or knowledge about the issue to take a public position on the age of the earth. P. Z. Myers responded with a few arguments before doing what dogmatic atheists always do, which is call you names, tell you you're ignorant, and then characterize you as morally deficient, all in the service of saying that, yes, even if you don't have any particular knowledge or expertise on the question, you should still have a position on it.

As Thomas, my co-blogger has pointed out, it seems rather strange for anyone to say that there is some kind of moral obligation to have a position on this one scientific issue. In fact, it's rather strange for atheists, most of whom are mechanistic materialists of some form, to say anyone has a moral obligation to do anything.

But if you think about it, it actually makes sense.

To atheists, questions like the age of the earth have an almost holy status--like the doctrine of the Double Nature of Christ for Christians, or the Eightfold Path for Buddhists. The Age of the Earth is one of the Five Pillars of Atheism.

It's not only holy: it's necessary. If you're going to be an atheist, you have to believe it, since it is necessary for your system of belief, and maintaining it becomes a matter of vital necessity. There are many creationists who hold to their position for exactly the same reason: they view a literal seven day creation and a strict reading of the genealogies as necessary to their faith. For historic Christianity, however, the question is simply not crucial. Nothing important hangs on it. God could have created the world quickly or slowly.

So when someone tells an atheist he doesn't think it's a particularly important issue, they react like natives whose god has been insulted. You have defiled the holy place. And so they point their rhetorical spears at you indignantly, jump around making threatening gestures, whooping and hollering, at which point you have to make a run for it before they boil you in a pot or something.

You just don't tell these people that one of their central religious dogmas is not important. It makes the scientific gods angry. It's taboo.

Just like the religious fundamentalist, the atheist's position on the age of the earth is part of his creed. It is not just a matter of scientific importance to these people; it's a matter of moral imperative because their whole belief system is bound up in it.

This, of course, says nothing about whether the evidence is good or bad. Despite what several commentators have implied, I have never argued that the evidence for the older age of the earth is problematic. I really don't have any problem with it, other than I think holding people to particular figures two or three places to the right of the decimal point in your millions of years figure is a little silly.

The only real material difference I have with the atheist fundamentalists is that I don't need to believe it. My worldview is just fine no matter how old the earth is. To me, the age of the earth is, indeed, a scientific question. But to the atheist it is a religious question. That is the single and only reason why anyone would say you have a moral obligation to have an opinion on it.

If you step outside the theological system of the atheists, why is it that you have a moral imperative to set forth your position on the issue of the age of the earth and to be able to say that it is exactly 4.567 billion years old? There are a whole lot more fundamental scientific issues out there. Why this one?

Should everyone have a well laid out position on quantum mechanics? The origin of the earth was, presumably, a very long time ago. Quantum mechanisms are operating now.

Where is Rand Paul on the issue of quantum gravity? What does he think about string theory? What a loon he must be for failing to have a position on the issue! He must be some kind of nut.

Maybe, but only from the perspective of someone to whom scientific questions are held as religious dogmas.

188 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh, I definitely think we need to know Rand's position on quantum gravity.

And Conway's position on cap and trade...

Not that Martin said...

...in the service of saying that, yes, even if you don't have any particular knowledge or expertise on the question, you should still have a position on it.

Martin, they weren't arguing this. The reason that Rand Paul's answer was noteworthy is that there's a very widely agreed upon and generally noncontroversial figure for the age of the earth at around 4.5 billion years.

Almost all the public dissent to that opinion comes from one particular group - Christians who believe the earth was created by God in the very recent geological past, even within the last 10,000 years.

So when Rand Paul says he doesn't know the answer, it's unlikely that he's trying to maintain a fair balance between the 4.567 and 4.566 billion-years-old camps. It's much more likely that he either believes in a very recent, divine creation, or is trying not to offend people who do. In either case, because most people who believe that are Christians, they also tend to have a lot of other opinions in common and that tells us something about what other policies he is likely to support. This information is useful when you're electing someone and it's reasonable to expect them to provide it.

Singring said...

This post is so distorted and plain wrong that I have posted an extensive reply on my blog at

http://lifesucksatyd.blogspot.com/

I really have to scratch my head how someone can misrepresent an issue as badly as has been done here.

Free Lunch said...

I don't think you have figured this out.

The question about Paul's behavior is about science and honesty, not atheism. The moral duty is to honesty and integrity in public discourse. Saying that you do not have an opinion, that you cannot tell between science that is strongly supported by evidence and a religious claim that is proven false by evidence is disingenuous.

Joe_Agnost said...

What freeLunch said before me - exactly.

And as an aside, Martin wrote in the OP: "If you're going to be an atheist, you have to believe it (the age of the earth), since it is necessary for your system of belief..."

"belief" has nothing to do with it!! It's not a belief - it's an acceptance. I don't "believe" the age of the earth is ~4.6 Ga, I understand the science and accept it.

None of that is relevant to the Rand issue at hand though. As FreeLunch said before me: "Saying that you do not have an opinion, that you cannot tell between science that is strongly supported by evidence and a religious claim that is proven false by evidence is disingenuous."

Martin Cothran said...

Not that Martin,

If you don't think that's what they were arguing, then you didn't read the comments too well.

And where did Rand Paul say he didn't know what the age of the earth was?

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

I assume I can find another post on your blog about Myers mischaracterizing my position on the question of the age of the earth?

Martin Cothran said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martin Cothran said...

Free Lunch,

What is dishonest about stating that you are not going to address a question and then not addressing it? He just flatly said, "I'm going to pass on the age of the earth [question]." And then did exactly that.

He said very clearly what he was doing, and did it. What is dishonest about that?

And where did say he didn't "have an opinion"? And since you're so enamored of claims supported by evidence, what is the evidence that he "cannot tell between science that is strongly supported by evidence and a religious claim that is proven false by evidence"?

It seems to me that people who are accusing Paul of not paying enough attention to evidence ought to make sure their own claims are supported by evidence.

Free Lunch said...

You are right, Martin, Paul was just being a run-of-the-mill politician who was running away from a question that has only one valid answer, but since that valid answer did not suit the audience, he refused to answer. It seems quite clear that Mr. Paul is no different than Senator McConnell, though he may be a bit better than Senator Bunning.

Paul allowed, by refusing to answer, the implication that there might be a question to consider to stand. There is no question. It has been resolved. Young Earth Creationism has been shown to be wrong.

Anonymous said...

It is fun to watch Martin in meltdown mode over this. His attempts to make it look like only atheists (an unpopular group) oppose him are most amusing.

Singring said...

'I assume I can find another post on your blog about Myers mischaracterizing my position on the question of the age of the earth?'

Quote the passage in question and your objections to it and I will respond. Making vague accusations and blanket statements does not serve you at all in this respect.

As far as I can tell it was YOU who started quoting published figures correcting the age of the earth by 0.001% as an excuse for your 'non position', then in this post suddenly made a 180 to state that quibbling about the exact figure is 'silly'.

At first I doubted whether you read the comments on your posts, now I have to wonder whether you read or remember your own posts at all.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

If you had read my posts carefully, you would know exactly what I was talking about. I covered this in first post in response to Myers. I think you know exactly what I am talking about.

If you don't have an extra minute to read to do what you're telling me I'm not doing, maybe you could get Anonymous to do it, since all he's doing right now is shaking pom-poms.

And, of course, I quoted the published figure on the age of the solar system precisely because I think it's silly to quibble over the exact figure. What about that is a "180"? Maybe that's a "360."

Singring said...

'If you had read my posts carefully, you would know exactly what I was talking about.'

I don't. Maybe I'm stupid. Now's your chance to prove it. Just quote what you are referring to. If its so obvious, that should be easy, right? So let's hear it - then I'll respond.

'What about that is a "180"? Maybe that's a "360."'

Let me quote your comments abput the study in question and its findings in sequence:

'I posted it without comment, but with the idea that the certainty of exact formulations of the earth's age (e.g. "4.5 billion years") are always precarious.'

Next, on whether the difference between 4.566 and 4.567 billion years is important you said this:

'Apparently, something important hangs on the difference.'

You ENTIRE POINT at this stage was that a correction of miniscule proportions is significant enough to excuse your unwillingness to take a position.

Then, in this post you say this:

'why is it that you have a moral imperative to set forth your position on the issue of the age of the earth and to be able to say that it is exactly 4.567 billion years old?'

and more importantly:

'I think holding people to particular figures two or three places to the right of the decimal point in your millions of years figure is a little silly.'

YOU quoted that figure and YOU insisted that there was 'something important hanging on the difference'.

If that isn't a complete reversal in position in a desperate attempt to get out of an increasingly embarassing situation, then I don't know what is.

George W. said...

This issue has spiraled so far off topic it is laughable.
PZ put a post up that mischaracterized the statements by Mr.Paul and Martin seized upon it and made you all look like fools. Mr. Paul refused to answer a question about the age of the Earth. That doesn't mean he doesn't have an opinion, or that he doesn't know.
The issue that we should be talking about is why we should vote for politicians who either:
a) prey off the delusions of gullible YEC's by dodging an issue that is only controversial in very specific company in a ploy to get their vote.
b) mistrusts to counsel of every expert from multiple disciplines in order to hold a position he knows is too ignorant to verbalize in public

Instead Martin has you all fired up on whether:
a) atheism is a dogmatic religion hell bent on truth by force
b) whether it is fair to not hold opinions on things you are not an expert on

I can't even bring myself to wade in in defense of any of you, even though I agree with your arguments-because you have been feeding into an argument Martin knows you can't win. He laid the ground rules out in such a way that you can't possibly win.

This is a non-issue conflated with a real issue designed to get your blood boiling.

Francis J. Beckwith said...

P.Z. apparently believes that there are good and bad ways of reasoning, but he denies that there exist any final or formal causes in nature. (For those who think this has anything to do with intelligent design, you're wrong. Read my article here: http://biologos.org/uploads/projects/beckwith_scholarly_essay.pdf ).

So, if reasoning has no proper end (i.e., the denial of final causality), and if the human person is such that good reasoning does not contribute to his good as a whole (i.e., the denial of formal causality), P.Z. has, by his own lights, no grounds by which to issue judgments against others.

Ultimately, then, his entire project is imperiled from the get go, given his prior philosophical commitments.

Free Lunch said...

... Ultimately, then, his entire project is imperiled from the get go, given his prior philosophical commitments.

What a silly series of statements you make. Will you next argue that 2+2 does not equal 4 because of Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem?

Thomas said...

Free Lunch,

Out of curiosity, do you know who Francis Beckwith is?

PZ Myers has some pretty obvious philosophical commitments (the conflation of methodological materialism with metaphysical materialism, for example). Just because he hasn't the slightest capacity for philosophy (as he demonstrated in his criticism of David Hart) doesn't mean there's not a philosophical commitment.

Free Lunch said...

Out of curiosity, do you know who Francis Beckwith is?

Sure.

PZ Myers has some pretty obvious philosophical commitments (the conflation of methodological materialism with metaphysical materialism, for example).

An allegation you would not be able to support.

Just because he hasn't the slightest capacity for philosophy (as he demonstrated in his criticism of David Hart) doesn't mean there's not a philosophical commitment.

Making the accusation is the easy part. Backing it up is harder.

Thomas said...

Free Lunch,

Myers did most of the work for me. He was completely baffled by an oversimplified summary of the cosmological argument, expressing shock that anyone could understand terms introduced in 100 level philosophy classes.

http://vereloqui.blogspot.com/2010/04/p-z-meyers-tacit-admission-i-shouldnt.html

Singring said...

'http://vereloqui.blogspot.com/2010/04/p-z-meyers-tacit-admission-i-shouldnt.html'

Wow. Seems you are on a mission to best Martin in distorting and misrepresenting. I read P.Z.'s post. He does not 'franly admit' that he 'does not understand' the terms being use by Hart, he does say that he does not understand his argument - which is probably because its a garble of incoherent nonsense. I know that a lot of apologists philosophers and non-philosophers alike use big words - often precisely because it then gives them the embarassingly transparent excuse that 'you just aren't clever enough to understand my argument'.

The First Cause 'argument' is one of such epic vacancy of thought and reason that I always shake my head in wonder when theists actually put it forward. It does not even rise to the level of 'indefensible'. It is simply a non-argument.

Thomas said...

Free Lunch,

You clearly have no background in philosophy, but have you studied the Physics?

Thomas said...

Sorry, Free Lunch, I didn't look at the name. That should be addressed to Singring.

Francis J. Beckwith said...

"The First Cause 'argument' is one of such epic vacancy of thought and reason that I always shake my head in wonder when theists actually put it forward. It does not even rise to the level of 'indefensible'. It is simply a non-argument."

There is no "The First Cause argument." There are dozens of them.

But, just out of curiosity, two questions:

1. Must all beliefs be the result of good arguments in order to be rationally held?

2. Are the relations between premises and conclusions spatial, like the relation between the wine glass to the left of my computer screen?

Thomas said...

"There is no 'The First Cause argument.' There are dozens of them."

Infidels.org only has one, so you can probably understand the confusion.

But you're right. Even within the Physics, there's not really one single argument. Aristotle uses it to distinguish between natural (composite) and being as pure act, to clarify the ontological structure of motion, and to come to an understanding of what Heidegger called "the ontological difference". It's not really even an argument (in the more polemical sense), it's the consummation of his dialectic in the Physics.

But for some reason, you don't see the New Atheists talking about those aspects.

Free Lunch said...

1. Must all beliefs be the result of good arguments in order to be rationally held?

For it to be rational, wouldn't it need both supportable assumptions and valid arguments?

2. Are the relations between premises and conclusions spatial, like the relation between the wine glass to the left of my computer screen?

No, the beer bottle is to the right of my screen, or, we could say that premises and conclusions are related logically, but that the conclusion is no better than the foundation of the premise and the quality of the argument that led to the conclusion.

Yes, there are many first cause arguments. It appears that part of the reason so many exist is because none are satisfactory, even to those who believe that there is something essentially right about that argument.

Scientists have gotten used to the idea that the more they discover, the more often they are likely to find themselves in a morass of problems that are not yet understood or even easily formulated. They are comfortable that they don't yet know the next answer.

Not knowing the answer to "what was the universe like before the first Planck interval" is frustrating, but doesn't make scientists throw up their hands and decide there's no way to know anything.

Free Lunch said...

Thomas,

I don't accept your interpretation of Myers's post. I'm not even sure how you arrived at it.

There's a difference between "I don't understand what he was saying here" and "I don't understand how anyone could say that."

Thomas said...

Free Lunch,

To Hart's description of the cosmological argument, Myers says: "The first reaction of any rational, intelligent human being to that explanation should be, simply, 'What?'". Apparently he doesn't spend much time around intelligent human beings with any sort of philosophy background. Hart's describing what people learn in entry-level philosophy classes.

If that's his reaction to a simplified description of the cosmological argument, I can only imagine how comically out of his depth he would be reading Husserl or Fichte.

Reading Myers on philosophy makes me feel a bit like a biologist at the creation museum. You really can't expect anyone with any philosophic aptitude to take Myers seriously.

Free Lunch said...

Myers' "what" was incredulity, not a lack of comprehension but shock that anyone believed such claims.

I agree with you that the creation museum is an abomination.

Singring said...

'There is no "The First Cause argument." There are dozens of them.'

I was referring to all incarnations of this silly argument. I am most familiar with the Kalam version of the argument and it is the only one I have ever been presented and the only one I have ever seen anyone present. I have seen variations on it but to call them a new argument is ridiculous. If you have a version you deem better, let's hear it.

'You clearly have no background in philosophy, but have you studied the Physics?'

I have not studied philosophy nor have I studied physics beyond high school level. However, neither is required to see instantly that the First Cause argument(s) fail(s) spectacularly.

'1. Must all beliefs be the result of good arguments in order to be rationally held? '

In order to be 'rationally' held? Yes.

'2. Are the relations between premises and conclusions spatial, like the relation between the wine glass to the left of my computer screen?'

Since premises and conclusions are conceptual, I don't even understand what you are trying to get at here. They are most certainly not spatial as in 'the physical world' spatial, but I had hoped that were bleeding obvious.

Thomas said...

Singring,

I'm not sure this is worth spending time on, since you've proclaimed that the first cause arguments are "epic vacancies of thought", even though you admit you're only familiar with one form of the argument. You seem to believe that one need not even be familiar with an argument to know it to be false.

Perhaps I should have italicized "The Physics" -- I was referring to Aristotle's work, not the study of modern physics. If you want to criticize the cosmological argument, you should begin there, since it's the first fleshed out form of the argument. I'd suggest the Sachs translation; it is heavily footnoted by the translator and walks the reader through the arguments, which is good for beginners.

Thomas said...

Free Lunch,

Myers specifically says that the incredulous reaction is to argument, and nowhere does he indicate that the incredulity is directed toward the person who advocates it. Further, he goes on to give examples of people who don't understand the description, which indicates, among other things, that he's trying to establish the description does not make sense.

But really, your interpretation may actually be worse. Not only would Myers be directly unfamiliar with the cosmological argument, he would be unfamiliar even indirectly with the argument, since he wouldn't be aware of the philosophic discussion surrounding it.

Reading Myers on philosophy is quite like reading Ken Ham shooting from the hip on biology. He feeds off the ignorance of his audience to make his opponent's arguments seem absurd.

Singring said...

'You seem to believe that one need not even be familiar with an argument to know it to be false.

Oh no - what I'm saying is that in principle, all variations on 'the' First Cause argument boil down to one argument - and this argument fails on its very first premise, which - in layman's terms - asserts that all material things (or in the Kalam version 'all things that have a beginning') must be caused and cannot be self-caused. If you disagree with this summation of the premise, please enlighten me.

Now, in order for this premise to be granted, whoever is making the argument needs to give some good reasons/arguments/evidence to support that in fact, all material things need a cause and cannot be self-causing. Again, tell me whenever you disagree and why. Now if you have followed physics (not Aristotle now, but actual physics), you must know that even WITHIN our own universe, which is all we have access to, this is not true. Quantum theory shows that particles can pop in and out of existence at random and without apparent cause. Now if you can give me a good reason why I should accept that causality holds OUTSIDE our universe (an area to which we have no access at ethe moment) when it does not even do so WITHIN our universe, then I'd love to hear them. I really would.

So that's just the first premise and already it falls flat on its face.

I invite you to demonstrate how I'm wrong. Did I give a wrong summation of the first premise? Did I omit something? Please let me know.

'Perhaps I should have italicized "The Physics" -- I was referring to Aristotle's work, not the study of modern physics.'

Frankly - and I know this is going to sound dismissive of philosophy and its history - I cnanot for the life of me see how you can honestly advance a 2000 year old formulation of an argument. Its as if I would put forward Aristotle's zoology as a Biological argument today. It's laughable to say the least. But it does not surprise me that a deist/theist (whichever you profess to be, since the first cause argument(s) at best support deism only) will gladly advance 2000 year old thinking. That's in fact precisely what you seem to revel in.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

So the mere fact that an idea or argument is old renders it unsound?

Singring said...

'So the mere fact that an idea or argument is old renders it unsound?'

I never said that. In fact the bulk of my post dealt specifically with showing WHY it is unsound, but of course you ignore that.

All I am saying is that if, with 2000 years of Christian apologetics and theological and philosophical thought that supposedly were productive and refined, distilled and honed the philosophical and theological arguments, the best recommendation Thomas can come up with for a 'beginner' on the first cause argument(s) is Aristotle? Seriously? I'm a Biologist and if I were to recommend a book on evolution for 'beginners' I would certainly not recommend Darwin. I would recommend a much more recent work because it contains more recent data, more precise and specific argumentation (even though Darwin was very good himself!) and presents a much more concise and poignant case.

If you want to take issue with my refutation of the first premise of the first cause argument(s) I invite you to do so.

Let's hear it.

Free Lunch said...

Bad arguments do not get better because they have aged. They may have aged because people did not see the flaws. The cosmological argument have always relied on assumptions that could not be supported. Before scientists knew anything about the history of the universe, these first cause arguments seemed to have an intuitive appeal. Now, the evidence about the universe and its history negates such an argument.

Since first cause arguments are no longer intellectually defensible, you will have to explain to me why anyone would bother to offer them or why anyone would defend those who do offer these empty arguments.

Martin Cothran said...

No, Singring, that is not what you said. What you said was: "I cnanot for the life of me see how you can honestly advance a 2000 year old formulation of an argument."

Whether an argument is a year old or 2,000 years old is completely irrelevant. All that matters is whether its premises are true and its logic valid. Neither of these things is conditioned on its age.

Scientific findings constantly must changed because of new discoveries, but Aristotle's argument does not appeal to scientific findings.

In fact, the state of science changes all the time, one of the reasons its conclusions are always tentative. You seem to think that philosophical conclusions share this same property, which, of course they don't.

I guess if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. But it is no more legitimate to impose the rules of science on philosophy than to impose the rules of philosophy on science.

Thomas said...

Singring,

Aristotle's cosmological argument assumes that the world is eternal, though it can work even if the world isn't (as Aquinas showed). But whether or not the universe has a beginning or an end is completely irrelevant to the classic cosmological argument. Which is why I would suggest you familiarize yourself with it -- it sounds a bit silly when you declare that even though you aren't familiar with all forms of the cosmological argument, you're sure that they all commit the same error when they in fact do no such thing.

"I cannot for the life of me see how you can honestly advance a 2000 year old formulation of an argument."

It's nice that you have shared how you feel, but in philosophy, how you feel is beside the point. The virtue of the argument is what matters.

I know that everyone feels entitled to have an opinion about philosophical issues (the meaning of life, existence, etc.). But remember that you're stepping into the territory of a discipline that requires a lot of work just to be competent. Maybe anyone can do philosophy at some level, but not everyone can do it well. If you want people who are somewhat competent in philosophy to take you seriously, you should remember that just because you have an opinion doesn't mean people will respect it, any more than a biologist would respect the lay person who says "I just don't see how the world could be older than a few thousand years". You'd think that person was out of their depth and has some research to do before you can even have a fruitful conversation with them. This is a philosophical question, and the amateur has to realize that he is an amateur if he's ever address the question with any competence. Nothing will get you written off more quickly than making bold statements about concerning subjects you don't understand very well.

Singring said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe_Agnost said...

Thomas, writing about Singring, wrote: "Nothing will get you written off more quickly than making bold statements about concerning subjects you don't understand very well."

So have at it then! You say he's out of his league, that he is wrong, and yet you don't address his errors!

Whine, whine, whine... why not address his errors instead?

Singring said...

I accept many of the points both of you are making with regards to the validity of philosophical argument (even though I still can't fathom why you would recommend a 2000 year old formulation over a recent one, for the sake of clarity alone).

As a scientist, the fact that an idea (in this case a philosophical argument) remains unchanged for 2000 years even though our understanding of the reality which it purports to explain has changed dramatically instills me with extreme skepticism in the validity of this very approach to finding truth - something Martin does not seem to have the slightest problem with. This is precisely what I would expect from a religious person. Whether or not this is a virtue or not is for everyone to decide on their own.

Finally - and here I am rather surprisd, I must say - neither of you even adressed my criticism of the first premise of the first cause argument(s). So I can take it that you accept my formulation of it and my criticism?

That's all I intended to show - that the first cause argument(s) fail right out of the gate. As far as I'm concerned, that wraps up this discussion nicely.

'This is a philosophical question, and the amateur has to realize that he is an amateur if he's ever address the question with any competence.'

I agree 100%! I openly admitted that my philosophical education is high-school level at best.

So here's your big chance. Show me how its done. Show me where I'm wrong. I'd really like to know.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

I believe Thomas is formulating a response to your challenge on the First Cause argument now. If he doesn't, I will.

In the meantime it seemed to me worthwhile to address your point about the age of the argument. Since you made the point, I assumed it was fair game.

But just to prime the pump here, are you saying that causation is in the world? That it is a physical thing? If so, could you point me to a physical cause?

Francis J. Beckwith said...

"'1. Must all beliefs be the result of good arguments in order to be rationally held? '

In order to be 'rationally' held? Yes."

I believe that I had breakfast this morning. I don't believe it on the basis of any argument. And yet, it is rational to hold. So, it is not true that all beliefs must result from good arguments in order to be rationally held.

Second, until you provide a good argument for believing that "all beliefs must be the result of good arguments in order to be rationally held," then I am within my epistemic rights, according to your view, to reject the belief that "all beliefs must be the result of good arguments in order to be rationally held."

You write:
"'2. Are the relations between premises and conclusions spatial, like the relation between the wine glass to the left of my computer screen?'

Since premises and conclusions are conceptual, I don't even understand what you are trying to get at here. They are most certainly not spatial as in 'the physical world' spatial, but I had hoped that were bleeding obvious."

Good. We're making progress. You now reject materialism, since you have admitted that premises and conclusions are not material things.

And, you no doubt believe that they are real, since someone who does not accept your conclusions is lacking something he or she ought to have. Thus, premises and conclusions are real things but not material.

So, we have discovered two things about your worldview, you hold your first principle on the basis of no argument, and thus are irrational by your own lights. And second, you believe there are immaterial realities.

You're half-way home. :-)

Joe_Agnost said...

"I believe that I had breakfast this morning. I don't believe it on the basis of any argument."

Come on! Your "argument" is that you were there to witness it.

Man.. it's like you're not even trying!

Singring said...

'But just to prime the pump here, are you saying that causation is in the world? That it is a physical thing? If so, could you point me to a physical cause?'

I'll leave it up to Thomas to define the term. After all he's the one putting forward the argument. It's not up to me to define his terms for him. But if you are going to use causation to explain our universe you ultimately must concede that causation is a physical thing in that it caused our universe, which is physical (I hope we agree on that at least).

'I believe that I had breakfast this morning. I don't believe it on the basis of any argument. And yet, it is rational to hold.'

1.) What YOU think is rational to believe or not is not the gold standard. Basing beliefs on memories alone has nothing to do with rationality in my opinion. Rationality is not subjective and based on personal experience. I thought that knowledge is trivial.

2.) Whether or not you had breakfast this morning is of no concern to anyone but you. Its more than a bit disingenuous to compare a claim of that kind to the claim that a 'God' caused our existence.

For example, if I tell you that my name is Chris - you would be likely to accept that claim at face value simply because nothing much hinges on it being true and Chris is a very common name. If I tell you that I am the son of God, the creator of the universe - now that is a different matter and I think we both agree that you would ask for a bit more objective evidence from me to support that claim.

'You now reject materialism, since you have admitted that premises and conclusions are not material things. '

I never said I was a materialist, bud. OF COURSE premises and conclusions are not material. But what do they depend on? A brain. A good old fashioned material brain. Until you can provide evidence or argument in support of non-material premises and conclusions that are not dependent on a brain producing them, I remain unimpressed.

Thomas said...

Singring,

"neither of you even adressed my criticism of the first premise of the first cause argument(s)"

I already addressed your first premise. It simply doesn't have a place in the cosmological argument. The standard cosmological argument does not require that the world begin at some point in time; Aristotle believes it (or at least some parts of it, like the celestial bodies) doesn't have such a beginning. Your argument against the cosmological argument has nothing to do with the classic form of the argument.

The cosmological "argument" in the Physics is really a dialectic that shows that natural things are composite (that is, they are made up of potency and act), and that composite beings require a prior actuality. Since each natural thing is caused (and Aristotle is using a wider sense of causation here than the sciences do) by another natural thing, nothing in the chain can fully explain why things exist at all. To do that, you need a being that is not compound, that is pure act.

But of course, this isn't convincing until we've elucidated the concepts of actuality, potency, motion, causation, and so on. Aristotle does this dialectically, and since the argument is the culmination of all the arguments in the Physics it is quite lengthy. Which is why I suggest you read the Physics, because it's going to be very time-consuming to do it here.

Singring said...

'I already addressed your first premise. It simply doesn't have a place in the cosmological argument. The standard cosmological argument does not require that the world begin at some point in time'

Awesome dodge. Great dodge. But a dodge none the less. Here's what I said again:

'this argument fails on its very first premise, which - in layman's terms - asserts that all material things (or in the Kalam version 'all things that have a beginning') must be caused and cannot be self-caused. If you disagree with this summation of the premise, please enlighten me.'

I specifically stated that the 'beginning' aspect only applies to the Kalam version and that I was including the premise that all material things need a cause and cannot be self-caused, which is precisely the premise you then proceeded to give, simply using a lot of fancy philosophical words like 'actuality' and 'potency and act' etc.

I really was expecting more. You gave no indication whatsoever as to how you propose to demonstrate that 'each natural thing is caused by another natural thing'. I quote:

'Since each natural thing is caused (and Aristotle is using a wider sense of causation here than the sciences do) by another natural thing, nothing in the chain can fully explain why things exist at all.'

That's a bald assertion. Nothing more. My question was precisely how you come to claim that 'all natural (material) things have a cause'.

I'm asking a very simple, basic question: How do you know this? Quantum Theory refutes this claim within our universe, yet somehow you think its perfectly ok to put forward the premise that it applies OUTSIDE our universe (since our universe is 'natural (material)' and therefore needs a cause as well).

You can assert stuff all the live long day, but it doesn't constitute a coherent argument.

'But of course, this isn't convincing until we've elucidated the concepts of actuality, potency, motion, causation, and so on.'

As I expected, this is your back door: You think just throwing out all these philosophical terms as if they somehow had more meaning than more commonly used words like 'cause' or 'material' is going to obfuscate the fact that you have just dodged the entire issue. You suggest I need to research these terms before I can even adress the argument in an effort to obfuscate the plain fact that I have adressed the argument and you have failed to respond with more than a bald faced assertion.

Thomas said...

I don't really know the Kalem version enough to criticize it. I'd have to actually study it before I made a judgment. But, on a cursory glance, it doesn't appear very compelling to me.

Anyway, I told you, I can't offer a fully fleshed out version of Aristotle's cosmological argument in the comment section of a blog any more than you could give a rigorous proof of common descent in the same forum.

This conversation reminds of nothing more than debating a young earther who has a very limited set of facts and almost no grasp of be basic principles of biological inquiry who becomes quite incensed when a biologist doesn't give him the entire proof for evolution right then and there, as if one come to a thorough understanding of genetics in one conversation.

You've claimed that all cosmological arguments fail because of a particular premise--a bold claim since you admittedly had only been exposed to one form of the argument. As I've pointed out, Aristotle's cosmological argument makes no such presumption. Now you seem appalled that I suggest you understand the basic terms of the argument. You said you're a biologist - is this the sort of rigor that passes in that field?

The problem with discussing Aristotle's cosmological argument is that it's the last part of a very long dialectical inquiry. Since it's dialectical, it presumes all that went before it. In other words, in order to find the argument compelling, one has to rehearse all the arguments that came before it. I suppose I could just start copying and pasting the Physics into the comment box, unless you're willing to accept that this medium has certain inherent limitations.

You wouldn't just jump into a physics blog expecting to resolve the string theory debate in the comments section. A bit of intellectual humility is required when one enters a new discipline, and one has to be willing to learn in order to get anywhere. Asking you to read the Physics to understand the basics of the argument put forward there is not that much if you want to offer a serious argument. Of course, if you're not concerned with doing bad philosophy, I suppose that won't avail much. But I'm going to assume that you believe that when one does something, one ought to do it well, and that you think the issue is important enough to put a little time into it.

Now, if you don't have the time to do that, I'm willing to try and elucidate the argument a bit, but you're going to have to realize that it's not really a complete form of the argument.

Thomas said...

I don't want to discourage you from the subject. I do enjoy discussing the cosmological argument, and I think it's worth thinking about (for everyone, not just for philosophers). When I have time, I'll see if I can track down a good journal article on the subject. It won't be as good as Aristotle, but it may helpful. And the physics really is a very difficult book, so it may not be fair to tell you to read it starting out, so long as you realize a secondary account is probably going to be inferior to the original.

Free Lunch said...

give a rigorous proof of common descent

Science is not logic. It does not have proofs and the rigor is only in the quality of the research.

Are you aware of any cosmological argument that is consistent with the physical evidence that has been gathered and does not make assumptions that have not been properly dismissed as special pleading?

Martin Cothran said...

Free Lunch,

So physics doesn't "have proofs and the rigor is only in the quality of the research"?

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

Why are you demanding the people here defend the Kalam version of the "First Cause" argument when no one here has proposed it?

Singring said...

'I don't really know the Kalem version enough to criticize it.'

Oh - but you saw fit to criticize me for mentioning it even though I am familiar with it? And then proceeded to criticize me for talking about things I am not familiar with? Very revealing I might say.

'I can't offer a fully fleshed out version of Aristotle's cosmological argument in the comment section of a blog'

I'm not expecting you to. I never asked you to. I asked you to respond to a very specific formulation of the first cause argument(s) that I put forward. I invited you twice to point out precisely where I was wrong. Instead you moan and whine about how you can't go over Aristotle here - I'M NOT ASKING YOU TO. I'm asking you specifically to tell me how you know this:

'Since each natural thing is caused (and Aristotle is using a wider sense of causation here than the sciences do) by another natural thing'

This is a claim about the natural world. How do you know this? It's a very, very simple question. You insistently dodge it and whine instead.

'As I've pointed out, Aristotle's cosmological argument makes no such presumption.'

As I pointed out in my previous post with a specific post with a quote from my first challenge of the premise, I DO NOT include the presumption of a beginning. Stop distorting what I say and adress the specific argument, please. Or do I have to quote myself again?

'The problem with discussing Aristotle's cosmological argument is that it's the last part of a very long dialectical inquiry.'

One more time: We're not discussing Aristotle's argument, we're discussing a specific premise. The FIRST premise, no less. That should be very easy to adress without going through the entire argument since its a PREMISE and its the FIRST PREMISE. Is this the sort of rigour that passes muster here? Constant dodging seems to be the norm.

'A bit of intellectual humility is required when one enters a new discipline'

Bring on the patronizing dememanor. I don't care. It is not helping you to disguise the fact that you are ignoring the issue and whining instead.

You are an author on this blog, correct? So why not post a precise, extensive refutation of my criticism of the first premise as put forward if space is all that constrains you? Or maybe just link to a website you think gives a good refutation. Is that so hard?

I will read 'The Physics' - It may take me a long time since I am currently writing a thesis, but how about you simply adress this one criticism I have put forward?

Singring said...

'Why are you demanding the people here defend the Kalam version of the "First Cause" argument when no one here has proposed it?'

I never demanded that. Why do you make these dishonest claims, Martin? Please quote a post of mine where I suggested that people here are proposing Kalam?

I specifically said that I am criticizing ALL versions of the first cause argument(s) and the Kalam is merely a version of it.

Free Lunch said...

So physics doesn't "have proofs and the rigor is only in the quality of the research"?

You seem surprised.

Sure, in casual conversation or the popular press, much of the evidence that physicists have gathered would be called proof. Given the technical meaning of proof in mathematics and the importance of mathematics as a tool in science, the word 'proof' is generally avoided to help avoid confusion between proof and evidence.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

You first took an unprovoked pop at the First Cause argument despite the fact that no one here proposed it, nor were they discussing the question of the existence God, nor did the comment have anything to do with the post, making the assertion:

The First Cause 'argument' is one of such epic vacancy of thought and reason that I always shake my head in wonder when theists actually put it forward. It does not even rise to the level of 'indefensible'. It is simply a non-argument.

You offered no argument for this, you just asserted it to be true, despite admitting that you were not really familiar forms other than the Kalam argument. Then you demanded that others on this blog (who had not proposed it) prove you wrong, as if you did not have the burden of proof yourself.

And you claim that you wrote a post that "dealt specifically with showing WHY it is unsound." Maybe you could point to where this detailed post is. The best I can find is this single remark:

Oh no - what I'm saying is that in principle, all variations on 'the' First Cause argument boil down to one argument - and this argument fails on its very first premise, which - in layman's terms - asserts that all material things (or in the Kalam version 'all things that have a beginning') must be caused and cannot be self-caused. If you disagree with this summation of the premise, please enlighten me.

But, of course, this has no discussion of why the argument is unsound. All we are supposed to go on is your emotive utterance that it is "of epic vacancy of thought."

Is this what passes for detail in your biology circles?

But despite all this, I'm willing to bite. But first, I need to know where this detailed proof of the unsoundness of the argument is that you have posted. I'm willing to admit that I may have missed it in the now very long comments section.

When you produce it, I'll start another post on this blog so we can start at the beginning.

Joe_Agnost said...

Singring wrote (at 12:53): "Quantum theory shows that particles can pop in and out of existence at random and without apparent cause. Now if you can give me a good reason why I should accept that causality holds OUTSIDE our universe (an area to which we have no access at ethe moment) when it does not even do so WITHIN our universe, then I'd love to hear them. I really would."

Is that what you missed Martin?

Martin Cothran said...

Joe,

Yes, thank you. I did miss that one when I went back through the posts. But I would still like to hear from
Singring that his argument against the First Cause argument is based on the belief that causation does not hold within the physical world.

It seems a rather strange position for a scientist to take.

Joe_Agnost said...

He gives you his reason in the quote I gave you.

"Quantum theory shows that particles can pop in and out of existence at random and without apparent cause."

That's all he needs. Particles can pop in and out of existence without a "cause".

What more do you need/want?

Thomas said...

Singring,

I didn't criticize you for offering a bad argument against the Kalam cosmological argument, I criticized you for declaring that all cosmological arguments have the same premise, even though you admitted you had no exposure to those other arguments. I've said that I'm not familiar enough with the Kalam version to either endorse it or reject it. My exposure to it has pretty much been to read the entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and that's no basis on which to make a judgment.

It's pretty common to have someone present an argument and then demand to know if the argument is persuasive, so long as the argument is one they endorse. That's just part of philosophic practice. But I've never seen someone present an argument that he or she disagrees with, then offer a criticism of the argument, then demand that one take a position on that criticism. I have no commitment as to the argument or the criticism. It's as though I put forward Heidegger's argument that Aristotle's hylomorphism is based on the paradigm of an artifact, then critiqued the argument, then demanded you take a position on my critique. It's not your argument that I'm critiquing, so it's not clear that I'm obliged to take up a position.

And, as I've already said, the cosmological argument works whether or not there's an infinite causal chain of composite things causing each other (as Aristotle thought), or whether that chain can be traced back to a terminal point (as Aquinas thought). The salient point here is that even if a causal series stretches back ad infinitum, this explanation may be adequate to an individual thing in the chain, but it doesn't explain the chain as a whole.

I'm glad to hear you're planning on reading the Physics, I really am. As I said, I highly suggest the Joe Sachs translation, because it contains very helpful notes that help to explain what Aristotle's doing in relation to modern science. Since the Physics is actually a collection of lecture notes rather than a book for publication, the notes are very helpful in terms of explaining what's going on, since sometimes it can be obscure. I've uploaded a scan of the introduction so that you can see what it's like (and because it's relevant to our discussion): http://www.mediafire.com/?oynyn1mknnm

Singring said...

'You first took an unprovoked pop at the First Cause argument despite the fact that no one here proposed'

Thomas linked to his entry on this very blog that attacked P.Z.Myers for criticizing a fomrulation of the first cause argument. I responded. Perhaps you actually should follw the discussions you enter into.

'Then you demanded that others on this blog (who had not proposed it) prove you wrong,'

I did. In response to Thomas, who was telling me and P.Z. Myers that we were not educated and/or intelligent enough to engage in a philosophical discussion. So I did. Your penchant for completely misrepresenting utterances and occurances on this blog is truly amazing.

'Maybe you could point to where this detailed post is.'

Joe_Agnost kindly did it for me. Again, I encourage you to actually read the posts you respond to. In fact, the VERY NEXT PARAGRAPH of the specific post of mine you quote is what I was referring to. I really have to wonder how you compose your thoughts, Martin.

'Is this what passes for detail in your biology circles?'

LOL. Just LOL.

Singring said...

Thomas,

I read your latest comment and while it contained a lot of nice thoughts and fancy words, it did not in one sentence adress my criticism of the first cause argument(s). You can keep throwing up smoke screen expertly, I'll give you that. And I can see that you are eitehr unwilling or unable to respond to my formulation and critique of the first premise of these arguments (whether finite or not is not the issue as I had hoped we had already cleared up). I even explicitly asked you to tell me which portion of my formulation of the first premise was false or mistaken. I got no response.

That's fine with me. I didn't expect much of a response because - quite frankly - I don't think there is one and I think you know this too.

So let me just leave you with a final request:

If you can't even give a good response to a single question posed on a premise YOU put forth (I quoted you, remember?:'Since each natural thing is caused (and Aristotle is using a wider sense of causation here than the sciences do) by another natural thing, nothing in the chain can fully explain why things exist at all.') - then I think its a bit unfair to write a blog entry attacking someone (P.Z.Myers) for saying that his response to that same argument (in principle) is incredulity.

You were going on and on about how he was not informed enough to be trusted in philosophy and yet here you fail to resond to a single little question asked by a philosophy noob. I'd call that embarassing.

But that's just me.

Francis J. Beckwith said...

"What YOU think is rational to believe or not is not the gold standard. Basing beliefs on memories alone has nothing to do with rationality in my opinion. "

I'll remember that.

Francis J. Beckwith said...

"But what do they depend on? A brain. A good old fashioned material brain."

2+2 = 4 does not depend on a brain. It depends on the relationship between the premises and the conclusion. If there were no brains, it would still be true.

It may be that equations depend on brains in the same way that water depends on hydrogen for its existence. But that's not a logical relation. That's a causal relation. But arguments, and equations, and their parts do not have causal relations. They have logical relations, and those logical relations are not spatial. To say that concepts depend on brains does not answer the question, since brains are spacial and concepts are not. How is it that a piece of meat can give us the pythagorean theorem? Actually, it can't. The theorem was always true, long before Pythagores came to be. This means that in fact conceptual notions that are true in fact do not depend on brains for their existence. They are independent from brains.

Plato 1, Atheist Guy 0.

Singring said...

'The theorem was always true, long before Pythagores came to be.'

It was always true, yes. But it did not always exist in the sense you are trying to assert it did. It is a concept. A concept created by human brains as a model of our perceivable reality. If you want to prove that God is an idea or concept, then this argument will serve you well.

If you want to prove that God actually exists and is linked to our physical reality as a creator and/or supervisor, not so much.

Singring said...

Hey Francis,

I remember that this morning I found an I.O.U. from you in my mail. It's made out for 10.000 dollars and signed by you.

I expect you to have that sum in cash ready for me and I'll give you my adress to send it on.

After all, you said that:

'its not true that all beliefs must result from good arguments in order to be rationally held.'

So get ready to send on that cash.

Thomas said...

If I understand you, you originally were asking me to demonstrate that each natural thing is caused by another natural thing, now you’re asking me to demonstrate that an infinite chain of causal things is contingent. In the earlier posts, you asked me to demonstrate that every natural cause is caused by another natural thing. When I pointed out that the argument works whether or not you believe in an infinite causal series, you claimed to have asked me to defend the statement that a series of finite causes cannot explain its own existence (“since each natural thing is caused (and Aristotle is using a wider sense of causation here than the sciences do) by another natural thing, nothing in the chain can fully explain why things exist at all”). These are two distinct positions, one of which is unnecessary to the cosmological argument.

As I’ve said, the cosmological argument does not depend on a chain of natural causes each causing the other. It could be the case that God directly initiates the causal series, in which case a natural cause cause would be caused by something supernatural. But it is not reasonable to believe that the chain has no explanation. So you have three choices: a finite series of natural causes that originates without an explanation, a finite series of natural causes that originates in something that is not natural, and an infinite series of natural causes. The first is irrational. The cosmological argument can work with either of the last two.

But, as I’ve also said, I can’t lay out the entire argument here -- it takes Aristotle quite a bit of space, and I’m no more concise. If you really want the argument for the eternality of motion, Aristotle gives it in Book VIII of the Physics, mostly in chapter 7. But, as I’ve said, it’s not going to be easy to understand unless you start at the beginning.

Singring said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Singring said...

You have dodged AGAIN.

'So you have three choices: a finite series of natural causes that originates without an explanation, a finite series of natural causes that originates in something that is not natural, and an infinite series of natural causes. The first is irrational.'

WHY is the first irrational? This is what I have been asking you time and time again and the best you can do in response is simply ASSERT that this is so.

Right now, physicists and electronic engineers are using the very fact that particles come in and out of existence WITHOUT apparent natural cause.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_particle
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casimir_effect

These particles have a real, mearuable effect. So - you can't just proclaim that the first option you listed is 'irrational'! I mean - seriously. You keep harping on about how important it is to think these arguments through from beginning to end and be precise about them, yet you simply make the most rash and unfounded assertions with no basis whatsoever right out of the gate.

Let me know when you have come up with an argument that demonstrates that the first option is in fact 'irrational'.

On a side note, I also don't see how a cosmological argument would work for the third option, but its not necessary for me to adress that as long as you can't come up with a better reason for dismissing the first.

Thomas said...

Believing that something happens without an explanation is irrational, especially when there are potential explanations. In another era, you might have been a creationist asserting that there simply is no explanation to the bones being dug out of the ground, and that I can't prove they used to be alive because I wasn't there.

You keep bringing up quantum physics--how much do you really know about it? I've seen Richard Dawkins embarrassed by the Vatican astronomer when he tried to discuss physics, so you'll excuse my skepticism when biologists claim expertise on the subject. Are you saying quantum mechanics says that these things pop into and out of existence without any explanation? That there's no explanation of virtual particles? My understanding of quantum physics (or at least the Copenhagen interpretation) is that there is an explanation for such phenomena, just that the explanation operated in terms of probability rather than determination. To the extent that they just throw their hands up and say there's no explanation, they're not doing science. I don't believe that's how physicists think (though I could be wrong), though it seems that's how biologists do it. You're really starting to make me rethink my endorsement of natural selection.

Even if it were the case that there were no explanation of why these things come into existence, I don't see why or how it would affect Aristotle's theory. Most obviously, a particle isn't a "thing" in the sense Aristotle uses the word. A thing is a whole, and there are three kinds of wholes: animals, humans (i.e., rational animals), and the cosmos as a whole. Things like rocks or atoms aren't really things in the sense Aristotle uses the word, they're parts of a whole. As parts, they probably won't have some of the features that belong to the whole. Add to that the fact that things like atoms are mathematical constructs that arise out of a certain kind of inquiry (see especially Husserl's "The Crisis of the Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology" for an explanation of the nature and limits of philosophic inquiry) and it further complicates the picture.

Further, if particles are in some way matter which makes up a larger whole, it wouldn't be terribly surprising that they pop in and out of existence, given that matter has a peculiar relation with activity (insofar as it has a share in activity it is, and insofar as it does not have a share in activity/actuality it has no being).

Your more fundamental mistake seems to be that Aristotle is doing modern science in the Physics. He's not, because it has methodological limitations that prevent him from getting to the larger issues (believe it or not, he explicitly discusses this in the Physics). The Physics is the contemplative study of the principles of motion and rest carried out through dialectic.

Singring said...

Frankly, Thomas, your latest comment strikes has left me incredulous. I detect a sudden change in tone that again I find revealing.

'especially when there are potential explanations.'

Potential explanations are just that - potential explanations. You cannot seriously be telling me that you are comfortable in advancing an argument resting on a 'potentially' valid premise. Or are you?

Previously you made some very definitive statements and assertions - now all of a sudden you talk in relatives. I think we both know why.

'how much do you really know about it?'

Not much as I admitted previously - but more than you apparently.

'Are you saying quantum mechanics says that these things pop into and out of existence without any explanation?'

Yes and no - we have to be very careful with our terminology here. They are of course part if Quantum Theory and specifically quantum field theory. So in that sense, yes, there is an 'explanation' couched in the theory - but there is no 'explanation' in the sense of a cause, which is what this argument is all about!

I am not claiming and have never claimed that physicists KNOW that these particles have no cause/explanation. But don't have to. All I have to do is show that your premise is flawed. The moment we have particles popping into existence with no apparent natural cause, that goal is achieved.

'there is an explanation for such phenomena, just that the explanation operated in terms of probability rather than determination.'

No. You are referring to the properties of particles - not theri origin.

'To the extent that they just throw their hands up and say there's no explanation, they're not doing science.'

They are not saying that and I never claimed theyr are saying that. All I am saying is that our current level of knowledge is that WE DON'T KNOW. That's the intellectually honest position. The intellectually dishonest position is to advance arguments for the existence of the supernatural based on an argument with flawed premises.

'Most obviously, a particle isn't a "thing" in the sense Aristotle uses the word.'

So, at long last, we've arrived at the stage where my opinion of philosophy plummets: The word game.

A particle is not a 'thing' in this or that sesne, whichever makes your argument fly. I'm not buying it. Try pulling that on someone else - its not going to work with me and I'm sorry to see such linguistic acrobatics, semantics and redefinition of terms is acceptable to you.

continued...

Singring said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Singring said...

'Add to that the fact that things like atoms are mathematical constructs'

Ok...now you've lost me. Atoms are as real as animals, humans or anything else you care to mention. To prevent further embarassment I suggest you end the argument here.

'Further, if particles are in some way matter which makes up a larger whole, it wouldn't be terribly surprising that they pop in and out of existence,'

That's not the issue. No strawmen, please.

'Your more fundamental mistake seems to be that Aristotle is doing modern science in the Physics. He's not, because it has methodological limitations that prevent him from getting to the larger issues (believe it or not, he explicitly discusses this in the Physics).'

Some 20 posts or so ago I specifically questioned the validity of a thought process that ignores scientific progress after yo advanced a 2000 year old version of the argument.

Now I read that this work has 'methodological limitations' and does not get to 'the larger issues'. Then WHY on earth did you advance it in the first place if you end up having to make excuses for it when it crashes in a ball of fire on take-off?

Martin Cothran said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

there is an 'explanation' couched in the theory - but there is no 'explanation' in the sense of a cause, which is what this argument is all about!

No, that's not what this argument is about. Thomas has already said that insofar as he understands the Kalam argument--which does use "cause" in the sense of an efficient cause--he doesn't agree with it, nor does any one else who has posted in this comments section.

He is saying he agrees with Aristotle's version of the argument, which uses "cause" in the sense of "explanation."

Your only response seems to be that you want to define "cause" to strictly mean "efficient cause," as if defining cause in terms of explanation--which is the more original and traditional meaning in the first place--is somehow illegitimate.

Are you aware that there are other definitions of cause than strict efficient cause, and that other versions of the cosmological argument (which you say are all bogus) use cause in a different sense?

You're invoking an argument that no one here has championed and when they give you a more original version of the argument (Kalam is a relative newcomer), you demand that they use causation only as it's used in Kalam, as if that's the only way cause can be defined.

I am wondering if you know the difference between efficient cause and other forms of causation. And if you don't know that, then how do you know that all versions of the cosmological argument are bogus?

Thomas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martin Cothran said...

"The term 'atom' is merely a code word or a mathematical model. It was not intended to represent an independent part of reality."

--Mathematical Physicist Paul Davies and science writer John Gribbin

Thomas said...

ou have misread me. The methodological limitations belong to science not to Aristotle's method, as any scientist would know. Science makes certain assumption and conditions experience in a certain way in order to do its reasoning. A scientist would know this. I'm beginning to think you're bluffing about being a biologist. Are you a biologist in the sense that you're interested in the subject, or a biologist in the sense of a working biologist? Do you have formal training beyond the undergraduate level?

Anyway, as I've said before, my argument is going to have limitations - the chief one being I'm not making a full-fledged argument. I've told you where it is, and even took the trouble of uploading a pdf to get you started.

As Aristotle uses the term, "cause" means "explanation". It doesn't mean proximate cause or even efficient cause. If it has an explanation, it has a cause. So to the extent that quantum physicists think there's an explanation for a phenomena, they think there's a cause in the way Aristotle uses the word.

Of course, as I pointed out, it's not really important, since particles aren't substances in the Aristotelian sense. They're parts of wholes, and when Aristotle is discussing natural things, he's discussing wholes. Show me a squirrel popping into existence without explanation, and we'll have to rethink things. This isn't a word game, it's just part of Aristotle's argument. Which you haven't seen, though, as you've already shown, you don't have to know what you're arguing against to know that you are wrong.

You’re argument seems to depend on redefining Aristotle’s terms in a way that he doesn’t use them so you can disprove his argument. You have absolutely no interest in figuring out what he’s actually saying, you’re just sure he’s wrong.

Look, no one with any experience in philosophy is going to take you seriously unless you make an attempt to understand what you’re criticizing, any more than a biologist is going to take a creation seriously who makes no attempt to understand the basic concepts of biology. In fact, I’m going to have to take back all the times I told creationists they’re as bad as atheists. I hereby apologize, and I admit that I had no idea what I was accusing them of. Almost every creationist I’ve debated with has made a more honest effort to understand evolution than you have made to understand Aristotle.

Thomas said...

Singring:

"Ok...now you've lost me. Atoms are as real as animals, humans or anything else you care to mention. To prevent further embarassment I suggest you end the argument here."

Martin:

"The term 'atom' is merely a code word or a mathematical model. It was not intended to represent an independent part of reality."

--Mathematical Physicist Paul Davies and science writer John Gribbin


This is pretty funny.

Singring said...

'I am wondering if you know the difference between efficient cause and other forms of causation. And if you don't know that, then how do you know that all versions of the cosmological argument are bogus?'

I am wondering whether either of you has even a midcum of intellectual honesty. You are changing teh subject at will in an effort to get out of the corner you've backed yourself into.

Correct me if I'm wrong but the comsological (first cause) argument(s) are an effort to prove that a supernatural entity was the cause of our physical universe/reality. You can change 'cause' to 'explanation' but that gets you nowhere, it is a word game and the more you push this the less respect I will have for you.

If you intend to do is show that 'God' or the supernatural is an 'explanation' for the universe, WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? Its very easy to use these terms but I want to know whyat you really intend to demonstarte using the, If all you want to show that God is a theoreticla construct in teh same way as a mathematical equation is, then go ahead - I will grant you that! I have no issues with saying 'God' is a concept and no more.

But if 'God' is the creator of the universe then he must be the CAUSE of the universe and using the word 'explanation' gets us nowhere.

I really wish the both of you would be honest about the positions you actually are trying to present rather than dancing about in an effort top dodge hard questions.

Singring said...

'ou have misread me.'

I have. My apologies. I agree science has limitations but that was never the issue, was it? Forgive me if I was mistakenly thinking that you were actually trying to make a point with that last paragraph of your post, but read in the correct sense that science has limitations it is simply advancing a truism.

'I'm beginning to think you're bluffing about being a biologist. '

Wow. So now we're starting to stoop this low, are we? I have a Master's degree in Biology and am currently completing a PhD. I couldn't care less if you believe me or not. The more you try and distract from the argument the more you reveal your absence of an adequate rebuttal.

'Anyway, as I've said before, my argument is going to have limitations - the chief one being I'm not making a full-fledged argument.'

How many times do we have to go over this? I never asked you for a full-fledged argument. I asked you about ONE specific premise you put forward (all natural things have a cause) that you have been incapable of defending. You've tried changing the words around, you've tried changing the subject, but I'm still waiting for an actual rebuttal.

'As Aristotle uses the term, "cause" means "explanation". It doesn't mean proximate cause or even efficient cause. If it has an explanation, it has a cause. So to the extent that quantum physicists think there's an explanation for a phenomena, they think there's a cause in the way Aristotle uses the word.'

This must be the single most painful display of word acrobatics I have ever read. Let's go through this:

'It doesn't mean proximate cause or even efficient cause.'

Then what kind of 'cause' DOES it mean?

'If it has an explanation, it has a cause.'

What. Kind. Of. Cause?

' So to the extent that quantum physicists think there's an explanation for a phenomena, they think there's a cause in the way Aristotle uses the word.'

This is sheer dishonesty. I specifically told you that quantum theory has an 'explanation' in the sense of a mathematical model, but NOT in teh sense of an actual CAUSE. In other words, is the 'explanation' of Pi as the ration of the circumference of a circle to the diameter the same as the 'explanation' (=CAUSE) of a dinner plate? Come on - be serious if you want to debate and quit these ridiculous word games!

Singring said...

'Show me a squirrel popping into existence without explanation, and we'll have to rethink things.'

What a cop-out! LOL. Squirrels are of course composed of particles. You remind me of a YEC trying to argue with evolution. The record states exactly what thsi argument about and your pathetic attempts at redefining what a 'thing' are revealed clearly as the smokescreen they are.

'This isn't a word game, it's just part of Aristotle's argument. '

Then Aristotle's argument is a complete joke. I have second thoughts about reading it now.

'You’re argument seems to depend on redefining Aristotle’s terms in a way that he doesn’t use them so you can disprove his argument.'

LOL. The irony is almost too much to take!

'You have absolutely no interest in figuring out what he’s actually saying, you’re just sure he’s wrong.'

Back to whining and arm waving I see.

'Almost every creationist I’ve debated with has made a more honest effort to understand evolution than you have made to understand Aristotle.'

It seems that by 'understanding' you mean 'accepting unfounded and ridiculous premises taht are thousands of years behind in their depiciton of reality'.

Any argument that has to define 'things' as - for example - 'squirrels' and ignores the fact that these 'things' are composed of much smaller components that CAN originate spontaneously is laughable at this stage. Especially considering that we now know that the origin of the universe was closely intertwined with the origin of these particles.

Singring said...

'"The term 'atom' is merely a code word or a mathematical model. It was not intended to represent an independent part of reality."

--Mathematical Physicist Paul Davies and science writer John Gribbin'

That IS pretty funny. It IS funny that you have to misrepresent (or should I say LIE) science in order to make your points. OF COURSE in the age of the quantum theory the term 'atom' is a placeholder - in fact in always HAS been as someone familiar with Greek philosophy and science ought to know!

But to honestly come out and try to make the argument that an 'atom' is nothing more than a mathematical model with no physical reality is so laughable I don't know what to say. I really don't. This is a level or denying reality that goes beyond my comprehension.

In this light, nothing you have said here surprises me in the least.

Joe_Agnost said...

Singring notes: "nothing you have said here surprises me in the least."

Indeed... pretty transparent actually.

I just love that a "particle" is not "matter"... that's beyond WTF, but fits right in with this blog!

Martin Cothran said...

Boy, these champions of science really know their stuff.

In the experiments about atomic events we have to do with things and facts, with phenomena that are just as real as any phenomena in daily life. But the atoms or the elementary particles themselves are not as real; they form a world of potentialities or possibilities rather than one of things or facts.

--Werner Heisenberg

Thomas said...

You seem to think the Davies quote is just him philosophizing about nominalism (very roughly, the doctrine terms are just placeholders). That's not what he's doing. Atoms must be represented indirectly, since they are unobservable visually (they're too small to be seen no matter what magnification you use), and mathematics is always a representation that is abstracted from a reality. Of course, this does not mean that they don't refer to some reality, just that our concept (representation, etc.) is going to be in the form of a mathematical construct. The way in which we get at them conceptually is going to be primarily through a mathematical construct rather than directly, as we know things like trees. I don't have to have a mathematical construct or a technological device through which to see a tree, I just see a tree directly. Of course, I said that before Davies embarrassed himself by saying the same thing I did.

Biologists seem to be experts in everyone else's field, no matter how little you know. Don't know anything about Aristotle's concept of materiality? That's fine, a biologist doesn't need to know what it is that he's saying is incorrect in order to tell someone who does know what it is that they are wrong. Don't know anything about quantum physics? That doesn't stop a biologist from telling a physicist that when he talks about atoms, he's talking about mathematical constructs.

I'm wondering why biologists don't go into civil engineering. After all, they don't need to know about the durability of steel under stress to tell engineers they're doing it wrong when they design sky scrapers. Or why not into law? Biologists could skip the ordeal that is law school (after all they don't need to know that stuff anyway) and go tell the Supreme Court that they've got the mens rea requirements for minor offenses wrong.

The point of all this: if you're a biologist, you know that you need to have a grasp of the basics of a field before you can be competent in it. You should know that this applies in other fields too; for example, since materiality is a basic concept in Aristotle's philosophy, you should at least have some understanding of it before you can talk intelligibly about it. Otherwise you're not even an amateur, maybe not even a dabbler; if you don't get the basic concepts you are to Aristotle's philosophy as the most uneducated young earth creationist is to neo-darwinism. I'm happy to discuss the basics of Aristotle's system, because without them the argument won't make much sense.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

When you give us your real name and tell us what expertise you really have in biology, then you can question other people's intellectual honesty. I guess questioning people's character covers your tracks when you clearly don't know what you're talking about.

You've gotten on this blog and made the claim that all versions of the First Cause argument are "epic vacancies of thought." Then you say you're only familiar with the Kalam version.

Now you've gone and done yourself in by indicating that you don't think the kind of cause in the argument is important when anyone who knows cosmological argumentation knows that it is. In fact, it's probably the biggest difference between the Kalam version and the classic versions of the argument.

How are we supposed to have an argument on a philosophical subject with you when you clearly have no expertise in this area and you refuse to even discuss the terms of the argument without questioning other people's character?

In fact, you can't even get the science right, despite your claim that you're a biologist. You apparently didn't know the view many quantum physicists have about the physical status of atoms--and this after invoking quantum theory in your argument.

Thomas and I both have degrees in philosophy and understand the basic terms of philosophical discussion. If you're unwilling to do the basic things philosophical discussion involves (like carefully defining your terms), then you have no business discussing these issues.

If you're really interested in arguing, then stop imparting questionable motives to people and define your terms.

Singring said...

Martin:

'But the atoms or the elementary particles themselves are not as real; they form a world of potentialities or possibilities rather than one of things or facts.'

They are not AS real. But they are real. They are things. The fact that you have to quote a physicist two generations removed from current science is rather revealing.

Thomas:

Instead of rebutting my argument, yet again you launch into a screed that amounts to nothing more than an assault on me personally, my integrity, my education and my motives. There is literally not a sntence within your latest posts that adresses the actual argument.

If I were you would be utterly and comletely embarassed at having to resort to nothing more than a litany of ad hominem attacks in lieu of an actual argument.

I am very happy with the record as it stands. I am still waiting for an actual rebuttal rather than an exercize in redifinition, rewording, assertion and obfuscation.

Finally, let me drive my point home by posting this little tidbit:

http://www.almaden.ibm.com/vis/stm/gallery.html

Gosh - those look like...hold on...they can't be...yes it is. It's ATOMS! PHOROGRAPHS OF ATOMS!

Incredible! But wait - they can;t just photograph them, they can actually move them about!

http://www.nytimes.com/1990/04/05/us/2-researchers-spell-ibm-atom-by-atom.html

Now I'll just quote you, Thomas, in this context:

'Atoms must be represented indirectly, since they are unobservable visually (they're too small to be seen no matter what magnification you use)'

OF COURSE these photographs are indirect because our EYES don't have the resolution to see them. But I really can't believe you are honestly telling me that you hold to the childish - nay, infantile - notion that 'if I can't see it with my own eys it's not real!'.

Seriously...

Thomas said...

I said "too small to be seen no matter what magnification you use". Atoms are much smaller than the rays of light that bounce off of things that enable us to see things. Consequently, no matter what magnification you use you won't see them.

You can produce images of them by indirect methods (as I mentioned). I believe this is done by bouncing electrons off of them, or other indirect methods such as STI microscopes. In either case, what you see is the image produced by these methods, not the atoms.

http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/newton/askasci/1993/physics/PHY118.HTM

Read these two quotes carefully

Singring: "They are not AS real. But they are real. They are things."

Heisenberg: "But the atoms or the elementary particles themselves are not as real; they form a world of potentialities or possibilities rather than one of things or facts."

And then you criticize the fact that Heisenburg lived two generations ago, as though you, Singring, has discovered he was wrong. Since the Copenhagen Interpretation, as far as I know, is still the dominant interpretation, I assume you'll be publishing your findings disproving the interpretation and move us into a new stage of physics. Then again, maybe you should stick to biology.

Thomas said...

Oh, and on causality: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-causality/

Singring said...

'When you give us your real name and tell us what expertise you really have in biology, then you can question other people's intellectual honesty. I guess questioning people's character covers your tracks when you clearly don't know what you're talking about.'

Thomas hasn't given me his real name. In fact his profile is blocked. My profile should be accessible and you can find out about me on my blog, boring as it may be. I question people's intellectual honesty, not their character. The fact that you make this allegation right after Thomas has delivered a deluge of ad hominem attacks is rather ironic, I think.

'Then you say you're only familiar with the Kalam version. '

Lie. I said it was the only version I have ever been presented with and the one I am MOST familiar with. You can read English?

'Now you've gone and done yourself in by indicating that you don't think the kind of cause in the argument is important'

WHAT? I spent half of my last post specifically asking YOU and Thomas what cause you meant! I asked specifically becuase the type of cause we are talking about IS so important! Here's what I said:

'If you intend to do is show that 'God' or the supernatural is an 'explanation' for the universe, WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?'

'Then what kind of 'cause' DOES it mean?

'What. Kind. Of. Cause?'

So I ask you THREE times to specify, you don't, but instead accuse ME of not thinking the question is important?!

Is this really how you think arguments are advanced - by flat out lies?

Singring said...

'You apparently didn't know the view many quantum physicists have about the physical status of atoms--and this after invoking quantum theory in your argument.'

I have twice demonstrated the woeful misrepresentation of what an 'atom' is that Thomas is pushing here.

Do you accept that atoms have a physical, measurable, observable reality? YES or NO?

'Thomas and I both have degrees in philosophy and understand the basic terms of philosophical discussion.'

Good for you! I respect that, I really do. But just because you have a degree doesn't mean you have answered my challange adequately. in fact you ahve not answered it at all!

'If you're unwilling to do the basic things philosophical discussion involves (like carefully defining your terms)'

Martin....

I have just quoted my own posts where I specifically asked both you and Thomas several times to give me a coherent definition of what you MEAN when you say 'explanation'. What you MEAN when you say 'cause'.

I GET NO ANSWER.

Now I have to listen to you accusing ME of not defining my terms when in my very first post on the issue I specifically invited corrections in my terminology, formulation and conclusions? I quote:

'If you disagree with this summation of the premise, please enlighten me.'

'Again, tell me whenever you disagree and why.'

In fairnes, I have received at least some responses ('a particle is not really a thing in the Aristotelian sense'), but when I try to pin any of you down on the implications of these definitions you put forward I get nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Thomas specifically said that all natural things must have a cause, any other proposition is irrational. Fine! When asked why that is irrational I get a lot of hand waiving and ad hominems and whining but NO RESPONSE.

This is a pathetic performance, especcally from two philosophers with degrees to their name.

Singring said...

'And then you criticize the fact that Heisenburg lived two generations ago, as though you, Singring, has discovered he was wrong. '

I never said he was wrong. I was simply highlighting the desperation of your quote mining. You may have noticed that so far I have not needed to resort to such tactics.

Let me ask you a very simply question, Thomas:

Do you accept that atoms have a real, physical, measurable reality? Real in the same way that, say, a squirrel is real?

Yes or no?

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

Paul Davies is "two generations removed from current science"? Here he is again on the very point you brought up:

Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, argued that when we talk of atoms, electrons, and so on, we must not fall into the trap of imagining them as little "things," existing independently in their own right."

This is apparently the prevailing view among quantum physicists.

Singring vs. Heisenberg and Niels Bohr (and most quantum physicists). Gee, I wonder who we should believe.

Singring said...

Please answer my question Martin.

Do you accept that atoms have a physical, measurable, observable reality? YES or NO?

Free Lunch said...

I wish there were more context in these quotes about atoms. Someone taking these out of context could easily say that this is an endorsement of the mystical notion that nothing is real, that it is all part of spirit or mind or fantasy or someone else's dream. Until there is a more comprehensive context for these quotes about atoms, I'm not willing to accept anything that implies that these physicists were happy with new age woo.

Singring said...

Martin, I'm sorry to have to do this, but you incessant and annoying smugness in quote-mining forced my hand.

Here is YOUR source, theistic physics poster-boy Paul Davies, on cause and effect:

'On the scale of atoms and molecules, the usual commonsense rules of cause and effect are suspended. The rule of law is replaced by a sort of anarchy or chaos, and things happen spontaneously-for no particular reason. Particles of matter may simply pop into existence without warning, and then equally abruptly disappear again. Or a particle in one place may suddenly materialize in another place, or reverse its direction of motion. Again, these are real effects occurring on an atomic scale, and they can be demonstrated experimentally.'

See how easy it is? (From http://www.fortunecity.com/emachines/e11/86/big-bang.html)

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

Do you really think these are "photos" in the way most people understand photos? That is literally impossible, since the size of an atom is smaller than a wavelength of light.

If you had bothered to look at the acronym at the top of the page, you would have discovered that it stands for "scanning tunneling microscopy." This is a way of constructing or modeling an image based on the size of a "tunneling current" between the atom and a metallic tip.

It is not an optical image. It is an artificial construct.

This information is freely available, even to us scientific amateurs.

You either know this is not a "photo" as most people understand the term, in which case what you said is simply misleading, or you really think this is a "photo" in the commonly understood sense, in which case your scientific expertise is in further jeopardy.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

Where in that quote does it contradict the view of atoms in the other quotes I have given?

Singring said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Singring said...

'Where in that quote does it contradict the view of atoms in the other quotes I have given?'

It doesn't. I specifically said the quote was about CAUSE AND EFFECT which this argument is about!

Boy, lies do seem to come easy to you.

Really martin - this is becoming humiliating for you.

Singring said...

'It is not an optical image. It is an artificial construct.'

Do you think I'm stupid? I SAID they were indirect! But so are photographs! The only difference is in the wavelength of the detection method.

Whether you want to call it a photo or not I'll leave it up to you. If you think that my use of the term 'photograph' was misleading then fine, I retract that and apologize. But I was thinking that anyone with a modicum of scientific education would know that I was not referring to ACTUAL photographs. But that's essentially what they are.

Now how about adressing the actual issues instead of trying to embarass me when in reality all you are doing is embarassing yourself.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

Great. Now let's get the issue clear. Maybe, in order to clarify things, you could state in simple terms what the issue is as you perceive it. That should help us get down the road here.

Singring said...

In my view, the issue has been very clear from the start.

I have one simple question. This is what Thomas has claimed:

'So you have three choices: a finite series of natural causes that originates without an explanation, a finite series of natural causes that originates in something that is not natural, and an infinite series of natural causes. The first is irrational.'

Any form of the cosmological argument hinges on this premise. If you disgree, let me know WHY. OK?

Now, here si the question. Its very simple, its very basic and I have asked it before, so I don't know why I need to repeat it some three days later:

Why is the first option irrational?

I have brought up (quoting your own source, Paul Davies!) that quantum theory shows us that real, physical particles that have a measurable effect spontaneously appear - without apparent cause.

So I repeat:

Why is the first option irrational?

Thomas said...

Singring,

Is it irrational to believe that a squirrel can pop into existence without explanation?

Thomas said...

As to Paul Davies, he's using the word "cause" in the technical sense the sciences use it - a particular kind of efficient cause. The term "cause" is used in a different technical sense in Aristotle's philosophy.

Martin will be better at explaining causation than I am (one of his textbooks covers the topic). The Stanford Encyclopedia has a helpful entry on causation.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-causality/

Singring said...

'Is it irrational to believe that a squirrel can pop into existence without explanation?'

I will answer your question - but first I will ask you to answer some points:

1.) You spoke of 'natural causes'. Are particles not 'natural causes'? If not, why not?

2.) Quantum Theory actually predicts that it is possible for a squirrel to pop into existence without explanation. It is extremely, extremely unlikely (since it requires all the particles of the squirrel to pop into existence at the same time in the same place and in the correct arrangemnt. - but not impossible.

3.) Do you accept that a squirrel is composed of particles?

4.) Do you accept that if we are discussing this argument in light of seeking an explanation for the origin of the universe it is inappropriate to define 'things' as squirrels etc., when in fact at time of the origin there were only particles and squirrels did not appear until about 14 billion years later? We are after all not discussing the origin of squirrels, but the origin of the universe.

5.) What would you say was the proximate cause for the squirrel's existence?

Now I will answer:

Because of 2.) I would say yes, it is rational to believe that a squirrel CAN pop into existence. It is not rational to believe it WILL pop into existence (at least not within th lifetime of the universe), however. I hope you can see the distinction.

Singring said...

'Martin will be better at explaining causation than I am (one of his textbooks covers the topic). The Stanford Encyclopedia has a helpful entry on causation.'

I wait with baited breath.

You refer to the entry on causation. Great! So now you can tell me which of those four types of causation we are talking about here...let me know once you have decided.

Lee said...

Over a hundred posts, and all without my, well, help.

That's got to be some sort of a record.

Thomas said...

Singring,

I meant this as a reductio ad absurdem argument, but I like the argument you've made. However, there are several objections that can be made.

First, I don't believe quantum physics says that because particles pop in and out of existence that this happens at a higher level. The point of the Heisenburg quote was that the quantum realm is not just a really small version of the "normal" realm we live in. Things don't work the same way on both levels. I could be wrong about this, and I'd be interested to see if any quantum physicists do think its possible for things to behave like quantum particles on the ordinary level in which we live.

Second, even if it's true that a squirrel could pop into existence as a result of quantum mechanics, it's not true that this would be without explanation. You offered an explanation: on the quantum level, certain particles come in and out of existence without an apparent proximate cause. So you're not actually arguing that a squirrel could not pop in and out of existence without explanation.

Third, there's a helpful Aristotelian point to be made here: a whole is no simply the sum of its parts. So, if you have the physical particles (and quantum physics has altered the meaning of the word physical, but we'll leave that aside) of a squirrel but nothing else, it wouldn't be a squirrel. It's true to say that a squirrel is made of of material parts, but it's also true to say that chess is a game where you move pieces are around on a board. There's much more to it than that.

Fourth, if it's true that animals can pop into existence without explanation, then it would be rational to believe that cause the Cambrian explosion, since we can't go back and prove it directly.

I think that answers all your questions except for whether particles are a natural cause. The answer to that is yes, they are a form of material cause.

Thomas said...

As to which of the four types of causes we're talking about here, it's going to be closest to formal and final cause. There's another distinction that has to be made, though, because in a sense, natural wholes (I'll try to call them that rather than things to avoid confusion) are their own formal and final cause.

There's something of an explanation here of the distinction between primary and secondary causality here, but I'm going to try to find a better one. If I can't, I suppose I'll try to produce one myself when I have time.

http://www.enotes.com/science-religion-encyclopedia/causality-primary-secondary

Singring said...

Thomas, why won’t you answer my original question that I had to repeat because Martin asked me to:
Why is the first option you give irrational?
You responded with a counter-question (a ‘reductio ad absurdum’ effort which failed because it was in fact, not absurd as it turns out).
I answered your counter-question. But still no answer from you on this very important assertion YOU put forward. I think its only appropriate that if you advance a proposition, you be able to defend it. Three days later I am still waiting. But on to your latest post:

'First, I don't believe quantum physics says that because particles pop in and out of existence that this happens at a higher level'

Pay attention to what I say: I said particles pop in and out of existence and because squirrels are composed of particles, quantum phyiscs allows for their spontaneous formation as well. Your use of the term 'higher level' is again nothing more than an effort to conflate a very simple, scientific fact with philosophical language. Not productive.

'Things don't work the same way on both levels. '

I never claimed they did. All I asked was whether squirrels are composed of particles. You evaded the question. I'm very sorry to see you still have difficulty addressing question heads on instead of skirting them.

'and I'd be interested to see if any quantum physicists do think its possible for things to behave like quantum particles on the ordinary level in which we live.'

No, quantum theory concerns itself with the atomic scale. But this is why I specifically asked you two questions:

1.) Is a squirrel composed of particles?
2.) Don't you think its inaccurate to debate the origin of squirrels when they are in no way linked to the origin of the universe.

To be perfectly honest I am very, very disappointed that you merely skirted these questions and gave no clear answers. I answered your question fully and directly. Is it rational to believe that squirrels CAN pop into existence?

YES!

THAT'S what I would call an answer. What is the point of this 'debate' if each and every of your responses is laced with evasion and non-commitment to any serious, precise argument? Especially considering that you have prided yourself as the philosophically educated side of this discussion - I am, to put it politely, underwhelmed.

'Second, even if it's true that a squirrel could pop into existence as a result of quantum mechanics, it's not true that this would be without explanation.'

Back to the word game, I see. I have dealt with this misrepresentation of yours before - let me phrase it as a direct question:

Is Pi as the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle a sufficient 'explanation' of a dinner plate? Or a frisbee? Because that is precisely the kind of analogy you are making here - just because physicists have a mathematical model of which one solution is the random and spontaneous appearance of particles is not the same as a causal 'explanation' of HOW these particles appear.

I quoted Paul Davies. A theist. Read his quote again. A rather unambiguous quote, don't you think?

I really hope this is the last time we have to go over this - unless of course you can give me a coherent argument telling us why a mathematical explanation is equivalent to a causal explanation.

Singring said...

'Fourth, if it's true that animals can pop into existence without explanation, then it would be rational to believe that cause the Cambrian explosion, since we can't go back and prove it directly.'

Ok - now I'm getting really annoyed, frankly. I took great care composing my last post in order to avoid any ambiguity. And still, despite my best efforts, you - a philosopher with a DEGREE - are seemingly incapable of either a) reading my posts, b) understanding the words or c) representing them truthfully. I don’t know which it is, but I'll just have to do your work for you again, Thomas. I quote my previous post:

'Because of 2.) I would say yes, it is rational to believe that a squirrel CAN pop into existence. It is not rational to believe it WILL pop into existence (at least not within the lifetime of the universe), however. I hope you can see the distinction.'

Clearly, I stated that it is only rational to believe that a squirrel CAN pop into existence - it is IRRATIONAL to believe that it WILL. Get that?

Therefore, it is clearly IRRATIONAL to believe that not just one, but billions of creatures would spontaneously form some 540 million years ago.

The fact that I have to point this out to you, Thomas, is making me cringe with embarrassment for you.

'I think that answers all your questions except for whether particles are a natural cause. The answer to that is yes, they are a form of material cause.'

Ah, finally, a clear answer. It also ends the argument, because as I have shown, particles can arise randomly, without apparent cause. Your first premise is thereby refuted. Was that so hard? Now of course you’ll come back and say: ‘Oh nononono…that’s not the ‘cause’ I’m talking about! Well – I asked you what ‘cause’ you are talking about, and in your last post you attempt to give an answer:

'it's going to be closest to formal and final cause.'

Wait a minute - it's 'going to be CLOSEST'??? 'CLOSEST'??? For post after post after post you and Martin have been going on and on about how I'M not defining the word 'cause' and I'M not being precise enough and I'M not using Aristotle's correct definitions....

....then you link to list of ARISTOTLE'S OWN FOUR DEFINITIONS of ‘cause’....

...and you can't even give me a clear answer using THEM? Are you kidding me? You have been insistent that we stick to Aristotelean terminology, you have touted your expertise in philosophy and your knowledge of 'the Physics' and now you can't even pick which of Aristotle's OWN definitions he was using in his OWN argument?!

This is beyond incredible...I really am lost for words at this point and it has become shockingly clear to me that apparently you have no interest in rigorous debate but rather prefer word games, shadowplay and constantly shifting the goalposts. This is becoming a joke...

If this is going to be your appraoch to this 'debate' then I have lost all interest. Arguing with a melting ball of jello would be more gratifying.

Singring said...

Oh yeah - one final point:

You did not asnwer another of my questions:

'What is the proximate cause for teh squirrel?'

Please, next time you claim to have 'answered all questions', at least try to answer more than say, 50%.

Thomas said...

Singring,

While you're busy cringing with embarrassment, perhaps you should reread what I said. Apparently you didn't notice that what we're debating right now is the rationality of things coming into existence without an explanation.

Nor have you noticed the fact that I did address whether squirrels are made up of particles (third on my list). Or the fact that I've already addressed the Paul Davies quote. Or the fact that, as I've pointed out, Aristotle's philosophy is dialectical, so his terms be used in accordance with the inquiry engaged in. I'm hoping this kind of sloppiness doesn't pass in the field of biology. I'm also hoping they don't write in all caps in the biology journals.

You are asserting that quantum physics entails that squirrels can pop into existence. As you've already demonstrated, your knowledge of quantum physics doesn't appear to go beyond reading a couple of pop science articles. Find a source on quantum theory that says that something like a squirrel can pop into existence.

But even if that's true, you haven't answered the question about whether a squirrel can come to be without any explanation, instead, you've rather strenuously argued that there would be an explanation. So again: can a squirrel pop into existence without an explanation?

You also seem to be dreadfully confused about the term "material cause". The material cause is simply what something is made out of. If a squirrel is made out of particles, by definition, the particles are a material cause to the squirrel. It's important to note that it's a relative distinction, and so molecules, flesh, and fur would also be material causes. As I've said before, you need to understand what you're criticizing before you criticize it. The reason things seem to move around has to do with you attacking something you don't understand, only to find out that it wasn't what you thought it was.

Singring said...

Well, thank you Thomas for a non-argument. You latest post once again manages to omit any kind of coherent argument or rebuttal.

I am very happy with the record as it stands and I think anyone reading this will be able to come to their own conclusions as to who is being 'sloppy' and who isn't.

I am tired of posting clear, precise arguments only to get a jumble of non-commited and vague jargon and ad-hominem attacks in return. I expected better from an educated philosopher.

Thomas said...

Does that mean you're not going to post any proof that quantum scientists believe that squirrels can pop into existence without any cause? I was really hoping to find out more about these spontaneously appearing squirrels.

And, like I said, read the Physics. I think an induction into dialectal reasoning would do you a lot of good.

Joe_Agnost said...

Thomas wrote: "Does that mean you're not going to post any proof that quantum scientists believe that squirrels can pop into existence without any cause?"

Just OMG... Did Thomas actually read anything you wrote Singring?!

That's epic stupidity right there... or more likely, just dishonesty in the realization that he's just been handed his behind by Singring.

You have the patience of Ghandi Singring... you really do.

Thomas said...

Joe_Agnost,

Perhaps in the course of accusing others of epic stupidity, you missed the irony of biologists arguing that animals can pop in and out of existence with no reason, something biologists normally ridicule creationists for believing.

Or the obvious point that even if we assume the materialistic point of view that things are just configurations of particles that just because you have the particles, doesn't mean you have the configuration that makes it a thing.

For example, trees produce wood, but that does not mean they produce things made of wood. Trees don't produce chess boards or relief engravings. Just because you have the material out of which something is made doesn't mean you have the thing.

You don't have to know quantum physics to know that, just a bit of logic.

Singring said...

'Perhaps in the course of accusing others of epic stupidity, you missed the irony of biologists arguing that animals can pop in and out of existence with no reason, something biologists normally ridicule creationists for believing.'

Thomas, I'm really getting tired of blatant lies. I pointed this out to you before, yet you insist on repeating the lie:

I stated that it is rational to believe that squirrels CAN pop into existence, because that is what science tells us.

It is irrational to believe that it actually HAS ever happened, because the odds against it are humungous. These are all consequences of the random nature of Quantum Theory.

Therefore, my claims have nothing in common with those of creationists and if you had any interest in reasonable debate you would have conceded this point. Instead, you keep misrepresenting - lying, to use the common term.

To see such behaviour from someone who holds a degree in philosophy and has incessanlty harped on about accuracy and terminology is very disappointing.

'For example, trees produce wood, but that does not mean they produce things made of wood. Trees don't produce chess boards or relief engravings. Just because you have the material out of which something is made doesn't mean you have the thing. '

So this is what we end up with: A blatant design argument.

But we all know what or who created chess boards and reliefs. Humans. I can take you to a guy who makes chess boards and to a girl who makes reliefs.

Can you take me to whoever 'makes' squirrels?

Can you give me a coherent argument or any kind of evidence demonstrating that squirrels are to particles like chess boards are to trees?

Let's hear it...

Thomas said...
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Thomas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thomas said...

Here is what I said:

"...you missed the irony of biologists arguing that animals can pop in and out of existence..."

Here is what you said:
"I'm really getting tired of blatant lies. I stated that it is rational to believe that squirrels CAN pop into existence, because that is what science tells us."

When you are accusing someone of lying, it would probably be best not to affirm the truth of what they said, almost verbatim, in the same post.

Singring said...

'Here is what I said:

"...you missed the irony of biologists arguing that animals can pop in and out of existence..."'

No. HERE is what you said:

'...you missed the irony of biologists arguing that animals can pop in and out of existence with no reason, something biologists normally ridicule creationists for believing.'

You omit the last part of your sentence, where you explicitly equate my position with that of a creationist who belives that animals DID appear spontaneously.

I'll leave it at that because everyone else seems to be able to read a full English sentence and should therefore be able to make a fair assessment of who is lying here.

Thomas said...

So biologists don't ridicule creationists for thinking it's possible for things to come in and out of existence without explanation?

Be careful how you answer. If you say no a pile of quotations showing exactly that will be forthcoming.

Thomas said...

There are two basic problems with your argument. I've set these out before, but maybe, with repetition, they will sink in.

The first is that you don't seem to understand quantum theory. Just because some particles "pop in and out of existence" does mean that all particles do. It certainly does not mean that a squirrel is entirely composed of these virtual particles. You seem to be confusing virtual particles with real particles, since virtual particles are posited to explain basic force interactions. In any case, these particles are not bits of matter that have a determinate location in space and time.

But even if you were right, you still miss the point. The question is not whether squirrels can come into existence because of quantum physics, but whether squirrels can come into existence without an explanation. The general question, which you seem to have lost sight of, is whether its rational to believe that things exist without any explanation (cause in the Aristotelian sense) whatsoever.

Joe_Agnost said...

@Thomas:

You could argue with the points that Singring has made, but you choose not to. You work ~really~ hard avoiding the questions and moving the goal posts.

Singring asks a question: "Do you accept that atoms have a real, physical, measurable reality? Real in the same way that, say, a squirrel is real?"

And you reply with a question: "Is it irrational to believe that a squirrel can pop into existence without explanation?"

You choose to ask questions rather than answer them. Squirm squirm squirm.

Singring then answered your question honestly (and logically I might add), and you proceed to completely misrepresent his answer!

He said that it's possible but incredibly unlikely... and you continue to harp on this non-point when in reality all you're doing is misrepresenting his stance!

You have zero credibility... and if you read these comments it's pretty clear who should be embarrassed (cough)Thomas(cough).

Thomas continues to pound the point home: "you missed the irony of biologists arguing that animals can pop in and out of existence..."

Except for the fact that there are no biologists here (or anywhere) that is arguing that point! It's in your head man! Your strawman is showing...

Singring said...

'So biologists don't ridicule creationists for thinking it's possible for things to come in and out of existence without explanation?'

Your understanding of the English language seems to be incredibly feeble, especially considering that you are a philosopher.

1.) I am not talking about other Biologists, I am talking about ME. You are misrepresenting MY comments, so please don't put up a strawman.

I don't ridicule creationists for thinking it's POSSIBLE that things come in and out of existence without explanation (and by the way, Creationists DO offer an explanation, i.e. 'Goddidit'), I ridicule them for thinking IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED.

It's possible that God exists - but I ridicule anyone who thinks he a actually does.

If you are incapable of making the distinction between these claims I must say I am appalled that anyone would give you a degree in basic reading comprehension, let alone philosophy.

As to other Biologists, I can't speak for them. I don't expect Biologists to routinely make allowances for quantum theory in their debates with creationists and anyone who does is being unreasonable.

You go ahead and get hung up on this stuff instead of making a coherent argument...I'm still waiting on several answers to my earlier questions and more importantly, a spaning good arguemnt why squirrels are to particles as reliefs are to trees.

Your procrastination only makes your argument look ever more untenable.

Singring said...

'Just because some particles "pop in and out of existence" does mean that all particles do.'

My argument in now way hinges on this claim. Maybe my wording was poor, but my recent posts should have made it very clear what my position is. All I need to show is that quantum theory shows that SOME particles do just that. Which disproves your premise that 'all things natural have a natural cause'. I would ask you to stop presenting claims I have not made, but at this point it seems futile.

'It certainly does not mean that a squirrel is entirely composed of these virtual particles. You seem to be confusing virtual particles with real particles, since virtual particles are posited to explain basic force interactions. In any case, these particles are not bits of matter that have a determinate location in space and time.'

I never made any of these claims! In fact, I would have pointed out all of these myself had you just asnwered the questions I asked you!

For example, I asked:

'2.) Don't you think its inaccurate to debate the origin of squirrels when they are in no way linked to the origin of the universe.'

Why do you think I asked that? Precisely because we are NOT debating the origin of squirrels, but the origin of the universe! You put up a strawman (squirrel), then criticize ME when I try to respond to it! This is getting insane!

I also asked you what the proximate cause of the squirrel was TWICE. No answer. So I'll ask you one more time - what is the proximate cause of a squirrel? Answer and I will be able to address the popints you make above.

It is more than a bit disingenuous to make bold accusations that are the result of one's own failure to adress the questions raised by the opposition.

'The general question, which you seem to have lost sight of, is whether its rational to believe that things exist without any explanation (cause in the Aristotelian sense) whatsoever.'

Here we go again... 'Cause' in the Aristotelean sense. I asked you to give me the type of cause Aristotle was talking about from your OWN LINK and you couldn't even do that.

I'm just reduced to laughter at this point...

I mean, really.

Thomas said...

JoeAgnost says:

"Thomas continues to pound the point home: 'you missed the irony of biologists arguing that animals can pop in and out of existence...'

"Except for the fact that there are no biologists here (or anywhere) that is arguing that point! It's in your head man! Your strawman is showing..."

Singring says:

"Is it rational to believe that squirrels CAN pop into existence?

YES!"

Joe_Agnost said...

Do you (Thomas) not understand that other people can read the full quote in context above? Your continual misrepresentation of Singrings thoughts are astounding...

Thomas said...

You said there are no biologists arguing that squirrels can pop into existence. Singring made an argument that this is possible (the 3:08 pm post and the discussion following it).

Do you, Joe_Agnost, believe that it is possible for a squirrel to pop into existence without a cause?

Singring said...

Thomas, could you please start answering some questions and providing arguments?

What is the proximate cause for a squirrel?

Shouldn't we be discussiing the origin of the universe, rather than the origin of squirrels?

Do you accept that atoms are as real as a squirrel?

What is your argument that a squirrel is to a particle as a relief is to a tree?

Answering some actual questions would get us a great deal further than your current efforts at smokescreening the issues.

Joe_Agnost said...

Wow... I can't believe you're going to continue this. That's weapon grade insanity you're displaying Thomas... truly epic.

But don't stop... please continue to assert that Singring thinks squirrels pop in and out of existence (even though he explicitly says the opposite)... it makes you look like a grade-A goal post shifter.

Thomas said...

Joe,

You've now slipped from just being wrong to being dishonest. As you quoted me, I said that a biologist (Singring) was making that argument that "animals can pop in and out of existence" (quoting from your post quoting me. When I pointed out that Singring was in fact making the argument that it is rational to believe that squirrels "CAN" pop in and out of existence, you changed the line. Now you're saying that I assert "that Singring thinks squirrels pop in and out of existence."

Your subtraction of the word "can" makes all the difference. I'd say you were just incompetent, but since you just quoted me, it looks much more like dishonesty.


Just for fun...

JoeAgnost says:

"Thomas continues to pound the point home: 'you missed the irony of biologists arguing that animals can pop in and out of existence...'

"Except for the fact that there are no biologists here (or anywhere) that is arguing that point! It's in your head man! Your strawman is showing..."

Singring says:

"Because of 2.) I would say yes, it is rational to believe that a squirrel CAN pop into existence."

and:

"Clearly, I stated that it is only rational to believe that a squirrel CAN pop into existence - it is IRRATIONAL to believe that it WILL."

and:

"I answered your question fully and directly. Is it rational to believe that squirrels CAN pop into existence?

"YES!

"THAT'S what I would call an answer."

Joe_Agnost said...

When you're finished with your strawman, Thomas, perhaps you can explain how:

(Singring)"...yes, it is rational to believe that a squirrel CAN pop into existence. It is not rational to believe it WILL pop into existence..."

implies that the writer is "arguing that animals can pop in and out of existence"(Thomas).

It doesn't and any grade-school level reader would understand that.

He explicitly says that "It is not rational to believe it WILL pop into existence" and you ignore this and continue asserting that "...biologists arguing that animals can pop in and out of existence" is happening.

Joe_Agnost said...

Of course the ~real~ answer is that Thomas is continuing to play word games (the word "can" in this case) to avoid answering the question and dealing with the topic at hand... goal post shifting.

Singring said...

Thanks for making my point for me Joe.

Thomas is so hopelessly caught up in this side-show because he has no interest in answering the questions I have raised.

Thomas, I posed them again in my previous post, I really would ask you to answer.

For example, I ams till waiting on a coherent reason why squirrels are to particles like reliefs are to trees.

Thomas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thomas said...

Joe,

A grade school level reader would be able to make the inference that if it is rational to believe something is possible, then that something is not impossible. It's not rational to believe what is false.

Singring said...

'A grade school level reader would be able to make the inference that if it is rational to believe something is possible, then that something is not impossible. It's not rational to believe what is false.'

Wow....wow.

?Wow?

So are you saying Thomas, that by your understanding of the word 'rational', that it is 'rational' to believe anything that is possible is also true?

In that case, I have an I.O.U. here signed from you to me, for 10.000 dollars. I expect you to have the money ready for me within the next couple days. Let me know when its ready to be sent to me.

Thomas said...

No. Read the post again. The question is whether it is true to say that squirrels can pop into existence; or in other words that it is possible that squirrels can pop into existence.

If it is not possible that squirrels can pop into existence, than the statement is false. If the statement is false it would not be rational to believe it.

It's really not that hard, even for biologists.

Joe_Agnost said...

Raise your hand if you're surprised that Thomas doesn't know what "rational" means.

(sound of crickets chirping, nobody moves a muscle)

I thought so...

Singring said...

Ah. Now that these questions of semantics and linguistics have been resolved, how about some answers to my questions?

Martin Cothran said...

Well,

I had to check out for a few days for a conference, and I come back to an argument that the statement "it is rational to believe that a squirrel CAN pop into existence" is not an argument that animals can pop into existence. And then the people making this argument give us lectures on how to be rational.

Wow.

Joe_Agnost said...

Intellectual honesty clearly means nothing to Thomas/Martin... not that I'm surprised.

(Singring)"...yes, it is rational to believe that a squirrel CAN pop into existence. It is not rational to believe it WILL pop into existence..."

That you (Martin/Thomas) continue to assert that this is an argument in favour of squirrels popping into existence is absurd and totally fitting with this site. Nice job.

Singring said...

...and I'm STILL waiting on my answers.

Joe_Agnost said...

I hope you're not holding your breath Singring!!

Singring said...

I'm already blue in the face, Joe! LOL

Thomas said...

Joe_Agnost,

I never said that Singring believed that a squirrel will pop into existence, just that it can/is possible. But why am I arguing about this? It explains a lot that you object to a notion of rationality that excludes false beliefs. There's no argument to be had if one does not accept that it's irrational to believe something that is false, since it won't do me any good to persuade one that it's true. So that's that.

Thomas said...

Singring,

I'd be happy to get to the more substantive issues, but I don't think your questions do that. I'll answer them anyway.

>What is the proximate cause for a squirrel?

You probably want to clarify how you're using the term, since proximate cause is more commonly used for events than things, but I would think it's two other squirrels.

> Shouldn't we be discussiing the origin of the universe, rather than the origin of squirrels?

We're discussing whether things necessarily have an explanation; in this regard there's no difference in principle.

> Do you accept that atoms are as real as a squirrel?

"Real" has different, though related meanings. Numbers are real, but not in the same way as a rock. If you're asking do atoms exist, the answer is yes. Do they exist in the same way? No, probably not. The atomic and subatomic world is consists of possibilities more than things or facts. This is quite Aristotelian actually, because matter, in itself, is a sort of potentiality.

>What is your argument that a squirrel is to a particle as a relief is to a tree?

I've already made this clear, so I'll just say it again. Just because you have what a thing is made out of does not mean you have the thing. This is true even for the most naive materialist. Just because you have wood doesn't mean you have a chessboard, and just because particles doesn't mean you have a squirrel.

Singring said...

Thanks for finally answering at least some questions.

'I would think it's two other squirrels. '

Aha! And what was the proximate cause of those two squirrels? I'll take the liberty of extrap[olating the answer to that question from your answer: more squirrels.

So if we go back far enough in time, we get to lizards, amphibians, fish, chordates and ultimately single-celled organisms. And what was the proximate cause for those? Science is not quite sure yet, but it was almost certainly a bunch of chemicals some 3.8 billion years ago. And those were the result of...

...drum roll...

....the Big Bang!

Now call me crazy, but I think its absolutley nonsensical to discuss the origin of squirrels as if the popped into existence when we know very well where they in fact come from, we can trace their origin through a long series of proximate cuases to the Big Bang where PARTICLES originated.

So if we want to use a first cause argument, it will have to adress the origin of particles, not the origin of squirrels. And as I have shown, quantum theory refutes the first premise of these kinds of argument.

If you insist on arguing about the origin of squirrels because you think that a 2000 year old paper written by a man who had no idea that particles existed and that any squirrel can be traced back to them via proximate causes - go right ahead. But in my opinion, anyone who does that deserves my ridicule.

It strikes me as much more reasonable to first consider a possible proximate cause for a 'thing' rather than instantly start wondering whether it might have an ultimate cause taht made it pop into existence whole.

Singring said...

'We're discussing whether things necessarily have an explanation; in this regard there's no difference in principle.'

This goes back to my fourth question and the first.

1.) Because we know about the proximate causes leading up to a squirrel and this chain ends only with the most basic particles, it is senseless to talk about teh squirrel as a 'thing' as if it originated wholesale, like creationists do. If you insist we do, all I can do is laugh at you and marvel at your capacity for arguing from completely false premises, just because they lead you down a trail that pleases your religious ego.

2.) If you were to formulate this as a premise (which you would have to in order to argue for an 'explanation' for squirrels), you would have to support that premise. This is where my fourth question becomes important: 'Why is a squirrel not a 'thing' in the same way a particle is? So I'm eager to see how you answered that one...

'Numbers are real, but not in the same way as a rock.'

So you're a dualist? What is your evidence that numbers are 'real'? Care to elaborate?

'The atomic and subatomic world is consists of possibilities more than things or facts.'

So does the real world, precisely becuase it is composed of particles - we simply don't perceive it becuase the scale is much too large. There is no qualitative difference. So that argument won't fly.

'This is quite Aristotelian actually, because matter, in itself, is a sort of potentiality.'

Philosophicla blabla. Laughable.

But now for question 4 the question where I asked you to once again defend one of your bold assertions. And let's see what hard-hitting arguments and evidence you dish out to show me how squirrels are to particles like reliefs to trees....

'I've already made this clear, so I'll just say it again.'

NO. FRIGGIN. ANSWER. That's what I get. No answer. Once again you make an argument hinging on something you have no way of supporting. So what do you do? You just repeat the assertion as if it
makes more sense the more often yo do:

'Just because you have what a thing is made out of does not mean you have the thing. This is true even for the most naive materialist. Just because you have wood doesn't mean you have a chessboard, and just because particles doesn't mean you have a squirrel.'

Thomas, how about giving us an actual reason why a squirrel is to a particle like a relief is to a tree instead of just repeating the assertion?

I'm not holding my breath this time.

Thomas said...

Singring,

I suppose it's redundant to remind you're doing philosophy, so you may want to be cautious in your assertions that you're not sure are true. If you want to be taken seriously, of course. That way you can avoid saying things like Aristotle was not familiar with particles, when in fact atomism originated with the Greeks and Aristotle in fact discusses it--you're literally thousands of years behind the times in philosophy.

And atomism is really the mistake you're committing here, because you're assuming that atoms have a causal priority over the things that make them up. A broader way to say this is that you think wholes are best explained by counting up their parts, rather than doing it the other way around and explaining parts in terms of wholes.

Nor does responding a mention of the relation between matter and potentiality, a basic issue in Aristotle that has interesting applications in connection with quantum theory, with "Philosophicla blabla" make you sound like you're very serious about doing philosophy. If you cannot understand some of the basic concepts -- concepts that are taught in entry level philosophy classes -- why would you expect anyone to listen to you?

And for the life of me, I cannot figure out what you don't understand about this statement: "Just because you have what a thing is made out of does not mean you have the thing. This is true even for the most naive materialist." I don't know if it's willful ignorance or the sheer incapacity for philosophic thinking, but that's not hard to understand (even for a biologist). A chessboard (the thing) is not just wood (the material). Just because I find a piece of wood does not mean that I've found a chessboard, I may have found a limb or a stump. At the very least, the wood has to be formed in a certain way. In a similar way, just because you have particles doesn't mean you have a squirrel. At the very least, the particles have to be arranged in a certain way: if it has gills and scales, but no arms or legs, it's not a squirrel.

Singring said...

'saying things like Aristotle was not familiar with particles, when in fact atomism originated with the Greeks and Aristotle in fact discusses it--you're literally thousands of years behind the times in philosophy.'

Once again more evidence that you really don't read my posts very closely.

1.) I previously indicated that I was very much aware of the origin of the concept of atoms in Greek philosophy. I quote myself:

'OF COURSE in the age of the quantum theory the term 'atom' is a placeholder - in fact in always HAS been as someone familiar with Greek philosophy and science ought to know!'

So the next time you try to pin me as some ignorant cretin, I suggest you do a better job of research as otherwise you will end up with egg on your face - as you have now.

2.) If you were honest, you would not have omitted to say that atoms were a wholly theoretical idea among Greek philosophers and the concept sprung solely from the idea that matter cannot be split into smaller parts indefinitely. It has nothing remotely to do with the concepts and real measurements we have of atoms today. Your struggle to make it seem as if it does again reveals your lack of respecting scientific history and current knowledge.

'because you're assuming that atoms have a causal priority over the things that make them up.'

Indeed I am. And I am waiting for YOU to give me a coherent argument why I should reverse this position. So far you have not - all you do yet again is post a litany of ad hominem attacks and repeatitive assertions. As is in evidence in the last paragraph of your latest post.

Singring said...

'If you cannot understand some of the basic concepts -- concepts that are taught in entry level philosophy classes -- why would you expect anyone to listen to you?'

I'm sorry, but when someone starts saying things like 'matter, in itself, is a sort of potentiality', you lose all credibility in my eyes. Its word games. Why say 'sort of potentiality' when in fact you could use common English...its just an attempt at obfuscation which is evidenced by the absence of a coherent argument throughout the rest of your post.

'And for the life of me, I cannot figure out what you don't understand about this statement: "Just because you have what a thing is made out of does not mean you have the thing. This is true even for the most naive materialist."'

I told you before: asserting it over and over and over does not constitute an argument. It constitutes an assertion. I'm sorry I have to lecture a philosopher on the bleeding obvious.

'Just because I find a piece of wood does not mean that I've found a chessboard, I may have found a limb or a stump. At the very least, the wood has to be formed in a certain way.'

Absolutely. But WE KNOW WHO DOES THE FORMING. The carpenter.

'In a similar way, just because you have particles doesn't mean you have a squirrel. At the very least, the particles have to be arranged in a certain way: if it has gills and scales, but no arms or legs, it's not a squirrel.'

Precisely. But we KNOW what arranged those particles: evolution.

So in one case (chess board) we have a 'purposeful' human agent (who is in turn the result of 'purposeless' evolution), in the other we have a 'purposeless' natural process.

The two are clearly not the same as you try to present it. The fact that you try and draw a comparison as if that in some way represented an actual argument is just flabberghasting. It's a vapant argument from design that fails on the very analogy it originates from.

Also, we know the proximate cause for BOTH of these 'things' and as I laid out before, can trace them back far enough in time until we come to the origin of PARTICLES.

So I must tell you once again: Unless you can give me some coherent argument a) WHY the arrangement of particles in a certain way somehow has a quality that goes beyond the mere arrangement, thus indicating a cause that supercedes the proximate cause that we KNOW of and b) HOW that quality is such that it makes the analogy 'a squirrel is to particles like a chess board is to a tree' valid...

...all I can due is have a chuckle at your flailing arms, ad hominem attacks that constantly backfire and your inability to support an argument beyond mere assertion.

Singring said...

I just came up with a rather elegant way of pointing out my main bone of contention in the whole particle/thing context:

The existence of particles is not dependent upon the existence of accumulations of particles (squirrels). However, accumulations of particles (squirrels) is dependent upon the existence of particles.

So any attempt at 'explaining' the origin of an accumulation of particles (say, a squirrel) that does not contain an 'explanation' of the origin of the particles is useless.

But why are we having this discussion? You have already conceded that particles are natural causes and therefore your original premise has been refuted.

Thomas said...

I hope you're not demanding that Aristotle "use common English". In any case, you're objecting to the fact that philosophy has a technical vocabulary, which is very silly, and you should know better since biology has a technical vocabulary too (for example, fitness means something different for biologists than it does for most Americans). If you're not willing to try to learn philosophy's technical vocabulary, then your attempts won't even arise to the level of an amateur. The silliness of your position is compounded by the fact that one of the things modern physics has done is to explore the close relationship between matter and energy.

"The fact that you try and draw a comparison as if that in some way represented an actual argument is just flabberghasting..."

You have a constant tendency to argue positions I'm not advancing. I wasn't saying anything more than that you need more than that out of which a thing is made to have that thing, you at least need a particular form. You seem to very badly want me to make some kind of design argument, but I didn't, I won't, and I think they're flawed. It's absurd that you would so desperately want me to argue something you disagree with and that I haven't advanced (and that I happen to disagree with too) so that you can argue with it.

And not only do I disagree with it, but I have wrote on it from an Aristotelian perspective, and disagree with design arguments for (probably) much more fundamental reasons: http://tearingdownthemaskofmaya.blogspot.com/2009/06/works-of-art-and-works-of-nature.html

Thomas said...

"You have already conceded that particles are natural causes and therefore your original premise has been refuted."

How in the world do you get this?

Singring said...

Yet again your post lacks any kind of coherent argument and instead attacks my character, my motives and pretty much everything besides the arguments I have advanced.

'In any case, you're objecting to the fact that philosophy has a technical vocabulary, which is very silly,'

Not in the least. What I object to is that you resort to excaping into technical jargon whenever you need to throw up a snokescreen. You are not talking to a philosopher. I have never claimed to be a philosopher. I have never claimed to know the jargon. It is your responsibility to make a coherent argument in plain English - if you can't, then that speaks volumes.

I am a Biologist and I have debated many Creationists in various forums. If I do use jargon, I make sure I explain it fully and comprehensively when I do. For example, I have never used the term 'fitness' in a debate with Creationists, precisely because it has a different meaning in coomon parlance. It is up to me to make the effort to explain things in a common, understandable way - I can't expect every Joe on teh street to know what and a 'trade-off' is.

So quit making excuses and give me an argument instead of your incessant whining.

Singring said...

'close relationship between matter and energy.'

Then why do you not say 'energy' instead of 'potentiality' if that is what you actually mean? I mean...seriosuly, is that so hard?

'You have a constant tendency to argue positions I'm not advancing.'

The irony is almost too much to take.

'I wasn't saying anything more than that you need more than that out of which a thing is made to have that thing, you at least need a particular form.'

1) There you are again, making teh same claim for the fourth time and you have done nothing so far to back it up.

2) This statement is false. I have consistently and repeatedly asked you to provide support for one particular analogy you drew - I quote your post in question:

'For example, trees produce wood, but that does not mean they produce things made of wood. Trees don't produce chess boards or relief engravings. Just because you have the material out of which something is made doesn't mean you have the thing. '

...and here is the question I asked in reply:

'Can you give me a coherent argument or any kind of evidence demonstrating that squirrels are to particles like chess boards are to trees?'

That is the analogy you were making and I would like you to support it. So far - nothing.

'How in the world do you get this?'

I quote your post timed 5:38 pm:

'So you have three choices: a finite series of natural causes that originates without an explanation, a finite series of natural causes that originates in something that is not natural, and an infinite series of natural causes. The first is irrational.'

Then I quote your post timed 3:24 pm:

'I think that answers all your questions except for whether particles are a natural cause. The answer to that is yes, they are a form of material cause.'

Thus, option one is NOT irrational since particles CAN arise spontaneously as Quantum Theory states - and your premise has been refuted.

Epic win.

Thomas said...

Singring,

It's not at all unreasonable to ask that you understand what you wish to criticize before you criticize it. This is an issue of intellectual honesty, both to others and to yourself. It's not just an issue of those who have some competence in philosophy taking you seriously, it's an issue of taking yourself and what you are saying seriously.

If you are engaged in a philosophic discussion, responding to the use of the Aristotelian terms terms "potentiality" and "matter" by saying "Philosophicla blabla. Laughable." will just get you written off. It indicates to anyone reading that not only do you not know what you're criticizing, but that you're not even willing to try to figure it out. The fundamentalist creationists I've debated with have made more of a good faith effort to try to figure out what they're criticizing. Philosophy requires a certain disposition of character, an intellectual curiosity, and the willingness to subject oneself to philosophic discourse; if you don't have that, not only is it pointless for me to try to clarify some of the issues, it's pointless for you to even thing about them for yourself. You'll just botch it.

Declaring yourself to have achieved an "epic win" when you seem to not to understand what a material cause is just one example of this. It does not matter for the purposes whether there's a series of natural causes or not, because the kind of cause that the cosmological argument talks about is not an efficient cause.

Even more ironically, you're saying that the thesis that it's irrational to believe that things cannot happen without explanation is proved by your strenuous (and uninformed) argument that there is an explanation for particles coming in and out of existence - quantum theory. At this point, I can't imagine that you believe your own arguments.

Thomas said...

As to the chess board thing, I really don't think you're dense enough not to get it, but I'll reformulate it again.

I'm arguing against the proposition that just because you have the material a thing is made out of, you have a thing. We'll put it into more organized form:

1: When you have the material out of which a thing is made, you have that thing.

2: A chess board is made out of wood.

3. Therefore, any time you have wood you have a chessboard.

4. A tree is made out of wood.

5. Therefore a tree is a chessboard.

Really, it's not that hard. If you assume that a thing simple is its material, you get completely absurd results. To use another example:

1. When you have the material out of which a thing is made, you have the thing.

2. A squirrel is made out of particles.

3. Therefore any time you have particles, you have a squirrel.

4. A fish is made out of particles.

5. Therefore a squirrel is a fish.

As a biologist, I would assume that you know this is false.

Singring said...

'It's not at all unreasonable to ask that you understand what you wish to criticize before you criticize it. '

Thomas, you couldn't even give me a definition of the terms Aristotle was using and yet you expect me to 'understand' it? Come on...

'It indicates to anyone reading that not only do you not know what you're criticizing, but that you're not even willing to try to figure it out. '

I am more than willing to figure it out - in fact the record shows that I have constantly asked you specific, to the point questions regarding your terminology and premises. What has been lacking is an adequate response from you.

'It does not matter for the purposes whether there's a series of natural causes or not, because the kind of cause that the cosmological argument talks about is not an efficient cause.'

I'm sorry, but what part of YOUR words did you not understand. YOU said it was a series of 'natural causes' - YOU said that particles are a natural cause. So are you trying to tell me now that sometimes the words 'natural cause' mean one thing, the next time they mean something else? Is that your standard for the use of language?

'Even more ironically, you're saying that the thesis that it's irrational to believe that things cannot happen without explanation is proved by your strenuous (and uninformed) argument that there is an explanation for particles coming in and out of existence - quantum theory. At this point, I can't imagine that you believe your own arguments.'

The 'explanation' you see in Quantum Theory is a mathematical formula, a conceptual model of reality. Nothing more. So by claiming that the 'efficient' cause in this case is a mathematical formula and that this is a rational 'explanation' for the origin of natural things or causes...then I have no issues with that. God is A=B+C. Great! That means that every theistic religion on the planet is not supported by the evidence. We are in complete agreement.

'the cosmological argument talks about is not an efficient cause.'

>SIGH<. This is getting truly tedious.I asked you before specifically what kind of cause it was and YOU COULD NOT SAY. Not even when reading from a list of Aristotle's own definitions on a philosophy dictionary website. What am I to make of that, Thomas? What am I to make of someone who as an excuse offers up 'O nonono, I'm talking about ANOTHER type of cause' - but when asked what kind of cause he IS talking about he says 'well...it's closest to...'.That won't cut it when we're discussing an alleged explanation for the origin of the universe.
So one last time if you want to use that excuse:

What. Kind. Of. Cause.

Thomas said...

When you began studying biology in earnestness for the first time, did you express your eagerness to learn by saying things like: "natural selection, blabla. Laughable."? Is that how biologists express their desire to learn?

Singring said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Singring said...

'Really, it's not that hard. If you assume that a thing simple is its material, you get completely absurd results. To use another example:'

1.) You are merely asserting that one arrangement of particles (fish) has a qualitative difference to another arrangement of particles (squirrel). In other words, you are claiming that a certain arrangement of particles has an inherent 'squirrelness' to it, whereas anothe has an inhgerent 'fishness' to it. I maintain that there is simply a quantitative difference (and I'm using taht term simply to distungush it from 'qualitative') in that the particles are arranged in a different spatial configuration. We KNOW what caused that configuration: Biology (developmental and ultimately evolutionary) - which is ultimately simply an expression of physical laws at the large and small scale.
I would like to know from whence you make the claim that there is such a thing a 'squirrelness'.

2.) You are dodging the point yet again! I never claimed a thing was merely 'its material' (though it is a point worth debating).

You offered this analogy in the context of explaining the ORIGIN of things, not as a comparative analogy between things. As you emphasized yourself in your previous post! In other words, you were asserting that because wood does not equate to a chess board, therefore a squirrel does not equate to a particle and badda-bing-badda-boom, that get's you off the hook of having to explain the origin of particles.

You are simply asserting that the mere fact that particles group in certain arrangements dictated by biology and physics is an additional quality that somehow justifies you to ponder the origin of squirrels while excluding the much more fundamental question of where particles originate, something upon which ANY other attempt at explaining the origin of a squirrel hinges!

I quote my previous post which you conveniently ignored:

'The existence of particles is not dependent upon the existence of accumulations of particles (squirrels). However, any accumulation of particles (squirrels) is dependent upon the existence of particles.'

So no matter what 'first cause' argument you are proposing, it must include an 'explanation' for the origin of particles. You simply ignore the particles and want to talk exclusively about squirrels. This is nonsense!

Singring said...

'When you began studying biology in earnestness for the first time, did you express your eagerness to learn by saying things like: "natural selection, blabla. Laughable."? Is that how biologists express their desire to learn?'

Less ad hominems, more arguments, please.

I also just would liek to point out that something was iring my about your little analogy and I've been able to put my finger on it:
you use words that have a restricted meaning, i.e. that automaticaly imply a certain arrangement of particles, thus creating the appearance of a logical contradiction where there is none. Try it this way:

1. When you have the material out of which a thing is made, you have the thing.

2. A bunch of particles is made out of particles.

3. Therefore any time you have a bunch of particles, you have a bunch of particles.

4. A bunch of particles is made out of a bunch of particles.

5. Therefore a bunch of particles is a bunch of particles.

Makes sense to me once you remove the restrictive terms thatimply an extra quality, like 'squirrelness'.

Singring said...

Oh....one more thing that I think is the best illustration of why I think your current line of argument is nonsense:

Let's try a little thought experiment. Let's say I have a squirrel. I have machine that can take the particles making up that squirrel and arrange them so they make a fish.

Is that fish a fish or still a squirrel? If you can answer that, things will become a lot clearer.

Thomas said...

Singring,

You need to go back and read the context of that argument, because you're wasting your time and mine by trying to make it into something else. I was simply pointing out that even if it were the case that squirrels were made of the type of particles that come in and out of existence (they're not), then you don't just have to show that these particles can spontaneously appear, but that they appear in a certain configuration or form. But as I've pointed out, the whole conversation is beside the point, because you were not actually arguing that something could come into existence without an explanation.

To the extent that this a wider application in our discussion, it is this: one must know more than the material cause of a thing to know that thing.

And this line is getting rather tedious: "I asked you before specifically what kind of cause it was and YOU COULD NOT SAY."

As a matter of fact, I did. In a sense, when we talk about God, we're talking about formal and final causation. Why you think this is problematic, I have absolutely no idea. Not only did I not suggest that the kinds of causes are mutually exclusive, but I specifically told you that they weren't. Natural wholes are an example where the material, formal, and final causes of a thing are the same. Nor did I suggest that things cannot be a final cause in different ways. Where you get this stuff, I have no idea. If you're making it up yourself, you have no reason to impute your misguided conception of Aristotle's causality to me.

Singring said...

'then you don't just have to show that these particles can spontaneously appear, but that they appear in a certain configuration or form.'

We know exactly why they do appear in that form: evolution. Natural laws. There's nothing 'magic' about it as you are constantly implying. There is no 'squirrelness' to a squirrel just because we label that configuration as a squirrel. That's pure metaphysical assertion without a shred of support. And you know it.

'because you were not actually arguing that something could come into existence without an explanation.'

I absolutely was. You somply hold the position that a mathematical formula or theorum is an 'explanation' - in other words, with your use of the term 'explanation', if 'God' is an explanation for particles popping into existence, he is a formula. A=B+C. I have no griped with that at all, since it invalidates deism and theism in one fell swoop.

'one must know more than the material cause of a thing to know that thing.'

Off you go yet again...

Take a hydrogen molecule. It consists of two hydrogen atoms. Let's assume I could know the exact position and direction of each. Let's also assume that I could record the exact moment they came together to form the molecule. You are telling me, that there is some 'form', some 'hydrogen moleculeness' that this molecule now has, which I cannot account for simply on the basis of having recorded the path and final position of these atoms.

What is your evidence or argument in support of this claim?

'As a matter of fact, I did. In a sense, when we talk about God, we're talking about formal and final causation.'

So we have moved on from a 'closest to' definition to a 'in a sense' defintion? Wow. Just wow. And to think that you were lecturing me on the importance of precise language and terminology. I am literally speechless.

'Natural wholes are an example where the material, formal, and final causes of a thing are the same.'

Aha! And these causes are? Take our hydrogen molecule for example. What are the material, formal and final causes of it?

Thomas said...

Me:

'then you don't just have to show that these particles can spontaneously appear, but that they appear in a certain configuration or form.'

Singring:

"We know exactly why they do appear in that form: evolution."

Are you saying that the theory of evolution explains how these particles come into and out of existence? You might want to let the quantum physics people know that.

Singring again:

"I absolutely was [arguing that something could come into existence without an explanation."

And are you saying a scientific theories or formulas such as the ones put forward by quantum physics are not an explanations? That the theory of evolution does not explain common descent? Am I going to have to argue that it does? This is an utterly bizarre turn.

Singring said...

'Are you saying that the theory of evolution explains how these particles come into and out of existence? You might want to let the quantum physics people know that.'

Ok, this is the final straw. you are seriously just pissing me off at this point. I simply can't believe someone will twist, contort, mangle and misrepresent what others argue in a base effort to dodge the argument.

I clearly stated that evolution tells us why groups of PARTICLES as we find them in a squirrel are arranged in that way - evolution being an extension of physics.

So we have an explanation leading from particles to squirrels. I have tried to make this point as clear as possible time and again.

What we now need is an explanation for the origin of the PARTICLES. That's what this argument is about. Even IF you assume that the arrangement of particles that is the squirrel has some kind of additonal quality that we need to explain - you CAN'T do it without first explaining the particles.

Particles CAN arise literally from nothing. Spontaneously. No cause. I can quote Paul Davies again if you like. So therefore, any first cause argument fails, becaus ethe most basic assumption they all have in common - the necessity of having a causal explanation for natural things - is contradicted even WITHIN our universe.

Remember - we haven't even started discussing whether causality can extend beyond out universe! The argument already stumbles at the foot of the first ridge when there is a huge mountain to climb after that!

'And are you saying a scientific theories or formulas such as the ones put forward by quantum physics are not an explanations? That the theory of evolution does not explain common descent?'

You can't be serious?! Can you honestly not tell that mathematical 'explanation' is not the same as an explanation of how the very physical reality of something originates?

Quantum Theory does not say WHY or HOW or from WHERE these particles originate - just that they do! Science is working on those questions, but at the moment we just don't know!

Juat because I have a gravitational law that tells me how one mass is attracted to another mass does not tell me how the mass itself originated!

Just because I can tell you how one bunch of particles (a squirrel) can emerge over time from another bunch of particles (an amphibian-like ancestor) does not mean I can tell you the origin of the particles!

This IS truly bizarre. It IS bizarre that an educated philosopher cannot make these most basic, fundamental distinctions between a conceptual explanation
of the behaviour of particles (which all of science is basically) and the origin of the particles themselves.

Singring said...

P.S.: I'll add another five or six unanswered questions to your list. You really are reluctant to reply to direct questions. But I'll post the most important one again, in the vain attempt at teasing out an answer:

'Take a hydrogen molecule. It consists of two hydrogen atoms. Let's assume I could know the exact position and direction of each. Let's also assume that I could record the exact moment they came together to form the molecule. You are telling me that there is some 'form', some 'hydrogen moleculeness' that this molecule now has, which I cannot account for simply on the basis of having recorded the path and final position of these atoms.

What is your evidence or argument in support of this claim?'

Should be easy to answer, right? After all, you alledged that this evidence or argument should be obvious to any materialist...

Thomas said...

Singring,

If you recall, the question was: "Is it irrational to believe that a squirrel can pop into existence without explanation?"

You offered an answer that quantum theory says this is possible, though unlikely. In other words, if a squirrel popped into existence, then quantum theory could explain it. Despite the fact that your explanation of quantum theory is quite wrong (quantum theory does actually explain why this happens), it doesn't matter, because you're not arguing that such things happen without explanation. You mistakenly believed yourself to be arguing against the thesis that things have an explanation, when you, in fact, were arguing that, at least in the instance of squirrels, there is an explanation (albeit one you don't understand very well).

If it's true that things do have an explanation, then the question of what sorts of explanations there are can get underway. Until we do that, it's meaningless to discuss it, since discussion is made possible only by the existence of explanations.

Singring said...

'If you recall, the question was: "Is it irrational to believe that a squirrel can pop into existence without explanation?"'

It was not. THIS was the original question I asked you after you asserted that thinking that 'natural causes' can originate without a cuase is irrational (I quote myself):

'Now, here is the question. Its very simple, its very basic and I have asked it before, so I don't know why I need to repeat it some three days later:

Why is the first option irrational?'

You refused to answer - instead you asked me whether or not a squirrel can pop into existence, which we have been debating ever since.

So, just to be clear here, your original premise has already been refuted (because you have conceded that particles are a natural cause, see my 'epic win') - and it is only YOU who keeps insisting that squirrels are the issue when I have maintained all along that particles are the issue. Don't be dishonest.

'Despite the fact that your explanation of quantum theory is quite wrong (quantum theory does actually explain why this happens)'

Oh, I completely agree. In the context of what you were asking it is wrong to say that a squirrel acan pop into existence 'without explanation'. I will happily grant you that - because as long as particles refute your premise, your argument fails. Which is what I have been saying from the very, very beginning if you care to check.

So you make that point...and that's ALL?

You don't even attempt to answer my question about the hydrogen atom, despite me having asked it TWICE?

It is so blatantly obvious that you have no interest at all in adressing the actual nuts and bolts of this discussion for the plain reason that you have no way of defending even the first part of your first premise.

Thomas said...

Singring,

I don't suppose it matters much at this point, but maybe if I point it out again it will eventually sink in. When an Aristotelian says that things have causes, they do not necessarily mean the sort of proximate causes the positive sciences deal with. They mean explanations. So if an Aristotelian says all things that come to be have a cause, they mean that all things that come to be have an explanation.

Quantum theory does explain why virtual particles gain mass, in fact, quantum theory requires this to be so. So despite the fact that there may not be a proximate cause (which may not be true), there is an explanation. Therefore, there is a cause in the wider sense that Aristotelians use the word.

So if you grant that there is an explanation for the existence of virtual particles, then not only does it not disprove the Aristotelian assertion that things have causes, it rather endorses it. You've got yourself so mixed up you're arguing for the other side.

And we can't start discussing the causes (in the wider sense of explanations) of an atom until we get to whether such causes exist. That much should be obvious.

Singring said...

The fact that you are still claiming that a mathematical model is an 'explanation' in the sense that it is also an 'explanation' for the origin of matter is so utterly bizarre I have a tough time even accepting that you could advance such nonsense. Quantum Theory states that matter can pop into existence spontaneously and without cause. The fact that it makes this prediction and that it holds true is not an 'explanation' of HOW or from whence that matter actually arises - that is what physicists are struggling to find out this very moment! Maybe there is none - I'm not claimeing there IS. YOU are! You also claim that Aristotle's argument proves that there is such an 'explanation' and that its called Yahweh (or whichever deity you prescribe to).

'So if you grant that there is an explanation for the existence of virtual particles, then not only does it not disprove the Aristotelian assertion that things have causes, it rather endorses it. You've got yourself so mixed up you're arguing for the other side.'

Wow. I hope you forgive me, but I feel another 'epic win' moment welling up.

What you have just done, in the space of one paragraph, is defeat your own Aristotelean argument. We have a mathematical model for the origin of the universe - it's called a singularity (Big Bang). I maintain (and I would think that almost all physicists agree with me) that it in fact does not give us a causal 'explanation' for 'where' our universe comes from or 'how' it originated beyond the fact that it did so in a singularity.

But since you accept quantum theory as a sufficient 'explanation' for the origin of virtual particles, then you must also accept quantum theory/relativity as a sufficient 'explanation' for the singularity that brought forth our universe. Hence - the singularity is the 'first cause'! Well done!

So there's no need for God. Physics gives us a wholly adequate 'explanation' of the origin of the universe and all particles in it.

Thanks, Thomas, its been fun, but now that you have twice refuted your own premises (first by accepting that particles are 'natural causes', making the first option rational, second by stating that quantum theory is a sufficient 'explanation' for the origin of particles), I'll happily call it a day.

One final request:

IF you are going to clutch at that final straw and come back by saying that 'quantum theory is an explanation for particles but not squirrels! Ha ha!', then I must ask you for the fourth time now to answer my question regarding the hydrogen molecule. Otherwise my respect for your line of argument will be reduced to zero.

Thomas said...

Singring,

Before we get to the question of what sort of explanations things have, we first have to determine whether things have an explanation at all. The question you've been avoiding is: do things that happen have an explanation? Only once we establish this can we discuss, for example, the causes of atoms, because if you don't accept that principle, you don't accept that there are necessarily any explanation for atoms.

And you continue to botch quantum physics, with which it appears you're about as familiar as you are with philosophy. The principles of quantum theory require virtual particles. It appears that your understanding of virtual particles comes from a sensational newspaper article or a quick google search. You don't even appear to have read the wikipedia page you linked to.

You also assume, quite irrationally, that if we have one cause (such as the Big Bang) that this excludes another (such as an ontological cause). Of course, you offer no argument for this, and since you don't understand the philosophic issues surrounding causation (you're confusing primary and secondary causality), or apparently the fact that the cosmological argument works regardless of whether there's an infinite series of natural causes or a finite series of natural causes (as many times as I've repeated this, it apparently has not sunk in). Nor apparently are you aware that the Big Bang was first theorized by a Belgian Roman Catholic priest.

If you ever go to the creation museum, you ought to reflect on how silly people who boldly declare the principles of a given discipline rubbish look, when they clearly have no understanding of those principles.

Singring said...

Thomas, where do I begin?

The record is here for everyone to see. How you can so hopelessly mangle the course of discussion is truly beyond me.

'The question you've been avoiding is: do things that happen have an explanation?'

I haven't! I have asked you several times what 'explanation' you are talking about. Do I honestly have to quote you again? I cannot believe you will stoop to such bald-faced lies. When I asked you, all you gave were vague, non-commital answers.

You have not answered my question regarding the hydrogen molecule - which is what I expressly asked you a fourth time IF you were going to resort to claiming that you are talking about a different kind of 'explanation', which of course, predictably as ever, you have!

So for the fifth time - IF you are claiming that there is a 'secondary' cause or an 'ontological' cause to the hydrogen molecule that CANNOT be accounted for by physics - THEN WHAT IS IT?

'The principles of quantum theory require virtual particles.'

Please quote when I ever stated otherwise?!?!?! This is ridiculous! I have constantly stated that quantum theory predicts these particles - YES it requires them! The same way that relativity theory predicts and requires singularities. But if you claim that that is a sufficient 'explanation' for their origin - then the singularity of the Big Bang model at the origin of the universe is also a sufficient 'explanation' for the universe! You are dismantling your own argument and refusing to accept it. This is getting farcical!

'You also assume, quite irrationally, that if we have one cause (such as the Big Bang) that this excludes another (such as an ontological cause).'

Then why did you not argue this earlier? Why have you been insisting that your premise about natural causes holds because quantum physics 'explains' the origin of particles? You are constantly shifting the goalposts and it smacks of utter desperation. Answer my question regarding the hydrogen molecule if you must clutch at this straw...

'Of course, you offer no argument for this'

Because I don't have to! I make NO CLAIM as to the origin of the universe! YOU ARE! So its your responsibility to support your premises...you can't just assert them and expect people to buy them without critical examination. Sheesh - you call yourself a philosopher are not even able to recognize who has the burden of proof?!

'(you're confusing primary and secondary causality)'

In comes a new term 'secondary causality'. I'm just rolling on the floor laughing at this point.

'Nor apparently are you aware that the Big Bang was first theorized by a Belgian Roman Catholic priest.'

SO?!?! At this point your argument has devolved to Kindergarten level.

Thomas said...

Singring says:

"In comes a new term 'secondary causality'. I'm just rolling on the floor laughing at this point."

From my post at 3:29 pm:

"There's something of an explanation here of the distinction between primary and secondary causality here, but I'm going to try to find a better one. If I can't, I suppose I'll try to produce one myself when I have time.

http://www.enotes.com/science-religion-encyclopedia/causality-primary-secondary"

Perhaps you should stop rolling around on the floor and work on your reading comprehension. Not only did I bring up the term, but I took the time to track down a fairly decent explanation of it.

Singring again:

"'You also assume, quite irrationally, that if we have one cause (such as the Big Bang) that this excludes another (such as an ontological cause).'

"Then why did you not argue this earlier? Why have you been insisting that your premise about natural causes holds because quantum physics 'explains' the origin of particles?"

Quickly scanning through the conversation, I see at least 4 places where I have pointed out that the causes that the cosmological argument discusses are mutually exclusive with scientific causes. In fact, I have been pointing this out from the very beginning of the conversation (discussing the infinite or finite series of natural causes for example). But I'm glad after insisting on this point for the whole thread (now consisting of 181 comments) that its finally starting to sink in.

So I'll repeat again: it makes no sense to start discussing what sort of causes or explanations things have until we determine whether things actually have causes/explanations. If we can establish that, that things have a reason for their existence, or at least that it is more rational to believe things have a reason for existing rather than not existing, then we can move on to talk about causality of particular things, as you want to do.

Did you catch it that time?

Singring said...

'Perhaps you should stop rolling around on the floor and work on your reading comprehension.'

Ha, this time you got me square on the jaw - I'll concede that point (see, that's what you do when you say something wrong or make a bad argument - something I haven't seen coming from you yet, despite ample reason).

'In fact, I have been pointing this out from the very beginning of the conversation (discussing the infinite or finite series of natural causes for example). '

Sorry, but here you are flat out wrong. Nowhere in that premise did you indicate you were discussing two separate causes and when asked whether or not particles are natural causes you said they were. You can't just back out of this as if it never happened - at the very least your formulation of that premise was very sloppy and unprecise to say the least.

'it makes no sense to start discussing what sort of causes or explanations things have until we determine whether things actually have causes/explanations.'

We've been over this a bazillion times:

I say that within our universe there are things WITHOUT cause (some particles) which refutes any kind of first cause argument - because no matter how you phrase it, a first cause argument MUST account for the origin of physical, measurable, real particles before it can adress anything else - are we agreed at least on that last point?

YOU say that ALL things in our universe are caused by something else and that the 'first cause' must lie beyond our universe - otherwise you are not arguing for God anyway and this ends right here and now. THEN you say an 'explanation' in the sense of a mathematical model such as quantum theory IS a sufficient 'explanation' of the origin of particles so you can hold on to your vital premise that everything in our universe has an 'explanation'.

But here's the thing - quantum physics/relativity gives us a mathematical model for the Big Bang (or at least the first definable moment thereafter). So by your OWN definition, our universe is FULLY explained. God is not needed. A first cause is not needed.

I'd say that's a fair summary of our argument at this stage. Correct me where you think I'm misrepresenting and explain why.

So here we are: The ONLY way you can still maintain that there is some 'first cause' outside our universe is that you assert some 'ontological' or 'secondary' cause and that's where you are focussing the argument now - that's fine.

But then answer my question - because this is where you ahve to support any premise that things in fact HAVE a 'secondary cause'.

A hydrogen molecule - what 'secondary' cause does it have? I want to know, because your entire argument rests on this premise at this stage.

So please, please, pleeeeeeze answer that question (the sixth request at this stage).

Singring said...

'it makes no sense to start discussing what sort of causes or explanations things have until we determine whether things actually have causes/explanations. If we can establish that, that things have a reason for their existence, or at least that it is more rational to believe things have a reason for existing rather than not existing, then we can move on to talk about causality of particular things, as you want to do. '

Just to clarify:

1.) We BOTH believe that natural things have natural causes - i.e. one particle hits another one and changes its trajectory. Therefore we can define this as our default position. So we agree all the way back to the Big Bang - at which stage I will say 'I don't know how it happened' and you say 'there was a first cause outside our universe'.

2.) We do NOT agree that there is an additional 'secondary' or 'ontological' cause or explanation for things. I don't claim there is, you do.

The burden of proof is therefore on you to provide good reasons why I should thing there is. Which is why I am asking you to asnwer the question regarding the hydrogen molecule.

Thomas said...

Singring,

Then can I take it that you accept the principle of sufficient reason? That is, that anything that happens has a reason, or the same thing put another way, that there are not brute facts?

If we can agree on that point, then we can move on to discuss what sorts of causes there are. I think your last post sums up nicely where we disagree, and we can move forward from there.

Singring said...

'Then can I take it that you accept the principle of sufficient reason? That is, that anything that happens has a reason, or the same thing put another way, that there are not brute facts?'

I don't know that everything that happens 'has a reason'. There may well be brute facts. That's precisely the issue I have with any permutation of a firct cause argument. It's exactly what I'm asking you to support by answering my hydrogen molecule question (which you still haven't). From what we know of our own universe, we can't even be sure that eveything that happens happens 'for a reason' as I thought was clear by now. Sinc this is the case it is in no way reasonable to make assumptions about the origin of our universe based on things having a reason for their existence outside of our universe...

I really want you to asnwer that question regarding that hydrogen molecule becasue it is essential that you give me a coherent argument why I should think there is anything beyond the mere laws of physics that accounts for the 'origin' of that molecule. I'm not saying there are no additional or 'secondary' causes involved - there may well be - I just can't see any good argument or evidence to think that there is. Which is why a first cause argument is untenable.

Thomas said...

As I've said, we can't really discuss what sort of causes atoms have if we haven't established that they have causes in the first place.

I suspect you wouldn't really deny the principle of sufficient reason if pressed. If that were so, you would be accepting the possibility (though perhaps not the likelihood) that the entire Cambrian explosion happened without any explanation in principle. That is, animals started showing up with literally no explanation: no appeals to quantum physics or any other theories, just a brute fact. If you admit that reality admits such brute facts, then all the sciences which are not falsifiable in strict laboratory testing (such as natural history) are in serious jeopardy, because there's no way to determine the relative likelihood of whether or not there are natural causes or brute facts without repetitive testing.

Singring said...

Thomas, just when I thought we were getting somewhere you go back two steps and pretent the last couple of posts never happened...serisouly, I expected more.

Let me go through your post and point out why I am disappointed with it:

'As I've said, we can't really discuss what sort of causes atoms have if we haven't established that they have causes in the first place. '

We HAVE established what each of our positions in this matter is. As I summed up earlier, we BOTH believe that they have a natural cause - we DON'T agree that they have any additional causes, ontological or otherwise. It is up yo YOU to give me a coherent and credible argument why I should think there is/are.

The fact that you accepted my summation of these positions earlier yet now are suddenly claiming that we still haven;t agreed upon what causes things have is puzzling to say the least.

'I suspect you wouldn't really deny the principle of sufficient reason if pressed. '

Here's an idea, Thomas: instead of trying to lecture me on what my REAL positions are after I have told you what they are, as if somehow you knew what was going on in my brain better than I do, how about you actually give me a good argument demonstrating that there are NO brute facts. I know you are very reluctant to support any of your bold claims with good arguments, but in this case its rather important! Your desperate efforts at telling me what I must think in order to make my position align with yours from the outset, thus alleviating your need to provide sound arguments, are such a transparent effort at glossing over your lack of just these arguments...come on - where are your reasons for thinking there are no brute facts?

'If that were so, you would be accepting the possibility (though perhaps not the likelihood) that the entire Cambrian explosion happened without any explanation in principle.'

Absolutely. It may well be that the entire universe just popped into existence five minutes ago, fully formed and in the state we perceive it right now - we have no way of knowing if that is actually the case. But for the time being we can operate under the assumption that this was not so since all the evidence we have available does not require us to assume it.

The same applies to the Cambrian Explosion: We have perfectly good explanations for how, why and when it occured. We know the natural causes. Could it be that it all just happened spontaneously for no reason at all - a 'brute fact' as you put it? Sure! But as long as we don;t have any good reaon to think that that is ACTUALLY what happened we can operate under the assumption that our current data supports - which is that the CE is not a brute fact.

I really wish you would give up this disingenuous tactic of misrepresenting the consequences of my positions - as a philosopher you must know better.

Singring said...

'because there's no way to determine the relative likelihood of whether or not there are natural causes or brute facts without repetitive testing.'

Precisely. That's a shortcoming of all historical sciences. I don't see what problem you are trying to concoct here.

So Thomas, for the seventh time now I must ask you to stop all the sideshows an the dilly-dallying and get to the issue:

What is your argument to support the claim that we need any secondary, ancillary or additional causes to explain the existence of a hydrogen molecule? This is the seventh time I've asked you.

You make assertions and formulate premises yet not once so far have you supprted any of them with an argument. That's not how philosophy or any other mode of understanding is advanced.