Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ed Feser on the cosmological argument and 'What caused God?'

Ed Feser has a great post on absurd atheist objections to the cosmological argument for God's existence. He takes them on one by one, and I'll post on each one.

My own discussion of Aquinas' First Way, in which I discuss the argument in a bit of detail, is here

Feser:

2. “What caused God?” is not a serious objection to the argument.


Part of the reason this is not a serious objection is that it usually rests on the assumption that the cosmological argument is committed to the premise that “Everything has a cause,” and as I’ve just said, this is simply not the case. But there is another and perhaps deeper reason.

The cosmological argument in its historically most influential versions is not concerned to show that there is a cause of things which justhappens not to have a cause. It is not interested in “brute facts” – if it were, then yes, positing the world as the ultimate brute fact might arguably be as defensible as taking God to be. On the contrary, the cosmological argument – again, at least as its most prominent defenders (Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, et al.) present it – is concerned with trying to show that not everything can be a “brute fact.” What it seeks to show is that if there is to be an ultimate explanation of things, then there must be a cause of everything else which not onlyhappens to exist, but which could not even in principle have failed to exist. And that is why it is said to be uncaused – not because it is an arbitrary exception to a general rule, not because it merely happensto be uncaused, but rather because it is not the sort of thing that can even in principle be said to have had a cause, precisely because it could not even in principle have failed to exist in the first place. And the argument doesn’t merely assume or stipulate that the first cause is like this; on the contrary, the whole point of the argument is to try to show that there must be something like this.

Different versions of the cosmological argument approach this task in different ways. Aristotelian versions argue that change – the actualization of the potentials inherent in things – cannot in principle occur unless there is a cause that is “pure actuality,” and thus can actualize other things without itself having to be actualized. Neo-Platonic versions argue that composite things cannot in principle exist unless there is a cause of things that is absolutely unified or non-composite. Thomists not only defend the Aristotelian versions, but also argue that whatever has an essence or nature distinct from its existence – so that it must derive existence from something outside it – must ultimately be caused by something whose essence just isexistence, and which qua existence or being itself need not derive its existence from another. Leibnizian versions argue that whatever does not have the sufficient reason for its existence in itself must ultimately derive its existence from something which does have within itself a sufficient reason for its existence, and which is in that sense necessary rather than contingent. And so forth. (Note that I am not defending or even stating the arguments here, but merely giving single sentence summaries of the general approach several versions of the arguments take.)


So, to ask “What caused God?” really amounts to asking “What caused the thing that cannot in principle have had a cause?”, or “What actualized the potentials in that thing which is pure actuality and thus never had any potentials of any sort needing to be actualized in the first place?”, or “What imparted a sufficient reason for existence to that thing which has its sufficient reason for existence within itself and did not derive it from something else?” And none of these questions makes any sense. Of course, the atheist might say that he isn’t convinced that the cosmological argument succeeds in showing that there really is something that could not in principle have had a cause, or that is purely actual, or that has a sufficient reason for its existence within itself. He might even try to argue that there is some sort of hidden incoherence in these notions. But merely to ask “What caused God?” – as if the defender of the cosmological argument had overlooked the most obvious of objections – simply misses the whole point. A serious critic has to grapple with the details of the arguments. He cannot short-circuit them with a single smart-ass question. (If some anonymous doofus in a combox can think up such an objection, then you can be certain that Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, et al. already thought of it too.)


The most famous (infamous) 'retort' to the cosmological argument is Hume's. He asked (paraphrasing): 'why can't the universe itself, rather than God, be the uncaused thing, the ground for existence?' He wrongly asserted that the recourse to God as First Cause was a mere stipulation, an arbitrary presumption. But, as Feser points out, the cosmological argument concludes (rather than arbitrarily stipulates) that the First Cause must be something outside of contingent nature. It must be something that must exist. The universe can't be the First Cause, because it is contingent, and it lacks the properties necessary for a First Cause.

The First Cause must, by logic, transcend nature.

The retort 'what caused God' isn't an argument. It's merely an admission of ignorance about what the argument actually is. 

21 comments:

  1. You are disgusting, Michael. Your ridiculous arguments presuppose that only your god is real and that mine is not, and this is really offensive. But the Flying Spaghetti Monster is real and you better accept Him in your heart.

    Stop insulting my religion (the true religion) and repent before it's too late.

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  2. Feser:

    "What it [the cosmological argument (CA)] seeks to show is that if there is to be an ultimate explanation of things, then there must be a cause of everything else which not only happens to exist, but which could not even in principle have failed to exist."

    That's a big if right there. Must there be an ultimate explanation of things? Note that Feser didn't write all things because that which could not even in principle have failed to exist does not have an ultimate explanation.

    Feser's post is a very long one, but apparently not long enough to lay out the CA. No, for that you need to read his book, of course.

    If it takes such a long argument, the correctness of which is disputed by professional specialized philosophers, it must be accepted that the vast vast majority of humans will never be able to understand the CA - including Dr Michael Egnor, who has demonstrated over and over again a severe lack of reasoning abilities. Therefore Egnor must take the validity of the CA on faith, and he's back at square one.

    By the way, in order to undermine critical colleagues, Feser writes

    "Like every other academic field, philosophy of religion has its share of hacks and mediocrities."

    Given Feser's own meager academic publication record (h-factor = dismal 5), why should we accept that he himself even rises to the level of mediocrity?

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  3. Mike,
    You wrote:
    "The retort 'what caused God' isn't an argument. It's merely an admission of ignorance about what the argument actually is."
    I figured I would add my two cents.
    I see this regression game played by 'atheists' (IE Leftists) as obvious 2d thinking. Gross reductionism may be a more correct academic term.
    Allow me to clarify.
    In my line of work see a lot of 2d/tunnel vision type situations and in officer training corps we attempt to create an instinctive conditioning to alert us to it. We want our officers to always think 'outside the box' and never 'inside the square'-lives depend on it.
    We train to avoid it at all costs and to recognize and exploit this kind of simplicity for what it is: A weakness in our enemy's mind-set or mentality.
    In the field, it has been my experience that this 2d thinking most often a symptom of backwards lazy thinking (and poor training/ ignorance), but can also be quite deliberate and fear based. A kind of denial.
    Either way the observation of such weakness allows for very attractive target/potential asset. These guys make an easy mark.
    As I said before we are trained to react to it, and this cretin's game of regression is 2d in perfection. I can smell it a mile away: soft, simple, pliable, WEAKNESS.
    [Side note: If I can, you can bet your boots any hostiles can.]
    Infinite regression is more than a lousy argument, Mike. It is an admission to being blind to entire dimensions of existence and to the relation of function and purpose. Infantile or childlike does not do such ignorance justice. Perhaps that is why some materialist researchers seek an autism connection to atheism?
    Any way you cook it up it tastes like crap. It is not an argument, but a intellectual (and perhaps actual) coward's means to AVOID one.
    Interesting post, Mike.
    Still waiting on my Feser here! Hope to get it by Christmas.

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  4. That the first cause could be something we don’t yet grasp is possible. I don’t assume we have full knowledge of every aspect of nature.

    The feeling I have is we are on the verge of astonishing discoveries, but from there to assume this is a deity is a stretch.

    Theoretically it could be anything.

    Why couldn’t it just be something we haven’t yet detected ? After all, science is still young, barely a few hundred years.

    Who knows, certainly not you Dr. Egnor.

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  5. @crusadeREX
    'atheists' (IE Leftists)

    Facepalm.

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  6. W.V.O. Quine said if our best understanding of the world is incompatible with some of the laws of logic, so much worse for the laws of logic.

    Throughout its history science has shown how complexity can arise from simple laws working on simple systems. We have ever increasing confidence that the bang in the Big Bang was an inflation field, and that all of the fundamental particles where formed as a result of the collapse of that field. Of course the precise nature of the inflation field is still a mystery, but we can be confident that its ultimate description will involve far fewer parameters than the universe spawned by its collapse.

    Even if you grant that there must be an uncaused thing as the ultimate source for our reality, there is no reason to believe it has to be a perfect infinite being, and many reasons to believe it was a simple thing with the potential to produce complexity.

    -KW

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  7. “What caused God?” Isn’t an argument used against sophisticated religious philosophers, it’s an argument to be thrown in the face of ignorant internet age Christian apologist who want to see the Crocoduck.

    -KW

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  8. Dr. Egnor has the same basic beliefs as the people who want to see the Crocoduck, his arguments are just more sophisticated.

    -KW

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  9. [W.V.O. Quine said if our best understanding of the world is incompatible with some of the laws of logic, then so much worse for the laws of logic.]

    If he really believed that, then perhaps he shouldn't have used an if-then construct in expressing the thought.

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  10. Sadly but not surprisingly, anon KW said ...

    "But the Flying Spaghetti Monster is real and you better accept Him in your heart. Stop insulting my religion (the true religion) and repent before it's too late."

    Even your attempt at sarcasm fails kw.
    We all know no one really believes in the FSM.
    And we all know why.

    The inane nature of atheism however has produced the FSM and even the church of the FSM with its own priests, prophets and apostles. What an idiotic waste of time.

    Atheists cannot prove there is no God, but its easy to prove there is no FSM god.

    Instead of at least attempting some sort of proof against a primary 1st cause - God - the atheists must embarrass themselves with lunacy like FSMs and the infamous and equally ludicrous "invisible pink unicorn" ah hum "arguments".

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  11. Anonymous said...

    "W.V.O. Quine said if our best understanding of the world is incompatible with some of the laws of logic, so much worse for the laws of logic."

    Gee, which laws of logic was he using to make that conclusion?
    LOL.

    "We have ever increasing confidence that the bang in the Big Bang was an inflation field, and that all of the fundamental particles where formed as a result of the collapse of that field."

    Really? And where did the inflation field come from?

    "... is still a mystery, but we can be confident that its ultimate description will involve far fewer parameters than the universe spawned by its collapse."

    Right. This sounds like the claims of Darwinism. We're still waiting ... after more than 100 years for anything near proof of it.

    "Even if you grant ... there is no reason to believe it has to be a perfect infinite being,"

    Wrong. We have many reasons to believe this and they're all logical.

    The first cause had to be timeless and immaterial because there was no space and time before the universe.

    Whatever is timeless must be unchanging.
    Anything changeless must be immaterial - that which is material is in constant change.

    Such a cause must be uncaused since infinite regression is impossible.

    The cause had to omnipotent - since it created the universe without any material cause.

    Why ought it be personal?

    1. personhood is implied by timelessness and immateriality

    Only entities of unbodied minds, or, abstract objects like numbers can be timeless yet abstract objects don't create anything
    - ex. the number 7 cannot be the cause of anything
    Ergo, the first cause was an unembodied mind.

    2. implied by the origin of an effect with a beginning from a beginningless cause
    - the cause cannot have beginning or any cause - therefore it must exist changelessly
    - at a finite time ago it brought universe into existence

    "and many reasons to believe it was a simple thing with the potential to produce complexity."


    You assume God must be complex. God is simple in his essence. This is ages old theology.

    You fail because you know nothing of either philosophy or theology.

    You should listen to WL Craig's "non-debate" with Dawkins at Oxford (frightened Dawkins didn't show up).
    Everything you just claimed was refuted. It was filmed. Look it up on youtube if you have the guts.

    Sorry but you lose again kw.
    Worse, you always will until you give up your obstinately religious atheism and open your mind and heart to the truth.

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  12. @ Gary H
    "Whatever is timeless must be unchanging.
    Anything changeless must be immaterial"

    Yep. Agreed. That pretty much describes something that is non-existent.

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  13. Even your attempt at sarcasm fails kw.

    I'm not kw.

    We all know no one really believes in the FSM.
    And we all know why.


    This is a lie and you know it. I believe in the FSM. There are more and more faithful Pastafarians everyday.

    The inane nature of atheism however has produced the FSM and even the church of the FSM with its own priests, prophets and apostles. What an idiotic waste of time.

    No, you don't get it. Atheists discovered our religion and decided to use it as a joke to argue against Christianity. That's why I hate atheists: pretending our religion is a parody is even more offensive than saying our religion is not the true religion.

    Atheists cannot prove there is no God, but its easy to prove there is no FSM god.

    No, because you can't prove something doesn't exist — especially when it does exist.

    Worse, you always will until you give up your obstinately religious atheism and open your mind and heart to the truth.

    I agree. Atheists have closed their eyes and their mind and refuse to see the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Fortunately, He is more merciful than your Jesus, so He'll probably forgive them when they realize they were mistaken.

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  14. Anyone reading these comments who is not already decided on the issue of origins would be struck by the profound lack of depth to the atheist materialistic argument.
    It is OBVIOUSLY a two dimensional map of an incomplete reality. IE The Atheists seem only capable of seeing slices or slides of reality. Worse than that, they twist reason and logic at every chance, like some corrupt inquisitor bending the evidence to prove a heresy. Here are just a few examples from just this post.

    From Anon the Anon the less endowed.
    "..he Flying Spaghetti Monster is real and you better accept Him in your heart."
    Limp noodles anyone? I guess that kind of futilism would take the starch out of anyone's pasta. This is what passes as an atheist analogy for Buddists, Christians, Muslims, and Jews. The Enuma Elish, Bible, Upanishads, and Bhagavad Gītā, and all the ancient wisdom of the world is equated with some second rate comic act.
    Poor grinning idiot.

    The almost pathetic snobbery Troy:
    "Given Feser's own meager academic publication record (h-factor = dismal 5), why should we accept that he himself even rises to the level of mediocrity?"
    OOOH! His Lordship and his school chums did not buy Feser's book, so it's no good.
    What's more? Troy can't understand it, so neither can Dr Egnor - or ANYONE! Sound a little like his 'theological' stance? (IE I don't get it, so it must be false). It is not his attention deficit, but the UNIVERSE at fault.
    Why not make make a whine with those SOUR GRAPES, kid? Oh you did! (your comment)

    By far the most intelligent response from the 'Atheists' was by Iko, who actually referred to the subject being discussed. But even Iko makes little sense when we get anything like close to the question of the divine.

    "Why couldn’t it just be something we haven’t yet detected ?"

    Something (Someone) that your positivist's dogma is ill equipped to detect, and rejects when it does. A purpose, a prime mover, a God.
    "After all, science is still young, barely a few hundred years."
    Promissory materialism? Atheism and naturalism have promised this very 'second coming' for centuries. A messianic 'science' that will explain away everything as banality.
    Luckily for mankind, these movements did no such thing. Their impotent existence is evidence, if not proof, of the opposite.
    In fact, much of the metaphysical ideas of the Classical and Medieval being derided in these posts are now being echoed by modern physics research. 'Potentia' and the Quantum 'field' being a BIG example of this.
    Now, in order to defend that Atheistic dogma, they must deceive themselves into thinking if their method is incapable of proving/disproving anything then it must not be there. If thy cannot 'see' it, it does not exist. Again we see Troy's above attitude echoed: "If I don't get it, nobody can".
    "Who knows, certainly not you Dr. Egnor."
    Dr Egnor is not the one making pretensions on scientific credibility. He is making a philosophical argument. ATHEISM, on the other hand, deals with 'proofs' and empirical studies. Atheists on the VERY PAGE make the very assertions Iko objects to, by saying: 'There is no God'.
    Philosophy defends the question mark, Positivism seeks to banish it with pretensions, promises and predictions.

    And not to be outdone by an actual conversation, our soft noodle, Anon, has one more pearl of wisdom to offer the discussion
    "That pretty much describes something that is non-existent."
    Something that is non-existent?
    SOME THING that is NO THING?
    Anon... you have tied yourself in a knot. Must be all those limp noodles in your argument. Perhaps you had better nail down the difference between matter and nothingness before you get onto cosmic origins? Maybe learn to crawl or walk before you try to run a marathon...

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  15. Harry G. said...

    " No, you don't get it."

    No YOU don't get it. Sure its a joke, but its on you.

    " No, because you can't prove something doesn't exist — especially when it does exist."

    1. Wrong.

    2. Apply that 2nd part to God. Duh!
    - Now prove God doesn't exist.

    Now seriously, which asylum did you escape from. The nice fellows in the clean white coats are out looking for you. Please give yourself up before you hurt yourself.

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  16. Now seriously, which asylum did you escape from. The nice fellows in the clean white coats are out looking for you. Please give yourself up before you hurt yourself.

    Thanks for the sentences, Gary H. I'll reuse them on this blog, they'll be very useful.

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  17. Anonymous said...

    "Thanks for the sentences, Gary H. I'll reuse them on this blog, they'll be very useful."

    Ask me if I care.

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  18. Gary H wrote:

    1. personhood is implied by timelessness and immateriality.

    Only entities of unbodied minds, or, abstract objects like numbers can be timeless yet abstract objects don't create anything
    - ex. the number 7 cannot be the cause of anything
    Ergo, the first cause was an unembodied mind.


    Some questions about this:

    (1) What are entities of unbodied minds?
    (2) What is timeless?
    (3) Why can only entities of unbodied minds OR [don't you mean AND?] abstract objects be timeless?

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  19. Gary H,

    How exactly do you know that time and space didn’t exist before the creation of the universe? Try to answer without quote mining.

    So if the number “7” is a real thing that we discovered as opposed to invented, is 7x7+12=61 a real? How about ΔxΔmv ≥ hλ/λ? Or all the possible solutions to Einstein’s field equations are they real? If they are, you should consider the possibility that we live in a Max Tegmark level IV multiverse.

    Perhaps any mathematical structure complicated enough to contain observers simply bootstraps itself into existence. Or maybe some white haired belly buttonless old mad made a universe because he felt like being worshiped and torturing those that refused. We may never know.

    -KW

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  20. KW is the maroon who previously wrote this:

    "Quantum physics predicts, and observations have confirmed, the existence of virtual particles that pop into and out of existence all the time."

    From SLAC (formerly named Stanford Linear Accelerator Center):

    Virtual particles are a language invented by physicists in order to talk about processes in terms of the Feynman diagrams. These diagrams are a shorthand for a calculation that gives the probability of the process. The calculation is derived from quantum field theory.

    Feynman diagrams have lines that represent mathematical expressions, but each line can also be viewed as representing a particle. However in the intermediate stages of a process the lines represent particles that can never be observed. These particles do not have the required Einstein relationship between their energy, momentum and mass. They are called "virtual" particles.

    For example, in beta decay one can readily see that the energy available for the intermediate W boson cannot be greater than the mass-energy difference between a neutron and a proton, which is very much less than the mass-energy of a W boson. Thus, the W boson here cannot be observed, but the calculation based on this diagram correctly predicts the rate of the process.

    Particle physicists talk about these processes as if the particles exchanged in the intermediate stages of a diagram are actually there, but they are really only part of a quantum probability calculation. It is meaningless to argue whether they are or are not there, as they cannot be observed. Any attempt to observe them changes the outcome of the process.

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  21. Robert O'Brien,

    I don't know if quantum physics predicts the existence of virtual particles that pop into and out of existence all the time, but:

    Most of the mass of nucleons (neutrons and protons) isn't made up of the 3 quarks (2 up-quarks and 1 down-quark in a proton and 1 up-quark and 2 down-quarks in a neutron). Rather, the mass is made up mostly of the sea of virtual particles, quark/antiquark pairs and gluons.

    The large hadron collider is banging together two beam of protons traveling at almost light speed. A proton consists mostly of empty space. The collisions the particle physicists are most interested in are the ones between virtual particles of the colliding protons because they have most of the mass and therefore energy of the protons and can therefore form more novel particles.

    Virtual particles aren't an accounting trick. They're real.

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