Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Kalām Cosmological Argument

  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe must have a cause.
Quoting Christian Philosopher William Lane Craig for a fair presentation of the argument:

"God makes sense of the origin of the universe. Have you ever asked yourself where the universe came from? Why everything exists instead of just nothing? Typically atheists have said that the universe is eternal, and that's all. But surely this doesn't make sense. [...] If the universe never began to exist, then that means that the number of events in the past history of the universe is infinite. But mathematicians recognize that the idea of an actually infinite number of things leads to self–contradictions. For example, what is infinity minus infinity? Well, mathematically, you get self–contradictory answers. This shows that infinity is just an idea in your mind, not something that exists in reality. [...]

But that entails that since past events are not just ideas, but are real, the number of past events must be finite. Therefore, the series of past events can't just go back forever. Rather the universe must have begun to exist.

This conclusion has been confirmed by remarkable discoveries in astronomy and astrophysics. The astrophysical evidence indicates that the universe began to exist in a great explosion called the "Big Bang" about 15 billion years ago. Physical space and time were created in that event, as well as all the matter and energy in the universe. [...] Thus, what the Big Bang model requires is that the universe began to exist and was created out of nothing.

[...] There must have been a cause which brought the universe into being. And from the very nature of the cause, this cause must be an uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being which created the universe. It must be uncaused because there cannot be an infinite regress of causes. It must be timeless and therefore changeless––at least without the universe––because it created time. Because it also created space, it must transcend space as well and therefore be immaterial, not physical.

Moreover, I would argue, it must also be personal. For how else could a timeless cause give rise to a temporal effect like the universe? If the cause were an impersonal set of sufficient conditions, then the cause could never exist without the effect. If the sufficient conditions were timelessly present, then the effect would be timelessly present as well. The only way for the cause to be timeless but for the effect to begin in time is if the cause is a personal agent who freely chooses to create an effect in time without any prior determining conditions. And, thus, we are brought, not merely to the transcendent cause of the universe, but to its personal Creator. [...]"

Some objections:
  • About premise 1. We have never seen anything coming into being, everything we see inside of our universe is the product of change. When we say that a new chair came into being, what we mean by this is that there was a change in the way pre-existing molecules were arranged in space and "chair" is how we identify the new arrangement. This is the product of change and not of creation. Since we never observed anything coming into being, we can't apply the same rules that we know apply for the change we observe in our universe and therefore, things that come into being might not require a cause. I'm only including this here to point out the metaphysical possibility of this premise being false, although I actually think that the premise is a reasonable assumption and much more reasonable than it's denial.

  • About premise 2. What's really meant by it? It's very important to make a distinction here: Many different things can be interpreted by the 2nd premise, this argument implies that all space and time came into being, from nothing, at the beginning of the universe but when we say that the universe began to exist, we're not necessarily presuming that the very stuff that the universe is made of actually started to exist. From a scientific point of view, the argument endorses and appeals to the Big Bang theory, which doesn't tell us anything about the origins of energy. There's no information or meaningful theoretical data from time zero to Planck Time so the Big Bang theory doesn't tell us whether all energy and matter was created ex nihilo (out of nothing) or was the product of change. From a metaphysical point of view, I don't see why that assumption should be more plausible than any other. The only thing we should presume with that premise is that the universe began to exist in the sense that there was a time zero from which this instance of space and time expanded and formed this universe.

  • About premise 2, the universe may never have began to exist. Began as in created from nothing. The temporal effect (the Universe) could be eternally present without being infinite in the past. First, because time is a meaningless concept "before" time 0, which doesn't necessarily mean that nothing existed; and second and most importantly, because it seems to be presumed that time is an absolute measure that must be in agreement between the inside of the universe and "outside" of it and I can't see how that would work out from a metaphysical point of view. Otherwise, a 4-dimensional object can exist timelessly and still be finite in all 4 dimensions, including the 3 space dimensions and 1 time dimension.

  • What does it mean for something to be immaterial? The cause must be something because, if it is nothing, it doesn't exist. If it is something then there is something. This seems obvious, I'm only spelling this out because there are too many layers of assumptions in the word immaterial as if it could be something made of nothing. The idea behind the argument is that if the cause created the concept of matter, he mustn't be made of it (hence immaterial), however, this doesn't exclude the cause being "made" of something else. Of course that "being made of" has lots of connotations with the physics that we know of but the point is that the cause needs to be something instead of nothing. Now if this is correct and this is only meant as a "relative immateriality" (relative to the kind of matter we know of) and not something made of nothing, then anything can be the cause of the universe, not just abstract things like minds or numbers, it just needs to be made of something different than what the universe is made of, to be immaterial in that sense. Therefore, the justification for it to have to be a mind doesn't seem to stand.

  • What does it mean for something to be timeless? By timeless, we can mean something without change or, as I see it, we can recognize the possibility of change without what we call time. I think the former is being presumed in the argument but that's not important because both present different problems to the rest of the argument as we'll see next.

  • An immaterial, timeless mind gives rise to two problems. Minds as we know them, unless you accept dualism, are likely reducible to our nervous systems and are therefore, material in their cause. Also, if we accept the notion of timelessness as the absence of change, then this mind couldn't think, it would be in a constant frozen state where no thoughts could flow and no decisions could ever be made. If the cause was eternally present in the state necessary for creation then the effect would be eternally present as well.

  • What caused God then? It is argued that the cause of the universe must be uncaused because there can't be an infinite regression of causes but this doesn't deny the possibility of a cause for God, it only tries to deny that by presuming that the cause of the universe is the end of the causal chain and there's nothing in the argument establishing that necessity. Also, this property would work just as well if applied to any other alternative cause, even to the universe itself. If the principle is that things don't require causes to exist as long as they're the first cause which, by the way, would be a very unsatisfying principle, then the universe might also not require a cause if it's the first cause.

    Now, the premises of this argument seem to have been assembled anticipating this objection and to allow you to claim that God didn't begin to exist and therefore, doesn't require a cause. The problem is that the word cause relates to something very earthly where causes precedes their effects in time, however we're talking about a timeless cause so the word in this metaphysical sense has a wider scope. We're talking about a cause as in a reason for a thing's existence, not in the sense that it precedes the effect but in the sense that the effect depends on the cause to exist.

    So I think that, by default, we should expect timeless things to require causes too. Let me illustrate the absurdity of the denial of this principle: Each turtle's existence in an infinite series of turtles might be explained by the preceding parent turtle in the series, because there's an infinite number of them then there's always one more parent to explain each and every turtle that exists, but that wouldn't explain the existence of the infinite set of turtles itself. Claiming that the infinite set of turtles doesn't require a reason to exist because it never began to exist is metaphysically absurd to me.

    So even though I'd agree with a principle that claims that things that begin to exist require a cause, I wouldn't agree with the principle that things that don't begin to exist, don't require causes and this argument relies on such premise for the way it deals with an objection demanding a cause for God.

  • Now even if we'd concede that an eternal being wouldn't require a reason for it's existence, or if that being's reason for existing is in it's own necessity, what is there that separates God from an eternal, impersonal set of conditions that gave rise to the universe?

  • It can be said that you don't need an explanation for the explanation to recognize that explanation as the most plausible but the hypothesis with God seems the less plausible. The eternal, uncaused existence of what the universe is made of is a more simple concept  than the eternal, uncaused existence of a being so complex that it's even capable of creating the stuff that the universe is made of. Furthermore, it's also a person, a mind, it's all powerful, all knowing and all-good; each of those properties increase the complexity of the cause, compared to any competing cause, and decrease the plausibility of that hypothesis.

  • About the property of being a personal cause, it is justified by saying that, if the cause was simply an impersonal set of timeless conditions, the effect (the universe) would be eternally present as well. The assumption here is that there's no change possible in conditions that are timeless but I don't see why a personal cause would make any difference. Under such an assumption, as we've seen before, a timeless mind would be in a constant, frozen state that enabled creation so the effect would also be eternally present. A mind can't function without change. Now if we don't accept this assumption about the concept of timelessness and if we accept change without our own notion of time, then the argument runs into a problem in this very property since a timeless set of impersonal conditions could also be a cause for the universe. Furthermore, if we accept my objection about the premise that the universe began to exist, then there's no obstacle to an impersonal set of conditions either with or without change.

In conclusion, even if we would work around all objections and accept the validity of the hypothesis, it still seems blatantly less likely than any impersonal alternative. The uncaused existence of a personal being which is a mind, timeless, immaterial and all-powerful, is not just more unlikely than the uncaused existence of a set of impersonal conditions, but it's also extremely ad-hod. The argument is also overly ambitious in its scope, it sets out to answer "why is there something, instead of nothing?", but it ends up only shifting the question to "why is there a universe, instead of nothing?" and still leaves the question open of "why is there God, instead of nothing?".

Monday, September 14, 2009

Teleological argument: Cosmological Constants

  1. The universe seems to be fine-tuned for life.
  2. This fine-tuning is either due to chance, necessity or design.
  3. It is not due to chance or necessity.
  4. Therefore, it is due to design.
So this argument attempts to show proof of design just by looking at the kind of universe we live in. What is this fine-tuning exactly? There are a number of constants in the universe that shape reality and makes it suitable for organic life. If one of those values is changed just slightly, life would not be possible. This fine-tunning must be due to design since there's no scientific theory that claims that those constants couldn't have any other value but those, and because the chances of the universe falling into those values by luck alone is ridiculously low.


I'm not a cosmologist, but I don't think there are good reasons to presume premise 3 as true.

My objections to this argument:
  • About the 1st premise, it's life that is fine-tuned to the rules of this universe and not the other way around. This may be only a linguistic detail but still, a universe with different properties might have given rise to life of a very different nature than what we could ever imagine. In a different universe that is stable enough for enough time, the changes allowed by it's rules might give rise to evolving, self-replicating arrangements of whatever kind of concrete things that would be allowed in such a universe. So the point is that it's this kind of life that we observe here that is adapted to the kind of rules that gave rise to them and not the other way around. This attempt to frame the issue backwards would be analogous to saying that food is fine-tuned for our stomachs, or that light is fine-tuned to be captured by our eyes, or that our feet are fine-tuned for wearing shoes.
  • This universe seems very inhospitable for carbon-based life forms. It's an extraordinary claim to suggest that, because we happen to survive in a tiny, insignificant spec of that universe, that the universe is fine-tuned for our survival. Other then the Earth, we don't know of any other place where humans could survive naturally. If the universe was fine-tuned for human life, then that tuning is light years away from the perfection that is attributed to an all-powerful, all-knowing being.
  • About the 3rd premise, it can be due to chance under a multi-verse. It isn't known if this universe is all there is or if it's the only universe there ever was. It's possible that this is only one in a series of universes that have expanded, collapsed and then banged again into a new one. Another possibility is that this universe may be actually embedded within a "bigger" universe (called a multi-verse) where other universes exist. In this sense, a universe would just be a bubble within the bigger frame. In any of these possibilities, chance becomes a very likely cause for those values. If there was a potentially infinite number of universes, before or parallel to this one, then the fact that one of them hit the jackpot is no surprise. In such a view we shouldn't be surprised to be in that universe that's life-permitting because in the cases where it isn't, there's no one to talk about it.
  • About the 3rd premise, it could be due to necessity. Curiously though, the only argument given to exclude necessity, is that science haven't discovered that fact. This is curious because it sets the standards for excluding hypothesis so low that it could be used almost arbitrarily to prove anything. Let's imagine that I'm using this same argument but I change the order in which I check for each hypothesis around. So I say, it's either because of chance, design, or necessity; it's not because of chance because it's extremely low; it's not because of design because science has never discovered that fact; therefore, it must be due to necessity. Due to the way rhetorics are being used to exclude possibilities, I was able to prove the nonexistence of design in the universe with the same argument that was originally used otherwise.
  • About the 1st premise, how much is a slight change? Even though the theist will try to baffle everyone with numbers and say that even the slightest change would have incredible consequences, the truth is that we don't know how those constants could have been different. So, depending on that, we don't know if that slightest change is actually a slight change or an enormous change. Perhaps, by necessity, a certain constant could only have varied below the amount of the supposed "slight" change and perhaps the fact that it happened to arrive at the value we see today, by luck, isn't all that surprising at all. If we don't know how they came about, we have no choice but to say that they could have varied between -infinity and +infinity, in which case, ANY finite change is an infinitely small change. Everything depends on scale, one millimeter change for a human being is a tiny change but for an ant it's a huge change. Without knowing how those values could have varied, all of these calculations become arbitrary and unbounded.
  • How likely is a life permitting universe? It can be argued that the probability of the constants in the universe falling in the life-permitting values by chance alone is incomprehensibly small. However, without knowing how those values could have changed, there's no true boundaries to the amount of possible values those constants could have so the calculation becomes meaningless. If the amount of values a constant could have is infinite, then the probability of any finite range is always zero, it doesn't matter how big or small the range is. This makes any number put forward at this point, completely meaningless if the calculation has no boundaries. It can still be argued that we just need to take an arbitrary finite range of universe-permitting values (where a universe's existence is possible) and compare that with a range of life-permitting values but that just makes the assumption that life could only happen in the way we know it here on earth.
  • What is life? When finding the life-permitting values, we need to make many assumptions. It's probably possible to know what is the set of values in which the kind of life we see on earth could exist. However, is that the only possible kind of life there can be? In this context, we should define life as self-replicating and evolving arrangements of concrete compounds of whatever chemistry would be allowed by a universe born out of a certain set of cosmological constants. Under this view, I think it's very reasonable to assume that life of different chemical basis can exist even in this universe, let alone on other possible universes. Obviously we can't know what those possibilities are so we can't reasonably set a range of life-permitting universes.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Argument from the choice of man's design

The design choice of man includes many imperfections, but because we were created by a perfect being, the amount of imperfections require an explanation since the purpose that is attributed to humans, to believe and seek salvation, would be achieved with almost certainty had the amount of imperfections been different. A god that creates a flawed being and provides it with a purpose whose success rate is only dictated by the very design that was chosen, cannot test his creation for when he tests it, he's really testing his own skills in creating those beings. Just as a clockmaker, when he tests his clock, he's really testing his own skill of making clocks. There's no point in praising or blaming the clock for anything it does, only it's creator.

Our imperfections can be demonstrated by our disbelief in God, for example. The rewarded outcome of this earthy life (actual belief in God) is either determined by a priori knowledge (intrinsic belief or intuition) or a posteriori knowledge (evidence), and the amount I have from both is ultimately caused by God.

If all of our shortcomings have an ultimate genesis in God then humans aren't worthy of praise and blame any more than any piece of machinery is. Only the creator can be responsible for the fact that his own creation's design doesn't fully fulfill the purpose he himself had given them.

Argument from the purpose of man's creation

  1. A perfect being mustn't want/need anything.
  2. If God wants/needs the creation of man, then either God is imperfect or God does not exist.
  3. God wants/needs the creation of man.
  4. Therefore, either God is imperfect or God does not exist.
What possible purpose could there be for God to create humans? What else besides loneliness, boredom or other earthly motives, could be a reason for the creation of man? For a being to need or want something, it must not have something and therefore, such a being isn't perfect.

Argument from the inadequacy of eternal punishment

This argument presumes the existence of eternal punishment and that God is loving, just and/or merciful. It can be split in 3 distinct arguments depending on which property you decide to focus on since every one of them is inconsistent with the idea of eternal punishment:

  1. A loving God wouldn't torture those He loves.
  2. If God tortures those He loves, a loving God does not exist.
  3. God tortures those He loves.
  4. Therefore, a loving God does not exist.
  1. A just God wouldn't punish a person eternally, He would proportion the time of the penalty to the brief lifetime when the offense occurred.
  2. If God punishes persons eternally, a just God does not exist.
  3. God punishes persons eternally.
  4. Therefore, a just God does not exist.
  1. A merciful God wouldn't be forever unforgiving.
  2. If God is forever unforgiving, a merciful God does not exist.
  3. God is forever unforgiving.
  4. Therefore, a merciful God does not exist.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Argument from needless suffering

  1. God is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good.
  2. If God exists, people wouldn't suffer needlessly from disease, accidents and natural disasters.
  3. People suffer needlessly from disease, accidents and natural disasters.
  4. Therefore, God does not exist.
The only way to refute this argument is by attacking the 2nd premise. I'm going to reply to what I think might be the main objections to it:
  • People are being punished by God
    • It's trivial to find examples of children suffering needlessly to an extent that, if it results from God's punishment, would only prove there to be an evil God.
  • Suffering exists for a greater good. This might be split in two:
    • If the objection is that God inflicts pain to a person so that he can feel happiness later, I could as well say that happiness exists so that a greater evil can occur, the higher you rise the harder the fall. There doesn't seem to be any consistent pattern that supports this type of direct intervention and denies the other so this doesn't relate at all to our observation of the real world.
    • If the objection is that some people have to suffer so that others can be happy, then that's just not consistent with the 1st premise. An all-powerful being would certainly be able to avoid the suffering of some without producing more suffering on others.
  • God created humans with free will and does not interfere in our free will at all.
    • This is what I consider the most persuasive of these objections and this is what I've seen being used but note that I've assembled the 2nd premise precisely excluding human interaction. An earthquake is not the product of free will and a god that doesn't avoid the kind of suffering that it provokes needs to be different than the one described in the 1st premise. If the first premise is denied then we wouldn't be talking about the usual concept of God from the main western religions.
  • In order for happiness to exist, suffering needs to exist, otherwise happiness is meaningless.
    • How would heaven be consistent with that principle then? If there can't be happiness without suffering and if there is no suffering in heaven, then there is no happiness in heaven.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Where does agnosticism fit in?

If you ask 3 different people you'd get 3 different answers. There is no general agreement about the place agnosticism is supposed to occupy and I think this is due to the way agnosticism and atheism can overlap each other. There is this gap between the way people use words and the meaning words have in their most formal definitions and this always gets in the way of any discussion about belief.

Agnosticism can be either:
  • A wider philosophical concept that deals with the nature of knowledge. In this context, an agnostic is someone who thinks that we can never be certain about the truth of a god's existence but he may still either believe in a god or don't believe in a god. (let's call this the soft-agnostic)
  • A narrower concept in a religious context that simply says that there is not enough data to presume neither that a god exists nor that a god does not exist. It can also mean someone who thinks that answering the question is irrelevant. (let's call this the hard-agnostic)
Atheism can be either:
  • disbelief in a god's existence (let's call this the soft-atheist)
  • the belief that that god does not exist (let's call this the hard-atheist)
It can be argued that the difference I pointed in the atheist definition is only a linguistic one and it sure is tricky to make that distinction but I think the distinction should be made. Actual belief in gods nonexistence requires the atheist to present evidence in a positive case that show that a certain god does not exist while general disbelief in that god only requires one not to be convinced by theist arguments but doesn't require that him to argue for its nonexistence.

As you can see, depending on the kind of definition you're using, logical problems can arise since one can occupy the same space as the other. For example, a hard-agnostic automatically entails being also a soft-atheist since neither can believe in a certain god. The fact that one can be an agnostic and an atheist at the same time is not a problem by itself unless they're being used in a way that overlaps them as above.

So I think that only two frameworks are really logically valid.

Framework one:
Agnosticism deals with knowledge, not with belief. It's just a general stance that says that the truth of some statements can't be known.
Atheism deals with belief, not with knowledge. You can only either believe that gods exists or not believe that gods exist.
In this view we have:
  • Agnostic atheist: is one that thinks that the truth about gods existence can't be known but believes that gods do not exist
  • Gnostic theist: thinks that the truth about that statement can be known and he believes that gods exist.
  • Agnostic theists: thinks that the truth about the statement can't be known but believes that a god exists.
  • Gnostic atheists: thinks that the truth about the statement can be known and believes that a god does not exist.
By using words in this manner they don't overlap in their meanings, they are complementary.

Framework two:
  • Agnosticism is the stance that believes neither that gods exist nor that gods do not exist. It doesn't commit to one side or the other and thinks that the truth of the statement as undetermined or even irrelevant. It's the middle ground between believing on gods existence and believing that gods do not exist or in other words, it's the disbelief in both views, or the lack of persuasive arguments from both sides leaving the question open.
  • Atheism is the belief that there are no gods, not simple disbelief in gods. An atheist believes that gods do not exist and reasons should extend beyond the weakness of theist arguments into actual arguments for atheism.
  • Theism is, as always, the belief that a god does exist.
The first is more formal and the second is more coherent with the way people actually use those words in their lives. I believe that there is a gap between both and either people should start to adopt the formal concepts or the formal concepts should adapt to the way people actually use them.

Now, which one to use is up to each person. I consider both valid but I prefer the second choice because of the following reasons.
  1. There's a higher chance that people will understand what you're saying if you use the 2nd approach.
  2. People use the 2nd more often for a reason, there's a gap between belief in gods and belief in their absence that can't be expressed with the 1st approach.
  3. The appendage of the agnosticism concept in the 1st approach is irrelevant for a discussion in a religious context. What's important is the belief and what side are people committed to rather than if they philosophically think that the ultimate truth can be known or not.
These are my arguments for the one I'd prefer but the important thing is that people generally agree with one because this problem usually gets in the way of a discussion and much time is spent arguing over what people should really be labeled because of this gap which makes these discussions about God to be entangled in linguistic difficulties.