Monthly Archives: April 2013

The God-fearing Determinist*

* The standard apologist position: The Universe must have a cause, and all other things except a few miracles.

Logical possibilities are not actual possibilities nor even real or physical possibilities, this we all know. Not admitting it is regressing back to Platonic Idealism and beyond – Plato called them ideal universals abstracted from the particulars, but some argue for their reality: “A perfect circle, eternity, and infinity are real because they can be formally imagined or idealized”.

The proper stance must instead be that you must show it can be realized. (No circle in the real world is perfect, eternity is not what we measure, and infinity is solely a tool for mathematicians.) All non-fact-based logical conjectures (Philosophical Zombies) must be deemed unprovable and therefore already past unproven and unreal. Here’s one:

Now, it’s always entertaining to watch Craig’s selective logical laxity. An easy target, you might mutter. But this is his third decade of proudly repeating the same God-fearing Determinist* argument of his. I’ll explain.

The modern deistic argument for the existence of a Creator is that everything we see must have had a cause. (Historically, believers used to have many reasons of varying credulity, but they’re now left with only what caused the Big Bang.)

This is based on that good old axiom: “Nothing comes from nothing”. Believers and non-believers generally agree on this. Theistic Philosophers “fix that problem”, but the rest of us take it a bit more seriously and still consider it the deepest mystery of all.

Now, believers in general are certainly not hard determinists (hence the *) and furthermore don’t feel the need to claim that everything that has ever happened was caused by previous events (since Free Will is the cornerstone of moral righteousness, even though punishment is usually put off until the sinner is dead unless secular law intervenes).

Yet, when it comes to the existence of deities, believers feel compelled that an argument is required! Curious. The correct questions that follow are:

“If only some events require a cause, why does Creation?”, in paradoxical combination with,

“If Creation requires a cause, why doesn’t a Creator?”

Putting that thought to one side, apart from the * he shares with believers, Craig’s primary problem is this:

In an effort to pile on impossibilities until they equal awesomeness, Craig leaves no time in which this First Cause could operate. To create the Big Bang (as he argues), or … anything that it actually says in the Bible that God created, because presumably, he’s remained timeless since. In arguing a need for a first cause in this way, it’s vital to see it is independent of physical laws or what we consider time to be.

In this, it’s of course no different from the usual suspension of natural laws when a miracle happens (such as the acts of creation the Bible actually says happened!) Either way, we clearly see that any First Cause cannot operate on zero time, Craig’s Timeless God is an impossibility, and therefore we can question his description and his quality criteria for logical soundness. He’s had decades to consider these claims.

Logic’s strength lies instead in drawing conclusions from fact, deducing and predicting that which is not yet fact. Now, logical propositions are unable to rule out their own axioms, more’s the pity. Ex Nihilo is just one of those. This is unfortunate, or we could all have had the answers at the first glimmer of thought.

You will find that all such arguments for a First Cause / Prime Mover having this standard Ex Nihilo as axiom are Philosophical Zombies. This makes the deepest of mysteries remain a mystery, despite what others would have you think. Perhaps this is good for now, that we may keep this sense of wonder that we feel.

His secondary problem is, as he happily demonstrates in the clip, he cannot hope to identify the First Cause as Yahwe or any deity. The properties he details sound less like the God of the Bible and much more like an abstract object tailor-made to complete the puzzle. Even someone with the best of intentions may construct such, but those who are aware of this trap and aspire to intellectual honesty rarely do.

In any case, believers should be wary to accept Craig’s God. If being timeless, spaceless, and immaterial doesn’t put him out of existence, at the very least his God can be replaced with any similar concept you fancy. Just as Craig cannot explain how something timeless causes time, it’s a just as onerous task for any such Creator you choose.

It’s always struck me that being this type of believer is the harder position. It would seem the better, if more laborious and cumbersome, position to claim that determinism is false for all events, rather than false for some and true for some (such as Creation). Perhaps Craig feels his job is to tell us in which instances determinism is false. Incidentally, other Philosopher would agree: this is perhaps Philosophy’s hardest yet most worthwhile endeavor. But in this argument, he expects his logical reasoning will take him farther than it possibly can. (I’ll have something say on both subjects in my upcoming article series on Free Will, a work that has now been long in progress.)

Faith in Science

A philosophically minded person asks a good question properly, and Dawkins succumbs to delivering more of a comeback than an answer.

A more frank answer running less risk of sounding evasive might be,

“Of all that Science holds true, it places its greatest faith in “natural née supernatural”, the fundamental axiom that reality is not fundamentally absurd; that it works in certain ways, and that those ways can be understood. With this in mind, Scientists are not superhuman – naturally, they take many scientific (and unscientific) descriptions at face value like all of us, because they’d never find the time to personally test each one in detail. A few basic axioms are at the heart of each science – and some are shared. From these, Science relies heavily on logic and math to build theories that should predict and explain all known phenomena within that science. They must be testable, and if evidence contradicts them, the axioms may even be discarded! This monumental skepticism is the mark of Science, far moreso than the axioms. (Some of which are so simple that you would accept them the instant you understood them, and some surprisingly unintuitive and mind-boggling.) It’s clear that we have found a good way to learn how reality works. Other, even better ways may appear, and they will succeed Science or become integrated with Science.”

The way the person phrases the question makes him sound educated enough to already hold many of Science’s axioms true and already suspect that distrusting Science as a whole is fruitless and misguided. Naturally, it’s perfectly legitimate to question axioms; point out that logic contains legitimate paradoxes; use Gödel’s proof of incompleteness and inability of consistency in formal logic, the foundation for mathematics. But focusing on these is to look at the weak end of Science’s explanatory power! The testability, the objectivity, and the successful deduction and generalization from evidence is what makes Science uniquely reliable and trustworthy. In other words: if a theory is perfect, and a single solid piece of evidence or objective experimental phenomenon surfaces that goes against the theory, then the perfect theory is questioned. Mere empiricism is what makes it stronger, not weaker. And Science is aposterioricity City!

This much is true of the hard sciences. But some sciences are quite far removed from current reality (as in, having accessible, clear evidence) by time, space, or level of abstraction. The reason Geology, Cosmology, or the Social Sciences can predict and explain as much as they do is due in part to the axioms and world views they share with the hard sciences. They can be questioned practically all the way down to these shared axioms and world views, and are therefore more vulnerable targets of distrust and attack. But because they share axioms not yet refuted by evidence and world views formed from evidence, it’s just this interfacing and interlacing of evidence that justifies at least the core of the weaker hard sciences and soft sciences.

The remaining most effective way to question the validity of a science, assuming evidence is not shaky, must then be to question its axioms. The fulcrum on which the scales of faith hang seems to be the fundamental axiom. It always seemed to me that if you declare some parts of reality supernatural, you automatically say reality cannot, needs not, ought not be understood.

I always thought this an avertible disaster; an avoidable danger – the danger of leaving the field wide open to recidivist lazy mystic censors of wit.

It’s hard for me to see how such a claim can be made without simultaneously and justly looking weaker than Science, and that if you are interested in the supernatural, you can do no better than to discover it through Science. For that is exactly what has happened many times in the few centuries Science has let the evidence lead you to truth and discovery.

Now, I realize Dawkins is human too, and I’ve had almost 50 minutes to think and write this answer, so it’s unfair. I just thought it was a perfectly good question that deserved a better answer than it got. :)