Tag Archives: first cause

The God-fearing Determinist*, Part 3

Jokes are good fun, but even satire can reveal that the question is not a simple one, even one that could lead to paradoxes. More fun:

Take the First Cause Quiz!

First-Cause-Quiz

(Click the image for the PDF version of the quiz below – to find out what you believe in. This quiz emulates theistic epistemology and may therefore contain nuts, and traces of false dichotomies. Put tongue in cheek before ingesting.)

1. If something popped into existence without a cause / always existed, was it created? -No. (If Yes, we need to find a new word for this peculiar phenomenon; it is the definition of the word; but even if a new word is defined, it will not carry the meaning of “Creation performed by a Creator”;it would necessarily follow that God didn’t create the Universe. He “something-else’d” the Universe.)

2. Do some things pop into existence / always exist? -Yes. (If No, God didn’t create the Universe; it unfolded by cause and effect.)

3. Did the Universe pop into existence without a cause / always exist, or did something cause it to begin to exist? -Yes. (If No, God didn’t create the Universe.)

4. So you affirm some events require a previous cause but some don’t, and that the Universe is one of the things that require a previous cause. Is that previous cause an act of God? -Yes. (If No, God didn’t create the Universe.)

5. Did the Creator pop into existence spontaneously / always exist, or did something cause the Creator? -No. (If Yes, God plays the intermediary Creator, a role not portrayed in mainstream religions.)

6. So you’re unsatisfied with an uncreated Universe as First Cause. Is an uncreated Creator a better answer? -Yes. (If No, you’ve understood something important – why someone doesn’t have to be Atheist or even a skeptic to question your religion’s origins claims.)

7. Despite all the other causes previously ascribed to acts of God having been replaced with actual knowledge of how reality works, leaving you only the cause for the Big Bang, can you substantiate that this cause is an act of God? -Yes. (If No, you don’t know that God created the Universe, and the argument ends.)

8. Are these substantiations abstract arguments that suspiciously fit exactly what is left to be explained before the Big Bang? -No. (If Yes, several competing, and not necessarily divine origin, theories could fill the gap, and you don’t know that the one involving your God is the correct one.)

9. Accepting all your substantiations as true, you have still only shown that this is an act of a God. Can you identify the Creator of the Universe with the deity of your own religion? -Yes. (If No, you don’t know that your God created the Universe, and the argument ends.)

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OK, phew. The quiz is over! If you didn’t make it past the last question, you should display intellectual honesty by admitting that you don’t know if your God created the Universe.

If you did, you should submit your arguments and any evidence and references for peer review. If some of them are refuted soundly, you should display intellectual honesty by abandoning deeply held convictions that rest on them in order to show that you are interested in seeing truths – just as Scientists do for (perhaps) much more rigorously researched theories than yours. Or, of course, defend your argument.

“If something is true, you should believe it, and if it isn’t, you shouldn’t. And if you can’t find out whether it’s true or it isn’t, you should suspend judgment.”

Bertrand Russell

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This article series continues with part 4, which will deal with false dichotomies, show how an open question on the subject might be phrased, and the relation of any educated guess, answer, explanation, or theory to reality.

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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.)


Before the Big Bang

It’s the topic of instantaneous creation. When a believer is asked, “If God created the Universe, how did God come to be? And if he was always there, why not save a step and say the Universe was always there?”, he may retort: “Well, you can’t explain where the Big Bang came from.” Here are some thoughts on the inequality of those accusations.

(First of all, there is an inequality in that one is summary conjecture from doctrine not present in all religions. For some, this would be enough, really.)

But the person asking often recognizes Science’s fascinating ability to reveal the Universe’s complexity and analyze it, so that we can understand more. There is no question of that ability, and believers as well as Atheists are awestruck by the wonder of this Universe in which we live. This is a revelation not present in scripture. We owe this sense of wonder to Science alone.

A believer with normal schooling would accept the arguments and evidence for the Big Bang. Even if the schooling is not there, he may – because the evidence is so compelling. But the real riddle is a psychological one: he feels who-created-God and who-created-the-big-bang are similar questions, and uses it is as an, in his mind, apt counter-accusation.

The answer is simply that the evidence takes you this far, Science has advanced this far in understanding the Universe, at the present moment. Now, here’s the nub: if he believes he knows the true origin of the Universe, he should have information enough to question this mere theory of a hot dense small beginning. But he has demonstrated that he does not, because he too is persuaded by the evidence.  He accepts Scientific explanation up to a point where it becomes uncomfortable; threatens his beliefs.

And throughout history, this is how supernatural causes have had to retreat, further and further, to where they are today: to a very short time before the Big Bang. Causes of unsuitable weather, bad crops, illness, wonders of Nature, and intricate flora and fauna have all to a very large extent given way to Scientific, evidence-based explanation.

It was enough to turn a theist into a deist; now, it’s enough to turn a deist into an adeist.