William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

You Can’t Get Something From Nothing: The Experience of God, Part II

Himself

Himself

Read Part I

You can’t get there from here

It’s difficult, thus far impossible, to get Enlightened persons to understand nothing. Lord knows it’s been tried. Some physicists—Larry Krauss, Vic Stenger, Stephen Hawking, others—make a nice living misunderstanding nothing. Still, where there’s life there’s hope. So let’s try again.

Nothing is no thing. It is not some thing. It is not some thing very small or difficult to see. It is not some thing far away in time or distance. It is not a quantum field, for a field is something. It is not a set of mathematical or physical laws, for sets of laws are something. It is obviously not an infinity of universes, for an infinity of universes is certainly something. It is not time, for time is not nothing.

I assure you, dear reader, whatever exceptions you believe you have discovered to this definition are mistaken. Nothing means just what it says: nothing. That’s our first premise.

Second premise: some things exist. Like the monitor or screen on which you’re reading this. Even you exist and are something, despite what our government or some rogue materialist philosopher might have told you.

This leads to the Big Question: why is all this stuff here? Pay attention, now. I do not mean to ask, though we will ask later, when all this stuff got here, but I want to know why anything is here right now, right this very moment.

Well, no surprise that the answer is God, a.k.a. I Am That I Am. If you don’t find that name spine tingling, even if you’re an unbeliever, than you haven’t understood it. And you must understand it, because it is this God you claim to reject (with all the others). So let’s try to.

You yourself are composed of parts, you are made of things which are in movement in the sense that they change, perhaps not from one place to another, but from actual states to other potential states. Example? Well, you have to scroll down to read this article, so you move your hand to the mouse (say), press its button, and drag the mouse to scroll the page.

Your hand moves because the muscles pullings on tendons and bones move simultaneously, and your muscles contract because of changes (which don’t matter here) inside the cells, and these changes occur because of chemical interactions, which are themselves changes in the position of certain electrons, protons, and neutrons, and these change because (to make it short) the quantum field in which these objects are “embedded” changes, and the field changes…because why?

Well, because of something. Maybe because there is something smaller and more fundamental than the field that causes the field to change, but anyway something is causing it to change. Even if there is something smaller and more fundamental than the field, this series of simultaneous, here-and-now causes-and-effects must have a first cause, a base which starts the whole thing off. This simultaneous, here-and-now cause-and-effect chain can not go on forever. It must terminate somewhere or nothing could ever happen.

The whole shebang must have a first cause, a cause which itself is not caused by anything else. Now it doesn’t take much to see that it’s this same first cause that must also be causing every other simultaneous, here-and-now cause-and-effect chain. Every as in every. This first cause, as we’ll see, is why there is something and not nothing right here and right now.

This first uncaused cause is what we call Being Itself, the Unmoved Mover, I Am That I Am, which is to say, God.

You can get something from God

Judaism and Christianity are not the only traditions to have noted these curious facts, albeit in different contexts. Hart: “Everything available to the senses or representable to the mind is entirely subject to annicha (to use the Buddhist term): impermanence, mutability, transience.” God “is beyond all mere finite beings, and is himself that ultimate ground upon which any foundations must rest. Thus the Mundaka Upanishad speaks of Brahma, the first-born among the gods, coming forth from Brahma, the eternal Godhead who is the source of all being”.

What of existence itself? It “lies logically beyond the system of causes that nature comprises; it is, quite literally, ‘hyperphysical,’ or, shifting into Latin, super naturam.” Boy, howdy, is that a frightening word. Just imagining the demons set loose upon “reason” by this word is probably what causes prominent scientists to confuse a universe (or multiverse, or whatever stuff there is) transitioning “from one physical state to another, one manner of existence to another” with coming into being out of nothing.

These guys figure that if the somethings they describe are smaller and more basic, that somehow the infinite bridge between non-existence and existence can be crossed. This is an example “of what might be called the ‘pleonastic fallacy’: that is, the belief that an absolute qualitative difference can be overcome by a successive accumulation of extremely small and entirely relative quantitative steps.”

More metaphysics, which are the physics beyond the physics, the stuff which we must know before we can even discuss, say, molecular bonding and quantum chromodynamics. We need at least these two things:

[T]the Principle of Causation—whatever does not have the cause of its existence in itself must be caused to exist by something beyond itself—and the Principle of Sufficient Reason—any true proposition1 must have some sufficient explanation for why it is true…The latter principle in some sense presumes the former, because a proposition about an event or about some object’s existence will generally be explicable chiefly by reference to the cause of that event or object.

And hear Hart makes my heart sing: “But one must remember that propositions can be true in a numbers of ways, depending on their form and content, and that propositions are not “caused” to be true, even if they are true because they accurately describe how something has been caused.” The distinction between what we know and what is must not be forgot, though it often is. That is, we can’t mix up these two principles, and it’s the Principle of Causation which is of more importance to the question “Why is there anything?”

Now since the universe (or multiverse, or whatever) is logically contingent on something for its existence, and since this something cannot be itself by the Principle of Causation, it must be contingent on something outside itself, i.e. the “Absolute”. What’s what? You say that not everything needs a cause? Well, you can say it, you can even imagine it, but you can’t really believe or conceive of it. For once you imagine any “inexplicable”, “uncaused” event (The philosopher Edward Feser has a purple rabbit, or whatever, popping “into existence” in front of you), you immediately ask, “How did that get there?”

“Not so, Briggs. You have failed to consider quantum mechanics, where we know there are no ‘hidden variables’ causing things which are unpredictable.” True, but that does not mean that “nothing” causes these events, just that we finite stuck-in-time beings cannot know what it is. But we know enough that we can pin the probability of events occurring. And by the Principle of Sufficient Reason these probabilities are all conditional2 on the knowledge of certain things already existing; i.e. quantum events “do not literally emerge from nonexistence” but in the presence of the already-existing subatomic soup.

As for when it all got here, well, Hart like Aquinas and most other theologians are content to let Science (it must be capitalized) tell us. The universe (etc.) might have been here forever, expanding and contracting and doing its dance, or it might have got its start some thirteen billion years ago. Or there might really be a multiverse (or whatever). All fascinating questions, but regardless of when, Science can never ultimately say why.

One last thing, to those who shout, “Sez you! God might have caused the universe, but what caused God? Ha!” This retort shows two things: that I have done a poor job showing that God is a logically necessary being and that He must exist, and that in making this argument you are conceding the unpalatability of the infinite regress (think about it).

A simple Being

Hart goes into detail about how God is metaphysically “simple”, i.e. that He is not composed of parts, that He is unchangeable and what “unchangeable” means, that He exists outside time and what that really means, that He is utterly transcendent and just what that means.

That we can only speak analogically of God, or negatively: we can say what God is not. After all, none of us has any idea what it’s like out at infinity, and we have only the dimmest concept of what (say) omnipotence or omniscience are. We say God is good and wise, but those terms are only crude approximations, because really they are the same thing. God is simple in that his essence and existence are the same.

But I have used up my space so you’ll have to refer to the book for these details.

Next time: God and consciousness.

————————————————

1Hart also has some interesting things to say about Fregean-style analytic philosophy that I am anxious to discuss, such as the view (he doesn’t put it this way) that if only we can work out just the write symbols, where each symbols is perfectly defined and unique, then we can have a purely logical language. As the kiddies say, good luck with that!

2As I say again and again and as nauseam, all probability is conditional.

89 Comments

  1. Excellent! Thank you and thank God.

  2. make a nice living misunderstanding nothing.

    Ironically, it could also mean making a living out of understanding everything.

  3. You are mixing deism and theism again. Read Heidegger Sein und Zeit.

  4. You, I believe, are correct. The better question is not when did “everything get here” it is “why is there anything”?

  5. “This first uncaused cause is what we call Being Itself, the Unmoved Mover, I Am That I Am, which is to say, God.”

    Yes – all very well – and it might be just so. However, why must everyone confuse this putative Being with that rank imposter – the vicious, jealous, bloodthirsty deity of an ancient nomadic desert tribe?

  6. OK. So you believe god exists. But how can you ascribe certain characteristics to god in the absence of any knowledge of god? You don’t even know that she exists.

    You say our existence is proof of an “outside” causation – that may be so but it still does not reveal anything about god other than that she “caused” us.

  7. Briggs

    March 2, 2014 at 11:08 am

    Hans,

    PP. 311-312:

    Martin Heidegger…was largely correct in thinking that the modern West excels at evading the mystery of being precisely because its governing myth is one of practical mastery. Ours is, he thought, the age of technology, in which ontological questions have been vigorously expelled from cultural consideration, replaced by questions of mere mechanistic force; for us, nature is now something “enframed” and defined by a particular dispositions of the will, the drive toward dominion that reduces the world to a morally neutral “standing reserve” of resources entirely subject to our manipulation, exploitation, and ambition. Anything that does not fit within the frame of that picture is simply invisible to us.

    All,

    Don’t forget your obligation to answer the question why there is something and not nothing. Merely making quips about “desert tribes” (i.e. invoking the genetic fallacy) are all evasions.

  8. Nullius in Verba

    March 2, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    “Don’t forget your obligation to answer the question why there is something and not nothing.”

    Because there *can* be. 🙂

  9. There is a commonplace book argument,
    Which glibly glides from every vulgar tongue
    When any dare a new light to present:
    “If you are right, then everybody’s wrong”.
    Suppose the converse of this precedent
    So often urged, so loudly and so long:
    “If you are wrong, then everybody’s right”.
    Was ever everybody yet so quite?
    (Byron, Don Juan, Canto 17)

  10. A fine piece, Matt..my highest compliment… I wish I had written that. But one point. You touch on QM. Didn’t Conway, in his Princeton Lectures quotes a famous philosopher (Robert Nozick?) that the Kochen-Specker Theorem vitiates the Principle of Sufficient Reason? And are we to believe that famous philosopher?

  11. A fine piece, Matt..my highest compliment… I wish I had written that. But one point. You touch on QM. Didn’t Conway, in his Princeton Lectures quote a famous philosopher (Robert Nozick?) that the Kochen-Specker Theorem vitiates the Principle of Sufficient Reason? And are we to believe that famous philosopher?

  12. You Christians steal everything, especially from the Jews. You even stole Jesus from them. Rabbi Kaplan covered all this a century ago. It’s called Transnaturalism.

  13. My revelation is that all theistic gods are made up, why makes this a worse revelation than Muhammads or St Pauls?
    A deistic god exist by definition, just like the universe.

    Your question: Why is there something rater then nothing?
    “Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen.”
    So I’ll hold my tongue.

  14. Excellent post today. Thanks.

    Mankind has been asking since the beginning “why are we here”, “how did we come to be”, “how did anything come to be”, and “why”.

    I think “why” is the most important question. Why is there anything at all? Your definition of “god” as the “ground of all being” should not be interpreted by our atheist friends as the same thing as the big daddy in the sky preached about by big-haired televangelists and Baptist preachers.

    Some believe that there is nothing outside of the transcendental ground of all being. We are all just the same being playing parts (playing them very realistically indeed) in a play to keep itself amused. All I am saying here is that your definition did not in any way put limitations on “god” that would mean god had to be the god of Roman Catholicism.

    As the Taoists point out, there is no way to fully know the unknowable.

  15. Fletcher Christian

    March 2, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    I’m with SteveH. The Abrahamic tradition – all its branches – conflates the infinite entity which has a huge number of names given to it – God, Brahma, the Tao (I think), the Source and probably numbers of others, which is by definition unknowable and beyond space and time and may or may not have a personality – with Yahweh, the vicious, bloodthirsty, jealous and utterly unreasonable god of a desert people in 3000 BCE. Some time around then, some priest came up with the idea that THEIR god was chief among them all, and made it stick.

    Saying that everything we experience must have a First Cause is arguable. The argument for this entity being a Person is much weaker, and the argument for it being a Being who actually cares what we ultramicroscopic dwellers on a dust mote suspended on a sunbeam do with or to each other is weaker still.

  16. Ye Olde Statisician

    March 2, 2014 at 7:39 pm

    But how can you ascribe certain characteristics to god in the absence of any knowledge of god?

    By negation and analogy. First of all, we will speak of God rather than god. The latter is a silly affectation and confuses the ground of being itself with Spandex-clad super-heroes and the like.

    Suppose for simplicity Aristotle’s prime mover argument. (There must be a prime mover, because if there were not, none of the instrumental causes in the series would be capable of acting.)
    2. Prime Mover must be entirely actual, with no potency (“Pure Act”). If it were potentially anything else, it could be moved and would not be a prime mover. That is, it cannot be anything other than what it is.
    2.1 Hence, Prime Mover is itself unmoved, and does not require, indeed cannot have, a prior mover. It just IS. If it could talk it would call itself I AM, or Existence Itself. (And Existence cannot not exist.)
    2.2 Prime Mover is perfect, since to be perfected with respect to X is to be moved from potentially X to actually X and Prime Mover is Pure Act.
    3. There can be only one Prime Mover. If there were two, one would possess a power or property X which the other lacks or they would not be distinct; but then the other would be in potency to X, and would not be a prime mover.
    3.1 Therefore, Prime Mover is the prime mover of all essentially ordered causal chains.
    3.2 Prime Mover is simple, since every composite is posterior to its component parts, and is dependent on them; but Prime Mover cannot be posterior to anything or it would not be Prime Mover.
    4. Prime Mover is immaterial. Anything material is subject to change in various ways, a being of Pure Act cannot be. [Prime
    Matter is Pure Potency, just as Prime Mover is Pure Act.]
    5. Prime Mover is eternal. To come into being or pass out of being is to move from potency to act, and Prime Mover is Pure Act. It just IS (cf.§2.1).
    6. Prime Mover is all-powerful; that is, “full of all powers”, either formally or eminently. Prime Mover is the common source of all attributes, including all powers, and must therefore contain those powers formally or eminently.
    6.1 Consequently, there is something in Prime Mover that is analogous to intellect and will in humans.
    6.2 Therefore, Prime Mover possesses “intellect and will” and is therefore a person. From now on, we can say “He” (or “She” if you prefer: Prime Mover is the source of male and female powers, and so must contain those powers in some sense.)
    6.3 Prime Mover is all-knowing. To possess intellect (cf.§6.2)is to know. To be perfect (cf.§2.2) is to lack any limitations on an attribute. Therefore, He is all-knowing.
    7. Prime Mover is all-good. To be the source of everything (cf.§3.1) is to be in particular the source of all goods, and therefore He contains all goods in a formal or eminent sense.
    7.1 Prime Mover is not the source of evils. An evil is a defectus boni, a “lack or deficit of a good.” A being of Pure Act cannot lack for anything, since He would then be in potency regarding that privation.
    8. Prime Mover possesses three hypostases.
    8.1 Because Prime Mover possesses something analogous to intellect (cf.§6.2), He knows himself. As the subject (knower), He is called the Father. As the object (known), He is called the Word. (The process of knowing is called conception and concepts are expressed in words. Because this exhausts the predicate, the Word is called the Only-Conceived, or monogenesis.)
    8.2 Because Prime Mover possesses something analogous to will (cf.§6.2), He desires himself. As the subject (lover), He is called the Father, inasmuch as knowing and wanting are fused. As the object (beloved), He is called the Spirit. (The process of loving is called procession because the love proceeds outward from the lover to the beloved and returns.
    8.3 These three hypostases — Father, Word, and Spirit — are one in being because Prime Mover is simple and not composed of parts (cf.§3.2).

    There’s more, but you get the idea. Not everything can be known to reason, however, so much else remains to be revealed in one way or anther. Hope this helps.

  17. 2. Prime Mover must be entirely actual,
    2.1 Hence, Prime Mover is itself unmoved,

    Unless, the Universe itself always was, the Prime Mover caused it into being, yes? What caused the Prime Mover to do this if the Prime Mover can’t be moved?

  18. @andyd: I’ve read about Kaplan and “transnaturalism” and it seems, from the condensed versions, to be a sort of process theological humanism, without any transcendental deity, so Christians have hardly stolen from that particular Jewish tradition (and I am a Jewish convert to Catholicism).
    @fletcherchristian and other nascent anti-semites: yes, these desert people were bloodthirsty and the images of a God who enabled them to gain the promised land are bloodthirsty, but it’s also the God who told them to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18) and to cherish the alien in your midst because you once were aliens. I’m not sure the Norse, Angles, Saxon and other barbarians who founded northern European civilization were as ethical.

  19. Dav, I believe you may be confusing temporal sequence in causation with simultaneous causation, potency, and action. It’s a question I believe, and I’m not good at Thomistic philosophy, of distingushing between causation in a temporal sequence, as in a row of dominoes following down sequentially, and simultaneous causation (approximated by a golfer hitting a golf ball–club hits ball, arm moves club, mind causes arm to move). But maybe someone out there can explain that better than I can. (And of course there’s now the question as to what simultaneous causation would be in a relativistic framework.)

  20. Dav, I think Briggs explained it well:
    “Your hand moves because the muscles pullings on tendons and bones move simultaneously, and your muscles contract because of changes (which don’t matter here) inside the cells, and these changes occur because of chemical interactions, which are themselves changes in the position of certain electrons, protons, and neutrons, and these change because (to make it short) the quantum field in which these objects are “embedded” changes, and the field changes…because why?”

  21. Bob,

    That’s always struck me as glib. When the Prime Mover created the Universe, the Prime Mover transformed from the Prime-Mover-Who-Hadn’t to the Prime-Mover-Who-Had. IOW: the Prime Mover changed. Unless, I totally misunderstand the concept of “Move” that doesn’t seem possible. Also, I think the Prime Mover is supposed to be outside of time but now we have a before and after.

    So we have an event/change caused by something that can’t be changed. Yet it did change.

  22. @DAV:

    “So we have an event/change caused by something that can’t be changed. Yet it did change.”

    Creation is not change.

  23. G. Rodrigues,

    Sorry but I don’t buy that. What’s the basis for the statement?

  24. Noblesse Oblige

    March 3, 2014 at 12:36 am

    Am in the middle of Max Tegmark’s “Our Mathematical Universe.” A fun and educational read but I remain convinced that it is turtles all the way down.

  25. Since you feel that your “why?” must have an answer,perhaps you will be so kind as to indulge me on mine. Why *must* the Principle of Sufficient Reason be true?

  26. @Ye Olde Statisician on 2 March 2014 at 7:39:
    A rose by any other name …

    Call it God, god, Prime Mover, whatever, it still is all unprovable conjecture – all knowing, all good, eternal – nothing but unfounded belief.

    God may exist – but we know nothing about her.

  27. Alan Cooper on 3 March 2014 at 1:25 am said:

    Since you feel that your “why?” must have an answer,perhaps you will be so kind as to indulge me on mine. Why *must* the Principle of Sufficient Reason be true?

    It’s an assumption. Everything rests upon at least one assumption.

    Nice post Briggs. Very nice indeed.

  28. Prof Briggs: “you are conceding the unpalatability of the infinite regress”

    Why is infinite regress unpalatable? Infinite series are perfectly mathematically respectable. If you accept Aristotelian logic you must accept such things as the fact that 0.999999999999 recurring is the same as 1, integration, and that 0.5 + 0.25 + 0.125 etc = 1.

    What is the difference in cause-and-effect chains? Do you really think Zeno’s paradox provides a logical reason why movement is impossible? If not what is the problem with infinite regress in the case of cause and effect?

    We DON’T understand time. That ignorance is the cause of our difficulty with cause and effect chains and how they lead to change.

    All the assumptions made concerning grounds-of-being prime-moving these non-infinite chains can’t hide that ignorance, which is then filled with Thomist assumptions a la YOS.

    This use of assumptions is all very Bayesian logical, but I honestly don’t know what the “Prime Mover must be entirely actual, with no potency” even means, and I doubt YOS, or Porf Briggs do either.

    I want to do something like this throughout YOS comment,

    2.2 Prime Mover is perfect, since to be perfected with respect to X is to be moved from potentially X to actually X and Prime Mover is Pure Act [what does that even mean.]

    3. … If there were two [prime movers], one would possess a power or property X which the other lacks [why is that a problem] or they would not be distinct [why is that a problem]; but then the other would be in potency to X [why and so what], and would not be a prime mover [so, why can’t there be an infinite number of prime movers each with equal potency to each other, each actualizing their single infinitesimal potential to start each infinitesimal cause and effect chain].

    And so this debate will never end – one side claims they have a perfect proof for the existence of a god. The other side claims they are not convinced, and what has any of that got to do with Virgin Births and Transmutation.

    The theists try to have it both ways saying there is no link, but at the same time that the god so “proved” is their particular partisan god.

    Ah the assumptions we all make. I will concede one point – the universe and any first causing god (assuming such a thing is necessary) are what they are and will do what they do. The ancient Chinese Daoists called all of this the Dao.

    Prof Briggs, Why do you separate these into two? They can just as well be seen as one, or an infinity of things – ah is it because of how you find infinite regress so unpalatable? Are you sure the Dao shares your indigestion? How do you know?

  29. @DAV:

    “Sorry but I don’t buy that. What’s the basis for the statement?”

    A carefully worked out, philosophically sophisticated theology?

    Seriously, I do not understand your question. If you want to address what Hart, with the rest of the classical Christian tradition, defends then we can have a discussion. And yes, creation is not change. Period. If you want to attack a god fashioned at the image of your paltry imagination, be my guest; I hope you will not consider it rude if I refuse to witness for such a god.

  30. @Chinahand:

    “Why is infinite regress unpalatable? Infinite series are perfectly mathematically respectable.”

    Infinite series have nothing to do with infinite regresses.

    And even if per absurd, one accepted such explanatory regresses, the argument would *still* go through, because the crux is not in any putative impossibility of infinite regresses but in the instrumental nature of the causal series. Regress as much as you want, beyond a Reinhardt cardinal (he he he) if that tickles your fancy, it does not matter. But I digress. Ignorance of the arguments is endemic and it is not any screeching screeds scribbled by me that is going to cure it.

  31. G. Rodrigues – you seem to be arguing that an infinite regress has to have a beginning and you are going to call that beginning god.

    I presume you can see why I am doubtful!

    Your, and Prof Briggs’, argument would seem to be:

    Things exist, things happen – ergo a god is at the root of it.

    or

    Things exist, things happen – I am going to call what is at the root of it God.

    Both pantheism and deism fit this argument perfectly well, while the sceptic response is we do not know why things exist, or happen, but the deeper we have looked the more impersonal it has become.

    Let’s be honest – the real deal is a person’s personal relationship with whatever this prime-mover is and most religions have built a very Baroque structure onto these foundations.

    For me the foundations don’t seem to hold much weight – things exist, things happen, we don’t know why – ergo … what?

    Sorry, but Prof Briggs’ Catholicism does not feel a good answer to that, but as YOS has said YMMV!

  32. And yes, creation is not change. Period.

    Looks like word play and dismissing an apparent logical inconsistency with a wave of the hand. Certainly not a good argument. Going from Nothing to Something fits my definition of “change”. Why is it not change?

    If you want to attack a god …

    Not sure at all why pointing to an inconsistency is an attack on god or God. Do you find my definition unsettling?

  33. @Chinahand:

    “Let’s be honest – the real deal is a person’s personal relationship with whatever this prime-mover is and most religions have built a very Baroque structure onto these foundations.”

    Yes, let’s be honest: You have absolutely no idea what you are criticizing. Vicious infinite regresses are not dissolved by mumbling some vacuities about infinite series. Neither is mine nor Prof. Briggs’ argument the silly caricature you make it out to be. Now, I could try and patiently educate you (because that is what a discussion would mostly amount to, clearing up your confusions and misunderstandings), starting from first principles, but — and this is just a guess; if it is unfair, well, it is unfair — it would be a waste of time. You already know (by dint of magic divination?) that it is all a “Baroque structure”, an elaborate ad hoc rationalization of deep seated biases or something like it. You already “know” that “things exist, things happen, we don’t know why”. Arguments? None. Awareness of the incoherence of the position? None. What can I possibly say? Pax Vobiscum.

  34. @DAV:

    “Why is it not change?”

    For there to be change, there must be a subject that undergoes change (in Thomistic jargon, the actualization of a potential). In creation, no subject undergoes change. Ergo, creation is not change.

    I am not exactly revealing a well kept theological secret, that only experts in arcane Medieval Scholasticism are privy to, you know.

  35. @DAV:

    I forgot to comment on this (relatively minor) point.

    “Do you find my definition unsettling?”

    Why atheists always think that somehow their criticisms are “unsettling”? That Christians are quavering in fear lest their beliefs are exposed as fraudulent? Either way, what I find “unsettling”, is that you, like most (all?) commenters, cannot seem to get one thing right about what Hart and the classical tradition defends. To repeat myself: want to knock straw-men? Have a ball, I will probably even join you just for a bit of wholesome fun.

  36. GR,

    Why atheists always think that somehow their criticisms are “unsettling”?

    It may surprise you that I’m not an atheist. I’m pointing to what I see as an inconsistency in an argument without taking sides on the subject of the argument. An inconsistency in an argument should be unsettling to the arguer.

    When traversing a line, I come to a point where there is an inequality between one side and the other, then there is a change. If you want to give it another name, well fine, but altering the label doesn’t alter the concept.

  37. @DAV:

    “If you want to give it another name, well fine, but altering the label doesn’t alter the concept.”

    And I can say exactly the same thing. So now, there are two possible ways your line of argument can go: either you show where the classical conception of change goes wrong (which should be funny), or you show that assuming the classical conception of change, something goes awry (which should be equally funny).

    That inconsistencies can be, and are, arrived at upon adding assumptions that the opposing party does not subscribe to is not exactly an earth-shattering discovery.

  38. That inconsistencies can be, and are, arrived at upon adding assumptions that the opposing party does not subscribe to is not exactly an earth-shattering discovery.

    So, then, we agree that if both sides don’t subscribe to the same assumptions then the argument is pointless and examining the assumptions would be a better pursuit?

  39. @DAV:

    “So, then, we agree that if both sides don’t subscribe to the same assumptions then the argument is pointless and examining the assumptions would be a better pursuit?”

    Does this mean that your arguments were equally pointless? And yet, knowing the pointlessness of the exercise, you made them anyway?

    Either way, the arguments are not pointless because it is the arguments themselves that show where the opposing parties differ in their assumptions. As for your question, sure — that *is* part of what I have been saying all along. Wasn’t it obvious? No need to reply as apparently the answer is “no”.

  40. Does this mean that your arguments were equally pointless?

    I didn’t realize I was making an argument except over terminology. With you, anyway. We obviously disagree so I stopped.

    Either way, the arguments are not pointless because it is the arguments themselves that show where the opposing parties differ in their assumptions

    Not really. The arguments can’t be considered convincing if the assumptions differ and, if they differ, there is no point. Why beat around the bush when you can just lay out your assumptions then ask for comment? Far more straightforward. If they aren’t agreed to, who cares where you can go with them?

    I can’t get over the feeling that the argument is more to convince yourself and others with similar beliefs of a belief already possessed. Why is that? Why would it be necessary at all? Are you and the others closet fence straddlers?

  41. Thanks for that bit of wisdom @Pompous Git. But unfortunately it’s not true.

    You were obviously taught in some logic class that every argument rests on assumptions but arguments are not the only source of everything we can claim to know. Indeed, if they were then we could know nothing since we wouldn’t have any reason for knowing the truth of our assumptions!

  42. If one is going to assume the Principle of Sufficient Reason without sufficient reason then why not just go ahead and assume God to start with?

    Indeed all of this smoke and mirrors used to “prove” God just has the effect of convincing people falsely that they have a reason for something which they should(?) be accepting on FAITH!

  43. @Alan Cooper
    I believe you hit the nail right on the head Alan…
    “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works.”
    Ephesians 2:8 King James Version (KJV)

  44. @DAV:

    “I didn’t realize I was making an argument except over terminology. With you, anyway.”

    Ah, my bad then, I mistook you for advancing an argument when you wrote something like “dismissing an apparent logical inconsistency with a wave of the hand. Certainly not a good argument. Going from Nothing to Something fits my definition of “change”. Why is it not change?”, when all along you were just arguing “over terminology”.

  45. Going from Nothing to Something fits my definition of “change”. Why is it not change?”

    Indeed. “creation” vs. “change”

  46. Ye Olde Statisician

    March 3, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    I remain convinced that it is turtles all the way down.

    But there must be a First Turtle, since otherwise none of the higher turtles have any support.

  47. Ye Olde Statisician

    March 3, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    Call it God, god [sic], Prime Mover, whatever, it still is all unprovable conjecture – all knowing, all good, eternal – nothing but unfounded belief.

    Granted, the proofs were only sketched, but which part of the chain struck you as unfounded.

    Hart’s entire point was that God and god were not even the same kind of thing. It’s like saying “Impala, impala, whatever,” when the first is a kind of car and the second a kind of antelope.

  48. @Ye Olde Statisician on 3 March 2014 at 2:44 pm:
    You ask: “… but which part of the chain struck you as unfounded …”

    All of it. None of the attributes you list are based upon any kind of evidence. I may believe in the Tooth Fairy – but never having seen her, I have no justification for stating that she wears a red cape. Even if she does!

  49. @YOS: Each turtle is supported by the inertia of the infinite number of turtles below it.

  50. Ye Olde Statisician

    March 3, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    You ask: “… but which part of the chain struck you as unfounded …” All of it.

    Even the part where “it is evident to our senses that some things in the world are in motion”?

    Usually, in a logical argument you must show either where the premises are false or the syllogism is invalid.

    None of the attributes you list are based upon any kind of evidence. I may believe in the Tooth Fairy – but never having seen her, I have no justification for stating that she wears a red cape.

    They are based on a chain of logical deduction. Like say in mathematics. I have never seen a topological function space, either, but I do have justification for stating that one is conjoining or splitting. For that matter, have you seen a black hole or an electron? Gandersauce, my friend. If you justify yourself on the “never having seen her” premise in one argument, how about in others? Or is it merely special pleading?

    Each turtle is supported by the inertia of the infinite number of turtles below it.

    So you suppose some invisible sky fairy called “inertia” (which simply means “laziness”)? Does the table support the book because the table has inertia? Let us not destroy physics in our zeal to avoid You Know Who.

  51. Ye Olde Statisician

    March 3, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    Why is infinite regress unpalatable? Infinite series are perfectly mathematically respectable.

    Mathematics is only a model for physical reality. Models typically fail to match reality in the extremes. Compare: “height of adult male Frenchmen” and “Normal distribution of heights.” One of them runs off to infinity and the other does not.

    An infinite regress is entirely acceptable for series ordered per accidens, as Thomas noted. (He assumed the world has existed eternally, for example, contrary to his personal beliefs, since he could not prove otherwise in philosophy.)

    An infinite regress is impossible for series ordered per se since the ability of any mover (or every cause) in the series depends upon the concurrent action of a prior mover. Without a prime mover, no movers in the series would have the power to move. An example is the supposition that the Earth is supported by the Four Elephants, the Four Elephants are supported by a giant turtle, and then it is “turtles all the way down.” But this cannot be, because then none of the turtles have any support at all.

    Do you really think Zeno’s paradox provides a logical reason why movement is impossible?

    Aristotle (and Plato) were rebuttals to Zeno’s paradoxes. Mathematics is not. (Zeno does provide logical reasons why space and time must be quantized rather than continuous. And Parmenides block universe is uncannily like the block universe of Einsteinian relativity. But only if the universe is viewed somehow from the outside.)

    Parmenides conclusion that change is a subjective illusion actually has more in common with Late Moderns, who often hold all sorts of things even including consciousness as subjective illusions. He was just ahead of his time on that one.

    All the assumptions made concerning grounds-of-being prime-moving these non-infinite chains can’t hide that ignorance [of time]

    But those are not assumptions. Those are conclusions. The assumptions are propositions like “some things in the world are in motion.” (Note that this is contrary to Parmenides and Zeno.)

    Time is the measure of motion in changeable things. “Formerly, people thought that if matter disappeared from the universe, space and time would remain. Relativity declares that space and time would disappear with matter.” — Albert Einstein

    I honestly don’t know what the “Prime Mover must be entirely actual, with no potency” even means

    But then you cannot hold the argument refuted. An argument cannot be held hostage to someone’s ignorance. Potency is the third mode of being that Aristotle used to refute Parmenides and Zeno in order to explain how change was physically possible. Discard it, and you have to rebut Zeno all over again on other grounds. Would you prefer Platonic Ideals?

    A big, blue, bouncy ball is actually blue, but it is potentially red. (It could be painted.) It is not potentially an armadillo. Motion (kinesis) is the passage from actually blue to actually red. The blueness of the ball cannot cause its redness. The redness must come from something else: for example, paint or perhaps sunlight acting on a chemical in the original blue paint. The principle of potency is matter, which is that which persists through change; the principle of act is form which makes matter some particular kind of matter. All sensible objects are compounds of potency and act, that is, of matter and form. “Every thing is some thing.” There is some brief discussion found here: http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02002.htm Although the lecturer, William Wallace, is a physicist, he is also trained in philosophy.

    A purely actual being is one that has no potential to be anything other than what it is.

    2.2 Prime Mover is perfect, since to be perfected with respect to X is to be moved from potentially X to actually X and Prime Mover is Pure Act

    [what does that even mean.]

    Perfectus means “to be thoroughly made,” as opposed to defectus, which means “to lack something required by nature.” An elephant that lacks a trunk is defective. A starfish that lacks a trunk is not, since it is not in the nature of starfish to possess trunks. An acorn lacks most of the powers and attributes of a mature oak, but in the process of growth and development it acquires these things. We say it is being perfected. If something is perfect, it possesses everything required in order to be the kind of thing it is. Obviously, a thing is either already perfected or is capable of being perfected. The potency can be thought of as the delta between the current system state and the perfected system state. But a being of pure act has no potential, hence Δ=0 and it is perfect.

    3. … If there were two [prime movers], one would possess a power or property X which the other lacks….
    [why is that a problem]

    It’s not a problem. It’s a statement that they are two distinct things.

    or they would not be distinct
    [why is that a problem];

    Because we are assuming, secundum argumentum, that there are two Prime Movers, call them A and B, and not one.

    but then the other would be in potency to X
    [why and so what]

    Because if Prime Mover B lacked attribute or power X, then it is by definition potentially X. The so-whatness comes in the next step.

    and would not be a prime mover
    [so, why can’t there be an infinite number of prime movers each with equal potency to each other, each actualizing their single infinitesimal potential to start each infinitesimal cause and effect chain].

    Because then they would not be Prime Movers. See 2.2. Prime Mover possesses all the powers proper to Prime Mover-hood. If all your infinite prime movers possessed all the powers, then they would not be distinct and there would not be an infinite number of them, but only one. (PS, you seem to think that Prime Mover means it “starts” something. Do you imagine this as a time sequence?)

    one side claims they have a perfect proof for the existence of a god. The other side claims they are not convinced, and what has any of that got to do with Virgin Births and Transmutation [sic].

    One side claims they have a perfect proof for the irrationality of Ï€. The other side claims they are not convinced, and what has any of that got to do with haute cuisine and the New York Mets. You must not suppose that simply because a great deal is accessible to reason that everything is so. Some things you just have to be told. You could develop a mathematical model of presidential elections, but you would have to be told who’s running.

    What is “Transmutation”? Is that the lead-into-gold alchemy thingie?

  52. “The whole shebang must have a first cause, a cause which itself is not caused by anything else. ”

    “What’s what? You say that not everything needs a cause? Well, you can say it, you can even imagine it, but you can’t really believe or conceive of it.”

    You assert that there can’t be anything without a cause, and then your solution to your self-inflicted infinite regress is to deny your initial assertion.

    If there can be something without a cause then that something might be the universe.

    If there can’t be something without a cause, then there can’t be a uncaused cause either.

    You cannot have it every way.

    “Nothing means just what it says: nothing. ”

    But you have failed to show that nothing is an option. The reason that there is something rather than nothing may simply be that there can’t be nothing.

  53. Well YOS, I suppose one *would* have to lack a sense of humour in order to take all this nonsense seriously, but in fact the inertia argument does make perfectly good physical sense. I can safely jump 3 feet to the dock from a loaded car ferry but not from a rowboat. But if the rowboat is (laterally) supported by another, and so on, then even as few as 100 rowboats would probably provide enough lateral support for me to safely make the jump.(Though in the absence of a big gravitational mass below the turtles I don’t see why they’d need “support” in empty space anyhow.)

  54. Mathematics is only a model for physical reality.

    So, a specific branch of philosophy can’t be used but another can? OK.

    I think it could be said that mathematics doesn’t model physical reality — even if its impetus was reality — but people have used it do so.

    but this cannot be, because then none of the turtles have any support at all.

    How is this less mind boggling than supposing a place for them to stand (on the Prime Mover, I guess) that’s been there for all eternity? Sounds like two different ways of saying infinite inertia.

    I honestly don’t know what the “Prime Mover must be entirely actual, with no potency” even means

    But then you cannot hold the argument refuted. An argument cannot be held hostage to someone’s ignorance.

    One can only wonder at the purpose of an argument if not to educate those in ignorance. The argument may not have been refuted but it’s certainly a waste of time.

    At least you made an attempt to explain.

    The rest of your explanations assume the existence of a Prime Mover and if you can’t get agreement on the turtle thing, they are moot.

    Would it be fair to summarize the Prime Mover assumption as: everything has a cause except the first thing? And further, would it be fair to say it’s only there because you would be stuck otherwise?

  55. Ye Olde Statisician

    March 3, 2014 at 7:01 pm

    Would it be fair to summarize the Prime Mover assumption as: everything has a cause except the first thing?

    No, because Prime Mover is not an assumption. It is a conclusion that follows from per se motion. Otherwise, you get stuck with Zeno.

    There is no assumption that “everything has a cause.”

  56. Ye Olde Statisician

    March 3, 2014 at 7:25 pm

    you seem to be arguing that an infinite regress has to have a beginning and you are going to call that beginning god.

    No. For one thing lower case god does not meet the job requirements; but more to the point, Aristotle. et al. did not argue that an infinite regress must have a beginning. (I assume you were writing colloquially and did not mean to claim that anyone would claim that an infinite regress has a beginning!) Aquinas famously assumed that series ordered per accidens might well regress without limit. They argued rather that a series of instrumental causes cannot regress indefinitely.

    Things exist, things happen – I am going to call what is at the root of it God.

    You would be premature to do so. The arguments run from certain sensible matters — the existence of motion in some things, the ordering of efficient causes, generation and corruption — to the logically necessary existence of a Prime Mover, a Prime Cause, or a Necessary Being, resp. And from these to deduce further properties which, in the aggregate, add up to the concept that most people call God (e.g., Brahma, etc.) See the list of theorems, above. One does not say, Here is God and he is btw perfect, immaterial, eternal, all power-full, etc. One says, Prime Mover must logically be purely actual, and a being of pure act must be simple, singular, etc. etc. After a while you have to shrug and say, well that adds up to what all men mean by “God.”

    Going from Nothing to Something fits my definition of “change”. Why is it not change?

    First of all: what has changed? What was it that went from Nothing to Something? You write as if nothing were a kind of something.

    Change is a transformation, an actualization of a potential in a thing, so there must be some thing in the first place. Matter in the form of an acorn grows into matter in the form of an oak. Sodium and chlorine react to form salt. Hydrogen atoms are fused into the form of helium. A species of amphicyonid is culled into a species of dog at one end of its range and a species of bear at the other end. And so on. Such things are the proper objects of the natural sciences.

    The first time I heard the Genesis story was in school, and it was presented as truth, without any discussion of what parts were allegory or metaphor, or even that any of it was.

    If you stop learning science in grade school, you’ll always have a child’s understanding of science. If you stop learning history in grade school, you’ll always have a child’s understanding of history. If you stop learning religion in grade school, well…. you get the picture. Yet not everyone has the time, inclination, or skills to delve deep into a subject. For most folks, it is not important whether they think of atoms as miniature solar systems, or suppose that Washington threw a dollar across the Potomac.

    If there can be something without a cause then that something might be the universe.

    No. First, the universe is not a thing, but a set of things. The universe exists iff at least one member of the set exists. But in that case, which element in the universe is without a cause?

    Secondly, we see that the universe came into being and will pass out of being (at least by current physics) and cannot therefore contain the principle of its own existence. To come into being requires that a thing first not actually be. And something that does not actually exist can’t do squat.

    Thirdly, First Mover is by 2.2 itself unmoved; yet the universe can be seen as being in constant motions: acorns grow into oaks, carbon is pressed into diamond, stars explode, planets whirl around stars, new species evolve from old, and so on.

  57. Aristotle had is exactly backwards. There are as many Prime Movers as there are particles in the Universe. Everything acts according to it’s nature. Each thing is an end within itself.

  58. You write as if nothing were a kind of something.
    Change is a transformation, an actualization of a potential in a thing, so there must be some thing in the first place

    I disagree that only physical objects can change. The set of objects in existence would have changed from empty to non-empty.

    How do you know there was nothing then something and that everything in existence has not existed for all eternity? That they have not is an assumption.

  59. Ye Olde Statisician

    March 3, 2014 at 11:49 pm

    How do you know there was nothing then something and that everything in existence has not existed for all eternity?

    Aristotle believed that the world had existed for all eternity. Aquinas knew of no scientific reason to deny this and so assumed it, as well. So it is no objection to their proofs.

    “there was nothing then something” assumes there was something, since “then” implies time and time requires matter.

    If you were to ask me why my hammer is in my freezer and I answer, “We have always kept the hammer in the freezer,” would you regard the question as even being addressed, let alone answered? Then why should the eternity of the world constitute an answer to anything.

    See here: http://www.corpusthomisticum.org/ocm.html

  60. Rather than an infinite egress, there is a finite progression.

  61. Edit: infinite regression

  62. One says, Prime Mover must logically be purely actual
    The arguments run from certain sensible matters …

    The conclusion leading to the Prime Mover may be based on”certain sensible matters” but those may only be a reflection of our lack of imagination and/or limited experience and are not necessarily true.

    The doesn’t seem to be any meaningful distinction between Things exist, things happen – I am going to call what is at the root of it God. and The arguments run from certain sensible matters … to the logically necessary existence of a Prime Mover. … After a while you have to shrug and say, well that adds up to what all men mean by “God.”. They appear to be different words expressing the same thing. The second is saying “It adds up to God.” which isn’t too far off from outright calling it God.

  63. “there was nothing then something” assumes there was something, since “then” implies time and time requires matter.

    Oh, please. Nothing to Something as a function of Creation also has a before then after.

  64. So it is no objection to their proofs.

    Then there is no need for Creation or even mentioning it? What’s the purpose behind all this Nothing talk?

    If you were to ask me why my hammer is in my freezer and I answer, “We have always kept the hammer in the freezer,” would you regard the question as even being addressed, let alone answered? Then why should the eternity of the world constitute an answer to anything.

    The thing about existence of throughout eternity was all about the creation of Something from Nothing. There was no Why in it nor was it meant to answer a Why.If things have existed for all eternity there would not have been a Nothing.

  65. Jim S,

    Rather than an infinite egress
    Edit: infinite regression

    I thought you were making a comment on the style if argument being presented here and assumed you meant “digression”.

  66. Ye Olde Statisician

    March 4, 2014 at 1:01 am

    The conclusion leading to the Prime Mover may be based on”certain sensible matters” but those may only be a reflection of our lack of imagination and/or limited experience and are not necessarily true.

    That some things in the world are in motion hardly seems due to a lack of imagination. Unless you are going for the Zeno thing, in which case it is too much imagination.

    The doesn’t seem to be any meaningful distinction between Things exist, things happen – I am going to call what is at the root of it God. and The arguments run from certain sensible matters … to the logically necessary existence of a Prime Mover.

    The former is simply throwing in a pre-conceived God as a stop-gap “answer.” The latter is a chain of syllogistic reasoning by which one is brought to a conclusion.
    +++

    Nothing to Something as a function of Creation also has a before then after.

    Nope.
    + + +

    So [the eternity of the world] is no objection to their proofs.

    Then there is no need for Creation or even mentioning it?

    Just because something is eternal does not mean it is uncreated. See the Aquinas essay “On the eternity of the world.”
    +++

    If things have existed for all eternity there would not have been a Nothing.

    You are still treating nothing as a kind of something. There cannot “be” a Nothing. To “be” is to “exist”, and to exist is to be some thing. The act of existence is the first act we grasp of a thing. From where does it obtain its existence? That’s why “creation” is defined as the joining of an “essence” to an “act of existence.” This is distinct from transformation or change, by which something that persists through change (the matter) is given a different form. It’s the difference between ÆŽB and A→B.

    The difficulty may only be “a reflection of a lack of imagination and/or limited experience,” as someone commented earlier.
    + + +

  67. “… assumed you meant “digression”.”

    Too true, lol.

  68. you are still treating nothing as a kind of something. There cannot “be” a Nothing

    Looky here! I’m just another pretty face around the office and can’t type.
    I’d appreciated it if you could look past the typos.

    Nothing to Something as a function of Creation also has a before then after.

    Nope.

    Then the question “What was before Creation?” is semantically meaningless and claiming Nothing preceded it equally so. You are claiming Creation was a non-event?

    that’s why “creation” is defined as the joining of an “essence” to an “act of existence.

    A joining? See? It’s impossible to talk about this without using words devoid of the implication of time. If they were always joined then there can be no joining; only joined. If they weren’t always joined then there must be a point without them joined. You don’t have to call it time but it’s easier to speak of it that way. So stop fretting.

    Just because something is eternal does not mean it is uncreated.

    Only if something without a beginning could have a beginning. What does “eternal” mean to you? I’m using it here to mean without beginning.

    That some things in the world are in motion hardly seems due to a lack of imagination.

    True but assuming they had to have been started in motion may very well be a lack of imagination.

  69. It’s impossible to talk about this without using words devoid of the implication of time

    Another typo from my pretty head.

    It’s impossible to talk about this without using words carrying the implication of time.

  70. Fletcher Christian

    March 4, 2014 at 6:19 am

    The very title of this thread expresses a false proposition. Can’t get something for nothing? Wrong. The universe as a whole gets something for nothing uncountable trillions of times per second in every cubic millimetre, everywhere. Virtual particle pair creation, it’s caused.

    And the truth of this is demonstrable – the virtual particles have observable effects. One of which is the solidity of matter.

    One of the theories about the beginning of the universe is that it originated as a completely random quantum fluctuation, which inflated by as yet ill-understood processes into everything we see.

  71. Briggs

    March 4, 2014 at 9:51 am

    Fletcher,

    Your understanding of physics fractured. The particles popping into a out of sight are caused by the quantum field (expressed variously), which is something, not nothing.

    Think about this, I beg you.

  72. @DAV:

    YOS will certainly reply to you, but allow me to *repeat* what I already said before, starting with:

    “Then the question “What was before Creation?” is semantically meaningless and claiming Nothing preceded it equally so.”

    If you mean “before” in a temporal sense then you are correct, nothing (as in no-thing, not a vague, wispy something that resembles no-thing) preceded creation. But then again, what the Scholastics mean by creation is not what you probably mean by it; in particular, creation is *not* a First Event, the toppling of the first domino that got the universe going.

    And while I am at it, the arguments do *not* start with causal chains … -> C_1 -> C_0 and then try to prove that must they must have the form G -> … -> C_1 -> C_0 with G presumably God (1), or in your own words, “they had to have been started in motion”. This is *NOT* what the arguments are getting at. Neither it ultimately matters whether the chain is finite or infinite, because the crux is that the causes in the chain are instrumental and thus the *whole* chain is itself an instrumental cause, and *this* is what ultimately generates the contradiction, not whether the causal chain is finite or not.

    (1) The Kalam does this. Aquinas wrote an entire book arguing that it could not be proved from reason alone that the Universe had a beginning. I think the Kalam works, but I think it is a weak argument in the sense that it does not prove God, but only god. Anyway, it is *irrelevant* for the current discussion.

    “You are claiming Creation was a non-event?”

    Creation is not an event, no. Not in the usual sense of the word. I do not know what a non-event is to answer your question.

    Look, you are going at it in a totally wrong way. You have certain metaphysical ideas about causation, events, etc. against which you interpret the arguments and then no wonder that you fail to grasp them and throw around spurious objections. The Scholastics have a different account of causation, one that is not related to temporal priority but rather ontological dependence (although the latter usually implies the former); causation is not a diachronic relation between successive events (this is one reason why your talk of creation implying a before and after is misguided) but a synchronic relation, irreflexive and necessary in the case of per se causation, between substances; the principle of causality is an analytical truth that cannot be coherently denied because it follows from non-contradiction; etc. and etc.

    There are then two possible general ways to refute the arguments:

    (1) Show that the arguments do not work: some logical misstep, some equivocation, whatever. For this, you have to tackle the arguments on their *own* terms, not read them under the light of your own assumptions.

    (2) Show that the metaphysical assumptions presupposed by the arguments are simply wrong.

    In (2) I wrote “assumptions”, but this is misleading. They are used as such in the body of arguments, but they are painstakingly argued for, as opposed to pulled out of thin air, and on independent grounds having *nothing* to do with natural theology.

    One last point:

    “See? It’s impossible to talk about this without using words devoid of the implication of time.”

    It is very poor manner to inflict your own limitations on other people. That *you* find it impossible only bespeaks of your imagination, not that of everyone else.

  73. “See? It’s impossible to talk about this without using words devoid of the implication of time.”

    It is very poor manner to inflict your own limitations on other people. That *you* find it impossible only bespeaks of your imagination, not that of everyone else.

    Poor manners inflicting limitations: as in “Time could not exist because there is no way to measure it?” Conflating the common measurement of time with time itself is most definitely a limitation. It’s as if a blind man declares distance non-extant because he can see no landmarks or method of measurement.

    The claim of time not existing before matter is merely, at best, unwarranted assumption.

    For every event, there is a before and after.

  74. There are then two possible general ways to refute the arguments:

    You’ve got it backwards and that may be the problem. I don’t have to refute the argument. I merely have to reject it as unuseful. Further, I’m under no obligation to tell you why. The onus is entirely on you.

    The way I see it, you’re trying to sell something — specifically, your argument. If the general tone is any indication, philosophers suck at selling.

    I used to sell. Some hints you may find helpful:

    *) The customer is never wrong (although perhaps misinformed).
    *) Don’t talk at or down to your potential customer.
    *) If the customer has questions, DON’T tell the customer to go talk to Sally down the street or look it up online. The customer may eventually buy the product but not from you.
    *) Whatever you do, don’t respond with evasive answers or answers that sound glib.That includes avoiding letting your presentation resemble this
    *) Don’t put your bottom line on the list of things to reveal first.

    HTH

  75. Bad link. Try this

  76. Prof Briggs: The particles popping into a out of sight are caused by the quantum field (expressed variously), which is something, not nothing.

    And a quantum field cannot be a prime-mover, perfect and eternal?

    Why not?

  77. Ye Olde Statisician

    March 4, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    Then the question “What was before Creation?” is semantically meaningless and claiming Nothing preceded it equally so.

    You will be happy to know that St. Augustine and Einstein agree with you. You keep thinking of a kind of thing called “Nothing” that “precedes” creation temporally. But “with the motion of creatures, time began to run its course. It is idle to look for time before creation, as if time can be found before time.” (De genesi ad litteram, Book V, Ch. 5:12)
    +++

    Just because something is eternal does not mean it is uncreated.

    Only if something without a beginning could have a beginning. What does “eternal” mean to you? I’m using it here to mean without beginning.

    Why do you keep talking about a beginning rather than a source or cause? Did you read the Aquinas reference “On the eternity of the world”?
    Consider an email that has been forwarded to you and which you have forwarded onward. You are a “sent sender” of the email. Now suppose that this email has been forwarded for all eternity. Everyone you have ever met or ever can meet has received the email from someone else. It is an infinite series of forwardings. But the act of forwarding does not explain the content of the email. Reason tells you that, regardless of the accidental sequence of forwarding, there must be a per se reason for the existence of the email in the first place. That is, there is an Unsent Sender. This is not at the beginning of the series because ex hypothesi the series has no beginning. But it is surely outside the series.
    Aquinas used the example of the Eternal Foot planted in the Eternal Dust. Beneath the Foot is the Eternal Footprint. The Foot is still the cause of the Footprint even though it does not come “before” the Footprint in time. Rather, it is “prior” to the Footprint ontologically. The existence of the Footprint depends upon the existence of the Foot.

    +++

    The universe as a whole gets something for nothing uncountable trillions of times per second in every cubic millimetre, everywhere.

    Virtual particles are terms in a mathematical formalism that, like the Ptolemaic epicycle, produces correct results. But this does not obligate the physical world to go along with the gag. In quantum mechanics, particles are fluctuations in quantum fields, and particle-particle interactions are simply superposition of fields. That is, we get the virtual particles not from nothing but from superposition of quantum fields.
    +++

    Conflating the common measurement of time with time itself is most definitely a limitation. … The claim of time not existing before matter is merely, at best, unwarranted assumption.

    Take it up with Einstein.
    “[T]here are no objections of principle against the introduction of this hypothesis [general relativity], by which space and time are deprived of the last trace of objective reality.”
    — Albert Einstein, “Explanation of the Movement of Mercury’s Perihelion on the Basis of the General Theory of Relativity,” 1915
    + + +
    I don’t have to refute the argument. I merely have to reject it as unuseful.

    That sounds like a creationist rejecting evolution. But it is firmly in the mainstream of Baconian Science, by which natural philosophy was reduced to servitude to industry and engineering. The mark of true science was henceforth to be its usefulness in furthering masculine domination of the universe. (See “The Masculine Birth of Time”, F.Bacon.)

  78. Ye Olde Statisician

    March 4, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    And a quantum field cannot be a prime-mover, perfect and eternal? Why not?

    Because Prime Mover is itself unmoving (§2.1). The quantum field is not unmoved, but is continually superpositioning over other quantum fields.

  79. You keep thinking of a kind of thing called “Nothing”

    English uses the word “thing” as a placeholder for nouns so effectively any noun is a “thing” and that includes things which are not physical such as ideas and concepts. If nothing else, Nothing is a concept therefore, in English, I may refer to it as a thing. We are using English are we not?

    I get your distinction but I don’t feel any obligation to restrict myself to your jargon. For one, it makes talking difficult, and two, smacks of PC,

    Why do you keep talking about a beginning rather than a source or cause? Did you read the Aquinas reference “On the eternity of the world”?

    Because, the way I see it, if something has no beginning it has existed for all eternity with no need for Creating it out of Nothingness. Further, it wouldn’t need to have a cause.

    Why must I accept your Nothing, Creation, etc?

    Consider an email … forwarded for all eternity. … Reason tells you that, regardless of the accidental sequence of forwarding, there must be a per se reason for the existence of the email in the first place.

    I don’t see the relevance of this. I am digging at your Nothingness and Creation. In any case, why should there be a reason for a first e-mail? There doesn’t seem to be a reason for a Prime Mover to have been around for all eternity and you don’t have a problem with that. Why so with this e-mail?

    But “with the motion of creatures, time began to run its course. It is idle to look for time before creation, as if time can be found before time.” (De genesi ad litteram, Book V, Ch. 5:12)

    Frankly, I don’t really care what Book V has to say. As for time as I stated here: http://wmbriggs.com/blog/?p=11581&cpage=1#comment-114251
    you seem to be conflating the measurement of time with time itself. The claim of time not existing before matter is unwarranted assumption. For every event, there is a before and after.

    Take it up with Einstein

    Ok but appealing to him is as useful as appealing to the kid down the street. There are no objections of principle against my way of thinking either, is there?

    That sounds like a creationist rejecting evolution.

    Not at all. It sounds more like leaning toward string theory over something else. Your argument being logically consistent doesn’t mean it has any value to me.

    Why do you bring up creationist/evolutionist anyway? Are the evolutionists correct because of the number of subscribers?

    In any case, if you want to convince me of your argument, you need to show me that your starting point coincides with mine in every way otherwise I will fail to see the usefulness of you conclusions and will toss it into the Ain’t-That-Interesting pile if I’m in a good mood.

    And when I do this, I’m under zero obligation to provide a substitute. You’re the one trying to convince with your argument. I don’t have to convince you of anything.

  80. And before you go off half cocked, I’m not saying that my way of thinking coincides with any particular theory including string theory.

  81. Ye Olde Statisician

    March 4, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    Why must I accept your Nothing, Creation, etc?

    Because if you want to claim that an argument is unconvincing, it ought to be in the terms that the argument actually used. Those terms often have precise definitions rather than fuzzy colloquial ones. People here have made claims that Aristotle’s proofs or Aquinas’ proofs are deficient, but they have not shown any understanding of what those proofs actually involved.

    why should there be a reason for a first e-mail?

    a) What first email? The contention is that the existence of the email is not explained by its being forwarded, even if it were forwarded infinitely often; not that there was a “first” email. It was by hypothesis an infinite series. There is no first item in an infinite series.

    b) But there must be a reason for the existence of the forwarded emails. Otherwise they would not exist.

    c) The Late Modern/Post Modern notion that some thing somehow just happens (or is just happening, or has always been happening) for no reason is to assert that reason is not at the center of reality. So reason, if it exists, comes from unreason. This may suit a nihilist frame of mind, but it bodes no good for science or philosophy.

    appealing to [Einstein] is as useful as appealing to the kid down the street.

    Not if it involves general relativity.

  82. @DAV:

    “I don’t have to refute the argument. I merely have to reject it as unuseful. Further, I’m under no obligation to tell you why. The onus is entirely on you.”

    (1) “Have to” is a normative claim; where did I imply that you “have to” refute anything whatsoever? *If* you want to refute it, the onus is on you to first understand the argument. If you don’t, you don’t and that is it.

    (2) You “merely have to reject it as unuseful”? What does this even mean? If the argument is sound, the conclusion is established, period. If you choose to reject it then — and you are free, in a sense, to do so — is but an interesting quirk of your psychology.

    And if you “merely have to reject it as unuseful”, why beat around the bush and not say it straight away? If it is indeed the case that you “merely have to reject it as unuseful”, then it is pointless discussing the argument in any shape or form. Or discussing anything by that matter. Including your unuseful rejection of the unuseful.

    (3) You are under “no obligation to tell [me] why”? Why should you be? You can certainly reject the arguments and for absolutely no reasons at all, as you quite obviously do; fine by me. I was addressing your claims (e.g. “Then the question “What was before Creation?” is semantically meaningless and claiming Nothing preceded it equally so.”) and questions (e.g. “You are claiming Creation was a non-event?”), under the misguided notion that you were actually discussing the argument.

    You also seem to labor under the delusion that I am peddling my wares to you. The only thing I am trying is to clarify the terms of discussion — for that *is* the purpose of dialectical discussion, the clarification of disagreements — by for example, showing that your objections are spurious. That is all.

    (4) The onus is and was satisfied by making the argument, so I am at a loss what you can possibly intend by saying that the “onus is entirely on [me]”.

  83. Because if you want to claim that an argument is unconvincing, it ought to be in the terms that the argument actually used.

    Not at all. If I don’t agree to your initial premises then your argument
    will not convince me. Your jargon strikes me as necessary to reach your conclusions and I think I’ve made it clear that I don’t go along with your definition of time. You seem to be trying to force me into going along by insisting on thinking your way.

    What first email?

    Your right. I misread:
    there must be a per se reason for the existence of the email in the first place

    The contention is that the existence of the email is not explained by its being forwarded

    So what? It’s just there. If by reason you mean cause it doesn’t have one. If you mean something else, I have no idea and don’t see the need for one.

    b) But there must be a reason for the existence of the forwarded emails. Otherwise they would not exist.

    This strikes me as assumption.

    c) The Late Modern/Post Modern notion that some thing somehow just happens (or is just happening, or has always been happening) for no reason is to assert that reason is not at the center of reality. So reason, if it exists, comes from unreason.

    I’m sure you will be happy to explain this further but let me ask, what is the reason for the existence of your Prime Mover another than your feeling one must be there?

    I would have said non-reason. Unreason seems to imply faulty reason, Doesn’t really matter though.

    Not if it involves general relativity

    True but I notice you failed to provide the objections to time being something other than the way we measure it.

  84. I’m going to have to bow out of this. Can we wrap it up?

  85. Ye Olde Statisician

    March 4, 2014 at 9:50 pm

    If I don’t agree to your initial premises then your argument
    will not convince me.

    Of course not. But that has nothing to do with whether the argument is valid. However, you do not know if you don’t agree unless you understand what the argument is.

    As for the embrace of unreason, MMMV.

  86. Cause and effect is an artifact of consciousness. If two asteroids collide in the middle of deep space, it can’t be said that either one is the Cause of the event. However, if I’m standing on asteroid ‘A’ (and “at rest” ) and then I’m struck by asteroid ‘B’ I would attribute the Cause of the collision to the movement of asteroid ‘B’.

    Aristotle had it 180 degrees wrong. There is no one (1) Prime Mover. Everything is a Prime Mover in the sense that nothing else can Cause it’s behavior. Each thing behaves according to it’s nature. If it were otherwise we’d have Alchemy instead of chemistry.

  87. Much to think about, YOS. FWIW: I’m willing to concede the validity of your argument but need to go over your premises preferably as listed by yourself. I realize this may be asking a lot.

    G., just saw your post but haven’t the time right now. This is a recurring theme so I’m sure there will be another opportunity.

    Thanks, y’all. Been fun but gotta run.

    Later.

  88. Fletcher Christian

    March 5, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    Theologians (at least Christian theologians) and scientists seem to agree that, in the ordinary sense of the word, there was no “before the Creation”; time and space were created together.

    One way of thinking about this might be to say that the time of God’s experience (or of the development of the Universe) is orthogonal to the time we experience. First there was nothing (or, in some formulations, an eternally inflationary universe) and then there was the universe in which we live; but the “before” and “then” were and are on a different time axis from ours.

    Does that make sense?

  89. Scientists who have proposed that the entire universe can actually come from nothing perhaps do not know that there is at least one major drawback in their theory. It is not that the entire universe cannot come from nothing. In that case the entire universe itself must have to be a nothing. Logic dictates that if everything has come from nothing, then the summation of everything must also always have to remain nothing. As universe basically means its space, time, matter and energy, so from this it follows that the total space, total time, total matter and total energy of the universe must always have to remain zero. Scientists have actually shown how the total matter and the total energy of the universe have always remained zero, but they have totally forgotten that matter and energy only cannot make a universe, space-time is also required. So those scientists who have proposed that the entire universe can come from nothing without any divine intervention, are also supposed to show as to how the total space-time of an ever-expanding universe always remains zero.

    https://sekharpal.wordpress.com/2015/10/23/a-fundamental-flaw-in-the-thesis-a-universe-from-nothing-part-i/

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