Skip to content

Something From Nothing: Or, A Heavenly Fish Sandwich

But where is the tartar sauce?
So I was sitting on the porch by the lake reading a piece by Trent Horn on the first premise of the kalam cosmological argument for the existence of God, which is “Whatever begins to exist has a cause”, a premise no scientist disbelieves.

No: state that more clearly. Every scientist believes it1. And so does every non-scientist, though some of the latter have fun fooling around with the idea the premise is false. By some (as yet) unexplained miracle, these folks all have university jobs or were Detroit mayors. Never mind!

And speaking of miracles, this:

When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said, “This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” But they said to him, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” Then he said, “Bring them here to me,” and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over—twelve wicker baskets full. Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children.

Here we have a whole lot of something from plenty of nothing. Cause, please? Ockham didn’t cut himself shaving over the simplest explanation of God as grocer.

If we accept the first premise, the only way out of this, or any other miracle, is by dismissing the evidence. Something else happened other than that which was said to have happened. If not, then we’re stuck with God, so to speak.

Now for some “miracles”, this ploy is sufficient. What’s simpler to believe, the Lord Himself produced His blurry image on a tortilla so that it wouldn’t be smeared with refried beans, or that given enough chances burn marks on a flour patty will vaguely resemble a human face?

But a wave of the hand doesn’t work with the loaves and fishes. Too many people saw it happen, no contemporary sources dispute it, and alternate explanations are more of a stretch than Joe Biden giving up is Rogaine treatments.

The most common one is that, sure, the 5000 ate their reported fill, but they had the food concealed in their garments and only brought it out to fake a miracle. “Don’t tell all these people you have the lox, Morty, or they’ll want to share and we won’t have enough for ourselves. My, doesn’t Jesus’s beard shine in the sun? It fairly warms my heart. Oh, go ahead and show the fish, Mort. The rabbi’s speech put me in a generous mood. Wait…everybody else is brining out the biscuits, too. Now if we could only turn this water into wine, we’d have a party!” And never mind trying to get the stench of salted kippers, baked in the sun as you sit for a speech, out of your robes in the days before Clorox.

I’ve also see “mass hallucinations”, that staple of alternate explanations, tried. “Boy, Sarah, I feel full but I haven’t eaten. Only thing I can think of is that I must have had my fill of loaves and fishes. You too?” According to some skeptics the entire Bible is one long series of bad dreams set to paper. Strangely, these folks never invoke mind blur for bits of history favorable to their philosophy. But skip it.

Point stands that all these mental acrobatics take place only because of the obvious need to retain the first premise. And once you do, the rest of the kalam (almost) falls into place.


————————————————————————

1Incidentally, if you are a scientist and you too would like the fame and glory which follows the stating of preposterous statements as if they were true and seek to deny the premise, then none of your life’s work means a damn. For if the premise were false, whenever you say “X caused Y” (such as in a grant application) we would be entitled to say, “No, you are wrong. Nothing caused Y” and you would have to keep your yap shut.

Incidentally number two: God doesn’t need a cause because He didn’t begin to exist. He always was. “God replied to Moses: I am who I am. Then he added: This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.”

59 thoughts on “Something From Nothing: Or, A Heavenly Fish Sandwich Leave a comment

  1. Briggs,

    …obvious need to retain the first premise. And once you do, the rest of the kalam (almost) falls into place.

    So what is your prior for God?

  2. Fran,

    Good question. There isn’t one. You don’t prove the evidence of God in that way, but instead in the logical probability way. That is, you begin with a list of premises which are indubitably true and from there venture to a conclusion which follows.

  3. “Too many people saw it happen”? You state this as if it is fact, but clearly it is not. Perhaps you need to reread your Jaynes. What you know is “the author of Matthew wrote that 5000 men were fed”, a very different statement than “5000 men were fed”. Getting from the former to the latter requires evidence and an honest look at alternate explanations.

    Too many people are too certain of too many things.

  4. I wish that I had your faith Briggs, but I still have trouble with some of your statements. I willing to give you a pass on the cosmological argument but not the following.

    “Too many people saw it happen, no contemporary sources dispute it, and alternate explanations are more of a stretch than Joe Biden giving up is Rogaine treatments.”

    The first phrase begs the question as clarified by Eric. The lack of contemporary sources may simply mean that the story was created decades latter or that criticisms were not preserved, e.g. as happened to Celsus, or both. The serious alternate explanation is not the straw men that you present but simply the universal tendency of new religions to invent miracles to bring in the converts. This is not all that different than the entertaining urban legends that spread like wildfire today. An even better comparison may be to the MSM’s versions of current events which often have no relationship to the truth. Give them the power to destroy all contrary claims and the time for contemporary witnesses to die off and voila. You should try the fideist approach.

  5. Briggs,

    You invoked Ockham, but ignored the simplest explanation: the account is fictional.

    No conspiracy required.

    – Eric

  6. Funny Ockham never thought of that. Anyway, everyone misconstrues Ockham, who tended toward voluntarism – and voluntarism undermines the whole notion of natural laws. They are only “habits of God” in al-Ghazali’s formulation. The Razor – so-called because in parchment days a straight razor was used to scrape off (e-rase) previous text – was not an ontological principle, but an epistemological one. Translated into today’s lingo, it meant: Don’t have too many terms in your models or you won’t understand your own models. The real world, he said, could be as complex as God wished.
    + + +
    Fran wants to know what caused the uncaused cause, what moved the unmoved mover. But this is like asking who forwarded the internet “meme” to the original author, or who taught “Pythagoras” his theorem. One reasons from kinesis in the world to something that moves things without itself being kinetic. Only after this does subsequent reasoning identify this with God.
    + + +
    the universal tendency of new religions to invent miracles to bring in the converts.

    Yes-siree. Join our religion and suffer civil disabilities, discrimination, and now and then being coated with pitch and set on fire to illuminate Nero’s parties. I can see the appeal.

  7. You are quite right YOS the downside must be downplayed until faith is strong enough. Thus the need for the miraculous. You are not seriously presenting sarcasm as an argument, are you? I am serious in wishing that I had Briggs’ faith but reason keeps getting in the way and it is darned inconvenient at times.

  8. Biblical scholars will tell you that the gospels were oral traditions long before they were written down and that Mark is the oldest of the four being transcribed about 60 AD. The other three are mostly copies of Mark with significant differences and minor variations. There are no original gospels in existence. The best available are many copies of copies, with transcription errors and agenda driven modifications.

  9. Biblical scholars will tell you that the gospels were oral traditions long before they were written down and that Mark is the oldest of the four being transcribed about 60 AD.
    Even were this true, this is not “long” before. It is still within living memory of the participants. The Greek tradition of historiography emphasized what they called “the living word,” i.e., eyewitness testimony as described in the opening to Luke. They distrusted written texts because they could not be cross-examined, questioned, or looked in the eye. That is why almost nothing historical in the ancient Greek (and Roman) world was ever written down until the eyewitnesses began to die off. (Autobriographicals are an obvious exception.)

    The best available are many copies of copies, with transcription errors and agenda driven modifications.

    If there are no originals available, how do you know there are transcription errors? How do you know that any were “agenda-driven”?

  10. I have been thinking about this all morning without concentrating on the work that I am supposed to be doing. I think that the miracle of the loaves and fishes has to to with communion and sharing. Picture this: The Apostles were worn out and wanted to go home but Jesus wasn’t through for the day because he had an audience who wanted to hear Him. Sooo, He told the Apostles to hold up the bread and the fishes in front of the crowd and yell “Time to break for supper” and the people sat down to eat what they had brought or could buy from the fast food vendors who always follow a crowd. Everyone shared and shared alike so that all could be satisfied. The miracle was that Jesus could get all those strangers to share without squabbling. It was a great lesson for His disciples and it was the first communion as opposed to the last. As far as the record goes it either documents what happened exactly or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t then I like to think that my version is closer to the truth.

  11. An interesting characteristic of the miracles is that they are told in a matter-of-fact manner with no hocus-pocus to dress them up or over-sell the story to readers. This seems a telling sign that the gospel writers as witnesses believed them to be true and that later transcribers who were not witnesses didn’t monkey with the stories.

    Another point, argued by C.S. Lewis in his book, Miracles, is that they can be viewed as manipulations of time in what are just natural processes. Multiplying of fish and bread (wheat) is at core a natural process of reproduction and growth, just sped up. Same with water to wine — a blitzing past the grape vine and pressing vat. Lazarus’ revival is a reversal of time. Walking on water as if it were ice is a little different, but freezing still is just a natural phase change. The point is that none of the miracles deal with utterly fantastic things such as the images related in the visions of Ezekiel, Daniel, and the Revelation of John. Instead, they’re rather pedestrian events seemingly meant for a specific purpose at a specific time and now told as evidence of Jesus’ character as much as of his power.

  12. Scotian,

    So you’re going with organized fraud on a massive scale to keep the first premise? I assume you’re wanting to keep the premise, right?

    Funny that all arguments of fraud, conspiracy, hallucination, and the like are all mush less parsimonious than accepting the traditional cause.

  13. First off, feeding miracles like this were apparently common place according to the old testament, so no biggie there. Second, allegedly Jesus came to replace the old Mosaic laws (5 books of Moses) with his teaching and so 12 baskets left behind when his work was done, as the 12 disciples, is very symbolic. Nothing to explain really. Personally I would never trust a Christian with the truth, as lying for Jesus is apparently a very old and proud tradition, self admitted by most early Church fathers.

  14. Briggs,

    I don’t know why you keep using the words fraud and conspiracy. They exist, of course, as seen by many of the new, twentieth century religions. But this is not necessary, because as Richard Feynman said the easiest person in the world to fool is oneself. There is also a deep human need for religious belief so that once started miracle stories take on a life of their own, although many more fail to catch on than succeed. Later during the consolidation phase the established priesthood under the direction of a strong ruler will rework the system to their own purposes. This stage may seem most like a conspiracy. But really, if we see this sort of thing happening now where everything is well documented, why would it not have happened in the past? I’m also not sure that parsimony is the right word for a belief in magic.

    Please be assured that I am not criticizing your religious beliefs or even disagreeing with them, as I can see the value in a degree of religious belief. I just disagree with the argument that you have used and I am very familiar with the skeptical views about the New Testament. The same thing applies to all other religions. You can call this the deist approach, if you like.

    The cosmological argument leads only to deism. To go beyond this you must either be a fideist, and I have no objection to this, or you must engage in rhetorical gymnastics, which I do have problems with.

  15. The cosmological argument leads only to deism.

    This is no more true than complaining about what the first proposition in Euclid proves. There are a lot more theorems that come after that, which establish quite a number of qualities. The three cosmological arguments (plus the others) are only the first theorem in a long series. (Actually, IIRC, they comprise the third article in the second question. There are a number of preliminary lemmas.)

  16. YOS – I am not sure whether you are agreeing with me or disagreeing. Taken literally you have just restated what I have said, but there is an undercurrent of disagreement that is confusing.

  17. @Scotian:
    I am pointing out that taking the cosmological arguments as if they were stand-alone arguments is tendentious. They are part of a total system, not like a proof-text or something. From the cosmological arguments come a variety of further conclusions: singularity, simplicity, eternity, transcendence, … , personhood, trinitarian, etc. Certainly, Thomas Aquinas never considered this to be anything like the denatured God of the Deists.
    This may help: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/summa/index.html
    Or this: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/ContraGentiles1.htm

  18. YOS,

    Oh, I have no doubt that Aquinas considered the cosmological argument to be the first step in a long series of arguments that lead to the exact Roman Catholic religion that he believed in. But others are free to accept the first (few) step(s) without accepting the rest and the first step only leads to deism – a point that you have already conceded. Stated another way: later steps in an argument depend on the validity of earlier steps but earlier steps do not depend on the validity of the later ones. It is very much like a proof-text if I understand your use of that term. I should add that a conclusion can be true regardless of the rigour of the proof offered. I am only interested in the argument at present.

  19. Briggs,

    You have, on occasion, valiantly railed against people being too certain about too many things. And, I wholeheartedly agree with you on that point.

    That is why I find your posts on religion so puzzling. You seem so certain, yet you present extremely weak arguments. This argument, for example, distills down to little more than “God exists because the Bible says he performed a miracle”. The argument obviously begs the question to the point of being almost laughable. Of course a religion’s scriptures imply the existence of that religion’s god! Problem is: all the religions contradict. Yet you remain so certain….

    – Eric

  20. Eric,

    My dear fellow. Today’s post is about a certain premise which I take to be true axiomatically. “Whatever begins to exist has a cause” is a proposition that is just true, would you not agree?

    I offered this one miracle to show that if you do not accept it as it is written, but you still desire to keep intact the premise, you must offer alternate explanations for the alleged miracle. If you rejected the premise, you could, and probably should, accept the miracle story as written. Why not? If the premise were false, somethings can come from nothings, and bread and fish popping into baskets surely fits the bill.

    About the loaves and fishes miracle itself, I obviously planned no in-depth supporting argument. Except to point out that if you reject it, it is you who are adding evidence to the scenario. The simplest thing is to accept it as written, given that it was attested by different sources and no other contemporary source wrote that it was (say) a fraudulent invention.

    If you say (and I don’t say you say) it is obvious that the miracle did not take place because miracles are impossible—a line walked by some—then you are begging the question. If you accept the possibility of miracles (because you haven’t any valid argument against their possibility) then you have to show why each and every offered miracle is false.

    The same thing happens in the land of psychic phenomena. We haven’t any rigorous proof that such things are impossible, so we have to investigate each and every case. Emphasizing this was James Randi’s great contribution to the skeptics field.

    But understand, it is not enough to show that a miracle or psychic power has been proven false just because you have offered at least one alternate explanation for it. In the land of contingent propositions this is always (as in always) possible, and so it is not a very interesting exercise. You must show the claim itself is false or very unlikely compared to a much more likely alternate explanation.

    About the feeding of the 5,000 men (plus ladies and children), what evidence do you have it was false? Of course it is, as we just agreed, possible to offer alternate explanations, but what hard evidence have we these are true? Little to none, it seems. Just conjecture or hope (faith?) on our part. Still, as you and others say, it is possible one of these alternate explanations holds.

    Thus I am of the opinion—and I think I can prove, but I won’t do so here today, though I am working on a paper which does—that each belief in divine attribution to some event ultimately rests on faith. But then since all of our beliefs ultimately rest on unproven and unprovable propositions, which we must take on faith, this is not unexpected.

  21. Briggs,

    Today’s post is about a certain premise which I take to be true axiomatically. “Whatever begins to exist has a cause” is a proposition that is just true, would you not agree?

    Could you tell us what do you understand by “cause”? In particular, if there exists a random process and that process creates something, would you say that something has a cause? Would that allow us to define God as randomness?

  22. Fran,

    As for cause, see one of Ed Feser’s many posts (this one for example) on the subject. Or read my series reviewing his book (starts here).

    “Randomness” can’t cause anything. There is no such thing as a “random process.” “Randomness” isn’t a thing. It merely means “unknown”, as in “I don’t know what caused it”, but from that we cannot obtain “Nothing caused it.”

  23. “Today’s post is about a certain premise which I take to be true axiomatically. “Whatever begins to exist has a cause” is a proposition that is just true, would you not agree?”

    The current thinking in physics is that it’s not true. Radioactive decay results in the emission of particles that begin to exist at a certain time. The identity of the particles and the time at which they begin to exist are apparently random, and do not appear to have any cause.

    “I offered this one miracle to show that if you do not accept it as it is written, but you still desire to keep intact the premise, you must offer alternate explanations for the alleged miracle.”

    There have been hundreds of religions across human history, many of them telling stories of magical events witnessed by many. Thousands of Gods and Goddesses have been worshiped, and prayed to for miraculous intercession – and all the people worshiping them thought they had good reasons for doing so.

    Whatever arguments we offer for believing in one God apply to all Gods. Whatever reasons we offer for believing in one religion’s miracles apply to all religions’ miracles. To follow one specific single religion, you must necessarily reject all of the others: declare them all deluded, or deceptive. Every false religion must be a conspiracy, as thousands believe what none can have any true evidence for. Or how else could false religions arise and survive?

    Perhaps all religions are true within their own axiomatic system, and they differ only because they use different axioms. Perhaps one is true and all the others are not. Perhaps there are Gods and Goddesses (and stranger things… why indeed should Deities come in only two sexes?) but no human religion has yet discovered them. Perhaps it’s demons, or magicians, or aliens, or perhaps we’re living in a computer simulation. Or perhaps humans just have a natural story-telling instinct by which they make up narrative explanations that reflect their own assumptions and obsessions onto the unknown. People enjoy fantasy stories. Modern people read and enjoy Tolkien or Pratchett or Lovecraft the same way.

    I don’t know, and don’t much care. From the outside, the loaves-and-fishes stuff looks like classic swords-and-sorcery fantasy magic, but I’ve no objection to people acting as if they’re true. Or of forming communities of the like-minded where they can play out their imaginary roles. It passes the time, and bonds people in common friendship and shared heroic experiences.

    Did religions start as some sort of Dungeons-and-Dragons fantasy role-playing group? Will future generations base their religions on our fantasies? Well, it’s an entertaining theory.

  24. “Thus I am of the opinion—and I think I can prove, but I won’t do so here today, though I am working on a paper which does—that each belief in divine attribution to some event ultimately rests on faith. But then since all of our beliefs ultimately rest on unproven and unprovable propositions, which we must take on faith, this is not unexpected.”

    This has been an extremely interesting thread and in regard to the question of Deism versus Fideism versus “Et Cetera”, two of my favorite quotations come to mind:

    “The heart has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing. We find this in a thousand instances. It is the heart which feels God, and not the reasoning powers.” (Blaise Pascal – “Pascal’s Pensées”)

    “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” (Wittgenstein – “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus”)

  25. Briggs,

    As for cause, see one of Ed Feser’s many posts…

    The only truth that I can’t really debate is Descartes’ Cogito ergo sum. Anything else I think I can.

    The Cosmological Argument, as such, is a tautological exercise, like saying “I am who I am”… or “if I am a duck I do quack” so what?

    Causation requires an ordered set, in this case the “comes to exists” implies the ordered set time, but in a universe with no time the concept of causation breaks and so does the Cosmological Argument.

    From birth our human brains adjust to this ordered set (aka time) and that is why it seems so obvious to think about a Final Causation.

    “Randomness” can’t cause anything. There is no such thing as a “random process.”

    If this is true I cannot possibly imagine anything more boring than being God. Think about it, to know everything that was, is and will be, to know every single decision You will take and its outcome. To be aware of everything.

    I don’t know, f I was God almighty I might just create Randomness so that My existence does not become an eternal torture of boredom. Who knows, maybe God created randomness (chaos) after all and named it Lucifer.

    Denying randomness has consequences, so it has not to do so. Randomness has something that I just don’t know

  26. A chance event is simply the intersection of two or more causal world-lines. I use the example of a man brained by a hammer sliding off the roof. The cause of his death was the hammer. It struck with a certain energy due to its mass and velocity. It achieved its velocity by the distance it fell from the roof. It fell from the roof because the workman nudged it with his boot. He nudged it with his boot because he was rising to go to his lunch and the tools had been placed in a certain geometric arrangement. Likewise, the unfortunate was underneath the plummeting hammer at that moment because he had left his office to go to his favorite lunch counter and walking at a particular speed reached that point at a particular time.
    Everything in the event is caused, either by natural forces or acts of volition. The real complaint is that it was not a predictable event.

  27. The Cosmological Argument, as such, is a tautological exercise

    What is tautologous about it? (And which of the three do you mean?)

    Causation requires an ordered set, in this case the “comes to exists” implies the ordered set time, but in a universe with no time the concept of causation breaks and so does the Cosmological Argument.

    But Thomas Aquinas, rather famously, does not assume a time series. He presumes that the cause and effect are contemporaneous. Action and reaction are at the same time. Of course, in a universe without time, we would have no time for this discussion. So we must stick with the universe we have.

  28. Ye Olde Statistician

    What is tautologous about it?

    It simply confirms itself by definition; it says nothing.

    Of course, in a universe without time, we would have no time for this discussion. So we must stick with the universe we have.

    Good, because in the universe we have there was a “time” when there was no time, therefore no cause and therefore no Cosmological Argument.

  29. Ye Olde Statistician: What is tautologous about [the cosmological arguments]?

    Fran: It simply confirms itself by definition; it says nothing.

    How so? The first cosmological argument runs (in outline):
    1. There is dynamic change (kinesis) in the world. That is, potencies are being actualized. E.g., green apples are changing into red apples.
    2. Whatever is changing is being changed by something else. E.g., the apple is reddening by the action of sunlight on anthocyanin in its skin. (When activated by light in the 3,600 to 4,500 Ã… range anthocyanin absorbs the near-ultraviolet, violet, blue and green regions of the spectrum, thus reflecting red.)
    3. In an essentially-ordered series, the actualizing power does not exist in an instrument without the contemporaneous action of an actual agent. “Instruments do not play themselves.” E.g., The anthocyanin cannot move itself to make the apple red; absent sunlight, the apple will turn yellow.
    Note. That is, something which is potentially X cannot make itself actually X, since that which only potentially exists does not actually exist and that which does not actually exist can’t do diddly-squat.
    4. Since there cannot be an infinite series of instrumental actualizers — since then there would be no final action — there must be a primary actualizer, one that moves without being moved, that contains in itself, either formally or virtually, the actuality.
    Note. The primary actualizer or “first mover” is not first-in-time, but first-in-logical-priority.
    5. Looking ahead to later theorems, this Primary Actualizer will turn out to have a series of attributes that add up to “what all men call God.”

    How is this confirming anything “by definition”?
    Now, the dialectic may be otherwise flawed — for example, maybe Parmenides was right and change/motion is an illusion and Achilles will never catch the toroise — but it is not tautological. There is nothing in the ripening of an apple that assumes God a priori. In particular, ripening apple ≠ God.
    + + +
    Fran: in the universe we have there was a “time” when there was no time, therefore no cause and therefore no Cosmological Argument.

    Time is the measure of motion in corruptible being. That is, time is the measure of change. “With the motion of creatures,” wrote Augustine, “time began to run its course. It is idle to look for time before creation, as if time can be found before time.” Or as Einstein put it: “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.”

    That is, time is a property of matter (mass-energy). If the universe did not exist, then naturally there would be no time, only eternity. (Eternity is not a really, really, really long time.)

    In any case, the Cosmological Arguments do not assume time or a beginning. The sequence of actualizers in the first argument exist contemporaneously. Sharon Kam is actualizing the musical potential in Mozart’s score at the same time as the clarinet is actualizing the potential of the air to vibrate. Tiger Woods is swinging his arms at the same time as the golf club is swinging for the ball. The club has no power to hit the ball unless Tiger (or someone or some thing) is swinging it. The clarinet has no power to produce Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A unless Sharon Kam (or someone or some thing) is playing it.

  30. Ye Olde Statistician:

    Since there cannot be an infinite series of instrumental actualizers — since then there would be no final action — there must be a primary actualizer

    Not necessarily, this sounds like a Zeno’s argument but, as you know, infinite actions can have finite outcomes, unless you want to agree with Zeno that movement does not exist… Oh, I just saw the tortoise. In short, I see no reason why infinite series might not yield a final action.

    What I meant by tautological is that in the C.A. “before” and “after” are defined as incontrovertible absolutes, the definition set the rules of the game where the only solution is God. So the whole thing sounds to me like “If God then God” of “If effect then cause”.

    Time is the measure of motion in corruptible being. That is, time is the measure of change.

    Time is the measure of change forced into one direction. If the change is not forced into one direction then there is no difference between time and any other spatial dimension.

    It is idle to look for time before creation, as if time can be found before time.

    Perhaps for your definition of creation it is idle. Seems like if you could not possibly conceive creation without time, but change can happen in a timeless framework.

    But if you want to define time as change in whatever direction, then you have to abandon the concept of cause and effect which is unidirectional, and by doing is the Cosmological Argument.

    And I have not even mention that C.A. denies itself; if everything that comes to exists has a cause then if God exists He needs a cause too. And if you make a convenient exception for God then it is fair to ask you why atheists should not be allowed to have another convenient exception for the Universe.

  31. Wouldn’t God being Eternal imply God never changes? When God started the first event did God change? It would seem God went from I-AM-WHO-NEVER-DID-ANYTHING to I-AM-WHO-DID-SOMETHING.

  32. @Fran
    Evidently you have not a clue what the three Cosmological Arguments entail.

    this sounds like a Zeno’s argument

    No, Zeno argued that there was no time [change/motion], that there was a “timeless framework,” if you will. Thomas worked in the tradition of Aristotle; Augustine in the tradition of Plato. Basically, Plato and Aristotle were two rebuttals to Parmenides and his pupil Zeno, Aristotle’s being the better of the two. In effect, they are answers to questions we have forgotten were ever asked.

    infinite actions can have finite outcomes

    Whatever that means. That is not the nature of Aristotle’s or Aquinas’ argument. Inter alia, they assumed that the World was eternal, infinite in time.

    Aside: “Motion” [kinesis] is any reduction of potential to actual. A falling body, a maturing puppy, a ripening apple are all in kinesis, in motion.

    A mover either contains within itself the principle of its own motion or it does not. If it does not, it can only receive its actuality from another which is already actual. This is called an instrumental or secondary mover. You cannot have an infinite regression of instrumental movers because, without a primary mover, none of the instrumental movers in the sequence would have any actualizing power at all.

    A clarinet cannot actually make music unless someone or some thing actuates it. If Sharon Kam stops playing, the music stops — because the reed does not have the power to vibrate (nor the air column have the power to compress waves) per se, that is, in themselves. They only receive the power from the primary mover.

    (Notice that this differs from a series ordered per accidens, such as a line of toppling dominoes. There can be an infinite sequence of toppling dominoes. Although Scotus might point out that the toppling does not account for the arrangement of the dominoes. Rather, the arrangement accounts for the toppling as its formal cause. But this is a different argument altogether.)

    This is a logical necessity regarding the power to actualize another and has nothing to do with mathematical abstractions regarding the summation of infinite series, which was simply a solution to certain mathematical problems in handling a continuum.
    + + +
    What I meant by tautological is that in the C.A. “before” and “after” are defined as incontrovertible absolutes

    Please point to the step in which this was done. Aquinas assumes that action and reaction are contemporaneous. In swinging a golf club, the motion of the club, the arms, the muscles, the nerves, the motor neurons, the brain chemicals, etc… are all happening at the same time. Not “before” and “after.”

    change can happen in a timeless framework.

    What is a “framework.” If it is “timeless” what can change? Was Einstein wrong? If it is timeless, then you are in the Parmenides/Zeno camp.
    + + +
    And I have not even mention that C.A. denies itself; if everything that comes to exists has a cause then if God exists He needs a cause too.

    No, if God comes to exist, then he needs a cause. But if he is the necessary being whose essence just is to exist, then the proposition does not apply. Basically, you are asking what caused the uncaused cause, what gives existence to Existence itself. That’s like asking who taught Pythagoras the Pythagorean theorem. Or who forwarded the email to the author.

    And if you make a convenient exception for God then it is fair to ask you why atheists should not be allowed to have another convenient exception for the Universe.

    a) It’s not an exception. The reasoning runs from some tangible fact of existence to the conclusion that there is an unmoved mover, an uncaused cause, or a necessary being. (The other two arguments are not cosmological arguments.) Then, after further deductions are made regarding the attributes of these beings, we conclude that they are indistinguishable from the concept of God.
    b) The universe cannot be the unmoved mover because it is moving.
    c) The universe is not a thing.

  33. YOS, I’m just repeating what biblical scholars would say (well, some of them anyway). Their arguments utilize comparison of writing styles and analysis other texts available from the period that, for instance, comment on a particular gospel. For me it is more subjective than I would like but they do take themselves seriously!

  34. Evidently you have not a clue what the three Cosmological Arguments entail.

    I don’t agree therefore I don’t understand? okay.

    “this sounds like a Zeno’s argument” No, Zeno argued that there was no time [change/motion], that there was a “timeless framework,” if you will.

    I did not say it is Zeno’s argument, just that looks like it, and it is similar since you claim infinite actualizers cannot render an action the same way Zeno claimed infinite the positions between A and B cannot be visited.

    “infinite actions can have finite outcomes”.Whatever that means. That is not the nature of Aristotle’s or Aquinas’ argument. Inter alia, they assumed that the World was eternal, infinite in time.

    It means what it means… There! Now I am talking like you. It my mind was not Aristotle and neither Aquinas when I typed that, but rather Past Eternal Inflation theories

    http://arxiv.org/abs/gr-qc/0301042

    You cannot have an infinite regression of instrumental movers because, without a primary mover, none of the instrumental movers in the sequence would have any actualizing power at all.

    As a matter of fact there are more Physical theories that need no beginning and there is a whole family of cyclic cosmology models proposed by important scientists like Roger Penrose that show exactly that behavior.

    So, at least at a mathematical level, what you claim is not true.

    And I am not even going into Quantum Mechanics because then things go really crazy, but I would say that at least we should agree that the C.A. is not a done deal.

    I mean, I can accept I am not smart enough to understand the C.A, but I cannot accept that the myriad of top physicists and philosophers that disagree with it, all of them, are not smart enough to understand it.

    At some point we both should accept that the reasoning is weak at least in the sense that it does not convince many brilliant minds.

  35. Fran,

    Look up those links I gave you and study the difference between causal series per se and per accidens and happiness shall be yours.

  36. Briggs,

    Look up those links I gave you and study the difference between causal series per se and per accidens and happiness shall be yours.

    Ahhh… if it was just that simple.

  37. Just something to consider. The line “I am what I am”. Has actually been erroneously translated to modern English. The original phrase, “I will be that which I will be.” Was the original. One connotates a stagnate being, while the other connotates an ever changing being.

  38. I don’t agree therefore I don’t understand?

    No. The evidence for lack of understanding is not your disagreement, but when your objections misinterpret the terms, premises, or conclusions. For example, your belief that the argument “defines” some sort of absolute beginning and end, or that it is tautological. Even atheist philosophers of religion do not claim that, but grapple with the specific premises.
    Edward Feser: “So you think you understand the cosmological argument?”
    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/07/so-you-think-you-understand.html
    James Chastek: “On Jerry Coyne’s claim to miss no subtleties in St. Thomas’s arguments”
    http://thomism.wordpress.com/2009/09/08/coynes-claim-to-miss-no-subtleties-in-st-thomass-arguments/
    James Chastek. “The principle of primal causality.”
    http://thomism.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/the-principle-of-primal-causality/

    For a defense of the first premise of the first way against a serious criticism by atheist Anthony Kenny, see:
    David Oderberg: “Whatever is Changing is Being Changed by Something Else”
    http://www.davidsoderberg.co.uk/ then click on “Articles” then go down to the title #37

    Or for that matter, when you suppose that Parmenides was making an argument in mathematical physics. See:
    Alba Papa-Grimaldi. “Why Mathematical Solutions of Zeno’s Paradoxes Miss the Point.”
    http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/2304/1/zeno_maths_review_metaphysics_alba_papa_grimaldi.pdf

    or
    David Oderberg. “Instantaneous change without instants” for which you will have to go here: http://www.davidsoderberg.co.uk/ then click on “Articles” then go down to the title #29

    Interestingly, general relativity provides a framework in which Parmenides (and Zeno) can be viewed as true.
    Gustavo E. Romero. “Philosophical problems of space-time theories”
    http://arxiv.org/pdf/1105.4376.pdf
    Nick Huggett, et al. “Time in quantum gravity”
    http://philosophyfaculty.ucsd.edu/faculty/wuthrich/pub/HuggettVistariniWuthrich2012_TimeQG_PittArchive.pdf

    + + +

    As a matter of fact there are more Physical theories that need no beginning

    Neither do the cosmological arguments:
    Thomas Aquinas. “De aeternitate mundi”
    http://www.corpusthomisticum.org/ocm.html

    + + +
    and there is a whole family of cyclic cosmology models proposed by important scientists like Roger Penrose that show exactly that behavior.

    My goodness. Cyclical cosmological models go back to ancient Babylon and the Mahabharata. The Aztecs also had a cyclical cosmology. That’s one of the reasons science never arose in any of those cultures. BTW, Penrose also proposes that the mind is not material. Does he cease to be citable at that point?
    + + +

    I mean, I can accept I am not smart enough to understand the C.A, but I cannot accept that the myriad of top physicists and philosophers that disagree with it, all of them, are not smart enough to understand it.

    That physicists do not understand follows on the collapse of philosophical education in science-training since the great days of Poincare and Einstein and Heisenberg. Most modern philosophers who do not specialize in the topic are likewise uninformed. (I once presented a paper to the math faculty when I was a grad student that mystified many faculty members. The paper was in general topology and they had specialized in analysis, algebra, or some other field.) So it wants more than an “appeal to generic authority” to have the throw weight of metal required. See again:
    Edward Feser: “So you think you understand the cosmological argument?”
    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/07/so-you-think-you-understand.html
    James Chastek: “On Jerry Coyne’s claim to miss no subtleties in St. Thomas’s arguments”
    http://thomism.wordpress.com/2009/09/08/coynes-claim-to-miss-no-subtleties-in-st-thomass-arguments/

    Hope this helps. You are free to disagree with what Thomas wrote, but you ought to disagree with what Thomas actually wrote and not some straw man set of assumptions he never made.

  39. YOS,

    Yes, I read some of Feser’s articles when Briggs linked to them earlier. I found them quite entertaining; the way they went on and on about all the people misunderstanding the argument, and telling me about all the things the argument was not, without ever quite explaining what the argument *was*. It seemed to me the typical shifting of ground you get when the original argument is undercut, to say that oh no, that wasn’t the argument at all, it was intended to be this subtly different interpretation I’ve just made up (and which doesn’t quite work, either).

    I read Aquinas’s “On the Eternity of the World” and as I read it, it doesn’t make any sort of argument for God’s existence at all. All it does is explain how an eternal object is not self-contradictory, nor contradicts the idea of a creator. It might be interpreted as the refutation of a possible counterargument to a proof of the existence of God, but it’s not clear to me that even this was intended. Aquinas himself seems quite modest about what can be concluded from it.

    It’s true that people to often assume that theists citing a particular classic argument for God’s existence are doing so correctly, and don’t check the original sources. I agree it’s sloppy scholarship. But it doesn’t save the arguments.

    But I’d like to thank you for the links, too. I enjoy the argument for argument’s sake, and I might have a look at some of the others later.

  40. I read Aquinas’s “On the Eternity of the World” and as I read it, it doesn’t make any sort of argument for God’s existence at all. All it does is explain how an eternal object is not self-contradictory, nor contradicts the idea of a creator.

    Don’t ask it to do what it wasn’t trying to do. Some folks back in the day tried to argue that the World (read “universe”) being eternal somehow fulfilled the requirement for primary actualizer, first cause, and/or necessary being.

    And a discussion of what someone has gotten wrong requires only pointing out the errors, not replicating the original arguments.

  41. Mmmm. The world being eternal could fulfill one such requirement, if it had been expressed a particular way.

    A hypothesis being consistent with a creator is not the same thing as it implying a creator. But again, I didn’t read Aquinas as trying to say so.

  42. A hypothesis being consistent with a creator is not the same thing as it implying a creator. But again, I didn’t read Aquinas as trying to say so.

    He was more modest than that. He was only showing that it was not an objection to the cosmological arguments, inasmuch as he had already assumed sec. arg. that the world was eternal.

    The world being eternal could fulfill one such requirement, if it had been expressed a particular way.

    The idea that the World is the unmoved mover is spoiled by that fact that the World is in motion. Unless you hold that Parmenides and Zeno were right, after all.

  43. “Whatever begins to exist has a cause”, is certainly NOT a premise no scientist disbelieves. Nullius in Verba has touched on one objection and there are many others – to such an extent that the whole idea of identifying one particular thing as the “cause” of another is really quite silly.

    And your footnote demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the most basic logic. The negation of your premise does not imply that nothing has a cause so one could still claim to be the cause of one’s own grant application while suspecting that some other events were without cause.

  44. “Whatever begins to exist has a cause”, is certainly NOT a premise no scientist disbelieves.

    So some scientists believe in miracles?

    Or is it only that they confuse “caused” with “determined” or “predictable.” Or perhaps they are unclear on “things.” After all, what is the cause of the Coopermoon? This is the mereological sum of Alan Cooper and the Moon.
    + + +
    the whole idea of identifying one particular thing as the “cause” of another is really quite silly.

    What are the many things that cause gravity? Here, I have been thinking that it was the distortion of the field of Ricci tensors by the presence of mass. Now, I suppose we must admit gremlins, coincidence, and all sorts of other things. It could also be that those Old Dead Dudes like Aristotle and Descartes never realized that some “events” might have multiple causes running either through an AND gate or an OR gate. Aristotle, in particular, always looked for four categories of causes.

  45. “The idea that the World is the unmoved mover is spoiled by that fact that the World is in motion.”

    It’s spoiled by the fact that since Galileo we’ve known that the concept of absolute motion is meaningless – a consequence of our arbitrary choice of convention. So if by ‘world’ you mean ‘universe’ then you can conveniently take the centre-of-mass frame and the world is indeed unmoving and unmovable. But this is a subjective viewpoint, a choice, rather than an objective fact about the universe.

    Aquinas was stuck with Aristotle – we have a slightly better understanding of physics nowadays. 🙂

  46. “The idea that the World is the unmoved mover is spoiled by that fact that the World is in motion.”

    It’s spoiled by the fact that since Galileo we’ve known that the concept of absolute motion is meaningless….

    The Greek word translated as “motion” is “kinesis,” which meant the actualization of a potential, any potential. The motion of the world is not solely the motion of location of stars — and it would be a startling choice of reference frame in which planets were not whirling about stars and stars not whirling about galactic centers — but also the blossoming of flowers, the maturation of puppies into dogs, the formation and dissipation of clouds, the ripening of apples, the condensation of stars, the fusion of hydrogen into helium, the death of stars in supernovae, the combination of chlorine and sodium into salt, the rusting of iron and burning of trees. You get the picture. Hardly the unmoved mover.

    After all, that motion is not absolute does not mean there is no motion, it only means that the motion is not absolute.

  47. “it would be a startling choice of reference frame in which planets were not whirling about stars and stars not whirling about galactic centers”

    But stars and galactic centres are not “the world”.

    The parts are in motion with respect to other parts, and the whole, but the whole is not in motion. The whole interpreted as a singular thing must have a singular motion – the sum of the motions its parts. Just as the mass of a whole is the sum of the masses of its parts.

  48. But stars and galactic centres are not “the world”.

    world (n.) Originally “life on earth, this world (as opposed to the afterlife),” sense extended to “the known world,” then to “the physical world in the broadest sense, the universe” (c.1200) From OE woruld, worold “human existence, the affairs of life,” also “the human race, mankind,” a word peculiar to Germanic languages (cf. Old Saxon werold, Old Frisian warld, Dutch wereld, Old Norse verold, Old High German weralt, German Welt), with a literal sense of “age of man,” from Proto-Germanic *wer “man” (Old English wer, still in werewolf; see virile) + *ald “age” (see old).

    It is the direct translation of Greek kosmos, “order, orderly arrangement,” from kosmein “to order and arrange.” Thus kosmos had an important secondary sense of “the universe, the world.” (Pythagoras is said to have been the first to apply this word to “the universe.”) Also “cosmetics” from the same root.

    The parts are in motion with respect to other parts, and the whole, but the whole is not in motion.

    Things that are changing wrt other things are still changing.
    The kosmos/mundus/world/universe is said to be expanding according to best current physics and the parts are said to be forming, growing, exploding, etc., moving in general toward the heat death.

  49. “Things that are changing wrt other things are still changing.”

    That doesn’t follow.

    It’s true that you can’t find any way of looking at it in which *none* of them are changing, but you can pick any one of them as your reference point, and that one thing will then be changeless by definition. Every object is stationary with respect to itself.

  50. Every object is stationary with respect to itself.

    So a puppy dog never matures? A green apple never turns red? Hydrogen never fuses into helium in the heart of a star? Mountains are never uplifted by continental drift, nor eroded by wind and rain?

    Parmenides and Zeno were right?

    Who knew?

  51. A puppy dog is always exactly as mature as itself, at every moment in time. By what scale do you measure maturity? On what basis do you choose to fix your zero with respect to an instant of time, say, rather than an individual organism?

    There is no hydrogen or helium, only protons and neutrons that move and collide. There are no mountains, only stone.

    Everything is permanently at the centre of its own viewpoint on the universe. Are the relationships between things things in themselves, though?

  52. A puppy dog is always exactly as mature as itself, at every moment in time.

    Now you’re getting weird.

  53. “Now you’re getting weird.”

    I was just extending the analogy, mostly for fun.

    Aristotle believed in absolute space, with respect to which absolute motion was defined. But physical quantities are generally measured with respect to some standard instance of it. And so they can be considered relative too, and whether an object is static or in motion depends on what you compare it to.

    Unlike the change-in-position sort of motion, we don’t routinely think of other sorts of change being relative, and it sounds a little odd. But the same principle applies. The magnitude of any quantity depends not only on the quantity itself, but on the ruler you measure it with. If you measure speeds with respect to the speed of sound, you have to live with the fact the speed of sound changes, depending on the density. The speed of sound is always Mach 1, even though we know it also changes.

    I will grant you that ‘puppy maturity’ is not experimentally a common physical parameter, and shockingly, has no SI unit for it defined. We don’t have an obvious natural scale for it. But when I meet a new dog, I’m likely to judge its maturity with respect to some dog I know. I need a ruler against which to measure.

    But if my ruler can ‘move’ and change too (bearing in mind that if it did not it would be a candidate for the ‘unmoved mover’) then magnitude changes in the measurement could be due to either. Indeed, ruler and ruled are symmetric and exchangeable. If you instantaneously doubled the size and separation of everything in the universe, how would anyone know?

    And the ruler itself is always static, by definition. If the standard puppy used to define puppy maturity is itself measured on this scale, it always comes out the same, unchanging.

    If you measure the universe with respect to the universe itself (what else?) then the universe as a whole is the fixed point against which all movement is defined, a point of balance. The principle is quite general.

  54. Here’s a statistics question: What are the odds a person selected at random (say a scientologist, or a Mormon, or an evangelical Christian) will reject their religion (or just a subset such as a belief in a 6000 yr old Earth and that evolution is a scientific conspiracy & people really did live with dinosaurs until Noah’s flood) after being confronted with facts & patterns sufficient to convince most the faith, or certain elements (e.g. 6000 yr old Earth) is no more than a made-up fairy tale myth?

    Regarding this post & some of the comments, consider (access, read, ponder):

    The MOST obvious source is the story is an adaptation of a similar & older story – cornucopia, the Horn of Plenty said to have endlessly fed Zeus, or a version involving Hercules: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornucopia

    All four Gospels with the same story — undoubtedly from a single common source, “Q,” as are many other similarities (e.g. identical quotes presented in similar stories in different sequences, etc.): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q_document

    Don’t want to believe in that, it’s worth checking out Dundes book, Holy Writ as Oral Lit (http://www.amazon.com/Holy-Writ-Oral-Lit-Folklore/dp/0847691977 ) and with that as your guide take your most trusted copy of your Bible and start making the comparisons he does in the book. No need to read, just compare.

    Don’t like or want to believe that…track down on-line a copy of Justin Martyr’s First Apology (written by about 150 AD) where he both cites and uses these parallels to show that this new disruptive religion, Christianity, really isn’t all that new nor different from its pagan predecessors—why, it’s got the same elements (so why are you persecuting us??). Find that in Chapter XXI & Chapter XXII & Chapter XXVI. Here’s one site: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/justinmartyr-firstapology.html

    The NT story’s basic plotline, is very comparable to other older stories & follows a pattern recurrently applied to hero stories. Consider one well-known mystery religion that came into the fore at the very same time (at least one source references this Roman then-soldier’s cult much earlier, about a generation earlier): http://www.mysterium.com/mithras.html .

    The NT stories & symbolism, also, align with then-contemporary (i.e. some 2000 yrs ago) use of certain types of symbolism & gematria. One of the most noteworthy is the elegant symbol of the fish, adorning numerous cars as magnets (often with feed added & “Darwin” sarcastically inserted) – that symbol is Pythagorean & symbolically represents the square root of three: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vesica_piscis or just skip to: http://rogerviklund.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/153.png?w=477 . That symbol involves the number “153” in a particular way – the same number (of fish!) showing up in John 21 about the number of fish Jesus got the disciples to catch after a lousy day otherwise … and isn’t that a coincidence that the number selected in the Biblical story is directly associated with ancient “secret” wisdom, AND, the older story of Pythagoras who did essentially the same thing (http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-ugVu-xd4Tpw/UPE0YYNiY9I/AAAAAAAADPk/OdWiPjreWOY/s1600/vesica-piscis_Pythagoras153.jpg )!

    The vesica piscus & the story of the 5000 has a very interesting gemiatric relationship/pattern — all, and much more, discussed in Fideler’s book, Jesus Christ, Sun of God (http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Christ-Sun-God-Cosmology/dp/0835606961 ). That’s a reference one can use as a guide for independent checking!

    The early history of the NT indicates/suggests, the religion began as a mystery religion with adherents having “secret” wisdom; the parables with their hidden meanings only later revealed are one such indicator. Origen noted this!

    Origen, the first and foremost of Christian theologians, divided the church itself into two bodies of members – the ‘esoteric’ and the ‘exoteric’ – corresponding to two different ways of comprehending the teachings. The words are his, and they speak volumes. Both societies shared the common membership, but while the exoteric side made up the popular congregations, the esoteric community was limited to those who understood and could be trusted with the deeper meaning of the doctrine.

    Gematria – where numbers correlate with letters (e.g. “616” in Latin and “666” in Greek, both of which appear in various ancient copies of the very earliest Bibles, when translated to the conventions of the period reach the very same person: “Caesar Nero”; this ought not offend those believers of the NT – especially R. Catholics – as the book of “Revelation” (or “Apocalypse”) wasn’t considered a valid book early on, but was essentially included because some just weren’t sure what to make of it – curiously, the symbolism there correlates, perfectly, with ancient Rome’s seven hills with their ten temples (the Beast) and more from there…leading many to conclude it was a symbolic code readily interpreted by those of the time about events of that time, not the future). E.G. see: http://www.jesus8880.com/

    To get a sense of the symbolism buried in the NT consider: http://www2.ida.net/graphics/shirtail/honithe.htm

    In Acts 10 (and Acts 11) Peter is confronted by more senior Christians, the Disciples (or local believers), and criticized for preaching & sharing God’s word to Gentiles (and eating non-kosher food, but that’s incidental). Peter defends himself with a vision, from God, saying this was ‘ok’ and that convinces the Jerusalem Christians that converting the gentiles is acceptable. Thing is, why was this confrontation & resolution by vision necessary at all?? After all, in some Gospels we can read how Jesus expressly said to go and convert ALL nations!?

    Read some of Origen (lived around 200 AD, plus/minus) & pay attention to what he says, what he derives, and what he doesn’t seem to know at all. It would appear much common knowledge was unknown to him (why derive some things when Jesus simply said it outright?) – why would such a religious authority nearly 200 years later not know some things?? Paul’s epistles exhibit some of the same ignorance & derivations where simple quotes ought to have worked, but we can forgive him as he was a contemporary & much wasn’t yet written. But Origen, 200 years later?

    When one considers the parallels in the Jesus story (story details [153], overall plot themes [just like Mithras], etc.) and the other symbols occurring ALL together, all those patterns & associations & parallels…they’re kinda hard to dismiss as anachronistic. Individually, sure, but all at once? Especially considering the Nicean councils that had to (and when they did so long after the founder’s departure) formally impose a lot of basic precepts (e.g. Arianism was wrong & Jesus was a god in fully human and divine form – a detail he Himself forgot on the cross (My God My God why have you forsaken Me!? – being man AND God He had to be talking to Himself…so this makes no logical sense…BUT…recognizing one well documented early form of Christianity, an early Christian cult variety of which there were several, was that Jesus was a man possessed by God this remark makes perfect sense). Even that indicates a sort of proof-reading & editorial correction effort underway 300+ years after the fact…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *