Friday, April 10, 2009

The First Cause?

Here is the thing that made the things for which there is no known maker (tip Secular Outpost):

28 comments:

ungtss said...

Pagans like Aristotle get the credit for the goofy cosmological argument. The teleological argument, though, is much more limited -- it credits "the thing who who made the things for which there is no known maker, but, because of the characteristics of the things, appear to have been made, and as such is not tautological like the cosmological argument.

UnBeguiled said...

NO no ungtss, that's not the proper teleological description. It goes like this:

"the thing that made the things for which there is no known maker but that are in some ways similar to things made by known makers as opposed to other things for which there is no known maker which also happen to be made by the thing that made the things for which there is no known maker"

ungtss said...

Only when described by its opponents.

UnBeguiled said...

OK we look around and find 3 kinds of things:

1) Things with known makers - watches, bird's nests

2) Things with no known maker that look sort-of made - eyes, Ebola virus

3) Random looking things - rocks, globular star clusters

So the teleological argument says that because type 2 things look kind of like type 1 things, then they must be made by a designer. But oh by the way these type 3 things are also made by the designer.

So what we have here is a non-falsifiable position. You may find that kind of hand waving to have explanatory power. I don't.

ungtss said...

Two things: first, the teleological argument doesn't require that everything be created -- only one thing. Everything on Earth could have arisen naturally except for one genetically engineered lifeform -- that one lifeform satisfies the argument. So whether everything (like rocks and globular clusters) is also created is not relevant to the argument.

Second, rocks and globular clusters only look random with a superficial glance. The more you learn about them, the more complex, nuanced, and organized they appear. Does that mean they were created? Not necessarily. But noone who's studied geochemistry can call a rock "random-looking."

UnBeguiled said...

ungtss,

You are making my argument more robust. Thanks!

Everything on Earth could have arisen naturally except for one genetically engineered lifeform -- that one lifeform satisfies the argument.

That is my point, but historically that is not at all what the apologists argue.

But noone who's studied geochemistry can call a rock "random-looking."

Again, thanks for fleshing out my argument: when examined closely, we discover natural things and natural laws. From this arises complexity.

So now you may ask: why do we have have nature at all? Why do we have natural laws at all?

I have no clue. Do you have a non-question begging answer?

ungtss said...

Everything on Earth could have arisen naturally except for one genetically engineered lifeform -- that one lifeform satisfies the argument.

That is my point, but historically that is not at all what the apologists argue.


I've never heard anybody argue, as you claim they have historically, that even things that don't look created were created. Generally, they argue that everything looks created if you pay attention. I'm open to the possibility that some things were not created, but don't think that weakens the teleological argument at all. So in the end, I don't understand how I'm strengthening your argument by pointing out that one need not believe a designer designed everything to believe he designed something.

Again, thanks for fleshing out my argument: when examined closely, we discover natural things and natural laws. From this arises complexity.

I don't see how this fleshes out your argument that rocks look "random." They certainly do not. They look complex, organized, and amazing. And the deeper you go, the less random they look.

So now you may ask: why do we have have nature at all? Why do we have natural laws at all?

I have no clue. Do you have a non-question begging answer?


No clue here either, but I'm open to all possibilities, including naturalism, design, and some as-yet-unknown cause. But as to the question of the origin of life, I think design is by far the superior explanation.

UnBeguiled said...

"No clue here either, but I'm open to all possibilities, including naturalism"

Thanks for that. Now I know you are not a crank. Concerning the rest, we are just talking past each other.

Jeff said...

UnBeguiled, you said:

So now you may ask: why do we have have nature at all? Why do we have natural laws at all?Good question! You said you don't have a clue... does this mean you think it's a non-scientific question and therefore unanswerable by science or do you think science can supply an answer?

UnBeguiled said...

Jeff asked:

does this mean you think it's a non-scientific question and therefore unanswerable by science or do you think science can supply an answer?I think it's a scientific question and science might one day supply an answer.

But it seems to me, even then we could continue to ask "why" questions ad infinitum.

Jeff said...

UnBeguiled replied:

I think it's a scientific question and science might one day supply an answer.
So I guess I should ask, do you think there are questions that are unscientific...i.e., the answer to which science cannot provide?

UnBeguiled also said:
But it seems to me, even then we could continue to ask "why" questions ad infinitum.
I not only agree with you here but I also think we should keep asking both "why" questions and "how" questions. The road to inquiry should NEVER be blocked... regardless of the success of any particular method over others to address types of questions.

UnBeguiled said...

do you think there are questions that are unscientific...i.e., the answer to which science cannot provide?Of course.

For example, which was better: the first season of Star Trek or the first season of the re-imagined
Battlestar Galactica?

The road to inquiry should NEVER be blocked... You won't find too many scientists burning books. It's usually the folks who claim to have "other ways of knowing" that try to silence the opposition.

Jeff said...

Jeff asked:
do you think there are questions that are unscientific...i.e., the answer to which science cannot provide?

UnBeguiled replied:
Of course. For example, which was better: the first season of Star Trek or the first season of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica?

Jeff says:
Ok, then you do know something about science... you're starting to sound like a scientist anyways. ;) I do think that the re-imagined BG is far superior to the first season of Star Trek... but I admit my judgment is subjective... and I'd also offer the caveat that the first season of Star Trek is classic and untouchable in it's time and venue. That being said, I'll ask another question: What about the principles that underlie science... the presumptions a scientist makes when analyzing data? Are those principals established through science or are they given to science through philosophy?

Jeff said:
The road to inquiry should NEVER be blocked...

UnBeguiled replied:
You won't find too many scientists burning books. It's usually the folks who claim to have "other ways of knowing" that try to silence the opposition.

Jeff says:
True... scientists don't (usually) burn books, although some have... and neither does every philosopher or theologian, although there are some who have.

UnBeguiled said...

What about the principles that underlie science... the presumptions a scientist makes when analyzing data? Are those principals established through science or are they given to science through philosophy?I'm not a scientist exactly, although I am in a profession where we rely on thinking scientifically and adjust decisions based on scientific findings.

I'm not sure which principles you are referring to, although you might mean induction. Animals, like humans, evolved in a universe that seems to behave with certain regularities. (Could life evolve were it otherwise?)

Fire that burns today will burn tomorrow, we assume. My dogs assume that water which quenched their thirst yesterday will likewise today.

It seems a stretch to claim that philosophy gave us induction. We were using induction for 200,000 years without any help from philosophers.

Give me more specifics and I might see where you are going.

Jeff said...

UnBeguiled said:
Give me more specifics and I might see where you are going.
Well, the items you delineated are all illustrations of the principle of uniformity not the process of induction. Induction is the means by which principles are discovered. Such a principle cannot be proven or established by science... it's a presumption shared by scientists because they have observed regularity... but, as far as I know anyway, no scientist can claim to have seen everything that exists so the presumption is that all that is, will always follow certain uniform behavior. Philosophy didn't "give" this to science... people (philosophers) who looked at the world in order to determine the what and how and why of things discovered this principle... articulated the phenomena ...but I don't think any scientist will toss it over when they suddenly realize that a "principle" in and of itself has no color, flavor, shape, sound or size. We see things that conform to principles ... but have you ever seen a principle standing out in a field?

Now to bring this to point... philosophers speak of god (some do, anyway) and they aren't drawing on any religious confessional tradition while doing so. God is a principle, of sorts... something you don't see, touch, taste, hear or smell... yet is real. So I'd caution anyone who considers themselves educated to think again before they buy into a concept of god that is held by fundamentalists. Well... I suppose they'd want to think again before getting their theology from the cartoon network...maybe not. Science is brutalized by the likes of Dawkins and others that give it a bad name by making silly philosophical claims while denying the utility of philosophy.

There... got it off me chest...

UnBeguiled said...

Sturgeon' Law: Ninety percent of everything is crap.

This applies to science, philosophy, and theology. The difference, it seems to me, is that the disciplines have varying abilities to correct errors. I'm sure you can guess how I would rank them.

Each religionist defines his god as he sees fit. But words acquire meaning by how they are used, not by how an individual defines them. Thus, you are a language deviant. When you use the word "god", you are using it in such a way that is very different from how the vast majority of our fellow English speakers use it.

How many legs does a horse have if you call a tail a leg?

Four. You can call a tail a leg, but that does not make it a leg.

Who is denying the utility of philosophy?

Not that I wish to defend Dawkins, but he is quite clear about the God concept he thinks is silly. It is not the concept used by Spinoza, Einstein, or Hawking.

The God concept he attacks is not the one used by you. But it is the concept used by most theists.

So since you are not the target, why act wounded? And why not use a different word? Language deviance just leads to confusion, and thus brutalizes communication.

Jeff said...

Sturgeon' Law: Ninety percent of everything is crap.
True enough...

This applies to science, philosophy, and theology. The difference, it seems to me, is that the disciplines have varying abilities to correct errors. I'm sure you can guess how I would rank them.
Well, I agree with you there. Science, when it's really science, is superior by being self-corrective. I get vexed by Dawkinsians ... they definitely brutalize science along with several other disciplines.

Each religionist defines his god as he sees fit. But words acquire meaning by how they are used, not by how an individual defines them. Thus, you are a language deviant. When you use the word "god", you are using it in such a way that is very different from how the vast majority of our fellow English speakers use it. I would have to agree I'm in deviation from the norm... but the norm in this case is unlike a norm in science. There is value even in the norm I'm deviating from, but it's also mixed with a lot of dross... hence my agreement with your citation of Sturgeon's Law.
How many legs does a horse have if you call a tail a leg?

Four. You can call a tail a leg, but that does not make it a leg.
Good to know you're not a nominalist... :)

Who is denying the utility of philosophy?Dawkinsians... and the cartoon is a pretty good tract for them.

Not that I wish to defend Dawkins, but he is quite clear about the God concept he thinks is silly. It is not the concept used by Spinoza, Einstein, or Hawking.He does manage to talk sense now and then, but he's inconsistent. If he admits the silliness of the God concept he ridicules he still manages to insist that it's the "true" concept of God.

The God concept he attacks is not the one used by you. But it is the concept used by most theists.Well... most theists don't quite have a handle on what the concept of First Mover really consists of. I wouldn't say it's necessarily the best concept of God, but it is good to get the concept right. The cartoon isn't even close.
So since you are not the target, why act wounded? And why not use a different word? Language deviance just leads to confusion, and thus brutalizes communication.Why not use a word different than God? Mainly because I'm talking about God. A tail is a tail, even if you call it a leg. :)

I took offense because I'm human I guess. It chaffs my to see the concept of God ridiculed without an honest caveat included that it's only a particular concept of God being ridiculed. It's no better than brut propaganda to ignore such a distinction and shuts down communication faster than spit...

UnBeguiled said...

I'll take it on faith that I'm not a nominalist.

I thought I had a loose handle on what you mean by God, but now I'm grasping at I know not what.

Is God a person? Does God think?

If you retreat into apophatics, don't expect a response. Of what one cannot speak, I must pass over in silence.

Jeff said...

I'll take it on faith that I'm not a nominalist.Hehe... not necessary, but I'm not one to deny a man his faith. ;)

I thought I had a loose handle on what you mean by God, but now I'm grasping at I know not what.

Is God a person? Does God think?
Not exactly... as I conceptualize God, God is what God does... so God's "thoughts" are really God per se... and God isn't a person per se, but rather that which makes personhood possible. When we use language like "thoughts" and "person" we are using language that only serves as analogous terms. God is "sort of" a person and God "kind of" thinks.

If you retreat into apophatics, don't expect a response. Of what one cannot speak, I must pass over in silence.Well... I wouldn't be so fast to dismiss the (to slip from the Greek into the Latin) Via Negativa... anyone married knows plenty can be said with well placed silence... but I'll chatter on as I can. As I understand the term, God is necessary being (Ens necessarium). By necessary being, the being of God is necessary for being in general. The difference between Being and beings, in other words, is that we'd have no beings if it weren't for Being... or the possibility of anything to be.

Aristotle (which the cartoon tries to lampoon, but mucks it up) postulated that God was the First Mover... or in other words, that which is the source of all things. In Ari's system, movement can also be understood as change. In fact, the First Mover is "First" in being. For Aristotle, change is the movement of things from potentiality to actuality and for this to be possible there has to be the existence of pure actuality that contains no potentiality. This he calls God. I'm really abbreviating here so you might want to look at the entry at Stanford's Encyclopedia of Philosophy at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-natphil/.

I'm also rather partial to the concept postulated by Paul Tillich: God is the ground of being and we exist as participants in being. We are because God is.

All concepts of God are dependent, of course, on the philosophical system they are a part of. It's possible to articulate a concept of God with or without faith, however.

Crimony! We are really scrolling the page down, no?

UnBeguiled said...

I recently slogged through an apologetical screed that was infested with Aristotelian mataphysical speculation. I was underwhelmed.

Interesting that you bring up Tillich. In my above post when I listed Spinoza et al, I first included Tillich, but then removed it.

Sure, when I think about it, it seems there has to be some necessarily existing thing. So starting with that intuition, what does our most powerful and successful epistemic tool tell us about the likely nature of that thing?

The quantum vacuum is where we end up. An unstable roiling state of pure potentiality. I doubt the quantum vacuum cares about your prayers.

That so many bright folks think the necessarily existing thing must be something that thinks like us is for me a continuing source of puzzlement. It reeks of anthropomorphism.

Jeff said...

The quantum vacuum is where we end up. An unstable roiling state of pure potentiality. I doubt the quantum vacuum cares about your prayers.
Well... the quantum vacuum is hardly a candidate for God... God is being itself, not one being among others, so that wouldn't work. As far as divine indifference, Aristotle's God doesn't even know you exist let alone hear you.

UnBeguiled said...

Jeff,

I have enjoyed this conversation. Your last post though looks like apologetics.

the quantum vacuum is hardly a candidate for God... God is being itselfIf we agree that there must be a necessarily existing something, and it turns out that the quantum vacuum is a self existing brute fact, then that's God. If the quantum vacuum's essence is existence, then that's God. If the quantum vacuum is not contingent, then that's God. If the quantum vaccum is being itself, then that's God. If the quantum vacuum is the ground of being, then that's God.

It seems you have a prior commitment to what God must be, and then try to make the facts fit that. That's apologetics.

Not that my quantum vacuum hypothesis is any sort of established fact, but it's vastly more supported by evidence than any timeless mind lurking behind it all.

Jeff said...

I've enjoyed the conversation too...

Not apologetics... I don't think any of what I say will convince anyone that there is a God. In fact, I didn't arrive at a belief in God through reason... but I do think one can have a rational explanation for one's belief in God... so no, I don't think there is evidence. pro or con, for God's reality. Your last sentence demonstrates to me that you still share the mind of a fundamentalist who also thinks there is such a thing as evidence for God...

Jeff said...

Oh! I only posted half my response... sorry! You have a series of "ifs" there... and if those are answered in the positive then of course you'd have God. But I don;t think any of your ifs can be answered in the positive.

UnBeguiled said...

I didn't arrive at a belief in God through reasonOK, I understand better where you are coming from.

I do think one can have a rational explanation for one's belief in GodI agree with that. The best example I know of is my dad. He self identifies as a Christian, and his life is much richer because of his involvement with his church community. He also call himself agnostic, by which I think he just means he's aware that all of Christianity might be myth.

demonstrates to me that you still share the mind of a fundamentalist who also thinks there is such a thing as evidence for GodI don't know what you mean by fundamentalist here. Certainly I know people who think there is evidence for God, but I would not consider them fundamentalists.

Am I a fundamentalist? Gods of Kobol forbid.

Re: your addendum. Right. How could we demonstrate that the quantum vacuum is non-contingent? Someone could still assert that the God of Christian theism is the cause of the quantum vacuum. Such non-falsifiable claims can always be made.

Jeff said...

Am I a fundamentalist? Gods of Kobol forbid.

Well... only in the sense that your share their conviction that there is evidence for God... sorry, that was mean, I know. ;>

Re: your addendum. Right. How could we demonstrate that the quantum vacuum is non-contingent? Someone could still assert that the God of Christian theism is the cause of the quantum vacuum. Such non-falsifiable claims can always be made.

Falsifiable claims are scientific... and I'm not arguing that language about God is scientific. Science, Philosophy and even Theology are rational discourse... reasoning on the nature of human existence... but only Science restricts itself to verifiable claims, and for good reasons.... but it doesn't follow that all reasoning needs the same restriction in order to be fruitful. That's what I'm arguing for in a nutshell.

UnBeguiled said...

that you share their conviction that there is evidence for GodI am committed to scaling my degree of belief to reason and available evidence. And based on that, I don't think there are any gods.

But, my beliefs are provisional.

Cheers.

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