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Is origin of the universe an “arcane matter”?

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Recently, we noted that the New York Times was running an Opinionator series called The Stone, hosted by philosophy prof Gary Gutting, which featured, among others, Alvin Plantinga, a Christina philosopher who has some sense of what design theory is and also did a good expose of Bertrand Russell’s flying teapot. Proceeding down the mall, Gutting now interviews University of Massachusetts philosopher Louise Antony who says “I claim
to know that God doesn’t exist”:

L.A.: O.K. So the question is, why do I say that theism is *false*, rather than just unproven? Because the question has been settled to my satisfaction. I say “there is no God” with the same confidence I say “there are no ghosts” or “there is no magic.” The main issue is supernaturalism — I deny that there are beings or phenomena outside the scope of natural law.

I say ‘there is no God’ with the same confidence I say ‘there are no ghosts’ or ‘there is no magic.’

That’s not to say that I think everything is within the scope of *human knowledge*. Surely there are things not dreamt of in our philosophy, not to mention in our science – but *that* fact is not a reason to believe in supernatural beings. I think many arguments for the existence of a God depend on the insufficiencies of human cognition. I readily grant that we have cognitive limitations. But when we bump up against them, when we find we cannot explain something — like why the fundamental physical parameters happen to have the values that they have — the right conclusion to draw is that we just can’t explain the thing. That’s the proper place for agnosticism and humility.

Universe Fate-1 Accelerating Universe
universe shortly after the Big Bang

L.A.: Well I’m challenging the idea that there’s one fundamental view here. Even if I could be convinced that supernatural beings exist, there’d be a whole separate issue about how many such beings there are and what those beings are like. Many theists think they’re home free with something like the argument from design: that there is empirical evidence of a purposeful design in nature. But it’s one thing to argue that the universe must be the product of some kind of intelligent agent; it’s quite something else to argue that this designer was all-knowing and omnipotent. Why is that a better hypothesis than that the designer was pretty smart but made a few mistakes? Maybe (I’m just cribbing from Hume here) there was a committee of intelligent creators, who didn’t quite agree on everything. Maybe the creator was a student god, and only got a B- on this project.

In any case though, I don’t see that claiming to know that there is no God requires me to say that no one could have good reasons to believe in God. I don’t think there’s some general answer to the question, “Why do theists believe in God?” I expect that the explanation for theists’ beliefs varies from theist to theist. So I’d have to take things on a case-by-case basis.

Also, at the every end,

G.G.: That makes it sounds like you don’t think it much matters whether we believe in God or not.

L.A.: Well, I do wonder about that. Why do theists care so much about belief in God? Disagreement over that question is really no more than a difference in philosophical opinion. Specifically, it’s just a disagreement about ontology — about what kinds of things exist. Why should a disagreement like that bear any moral significance? Why shouldn’t theists just look for allies among us atheists in the battles that matter — the ones concerned with justice, civil rights, peace, etc. — and forget about our differences with respect to such arcane matters as the origins of the universe?

Whatcha think? Is origin of the universe an “arcane matter”?

File under: Philosophy for STEM grads, the easy way

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6 Replies to “Is origin of the universe an “arcane matter”?

  1. 1
    ppolish says:

    “God does not exist” blah blah big deal. Existence is way overrated. God is beyond mere existence, not of this world.

    Awesome Nonexistent Creator God.

    Yes, I would think Original Creation is an arcane matter

  2. 2
    Dionisio says:

    The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.

    The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.

    They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.

    Psalm 14:1-3 (ESV)

  3. 3
    Chimera says:

    “when we find we cannot explain something — like why the fundamental physical parameters happen to have the values that they have — the right conclusion to draw is that we just can’t explain the thing.”

    “it’s quite something else to argue that this designer was all-knowing and omnipotent. Why is that a better hypothesis than that the designer was pretty smart but made a few mistakes? Maybe (I’m just cribbing from Hume here) there was a committee of intelligent creators, who didn’t quite agree on everything. Maybe the creator was a student god, and only got a B- on this project.”

    As usual its all about metaphysics, she knows there can be no supernatural God because her theological and philosophical beliefs confirm it.

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    She actually gets paid for teaching philosophy? Not really wanting to demean the flimsiness of her arguments without taking them on head first, but my first thought after reading this wss that I’ve heard much better philosophy in Bars from people who were drunk! 🙂

  5. 5
    bornagain77 says:

    Of somewhat related note::

    The Universe Is Not Eternal – Johanan Raatz – March 1, 2014
    Excerpt: One thing known for certain about quantum gravity is something called the holographic principle. Precisely put, the holographic principle tells us that the entropy of a region of space (measured in terms of information) is directly proportional to a quarter of its surface area. The volume of this region is then actually a hologram of this information on its surface.
    Except this tells us something interesting about the universe as well. Entropy, or the amount of disorder present, always increases with time. In fact not only is this law inviolate, it is also how the flow of time is defined. Without entropy, there is no way to discern forwards and backwards in time.
    But if the holographic principle links the universe’s entropy and its horizon area then going back in time, all of space-time eventually vanishes to nothing at zero entropy. Thus Carroll’s argument is unsound. We already have enough knowledge about what happens beyond the BVG theorem that Craig cites. The universe is not eternal but created.
    It is interesting to note that this also undermines claims made by atheists like Hawking and Krauss that the universe could have fluctuated into existence from nothing. Their argument rests on the assumption that there was a pre-existent zero-point field or ZPF. The only trouble is that the physics of a ZPF requires a space-time to exist in. No space-time means no zero-point field, and without a zero-point field, the universe can not spontaneously fluctuate into existence.
    http://blog.proofdirectory.org.....t-eternal/

  6. 6
    JDH says:

    I deny that there are beings or phenomena outside the scope of natural law.

    Philospher Louise Antony, I have a few questions for you.

    1. Who is the “I” that is doing the aforementioned denying?
    2. What are those things that are outside the scope of natural law that this “I” has the ability to deny existence to?
    3. If they are do not exist inside the scope of natural law, how can this “I”(a being who by previous assumptions must be completely determined by natural law) either imagine or make any relevant trustworthy decision about these supposed things outside of natural law which must be denied?

    What is laughable about people like poor Louise is they end up denying the only “I” who can figure out that their metaphysical position is completely incoherent.

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