Atheism Philosophy Religion

Discussing the existence of God

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Recently, our WJM offered:

Debunking The Old “There Is No Evidence of God” Canard

Atheists/physicalists often talk about “believing what the evidence dictates”, but fail to understand that “evidence” is an interpretation of facts. Facts don’t “lead” anywhere in and of themselves; they carry with them no conceptual framework that dictates how they “should” fit into any hypothesis or pattern. Even the language by which one describes a fact necessarily frames that fact in a certain conceptual framework that may be counterproductive. More.

I sometimes get lassoed into such discussions and have found three rules to help:

1. First, find out if the person is a pure naturalist atheist who believes that nature is all there is, everything just somehow happened, and our brains were shaped for fitness, not for truth. If so, get out of the discussion. It cannot, in principle, go anywhere. Among naturalists, all relationships are power relationships. They cannot, by definition, be idea relationships. Naturalists accept that and behave as if it were true; there is no use arguing with them about it.

2. Stay in the discussion if your conversation partner is a non-naturalist atheist, someone who knows that nature is not all there is.

Very well, world religions are divided on whether there is a God. Buddhists don’t believe that there is a God, in the Western sense; Hindu views on the subject seem hard to classify in Western terms. But we press on; we all accept that we can reason our way to some kind of understanding.

For one thing:

Naturalist: He who dies with the most toys wins (because he ceases to exist).

Buddhist/Hindu: He who dies with the most toys may have a lot to answer for in future lives. That is not a naturalist idea.

We now have a discussion among human beings rather than a squabble among animals over a carcass.

3. Ask, at some point, is there any evidence that would change a conversation partner’s mind.

If so, what type of evidence matters? Personal experience? Fine-tuning of the universe? Design in life?

Are arguments against the existence of God based implicitly on theology (= how could God, if he existed, allow such suffering)? Could they be answered by convincing counterarguments?

Now one can have a normal conversation, exploring different approaches. That’s a part of advanced civilization.

See also: Debunking  The Old “There Is No Evidence of God” Canard

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34 Replies to “Discussing the existence of God

  1. 1
    StephenB says:

    News, my experience is that the problem lies in the atheists’ inability (or unwillingless) to reason in the abstract. I think it is the result of having been badly educated, which is often worse than being uneducated. In many cases, the naturalists/materialists militate against the principle of sufficient reason and the law of non-contradiction, having been told by the academy that quantum mechanics has changed all that. They actually believe that science can abrogate or override the laws of thought, not knowing that the latter always takes logical precedence over the former. To me, it is less about arguing and more about providing remedial education. When I deal with these people, I find it necessary to go all the way back to the beginning and start over–and I mean all the way back. It’s those irrational assumptions, I think, that do most of the damage. Evidence if useless for those who cannot (or will not) interpret it in a rational way.

  2. 2
    daveS says:

    StephenB,

    News, my experience is that the problem lies in the atheists’ inability (or unwillingless) to reason in the abstract. I think it is the result of having been badly educated, which is often worse than being uneducated. In many cases, the naturalists/materialists militate against the principle of sufficient reason and the law of non-contradiction, having been told by the academy that quantum mechanics has changed all that.

    As an atheist, I’m fine with reasoning in the abstract, but of course if one starts with false premises, then one can’t be sure of the truth of one’s conclusions. And it’s not clear to me that the PSR is true.

  3. 3
    kairosfocus says:

    DS,

    I suggest that discussion begin with this weak form psr:

    http://nicenesystheol.blogspot.....2_suff_rzn

    a fourth key law of sound thought linked quite directly to the above is the principle of sufficient reason , which enfolds the principle of cause and effect.

    Schopenhauer in his Manuscript Remains, Vol. 4, notes that:

    [PSR, strong form:] “Of everything that is, it can be found why it is.” [–> often objected to because of its powerful import]

    This, we may soften slightly into a weak form version that should be unobjectionable to reasonable thinkers . . . thus avoiding unnecessary side issues over the PSR, and will prove quite adequate for our purposes :

    [PSR, weak form:] Of any particular thing A that is

    [. . . or (ii) is possible, or even (iii) is impossible],

    we may ask, why it is

    [. . . or (ii’) why it is possible, or (iii’) why it is impossible],

    and we may expect — or at least hope — to find a reasonable answer.

    Of course, for any given case, X, we may simply directly proceed to ask why is X so, or why is X possible or why is X impossible, and seek a reasonable answer. So, the weak form as it stands is unobjectionable.

    That is, this is a statement that, self evidently, as reasonable investigators, we may freely investigate.

    On investigation, we will see that being/non-being etc can be analysed:

    The fire tetrahedron (an extension of the classic fire triangle you may have learned about in Boy Scouts or the like . . . ) is a helpful case to study briefly in order to amplify and draw out the surprising force of the sphinx-like riddle posed by the weak-form PSR:

    For a fire to begin or to continue, we need (1) fuel, (2) heat, (3) an oxidiser [usually oxygen] and (4) an un- interfered- with heat-generating chain reaction mechanism. (For, Halon fire extinguishers work by breaking up the chain reaction.)

    Each of the four factors is necessary for, and the set of four are jointly sufficient to begin and sustain a fire. We thus see four contributory factors, each of which is necessary [knock it out and you block or kill the fire], and together they are sufficient for the fire.

    A lighted match (HT:
    Gateway Care Training, UK)

    This may be studied by lighting a match. For instance, strike one, and let it half burn. Then, tilt the head up. Watch the flame fade out for want of an ON/OFF enabling factor, fuel.

    Similarly, if one pulls a second match and instead of wiping on the friction-strike strip, moves it rapidly through the air — much lower friction — it will not light for want of heat. If we were to try to strike a match in pure Nitrogen instead of air, it might flare at first (depending on what is in the head) but the main fuel, wood will not burn for want of a good oxidiser. And so forth.

    As a similar exercise, one may set a candle stub in a tray of water and light it. Then, put a jar over the candle, such that water can be drawn up into it. After a little while, the candle will go out for want of the oxidiser in air, Oxygen.

    (One should do the actual experiment, at least to the stage of making a match fade out. Many of us will have done this or the like in school. [And, as quantum phenomena are often posed as a great mysterious counter-example to the logic of our everyday world, we should note that a fire is doubly a quantum phenomenon. First, the rapid oxidation reaction, and second the emission of photons of light, which makes the process visible to us. Indeed, we should note how creators of fireworks add particular chemicals to the mix to get desired colours, and more seriously a spectroscope can allow us to learn much about a fire by revealing its spectrum. And, enabling causal factors such as those in the fire tetrahedron are pervasive in quantum processes, e.g. — and yes this is trivial, but the trivial sometimes also makes a key point — no unstable atom, no radioactive decay, and the like; cf. here for more.])

    We thus see by definite and instructive example, the principle of cause and effect. That is,

    [d’] if something has a beginning or may cease from being — or, generally it is contingent — it has a cause.

    Common-sense rationality, decision-making and science alike are founded on this principle of right reason: if an event happens, why — and, how? If something begins or ceases to exist, why and how? If something is sustained in existence, what factors contribute to, promote or constrain that effect or process, how?

    The answers to these questions are causes.

    Without the reality behind the concept of cause the very idea of laws of nature would make no sense: events would happen anywhere, anytime, with no intelligible reason or constraint.

    As a direct result, neither rationality nor responsibility would be possible; all would be a confused, unintelligible, unpredictable, uncontrollable chaos with nothing having a stable existence or identity. That is, this principle is directly linked to the identity cluster already outlined. Indeed, it can be noted that if something A is possible, its defining attributes must be coherent, unlike the contradictions between requisites of squarishness and circularity that render a square circle impossible:

    One and the same object cannot be circular and squarish in the same
    sense and place at the same time

    Also, since it often comes up, yes: a necessary, ON/OFF enabling causal factor is a causal factor — if there is no fuel, the car cannot go because there is no energy source for the engine. Similarly, without an unstable nucleus or particle, there can be no radioactive decay and without a photon of sufficient energy, there can be no photo-electric emission of electrons: that is, contrary to a common error, quantum mechanical events or effects, strictly speaking, are not cause-less.

    (By the way, the concept of a miracle — something out of the ordinary that is a sign that points to a cause beyond the natural order — in fact depends on there being such a general order in the world. In an unintelligible chaos, there can be no extra-ordinary signposts, as nothing will be ordinary or regular!)

    However, there is a subtle facet to this, one that brings out the other side of the principle of sufficient reason.

    Namely, that there is a possible class of being that does not have a beginning, and cannot go out of existence; such necessary beings are self-sufficient, have no enabling, ON/OFF external necessary causal factors, and as such cannot be blocked from existing. And it is held that once there is a serious candidate to be such a necessary being, if the candidate is not contradictory in itself, it will be actual. [Such a thing is possible if it is not impossible . . . as a square circle is impossibly self contradictory as the necessary attributes for something to be squarish and those required for it to be circular stand in mutual contradiction.]

    Or, we could arrive at effectively the same point another way, one which brings out what it means to be a serious candidate to be a necessary being:

    If a thing does not exist it is either that it could, but just doesn’t happen to exist, or that it cannot exist because it is a conceptual contradiction, such as square circles, or round triangles and so on. Therefore, if it does exist, it is either that it exists contingently or that it is not contingent but exists necessarily (that is it could not fail to exist without contradiction). [–> The truth reported in “2 + 3 = 5” is a simple case in point; it could not fail without self-contradiction.] These are the four most basic modes of being [–> possible vs impossible and contingent vs non-contingent] and cannot be denied . . . the four modes are the basic logical deductions about the nature of existence.

    That is, for a successful candidate necessary being:

    since there is no external ON/OFF enabling causal factor, a successful candidate necessary being will exist without a beginning, and cannot cease from existing as one cannot “switch off” a sustaining external factor.

    As a simple example the true proposition 2 + 3 = 5 and its constituent numbers are such necessary beings. To see that, try to imagine a world where, 2, 3, 5 and the operation of abstractly joining 2 and 3 to form 5 did not exist or can cease from existing, or where it is false that || + ||| –> |||||.

    Another possibility of course is that such a candidate being is impossible: it cannot be so as there is the sort of inescapable contradiction of defining attributes as is involved in being a proposed square circle.

    So, we have candidates to be necessary beings that may not be possible on pain of contradiction, or else that may not be impossible, equally on pain of contradiction. (Thus, the law of non-contradiction is inextricably entangled into possibility of being, and thence into cause and effect. Attempts to sever the two are wrong-headed and inevitably fail.)

    A flying spaghetti monster
    knitted doll, showing how
    this is used to mock
    the idea of God as
    necessary being (note
    the words on the chalk board)
    Of course, something like “a flying spaghetti monster” — which would be built of components and depends on their particular arrangement to be what it would be, is not a serious candidate to be a necessary being. (NB: Such has been suggested in dismissive parody of the iconic creation of Adam that appears in Michelangelo’s famous Sistine Chapel painting. God, of course is symbolised in that painting as an Old Man, the Ancient of Days, but that is just a representation. God is a serious — nay, the most serious — candidate to be a necessary being.)

    In addition, since matter as we know it (such as what goes into spaghetti and noodles as well as eye-stalks and eyes) is contingent, a necessary being will not be material. The likely candidates are: (a) numbers such as 2, (b) abstract, necessarily true propositions and (c) an eternal mind . . . often brought together by suggesting that (d) such abstract truths or entities are held in and eternally contemplated by such a mind.

    KF

  4. 4
    daveS says:

    KF,

    Yes, I’m on board with that weak formulation of the PSR.

    And of course I agree that we can identify causes of certain events, such as a forest fire that was caused by lightning. At least under a naive understanding of causality.

    This doesn’t imply that all events are caused, however.

    Without the reality behind the concept of cause the very idea of laws of nature would make no sense: events would happen anywhere, anytime, with no intelligible reason or constraint.

    Well, as we have discussed, there are events which appear to occur at random times, so are unpredictable in that sense. That doesn’t mean all the laws of nature have to be tossed. It just means that these phenomena can only be described by statistical laws.

    As a direct result, neither rationality nor responsibility would be possible; all would be a confused, unintelligible, unpredictable, uncontrollable chaos with nothing having a stable existence or identity.

    If it does turn out that radioactive decay events are uncaused, it does not follow that we live in an unpredictable, uncontrollable chaos. In fact, you would really need sophisticated instruments to detect this “chaos”.

    Also, since it often comes up, yes: a necessary, ON/OFF enabling causal factor is a causal factor — if there is no fuel, the car cannot go because there is no energy source for the engine. Similarly, without an unstable nucleus or particle, there can be no radioactive decay and without a photon of sufficient energy, there can be no photo-electric emission of electrons: that is, contrary to a common error, quantum mechanical events or effects, strictly speaking, are not cause-less.

    I think in our previous discussion, we talked about sufficient conditions for a particular atom to undergo beta decay in a specified time interval, and as far as I can tell, no one has provided such. I think I can make the problem even simpler:

    Suppose we have a 1-gram sample of C14. What are sufficient conditions for any atom in the sample to undergo beta decay at any time in the future?

  5. 5
    StephenB says:

    DaveS

    And it’s not clear to me that the PSR is true.

    Yes, I know. That was my point. As a rule, atheists reject rationality itself. There is no point in discussing science or anything else with someone who thinks that physical events can occur without causes.

  6. 6
    StephenB says:

    DaveS

    This doesn’t imply that all events are caused, however.

    If some events are uncaused, why cannot all events be uncaused? Or, if some events are caused and others are not, how do you know which is which?

  7. 7
    john_a_designer says:

    I have been involved in on-line discussions now for about ten years. Unfortunately, at least from my perspective, the quality of the conversation has not improved over that time but has become noticeably worse. For all intents and purposes the internet has been taken over by trolls who have nothing better to do than engage unsuspecting people, they do not know, in inane and pointless arguments on subjects about which they (the troll) know next to nothing.

    Personally I no longer willing to put up with snarkiness and smug condescension. It’s just not a matter of time, it’s become a matter of patience. I am patient about a lot of things, dealing with smug personalities who are full of themselves is something with which I am not very patient.

    However, I am still willing to engage a polite and respectful interlocutor in discussion or debate if they meet at least some of the following criteria:

    1. Ask honest questions. I believe honest questions deserve honest answers. Sometimes I’ll respond to other questions. But if I suspect that I am being set-up with a “gotcha” question, I don’t feel obligated to respond.

    2. Make logically sound arguments. Good arguments are constructed non-fallaciously and begin with true or at least plausible premises. (Personal opinions and empty assertions are not arguments, so I hardly ever respond to them at all.)

    3. Don’t avoid or change the subject. If you don’t know just say you don’t know. Don’t cover-up by obfuscating, deflecting or misdirecting the discussion.

    4. Ask yourself if you are honestly seeking the truth. I am. I have said before that for me truth trumps faith. In other words, if what I believe is not true and you can convince me of that I’ll change my beliefs, even my world view. How about you?

  8. 8
    daveS says:

    StephenB,

    If some events are uncaused, why cannot all events be uncaused? Or, if some events are caused and others are not, how do you know which is which?

    Well, we seem to be able to identify causes for some events (a match catching fire), but perhaps not for others (beta decay).

  9. 9
    kairosfocus says:

    DS:

    This doesn’t imply that all events are caused, however . . .

    What is an event?

    pre event, p, event e, post event s:

    p,p, p . . . e,e, . . . e, . . . s, s, . . . s.

    In short there are certain states of affairs p wherein no e has occurred, then at some time and place e, then after this s. Examining the world, there is some circumstance where e is possible, but not yet, or there is some circumstance c that must be removed for e to be possible.

    On the first case, there is a circumstance that sets up a probability distribution on which e may occur. On the second, there is an enabling condition for e that is absent and until present neither a distribution possibly including e or e directly, will occur. For this, a classic simple case is, absent an unstable particle or nuclide, no RA decay will occur. Once we recognise that sufficient sets of causal factors must include all necessary on/off enabling factors, including when the sufficiency is for a distribution of possibilities, RA decay is a caused circumstance.

    So — more broadly, events, e, are caused.

    Just, we need to ponder the circumstances relevant to the events.

    But events are not all of reality, yes.

    There are things that exist but are not caused, they are necessary beings.

    For example, no world is possible without distinct identity. As a result distinction must obtain and so also two-ness. 2 is a necessary being, integral to the framework of a world being possible. But 2 itself did not begin, nor can it end, it is independent of variable circumstances of worlds.

    And the like.

    Where, as a world now is, and utter non-being has no causal powers, something always was which is the necessary being causal root of our world.

    KF

  10. 10
    StephenB says:

    DaveS

    Well, we seem to be able to identify causes for some events (a match catching fire),

    If, as you believe, some events can occur without causes, then what is to prevent that match from catching fire without a cause? For that matter, what is to prevent a horse from popping up in your living room without a cause?

    but perhaps not for others (beta decay).

    What makes you think that beta decay can occur without a cause? Just because something is unpredictable doesn’t mean that it wasn’t caused. One has nothing to do with the other.

  11. 11
    daveS says:

    StephenB,

    If, as you believe, some events can occur without causes, then what is to prevent that match from catching fire without a cause? For that matter, what is to prevent a horse from popping up in your living room without a cause?

    I don’t have any idea whether those events could possibly occur without a cause. For all I know, it could be that certain radioactive decay events are the only possible uncaused events.

    What makes you think that beta decay can occur without a cause? Just because something is unpredictable doesn’t mean that it wasn’t caused. One has nothing to do with the other.

    The main reason I’m suggesting it because physicists such as Heisenberg and Pauli felt that such events overturned causality; it seemed like a good place to start if you are searching for uncaused events. Also, I don’t believe anyone actually has discovered a cause of beta decay yet.

  12. 12
    daveS says:

    KF,

    On the first case, there is a circumstance that sets up a probability distribution on which e may occur. On the second, there is an enabling condition for e that is absent and until present neither a distribution possibly including e or e directly, will occur. For this, a classic simple case is, absent an unstable particle or nuclide, no RA decay will occur. Once we recognise that sufficient sets of causal factors must include all necessary on/off enabling factors, including when the sufficiency is for a distribution of possibilities, RA decay is a caused circumstance.

    I don’t know of any sufficient sets of causal factors which ensure that a particular carbon-14 atom will decay in a particular 1-second interval, however. I don’t believe they exist (or are known).

    I suppose you could object that even in the case of the match catching fire, it might be impossible to describe, at an atomic or subatomic level, exactly what conditions would guarantee that the match lights. Maybe it is just impossible to resolve this without completely solving causality first.

  13. 13
    StephenB says:

    SB: If, as you believe, some events can occur without causes, then what is to prevent that match from catching fire without a cause? For that matter, what is to prevent a horse from popping up in your living room without a cause?

    DaveS

    I don’t have any idea whether those events could possibly occur without a cause.

    Yes, I know. That is a problem. Rationality begins with the understanding that a horse cannot pop up in your living room without a cause.

  14. 14
    daveS says:

    StephenB,

    Yes, I know. That is a problem. Rationality begins with the understanding that a horse cannot pop up in your living room without a cause.

    I simply don’t want to discuss your horse example; it’s not what I proposed. I would bet any amount that it has never occurred.

    I’m suggesting that certain radioactive decay events (which are known to occur) are uncaused. Do you have any comment on those events, for example, possible causes?

  15. 15
    vividbleau says:

    Dave
    “The main reason I’m suggesting it because physicists such as Heisenberg and Pauli felt that such events overturned causality; ”

    Could you direct me to where they said that the indeterminacy principle overturned causality?

    Vivid

  16. 16

    It depends on what hopes to accomplish with such debates. I do not enter such debates under the illusion that such naturalists will change their mind – obviously, they are in denial. No argument can pry denial from those who require it for their worldview.

    Much like in formal debates that are judged by an audience, I debate here for the benefit of those in the audience (as well as for the sake examining my own views). It was largely by being a member of the audience here that I found the theistic principles and understanding necessary to move from being a so-called weak atheist to being an intellectually satisfied theist. Such arguments have merit precisely because of the impenetrable denialism of naturalists – it puts it on display for others to see, and puts the logic of theism on the table for many to see who have never had a proper opportunity to consider a more rational form of theism than perhaps they have ever been exposed to before.

  17. 17
    kairosfocus says:

    DS, did I at any stage discuss “sufficient sets of causal factors which ensure that a particular carbon-14 atom will decay in a particular 1-second interval”? No. What I did discuss is sufficient factors that create a distribution of probabilities, yielding a stochastic pattern; the sort of thing we study as statistical distributions with definite form and shaping parameters such as Gaussian, Poisson, Binomial, Weibull, Boltzmann, Maxwell etc. That the decay of individual RA nuclei is unpredictable to us — it is part of a quantum process, maybe involving tunnelling of potential barriers [which is inherently stochastic] — is not the same as that there are not laws and parameters and dynamics that set up observably ordered patterns such as half-lives, proportionality of decay rates to numbers of atoms, branched patterns of decay, belt of stability and the like. There is after all a discipline of nuclear physics, particle physics or high energy physics. Where, beneath all is the presence of necessary causal factors starting with no atom no decay. To be uncaused would strictly imply no causal factors; which is patently not the case. It is legitimate to study or discuss factors sufficient for a probabilistic distribution to exist without leaping to “no cause” as we do not know deterministic clusters of factors for some cases. KF

    PS: Please note how often “effects” are studied in physics, and how ever so many of these effects trace to stochastic behavious of large numbers of particles, atoms or molecules in a given situation. BTW, combustion is a macro-level deterministic outcome of micro level stochastic processes that trigger and sustain a chain reaction on coming together of the fire tetrahedron factors.

    PPS: I should note that physicists can sometimes overstep themselves and speak carelessly on philosophical matters. Causality is of scientific interest but its proper home is philosophy. Wiki, causality (physics):

    >>Causality is the relationship between causes and effects.[1][2] It is considered to be fundamental to all natural science, especially physics. Causality is also a topic studied from the perspectives of philosophy and statistics. Causality means that an effect can not occur from a cause which is not in the the back (past) light cone of that event. Similarly, a cause can not have an effect outside it’s front (future) light cone.>>

  18. 18

    daveS asks:

    I’m suggesting that certain radioactive decay events (which are known to occur) are uncaused. Do you have any comment on those events, for example, possible causes?

    If one believes in actual free will, then one believes that uncaused events occur all the time in the universe – otherwise, we are nothing but biological automatons barking like dogs and thinking we’re wise.

    What causes physically uncaused events can be referred to as the supernatural. It’s only logical that something exists which began and sustains the realm of the natural. One would assume that if one looks deep enough or far enough, they will find the end of our capacity to describe what we see in naturalistic terms.

    Which is precisely what we find on may such fronts.

  19. 19
    kairosfocus says:

    WJM, that brings the Smith two-tier controller cybernetic model to focus as a context for discussion. Where, absent responsible rational freedom, there is no basis for serious reasoned discussion; landing in instant absurdity. And yes, this raises questions about a super-physical, spiritual dimension to our own conscious, responsible, rational, en-conscienced existence. KF

  20. 20
    daveS says:

    Vivid,

    First, I was wrong to include Pauli. I don’t think he renounced causality, but rather embraced a generalized “statistical” concept of causality in response to QM.

    Here’s what Heisenberg says:

    If one assumes that the interpretation of quantum mechanics is already correct in its essential points, it may be permissible to outline briefly its consequences of principle. We have not assumed that quantum theory — in opposition to classical theory — is an essentially statistical theory in the sense that only statistical conclusions can be drawn from precise initial data. The well-known experiments of Geiger and Bothe, for example, speak directly against such an assumption. Rather, in all cases in which relations exist in classical theory between quantities which are really all exactly measurable, the corresponding exact relations also hold in quantum theory (laws of conservation of momentum and energy). But what is wrong in the sharp formulation of the law of causality, “When we know the present precisely, we can predict the future,” is not the conclusion but the assumption. Even in principle we cannot know the present in all detail. For that reason everything observed is a selection from a plenitude of possibilities and a limitation on what is possible in the future. As the statistical character of quantum theory is so closely linked to the inexactness of all perceptions, one might be led to the presumption that behind the perceived statistical world there still hides a “real” world in which causality holds. But such speculations seem to us, to say it explicitly, fruitless and senseless. Physics ought to describe only the correlation of observations. One can express the true state of affairs better in this way: Because all experiments are subject to the laws of quantum mechanics, and therefore to equation (1), it follows that quantum mechanics establishes the final failure of causality.

    (Translation of Anschaulicher Inhalt der quantenmechanischen Kinematik, p197, 1927)

    Another quote from the Information Philosopher website, for which I haven’t been able to find the original source, but FWIW:

    We cannot–and here is where the causal law breaks down–explain why a particular atom will decay at one moment and not the next, or what causes it to emit an electron in this direction rather than that.

  21. 21
    daveS says:

    KF,

    DS, did I at any stage discuss “sufficient sets of causal factors which ensure that a particular carbon-14 atom will decay in a particular 1-second interval”? No.

    Correct, you did not.

    But I think this example does present a problem for stronger versions of the PSR, for example from SEP:

    For every fact F, there must be an explanation why F is the case.

    Do we agree on that point?

  22. 22
    StephenB says:

    DaveS

    I simply don’t want to discuss your horse example; it’s not what I proposed. I would bet any amount that it has never occurred.

    The point of the horse is to dramatize you irrational philosophy. You are supposed to know that a horse cannot appear in your living room without a cause, just as you are supposed to know that a universe cannot appear from out of nothingness, just as you are supposed to know that a painting cannot come to be without a painter. Do you know how a rational person would respond to my question? The answer would go something like this: “A horse cannot, under any circumstances, appear in my living room without a cause because no physical effect can occur without a cause. Something cannot come from nothing. It is one of reason’s rules.”

    I’m suggesting that certain radioactive decay events (which are known to occur) are uncaused. Do you have any comment on those events, for example, possible causes?

    Of course I have a comment. Radioactive decay cannot occur without a cause. To that same question, a rational scientist would say something like this: “Science is based on the metaphysical assumption that there are no causeless physical events. Acts prompted by Divine and human agency, on the other hand, are causes unto themselves and are not physical events. If causeless physical events were possible, there would be no way of knowing which ones were caused and which ones were not. Under the circumstances, there would be no point to searching for the cause or causal conditions. I don’t know what causes radioactive decay but I do know that there is an answer to that question and I am searching for it.”

  23. 23
    daveS says:

    StephenB,

    To that same question, a rational scientist would say something like this: “Science is based on the metaphysical assumption that there are no causeless events. If causeless events were possible, there would be no way of knowing which ones were caused and which ones were not. I don’t know what causes radioactive decay but I do know that there is an answer to that question and I am searching for it.”

    Hm. Well, at least some Nobel Prize-winning scientists appear to disagree.

  24. 24
    kairosfocus says:

    DS, an explanation is not a cause, and an explanation up to setting up a statistical process — statistical mechanics — is sufficiently satisfactory to have been a driving force for a huge swath of modern physics. KF

    PS: Cf my just previous on physicists, physics and causality. Notice what Wiki, speaking against obvious ideological tendency, acknowledged.

  25. 25
    daveS says:

    KF,

    Have to run now, but I don’t think we can explain why a particular atom decayed in a particular time interval and not in another, do we? Perhaps such an explanation simply does not exist. Therefore the PSR (strong form) would fail in that instance. Is that correct?

  26. 26
    StephenB says:

    DaveS

    Hm. Well, at least some Nobel Prize-winning scientists appear to disagree.

    Scientists are not qualified to make judgments on the nature of causality, and they often look like amateurs when they try. Heisenberg fell into the trap of thinking that unpredictability = acausality. It doesn’t. Winning fame and coveted prizes doesn’t compensate for making bad judgments outside of one’s specialty.

    This same prize winning scientist is reported to have said, “We no longer have any sympathy today for the concept of ‘free will’.” Sorry, no dice. As an icon from Hollywood once said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

    Such is also the case with Laurence Krauss and his cockamamie thesis of a “universe from nothing.” He wins all kinds of prizes in the scientific community, but he is a frightfully bad philosopher of science.

  27. 27
    kairosfocus says:

    DS,if an atom of RA substance is seen to decay at a particular moment, there is a world of relevant explanation. If your objection is we do not have a deterministic forcing cause, what we have is sufficient to show decay of atoms from a population, and relevant causal dynamics. MANY explanations in physics are of stochastic character. KF

    PS: For relevant purposes I have no need to defend an a priori strong form principle of sufficient reason. The weak, investigatory form is quite enough to build up a lore on causation per actual investigation and analysis of modes of being.

  28. 28
    sean samis says:

    I’ve come late to this because I don’t find the OP to be very inviting. More on that at the end.

    But reading the comments it’s become apparent that a new topic is in play. This prompts a thought:

    Let us say, for the sake of argument that all events in our universe are caused. Let’s say that even radioactive decay and other quantum events (which appear to be uncaused) are actually caused; we just don’t know their causes.

    Given that, how does that undermine science or naturalism or atheism?

    It doesn’t, I think.

    Regarding #18:

    It’s only logical that something exists which began and sustains the realm of the natural.

    Our universe is caused, but it’s unclear to me what is meant by “sustaining the natural world”. For instance, sound needs a medium to sustain it, but that medium need not have the attributes of a person much less awareness of the sound vibrations it is sustaining. Is that what “sustaining nature” means?

    As for the rules set out at the beginning of the OP; there are so many invidious stereotypes employed there that it seems no discussion is possible except in a Mutual Admiration Society.

    The error I think is that a discussion need not be for the purpose of changing each other’s minds, a fruitful discussion can merely inform each other of what their other thinks and enable critiquing. I think most of the anger found on these blogs comes from the expectation that somehow, you’re supposed to WIN by changing the other’s mind. Sometimes that happens; but usually the only result of a fruitful discussion is that you better understand the other’s point of view.

    One of my favorite quotes is attributed to Nelson Mandela: “I never lose. Either I win or I learn something.

    I think the general rules of fruitful discourse (discussion, debate, etc.) are actually much simpler:

    1. Be honest. Say what you really think is true about the topic under discussion.
    2. Be focused. Stick to the topic at hand.
    3. Be modest. Acknowledge errors or misstatements. Be ready to clarify comments. Something may make sense to you but not to others. Be ready to restate it differently, or to break it down to make your point clear.
    4. Be respectful. Follow the Golden Rule. Speak assertively only in the first person. If ad hominem seems appropriate, it’s time to stop.
    5. Be careful. Avoid assumptions. Ask questions instead of making insinuations. “Are you saying that …” instead of “You are saying that …
    6. Be forgiving. Don’t expect the other to be perfect because you won’t be either.

    I’m sure we could come up with a few more, succinct rules. I am open to additions to this list, or reasonable edits to the items above.

    A few other comments:

    A. I don’t know if nature is all there is, but I think all that is, is part of nature. I am sure there is a lot more to nature than anyone is currently aware.
    B. Since I am not aware of any plan or purpose to existence, all that is left is that everything just happened. Figuring out “how” is the task of science.
    C. Our brains were shaped for fitness, but the idea that “fitness” would not also mean shaped for truth is bizarre to me.
    D. All relationships have elements of power, but also of shared experience, obligation, and emotional valence.
    E. I’m not even sure what an “idea relationship” is; a relationship predicated on a shared idea? Comradeship?
    F. No one knows that nature is not all there is. Many are sure that’s true but confidence and knowledge are not the same things.
    G. It appears that fundamental disagreements about the existence of deities is no impediment to discussion; why would agreement on those other topics be necessary?

    H. Why would a naturalist consider having a discussion with someone who thinks they are not even a human being?

    sean s.

  29. 29
    Trumper says:

    @28 – I’m a bit new to this too…. and late to this party as well. From my view, I see the miracle of the big bang (yes miracle) as an event that was caused. How would I believe this? Since it was, it therefore is a part our subset of everything we know of. The cause of the big bang is outside of this subset… something we cannot know…along with the what , why, and whom……about all we can know is the when.
    So, would not everything in this subset (all objects in existence since the big bang) be subject to a causal existence? Regardless whether by necessity or accident (neither of which could knowingly apply regardless).
    the point being is that one needs a massive amount of faith to be a mindful materialist…. and one would need faith as well to believe in God. nothing wrong with faith… but one needs to be conscious of it… mindful…something that puts us apart.

  30. 30
    StephenB says:

    sean samis “Given that, (the universe was caused) how does that undermine science or naturalism or atheism?”

    It doesn’t undermine science, but it certainly undermines naturalism and atheism. Nature cannot bring itself into existence. Thus, something more than nature is required.

  31. 31
    sean samis says:

    Trumper;

    Re. #29;

    From my view, … the big bang … as an event that was caused. How would I believe this? Since it was, it therefore is a part our subset of everything we know of.

    We do know the “big bang” happened.

    The cause of the big bang is outside of this subset… something we cannot know…along with the what , why, and whom……about all we can know is the when.

    We might be able to know the “how”; we don’t yet but the tale is not done. However, we cannot even know there was any purpose or any “whom” involved unless the “whom” reveals themselves.

    So, would not everything in this subset (all objects in existence since the big bang) be subject to a causal existence? Regardless whether by necessity or accident (neither of which could knowingly apply regardless).

    Not quite. If you redefined your “subset” as “all objects in existence in our universe since the big bang” then we’d agree. We cannot make a similar statement about anything existing within the multiverse but outside our universe. We don’t know enough about that.

    the point being is that one needs a massive amount of faith to be a mindful materialist…. and one would need faith as well to believe in God. nothing wrong with faith… but one needs to be conscious of it… mindful…something that puts us apart.

    I must confess I’m not sure what that means. What would a “mindful materialist” be?

    sean s.

  32. 32
    sean samis says:

    StephenB

    Regarding #30

    sean samis “Given that, (the universe was caused) how does that undermine science or naturalism or atheism?”

    It doesn’t undermine science, but it certainly undermines naturalism and atheism.

    I don’t think so. Every atheist and/or naturalist I know believes the universe was caused, their beliefs are not troubled by this.

    Nature cannot bring itself into existence. Thus, something more than nature is required.

    No atheist or naturalist I know thinks our universe brought itself into existence. In fact, from a purely logical stand point, NOTHING can bring itself into existence; nature is not particularly disabled in this way. But as before, no one I know of thinks nature did bring itself into existence.

    To elaborate:

    We know our universe was created because of observable cosmological expansion, casually referred to as the “big bang”.

    Everything we are familiar with is part of our universe. Everything we know much about was created when our universe was created, or they were created later by processes occurring within our universe.

    However, the “big bang” was an event that happened outside our universe. It happenedTO our universe, not within it or as part of it. Our universe may only be an unintended side-effect of an as-yet-incomprehensible event in an enigmatic multiverse.

    Any multiverse is categorically different from our universe.

    Whatever existed prior to our universe is categorically different from our universe and from everything that existed or exists in our universe.

    Whatever happened prior to our universe is categorically different from anything that happened or is happening in our universe.

    Given as little as we know about multiverses, science can either shrug its shoulders or make some necessary assumptions about multiverses and proceed to test the consequences of those necessary assumptions. This is ordinary science. This is what science does.

    We assume some kind of objects exist in a multiverse, and that these objects do things (an example of which led to our creation). We assume that our universe would interact in some way with other universes created in a multiverse (that’s what scientists are looking for now).

    Again, these assumptions are necessary, without them science could only shrug its shoulders. These kinds of necessary assumptions are a standard tool in all of science.

    This is not faith or religion, it’s a practical necessity. Without it, there’s no way to learn more, which is what science is for.

    Beyond those assumptions (which lead to hypotheses we are testing now), we know little or nothing about the objects or events in a multiverse. We don’t even know which of several multiverse theories is the most right or the least wrong.

    Considering all that we just don’t know, assertions that the multiverse MUST have the same properties as our universe are incredible assertions (in a literal sense of that word: these assertions cannot be trusted).

    Those assertions are not necessary; they are merely conveniences. They do not point in the general direction of testable theories but toward a desired outcome. They do not facilitate learning; they forestall it.

    Those incredible assertions are not science; they are faith or religion. They are entirely impractical and useful only for bolstering sagging faith.

    sean s.

  33. 33
    StephenB says:

    sean

    In fact, from a purely logical stand point, NOTHING can bring itself into existence; nature is not particularly disabled in this way. But as before, no one I know of thinks nature did bring itself into existence.

    If nature didn’t create itself, then something other than nature created nature, which means that something other than nature exists, which means that naturalism is false. That should be obvious.

    Your unnecessarily expansive elaboration is irrelevant. Please try to address the argument and make your points more concisely.

    Better yet, accept the fact that your argument has been refuted and move on.

  34. 34
    sean samis says:

    Regarding #33:

    If nature didn’t create itself, then something other than nature created nature, which means that something other than nature exists, which means that naturalism is false. That should be obvious.

    Something else that’s obvious: Nature is not a thing. Nature is a term we use for a collection of things: things in Nature.

    Nature does not do anything; things in Nature do many things, including create other things in Nature.

    Clouds are things in Nature. Clouds create rain, snow, shadows, etc. Rain, snow, shadows, and anything else created by clouds are also things in Nature. Therefore, things in Nature routinely create other things in Nature. It is beyond ordinary.

    No one is suggesting that Nature as a category, or that things in Nature brought/bring themselves into existence. Something outside our universe created our universe.

    I don’t think Naturalists are particularly troubled by these questions; I suspect they define Naturalism differently than you do. Since their beliefs are apparently important to you, they get to say what it is they believe; you and I have no standing to do so.

    sean s.

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