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Why Does the World Exist?

Universe

The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.
— Oscar Wilde

Recently, I was driving with two of my brothers from New England to New York, and we all got to talking about religion. One gladly played up his own skepticism: isn't it suspicious, he said, that every faith claims to be the "one true church"? Wasn't this mentality ("OTC" we call it now) the stuff of gangs, clubs, and nation states, the same myopic "us vs. them" mentality one sees everywhere in the world, only now in the spiritual realm? Isn't it more likely true that all of them are somehow right—or better yet, none at all?

But this contentious conversation gradually morphed into another one entirely, and as I-95 flew past us, the polemics gave way to an honest admission. In peak moments, my brother said, he felt himself whisked into a primitive wonder: Why all of this—my life, the world, this whole universe? Why anything at all? He confessed that his mind rushed back down to everyday worries, and that he felt there was no way to answer such a question. But did we understand that terrible awe? We nodded—we knew exactly what he meant.

Why Does the World ExistFor Leibniz, the question was this: Why is there something rather than nothing? William James once called this the "darkest question in all of philosophy," which is perhaps why so many 20th century thinkers were anxious to squelch it. Although Heidegger gave the meaning of Being center stage, logical positivists like A.J. Ayer increasingly dismissed the question as an exercise in futility, rooted in metaphysical claptrap. "That's a perfectly meaningful question as regards any given event," Ayer said, "but if you generalize that question, it becomes meaningless." Yet as logical positivism faded in the 60s, and exciting discoveries in physics and cosmology changed the intellectual landscape, there have been renewed attempts to finally answer the question.

Last year, longtime New Yorker contributor Jim Holt released Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story, which introduces the leading theories today. After a "brief history of nothing," Holt concludes that it is rather striking that Nothing (or the "Null World") shouldn't be the case. Nothing is "the simplest theory of all" with "zero arbitrary features," and is the only cosmic possibility "that does not stand in need of a causal explanation." Being seems to be, as one writer put it, a sort of "blot on nothingness." According to Holt:

"Absent any data about reality the Null World is the one that should be expected to obtain. But it does not obtain! There is evidently a great abundance of Being. If we are scientifically minded, this should surprise us—shouldn't it?"

Holt then undergoes a cosmological quest across the globe, where he meets with leading scientists, philosophers, and writers, all of whom give their own take on why the world exists.

What are their answers, and which one is the most convincing? Let's explore each of them.

1: Who Cares?

Adolf Grünbaum

Adolf Grünbaum

Holt first travels to the University of Pittsburgh to speak with Adolf Grünbaum, "arguably the greatest living philosopher of science." Grünbaum, "the great rejectionist," believes—like Ayer before him—that "there can't be a reason for the world's existence, and hence that the very question is meaningless."

As far as Grünbaum can tell, the Christian account of creation ex nihilo ("out of nothing"), and a "dependency axiom" (which makes God the sustainer of the universe), spawned belief in the spontaneity of Nothing, which prompts a wild goose chase of existential searching. According to Grünbaum, even atheists like Dawkins unwittingly imbibe this religious garbage "with their mother's milk." "Go relax and enjoy yourself!" Grünbaum instructs Holt. "Don't worry about why there's a world—it's an ill-conceived question!"

But Holt finds something precarious in Grünbaum's argument, and indeed in his visit with the man, which climaxes with a near car-wreck and transition "from Pittsburgh to Nothingness." His hostile waving off of "the primordial existential question" strikes Holt as "premature intellectual closure," a rash dismissal of both the simplicity of Nothing and the principle of sufficient reason. Moreover, most atheists who explicitly reject faith are not as unastonished about the universe as Grünbaum is; the question is human, all too human, not Christian, all too Christian. "The mystery of existence," Holt concludes, "was still out there."

2: God the Whine Stopper

Richard Swinburne

Richard Swinburne

At one point, Holt recounts how someone once asked Sidney Morgenbesser why there was something rather than nothing; to which Morgenbesser replied, "Oh, even if there was nothing, you still wouldn't be satisfied!" The joke reminds us that the human longing (some might say "whining") for a final explanation runs deep. With this in mind, Richard Swinburne—Holt's second interlocutor—gives us a great "whine stopper."

Swinburne contends that "the simplest hypothesis explaining it all is the one that posits God." As they talk, Holt notes Swinburne's emphasis on simplicity. "Where other philosophical theists talked of necessity, he talked of simplicity; and simplicity, as he saw it, made a hypothesis only probable, not undeniably certain." God, the infinite ground of our finite world, is the simplest and most coherent "stopping point" of explanation.

Swinburne's God, Holt admits, "does possess a certain sort of simplicity," even if his belief in Christ strikes Holt as superfluous in contrast with deism. (Holt is a committed atheist, even though he finds the writings of the new atheists 'sloppy.') In the end, though, it's not enough for Holt's hungry mind. Swinburne calls God a "brute fact," and admits that a final explanation of the existence of God—who he sees as within time—is above his pay grade. "It's not merely that there is no explanation for God's existence," he says. "There couldn't be an explanation." Swinburne, Holt laments, "seems to have solved one mystery at the price of introducing another," and in the next chapter, he tears apart (as Aquinas had done centuries before) what he sees as a necessary support for Swinburne's God: the ontological argument.

3: Multiverse

David Deutsch

David Deutsch

Holt then travels to Headington (where J.R.R. Tolkien made his home) to meet with David Deutsch, "widely regarded as one of the most daring and versatile scientific thinkers alive." Deutsch's view of the world "encompassed a huge ensemble of worlds, all existing in parallel: a multiverse. The multiverse was for Deutsch what God had been for Swinburne: it was the simplest hypothesis that explained what we observed around us—notably, the weird phenomena of quantum mechanics."

Like Swinburne's God, though, Deutsch does not believe that the multiverse can finally be explained. "I don't think we'll find a brick wall that says, 'this is the ultimate explanation for everything.'" Why, Holt wonders, does the multiverse exist, if the multiverse is the answer to why the world exists? "That question," Deutsch says, "could only be answered by finding a more encompassing fabric of which the physical multiverse was a part. But there is no ultimate answer."

Holt leaves with one positive impression: "that there is a lot more to reality than we might imagine." Still, he finds Deutsch's answer insufficient. "When it comes to understanding reality, David Deutsch turned out to be something of a 'turtles all the way down' man...there is no bedrock principle that explains absolutely everything (including the principle itself)."

4: Quantum Craziness

Alex Vilenkin

Alex Vilenkin

The next thinker Holt speaks with is Alex Vilenkin, a leading physicist and cosmologist at Tufts. Here, we notice an empirical turn in Holt's investigation: can science alone account for why the world exists? Neil DeGrasse Tyson, in a review of Lawrence Krauss' book A Universe From Nothing, writes: "Nothing is not nothing. Nothing is something. That's how a cosmos can be spawned from the void."

But as theists like to point out, this is an evasion, or at least a misunderstanding, of the problem Holt is grappling with. Deutsch admits as much a few pages earlier: "The quantum vacuum is a highly structured thing that obeys deep and complex laws of physics," he says. "It's not 'nothingness' in the philosophical sense at all.'" Scientists are, like all of us, tasked with pulling the rabbit of Being out of the hat of Nothing.

Vilenkin, Holt writes, has brought quantum theory close to accomplishing this, showing that, out of "an initial state of nothingness, a tiny bit of energy-filled vacuum could spontaneously 'tunnel' into existence." This is stage one: from nothingness to a quantum vacuum. In the second stage, the vacuum "blows up into a matter-filled precursor of the universe we see around us today"—the Big Bang!

Yet, Holt is completely unconvinced. "Surely," he writes, "the bubble of false vacuum out of which the cosmos was born had to come from somewhere." And what about the ontological "clout" of the laws of physics? In what are they grounded? "If you like," Vilenkin responds, "you can say they're in the mind of God." This tongue-in-cheek return to theism leaves Holt disappointed, and he concludes, with Deutsch, that quantum theory is "too parochial to address the question of existence." Instead, he looks toward a more robust scientific explanation: the final theory.

5: A Final Theory?

Stephen Weinberg

Stephen Weinberg

After Vilenkin, Holt meets with Stephen Weinberg, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and author of Dreams of a Final Theory. (Weinberg, incidentally, has also "inveighed against religion," but admitted that he didn't think "science could ever explain the existence of moral truths.")

First, Weinberg confirms Holt's rejection of the last answer. "Quantum mechanics by itself does not say anything about the universe spontaneously coming into existence," he says. "For that sort of thing, you need quantum mechanics with other theories married to it." For Weinberg, this is the purview of the "final theory," which would "tie up all the forces of nature—including gravity—into a single neat mathematical package." Weinberg also invokes Nozick's principle of fecundity, noting that it has a "certain pleasing self-consistency."

But Holt is skeptical about Weinberg's final theory, partly because Weinberg himself exhibits a sort of "epistemic modesty" about it. "I think we're permanently doomed to that sense of mystery," Weinberg admits. "And I don't think belief in God helps." Holt leaves their meeting convinced that "the question Why is there something rather than nothing? lies outside the ambit of even the final theory." Or, as Allan Sandage, the father of modern astronomy, once said: "As soon as you ask why there is something instead of nothing, you have gone beyond science."

6: Penrose Platonism

Sir Roger Penrose

Sir Roger Penrose

But to whom shall we go? For the tough-minded Holt, another serious contender is the mathematical Platonism of Sir Roger Penrose, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford and co-creator of "impossible objects" like the Penrose stairs. For Penrose and the Platonists, "the objects contemplated by mathematicians must exist in another world, one that is eternal and transcendent." They "believe in a kind of heaven—not a heaven of angels and saints, but one inhabited by the perfect and timeless objects they study."

Penrose offers Holt an elegant account of "the three worlds" of Being, which provides a stirring sense of "moreness" that materialist accounts of the world tend to lack. "Each of the three worlds—the physical world, the world of consciousness, and the Platonic world—emerges out of a tiny bit of one of the others," Penrose explains. "And it's always the most perfect bit." Thus, the brain gets us from matter to consciousness, and mathematical truth gets us from consciousness to a non-religious heaven of pure Forms.

Although Holt is impressed, he doesn't buy it. "Through this self-contained causal loop...the three worlds mutually support one another, hovering in midair over the abyss of Nothingness, like one of Penrose's impossible objects." And how could an abstract realm reach out cast concrete "shadows"—matter and consciousness? Sir Roger conceded that it was a "mystery." Other Platonists, however, were not so easily defeated—they believed that it was logically necessary that the Good should result in Being.

7: Value Rules!

John Leslie

John Leslie

Could it be an "ethical requirement" that the messiness of Being should overcome the simplicity of Nothing? This is the answer of Canadian cosmologist and philosopher of science John Leslie, who—although he eschews traditional religious notions of God—has written a book called Immortality Defended that looks at the possibility of eternal existence through quantum entanglement.

Leslie's Platonism, which sees existence as essentially mental (his "grand vision" consists of an infinite number of infinite minds), is rooted in a key phrase of The Republic: the Good is what "bestows existence upon things."

"Goodness is required existence, in a nontrivial sense," Leslie explains. But how, Holt wonders, does he square his "goodness of Being" with the overabundance of evil and suffering in the world? Isn't a vacuum, as Tennessee Williams once quipped, "a hell of a lot better than some of the stuff nature replaces it with"? Leslie replies:

"Our universe is just one of the structures that an infinite mind would contemplate. It would also know the structure of infinitely many other universes. And it would be very unlikely for ours to be the best of all of them."

But Holt is unswayed by Leslie's axiarchism ("value rules"). (In fact, Leslie himself seems rather tentative, admitting that his confidence in his own theory is "just a little over 50 percent.") He cites Oxford philosopher (and atheist) J.L. Mackie, who doubted that "something's being valuable can in itself tend to bring that thing into existence"—that "objective ethical requiredness" can reach out and create a world. Holt agrees: "reasons without agents are impotent." His "hunger for ultimate explanation" rages on.

8: Come Down, Selector

Derek Parfit

Derek Parfit

The closest that Holt comes to feeling that the question has been answered is with the English philosopher Derek Parfit. Parfit, another Oxford professor, does what any good philosopher does: clears away all the clutter and confusion, and goes back to the drawing board.

For Parfit, there are a full range of cosmic possibilities, from the null world (or Nothing) to all worlds, and each possibility possesses a special feature (e.g., Simplicity for the null world, or Fullness for all worlds). For Parfit, the world that prevails does so because of this feature, which he calls "the Selector." Above this feature there is a "meta-Selector," which selects the Selector. But a meta-Selector cannot select the same Selector, "on pain of circularity." Given this framework, Holt concludes with Parfit: "If Simplicity rules at the meta-explanatory level, it would not pick itself as the Selector at the explanatory level. Rather, it would decree that there would be no Selector at all." With no Selector, we should not expect Nothing to triumph—the odds are too low. Instead, we should expect Being to be one of many "generic possibilities"—in a word, random.
 

 
After their meeting, Holt writes a letter to Parfit, expounding on the theory. Holt reasons that only Simplicity and Fullness could be meta-Selectors, because they don't select themselves as Selectors. As described above, Simplicity would pick the "null" Selector (meaning no Selector at all), resulting in a random cosmic possibility, and Fullness would pick partial Selectors (otherwise there would be both Nothingness and Being, which is a contradiction), resulting in a mediocre cosmic possibility. Holt concludes that our world is either a random or mediocre "cosmic meaninglessness," born of the only possible two meta-Selectors—Simplicity or Fullness. This explains why there is something rather than nothing.

But does it? Setting aside the conspicuous unsuitability of words like "random" and "mediocre" to describe our universe, Holt seems convinced that "meta-Selectors" don't violate the principle of sufficient reason—that they are not the "brute facts" he has been avoiding. But it's worth revisiting his words on an earlier page:

"You need a Selector...then you need a meta-Selector...then you need a meta-meta-Selector...Could this explanatory regress ever come to an end? And if so, how could it end? With some highest selector? Then wouldn't that be the ultimate brute fact? When I put this question to Parfit, he conceded that the quest to explain reality would likely end with such a brute fact."

It seems this is just what Holt has done: dressed up a naked brute fact (the meta-Selector) in the finery of finality. But the "principle itself" is not explained! In fact, it strikes the thoughtful reader as a kind of ruse to bypass the Selector of Simplicity, which is biased toward Nothing.

We are also reminded of Holt's own criticism of Leslie: how can an abstract Selector reach out and realize a concrete world any more than an abstract "ethical requirement"? Whence its "clout"? And what of the "partial" Selector, which makes a partial meta-Selector conceivable, exploding the entire delicate framework?

Holt does not address these weaknesses—but judging by the fact that he continues on with the book, he is far from satisfied with his own best answer.

9: Light Verse

John Updike

John Updike

Holt then meets with the novelist John Updike (Rabbit, Run). Updike, he notes, seemed to be "fortified" by a Kierkegaardian "leap-of-faith version of Christianity" which dispenses with natural theology in favor of a kind of fideism. ("This is a faith," Updike says, describing the writings of Karl Barth. "Take it or leave it.")

As for the question of Being, Updike holds out as little hope for science as he does for theology. "Science aspires, like theology used to, to explain absolutely everything," he says. "But how can you cross this enormous gulf between nothing and something?" Citing Aquinas, he considers the notion that "God made the world 'in play'...that makes reality seem almost a piece of light verse." Within a year after their conversation, Updike died of lung cancer.

Although it's clear that Holt enjoys their chat immensely, and admires Updike's levity if not his faith, his mind remains restless; he is off to the races in the next chapter in a full-blown fit of Cartesian skepticism. Although this digression marks the official end of his investigation, his last chapter—"Return to Nothingness"—unintentionally introduces another theory.

Love Alone Is Credible

 
In the midst of writing this book, Holt suddenly receives news that his mother—a devout Catholic who attended daily mass—is dying. He travels back to his home state of Virginia to be with her in her last days, and the following scene transpires as he sits by her bedside:

I was alone with her. I put my hand on her brow. I gave her a kiss on the cheek. She was breathing steadily, and her facial muscles looked relaxed—no sign of pain. I sang a corny song called "True Love" that she and my father used to sing to each other in harmony, amid gales of laughter. I talked about trips we had taken together as a family many years ago. Not the slightest response. I looked out the french doors of her room at the summer flowers outside, the birds, the butterflies. Such a sweet scene...Then, as I was standing directly over her, still holding her hand, my mother's eyes opened wide, as if in alarm. It was the first time I had seen them that day. She seemed to be looking at me. She opened her mouth. I saw her tongue twitch two or three times. Was she trying to say something? Within a couple of seconds, her breathing stopped. I leaned down and whispered that I loved her. Then I went into the hall and said to the nurse, "I think she just died."

That night, he goes out to dinner, glibly informs the bartender that his mother has just died, and polishes off a bottle of wine. He then walks to the highest hill in his hometown and breaks into "convulsive sobs."

Jean-Luc Marion

Jean-Luc Marion

This last chapter reminded me of the work of Jean-Luc Marion, the Director of Philosophy at the Sorbonne and former student of Jacques Derrida (and who at least one reviewer suggested that Holt should have interviewed). Marion works in the tradition of phenomenology, which takes the "appearances of things" to be the starting point for philosophy, rather than metaphysics or epistemology. This gives Marion an interesting perspective on the question of Being; he starts not with grand concepts like God, the multiverse, or Platonic realms, but with immediate conscious experiences. He also offers us something of a "final theory" which combines the others: like Grünbaum he deems the primal metaphysical question to be somewhat ill-conceived; like Penrose and Leslie, he emphasizes human consciousness; and like Swinburne and Updike, he references Aquinas and untangles the theological implications of his work.

In Being Given, Marion's rigorous treatise on phenomenology, he goes beyond Husserl's reduction to objectness and Heidegger's reduction to beingness toward a more radical reduction: givenness. For Marion, the key to phenomenology—and something that Husserl and Heidegger hinted at without untangling—is that "what shows itself first gives itself." The paradigm of what shows itself is the saturated phenomenon, an excess of intuition that arises on the screen of consciousness, floods intentionality, and renders the thinking subject a "witness," or "the gifted."

Holt's witnessing of his mother's death is a profound example of Marion's saturated phenomenon—all the more so because it follows a discourse on the Cartesian ego. It meets all of Marion's descriptions of saturation: it explodes the Kantian categories as unforseeable, unbearable, absolute, and irregardable event; it dramatically inverts metaphysical hierarchies of cause and effect, substance and accident, and necessity and contingency; and it stuns and overwhelms the elaborate abstract constructions of the rational ego with its own immediate, pressing givenness.

But most fascinating, it has so much to do with love. Holt kisses his mother, sings her a song called "True Love," takes notice of the "sweet scene" outside, and whispers "I love you" just before she passes. For Marion, love, like givenness, is "beyond being," and is the key response to the anonymous "call" of a saturated phenomenon—indeed, it is the secret to understanding why there are phenomena at all.

Lessons

 
I think there are two great lessons to take way from Holt's book.

The first is that reports of the death of philosophy have been greatly exaggerated. Holt shows that philosophy is a timeless and necessary pursuit. Indeed, as many of these thinkers affirm, only philosophy is equipped to go places that the natural sciences must pass over in silence.

The second lesson is that Christianity gives us neither impenetrable obscurity nor cut-and-dried explanation; it is amenable to reason but not totally subject to it. "We shall not cease from exploration"...but "we see now through a glass darkly." Out of all of the philosophical theories that Holt entertains, Swinburne's strikes me not only as the simplest, but as the best; it explains the largest chunk of reality and leaves us with the fewest assumptions. Still, Holt rejects God because he cannot fully understand who or why God is. Philosophically, I think this is a mere miscalculation; but theologically, it's a great misconception. As Marion argues, and as Holt's own account of his mother's death reveals, the knowledge of love—an image of the same love "that moves the sun and other stars"—must finally go beyond what analytic knowledge can subdue. Love's logic transcends formal logic—it even, in Marion's framework, transcends Being—and total love, not total explanation, is what Christianity is finally about.
 

Why do you think the world exists?

 

 
 
Originally posted at By Way of Beauty. Used with author's permission.
(Image credit: FanPop)

Matthew Becklo

Written by

Matthew Becklo is a husband and father-to-be, amateur philosopher, and cultural commentator at Aleteia and Word on Fire. His writing has been featured in First Things, The Dish, and Real Clear Religion.

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  • clod

    It's a non question that you make up your own response to.

    • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

      It's a non question that you make up your own response to.

      As a non question, I don't think it gets a response, at all. What makes people think it is a question, is interesting however.

      • Rationalist1

        I honestly don't feel a need for a why answer to this, or indeed a how, unless it could be verified. I'm content to live with not knowing rather than embrace a potentially false answer.

        • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

          Rationalist, you say, "I'm content to live with not knowing rather than embrace a potentially false answer."

          I'm curious whether you apply this attitude to other fields of knowledge. Surely in the natural sciences it would apply equally well. The whole scientific enterprise is built on the assumption that "we could be wrong". So assuming your attitude, why pursue *any* answers?

          • Rationalist1

            Better clarification of my wording should be - I'm content to live with not knowing rather than embrace an answer that is not substantiated. Lots of my answers undoubtedly are wrong, but I've tried to shown due diligence in analyzing them and I can support with evidence as to why I make an assertion.

            Ultimately it comes down to evidence., You and many other religious people of many faiths allow philosophy and theology to be included as evidence. I am suspect of them and preferred more objective evidence and if that means I don't have answers where other do, I'm okay with that.

          • Kevin

            I guess I'd just add that, if there is a god, it wouldn't be the kind of thing that would show up as "evidence" in the manner you suggest, not because it's hidden or mysterious, but because it, by definition, would be "too big." If the whole claim is that there is a source outside of or beyond all-that-is that is the cause of all-that-is, and the only tools we have to use are part of "all-that-is" (things, concepts, ideas, proofs), which argue by isolating, distinguishing, and analyzing this-rather-than-that, then what would have to be by definition not a "this" or a "that" (things that are part of "all that is") couldn't be found this way. It'd be like trying to map Australia with a microscope. The only thing that could be proven, or demonstrated, would be that "all that is" would have to be caused. (Whether that has been sufficiently demonstrated is the matter in dispute.)

          • Rationalist1

            Then that God is "too big" to interact with us. How can people claim to interact with such a God but then claim scientists can't. I know God, in the Christian creation myth, punished Adam and Eve for eating of the tree of knowledge, but is he still holding that grudge? :-)

          • Kevin

            Ha! Pretty good! Well, to follow my admittedly bad metaphor out for a bit, it's not that you wouldn't know anything about Australia with your microscope. In fact, you might learn enough about the dirt, etc, you were examining to conclude some true and right things about the continent. What theologians say is that God is not unintelligible, but infinitely intelligible -- in fact, infinite intelligibility -- and that's precisely why I can't get my mind all the way around God to "know what God is." So, no, no grudge at all. But if God can't be "this" or "that," then it would follow that God can't be absent from anything that is, because such an absence would be a separation: God would be "over there" and not "here." At the level of philosophical analysis, we wouldn't be able to say that God DOES interact with us, but the impossibility of such a god's absence would be part of the warrant (a necessary but not sufficient condition) for a claim that God does interact.

          • josh

            If god isn't part of 'all-that-is' then god isn't and this really ought to be the end of the conversation.

          • Kevin

            Of course, we're free to leave the conversation any time we'd like, but if we attend to the question, why is there anything at all, and if, as Holt's argument seems to unfold, explaining the whole by some term within the whole is unsatisfactory, then that's where the question leads. And a good philosophical theologian will agree with you this far: if we say that god exists, we are not saying that God exists in the way that I do, because my existence is marked by limits and distinctions. I'm here, not there, this, not that. And that's the way we're used to thinking about "exists." So if somebody like Thomas Aquinas or Herbert McCabe or Denys Turner is right, then the examination of the nature and character of the existence of everything that we can know, name, describe, distinguish, and analyze leads to the conclusion that the whole isn't sufficient to account for itself, that there is some source or cause of all that is beyond all that is -- in other words, that the question "why is there something rather than nothing" is an intelligible question that leads one to conclude that there must be an existent cause, but that we're quickly losing hold of what the terms "exist" and "cause" mean. That's just what follows from the nature of the question, though.

          • josh

            Kevin, the question was god's existence and your implied answer was no; other more interesting questions are welcome. But you need to attend to the answers that people are giving you when they say that 'why is there something rather than nothing' isn't an obviously well-formed question. I don't care how you think God and yourself differ, I'm talking about what you would have to share if we could say that you both exist. God is itself, not you, it is not nothing, it is not finite, contingent, whatever. God's putative existence is as marked by distinctions as your own.

            If the whole isn't sufficient to account for itself, then adding God doesn't fix the problem. The correct conclusion would be that there is no accounting for the whole. That's not even mentioning that Aquinas and others don't have a cogent understanding of 'accounting for' in the first place.

            You don't feel like you have a satisfactory understanding of the universe. Welcome to the club. But you can't argue from your ignorance and confusion to the existence of something that would take them away. Much less can you label that thing 'god', which is a term for an anthropomorphic deity that one worships.

          • Kevin

            Josh, it looks like we're swiftly running out of room to have a conversation. I can see that you're annoyed with me. but OK.

            No one has given a reason I've seen for why or how "why is there anything at all" is an ill-formed question. If I've missed those reasons, I'm sure you'll be the first to let me know. Asserting that it's not a good question isn't quite enough to persuade me or any reasonable person, atheist or not. Thus, Holt's endeavor in the book. He's not convinced by Gruenbaum and keeps asking. There may be a good argument for why it's not a good question, but I haven't seen it.

            Let me try to be more precise. It's not the theist argument that the world is unintelligible, and it's looking for a "missing piece" that will explain it all. Christians in the Thomist tradition, e.g., know that existent things have natures, and so are intelligible wholes which do not necessarily cry out for any extrinsic explanation. So the demonstrations about God are less about what we don't know about the universe, and then bringing God in to explain them. That would be idolatry AND bad philosophy AND bad science. It's more about what we DO know about existent things, and about order itself. If the observable order of existent things can be demonstrated to be contingent, technically speaking -- that is, not necessary, and if a contingent order, as such, cannot be self-generatiing or sustaining, then there must be something like a source, something like a cause. If those premises are true, then the demonstration follows, that there is something that we can call 'god,' precisely as the source or cause of 'all-that-is' (and, importantly at this stage of the argument, we can or ought to say very little else about it, because that's all the argument intends to show). Now, we could argue about those premises, and I'm not convinced that Thomas Aquinas or anyone else has the corner on the market on these kinds of premises. So that's an argument to have. For the present, I'm more concerned that we all understand what kind of argument it is than to defend Thomas's particular warrants.

            Safe to say, though, that the whole question of personality and such is not deducible from these premises. Thomas Aquinas doesn't think so, and neither do I.

            But what importantly follows from this is that, if there is such a source, cause, etc., it would have to be one (because without division), simple (because without composition), and so on. Those terms are privative terms that illustrate the ways in which said 'cause' isn't just another thing among things. It follows from the shape of the argument about "anything at all" that an answer to the question wouldn't and couldn't be a thing like other things. And so not subject to the same sort of distinctions as I am.

            You and I are just going to disagree about thomas on "accounting for." In my view, modern scientific analysis has made great strides in questions of efficient and material causality, (hence, physics and chemistry, etc) but at the price of bracketing out questions of formal and final causality. It's OK to bracket them as long as you remember that they still need to be asked to give a reasonably full accounting for any phenomenon. We may have some knowledge of the mechanics of material and efficient causality that Thomas did not have, but he's quite good at reminding us to ask those other questions, something to which we are largely tone-deaf. That is, he can serve as a good reminder that good metaphysical questions aren't answered by the scientific method. (Hence the name meta-physics).

          • josh

            You seem annoyed that someone would dare controvert Aquinas. Never put your metaphysics before your physics. Lots of people, myself included, have given you reasons to think that your questions, or your framework for analyzing them are malformed. You aren't addressing those concerns, you are just repeating Aquinas claims (who was repeating Aristotle to a large extent). Like I said, if you want to understand the question better or make it into a better question, that's great, but you keep leaping to the conclusion you want.

            "Christians in the Thomist tradition, e.g., know that existent things
            have natures, and so are intelligible wholes which do not necessarily
            cry out for any extrinsic explanation."

            Again, since the Thomist tradition is in question here, you don't know these things. The concept of individuated things with essential natures is a badly flawed concept.You haven't made a case for what does and does not 'cry out for explanation'.

            "If the observable order of existent things can be demonstrated to be
            contingent, technically speaking -- that is, not necessary, and if a
            contingent order, as such, cannot be self-generatiing or sustaining,
            then there must be something like a source, something like a cause."

            The observable order of things can't be demonstrated to be contingent, nor can it be shown that 'contingent' things require a generating source, nor that such a source cannot itself be contingent nor that a chain of contingencies must terminate. These notions do in fact stem from a desire to explain the universe and argue that the non-God universe lacks something.

            Now if you're not going to argue for the things that would make your contradictory not-anything-thing a God then please quit calling it god. Again, the medieval analysis of simple and one is flawed. What follows from the nature of the question is that you aren't getting sensible answers, which probably means that the question is badly formed, or at least your understanding of it. As shown above, your God is subject to distinctions, some of them the same as apply to you.

            Thomas/Aristotle's entire analysis of 'causes' is faulty. Formal, material and efficient can't be cleanly parsed into different things and final is completely superfluous. He's a good reminder of why metaphysicians are held in such low regard.

          • Kevin

            Like I said, Josh, the air is getting a little thin now for good conversation, but I guess I'm good for one more turn.

            1. It would not be accurate to say that I'm annoyed that someone would controvert Aquinas. I do think it fitting that people understand the shape of the arguments properly, so my concern has been to try to identify what the arguments try to do and what they do not. I still don't think you've understood Thomas's argument, but, as I said above, you and I just disagree about that.

            2. Hooray, a reason! Here's the first reason I've found for stating that the question is badly formed or badly misunderstood by me: "What follows from the nature of the question is that you aren't getting sensible answers, which probably means that the question is badly formed, or at least your understanding of it. As shown above, your God is subject to distinctions, some of them the same as apply to you." Again, I'm sure I just missed it in other comments, but I was glad to see it here.

            I'm sure I've done a poor job of stating how I see that the answers are sensible and that they sensibly point to a reality that is intelligible but not comprehensible. Again, the shape of that answer follows from the question as such, which is a common one in the history of philosophy. I'm sorry you have such contempt for metaphysics. That's why we're running out of air to argue. I guess my point is that you have to do metaphysics if you ask that question; or, said another way, refusing the question is refusing metaphysics as such. So, OK. Lots of people do. I think that's a mistake, but you're certainly not alone. You say several times that "the medieval analysis of simple and one is flawed," that material and efficient causes aren't distinct, that final causality is completely superfluous, that a notion of things having natures is a "badly flawed concept." These seem to me assertions or assumptions rather than arguments, but it may be just that comboxes don't present themselves for that kind of argument. It just seems to me that this approach has the effect of eliminating or dismissing a lot of natural human questions, which has the subsequent effect of constraining the kind of answers that are permitted as 'sensible.' Questions like, "What is that?" and "What is it for?" are on this account silly or superfluous. I don't agree. Anyway, it's pretty clear that you hold traditional metaphysical inquiry in utter contempt, so that's a non-starter between us.

            So here's the thing that perhaps we can still argue about, although I'm not optimistic. You say: "The observable order of things can't be demonstrated to be contingent, nor can it be shown that 'contingent' things require a generating source, nor that such a source cannot itself be contingent nor that a chain of contingencies must terminate." My question is why not? Even an infinite series of contingent causes would still beg the question "Why anything at all?" If not, we need to clarify what contingency is. It seems to me that quantum mechanics does a pretty awesome job of demonstrating that the observable order of things is contingent. What I find fascinating about the multiverse hypothesis is the way it demonstrates the contingency of *this* order, and so kicks the contingency question down the road. How does the multiverse move from contingency to necessity simply by (even infinite) addition?

          • josh

            1.) If your'e just going to assert that I don't understand something, we have little to discuss.I can't force you to argue your case, but I would caution against assuming I don't understand Aquinas just because I don't agree with him. Also bear in mind that there are several variations on cosmological type arguments being discussed.

            2)My contempt is for many metaphysicians, not metaphysics per se. I'm all for good metaphysics if it can be found, but Aquinas and most of the people who bring it up don't do good metaphysics. I agree, I haven't argued here, to you, all the problems with Aristotle's four causes, with essential natures, with act and potency, etc. That's because you haven't argued for them. Since most of the intellectual world doesn't conduct it's business on these terms and assumptions, I think the burden is on you to argue why we should resurrect them. I haven't dismissed all metaphysics, on the contrary, I and others have been making what could be called metaphysical arguments as to why some questions are badly formed. "What is it for?" assumes general things are 'for' something, and that's not at all a given.

            'Even an infinite series of contingent causes would still beg the question "Why anything at all?" ' But the proof has failed. If the chain can be logically infinite, then the proof as such fails. So now you are asking a different question, which I'm not attempting to answer right now, just that your attempt to answer it doesn't give you god. You do need to clarify what contingency is AND how you could know if it applies to anything. This is where you need to start thinking deeper than classical metaphysics.

            Given the multiverse interpretation we can't even tell if quantum mechanics is indeterminate, much less that it is contingent in the sense of depending on something else.

          • Kevin

            Well you sure are persistent. I'm not just accusing; everything I've said has been an attempt to clarify what the shape of an argument for God's existence, both in its classical and contemporary versions, is, and where I think it's been misconstrued in the comments above. You disagree with me about what that argument is. OK. You think I misunderstand Thomas, and I think the same about you. That's as far as we can go with that in such a venue. Again, I suggest McCabe or Turner, but you may have read them and still disagree.

            On infinite regress, you've introduced a key word: a logically infinite series of causes... I don't think this is possible to conceive, but I'm not an analytic philosopher. A temporally infinite series is logically possible, and in this case the question of contingency and necessity still holds.

            You're certainly not unique to think poorly of classical metaphysics, but it's hardly the case that no one in respectable academic circles does. You may not like them, but it's hardly the case that "no one does that anymore."

            So that's it for me. I'm not the guy to continue this argument with you, because we don't agree on enough to have a good disagreement. I wish you well.

          • josh

            I haven't said that you misunderstand Aquinas, you just don't seem to grasp the criticisms being made. Or you aren't willing to engage with them.

            If you want to understand infinite series try a mathematician.

            'You may not like them, but it's hardly the case that "no one does that anymore." '
            Please don't misquote me. I said most of the intellectual world doesn't bother with ancient metaphysics. That's undeniable.

            Anyhow, I've asked you to clarify and defend your premises, you won't. I thought that would be the search for points of agreement, but your time is your own. Have a good night.

          • Michael Murray

            Awhile ago I asked why you couldn't have an infinite line of falling domino's extending infinitely left and right and just be watching it in the middle. Each one falling causes the next to fall. I haven't had an explanation of what's wrong with that from a logical point of view. All I can find seems to centre around "it can't start" but I don't see a need for it to start. It could be going for ever. I can see it can't happen in our world because of the big bang. But the claim against infinite causal regression seems to be a philosophical one.

          • josh

            Even allowing a big-bang-like singularity, there are an infinite number of points on between the singularity and a given point on the curve, so you could still have an infinite series of dominoes. There is no beginning point.

          • Kevin

            Hi Josh. Just returning to thank you for your conversation, and to reiterate that comboxes are not the place to defend first principles of causality, so, you're right, I'm not going to do that here. We seem to be talking past each other.

            On infinite series, thanks, but yes, an infinite series is intelligible in mathematics, this much I understand well enough. But it seems to me that mathematical order invites the same question. If mathematics can describe an infinite series, it can only do so based upon an intelligible order of mathematic relations. Why is there mathematical order? Why does math work? Mathematics can't argue in support of its first principles. That's why an logically infinite causal series is quite different from a temporally infinite causal series.

            OK, "most of the intellectual world doesn't bother with ancient metaphysics." I think I got the quote right. True enough, as long as we grant that most of the intellectual world doesn't bother with metaphysics at all. Hard to deny that, I think. And among those who do deal with metaphysics, whether continental, analytic, or somewhere in between, I would say that at least 50% deal in classic modes of metaphysical inquiry. A survey of the APA annual program will give a pretty good sense. This is admittedly a bit off point, but I don't want readers walking away from this conversation thinking that the kinds of arguments we've been discussing are just passé.

            Anthony Flew is really interesting on some of these points, as he has changed his mind on the cosmological argument, after spending a lifetime disagreeing with it. The book I'm thinking of is There is A God.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            As best I know, an infinite regress in a logical argument is always a logical fallacy. Just because there is an infinity of numbers in math doesn't mean an infinite regress is not a logical problem. It seems to me that the equivalent of an infinite regress in math is division by zero.

            Many, many years ago, in another century, I worked in the industrial engineering division of a very large and well known company. There were mechanical calculators that were electrical but not electronic. That is, they performed calculations mechanically (with gears) rather than with electronic circuitry. When bored, we would divide a number by zero, which caused the gears to turn and turn and turn endlessly (and noisily, I might add) until you pulled the plug.

          • josh

            How can it be a logical fallacy? Mathematics shows that there are logically consistent treatments of infinity. The problem with division by zero is that it isn't defined within the structure of regular real number math (for instance). But infinity just means a series has no terminating point, which isn't logically inconsistent.

          • josh

            Hi again Kevin. I hate to seem hectoring if you are just looking for a way to graciously exit the argument, but, well, you keep raising more points and I'm not inclined to let them go unanswered. I think it's important to get these things right.

            It's just puzzling to me, if you want to make an argument from metaphysics, how do we not get into what exactly you mean by causality and such? Comboxes have their annoyances but c'est la vie. Some kind of dedicated thread would be nice, I've offered before to take on the problems with Aristotelian metaphysics but so far no takers.

            So, on mathematics, I feel like there is some goal post shifting here. You seem to agree now that infinite series are intelligible, which would seem to show that there is no logical problem with them, you need some metaphysical assumption that isn't logically required to rule them out in causal chains. But now we're asking a new vague question, 'Why math?' How about because I can't even conceive of something else? If we can apply the term 'reason' at all to what we are doing it seems we have to allow for a few basic things like non-contradiction. Math can't 'justify' itself in the same sense that logic can't, justification is a process that takes place within math. If you want to call math/logic into question then you give up any ability to say that it is invalid to use them for lack of justification. But there is still the question of whether a particular mathematical model is a useful description of some aspect of reality. There is no logical difficulty in modeling time as an infinite mathematical series. That doesn't mean there are no interesting questions to ask, but it means that Aquinas' approach is wrong.

            I'll probationally accept your 50% figure but the fact is 'metaphysics' as a legitimate field of study isn't really accepted by most of the intellectual world. I as a physicist will defer to a biologist in their field of expertise, but it's not established that metaphysicians are actually experts in anything except familiarity with their own internal squabbles.

            I'm aware of Flew and his ghost-writers' book but haven't read it. I was under the impression though that his change of heart was centered around fine-tuning/design arguments?

          • Kevin

            Hi Josh. Thanks for your post. I've never denied that an infinite series is mathematically possible. But an infinite *logical* regress in causes is not possible. I'm trying to use this example as a kind of representative exemplar to illustrate how the modern scientistic reduction of causality to efficient and material causes finally dead-ends (e.g. an infinite series of causes), but that there are still more questions to ask, as in "Why do these things behave in a law-like way at all?" (hence, my question,'why math?'). You're going to hate this, I'm guessing, but that's a question about formal causality. We don't have to call it that if you don't want to, I guess, but that's what it is. And it's a significant part of Flew's reasons for reconsidering his position, which is why it occurred to me to mention it. (Yes, the Amazon description focuses on fine-tuning and design, and that's another big part of it, but I find this line of inquiry more promising.

            On Aquinas (again, I know, but you brought it up), the fact that time can be modeled as an infinite mathematical series can't be said to be at all devastating to Thomas's argument. I suspect you know, or have heard, that when the question of the eternity of the world (i.e.,, an infinite mathematical series) was floating around and vexing the 13th century, Thomas gave a very cogent and compelling argument that, while theologically he argued that the cosmos had a beginning, there was no philosophical problem with claiming that the world was eternal. It would still require a cause, even if it was eternal. It's worth reading, if you haven't read it. Available in translation from Marquette University Press. It shows that the models of cause he talks about in the Summa I.3, in shorthand, as they are, aren't as facile as some would make them out to be.

            On metaphysics, I can't figure out whether you're against metaphysics as such or against classic metaphysics. Because you've said both. You've said earlier that you like metaphysics, just not Thomistic or classical sorts, but the post immediately above seems to say that you dislike the whole shootin' match. More precisely, you said earlier that most of the intellectual world doesn't accept classical metaphysics, and now you agree with me that most of the intellectual world doesn't accept metaphysics. You seem to say that it's not a real discipline and is all about intramural squabbles. Am I correct in that? Alas, isn't that what we all say about each other's fields? It's the last refuge of academic scoundrels, the "herd of cats" and "angels on the head of a pin" dismissals! I'm kidding, but, goodness, me, I've followed a few debates among the Neo-Darwinians and among the string-theorists vs. quantum theorists. OY! Talk about intramural squabbles!

            We can look at the dearth of good metaphysical reflection in the contemporary world in two ways. Either it's something like, "Oh, thank goodness we got rid of all that mumbo-jumbo Plato and Aristotle and Thomas insisted on, and now we can get on to real knowledge; we've cleared that annoying God question out of the picture, and now we can get down to real science" Or it's something like this: "The modern age is characterized by the refusal of metaphysics and the elevation of physics and biology (e.g. Descartes' discourse on method and Hobbes Leviathan). This was either a well-intentioned effort to focus on this-worldly progress over against a medieval social order that had failed. Or it was a self-conscious shift in our sense of ourselves in the world, such that our goal became to be "masters and possessors of nature" (Descartes), and so set our minds only on those sciences that could be converted to instruments of control. (Descartes and Hobbes and Bacon all interesting on this front) As an intellectual culture, we've lost the discipline of metaphysics, like losing a language that you used to know -- eventually you recognize the words but can't quite make sense of them. So we find ourselves looking at a question that humans have asked for an awfully long time, and we think it doesn't make any sense.

            So I'm obviously in the latter camp. I'm sure there are other ways of telling the tale, too. Just finished a great book by Adrian Pabst entitled *Metaphysics*, and he gives a similar case. But I guess I would say that I am reluctant to dismiss so perennial a question as a bad one, when it's just possible that we've just forgotten or lost the grammar for addressing it.

          • josh

            Hi Kevin, back again.

            "I've never denied that an infinite series is mathematically possible. But an infinite *logical* regress in causes is not possible." What is your basis for this claim? Since it is logically possible (it can be defined in a consistent mathematical way) you seem to be introducing a new, unstated premise somewhere which I also suspect is unevidenced. Like I've said, I don't claim you've run out of questions, but that the analysis you and Aquinas have tried to apply isn't working. My understanding is that Aquinas thought a temporally infinite series was philosophically okay but an 'essentially ordered' one wasn't. But I can never find his 'essentially ordered' distinction defined in a way that doesn't beg the question (or get basic physics wrong, c.f. hand-stick-ball). If it's a logical series then, again, there is no logical problem with it going on forever.

            So what I'm suggesting to you, is that this method is fundamentally flawed, trying to look at causes as a one-directional, one-dimensional chain. You say science reduces everything to two of Aristotle's causes, thereby missing something, but I'm telling you that modern science doesn't particularly work in terms of causes that can be grafted onto that ancient model. Moreover, adding formal or final to our vocabulary doesn't seem to help your case, these just add more opportunities to ask 'Why?'.

            On metaphysics generally, I don't subscribe to a rigid distinction between metaphysics and physics. If anyone is ever going to answer these questions in a satisfactory manner it is scientists who actually know what the universe is like. (Note that Weinberg, Vilenkin and Deutsch are all physicists and can at least claim to have a clue what they are talking about.) History is replete with metaphysicians convinced of how reality had to be being buried by scientists who showed how the world is. I'm not against people trying to analyze very basic questions, but most self-professed philosophers do quite a bad job of it. Scientists have their fights but they are at the edges of accepted theory or interpretations of working models. Metaphysics lacks the kind of success that would make their debates clearly meaningful. String theorists and their opponents are both experts on quantum field theory who agree on the basic usefulness of that theory and can point to the tests that make it so successful, and they argue over what direction is likely to make it even more complete. Similarly for evolutionary biologists.

            You say traditional metaphysics is like a lost language, and in some ways that is true. But that language had strictures and assumptions that weren't necessary, that in fact limited the scope of the undertaking. Just as studying other languages can help you realize the arbitrary or superfluous customs of your own native tongue, we can look back at medieval thinking and see how artificial and misleading its terminology is in the much wider scope of the modern world.

          • Kevin

            Hmm, I've been pondering whether to try again, and I'm not hopeful, but, like you, i seem to find it hard to leave some things without a response. You say that what I'm trying to do " is fundamentally flawed, trying to look at causes as a one-directional, one-dimensional chain." My argument is quite to the contrary. The reason you can't make sense of the distinction between an infinite temporal series and an infinite logical series of causes is because you're insisting on a one-directional, one dimensional chain. The whole point is that causality is not only mechanical, temporal, and material, but transdirectional and transdimensional. Until one is able to distinguish the question of "how the universe is" and the question of "why anything at all," as qualitatively different questions, one is going to either reduce metaphysics into physics or write off metaphysics as nonsense. You say "Weinberg, Vilenkin, and Deutsch are all physicists and can at least claim to have a clue what they are talking about." with respect to "what the universe is like." Granted, if by that you mean what's the math that explains the relationship between things like time, space, energy and matter. Those are all, finally, 'how' questions: "how is this related to that." But that knowledge of how the universe is does nothing one way or the other to give them any reasoned knowledge of why the universe is. It's a category mistake of the first order. "How" and "why" are related, but not reducible into each other. Which is why physics is different from metaphysics. And the fact that you conclude one is real knowledge and the other is not finally begs the question -- you've already decided about the nature of the real, not asked about it.

          • josh

            Hi again Kevin. If we're going to continue I'm going to need some substance along with your assertions. I keep asking you to justify your claims or give me a basis for your framework, I keep pointing out flaws and ambiguities with that framework, and you keep repeating what you think are the conclusions of your framework. If you don't understand what I mean by one-directional, ask me, because your argument (Thomas/Aristotle's really) relies on a unidirectional chain of causes. A->B, B->C and so on, so we can reason from C to the existence of A. But I'm telling you that the real world looks more like BC, so you can't get to some sort of ultimate, preceding-all-others A by this sort of logic. If causality is transdirectional then two things can cause each other, which I don't think is what you want to assert, which means you didn't understand the argument I was making.

            So I'm not insisting at this point anything about causality being mechanical or material, but if you want to make an argument its time for you to actually rigorously define what you mean by causality and how we can know it. As I've said before, I'm not a priori dismissing metaphysics but you have to actually justify your metaphysics and show that it is a sensible approach. Since your apparent answer to why questions is 'this causes that', well, that expresses a relation, so it isn't clear that it is distinct from a how question. Alleging category errors is a common tactic for people who can't justify their categories. Categories are divisions in your mind and history has a habit of showing us that the universe isn't compelled to match up with them.

            The math describing space, time, energy and the like tells you what those things actually are to the best of our knowledge. You can't proceed from the folk physics of medieval and ancient thinkers. So, again please read what I wrote carefully, I didn't assert that the physicists necessarily know why the universe is, but you have to know what it is before you can even begin to ask why. Don't accuse me of begging the question when all I've done is ask you not to do so. I haven't argued that metaphysics can't be knowledge, I've said that you need to thoroughly justify your claim that a particular metaphysics is and so far you've got nothing.

          • Kevin

            Josh, again, we'll sit here and accuse each other of not answering each other's questions all day. In the end that boils down to whether there is such a thing as properly metaphysical inquiry. I'm not proceeding from the folk physics of medieval and ancient thinkers. I'm proceeding from their metaphysics. Agreed that what and why are related, but you can't think you've answered why when you've answered (or been perplexed by) what. Your account of causality as unidirectional is simply too flat to describe causality as described by Aristotle, Plotinus, and Thomas. Such that point the arrows in both directions doesn't change things. try this, maybe, and see what you think: http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2013/07/fifty-shades-of-nothing

          • josh

            Kevin, I'm accusing you of not answering my questions. I've tried to answer yours (which have been rare) so don't fall back on some BS false equivalence. Remember, I am not attempting to claim that I have all the answers, only that your supposed proofs of God fail for a number of reasons.

            The metaphysics of Aristotle is entangled with his notions of physics. He was a product of his times, how could it be otherwise? Since he and Thomas (and you) don't know 'what', they have little hope of answering 'why'.

            If cause isn't unidirectional, then Aquinas cosmological arguments fail. If you want to say he was inconsistent now, that's not my problem.

            I've read Feser before, and as usual he's harping on the only tune he knows and evincing little careful reasoning. It comes down to something like this: It seems that we can imagine a world where things are different. But to have a 'reason' for these things that doesn't beg the question, we would like there to be something that we can't even imagine in an abstract way is different. So far so good. But we should be careful here, because wanting there to be such a principle doesn't necessarily mean that there is. More importantly for the argument at hand, allowing that there could be such a principle doesn't justify identifying it with God. Because I can imagine God not existing, which was the starting point of the argument for positing something beyond the known facts of the universe. So, I would be thrilled if anyone could describe a principle of existence that I can't even conceive of being wrong, but it doesn't seem that anyone can.

            Moreover, if there is such a necessary principle, we also need the exact state of the universe to follow from it in a necessary fashion. Otherwise you have simply reintroduced contingencies without explanation. So everything in the universe must be necessary if this route is to have any ultimate success. Sort of like recognizing that a seemingly random string of numbers is actually determined by a digital representation of pi. Note that this picture contradicts Aquinas' starting assumption that there really are contingent things. That's what I mean by non-directional cause. One thing does not cause another, but one description can be more complete and compact then another. This is the direction physics actually takes us. We can't currently derive everything from a single unavoidable concept. But we can derive a great deal from a short description with necessary outworkings.

            So, for the umpteenth time, I'm not against looking at these questions but one has to proceed very carefully and define what a possible answer would look like. Feser, and Aquinas before him, don't do this well. They can't think rigorously about the question they supposedly set out to answer because their real goal is to defend the faith.

          • Max Driffill

            Brandon,
            Being comfortable with ambiguity does not limit the pursuit of clarifying ambiguity. This stance that we could be wrong is well reflected in scientific language, in words like confidence, and probable etc. Science offers the best answers possible, always trying to push the boundaries of what is known a little further.

      • Michael Murray

        I'm left confused which why question they are asking. Is it "how did the universe arise" or is it "what is the purpose of the universe arising". The physicists are addressing the first one I think. The second one isn't worth worrying about until we settle "does the universe have a a purpose". Otherwise it's like asking "what's the smell of an electron".

        I'm less ambitious than these guys. I'd start by trying to settle some easier questions: "are we the only life in the universe" and "are we the only conscious life in the universe".

        • Rationalist1

          Agreed. They're getting ahead of themselves. In a question like this not knowing how, one can't answer why. The why answer was given for life and its diversity by many religions without any understanding of the how. Once the How was discovered, the why answers we shown to be very much lacking.

        • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

          I inferred that the question is simply why "existence" and not "non-existence." Or, "why is there a universe."

          • Michael Murray

            Hum. I think the why is there existence rather than non-existence is another question. I don't even know how to phrase it because I don know what non-existence is.

          • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

            Non-existence is not. Which is why you don't know what it is.

          • epeeist

            I don't even know how to phrase it because I don know what non-existence is.

            Are you channelling Parmenides? The existent is, the non-existent is not...

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            I don know what non-existence is.

            That is because non-existence is literally non-thinkable from the first person view (a view which, of course, would not exist). We can, imagine a time a couple of billion years ago when no life forms on this planet were complex enough to have any representation of a view, so things may have existed, but no point of view existed. Someone else probably did exist somewhere else in the Universe to have a point of view back then, but we don't, yet, know about that.

      • clod

        ....and how they answer revealing.

  • Rationalist1

    Currently there is a lot of effort in physics to explain how the universe came into being. Note : This is not a "why" but a "how" question. From the multiverse theories of David Deutsch to Lawrence Krauss' "Something from Nothing". Physics is attending to do to the universe and its existence what Darwin did with the explanation of the variety and distribution of life on this planet. It's an ambitious task, and there's problems with all the existing schools of thought. But it's new, it may take a while, and it may not be solvable. Religions, of course, have had explanations from the beginning of time. Creation myths date back to the beginning of recorded history. One of those can be a choice is you need one or you can wait and see if science finds the "How".

    But if you want a "Why" one rule of thumb one learns in physics (based upon the common law principle - That which is not forbidden, is allowed.) is in physic one is told that which is not forbidden is compulsory. Meaning, if a transition between two states does not invalidate any conservation laws, go look for it as you'll find it. Now it is just a rule of thumb, but it's a very useful one, and I think if science ever finds out the how, the why is compulsory.

    • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

      "Physics is attending to do to the universe and its existence what Darwin did with the explanation of the variety and distribution of life on this planet."

      >> What, replace the scientific method with a metaphysics insusceptible of experimental falsifiability?

      It is a tempting path, especially for guys with a lot invested in the present dead end theories.

      But it won't work.

      Too many young scientists smell blood in the water now.

  • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

    This was beautiful.

    "He then walks to the highest hill in his hometown and breaks into "convulsive sobs."

    Pretiosa in conspectu Domini mors Sanctorum ejus.

  • severalspeciesof

    I am content with the answer: "I don't know."

    If humans didn't exist the question wouldn't exist.

    Maybe a better question is "Why do we want to know why?"

    Just wondering...

    Glen

    • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

      So that we can be saved even should we fall in love with the world.

      It can never satisfy us.

      Either we can never be satisfied, or else we can.

      If the former, then atheism.

      If the latter, then Catholicism.

      Not hard to see which one is True.

      • Paul Rimmer

        Catholicism did not satisfy me.

        • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

          That is very unhappy news, Paul, but I am bucked up by the realization that Planck has reported and a bright fellow like you will certainly be thinking some interesting thoughts in less guarded moments........

          • Paul Rimmer

            I hope to be thinking interesting thoughts at all moments! Although I don't work on Planck, I've been thinking about this anisotropy. I'm not sure I believe the result; it may be the result of a relativistic correction that the Planck team missed out on (and I'm writing up a paper about a couple potential candidates). Also, the variance inherent in low-multipole modes will allow I think a sigma of 2. There was a talk about this from a member of the Planck team at NAM.

            Although I wasn't grateful at the time, the attitude was not one of a good scientist. I'm much more grateful to you now for bringing this issue to light. It's an interesting one to think about.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            " I'm not sure I believe the result"

            >> Heh heh heh. I have been hearing that one since 2003.

            " it may be the result of a relativistic correction that the Planck team missed out on (and I'm writing up a paper about a couple potential candidates)."

            >> Really? Now *that* is interesting, no doubt about it. I'll be sure to show it so some friends of mine who know a thing or two about the Axis, if you let me know when the preprint's up- actually never mind I'll find it.

            " Also, the variance inherent in low-multipole modes will allow I think a sigma of 2. There was a talk about this from a member of the Planck team at NAM."

            >> You got a whole lot bigger problem than just the large angle CMB sky, Paul.

            Five sigma dipole in the radio sky, aligned with the CMB dipole, but can't be attributed to our motion....

            All kinds of interesting stuff.

            But now that you are working on this, I shan't complain further.

            Science will, ultimately, correct itself.

            It is the Wonder Hammer.

          • Paul Rimmer

            I have seen the result from the Indian group.

            Fundamentally, they should not be able to get any more than a 2 sigma result using the dipole. That's the point with the worst systematics of all. Also, why not just assign whatever the dipole is to relative motion w.r.t. the frame of reference in which the dipole vanishes? Maybe we are simply moving faster than we thought. Why is this not allowed? So I don't believe the paper. But we'll see. If somehow they are right, it will be interesting.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            "Also, why not just assign whatever the dipole is to relative motion w.r.t. the frame of reference in which the dipole vanishes?"

            >> Involves an unwarranted assumption- that is, that there exists a frame where the dipole vanishes.

            Less model, more observation.

            "Maybe we are simply moving faster than we thought. Why is this not allowed?"

            >> Cuz that blows Planck out of the water.

            "So I don't believe the paper."

            >> That's OK. I don;t believe the model :-)

            "But we'll see. If somehow they are right, it will be interesting."

            >> There's more, Paul.

            A lot more.

            But if you know the Indian paper, you probably know about the Type I Sna distributed in a great circle about the equinoctial plane of Earth.....

          • Paul Rimmer

            There certainly exists a frame in which the dipole vanishes, even if the dipole is part of the intrinsic CMB, and not an affect of the peculiar motion. This shows that you don't know what you're talking about, so no point asking you further science questions about this article. If I happen to have further questions, I'll ask the authors.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            Sorry, Paul.

            The fact is that an anisotropy of space along the dipole axis is exactly what the authors propose, and exactly what you rule out in advance.

            But at least I see you've got your prickly back on :-)

          • Paul Rimmer

            It would be good to read up on this, and actually try to learn it if you want to talk about it.

            I'm not ruling out the anisotropy in advance. It just turns out that even if it's there, it will vanish in some reference frame. That's an empirical fact.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            Ooops posted this in wrong place....

            OK.

            You're the professional.

            Tell me why an anisotropy of space along the dipole will necessarily vanish in some reference frame.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            From the paper:

            "the extracted speed using flux density differs by 2.5 σ from
            the speed corresponding to CMBR. The corresponding significance for number counts is 4 − 5 σ. We find that the results are relatively insensitive to the lower limit imposed
            on the flux density. Our results suggest that the Universe is intrinsically anisotropic with the axis of anisotropy axis pointing roughly towards the Virgo cluster."

            If the universe is intrinsically anisotropic with the axis of anisotropy in the direction of Virgo, why would this intrinsic anisotropy necessarily disappear in some frame?

          • Paul Rimmer

            There are two dipoles. You see one from the CMB, and the other you see in galaxies. Galaxies in one direction are blue, and in the opposite direction are red. The two dipoles line up perfectly.

            I can go into a reference frame where the galaxy dipole goes away, and the CMB dipole is still there. I can also go into a reference frame where the CMB dipole vanishes, and then the galaxy dipole switches directions.

            In spite of what the authors may say, they can't tell which one is right a priori. Also, I don't think that they really know that the two dipoles won't both vanish, because I don't believe their error analysis. But ignoring that:

            If the authors are right, then you can get rid of one dipole or the other, but both at the same time. Why make the CMB dipole intrinsic?

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            But what about the number counts?

            "For number counts the significance is larger, about 4 − 5 σ, depending on the cut. Hence the data is not consistent with the CMBR dipole. It clearly indicates the presence of an intrinsic dipole anisotropy which cannot be explained
            in terms of local motion."

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            If both dipoles are the result of an anisotropy of space, aligned with Earth, along the same direction toward Virgo (which is the simplest explanation, after all), then I suggest that there exists no frame in all the universe where the dipole would disappear.

            It is an intrinsic property not just of the CMB, not just of the radio sky, but of space itself.

            Pretty amazing that we are seeing these kinds of observations,since geocentrists, everyone knows, are utter crackpots and flat earthers........

          • Paul Rimmer

            There are three components here:

            1. How red or blue galaxies look. There's a dipolar component here. In one direction, galaxies are blue, and in the other the galaxies are red.

            2. How bunched up the galaxies are. They are bunched up in one direction and more spread apart in the other.

            3. The CMB dipole.

            Each component, 1, 2 and 3 will vanish at different reference frames. It is a well-known relativistic effect that, if you move through space in one direction, the galaxies in front of you will appear denser, and behind you the galaxies will appear less dense.

            The authors of the relevant paper http://arxiv.org/pdf/1307.1947.pdf (for those who are interested) say that 1 and 2 both vanish for one particular reference frame, and 3 vanishes for a different reference frame.

            It's also important to point out that this paper is not peer-reviewed. No journal has accepted this article, and it doesn't look like the authors even submitted the article. And pretty much anyone associated with a university can post anything on arxiv.

          • Michael Murray

            And pretty much anyone associated with a university can post anything on arxiv.

            A point that seems to not be well understood on this site!

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            I wish I could upvote your statement twice. ArXiV is a real mixed bag.

            Even with peer-reviewed articles, if they disagree with what you know about the world, you shouldn't believe them. Peer review is not magic. Refereed publications do not form the scientist's canon. Scientists have a single sacred "Text": Nature. Scientific knowledge is only commentaries (and not all the commentaries agree!).

            Commentaries on nature should only be believed if they agree with the way nature really is. If not, throw them away.

          • Michael Murray

            Agreed. Particularly with the current blossoming of easy open access journals which are basically scams peer review is not what it used to be.

            http://scholarlyoa.com/publishers/

            And it never used to be perfect!

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            This is another good point, that as a young and naive scientist I'm just learning about, I get e-mails from these guys all the time. It's the science equivalent to "Nigerian Prince wants to pay you £1 million!" e-mails.

          • Michael Murray

            That and the conference invitations from China !

          • epeeist

            I wish I could upvote your statement twice. ArXiV is a real mixed bag.

            Always worthwhile seeing whether the pre-prints make into actual journals.

            Even with peer-reviewed articles, if they disagree with what you know about the world, you shouldn't believe them.

            Well, yes

            Commentaries on nature should only be believed if they agree with the way nature really is.

            And even then only provisionally.

            Unfortunately while if the evidence contradicts theory in science then the theory is wrong, in some domains of discourse it would seem that if the evidence contradicts ideology then the evidence is wrong.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            If the authors are right, then you can get rid of one dipole or the other, but [not?] both at the same time.

          • Paul Rimmer

            Right. Edited to fix that critical error. Thanks.

          • Paul Rimmer

            Let's say that I have two screens. The one in front of me is red, and the one behind me is blue. If I move just fast enough toward the red screen, and away from the blue screen, I can always make the two screens the same color. That's the doppler effect in special relativity.

            If the dipole is fundamentally part of the CMB, there may be no way to know that for sure. One thing that would indicate it is maybe the dipole is present in the reference frame where all the galaxies are pretty well spread out, and when you go to the reference frame where the CMB dipole vanishes, you get a dipolar component in the distribution of galaxies.

            Then either the galaxies are intrinsically lopsided in the universe, or the CMB is, or both.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            I agree if the dipole is a result of motion.

            The paper suggests it is not.

            Or at least not entirely.

            The paper suggests an intrinsic anisotropy of space along the same direction.

            If this were the case, I cannot see how it would vanish in any frame.

          • Paul Rimmer

            Doesn't matter if the dipole is a result of motion or not. Maybe my explanation was unclear.

            Let's say that in reference frame A, all galaxies are evenly distributed, and we have a dipole that some Indian group says is intrinsic to the CMB. I can go to frame A', and the dipole will vanish, but then the galaxies bunch up on one side of the universe and spread out on the other.

            Either galaxies really are bunched up like that, or the CMB dipole is intrinsic. Or both. That's an illustrative example.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            "Let's say that in reference frame A, all galaxies are evenly distributed, and we have a dipole that some Indian group says is intrinsic to the CMB."

            >> But in this case the Indian group is not talking about a dipole intrinsic only to the CMB, but a dipole intrinsic to space itself, since the galaxies are not evenly distributed, but instead exhibit a five sigma departure from isotropy along the same plane we observe as the CMB dipole.

            " I can go to frame A', and the dipole will vanish, but then the galaxies bunch up on one side of the universe and spread out on the other."

            >> But the Indians say that both the CMB dipole *and* the galaxy dipole are anisotropic in frame A.

            Why would they not be in frame A'?

          • Paul Rimmer

            Wait for my new reply. They seem to be coming out of order. I use an example based directly on the paper. That might help you.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            OK will wait.

          • Paul Rimmer

            I don't know what happened to my previous reply. I'll use the specific example from the paper, as I understand it.

            There's a CMB dipole and there's the dipole that you get from looking at the galaxies with the VLA or something like that. The galaxies in one direction are bluer and in the opposite direction are redder. The paper says that these directions line up well. The blue galaxies line up with the blue part of the CMB dipole, and the red galaxies with the red part of the CMB dipole.

            The problem is that if I go to the reference frame where the galaxy dipole vanishes, the CMB dipole is still there.

            I can always get rid of the dipoles. But not both at the same time.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            But the galaxy dipole is also present in number count.

            The anisotropy is not just redshift related.

            Which is why they propose an actual intrinsic anisotropy of the universe, aligned with the equator of Earth, and extending in the direction of Virgo.

            Which is why I am not sure the dipole would disappear, under this latter hypothesis.

          • Paul Rimmer

            I think it would help if you knew what you were talking about. Just a suggestion.

            There can be anisotropy of space along the dipole axis, that anisotropy can be intrinsic, but it will still vanish in a particular reference frame. That's a fact.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            OK.

            You're the professional.

            Tell me why an anisotropy of space along the dipole will necessarily vanish in some reference frame.

      • conley thorn

        RICK Del: Not hard to see which one is True.

        THORN: Do you not mean "Edifying"?

    • epeeist

      I am content with the answer: "I don't know."

      I would make a slight modification "We don't currently know, but we are exploring a number of possibilities".

      • Rationalist1

        And prudence dictates that we reserve judgement until we have evidence.

        • epeeist

          And prudence dictates that we reserve judgement until we have evidence.

          Well yes, but that comes in the justification phase. I don't think we would want to constrain what the speculations might be in the discovery phase. Apart from keeping with all the usual virtues of a good hypothesis amongst which would be consilience with well-evidenced and grounded theories of course (unless one is going to attempt to overthrow these theories).

          • Rationalist1

            Oh no. Speculation is good, discussion is good, debate is good. But acceptance requires evidence.

    • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

      If humans didn't exist the question wouldn't exist.

      Assuming for the sake of argument that humans are the only intelligent species in the universe (which I think is unlikely), can't you say the same thing about every question? For example, 1.5 million children die of hunger every year.

      Can I, and should I, try to act in such a way that fewer children die of hunger every year?

      "If humans didn't exist, the question wouldn't exist."

      Aren't you basically saying there is no such thing as an important question? Since any question can be dismissed by saying it wouldn't exist if there were no humans, are you content with an answer of "I don't know" to any and every question?

      • severalspeciesof

        It was meant to be a type of rhetorical comment, which I had thought would be fleshed out with my other question (which to me is more interesting, maybe even more important): "Why do we want to know why?"

        So no, I am not saying that there's no such thing as an important question. At this moment in my life the question of 'Why does the Universe exist?' is not high on my 'Things to answer' list. Maybe it's just me, but it never has been that high and I am content with "I don't know" and the obvious fact that >99.9999....% of all existence doesn't care.

        It just IS ('It' being the 'world/universe') and now that I have thought of why I feel the way I do about the question, maybe because it feels like it's a question that is actually asking "Why am I lucky enough to be here?" as though the answer is hoped to be an unspoken "Because I'm special to the world/universe".

        I, myself, just don't have that amount of hubris to believe that to be the case. I may be special to others (and I see others as special to me) but truly I am not special to the 'world/universe'...

        Glen

        • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

          But it appears you are.

          Incredibly special.

          We have found intelligent life nowhere else.

          No life of any kind, in fact.

          Fermi's paradox applies.

          If we're nothing special, then where is everybody?

          There are billions of Earth-type planets in this galaxy; some of them are billions of years older than Earth, if the current cosmological consensus is correct.

          If we're nothing special, where is everybody?

          The whole "nothing special" argument looks greener about the gills than it has in a very long time.

          The largest structure in the universe is aligned with the ecliptic and equinoxes of Earth.

          There is a five sigma dipole in the radio sky- it cannot be attributed to Earth's motion- yet it is aligned with the freaking equinoctial plane of Earth.

          "We're nothing special" has been a metaphysical assumption from the beginning.

          There was no evidence at all for this.

          Ever.

          Now there is huge and steadily mounting evidence against it.

  • Sample1

    Just an observation: If by world the Holt really means everything (which I think he does) then a more clever photo for the article would have been a completely blank one since nothingness is evidently the predominate feature of existence.

    It used to be impossible for me to conceptualize how everything that I can perceive as existing (houses, moons, stars, all the people in graveyards!) could possibly be shrunk into a point called a singularity. My difficulty has since been made much lighter after coming to understand that the atoms which make up matter consist mostly of empty space (there are helpful animated videos showing the relative distances between say a neutron and an electron within an atom that press this point home). Once that reality is understood, I was able to extrapolate it to the universe at large and it's one of the more memorable epiphanies I've had in my life so far.

    I highly recommend the required work it takes to at least rudimentally understand how empty the universe really is before tackling a question such as, "why does it exist?" For me, when I see that question now, it means as much to me as asking why does essentially nothing exist? And isn't that a much easier question ignore without being intellectually un-curious?

    Mike

    • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

      Is the universe "empty" or is it "full of space"?
      (e.g., Doesn't gravity "bend" the "fabric" of space itself?)

      • Sample1

        How about if I answer by saying a point (as in a singularity) has oodles of room for emptiness?

        Mike

        • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

          But by "emptiness," do you mean "space" or "non-space"?

          • Sample1

            I'm referring to the observable universe.
            Mike

          • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

            Okay--which would then include the "fabric" of space itself, since space is "bendable" so to speak?

          • epeeist

            Okay--which would then include the "fabric" of space itself, since space is "bendable" so to speak?

            As John Wheeler said "Matter tells space how to curve, and space tells matter how to move."

          • Sample1

            Sure, but the word fabric is a metaphor. The attribute physicists recognize as space-time in the universe isn't akin to a rayon-polyester blend. :-j

            Mike

          • Michael Murray

            Of course not. God making space out of two different kinds of material would violate Leviticus.

          • BenS

            Great. Now I've snorted beer all over my keyboard.

          • Sample1

            I'd like to fold space-time and warp to your time zone. It's barely breakfast time here.
            Mike

          • epeeist

            Great. Now I've snorted beer all over my keyboard.

            You're sitting in the garden listening to Test Match Special aren't you. Waiting for the Australians to be bowled out for less than 100.

          • Michael Murray

            Nah. We won't be bowled out. We're all going to walk!

          • Sample1

            Jim, I just wanted to say that I do appreciate the fact you are asking these questions but this isn't a subject I am comfortable "armchair-ing" for very long. It's hard enough just to know the right questions to ask let alone conceptualizing models of reality which are not literally reality.

            I suppose it is analogous to you being asked by an undiscovered tribe, "Jim, what is the Trinity?" A shamrock analogy for the Trinity really wouldn't explain much, right? At some point you have to delve into the heavy theology to get closer to understanding terms.

            Anyway, I didn't want you to think I was being flippant with you. My level of understanding of this subject (if you can even call it that!) is such that it's easier for me to spot the "likely isn'ts" than give compelling explanations of predictably accurate models.

            Mike

          • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

            No problem at all..I continue to appreciate the discussions underway...thanks.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            What an excellent question, Jim.

            The answer is:

            No.

            Space has no fabric in the Einstein equations.

            It is a vacuum.

            Nothing.

            It is nothing that bends in GR.

            But space does have a fabric in quantum physics.

            This fundamental contradiction is so profound- if we take the simplest expression of quantum physics for the energy of "empty space" and apply it to Relativity's "expanding universe" we get the most stupendously wrong answer in the history of science.

            The answer is wrong by 10^120- that is:

            10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
            000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

            ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE!

            It gets much worse.

      • epeeist

        Is the universe "empty" or is it "full of space"?

        It is pretty empty, the density is estimated to be around 10-26 kg/m3

        It might be better to consider the universe to be embedded in space.

        • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

          Right--thus space itself is "something" rather than nothing, right? This is important to pin down because, from a philosophical perspective, "nothingness" refers not to "empty space" (a vacuum) but to the absence of everything including space, as I'd understand it...

          • epeeist

            "nothingness" refers not to "empty space" (a vacuum) but to the absence of everything including space, as I'd understand it...

            So, using the method of the via negativa what would this metaphysical nothing not include? The laws of physics? Mathematics and logic?

          • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

            Nothingness by defintion includes nothing. Not a single "something"...

          • epeeist

            Nothingness by defintion includes nothing. Not a single "something"...

            So, no logic. Therefore ex nihilo nihil fit is a meaningless phrase.

            No laws of physics or mathematics, hence no probability. So no constraints on what could happen.

          • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

            Well from my perspective here in "somethingness", we get to use logic. :-) And logic and experience make clear that nothing begets nothing. Non-existence is an absolute constraint on *anything* happening...

          • epeeist

            Well from my perspective here in "somethingness", we get to use logic. :-)

            Ah, the consequences start to become clear do they..

            But if your "nothing" includes logic then it surely isn't a metaphysical nothing. And if logic, then why not mathematics and the laws of physics?

            And logic and experience make clear that nothing begets nothing.

            Ah, but you don't have experience of a metaphysical nothing, how can you? All you have is a particular, contingent and probabilistic experience of something.

          • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

            "nothing" does not include "logic"...

          • epeeist

            "nothing" does not include "logic"...

            But if this nothing does not include logic then one cannot conclude that ex nihilo nihil fit is meaningful, never mind true or false (themselves meaningless terms in this metaphysical nothing).

          • http://www.credobiblestudy.com/ Irenaeus of New York

            Space time is not the same as nothing. It is very much something. Oops, meant to reply to Russel.

          • epeeist

            Space time is not the same as nothing. It is very much something.

            Oh I would agree, what I was trying to get to was what to rule out in this purported metaphysical nothing.

            If it includes mathematics, logic and the laws of physics then presumably it is not a metaphysical nothing.

  • clod

    Why is so unbounded it invites the answer that satisfies you, pleases you, confirms your biases, makes you feel superior....whatever you want to project. Why won't Australia win the ashes? That's different.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Why also invites the truth.

  • 42Oolon

    The reason this is an ill-formed question is that not only do we not know the answer, we cannot even articulate a proper question. This is drawn out by the fact that we cannot even come up with hypothetical answers.

    This was the brilliance of Douglas Adams. Love, God, 42, none of these actually explain anything. Why does the Universe exist? Something to do with love.

    So for some 13 billion years, a Universe exists with no love at all. Then on a small portion of a small planet a tiny group of people are given the ability to love and some do, but most reject the greatest love and burn in Hell. And this is the point of the whole Universe?

    Sorry, I this is just as plausible as the Great Green Arkleseizure theory.

    • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

      If God has created the Universe, then the Universe has *always* existed not only with infinite love, and infinite God, but also with the finite number "42."...

      • Rationalist1

        The mathematician Kronecker, a rather singular man *, said God created the integers, all else is the work of man. So he would give God 42. :->

        * subtle physics and math joke

        • josh

          A pedant would insist that it's the Dirac delta function which is singular. But then another pedant would insist that it isn't really a function and things would devolve from there.

          • Rationalist1

            There's an infinite difference between the two but you've made a good point.

            Now if you liked that, you'll love this.

            Why did the mathematician name his dog Cauchy? Because he left a residue at every pole.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Because he left a residue at every pole.

            Boooooo ...

          • epeeist

            A pedant would insist that it's the Dirac delta function which is singular.

            But the Dirac delta function is just so derivative...

          • josh

            That's a step in the right direction.

          • josh

            And let me add, this is integral to my point.

          • Michael Murray

            That's a bit on the heavy side.

      • Michael Murray

        Always existed ? Why do I keep having arguments dialogues here with people about God being the cause of the universe. You know the one that starts "everything that begins to exist has a cause .." ?

        • Sample1

          Ever see the film Memento?
          Mike

        • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

          Poor word choice/phrasing on my part--"always existed" meaning "from its beginning"...thus for the entirety of its existence it's always had love, God, and 42...

      • 42Oolon

        Wow. According to William Laine Craig, the Universe had a beginning, and infinities are impossible.

        But an interesting question is, do you think that God had the discretion to create a Universe without 42? Would he be able to create something where integers operated differently? When you go down this road, you realize that maybe God is constrained by certain truths, which either have no source or do not "exist".

        • Linda

          How can infinities be impossible if numbers themselves are infinite?

          • 42Oolon

            Ask William Lane Craig!

          • Linda

            9:36 am and now my head hurts! :) it is much too early in the morning for this. I now need to go to brunch and have a Bloody Mary - perhaps a not infinite number of them!

  • Kevin

    It doesn't seem to be true that we can't articulate the question. We have, often. Why is there anything at all? The virtue of Holt's book is that he tries to stay to this question precisely, even as many of his interlocutors conflate the "why?" with the "how?"

    Thomas Aquinas would agree completely with 42Oolon that "God" or "Love" doesn't explain anything. In fact, "love" is itself a word that seems to signal the refusal of explanation... a richer equivalent of "just 'cuz"

    On its own, the term "god" functions in a similar way. Thomas says something like this: If everything-that-is bears witness to some kind of source, then that's about all we could know about it. That's, e.g., why Thomas Aquinas uses this weird expression, "...and this is what everyone calls god." He's not claiming that the God "explains" existence; he's really ONLY saying that, by careful analysis of existence itself, you can discern that there must be a source of it that is not part of it. And whatever that source is, that's what you should call 'god.' because that's the only thing that's truly ultimate.

    Now, yes, Christians are those who believe that this source has become knowable as personal, as triune, as love, to humans through a gift, a self-gift, but let's not smuggle that in too soon. None of that is necessary to address this most natural question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?"

    • josh

      Nothing that is bears witness to some kind of source. But I'm inclined to think that Aquinas uses the "and this everyone calls god" phrase because he never could honestly get his religion to follow from his inability to analyze the universe. It's hand waving bluster.

      • Kevin

        How do you know that nothing that is bears witness to some kind of source? that's the very question, right? Is "all that is" sufficient unto itself to be, or is it, in some fashion, caused? It's not unreasonable to think that it's caused. After all, nothingness, as Holt says, is simpler. It's at the very least a question worth considering rather than dismissing. It says a lot about our own failure of imagination that we can only think of "causes" as one thing knocking into another. But that's a long story.

        as to the Aquinas bit, (sigh), again, the whole point that people can't quite get their head around is that Thomas doesn't want "his religion" to "follow from" any analysis of the universe. All he demonstrates is that the term "god" as theists use the term is rational. He doesn't need to bluster. Though I suspect he might wave, if only to say hello.

        • josh

          Kevin, see above. All that is can't be caused because nothing exists outside 'all-that-is' to do the causing. I'm all for an alternate analysis of cause, but you have to actually offer one and so far you are appealing to the naive 'things knocking into other things' sense on which cosmological arguments rely.

          Aquinas doesn't demonstrate that his terms are rational. But I'll let the man himself correct you on what he believed:

          "On the contrary, The Apostle says: "The invisible things of Him are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made" (Romans 1:20). But this would not be unless the existence of God could be demonstrated through the things that are made; for the first thing we must know of anything is whether it exists." -Summa Theologica First Part, Question 2, Article 2: Whether it can be demonstrated that God exists.

          • Kevin

            Thanks for the 'correction', Josh. I know that passage rather well. I'm just cautioning people on smuggling in something more than what Thomas says -- a demonstration *that* God exists *through the things that are made*. So what Thomas demonstrates is that the order of the cosmos, of all-that-is, requires a source, and that source is "what everyone calls god." Now, because we're all recovering from a kind of materialist hangover, we read Thomas's cosmological arguments as mechanical efficient causality. Unmoved mover and all that. (Of course, when one remembers that Aristotelian motion is fundamentally about attraction rather than repulsion, then the whole notion of an "unmoved mover" looks entirely different. But that's another story.) But when you take the '5 ways' as a whole and ask, "OK, what is the logic that underlies them all?" then you end up with the kind of argument I've sketched, and with a notion of causality that's much more nuanced. I think Herbert McCabe is one of the best guides to this, if you haven't read him.

            Josh, it seems like you'd have to side with Gruenbaum, no? that the question is nonsense?

          • josh

            Always happy to set the record straight. :) According to you, if I understand, showing that his idea of a prime mover is 'what everyone calls god' is exactly what Thomas hasn't done. Anyhow, I'm not sure someone regurgitating 2400 year old metaphysics is in a position to lecture us about a materialist hangover, but I agree we should try to understand what Thomas meant in his own worldview in addition to understanding what is wrong with said view.

            The logic underlying the 5 ways as a whole is, well... 4 and 5 are kind of different, 4 being particularly bad. The first 3 are variations on 'We see links in a chain, which has a direction that makes one link superior to its neighbor. Such a chain can't be infinite and the first link is god.' They share the flaws that 1) on closer inspection there is no evidence of directionality, nor that each link entails a singular other, 2) it is not logically impossible that the chains are infinite, 3) if the chain can terminate there is no reason not to terminate it before 'god' 4) the 'god' link can't be connected to the theist notion of God which was the whole point 5) when we try to put the 'god' link in we can see that there is no reason it shouldn't lead to a 'higher' link. (I might be restating 3) here.)

            I think the question as put is ill-defined. We shouldn't try to answer it until we discuss what kind of answer would count and how to decide if we have actually hit on the right answer.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        (1) "Nothing that is bears witness to some kind of source." Really? What about josh himself?

        (2) On what grounds do you conclude Aquinas could not move from philosophy to theology?

        • josh

          1) josh is a part of a greater whole. There are more and less compact descriptions of that whole, and the parts all exist only relative to other parts. This means that given knowledge of some parts I can extrapolate the existence/nature of other parts. But the part doesn't have a source except to say that it is part of the whole, which is itself sourceless.

          2)On the grounds that Aquinas premises are flawed and his conclusions don't follow from them.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            There are more and less compact descriptions of that whole, and the parts all exist only relative to other parts. This means that given knowledge of some parts I can extrapolate the existence/nature of other parts. But the part doesn't have a source except to say that it is part of the whole, which is itself sourceless.

            That is nonsense. As is your second point.

          • josh

            I see you've learned the bluster part from your predecessors.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Today, you are apart of a whole. If atheism is true, one day you will be part of nothing.

          • josh

            Time is one direction along which the parts of the whole are arranged. On other days there are other somethings. I am defined by the something that is localized near what I call the present. Other somethings exist at other times. They are not me, I am not them, 'we' are both part of the whole.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            How do you know you will part of a whole in 100 years, rather than a hole where there was once something?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Today, you are apart of a whole. If atheism is true, one day you will be part of nothing.

            It would be comforting to me to know that death meant total annihilation. If Catholicism is true, even for those with the best intentions, it seems there is always the chance that life after death may turn out to be eternal suffering. If you got to choose between annihilation on the one hand, and eternal bliss or eternal torment on the other, it seems to me the obvious choice is annihilation.

            I have no sense whatsoever that my parents or anyone else close to me who has died continues to exist. That proves exactly nothing, but as an agnostic rather than a nonbeliever on the issue of life after death, I always thought I might have some sense, or feeling, or inkling that those who had died might continue to exist. I am sure other people do have a sense of the continued existence of the "dear departed" (remember Bishop Pike?), but I don't.

            . . . . who would fardels bear,

            To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
            But that the dread of something after death,
            The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
            No traveller returns, puzzles the will
            And makes us rather bear those ills we have
            Than fly to others that we know not of?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Is there anything Shakespeare didn't say better than anyone else?

          • josh

            Today is itself a part of the whole which includes time. A few decades ago I was 'part of nothing' as well, it doesn't bother me. Perhaps it does you, but you shouldn't base your metaphysics on your insecurities.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Why can't insecurity be a valid *motive* for trying to understand existence, just as hunger is a reason to seek food.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Why can't insecurity be a valid *motive* for trying to understand existence, just as hunger is a reason to seek food.

            Seems like a good motivator for thought. What does not seem justified is inserting a god-of-the-gaps assertion, without evidence.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Who has done that here?

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Who has done that here?

            Everyone who has asserted a divine creator as a cause of existence. For example, yourself, here.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't see why that is god-of-the-gaps.

            It's the cause of an effect.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            I don't see why that is god-of-the-gaps.

            Here, Neil deGrasse Tyson might be able to help you out with that:

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HooeZrC76s0

          • Kevin Aldrich

            This is a dumb video. Using Bill O'Rielly as a strawman and saying Ptolemaic astronomers explained retrograde motion as "God did that"?

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            ... and saying Ptolemaic astronomers explained retrograde motion as "God did that"?

            You're right, not directly; angelic intermediates were required.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            What an idiotic claim concerning Ptolemy.

            Julian Barbour on the question:

            "I would say the problem with the Ptolemaic system was a particular feature in it, which was actually, in my opinion, the greatest discovery made in antiquity, which was made by Ptolemy which was that he had the planets moving on what was called a deferent, non-uniformly. He broke the hallowed tradition that everything must move at a uniform speed on a perfect circle, and he was forced to do that because his theory, which initially had that property, didn't fit the data. So Ptolemy was the first person-this was 150 AD- Ptolemy was the first person who broke that tradition who was forced by empirical evidence to change his theory, and the ironic thing is that Copernicus hated that, and Copernicus set about to undo Ptolemy’s greatest discovery, and in the process, almost purely by chance, he suddenly hit on the possibility of completely rearranging the way Ptolemy had put things and then realized if instead of keeping the earth at rest, he allowed the earth to move, he would suddenly understand all the curious movements of the planets, their retrograde motions where they move relative to the stars to the east, they go forward, and then they stop and then they go back, and then they go forward again."--- Julian Barbour, Interview, "The Principle"

          • Kevin Aldrich

            He said that when retrograde motion was observed it was explained by "God did it." That is bogus. Astronomers explained retrograde motion as spheres within spheres to account for the irregular motion, so they were positing natural explanations. That is separate from the agency of movement.

            He's an example of a guy speaking nonsense outside his academic discipline.

          • Paul Rimmer

            Feynman had a funny addendum to that. "And then Newton came along and showed us that there are no angels pushing in the direction of the motion of the planets. Instead there are angels pushing the planets toward the center."

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Yes, I have a tape of that lecture. ;-)

          • josh

            You are encouraged to try and understand, you just don't get to claim understanding when you don't have it.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Then can we go back to your original statement: "Nothing that is bears witness to some kind of source."

            What does this mean?

            "Nothing has a source"? "Everthing has no source"?

          • josh

            Everything shows no evidence of a source. The notion of a source is a very relative term which doesn't seem to apply at more fundamental levels.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You mean biology does not have a source in chemistry and chemistry does not have a source in physics?

          • josh

            Physics doesn't 'cause' chemistry to be. They are descriptions of the same system at different levels. Physics is more fundamental in the sense that, in principle, one could extrapolate chemistry from physics but not vice versa. So physics is a more complete description (though not always a more useful one for our purposes). But these are logical relations, not causative in the senses needed for cosmological arguments.

            If you could provide a description of God from which we could extrapolate physics, including currently unknown physics or other phenomena which we could observe, then you would have an interesting argument, but it wouldn't be much like a traditional cosmological argument.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You mean the universe does not seem to have a source 13.7 billion years ago in a singularity?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You mean the 101 other elements do not seem to have a source in Hydrogen?

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            I think you should read that while looking at yourself in the mirror.

  • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

    Thanks everyone for your responses! Thus far, I'm seeing many variations of Grünbaum's answer (who cares, can't know, non-question, pseudo-problem, etc.). I'd offer two major challenges to that view, as Holt does:

    1. The first is the principle of simplicity or parsimony (Occam). As Holt notes, "simplicity is, for scientists, more than a guide to truth. It is...part of what we mean by an explanation." The simplicity of natural selection, for example, makes it such a satisfying explanation. And "nothing exists" is by all accounts the simplest theory of existence. If simplicity is the mark of truth, Nothing should prevail. But there is evidently a vast and complex Something. This is a tremendous surprise and outlier - and we can't shove it off without suddenly shoving off this principle.

    2. The second is the principle of sufficient reason (Leibniz). Holt explains:

    ...The atheist typically shrugs his shoulders and says the world 'just is.' Perhaps it exists because it's always existed. Or perhaps it popped into being with no cause at all. In either case, its existence is just a 'brute fact.' The brute-fact view denies that the universe as a whole requires any explanation for its existence...yet, intellectually, this feels like throwing in the towel...whether we realize it or not, we instinctively hew to what the seventeenth-century philosopher Leibniz called the Principle of Sufficient Reason. This principle says, in effect, that explanation goes all the way up and all the way down. For every truth, there must a be a reason why it is so and not otherwise; and for every thing, there must be a reason for that thing's existence...it is a bedrock principle of science, where it has been notably successful - so successful, indeed, that one might say it is true on pragmatic grounds; it works...

    Given these two principles, can our reason-seeking species be content with either ignoring the quest, or deeming it impossible? Not to mention the fact that we are all already "embarked," thrown into Being, and the question is there for us anew every morning - until it's not, because we're not. It's "premature intellectual closure" to refuse to engage, as Holt puts it. And I agree!

    • clod

      No one is closing the question down. Give us your answer to the question and we'll engage that.

    • Rationalist1

      The simplicity of natural selection does make a more satisfying answer than a God that designed each animal, put them in their current distribution, arranged for countless lifeforms to be extinct, only known through fossils, etc. Almost all education, unbiased people, religious or not, accept evolution.

      The ideas behind the creation of the universe is universe is moving in that direction as well. Spontaneous creation is accepted on physics, providing no laws are broken. A spontaneously created universe with a net energy of zero is certainly a possibility. The simplicity of the initial universe (in a physics sense) and the subsequent explanations science has given for the physical evolution of the cosmos shows a direction that a possible explanation may take. In 100 years (or less) the explanation for the universe may be as accepted as evolution is today.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        Spontaneous creation is accepted on physics, providing no laws are broken.

        Could you explain that a bit?

        "Creation from nothing" or the something we call the quantum vacuum?

        "Net energy of zero" meaning from absolutely no energy or a mathematical zero as the average of positive and negative charges?

    • Andre Boillot

      Matthew,

      "Given these two principles, can our reason-seeking species be content with either ignoring the quest, or deeming it impossible?"

      I think you're misrepresenting somewhat the atheist attitude as somehow not being inquisitive as to the "why" in principle. I could be wrong, but I think that, to the extent that some atheists feel this way concerning the "why" aspect, it's largely do to not having a great deal of certainty on the "how" aspects. For me, it seems perfectly reasonable to forgo inferring meaning into something which you aren't close to understanding yet. Especially when presuming to know the "why" can side-track your efforts of discovering the "how".

    • epeeist

      The first is the principle of simplicity or parsimony (Occam).

      But parsimony is only one aspect of a good explanation, there are other attributes that a good theory should have.

      The atheist typically shrugs his shoulders and says the world 'just is.'

      But this is a hasty generalisation, some atheists may say that, some may not.

      whether we realize it or not, we instinctively hew to what the seventeenth-century philosopher Leibniz called the Principle of Sufficient Reason.

      Spinoza seems to have formulated the PSR before Leibniz, but that is by the by.

      it is a bedrock principle of science, where it has been notably successful - so successful, indeed, that one might say it is true on pragmatic grounds; it works

      And for the every day, commonplace experience we accept it. However, though we therefore might accept it pragmatically this does not mean it is necessary or certain. This is especially true when we try to reason about things at the Planck scale or "before" the Planck time.

    • Vicq_Ruiz

      Matthew, at the risk of restating a dilemma that has been stated more clearly by better minds than mine:

      If the cause of the space-time cosmos is a (force, entity, idea, feeling) that eternally remains outside the space-time cosmos, then discussion of the nature of that cause is purely speculative, a challenging intellectual exercise but no more than that.

      If the cause of the space-time cosmos is a (force, entity, idea, feeling) that occasionally intersects with the space-time cosmos, then discussion of the nature of that cause is speculative except as it deals with the nature of that intersection.

      It's as if we are residents of Flatland who can only see the Sphere, when he intersects our cosmos, as a circular cross-section. The contradictory claims of many different supposed Spheres within our cosmos is what underlies my declining to accept any of them.

      • Rationalist1

        That's a very good way to put it and it is the difference between a deistic God (one that doesn't interact with the universe) and a theistic God (one that does). Most (all?) of the believers here are the latter and non believers like myself are always trying to determine how this God interacts currently with creation and if there is anyway, like Square in Flatland, we can interact with that God.

      • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

        Hey Vicq_Ruiz - I agree with you, in a sense. But I would distinguish between the "nature" of that cause and the "existence" of that cause - the "what" it is versus the "that" it is. Besides, at the risk of sounding too Cartesian, your consciousness apparently remains outside of the space-time cosmos (how much do your memories weigh?), and discussing the what (nature and meaning) of your consciousness, let alone that it exists and is not just an illusion for me, is surely not just a "challenging intellectual exercise but no more than that." It's an important matter, and one we can discuss rationally, even though we can't put it under a microscope.

        It's as if we are residents of Flatland who can only see the Sphere, when he intersects our cosmos, as a circular cross-section.

        This is a beautiful way of saying it, and again I don't really disagree. It reminds me of what CS Lewis said about the "Shadowlands." We can't see everything about God with rational argument and deduction, but we can see a "thin slice." This is all Swinburne seeks to do, and I think he succeeds - his theory explains more, assumes less, and is far simpler than the others. The question then becomes, is God the distant watchmaker of the deists or an intervening God of love like Marion's? If the latter, which religion best explains my history, human history, and universal history? But now we're onto other questions, not why there is this great Something rather than Nothing at all.

    • josh

      1. You misunderstand parsimony a bit. The rule is to seek the simplest adequate explanation for the facts. That is, to add nothing superfluous. It is not an ontological rule that tells us things must be simple. It is epistemological rule to avoid making an infinite number of mistakes. We see the universe, it is not evidently simple. 'Nothingness' would not explain the universe as it is, so Occam's razor doesn't support it.

      2. Wanting a reason for everything is a very human tendency. But that is no reason to think that there is a reason for everything. It may well be an artifact of the way our brains are put together. At a minimum, one needs to think deeply about what a sufficient explanation is, and there are good reasons to suspect that there can be no explanations for 'existence itself'. But no one says you can't try to investigate these questions. You can't however, insist that your desire for an answer makes one exist, and you can't dismiss out of hand the arguments people raise about the very intelligibility of an 'ultimate answer'.

    • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

      First, thanks Matthew for putting this OP together, you collected some very good sources.

      Leibniz believed in a universe he modeled as a clockwork. The Principle of Sufficient Reason seemed as obvious to him as that one gear in a clock causes the motion of another. However, he never proves the principle, just as no one had before him. Today, it is not necessarily seen as true. We know more about causality as a statistical result on the macro scale of what can't be shown as causal events on the quantum scale, and we know more about how our own thought processes lead some to judge a thing as a "reason". You can't use the Principle of Sufficient Reason unless you can first show it is true, and if there exists any such reason that is too complex for understanding by any human brain with our neural limitations, then we would never know about it, so the Principle could not be shown to hold.

      Not only can't that Principle be shown, but the metaphysical concept of "nothing" that also was taken as obvious by Leibniz cannot be shown to necessarily have a referent in our physical world. I have written about that here and then in more detail here. If metaphysical nothing has no physical possibility, then the question "Why isn't there nothing?" gets put in the same class of question as "Why isn't there unicorns?"

      • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

        Hi Quine - Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed the article. I also read your two linked articles and enjoyed them and learned a lot. We may disagree, but you've clearly thought the matter (or lack of matter as the case may be) through carefully and thoroughly, which I have the utmost respect for.

        And obviously these are mammoth topics! We're hitting on some of the biggest fault lines and controversies in philosophy. But I'll do my best to respond to your two points, briefly.

        1. Being a big fan of "Got evidence?", it's clear to me that empiricism ("methodological materialism") is your touchstone for truth over against the PSR or something like it. Obviously I disagree, although I don't think the PSR is so sacrosanct as to subdue God himself into tidy, logical explanation (Anselm, Leibniz). I'm more with Aquinas on the nature of the PSR (and God gave me a Kierkegaardian-Dostoevskian soul, but let's not go there). It's a problem; but I wonder whether your position poses an even deeper problem? Namely, it seems to me that all of philosophy and science feeds on this principle, consciously or not. As Nagel wrote in M&C, "science is driven by the assumption that the world is intelligible...pure empiricism is not enough." Even your argument against the PSR is driven by the PSR - a sufficient reason for why the principle of sufficient reason is insufficient. Can the PSR explain itself? I guess not. But it seems as necessary and valid a working assumption as the existence of the external world. Without it we can't get off the ground - we can't even think. (Chesterton called it the "suicide of thought.")

        2. Ah, yes, nothingness! The ultimate brain-melter. I think the PSR and "ex nihilo" are intimately related, which may explain why we disagree on both. But here's my best attempt at a short refutation. You complain that "nothingness" can't be shown to "have a referent in our physical world." Why is this a problem? Because in your article you state: "Methodological Materialism is the only known process for the development of reliable knowledge." But this "known," of course, is not shown through methodological materialism, therefore is not reliable. So there must be other forms of reliable knowledge, and something's not being known physically doesn't disqualify it as being known. (Consciousness is a perfect example of this - what do we know more intimately and assuredly than that?) Again, these kinds of self-refuting ideas don't strike me as lovable foibles, but as fundamental problems.

        I think a stronger argument against nothingness is not that it is imagined (or non-physical, like the unicorn) but simply that it can't be conceived of at all. Holt covers this in his book. We can conceive of a tooth fairy - imagined, but coherent - but can we even sensibly think "nothingness"? He describes Bergson's mental experiment to imagine pure annihilation by removing things one by one. He finds that he's unable, finally, to remove his own presence. (Freud too saw that we cannot imagine our own death and non-existence - "we survive ourselves as spectators." Evolutionary defense mechanism? Or trace of the immortal soul?) The solid counter-argument to this is the "subtraction argument" which takes a more objective glance. The universe has n objects, and there can always be n-1 objects. Subtract 1, again and again, and eventually you subtract the last object and get - nothing. Sure it's hard to visualize. But so is, as Holt notes, Einstein's "curved four-dimensional spacetime manifold." Philosophical nothingness remains a metaphysical possibility - a simple, symmetrical, and serene one at that. What's beautiful to me, though, is that you don't need to be a philosopher to be struck by the strangeness of Being against the alternative of Nothing. It can strike any heart in the form of a less fancy question, referring not so much to the universe but to the person: "why am I here?" Another great question.

        Cheers Quine!

        • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

          Hi Matthew, thanks for taking the time to write such thoughtful reply. Yes, there are big and complex issues wrapped tightly together and we can spend quite a long time unpacking them. We might want to take different parts to different threads, but I will try to make a start here.

          1. Being a big fan of "Got evidence?", it's clear to me that empiricism ("methodological materialism") is your touchstone for truth over against the PSR or something like it. Obviously I disagree, although I don't think the PSR is so sacrosanct and self-sufficient as to subdue God himself into tidy, logical explanation (Anselm, Leibniz). I'm more with Aquinas on the nature of the PSR (and God gave me a Kierkegaardian-Dostoevskian soul, but let's not go there).

          Yes, my position is that I require empirical support for PSR, which has not been established. Without sufficient support for the generality of PSR, it can't be used in a "forcing" argument to establish a conclusion by itself. (I take it that you partially agree about the last part.) There is no way for me to know if you have a Kierkegaardian-Dostoevskian soul, but the assertion that you do raises many questions as to where that came from both ontogenetically and phylogeneticaly as well as how that might interact with the atoms of your body, but let's take that to the 'soul' thread at some later time.

          ... It's a problem; but I wonder whether your position poses an even deeper problem? Namely, it seems to me that all of philosophy and science feeds on this principle, consciously or not. As Nagel wrote in M&C, "science is driven by the assumption that the world is intelligible...pure empiricism is not enough."

          I disagree with Nagel on this (and a few other things as well). The correct phrase should read, "science is driven by the assumption that at least some of the world is intelligible ..." We don't know how much of the world is intelligible, and by whom? If you go back far enough in the chain of your ancestors, the interaction with the world was little more than reflex and instinct. If you could look into future generations thousands of years from now, might it be that things unintelligible to us today are under grasp in that future? To do science, people make attempts to grasp and unravel a problem that is (usually) a reasonable extension from what is already known. We can't know the limits of the ultimately knowable, and said attempt may fail, but we make progress by trying and being successful, when we can be.

          ... Even your argument against the PSR is driven by the PSR - a sufficient reason for why the principle of sufficient reason is insufficient. Can the PSR explain itself? I guess not. But it seems as necessary and valid a working assumption as the existence of the external world. Without it we can't get off the ground - we can't even think. (Chesterton called it the "suicide of thought.")

          I think you missed my point. I am arguing that we don't have sufficient reason to believe that everything has sufficient reason, not that we don't have sufficient reason to believe that sufficient reason exists at all. It is the generalization of application to everything that is unsupported, and is the problem. But without that generalization, the PSR can't force the conclusion you want it to.

          2. Ah, yes, nothingness! The ultimate brain-melter. I think the PSR and "ex nihilo" are intimately related, which may explain why we disagree on both. But here's my best attempt at a short refutation.

          You complain that "nothingness" can't be shown to "have a referent in our physical world."

          I am going to have to stop you, there, to make sure we are on the same page. I assert that metaphysical nothingness (the idea of a nothing from which nothing can ever come) has not been shown to have a referent in our physical world.

          ... This complaint stems from a foundational statement in your article: "Methodological Materialism is the only known process for the development of reliable knowledge." But this "known," of course, is not shown through methodological materialism, therefore is not reliable.

          I am not sure what you mean by "not reliable" there. I have not asserted that no better epistemological system can ever be developed, just that none has so far.

          ... So there must be other forms of reliable knowledge, and something's not being known physically doesn't disqualify it as being known. (Consciousness is a perfect example of this - what do we know more intimately and assuredly than that?) Again, these kinds of self-refuting ideas don't strike me as lovable foibles, but as fundamental problems.

          Be careful to keep the "reliable knowledge" from being confused with the methodology to get it. Someone can guess a answer that turns out to be reliable, but in repeated trials guessing is not a reliable methodology.

          Getting back to the question, why should I think metaphysical nothing can be or ever was the case?

          I think a stronger argument against nothingness is not that it's imagined (or non-physical, like the unicorn) but that it can't be conceived of at all. Holt covers this in his book. We can conceive of a tooth fairy - imagined, but coherent - but can we even sensibly think "nothingness"? He describes Bergson's mental experiment to imagine pure annihilation by removing things one by one. He finds that he's unable, finally, to remove his own presence. (Freud too saw that we cannot imagine our own death and non-existence - "we survive ourselves as spectators." Evolutionary defense mechanism? Or trace of the immortal soul?)

          Well, if you are going to argue that the concept is not even coherent, you extend my position even more. Thanks.

          ... The solid counter-argument to this is the "subtraction argument" which takes a more objective glance. The universe has n objects, and there can always be n-1 objects. Subtract 1, again and again, and eventually you subtract the last object and get - nothing.

          Yes, Leibniz would have liked that. Unfortunately, we can't support the premise "The universe has n objects ..." because it only looks that way on the macro scale where the concept of an "object" can be supported. That is part of why physical nothing may have no objects but still not be restricted from having them come into existence.

          ... Sure it's hard to visualize. But so is, as Holt notes, Einstein's "curved four-dimensional spacetime manifold." Philosophical nothingness remains a metaphysical possibility - the most simple, symmetrical, and serene one at that. What's beautiful to me, though, is that you don't need to be a philosopher to be struck by the strangeness of Being against the alternative of Nothing.

          We push the mental abilities that we have been evolved to pass our ancestor's genes on to us. What is hard to visualize or conceptualize says more about our own neural machinery than about the outside world. We work from our internal models of that outside world, without direct connection, and must do our best to get over ourselves.

          ... It can strike any heart in the form of a less fancy question, referring not so much to the universe but to the person: "why am I here?" Another great question.

          Well to experience that, someone has to be you, and in your case, you are he. Thanks again for your thoughts.

          -Q

          • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

            Interesting points, Quine, and definitely some food for thought! By way of conclusion, a few questions: would you then associate your views on "why there is something rather than [metaphysical] nothing" with Grünbaum's? And would you agree with Krauss that ruminating on metaphysical nothing instead of physical nothing is "sterile, backward, useless, and annoying"? Or would you frame your opposition to the question differently? Lastly, is there another perspective here on this list that you find compelling?

    • Jay

      Thanks so much for writing this article! This was really neat :) I'd say my favorite statement was this:
      "The first is that reports of the death of philosophy have been greatly exaggerated. Holt shows that philosophy is a timeless and necessary pursuit. Indeed, as many of these thinkers affirm, only philosophy is equipped to go places that the natural sciences must pass over in silence."

  • robtish

    This article is a great chance to ask a question I've been wondering about:

    When atheists respond to cosmological arguments by asking, "What caused God?" or "Why can't the universe be the thing that doesn't need a cause?", theists point out the Kalam argument that starts with "Everything that begins to exist needs a cause," and since the universe began with the Big Bang, it therefore needs a cause. However...

    Doesn't the quantum vacuum provide an answer to that? We don't have a beginning-event for the quantum vacuum (no "quantum vacuum big bang" as it were), so why can't the quantum vacuum be the thing that doesn't need a cause, the thing that never "begins to exist" but simply is?

    • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

      If the quantum vacuum is a "thing" that exists in the universe, then it can't be the cause of the universe, right?

      • epeeist

        If the quantum vacuum is a "thing" that exists in the universe, then it can't be the cause of the universe, right?

        Who says it has got to exist in the universe?

        • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

          Help me out--is the quantum vacuum observable by scientists or not?

          • Rationalist1

            Yes. The Casimer effect ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casimir_effect ) is a result of it.

          • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

            Then if it is observable, it's part of the universe, right?

          • josh

            By the same argument, God is part of the universe since it is claimed we can see his effects.

          • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

            Maybe we need to converse in terms of "reality" and "universe"?
            God and the universe are part of "reality" but are not "part" of each other, I'd assert.
            And you seem to say that there may be "real" things that are not part of the universe itself. Unlike God, however, these things are directly "observable" and are therefore "real" in your view? Do I have this much correct?

          • epeeist

            Maybe we need to converse in terms of "reality" and "universe"?

            What do you mean by "real"?

            If you shake a proton it rattles, which leads to the inference that it is made up of other things, namely quarks. However, naked quarks cannot be observed. Are they real, or simply a mathematical instrument to explain the behaviour of protons?

          • josh

            We can adopt the term reality where I was using the absolute universe before. But then on what basis do we distinguish one part of the reality, call it the universe, and another part. Why think the other part is God? Why think there is another part at all until we have evidence for it. Or if we define God as not in the 'universe' part, what do we call other things outside the universe part that perhaps aren't god? So if you like we can make God and the universe not part of each other, but they are both parts of reality, and reality defines the relationship between the parts.

            Any time you arbitrarily define what the universe is, except to say that it is everything (which we are now calling reality), you allow that there can be a real thing outside the universe. If these things affect the universe then they are observable in principle. But that just raises the question of why you separated them from the universe at large in the first place, or if you can even draw a rigorous distinction. So you can define things in such a way that new discoveries may be outside our universe according to your definition. But there doesn't seem to be a fundamental reason for defining the universe in this way. There is the known universe; that may or may not be the universe in toto.

          • epeeist

            Then if it is observable, it's part of the universe, right?

            It is observable in this universe, but that does not entail it being part of the universe.

          • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

            So then there are things that may exist that may not be part of the material universe, but they are observable?

          • epeeist

            is the quantum vacuum observable by scientists or not?

            Try the Casimir effect and the Lamb shift for examples.

      • josh

        Jim, you are approaching a critical point if you follow this type of thinking. It depends on how you define the universe. That is, you can say some set of things (particles, fields, energy) is the universe. So you want to say that a 'cause' must be outside that universe. The laws of physics would be a plausible answer here and 'quantum vacuum'-type answers would be totally valid. But then you say the quantum vacuum, or the structure of physical laws is also a thing, so what explains them? So now we expand the definition of universe to include not just particles that exist within the framework, but the framework itself. Okay, so now you want an explanation for that. But this in turn must invoke a larger framework in which some 'thing' can give rise to the laws of physics. But I can always expand my definition of universe to include this meta-framework and ask again, stacking up an infinite series of explanations.

        If I define the universe as 'everything that exists', then there can be no explanation for it (at least on this model of 'explanation') since 'nothing' exists outside to do the explaining. But then one can see that there is no reason to stop at an arbitrary point, lets say three meta-frameworks up and insert God. God can also be made part of an expanded definition of 'universe', regardless of what definition you started with, and equally in need of or not in need of explanation as any other stopping point. So now one can see that we might as well start with 'universe' meaning everything that exists, and there is no reason to add anything to 'the laws of physics' for which we don't have evidence. There might indeed be more to our universe, there might be more unifying principles which 'explain' the known laws of physics, but you can't rationally add a God just because you want a deeper explanation. You have to actually show that 'god' leads to the known laws of physics. But 'god' won't explain it's own existence so you can't impose that requirement on the known universe.

        • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

          But through the use of reason, one can see and understand the philosophical constraints that keep the concepts of God, nothing, and universe in balance, at least as I see it. And the distinction between God's existence and the existence of everything else seems well-resolved (again as I see it) by the philosophical arguments for God's existence and the contrasting of "everything" with "nothing."

          • BenS

            That looks very much to me like you're just trying to gloss over the glaring errors by arbitrarily defining them as 'resolved'.

            If quantum fields are within the universe because they can be detected then you have the problem that... if your god can be detected then it's in the universe in the same way quantum fields are (and therefore can't be the cause of the universe, according to your own logic) or if it can't be detected (even in theory) then to all intents and purposes, it doesn't exist...

          • josh

            What I've never seen is a good reason to think that the concept 'God' is coherent or necessary, and I'm arguing above that there can be no non-arbitrary distinction between God and the rest of the universe. If you follow what I'm saying above, there is no argument for God's existence, at least not along cosmological lines.

      • robtish

        Jim, as I understand it: the Universe (i.e., that which came into being with the Big Bang) originated from the quantum vacuum, therefore the quantum vacuum is not a thing contained in the Universe.

        • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

          Except that it is, of course. It fills all of space and virtually spits out virtual particles all the time.

          Logic is not going to tne high on the list of priorities for a physics that can say, with a straight face:

          "A Universe From Nothing"

          while telling you immediately after you have paid for the book that Nothing is really Something.

          • robtish

            No, there's a difference between saying the quantum vacuum contains the universe and the universe contains the quantum vacuum.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            robtish 1: "therefore the quantum vacuum is not a thing contained in the Universe"

            robtish 2: "there's a difference between saying the quantum vacuum contains the universe and the universe contains the quantum vacuum"

            Notice, rob, that your first statement is not even approximately the same as your second.

            Needless to say, I could not employ quantum retrocausality to answer your second assertion.

            So I went ahead and answered your first.

          • robtish

            Rich, I have to disagree -- my second statement explains my first statement. And both are relevant to Jim's question: "If the quantum vacuum is a "thing" that exists in the universe, then it can't be the cause of the universe, right?"

            The answer is that if the quantum vacuum is not contained in the universe, but the other way around, then Jim's objection does not apply.

    • Rationalist1

      Exactly. If one can define that God needs no cause, one can just as easily define the fluctuation that started the universe needs no cause.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        But Vilekin posits preexisting "laws" to govern the behavior of the fluctuation. He does not account for them: they just are. But as BenS loves to point out, concepts have to actual power to make anything happen.

    • epeeist

      Doesn't the quantum vacuum provide an answer to that?

      It might have done at one time, but each time we seemingly come up with a definition for "nothing" then the goalposts get shifted. Hence the reason to pin down the definition of nothing in ex nihilo nihil fit.

      Once we get that far then we can discuss whether such a nothing is a possible and whether it ever was an actual.

      • primenumbers

        I don't think there's a logically coherent definition of nothing, and certainly the existence of God would ruin any attempt at theists producing such a definition right from the get-go.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Do you think that because theists believe there never is actually nothing, since God is something?

          • primenumbers

            If God is something, even a metaphysical existence (whatever that really means) it does indeed make it hard to come up with a properly coherent definition of nothing. It's one of those words that we have a human-level idea of that suits our normal needs, and we have the zero concept in math that's also sorta-analogous, but we really do lack a properly coherent definition of nothing which makes any claims for Godly creation from nothing similarly incoherent.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't see why. To use somebody's much earlier analogy of "piles", before the beginning of the universe, there were two piles of things. On one pile was God. On the other pile was nothing.

            After the universe was created, there were still two piles. Now on what was the nothing pile we have the universe.

          • primenumbers

            A pile of nothing is not nothing.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Of course not. It's a lame analogy.

            The core idea is, first God and nothing else. Then God and the universe.

          • primenumbers

            So you're saying first there wasn't nothing, there was something and that something was God. There was never nothing?

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            Bingo.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If you place God in the category of something, yes, as Rick puts it, bingo.

          • primenumbers

            I don't know why you think bingo. I see no coherent notion of nothing and you need absolute nothing for your creation ex nihilo.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            How about the vacuum state minus itself?

          • primenumbers

            1-1=0 in math, but it doesn't work for a coherent definition of nothing for our purposes.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            To the contrary. God *creates* ex nihilo.

            God is not nihilo.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            How long in divine time did it take before the creation of the Universe?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            How long in divine time did it take before the creation of the Universe?

            Don't we know, even in plain old ordinary time, that how long something takes is entirely dependent on the observer?

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Was it an eternity?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Was it an eternity?

            For those of us who were waiting around to exist, it certainly seemed like an eternity. It was definitely longer than that sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey in which Keir Dullea rides through all those colored lights. It was even longer than the Broadway Melody Ballet sequence with Cyd Charrrise and Gene Kelly in Singin' in the Rain.

            I am not quite sure what the obsession is (among the theists) for the universe having a beginning, because as I understand it, the arguments for the existence of God don't assume a universe with a beginning. A universe existing from all eternity serves just as well.

            I remember Isaac Asimov saying one shouldn't get all excited about the Big Bang and claim Genesis was right about the universe beginning with creation (which, if you read Genesis, it doesn't, chaos already existing when creation begins). He said either the universe had a beginning, or it didn't. It's not like the odds against being right are astronomical.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I'm not sure if eternity is longer than that dance sequence.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            "which, if you read Genesis, it doesn't, chaos already existing when creation begins"

            >> False. If you read Genesis, iot says:

            " In the beginning God *created* the heavens and the Earth."

            It is of course a de fide dogma of the Catholic Faith that God created *ex nihilo*, not *ex chaos*.

            But things are very disoriented indeed when it comes to dogma among Catholics these days.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            " In the beginning God *created* the heavens and the Earth."

            My JPS translations says

            When God began to create heaven and earth—the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water—God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.

            .

            The Anchor Bible volume for Genesis begins

            When God set about to create heaven and earth the world being then a formless waste, with darkness over the seas and only an awesome wind sweeping over the water—God said, "Let there be light." And there was light.

            The (heretical) NAB says

            In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. Then God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.

            The notes say

            Until modern times the first line was always translated, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Several comparable ancient cosmogonies, discovered in recent times, have a “when…then” construction, confirming the translation “when…then” here as well. “When” introduces the pre-creation state and “then” introduces the creative act affecting that state. The traditional translation, “In the beginning,” does not reflect the Hebrew syntax of the clause.

            * [1:2] This verse is parenthetical, describing in three phases the pre-creation state symbolized by the chaos out of which God brings order: “earth,” hidden beneath the encompassing cosmic waters, could not be seen, and thus had no “form”; there was only darkness; turbulent wind swept over the waters. Commencing with the last-named elements (darkness and water), vv. 3–10 describe the rearrangement of this chaos: light is made (first day) and the water is divided into water above and water below the earth so that the earth appears and is no longer “without outline.” The abyss: the primordial ocean according to the ancient Semitic cosmogony. After God’s creative activity, part of this vast body forms the salt-water seas (vv. 9–10); part of it is the fresh water under the earth (Ps 33:7; Ez 31:4), which wells forth on the earth as springs and fountains (Gn 7:11; 8:2; Prv 3:20). Part of it, “the upper water” (Ps 148:4; Dn 3:60), is held up by the dome of the sky (vv. 6–7), from which rain descends on the earth (Gn 7:11; 2 Kgs 7:2, 19; Ps 104:13). A mighty wind: literally, “spirit or breath [ruah] of God”; cf. Gn 8:1.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ.

            Translated directly from the Hebrew by:

            http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0101.htm

            as:

            "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth."

            1
            in the beginning 11254 [e]
            bā·rā
            בָּרָ֣א
            created430 [e]
            ’ĕ·lō·hîm;
            אֱלֹהִ֑ים
            God853 [e]
            ’êṯ
            אֵ֥ת
            - 8064 [e]
            haš·šā·ma·yim
            הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם
            the heavens853 [e]
            wə·’êṯ
            וְאֵ֥ת
            - 776 [e]
            hā·’ā·reṣ.
            הָאָֽרֶץ׃
            the earth776 [e] 2
            wə·hā·’ā·reṣ, 2
            וְהָאָ֗רֶץ 2
            the earth 21961 [e]
            hā·yə·ṯāh
            הָיְתָ֥ה

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Here is yet another translation from a book in my library—The Torah: A Modern Commentary, edited by W. Gunther Plaut.

            When God began to create the heaven and the earth—the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water—God said, "Let there be light"; and their was light.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            Translations are dynamical things sometimes, David. See above for what God actually said.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            See above for what God actually said.

            Are you saying Genesis (and the rest of the Bible) was dictated out loud by God and taken down verbatim?

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            Inspired by God, so that the sacred authors committed to writing exactly what He wanted, nothing more and nothing less.

          • Linda

            Is anyone else struck by how right it actually is? I think all these translations are beautiful. And it is amazing to me how dead on they got all of the science everyone here is discussing. Pretty impressive!

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Is anyone else struck by how right it actually is? I think all these translations are beautiful.

            Here is one of my favorites, from The Five Books of Moses (The Shocken Bible: Volume I), by Everett Fox:

            At the beginning of God's creating of the heavens and the earth,

            when the earth was wild and waste,

            darkness over the face of Ocean,

            rushing-spirit of God over the face of the waters—

            God said: Let there be light! And there was light.

            I disagree that it is at all consistent with the modern scientific view of the origin of the universe, even if you don't interpret the opening lines to mean God "created" the world by bringing order to pre-existing chaos and interpret them to mean God created the universe from nothing.

            If you translate the first line to be, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth," you are stuck with the problem that the earth God created "was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep." That would seem to indicate that God initially created a chaotic mess ("without form") and then proceeded to clean it up.

          • Linda

            That is a lovely translation!
            My NAB says: "In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.
            "Then God said, 'Let there be light…' " -- Big Bang
            "God separated light from the darkness. God called the light "day" and the darkness "night". Thus evening came and the morning followed -- the first day." The beginning of time and temporal existence.
            Day 2 - God creates a dome in the middle of the waters, to separate one body of water from another." We have stars and planets form, and separate from the space around them.
            Day 3 - "Let water be gathered in a single basin so dry land can appear." Pretty close to how the continents emerge, followed by the emergence of plant life. Almost spot on, really.
            Day 4 - okay, I admit -- huge problem w their science here, but they are otherwise more than 80 percent accurate.
            Day 5 - living creatures!
            Day 6 - us!
            I suppose I might be less impressed if these were the astronomers, mathematicians, philosophers and scientists of their day. But they're the farmers!! They were slaves! I don't hear them mentioned in any of the math and science books but they still managed to put forth a coherent, evolutionary, cosmologically sound theory of the beginnings of space, time and the universe that is almost entirely supported by all modern sciences (and which many commenters in this space have spent much time describing in great detail) while they were tending their goats! They're not suggesting anything crazy at all (giant turtles, flying spaghetti monsters, wolves, even human-like gods). They posit the history of the universe however many thousands of years ago that still holds up just while wandering around the desert. I'm sorry -- that's freakin' impressive. How long did it take Darwin to catch up? Einstein? I haven't studied ancient mythologies so maybe all peoples have an origin story that actually matches the scientific evidence, but I'm only familiar with this one. If God didn't give them the insight how the heck did they manage to land on it so well?

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            "you are stuck with the problem that the earth God created "was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep." That would seem to indicate that God initially created a chaotic mess ("without form") and then proceeded to clean it up."

            >> To the contrary. It indicates what God created was without form and void, precisely so He could shape it as He wished.

            Which He did.

            Over the next Six Days.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            What does this part mean?

            [6]And God said, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters."
            [7] And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so.
            [8] And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.

            The firmament was thought to be a solid dome. See the entry for Firmament in the old online Catholic Encyclopedia, which ends with this (heretical?) statement, "On this point as on many others, the Bible simply reflects the current cosmological ideas and language of the time."

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            "What does this part mean?

            [6]And God said, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters."
            [7] And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so.
            [8] And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day."

            >> It means:

            [6]And God said, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters."
            [7] And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so.
            [8] And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.

            "The firmament was thought to be a solid dome."

            >> What it was thought to be is interesting only in an historical sense. What is relevant is what the Hebrew words say.

            "Accordingly, Job 37:18 has some very interesting features that support the censor’s contention against Foscarini. The Hebrew sentence reads as follows: eyqrt (“can you beat out or spread out”) wme (“with him”) .yqhvl (“the sky, the
            heavens”) .yqzj (“hard”) yark (“like a mirror”) qxym (“cast”). The first word, eyqrt, is a verb appearing twelve times in the Hebrew bible and normally means “to spread or stretch out.”273 It is very similar to the noun eyqr, which is translated as“firmament” in Genesis and the Psalms.

            "The word .yqhvl (“the sky, the heavens”) is from the root qhv and appears twenty-one times as either“sky”;275“clouds”276 “heavens,”277 or even “dust,”278 with a notable difference between “sky” and “clouds.”279 All in all, it carries the idea of a finely-grained substance that fills the sky, and by
            extension, the rest of the space of the firmament."--- ---Sungenis, Galileo Was Wrong Vol II, p.93

            "See the entry for Firmament in the old online Catholic Encyclopedia, which ends with this (heretical?) statement, "On this point as on many others, the Bible simply reflects the current cosmological ideas and language of the time."

            >> Why heretical? The words are the words. The interpretations of the words will reflect the understandings of the time.

            But God chose the words.

            The words are very interesting, since they are consistent with a Planck-scale substance of space.

            For the cosmological ideas of *this* time :-)

          • Linda

            My crazy Catholic bible doesn't say "heaven" in these verses. Just "sky".

          • Kevin Aldrich

            To further refine the lame analogy we have to erase the world "first."

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            To further refine the lame analogy we have to erase the world "first."

            Yes, I noticed that. It was the assertion of sequence of events that introduced the equivalent of "time" and caused me to ask about it.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            That is exactly the atheist killer in the KCA.

            Which is just Aquinas.

    • Loreen Lee

      When I was studying Buddhism I learned that they believed that the physical 'universe' has always existed. This is explained by conventional truth. The ultimate truth is the truth of Nirvana. Is there a reason why they call this state of 'non-being'/'pure being' emptiness, rather than nothingness, apart from the 'belief?' that it is a state of 'heavenly' bliss? Hope I'm not off topic. But it indicates to me the possible parallels between the nothingness and the somethingness. How can we 'understand' emptiness/nothingness when we impose so many explanations of how's and why's on a physical universe that I 'believe' we really do not 'understand'.......Do we really 'understand' evolution, for instance. Would it take an 'ultimate truth' to have the necessary understanding. If so, maybe we should stop pretending that we 'know' more than we really do!!!!

      • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

        One thing we know for sure.

        Nothing comes from nothing.

        Another thing we know for sure:

        No universe that expands on average can be mathematically described unless it has a beginning.

        There is much we do not know.

        Those two things are not among them.

        • robtish

          Again, we're not speaking of the expanding universe as having existed forever. We're speaking of the quantum vacuum from which the expanding universe sprang (per point 4 in the article)

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            Again, the quantum vacuum cannot have existed forever,

            "The third, although it is stable with respect to classical perturbations, can collapse quantum mechanically, and therefore cannot have an eternal past."

          • robtish

            I do not believe the "universe" in the paper is the same as the quantum vacuum. Even if it does, though, it would seem that the "nothing" in point 4 above that gave rise to the quantum vacuum could itself have existed forever.

            Getting back my original point, people say (per Kalam) that the universe could not have caused itself because the universe came into being with the big bang. However, we have no evidence of an originating event for this field of "nothing" in which the big bang occured.

            Thus is there any reason to believe that this "nothing" (which, as Holt points out, doesn't seem like "nothing") could not be the uncaused cause? After all, with no originating event comparable to the big bang, there's no reason to view it as something that came into existence -- it could simply have always been.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            "I do not believe the "universe" in the paper is the same as the quantum vacuum."

            >> Please notice this:

            "it states simply that past geodesics are incomplete provided that the expansion rate averaged along the geodesic is
            positive: Hav > 0. This is a much weaker condition, and should certainly apply to the past of any inflating region of spacetime. Therefore, *****although inflation may be eternal in the future, it cannot be extended indefinitely to the past.*****

            Go ahead and read that three times slowly so that you understand that.

            *ANY* inflating region of space-time.

            "Even if it does, though, it would seem that the "nothing" in point 4 above that gave rise to the quantum vacuum could itself have existed forever."

            >> Sorry. Notice this:

            "Both eternal inflation and cyclic universe scenarios have Hav > 0, which means that they must be past-geodesically incomplete. We have also examined a simple
            emergent universe model, and concluded that it cannot escape quantum collapse. Even considering more general emergent universe models, *****there do not seem to
            be any matter sources that admit solutions that are immune to collapse*******.

            There is no way to get this universe out of eternal inflation, epkyrosis, or quantum foam "emergent".

            "Getting back my original point, people say (per Kalam) that the universe could not have caused itself because the universe came into being with the big bang. However, we have no evidence of an originating event for this field of "nothing" in which the big bang occured."

            >> We never could have evidence of the nothing, it doesn;t exist. From nothing nothing comes. If nothing exists, then we do not.

            "Thus is there any reason to believe that this "nothing" (which, as Holt points out, doesn't seem like "nothing")

            >> Because it isn't nothing. It is something, of course.

            "could not be the uncaused cause?"

            >> If it is something, then it either begins to exist, or it does not begin to exist. We know that the quantum foam begins to exist, because it is not immune to quantum collapse, and hence cannot be past-eternal.

            "After all, with no originating event comparable to the big bang, there's no reason to view it as something that came into existence -- it could simply have always been."

            >> Nope.

          • robtish

            Rick, in the article Jim Holt says, ""the bubble of false vacuum out of which the cosmos was born had to come from somewhere." Exactly -- that somewhere is what I'm referring to as the possible uncaused cause, whatever it is that exists that gives rise to those things that are subject to quantum collapse and the subject of the paper you site -- not the thing that inflates, but the somewhere that gave rise to that which inflates.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            robtish:

            I don't know how to make this any plainer, really, not trying to be snarky but I honestly can't seem to make this any clearer than I have.

            Your proposal above is exactly what is referred to in the paper as "eternal inflation"; that is, our Hubble bubble emerges from some pre-existing quantum foam.

            The *crucial point that the paper makes* is that *the pre-existing quantum foam*- "that which gave rise to what inflates"- is NOT ETERNAL.

            It too has a beginning.

            Hope this helps.

            As above:

            " Therefore, *****although inflation may be eternal in the future, it cannot be extended indefinitely to the past.*****

          • robtish

            I suspect we're at an impasse then, for each of thinks we understand the other and is mystified that the other does not understand us.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            No, we are at an impasse because you do not understand Vilenkin's paper.

            Once you do, you will stop using this argument, since it isn't correct.

            You wouldn't of course, knowingly continue to use an argument that had been shown to be incorrect, so, unless your ignorance is invincible, the day will come when you stop using the argument.

            Until then I will be here to straighten the matter out by direct citation of the relevant paper.

          • robtish

            Then I'll try once more -- I'm not referring to the quantum foam as a candidate for the uncaused cause. Rather I mean that conditions that allow the quantum foam to exist at all -- those conditions (which are the not the quantum foam itself, which are not the result of the singularity we call the big bang, and which have no origin that we can name) are the candidate for the uncaused cause.

            These conditions are the not the thing that Vilenkin and Mithani say cannot be eternal. They are not the thing that inflated and collapse. Rather, they are the "somewhere" that Holt refers to. They are what Vilenkin refers to tongue-in-cheek as "the mind of God," except they need only be a set of conditions, not God, and as we do not have any knowledge how they began to exist, we are still free to speculate that they never did begin to exist: they merely ARE.

            So while Kalam's argument applies to the universe that began to exist with the Big Bang, it does not apply to these conditions that led to the quantum foam that led to the Big Bang, for they have no originating event that we can point to.

          • Paul Rimmer

            Also, Robtish, maybe Vilenkin is wrong. Maybe pre-universes can go on forever. Maybe Sean Carroll's cosmology is right, and there's a universe with a reversed time-arrow on the other side of the Big Bang.

          • robtish

            Maybe. Sometimes I feel like we're a big cake trying to figure out who made the oven. We can theorize all we want, but there's so much we can see.

          • Paul Rimmer

            It is always worth it to keep looking, though.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            Sure is.

            We now know Thomas Aquinas had it right eight hundred years ago.

            This having been established, the future looks bright, though not the multiverse.

          • Paul Rimmer

            One of the very very few things I think you are right about. Multiverse isn't science. It's philosophy. Maybe it could become science someday, if some physicists are wrong and there are ways to detect either the multiverses themselves, or some direct consequences of the multiverses in this universe.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            Multiverse is just the metaphysical logical conclusion of the Copernican Principle, Paul.

            Nothing more, nothing less.

          • Paul Rimmer

            If we ever see good evidence of another universe, I'll accept the multiverse hypothesis. Not before.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            We agree.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            And maybe gravity is actually a bunch of higher dimensional elephants sucking with their trunks.

            And maybe its turtles all the way down.

            But as far as science is concerned, the universe has a beginning, and everything that begins to exist has a cause.

            And this universe has a supernatural cause.

          • Paul Rimmer

            It is not science that everything that begins to exist has a cause. That's metaphysics too.

            Something else to keep in mind: Vilenkin's beginning is a beginning just as much as Krauss's nothing is nothing. Just like Krauss's nothing is really something, things can happen "before" Vilenkin's beginning. Sean Carroll's model works fine, for example.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            If Sean's model involves a space-time that expands on average, I would love to see how.

          • Paul Rimmer

            How is because the arrow of time reverses when the universe is its smallest. In other words, the middle point counts as a "beginning" by Vilenkin's definition. It's past incomplete, in that the change in entropy will prevent us getting any information from before the minimum.

            Even if it was a single direction in time (if time is fundamental, and not directed by change in entropy), then H isn't always increasing with time, and so the space-time doesn't expand on average before the minimum.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            Interesting, is there a link?

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            "They are what Vilenkin refers to tongue-in-cheek as "the mind of God," except they need only be a set of conditions, not God"

            >> Congratulations, robtish.

            You have arrived at precisely what Aquinas calls "God".

            You can call it what you will.

            The metaphysics are identical.

            The KCA is bulletproof, and you and I both stand at exactly the same place, the difference between us being- exactly- nominal.

            However:

            entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem

          • robtish

            Then take your own advice, and all we have is an uncaused cause. Calling it "God" advances the understanding not one bit.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            Neither does calling it "uncaused Cause", or "Mind of God", or "nothing that is really something".

            Pure nominalism.

            We have established complete agreement between Aquinas, myself, and you.

            I think this is marvelous, but I understand why you don;t :-)

          • robtish

            So let's see: we've established that an uncaused cause may or may not exist, and if it does, it need not be conscious, and that it calling it God does not make it God. I think Aquinas would be surprised to hear he's in agreement with that.

            :-)

          • robtish

            I should also point out that this thread did not establish the existence of an uncaused cause. Rather, it established that IF such a cause exists, it need merely be a set of conditions, not a personal God.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            I quite agree. KCA establishes a necessary Being, which you attribute to....what exactly?

            Oh yes, initial conditions.

            Set by what?

            This is why Vilenkin is honest enough to introduce the "Mind of God", since that is exactly what we have.

            Mind.

            Mind that preexists the cosmos.

            Mind that imbues the cosmos with initial conditions which are imposed upon the cosmos by that Mind.

            Sounds positively medieval :-)

          • robtish

            See, now that's the problem. The initial conditions whose origin (if it exists) we cannot pinpoint, well, it utterly bypasses KCA and the need to posit a Being. Sorry. Meanwhile, we still haven't established the existence of an uncaused cause -- we've merely shown that if one exists, it need not be a Mind.

        • Loreen Lee

          grin grin. Here's a few 'nothings' that I know not.....

          Nothing comes from nothing'???

          Nothing is often a good thing to do and always a clever thing to say.

          One truly understands only what one can create from nothing. Giambattista.

          As for me, all I know is that I know nothing'. Socrates.

          Nothing begins and nothing ends. Francis Thompson.

          Nothing can be created out of nothing. Lucretius.

          There is nothing new except what has been forgotten Marie Antoinette.

          Nothing can come out of an artist that is not in the man. H.L Mencken.
          Thou has seen nothing yet. Cervantes.

          We brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out. Epistle of Paul to Timothy.

          And what I felt when I couldn't understand your point regarding the expanding universe needing a beginning....

          I've got plenty of nothing. Ira Gershwin.

          OR I know plenty of 'nothing'.....Why couldn't the concept of the Buddhist Emptiness/Pure being/Nothingness be a non-anthropomorphic conception of (a) God. After all they say that Ultimate Truth is a state of Omniscience, and the Buddha can almost be seen as though he were 'g/God'.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            One can say whatever one wants, I suppose.

            If one wants to say what is true, one has to say that nothing does not exist.

            If nothing exists, then we do not.

            "Why couldn't the concept of the Buddhist Emptiness/Pure being/Nothingness be a non-anthropomorphic conception of (a) God."

            >> Because Nothing is not God, nor is Nothing omniscient.

          • Loreen Lee

            Nothing: Definition: No thing. as distinct from 'something' or 'some thing'.

            Nothing is defined by Heidegger as Pure Being. i.e. non-material, non-physical, and non-thing.

            That's the best I can do. Interpretation of philosophies etc. are always difficult, don't you think? True, no-thing defines the ultimate being through negation, rather than a positive assertion of a Being, which can only be described as simple, necessary, etc. etc. etc. But then Israel emphasizes that we can only determine conceptually, what God is 'Not'. In this regard I can certainly agree the the ultimate Being is definitely 'not' a 'thing'.......Like a lot of these 'metaphysical' arguments, "If one wants to say what is true, one has to say that nothing does not exist'. Nothing does not exist. Meaning? Everything does exist- to place negatives against positives? grin grin.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Nothing does not exist. Meaning?

            Loreen, try this: "The metaphysical idea of 'nothing' has no referent in the physical world."

          • Loreen Lee

            I know from experience that 'nothing' can 'mean' having no value, no worth. To feel like 'nothing'. That is only one possible referent. You may say that that is not a physical referent. But I made that point when I said that nothing was merely a verbal condensation for 'no thing' or 'not a thing'. But when you feel like 'nothing' you certainly feel like a 'thing', which just goes to demonstrate Derrida's theory of 'tracings' within language constructs.

            I began by attempting to point out that Buddhists insist on calling the ultimate being: emptiness rather than nothingness, because nothing is not a 'nothing' in any negative sense. We give what meaning we will, very often to idioms. If the word 'nothing' has any metaphysical import, and this is 'new' to me, then I would have to equate it with one of the many definitions of eternity, I mentioned in another comment section. To exist as a 'no thing' I would argue need not be discounted as a logical? impossibility. Metaphysically then it would be just as possible to say that 'Everything does exist' as to say that 'Nothing does not exist'. It would be just as difficult to prove 'God does not exist'....as to prove 'Nothing does not exist'.!!!!which was my 'point'. regarding what is 'foundational' within Buddhist metaphysics......

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            It would be just as difficult to prove 'God does not exist'....as to prove 'Nothing does not exist'.!!!

            In the case of metaphysical nothing, I agree. Those are both assertions made without evidence. However, when someone asserts that his or her idea of a deity or deities exist(s), the burden of evidence ensues. The same is true of asserting that metaphysical nothing could be the case in the physical world. There is an infinite number of things that you can't prove don't exist or ideas that you can't prove aren't manifest in reality. However between Occam's razor and Hitchens' razor, we need not consider them without evidence.

          • Loreen Lee

            The Buddhists do not assert that 'metaphysical nothing c/would be the case in the physical world'. Nirvana or emptiness is 'beyond' both 'samsara', (the reality of suffering) and world of conventional truth. It is a heaven/a metaphysical reality/ a Platonic 'form'/ beyond the physicality of the cosmos. Hitchens would have them prove their case. The emptiness would be a result of emptying oneself, (gaining control over the continuity of thought) of all negative karma (translate 'sin' in Western context). The salvation that ensues is consequently compared to an emptiness, which is not too far removed from the Christian concept of 'emptying oneself'. Emptiness or 'nothingness' thus constitutes ultimate truth, goodness, and bliss. The Buddhood which results in this achievement thus attains an omniscience which is the equivalent to being in the ultimate Truth. The greatest contrast between the Western Tradition and this eastern philosophy (I will not say religion- "meaning bound to God"), is that it does not put forward a positive anthropological construct.(God) Instead there is emptiness or nothingness: The Metaphysical 'Reality'. There is consequently no distinction between will and logos or intelligence, and I never did find an explanation how Buddhahood becomes 'manifest' in 'the world'. I do believe however, that Christians can learn much from the study of comparative religion. I believe a religion that is True will be able to 'subsume?' alternative perspectives, and that therefore the best way to evangelize is very often to understand, (if this were always possible for me) the arguments put forward by the opponent, even in a theist-atheist argument. Sometimes you have to put away the razors in order to do that......Especially when the 'evidence' is of a 'personal' and/or metaphysical nature.and is consequently neither as sharp as Occam's, nor as clear cut as Hitchen's. grin grin .... ......Thanks for responding.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Why would it? The physical world is something.

            Would you expect a scientist to be able to remove everything from the table, including quantum fields, time, and space?

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Would you expect a scientist to be able to remove everything from the table, including quantum fields, time, and space?

            Yes, that is the point. Back in the time of Leibniz that was the expectation. It was not questioned because it seemed self evident. Now, we don't have justification to assume that the taking away process can get to what he thought of as "nothing."

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think you have written elsewhere you think "nothing" is a sensible metaphysical idea but that it just does not apply to the physical universe.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Wouldn't you have to get a precise idea of that the "quantum vacuum" is to know if it can account for itself?

      • robtish

        I suppose you would. However, I'm not saying that the quantum vacuum IS the thing that never began to exist (but simply always was). Rather, I'm asking people who speak of the uncaused cause (the thing that never began to exist) why that cause has to be God rather than the quantum fluctuation.

    • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

      "Doesn't the quantum vacuum provide an answer to that? We don't have a beginning-event for the quantum vacuum (no "quantum vacuum big bang" as it were), so why can't the quantum vacuum be the thing that doesn't need a cause, the thing that never "begins to exist" but simply is?"

      >> Because it doesn't work mathematically, is why.

      http://arxiv.org/abs/1204.4658

      Excerpt:

      "We discuss three candidate scenarios which seem to allow the possibility that the universe could have existed forever with no initial singularity: eternal infation, cyclic evolution, and the emergent universe. The first two of these scenarios are geodesically incomplete to the past, and thus cannot describe a universe without a beginning. The third, although it is stable with respect to classical perturbations, can collapse quantum mechanically, and therefore cannot have an eternal past."

      The "Universe From Nothing" was never from nothing in the first place.

      We now know that even were we to grant that it happened, it cannot be past-eternal; that is, the KCA stands against the "Universe From Nothing".

      Which will be rapidly retired, just as soon as the memo gets around.

      • robtish

        That seems to indicate that the "universe" could not have existed forever, but I don't see that as dealing with the quantum vacuum from which the universe sprang, as described in point 4 of the post.

      • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

        The third, although it is stable with respect to classical perturbations, can collapse quantum mechanically, and therefore cannot have an eternal past."

        Haven't you explained to us that contemporary physics is soon going to collapse like a house of cards? It's just all laughably wrong. Why should we accept the conclusion of this one paper by scientists who no doubt buy into all the ideas that you claim will soon be exposed as nonsense?

        I do note that the authors conclude, "At this point,it seems that the answer to this question [i.e., Did the universe have a beginning?] is probably yes."

        By the way, what do they mean by "the universe." I think they mean our universe, not "everything that exists," and so our universe could be part of a pre-existing multiverse.

        • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

          "Haven't you explained to us that contemporary physics is soon going to collapse like a house of cards?"

          >> That much is obvious to any student of the history of science. Epicycles upon epicycles is the mark that a theory is about to collapse like a house of cards.

          "It's just all laughably wrong."

          >> "A Universe From Nothing"? Yes. Laughably wrong.

          "Why should we accept the conclusion of this one paper by scientists who no doubt buy into all the ideas that you claim will soon be exposed as nonsense?"

          >> Because the argument is presented in mathematical form, based on the mathematical procedures of the inflationary, epkyrotic, and emergent universe theories.

          The inflationary, epkyrotic, and emergent univ erses are ridiculously absurd as a matter of theology, and as a matter of metaphysics.

          They have just been shown to be absurd as a matter of their own mathematics as well.

          Pretty solid.

          "I do note that the authors conclude, "At this point,it seems that the answer to this question [i.e., Did the universe have a beginning?] is probably yes."

          >> Since the author is a scientist, he is professional enough to speak like one- that is, he knows the limitations of his method.

          "By the way, what do they mean by "the universe." I think they meanour universe, not "everything that exists," and so our universe could be part of a pre-existing multiverse."

          >> Doesn't matter whether this is the only, thirteenth, or twenty seven to the five hundredth power "universe".

          It had a beginning, it cannot have caused itself, and the KCA stands.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I must admit I am not quite sure what you are arguing here, but I as best I can tell, you are citing scientific evidence you consider fundamentally wrong to support your conclusions. How current theories, if they are all wrong, can support anything at all, I have no idea.

            It had a beginning, it cannot have caused itself, and the KCA stands.

            But as I just said to Q. Quine, it is my understanding that the arguments for the existence of God are the same whether the world had a beginning or existed from all eternity. I don't get the "theist" insistence that the "universe" (in the sense of all that exists) had a beginning. First, nobody can say it did. And second, whether it did or didn't is necessary to the arguments about God.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            "I must admit I am not quite sure what you are arguing here, "

            >> That is true.

            "as best I can tell, you are citing scientific evidence you consider fundamentally wrong to support your conclusions."

            >> As you admitted above, you do not understand.

            And your reiteration of the temporal eternity question is answered above.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            >> As you admitted above, you do not understand.

            I understand that you are infallible when quoting infallible sources, but the rest of the time—especially when you quote as proof things you claim are false—I gotta say I'm skeptical.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            I simply hope that at some point you can understand the paper.

            It has to do with the *mathematics of the inflation theory itself*, nothing at all to do with whether inflation is true or not.

            In other words, *even if inflation is true*.......

            It cannot be past-eternal.

            The KCA stands against all currently-developed, or subsequently developed mathematically-consistent, elaborations of an eternally inflating or emergent multiverse.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I simply hope that at some point you can understand the paper.

            It is doubtful I will ever understand the math, but I believe I do understand what Vilenkin is saying, particularly after finding the video Did the Universe have a Beginning? in which Vilenkin gives a talk that runs through the arguments in the paper point by point. (This link gives what seems to be the PowerPoint slides for the talk.) Also, there is another video (Did Our Universe Have a Beginning in which Vilenkin is interviewed and discusses the question in a more conversational style.

            As far as I can tell, Vilenkin says nothing that contradicts what has been argued here by the "athests"—that our universe had a beginning, and it came about through "quantum nucleation from nothing" (see the very last slide), which does not violate any laws of physics, and leaves open the possibility that there are other universes.

            In other words, *even if inflation is true*....... It cannot be past-eternal.

            Has anyone here ever argued this? According to Wikipedia, "The inflationary epoch comprises the first part of the electroweak epoch following the grand unification epoch. It lasted from 10-36 seconds after the Big Bang to sometime between 10−33 and 10−32 seconds."

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Thanks for posting these links.

      • Loreen Lee

        I believe there are many conceptions of eternity: among them aeviternity, praeternatural, sempiternity, aeturnus, aevum, - I think that's all. I'll leave you to look up the distinctions, the major one being an eternity within time and space, and the other 'Platonic?' one. I don't know about all these discussions of beginnings, and nothings, etc. etc. Could not a metaphysical beginning be a kind of 'foundation', and if something is 'outside of time and space', the sustaining creationism is still a constant beginning, even as I type this, is it not? As for all the quantum theories, I thought there was an argument afoot that objected to the metaphysical 'tone' of some of these theories. When is science going to be absolutely! rigorous about theories being scientific only if and as long as they are falsifiable. Is science going to place quantum mechanics, or whatever it is called in a sphere of knowledge comparable to the pre scientific Copernican universe, which at some time will no longer be credible despite the efforts of the scientists of the future to 'save the phenomena'. I'm not a scientist, but how is it possible to distinguish between the metaphysics and the physics in these cases!!! Or between the theologian of science and the scientist of God! grin grin.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        Great link!

  • clod

    A lot of 'why' questions from the human perspective are really questions about motive and agency, no? To introduce that makes it more complex rather than simpler I think.

    • Rationalist1

      The human practice of assigning agency to all sorts of natural events is quite deep seated, occurring in all societies and times. One needs to very much watch out for that,

      • clod

        Yes. It's way deep in our lizard brains. Our survival depends on it. Few confuse a burglar for a shadow. Shadow for a burglar? Bit more often.

        • Rationalist1

          Maybe it's because we are here and Neanderthals are not. It is hard wired in us.

      • epeeist

        The human practice of assigning agency to all sorts of natural events is quite deep seated

        You might want to try this paper which describes a "hyperactive agency detection device".

        • Rationalist1

          That was very interesting. The more we learn about ourselves, the more we learn about how we react.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Why did the author bring this up only in terms of religion? Don't human beings naturally assign causes, meanings, purposes, and motives to everything they encounter?

          • ZenDruid

            Why did the author bring this up only in terms of religion?

            Because religion is the bailiwick of all inexplicable, paranormal, or supernatural impressions. Superstition is a driver.

            Don't human beings naturally assign causes, meanings, purposes, and motives to everything they encounter?

            Yes, but how humans arrive at a consensus can be problematic. Some people take the evidence and go bottom-up, and some take theory and go top-down. Only when they converge can there be any confidence of a good description.

      • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

        The modern practice of assigning fictions to all sorts of natural events- see dark matter/energy, inflatons, curvatons, gravitons, multiverses, etc.- is deep seated, occurring in this post-scientific society at this post-scientific time.

        One needs to very much watch out for that; although it is also a very good sign.

        Our theories- evolution, LCDM cosmology- are dead ends, and they are sprouting epicycles at a rate poor Ptolemy would never have dared to imagine.

        There is a big change coming......

    • primenumbers

      And plays right into the hands of "overactive agency detection".

  • Kevin Aldrich

    In analyzing Becklo's rather flighty final paragraph, I came up with this as his core argument:

    > The knowledge of love must transcend logic and being.

    Does anyone know what that means?

    • JS Frederick

      You cannot "logic" your way into love.
      Love is greater than "you."
      Mankind has experienced ("known") love since the dawn of time, and has found it exceedingly difficult to describe.

    • Loreen Lee

      We're pretending, again, that we have knowledge if we ignore St. Paul in Corinthians, Verse 13 I think. We definitely 'see through a glass darkly', I believe and often assume we are acting out of love, when we cannot even begin to understand all the motivations, needs, etc. of both ourselves and others that come into play in an 'act of love', or the attempt at same.

    • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

      It means that Holt was converted on the top of a hill.

      Not in the offices of the Olympians.

      That which is most true he learned from the death of his mother, and there is no logic, no argument about being, that can comprehend or withstand it.

      It is the reason, I think, Thomas attempted to burn the Summa, shortly before his death.

      This was a truly great article, by the way.

      The best I have ever read here.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        That which is most true he learned from the death of his mother, and
        there is no logic, no argument about being, that can comprehend or
        withstand it.

        Thanks. That makes sense.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    Thanks for posting such an informative article that intelligently covers so much ground.

  • http://weighandconsider.wordpress.com/ Noah Luck

    I've read the book. This review goes off the rails midway through the section on Parfit. In reality, Holt tried to find a set of (Meta-) Selectors that could consistently go "all the way down". He did in fact find one. Though of course, it's merely a possible answer. We have virtually no evidence on which to decide this question.

    As long as we're picking our favorite possible answers that we have jack-squat evidence for, here's mine: The (Meta-) Selector is necessity. Necessity picks necessity picks necessity, recursively and all the way up or down. And it couldn't have been any other way.

    How might our universe be a consequence of mere necessity? Well, mathematical Platonism and Vilenkin's ideas get us really close, because "mathematical objects" are just sets of relationships that are necessary even without anything existing to be true about, and Vilenkin found mathematical objects describing how universes like ours might arise out of mathematical relationships with no previously existing substance required. So it looks like a necessity that "Given laws X and null properties Y, a universe will pop out without need for a pre-existing substance" for some X that seems to match our universe's laws and Y that matches Vilenkin's idea. And since that whole relationship was necessary, our universe necessarily popped out.

    At least, that's my favorite answer. I don't particularly "believe" it -- because, again, we just don't have access to the evidence to figure it out. And we probably never will.

    One thing that's certain, though, is that it makes perfectly lucid sense compared to "Personified love did it with magic!"

    • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

      Hey Noah - It's a relief to find someone looking at what Parfit, Vilenkin, etc. have to say! Many comments have mirrored Grünbaum's brash dismissal, and haven't really engaged the particulars of the other perspectives. Maybe because you read the book you appreciate the full force of the question, and the subtlety and complexity of each thinker's approach to an answer (something my summary probably failed to do).

      First, I would challenge your view that we can only decide questions for which we have empirical evidence. Most of the thinkers Holt interviews - many of them scientists - admit that science only gets you so far. Philosophy is less narrow and exacting, but it's not just a hopeless mishmash of ideas as divergent as their thinkers. There are bedrock principles to follow, and the cream rises to the top. In fact, certain evidence-less philosophical assumptions about the world, the mind, and intelligibility precede science itself, which I'm sure you accept as true.

      Second, Parfit. Let's do a thought experiment and replace "Meta-Selector" in your comment with "God": "[God] is necessity. Necessity picks necessity picks necessity...it couldn't have been any other way." Many would (quite rightly) protest that this is an appeal to a brute fact - the necessity of either can't be asserted so baldly. Again, Holt argues that the Meta-Selector is not a brute fact, even though a few pages earlier he and Parfit conclude that - to avoid meta-meta-Selectors and so on - one must stop somewhere with just such a brute fact.

      To be fair, though, Swinburne seems to say something similar - he also calls God a kind of brute fact. So, all things between equal there, which is a better "stopping point," Holt's diagram of Selectors or Swinburne's God? Well, God is a simpler explanation - there is no risk of a "partial God" or hierarchies of gods as there is with Selectors; God is indivisible - one. God also solves the problem of agency and clout. How do abstract "Selectors" reach out and realize a world any more than the Platonic Good? Lastly, Holt's two Meta-Selectors describe a cosmic reality that's either random or mediocre; but the teleological aspects of nature (biological life, cognition, consciousness, value) described by one of Holt's own heroes Thomas Nagel are unincorporated into such a view. God, who unlike a Selector is immaterial Spirit and Goodness itself, does not render these phenomena bizarre outliers.

      Again, what I took away from Holt's book is that a) philosophy is a necessary and useful guide to truth, and b) Christianity gives us neither cut-and-dried explanation nor hopeless obscurity. "Personified love did it with magic!" is a sort of blending of those two extremes - it doesn't really capture what Swinburne, Marion, or other serious Christian thinkers have to say about God and Creation.

      • http://weighandconsider.wordpress.com/ Noah Luck

        Howdy Matthew,

        First, I would challenge your view that we can only decide questions for which we have empirical evidence.

        That's not quite my view. We can test whether a theory is more or less fitting with observations (science) or with abstractions (analytic philosophy). I'm fine with either whenever they work. I think that if the latter provided evidence anywhere nearly as trustworthy as the former, then there would be nearly as much agreement among philosophers as there is among scientists. There isn't. It doesn't.

        certain evidence-less philosophical assumptions about the world, the mind, and intelligibility precede science itself, which I'm sure you accept as true.

        For example? I am skeptical of the claim they are "evidence-less". You don't need to start from neutrality to evaluate evidence. All you need is:

        Imagine it’s true. Then imagine it’s not.
        How likely in each are the facts that you’ve got?
        The odds of the facts times the odds for the thought
        say how sure or unsure you ought be of what’s what.

        So even fundamental assumptions like the validity of logic can have strong evidence. If logic is valid, then we'd expect the world to be logical, and we see that it is. If it's not, then we haven't got the foggiest idea what we should expect or if we can really imagine it, and no matter what the world is like, it's a surprise to us. So the subjective odds of our experiences tilt completely toward logic being valid. The subjective a priori balance between "logic is valid" versus "it's not" isn't obviously tilted toward "it's not", so in combination, our conclusion is rationally that we may be quite sure that logic is valid.

        I presume that the same imaginative process of considering our evidence can be done for the other philosophical assumptions.

        Let's do a thought experiment and replace "Meta-Selector" in your comment with "God": "[God] is necessity. Necessity picks necessity picks necessity...it couldn't have been any other way." Many would (quite rightly) protest that this is an appeal to a brute fact - the necessity of either can't be asserted so baldly.

        I don't think replacement of that term is an operation that preserves truth or dialectical function. We're using "meta-Selector" to stand in for "something that would select itself from all imaginable Selectors and that would select what actually exists from all imaginable realities". Necessity is an abstract principle that can perform those functions as I showed. Striking "meta-Selector" and popping in the word "God" doesn't produce anything that makes sense -- the abstract principle of necessity is not a God, certainly not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph, and there's no longer a reason to wonder what it would select.

        The closest sensible alternative is to say that "The meta-Selector is God." But to advance that claim, one would have to show their reasoning of why God as Meta-Selector selects Himself as Selector (consistency with abstraction!) and our world as part of global reality (consistency with observation!).

        Again, Holt argues that the Meta-Selector is not a brute fact, even though a few pages earlier he and Parfit conclude that - to avoid meta-meta-Selectors and so on - one must stop somewhere with just such a brute fact.

        In a short section near the end, Holt discussed what the characteristics of an answer would need to be in order to be a satisfying final answer rather than an unsatisfying brute fact. He noted that the critical characteristic had been known since Plato: logical necessity. Holt expressed that the contingent facts of our world suggested logical necessity was a dead-end, however, so he quickly moved on to other, unsatisfying ideas for a meta-Selector. My opinion is that he was too hasty there. I think it is possible to show how our world, with all its parts contingent upon each other, may as a whole be a necessity. Thus my account combining mathematical Platonism and Vilenkin.

        So, all things between equal there, which is a better "stopping point," Holt's diagram of Selectors or Swinburne's God? Well, God is a simpler explanation - there is no risk of a "partial God" or hierarchies of gods as there is with Selectors; God is indivisible - one.

        You got tripped up by polysemy. Theological arguments about divine simplicity use "simple" in the sense of "not composed of parts". The meaning of "simple" that is relevant to hypothesis selection is "easy to describe". Theologians sometimes say that God is ineffable; if they're right then every finite description of God is incomplete, which means God is an infinitely complex hypothesis. But maybe it's possible to describe just the relevant reasoning explaining how God ensures his own existence and why he selected our world out of all imaginable words. Without having that description, you can't actually say that it's simpler. For reference, I described my proposed meta-Selector and why it causes universes like ours in about a hundred words.

        God also solves the problem of agency and clout. How do abstract "Selectors" reach out and realize a world any more than the Platonic Good?

        First, I don't agree that invoking God solves anything. How does God reach out and realize a world?

        Second, in the speculative account I gave based on necessity as meta-Selector, the abstraction "necessity" doesn't play any causal role. It was just a description of the set of things that happen. Only the necessary things happen, and our universe's lawful expansion from zero pre-existing substance is one such necessary thing:

        Scientists have found mathematical descriptions of how universes similar to ours could arise with no previously existing space, material, energy, or other substance. So the following is a logical necessity: "Certain null initial conditions developing according to certain abstract laws become universes like ours." All it takes from there is to admit that there may be a restricted sense in which the truths of math and logic are real even if they are not instantiated in physical objects. Given such mathematical Platonism, the abstract reality underlying the above logical necessity would be real and could not not-be-real, and Parfit's "global reality" would contain (at least) all the universes that satisfy the math.

        • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

          Thanks Noah, for that thoughtful response! I got dizzy reading it, which is always a good sign. So much to mull over! I'll stick with the simplest point, simplicity, if you don't mind.

          You are totally right to make a distinction between simplicity of God as a unified substance without parts (parsimony), vs. the simplicity of the God hypothesis (elegance). The Stanford entry on simplicity appears to discuss both and their linkage: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/simplicity/ Suffice it to say, I would argue that God as Swinburne describes him both more elegant and parsimonious than Parfit's Selectors - God is simpler in both senses. Holt demonstrates this himself precisely by talking about the mathematical simplicity of infinity, which you count against God. "If the number 2.7 occurs in your equation, someone will always ask, 'why 2.7? Why not 2.8?' The simplicity of zero and infinity precludes such awkward inquiries...with an infinite God, there are no such limits to be explained." (It is only when God intervenes in human history that Holt retches - of course. Why should a God of infinite power and knowledge and goodness take an interest in his creation?) I would argue that Parfit's Selectors have such limits to be explained, namely: why not a meta-meta Selector? Why a "partial" Selector, and why not a partial meta-Selector?

          (By the way, regarding your choice of Meta-Selector - "necessity picks necessity" - wouldn't Holt/Parfit argue that this is circular? See pages 234-235 - "A Selector cannot select itself." They go to great lengths to avoid Meta-Selectors choosing themselves as Selectors. I would also ask you what this crushing sense of necessity, which given its mathematical fabric seems somehow a shade more fatalistic than even materialism, means for you as a human agent and your moral choices.)

          • http://weighandconsider.wordpress.com/ Noah Luck

            a distinction between simplicity of God as a unified substance without parts (parsimony), vs. the simplicity of the God hypothesis (elegance). The Stanford entry on simplicity appears to discuss both and their linkage: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/simplicity/

            The most obvious linkage is that a description of something with fewer substances is usually more concise than a description of something with more substances. But if God is ineffable, then he is an exception to the usual pattern, and there is a radical disparity between God's perfect ontological simplicity and his infinite syntactic complexity. On the other hand, if God is at-least-approximately effable, then it's reasonable to ask that an explanatory account be given so that we can have a common basis on which to consider how syntactically simple or complex it is, and it's "damning" of theistic hypotheses that no such formal models have yet been given. See the end of this comment for an example of what an explanatory account could look like.

            Holt demonstrates this himself precisely by talking about the mathematical simplicity of infinity, which you count against God.

            Not quite. The most common mathematical concepts of "infinity" are quite simple syntactically. For example, the lazy-eight infinity of calculus is essentially this instruction loop:

            1. Start with any real number N.
            2. Add one.
            3. Go back to step 2.

            The thing that I counted against God was not the use of infinity in the concept of God, but the property of divine ineffability, which implies that only an infinitely-long description of God could be complete.

            I would argue that Parfit's Selectors have these limits to be explained, namely: why not a meta-meta Selector?

            I thought "meta-Selector" was the name given to the final explanation at the end of any regress of Selectors. In any case, they did discuss the imaginable regress of Selectors, and what the characteristics of the final one would be. It's essentially a First Cause argument, except without all the fallacious baggage and smuggled assumptions about causation and God.

            (By the way, regarding your choice of Meta-Selector - "necessity picks necessity" - wouldn't Holt/Parfit argue that this is circular? See pages 234-235 - "A Selector cannot select itself."

            That objection works only if the Selector would be part of the causal chain, because letting the causal chain go in a circle is no solution to the question. Fortunately, as you recall, I don't use "necessity" in any causal role, but merely as a description of the things that do in fact happen. In this case the alleged circularity is merely tautology: "The things-that-happen-necessarily happen necessarily."

            I would also ask you what this crushing sense of necessity, which given its mathematical fabric seems somehow a shade more fatalistic than even materialism, means for you as a human agent and moral choice.)

            Ah, I forgot about that other kind of "necessity". I see no evidence for fate. It's just another kind of unfounded supernaturalism to me. The kind of necessity that I'm fine with is determinism. What we do may happen deterministically, but even so there is no correct scientific explanation of how it all happens that omits our beliefs, thoughts, choices, and actions. StanPhil has a sprawling historically-deep article on compatibilism, but see http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/13/is-neuroscience-the-death-of-free-will/ for a more useable overview of the issues at stake.

            ---
            (Here's the example promised above.)

            Suppose we believed God were real and not ineffable, and we wanted to develop a model of what he is and how he created, so that we could compare it on equal footing to atheist models of reality. I'd go about it by starting with a framework like Bishop Berkeley's skeptical idealism, and identify God as "the perceiver of all possibilities". Then it's fairly straightforward to derive the Trinity (e.g. in brief, God perceives himself, and because God is ontologically simple, that image in His mind is identical to Himself in every way except for its origin in unary relationship, and we name the original as "Father" and the image of the Father as "Son". God perceives the Son, and that percept is also identical to Himself in every way except for its origin in binary relationship, and we name the third as "Holy Spirit". And so on recursively with the relationships taking shape as in the diagram http://i.imgur.com/YxC3Pda.jpg ). Next we could define the Creation of our world as being one instance of his divine awareness being incorporated into the warp and woof of those possible worlds which contain perfectly self-aware entities, i.e. entities identical to the Son. So we could describe global reality as the set of such "theotokic worlds", the Selector as Incarnation, and the meta-Selector as a brute-fact infinite consciousness. Next we could argue that Jesus of Nazareth was the unique human possessing of a brain structure instantiating a perfectly self-aware entity, whereas the rest of us are imperfectly or indirectly self-aware. And so on and so forth for whatever doctrines are of interest and for which a match can be found in this model.

            It's only a model. I grant that it wouldn't be satisfactory to a Catholic because, for one thing, it doesn't have any obvious room for miracles, and more amusingly, it predicts that with sufficient technology we could grow new Incarnations. But it's more than I've ever seen from a believer. Theists don't develop and refine explanatory models of God; they use "God" as a linguistic cue to stop looking for solutions to mysteries.

  • Paul Rimmer

    The question of why this universe can be asked, so it is probably meaningful. I doubt that it is the right question. We are so far away from answering even simple parts of the "how" questions. Whenever I run into a question and have no idea how to handle it, eventually I lose interest, give up and go to another question.

    The question is uninteresting to me. I'm glad it is interesting to other people. Maybe they can make progress toward an answer. To those who find this question interesting: please let me know when you've figured it out, and how you know you're right.

    • ZenDruid

      The question is a fractally recursive teleological tautology. Or something.

      • Paul Rimmer

        That's the problem with asking the wrong question. There's no way to understand the answer!

        I like the alliteration, though. Teleological tautology. A tautology that's on a mission.

        • ZenDruid

          Thanks. The 'fractally recursive' bit has to do with asking "Why do you ask why the world exists?"

    • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

      OK.

      This universe was created so that the Creator could share His abundance.

      The whole shebang is just for us.

      It's all centered on us.

      He came and died for us.

      Here.

      There aren;t any others out there.

      Just us.

      He intends to give the whole thing over to us and that's after He has renewed it so pesky things like entropy don;t apply any longer.

      In the meantime, He says:

      Take this medicine or else you will suffer terribly.

      Some will take the medicine.

      Others, unsatisfied, will decline, and find something else to do instead.

      Entirely up to them.

      • Paul Rimmer

        Interesting. If we find alien intelligent life on another planet, how would this impact your philosophy?

        After I've stepped back from Christianity, I've found a lot more beauty in it. I was too close earlier. There is something magical and wonderful about being the center of the universe. Even if it's not a physical center, maybe it's a spiritual or cultural center. Sort of like Rome. Rome's not the geometric center of the world. But it is the center of the world.

        • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

          "If we find alien intelligent life on another planet, how would this impact your philosophy?"

          >> It would falsify it :-) I like a clean, falsifiable hypothesis. Don't you?

          I like where you are this time around.

          God bless, do good work.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Center of the universe?

          Cosmologists tell us that every galaxy is moving away from every galaxy. That means that every galaxy is from its own point of view the center of the universe.

          If we are the only planet in the only solar system in our galaxy that has rational and free beings on it (not a ridiculous assumption), then that makes us pretty darn special.

          • epeeist

            If we are the only planet in the only solar system in our galaxy that has rational and free beings on it (not a ridiculous assumption), then that makes us pretty darn special.

            But it is still an assumption, and may or may not be false. Given the number of exoplanets that have been found would you like to take a bet on it...

            And of course your conditional counterfactual relies on your assumption.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            "Given the number of exoplanets that have been found would you like to take a bet on it..."

            >> It is, exactly, the number of exoplanets found that makes the bet a deliciously attractive one for the non-Copernican.

            See Fermi's paradox.

            Kepler (the telescope, not the genius) tells us there are literally billions of perfectly good planets for life in our galaxy alone.

            Some of them, under Big Bag assumptions, are billions of years older than Earth.

            Where is everybody?

            All the good real estate should have been claimed aeons ago.

            Yes, I'll take the bet :-)

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You are right, but what I'm countering is the old Saganism that we are nothing but an insignificant planet revolving around an insignificant star on the far reaches of a galaxy, which is one of billions of others.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            Evidence suggests that, astronomically speaking, Sagan is correct.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            To the contrary.

            Evidence suggests Sagan is completely wrong.

            The largest scale structures in the cosmos show themselves to be non-randomly aligned with the ecliptic and equinox planes of Earth.

            Hardly insignificant.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            Nothing about the large-scale structure of the cosmos suggests that the universe has a geometric center. However interesting those results may be, that's not what anyone should take from them.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            "Nothing about the large-scale structure of the cosmos suggests that the universe has a geometric center.
            However interesting those results may be, that's not what anyone should take from them."

            >> First, if we assume that all we see is all there is, then everything suggests the universe has a center, and we are it.

            Now it is true that we cannot establish that all we see is all there is, and in that case the term "center" is problematic.

            Center involves relationship to perimeter, and if we do not know the perimeter of the cosmos, we cannot know its center.

            But the real issue here is the foundational assumption of consensus cosmology- it is an assumption, by the way- the "Copernican/cosmological principle".

            *That* is the foundation of our LCDM model, and *that* is what is seriously- conclusively, actually- contradicted by recent observations.

            Take away the CP, and what are we left with?

            Earth is in a highly privileged position in the cosmos.

            As Joel Smolin artfully phrases it, Earth is at the center of all possible centers :-)

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            Show me an edge to the universe, and I'll believe that there's a center. All we have is the end of our observations. If you could show a corner, or a side to the universe, or some sort of 2-dimensional surface out there, that would be good enough to convince me.

            Privileged based on whose opinion? What does privileged have to do with "geometric center"?

            Lambda-CDM is still the best model out there. It's not that great, but so far no good alternatives have been proposed. Maybe MOND will supplant it in the next 20 years. That'd be exciting.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            "Privileged based on whose opinion?"

            >> Privileged based on the observation that the large scale structure of the cosmos is not isotropic and homogeneous, but that it is instead aligned with Earth.

            "What does privileged have to do with "geometric center"?

            >> Arguably, the establishment of Earth as a geometric center would be the most world-changing achievement of science in history.

            It would, essentially, vindicate the Catholic Church's cosmology, scientifically.

            It would also, predictably, lead to the demolition of intellectually-fulfilled atheists :-)
            '

            "Lambda-CDM is still the best model out there. It's not that great, but so far no good alternatives have been proposed."

            >> I agree with the above sentences, given the proviso that "models" are developed with cash that is not presently adequately forthcoming to those whose models challenge LCDM :-)

            "Maybe MOND will supplant it in the next 20 years. That'd be exciting."

            >> MOND is looking better, LTB is looking better all the time.

            But Relativity is the problem, and that will have to go before any serious progress can be made.

            Twenty years seems about right to me on that.

            Maybe less.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            Assuming the CMB is aligned to the earth, what does that have to do with there being a geometric center?

            I'll bet you £20 (sent to the winner or to a charity of his or her choice) that relativity will remain unchanged in textbooks and major review articles over the next 20 years.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            "Assuming the CMB is aligned to the earth, what does that have to do with there being a geometric center?"

            >> Nothing. As I have already said above, center involves relationship to perimeter. But it does establish a violation of the Copernican Principle.

            "I'll bet you £20 (sent to the winner or to a charity of his or her choice) that relativity will remain unchanged in textbooks and major review articles over the next 20 years."

            >> It's a good bet for you, given the entrenched nature of consensus cosmology, but there are a lot of young scientists who smell blood in the water now, so.....

            Yer on.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            Right. Nothing.

            Like I said. All evidence suggests that, astronomically speaking, Sagan is correct. The earth is, to the best of our knowledge, one planet out of several orbiting one average star out of billions.

            EDIT: And I look forward to 20 years from now. I'll be about 50. I wonder how far £20 will go then?

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            "Right. Nothing."

            >> Right. Nothing. Even if the CMB were the perimeter of the cosmos, the Axis establishes only two of the three planes required for a center.

            In other words, we know there is a preferred direction- an axis- in the cosmos, and we know the Earth is somewhere along that axis.

            Centrality requires additional data.

            We know that Earth at the center solves the dark energy problem; we know that galaxy distribution out about 2 billion light years put us at the center of the distribution but only to within observational margins consistent with the galaxy; but we also know that the radio sky is arranged in a great circle around the Earth:

            http://arxiv.org/pdf/1305.4134.pdf

            "What is intriguing even further is why such anisotropies should lie about a great circle decided purely by the orientation of earth’s rotation axis and/or the axis of its revolution around the sun? It looks as if these axes have a preferential placement in the larger scheme of things, implying an apparent breakdown of the Copernican principle or its more generalization, cosmological principle, upon which all modern cosmological theories are based"

            We know that Type 1 Sna distributions are similarly Earth-oriented:

            http://arxiv.org/abs/1305.2701

            "In this paper, by using the Union2 SNIa dataset at different regions in the whole sky, we investigated the dependence of cosmic acceleration on the directions in the Galactic coordinate system, where the deceleration parameter q0 has been used as the diagnostic to quantify the anisotropy level.
            In the anisotropic q0-maps, we find the significant dipole effect with the amplitude A1 = 0.466, which deviates from zero at more than 2-σ level. This study also shows that the direction of the dipole trends to be perpendicular to CMB kinematic dipole......all these directional anomalies, as well as the alignment problems of the cosmic acceleration anisotropy discussed in this paper, the parity asymmetry of CMB power spectrum [47], the large-scale velocity flows [49] and the large scale alignment in the QSO optical polarization data [51] are connected with the CMB kinematic dipole and/or the ecliptic plane"

            "Like I said. All evidence suggests that, astronomically speaking, Sagan is correct. The earth is, to the best of our knowledge, one planet out of several orbiting one average star out of billions."

            >> Quite to the contrary. All of the above evidence, plus much more, observationally confirms that Sagan is wrong, the Copernican Principle is wrong, and therefore LCDM cosmology is wrong.

            In its foundational assumption.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            Like a person in a dark room with a torch. The torch lights up 10 feet in every direction, so he naturally concludes that he is in the center of a universe, and that the universe has a diameter of 10 feet.

            Every other point in space will look the same, because every other point in space will have picked out a sphere (the end of a light-cone is a sphere). And every point in the universe will have the same alignment to the CMB, because points don't have an axis.

            Every object in the universe will have an axis that will be aligned in some way with the CMB. The fact that you consider an alignment of 0 degrees to be more special than 6.28 degrees, or 44 degrees or 123 degrees, is the result either of your religion or an attraction to platonism. It has nothing to do with science.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            " And every point in the universe will have the same alignment to the CMB, because points don't have an axis."

            >> Completely false. The points lie, or do not lie, along an axis.

            The Earth does.

            Betelguese doesn't.

            "Every object in the universe will have an axis that will be aligned in some way with the CMB."

            >> Only if we pervert the meaning of the word "aligned".

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            Single points don't have axes because points are dimensionless. What I said isn't "completely wrong". It's high school geometry.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            What you said is completely wrong.

            The issue is not whether points have axes.

            The issue is whether points can be identified to lie along an axis, or in any other identifiable position with respect to a coordinate system, which of course they can be.

            Otherwise, for example, the fellows doing business in astrophysics should need a tongue lashing concerning high school geometry the next time they refer to:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lagrangian_point

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            What I said is correct and you just agreed to it above. You question the relevance, but you agree with the accuracy of what I said. I quote:

            The issue is not whether points have axes.

            Maybe you don't agree with the relevance of what I'm saying. But (I hope!) you admit that single points do not have a preferred direction!

            The relevance, by the way, is that any object anywhere in space can be aligned exactly as we are to the CMB, which means that the CMB alignment doesn't provide any evidence at all for a geometric center.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            Paul, at no point was it ever alleged, or was it ever relevant to any argument, that "points have axes".

            They do not.

            This established, the issue remains:

            The Earth is in a special, privileged, non-random location with respect to the large angle multipoles (and apparently smaller angles as well, all the way up to l=20 according to Planck2013) of the CMB....

            The Earth is in a special, privileged, non-random location with respect to the galaxy distributions of SDSS......

            The Earth is in a special, non-random location with respect to the Type 1a Supernovae distributions.....

            With respect to the radio sky......

            With respect to polarization of quasar photons.....

            With respect to bulk flow of the largest galaxy clusters.......

            And dark energy can be dispensed with, just so long as we tweak the model to eliminate the Copernican Principle and place Earth in the center of a void.

            These are the observations that have far too many young scientists smelling blood in the water, to allow me to pass up the opportunity to win our bet.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            Thanks for the heads up on the relativistic effects paper re: CMB, just saw it up on arXiv today:

            http://arxiv.org/pdf/1307.6069.pdf

            Interestingly, it deals only with l>600.

            I had no idea there was a 6.5 sigma preferred direction in the high multipoles :-)

            Will enjoy hearing from some friends concerning this paper, which, interestingly, confirms a 3 sigma preferred direction in the CMB *all the way up to l=600*!

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            I have no idea what you are talking about. I'm not Finnish. I had nothing to do with this research and had no idea it was going to be published. I'm not associated with this group at all.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            Sorry, I didn't mean to imply it was yours. I was referring to the heads up on the application of the idea of relativistic corrections to minimize the Axis problem.

            I appreciate this- I had no idea, as I said, that the Planck data was revealing the Axis in all the multipoles, and even after correction for relativistic effects, etc, it is now present at 3 sigma in all the multipoles up to l=600.

            This is actually astonishing-- it had always been the argument, pre-Planck, that the higher multipoles did not show the Axis.

            This is great to know :-)

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            Thanks for the reference, then. I'd warn against believing it until it's been accepted in a peer-reviewed journal. It hasn't been submitted yet. But, I hope it will be accepted. My idea predicts alignment all the way down.

            There is a relativistic correction that (a) I don't think Planck has applied and (b) may change the orientation of the multipolar terms. If it changes one, it will change all of them. I'm still working out the details, and we'll see if the paper ever finds the light of day.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            If you put it up on ArXiv it will see the light of day.

            Peer review, like Communist Party membership, isn't what it used to be.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            I will put it on ArXiV only once it is accepted for publication. That's been my policy with every other paper I've written, and I'm not about to change it for this one.

          • epeeist

            I will put it on ArXiV only once it is accepted for publication.

            Bravo. Much as I in favour of open access ArXiV is a real hotch-potch.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            ArXiv is fantastic.

            Best website in the world.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            Here is an example of why ArXiv is the best website in the world.

            This just popped up on July 21st, picked it up browsing...

            It is incredibly devastating- dealing with the implications of the Higgs discovery for the cosmological constant/dark energy problem.

            "We have already seen in section 3 that the lowest order contribution from the Higgs potential is 55 orders of magnitude larger than ρ0Λ, and that this enforces
            us to choose the vacuum term ρΛ with a precision of 55 decimal places such that the sum ρΛ + ρΛind gives a number of order 10−47 GeV4. The problem is that the fine-tuning
            game, ugly enough already at the classical level, becomes devastating at the quantum level.......Specifically, the number ρΛ on the r.h.s. of equation (6.18) must be re-tuned with 55 digits of precision as many times as the number of diagrams (typically thousands) that contribute to the highest nth-loop still providing a contribution to the CC that is at least of the order of the experimental number placed on the l.h.s. of that equation."

            That is what I would call a dead end.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            Your paper, your choice.

            All the best to you.

          • epeeist

            I'll bet you £20 (sent to the winner or to a charity of his or her choice) that relativity will remain unchanged in textbooks and major review articles over the next 20 years.

            Unless we do get a successful inter-theoretic reduction and it turns out to be a special case of a more general theory.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            It would, essentially, vindicate the Catholic Church's cosmology, scientifically.

            The Catholic Church's cosmology??? The Catholic Church doesn't have a cosmology. It's your cosmology. No doubt you will find some magisterial pronouncement to cite you will claim states or implies a "Catholic cosmology," and then you will claim it has never been formally rescinded. And then you will stand your ground until a pope makes an ex cathedra statement on heliocentrism or an ecumenical council makes an infallible statement. Except that they won't, because cosmology is science, and the Church doesn't make infallible pronouncements on science, but only on faith and morals. So any allegedly infallible "Catholic cosmology" won't be valid in the first place, because the Church doesn't claim infallibility on scientific matters.

          • epeeist

            So any allegedly infallible "Catholic cosmology" won't be valid in the first place, because the Church doesn't claim infallibility on scientific matters.

            Now it is a long time since I was a Catholic, so there is no way I am going to to take the assertive position that this article is correct in its statements.

            But it does include the phrases:

            Concerning cosmological evolution, the Church has infallibly defined that the universe was specially created out of nothing.

            and

            The Church has infallibly determined that the universe is of finite age—that it has not existed from all eternity—but it has not infallibly defined whether the world was created only a few thousand years ago or whether it was created several billion years ago.

            Which does look to me as though the church is making what it claims to be infallible pronouncements on scientific matters. As I say, I am quite happy to be shown to be wrong on this matter.

            Of course this is nowhere near a "Catholic cosmology".

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Which does look to me as though the church is making what it claims to be infallible pronouncements on scientific matters. As I say, I am quite happy to be shown to be wrong on this matter.

            An article on Catholic Answers declaring that the Church has declared something infallibly is in no way a statement by the Catholic Church that something is an infallible truth. There are certain Catholic teachings that the Church is so clearly committed to that there is no way to argue they aren't infallible, but the vast majority of what the Catholic Church teaches is either clearly not infallible or is arguably fallible or infallible.

            I think we all agree that the universe is of a finite age, and even that it came from nothing. So those are rather safe assertions. But of course a lot hinges on what "the universe" means.

            Also, there is generally a lot of "wiggle room" to interpret a dogma. For example, it is a dogma that the Virgin Mary was assumed bodily into heaven.

            By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.

            But does that mean that heaven is up? Does it mean that the people who were with Mary at the end of her life—it does not say whether she died or not—would have seen her body rising into the air? Is this a statement of "Catholic cosmology"? What and where is heaven? Is it a place where physical bodies can exist? Or is being "assumed into heavenly glory" different from being assumed into a place called heaven?

          • epeeist

            An article on Catholic Answers declaring that the Church has declared something infallibly is in no way a statement by the Catholic Church that something is an infallible truth.

            I would accept that, but the article refers to Canons on God the Creator of All Things and specifically Canon 5. Now, I don't know whether the language of the canon is interpretable as "infallibility" or not.

            I think we all agree that the universe is of a finite age, and even that it came from nothing.

            By "we" I am assuming you mean "we Catholics" since I certainly wouldn't accept those propositions.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            By "we" I am assuming you mean "we Catholics" since I certainly wouldn't accept those propositions.

            No, I don't pretend to speak for Catholics. I don't claim to be a Catholic. I was raised and educated as a Catholic, although I went to a pagan university (Ohio State University). I was warned in my Catholic high school that I would be made to stand up in class in such a secular place as OSU and be ridiculed for my faith. (If I used the abbreviation LOL, which I really dislike, I would insert a line of LOLs.) One of my first classes as a freshman was French in which we read from an expurgated version of Candide. That is how dangerous a place OSU was.

            Rick DeLano will no doubt make a forceful case that everything that comes out of a Church Council is infallibly true and furthermore must be interpreted literally. I disagree.

          • epeeist

            One of my first classes as a freshman was French in which we read from an expurgated version of Candide. That is how dangerous a place OSU was.

            Well naturally it was expurgated, it is obviously a dangerous book. It wouldn't have been put on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum back in 1762 otherwise ;-)

            (Checking on this I came across the fact that it was confiscated by customs officials in the States in 1929 as it was deemed to be "filthy" and obscene).

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            "The Catholic Church's cosmology??? The Catholic Church doesn't have a cosmology."

            >> Somebody forgot to tell the Catholic Church:

            http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/galileo/condemnation.html

            Everything else you anticipate is true.

            Thanks for making the case for me ;-)

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            "Cosmologists tell us that every galaxy is moving away from every galaxy. That means that every galaxy is from its own point of view the center of the universe."

            >> That is also an assumption- the Big One- but it also has encountered serious observational challenges.

            http://prd.aps.org/abstract/PRD/v82/i10/e103513

            Excerpt:

            “A widespread idea in cosmology is that the universe is homogeneousand isotropic above a certain scale. This hypothesis, usually called the cosmological principle (e.g., [1]), is thought to be a generalization of the Copernican principle that “the Earth is not in a central, specially
            favored position”. The assumption is that any observer at any place at the same epoch would see essentially the same picture of the large scale distribution of galaxies in the universe.

            "However, according to a Fourier analysis by Hartnett & Hirano [2], the galaxy number count N from redshift z data (N–z relation) indicates that galaxies have preferred periodic redshift spacings.........A natural interpretation is that concentric spherical shells of higher galaxy
            number densities surround us, with their individual centers situated at our location.”

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            What you said is pretty-much what I said using different words.

            The earth does not need to be the geometric center of the universe in order to be the center of the universe (center in the same way as Rome or Jerusalem is a spiritual center, or Vienna was a cultural center).

            Currently all evidence suggests that our universe has no geometric center.

  • Loreen Lee

    Just saw this blog posted on New Advent. If :Love' is the answer. it reminds me of the pre-Socratic Empedocles. He grounded the universe on two concepts, (actually three, since it takes 'two' to 'tango'!!!) Love and Strife. Nietzsche's Will to Power I believe is another expression of the 'Strife' thesis. More metaphysical concepts. I'm not convinced. I'd just as easily go with the Buddhist 'No-"thing"-ness'.

  • Ben

    I don't think positing the existence of an all-powerful eternal God, who didn't show his hand for the first thirteen billion seven hundred sixty-nine million nine hundred ninety-seven thousand years that the universe was around, and loves us all even though he lets many of us suffer horribly or die in agony, and sent his son to be tortured and executed as a weird scapegoat because he doesn't like it when I masturbate, is what I would call "simple".

    • Kevin Aldrich

      The OP never said that God is simple (even though many philosophers reason that simplicity is one of God's attributes), but that *God* is the simplest answer to why the universe exists, at least according to Swinburne.

      God could not "show his hand" until there was someone to show it to, namely rational beings like us, so you ought to drop all but the last few thousand (perhaps few hundred thousand) years from your complaint. But another way to approach the issue of God "showing his hand" would be the intelligibility of the universe, which has always been there at all levels, waiting to be discovered.

      And you bring up human suffering and the Atonement as if nobody had ever thought about them during the last 2000 years.

      • Ben

        Ok, even if he couldn't show his hand until there was someone to see it, he didn't show up until 98% of modern human history had passed. But you'd think there would be some evidence of his doings from before then.

        The universe is intelligible because our brains evolved to understand it. But when you look at the universe at scales beyond the evolutionarily relevant, it's not that intelligible. Is quantum mechanics naturally intelligible? it's weird and counter-intuitive.

        Plenty of people have thought about suffering and God sacrificing his son, but nobody has come up with a convincing explanation about why God is so crazy. Except the obvious one that it's a psychologically compelling story to tell kids to get them to believe in your religion.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          "God is . . . crazy. . . . It's a
          psychologically compelling story to tell kids to get them to believe in
          your religion."

          Insultingly and irrationally asserted.

          Rejected without comment.

          • Susan

            So, you're failing to respond to Ben's post because you were able to edit "God is... crazy... out of it.
            What about the rest of what he said?
            My goodness, you're easily insulted.
            If you're going to say that someone's post is irrational, it's only fair to explain why.
            What about Ben's point about the universe's intelligibility?
            What about his request for a "convincing explanation" re: human suffering (I would just say suffering) and atonement (I would just say atonement for humans, not for the bulk of the suffering)?
            It would be much better for your case if you explained WHY he's being irrational and WHY your accusation of insult is relevant to his points.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Because the response would be futile.

          • Susan

            Because the response would be futile.

            Why?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            For you, here is one response to why God permits suffering, from Richard Swinburne:

            Theodicy provides good explanations of why God sometimes (for some or all of the short period of our earthly lives ) allows us to suffer pain and disability.

            Although they are intrinsically bad states, pain and disability often serve good purposes for the sufferer and for others. My suffering provides me with the opportunity to show courage and patience. It provides you with the opportunity to show sympathy and help to alleviate my suffering. And it provides society with the opportunity to choose whether or not to invest a lot of money in trying to find a cure for the particular kind of suffering. A good God gives us a deep responsibility for ourselves, each other, and the world (for whether and how we flourish); and the free choice of how to exercise that responsibility. And it is very good for us to have this responsibility. Although of course a good God regrets our suffering, his greatest concern is surely that each of us shall show patience sympathy, and generosity, and thereby form a holy character. Some people badly NEED to be ill for their own sake; and some people badly need to be ill in order to
            provide important choices for others. Only so can some people be encouraged to take serious choices about the sort of person they are to be. For other people,illness is not so valuable.

            From "Response to a Statistical Study of the Effect of Petitionary Prayer"

            http://users.ox.ac.uk/~orie0087/framesetpdfs.shtml

          • epeeist

            For *you,* here is one response to why God permits suffering, from Richard Swinburne one of the philosophers Becklo discusses:

            I know people who have walked out of Swinburne's lectures on theodicy, and Peter Atkins notably retorted "May you rot in hell" when Swinburne suggested that the Holocaust had given Jews the opportunity to be brave and noble.

            It is also notable that Swinburne defended the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima:

            Suppose that one less person had been burnt by the Hiroshima atomic bomb. Then there would have been less opportunity for courage and sympathy; one less piece of information about the effects of atomic
            radiation, less people (relatives of the person burnt) who would have had a strong desire to campaign for nuclear disarmament and against imperialist expansion.

            I find this vile.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I tired to look this quote up, and while Swinburne wrote it (The Existence of God), I don't the context can be assumed to be obvious. The page before this quote is missing from the Google review.

          • primenumbers

            I too find Swinburne's theodicy utterly vile.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            I too find Swinburne's theodicy utterly vile.

            It strikes me as analogous to the trouble politicians get into when they cover up something people would see as bad, only to expose a worse disregard for truth in the cover up. He would be better off falling back on "moves in mysterious ways" and leaving it hanging, than to try a cover up that backfires so badly.

          • primenumbers

            They tell us at other times that the mind of God is essentially unknowable, so that when they invent excuses for him, you know they're just inventing excuses.

          • clod

            This is the logic of a sociopath. Quite grotesque.

          • Michael Murray

            I know people who have walked out of Swinburne's lectures on theodicy, and Peter Atkins notably retorted "May you rot in hell" when Swinburne suggested that the Holocaust had given Jews the opportunity to be brave and noble.

            The indigenous Australian's have a good approach to this kind of thing. You stand up and turn you back on the speaker. Or I guess you could go Islamic and throw a shoe.

            Vile says it all really.

          • Susan

            This doesn't explain the long history of suffering in non-humans, nor does it explain why babies suffer and die.

            If your deity wants us to develop courage, sympathy and generosity, why involve babies and non-humans?

            This is a tremendously inadequate explanation. That's the best way I can put it without typing something that the moderators would not approve of.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Granted it does not explain everything to you, does it explain *anything*?

          • Susan

            Granted it does not explain everything to you, does it explain *anything*?

            No.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            "My suffering . . . provides you with the opportunity to show sympathy and help to alleviate my suffering"

            Here is a story about a guy who considered himself religious but who got over a little big of his own selfishness through another's suffering.

            http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-990522

          • Susan

            I'm glad he found a way to cope with a reality he was not prepared for.

            I'm not sure how this would justify the unfathomable suffering of countless sentient creatures.

            If the only suffering that counts is the suffering of humans mature enough to be capable of learning a lesson from it, why has most of the suffering on the planet not been experienced by humans mature enough to be capable of learning a lesson from it?

            There is no evidence for an agent behind it, but if there were, I would not be patting her on the back for her teaching methods.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I suppose it is pointless to discuss. If you don't think God exists, this is all academic.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            I suppose it is pointless to discuss. If you don't think God exists, this is all academic.

            It is part of the discussion of why people don't think a deity asserted as both all powerful and all good, fits with the facts (in this case suffering) we see around us.

          • Susan

            It is part of the discussion of why people don't think a deity asserted as both all powerful and all good, fits with the facts (in this case suffering) we see around us.

            While I was typing my longwinded response (which I eventually posted), you typed a succinct one that explained things just as well, probably better.

            Oh well. I've gotten used to that. :-)

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I understand. It has to do with an adequate accounting for evil, but evil is not an issue in regard to God until one believes he exists.

            How many of you would say, "I would believe in God *if only* there were not suffering in the world?"

            None, I'd hazard.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            ... but evil is not an issue in regard to God until one believes he exists.

            For many of us it is an obstacle to belief because it does not make sense with the purported attributes. It is something like the obstacle that getting around to all the children in the world in a single night is to believing in Santa. It is, however, consistent with a myth, like Santa, where things don't have to make sense.

          • Sid_Collins

            "How many of you would say, 'I would believe in God *if only* there were not suffering in the world?'
            "None, I'd hazard."

            Are you kidding? A world without suffering would be so different from the world that exists I can hardly begin to imagine it. I have no trouble at all supposing that in such a world I would be a fervent worshipper of the benevolent creator.

          • Susan

            I suppose it is pointless to discuss. If you don't think God exists, this is all academic.

            I'm not sure it's pointless to discuss. Suffering is a terrible problem for your belief in a perfectly merciful and just deity.
            Isn't this why Swinburne concocted that response?
            How long was there suffering on this planet before anything remotely resembling humans were even part of the story? Why do so many sentient beings experience suffering even today? In every nook and cranny where life exists, suffering exists. It has existed for hundreds of millions of years. It exists in the deep oceans, in jungles, deserts, forests, and most of it unknown by humans or barely considered if it is known.
            How many human babies have suffered and died in the history of our species? The statistics are horrifying. How many still do?
            Swinburne is trying to say that it's all for the best. It's all part of a benevolent plan to make us better people.
            How many sentient beings would you watch starve to death or die of thirst or succumb to predation in order to provide a tiny percentage of primates the opportunity to develop courage?
            How many human babies would you torture to death to teach me a lesson?
            Swinburne fails. He has done a terribly inadequate job of protecting your deity from the problem of suffering.
            I'm appalled that anyone would accept this explanation. It requires dismissing almost everything that matters to me when I struggle with what I mean by "morality".

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Suffering is a terrible problem for your belief in a perfectly merciful and just deity.

            I think it would be very unfair, as well as pointless, to get into a discussion of who is and who is not trying to actually do something about all the suffering in the world, but I hope the people who find human suffering a stumbling block to believing in God, as well as those who don't, are doing what they can to help alleviate that suffering (and animal suffering, too). Even though most believers, and especially Catholics, hate him passionately, Peter Singer has some good books both on our duties to help other people and our obligations to threat animals "humanely."

          • Susan

            I hope the people who find human suffering a stumbling block to believing in God, as well as those who don't, are doing what they can to help alleviate that suffering (and animal suffering, too).

            I agree.

          • Susan

            I agree.

            But that doesn't let you off the hook for introducing Swinburne's rationalization for suffering as though there is anything acceptable about it. :-)

            You still haven't dealt with the responses.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Why don't you read this:

            http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_11021984_salvifici-doloris_en.html

            It contains no sound-bites, is not concocted, and was written by a man that was well-acquainted with suffering. However, it takes serious attention.

          • Sid_Collins

            There is nothing in the letter you reference that explains animal suffering. Even if animals can't ask WHY they are suffering (and that is just an assumption) they still suffer. Why? Why is suffering an inextricable part of the evolutionary process that produced human beings? What purpose did it serve before there were human beings?

          • Susan

            Hi Kevin,

            I appreciate that you gave me this link.

            How does it account for the issues I raised?

            I was exposed to catholic teachings as a child in catholic school. I am not unfamiliar with them. I took my teachers very seriously because I assumed they could support their claims.

            But I could never make sense of the way they waved words like "transcendent" at real suffering in the world. I thought eventually they would explain it.

            I am much older now and it's still just waved words.

            Why should I take Saul of Tarsus more seriously than anyone else (there are so many) who make unevidenced claims that don't seem to account for what's really going on?

            I'm not a biblical scholar and it's hard to keep track of what Saul actually wrote and what someone else wrote in his name.

            First degree, he was just Saul. Second degree, it was someone pretending that Saul was doing the writing.

            Either way, it's a human explaining the world in a way that doesn't explain suffering in a satisfying way. In fairness, it's reasonable to think that it was a human trying to make sense of suffering who couldn't imagine that there wasn't an agent behind everything.

            But it does not even come close to making sense out of the suffering that has gone on and on and still goes on.

            Part of the problem is that despite all the evidence, humans just can't get over themselves. They are not satisfied that what means everything to them doesn't mean everything on a grand scale.

            (And to this day, my teacher's claims remain unsupported.)

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You'll never understand another point of view if you read the first few sentences of something and then start riffing on it based on your elementary school level of understanding.

            It is easy to say other people "wave around words" because that keeps you from actually engaging with their arguments.

            The link was not written "for you" but it might help you engage as an adult with another adult who has engaged with the same issues.

          • primenumbers

            Alternatively, we can say that we'll never understand a point of view that is incoherent, and that is very true of the Catholic (or Christian in general) view on the problem of suffering. We've all read detailed theodicies and found them wanting or plain evil (like Swinburn's).

          • Michael Murray

            It's really just completely simple and straightforward. Which description fits the universe better:

            (1) It's made by a loving creator who filled it with suffering for some reason and purpose that we can't possibly imagine.

            (2) It's made by nothing and has no purpose and shit happens.

            Human's have an amazing capacity to ignore the truth staring them in the face when they have invested in it psychologically. Look at the rationalisations so much of the left made about Stalin up until he invaded Hungary and even after.

          • primenumbers

            Or.....

            1) there's invisible undetectable agents at work,

            2) over-active agency detection is at work

          • epeeist

            1) there's invisible undetectable agents at work,

            Praise be upon her holy hooves.

          • epeeist

            Which description fits the universe better:

            Good game. Could we also add in:

            (3) It's made by a god of mischief like Loki

            (4) It's a pair of gods like Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu who create suffering as part of their contention

            (5) It was created by Vonnegut's "god the utterly indifferent"

            And so on.

            All at least as good as your (1), and with just as much justification.

          • Michael Murray

            And just for BenS

            (6) SPACE PONIES

          • Susan

            You'll never understand another point of view if you read the first few sentences of something and then start riffing on it based on your elementary school level of understanding

            If you think I stopped thinking about this subject in elementary school, you are wrong. I took it very seriously and made every effort to understand its "point of view".

            If you'd like to talk about riffing, the entire article assumes that the stories we have about Jesus are facts and proceeds from there. This caused my eyes to glaze over in many parts although I read every word.

            This "other adult" does not account for the issues I raised, as far as I can tell. Feel free to point out where he does.

            Please review my comments about "suffering" (such an easy word to type and for any of us to "riff on") and explain how he addresses the questions I asked you.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You actually read the entire encyclical?

          • Susan

            I read the entire article you linked, as far as I can tell.

            Where does it address my questions?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It wasn't an article. It was an encyclical written by Pope John Paul II called "The Mystery of Suffering" (in English) or Salvifici Doloris.

          • Susan

            Yes. I know who wrote it. I read it.

            Where does it address my questions?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I'll get back to you tomorrow on this.

          • Susan

            I'll get back to you tomorrow on this

            All right. I look forward to it.

            If you are going to link me to another artlcle, please make an effort to point out where it addresses my questions.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I actually have a hard time believing you read the document.

            You read a 17,000 word encyclical in not time flat and have no response to it other than, "How did it address my questions?"

          • Susan

            Kevin,

            You read a 17,000 word encyclical in not time flat and have no response to it other than, "How did it address my questions?"

            I read this:

            http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_11021984_salvifici-doloris_en.html

            I did not do it in "no time flat".

            What response should I have? I don't see how it addresses my questions.

            How does it?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I take off my sombrero to you.

            Do you feel like you understand it?

          • Susan

            I don't understand where it addresses the issues I raised.

            Can you tell me where it does this?

            There are a lot of assertions, claims based on the assumption that the stories we have about Jesus and Mary are historical fact, a lot of of riffing based on questionable premises
            Mostly, it seems to be an attempt to make suffering a good thing, to sanctify it to those adults who experience it and it also
            throws in the Good Samaritan bit as an explanation that suffering provides the opportunity to become better people.
            Now, if you feel like you understand it, why did you send me off to read 17,000 words and you have yet to show me where it addresses my points about the suffering of sentient non-humans and the suffering and death of an unimaginable number of human babies?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            As I said above, Catholic theology works within the parameters of human reason and experience and revealed truths. In the case of suffering, the Catholic theologian recognizes the truth of God's goodness, power, knowledge, the reality of suffering in all its forms, the reality of physical and moral evil, the Incarnation, life, Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, and man's vocation in light of Christ.

            The Catholic theologian would say, all those things are true, they make sense individually, and some of those truths make sense in light of each other, but it is not possible to harmonize them now.

            The encyclical attempts to shed light on the mystery of suffering by looking at it in light of the mystery of Christ.

            As far as why there is suffering in the animal world, I don't know. Why babies suffer, I don't know.

          • Susan

            As far as why there is suffering in the animal world, I don't know. Why babies suffer, I don't know.

            Well, this is nice Kevin. First you hit us with Swinburne's compassionless and frankly pathetic attempt to defend your deity from the problem of suffering.

            I tried to ask some key questions on the subject about the immensity of suffering by those who would never benefit from it one bit.

            You linked me to a riff by yer fella the pope, a 17,000 word riff built on assumptions that are unsupported and which doesn't address my questions in any way and which I found as offensive and inadequate in terms of the problem of suffering as Swinburne.

            When I said that it's hard to take popes or Saul of Tarsus seriously about anything (please, give me ONE good reason I should), you respond with:

            You'll never understand another point of view if you read the first few sentences of something and then start riffing on it based on your elementary school level of understanding.

            Nice.

            And:

            It is easy to say other people "wave around words" because that keeps you from actually engaging with their arguments.

            Also nice. I have been trying to engage and you have been evading. I went so far as to read and RE-read your link(time I will never get back) to see what I might have missed.

            Then, you said you would reply the next day (today). Your reply today was suspicion that I even read it. No insight from you whatsoever.

            Then, you asked me if I thought I understood it. No insight from you whatsoever.

            Still none. You have not said a word about the article or given any indication that you even read it (although, if you say you have, I believe you have... despite the fact that you have not discussed it).

            Finally, FINALLY, you say:

            As far as why there is suffering in the animal world, I don't know. Why babies suffer, I don't know

            You could have said that in the first place many evasive, snarky comments ago and I wouldn't have had to subject myself to several readings of 17,000 words of pope blather.
            (Do NOT claim offense because I said pope blather, not after offering me Swinburne's and yer pope's justification of suffering. BOTH are deeply offensive but we are adults, so let's keep our fainiting to ourselves.)
            You don't know why non-human sentient beings suffer terribly nor why human babies suffer. Both suffer and continue to suffer in ways that only the most fiendish agent could devise.
            So, you see the problem of asserting (let's forget about the lack of evidence, for now) that there is an omnipotent, omnibenevolent deity behind it?
            This is the greatest problem for Yahweh and it is a problem that seems to only be addressed when the subject is forced into centre stage and hard as I've looked, it has never been adequately defended by anyone, not even close.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            In short, Catholic theology has no explanation. Good to know.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I never speak for the Catholic Church. I just try to present things to the best of my ability. Don't assume Catholic theology has no explanation.

          • Susan

            I never speak for the Catholic Church. I just try to present things to the best of my ability.

            By linking to people who do speak for the catholic church, I presume. Why do you believe it if you can't speak for it?

            Don't assume Catholic theology has no explanation.

            I (for one) do not assume that, but so far it has yet to demonstrate that it has one.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            By linking to people who do speak for the catholic church, I presume. Why do you believe it if you can't speak for it?

            I am not sure that is quite fair. I am a very committed Democrat, but I don't feel I can speak for the Democratic Party. I spent almost my entire career working for one large company. I was never in a position to speak for that company.

            I (for one) do not assume that [Catholic theology has no explanation], but so far it has yet to demonstrate that it has one.

            Again, I am not sure that is quite fair. What is meant by Catholic theology having "an explanation." Suppose I say that when it comes to ethics, I am a utilitarian. What exactly would it mean to say utilitarianism has, or doesn't have, an "explanation." Even an outline of Catholic theology would be book length. Are you asking for empirical proof that Catholic theology is true?

          • Susan

            Hi David,

            Immediately after I posted that, I regretted that phrase and was going to edit it out before anyone saw it. Since you've responded, I have to leave it in.

            I do question though a utilitarian who can't speak for utilitarianism in general, or give a reasonable explanation for why they accept its principles.

            Perhaps I took Kevin out of context based on the long, frustrating exchange I just had with him. He invokes mystery when his claims didn't square with the facts I see about the world we live in. I am used to this invocation of mystery. And I find it dishonest.

            What is meant by Catholic theology having "an explanation."

            What I meant was that catholic theology is based on ultimate claims about the universe, about morality, about life on this planet, for starters, all based on bargains with a deity involving an exchange with himself on a cross to save us from something called sin brought into the story by a pair of humans and that all things are part of a plan aimed at bringing us into relationship with this deity.

            When I ask for an explanation for those assertions, I am met with "mystery" and "read a great, big article or book by a theologian". I have taken the time to do that and find myself at square one.

            By explanation, I mean why should anyone accept any of it as true? I'm not sure why that's not obvious, but that's what I mean.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            You just said it didn't. Were you dissembling?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            In short, Catholic theology has no explanation. Good to know.

            You just said it didn't. Were you dissembling?

            I am not sure exactly what to call your modus operandi here. "Gotcha?" "Snark?" But it is not very attractive. It seems to me you are trying to taunt more than to discuss. Catholic theology is a huge topic. It is not clear what kind of answers you are looking for.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The Catholic Church says that suffering is a mystery. I say there are questions I don't know the answers to.

            I'm not a spokesman for anything but myself.

            What do you mean by "dissembling" which is a fancy word for lying?

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            But didn't you just say that Catholic theology has no answer? What am I missing here?

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            I know.

            There is suffering in the animal world, and suffering for babies, because our original parents chose to believe the devil, instead of God.

            You can read about this in Genesis 3.

            Catholic theology has comprehensively developed an explanation for the suffering in the world.

            I strongly recommend the Fathers and the Doctors on the question.

            The Nouvelle Theologians are sounding quite an uncertain trumpet.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            . . . . our original parents chose to believe the devil, instead of God.

            But the serpent (where does it say in the Bible that the serpent is the devil?) tells the truth.

            But the snake said to the woman: “You certainly will not die! God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil.” The woman saw that the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes, and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom. . . .

            Then the LORD God said: See! The man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil! Now, what if he also reaches out his hand to take fruit from the tree of life, and eats of it and lives forever?

            God clearly confirms in almost the same words what the serpent has said—Adam and Eve have indeed become like gods ("like one of us") knowing what is good and evil.

            Adam and Eve do not die. Nor do they lose immortality. They are already mortal. They are expelled from the garden so they don't eat from the tree of life and become immortal.

            It could not be clearer that the serpent is telling the truth—perhaps not the whole truth, but certain the serpent is correct that Adam and Eve will become like gods, knowing what is good and what is evil. It is right there in the text.

          • Max Driffill

            Kevin:

            The encyclical attempts to shed light on the mystery of suffering by looking at it in light of the mystery of Christ.

            In what way does can light be shed on a mystery, by looking at it through another mystery? Christianity creates a problem, with regards to suffering, indeed most human experience, where none exists. Suffering is easy to understand naturalistically, without adding things for which we have no good evidence.

          • Guest

            Kevin

            Lets edit:

            As I said above, I think Catholic theology works within the parameters of human reason and experience and revealed truths. I, of course have no evidence for this, just faith in Catholicism. In the case of suffering, the Catholic theologian assumes the truth of God's goodness, power, knowledge, the reality of suffering in all its forms, the reality of physical and moral evil, the Incarnation, life, Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, and man's vocation in light of Christ. [most of this was a big run-on sentence into which was crammed lots of words that sounded like they had content in relation to the problem discussed..]

            The Catholic theologian would say, I think and hope all those things are true, I am quite sure they make no sense individually, and some of those assertions I hope are truths make sense when jumbled together, but it is not possible to harmonize them now because they are a jumble of ideas inconsistent with each other, and the assumption of an all good, all just god. Its a conceptual mess.

            The encyclical attempts to shed light on the mystery of suffering by looking at it in light of the mystery of Christ.
            Man, it would be nice if that meant something.

            As far as why there is suffering in the animal world, I don't know. Why babies suffer, I don't know. I refuse to consider the simplifying naturalistic explanations

          • Kevin Aldrich

            With your atheist reading glasses on.

          • Sid_Collins

            Thank you for answering the questions I asked here.

            http://www.strangenotions.com/why-does-the-world-exist/#comment-971870443

            Even if animals can't ask WHY they are suffering (and that is just an assumption) they still suffer. Why? Why is suffering an inextricable part of the evolutionary process that produced human beings? What purpose did it serve before there were human beings?

            "I don't know" is a perfectly good answer. It is my answer when I am asked "Why does the universe exist?"

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Has anyone ever read a whole encyclical? :-)

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I have read many. Humanae Vitae is one of my favorites and it's anniversary is July 25.

          • severalspeciesof

            I read some of that link (don't have time to read it all ATM), but I noticed a lot of reliance on the term 'mystery' as though because it's a'mystery' (cue 'can't square the circle') it's worth believing in because... well... just because the faith requires it, otherwise no more faith and one just can't have that now can one...

            Glen

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Reading is entirely voluntary, but would you like me to have the same attitude when I read Hitchens or Dawkins or any of your friends?

          • severalspeciesof

            I've read a lot of apologetics, enough to know that when the term 'mystery' is invoked, it is usually the case that it's because a square is trying to be circled. I also let it be known that I hadn't read all of it. If there was a part later that actually 'un-mystified' the mystery, you would have every right to point that out. I'm now of the opinion that it doesn't happen, though I will read it through when, again, time is available. Is there a similar thing that Hitchens or Dawkins can be accused of? That is, using a particular term to avoid an answer, like 'mystery'?

            Glen

          • Kevin Aldrich

            "Can you 'un-mystify' the mystery?"

            No. It remains a mystery upon which some light can be shed.

            Catholic theology works within the parameters of human reason and experience and revealed truths. In the case of suffering, the Catholic theologian recognizes the truth of God's goodness, power, knowledge, the reality of suffering in all its forms, the reality of physical and moral evil, the Incarnation, life, Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, and man's vocation in light of Christ.

            The Catholic theologian would say, all those things are true, they make sense individually, and some of those truths make sense in light of each other, but it is not possible to harmonize them now.

            The encyclical attempts to shed light on the mystery of suffering by looking at it in light of the mystery of Christ.

          • severalspeciesof

            The encyclical attempts to shed light on the mystery of suffering by looking at it in light of the mystery of Christ.

            Just how does one understand something with further 'mystery'? Am I not understanding what that word means?

            Believe me that I'm not trying to be snarky with the following:

            Could I now say that "If someone reads this comment and doesn't understand it, I can shed some light on it by stating that I'm just mysterious that way" ?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I'll try to explain. In Catholic theology, "mystery" means a truth which can only partially be understood with human reason.

            From the point of view of the Catholic faith, we can understand a lot about suffering but we cannot fully explain it.

            We can understand a lot about Jesus Christ but we cannot fully explain him.

            We can use some of what we know about Jesus Christ to understand better some of what is otherwise difficult to understand about suffering, like that it can be redemptive.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            Back in the day the Church was very clear on these things.

            Suffering enters the world as a result of original sin.

            Original sin is remitted in virtue of Christ's redemptive sacrifice on the Cross.

            In other words, suffering is a permitted evil, allowed by God so as to effectuate a greater good than would have been possible in its absence.

            The Cross is the exact meaning of this.

            We are redeemed with our eyes opened, knowing good and evil, "like gods".

            This would not have been the case had Adam never sinned.

            "O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem!"

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Back in which day? It's just as true today.

          • Susan

            Do you have examples of Hitchens or Dawkins (neither of whom are my friends, by the way) insisting that I agree with their positions on faith?

            I don't agree with either one of them on everything, but there is no requirement that I do so.
            .

          • clod

            My experience at catholic school was similar. Any hint of dissent or even questioning dogma was crushed quite brutally. The nuns were even worse than the priests.

            Often the use of words by catholics is designed to be obfuscatory to hide the lack of any real content imo.

          • ZenDruid

            It explains that traditionally, God's chosen healers and comforters couldn't alleviate suffering, so they chose to sanctify it instead.

          • primenumbers

            That is a rationalization not an evidenced reason. In other words, it's something Swinburne has made up to make himself feel better because without such a rationalization he would feel bad about believing in such a God that permits such mass suffering. This rationalization is purely to allow Swinburne to sleep better at night. It has nothing what-so-ever to do with the truth of the situation.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Thus spake Sigmund Freud.

          • Susan

            Thus spake Sigmund Freud.

            It doesn't sound like Freud to me. Not like anything I've ever read by Freud.

            Can you show how it is evidenced reason rather than rationalization?

            How does it fit all the facts about suffering?

          • primenumbers

            But you get the point Kevin. Swinburne feels free to invent (without evidence or proof) reasons in the mind of God (what I'd call rationalizations on the part of Swinburne) for suffering. I'm inventing a reason (not a rationalization because I'm not excusing Swinburne - I'm not trying to deal with any cognitive dissonance on my part) that although un-evidenced in the precise case of Swinburne at least my reason fits with known human psychology of how people deal with cognitive dissonance, the kind of dissonance occurs when you try to believe in a loving all powerful God while simultaneously witnessing or being aware of vast suffering.

          • severalspeciesof

            Although of course a good God regrets our suffering, his greatest concern is surely that each of us shall show patience sympathy, and generosity, and thereby form a holy character.

            For what 'predestined/ultimate purpose'?

            Once in Heaven, will one need 'character'?

            Patience?

            Sympathy?

            Generosity?

            Will any of the above be useful in Heaven?

            What are we to make of the person who shows none of these 'character building' traits, yet at the last minute of his/her life genuinely converts and is thus saved?

            If I make a car, do I test it in water when its predestined purpose is to be on land?

          • Michael Murray

            If you died four days after conception, as most people do, will you have developed many character building traits ?

          • severalspeciesof

            Exactly... It (theodicy) is like trying to save an incorrect math equation by only looking at just small parts, but not the whole...

            Glen

          • JS Frederick

            >>Will any of the above be useful in Heaven?<>What are we to make of the person who shows none of these 'character building' traits, yet at the last minute of his/her life genuinely converts and is thus saved?<<

            When you say "genuinely converts" I am envisioning true and full repentance. A wicked person at the end of his life who truly sees all the evil he has done and who has no way to amend it here on Earth. So he begs God for forgiveness. Maybe even arranges a Catholic baptism and reconciliation.

            And that is why we really don't know who is in Heaven or Hell or the ratios or quantities of who goes to either place. We can only hope and pray. We can count on God, being of infinite justice and mercy, to make things right. Unlike us humans, He has all eternity to be able to do this.

          • Susan

            And that is why we really don't know who is in Heaven or Hell or the ratios or quantities of who goes to either place.

            How is that you don't know this?

            We can count on God, being of infinite justice and mercy, to make things right.

            But think you know that?

          • JS Frederick

            >>How is that you don't know this?<>But think you know that?<<

            If you believe in an infinitely just and merciful God, it would seem to logically follow.

          • Susan

            If you believe in an infinitely just and merciful God, it would seem to logically follow.

            Belief is not knowledge.

            I'm asking why you think you "know".

          • primenumbers

            Don't you also believe in an infinitely just God who adminsters justice with absolute fairness by making no exemptions to any rules? There is no room for mercy with an infinitely just God.

          • epeeist

            If you believe in an infinitely just and merciful God, it would seem to logically follow.

            Ah, I love the conditional subjunctive.

          • Quatsch83

            Cool piece of grammar, thanks for the link.

    • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

      Hey Ben - I think you've gotten ahead of yourself! Swinburne's argument does not hinge on or refer to Christian Revelation, but only shows that God (the God of Abraham, setting aside any particular religion) is an immensely simple "stopping point" of explanation for the existence of the universe. This does not mean that we can know everything about God and Creation - and I'm uncomfortable with simply making God the easy-as-pie answer to "why does anything exist?" - but neither does it mean that we can know nothing. (We've lost the taste for mystery, unfortunately, which is not total obscurity, but also not perfect clarity. God is a mystery, yes, but so is another human being. You can know a lot about them with certainty, but not everything. They have to reveal themselves to you gradually, and even then you have to have trust.)

      Philosophy can demonstrate a "thin slice" of God - that he is the timeless, spaceless, non-contingent ground of all contingent spacetime, the all-powerful agent that willed the universe into Being where Selectors and laws and vacuums lack ontological "clout", and a far more satisfying, explanatory, and simple origin of all things than the others that tend to want to take his place, which are terribly complex, make needless assumptions, and explain less and less about the universe and why it should be the case instead of Nothing. Confronted with this, atheists tend to concede laissez-faire deism, then dive headlong into "the absurdity" of Christianity. Holt does the same thing in his book. That always strikes me as strange, as if we suddenly take for granted that a Creator God is a perfectly reasonable notion.

      • Ben

        "(the God of Abraham, setting aside any particular religion)"

        Hahaha! Yep, the God of Abraham is the common ground of all religions from the Roman religion, through the Aztecs, to Zoroastrianism. Let's not get bogged down in particulars.

        I don't think philosophy can demonstrate that there's a timeless, spaceless, non-contingent deity. Deism is certainly not the consensus view of philosophers, anyway - 72% are atheists [1]. I think when atheists "concede" laissez-faire deism, they're usually just making the point that even if the various dubious empty language-game arguments purporting to prove God were true, they wouldn't prove YOUR particular God is real. That's a point that clearly hasn't been made enough to you yet, because you seem to think "the God of Abraham" isn't particularly associated with certain religions above others. You have a bad case of privileging the hypothesis of a particular God over the competing religious claims of Hinduism, Shintoism, etc. etc. [2].

        You seem to think conceding deism and still not arriving at Christianity is a point against atheism, but in truth, it just demonstrates that your religious beliefs are almost certainly mainly wrong even if there is some kind of supernatural creator, so you're no better off than an atheist, either ontologically or in terms of sucking up to God.

        Also, what exactly is laissez-faire deism? We let a lot of gods without a capital G compete, and the most efficient god wins?

        "Mystery" is a function of your own internal knowledge, not a property of the world. A person who is hard to get to know might "appear" mysterious, but they're not inherently mysterious. If we've "lost our taste for mystery", that means only that we're not as satisfied being ignorant.

        Also, if something's 'simplicity' relies on it being inherently mysterious, then it's not really an explanation at all.

        [1] http://io9.com/what-percentage-of-philosophers-believe-in-god-485784336

        [2] http://lesswrong.com/lw/19m/privileging_the_hypothesis/

  • Bob

    Jesus says that heaven and earth will pass away but his words will never pass away. So what is needed then is a sense of the eternal and its source, the Eternal Father; both can be accessed through Jesus, the only Son of God. Why the material world exists cannot be answered by the creature but only by asking our Creator.

    • BenS

      Asking why your god exists cannot be answered by your god, but only asking its creators - the Space Ponies!

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Bob, when dialoguing with atheists you have to approach questions through reason not Revelation, otherwise you will invite their ridicule.

      • Bob

        I'm saying they will never know the true reason why the universe exists because it is hidden from them. As Jesus says "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children". But I do admit they do have their reasons, but what they see is only infinity not eternity, death and not life.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Does that get you off the hook of engaging with those who are not already believers?

    • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

      Bob, you have it exactly right.

      But lots of folks have spent hundreds of thousands dollars becoming far too sophisticated to understand it.

  • Linda

    Thanks for such an interesting article! It has sparked such fascinating discussions in the Comments. (I was totally lost through a lot of them :) but interesting nonetheless.). Keep up the good work!

  • Kevin Aldrich

    I would love to read a dialogue between a Catholic natural philosopher and a cosmologist who theorizes about the origin of the universe. I'd love to hear how each responds to each.

  • Morrie Chamberlain

    It cracks me up that some people do not feel we should or bother to ask the question of why the universe exists.The important questions always begin with why. Why should we not murder?" is a lot more important than "how do we murder?". Physicists have done a great job of discovering much about our universe. What is it made of,what keeps it expanding, etc. but frankly to me its not that much more important than other questions of science relative to the questions that begin with why.

    • Michael Murray

      Why do we fly Sydney - London in 20 hours ?

      How do we fly Sydney - London in 20 hours ?

      Why do we reduce infant mortality ?

      How do we reduce infant mortality ?

      Why do look for life on Mars ?

      How do we look for life on Mars ?

      Why do we reduce suffering ?

      How do we reduce suffering ?

      Personally I think the how one's are more interesting.

      • JS Frederick

        >>Personally I think the how one's are more interesting.<<

        I think the "how" ones are interesting too. However, I agree with Morrie that the "why" ones are more *important.*

        • Michael Murray

          Each to their own I guess. When I take a seriosly sick child to the doctor I don't want the answer to be "yes it's very important we cure your child because Jesus died for our sins but I'm afraid I don't know how to do it" I couldn't care less about the why I want to know the how.

          • JS Frederick

            You demonstrate why the "why" question is more important. All the cures developed over the ages weren't for idle curiosity. Why have people done medical research over all this time?

          • Michael Murray

            Do I ? I've amazed myself again.

            Seriously the why doesn't help. It doesn't matter if you want to save the child because of jesus or the golden rule or you are j a parent with your guts being turned over. It's all

          • Susan

            If a bear is chewing on my head, I don't wonder why I want the bear to stop chewing on my head. I probably wonder how to stop the bear from chewing on my head (at least while I am still capable of wondering).

            The same with drowning. I don't ask why I want to get my head out of the water into circumstances where my physiology is able to process the oxygen it needs. I wonder how. (If you can call that wonder. Maybe you'd call it something else, but breathing is urgent.)

            If my baby is sick, I want it not to suffer and die.

            As interesting and important as it might be to examine the why, I doubt you'd waste time with that question in any of those cases.

            How is "why" more "important"? What do you mean by "important"?

          • Sample1

            Living in bear country, +5 for the bear visual.

            Mike

          • Susan

            I must point out that most bears don't end up chewing on human heads. I like bears.

            They are as desperate to survive as any of us and have to figure out "how" as well.

            It ain't easy being a bear.

          • Michael Murray

            I don't know how you guys go outside. Snakes and spiders I can deal with but bears -- you can't run, you can't swim, you can't hide ...

          • Susan

            I don't know the stats, but I've always assumed that Australian spiders are more dangerous than Canadian bears.

            Bears very rarely kill humans.

            Drowning probably takes the prize. Not uncommon at all.

          • Sample1

            We have no poisonous spiders (well, to humans) or snakes in Alaska. I like it that way thank you very much.

            Mike

          • Michael Murray

            Almost certainly spiders are worse. Particularly the funnel webs on the eastern seaboard which like to sleep in shoes and stuff overnight. Also the snakes if they attack are very venomous and death can be rapid if you can't get somewhere with an antivenom.

            Bears have the benefit of having cute babies. Snakes and spiders less so !

            Of course the most dangerous things are those Homo sapiens in their cards.

          • BenS

            I think I saw on QI that no-one had been killed by spiders in Australia since they produced anti-venoms about 30 years ago.

            They were clear that this excluded people who killed themselves in a panic when one of the buggers drop from the sun shade when you're driving.

            My aim is to retire to Australia at some point so I'm hoping this is true. So much so, I refuse to look it up to verify it. :p

          • Susan

            :-P

          • Michael Murray

            My aim is to retire to Australia at some point so I'm hoping this is true. So much so, I refuse to look it up to verify it. :p

            Looks like you are right . No spider deaths since 1979. Snakes and jellyfish run at around one every year or so. Shark and crocodile attacks around a few a year -- seem to be up at the moment. Road toll around 3000 a year. Funny how our fears never reflect the risks.

          • Sample1

            I used to think the same thing about swimming off the coast of Hawaii. Sharks! Not to mention I once touched a crown of thorns (on topic) starfish and started to bleed and needed to get out of the water NOW. Locals in Hawaii laugh at such worries.

            And so do Alaskans when it comes to bears. Bears' senses are acute (more so than deer) and often don't give you the chance to bother them as they slip away quietly. Give them space, don't surprise them and most of your job is done. This applies only to black and brown bears. Polar bears are another story (they will eat you) but fortunately they are about a thousand miles from me.

            Mike

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Ah, but you can climb.

          • Quatsch83

            The "why" provides the impetus to solve the "how", in that sense it is more important. In the examples you give, the "why" is self-evident and does not need to be pondered, particularly when survival is on the line (see Maslow's hierarchy of needs).

          • Michael Murray

            Also it doesn't really matter which why gives the impetus. You can rationalise our basic primate altruism in many ways: humanistic ethics, Christian love, Buddhist compassion etc.

          • Quatsch83

            Ok...if you say so :)

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            To discover how to cure people.

        • primenumbers

          A why question is only important if the question is able to be asked. For the theist, if they can't ask God and get a reasonable answer from him that makes sense, then asking a "why" question that leads to God is pointless. For the atheist, asking why of a being that does not exist is pointless.

    • Sample1

      I don't see anything wrong, in principle, with asking why questions. But the why question of this topic's title comes from a Catholic on a Catholic site devoted to bringing the Gospel to atheists.

      As a person with a naturalistic worldview, I only question the sincerity of the question why. After all, from a Catholic perspective the answer is God's Will. And so I find it a bit disingenuous to whinge that some of us here think the question isn't worth asking in a faith environment that already has their answer. After all, who here as the agenda? Who is charged with the Great Commission of Matthew?

      I'm just trying to see things as unbiased as possible. Asking whether the question makes sense is part of that process.

      Mike

      • Morrie Chamberlain

        I just think its what makes us human. Yes the world exists. We can trust our senses on that one. Does it have to exist? Pondering that question is what humans do. Saying that we shouldn't think about such things is rather dictatorial I think. There is an uneasiness in not knowing why things are the way they are. I just don't fell that unease not knowing what is the source of dark matter or dark energy. I will be happy and proud when we do find out but it will not fill a hole in my life.

        • M. Solange O’Brien

          I'm not sure anyone is saying that we shouldn't ponder the question, merely that the question may not be logically coherent.

          Is 2 green?

          We could ponder it, but does it mean anything?

        • Sample1

          Saying that we shouldn't think about such things is rather dictatorial I think.

          I agree but criticism isn't really putting the hammer down on discussion. In fact, it's part of the dialogue. The door is open, is it not, to make a more compelling case if your desire is for people to understand you, eh? I think the following better illustrates an example of the word dictatorial that you are looking for:

          At a conference on cosmology in the Vatican, the Pope [JPII] told the delegates that it was OK to study the universe after it began, but they should not inquire into the beginning itself, because that was the moment of creation, and the work of God.

          I [Stephen Hawking] was glad he didn't realize I had presented a paper at the conference suggesting how the universe began. I didn't fancy the thought of being handed over to the Inquisition, like Galileo.

          Mike

    • Ben

      Why should we not murder?

      How do we not murder?

      Why does water freeze?

      How does water freeze?

      Why did the Pope cover up the activities of paedophile priests?

      How did the Pope cover up the activities of paedophile priests?

      Why does 1+1 = 2?

      How does 1+1 = 2?

      Why do dull people like Morrie think that the "why/how" phrasing of a question is some kind of fundamental distinction rather than an accident of language that we can easily work around?

      How do dull people like Morrie think that the "why/how" phrasing of a question is some kind of fundamental distinction rather than an accident of language that we can easily work around?

  • inkadinkadoo

    Our minds uses a very crude tool (relatively speaking) that we invented called mathematics to explain "why". The very word connotes a linear (cause and effect) sequence of events. Things may not be linear at all. History may be "ahead of us" , and the future may be "behind us" for all we know.