Saturday, September 13, 2008

BOOK CLUB: The God Delusion, CHPT 3.

Chapter three looks at various arguments for the existence of God, and finds them all wanting.

I will pick out two things for discussion (but feel free to bring in other stuff).

FIRST THING: Dawkins’ attack on Aquinas’ first three ways is really twofold:

(1) First, if we are going to halt the regress with something, why not just stop at e.g. the Big Bang? Why add God and then play the “Oh, and this is the exception to the rule that everything requires a cause” card? Rather than just play the card at the Big Bang?

This first objection can be explained by analogy. The ancient Hindus, struck by the fact that things that are not supported fall, wondered what prevented the Earth from falling. If all things fall that are not supported, then the Earth must have a support. But what? They posited a big elephant. But then what supports the elephant? They posited a big turtle to support the elephant. But what supported the turtle? It’s here, it seems, that they played the “exception to the rule card” – the cosmic turtle is the one exception to the rule that unsupported things fall. But if the “exception to the rule” card is going to be played at some point, it should surely be played as early as possible. There really is no justification for first introducing a cosmic elephant and turtle, and then playing the card.

(2) Dawkins points out that the most these arguments would establish, at best, is a first cause – but not that this first cause is the omnipotent, omniscient, supremely good, etc, God of traditional monotheism. Compare the elephant and turtle. Even if the Earth does require a support, even an animal support – why an elephant and a turtle? Why not a cosmic gerbil sitting on an enormous rhino?

The first objection looks strong. But of course theists have responses to it. For example, if they could show that, while there must be an exception to the rule that everything has a cause, it cannot plausibly be the Big Bang, but must be God, then the argument would still work. And of course, many theists believe they can indeed show that.

They may say, for example, that a (non-dependently) necessary being is an obvious an exception to the rule that everything has a cause. A being that exists necessarily requires no cause to bring it into existence. The Big Bang, on the other hand, is not a necessary thing – yes, it happened, but it did not have to happen. There might have been no bang. Therefore, it's unreasonable to make the Big Bang the exception to the rule, but not unreasonable to make God the exception to the rule.

In fact, something along these lines is suggested by Aquinas’ third way (though this is lost in Dawkins' presentation of it).

I don’t say this modified version of the first cause argument is strong, but it does not have the fault that Dawkins finds with the first three of Aquinas’ five ways.

So of course the theists will say that Dawkins has merely knocked down a straw man. He hasn’t really engaged with the strongest and most sophisticated arguments for the existence of God. He's dealt merely with overly simplistic versions of those arguments.

Would that be a fair objection, though? After all, we cannot expect Dawkins to cover every version of every theistic argument in a book like this. The most we can ask for is an overview of the main arguments, which is what we get.

But then, the theist may again object, how can Dawkins be justified in rubbishing all these arguments on the basis of such a cursory treatment? [I don’t really agree with this objection, in fact, but I raise it for discussion].

SECOND THING

On page 2, Dawkins does raise a well-known objection to God’s being both omnipotent and omniscient.

"If he is omniscient, he must already know how he is going to intervene to change the course of history using omnipotence. But that means he can’t change his mind about his intervention, which means he is not omnipotent."

Actually, I am not yet convinced by this kind of objection. Like Dawkins, I think that the very idea of God makes little sense, but not for this particular reason.

Foreknowledge of something, including your own actions, does not prevent you from changing your mind. The suggestion that it does may turn on a famous modal fallacy.

Compare (for any person a and proposition P [e.g. a = Bert, and P = his keys are on the table):

(i) Necessarily: If a knows P, then P is true.
(ii) If a knows P, then necessarily: P is true (i.e. is a necessary truth).

Note that the only difference between (i) and (ii) is that the “scope” of the modal operator “necessarily” shifts. But as a result, very different claims are made. Claim (i) is true. Necessarily, you cannot know what's not true (you can at best, only believe it). But claim (ii) is false – we can know things that aren't necessary truths.

Get these two claims confused, however, and you may end up thinking that if someone knows something will happen, then what they know couldn't have been otherwise.

But of course, that’s wrong. Compare:

If I know that I am going to Paris tomorrow, then it must be true that I will go to Paris tomorrow. But it’s not a necessary truth that I’ll go to Paris tomorrow. In fact, I am able to change my mind about going. So – despite the fact that I know I'm going, I can still change my mind.

NB the same applies to things I have done. I know I went to the bank yesterday. Necessarily: if I know I went to the bank, then I did. Still, I could have done otherwise.

Ditto God’s knowledge of what he’ll do tomorrow.

(Or is there something special about God’s foreknowledge that entails he cannot change his mind – e.g. his infallibility. I don't think God's infallibility makes any difference, actually, but you may disagree)?

[POSTSCRIPT: Here's yet another illustration of the last point. Consider my knowledge of where a subatomic particle landed in an experiment yesterday. Necesarily: if I know it landed at position x, then it landed at position x. It doesn't follow that it couldn't have landed somewhere else (indeed, if thaw laws governing such particles allow indeterminacy, it needn't even be determined by the laws of nature that it should land at position x).]

37 comments:

wombat said...

The "necessary being" proposal of Aquinas seems to have one gaping hole at the heart of it and that is the shift from the concept which encompasses a great many possibilities, such as objects, events and abstractions, to one which is limited from the start to the "God" option. Its fair enough to argue that a cause was necessary in the technical sense, but that still doesn't seem to really get much further than saying "the thing that caused the Universe did not in itself have a cause". Basically restating the definition really.

So given a whole stable full of necessary beings:

(i) why single out "God" as creator?

(ii) why single out God as the sole creator? RD doesn't mention this either but I cant see any reason why one thing couldn't for example give rise to time and another to space or however you want to split the metaphysical task.

(iii) If you simply wish to label the necessary creator as "God", how is it
distinguishable from "the Big Bang"?


Re: God's foreknowledge. I suspect that RD raises this as an antidote to the "theist in the street"'s tendency to try and get out of various arguments by raising the scope of Gods powers to include such things as certain foreknowledge, omni-anything etc. A lot try to wriggle out of the foreknowledge thing by claiming that God "stands outside time" without realizing that entails its own set of problems.

Enigman said...

Those are indeed poor arguments. But re your first point, explanations have to stop somewhere, and t=it would be good that a good thing existed, by definition. And a God but not a Big Bang is intrinsically good. So that hypothesis may have more explanatory power. We tend to want an explanation for bad things, rather than good things (the problem of evil is more obvious to most than the problem of good).

Anonymous said...

I think a strong objection for a theist to make to the, "can God change his future mind" argument would be that perhaps God doesn't exist in time the way that you and I do. He's not bound by time. He's everywhere and everywhen all at once so the concept of past, present and future do not apply. Although, it seems that an atheist could make some scriptural objections to this.

sgl said...

If I know that I am going to Paris tomorrow, then it must be true that I will go to Paris tomorrow. But it’s not a necessary truth that I’ll go to Paris tomorrow. In fact, I am able to change my mind about going. Nevertheless – despite the fact that I know I'm going, I can still change my mind.

You don't know you're going to Paris tomorrow, you believe/think you are. An all-knowing being would, by definition actually know what the outcome will be.

Jackie said...

How is it that every theologian and theist suddenly becomes an expert on astrophysics when they pose the first cause argument? What happened before the Big Bang? Gee, if they know, maybe they can explain it to the physicists who are still trying to figure it out. The Big Bang started out with nearly infinitely compressed matter and energy. Perhaps this matter and energy existed before the Big Bang, perhaps in a state of compression, perhaps as black hole. WE DON'T KNOW. Humans have only been using the scientific method for a few hundred years. There's no reason to expect us to have already discovered everything that can be known. Astrophysicists are working on what happened before the Big Bang. I see no reason to posit that a matterless, omnipotent intelligence poofed it into existence. This is just another tiresome variation of God of the Gaps.

Paul C said...

I see the "necessary being" card being played frequently by apologists on the web (particularly presuppositionalists), but I still can't quite fathom it. In order to for a necessary being be necessary, some other entity must need such a being; but then the "necessary being" itself needs the existence of that other entity in order to demonstrably possess the quality of being necessary.

So once again we have a circular argument which doesn't really help us get out of the hall of mirrors that seems to constitute most theological arguments. The exit door for apologists is marked with another characteristic of such a being, which is that it is "self-existent"... but that's another thing entirely.

Sam Norton said...

Hi Stephen, glad to have you back. I don't have much of a problem with this chapter as I don't think that the arguments in favour of God's existence are very good (that is, I don't think they're good enough to build a faith on).

Wittgenstein once wrote: "A proof of God’s existence ought really to be something by means of which one could convince oneself that God exists. But I think that what believers who have furnished such proofs have wanted to do is give their “belief” an intellectual analysis and foundation, although they themselves would never have come to believe as a result of such proofs."

Which I think is true, and certainly applies to Aquinas' proofs, as they are embedded in a textbook for trainee priests.

Billy said...

Or is there something special about God’s foreknowledge that entails he cannot change his mind – e.g. his infallibility. I don't think God's infallibility makes any difference, actually, but you may disagree)?

I suppose it depends on your view of God. If you believe he is omnicient and has a perfect plan (as many christians seem to do), then can he change his mind.

A better example of showing god is not omnipotent would be to question whether he could make a weight too heavy for him to lift or if he could make a square circle

Kyle P. said...

Billy,

Actually, the first comparison you made is okay, but the second is not, according to most theists I know.

One cannot make a square circle - it is a question that is without substance. Making a weight so heavy that he can't lift it, though, is quite reasonable. I know I could do it. And I know that if I were all-strong (omni-strong?) I would not be able to make something I can't lift. It's only when we add the other parts of "god's" definition that it becomes contradictory.

That's one of the questions I typically ask of my theist friends to find out if they can actually think for themselves or not.

Paul P. Mealing said...

On a different tack, I found Dawkins’ discussion on ‘Pascal’s Wager’ most interesting, because it inadvertently goes to the heart of belief in God. ‘Believing is not something you can decide to do as a matter of policy’. I find this an intriguing statement, because it implies that belief is not even an act of will. And I would agree with this: belief is dependent, or should be dependent, on personal experience.

But I like the continuation of this discussion, where he speculates that one might believe in the wrong type of God, which implies the need for honesty and sincerity in one’s belief – something I would also agree with. But, in particular, I like his reference to Russell, who was, of course, an atheist: ‘Mightn’t God respect Russell for his courageous skepticism (let alone for the courageous pacifism…)’ This is a god I could believe in – one that respects honesty and courage, and yes, scepticism. So God is an idea that reveals the ideals of the person who believes in their particular God. Dawkins, in this discussion, has pretty well defined what I personally believe God to be.

Regards, Paul.

Kyle P. said...

Jackie,

I'm posting this instead of telling you, even though you're literally right next to me. :)

That's a good question! I don't know why they think they can get away with that, and then claim that NOMA makes it so we can't disprove their silly stupidness with our awesome scienceness. It's a good bit sickening.

People like William Lane Craig claim to know physicists and such who have explained to them all the related physics to show that, "Yep, there must be a 'god' because we don't know what else could have done it." It's laughable and painful at the same time, as it hurts the good name of physics/science to try to lump these "theologians" in with them.

Eric said...

"People like William Lane Craig claim to know physicists and such who have explained to them all the related physics to show that, "Yep, there must be a 'god' because we don't know what else could have done it.""

Nonsense. All Craig claims to get from physics is support for the premise that the universe (space, time, matter, energy, fieds, etc.) had a beginning; indeed, physics *does* provide support for this premise. He gets to god by starting with the premises provided by physics, but then moves on to decidedly philosophical and historical arguments. You've either misunderstood or mischaracterized his approach.

"It's laughable and painful at the same time, as it hurts the good name of physics/science to try to lump these "theologians" in with them."

If it hurts the good name of physics, someone should tell the substantial number of physicists who have been persuaded, because of data of the sort Craig starts with, that there is some god or intelligence behind it all (or, at the very least, the physicists like Dyson who argue that the evidence physics provides is at the very least consistent with belief in a creator god).

Eric said...

"In order to for a necessary being be necessary, some other entity must need such a being"

This isn't true at all. A necessary being is one that exists in all possible worlds. It has nothing to do with "some other entity" needing such a being.

Eric said...

"How is it that every theologian and theist suddenly becomes an expert on astrophysics when they pose the first cause argument? What happened before the Big Bang?"

This is no more the case than every atheist is suddenly an expert in biology when discussing evolution and abiogenesis. None of us can master all the material in all the relevant disciplines, and verify every fact or theory for him/herself. We all rely on the data the experts provide us, and, when necessary, we do our best to verify what we're told by investigating the relevant science a bit more deeply.

Eric said...

Alister Mcgrath has said, of Aquinas' Five Ways, that "although [they] are traditionally referred to as 'arguments for god's existence,' this is not an accurate description. All they do is show the inner consistency of belief in god -- in much the same way as the classic arguments for atheism (such as Ludwig Feurerbach's famous idea of the 'projection' of god) demonstrate its inner consistency, but not its evidential foundations...At no point does Thomas speak of these as being 'proofs' for god's existence; rather, they are to be seen as a demonstration of the inner coherence of belief in god." (The Dawkins Delusion?, pgs. 25 - 26)

Kyle P. said...

Eric said,
"Nonsense. All Craig claims to get from physics is support for the premise that the universe (space, time, matter, energy, fieds, etc.) had a beginning; indeed, physics *does* provide support for this premise. He gets to god by starting with the premises provided by physics, but then moves on to decidedly philosophical and historical arguments. You've either misunderstood or mischaracterized his approach."

Double nonsense. Most of us who have studied Dr. Craig's works have seen how often he tries to work physics into things in order to try to baffle his opponents, or his audience. Similarly, he tried to use the mathematics of set theory to explain why infinities cannot exist - all the while contradicting much of what mathematics knows. I can find references for these, and will, but I have a party to go to now.

Jackie said...

eric said...
"A necessary being is one that exists in all possible worlds."

How are we to know if a being is necessary? How would you know whether there are any necessary beings.

eric responded to
"How is it that every theologian and theist suddenly becomes an expert on astrophysics when they pose the first cause argument? What happened before the Big Bang?"
with...
"This is no more the case than every atheist is suddenly an expert in biology when discussing evolution and abiogenesis."

The Theory of Evolution is fairly simple to understand, even only a high school education. Conversely, the Theory of Relativity, astrophysics, quantum mechanics and other parts of theoretical physics required to understand the mechanism of the Big Bang, an advanced degree to begin to comprehend. Your comparison fails.

Furthermore, the scientific understanding of evolution is much more comprehensive than that of the Big Bang. We can study evolution here on Earth, and it happens now. The Big Bang happened billions of years ago far, far away, and it only happened once as far as we can tell. We know how evolution works once it gets started. We're still learning about how things went from self-replicating molecules to RNA and DNA and to life. There's another place where it is reasonable to say "we don't know," rather than, "a matterless, omnipotent intelligence did it." I have never seen an atheist try to disprove the existence of gods via evolution, but I have seen countless examples of theists shoving their gods into the ever shrinking gaps in our knowledge of evolution first, and theoretical physics now.

Eric said...

"I can find references for these, and will, but I have a party to go to now."

Please, do provide me with those references when you get a chance.

"The Theory of Evolution is fairly simple to understand, even only a high school education. Conversely, the Theory of Relativity, astrophysics, quantum mechanics and other parts of theoretical physics required to understand the mechanism of the Big Bang, an advanced degree to begin to comprehend. Your comparison fails."

Not at all. As my biology major friends are constantly telling me, contemporary evolutionary theory is *far* more complex, and quite different from what you'll read in Darwin, insofar as it is grounded in cladistics. Now, I don't deny that high level physics may be more difficult to understand than modern evolutionary theory, but that in no way affects my comparison. Note, you were not talking about a 'high school' understanding of physics, but an 'expert level' (your quote: "How is it that every theologian and theist suddenly becomes *an expert* on astrophysics when they pose the first cause argument?" ), and I was not talking about some 'high school' level understanding of evolution and abiogenesis (you conveniently left out 'abiogenesis'), but an 'expert' level understanding (my quote: "This is no more the case than every atheist is suddenly an expert in biology when discussing evolution and abiogenesis."). Let's not suddenly switch from 'acts as an expert' to 'only needs a high school understanding.' Someone with a high school understanding of evolution and abiogenesis is no expert, yet often 'acts like one' in the same way the theists you refer to do, so *on your own terms*, my comparison stands.

"I have never seen an atheist try to disprove the existence of gods via evolution"

Then you've never read the book being discussed, viz. The God Delusion. Dawkins's central argument is that one of our greatest challenges has been to explain the appearance of complex design in the universe; that the temptation has been to attribute the appearance of design to a designer; that the temptation should be avoided, since the problem is how to explain complexity, and that a designer would be more complex than his design; *that the best explanation of the illusion of design is evolutionary theory*; that we don't have an equivalent understanding of physics, though we do have some more promising alternatives to design; that we shouldn't give up on the search for a better explanation in physics; and therefore, God almost certainly doesn't exist.

Note the central role evolution plays in this argument.

wombat said...

Eric re: "Dawkins's central argument is that one of our greatest challenges has been to explain the appearance of complex design in the universe"

This seems somewhat ambiguous, in that you can parse it (at least) two ways.

appearance -
(i) semblance of
(ii) turning up, emergence

If anything RD is making reference to (i) since he would hold that "complex design" is not evident in the natural world apart from the work of a small number (probably only one) of species. I would actually go further than this and suggest that RD is skeptical even of the semblance of intelligent design. He cites examples where the "design" is deeply flawed (human birth, blind spot in the human eye, vestigial organs). I think that, if pressed, the Prof. might want to retract such a phrase (if indeed he used it word for word) and restate it as simply "...explain complexity in the universe.

Billy said...

Kyle said
One cannot make a square circle - it is a question that is without substance.

It would mean that god can not do something impossible, and is therefore restricted, but I see what you are getting at

Kyle P. said...

Sure Eric, here's a few of the links I promised:

http://www.bringyou.to/CraigStengerDebate.mp3

In this debate, Craig again tries to use math and science to baffle his audience, but of course Vic Stenger is a physicist and shows him to be clearly wrong. Ugh, cripes. I just relistened to a small portion of it and Craig's opening statement makes me sick. He's not even a good salesman when it comes to this stuff, let alone physicist or mathematician!

Here's another one dealing with "actual infinities" and such:
http://www.leaderu.com/truth/3truth11.html

In this article, Craig tries to show how there are "absurdities" dealing with Hilbert's Hotel and such by appealing to your common sense. But common sense does not always apply, especially when it comes to the mathematics of infinities.

The following is a good response to the above. While it is technically a response to Craig, it also talks about a debate that Shallit (the blog poster) had with a person by the name of Durston.

http://recursed.blogspot.com/2008/05/reply-to-william-lane-craig.html

The comments on this post are both entertaining and enlightening, I think.

It's rather convenient that you were unable to answer Jackie's questions about necessary beings, Eric.

On top of that, you clearly misunderstand and misconstrue Dr. Dawkins. He has never once tried to disprove the existence of "god" using evolution. Rather, he has used evolution to show that there is no need to invent the idea of "god" to account for the diversity of life we see. There's a large, large difference there.

Kyle P. said...

Billy, your original point still stands. I agree with you about the various concepts and descriptions of "god" inherently leading to absurdities.

I just thought of another funny question. I have been unable to decide which category it fits into (things which are logically impossible, i.e. the square-circle analogy, or things which are falsely impossible, such as creating a rock so big he can't lift it):

Can "god" choose to not exist?

Jackie said...

I see there was some ambiguity in my last comment. I hope this one is more clear.

There is an overwhelming consensus among biologists that evolution is true. Therefore, it doesn't take expert knowledge or understanding to say, "evolution explains the complexity of life without the need for a god." The exact mechanisms and circumstances of abiogenesis, ("how things went from self-replicating molecules to RNA and DNA and to life," as I addressed earlier) is still being researched and debated. Therefore, it would require expert knowledge to say anything conclusive about abiogenesis, such as "abiogenesis is too complex to have happened without divine interference." Thus, it would be the creationist who is claiming expert knowledge of biology, whereas anyone who accepts the Theory of Evolution as true is simply going with the common knowledge that it is the accepted theory among biologists.

The situation with physics is similar. The consensus among physicists is that the universe as we know it began with the Big Bang. However, what lead up to the Big Bang is still being researched and debated. As I stated earlier, the Big Bang happened billions of years ago, so it's no wonder that physicists don't yet understand the circumstances that surround the Big Bang. To claim that there had to be a cause for the Big Bang and that that cause must have been a god is implicitly claiming expert knowledge.

When I said, "I have never seen an atheist try to disprove the existence of gods via evolution" I was referring specifically to lay people like myself who debate the existence of gods in their spare time. I wasn't talking about Richard Dawkins since he is an expert in his field, and thus is justified in making claims about the consequences of evolution on the existence of gods. Furthermore, Dawkins never claims to prove that gods don't exist, just that they are extremely unlikely. He shows that you don't need a creator to explain complex life because evolution explains it, and he uses the fact that evolution takes billions of years to create complex life to show that it is extremely unlikely for a complex being such as a creator god to just pop into existence.

So, have you figured out how to show if there is such a thing as a necessary being?

Eric said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rayndeon said...

@Eric:

Craig is right, cosmologically, insofar as that most of modern physics certainly makes it *plausible* that the universe had a beginning 13.7 billion years ago. But, Craig, as judging from about 30 years ago back in the Kalam Cosmological Argument (1979) and in the revised Reasonable Faith (2008), says something much stronger. He strongly supports the idea that there literally is no other possible physical alternative, the universe simply could not lack a first interval of time - any such physical models are, according to him, nonsensical. I need not point out how mind-numbingly inane this is, I hope - I suppose the work of Anthony Aguirre, Roy Maartens, George Ellis, Paul Frampton, and Lauris Baum, to name a few, has all been for naught? I think not.

Then there's that whole laughable business with anti-infinitism in his argument - let alone for his other theological and metaphysical views. If you want a real kick, check out Craig's philosophy of time.

Eric said...

"I think that, if pressed, the Prof. might want to retract such a phrase (if indeed he used it word for word) and restate it as simply "...explain complexity in the universe."

He did indeed use the phrase. See page 157 of 'The God Delusion.' Here's the full quote (which I paraphrased):

"One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect, over the centuries, has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises." (From page 157 of 'The God Delusion').

"Sure Eric, here's a few of the links I promised:
http://www.bringyou.to/CraigStengerDebate.mp3
In this debate, Craig again tries to use math and science to baffle his audience, but of course Vic Stenger is a physicist and shows him to be clearly wrong."

Kyle, I've heard this debate. Will you please point out exactly where Craig claims that *physics* leads to a conclusion that is in any way similar to, "Yep, there must be a 'god' because we don't know what else could have done it." Remember, it is this claim that I called nonsense, and to which you replied "double nonsense."

As for the mathematics, Shallit himself has said that this is graduate level stuff. Now, I'm not studying graduate level mathematics, so I can't comment on the intricacies of the debate. I will point out, however, that Craig *is not* using mathematics to show that god exists, but to defend a premise in his Kalam argument, the conclusion of which says nothing about god, but about a cause. In this sense, my original claim still stands, i.e. Craig doesn't use physics to show that god exists, but rather uses premises from physics to support philosophical and historical arguments which themselves lead to this conclusion (whether the philosophical and historical arguments are sound is irrelevant as far as this conversation goes).

"On top of that, you clearly misunderstand and misconstrue Dr. Dawkins. He has never once tried to disprove the existence of "god" using evolution. Rather, he has used evolution to show that there is no need to invent the idea of "god" to account for the diversity of life we see. There's a large, large difference there."

First, I was using Dawkins's own summary of his argument (from pgs. 157 - 158 of 'The God Delusion'); if you believe my post to be a misrepresentation, the Dawkins has misrepresented himself.

Second, note carefully the conclusion of Dawkins's argument: it's not merely that god is superfluous as an explanation, which is what you suggest (indeed, the notion that god is superfluous is entirely consistent with the notion that god exists). Rather, Dawkins's conclusion is that god almost certainly does not exist. Let me quote Dawkins after he presents the argument summary I myself summed up on my post: "If the argument of this chapter [which I summed up in a previous post] is accepted, the factual premise of religion -- the God Hypothesis -- is untenable. *God almost certainly does not exist*."

So, you're correct, there is a big difference between the conclusion you claim Dawkins has reached, and the one I claim he has reached. But there's also this difference: my claim about Dawkins's conclusion is correct while your is not, as my quote *clearly* shows.

"It's rather convenient that you were unable to answer Jackie's questions about necessary beings, Eric."

I never claimed that I was going to show that a necessary being exists; rather, I merely pointed out just what it means to call a being necessary. What's noticeable is not my 'failure' to take up an obligation I never assumed; rather, it's your failure to acknowledge the difference my correction makes.

Anonymous said...

Paul: "In order to for a necessary being be necessary, some other entity must need such a being"

Eric: This isn't true at all. A necessary being is one that exists in all possible worlds. It has nothing to do with "some other entity" needing such a being.

What sophistry.

Those who bandy this phrase around hope that everyone understands it in the conventional way - that somehow god is necessary. But when pressed on how god is necessary, they revert to sophistry, as in: "god is necessary" means "god exists in all possible worlds". i.e. they are simply asserting the very thing which is under contention: that god exists. Such cheap circular arguments are a tell. They reveal the lack of intellectual honesty in the person using them. They hope to bamboozle the opposition, or at least make them give up. Of course, giving up on intellectually dishonest people is quite defensible. Some might even say it is necessary.

Eric said...

"But when pressed on how god is necessary, they revert to sophistry, as in: "god is necessary" means "god exists in all possible worlds". i.e. they are simply asserting the very thing which is under contention: that god exists. Such cheap circular arguments are a tell. They reveal the lack of intellectual honesty in the person using them."

This is absolutely wrong. To say that "god is a necessary being" means "god exists in all possible worlds" *in no way* entails that one at the same time presupposes that god exists; rather, it's nothing more than a clarification of what it means to call god a necessary being. You've completely misunderstood the point.

Billy said...

Can "god" choose to not exist?

I think I'll use that one on some friends if you dont mind :-)

Grumpy said...

The Big Bang, on the other hand, is not a necessary thing – yes, it happened, but it did not have to happen.

I agree with you, but can you back it up?

wombat said...

Eric

"He did indeed use the phrase. See page 157 of 'The God Delusion.' Here's the full quote (which I paraphrased):

"One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect, over the centuries, has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises." (From page 157 of 'The God Delusion')."

Tsk Tsk - thats after chapter 3 - what a swot. :)

So RD did not in fact us the phrase. You summarised it.

The full version is clearer than the paraphrased version. The use of the final "arises" implies that "appearance" is used in the sense of "semblance" otherwise the sentence would seem tautologous.

Rose said...

According to the theory of determinism, every event that occurs is the only event that could have occurred, due to antecedent events. Which would make the event of the Big Bang necessary, just like all events. I don't see any reason to think the Big Bang didn't have to happen. I would think it happened because it had to, as a result of sufficient cause.

I think Dawkins' argument works in the sense that we don't need to posit the idea of a "first cause" (God) that is infinite and eternal because the universe itself is infinite and eternal, and stretches before the Big Bang. Why should God be by definition necessary but not the universe itself?

Mark Hudson said...

I am sorry if someone has already pointed this out (I couldn't see it in the comments when I was reading them), but it seems to me that the problem with god's omniscience and his freedom to change his mind is that if he knows what he is going to do, AND knows that he will not in the future change his mind, THEN he is powerless to change what he is going to do, because he already knows that he can do nothing else other than that.

However, I also don't think that there is a problem with defining omnipotence as being able to do that which is not logically impossible. So, if determinism is true, and I think it is, then it might be possible to know so much about the state of a system that one knows how one will behave, but also know that we cannot do otherwise.

Not sure how quantum mechanics fiddles with this, though. Maybe the end result will be that we will find there is not fixed point in the "brain response to examination of my brain response to examination of..." iterations.

jeremy said...

Yes, I'm also not sure I agree that Dawkins' omniscience vs omnipotence objection is flawed.

When we 'look into the future' we are of course not doing any such thing. Wondering whether or not shouting at a particular child will make it cry is an effort at guessing the likely consequences of your actions.

The story is critically different with God. When he looks into the future, his omniscience guarantees that he is actually seeing the future. And thus he is powerless to change it, since the future must take into account:

(1) His present decision to see into the future
(2) The consequences of his present decision

He can try to change it, if he wants, but this borders on incoherence. Let's say he sees the child crying in the future and so decides not to shout at the child. Will the child now not cry in the future? Surely not, if indeed he saw the future the first time around.

Alternatively, if the child is not prevented from crying, did he really have omniscience in the first instance? He was wrong about the future then.

Does this make sense? Or have I missed something (which is a distinct possibility!).

Jeremy

anticant said...

Time is a human concept. God is eternal, if you believe the theists. He/she/it subsumes past, present, and future.

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