This is the website/blog of Philosopher Stephen Law. Stephen is retired, formerly Reader in philosophy at Heythrop College, University of London. He is editor of the Royal Institute of Philosophy journal THINK, and has published books including The Philosophy Gym, The Complete Philosophy Files, and Believing Bullshit.
For school talks/ media: stephenlaw4schools.blogspot.co.uk
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Cosmological argument - some notes
Text from today's slides
arguments attempt to establish the existence of God by noting:
that the universe exists, and
inferring that it must depend for its existence on something else,
that something else being God.
are many versions.
ARGUMENT FROM CAUSATION
things are caused.
that is caused is caused by something else.
infinite regress of causation is impossible.
there must be an uncaused first cause of all that is caused.
cause is what we call God.
unsupported things fall.
the Earth does not fall.
the Earth must be supported.
there must exist a cosmic elephant that supports the Earth.
what supports the Elephant?
what supports the turtle?
Hindus made the turtle the exception to the rule that all unsupported
the ancient Hindus justified in supposing there’s a cosmic elephant and
moral is: if we are going to play the “exception to the rule” card, we should play it as early as
shouldn’t “bolt on” an elephant and a turtle and then play the exception
why “bolt on” God as first cause, and then stop there?
not just make the universe the exception to the rule that everything has
we can fix the argument by showing that ONLY God can be the exception to
the rule that everything has a cause – the universe itself can’t be the
– argument from contingency
There are things in this world that are contingent – they might not have
existed, and depend for their existence on something else e.g. I might
not have existed (if my parents never met).
All things in the world are like this – everything depends on something
else for its existence.
Therefore there must be a cause of everything in the universe that exists
outside of it.
This cause must be a necessary being – one which contains the reason for
its existence inside itself.
This necessary being is God.
– argument from contingency
argument avoids making God an arbitrary,bolted-on stopping point
by saying the chain of causes must terminate with a necessary being.
Only a necessary being requires no independent cause.
universe is not a necessary being. But there must be one = God.
Copleston’s argument, in 1947 radio debate.
rejects principle that if everything in universe contingent/has a cause then
universe has a cause.
because every human has a mother does not entail human race has a mother.
existence of the universe may be brute fact.
too questions the jump from everything in the universe has a cause to the
universe has a cause (again: FALLACY OF COMPOSITION).
too: concepts of cause and effect apply only within the spatio-temporal
universe and cannot be coherently applied outside of it.
the question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” make sense?
arguments start with a mystery: “Why is there something (a universe)
rather than nothing?”
does this question make sense?
the question make sense?
questions that seem to make sense turn out not to.
“What is North of the North Pole?”
Wittgenstein’s “What time is it on the sun?”
do NOT need ANSWERS. Rather we needclarification, so see we can see the question does not make sense.
radical approach to dealing with philosophical questions! Don’t answer. Rather
show they don’t need answers!
is a peculiar kind of nothing. Usually when we talk about “nothing” we mean an
empty bit of space or period of time when nothing was going on.
is a much more radical “nothing” – absolute Nothing – in which there is no time
we make sense of this notion of absolute Nothing/Something?
thinking of absolute nothing…
the question make sense?
the difference between thinking of Nothing, and not thinking of anything? Is
there a difference?
arrive at idea of absolute Nothing by subtraction.”
we do this? Can we mentally remove not only everything on the stage, but the
stage itself – time and space?
Rundle: No! Absolute nothing is inconceivable.
radical approach to the question:
Why is there something rather than nothing?
Perhaps the question makes no sense.
which case do not need answer.
which case do not need God to be the answer.
only a first cause and/or necessary being.
why must it be, say, the Christian God? Or even a person/agent/god?
might not that particular God be ruled out e.g. on the basis of
if we cannot solve mystery, we may be able to rule out certain answers.
What is Humanism? “Humanism” is a word that has had and continues to have a number of meanings. The focus here is on kind of atheistic world-view espoused by those who organize and campaign under that banner in the UK and abroad. We should acknowledge that there remain other uses of term. In one of the loosest senses of the expression, a “Humanist” is someone whose world-view gives special importance to human concerns, values and dignity. If that is what a Humanist is, then of course most of us qualify as Humanists, including many religious theists. But the fact remains that, around the world, those who organize under the label “Humanism” tend to sign up to a narrower, atheistic view. What does Humanism, understood in this narrower way, involve? The boundaries of the concept remain somewhat vague and ambiguous. However, most of those who organize under the banner of Humanism would accept the following minimal seven-point characterization of their world-view.
(Published in Faith and Philosophy 2011. Volume 28, Issue 2, April 2011. Stephen Law. Pages 129-151) EVIDENCE, MIRACLES AND THE EXISTENCE OF JESUS Stephen Law Abstract The vast majority of Biblical historians believe there is evidence sufficient to place Jesus’ existence beyond reasonable doubt. Many believe the New Testament documents alone suffice firmly to establish Jesus as an actual, historical figure. I question these views. In particular, I argue (i) that the three most popular criteria by which various non-miraculous New Testament claims made about Jesus are supposedly corroborated are not sufficient, either singly or jointly, to place his existence beyond reasonable doubt, and (ii) that a prima facie plausible principle concerning how evidence should be assessed – a principle I call the contamination principle – entails that, given the large proportion of uncorroborated miracle claims made about Jesus in the New Testament documents, we should, in the absence of indepen
Here's my central criticism of Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN). It's novel and was published in Analysis last year. Here's the gist. Plantinga argues that if naturalism and evolution are true, then semantic epiphenomenalism is very probably true - that's to say, the content of our beliefs does not causally impinge on our behaviour. And if semantic properties such as having such-and-such content or being true cannot causally impinge on behaviour, then they cannot be selected for by unguided evolution. Plantinga's argument requires, crucially, that there be no conceptual links between belief content and behaviour of a sort that it's actually very plausible to suppose exist (note that to suppose there are such conceptual links is not necessarily to suppose that content can be exhaustively captured in terms of behaviour or functional role, etc. in the way logical behaviourists or functionalists suppose). It turns o