Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Deduction... Abduction... Something like God.

Here is a four step deductive cosmological argument...

1: If time / space infinity is impossible, then the universe began to exist.
2: Time space / infinity is impossible.
3: The universe began to exist.
4: If the universe began to exist, then the begining of the universe was an event.
5: (3).
6: The begining of the universe was an event.
7: All events have causes.
8: (6).
9: The begining of the universe had a cause.
10: If the begining of the universe had a cause, then the begining of the universe was caused by either god, or something analogously powerful to god.
11: (9).
12: The begining of the universe was caused by either god, or something analogously powerful to god.

Now, in one sense, this is a pretty weak conclusion 'something like god caused the universe to exist' ... 'something like god'. Of course, in another sense... this is a signifcantly important idea... as... if it turns out to be true, this says something important about the fundamental nature of the universe.

Of course, being a deductive argument... all one needs to do to remain skeptical of the conclusion is to 'pick off' one of the premises. If a skeptic can do that, they have properly 'defeated' the inference(s). Now, I am not suggesting that there are no premises in this argument that we couldnt raise worries about... there certainly are. Howerver, it seems that the explanation of the denial of these premises, though they will be coherent... they will be significantly more complicated... unnecessarily complicated... than the affirmation of the premise in question. Maybe what I have in mind isnt formally demonstrable... but at least, (for instance) it takes more mind bending to try to imagine time / space infinity than it does to simply affirm 2.

This is just to say... if we employ this deductive, cosmological argument... its not that it is free from attack, just that the attack will be less simple than the premises themselves. ... IF this is the case, then the 'reasonable' thing to do would be to affirm the arguments conclusion.


At 9:37 PM, January 23, 2007, Blogger cheryl said...

I will begin with the proposed justification of the argument, that is, that its affirmation is simpler than its denial. This is a misuse of the technical terminology of the simplicity as it is employed by physicists and mathematicians, as well as a misuse of the simplicity intended by Ockham's Razor. To be clear, the sense of simplicity being used above is the sense of how much intellectual work is needed in order to grasp the understanding of something. But that sort of simplicity provides no justificatory power, since it would have the consequence that we ask the unlearned simpleton what the simplest solution is. And we should find that it is indeed simpler, for example, to adopt old wives' tales and cultural superstitions than it is to scientifically seek out empirical evidence. Clearly, this is not an intended nor desirable outcome.

The mistake is taking "simple" to have this superficial meaning, as "not difficult to understand." But this is not the sort of simplicity that carries any epistemic force in philosophy, and definitely not in science, from where it is being borrowed. This sort of simplicity certain does not explain much at all, and it is explanation of which we desire to obtain.

The sort of simplicity that does carry epistemic force is a kind that actually comes side-by-side with enormous complexity. The kind of simplicity that physicists speak of is the kind that provides explanation or a theory that all alone unifies many different facts, observations, other well-established theories, etc. It is that ability to unify all of these things under a single theory or explanation. That is simplicity, that only one theory or explanation is required for many different things. But it is not by any means something that is easy to understand, or the simplest to grasp in the mind. Those sorts of theories are extremely complex in their fine-grained details. One physicist, in describing what is one mark of mathematical simplicity, said that, literally, a simple proof is one that takes the least number of steps, less writing, less paper, but it is often the most intellectually difficult, because what is involved in the steps of the proof is highly complex and difficult to understand. Some of the simplest mathematical moves are the most theoretically complex and heavy.

These sorts of notions of simplicity are the kind that carry epistemic force, what is meant by that most prevalent phrase, that the simplest explanation is the true one. "Simplest" is not simplest to understand, but rather, simple in that it will easily explain and unify all sorts of things. But it may do so in the most incredibly complex to understand ways. This is what we see exemplified in the notion of a system of any kind: in one sense, it is full of complexity, but in another, there is simplicity, and that complexity is required for the overall simplicity.

Also, when it comes to "the simplest explanation," one cannot ignore all of the consequences of that explanation. It is quite simple to explain something by positing the existence of ghosts. But what about everything that follows from such an existent? Explaining the existence of ghosts, their nature, whether and how we can detect them, etc. That is quite a bit to explain, and that is only the tip of the iceberg. You would have to explain the spiritual realm, the spiritual feature of people, etc. There are all kinds of difficulties and problems that would follow from one's "simple" explanation, making it really not so simple in the end.

This goes along with Ockham's Razor. In that case, the simplest explanation is about ontology: let us introduce the least number of existents required for the explanation. And in that sense, it is simpler to leave god out of the picture, since it is simpler that either the universe has existed infinitely, or that it self-created.

And this brings me to the deductive argument above. I will tackle each problematic premise in turn.

Premise (2) is thoroughly unjustified. It is claimed that one should accept (2) based on the supposed reason that one cannot conceive that time and space are infinite. There are two major points of criticism here. Just because you (as the person who asserts this argument, whomever he or she is) may not be able to grasp infinite time and space means nothing. The level of an individual's ability to imaginatively conceive something carries no epistemic force, since the level of conceivability will and does vary from person to person. Einstein himself had an ability to conceive of things no one else could even understand, and the same goes for just about every single one of the greatest thinkers throughout our history.

Frankly, I have no problem whatsoever conceiving of infinite time and space. But let me point out an important distinction here. I can conceive of it de dicto, I grasp and understand infinity via de dicto understanding. Now obviously, I cannot have de re understanding of it, as it is clearly impossible that I count an infinity. But there is no need at all to require that one grasp something de re, for then one would have no genuine understanding of the number 2. Since many people can grasp infinity de dicto, and we can easily grasp the conception of infinite time and space de dicto, then there is no "mind-bending" at all, except one's personal lack of ability to conceive of it, and it is perfectly conceivable in an overall sense. The second point is that conceivability places no constraints on reality: the universe is however it is despite what we can conceive of it either easily or not. And it would be arbitrarily vain to simply assume that the human mind is naturally outfitted to grasp the truth with ease, and that anything difficult to understand must be false. No, the history of science can prove easily that we are not so naturally outfitted. At best, a few are, but they are rare.

Premise (4) introduces the term "event" without a definition of what constitutes one. I will take this along with premise (7). If all events have causes, then one risks free will, since there is no definition of "event" that would non-trivially and non-question beggingly rule out what appear to be freely deliberated chosen human actions. The do seem to be events, and clearly so. My choose to brew a pot of coffee seems like an instance of an event. Notice I said, "my choosing", not "my brewing". There is nothing here that prevents my choosing from itself being an event. But then it must have a cause, and then we seem to be on a track to determinism and/or fatalism. We can even pick things like a book's being blue: is this an event? If not, why? There is a causal explanation for the book's being blue.

But now, we can say, if god created the universe, was not its act of creation itself an event? It would certainly seem to be, there is no reason we have to deny its status as an event. What caused god's act of creation? Perhaps god decided to. Is not his decision an event? Are not all mental happenings, despite being non-physical, since we are not physicalists about the mind, still events? If so, then they too must have causes. There is no definition that would rule out these sorts of things as being events without simply begging the question. Besides, some mental events we definitely want to say are caused, such as the hallucination from severe sleep deprivation or intoxication of certain chemicals.

Premise (7) also presumes that one is familiar enough with all of the sciences to know for certain that there are no events of any kind that are uncaused. And yet, this is a presumptuous claim to make of physics alone.

If you define an event as something that is caused, then you have no justification to declare that the beginning of the universe, if there is one, is an event, since you would clearly beg the question by doing so. By defining "event" as something caused, and then presuming the beginning of the universe to be an event, you beg the question that the universe is caused by something. Which also begs the question that anything that began to exist was caused to exist. Again, this is a presumptuous empirical claim, and as an empirical claim, it requires empirical evidence to support it.

But now we enter the problem of defining exactly what causation is, as well as figuring out exactly how to even determine what really causes something. It is not that difficult to say, for example, that the entire history of the universe is the cause of a single and simple event right now, like my knocking over a glass off of the kitchen counter. But this picture of causation makes it practically trivial in meaning for anything, since everything would, each, individually, be said to be caused by the entire history of the universe up to that point. Causation becomes meaningless. One could also say that what we determine is the cause of something is based purely on how it looks to us, and we may not really be seeing the true cause.

Lastly, premise (10). There is no good reason to rule out the universe as self-caused. We can simply ask: what about this god (or whatever else would have caused the universe)? Is it infinite? Well, if something's being infinite is dependent on one's ability to conceive of and grasp infinity without "mind-bending", then by the argument given above, that such inconceivability of infinite time and space is good reason enough to reject its possibility, then god cannot be infinite. But if it is not infinite, then it must have a beginning. It's beginning must, like the universe's beginning, be an event. As an event, it must be caused. Thus, god's existence must be caused. Perhaps one should say that god self-caused itself, but as soon as one says this, one has demonstrated the possibility of self-causation, but one has failed to provide any reason at all to say that the universe did not self-cause itself. And without that, one very clearly merely begs the question the whole way through.

And so, why cannot the universe itself be powerful enough to cause itself? Just what is this notion of "powerful"? This too is left undefined. Why not say that the physical laws of nature, the lawlike behavior of matter itself, pure and simple, exemplifies that sort of power? Or furthermore, why not assert that such powerfulness is exemplified in the infinite nature of the universe?

At 11:29 PM, January 23, 2007, Blogger Joshua S. Heter said...

Some thoughts...

(1) The critique of my use of simplicity sounds as if it has strong naturalist underpinnings. Seeing as I am not a naturalist, in any real sense of the word, I find this troublesome. Frankly, I do not believe that we should look to the physicist to tell us about the epistemically significant forms of inference. The physicist simply does not have the tools to deal with such question. When he does so, he is reaching into the toolbox of the philosopher.

Still, your point about simplicity is worthwhile, if all that is meant by 'simplicity' is 'ease of understanding' then it is insignificant, epistemically. However, I am not sure that is what I am committed to in this particular case. The simplicity I speak of is not one that can lead to empirical predictions, but again, I'm not sure that's the type of thing we should be asking of our explanations in these sorts of matters. However, I will admit that I must be employing 'simplicity' here in a more significant sense than 'ease of understanding (if my arugment is worthwhile). ... I wonder if there isnt at least some connection between ease of understanding and simplicity. Still, there is work to be done here.

(2) Of course, my claim about the impossibility of time / space would be nothing like "I havent been able to conceive of time / space infinity so..." nor is it "no one has yet to conceive of time / space infinity so...". As audacious as it sounds, I would contest the claim that you have conceived of time / space infinity... even de dicto. (Though I know this isnt your claim) we can certainly put the words together... 'time' 'and' 'space' 'is' 'or' 'could' 'be' 'infinite' '.' ... but that doesnt mean that we could really grasp a concept of a time and space that was never ending (or, never begining). As this comes as no surprise, I think Craig's thought experiments show that nicely.

(3) Of course, this isnt something we are going to solve here... but I do take it that there is some significant link between conceivability and possibility. The world simply IS the way it is, independanlty of how we conceive of it... but I would contend that our minds necessarily map onto 'the world' in such a way that there simply are no things that could be, that we cant... in principle conceive.

(4) I have run into this critique before (the def. of event, cause)... and I usually pull an intro to phil move... as it seems to be an instance of the fallacy of Lokis Wager. I cant give a knock down, drag out definition of 'event' nor 'cause' ... but I do not think I need be committed to one. Both raise interesing questions.... but I think this argument can accomodate a number of answers. On the free will critique, I do maintain that there are choices, but I wouldnt go so far as to say there are any of us that 'just choose'. Is this causality exactly like that of the billiard balls? ... Of course it isnt, but im not sure why that is terrribly problematic.

(5) I maintain that the universe is not the type of that could cause itself. The universe is a physical thing; physical things do not have this ability. If we find a reason to posit an entity that could be self-caused, that entity must be non-physical. ... I made the argument, so obviously we know how i feel about the antecedent of that conditional. Furthermore, we can conceive of a God being infinite because God is not said to be a part of time / space (in any significant way). I can conceieve of number infinity... numbers arent 'in' time and space.

(6) I'm sure I have missed something, but 1-5 gives you guys a target big enough as they are.


At 8:19 AM, January 25, 2007, Blogger cheryl said...

(1) So you are calling me a naturalist just because I have mentioned something about science and physics? What that tells me is that you did not really read and think about what I actually said, but rather jumped the gun and were quick to judge me into something familiar to you, something that you think you can easily brush aside because you disagree with it. I would be careful not to do that. One mistake I see too many people make is that instead of really looking at what someone says, they look at it superficially and proclaim, "Oh you're a ____ist, well..." But almost any and every "ism" has it's own special characterization for each individual who adopts, that you cannot possibly think that you can answer to someone based only on your categorization of them into some particular "ism". It shows that you'd rather not give attention to what that person in particular is saying; the problem is when the person looks at you and say, "But I'm not even saying that, I don't hold this position you're ascribing of me." If you want to be a good philosopher, I'd suggest you resist the urge to do this, but instead, ask the person if he is ascribing to that particular "ism" and describe why you think he is, what he states that suggest to you he is. He can then confirm or disconfirm your suspicion.

Because you see, my dear, I am no naturalist, not in the least, and nothing I said expresses anything at all the demonstrates any sort of naturalism. You have read that into my words. I did not say in any way, shape or form that physics or any science dictates anything to us, let alone epistemically significant forms of inference. I would never say that, nor ever agree to it, since it's absurd.

The point is that I have seen some philosophers, Craig included, reach into the terminology used by physicists--when they are doing what I would claim is much closer to philosophy than to physics--and borrowing terms that are used but misusing them in a way that the physicists did not intend, but the motivation of such philosophers is to sound as though they are using them in the way physicists do, and thus, it is supposed to give what they are saying some sort of authoritative appeal. Simplicity is a technical term used by physicists to mean a particular thing, and the way they use it, simplicity expresses a feature of a theory that increases it plausibility and its justification. This has obvious appeal to philosophers, because if they can point to their own theories and claim the same feature of their theories, then it will, they hope, increase the plausibility and justification of their theories. But what I see is that they are misunderstanding the actual meaning of simplicity as it is used by physicists. Now, I am not saying that physics here dictates what is epistemically strong; I am fully willing to admit that this notion of simplicity is a philosophical notion that physicists use to talk about their theories. Their notion of simplicity is fine, and it has much meaningfulness and justification for its meaning in the way they define it, use it, and have come to it in the first place based on the analysis of their own theories. This very same notion of simplicity can easily be discovered within pure philosophy as well, by an analysis of philosophical theories, it is not in any way confined to purely physical theories. It has to do with explanatory power, unification, no need to posit further, cumbersome additions to make up for small details that could not be explained by the original statements of the theory, etc. We would agree in both science and philosophy that these are desirable qualities of a theory that increase its plausibility and justification, and our reasons for thinking so are certainly philosophical, no problem there. But this notion of simplicity is not at all the same notion behind one saying, "It's simpler to affirm the above premises rather than engage in the complex explanation of their denial." Because oftentimes, and we see this in both science and philosophy, a complex explanation in the beginning leads to a simpler--in the above sense--theory in the end. But then that notion of complex is not the opposite of the specific notion of simplicity being used here.

From what you state in your original argument, the only sense in which simplicity is expressed here is "ease of understanding". If it has the technical sense that I have described, then you have a lot of work to do in showing that, which involves a detailed comparison between both theories. Any physicist and any philosopher who makes a claim that his theory is simpler than another is making a claim that requires demonstrative justification. ("My theory has feature X." 'Oh really? Where? Show me.')

(2) Oh, I can certainly grasp the meaningfulness of infinite time and infinite space. And I don't think Craig at all demonstrates anything. The only thing Craig demonstrates to me is that he himself misunderstands the notion of infinity, by confusing two separate notions, or ways of talking about, infinity. (Let me admit right here that I have not had the chance to go to the book recently and reread these first sections. But I have a pretty good memory of what was said, from the several times I have read it in the past. So I am going to refer to all of this from memory. If I am referring to the wrong things, or make a mistake somewhere, please let me know, I don't assume my memory is perfect at all, since I have too much evidence that it's not. (At least, that's what I remember. ;P))

There are two ways of talking about infinity here, the infinite set and the infinite series. The infinite set is just, as it sounds, the notion of something whose number of members is infinite. The infinite series is the notion the for any member (of whatever, and whatever sense in which the thing being talked about is a member) there is one preceding it and one succeeding it. (Those need not necessarily express anything temporal, since we would describe numbers preceding and succeeding other numbers, but we don't mean that they do this temporally. It means only their placement in the series, of course.) Now, the infinite series is understood easiest by the metaphorical picture of counting, either forwards or backwards, and we imagine that one would count on forever, in either direction, and one would never come to an end. That doesn't seem to be problematic for most people, that seems the more familiar notion of infinity.

The problem comes in when one tries to understand the infinite set, because he starts confusing what he understands as the infinite series and trying to mix that into the notion of the infinite set. There is a coherent way of understanding how they are the same thing, but it takes one being careful to see and understand it. (And it's difficult to explain to someone when they can't stop making the error they're making, because they continue to see it in the way that they do, but the problem is that they are seeing it the wrong way, so one has to somehow get them to see it differently.) Craig calls the infinite set a "completed" infinity. Now, while this is metaphorically correct, what he draws from it demonstrates that he is misunderstanding it. He takes it that if it is "completed", then no more members can be added. But this is immediately to treat an infinite set as though it were finite, instead of infinite. Now, technically, a set has its members necessarily, so you can't add members to sets anyway, they already contain all of their members, so if you "add" a new member, you have created a new set. But just for ease, we will speak as though it does not contradict the notion of a "set" to add members to it. An infinite set already contains all of its members and is "completed" only in that sense.

The confusion, so far as I can tell, as I have tried to pin down where the confusion is taking place, is that one tries to treat infinity as though it were a number. Infinity is not a number. At least, not in any sense in which any finite number is. You cannot try to treat infinity as though it behaves like a normal number, it just doesn't. (One might liken this to trying to treat a banana like an orange, and just forcing it, you just can't, and it will defy you every time, because it just isn't that way.) Trying to add to infinity and expecting it to behave in the same way one adds to any finite number is just going to get you further and deeper into confusion and misunderstanding. Of course it will behave completely differently! It won't behave at all like a normal number, because it just isn't one. We speak of "an infinite number of ___", but there is no number that is infinity, that does not make any sense. A specific number in the normal sense is countable and finite, it means a specifiable quantity. That is precisely what infinity is not.

(Let me take one moment to say that I am not meaning my words to describe and explain transfinite arithmetic. That is a whole different ballgame, and if one can't even understand the notion of infinity before entering transfinite math, then one is certainly not going to understand that either. Transfinite math talks of infinities greater than other infinities, but to even understand what that might possibly mean, one first has to fully grasp the behavior of infinity just in relation to all of the finite numbers. Once you have that down, transfinite arithmetic is the next step, but one must be careful not to try to get into talking about transfinite numbers without even understanding the system first.)

So, can you "add" to an infinite grouping of things? Yes and no. If you are thinking of infinity as the infinite series, then of course you can "add" another member to it, since the meaning of the infinite series is an ordered series of things that goes on forever, so in that sense, you can keep adding another member to it forever. But if you are thinking of the infinite set, then no, because it already contains "all" of the members, but again, the notion of "all" must be taken to be expressing something that is not like what it expresses when we're talking about finite quantities. If one tries to add another member to an infinite set, well, the proper response is to say, "It was already a member." But if one insists in trying to add a member that it doesn't already have, then one is trying to force the infinite set to not be infinite. Or again, trying to treat it the same way one treats the infinite series. You can't do this, and to do so is to demonstrate that you're confusing two different concepts here. It does NOT demonstrate that an infinite set is impossible, it only demonstrates that you don't understand the notion of an infinite set. Once you do understand the notion of an infinite set, then the idea that time and space might be infinite is perfectly plausible. This does not rule out that there might be other wholly unrelated reasons that time and/or space can't be infinite, but it has nothing to do with the supposed impossibility of pure infinity itself, because it is possible.

(I have, by the way, often felt like explaining all of this is like explaining the rules of deductive propositional logic to someone: if they just don't see it, then they just don't see it, and it's not really something you can just explain. They either see the logic, or they don't see it.)

Perhaps, let me try explaining it another way that tries to compare it to something finite; because of that, it may or may not work, since the comparison to something finite usually leads one to misunderstand it, because one wants to treat it exactly and identically like one would treat a finite number. Let's talk about the set of all Americans, including anyone that ever was and ever will be an American. This, of course, is a finite number, whatever it be. But whatever it is, it's all of them. Now, can we add to it? Can we add another American to the set, ignoring for the moment that technically, one can't add to any set anyway, but we'll speak loosely, can we add one more member to the set? In one sense, we can, because we say that if we consider some other possible world, then one more person is born and lives in America at some time, increasing the number of Americans ever by 1. So we say, yes, we can add to it. BUT, if we say that the set just IS the set of ALL Americans, whatever that number be, then we can't add to it, because anything more that shows up that's an American would, by definition, already be a member of the set. So we can't really add to it. Anything that is the sort of thing that can be added, by being a certain kind of thing, would, by definition of being that thing, already be a member.

Now, obviously, there will be some clear differences between this example and an infinite set, since the set of all Americans is finite. But I am merely trying to explain and get across one feature here, and even in that feature alone, the infinite set and the set of all Americans ever are not quite the same in that feature, close, but not identical.

Of course, another issue that comes in is the infinite subset of the infinite set, which is smaller and part of the infinite set, as demonstrated by taking the set of all natural numbers and the set of all odd numbers, seeing that obviously, the set of all odds is a subset of the set of all numbers, but they are both infinite sets. One is tempted to say that they then have the same number of members. Again, this is only half correct, because it requires you to remember that infinity is not a number and you can't treat it as though it is. Infinity does not measure some specific quantity, that's part of what makes it infinity. But the argument claims that if the past is infinite, then time would have to have crossed an infinity just to get to the present moment, but clearly, that's impossible since the infinity would have to have been completed countably. To treat this as "obviously impossible" is again to treat infinity as though it is some number having to be achieved. One reason I can think that one might think it is impossible is because he already assumes that every single moment must be backed by some previous moment that caused it, so that there eventually has to be some beginning in order for the whole series to get off the ground. But this is to assume the very thing he is trying to prove. Once one removes such an assumption from his mind, then he has no reason to object to an infinite past.

(3) "our minds necessarily map onto 'the world' in such a way that there simply are no things that could be, that we cant... in principle conceive."

This is definitely too presumptuous a claim to make, I can't even conceive of a way to justify this. At best, I think one be able to make a reasonable argument that we are more justified than not in believing that the overall versimilitude of our beliefs is high enough to conclude that we can trust our judgment well enough in many things, but there is no guarantee, and this only speaks to the things we do have beliefs about, for there is much that we will never know.

But one can easily empirically prove that conceivability varies from person to person, there is simply no way to say what is universally conceivable, if there is anything that is. Again, at best we could say, if it is conceivable at all to at least one person, then it is possible. But no one, just no one can claim to have the maximum level of conceivability that there is for anything and everything. And there certainly does not seem to be any reason that our conceivability necessarily perfectly matches up to the world at all. You see, behind that, there is clearly A LOT that is being assumed, but all of that is required for just the soundness of your argument, that your position now turns out to be far less simple than you think.

(4) You are free to ignore defining explicitly your terms if you like, but that sort of practice won't get you very far at all. To say that you don't need to define your terms is to behave in a way that is the anithesis of analytic philosophy. I would urge you to rethink that methodology if you would like to reach a level of excellence in philosophy; too much rides on the definitions of words like that, for they are not mere definitions, but a theory of metaphysics, defining the metaphysical nature of something.

(5) "physical things do not have this ability."

Really? What is your evidence? How can you be so sure? Have you secretly unlocked the nature of the physical universe without letting the world know? What really do you know about the behavior of physical matter? Have you worked out all of the precise equations that describe and predict perfectly the behavior of matter? If you yourself have not, have you studied and researched all of the people and their work that has? Or are you simply asserting a dogmatism that supports your thesis? Because that is a pretty bold claim in the face of all of the physics work being done that you have most likely never studied. Again, I am NOT advancing naturalism here, so just because I mention physics, don't read into it that sort of claim, for that would be a very superficial misunderstanding of why it is justifiable to consider what physics has to say.

Additionally, why restrict "the universe" to merely all physical matter? Why is the universe not simply everything that exists? It seems false to say that the universe is merely all physical matter, it seems to rule out an important part of the universe.

"that entity must be non-physical. ... I made the argument"

Actually, you didn't. There is no real argument justifying this claim, since you have not justified most of the other claims that this one rests on. At best, one can say, if those premises are true, but that's just what is being contest, whether or not they are true. To simply point out that you presented the argument does nothing when someone is asking you for the evidence that supports your whole argument. Valid arguments can be completely false, no problems there. But I would also point out that your argument doesn't quite lead to that claim anyway, since in your original argument, you say nothing about the distinction between physical and non-physical, and why the non-physical must cause the physical, but not vice versa. Why would the non-physical have any effect at all on the physical? How could it?

"I can conceieve of number infinity... numbers arent 'in' time and space."

What relevance does that have? It says nothing except that you are merely begging the question that time and space can't be infinite, just because they are time and space, so infinite numbers are okay because they're not part of time and space. You say that time and space cannot be infinite because an infinity is inconceivable. But you admit that you can conceive of an infinity if you are only thinking of numbers. There is an infinity that you have clearly conceived. But you say it does not count because numbers are not part of time and space. Right there, you have begged the question.

At 1:46 AM, January 26, 2007, Blogger Tedla said...

Some questions & queries for Cheryl:

• When you ask, rhetorically, of course, whether God’s action of creating the universe is an event I was confused wondering whether you wanted to say/mean God’s action of creating the universe is causing an event, that is, the coming into existence of the universe.
• I’m not sure why you are sure that God’s creating the universe should be understood only as an event, while there is a more plausible way of understanding such an act as causing something to be.
• You wonder what caused God’s act of creating the universe and then suggest that it could be taken as a decision on God’s part to create. But then, immediately, you do not seem to be distinguishing between God’s being a cause of an event and an event itself.
• Now I’m getting more confused when you say mental happenings, whatever that means, are events for those who are not even physicalists. You go on to say that if mental happenings are events they must have causes. I do not know how to take such characterizations of the mind without further, more nuanced ways of putting such philosophically pregnant, as it were, concepts that underlie debates in the event-event and agent causation literature.
• Now what I want to suggest to clarify some of the confusions that seem to be behind the above worries is if you say something more about event and mental/agent causation. You seem to conflate a significant difference between agent/mental causation and event-event causation or you seem to reduce agent/mental causation to event-event causation. For example, when God brings the universe into existence he’s causing the coming into being of something, an effect, which we glossed over above as an event. It’s not the case that he’s being caused by some other event as such an understanding of causation is event-event causation that is different from agent causation. When a tornado causes some destruction in your neighborhood (I’m trying to spare you; don’t tell your neighbors that I’m being mean to them) you’d not ascribe such an event/happening to an intentional agent, though you could. When I decided to write this piece it’s not the case that an event’s happening, what you seem to call mental happenings brought about the writing of this piece. It’s rather my freely deciding, or originating the state of affairs that consist in my acting—which you can call an event-- in such a way that this piece come to be. The point is that there is a clear difference between agent causation and event-event causation, the latter referring to a type of causation that we ascribe to non-mental, non-personal objects.
• I’m not sure how to take you, Cheryl, when you say the following things: “There is no good reason to rule out the universe as self-caused. We can simply ask: what about this god (or whatever else would have caused the universe)? Is it infinite? Well, if something's being infinite is dependent on one's ability to conceive of and grasp infinity without "mind-bending", then by the argument given above, that such inconceivability of infinite time and space is good reason enough to reject its possibility, then god cannot be infinite. But if it is not infinite, then it must have a beginning. It's beginning must, like the universe's beginning, be an event. As an event, it must be caused. Thus, god's existence must be caused. Perhaps one should say that god self-caused itself, but as soon as one says this, one has demonstrated the possibility of self-causation, but one has failed to provide any reason at all to say that the universe did not self-cause itself”.
• Let’s set aside the universe’s being self-caused and talk about what you say about God’s being infinite. I’m at a loss if you mean theists mean when they say that God’s infinite they mean in the same sense that we ordinarily, even technically, refer to the concept of infinity in the realm of mathematics. That seems to be attributing to theists a concept foreign to their understanding of God. No classical theist thinks that God is a mathematical object. All your reasoning above then seems to have been misdirected and I do not think I need to raise further questions, hoping that you’d see the point, that is: theists do not refer to God’s infinity in the same sense that infinity is being referred to in mathematics. What do they mean then when they speak, or refer to God as infinite? I think it’d not be a difficult thing to find an answer to this question: just take a carefully written philosophy of religion work where you can find the meaning of such a talk or reference. I’m not saying at the moment that what theists say and mean by infinity when they refer to God is correct or incorrect for that is not my point.
• I wish I had a clue by way of understanding your questions in the following quote from your piece: “why cannot the universe itself be powerful enough to cause itself? Just what is this notion of "powerful"? This too is left undefined. Why not say that the physical laws of nature, the lawlike behavior of matter itself, pure and simple, exemplifies that sort of power? Or furthermore, why not assert that such powerfulness is exemplified in the infinite nature of the universe?
• By the way, you’d do us a great service if you say something more about the universe being its own cause; I do not understand God’s being his own cause, causing himself to exist, and the same applies to my difficulty in understanding the universe’s causing its own existence.
• I’m not defending Craig or whoever, but I’m confused again about Cheryl’s characterization of Craig’s discussion of the actual vs. the potential infinite. As far as I can recall Craig’s application of the concept of the actual infinite vs. the potential infinite has been controversial (though that does not mean he is simply wrong for such an implication would simply bring philosophy to an end for philosophy is made of too many controversial claims anyways) but not in the way Cheryl puts it, I’m afraid. For example, Craig quotes David Hilbert, the mathematician (not another confused fellow philosopher about the nature of infinity) to distinguish between the actual and the potential infinite. To quote (I thought it’s better to quote as I’m afraid my memory would play a trick on me): “We meet the true infinite when we regard the totality of numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, …itself as a completed unity, or when we regard the points of an interval as a totality of things which exists all at once. This kind of infinity is known as actual infinity.” (Italics in the original) Craig and Smith, p. 7. This is among many quotes by Craig from mathematicians.

• I do not recall from Craig’s work where he commits the confusion Cheryl attributes to him about (mis)understanding the nature of infinity, that is failing to distinguish between infinite set and infinite series. I can easily recall his application of the concept of the actual infinite and the potential infinite in such a way that his detractors claim to be wrong. That is an entirely different matter from what Cheryl claims when she says, “And I don't think Craig at all demonstrates anything. The only thing Craig demonstrates to me is that he himself misunderstands the notion of infinity, by confusing two separate notions, or ways of talking about, infinity.”.
• I’m a bit skeptical of Cheryl’s claim in that what she says seems to imply that Craig’s misunderstanding of the nature of infinity has created a veritable cottage industry, as it were, that has generated almost a generation of philosophical work, by friends and foes, about his Kalam cosmological argument which takes the concept of infinity as among its most important philosophical concepts for the arguments he’s devised based on them. Generations of philosophers seem to have been entangled in a philosophical project that has been trying to untangle confusions that have been caused by Craig’s misunderstanding of the nature of infinity. Such a story is a bit too much to swallow.
• If Cheryl was trying to say that Craig’s failure is to distinguish between theoretical and physical infinity, in the sense of failing to distinguish between an application of the concept of the actual infinite to the realm of mathematics and the physical world, or if she contends Craig’s claim that the actual infinite cannot be instantiated in the physical world as being wrong, I’d not see a problem in what she says for that is part of the debate spawned by his arguments for the last 28 years.
• The above are some of my confusions that I believe Cheryl would shed some light on, at least, for me to make sense of some of her responses to the piece that triggered this discussion.
• Having shared my confusions and queries, I want to say this to Cheryl: your contribution or responses are largely very informative and illuminating except where you left me, and the likes of me, confused. Perhaps that was your purpose! If so, you’ve achieved the goal of both illuminating some of us and confusing some of us too! I’m not sure which is which.


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