Thursday, June 26, 2008

What about God? part 2...

In previous posts we have seen that certain things are rationally undeniable. From this we have seen that the universe must have begun, and therefore, had a cause of its beginning. This much is often OK for many people, up to a point. That point being when it dawns on them that God is coming in the conclusion. Richard Dawkins, for example, in his latest book, The God Delusion, illustrates this nicely. On the one hand he recognizes, I think, the need for the regress of causes to terminate. On the other hand, he is definitely not ready for that conclusion to be God.

What I've decided to do is present Richard's argument first. Then I will present mine and you can decide which one makes more sense.

From The God Delusion. On page 77 he is arguing against the "proofs" of Thomas Aquinas. He correctly recognizes that three of them (the unmoved mover, the uncaused cause, and the cosmological argument) are similar in form (they all rely on the impossibility of an infinite regress) and so he takes these three on in the following paragraph.

"All three of these arguments rely upon the idea of a regress and invoke God to terminate it. They make the entirely unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune to the regress. Even if we allow the dubious luxury of arbitrarily conjuring up a terminator to an infinite regress and giving it a name, simply because we need one, there is absolutely no reason to endow that terminator with any of the properties normally ascribed to God: omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, creativity of design, to say nothing of such human attributes as listening to prayers, forgiving sins and reading innermost thoughts. Incidentally, it has not escaped the notice of logicians that omniscience and omnipotence are mutually incompatible. If God is omniscient, he must already know how he is going to intervene to change the course of history using his omnipotence. But that means he can't change his mind about his intervention, which means he is not omnipotent. Karen Owens has captured this witty little paradox in equally engaging verse:
Can omniscient God, who

Knows the future, find

The omnipotence to

Change His future mind?

To return to the infinite regress and the futility of invoking God to terminate it, it is more parsimonious to conjure up, say, a 'big bang singularity', or some other physical concept as yet unknown. Calling it God is at best unhelpful and at worst perniciously misleading."

There you have it. This is pretty much (of course there's more - he wrote a whole book about a being that he really doesn't believe exists...) the guts of his argument. "Well who made God?" That is the point he is making when he says that it is "an unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune to the regress." Now, to be fair, I can't tell for sure if he denies that the idea of an infinite regress is problematic or if he is just opposed to the idea of God terminating it. I think the latter because he says that we could "conjure up a 'big bang singularity' or some other physical concept yet unknown." So it's not the termination of the infinite regress that he finds objectionable, it's God. That leads me to believe that he recognizes the logical implications of an infinite regress. That it's impossible and irrational. That said, he also seems willing to toss logic under the bus at the first opportunity. "Conjure up" indeed.

He also says that we arbitrarily end the regress with God because we "need one." As if "we" are desperate to prove God and so stoop to arbitrariness in a futile attempt to do so. For reasons (not conjuring) that I will now discuss, I think his arguments are atrociously bad. I'm not even a competent philosopher or scientist but I can see the massive holes in this line of "reasoning."

Let's talk about the idea of the infinite regress one more time. Claiming that an antecedent sequence of causes is truly infinite is to say that it never began. What could be more irrational? OF COURSE it began else it would have never terminated in an effect. So how do we terminate an infinite regress? We do it by stopping at First Principles. Being, Identity, Non-contradiction, Excluded Middle, and sufficient cause. As we recall, First Principles are called "First" because they are, well, FIRST. There is nothing that can be said prior to them. They do not need to be explained. Indeed, they cannot be explained. No prior reasoning need be done, or can be done, to recognize existence and identity. We exist and that's it. We are who we are and that's it. So how does this help us solve the infinite regress problem?

I think it goes like this. Let's say that we have an effect, the universe, that we want to explain. Let's say that we start with today and travel back along the antecedent chain of causes looking for the first one. (Keep in mind there MUST BE a first one.) So let's now cut to the chase and skip over the 13.7 billion years or so and think about the First Cause. Is it possible that the First Cause is just like every other cause in the chain of causes? No. It is not. Why? Because if it was like every other cause in the chain, it would itself need a cause. And if it needed a cause, it could not be First. This seems fairly obvious to me but then I've thought about it for a minute or two. The First Cause, it seems, MUST BE of a different kind than the subsequent causes. Are we tracking? Good.

Therefore, if each of the causes in the chain of causes had an antecedent cause, we could say that each one of those causes was finite. In fact, we would have to say that they are finite. They had a prior cause or, in effect, a beginning. Therefore, they are finite. The First Cause, on the other hand, CANNOT be finite. Why? If it were finite, it would itself need a cause, and thus it could not be FIRST. The First Cause, since it CANNOT be finite, MUST THEREFORE BE INFINITE. There are only two metaphysical categories and they are: infinite and finite. (If you can think of anything, anything at all that is neither finite nor infinite then don't tell me, publish a paper on it in a philosophy journal and you will be famous from now until the end of time.) I call this "doing the math." If 1 + x = 2, then x = 1. If something is either finite or infinite, and it's not finite, then it's ... INFINITE. (This is called a disjunctive syllogism and every logician that Richard knows understands that it is a valid form of argument. Either P or Q. Not P. Therefore, Q. Either finite or infinite. Not finite. Therefore, infinite.

I would be happy to toss this argument over the edge but no one has ever, EVER, been able to explain how a first cause could be like all the other causes in the chain of causes.

Now we get to the good part. If the First Cause is infinite, we also know something else about it. What is that, you ask? Well, we already KNOW that the First Cause is infinite (it has no beginning). But we also know that the First Cause is UNCAUSED. We know this because something either 1. has a cause, or 2. it's uncaused, or 3. it causes itself. Number 1 doesn't work because we know that the First Cause can't have a cause (else it would be just like all the other causes) and number 3 doesn't work because something can't be the cause of itself (if you don't buy that, think about it for a second or two and you'll get it). "Doing the math" leaves us with number 2. The First Cause is uncaused. It HAS TO BE. It's not a "dubious luxury" it is the conclusion that we find ourselves forced to accept from the exercise of REASON. I'm not finished. Since we know the First Cause is infinite, we also know that it is immaterial. Why do we know that? We know that because if the First Cause was material we could count it. But anything we can count is finite. Therefore, once again, we are FORCED to this conclusion. The First Cause is now infinite, uncaused, and immaterial. What else may we infer about this First Cause? It seems that the First Cause is a PERSON. Why do I say that? Because the First Cause ACTED. There wasn't a universe and then there was a universe. An amazingly finely tuned universe, as it turns out. (See any book on the Anthropic Principle for the details. They virtually all (Hugh Ross is a notable exception) come to the wrong conclusion - "it's a really, really lucky thing for us" but the descriptions of the fine tuning are impressive.) So the First Cause is now a PERSON. Don't we know that as sure as we are reading this? Try to imagine a rock, or any non-living thing acting or having a thought or a purpose. Exactly my point. So PERSON also implies living and purposeful. I don't want to push my luck here but a theologian might use different words to describe the First Cause. A theologian would use words like Eternal, Spirit, Transcendent, Sovereign, and so on. I don't know about you but those words sort of sound suspiciously like Biblically God words. My apologies to Richard, but I think my argument is much better. In order to defeat it Richard must show how an infinite regress is possible. Or he must "conjure" some 'big bang singularity' (how to explain that?) or he must show how something that is finite can be infinite. Oh, he has a way to go, I think. An infinitely long way...

Here comes the best part. It's perhaps, possibly, maybe, an original thought. I can't imagine that no one has never thought of this before but I've read a little bit and I've never seen it put like this. So here goes.

It occurred to me as I was thinking about the First Principles of reason that "Being is" is the most concise way to state them. Being means existence, the most fundamental thing we can say about anything. "Is" implies a predicate (Being is Being) but since we know the Law of Identity we don't need to repeat ourselves. We also know by immediate inference that if Being is Being then Being is NOT non-Being. This is the law of non-contradiction. Also we know by immediate inference that Being and non-Being exhaust the ontological possibilities. Something either is or it isn't. All that is summed up in the phrase "Being is."

Then one day I was reading something this ancient Hebrew leader wrote, the one who got the cosmology right thousands of years before the scientists did. It was in the book of Exodus and I was STRUCK, it was almost like a slap in the face, with the phrase that I ran across in chapter 3, verse 14. First, let me set the stage. Moses had been told by God (if you believe in things like that) that he is to go to the nation of Israel and lead them out of (the Exodus) Egypt. Here's how it sounds. Verse 13, "Then Moses said to God, "Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I shall say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you.' Now they may say to me, 'What is His name?' What shall I say to them?" (emphasis mine)

Here it comes. Verse 14. And God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM"; and He said, "Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you." (emphasis mine)

Wow. God said, I AM. I've been saying "Being is." It's the same thing. I AM WHO I AM. Being is Being. When God was asked His name, He named Himself REASON. Isn't that interesting? But the more you think about it, the more sense it makes. One of the characteristics of God is REASON. It's part of His essence just like righteousness. So it would make sense that REASON (GOD) is the ultimate authority of what is true about the universe. Even God can't violate reason just like He can't sin. He cannot violate His essence. Well, food for thought, anyway. But it seems to me to be correct to say.

There is one last piece of business tonight and I hate to end on a negative note but I must point out one more bit of irrationality in the passage from Richard. Remember that "engaging" little poem? The one that illustrates that omniscience and omnipotence are logically incompatible? Here's the fallacy. If God is omniscient then He would know everything all at once. We can't begin to get our finite intellects around that but if He knows everything all at once then He's not "changing His mind" as the situation unfolds. If Richard wanted to attack the essence of God he'd be better off trying something like: if God is omnipotent then can He make a rock so big He can't lift it? The idea being that we have some sort of fatal dilemma here. Because either way God is not omnipotent. Here's the fallacy. You've seen it already, I'm sure. It's called a category mistake. A rock is finite and God's omnipotence is infinite. It's like asking, "What does blue smell like?" The question is nonsensical because blue is a color and related to the sense of sight and smell is a different sense that is concerned with odors, not colors. We would ask what some things would smell like, but a color would not be one of those things. So the question makes no sense. I'll have more to say on that subject (apparent contradictions) later. In the meantime, please feel free to let me know where I'm wrong.


William said...

I like your blog Tom

Dinesh said...

It is quite interesting Tom

Jeff said...

How did the discovery of "Peking Man" figure into what we know about mankind and what the Bible teaches? The Bible says that all will be given the chance to believe in Jesus/God to be forgiven of sins. What missionaires or what/witnessed to these groups of nomads ? They have dated the bone fragments to 100,000 -500,000 years ago. How does that square with the 5,000 years in the Bible. I like your logical approach to things and would like your thoughts on my issues.

Tom said...

Jeff, that's an interesting question. This is from "Between 1929 and 1937, 14 partial craniums, 11 lower jaws, many teeth, some skeletal bones and large numbers of stone tools were discovered in the Lower Cave at Locality 1 of the Peking Man site at Zhoukoudian, near Beijing, in China."

I'm not sure how much weight you want to give a few bones. I'm not a "professional" so they may think that's good enough to tell if these people were republicans or democrats. There seems to be some controversy about the bones and exactly what they are so I myself give less weight to them and what they "mean."

At any rate, I don't think it has any impact on what the Bible teaches. So what if mankind is 100,000 years old? (I don't agree that we are, BTW.) It doesn't square with 5,000 years in the Bible because I don't think you can tell from the Bible exactly how long we've been around. I think the Bible is clear that God is fair and loving and why would He, being fair and loving, make it so some group of His people, created in His image, would have NO chance to be forgiven? On that reasoning alone I do not buy any argument that denies that some people never had a chance. We all have a chance. Every one of us. Have you taken advantage of your chance? That's the real issue before you. Thanks so much for commenting.

SCy said...

I've just read through your blog up to here and I must say I'm impressed with the clarity and logic of your arguments. I don't think I've ever seen such an elegant way of deducing a God's existence (identifying the Being is a different matter of course; but I agree that it is Jehovah, Yahweh etc.; whichever name you prefer).

I have a problem though. How do we know that 'mind' is immaterial? If all things physical are governed by the laws of physics, and the brain is necessarily composed of matter and energy, then such thoughts about the immaterial really stem from a material source and do not compose a proof of the immaterial mind.

What I am trying to say is, that, although reason may make the '-isms' nonsensical, it does not necessarily follow that the mind be immaterial. At least as far as I can tell.

Personally, I would disagree about the existence of a soul or mind (this may be a surprise) based on Scriptural arguments. For example, the word translated 'soul' in Genesis (for example) is the Hebrew nephesh which literally means 'living creature'. So the whole thing was a living creature made from dust, (presumably material, or, you might say, the elements e.g. carbon, hydrogen etc.)

Also, at Ezekial 18:4 we read:

Look! All the souls—to me they belong. As the soul of the father so likewise the soul of the son—to me they belong. The soul that is sinning—it itself will die.

So souls may die and are therefore not an immortal construct within us but actually are us, as we are.

And finally (read: all that I can think of now) if an immortal, immaterial soul exists, then when the material body dies, the person technically did not die and thus resurrection (a bringing back to life) cannot occur.

Those Scriptural points however, do not deny that an immaterial, perishable mind exists, so the question follows, can such a thing exist?

That's kind of as far as I have gotten on that line of reasoning so far, so I hope you'll forgive me for just ending here (or there?).

Hope to hear from you.

Tom said...

We know the mind is immaterial because it is different from the brain. The brain is physical but if you have completely described someone's brain state have you completely described them at that moment? No. Because you have still said nothing about consciousness or what it is "like" to be in that brain state.

Regarding the Hebrew, here is what a good friend of mine who is a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary (Ph.D.) said:

"Hebrew nephesh (נפש) means "breath" if one wants to claim "literally." But the word is multivalent in its semantic fields. It can be applied to living creatures (including humans). But such a meaning is a synechdoche—a part-for-the-whole expression; your respondent cannot extrapolate that nephesh refers to material.

Just so, the expression neshemah (נשמה) (as in nishmath chayyim נשמת חיים or nishmath ruah chayyim נשמת רוח חיים) can be used of people (Gen 2:7 [but here see the NET Bible note]). There's another example of this expression (Gen 7:22), where it is unclear whether it applies to animals, or living creatures (I think excluding plants) in general. It may emphasize the extinction of human life in the flood. But more to the point, this too is synechdoche.

It's the preponderance of evidence from both Old and New Testaments that mankind in particular has an invisible component responsible for some functions. Words like soul, heart, mind etc. come to mind. Many more can be multiplied."

Thanks for your comment.

RkBall said...

"When God was asked His name, He named Himself REASON. "

Not sure how you got from "being" to "reason". Seems like a jump.

Tom said...

The first principles of reason, or laws of thought, are:
1. Being
2. Identity
3. Law of non-contradiction
4. Law of excluded middle
5. Law of (sufficient) causality

That's how I get from "being" to "reason." And how I get from God saying "I AM WHO I AM" to God saying "I am Rational." Thanks.