A passerby courteously suggests that I may have, in this post, spoken out of the lower part of my alimentary canal (read: ass):
“Miguel, with all due respect, you’re talking out of your ass.”
Contra to my claim in the post, passerby says Aquinas does in fact use the idea “everything has a cause” as a starting premise for his cosmological argument, and is therefore open to the ‘what caused God?’ rebuttal.
Of course, Aquinas does no such thing.
Passerby quotes Aquinas himself to show that I have indeed been articulating out of my own posterior, but I won’t bore you with that, since none of what he quotes from Aquinas means what he says they mean.
And, of course, because I very much doubt passerby, or anyone else for that matter, will go through the trouble of scanning the Summa Theologica to see what Aquinas himself argues, these short quotes from the pages of Stanford’s philosophical encyclopedia that detail the history of the cosmological argument should suffice to show who between us is in fact verbalizing from his anus:
“Thomas Aquinas held that among the things whose existence needs explanation are contingent beings that depend for their existence upon other beings..
Aquinas argued that we need a causal explanation for things in motion, things that are caused, and contingent beings.
Once Aquinas concludes that necessary beings exist, he then goes on to ask whether these beings have their existence from themselves or from another. If from another, then we have an unsatisfactory infinite regress of explanations. Hence, there must be something whose necessity is uncaused.”
That all can be found here: http://stanford.io/1h5F2Gk
There it is from Stanford’s online Philosophical Encyclopedia itself.
Unfortunately for passerby, Aquinas, and no theologian in the history of Christendom for that matter, argues that “everything has a cause”. Rather, what they argue is that whatever begins to exist has a cause for it’s existence, or what ever is contingent has a cause.
So, yes, Sam Harris was strawmanning the cosmological argument. Deal with it already.
That’s all really quite simple to understand. You’d think it would all be something easily fathomable by the people who “fucking love science”.
Greg, a passerby, expresses bewilderment and requests an explanation:
If you believe that Sam Harris’s portrayal of the cosmological argument [for God’s existence] is a straw man, then I would be curious to hear your own interpretation of the argument.
As you wish, Greg.
But first let’s quote Sam for everyone else to see what his version (if it can even be called as such) of the argument actually is:
“The argument runs more or less like this: everything has a cause; space and time exist; space and time must, therefore, have been caused by something that stands outside of space and time; and the only thing that trascends space and time, and yet retains the power to create, is God… As many critics of religion have pointed out , the notion of a creator poses an inmediate problem of an infinite regress. If God created the universe, what caused God? To say that God, by definition, is uncreated simply begs the question”
For starters, the readily confirmable fact of the matter is that no respected theologian in the history of Christendom has ever concocted such an idiotic argument such as that. Not Craig, not Leibniz, not Aquinas, not Maimonides, not Avicenna, not Swinburne, not Plantinga, not anyone. Nobody in the history of the cosmological argument has ever begun the cosmological argument with the statement “everything has a cause.”
And the answer to that is actually quite simple. It is because none of them are, how shall we put it, dumb enough to ever argue anything so stupid. You’ll never be able to point to me one famous theologian who started off his cosmological argument in such a puerile manner.
What defenders of the cosmological argument actually defend is that what comes into existence has a cause, or that whatever is contingent has a cause, and not, as Sam likes to think, that everything has a cause. The difference between what actual defenders of the cosmological argument say and what Sam says they say is almost exactly like the difference between these 2 statements: 1, everything in the fridge is edible, and 2, everything is edible. If the differences between the 2 aren’t obvious still, then perhaps we could meet, as I’ve got this wonderful bridge to sell you which you can even pay in installments.
Defenders of the cosmological argument are not interested in showing that the cause of everything just somehow happens to be uncaused, leaving them open to being accused of special pleading. Rather, what they are (or were) interested in showing was that if there was to be an ultimate explanation of how everything came to be, then that explanation must be in principle uncaused. They argue, and don’t arbitrarily posit, for why this ultimate explanation must in principle be uncaused.
It is clear that Sam Harris, for his book, chose to consult infidel websites rather than the vast philosophical literature pertaining to the cosmological argument that exists.
In a piece for Newsweek entitled ‘The Godless Particle‘, Lawrence Krauss, of the newly discovered ‘Higgs Boson’, tells us:
[I]t validates an unprecedented revolution in our understanding of fundamental physics and brings science closer to dispensing with the need for any supernatural shenanigans all the way back to the beginning of the universe—and perhaps even before the beginning, if there was a before.
This type of propaganda should be familiar to anyone who’s been able to read Lawrence’s latest book ‘A Universe From Nothing‘ (for which David Albert has some choice words) where he uses a textbook bait- and-switch to mislead everyone into believing that the question of why there’s something rather than nothing had been, through science, now dispensed with. Of course, as expected, once the smug and philosophically ill-informed Krauss got cornered by the people who, very much unlike him, actually know something about the issue, he retreats into the switch, saying something boringly similar to what’s written near the end of his book:
“what is really useful is not pondering [the] question” but rather “participating in the exciting voyage of discovery.”
In other words:
” Uh, I know I said I’ll be answering the question of why there’s something rather than nothing, but, actually, I wont, because, well, I cant, and, uh, well, I only said that so you’ll buy my book.“
Unfortunately for Krauss, however, the discovery of the Higgs confirms the model –the standard model– upon which the more contemporary cosmological and teleological arguments for God’s existence have been formulated. Also –again, unfortunately for Krauss– the classical formulations of these arguments, like the ones from Aquinas and Leibniz, won’t budge either, Higgs or no Higgs, because the metaphysics that undergirds them, of which Krauss will seemingly be forever ignorant, is not of the sort that can be disproven by science, for they flow from premises needed by science itself to make sense of its own evidential presuppositions.
Although nothing about the Higgs Boson suggests anything close to what Krauss would have us believe, he nevertheless asserts it so emotively as though his conclusions were so obviously entailed by the Higgs’s discovery that it needn’t any further explication, thusly giving us more examples of his incompetence on the issue.
The upside to all this farcical boot-strapping, it seems to me, is the frisson of self-adequacy it gives us average kooks, as it is a clear example of how even remarkably smart people can at times say things that are so blitheringly stupid.
The apparent teaser on Hawking’s coming Discovery Channel interview:
On “Is There A Creator?,” Hawking notes that on the sub-atomic scale, particles are seen in experiments to appear from nowhere. And since the Big-Bang started out smaller than an atom, similarly the universe likely “popped into existence without violating the known laws of Nature,” he says. Nothing created the universe, so in his view there was no need for a creator. That is his explanation for “why there is something rather than nothing.”
Except that, before those particles that were “smaller than atoms” popped themselves into existence and got the big-bang going –which is an event that is by itself a contentious topic among physicists because not only does it clearly violate our modal intuitions, it does also the law of conservation of energy– “known laws of nature” already existed and likewise had to be inviolable. So, Even if we grant Hawking the premise that particles can pop themselves into existence out of absolutely nothing –a pretty galactic concession, mind you– that still leaves the tiny matter of the “known laws of nature” (some law concerning gravity perhaps?) which need to be left inviolable for anything to be able to pop itself into existence.
This isn’t a God of the gaps argument, it’s a common sense one: anything that begins to exist needs a cause for it’s existence; something cannot come from nothing.
What’s the escape?
Why, redefine the word “nothing” would be one way!
Hawking’s definition of the word “nothing” is like nothing you’ve ever heard of, since it isn’t actually defined the way we would normally understand the word to mean; his “nothing” actually contains an ocean of fluctuating quantum energy, from which particles can get “popped into existence”.
Doesn’t that seem like a really surreptitious way of redefining the word ‘nothing’ so that it definitionally means ‘something’, or is it just me? The fact that the word ‘nothing’, in how it is originally defined, would seem the polar opposite of how Hawking would use the word in his book is just downright bizarre.
This is an example of someone who is scientifically bright, but philosophically dense.
“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”
“Hawking then began working on quantum gravity, in hopes that God would be at last eliminated from the equations. Alas, it was not to be: God was even more prominent – and unavoidable – in quantum gravity than in Einstein’s theory of gravity. In his latest book, The Grand Design, Hawking has pinned his hope of eliminating God on M-theory, a theory with no experimental support whatsoever, hence not a theory of physics at all. Nor has it been proven that M-theory is mathematically consistent. Nor has it been proven that God has been eliminated from M-theory. There are disquieting signs (for Hawking and company) that He is also unavoidable in M-theory, as He is in Einstein’s gravity, and in quantum gravity.
In spite of what the atheist press is telling you, it’s looking bad for atheism today. And it is extraordinary the lengths an atheist like Hawking will go to avoid the obvious: God exists.”
I guess the sensationalism did work to Hawking’s advantage though, as he obviously must have expected it to. I’ve no doubt that book will be a best-seller.