Sunday, May 15, 2011

He is that which is not contingent

I'm traveling and have not had opportunities to post. I wanted to do an amusing post on racial differences in attitudes toward which race is sexually most well-endowed, but technical problems are delaying that a bit.

Allow me instead to talk about something that requires no data and which is far removed from sexual endowment.

In response to the claim that God explains the existence of the universe, atheists like to ask "But who made God?" This question misses the point. The universe and everything in it is contingent: It exists, but it could not exist. In fact, it seems more likely that nothing would exist. Nothing is simpler than something. Anything that is contingent requires a cause for its existing rather than not existing. The contingent universe requires a necessary entity to explain it. By necessary, we mean that which is not contingent; that which does not rely on something else for its existence. We call the entity which causes the contingent universe to be, God. He was not created and could not possibly be created. To ask where He came from is to not understand what He is by definition.  

18 comments:

Jason said...

There is no reason - apart from assertion - to believe that the universe is contingent. We have no indication that nothingness is the default state. Quite the opposite. Everywhere we look, there is something*. The claim of contingency is just a statement of faith - an unnecessary complication specifically designed to create a gap for a god to fill.

* At the quantum level, particles pop into existence all the time. This is the source of Hawking radiation, the reason that black holes evaporate. Nature truly does abhor a vacuum, and this constant creation has effects on the macro level.

mengbomin said...

To ask where He came from is to not understand what He is by definition.

It really puzzles me when people think that they can define away conceptual characteristics.

Now, Jason handled the ridiculous notion that the universe is necessarily contingent, but I want to push a bit further. Do you not see how utterly ridiculous an argument that says, it's possible to imagine that there would be nothing rather than the universe that actually exists, therefor the universe is contingent and there for this random entity that I have by fiat defined as being noncontingent must also exist to cause it?

God is a conceptual entity like any other and by the same logic you just used to prove the universe's contingency (namely, that it is possible to imagine that no [universe, God] exists), God must himself be contingent and thus caused by some by fiat imagined entity that is non-contingent. Oh wait, that entity would be contingent by the same logic. Reductio ad absurdum.

Anonymous said...

Two fundamental philosophical questions solved in two consecutive comments in the same thread. That's so awesome!

Cennbeorc

RN144 said...

Conceding that the Universe is contingent we need to understand how a being can exist necessarily in order for the idea of a necessary being to serve as an explanation. Otherwise "Necessary Being" is a set of mere words and explains nothing. Further, even if we achieved such an idea we would need to know how the existence of this Being necessitates the existence of the Universe. We also lack that. Third, we might also want to know why this Being's nature necessitates a Universe with just the characteristics this Universe has. Then the explanation would be complete. But we have none of this; only the words "Necessary Being."

Stewart Griffin said...

"Conceding that the Universe is contingent we need to understand how a being can exist necessarily in order for the idea of a necessary being to serve as an explanation"

If the universe is contingent, as you concede in this comment, then how else can it exist than their being a non-contingent being that created it?

Stewart Griffin said...

"At the quantum level, particles pop into existence all the time. This is the source of Hawking radiation, the reason that black holes evaporate. Nature truly does abhor a vacuum, and this constant creation has effects on the macro level."

None of this involves something coming from nothing (a quantum vacuum is not nothing).

bgc said...

Jason and Mengbomin make the point that the universe may be contingent, and that if 'order' were not possible, then we would not be here to discuss it. This always used to convince me.

But then the whole basis of this discussion is that the discussion is valid. Is reason valid? The theist can claim that reason is valid because divinely underwritten, the atheist has no basis for claiming that what he says has any validity - the argument destroys itself.

Similarly, all arguments that things are as they are for no reason refute themselves.

If you try to say that something non-divine does have validity - science for example, then you need to use reason to explain its validity.

The existence of valid reasoning is inexplicable except by a theistic view - and to argue that reasoning is invalid is to speak simple nonsense.

(And simple nonsense cannot be saved by turning it into complex nonsense! Some things are very obviously wrong - like relativism - and only intellectuals working together can convince themselves otherwise).

Which of course does not stop people believing it. Certainly, I believed it for decades.

Anonymous said...

There is no reason - apart from assertion - to believe that the universe is contingent. We have no indication that nothingness is the default state. Quite the opposite.

Just so.

In any case, even assuming the universe is contingent, this does not excuse smuggling qualities which are not logically necessary onto the "non contingent thing that is the beginning of the causal chain from which all contingent things proceed". Such as consciousness, omnipotence, universal love and the rest of the theist caboodle that actually make FirstCause into God rather than just FirstCause.

Anonymous said...

The theist can claim that reason is valid because divinely underwritten

Bruce, I don't think theists actually believe in Divine Command Theory as you suggest they do.

Underachiever said...

"Is reason valid? The theist can claim that reason is valid because divinely underwritten, the atheist has no basis for claiming that what he says has any validity - the argument destroys itself."

What sophistry is this? If the theist claims that reasoning is valid because God said so, the atheist could just ask, "Why does God saying it make it so?". To answer that question, the theist would (hopefully) begin arguing using logic. In short, the theist would beg the question. Every argument against reason necessarily assumes the validity of reason. Also from an atheistic viewpoint, it is clear that if reasoning wasn't valid, it wouldn't have evolved (this actually has a few assumptions in it, but they are relatively unimportant).

Despite the validity of reasoning on the velocity, gravity, and mass scales that we evolved for, it is clear that on certain scales our common sense notions of cause, effect, and time do not work. For this reason, I find the theistic attempt to try to prove the existence of things using common sense in realms where it has never been tested before to be ridiculous.

Underachiever said...

The universe "exists, but it could not exist."

"None of this involves something coming from nothing (a quantum vacuum is not nothing)."

Do either of you KNOW that the laws of nature could be different/nonexistent or are you just assuming this? The simple fact that you can imagine something being different does not show that what you are imagining is even possible. For instance, I can imagine something going faster than the speed of light. The fact that things can't move faster than light shows that my imagination can create things which do not track reality, and cannot actually occur.

It seems that your problem is that you cannot understand how something (like a quantum vacuum) could just be (i.e. exist without a cause); therefore, you assume the existence of something which can be noncontigent. Since either way something noncontingent must exist, (either God or the deep laws of physics), why not use Occam's razor, assume that the laws of physics are noncontingent, and skip the middleman?

map said...

The question is not whether something is a plausible explanation. Explanations that involve God are don't are certainly perfectly reasonable. The issue is whether the explanation is true.

The question of "who made God?" is not an issue for the religious. God is simply the prime mover, the Creator of all things. That is a perfectly reasonable explanation.

It is the material reductionists that get caught inside the infinite regress. The infinite regress is not an issue for the religious.

mengbomin said...

@map:
The question of "who made God?" is not an issue for the religious. God is simply the prime mover, the Creator of all things. That is a perfectly reasonable explanation.

It's also not an explanation. It's an attribution without explanation. Instead of explaining existence, theists (or at least those who use Ron and Bruce's line of reasoning) have set aside a specific subset of existence as having special characteristics and called that an explanation, without explanation of why: 1. This is an accurate picture of existence 2. It explains anything

@bgc
Jason and Mengbomin make the point that the universe may be contingent, and that if 'order' were not possible, then we would not be here to discuss it. This always used to convince me.

I actually did not make that point (I believe that you are refering to the anthropic principle). The point that I made was that Ron's argument was inconsistent and that he was in essence summoning God from the inconsistencies in his argument. Here's the setup:

1. It is possible for there to be no existence.

2. Thus the universe is contingent

3. Contingent entities must be caused by non-contingent entities.

4. God is a non-contingent entity (by definition?)

5. Therefor God caused the universe to exist.

I take issue with both 3 and 4, whereas Jason took issue with 2. Simply put, if an entity is contingent if its non-existence is imaginable, then God is pretty clearly non-contingent, since in the case of no existence, God would not exist, thus by Ron's definition of contingency, God is contingent and must be explained by a non-contingent entity (an entity, which by the reasoning above, would be impossible).

But then the whole basis of this discussion is that the discussion is valid. Is reason valid? The theist can claim that reason is valid because divinely underwritten, the atheist has no basis for claiming that what he says has any validity - the argument destroys itself.

Others have commented on this, but this is even more absurd than Ron's argument. Logical validity is not determined by an underwriter. The notion is a bit non sequitur. 1 + 1 ≠ 3, and no underwriter could make it so. Do you have any good reason for thinking that the presence of an underwriter would have any effect on the validity of logic? If so could you present it?

Anonymous said...

"Some things are very obviously wrong - like relativism - and only intellectuals working together can convince themselves otherwise"


Eventually reality will come along and kick their ass for them. That is what happened to Yglesias.

Anonymous said...

"1. It is possible for there to be no existence."


Talk about a construct that is purely imagined.

Zero evidence for such a notion.

Maybe it is also possible for a frog to turn into prince.

hbd chick said...

inductivist: "It seems more likely that nothing would exist. Nothing is simpler than something."

yeah. like it's simpler for god not to exist.

and what jason said.

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