Thursday, November 10, 2011

Reading Rosenberg, Part III

Continuing our look at Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, we come to Rosenberg’s treatment of the question “Where did the big bang come from?”  As serious students of the cosmological argument for the existence of God are aware, most of its defenders historically (including key figures like Aristotle, Aquinas, and Leibniz) are not arguing for a temporal first cause of the world.  Their claim is not that God must have caused the world to begin (though some of them believe that He did, for independent reasons) but rather that He must continually be sustaining the world in existence, and would have to be doing so even if the universe had no beginning.  But there is a version of the cosmological argument that does argue for a temporal first cause of the world, namely the kalām cosmological argument.  Rosenberg does not explicitly address any specific version of either argument, but he is, in effect, trying to rebut them both.

To the kalām cosmological argument, Rosenberg has a ready implicit response: 

The best current theory suggests that our universe is just one universe in a “multiverse” -- a vast number of universes, each bubbling up randomly out of the foam on the surface of the multiverse, like so many bubbles in the bathwater, each one the result of some totally random event. (p. 36)

If the multiverse hypothesis is correct, then, while our universe began at the big bang, its cause was entirely physical insofar as it arose from the larger multiverse.  Moreover, if the multiverse as a whole did not have a beginning, it would not require a temporal cause.  Thus is the kalām argument blocked -- again, if the multiverse theory is correct. 

But why suppose it is correct?  You might think, with William Lane Craig, that “there’s no evidence that such a world ensemble exists.  Nobody knows if there even are other parallel universes at all.”  Indeed, you might agree with Craig that even if there is such a multiverse, it wouldn’t really undermine the kalām argument anyway, since (for reasons he summarizes in the clip linked to) “the past of the multiverse must also be finite” and thus in need of a temporal cause.

Yet Rosenberg claims that: 

One remarkable thing about this best current cosmological theory is the degree to which physicists have been able to subject it to many empirical tests, including tests of its claims about things that happened even before the big bang, let alone before the formation of Earth, our sun, or even our galaxy, the Milky Way.  One of the most striking was the successful prediction of where to look for radiation from stars that went supernova and exploded as far back as 10 billion years ago.  These tests came out so favorably to the big-bang theory that physicists decided to risk several billion euros on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), outside Geneva, to test the big-bang theory directly by creating the very conditions that occurred just after the big bang.  (pp. 36-7)

Did you hear that?  The multiverse theory has been subjected to “many empirical tests,” and apparently has passed them all!  That will be news to many, since the common rap against the multiverse theory is precisely that it is untestable.  Except that when you read the passage more carefully, what Rosenberg really seems to be saying is that it is the big bang theory, specifically, that has been subjected to many empirical tests; at least, the only example he gives of an empirical test is a test of the big bang theory specifically.  And that would certainly be the most Rosenberg could plausibly say.  There have been journalistic claims to the effect that the multiverse theory has finally found some empirical support, but others have called bullshit on such reports.  In any event, it would be absurd to pretend that it has been “subjected to many empirical tests,” much less passed any.

The unwary reader would certainly get the opposite impression, though.  Perhaps Rosenberg thinks that since the multiverse theory incorporates the big bang theory, confirmation of the latter counts as confirmation of the former.  This is a little like saying that since Deepak Chopra’s theory of “quantum healing” incorporates quantum mechanics, confirmation of quantum mechanics counts as confirmation of Chopra’s theory.  Maybe Rosenberg’s got material here for a sequel.  (Craig, by the way, has addressed the CERN business here.)

I doubt Rosenberg is being willfully dishonest here; I suspect wishful thinking or maybe just bad writing.  In any case, let the multiverse theory be as well-confirmed as any of its proponents could wish, it still wouldn’t undermine non- kalām cosmological arguments in the least.  An Aristotle or Aquinas would simply shrug and point out that what matters is what accounts for the fact that the multiverse keeps going at all, whether or not it has always existed. 

Now Rosenberg is aware of this.  He acknowledges that “wishful thinkers” (apparently it takes one to know one) might ask: 

“If our universe is just one of many in a multiverse, where did the multiverse come from?  And where did the multiverse’s cause come from, and where did its cause come from?”  And so on, ad infinitum.  Once they have convinced themselves and others that this series of questions has no stopping point in physics, they play what they imagine is a trump card, a question whose only answer they think has to be the God hypothesis.  (p. 37)

But Rosenberg’s got a better answer grounded in scientism, right?  Not exactly.  Or at least, out of one side of his mouth he insists that there is in fact “no reason, no reason at all” why the multiverse exists (p. 38) and that natural selection has merely made it “psychologically natural [for us to] refus[e] to take ‘No reason’ for an answer” (p. 39).  That makes it sound like we are supposed to regard the existence of the multiverse as a brute fact, without any explanation.   

Now as I have argued in earlier posts (here and here), the “brute fact” move as a defense of atheism is seriously problematic; it makes scientific explanation unintelligible and, indeed, makes naturalism tantamount to an appeal to magic.  Rosenberg accuses his critics of “mystery-mongering,” but it is precisely those who claim that there is “no reason at all” why the universe exists who are promoting mysteries, and it is precisely those who say that there is and must be an explanation who are dispelling them.

But then, out of the other side of his mouth even Rosenberg himself speaks as if there is an explanation of sorts after all, albeit one that he mixes together with another generous dollop of mystery-mongering: 

A hundred years ago, it became clear that most events at the level of the subatomic are random, uncaused, indeterministic quantum events -- merely matters of probability… Since the big bang is just such a quantum event, it, too, is a wholly indeterministic one.  It is an event that just springs up out of the multiverse’s foam of universes without any cause at all.  Why is there a universe at all?  No reason at all.  Why is there a multiverse in which universes pop into existence for no reason at all?  No reason at all!  It’s just another quantum event.  (pp. 38-39)

This isn’t a complete muddle, but it is close.  Rosenberg evidently thinks that when traditional metaphysicians and philosophers of religion insist that there must be some reason why events happen as they do, what they mean is that there must be some deterministic efficient cause; and since quantum physics tells us that there are events without causes of this sort, Rosenberg concludes that there is “no reason at all” why they happen.  But of course, that is not what traditional metaphysicians and philosophers of religion mean.  Aristotelians, for example, rather famously hold that the identification of an efficient cause is only one of four basic kinds of explanation, and many philosophers (including non-Aristotelians) would deny that even efficient causes are necessarily deterministic, but hold that they nevertheless remain true causes and truly explanatory. 

Rosenberg implicitly acknowledges the latter point when he appeals to quantum mechanics in his account of the origin of the universe.  For all his “no reason at all” sensationalism, he isn’t really saying that the universe has no explanation; he is saying that quantum theory provides an explanation, just not one in terms of deterministic efficient causes.  (Rosenberg’s “No reason at all!  It’s just another quantum event” is a rather comically inept pair of sentences, since to say that “It’s a quantum event” just is to give a reason in the relevant sense.)  As we have seen before, it is simply incompetent to appeal to the laws of physics (whether those of quantum mechanics or of any other part of physics) as if they somehow cast doubt on the traditional metaphysician’s insistence that what happens in the world requires a cause, since the laws of physics (including quantum physics) themselves are included among the possible causes of things, in the relevant sense of “cause.”

Moreover, the laws of physics (including, again, the laws of quantum mechanics) cannot in any case be the ultimate explanation of anything.  “Laws,” after all, are mere abstractions; indeed, the Aristotelian argues, talk of “laws” is really just shorthand for a description of the way concrete objects and systems will tend to behave given their natures.  (As I have noted many times, you hardly have to be a Thomist or to have any theological ax to grind to take such a view.  Cf. the work of Brian Ellis, Nancy Cartwright, and other “new essentialist” philosophers of science and metaphysicians.)  But this means that the operation of the laws of physics presupposes, and thus does not explain, the existence of the concrete physical objects and systems that behave in accordance with the laws.  In particular, “Quantum mechanics says such-and-such” cannot be an adequate explanation of the existence of the universe, of the multiverse, or of anything else, precisely because the operation of the laws of quantum mechanics is (qua description of the behavior of a concrete physical system) part of the explanandum.   And “No reason at all!” is, needless to say, even less explanatory.

Now you might still try to argue, contrary to classical theism, that the ultimate explanation of why the world exists at all lies in something other than what is pure actuality (as opposed to a compound of act and potency), something other than what is subsistent being itself (as opposed to a compound of essence and existence), something other than what is absolutely necessary (as opposed to being either contingent or only derivatively necessary).  Good luck with that.  But Rosenberg has said absolutely nothing to make this plausible.  He certainly has said absolutely nothing to show either that the multiverse theory is an adequate explanation or that there is no explanation.   

Some bonus fallacies: As I have noted, Rosenberg claims that the reason we refuse to regard “No reason at all” as a serious answer to the question of why the universe exists is that we have been hardwired by evolution to find such answers unsatisfying.  He is appealing here to a view he develops later in the book to the effect that natural selection has molded us in such a way that we always try to understand the world in terms of stories or narratives.  Hence (so the argument seems to go) we want some account of the world in terms of a “beginning” of some sort.  But Rosenberg’s eliminative materialism entails that narratives and stories, even naturalistic or atheistic narratives and stories, are all false.  Only formulas, systems of equations, etc. really give us the truth.

Now it is not in fact clear why this is supposed to render the request for an explanation of the universe somehow illegitimate.  After all, Rosenberg thinks requests for explanations in other domains are legitimate; indeed, his case for scientism rests in part on the claim that science has provided powerful explanations of various natural phenomena.  Now if the purportedly delusory tendency to try to understand things in terms of stories and narratives does not make the request for an explanation of (say) the existence of this or that species or this or that chemical reaction suspect, how does it make the request for an explanation of the existence of the universe suspect?  We are not told.  (Rosenberg’s objection to narratives as such is no answer, even if it were defensible.  Remember, an explanation of why the universe exists at all need not appeal to a beginning, nor indeed to any story or narrative at all.  Certainly a Thomistic explanation of the world in terms of purely actual cause which creates by conjoining an essence with an act of existence, or a Neo-Platonic explanation in terms of emanation from the One, are not narrative explanations, since the “causes” in these cases are timeless or eternal in the strict sense.)

There is another problem.  Part of the point of Rosenberg’s brief treatment of cosmological questions is evidently to answer a potential objection to his scientism.  He wants to rebut the charge that scientism leaves something unexplained that should be explained.  But insofar as (at least out of one side of his mouth) he dismisses the request for an explanation as resting on a delusion, his answer presupposes his scientism, for his eliminative materialism (and its dismissal of stories and narratives as such) rests on his scientism.   

We seem to have a circularity, then, reminiscent of the sort we might get from a Freudian or a Marxist.  You dismiss the very idea of the Oedipal Complex as ludicrous?  Well, that’s just what someone with an Oedipal Complex would do!  You don’t agree with Marxian critiques of free market economics as an ideological smokescreen for capitalist ruling interests?  Of course you don’t, you’re in thrall to the ideology!  You think scientism fails to provide an adequate explanation of the world?  That’s just what we should expect you to think if scientism is true!  If Rosenberg can be rescued from the charge of begging the question, it is only because, as with his remarks about the multiverse hypothesis, the sloppiness of his exposition can make an argument of his something of a moving target.

All this in what amounts to a digression.  And the main lines of argument in The Atheist’s Guide to Reality are no better.  Rosenberg’s book is the gift that keeps giving, as we’ll see in future posts.

68 comments:

Anonymous said...

Uh, if Rosenberg really thinks most of what he's writing here, it's abundantly clear that he wrote this book either without much of a clue about the state of modern cosmology, or he's actively being dishonest.

Let's be charitable: he's probably just pretty ignorant.

Crude said...

Rosenberg evidently thinks that when traditional metaphysicians and philosophers of religion insist that there must be some reason why events happen as they do, what they mean is that there must be some deterministic efficient cause; and since quantum physics tells us that there are events without causes of this sort, Rosenberg concludes that there is “no reason at all” why they happen. But of course, that is not what traditional metaphysicians and philosophers of religion mean.

Wouldn't occassionalists or idealists stand the most to gain from a move like Rosenberg's? I could see either as arguing that what is revealed is that whatever the causes of events at the quantum level are, they cannot be physical causes - and thus in comes God (in either of the two forms) as an explanation. Granted, they would go up against Rosenberg's apparent, if muddled, move of 'there is no explanation'.

Actually, I suppose it's much wider than that. The short version would be that we have empirical data, and now we have to interpret it - and there are far more, and far better, explanations than Rosenberg's in the running.

Crude said...

One last thing for now.

that physicists decided to risk several billion euros on the Large Hadron Collider

Not only do I think Rosenberg gets the logic wrong (was the LHC really meant to test the Big Bang Theory? Doesn't seem right, given what I'm seeing said about it), but the physicists did not risk that. The physicists convinced the relevant government agents to risk that. The physicists were willing to risk getting paid to use their new toy.

man with a computer said...

I think I'll have to get this book. After this series of posts (thanks, btw) I'm almost concluding that Rosenberg is either 1. Trolling, or 2. Ignorant, or 3. A Nietzschean genius who has seen the light of amor fati.

(Nah, I don't (3) is very likely)

n.b.: This is "some kant" here, yo. Just found my old Google account!

Untenured said...

There is so much wrong with Rosenberg's arguments that one doesn't quite know where to start. One get's the impression that he just doesn't care what any Theists have actually said, and that he is so certain that Atheism is true that he hasn't even bothered to look at the alteranatives.

Among many other things:

1)Measurements of the cosmic background radiation do not directly confirm the multiverse hypothesis, and to imply that they do is just flat out dishonest.

2)Even if there is a multiverse, this fact would not undermine any of the Five Ways. In the classical Cosmological arguments "universe" does not mean "our particular universe" it means "totality of things that exist". Consequently, the set of all the parallel universes would be the "universe" in the lingo of the traditional Cosmological arguments.


3)It is not obvious that quantum events are "uncaused", and at any rate there are at least eight different interpretations of Quantum Mechanics. Why is Bohr's interpretation the correct one as opposed to De Broglie's or David Bohm's? Nobody ever even addresses this question, they always just jump straight to "Aha! Uncaused events!"

4)Furthermore, Rosenberg hasn't even answered Swineburne's abductive argument for Theism. Swineburne argues that a theory which posits fewer brute facts is to be preferred over a theory that posits more brute facts, and thus Theism is superior to atheism on theoretical grounds. Rosenberg just ignores all of this, and makes it sound like positing brute facts is somehow the mark of an enlightened mind.

5)And all of this is to say nothing of the flat-out incoherent conjunction of the propositions "intentionality is an illusion" and "natural science correctly describes reality."

And I predict that nobody in the philosophical mainstream is going to call him on it.

Tony said...

And I predict that nobody in the philosophical mainstream is going to call him on it.

Untenured, that's not all that hard to predict. Admittedly, it will show that scientists are as prejudiced and base-intentioned about science as most people are about most things.

Not only do I think Rosenberg gets the logic wrong (was the LHC really meant to test the Big Bang Theory? Doesn't seem right, given what I'm seeing said about it),

Crude, my recollection is that the LHC was pushed as a means of testing aspects of Grand Unification Theory, to push energy levels up high enough to get the various forces to all fall from the same equations. This would (if validated) mean that certain aspects of the Big Bang unfolding could be better predicted and (potentially) tested in some fashion. None of that would test the Big Bang itself, though. Rosenberg (and other physicists who speak of "testing" the Big Bang) seem to gloss over the fact that testing theories about 10^-20 seconds time after the bang is testing consequences of the Big Bang, not testing the Big Bang itself. No matter how short a time after the bang you are testing, testing for conditions AFTER an event is not actually testing the event itself. Any conclusions you draw from the after-event tests can be applied to the Big Bang only based on a model and a theory, which is NOT TESTING the actual Big Bang itself. You can never know whether your model is missing some other factor, some previously unrecognized law or agent or whatever, until you actually reproduce the actual thing being tested, not something that happens later. You would have to reproduce the singularity and see what it does to actually test the Big Bang. Good luck with that. Let me know when you get there.

PeterKInnon said...

I found this to be a remarkably well-balanced and perceptive critique, Edward, and the ensuing comments to be way above average as blogs go.

It is sad to see so many individuals involved in science utterly misrepresenting the current state of knowledge within that domain.

The passage "The best current theory suggests that our universe is just one universe in a “multiverse”" initially aroused my attention as well as my ire.

As you appear to be very well aware, multiverse theories have no more empirical basis than those of creationists.

Their present high level of advocacy from, in particular, theoretical physicists being merely a knee-jerk reaction to the increasingly evident patterns of "fine tuning" and directionality that are found in natural phenomena.

Like the concept of a "creator" with its attendant recursivity, the explanation lacks the parsimony required for the "best guesses" traditionally used for the scientific interpretation of our world.

By avoiding the quite natural anthropocentric biases which are a legacy of our genetic and cultural histories, we can build a broad evolutionary model which provides a rather straightforward empirical explanation

This model is outlined (very informally) in "The Goldilocks Effect: What Has Serendipity Ever Done For Us?" (free download in e-book formats from the "Unusual Perspectives" website)

BeingItself said...

I'm about halfway through this book. It's pretty bad. For someone who claims that the best way to know stuff is through science, and the best science is physics, Rosenberg sure knows very little about physics.

It's embarrassing.

----

Concerning the version of the Cosmological Argument that argues that the universe requires a sustaining cause, I have a question.

Consider All of Reality. All of Reality includes our universe, any gods that might exist, any other universes that might exist, and all abstracta.

If it exists, then it's part of All of Reality.

Does All of Reality have a sustaining cause?

Edward Feser said...

Ouch. If either Rosenberg or any Rosenberg fans are reading, they should know that BeingItself is no fan of mine and is (as far as I can tell) himself an atheist or agnostic.

In general, it seems that even my most hostile atheist readers are distancing themselves from Rosenberg rather than defending him. Very telling, especially given that Rosenberg is far more philosophically competent than a Dawkins or a Coyne. And given that the dispute between atheism and theism is at bottom a philosophical dispute, not a scientific one.

Also very interesting given the respectful hearing Rosenberg's original essay "The Disenchanted Naturalist's Guide to Reality" was given by Rosenberg's fellow secularist philosophers, including those who disagreed with him. (See the combox discussion following the article, which I linked to in the first post in this series.) Worth considering in light of the comments Untenured has made above, and especially in light of some of the remarks he has made over in the combox to my recent post on Stephen Law:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/11/crickets-still-chirping.html?showComment=1321015576166#c4097821812423428750

Atheist non-philosophers shouldn't get smug, however. When loudmouth atheist scientists comment on philosophy and theology, they're even worse than Rosenberg is on science.

In answer to your question, BeingItself, since God is purely actual rather than a mixture of actuality and potentiality, being itself rather than a compound of existence and essence, and in every other way absolutely simple rather than a composite of any sort, He cannot intelligibly be said to have a cause, sustaining or otherwise. Hence "All of Reality," since it includes God, does not have a sustaining cause. Only that part of it distinct from God does.

Edward Feser said...

Hmm, oh well, forget the link. I'm talking about Untenured's comment of November 11 at 4:46 AM in the "Crickets still chirping..." combox.

It's also worth noting, though, that Rosenberg has not been without his critics in "mainstream" academic philosophy. (I linked to Timothy Williamson's critique in Part II of this series.)

Jime said...

It is not obvious that quantum events are "uncaused", and at any rate there are at least eight different interpretations of Quantum Mechanics.

And even if quantum events turn out to be "uncaused", this is irrelevant to the kalam argument's first premiss.

As Craig comments:

My argument does not commit us to (1* "Every event has a cause") and so is quite consistent with quantum events' being causally indeterminate. What I deny is that things, substances endowed with properties, can come into existence without a cause of any sort. As noted above, in quantum physics as in everyday experience there are always causal conditions of things' coming to be.

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=7279

I don't understand why some atheist philosophers conflate events with things (substances), and I suspect that it is due to intellectual dishonesty.

For example, Paul Kurtz debated with Norman Geisler some years ago, and Geisler defended the kalam argument (unfortunately, Geisler misrepresented the first premise of the kalam, when he says that "Every event has a cause"... in any case, he made clear that his point was that whatever begin to exist has a cause, so the universe which began to exist has a cause too).

Cau you guess Kurtz' reply? Kurtz said "If every event has a cause, then what caused God?"

My God!

This is the first time that I saw an atheist asking the "what caused God?" objection against the kalam argument (this objection is often posed against the atheist caricature of Aquinas' arguments, but not against the kalam).

Note that Kurtz' question assume that God is an event, and even the most stupid philosopher would know that God is supposed to be a "being", not an event.

Kurtz then proceded to press Geiler on the question "How do you know that God has not a cause too"?

You can watch the debate here (hope you have the stomach to see Kurtz's stupid objections defended in an arrogant way):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQkGSK1fisQ

Thomas said...

Good stuff once again, Dr. Feser.

From the little understanding of cosmology that I possess, I´m under the impression that the Bord-Guth-Vilenkin theorem pretty conclusively rules out an eternal universe. According to this theorem, even the multiverse must have had a beginning. Does Rosenberg mention the BVG theorem?

Also, I wonder what do the aristotelians and the thomists think about the fine-tuning argument for theism? Too "personalistic"?

Untenured said...

@Jime:

The distinction between events and substances is completely lost on most contemporary philosophers. They tend to only think in terms of events and states of affairs conceived in the overly simplistic rubric "properties, objects, relations." Most of them may have heard about some theory of "substances", perhaps back when they were forced to read Aristotle in grad school. But few of them grasp the distinction well enough to appreciate its philosophical import.

Perhaps you think I am just being too hard on the profession, perhaps you think I am overstating. Remember: Keith Parsons became a minor celebrity in the world of academic philosophy when he declared to the world at large that the case for Theism is a fraud. And then, we look at what Parsons has actually written, and it came to light that he didn't even know what a "brute fact" was and had been assuming all along that God's existence is supposed to be a brute fact.

P.T. Barnum said you couldn't go broke underestimating the intelligence of the general public. Likewise, you can't go wrong underestimating how little most professional philosophers know about philosophy once they venture out of their little technical cranny.

BeingItself said...

So considering All of Reality, is it your position that everything other than god in All of Reality requires a sustaining cause?

Bobcat said...

Hi Untenured,

Big time fan, first time respondent. I have a question for you: you claim that most philosophers don't really know the distinction between substances and events. Why do you think that? I'm a philosopher, and I can't recall anyone challenging the distinction between events and substances. Is your claim that they don't have the right account of substances?

Untenured said...

@Bobcat:

Philosophers who study composition related questions or ontology do tend to get the distinction. (I mainly do Philosophy of Mind and General Philosophy of Science...whole other set of pathologies there. But I digress.)

But most philosophers I know tend to think in terms of a simplistic "property/object" account of subsistent things. Hence, they tend to talk about "objects" in a way that is neutral between bundle theories, classical substance theories, and even eliminative theories like Merricks's and Van Inwagen's. Moreover, they tend to treat events as though they could be translated into "property, object, relation" talk without conceptual loss. This is just wrong, and it blurs some important distinctions that you need the whole apparatus of traditional substance theory in order to make sense of. Part of the problem is that some measure of extensionalism is more or less taken for granted by M&E types even though nature itself is (on the A-T view) radically intensional.

Thus, once you introduce something like the distinction between a "property" in the classical sense as opposed to an "accident", then you are already putting yourself outside the dominant understanding of objects within contemporary philosophy.

Jime said...

The distinction between events and substances is completely lost on most contemporary philosophers. They tend to only think in terms of events and states of affairs conceived in the overly simplistic rubric "properties, objects, relations."

Perhaps, but note that even in that contemporary classification (properties, objects, states, relations), the concept of "object" is different than the concept of properties or states (which occur in objects).

So, the Earth is an object, but the movement of the Earth is an event (and the fact that the earth has 75% of water is a property of it).

I'm not using "property" in the Thomistic sense, but simply as a caracteristic (essential or accidental) which is present in an object.

My point is that even if we disregard the use of the term "substance", it is clear that God, if he exists, is by definition not supposed to be an event (nor a relation, nor a property) but an object (or thing or entity, in the metaphysical sense).

So, Kurtz' question "If every event has a cause, what caused God" is massively confused and ignorant, because even if the kalam's first premiss were that every event has a cause, it doesn't follow that God has a cause given that premise (after all, the premise says something only of events, not about objects, entities, relations, properties, states, and so forth).

I think Kurtz's question was intentionally dishonest (since I supposed he knows better) perhaps because he was debating in front of an (presumibly) ignorant public, or, if not, he's simply stupid and massively incompetent. (I suspect that he's both).

Josh said...

Untenured,

But most philosophers I know tend to think in terms of a simplistic "property/object" account of subsistent things...Thus, once you introduce something like the distinction between a "property" in the classical sense as opposed to an "accident", then you are already putting yourself outside the dominant understanding of objects within contemporary philosophy.

I know this isn't what you were talking about, but in the previous blog post there's been a discussion about analogy/divine attributes where I think your points here would be relevant. I'm curious if I'm not sure of the distinction between a property and accident myself, and I think it's causing problems in understanding analogy of being. If you aren't busy...:-)

George R. said...

Josh,

An accident is anything that inheres in a subject. A property, on the other hand, is a particular kind of accident that inheres in a subject by virtue of what the subject is, i.e., by virtue of the subject’s essence. So for example, sensation is a property of a horse, because a horse has it by virtue of it’s being an animal. Blackness, however, is not a property of a horse, even if it’s black, because it does not have blackness by virtue of it’s being a horse but for some other reason.

Richard said...

I recently e-mailed Alex Rosenberg and told him about the critique here, in the interest of seeing him respond. His reply was a simple sentence: "Hard to know how to respond to lightweights." I sent back a quick email saying, "I imagine that, being lightweights, they would be rather easy to hanlde. So is a reply or rebuttal forthcoming?" And the response to that was pathetic. Says Rosenberg, "I went on to the site and began reading...I just don't know where to begin. such erudition, such scholasticism, so much self-absorption. How should I respond? That's not a rhetorical question." Self-asorption? Project much, ALex?

Josh said...

George R,

Thanks for that! So properties in substances are that which flow from the essence of a thing...

man with a computer said...

That's telling, Richard.

Edward Feser said...

That's rich. Since the time my First Things review appeared, I've received no fewer than six personal emails from Rosenberg, complaining about this or that. The latest was earlier today.

So, apparently he does reply to "lightweights." Just not in public, where he might be openly challenged.

Richard said...

I guess integrity is one of those things thats just an illusion. Naturalism is just so illuminating. Thank the Nous I am a neo-platonist.

BeingItself said...

Could god create something that does not require a sustaining cause? Using your own language, could god create something that "keeps going" on its own?

C. Fernández said...

Hi Dr. Fesser. Somewhat realted to the position that Rosenberg adopts, although bearing substantial differences in other aspects, is a criticism I came across when discussing Dualism on a board on the net. The gist of the arguement is that the Dualists consistently fails to provide empirical evidence that any independent attribute of the mind exists, or has any agency, that doesn't leave a "physical" trace; the commenter goes on to argue that Dualists could not provide evidence for a mind at work at supercooled systems at Kelvin temperatures.

A preliminary remark: I know that most dualists are not in the business of providing empirical evidence. The nature of the arguement lies elsewhere. The commenter, however, adopts a Neutral Monist outlook and argues for the Mind being what the Brain does, albeit the Mind being looked from within, and the Brain from without; both are just a pattern of the same neutral substance which in our ignorance we take to be two categorically different existents. He replies that on terms of Occam's Razor his theory is better, since it works "with what we have" and doesn't postulate new existents.

I'm not sure how to respond to his claims. I already discussed that the Dualist doesn't need to provide evidence in the terms he stipulates, but I'm not sure why dualism would be preferable when competing with a Neutral Monist ontology that seems, and this may be due to my ignorance, to put he mind/body problem to rest.

This question is also directed at the commenters in the blog.

Best wishes.

Tony said...

How about asking: could God create something that is a "self-existent being" and be done with it. God cannot create something whose nature is an uncreated nature, no.

Anonymous said...

No, it does not seem that God could create such a thing, and that does not limit his omnipotence. Your question is ultimately whether something could go on existing on its own without God, but all existing things are contingent to their creator, that is, to existence itself. In order for something to exist on its own it would have to continue existing even if God went out of existence, that is, if existence went out of existence, which is absurd.

Untenured said...

@Richard:

Apparently, being a "lightweight" as opposed to a "heavyweight" has nothing to do with being able to craft a half-way decent argument or being able to respond intelligently to your critics.

Thus, philosophers who teach at Duke and other "Leitericious" departments are "heavyweights", even when their central arguments are incompetently constructed and can be taken apart in a few minutes by untenured faculty and amateurs.

Philosophers who don't teach at "Leitericious" universities are "lightweights", even when they publicly kick the living sh*t out of the arguments constructed by the "heavyweights".

Glad we got the memo. As the Stephen Law thread revealed, in the world of academic philosophy prominence =/= competence.

Anonymous said...

Generally, heavyweights are slow and lumbering. They pack a good first and second wallop, but if they miss (which they often do) they begin to tire quickly. They are especially ineffective once the heat in the ring rises.

After a while they may end up doing the "rope-a-dope," hoping their opponent will tire, and that they will be saved by by the bell. In extreme cases they've been known to resort to dirty tricks, maybe biting an ear or landing low blows, hoping no one will notice.

Don't get too close to this guy. But whatever you do, make sure and protect your ears.

BeingItself said...

Tony,

Thanks. It seems to me that theists make a distinction between 'causing' something to begin existing and 'causing' something to keep on existing.

The Kalam uses the the former concept, while Dr Feser's version uses the later concept.

Why could god not cause something to exist, and then also endow it with the power to keep on existing on its own?

You seem to be saying that god cannot do this. Why not? How do you know what god can and cannot do?

Anonymous said...

"Beingitself" On Our view God=truth, and so cannot violate the Law of Non-contradiction. Your suggestion require violating that law.

Here is a short primer on that sort of objection: LINK

too bad its only the cached version i could find.

Anonymous said...

"God=truth"

How can truth possess agency? That's like saying numbers have agency.

BeingItself said...

There is no self-contradiction suggested by my question.

Benjamin Gray said...

Hi,

On a semi-related topic, you might want to see this, if you haven't already: it's a Salon article on what appears to be a compatibilist approach to deterministic neuroscience: http://www.salon.com/2011/11/13/the_controversial_science_of_free_will/

man with a computer said...

I'm still laughing at "Leitericious."

Tony said...

Anon, don't forget that the lumbering heavyweights can sometimes be seen "blocking the punches with his face."

dguller said...

And Rosenberg is commenting at Common Sense Atheism.

Anonymous said...

beingitself : New Link
"There is no self-contradiction suggested by my question."

The question "Why could god not cause something to exist, and then also endow it with the power to keep on existing on its own?" is similar to "Can God create a triangle with 4 sides," there is a logical contradiction there. b/c God= that whichs sustains everything in existence at every moment.

BeingItself said...

anon,

I understand that you believe god sustains everything.

I will repeat myself:

Why could god not cause something to exist, and then also endow it with the power to keep on existing on its own?

Just asserting that "by definition" god is this or that or cannot do this or that is no answer to my question.

Anonymous said...

because anything "existing on it own" =God.

You are asking why can't God create another God.

or why can't God obliterate himself and have something else "in his stead"

Do you not see the Logical problem here?

machinephilosophy said...

"Consider All of Reality. All of Reality includes our universe, any gods that might exist, any other universes that might exist, and all abstracta.

If it exists, then it's part of All of Reality.

Does All of Reality have a sustaining cause?


The question seems to ask if all can include something not a part of all and also not excluded in the definition of all. That way, any answer is an effortless victory.

So are you asking about a cause as included already as a prior condition of the scenario in your definition of "All of Reality"? Or something separate from that defined "All of Reality"?

Something separate would contradict the prior definition of "All of Reality", unless you're questioning something that you've already included in that totality merely in order to use such inclusion to then claim a contradiction in a sustaining cause alleged in addition to the already-defined "All".

There is one entity in that All, God, which is uncaused. and sustains all other existing reals. So there's no "sustaining" cause needed for the total due to the aseity of God and God's sustaining the rest of the total.

BenYachov said...

@BeingItself
>Why could god not cause something to exist, and then also endow it with the power to keep on existing on its own?

For something to exist on it's own it would have to be purely actual. Any "god" that God would create by definition would contain a potency that God actualizes. But then that "god" would contain a potency & thus by definition it couldn't be purely actual.

God can do anything. But can God make the number four larger than five & less than three but cause it to sill be four?

No he can't. God can do anything but creating a Being that is purely actual yet created(thus containing potency) doesn't describe anything. It describes nothing.

Thus granting new meaning to the praise "There is nothing God cannot do."

>Just asserting that "by definition" god is this or that or cannot do this or that is no answer to my question.

If you ignore the Law of non-contradiction you can come up with whatever bullshit you want.

BeingItself said...

"because anything "existing on it own" =God."

How do you know? By what method did you use to acquire this knowledge?

My question is not complicated.

Why could god not endow a neutrino with the power to exist on its own? A self existing neutrino is certainly not god.

The best answer so far seems to be "he just can't".

Well why not? Why is god constrained this way?

Richard said...

Rosenberg is even getting trashed over at Common Sense Atheism. Love it.

Crude said...

I get the feeling that if people thought that naturalism entailed taking up what Rosenberg outlines, it would lead to a widespread abandonment (or at least quaint redefining) of naturalism.

I haven't read the book, but glancing at what's been discussed in this thread so far I'd echo the claim that he doesn't seem to know much science for all he praises it.

I actually wonder why, if someone has that opinion of science, they'd ever become a philosopher. The best reply I can think of is "If you're not cut out for football, maybe you can be a cheerleader."

machinephilosophy said...

Crude and Ben

Good points and I agree.

Crude, I'm going to have to read the book now, because of the point about potential abandonment.

BeingItself,

It's hard to see how not being able to duplicate one's own absolute necessity of being is any kind of real or even conceptually appreciable constraint on God.

Seems like the same type of scenario as God not being all-powerful if he can't go out of existence, but in reverse. So God can't be necessary if another necessary being could take his place because of equal necessity and thus losing any real ultimacy and uniqueness in the necessity of the one God in the first place.

Robert Oerter said...

I haven't read Rosenberg, but from what you quote here it seems he indeed made a mess of the multiverse stuff. There is certainly no sense in which the multiverse is well-tested experimentally. Nor does the LHC have anything (much) to do with recreating the Big Bang.

A reasonable interpretation of Rosenberg, it seems to me, would take "no reason" to mean "no efficient cause" (I don't see any reason to insist on a deterministic efficient cause), and take "scientific explanation" to mean something like the DN model.

As you point out yourself, a scientific law is really just a description. It's not a "cause" in the relevant sense - at least not an efficient cause. And (correct me if I'm wrong) efficient causes are the focus of the cosmological arguments.

In the DN model of scientific explanation, an explanation is simply a law, or laws, of nature, together with a set of conditions that guarantee that the law(s) are applicable in this instance.


In quantum mechanics, events occur without an efficient cause - not just without a deterministic efficient cause, but without any efficient cause. This is clear from situations like the GHZ state. (The reason Bohmian hidden variables are usually not mentioned is because Bohm's theory hasn't been extended to a full relativistic quantum field theory.)

So there's no contradiction between "the Big Bang happened for no reason" (no efficient cause) and "the Big Bang is explained by quantum theory" (occurs according to a natural law).

Maybe I'm way off about what Rosenberg is saying here. But this seems to answer in what sense the Big Bang does, and in what sense it does not, have an explanation (according to quantum theory).

DNW said...

Edward Feser said...

" That's rich. Since the time my First Things review appeared, I've received no fewer than six personal emails from Rosenberg, complaining about this or that. The latest was earlier today.

So, apparently he does reply to "lightweights." Just not in public, where he might be openly challenged.
November 12, 2011 3:56 PM "


One would think that a genuine, as opposed to an armchair style, nihilist, would have few if any "real" grounds to complain of anything.

Perhaps he was just bleating; or arguing a "just because" point ... like the Canadian advocate of their Human Rights Charter who justified its institution -in the face of it's potentially destructive effects on the rule of law and stare decisis - on the basis of, to paraphrase, "who we as Canadains are".

Apparently you are guilty of picking up the wrong fork?

DNW said...

Or Canadians, for that matter

Anonymous said...

"In quantum mechanics, events occur without an efficient cause - not just without a deterministic efficient cause, but without any efficient cause. This is clear from situations like the GHZ state."

I think this is too loose. A better way to put it would be that according to quantum mechanics, events are (under certain interpretations) modeled as occurring without a physical efficient cause.

StoneTop said...

For something to exist on it's own it would have to be purely actual.

Why exactly could only "purely actual" things be the only things to exist on their own?

Mr. Green said...

StoneTop: Why exactly could only "purely actual" things be the only things to exist on their own?

This is fairly basic Aristotelianism. Feser has explained it before on this site, not to mention in his books and of course you can find the answer from many other books and websites. Well worth reading if you're actually interested in the explanation.

StoneTop said...

Feser has explained it before on this site, not to mention in his books and of course you can find the answer from many other books and websites.

I was looking for an actual explanation, not ring of pointless circular definitions.

What is the property that an electron, my morning cup of coffee, or the moon has that needs "god" to sustain it? And what happens if "god" stops sustaining it?

grodrigues said...

@StoneTop:

"Feser has explained it before on this site, not to mention in his books and of course you can find the answer from many other books and websites.

I was looking for an actual explanation, not ring of pointless circular definitions."

Mr. Green also added to the paragraph you quoted: "Well worth reading if you're actually interested in the explanation."

StoneTop said...

Mr. Green also added to the paragraph you quoted: "Well worth reading if you're actually interested in the explanation.

and I quite clearly asked what specific property an electron had that required constant action from a deity to continue to exist.

Anonymous said...

"and I quite clearly asked what specific property an electron had that required constant action from a deity to continue to exist."

If you think it's about the "property of an electron", then you don't even understand the argument to begin with. Which is alright, since you said as much anyway. Read TLS and the past entries on this site concerned the distinction between act and potency, how change is accounted for under Aristotilean essentialism, and learn from there. That should help.

StoneTop said...

If you think it's about the "property of an electron", then you don't even understand the argument to begin with.

So the electron does not need a deity in order to exist?

Mr. Green said...

StoneTop: So the electron does not need a deity in order to exist?

Huh? Of course an electron needs God (not "a" deity, it has to be the Deity) to exist: it's a compound of act and potency; it's essence and existence, it's form and matter. This was clearly stated in the article itself.

StoneTop said...

Of course an electron needs God (not "a" deity, it has to be the Deity) to exist

So electrons need Allah? I didn't realize you were a Muslim...

it's a compound of act and potency; it's essence and existence, it's form and matter.

It isn't really that clear at all... as just arguing for something to exist does not in anyway mandate that the universe comply with our arguments.

The electron does not need something external for it to maintain its form... it is already an electron, and is quite capable of continuing to be an electron on its own accord. Nor does it need a deity to change its momentum/direction (the electromagnetic fields it encounters take care of that).

Mr. Green said...

StoneTop: So electrons need Allah? I didn't realize you were a Muslim…

Allah is God, Pure Act, so yes, electrons need Him. This has nothing to do with Islam per se, I don't know why you'd think otherwise.



It isn't really that clear at all...

Did you read Feser's book? Or for that matter, any of the other multitude of books or resources available on the Internet? 



The electron does not need something external for it to maintain its form...

Um. Didn't somebody once say something like, "just saying something does not mandate that the universe comply"?

it is already an electron, and is quite capable of continuing to be an electron on its own accord. Nor does it need a deity to change its momentum/direction (the electromagnetic fields it encounters take care of that).

That in no way shows how the Scholastic arguments to the contrary are wrong, nor does it provide an alternative. You might as well say, "The moon doesn't need the Earth to explain its orbit; the gravitational fields it encounters take care of that."

StoneTop said...

Allah is God, Pure Act, so yes, electrons need Him. This has nothing to do with Islam per se, I don't know why you'd think otherwise.



I'm just surprised to find a Muslim here.

Um. Didn't somebody once say something like, "just saying something does not mandate that the universe comply"

Yes... and as you are the one actively claiming that the electron needs something it falls to you to demonstrate that the electron needs it. Similar to how if I claimed I could fly it would fall to me to prove that I can fly, not you to disprove that I can fly.

That in no way shows how the Scholastic arguments to the contrary are wrong, nor does it provide an alternative.

Sure it does... I demonstrate that the electron gets along just fine without what you claim is fundamental to its existence.

You might as well say, "The moon doesn't need the Earth to explain its orbit; the gravitational fields it encounters take care of that."

You are correct... all the moon needs to maintain its observed orbit is a mass equal to the earths at the same position as the earth currently occupies.

Of course knowing that for the moon to remain in its orbit requires a mass equal to that of the earths, at the same position as the earth... and further observing that the earth is in the correct position, with the correct amount of mass we can surmise that it is the gravity field produced by the earth that holds the moon in its present orbit.

Mr. Green said...

StoneTop: I'm just surprised to find a Muslim here.

Are you trying to be funny?


Yes... and as you are the one actively claiming that the electron needs something it falls to you to demonstrate that the electron needs it.

I gave the reason in brief and referred you to further details. Your "demonstration" in reply was to say, "Is not!"

You are correct... all the moon needs to maintain its observed orbit is a mass equal to the earths at the same position as the earth currently occupies.

Oh, right, then God isn't need to conserve electrons in existence, all you need is a transcendent Being of pure Act!

StoneTop said...

Are you trying to be funny?


Well if you do believe that Allah is God, then you would also believe that Muhammad is his prophet... which would make you a Muslim by most standards.

Your "demonstration" in reply was to say, "Is not!"

Well it is more correctly put "there is no evidence to support your claim" not "Is not!"

Oh, right, then God isn't need to conserve electrons in existence, all you need is a transcendent Being of pure Act!

Nope, no transcendent Being of pure Act needed... the electron gets along just fine without such an entity.

Mr. Green said...

StoneTop: Well if you do believe that Allah is God, then you would also believe that Muhammad is his prophet...

You are wrong. "Allah" is the Arabic word for "God". It is used by many Muslims, of course, but also by Arabic Christians, or just anyone who is familiar with the term. Clearly, you are not — that is understandable. What is less understandable is that after I gave you a clue that it is not an exclusively Muslim term, you did not bother to ask — or even just take five seconds to look it up yourself — but repeated your error. You seem to be more interested in retorting with quips than actually learning anything; if this is merely something you do to kill time, well, that's up to you, but you can hardly expect anyone to take you seriously.



Well it is more correctly put "there is no evidence to support your claim" not "Is not!"

Except that's not what you said. You simply made a denial. And of course there is support for the original claim, none of which you have addressed. Again, if you're not interested in Thomistic philosophy, I can't make you be. I don't know why you are here then, but personally, I prefer to stick with more constructive discussions.

Mr. Green said...

StoneTop: Well if you do believe that Allah is God, then you would also believe that Muhammad is his prophet...

You are wrong. "Allah" is the Arabic word for "God". It is used by many Muslims, of course, but also by Arabic Christians, or just anyone who is familiar with the term. Clearly, you are not — that is understandable. What is less understandable is that after I gave you a clue that it is not an exclusively Muslim term, you did not bother to ask — or even just take five seconds to look it up yourself — but repeated your error. You seem to be more interested in retorting with quips than actually learning anything; if this is merely something you do to kill time, well, that's up to you, but you can hardly expect anyone to take you seriously.



Well it is more correctly put "there is no evidence to support your claim" not "Is not!"

Except that's not what you said. You simply made a denial. And of course there is support for the original claim, none of which you have addressed. Again, if you're not interested in Thomistic philosophy, I can't make you be. I don't know why you are here then, but personally, I prefer to stick with more constructive discussions.

StoneTop said...

"Allah" is the Arabic word for "God". It is used by many Muslims, of course, but also by Arabic Christians, or just anyone who is familiar with the term.

Same term, or same entity? The question is why didn't you ask me if I was referring to the generic monotheistic god of if I was referring to the Muslim monotheistic deity.

You simply made a denial. And of course there is support for the original claim, none of which you have addressed.

I've stated several times that electrons get along very well without requiring a deity to maintain their existence... I can roll out a link to Maxwell's equations or any other part of physics to show how the existence and behavior of electrons is well described without resorting to any deities.

if you're not interested in Thomistic philosophy, I can't make you be.

I am interested in it... because its core assumptions seem to be "a deity exists, so lets construct a philosophical system to describe the world in terms of that deity"... but since I see no evidence for the "a deity exists" the rest of it seems like idle speculation.

BenYachov said...

Stone Tops is a troll no better then djindra of unplesant memory.

Don't assume any of his questions are asked in good faith.

They are not he has shown that time and again.