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Offline penfold

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Cosmological Argument: infinite regress and sufficient reason
« on: February 26, 2013, 06:30:15 AM »
As a sixth-form Philosophy Teacher I have to teach ‘arguments for the existence of God’. For the most part they are unimpressive and philosophically quite dull. However there is a version of the cosmological argument which, while it falls short of proving God is one that I am consistently impressed by and, to my mind, raises questions which are worthy of attention.

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A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn orbits around the centre of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant turtle.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the turtle standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!” – From Stephen Hawking’s A brief History of Time

Thomas Aquinas has five arguments for the existence of God (his “five ways”). The second way runs as follows:

Premise 1: Every effect has a cause.

Premise 2: Every cause is itself an effect. 

Premise 3: The chain of causation (predicated by Premises 1 & 2) cannot go on forever.

Conclusion: There is an uncaused causer, which we call God.

We can reject this argument almost out of hand, by simply pointing out that even if we accepted there is an uncaused causer we don’t need to suppose this is God; we could, for example say that the uncaused cause is the event designated as the ‘big bang’ (though it might be pointed out this is pretty close to Deism).

Having said that there is something persuasive in this argument; I assume that most people will concede the first two premises (though with the caveat that the exact nature of causation is pretty mysterious – even more so when we try and give it a quantum, and thus probabilistic, structure). In essence though, these two premises seem broadly acceptable.

What is interesting is the third premise; the claim there cannot be an infinite chain of causation. Following the reasoning of the old lady quoted above, is it conceivable that this assertion is wrong and it is ‘turtles all the way down’? There is a notion in philosophy coined by Gottfried Leibniz called The Principle of Sufficient Reason. Broadly stated it claims that there must be a reason for everything – ie there are no ‘brute facts’ in the universe – put another way if someone asks me why something exists I cannot respond “it just does” . It seems to me that if we accept this principle then we must concede that Aquinas is correct, there has to be an uncaused cause.

To explain I will refer to the turtle example:

Let us ask the following question:
“What supports the earth?”
The answer, according to our old lady, is:
“A turtle (call it turtle 1)”
I can then ask:
“What supports turtle 1?”
The answer:
“Another turtle (call it turtle 2)”
To save time we can generate a rule:
“Turtle x is supported by turtle x + 1.”

That might seem the end of it but what about the following question:

“What supports the whole chain of turtles?”

We have two options here: (a) “nothing supports the chain of turtles – it is infinite and does not require support” or (b) “something else”.

If we answer (a), as one supposes the old lady would, then we breach the principle of sufficient reason; we are saying that the chain of turtles is unsupported (ie without reason). To translate this from turtles to causes, we would be saying that the universe is an infinite chain of causation, which has no external reason for its existence. The philosophers David Hume and Bertrand Russell take this view, but it is a disquieting one, it makes the existence of the universe a matter of ‘brute fact’ – the universe simply exists because it does and no further explanation can be given.

What about answer (b)? This will allow us to keep to the Principle of Sufficient Reason – but at what price? If we accept that the chain of turtles is supported by something else (or the chain of causation is caused by something else) then what sort of thing can it be? Well it can’t be a simple thing (like another turtle) because I could add that to my infinite chain and the question is raised again. So if there is something supporting the chain of turtles it itself must be an object which by its very nature requires no support. In terms of causation what the principle of sufficient reason requires is something which causes the universe, but itself requires no cause - an uncaused causer. This would be a remarkable result, and one that, not entirely unreasonably, will give much succor to theists. We would be conceding the existence of a unique object which possesses the quality of being uncaused and is responsible for causing everything else. [Note; as mentioned above, I don’t feel any compulsion to identify this ‘uncaused causer’ as God, we could equally well talk of an uncased event like the big bang - but it makes the notion of a 'creator' more plausible than it perhaps seemed before].

This leaves us with two possibilities neither of which I find particularly palatable.

i)   The universe is eternal (an infinite chain of causation) and we cannot ever hope to find a reason for it.

ii)   The universe has a beginning and thus requires the existence of something unique, an uncaused causer.
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Re: Cosmological Argument: infinite regress and sufficient reason
« Reply #1 on: February 26, 2013, 06:40:07 AM »
Ignoring the blatantly obvious special pleading, why have an uncaused causer, rather than a simple uncaused cause? Why is a causer more probable than a cause?
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Offline penfold

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Re: Cosmological Argument: infinite regress and sufficient reason
« Reply #2 on: February 26, 2013, 06:46:19 AM »
Ignoring the blatantly obvious special pleading, why have an uncaused causer, rather than a simple uncaused cause? Why is a causer more probable than a cause?

Either is fine, I have used the terms interchangeably - sorry about that. As I pointed out I don't think this argument proves a 'god' in any sense, but even the existence of something uncaused (and thus unique) is, to my mind, troubling enough.

What special pleading?
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Re: Cosmological Argument: infinite regress and sufficient reason
« Reply #3 on: February 26, 2013, 06:50:28 AM »
Either is fine, I have used the terms interchangeably - sorry about that. As I pointed out I don't think this argument proves a 'god' in any sense, but even the existence of something uncaused (and thus unique) is, to my mind, troubling enough.

Why is the existence of something uncaused so troubling?

What special pleading?

"Everything has a cause, except this one thing".
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Re: Cosmological Argument: infinite regress and sufficient reason
« Reply #4 on: February 26, 2013, 07:02:56 AM »
What special pleading?

"Everything has a cause, except this one thing".

That's the result of the argument, it is not assumed, so how can it be a case of special pleading - which is when one ignores a true premise to reach a fallacious conclusion?

If you wish you may add the premise "there are no uncaused objects"; I would have a lot of sympathy with that - in fact on balance it is my view, but it does come at a price: An infinite chain of causation the existence of which has no reason (see the part regarding answer (a) in the OP).

So either we accept this result of an uncaused cause or we jettison the the Principle of Sufficient Reason. Both of which, as outlined above, I have problems with.

Why is the existence of something uncaused so troubling?

Well, it is legitimate not to be. Certainly figures like the physicist Rodger Penrose are fine with it. On the other hand there are those like physicist Fred Hoyle (an arch opponent of Big Bang theory) who find it really unacceptable.

My real reservation about this conclusion is that we have no evidence for such a thing. In our experience every event has a cause; an uncaused cause is an event whithout cause. In general I am suspicious of any argument which predicts the existence of a type of object we have absolutely no empirical evidence for.

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Re: Cosmological Argument: infinite regress and sufficient reason
« Reply #5 on: February 26, 2013, 07:23:48 AM »
That's the result of the argument, it is not assumed, so how can it be a case of special pleading - which is when one ignores a true premise to reach a fallacious conclusion?

From my understanding, special pleading is when you assume that the laws of logic apply to everything except what you don't want them to apply to. That includes conclusions; not just premises.

If you wish you may add the premise "there are no uncaused objects"; I would have a lot of sympathy with that - in fact on balance it is my view, but it does come at a price: An infinite chain of causation the existence of which has no reason (see the part regarding answer (a) in the OP).

So what if there's no reason behind existence? I don't get what's so wrong about that.

So either we accept this result of an uncaused cause or we jettison the the Principle of Sufficient Reason. Both of which, as outlined above, I have problems with.

Ignoring the false dichotomy there, you having a problem with them is irrelevant to whether or not they are true.

Well, it is legitimate not to be. Certainly figures like the physicist Rodger Penrose are fine with it. On the other hand there are those like physicist Fred Hoyle (an arch opponent of Big Bang theory) who find it really unacceptable.

See above. Their disagreement is irrelevant.

My real reservation about this conclusion is that we have no evidence for such a thing. In our experience every event has a cause; an uncaused cause is an event whithout cause. In general I am suspicious of any argument which predicts the existence of a type of object we have absolutely no empirical evidence for.

What about virtual particles? They appear and disappear without any cause or reason behind them. They just exist.
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Offline penfold

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Re: Cosmological Argument: infinite regress and sufficient reason
« Reply #6 on: February 26, 2013, 07:41:44 AM »
From my understanding, special pleading is when you assume that the laws of logic apply to everything except what you don't want them to apply to. That includes conclusions; not just premises.

No, special pleading is the ignoring of premises or evidence to reach a false conclusion:

eg.

P1. All politicians are corrupt.
P2. Bill is a politician.
*However I assume that Bill is a special case and so I will ignore P1* (- special pleading clause)
C. Bill is not corrupt.

see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_pleading

[Incidentally I do think that Aquinas' original conclusion is a case of special pleading, as it assumes that only God can have the character of being uncaused. But as long as there is no "this is what we call God" coda in the conclusion I don't agree this argument does involve any special pleading at all.]

Anyhow on to the more interesting stuff  :)


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So what if there's no reason behind existence? I don't get what's so wrong about that.

Well it also predicts that the universe is infinite - which again, is big claim to justify by logical argument alone. However I agree that it may be the case that the universe is without reason. (Your point about truth being independent of our concerns about it is very well made) I am willing to accept this may be the truth, and I probably do. However the scientist and philosopher in me is somewhat wounded by the notion that not only do we not know the reason for existence; but a forteriori we cannot possibly know.

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So either we accept this result of an uncaused cause or we jettison the the Principle of Sufficient Reason. Both of which, as outlined above, I have problems with.

Ignoring the false dichotomy there, you having a problem with them is irrelevant to whether or not they are true.

I don't believe this is a false dichotomy at all. My point is exactly this; either the universe is finite and there is an uncaused cause; or the universe is infinite and existence is a matter of 'brute fact' - ie without explanation.

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What about virtual particles? They appear and disappear without any cause or reason behind them. They just exist.

Indeed. Many cosmologists now see quantum fluctuations as the 'beginning' of the universe, precisely because they do seem to fit the category of 'uncaused'. However this is a complexity here, because quantum fluctuations still require the existence of space/time to occur within. So I am not convinced that this really helps us as much as some seem to think.
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Offline Anfauglir

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Re: Cosmological Argument: infinite regress and sufficient reason
« Reply #7 on: February 26, 2013, 08:24:19 AM »
My point is exactly this; either the universe is finite and there is an uncaused cause; or the universe is infinite and existence is a matter of 'brute fact' - ie without explanation.

The turtles go down a looooong way.....but underneath THAT is an armadillo.

There is a third possibility to the universe being caused, or being infinite.  Consider the following loop.

1) Matter begins to expand out from a singularity - the point in time we call "the beginning".
2) Matter forms planets and suns and whatnot.
3) Suns collapse into black holes.
4) Black holes crush and compress the universe of spacetime.
5) Eventually, we are left with one gigantic black hole, that compresses all matter into one super-dense singularity - a singularity so dense and tightly packed that time begins to run backwards.
6) The singularity travels back in "time", unable to expand because at every  point in time it reaches, there is already a universe around it that prevents it......
7) ...until, suddenly, it arrives at a point in "time" where it is unconstricted by the universe.  GOTO 1.

I recall there is significant evidence for the crucial part of step 5, though for the life of me I cannot remember where I read it.  But if it were possible, then what we have is one, single universe, endlessly creating itself and always following the same pattern of existence.....or, possibly, due to Quantum, creating a myriad of self-creating universes every second.

Doesn't require a "creator".  Doesn't require the universe to be infinite in either direction of time.
Just because you've always done it that way doesn't mean it's not incredibly stupid.
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Re: Cosmological Argument: infinite regress and sufficient reason
« Reply #8 on: February 26, 2013, 08:36:17 AM »
No, special pleading is the ignoring of premises or evidence to reach a false conclusion:

eg.

P1. All politicians are corrupt.
P2. Bill is a politician.
*However I assume that Bill is a special case and so I will ignore P1* (- special pleading clause)
C. Bill is not corrupt.

see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_pleading

[Incidentally I do think that Aquinas' original conclusion is a case of special pleading, as it assumes that only God can have the character of being uncaused. But as long as there is no "this is what we call God" coda in the conclusion I don't agree this argument does involve any special pleading at all.]

How does this not apply here?
From what you posted:
Thomas Aquinas has five arguments for the existence of God (his “five ways”). The second way runs as follows:

Premise 1: Every effect has a cause.

Premise 2: Every cause is itself an effect. 

Premise 3: The chain of causation (predicated by Premises 1 & 2) cannot go on forever.

Conclusion: There is an uncaused causer, which we call God.

Bold mine. Read that and tell me it's not special pleading.

Well it also predicts that the universe is infinite - which again, is big claim to justify by logical argument alone.

The universe is not infinite. Infinity exists only as a concept.

However I agree that it may be the case that the universe is without reason. (Your point about truth being independent of our concerns about it is very well made) I am willing to accept this may be the truth, and I probably do. However the scientist and philosopher in me is somewhat wounded by the notion that not only do we not know the reason for existence; but a forteriori we cannot possibly know.

Bold mine. I have no idea what that means. Please explain it.

I don't believe this is a false dichotomy at all. My point is exactly this; either the universe is finite and there is an uncaused cause; or the universe is infinite and existence is a matter of 'brute fact' - ie without explanation.

Anfauglir just posted a third option.

Indeed. Many cosmologists now see quantum fluctuations as the 'beginning' of the universe, precisely because they do seem to fit the category of 'uncaused'. However this is a complexity here, because quantum fluctuations still require the existence of space/time to occur within. So I am not convinced that this really helps us as much as some seem to think.

Who said they required the existence of space/time? Regardless, they are uncaused. This indicates that more than one event could have been uncaused.
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Offline penfold

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Re: Cosmological Argument: infinite regress and sufficient reason
« Reply #9 on: February 26, 2013, 09:14:40 AM »
Thomas Aquinas has five arguments for the existence of God (his “five ways”). The second way runs as follows:

Premise 1: Every effect has a cause.

Premise 2: Every cause is itself an effect. 

Premise 3: The chain of causation (predicated by Premises 1 & 2) cannot go on forever.

Conclusion: There is an uncaused causer, which we call God.

Bold mine. Read that and tell me it's not special pleading.

Sorry, my bad; the argument is cosmological so the first two premises are empirical and have the caveat "in our experience" - they are not statements of absolute fact, merely statements of observation. Should have made that clear. Sorry about that, really lazy simplification of mine. The argument as I wrote it is indeed a case of special pleading; however it is not Aquinas' argument which should include the caveat "in our experience".

 :-[

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The universe is not infinite. Infinity exists only as a concept.

Perhaps I have not made myself clear. If we accept the third premise then the universe is not an infinite causal chain; however we have to accept the existence of a primary uncaused cause. If, on the other hand, we reject the third premise then we accept (on the strength of the first two premises) that the universe is an infinite chain of causation.

As for the existence of infinity as concept or otherwise, this is the question begged by the argument. Aquinas' third premise is making exactly the point you are; that we cannot have a physical infinity, and thus the universe must have a beginning, which requires an uncaused cause.

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However I agree that it may be the case that the universe is without reason. (Your point about truth being independent of our concerns about it is very well made) I am willing to accept this may be the truth, and I probably do. However the scientist and philosopher in me is somewhat wounded by the notion that not only do we not know the reason for existence; but a forteriori we cannot possibly know.

Bold mine. I have no idea what that means. Please explain it.

If we accept the 'no uncaused cause' option; then we have to accept the infinite regression of causes. If we accept that then we can explain every event by reference to its cause. However we are afforded no explanation of the chain of causation a whole - as such an explanation would require a first cause. In other words it is not simply that we cannot account for the chain of causation contingently (ie because we are ignorant) but necessarily (ie because it does not have an explanation). It means that existence is a mere 'brute fact'.


Quote
I don't believe this is a false dichotomy at all. My point is exactly this; either the universe is finite and there is an uncaused cause; or the universe is infinite and existence is a matter of 'brute fact' - ie without explanation.

Anfauglir just posted a third option.

See my response to him.

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Who said they required the existence of space/time? Regardless, they are uncaused. This indicates that more than one event could have been uncaused.

All virtual particles are energetic fluctuation within space/time so if we are looking for the cause of space/time itself we cannot use a mechanism internal to it. It is a bit like trying to explain the existence of myself as an organism only in reference to cellular mitosis within my own cells; we will always leave unanswered the question of how the first cell arose, which must be a different process (sexual reproduction).
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Offline penfold

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Re: Cosmological Argument: infinite regress and sufficient reason
« Reply #10 on: February 26, 2013, 09:28:25 AM »
The turtles go down a looooong way.....but underneath THAT is an armadillo.

 ;D Actually one of my students said a similar thing in class, her version was a lion though... when I asked her what supported the lion she replied "his legs".

Quote
There is a third possibility to the universe being caused, or being infinite.  Consider the following loop.

1) Matter begins to expand out from a singularity - the point in time we call "the beginning".
2) Matter forms planets and suns and whatnot.
3) Suns collapse into black holes.
4) Black holes crush and compress the universe of spacetime.
5) Eventually, we are left with one gigantic black hole, that compresses all matter into one super-dense singularity - a singularity so dense and tightly packed that time begins to run backwards.
6) The singularity travels back in "time", unable to expand because at every  point in time it reaches, there is already a universe around it that prevents it......
7) ...until, suddenly, it arrives at a point in "time" where it is unconstricted by the universe.  GOTO 1.

I recall there is significant evidence for the crucial part of step 5, though for the life of me I cannot remember where I read it.  But if it were possible, then what we have is one, single universe, endlessly creating itself and always following the same pattern of existence.....or, possibly, due to Quantum, creating a myriad of self-creating universes every second.

Doesn't require a "creator".  Doesn't require the universe to be infinite in either direction of time.

Two points the first is empirical and simply that given our current best measurments the universe has a flat topography whereas this 'big bounce' scenario requires a curved universe. (Though as I understand it the jury is still out on this one).

Secondly, and far more importantly, this cyclical model does not escape the problem at all; essentially you have taken response (a), that the universe is infinite; the only difference being you have given a specific type of infinity - that of a closed four-dimensional loop (which from the four-dimensional perspective of causation is infinite; just as a two dimensional analysis finds a sphere to be infinite). You are still positing a chain of infinite causation, and you are essentially denying that  the whole system of cyclical causation has a cause itself. This is absolutely fine, but just as with the 'turtles all the way down'; you are denying the Principle of Sufficient Reason (see OP); in that you are denying the question of "what causes this cyclical process taken as a whole?" has a meaningful answer.

What you've proposed is a valid possible cosmology (proposed originally, I believe, by George Gamow) but it does not help with the problem raised by the Principle of Sufficient Reason.
« Last Edit: February 26, 2013, 09:32:47 AM by penfold »
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Offline Anfauglir

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Re: Cosmological Argument: infinite regress and sufficient reason
« Reply #11 on: February 26, 2013, 09:59:33 AM »
Secondly, and far more importantly, this cyclical model does not escape the problem at all; essentially you have taken response (a), that the universe is infinite; the only difference being you have given a specific type of infinity - that of a closed four-dimensional loop (which from the four-dimensional perspective of causation is infinite; just as a two dimensional analysis finds a sphere to be infinite). You are still positing a chain of infinite causation, and you are essentially denying that  the whole system of cyclical causation has a cause itself. This is absolutely fine, but just as with the 'turtles all the way down'; you are denying the Principle of Sufficient Reason (see OP); in that you are denying the question of "what causes this cyclical process taken as a whole?" has a meaningful answer.

What you've proposed is a valid possible cosmology (proposed originally, I believe, by George Gamow) but it does not help with the problem raised by the Principle of Sufficient Reason.

True.  But then I can't see how ANY hypothesis would meet the requirements of the PoSR, since it just hits the turtle problem.  PoSR seems to have equal problems with both models of the universe (infinite, or caused) - with the infinite universe, PoSR cannot apply - but with the caused universe, PoSR equally cannot apply, since we will at some stage have to say "just because".  An uncaused causer is as big a breach of the PoSR as the alternative, because we are saying "there is no reason - it just is".

For that reason, I cannot see what use there is in the PoSR at this level, since it is incompatible with either of the two possible answers.   I therefore see no need to accept Liebniz' principle since in universal terms it permits of no answer.  Clearly there IS a universe, of some description - it exists, even if only in my mind - and so therefore to accept a premise that does not allow for that universe's existence would be ridiculous at best!
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Re: Cosmological Argument: infinite regress and sufficient reason
« Reply #12 on: February 26, 2013, 10:16:17 AM »
Okay, first off, why is a sphere infinite under 2D analysis?  I realize you can never come to the end point of a sphere, nor can you go to its beginning point, but that doesn't make it infinite.  Eventually you'll run out of 'new' coordinates and will thus be revisiting existing ones; the number of coordinates it contains is finite.  Along the same lines, while you may never be able to reach the end of a closed 4D loop, it is still finite.  I think you're conflating 'infinite' and 'unbounded', in other words.

As for the Principle of Sufficient Reason, I don't think you need to violate it in order to have 'uncaused' events.  Anfauglir's scenario is a good example of how you can have an event that fundamentally causes itself.  That is, the singularity that caused the universe was caused by the universe (more specifically, the universe was caused by its own tendency to collapse into a singularity).  This is not the same as saying that "it just happens", though.  Assuming that this is actually how things work, there are of course reasons for it happening this way, which we can probably discover (or possibly cannot, but those reasons still exist regardless of whether we can discover them).

So, I think instead of saying that we have 'uncaused' events, we need to say that we have self-caused events - events caused by the chain of events that the first event caused.

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Re: Cosmological Argument: infinite regress and sufficient reason
« Reply #13 on: February 26, 2013, 10:28:11 AM »
True.  But then I can't see how ANY hypothesis would meet the requirements of the PoSR, since it just hits the turtle problem.  PoSR seems to have equal problems with both models of the universe (infinite, or caused) - with the infinite universe, PoSR cannot apply - but with the caused universe, PoSR equally cannot apply, since we will at some stage have to say "just because".  An uncaused causer is as big a breach of the PoSR as the alternative, because we are saying "there is no reason - it just is".

For that reason, I cannot see what use there is in the PoSR at this level, since it is incompatible with either of the two possible answers.   I therefore see no need to accept Liebniz' principle since in universal terms it permits of no answer.  Clearly there IS a universe, of some description - it exists, even if only in my mind - and so therefore to accept a premise that does not allow for that universe's existence would be ridiculous at best!

Well I suppose that depends upon whether you think an uncaused cause is a legitimate idea. If you do accept it as Aquinas, Al-Kindi, Leibniz, and Copelstone do, then they would argue that this does meet the requirements of PoSR, because the uncaused cause, is self-causing, and thus provides its own answer to the question of its existence (thus providing an answer and so meeting PoSR).

My own view is that this begs the question and like you think that, in fact, it does not really meet the requirements of PSoR; however if we reject such an idea then we are left with 'turtles all the way down'. Moreover it means that we should just accept existence as 'brute fact' a notion which, whenever I attend to it gives me a bad case of vertigo.

« Last Edit: February 26, 2013, 10:39:01 AM by penfold »
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Offline penfold

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Re: Cosmological Argument: infinite regress and sufficient reason
« Reply #14 on: February 26, 2013, 10:38:04 AM »
Okay, first off, why is a sphere infinite under 2D analysis?  I realize you can never come to the end point of a sphere, nor can you go to its beginning point, but that doesn't make it infinite.  Eventually you'll run out of 'new' coordinates and will thus be revisiting existing ones; the number of coordinates it contains is finite.  Along the same lines, while you may never be able to reach the end of a closed 4D loop, it is still finite.  I think you're conflating 'infinite' and 'unbounded', in other words.

From the perspective of 2D a sphere is infinite in terms of direction of travel, you may be able to reach the same co-ordinates again, but you will never find a terminus. It is this notion of the infinite (ie an infinite regression) which the argument discusses. If 'unbounded' is the accurate term, I am completely willing to concede the terminological point.

Quote
As for the Principle of Sufficient Reason, I don't think you need to violate it in order to have 'uncaused' events.  Anfauglir's scenario is a good example of how you can have an event that fundamentally causes itself.  That is, the singularity that caused the universe was caused by the universe (more specifically, the universe was caused by its own tendency to collapse into a singularity).  This is not the same as saying that "it just happens", though.  Assuming that this is actually how things work, there are of course reasons for it happening this way, which we can probably discover (or possibly cannot, but those reasons still exist regardless of whether we can discover them).

So, I think instead of saying that we have 'uncaused' events, we need to say that we have self-caused events - events caused by the chain of events that the first event caused.

No event in Anfauglir's model is actually self-caused; every event has a cause which is not self-identical. The chain of causation, while repetitive is still infinite unbounded. Thus the problem as stated still stands.

Your point about self-caused events is a good one, but this simply another way of talking of an uncaused causer.

In other words we are still left with the essential problem; either the universe is infinite unbounded and we can necessarily give no reason for existence or the universe is finite bounded and we require the existence of an uncaused (or self-causing) cause.
« Last Edit: February 26, 2013, 10:40:35 AM by penfold »
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Offline DumpsterFire

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Re: Cosmological Argument: infinite regress and sufficient reason
« Reply #15 on: February 26, 2013, 10:46:31 AM »
The biggest problem with the "uncaused causer" perspective (aside from its special pleading ramifications, as OAA pointed out) is that it views the origin of the universe using the laws of physics as they are today, but the ToR shows that those laws break down at the singularity before the BB. Time did not exist before the BB, so the cause/effect dynamic as we know it was impossible. To paraphrase Hawking, god could not have created the universe because there was no "time" in which he could have.
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Re: Cosmological Argument: infinite regress and sufficient reason
« Reply #16 on: February 26, 2013, 10:56:39 AM »
The biggest problem with the "uncaused causer" perspective (aside from its special pleading ramifications, as OAA pointed out) is that it views the origin of the universe using the laws of physics as they are today, but the ToR shows that those laws break down at the singularity before the BB. Time did not exist before the BB, so the cause/effect dynamic as we know it was impossible. To paraphrase Hawking, god could not have created the universe because there was no "time" in which he could have.

For 'special pleading' objection please see discussion with OAA esp my correction in reply #10. As far as I can see there is no such problem in this argument.

In terms of the Big Bang as the beginning of time; this putative claim (which is highly contested - eg by String Theory, Inflationary Theory and Quantum Gravity Theory) does not help it is merely a version of the 'uncaused cause' response. There is no problem to suppose that time did have a start point, but that implies where was a primary event; which was itself necessarily uncaused / self-causing. That is a perfectly acceptable result of the argument. For my reasons for finding it uncomfortable see the 'answer (b)' section of the OP.

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Re: Cosmological Argument: infinite regress and sufficient reason
« Reply #17 on: February 26, 2013, 11:18:35 AM »
"In our experience" consciousness has delicate physical needs.  Therefore, "in our experience", consciousness cannot precede the universe.  The characteristics of gods require a temporal universe in order to exist.
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Re: Cosmological Argument: infinite regress and sufficient reason
« Reply #18 on: February 26, 2013, 11:23:24 AM »
In terms of the Big Bang as the beginning of time; this putative claim (which is highly contested - eg by String Theory, Inflationary Theory and Quantum Gravity Theory) does not help it is merely a version of the 'uncaused cause' response. There is no problem to suppose that time did have a start point, but that implies where was a primary event; which was itself necessarily uncaused / self-causing. That is a perfectly acceptable result of the argument. For my reasons for finding it uncomfortable see the 'answer (b)' section of the OP.

Pretty much everything regarding the origins of the universe is highly contested, and probably always will be, because it is likely impossible to truly determine how it really happened. I am simply saying that the cause/effect dynamic on which we have learned to depend requires the element of time to exist. So to this:
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i)   The universe is eternal (an infinite chain of causation) and we cannot ever hope to find a reason for it.

ii)   The universe has a beginning and thus requires the existence of something unique, an uncaused causer.

You ought to add:

iii)   The universe has a beginning that did not require the existence of an external cause.

All 3 of these options are possible. What you find to be uncomfortable is immaterial to the matter.
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Re: Cosmological Argument: infinite regress and sufficient reason
« Reply #19 on: February 26, 2013, 11:34:01 AM »
No event in Anfauglir's model is actually self-caused; every event has a cause which is not self-identical. The chain of causation, while repetitive is still infinite unbounded. Thus the problem as stated still stands.
While it's true that the chain of events can go on forever (in the same way that you can walk around a circle forever without ever getting to a starting or ending point), that fact resolves the dilemma.  The reason that you can walk around a circle forever is because a circle turns in on itself.  In other words, it's a property that is part of the identity of a circle.  Even though there can any number of circles with differing characteristics, they all are identified as circles, so they all have that property.

By the same token, Anfauglir's scenaro doesn't have the same identical singularity causing itself, or the same identical universe causing itself.  Nonetheless, in his scenario, the singularity has the property of expanding into a universe when there is no universe around it to block that expansion, and the universe has the property of eventually collapsing back into a singularity due to gravity.  It doesn't matter that they're not the same singularity and universe - they have the properties which give them the identities of a singularity and universe (respectively), and a consequence of those properties is the repeated expansion/contraction scenario.

In other words, it's the process (the algorithm) that causes itself.  Step 1 causes Step 2, which causes Step 3, etc, until you get to Step 7, which causes Step 1.  And this algorithm doesn't change no matter which iteration you're at, so it is always identical to itself.

Quote from: penfold
Your point about self-caused events is a good one, but this simply another way of talking of an uncaused causer.

In other words we are still left with the essential problem; either the universe is infinite unbounded and we can necessarily give no reason for existence or the universe is finite bounded and we require the existence of an uncaused (or self-causing) cause.
I'd like to think that my expanded explanation will help to clear things up.

I also need to clarify what I said about unbounded, because it's possible to have something which is finite yet unbounded in geometry.  For example, Earth is a sphere; we can measure its surface area with a finite number.  However, there is no limit to the distance we can travel around it, so it is unbounded.

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Re: Cosmological Argument: infinite regress and sufficient reason
« Reply #20 on: February 26, 2013, 01:16:12 PM »
penfold, I feel that my reply to this piece of your post is enough to disprove everything, or at least punch a really big hole in the cosmological argument. If you don't agree, say so and I'll write a reply to everything else you posted.

Sorry, my bad; the argument is cosmological so the first two premises are empirical and have the caveat "in our experience" - they are not statements of absolute fact, merely statements of observation. Should have made that clear. Sorry about that, really lazy simplification of mine. The argument as I wrote it is indeed a case of special pleading; however it is not Aquinas' argument which should include the caveat "in our experience".

Ah, but, in our experience, things can occur with no cause, as I explained with virtual particles. Even under the assumption that they require space-time to occur, in our experience, everything requires space-time. That means that the universe must be infinite, which is impossible.
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