Author Topic: A problem with the Principle of Sufficient Reason  (Read 598 times)

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Offline jaimehlers

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A problem with the Principle of Sufficient Reason
« on: September 17, 2013, 11:27:08 AM »
I am in the middle of writing another post, but as part of the process of writing it, I figured out a key, critical problem with the Cosmological Argument.  It relies on the Principle of Sufficient Reason - that nothing happens without a cause, but that since an infinite series of causes is impossible, there must have been a first, uncaused cause.  Fair enough, at least for the sake of argument.

However, if an infinite series of causes is impossible because you need a first cause in order to have all the intermediate causes and the most recent cause, would that not also mean that other infinite series are also impossible, for much the same reason?  For example, take the description "all-powerful".  It cannot be true unless something is more powerful than everything else, yet in order to be that, it must be infinite, because otherwise something could be more powerful than it.  Yet it cannot be infinite, because that would create a never-ending (and never-beginning) series of power levels. 

The same problem applies to the other omnimax properties.  They must be infinite in order to fulfill the quality of "all-whatever", yet they cannot be infinite because that would create an infinite series.  In other words, the very Principle of Sufficient Reason that serves as the basis for arguing for that first, uncaused cause (because the string of causes can't be infinite) contradicts the idea of an omnimax entity (because its omni-attributes also can't be infinite, which means that they aren't omni in the first place).

Therefore, if the First Cause requires an omnimax being, then it cannot have happened, and the Cosmological Argument is false.  There can still have been a first cause, but it cannot have had omni-attributes.

Offline wheels5894

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Re: A problem with the Principle of Sufficient Reason
« Reply #1 on: September 17, 2013, 12:46:33 PM »
I think this makes perfect sense - especially as regards the omnimax powers as these powers would be necessary for a proposed god to created whatever he did or didn't create.

I think the problem with the whole argument is, though, that what we know about the universe - how it came into being and all that - means that maybe it did need something to create it. However, it could have been 2 branes crashing together, it could have been a black whole spitting out a universe or any other of the various things suggested together with all the ones we haven't dreamed up yet so why, why sya that the cause has to be a deity before we know what the cause was.

In lots of things that are more usual these days a god was positted as the cause and we subsequently found out there was no god necessary. Take lighning, storms the arrival of life etc. Someday, hopefully, we will work out how the universe came into being and the idea a god was needed will have to be dumped but by then it will be the last crack of the 'god of the gaps'.
No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such that its falshood would be more miraculous than the facts it endeavours to establish. (David Hume)

Offline jdawg70

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Re: A problem with the Principle of Sufficient Reason
« Reply #2 on: September 17, 2013, 12:50:34 PM »
I am in the middle of writing another post, but as part of the process of writing it, I figured out a key, critical problem with the Cosmological Argument.  It relies on the Principle of Sufficient Reason - that nothing happens without a cause, but that since an infinite series of causes is impossible, there must have been a first, uncaused cause.  Fair enough, at least for the sake of argument.
I don't know if I'd let this part go with just a 'fair enough'.  It's not.  The axiomatic claim that 'an infinite series of causes is impossible' is too problematic for me to simply accept on a 'sake of argument' basis.  There is nothing, from a physical evidence standpoint, from a logic standpoint, from a philosophical standpoint, or even an intuitive standpoint, that establishes some finite limit to the number of causes per given effect.  If I start with the (currently understood as incorrect, mind you) axiom that there are no uncaused effects, I require additional information, more knowledge, to say that cause-effect cannot go to infinite regress.

Not that there is any harm with arguing based upon accepting the premise 'an infinite series of causes is impossible', but I put that in the same epistemological boat (if not the same boat, at least treading the same water) as accepting the premise that 'magic is real'.
Quote
However, if an infinite series of causes is impossible because you need a first cause in order to have all the intermediate causes and the most recent cause, would that not also mean that other infinite series are also impossible, for much the same reason?  For example, take the description "all-powerful".  It cannot be true unless something is more powerful than everything else, yet in order to be that, it must be infinite, because otherwise something could be more powerful than it.  Yet it cannot be infinite, because that would create a never-ending (and never-beginning) series of power levels.
And all of this depends on the reason given for why an infinite regress of causal events is impossible.  Your argument applies when the reason given is that infinities, in general, cannot exist.  'Infinite series of causes' is the get-out-of-jail-free card for the apologist you are arguing.  God's power isn't caused...it isn't an effect...it simply is.  Or god being 'all-powerful' doesn't mean 'infinite', just huge enough that it out-powers the sum total of all other powers (note the lack of definition of 'power' though) in reality.  And all of those gymnastics fail to address the elephant in the room - there is no good reason to accept the premise that 'an infinite series of causes is impossible'.  That reason is sufficient to detach the remaining logical mumbo-jumbo from reality.
"When we landed on the moon, that was the point where god should have come up and said 'hello'. Because if you invent some creatures, put them on the blue one and they make it to the grey one, you f**king turn up and say 'well done'."
- Eddie Izzard

Offline BibleStudent

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Re: A problem with the Principle of Sufficient Reason
« Reply #3 on: September 17, 2013, 01:01:46 PM »
What a First Cause is and what it does are two different things.

What you are attempting to do is use non-existent properties of the Principle of Sufficient Reason to suppress the nature of the First Cause. In other words, if a First Cause exists, then a different argument would be needed to refute characteristics such as omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence, etc....which is really what your argument is attempting to do. It seems that what you are arguing is whether a First Cause can be infinite or not.

Offline Hatter23

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Re: A problem with the Principle of Sufficient Reason
« Reply #4 on: September 17, 2013, 01:29:58 PM »
What a First Cause is and what it does are two different things.


CAUSE: noun \?ko?z\ : something or someone that produces an effect, result, or condition : something or someone that makes something happen or exist

If an item's only definition is what it does, it really isn't two different things until another attribute can be discerned.

An Omnipowerful God needed to sacrifice himself to himself (but only for a long weekend) in order to avert his own wrath against his own creations who he made in a manner knowing that they weren't going to live up to his standards.

And you should feel guilty for this. Give me money.

Offline BibleStudent

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Re: A problem with the Principle of Sufficient Reason
« Reply #5 on: September 17, 2013, 01:50:56 PM »
What a First Cause is and what it does are two different things.


CAUSE: noun \?ko?z\ : something or someone that produces an effect, result, or condition : something or someone that makes something happen or exist

If an item's only definition is what it does, it really isn't two different things until another attribute can be discerned.

You are correct except the OP did introduce another attribute ("all powerful") as an example of something the First Cause might possess.

Offline jaimehlers

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Re: A problem with the Principle of Sufficient Reason
« Reply #6 on: September 17, 2013, 03:10:31 PM »
BibleStudent:  Blame Thomas Aquinas for that, not me.  It was the fourth in his Five Ways that argued that God would be the ultimate standard (the omnimax) for everything else.  But in order to be the ultimate standard, he would have to be infinite.  Otherwise, you could conceive of (and presumably eventually achieve) something that surpassed him.  That means that the very Principle of Sufficient Reason that Aquinas used to argue against an infinite series contradicts his argument here.

jdawg:  Thus my post.  If the Principle of Sufficient Reason is correct, then you cannot have an omnimax god, for the reason I just stated above.  If it is not correct, then the Cosmological Argument is invalidated, since there doesn't need to be an uncaused cause.

Offline BibleStudent

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Re: A problem with the Principle of Sufficient Reason
« Reply #7 on: September 17, 2013, 03:27:10 PM »
BibleStudent:  Blame Thomas Aquinas for that, not me.  It was the fourth in his Five Ways that argued that God would be the ultimate standard (the omnimax) for everything else.  But in order to be the ultimate standard, he would have to be infinite.  Otherwise, you could conceive of (and presumably eventually achieve) something that surpassed him.  That means that the very Principle of Sufficient Reason that Aquinas used to argue against an infinite series contradicts his argument here.

Can we use a similar deviation of the Principle of Sufficient Reason to argue that the the First Cause was also the First All Powerful?

Offline 12 Monkeys

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Re: A problem with the Principle of Sufficient Reason
« Reply #8 on: September 17, 2013, 07:48:34 PM »
First all powerful,can you define that for me?
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Offline jaimehlers

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Re: A problem with the Principle of Sufficient Reason
« Reply #9 on: September 17, 2013, 08:27:33 PM »
Can we use a similar deviation of the Principle of Sufficient Reason to argue that the the First Cause was also the First All Powerful?
You didn't read that post you quoted very well, did you?

Offline BibleStudent

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Re: A problem with the Principle of Sufficient Reason
« Reply #10 on: September 18, 2013, 01:50:26 PM »
Can we use a similar deviation of the Principle of Sufficient Reason to argue that the the First Cause was also the First All Powerful?
You didn't read that post you quoted very well, did you?

Yes. I did. Why didn't you answer my question?

If we can use the Principle of Sufficient Reason to argue against infinite causes, then why can't we use a variation of the Principle to argue against infinite power? If the First Cause never had a cause, then it seems reasonable to conclude that the attributes of the First Cause were as infinite as the First Cause.

Offline jaimehlers

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Re: A problem with the Principle of Sufficient Reason
« Reply #11 on: September 18, 2013, 02:05:17 PM »
Yes. I did. Why didn't you answer my question?
Because it made no real sense the way you phrased it.

Quote from: BibleStudent
If we can use the Principle of Sufficient Reason to argue against infinite causes, then why can't we use a variation of the Principle to argue against infinite power? If the First Cause never had a cause, then it seems reasonable to conclude that the attributes of the First Cause were as infinite as the First Cause.
This is contradictory and sophistric.  Are you sure you read and understood what I was saying?  Because it sure doesn't seem so to me.

Offline BibleStudent

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Re: A problem with the Principle of Sufficient Reason
« Reply #12 on: September 18, 2013, 02:24:31 PM »
This is contradictory and sophistric.  Are you sure you read and understood what I was saying?  Because it sure doesn't seem so to me.

I've read it AT LEAST 10 times and I can understand why you are sensing my comments stem from a misunderstanding....but I am trying to get to apples-to-apples instead of what I see as apples-to-oranges.

Let me ask you this: If there is such a thing as a first cause, is the first cause infinite?

Offline jaimehlers

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Re: A problem with the Principle of Sufficient Reason
« Reply #13 on: September 18, 2013, 02:53:53 PM »
No, of course not.  An infinite series is an infinite series no matter how you look at it.  So if an infinite series is impossible, requiring a first cause, then that first cause cannot be infinite either.

Offline jdawg70

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Re: A problem with the Principle of Sufficient Reason
« Reply #14 on: September 18, 2013, 04:43:46 PM »
jdawg:  Thus my post.  If the Principle of Sufficient Reason is correct, then you cannot have an omnimax god, for the reason I just stated above.  If it is not correct, then the Cosmological Argument is invalidated, since there doesn't need to be an uncaused cause.
At this point I probably need to do more studying, as my understanding of The Principle of Sufficient Reason all comes from like 1 philosophy class in college and Google.  My understanding is that the clause "an infinite series of causes is impossible" is an additional claim added to The Principle of Sufficient Reason in order to make The Cosmological Argument.  My reading of the Wikipedia page[1] doesn't seem to indicate a lack of infinities or a 'source' grounding as a necessary component.

I agree that The Cosmological Argument is invalid.  I agree it is invalid and that the most glaring flaw is due to the arbitrary assumption that infinite regress is impossible.  Perhaps I'm being nit-picky or do not properly understand some of the philosophical concepts here.  Because from where I sit, within the context strictly regarding this argument, if one were to be able to justify the existence of a First Cause (seeing as how the infinite regress thing fails to do so), then one can reconstruct The Cosmological Argument upon the shoulders of The Principle of Sufficient Reason (which, again, is currently understood as incorrect) and whatever premise that can replace the 'infinite regress' justification (such a justification, so far as I can tell, doesn't actually exist).

By the by, I also agree that if The Principle of Sufficient reason is invalid, then The Cosmological Argument is also invalidated - just not due to any 'infinities'.
 1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_sufficient_reason
"When we landed on the moon, that was the point where god should have come up and said 'hello'. Because if you invent some creatures, put them on the blue one and they make it to the grey one, you f**king turn up and say 'well done'."
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Offline jaimehlers

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Re: A problem with the Principle of Sufficient Reason
« Reply #15 on: September 18, 2013, 05:59:16 PM »
^The Cosmological Argument basically follows from the Principle of Sufficient Reason.  Leibnitz put it fairly succinctly: "There can be found no fact that is true or existent, or any true proposition, without there being a sufficient reason for its being so and not otherwise, although we cannot know these reasons in most cases."[1]  His argument is that, since there the universe is something rather than nothing, the sufficient reason for its existence is the necessary being which caused it to happen.  It's a similar form as Thomas Aquinas's argument.

The reason that infinite causal chains and causal loops are disallowed in the Cosmological Argument is because those would remove the "necessary being" which gives the "sufficient reason" to start the whole thing off (which would contradict the Principle of Sufficient Reason).  The point of my argument here is to show that if you're going to disallow an infinite causal chain, thus making the uncaused cause necessary, you can't then give it infinite properties without conceding that the infinite causal chain is also possible.  In other words, you can't disallow one infinite series to form the premise of a proposition and then apply another infinite series (or any others) within said proposition.
 1. http://www.rbjones.com/rbjpub/philos/classics/leibniz/monad.htm

Offline BibleStudent

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Re: A problem with the Principle of Sufficient Reason
« Reply #16 on: September 19, 2013, 08:37:54 AM »
The point of my argument here is to show that if you're going to disallow an infinite causal chain, thus making the uncaused cause necessary, you can't then give it infinite properties without conceding that the infinite causal chain is also possible.  In other words, you can't disallow one infinite series to form the premise of a proposition and then apply another infinite series (or any others) within said proposition.

I think I now understand your position and, frankly, I believe you have a somewhat valid point. An infinite series is an infinite series and unless you apply a special exemption to suspend or eliminate regression at a certain point, I cannot formulate a simple contention.

As Christians, we argue that the uncaused cause simply had no need for a cause. In doing so, we exempt God from the flow of any “series.” We say that He “always was” and that He has never changed nor ever will.

If, in fact, the first cause is God, then we argue (mostly from a philosophical point of view) that the same exemption we give to His never having a cause can also apply to His attribute of being “all powerful?” This exemption would require that prior to the first cause, progression and regression does not exist and infinity becomes static. In other words, the Cosmological Argument states that neither causal loops nor causal changes can be infinite but if the first cause (God) exists without a cause then it could conceivably be argued that He exists in a place where causal loops and causal changes simply do not exist.

Again, on the surface, your position seems to be a valid blow to the Cosmological Argument. What I suggested above as a possible defense is probably crude and doesn’t really defend the Cosmological Argument so I will continue to research this and see if I can find something that explains it better than I can….if such a thing even exists????????

Offline jaimehlers

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Re: A problem with the Principle of Sufficient Reason
« Reply #17 on: September 19, 2013, 09:27:17 AM »
The reason it doesn't really work as a defense is that it's basically special pleading, and I'm glad you noticed that.

If you can come up with something better than that, I'd be happy to hear it.

Offline Hatter23

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Re: A problem with the Principle of Sufficient Reason
« Reply #18 on: September 19, 2013, 09:45:01 AM »
The reason it doesn't really work as a defense is that it's basically special pleading, and I'm glad you noticed that.

If you can come up with something better than that, I'd be happy to hear it.

All that to come to the conclusion the the Cosmological argument is special pleading? Wasn't that already well established when Eisenhower was in office?
An Omnipowerful God needed to sacrifice himself to himself (but only for a long weekend) in order to avert his own wrath against his own creations who he made in a manner knowing that they weren't going to live up to his standards.

And you should feel guilty for this. Give me money.

Offline BibleStudent

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Re: A problem with the Principle of Sufficient Reason
« Reply #19 on: September 19, 2013, 09:47:02 AM »
The reason it doesn't really work as a defense is that it's basically special pleading, and I'm glad you noticed that.

If you can come up with something better than that, I'd be happy to hear it.

Are you aware of anything (philosophically or scientifically) that could jeopardize your position? I ask because it is often the case that when a person formulates a position such as you have here, they give extensive thought to what could make it fail. I doubt you would have thrown your argument out there unless you had really thought it through but I'm just curious if there is something you are still wrestling with.

Offline BibleStudent

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Re: A problem with the Principle of Sufficient Reason
« Reply #20 on: September 19, 2013, 09:55:19 AM »
All that to come to the conclusion the the Cosmological argument is special pleading? Wasn't that already well established when Eisenhower was in office?

I've seen arguments that accused the Cosmological Argument of special pleading before but the OP is taking a bit of a different angle on this. I find it difficult to believe no one has argued his position before but who knows. This is interesting.

Offline jaimehlers

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Re: A problem with the Principle of Sufficient Reason
« Reply #21 on: September 19, 2013, 10:33:19 AM »
All that to come to the conclusion the the Cosmological argument is special pleading? Wasn't that already well established when Eisenhower was in office?
Saying it is one thing.  Getting someone else to recognize it is another.

The actual crux of my argument is that if there is an uncaused cause because you can't have infinite regression, it can't be associated with other infinities without it being special pleading.  That doesn't actually mean there can't be an uncaused cause, just that it can't be infinite.

Are you aware of anything (philosophically or scientifically) that could jeopardize your position? I ask because it is often the case that when a person formulates a position such as you have here, they give extensive thought to what could make it fail. I doubt you would have thrown your argument out there unless you had really thought it through but I'm just curious if there is something you are still wrestling with.
Honestly, I can't think of anything.  This doesn't mean that there isn't, just that it isn't something that has occurred to me.

Really, I can only see two results from the chain of logic here.  Either infinite regression is not possible, and thus other infinities are also not possible, or it is possible, thus there is no need for an "uncaused cause".  I suppose there's a third - a causal loop where something causes itself (and the universe) to be, but there is no reason to argue for omnimax attributes there.