Monday, February 27, 2012
The First Cause
Take how you think it happened. Invert it.
TOO BIG FOR THE COMMENTS. Way too big to cram into a single comment. I'm at the point where I've got to divvy up the main parts of my philosophy-- I call it Transtheism, a name so perfect I periodically re-astonish myself contemplating it-- and cordon them off into their own posts, where you all can focus your savage attacks on one aspect at a time.
I'll start with Lake's comment.
The existence of the *life* you so cherish, not to mention the Universe, mathematics, and the very logic you are appealing to -- all of this either had a Creator or it didn't. That's where you have to start. You have to answer your 'definite maybe' first.... We have these effects of an organized, finely-tuned universe, of mathematics, of life. How can you abandon the cause to a Forever Maybe?
I recognize these arguments as Robert's. All featured in the post More on Atheism, which will be included in the forthcoming InstaPunk book. As he’s the premier theistic innovator of the last century, I'll address his points and be way ahead of the curve.
First, I'll clarify my agnosticism as best I can in a single paragraph. I may have to bite the bullet and dedicate a post to the explanation, but I’ll try to make it work here, briefly.
If God exists, He chooses to remain unseen. He could choose to be seen tomorrow, or the moment I finish this keystroke. His omniscience and omnipotence (if He exists) means that He stays hidden for as long as He wants, and no human power can find Him ahead of His schedule. If God exists, he makes Himself a definite maybe. Which means: Until He chooses to make Himself known (and not just believed in), our concept of morality cannot hinge on Him. It cannot hinge on a Maybe. There must be an... are you ready?... objective standard.
This is why Will's "superior story" argument falls flat. "Someday soon I'm going to inherit 50 million dollars from a distant relative I can't track down" is a "superior story." I'd be a fool to spend my money as though it were true. Even though it may well be. For his story to be valid, Will would have to, in his words, prove it.
This is also the reason I do not "have to start" with the creator. I have to start with the definitely real.
On to the day's main event. The First Cause argument and its derivatives are flawed, and I can show how. Most, but not all, of this refudiation comes from the Objectivists.
On the face of it, the First Cause argument is good logic. Experience teaches us everything has a cause, had something happen to it before it comes to us as it comes to us. From rocks to people, everything (or a thing's constituent parts) has a history of events. As there's all kinds of different things in existence, and they work together in ways that create all kinds intricate new things, experience teaches us the only way such an efficacious complexity can arise is by intent. That's solid induction. Richard Dawkins has to resort to the analogy of computer programs-- programmed by a programmer-- to explain how trees grow, never mind how a human brain could develop. Makes sense that luck is an unsatisfactory explanation for something as involved as life. A bunch of chemicals happened to squirt at each other at just the right time, in just the right amount, at just the right temperatures, in just the right climate, with just the right minerals and nutrients nearby? When has any accident ever been so happy? There must have been some kind of... design is the only word for it!
Let's grant for the moment that "creation" needs a creator. Every five year old asks the next obvious question: If God made us, who made God? Who created the creator? And from Aristotle to Augustine, and all in between and since, just about every theologian has taken this stance: God is a self-existing principle. God is so powerful and so full of awesomeness, He doesn't need a cause. He Is Who Is.
The shortcomings of this position aren't tough to weed out, if one wants to do the weeding. What is the justification for asserting God is self-existent? Pure philosophical (in the sense of conceptual) speculation. It's comfortable—intuitive, gibes with induction-- to posit a trans-material cause for all matter, and then have there be nothing complicated beyond that cause. We're used to existents needing a cause. But we're not used to, say, trans-existents needing a cause, because we're not used to trans-existents at all. That doesn't run afoul our inductive intuition. Above the universe is God, and that's that. Nice and tidy. [Bold for emphasis. No skimming this part.]
The theory can be easily exploded by the assumption behind it: At some point in the chain of causality, we reach a first cause, and that cause is self-existent.
Why not make that cause the universe itself? In other words, to quote a Randian: "...if it is argued that no one created god, that god does not require a cause, that god has existed eternally - then on what grounds is it denied that the universe has existed eternally?" If something gets to be self-existent, how about we say the universe is self-existent and call it good? Even tidier. If that's what floats your boat.
Moreover, it makes more sense to stop at existence than at the classical God. "All causality presupposes the existence of something that acts as a cause. To demand a cause for all of existence is to demand a contradiction: if the cause exists, it is part of existence; if it does not exist, it cannot be a cause."
(That's the first of two options for the origin of the universe. The second is to postulate a chain of causality that stretches back into infinity. No beginning, no end. Which isn't quite the metaphysical brain-buster it may seem at first. If space is infinite, then the amount of matter and stuff in the universe is conceivably infinite as well. And if, on top of that, time is infinite in both directions, then causality is infinite in both directions as well. And that scenario could very well accommodate a God. It could accommodate a proverbial fuckton of Them; a genealogy of deity back into forever. There's nothing in science or philosophy-- other than any personal distaste-- that says this couldn't be so. [My take on this is, in case you're curious, a departure from the essay I've been quoting, which dismisses the notion of infinite regress without giving it much thought.])
"But what about complexity?" is your next objection. Two possiblities here, too. One: Same rub as the First Cause. If God can be self-existent, why not complexity? What can't complexity can't just be how things turn out, given enough time and space? (that goes double-ditto for the infinite causality model) Or, Two: If space is infinite, the chemicals had to squirt right somewhere. If time is infinite, the chemicals had to squirt right sometime. And if there's infinite parallel universes, well, shit. Life's in the bag.
Mathematics, while fascinating in ways few outside our little circle appreciate, is a non-starter in the creation argument. To postulate the creation of math, you first have to conceive of a mathless universe. Where quantity somehow cannot exist. Good luck with that. You could have a differently-mathed universe, where its "one" is our ".25" or whatever. At best, you could have a universe of chaotic math, where the flow of time is choppy and splashes back on itself, and the quantity that amounts to "one" changes from moment to moment. God could come in and smooth that out, make it orderly. But math ex nihilo?
The strongest argument for a creator is Number 3 in “More on Atheism”: Intelligence as a natural phenomenon. In RL's words: "The brute fact is that higher intelligence, as we conceive of it in ourselves, does exist. On what basis do we rule it out as one of the principle properties of the universe in which we live?" To hold that intelligence is a fluke of earth's particular conditions is like saying electricity is a fluke of earth's particular atmospheric conditions and can't possibly happen anywhere else, in any other form, in the whole universe. Intelligence has happened here, and if the universe is designer-less, it has happened on its own-- naturally. What's to keep this natural phenomenon from happening elsewhere? In fact, what's to keep this natural phenomenon from being a regular occurrence? And even if the universe is only a few trillion years old, on what grounds do we assume we're the first intelligence to emerge? AND, given the different sizes, shapes, and intensities electricity can manifest, what’s to keep intelligence from manifesting in forms nothing like we mobile meat sacks?
Sound reasoning. But look how far we are from the classical First Cause model. We've got God coming from a universe of laws, not God hiding out in the 8th dimension building our universe out of-- is it literally nothing? Is that how that doctrine goes? Hagiographic bluster as metaphysics?¬ It also would seem to mitigate the omniscience and omnipotence parts of the God hypothesis. And clearly the “without parts or passions” notion wouldn’t apply to such a real God (though, again, you could have a God without “body” in the conventional sense) (and the “without passions” part is definitively refuted by the scriptures themselves, so God only knows how theologians got away with that jive for so long).
Moreover: WHERE IS THIS INTELLIGENCE NOW? What's with the disappearing act? I'd love any explanation for God's invisibility that doesn't stoop to "God's in charge so it's evil to question His ways" sycophancy.
Tomorrow: The Objective Theory of Value. How to be atheist without condoning mass slaughter. It's easier than you think!