Link blog: philosophy, atheism, anglican, church-of-england

God Is Not Dead Yet | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction
William Lane Craig lays out his best arguments for the existence of God.
(tags: kalam william-lane-craig christianity religion apologetics atheism philosophy)
On God and Our Ultimate Purpose
Stephen Maitzen argues that introducing a God does not solve the question of what, if anything, makes life meaningful.
(tags: god purpose stephen-maitzen maitzen atheism philosophy)
Cycle of Fear – NYTimes.com
Tim Kreider (of “The Pain, When Will It End?”) on the meditative value of fear: “When I’m balanced on two thin wheels at 30 miles an hour, gauging distance, adjusting course, making hundreds of unconscious calculations every second, that idiot chatterbox in my head is kept too busy to get a word in.”
(tags: meditation funny flow cycling anxiety)
How filthy lucre could subvert the Church of England | World news | The Guardian
“Conservative evangelical churches threaten to withhold cash from pro-gay and liberal ‘heretics'”. What fun.
(tags: andrew-brown money evangelicalism church-of-england anglicanism anglican)
Beyond Mitt’s Underwear: Part 1: Apostasy and Restoration
tongodeon did an excellent series on Mormon beliefs. This is the first part, which links to all the others. The conclusion is worth reading even if you skim the rest.
(tags: lds joseph-smith underwear mitt-romney religion mormonism mormon)
Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is – Whatever
An explanation which tries to avoid those problematic identity politics jargon terms (see what I did there?)
(tags: sexuality feminism race privilege gender)

19 thoughts on “Link blog: philosophy, atheism, anglican, church-of-england

  1. The Kalam argument is bullshit isn’t it?

    1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.

    This doesn’t really reconcile with quantum physics. Spontaneous random particle/anti-particle creation occurs at a prescribed rate and causes Hawking radiation. If god has to manually intervene for every one of those he’s going to be tremendously busy. In addition to that I think you can measure the bulk properties of things that on average mostly didn’t exist, but did exist enough to measure that.

    WLC : “The idea that things can pop into being without a cause is worse than magic.”

    No really, the universe actually does that all the time according to specific well understood rules.

    1. As far as I can tell, yes, it’s totally meaningless. Bullshit in the literal sense of being like google translate in that each individual sentence chooses English words that sound plausible because there are many situations where they are meaningful, but don’t actually represent a coherent train of thought that can be unpacked and examined.

      Honesty compells me to say that I know intelligent friends who say that it is meaningful, and that my not understanding is due to Craig’s much greater understanding of relativity, rather than much less. I honestly think the chance of that is very very low, but I have been wrong about that sort of thing sometimes.

    2. That’s more or less what Victor Stenger said to Craig, apparently: see Wikipedia’s section on criticism of the argument.

      Craig has attempted to respond to this: see section 2 of Graham Oppy’s paper for example.

      When I did a search on this to find these references, I found a some Christians who thought that pair production didn’t count because it occurred in an existing universe. But of course, that’s not the point: the premise is “Everything that begins to exist…” and any counter-example is sufficient to disprove it.

      1. Pete’s next comment broke the formatting, so I’ve deleted it and reposted it below:

        So things definitely spring into existence without cause. We resolve this by asseting that it pre-existed in the vacuum and the causual event was making up the rules prior to the existence. To make the argument more convincing we shall use excessive verbosity and demonstrate our superior intellect with as many obscure dictionary words as we can find in the hope that nobody clever remains long enough to spot the contradiction.

        c.f. Surely you’re joking Mr Feynman, at the interdisciplinary conference,

        At this conference, every word that every guy said at the plenary session was so important that they had a stenotypist there, typing every goddamn thing. Somewhere on the second day the stenotypist came up to me and said, “What profession are you? Surely not a professor.”
        “I am a professor,” I said.
        “Of what?”
        “Of physics ­– science.”
        “Oh! That must be the reason,” he said. “Reason for what?”
        He said, “You see, I’m a stenotypist, and I type everything that is said here. Now, when the other fellas talk, I type what they say, but I don’t understand what they’re saying. But every time you get up to ask a question or to say something, I understand exactly what you mean ­­ what the question is, and what you’re saying ­­ so I thought you can’t be a professor!”

        I shall go back to my default state of continuing to ignore these people, the alternative is like fighting with pigs. You both get mucky but the pig enjoys it.

      2. Surely the reply is that pair production is caused after all, by photons or something…?

        Of course, that leads to a discussion/debate/disagreement/whatever about what the relevant meaning of ’cause’ is for the first premise. But then whatever the right definition is, it is not possible that literally nothing should cause (on that definition) the beginning-to-exist of a universe or anything else.

        1. Sorry, I shouldn’t have said pair production, as that’s generally used to refer to decaying of existing particles. What Pete’s talking about is the view of Hawking radiation in which you’re seeing black holes radiate because pairs of virtual particles are produced and one falls in. There are other examples of physical effects caused by virtual particles, for example, the Casimir effect. As far as we know there’s nothing that bumps them into existence at a particular time, so there’s no efficient cause like you’d have with billiard balls bumping into each other or whatever.

          But then whatever the right definition is, it is not possible that literally nothing should cause (on that definition) the beginning-to-exist of a universe or anything else.

          How do you know? You’ve got examples from QM of things coming into existence without an efficient cause. I’m not really seeing why this doesn’t falsify Craig’s first premise.

          I guess it might be that by “cause” we could mean “the right conditions under which something will then happen spontaneously”. Then Craig’s argument is “the universe had the right conditions to begin to exist spontaneously”. It’s much harder to see how that means there were gods involved.

          Personally, if I were attacking the Kalam, I’d concede the formal part of the argument for the sake of the debate and then attack Craig’s “abstract object or person, not the number 7, therefore person” as a bad argument: we don’t know non-material persons can exist, we don’t know that mathematical structures have no causal powers (Tegmark thinks the universe is made of maths), we don’t know that matter can’t “exist timelessly”.

          1. Thanks for that clarification. It’s probably worth working on a definition of ’cause’ that will result in a version of premise 1 that we can agree on.

            I guess it might be that by “cause” we could mean “the right conditions under which something will then happen spontaneously”. Then Craig’s argument is “the universe had the right conditions to begin to exist spontaneously”. It’s much harder to see how that means there were gods involved.

            Two gripes:
            (i) I don’t think ‘the universe had the right conditions to begin to exist …’ is coherent; how about ‘the right conditions existed for the universe to begin to exist…’
            (ii) ‘Spontaneously’ invites another definitional squabble. But I’m not sure how to improve this part of the definition at the moment so I’ll have to think about it.

            1. I think the “spontaneously” bit can be dispensed with to make it general: either the right conditions include an efficient cause, or they don’t. So we’ve got:

              1. Everything that begins to exist does so because the right conditions existed for it to begin to exist.
              2. The universe began to exist.
              3. The universe began to exist because the right conditions existed for it to begin to exist.
              4. ???
              5. PROFIT!
              (er, “Therefore God exists”)

      3. ‘Everything that begins to exist…’

        Wouldn’t you have to be a god to know about everything?

        We atheists will have to declare our modest limitations and admit that we don’t know about everything and so cannot accept that premise.

        We don’t even know if the best thing that can happen to some people is for them to become Nazis.

        Craig is very clever though.

        Not only does he know about everything (literally everything that has ever existed in the universe or ever will exist), he also knows that being a Nazi can be good for some people.

        ‘ Paradoxically, being a Nazi may have been the best thing that happened to Heinrich, since it led to his salvation. ‘

        Latest news. Nazis go to Heaven….

        Isn’t Craig clever to be able to tell us who goes to Heaven?

        1. ‘Everything that begins to exist…’

          Wouldn’t you have to be a god to know about everything?

          We atheists will have to declare our modest limitations and admit that we don’t know about everything and so cannot accept that premise.

          This looks like an induction from previous things we’ve seen beginning to exist. Humean scepticism about that is all very well, but if you try it in a debate, Craig will rightly point out that atheists see no problem with inductive reasoning in other cases. Saying we can’t use it when the conclusion may go against atheism looks like special pleading.

          Of course, the first black swan we see disproves the induction, and so I think Craig’s first premise needs a lot of work to avoid being disproved by quantum stuff.

          We don’t even know if the best thing that can happen to some people is for them to become Nazis.

          Yes, sceptical theism (as a theodicy) is special pleading in the light of Craig’s other knowledge claims about God. See On What God Would Do for example.

          1. ‘This looks like an induction from previous things we’ve seen beginning to exist.’

            So it is not a logically necessary premise, and extrapolates our everyday experiences to the realms of 10^-43 seconds.

            Can you do that?

            Can’t we have an induction rule ‘Dead things stay dead’?

            1. Can you do that?

              Well, no.

              Possibly I’m wrong about it being an induction, as Craig usually goes from inconceivability of something popping into existence to the premise that everything needs a cause. Sometimes, inconceivability is meant to be an argument for some sort of impossibility. If that’s the case, I think we have to point out that our intuitions fail in the early universe (as they do for other quantum things).

              You can have a rule that dead things stay dead, but Craig is going to claim that the resurrection is the black swan that proves you wrong (er, as well as Lazarus and the zombies in Matthew, obviously).

  2. I shouldn’t read long pieces of writing by WLC. I end up breathless with the sheer number of times I had an urge to heckle and interrupt and say “wait a minute, what about …” but couldn’t.

    I was particularly impressed by him citing Roger Penrose as a counter to the multiverse objection to the fine-tuning argument. Isn’t there some rule that says once you appeal to anything Penrose has ever said (OK, anything which wasn’t about tilings of the plane) as your best argument against a point, you’ve already lost?

    1. Oh, almost certainly. Penrose has some… interesting… notions.

      Most objections to the multiverse argument I’ve read boil down to “I don’t liiiiiike it”. But it’s a philosophical bun-fight really, because there isn’t any known way to experimentally determine the answer; and, er, the maths is easier the other way.

      1. I must say that personally I’ve got quite a lot of sympathy for the multiverse idea. There’s an obvious Occam’s Razor argument against it which says, if you’re trying to avoid multiplying entities unnecessarily, postulating an uncountable infinity of extra universes is perhaps the biggest failure of that principle you can possibly imagine, and maybe even postulating a super-duper-omni-everything sentient mind with no mechanism for it having got there is not quite as bad as that. But the flip side of that is that you’re not adding extra universes, you’re removing the need for a mysterious filtering or exclusion force that only lets one of the possibilities exist in the first place, and since that filter would otherwise require considerable explanation of how it got its selection criteria just right, it’s actually an admirably parsimonious explanation in terms of the complexity of the setup even if that setup has spectacularly unparsimonious consequences in the outcome.

        1. I like the multiverse idea for essentially that reason. But apparently my ability to understand people’s philosophical squicks concerning it is, er, minimal.

  3. “the usual atheist claim that if God does not exist, then the universe has no explanation of its existence”
    What?

    I have no problem with “The Universe has a cause”, but would argue that that just means that we have a point before which we know nothing, and that further speculation about this without some kind of evidence is just story-telling.

    “2. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.”
    Says who? I’m perfectly happy to have chance as an explanation. The universe is as it is, and therefore we are as we are. If it was different and life was still possible, then we would be different, and asking the same questions. If it was different and life was impossible, nobody would be asking the questions.

    “2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.”
    Bwahahahaha.

    The seven-step ontological argument seems flawed in multiple steps to me.

    1. The traditional Anselmian ontological argument has, I think, more major flaws than it has steps.

      The trick in the version of the ontological argument Craig describes is that to make it work you need to give “possible” a particular sort of meaning, and “maximally great” a particular sort of meaning, and adopt a particular set of assumptions about how necessity and possibility work. *If* you do those things, *then* the remaining steps are, as Craig says, “relatively uncontroversial”. But — surprise, surprise! — the more closely you look at those things, the less reasonable they look, and the less reasonable step 1 (with the appropriate definitions) looks.

      For instance, in Plantinga’s version of the ontological argument, you’re supposed to use a version of modal logic that includes the following axiom: “If possibly (there exists x such that P(x))”, then there exists x such that (possibly P(x))”. So, e.g., if it’s possible that there’s someone in Cambridge who is secretly the incarnation of a god, then there’s someone in Cambridge who is possibly secretly the incarnation of a god. There may be notions of possibility for which they are reasonable. (Though I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered one.) There are probably notions of possibility for which “It is possible that a maximally great being exists” is reasonable. But it’s far from clear that there’s any notion of possibility for which both of these are so.

      In particular, in his article Craig tries to suggest that the appropriate notion of possibility is one that’s well supported by saying “such-and-such seems perfectly coherent”. I do not believe that any such notion of possibility is consistent with the axiom I mentioned above.

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