Friday, August 23, 2013

An unnecessary and useless defense of naturalism

I got asked recently how I defend naturalism. I don't. It's not my job, nor is it anyone's. It's a subtle shift of the burden of proof off the people who assume supernaturalism to demand an impossible "proof" of full-out philosophical naturalism. As such a thing cannot be proven, as it requires a complete proof that something undetectable and unfalsifiable cannot exist, it's a disingenuous maneuver to require it.

Normally, I wouldn't care a whit about this, but the people bent on talking about it, mostly religious apologists and their followers, insist on wasting the time of the rest of us with this unendable debate. I present this unnecessary and useless defense of naturalism about this unendable debate, then, mostly because I'm told it is problematic that I haven't (and, indeed, that I don't do it every time I talk about something, apparently). I certainly don't present it to give into the intellectual hostage-taking game these apologists play, by which they simply seek to keep talking about their nonsense without having to support it.


Disclaimer: I'm not a philosopher. In fact, while I have a great deal of respect for the field of philosophy, for the part of it that insists on pissing on naturalism, I wouldn't want to be. I'd be embarrassed to be that, in fact, beyond making a simple honest note that we can't know with impossible-to-obtain certainty on this matter.

To be perfectly clear for the purposes of this unnecessary and useless essay, let me put a direct definition down for the philosophical position known as naturalism. 
Naturalism: A philosophical viewpoint according to which everything arises from natural properties and causes, and supernatural or spiritual explanations are excluded or discounted.
The only reason that I can figure that this topic even can be bandied about is the universal quantifier "everything," along with the corollary complete exclusion of supernatural and especially "spiritual" (non)-explanations. Technically, as already noted, we can't know that with impossible-to-obtain certainty, but it really doesn't matter.

Of course, there's a very narrow epistemic gap, and it's philosophically fair and mature to note its existence. It is neither philosophical, nor fair, nor mature, however to desperately want to shove into that gap any supernatural non-explanation for any unknown something (or everything). People who want to do this are opportunists who conflate philosophical possibility with "my claim gets a fair shake because it's possible." On those grounds, so does the Force, so does Hogwarts, so does a cheesey center of the moon, and so do dragons.


Mere possibility and a robust defense of the natural

This "catch," philosophical demand on leaving open mere possibilities, is part of why this essay is useless. It is well-known to be impossible to prove the non-existence of anything that is not logically impossible, so it's useless to try to "prove" naturalism. It can't be done. It's a childish game to demand it.

Rather importantly, that lack of proof that naturalism is true is not proof that naturalism is false. Naturalism could conceivably be falsified. We'll talk about how that could be achieved a bit later, and hopefully it will be clear why the onus here is on disproving naturalism, and not by appeals to the unknown, unknowable, or possibility.

First, we should talk about evidence. There is evidence for nature. In fact, given what we're calling nature is all we ever see, all we have is evidence for the natural. Of course, we are annoyingly required in these conversations to say "off all hypothetical situations where we live in some kind of simulation." I'd say we have to say that out of philosophical honesty, but I think we really have to say it because of philosophical dishonesty, which is something slightly different.

So if we go into hypothesis evaluation mode, perhaps by appealing to the Bayesian method--whether or not we can produce an argument for some prior probability that nature is all that exists--we can see which direction our evidence is pushing us in terms of updating the posterior probability. All we ever see is natural. Everything. All of it. Always. Every supernatural hypothesis we've been able to examine closely enough has been replaced with natural explanations, and none have gone the other way. Our updated plausibility over all of this evidence is that natural explanations are all we have and all we need, whatever knot one wants to twist himself up upon about "first principles" (i.e. abstract axioms--not things that actually exist).

If we were to think in a Bayesian way about the question of naturalism, we've seen the evidence pointing unilaterally in one direction, something that was true even when the default position was taken to be that supernatural forces were everywhere. In such an analysis,  then, we have so much evidence mounted for naturalism that the subjective posterior plausibility of naturalism being false is so low as to be hardly worth mentioning--and yet here we find people shoving their "infinite" God. Heretics.

Thus, we see why this essay is unnecessary. The evidence for naturalism is that all we ever see and ever have seen is natural. What's my proof of naturalism? Surely you jest!


A special note for the religious

Now, let's make a special note for believers in particular belief structures, like Christianity: a philosophical defeater of impossible-to-have certainty regarding naturalism does not prove supernaturalism, nor does it lend support to your religion. All it does is suggest merest possibility. It's possible that I'm going to win the lottery every week for the next eleven years too, but it doesn't imply that I need to take that chance seriously or that it will happen.

More importantly, though, a lack of impossible-to-have certainty for naturalism cannot be used to get to specific religious beliefs. There is a long way to go to get to those. First, it must be demonstrated that there is something supernatural, which we'll discuss more momentarily, then the claims under the religious beliefs must be demonstrated beyond that. By demonstrate, I mean prove, although I won't be as ridiculous as challengers to naturalism are and insist upon certainty (which every philosopher, including them, know isn't a possible standard to meet). I will only insist upon the accepted (non-certain) standards of "proof" of any existence claim. Give me evidence for God that is as suggestive as the evidence for the Higgs particle, and then we'll talk. As I've said before, good. luck. with. that.


"Unfalsifiable" should be a word that shuts them up. It doesn't.

To start this on the opposite foot, there's a problem that seems to be able to render naturalism unfalsifiable, but it is kind of a contrived problem, as I will point out. The matter is different for the supernatural. By one definition, the supernatural is outside of nature. Thus, this supernatural cannot be evaluated and is unfalsifiable. That means it can't be proved that this supernatural exists no matter what is done. Of course, this problem is created by the definition of the word "supernatural" as being something outside nature.

It's not really a problem, though, by the dictionary definition of supernatural: "attributed to some force beyond potential scientific understanding or the laws of nature." An extant God could actually easily satisfy this definition by bending the laws of nature whenever it chooses, perhaps in response to intercessory prayers. Why do we get the other definition of "supernatural"? No evidence for the potentially falsifiable kind--evidence that should exist given the claims of those who believe in it.

What's important to point out about the unfalsifiable nature of claims to the supernatural is that because we never see them, they've been punted out of the realm of possibility. If that's how anti-naturalists want it, so be it. In that case if anyone tries to argue that some supernatural must exist because of some claim at a philosophical defeater of absolute naturalism, no one possesses the necessary tools to distinguish one supernatural claim from another. So, someone might want to call the supernatural by the word "God," and I might call it the Pink Invisible Unicorn, and we literally have no way to tell each other we're wrong.

That means when we talk about the supernatural we're all absolutely and completely equally right/wrong (meaningless terms here) in anything anyone wants to claim about it, automatically and always. If God is supernatural in this way, every claim about God is equally right and equally wrong. In that case, I think that God never interacted with the world at all, Jesus was just a superstitious lunatic, all the religions are wrong, no one will be judged at death, there is no heaven, and God is really a dill pickle with a beard. Prove me wrong.


Mind the gap

What we need to remember is that all this supernatural twaddle rests on the vanishingly unlikely case and unsubstantiated claim that there is a supernatural, which currently resides in the infinitesimal gap between the natural and philosophical meditations on first principles. Why is that gap so small? No evidence for anything supernatural. Not now, not then, not ever.

This problem, then, lets us look at the apparently unfalsifiable nature of the kind of supernatural anti-naturalists defend, which amounts to saying even more on why this essay is useless. If someone is motivated to simply make shit up that can't be falsified to satisfy some set of intellectual or emotional needs, apparently he will, so this essay, like all others, is useless in deterring him from doing it. People engaging in this behavior don't understand the importance and utility of falsifiable hypotheses, and so it's useless to keep pointing at them.

To tie this to some other things I've written in the past, a vanishing possibility does not imply anything. That's why I have called it "probability/plausibility zero, almost surely," implying that the set upon which supernaturalism lives is entirely dismissible. Even if the math on that can be shown to be erroneous--not yet, it hasn't, with some other mathematicians helping me explore this possibly bold claim--all the anti-naturalist is left with is an astoundingly small and rapidly shrinking degree of plausibility for the existence of supernatural.


Giving the burden back

I want to use this unnecessary, useless essay to put the burden back where it goes, though. If someone wants to assert naturalism is false, there is a way. Evidence. All he has to do is show us anything supernatural. We have all the evidence in the universe, literally, for the natural. If someone wants to overturn that, let him show us something supernatural.

Simply, since we're not nearly so superstitious now, the claim that naturalism is false is not a negative position. No one has to prove "naturalism is true (off a negligible set of philosophical possibility)" because all of the evidence we have points us to holding it as the default. Therefore, the burden is on people seeking to establish the supernatural. Show something supernatural and defeat naturalism. Until it is done, all the calls to "prove naturalism" are simply yammering.

Of course, no one can produce anything supernatural. Not only can no one do it, by definition it cannot be produced. The only hope an anti-naturalist could conceivably have is for a deity that isn't epistemically hidden, but they have, of course, outlawed that possibility because it would immediately disprove the existence of their God. No wonder religious apologists make so many weird philosophical arguments and appeals to gaps in knowledge, epistemology, and ontology, gaps which I've argued must exist in essentially all philosophies because of the Incompleteness Theorems. Except theistic philosophies, of course, but those don't have this problem because they just baldly assert that they don't, which by the Incompleteness Theorems implies that their philosophies are probably incoherent. (They don't care.)

And, even after this, apologists will still make these kinds of arguments. As I said, this essay is useless.

Here's some honest questions: Why do apologists really waste their time on this? More pressingly, why do they waste our time with them, given the points about "useless" and "unnecessary"? Maybe they want to talk about this stuff endlessly, but no one else does.

45 comments:

  1. I never asked you to prove that naturalism is true because you’re right it is unreasonable to think that you could prove that it is true to all rational people. What I asked you is why you think that the probability that naturalism is true is nearly 100% (although I’m also asking you think why it’s even plausible). This arose out of our conversation three posts back where I responded to your argument that the probability that God exists is zero almost surely by creating an inference to the best explanation argument where I showed that, “Given our background knowledge about the state of the world, God is the best explanation for motion in the universe; the finely tuned universe and everything in it; the existence of objective morals and duties; and consciousness.” The argument showed that theism is highly probable while naturalism is implausible to highly implausible, and you didn’t even try to refute the argument. That would have been fine if it ended there, but you’re still acting like God’s probability is essentially zero while the probability of naturalism is essentially 100% without defending the extraordinary high probability you place on naturalism.

    I think that you are conflating the concepts of atheism and naturalism. I think that the definition of naturalism that you presented is pretty good, but you don’t seem to realize that naturalism is a positive world view that needs to be argued for just like Christianity, Islam and pantheism. Naturalism is not a negative view like atheism which says that God doesn’t exist. Naturalism makes the very bold claim that the universe and everything in it arose from naturalistic causes. So, when I ask you to defend why you think that naturalism is very highly probable or even just plausible I’m not asking you to prove that supernaturalism is false, I’m asking you why you why any rational person should think that it is likely that the universe and everything in can be explained through naturalistic causes.

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    1. "...and you didn’t even try to refute the argument"

      1. I didn't really read it.
      2. Because it was stupid.

      "I think that the definition of naturalism that you presented is pretty good"

      It came out of the dictionary. I'd hope you like it.

      "you don’t seem to realize that naturalism is a positive world view that needs to be argued for"

      The point of this essay is to explain why I disagree with your claim here and am putting the burden back on you. As for everything that follows this sentence, I explained it in the essay. By rejecting what I said, you're proving my contentions about it being a "useless" defense of naturalism. Thanks.

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  2. The Implausibility of Naturalism:
    To help you see why a theist (or really anyone who follows where reason leads them) finds naturalism so implausible I’ve created a dialogue between Bob and Dan to illustrate my point:

    Bob: “I have some amazing news. Some experts have told me that my great^20 grandfather was not born; he just existed as a brute fact. So, the beginning of my family began with my great^20 grandfather who fathered my great^19 grandfather and eventually my father fathered me.”
    Dan: “Wait a minute, Bob, what you’re saying doesn’t make any sense. We all know that people don’t just exist as brute facts—people are caused to come into being by their parents. Why should I believe your story? Why is your great^20 grandfather existence just a brute fact while everyone is born from their parents.”
    Bob: “Well, my great grandfather is an exception. It’s the only way that the experts could think of to explaining how my family came to be, so the existence of my great^20 grandfather has to be a brute fact.”
    Dan: “Hmm, it sounds like you’re engaging in special pleading.”
    Bob: “Oh no, just because we see that things in the universe have a cause doesn’t mean that everything has a cause. I mean look at subatomic particles they’re popping into and out of existence all the time.”
    Dan: “That’s not really true, just because we can’t KNOW with exact certainty where a given subatomic particle will be at any point it doesn’t follow that the particle is popping into existence uncaused out of nothing. David Albert wrote, ‘Relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical vacuum states — no less than giraffes or refrigerators or solar systems — are particular arrangements of elementary physical stuff. The true relativistic-quantum-field-¬theoretical equivalent to there not being any physical stuff at all isn’t this or that particular arrangement of the fields — what it is (obviously, and ineluctably, and on the contrary) is the simple absence of the fields! The fact that some arrangements of fields happen to correspond to the existence of particles and some don’t is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that some of the possible arrangements of my fingers happen to correspond to the existence of a fist and some don’t. And the fact that particles can pop in and out of existence, over time, as those fields rearrange themselves, is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that fists can pop in and out of existence, over time, as my fingers rearrange themselves. And none of these poppings — if you look at them aright — amount to anything even remotely in the neighborhood of a creation from nothing.’ So, subatomic particles are not an exception to the rule that physical things like your great grandfather have a cause. Do you actually have any scientific proof that your great grandfather existed as a brute fact?”
    Bob: “No, but look at the success of science, scientists will one day explain how my great grandfather was not born and yet is the cause of my family.”
    Dan: “Just because science has successfully explained many things it doesn’t mean that it will explain how your grandfather was not born. Besides, I thought that you said the uncaused existence of your great grandfather was just a brute fact. Brute facts have no explanation.”
    Bob: “See, there it is! My great grandfather just exists as a brute fact. Just wait someday science will prove me right.”
    Dan: “Well, Bob, that may be so, but I find your story to be wildly improbable.”

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  3. So, whether it is the universe itself or subatomic particles and the natural laws I think we should regard the claim that any of these objects exist as brute facts as implausible. There is nothing in the nature of these things that are necessary—all could very conceivably not exist. We also know that everything we see around us has a cause of its existence—even the elements did not exist prior to the big bang.

    Add to that the fact that as Alexander Vilenkin has said, "All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning." This means that either a) the universe popped into existence uncaused out nothing which is a ridiculous notion, b) contingent objects such as subatomic particles, which just exist as brute facts, are the cause of the universe or c) a necessarily existent, uncaused, immaterial agent caused the universe to come into being. I think that c is by far the most plausible scenario.

    Keep in mind that we’ve only talked about the origin of the universe, we haven’t even gotten to how, given naturalism, consciousness could plausibly come from non-consciousness; how we could ground seemingly existent objective morals and duties; how given, eliminative materialism, we can explain how people can seemingly think about things and process propositions; or why we would should, despite extraordinarily small odds, think that the fine tuning we see in the universe arose from mere chance. This is not even an exhaustive list, I didn’t even mention the question of why there is something rather than nothing, nor did I mention the low probability that we can trust our cognitive faculties given naturalism.

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    1. "We also know that everything we see around us has a cause of its existence"

      Everything we see is also part of the universe, so you have not demonstrated that the universe is the same kind of thing as the things within it. Russell's Paradox indicates it probably can't be. We've covered this before, and it's covered in my book, which I'm assuming you still haven't bothered to read, although you persist in claiming to understand what I'm arguing.

      "All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning."

      In a manner of speaking. We have an utter epistemic wall when the microwave background becomes opaque. We know that under the conditions earlier than that that the natural laws we see now cannot hold. We have no good guesses as to what went on then. This is not an excuse to claim something we don't know, especially when that something is a magic entity.

      "a necessarily existent, uncaused, immaterial agent caused the universe to come into being"

      This is bullshit. Agency is completely unwarranted. Indeed, it's incoherent. Also, you don't know that something caused the universe. See my previous point about Russell's Paradox.

      "Keep in mind that we’ve only talked about the origin of the universe..."

      Supernaturalism doesn't explain any of the stuff that follows this statement either except that you just lie and say that it does. You call it God? I call bullshit. It was a magic dragon. Prove me wrong.

      Also, it is not incumbent upon anyone to give you endless explanations for everything you don't understand for them to tell you that your insertion of a deity as an "answer" is very probably wrong (and utterly useless).

      We've been over this before. I don't respond to you anymore because *we've been over it before* and yet you keep spouting this stuff at me.

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  4. Your Circular Reasoning Regarding Naturalism:
    You wrote, “There is evidence for nature. In fact, given what we're calling nature is all we ever see, all we have is evidence for the natural.” The problem with this statement is that you’re assuming what you’re trying to prove. How is that everything has a natural cause? Because there are natural causes. Repeat the infinite loop. You’re just begging the question that everything has a natural cause.

    Besides, the Apostle Paul looked at the natural world and concluded, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse (Romans 1:20).” So, which interpretation of the data is correct? That’s where philosophy and science come in.

    A Rigged Game:
    You wrote, “All he has to do is show us anything supernatural. We have all the evidence in the universe, literally, for the natural. If someone wants to overturn that, let him show us something supernatural,” but as any unbiased person can see what you are asking is impossible if we begin with the assumption that naturalism is true. As I pointed out earlier, it questionable whether naturalism is even plausible, but what’s more, asking me to prove that something supernatural has occurred, given that assumption that naturalism is true, is just as ridiculous as asking someone to put a fully inflated NBA regulation basketball through a hoop that is one inch in diameter—it simply can’t be done as this is a rigged game! By definition any supernatural occurrence, whether or not it actually occurred, is ruled out as impossible.

    As a Christian, I would argue that the historical evidence of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is that supernatural event that would prove that naturalism is false. However, if we are assuming that naturalism is true then it is impossible to prove to you that Christ arose from the dead because any natural explanation no matter how unlikely or ad hoc will be accepted because the supernatural explanation is by definition impossible. No wonder that naturalistic explanations have had such a great track record—they always win be default due the question begging assumption that naturalism is true!

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    1. "The problem with this statement is that you’re assuming what you’re trying to prove."

      All of our ideas are based upon axioms, which are statements taken to be self-evidently true. We have good reasons to believe that "nature exists" is a worthy axiom. Everything we think is based upon axioms, so pointing that out fails to get you anywhere. We have no good reasons to believe that a supernatural agent exists, rendering it unworthy as an axiom.

      "By definition any supernatural occurrence, whether or not it actually occurred, is ruled out as impossible."

      I gave an account by which I asserted that naturalism is falsifiable. I would accept many things as evidence of the supernatural. As an example: direct violations of otherwise apparently universal physical laws in response to intercessory prayers.

      The hilarity here is that supernaturalism was the default position for centuries and yet it has still lost to naturalism.

      "As a Christian..."

      This essentially invalidates the sentence immediately following this qualifier.

      "No wonder that naturalistic explanations have had such a great track record—they always win be default due the question begging assumption that naturalism is true!"

      Supernaturalism was the default for centuries. It still lost. The paradigm has now shifted, rendering the burden on the anti-naturalist, squarely defeating your claim of "question begging."

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  5. Regarding Your Serious Questions:
    Why do I “waste” my time thinking, writing, reading and debating about God, the nature of reality; science, metaphysics, epistemology and other philosophical and theological issues? Why does anyone “waste” their time on various hobbies? The answer is that the hobbyist doesn’t see their hobby as a waste of time; they see it as something they love to do. In short, I’m passionate about philosophy and theology. I fall asleep thinking about it and wake up thinking about it. It makes me happy and I feel like it brings me closer to God.

    What’s more, I think that the question of whether or not God exists is the greatest question we face in life. Everything else is a distraction from this ultimate question for the answer to this question determines how we will live our life and answers many of the other important questions.
    I’m not worried about “wasting my time” if naturalism turns out to be true because I don’t think anyone could waste their time given naturalism since all projects would be equally futile. Nothing I do will change the fact that all of humanities great projects would be wiped out of existence as the universe dies of heat death.

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    1. Since you just pulled out Pascal's Wager, more or less, I'm going to claim that I win and be done with this.

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  6. What? Are you serious? This by far the most ridiculous sentence I've read all year, perhaps even this decade! What an incredibly irrational thing to say. First of all, I don't even think you know what Pascal's Wager is as I didn't even mention the high stakes involved rejecting God. Even if I did use Pascal's Wager in my main argument, which I most certainly did not, you can't just declare with one sentence that you one this debate,and still call yourself a rational person. Especially since the alleged use of Pascal's Wager was in a tangential section in response your question about how I spend my time. It has absolutely nothing to do with my main argument and you know it.

    Secondly, did you even bother to read the first 98% of what I wrote? You have no response to it? There are valid points that need to be addressed.

    Come on man, you can do better than this. I still don't think that you are completely irrational, but you need to show me something to keep my faith in you as a thinking person alive. Turn on your brain and use it. You're taking the lazy way out, and I think that you're better than that.

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    1. "Secondly, did you even bother to read the first 98% of what I wrote?"

      Well... technically, I guess, since you say "98%." I read the last comment and I read the rather hilarious conversation comment. Nothing else yet. I might sometime. Maybe something is worth addressing in there.

      By the bye, we've been over this before a few times. I'm surprised you're surprised.

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    2. Okay. I just "did better." I addressed ~98% of the tripe you vomited all over my otherwise interesting (though unnecessary and useless--thanks again for supporting that, by the way) blog essay.

      I'm not the least bit kidding when I say this: never tell me I can't answer your stuff again. Never. And stop wasting my damn time.

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    3. * Note: I recently realized, after scrolling up, that after you told me to stop wasting your damn time that you did eventually respond in a substantive way. Thanks for your response. I'll be responding to your responses. My bad for not realizing until today that you eventually did provide meaningful responses. Although, in my defense, it did seem like you were done talking to me and Blogger's format for replies is pretty wonky.

      By the way, I feel like I was too tough on you following your substance-less responses to my comments. The passionate philosopher forgot about the need to be civil in dialogues. I apologize for my harsh tone.

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  7. Surprised. Try flabbergasted. I was not expecting such an unintelligent and irrational comment to come form a "Bright" who claims to have a Ph.D. I guess I overestimated you as a thinking person. I'm incredibly disappointed in you.

    We haven't been over anything. I have addressed your arguments and you have just yet to address mine.

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    1. Keith you leave the same comments on seemingly every post, so I'm going to help you condense it so you don't waste so much of your time

      1)fine tuning
      2)uncaused cause
      3)you are not as smart as you think you are James

      and now you have so much more time to do other things

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    2. Uncorn, You forgot to mention the abductive argument among a lot things.

      Here is Jame's response to my arguments:
      1)
      2)
      3)

      In other words he has no response. Theism must be highly likely while naturalism is implausible.

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    3. Keith, I urge you to read Richard Carrier on this topic. He has more patience than I do for this kind of discussion, so you can take it up with him. He wrote a defense of naturalism in 2003 that I think you may like to engage.
      http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/rea.html

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  8. or maybe just maybe you didn't like the answer?

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  9. James, the definition of naturalism you offered includes the word "natural" in it. That seems to make it not so good.

    What about Richard Carrier's approach to supernaturalism,
    http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2007/01/defining-supernatural.html

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    1. Hi Paul,

      I appreciate the problem you're pointing at, but essentially every definition I came across for "naturalism" contains the word "natural" or "nature" in it. Perhaps we could do better with the definition given on The Secular Web?

      'As defined by philosopher Paul Draper, naturalism is "the hypothesis that the natural world is a closed system" in the sense that "nothing that is not a part of the natural world affects it." More simply, it is the denial of the existence of supernatural causes. In rejecting the reality of supernatural events, forces, or entities, naturalism is the antithesis of supernaturalism.'

      Of course, you see the same problem there. Of course, I would suggest that this is because we all agree that nature exists, off some completely negligible set of possibilities to which we must give a slight philosophical nod.

      Carrier's definition in that essay you linked is alright--indeed, it's probably fairly close to how I think of the supernatural and thus naturalism--but I don't like his reliance on the word "mental."

      'In short, I argue "naturalism" means, in the simplest terms, that every mental thing is entirely caused by fundamentally nonmental things, and is entirely dependent on nonmental things for its existence. Therefore, "supernaturalism" means that at least some mental things cannot be reduced to nonmental things.'

      His own example of getting Jedi Force powers as an example of a testable supernatural seems to fly in the face of this definition he gives just three paragraphs later as it is something supernatural that depends upon something nonmental.

      I would urge my other commenter here, Keith, to read Carrier's defense of naturalism from 2003 and take the matter up with Carrier if he'd like to dig further. Carrier tends to have more patience for discussions of that type than I do. Here's a link that I'll post in reply to Keith as well.
      http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/rea.html

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    2. In that case, does "natural" mean "observable?" Not sure if this is problematic for mental things.

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    3. I've discussed the matter some with a friend of mine that is a philosopher and received the following comments:

      1. "A working def I use: 'all phenomena are explainable in terms of/reducible to features of the physical world'."
      2. "Actually I think your definition is fine. 'Metaphysical naturalism' is a label."
      3. "'all phenomena are explicable in terms of the natural sciences'."
      4. "Alex Rosenberg calls it 'The view that all there is is fermions & bosons, and what's made of fermions & bosons.'"

      I'm also nearly done reading through the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's entry on Naturalism, which I heartily suggest you check out. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/naturalism/

      Very near the beginning, it states this: "The great majority of contemporary philosophers would happily accept naturalism as just characterized—that is, they would both reject ‘supernatural’ entities, and allow that science is a possible route (if not necessarily the only one) to important truths about the ‘human spirit’."

      It also addresses the question you raise about mental things in Section 1.6 (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/naturalism/#MenProCauCloArg). In very brief, it states that a wide majority of philosophers do not see the mental as being a substantive challenge to naturalism. Particularly, "our rationale for believing in such correlations must be that the causal closure of the physical realm eliminates interactive dualism, whence we infer that mental states can only systematically precede physical effects if they are correlated with the physical causes of those effects."

      I don't think "natural" means "observable," but this gets into the related discussion of realism and irrealism along with reductionism. We might say that notes and timing are observable but that a musical score itself is not, for instance. This point is discussed in Section 1.5, though not as directly as we might like (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/naturalism/#LimSup).

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  10. Keith, let's leave the idea of naturalism to one side and think instead about regularity. The only knowledge that we have of the world is based on regularity. Without regularity there would be no knowledge. The obvious demonstration of this is in science. Objects fall at the same rate under the force of gravity. Water boils at the same temperature, etc. Then we find exceptions to these regularities. The orbit of Mercury seems not to fit the expected pattern. This irregularity then leads us to a new theory which has a new set of regularities.

    I think we can agree that the supposed resurrection of Jesus doesn't lead us to a new theory of biology. If it happened then it will never be explained scientifically. From my point of view the resurrection would be a violation of regularity. It's not an apparent violation of regularity, like the orbit of Mercury, which leads us to a new set of regularities. Now you might say that it is, that miracles point to a higher level of reality, the reality of God.

    But that won't do. The reason why it won't do is that at the level of God there is no regularity at all. If there was then we would be able to observe it systematically. We would be able to test it. And that's precisely what we can't do with God. Therefore we have no choice but to reject the idea of God.

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    1. Thomas, I think you’ve pointed to yet another reason why we should think that theism is likely while naturalism is implausible. On the naturalistic view, the universe somehow arose out of randomness and chaos, and then just by sheer chance, in the absence of any design, became the highly regular, repeatable and testable universe that we observe today. Why should anyone think that it’s plausible that regularity would come out of un-designed randomness and chaos? On the other hand, the idea that an uncaused, necessarily existent, good and powerful agent caused the universe and arranged it in a way that it would behave in a regular, repeatable manner so that it would one day be amenable to life is much more likely. There would be designed order coming from order. In fact, science began in the West from the theistic belief that God established the natural order which behaves in a repeatable, testable manner. The idea that a good God exists who created the universe so as to be repeatable inoculated early scientists against Descartes’ evil demon who would deceive humans into thinking that the world is different than it appears. A good God would not deceive us into thinking that we live in the world we perceive when in actuality we don’t.

      I basically agree with your claim that the resurrection would not lead us to a new theory of biology, but I would phrase the resurrection of Christ as a momentary and local suspension of the natural order that God established.

      However, I reject your assertion that we should reject God. As I argued earlier, the idea that the order and regularity we observe in the universe arose from God is more likely than the idea that the regularity we see arose out of un-designed random, chaos. The fact that God, as an agent who arranged the natural order, could at any time momentarily suspend that natural order he established, doesn’t invalidate the fact that God established a highly ordered universe. By definition miracles are very rare occurrences. Miracle claims tend to surround theologically significant events where God is making a statement about himself and his power. Just because God could momentarily suspend gravity or prevent a pot of water from boiling over a roaring flame doesn’t mean that we should doubt that keys will fall out of our hand or that our spaghetti won’t boil because we have no good reason to think that God would randomly and capriciously suspend the natural order. In fact, if we could somehow conclusively prove that naturalism is false, I think that scientists should still presume naturalism in the sense that they assume that God won’t capriciously mess with the results of their experiments. An entity that would capriciously thwart experiments would be a something like a gremlin; it would not be the good God that established a universe that displays regularity.

      Moreover, you seem to be rejecting the idea of God because he is an agent, and agents are not as predictable as struck billiard balls. Following this line of reasoning we should say that humans are agents who don’t always behave in a predictable manner. Since humans don’t always act in a predictable manner we should reject the idea of humans. I think that we should be able to agree that this line of reasoning leads us to a ridiculous conclusion.

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    2. Keith, thanks for the reply. Let's leave aside for the moment the question of why the Universe exists and focus on how we understand the day to day functioning of the Universe. I think we agree that that understanding depends on the regularity and order of the Universe. You think that the order and regularity themselves depend on God. The problem for you, as I see it, is that you need to go beyond this. It's not enough to say that God created and sustains the Universe. You also believe in a God who intervenes.

      That is where the problems start. When we try to understand a God who intervenes we can't use the normal methods that allow us to acquire knowledge. As I've said, our normal method of acquiring knowledge is to look for regularities. We can't do that with God. For example, Scandinavian countries are the most Godless countries in the world. In the Old Testament people's lack of faith is punished by natural disasters. But we don't see a great increase in natural disasters in Scandinavia.

      Instead we have one-off events, miracles. Or rather, we have claims of miracles. The are two problems with miracles, in my opinion. The first, obviously, is that they may not be what they seem. The second is more interesting. You said in your reply that I am rejecting the idea of God because he is an agent, and agents, including ourselves, are not as predictable as billiard balls. The problem with miracles, or rather with reports of miracles, is that they don't allow us to build up a coherent picture of the agent who supposedly performs them. Even though our own actions are often unpredictable and senseless there is still enough coherence in our actions to allow us to understand each other. There is also the fact that we are embodied creatures. Even though our behaviour may not always make sense, at least we are in no doubt that our behaviour actually is our behaviour. That's because we can actually see each other carrying out our actions.

      We can't know God the way we know each other, and we can't know God by using our normal methods to study the world. Therefore, we have to give up on the idea of God.

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    3. Thomas Fenton wrote: “You think that the order and regularity themselves depend on God. The problem for you, as I see it, is that you need to go beyond this. It's not enough to say that God created and sustains the Universe.
      You also believe in a God who intervenes.

      That is where the problems start. When we try to understand a God who intervenes we can't use the normal methods that allow us to acquire knowledge. As I've said, our normal method of acquiring knowledge is to look for regularities.”

      It doesn’t follow that because God could potentially intervene at anytime that we can’t make sense of the world. As I said before miracles, if they occur, are rare occurrences. They would be a momentary suspension of the natural order that God established. Instead of presupposing naturalism, which is questionable, I propose that we presuppose natural orderism. Natural orderism would look very similar to naturalism, especially in the day-to-day situations which we’re talking about. Scientific explanations for natural phenomena would hold. One of the key differences with naturalism is that it would not presuppose that supernatural phenomena are impossible. Instead, potential deviations from the natural order would be suspiciously investigated to see if they are potentially of supernatural origin.

      We also need to realize that performing miracles is not the only way that God could intervene in the world, in fact I would say that most times he wouldn't intervene in this way. God can answer many prayers through natural means such introducing a thought into someones mind or arranging the world in such a way that a prayer could be answered.

      Thomas Fenton wrote: “We can't know God the way we know each other, and we can't know God by using our normal methods to study the world. Therefore, we have to give up on the idea of God.”

      We can’t know God the way we know people because God is indeed different than us, but it doesn’t follow that we can’t know anything about him. We can gain a lot of information about God through natural and special revelation. I believe that once this life is over that I’ll come to a vastly better understanding of who God is.

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    4. Keith, natural orderism is a good start. We should assume that the world is a place of order and regularity. What about the supernatural? I don't rule out the supernatural, I just expect that supernatural events should follow a regular pattern. If supernatural events don't follow a regular pattern, if they happen at random, then we have a big problem. That's because we expect to see apparent deviations from the natural course of events due to chance. If, for example, you carry out enough experiments on the speed of neutrinos then you will end up with one that shows neutrinos travelling faster than light, because of chance or experimental error.

      Now you might say that supernatural events aren't random, that they do follow a pattern but it's one that we aren't aware of. Unfortunately, that doesn't solve the problem. Consider this scenario: an aeroplane with a hundred passengers crashes. God decides to save one of those passengers. God does this for a particular reason which we can never know about. The problem is that because we don't know God's reason for performing this miracle then from our point of view God's decision is random.

      Therefore we have a choice between interpreting the event as a random deviation from the course of nature and interpreting the event as a random event within the course of nature. The latter interpretation will always be the more reasonable.

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    5. Well, Thomas, you comments point out the need for us to establish some guidelines for establishing when a deviation from the natural order is a supernatural event or miracle. The first guideline is that we must establish is whether the event is physically impossible. That is to say that this isn’t just a one-off incident, but a clear suspension of the natural order. An example would be someone who has been dead for several days who then gets up and walks around, and is observed by several people. Once we have established that a physically impossible event has occurred we can then move on to the second guideline which is establish whether or not there is some sort of theological significance attached to the physically impossible event. For example if someone prayed for their clearly dead friend, and that friend got up and started walking around then we would have good reason to say that the natural order has been suspended supernaturally.

      To test these claims we could borrow the concept of the null hypothesis from statistics (and our friend James). The null hypothesis would be that the established natural order remained unsuspended. The alternative hypothesis is that the natural order did not remain unsuspended. If there is a high level of confidence that both of the guidelines have been met then this is enough information to reject the null hypothesis and support the claim that the supernatural event occurred. If the guidelines are not met then there is not enough information to reject the null hypothesis, and so there is not enough information to support the claim that a supernatural event occurred. This of course doesn’t mean that a supernatural event didn’t occur; it just means that we don’t have enough information to establish that it did. If there is rock solid evidence that guideline number one was met then we might be able to reject that null hypothesis in that case as well.

      With the very limited information you have given me about your jet crash scenario I would preliminarily say that it looks like we won’t be able to reject the null hypothesis as it would be difficult to establish that a physically impossible event occurred.

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  11. Keith, methodological naturalism is the minimum for naturalism, and I don't think it has formed (through science) a firm conclusion as to how the order we see occurs, although work in that regard is being done, see Lawrence Krauss' "A Universe From Nothing."

    Also, we'd have to be careful about *assuming* order can't come from disorder, in much the same way that we used to assume that something couldn't come from nothing (defined as an empty vacuum) because quantum physics now demonstrates that particles do pop in & out of existence.

    Furthermore, if the presence of order in the universe poses a problem for naturalism (granting that for the sake of argument), then the presence of disorder in the universe would pose a problem for a designer, wouldn't it? We can't hypothesize that the designer is constrained to introduce disorder into the universe, because we are left with the problem of where the constraint came from.

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    1. Paul Rinzler wrote: “Also, we'd have to be careful about *assuming* order can't come from disorder, in much the same way that we used to assume that something couldn't come from nothing (defined as an empty vacuum) because quantum physics now demonstrates that particles do pop in & out of existence.”

      I never said that order can’t come from disorder. My argument is that it is implausible that order comes from disorder, and that it is likely that order comes from designed order.

      As to the quantum vacuum, David Albert of Columbia wrote, “Relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical vacuum states — no less than giraffes or refrigerators or solar systems — are particular arrangements of elementary physical stuff. The true relativistic-quantum-field-¬theoretical equivalent to there not being any physical stuff at all isn’t this or that particular arrangement of the fields — what it is (obviously, and ineluctably, and on the contrary) is the simple absence of the fields! The fact that some arrangements of fields happen to correspond to the existence of particles and some don’t is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that some of the possible arrangements of my fingers happen to correspond to the existence of a fist and some don’t. And the fact that particles can pop in and out of existence, over time, as those fields rearrange themselves, is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that fists can pop in and out of existence, over time, as my fingers rearrange themselves. And none of these poppings — if you look at them aright — amount to anything even remotely in the neighborhood of a creation from nothing.”

      Paul Rinzler wrote: “Furthermore, if the presence of order in the universe poses a problem for naturalism (granting that for the sake of argument), then the presence of disorder in the universe would pose a problem for a designer, wouldn't it? We can't hypothesize that the designer is constrained to introduce disorder into the universe, because we are left with the problem of where the constraint came from.”

      I wouldn’t say that the designer introduced disorder, say in the form of entropy, I would say that it flows out of the workings of the natural order he established. I don’t see how this is a problem.

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    2. 1. On what basis do you say it is implausible that order can't come from disorder? All it takes is energy and the laws of physics, back at the Big Bang. I have to confess, though, that I'm going to hit my limit as a physics expert pretty quickly.

      2. I am not a physicist, so I will have to leave the physics controversy between Lawrence Krauss and David Albert.

      3. I'm not clear on the difference between "a designer introducing disorder" and "[disorder] flows out of the workings of the natural order he established." They seem to be different ways of saying the same thing.

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    3. Paul Rinzler said: “On what basis do you say it is implausible that order can't come from disorder? All it takes is energy and the laws of physics, back at the Big Bang.”

      Natural laws and physical constants can bring order, but where do these laws and constants come from? And why these laws and not some other laws? There is nothing in the laws or constants themselves that would make us think that they had to be the way they are. They could be slightly different, vastly different; or not exist at all. And yet we see that the universe is highly ordered and can support life. It is highly, highly improbable that the physical constants and laws just happen to be as they are. It is much more likely that they have been designed this way by God.

      Paul Rinzler said: “I'm not clear on the difference between ‘a designer introducing disorder’ and "[disorder] flows out of the workings of the natural order he established.’ They seem to be different ways of saying the same thing.”

      Disorder comes out of the work of enclosed systems. For example disorder is accumulating as our Sun performs fusion. This disorder is to be expected, and does not negate the overwhelming order we see in the universe. If the initial state of the universe had not displayed as much order as it did we wouldn’t be here to observe it and study it.

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  12. James A. Lindsay wrote: “Everything we see is also part of the universe, so you have not demonstrated that the universe is the same kind of thing as the things within it…In a manner of speaking. We have an utter epistemic wall when the microwave background becomes opaque. We know that under the conditions earlier than that that the natural laws we see now cannot hold. We have no good guesses as to what went on then. This is not an excuse to claim something we don't know, especially when that something is a magic entity.”

    So, we’re basically back to the idea that the universe exists as a brute fact. There is nothing in the making or concept of the universe that would make us say that it is a necessarily existent object, so it is a contingent material object just like elements, people, trees and cars. And yet, without any scientific evidence you’re trying to tell me that the universe is somehow an exception to the axiom that contingent things have causes.

    It astounds me that you say that I’m positing a “magic” entity out of our ignorance about the state before the big bang, and yet out of our ignorance you’re posting that a material, contingent, object that exists uncaused as a brute fact. What could be more “magical” than an uncaused contingent object? You’ve provided no arguments as to why you place such high probability on such a speculative idea as an uncased, contingent object that exists as a brute fact.

    James A. Lindsay wrote: “This is bullshit. Agency is completely unwarranted. Indeed, it's incoherent.”

    How so? This is just an assertion at this point.

    James A. Lindsay wrote: “Supernaturalism doesn't explain any of the stuff that follows this statement either except that you just lie and say that it does. You call it God? I call bullshit. It was a magic dragon. Prove me wrong.”

    Wow, I’ve been charged with lying. You’ve said before that the charge of lying is a serious one that demands some proof. What proof do you have that I’m lying? Well, I can tell you that I’m not lying. I sincerely believe that theism is more plausible than naturalism—that, that is where the evidence should lead us.

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    1. "So, we’re basically back to the idea that the universe exists as a brute fact."

      Yup. And there's evidence for the universe.
      You're suggesting, alternatively, the existence of a God as a brute fact, and there's no evidence for that God. You do this by including the word in your definition for God, but that doesn't change the fact.

      "What could be more “magical” than an uncaused contingent object?"

      Again, calling the universe an object is a category error that falls afoul of Russell's Paradox. When I urged you to read my book repeatedly before, it wasn't to sell it. It was so you actually know what I've said about these things.

      "You’ve provided no arguments as to why you place such high probability on [the universe as a natural phenomenon]."

      Yes I have. Evidence. Evidence. Evidence. It's here.
      Add parsimony. Stir seven times clockwise, once counterclockwise.

      "How so? This is just an assertion at this point."

      Agency here is another bald assertion on your part in your definition for God. It is not parsimonious. It is also incoherent to suggest agency for an immaterial entity that existed before anything existed.

      "Wow, I’ve been charged with lying."

      Maybe lying is too strong. I apologize. You're deluded and deceived, then.

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  13. As to the magic dragon, I would say that if the magic dragon is the cause of the universe and everything in it; motion, teleology, objective morals and duties; and consciousness then this dragon is/was eternal, has aseity; exists necessarily; is immaterial; is extraordinarily powerful; is good; and is an agent that possess consciousness. Basically, what you’re describing is God. So, if one says that God or the magic dragon are the cause of the aforementioned things I don’t think that it’s any different than saying that Ted Williams or the Splendid Splinter is the baseball player who played for the Boston Red Sox and who hit .344 and had 521 homeruns in his career. God and the magic dragon are the same entity just as Ted Williams and the Splendid Splinter are the same entity.

    James A. Lindsay wrote: “All of our ideas are based upon axioms, which are statements taken to be self-evidently true. We have good reasons to believe that "nature exists" is a worthy axiom. Everything we think is based upon axioms, so pointing that out fails to get you anywhere. We have no good reasons to believe that a supernatural agent exists, rendering it unworthy as an axiom.”

    You’re equivocating the natural with naturalism here. It is axiomatic that a repeatable, testable world exists outside of our minds. It is not axiomatic or obviously true to all rational people that the universe and anything in it can be explained through purely natural means. Remember that axioms are foundational uncontroversial claims that basically everyone should affirm in order to reason, such as we can generally trust our senses.

    I never said that supernaturalism is an axiom. I’m looking at the state of the world and conclude that God is the best explanation for many aspects of the world around us. It’s an inductive argument that contains deductive reasoning based on axioms.

    James A. Lindsay wrote: “I gave an account by which I asserted that naturalism is falsifiable. I would accept many things as evidence of the supernatural. As an example: direct violations of otherwise apparently universal physical laws in response to intercessory prayers.”

    Sure you said that, but you and I both know that, if you presume that naturalism is true, then you don’t really mean it. If someone starts with the assumption that naturalism is true then highly advanced aliens who traveled millions of light years and zapped someone with a healing ray is more plausible than God healed someone because God healing someone is by definition impossible under naturalism. As I said before, what you’re asking for is impossible.

    James A. Lindsay wrote: "’As a Christian...’

    This essentially invalidates the sentence immediately following this qualifier.”

    This is the ad hominem fallacy. My status as a Christian doesn’t invalidate my argument. Attack the argument not the man.

    James A. Lindsay wrote: "’...and you didn’t even try to refute the argument’

    1. I didn't really read it.
    2. Because it was stupid.”

    Is this something a rational person would say? If you didn’t read my argument then how did you know that it is “stupid”?

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    1. "As to the magic dragon..."

      LOL, you tried to prove it wrong. All you can do here is special pleading for your view over the magic dragon, though. Didn't we already do this with the Pink Invisible Unicorn a few times? Do it again. It's hilarious. Also, to claim that the magic dragon I suggested (without the details you've hammered into it) is identical to God, you need a uniqueness proof. Might as well just cram that word into your ad hoc definition because you can't produce one of those either.

      "axioms are foundational uncontroversial claims"

      Like the axiom of infinity? Like the axiom of choice? Don't think so. Your definition is playing to your convenience.

      "conclude that God is the best explanation for many aspects of the world around us."

      No, it's the best explanation you can conceive of for various philosophical problems. It isn't needed at all for any aspect of the world around you.

      "As I said before, what you’re asking for is impossible."

      Again, no it isn't. I've made this clear more than once now. This is why I accuse of of wasting my time. This is why I called this debate "unendable." This is why I called this essay "unnecessary" and "useless."

      "This is the ad hominem fallacy."

      See the "you would say that" clause that validates the use of ad hominem claims. You being a Christian and then asserting Christian beliefs falls plainly under this umbrella. Also, see the word "essentially." I used it on purpose.

      "Is this something a rational person would say?"

      Yes.

      "If you didn’t read my argument then how did you know that it is “stupid”?"

      Extensive experience, at this point. You're ruining any hope of having any reputation with me. That's important for even being given an audience. *That is how the world, and people in it, work.*

      Continue to wear upon my patience to your own peril of being marginalized and completely ignored.

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    1. James A. Lindsay wrote: “Yup. And there's evidence for the universe.
      You're suggesting, alternatively, the existence of a God as a brute fact, and there's no evidence for that God. You do this by including the word in your definition for God, but that doesn't change the fact.”

      Sure, there’s evidence for the universe and for the fact that it is ~13.7 billion years old, we both agree on that, but where we don’t agree is what the cause or lack-there-of, of the universe is. You said it yourself that we don’t know what existed prior to the big bang. You wrote, “We have an utter epistemic wall when the microwave background becomes opaque. We know that under the conditions earlier than that that the natural laws we see now cannot hold. We have no good guesses as to what went on then.” We don’t know that the universe or that the quantum vacuum and natural laws exist as eternal brute facts. And yet, out of this ignorance, you’re asserting the metaphysically dubious notion of a contingent object that exists eternally as a brute fact. Experience shows that contingent objects have causes, and I don’t see any reason to think that the universe is an exception. It is possible that the universe exists as brute fact, but I don’t think it’s likely.

      No, I don’t think that God exists as a brute fact; God exists through the necessity of his nature, and there are good reasons to think that this is true. The first reason is that God needs absolutely nothing in order to exist. Material objects, like the universe and everything in it, need matter and space in order to exist, but God who is an immaterial un-embodied mind doesn’t need any of these things in order to exist. God could exist in a possible world where there is nothing other than him.

      The second reason is that if God is to be the cause of all contingent objects then he must exist eternally as an uncaused being who possesses pure actuality. If, as seems to be the case, contingent objects need to be caused or actualized then there must be an uncaused cause to actualize all the contingent states. Even an actual infinite regress of contingent cause and effect would run into the problem of the first contingent object not having anything to actualize it. Think of a train with an infinite number of box cars, without an engine to actualize the movement of the box cars they could not move. If there is to be anything at all it seems highly likely that there must exist an uncaused cause that actualizes the contingent world we see around us.

      James A. Lindsay wrote: “Again, calling the universe an object is a category error that falls afoul of Russell's Paradox.”

      If the universe is not a concrete material object then I don’t know what it is. In regards to what objects are Ernst Tugendhat says that, “Now what is meant by the word ‘object’? This word too, in the comprehensive sense in which it is used in philosophy, is a term of art. In ordinary language we are inclined to call only material objects… objects, and not e.g. events or numbers… What is meant by ‘objects’ in philosophy has its basis in … what we mean by the word ‘something’… There is a class of linguistic expressions which are used to stand for an object; and here we can only say: to stand for something. These are the expressions which can function as the sentence-subject in so-called singular predicative statements and which in logic have also been called singular terms…”( http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/object/).

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    1. James A. Lindsay wrote: “Yes I have. Evidence. Evidence. Evidence. It's here.
      Add parsimony. Stir seven times clockwise, once counterclockwise.”

      All you have is evidence that the universe currently exists and the questionable notion that the universe has eternally existed as a brute fact. You certainly don’t have parsimony. As was said above, we don’t really know what existed prior to the big bang, and as I said on the last thread, current scientific research shows that the oscillating model you seem to be alluding to is a nonstarter. As to parsimony, in addition to presupposing the universe’s existence you must also presuppose that matter, energy, and the natural laws all exist as contingent brute facts. On the other hand, all I need to do is presuppose that God exists necessarily through his own nature—that’s three less things.

      James A. Lindsay wrote: “Agency here is another bald assertion on your part in your definition for God. It is not parsimonious. It is also incoherent to suggest agency for an immaterial entity that existed before anything existed.”

      First of all, it makes to say that what caused or world to exist is an agent because agents have intentionality and can decide to do things like create a universe.

      Secondly, although the concept of an un-embodied mind may be foreign it is hardly incoherent. Also, there are some indications that there may be an immaterial aspect to our mind. According to Alex Rosenberg the neural circuitry of the brain can’t process and store propositions and can’t have intentionality, and yet we can do math, philosophy and science using propositions and intentionality.

      James A. Lindsay wrote: “Maybe lying is too strong. I apologize. You're deluded and deceived, then.”

      Thanks for the apology. It is accepted as I think that we’ve both pushed the boundaries of decency at various times during the course of this contentious debate.

      That’s funny; I would say that you’re mistaken and deceived.

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    1. James A. Lindsay wrote: “LOL, you tried to prove it wrong. All you can do here is special pleading for your view over the magic dragon, though. Didn't we already do this with the Pink Invisible Unicorn a few times?”

      I stand by the magic dragon’s deduced qualities. If the magic dragon is the cause of the aforementioned list then you have very special and powerful being.

      No, the Pink Invisible Unicorn canard is totally different than the magic dragon. The pink unicorn could either exist or not. It’s a contingent being that explains nothing and causes nothing. On the other hand, you said that the magic dragon is the best explanation for the aforementioned list of things. If the dragon is the best explanation for the list of things then there is good reason to think that its existence is highly likely.

      James A. Lindsay wrote: "’axioms are foundational uncontroversial claims’

      Like the axiom of infinity? Like the axiom of choice? Don't think so. Your definition is playing to your convenience.”

      This is false. “The Philosopher’s Toolkit,” says “An axiom is a proposition that acts as a special kind of premise in a specific kind of rational system…They are simply the bedrock of the theoretical system, the basis from which, through various steps of deductive reasoning, the rest of the system is derived. In ideal circumstances, an axiom should be such that no rational agent could possibly object to its use.” The authors go on to say that one type of axiom is a tautology such as the classic example of “all unmarried men are bachelors.” Most axioms are just true by definition. They then talk about the second type of axiom which is the mathematical kind you are very familiar with.

      I really shouldn’t have to say this, but you’re suspicious of bias, so I will; “The Philosopher’s Toolkit” was co-written by Julian Baggini who is a known atheist. You should be able to trust this definition.

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  18. Well, folks I think that this debate has about run out of steam. We've gone back and forth several times now, and have covered a lot of territory. I'm pretty much ready to bow out now. Thanks for the dialogue. It was a good debate where both sides argued vigorously for their position.

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