Mile-High Reviews: The Blackwell companion to Natural Theology, part 3

Ok, here’s episode 3 of the Mile-High Reviews, William Lane Craig’s presentation of the kalam argument. As an usual disclaimer, I’m neither a philosopher nor a theologian…nor a physicist, thinking about it.

The cosmological argument is a family of arguments that seek to demonstrate the existence of a Sufficient Reason or First Cause of the existence of the cosmos. The roll of the defenders of this argument reads like a Who’s Who of Western philosophy: Plato, Aristotle, ibn Sina, al-Ghazali, Maimonides, Anselm, Aquinas, Scotus, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, and Locke, to name but some.

…Couldn’t you finish your introduction before tripping a fallacy?!? Because that appeal to authority is all good and well, but geocentrism can claim as lofty a list of defenders.

Then, like Mr. Pruss, Mr. Craig listed the various kinds of cosmological arguments and then went on to describe the kalam argument’s history. Following that historical digression, he started with the kalam argument’s outline, to wit:

10. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
20. The universe began to exist.
30. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Before treating each step separately starting, for the needs of his presentation — in his words, “since some attempts to subvert (10) are based upon cosmogonic theories – the discussion of which would be premature prior to their introduction in our treatment of (20)” — by the part about the second step.

So first is step two, which he begins by presenting a few traditional arguments against, beginning by the argument from the impossibility of an actual infinite, which he describes thus:

  1. An actual infinite cannot exist.
  2. An infinite temporal regress of events is an actual infinite.
  3. Therefore, an infinite temporal regress of events cannot exist.

Ok, so he starts by some definitions: an actual infinite is the likes of ℵ0 or ℵ1. That is, a defined infinite — well, transfinite really — quantity in contrast to ∞ which is a potential infinite.

Unfortunately, Cantor’s notion of a set as any logical collection was soon found to spawn various contradictions or antinomies within the naive set theory that threatened to bring down the whole structure. As a result, most mathematicians have renounced a definition of the general concept of set and chosen instead an axiomatic approach to set theory, by means of which the system is erected upon several given, undefined concepts formulated into axioms.

At the end of the day, all mathematics deals in axiomatic systems about concepts though, so I’m not sure where that “renouncement” comes from: any concept in mathematics is defined relative to a given axiomatic system.

Next up is exist, which he defines as “instantiated outside a mind”, that is if things outside the mathematical theory defining the concept matches up with it. Fair enough, even if he gives the game away a bit that he uses this one because mathematical existence is perfectly happy with an actual infinite (in his words, «We thereby hope to differentiate the sense in which existence is denied to the actual infinite in (211) from what is often called “mathematical existence.”»), it’s still fair enough. The modality he goes for exist is metaphysical modality, which is broader than broad logical possibility (i.e. strict logical possibility augmented by the meaning of terms in the sentence within the scope of the modal operator) which, as he admits, cuts both ways: that makes an argument based on it terribly subjective compared to ones based on strict — or indeed broad — logical possibility but he needs the less narrow modality for his argument to take off so one does what one has to… The upside though is that it also makes the argument more resilient to punts such as the states of affairs his argument goes against not being proven logically inconsistent, there’s always that.

Then, defining event, which is defined as a change of non-zero duration. And, on his redefinition of the question in (212) (paraphrasing, is there a first event not preceded by a duration equal to it) — specifically the footnote “This criterion allows that there may be events of shorter duration prior to the first standard event. By stipulating as one’s standard event a shorter interval, these can be made arbitrarily brief.” — doesn’t he runs head along against quantum mechanics which state that no event as above defined will take less than a Planck interval? But that’s not overly important if the ability to make events previous to the first standard one as short as needed isn’t used though.

The best way to support (211) is by way of thought experiments that illustrate the various absurdities that would result if an actual infinite were to be instantiated in the real world. Benardete, who is especially creative and effective at concocting such thought experiments, puts it well: “Viewed in abstracto, there is no logical contradiction involved in any of these enormities; but we have only to confront them in concreto for their outrageous absurdity to strike us full in the face”

That the consequences of a given concept go against our common sense is not exactly that good a tool in an universe where quantum mechanics is a good way to describe some phenomena though, just saying. It’s true that Hilbert’s Hotel seems absurd, but then, so does the double-slit experiment.

Partisans of the actual infinite might concede the absurdity of a Hilbert’s Hotel but maintain that this case is somehow peculiar and, therefore, its metaphysical impossibility warrants no inference that an actual infinite is metaphysically impossible. […] Thus, thought experiments of this sort show, in general, that it is impossible for an actually infinite number of things to exist in reality. At this point, the actual infinitist has little choice but, in Oppy’s words, simply to “embrace the conclusion of one’s opponent’s reductio ad absurdum argument” (Oppy 2006a, p. 48). Oppy explains, “these allegedly absurd situations are just what one ought to expect if there were … physical infinities” (Oppy 2006a, p. 48). […] Rather the question is whether these consequences really are absurd. Sobel similarly observes that such thought experiments bring into conflict two “seemingly innocuous” principles, namely,

(i) There are not more things in a multitude M than there are in a multitude M′ if there is a one-to-one correspondence of their members.


(ii) There are more things in M than there are in M′ if M′ is a proper submultitude of M.

Mind, real infinitists have another choice: admit the absurdity, like Mr. Oppy, but go for broke, embrace it to the fullest and go “so what?” in answer to that appeal to consequences. I mean, we are in a universe where, at latest physics, adding to a physical quantity doesn’t change it, time can act like space, and dead-alive cats are a sane thought experiment amongst other silliness. What’s one more absurdity?

The metaphysician wants to know why, in order to resolve the inconsistency among (i)–(iii), it is (ii) that should be jettisoned (or restricted). Why not instead reject or restrict to finite multiplicities (i), which is a mere set-theoretical convention? More to the point, why not reject (iii) instead of the apparently innocuous (i) or (ii)? It certainly lacks the innocuousness of those principles, and giving it up would enable us to affirm both (i) and (ii). Remember: we can “have” comparable infinite multiplicities in mathematics without admitting them into our ontology.

Pragmatism. Or, to be less cheeky, what use is it to throw out (iii) beyond allowing a metaphysical cosmological argument? Because, let’s be serious: for all its claims to go to what underlies everything metaphysics is a modelling venture, same as physics or mathematics. If a given set of principles (aka axioms) is useful, it’s getting used even if the constituent concepts don’t get instantiated in reality (cf. complex numbers). Besides, throwing out (iii) can be seen as exactly as arbitrary as restricting (ii): after all, (ii) is a mere rule from minds hopelessly mired in the finite, human-scale world and throwing out (iii) is only the expression of a metaphysician of limited imagination’s easily bruised sensibilities. (Yes, I’m being of bad faith. But eh, goose, gander and all that.)

In this case, one does wind up with logically impossible situations, such as subtracting identical quantities from identical quantities and finding nonidentical differences.12

12. It will not do, in order to avoid the contradiction, to assert that there is nothing in transfinite arithmetic that forbids using set difference to form sets. Indeed, the thought experiment assumes that we can do such a thing. Removing all the guests in the odd-numbered rooms always leaves an infinite number of guests remaining, and removing all the guests in rooms numbered greater than four always leaves three guests remaining. That does not change the fact that in such cases identical quantities minus identical quantities yields nonidentical quantities, a contradiction.

That’s assuming that properties holding for finite sets ought to hold for infinite ones (i.e. in Mr Craig’s example, for B ⊂ A, card(A \ B) = card(A) – card(B)) though, which is far from given. Besides, the passage from finite to infinite sets is far from the only place where that happens: square matrix’s multiplication isn’t commutative whereas real numbers multiplication is. Natural numbers have a lowest element whereas integral numbers don’t. Et cætera, et cætera. One thing though: I was under the impression that Mr. Craig was ignoring mathematical existence and going for a metaphysical one. What are we doing in that transfinite mathematics jaunt?

If this line of argument were successful, it would, indeed, be a tour de force since it would show mathematical thought from Aristotle to Gauss to be not merely mistaken or incomplete but incoherent in this respect. But the objection is not successful. For the claim that a physical distance is, say, potentially infinitely divisible does not entail that the distance is potentially divisible here and here and here and… Potential infinite divisibility (the property of being susceptible of division without end) does not entail actual infinite divisibility (the property of being composed of an infinite number of points where divisions can be made). The argument that it does is guilty of a modal operator shift, inferring from the true claim

(1) Possibly, there is some point at which x is divided

to the disputed claim

(2) There is some point at which x is possibly divided.

First, that wouldn’t be as much of a prowess as Craig’s implying in that cross between an argument from authority and one from antiquity: Gödel already proved that the bog-standard conceptualisation of arithmetic over natural numbers used by such luminaries — Peano’s — is incoherent and that doesn’t bother mathematicians much after all. Second, I don’t know why but I’m under the impression that Mr Craig added a modal operator here just to sink Rucker’s, Sorabji’s et al argument: given Craig’s description of a potential infinite re. divisibility (being susceptible of division without end), what is that “possibly” doing in (1)? And without that possibly in (1), what’s the problem for going from (1) to (2)? Hell, I’d argue (2) is a better statement of that property in the first place… Now, if Craig were a constructivist, then sure it is there in (1) because potential infinity as stated isn’t actually constructive: how do you get that infinite? But then I doubt Craig is one because a cosmological argument is hardly constructive either: how do you get to that god?

The question arises whether on the A-Theory the series of future events, if time will go on forever, is not also actually infinite.

I love how Mr Craig smuggle in his hypothesises: here, that A-theory of time (roughly, there’s a global clock) is the applicable one for he stays well away from B-theory of time and the series of future events. Because if B-theory (roughly, everything have their own clock) with its ontological parity between past, present and future is the applicable one, a potentially infinite time means an actually infinite series of future events.

Then the second argument for part 2 is an argument from the impossibility of the formation of an actual infinite by successive addition, where Mr. Craig funnily forgets to tell that his demonstration only holds in a A-theory of time. He gives away the plot in a footnote in answer to a counterargument of the “formation of an actual infinite” part†:

17. Richard Gale protests, “This argument depends on an anthropomorphic sense of ‘going through’ a set. The universe does not go through a set of events in the sense of planning which to go through first, in order to get through the second, and so on” (Gale 2007, pp. 92–3). Of course not; but on an A-Theory of time, the universe does endure through successive intervals of time. It arrives at its present event-state only by enduring through a series of prior event-states. Gale’s framing the argument in terms of a “set of events” is maladroit since we are not talking about a set but about a series of events which elapse one after another.

On B-theory though, per Craig’s own presentation of it, there’s no difference between a set and a series of events.

Moreover, Ghazali asks, will the number of completed orbits be even or odd? Either answer seems absurd. We might be tempted to deny that the number of completed orbits is either even or odd. But post-Cantorian transfinite arithmetic gives a quite different answer: the number of orbits completed is both even and odd! For a cardinal number n is even if there is a unique cardinal number m such that n = 2m, and n is odd if there is a unique cardinal number m such that n = 2m + 1. In the envisioned scenario, the number of completed orbits is (in both cases!) ℵ0, and ℵ0 = 2ℵ0 = 2ℵ0 + 1. So Jupiter and Saturn have each completed both an even and an odd number of orbits, and that number has remained equal and unchanged from all eternity, despite their ongoing revolutions and the growing disparity between them over any finite interval of time. This seems absurd.

Sigh… Mr. Craig had a nice rebuttal of the notion that his argument was similar to the long rebutted Zenonian paradox of the Stadium and here he had to say that tripe…parity is a property of integers. Transfinite numbers aren’t members of ℤ, so talking of the parity of ℵ0 pretty much makes as much sense as talking of the parity of ⅓ or π*.

Such reasoning in support of the finitude of the past and the beginning of the universe is not mere armchair cosmology. P. C. W. Davies, for example, utilizes this reasoning in explaining two profound implications of the thermodynamic properties of the universe:

The first is that the universe will eventually die, wallowing, as it were, in its own entropy. This is known among physicists as the ‘heat death’ of the universe. The second is that the universe cannot have existed for ever, otherwise it would have reached its equilibrium end state an infinite time ago. Conclusion: the universe did not always exist. (Davies 1983, p. 11)

The second of these implications is a clear application of the reasoning that underlies the current paradox: even if the universe had infinite energy, it would in infinite time come to an equilibrium since at any point in the past infinite time has elapsed, a beginningless universe would have already reached an equilibrium, or as Davies puts it, it would have reached an equilibrium an infinite time ago. Therefore, the universe began to exist, quod erat demonstrandum.

That’s a fairly good argument, but it presupposes a non-cyclical universe though.

Space does not permit a review of the arguments for and against the A- and B-Theories of time respectively. But on the basis of a case such as is presented by Craig (2000a,b), we take ourselves to be justified in affirming the objective reality of temporal becoming and, hence, the formation of the series of temporal events by successive addition.

I wonder, is that standard operating procedure when pitching one’s own past articles?

Then we get a rather thorough presentation of various cosmological models, where I know enough to know that I’m out of my depth. But, if accurate, that would make Mr. Craig a better physicist than he is a philosopher…

The second, far shorter part, concerns the fact that the universe began to exist and contrarily to Mr. Pruss, Mr. Craig goes on to treat quantum mechanics straight away:

Sometimes it is said that quantum physics furnishes an exception to the claim that something cannot come into being uncaused out of nothing, since on the subatomic level, so-called “virtual particles” come into being from nothing. In the same way, certain cosmogonic theories are interpreted as showing that the universe could have sprung into being out of the quantum vacuum or even out of nothingness. Thus, the universe is said to be the proverbial “free lunch.” This objection, however, is based on misunderstanding. In the first place, wholly apart from the disputed question of whether virtual particles really exist at all, not all physicists agree that subatomic events are uncaused. A great many physicists today are quite dissatisfied with the traditional Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics and are exploring deterministic theories like that of David Bohm. Indeed, most of the available interpretations of the mathematical formalism of QM are fully deterministic. Quantum cosmologists are especially averse to Copenhagen, since that interpretation in a cosmological context will require an ultramundane observer to collapse the wave function of the universe. Thus, quantum physics hardly furnishes a proven exception to (10). Second, even on the indeterministic interpretation, particles do not come into being out of nothing. They arise as spontaneous fluctuations of the energy contained in the subatomic vacuum, which constitutes an indeterministic cause of their origination. Third, the same point can be made about theories of the origin of the universe out of a primordial vacuum. Popularizers touting such theories as getting “something from nothing” apparently do not understand that the vacuum is not nothing but is a sea of fluctuating energy endowed with a rich structure and subject to physical laws. Such models do not, therefore, involve a true origination ex nihilo.

That would give a cause to virtual particles, but that would still open random happenstance as a valid cause for events but more on that later.

J. L. Mackie […] believes creatio ex nihilo raises problems: (i) If God began to exist at a point in time, then this is as great a puzzle as the beginning of the universe. (ii) Or if God existed for infinite time, then the same arguments would apply to his existence as would apply to the infinite duration of the universe. (iii) If it be said that God is timeless, then this, says Mackie, is a complete mystery.

Mr. Craig did a fair job batting away the first three objections — helped by Mackie missing the opportunity to ask whyever can’t the universe at large be timeless, with time an emergent property of its structure I feel — but the fourth one, I think, is a fail: “there is also an alternative that Mackie failed to consider, namely, (iv) prior to creation God existed in an undifferentiated time in which hours, seconds, days, and so forth simply do not exist”. If that’s a valid dodge for God, why in the nine hells wouldn’t that be one for the universe at large? That would solve a few problems re. entropy for cyclic universes…⁂

And the last one is regarding the Gott and Li hypothesis that the universe created itself, by dint of being stuck in a CTC (Craig’s presentation), which is dismissed by Craig thus:

Thus, the Gott–Li hypothesis presupposes the B-Theory of time. But if one presupposes such a view of time, then Gott and Li’s hypothesis becomes superfluous.

And then by asserting the truth of the A-theory of time. That’s, I feel, a misunderstanding of what question that hypothesis seeks to answer: as Craig himself admits, even B-theory of time has a question to ask re. the beginning of the universe. To wit, “Why is there (tenselessly) something rather than nothing?” and “Because the universe got itself stuck in a time loop” is an answer as any other.

Last part treats of the properties of that First Cause…which, mind, per his own presentation of some beginningless hypothesises might just be an energy source but let’s that pass. Given that just an energy source plugged into the universe and pumping energy in goes against what he wants to prove, he goes straight for personal, powerful, having agency, yadda, yadda, finishing his presentation with Aquinas’s quip that this is what everyone calls God. To which I snidely reply that Azathoth fulfils that description but they’re certainly not what Mr. Craig means by God. Or, less snidely, Brahma. I have one issue though with his presentation, specifically on why should it be personal:

Finally, and most remarkably, such a transcendent cause is plausibly taken to be personal. Three reasons can be given for this conclusion. First, as Richard Swinburne (1991, pp. 32–48) points out, there are two types of causal explanation: scientific explanations in terms of laws and initial conditions and personal explanations in terms of agents and their volitions. For example, in answer to the question, “Why is the kettle boiling?” we might be told, “The heat of the flame is being conducted via the copper bottom of the kettle to the water, increasing the kinetic energy of the water molecules, such that they vibrate so violently that they break the surface tension of the water and are thrown off in the form of steam.” Or alternatively, we might be told, “I put it on to make a cup of tea. Would you like some?” The first provides a scientific explanation, the second a personal explanation. Each is a perfectly legitimate form of explanation; indeed, in certain contexts it would be wholly inappropriate to give one rather than the other. Now a first state of the universe cannot have a scientific explanation, since there is nothing before it, and therefore, it cannot be accounted for in terms of laws operating on initial conditions. It can only be accounted for in terms of an agent and his volitions, a personal explanation.

Very well, but even admitting the contention that the first cause can’t be described by laws of the scientific kind, it doesn’t follow that it has to be personal: Mr. Craig opened random happenstance as a valid kind of cause in his rebuttal that virtual particles and the like are truly causeless. That would fit the bill too‡.

In the end, I find interesting that Craig’s dedicated only a short chapter to some roughly outlined objections by Grünbaum: he put in more space for physics than for objections. Hell, he put in more space for physics than for external supports!

Next up will be Collins for a teleological argument…late May?

*: Let’s be more accurate. It does make sense to speak of the parity of ℵ0, but the definition of parity in the transfinite numbers — or, for that matter, of multiplication and addition — is different from the familiar one from ℤ so Craig’s sketched proof still doesn’t make much sense.
†: To be fair to Mr. Craig, he does admit a few pages later that his kalam argument relies heavily on the A-theory of time being the correct one.
‡: Also, that argument of Mr. Craig to eliminate scientific-style explanation from reckoning — which doesn’t eliminate just there being a limitless source of energy pumping in energy in a brane system or the like mind: no rules, no pesky conservation of energy — requires a “rules acting on conditions” conceptualisation of physical laws. On a “pattern descriptions” one like Carroll’s, that argument is on far shakier grounds.
⁂: More exactly, that solves any entropy- or actual infinite-related issues: no time, no problem with the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Also, if the universe at large is timeless — or in a time conception which doesn’t act like conventional time, which is the same here —, there’s no problems with it having been past-eternal: that doesn’t make sense in such a setting.

Mile-High Reviews: The Blackwell companion to Natural Theology, part 2

Ok, let’s start with episode 2 of the Mile-High Reviews! I’ll continue with William Lane Craig’s & J.P. Moreland’s The Blackwell companion to Natural Theology. As an usual disclaimer, I’m neither a philosopher nor a theologian. It didn’t stop some of the contributors, but we’ll see that in good time.

After a first part treating Charles Taliaferro’s chapter on Natural Theology at large, let’s treat the second chapter: The Leibnizian Cosmological Argument, Alexander R. Pruss’s contribution.

A cosmological argument takes some cosmic feature of the universe – such as the existence of contingent things or the fact of motion – that calls out for an explanation and argues that this feature is to be explained in terms of the activity of a First Cause, which First Cause is God. A typical cosmological argument faces four different problems. If these problems are solved, the argument is successful.
The first problem is that although some features, such as the existence of contingent things, call for an explanation, it can be disputed whether an explanation exists. […] The second issue that must be faced in defending a cosmological argument is the Regress Problem – the problem of how to deal with an infinite regress of causes or explanations. […] The third difficulty is the Taxicab Problem, coming from Schopenhauer’s quip that in the cosmological argument, the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) is like a taxicab that once used is sent away. […] The final difficulty for cosmological arguments is the Gap Problem. […] There are then three basic kinds of cosmological arguments: kalam, Thomistic, and Leibnizian. The kalam and Thomistic arguments posit an intuitively plausible Causal Principle (CP) that says that every item of some sort – for example, event, contingent being, instance of coming-into-existence, or movement – has a cause. The arguments then split depending on how they handle the Regress Problem. The kalam argument proceeds by arguing, on a priori or a posteriori grounds, that the past is finite and hence, in fact, no infinite regress occurred. The Thomistic argument, exemplified by Aquinas’ first three ways, does not rule out the possibility of an infinite past but uses a variety of methods to argue against the hypothesis that there is an infinite regress of causes with no First Cause. […] Leibnizian arguments, on the other hand, invoke a very general explanatory principle, such as the PSR, which is then applied to the cosmos or to some vast cosmic state of affairs, or else a nonlocal CP that can be applied to an infinite chain or the universe as a whole.

We start with a statement of cosmological arguments, their kinds and their problems and that’s a fair presentation I think.

Given that M. Pruss will focus on the Leibnizian kind, here’s his outline of them:

  1. Every contingent fact has an explanation.
  2. There is a contingent fact that includes all other contingent facts.
  3. Therefore, there is an explanation of this fact.
  4. This explanation must involve a necessary being.
  5. This necessary being is God.

Then we get to the first ground for a Leibnizian PSR: self-evidency.

We are perfectly within our epistemic rights to accept the Law of Excluded Middle (LEM), namely the claim that for all 𝑝 we have 𝑝 or not-𝑝, because of the self-evidence of LEM, without needing any further argument for it.

Not so fast. The LEM is held to be evident in everyday life — even though it very much isn’t —, but quite a few mathematicians and logicians (intuitionists mostly) refuse it: it’s not constructive. Also, even formalists admit that the principle doesn’t hold within all axiomatic systems: cf. any system of many-valued logic, like fuzzy logic.

And it is not clear on what grounds we could accept the LEM other than self-evidence. Is there some inductive argument like: “For many propositions 𝑝, we have concluded that the LEM holds. Hence, the LEM holds for all propositions 𝑝”? I doubt it.

Sigh… You accept the LEM as an axiom of your logical system. Keeping in mind that you’re right to doubt it: I mean, Gödel proved some time ago that such a proof wasn’t happening as soon as your system can encode Peano’s arithmetic.

If LEM is true, this is equivalent to equating necessity with provability. But defenders of the Leibnizian cosmological argument typically use a notion of broadly logical necessity when they claim that God is a necessary being, and broadly logical necessity is weaker than provability.

That sounds a lot like the “if God is even possible then he ought to be” games Taliaferro played.

Self-evidence might well give those of us to whom the PSR is self-evident a good reason to believe it. But if we want to convince others, we need arguments.

At least he’s aware of that…off to the second ground then: epistemology.

Thus, we cannot even say that violations of the PSR are improbable if the PSR is false. Consequently, someone who does not affirm the PSR cannot say that Koons’ skeptical scenario is objectively improbable. It may be taken to follow from this that if the PSR were false or maybe even not known a priori, we would not know any empirical truths.

Time out! In virtue of what if not every contingent fact has an explanation you can’t know empirical truths? That would become more of a pain because first you have to ascertain that your empirical fact is amongst those with an explanation, but “not every” doesn’t mean “none”. And now, get in gear for the third ground: evolution. That will be fun.

We can use this insight to generate an ad hominem argument for the PSR. Most atheists and agnostics (and many theists as well, but it is to atheists and agnostics that the argument is addressed) believe that there is a complete naturalistic evolutionary explanation of the development of the human species from a single-celled organism. I claim that they are not justified in believing this if they do not accept the PSR.

I have to say that one’s case has to be going badly to boldly claim one will go for a fallacy, right here and now. Had nothing better in store?

We might first try an inductive argument. Some features of some organisms can be given naturalistic evolutionary explanations. Therefore, all features of all organisms can be given naturalistic evolutionary explanations. […] There are at least two things wrong with this argument. The first is that it might just be that naturalistic explanations are easier to find than nonnaturalistic ones; hence, it is no surprise that we first found those explanations that are naturalistic. But even if one could get around this objection, it would not obviate the need for the PSR. For the argument, at most, gives us reason to accept the claim that those features that have explanations have naturalistic evolutionary explanations. […] A different approach would be to suppose that natural occurrences have naturalistic explanations, and evolution is the only naturalistic form of explanation of biological features that we know of; therefore, it is likely that the development of the human race has a naturalistic evolutionary explanation. But what plausibility is there in the claim that natural occurrences have naturalistic explanations if one does not accept the PSR for contingent propositions? […] We have good inductive reason to think that everything physical obeys the laws of physics. But everything that is governed by the laws of physics has a naturalistic explanation. Hence, the development of the human race has a naturalistic explanation, and an evolutionary one is the best candidate we have. […] But, intuitively, if one were not confident of something very much like the PSR, it would be hard to be justifiably confident that no biological features of the human species arose for no reason at all – say, that an ape walked into a swamp, and out walked a human, with no explanation of why.

That’s a nice go at justifying tying evolution to the PSR — Mr Pruss should beware his creationists peers though: they’ll be mad about that — but he forgot a reason which has nothing to do with acceptance of the PSR or lack there of: pragmatism. If one shows a non-naturalistically caused biological feature (and not “I don’t know what could have caused that so maybe?”, but “I know nature wasn’t behind that one”) then one has grounds to lead the search away from evolution. Otherwise, why stop using a tool which actually works? Biology lab resources are limited after all. Yes, I know it’s far from formal: we’re in ad hominem land here. Also, the first argument may avail us nothing to defeat the PSR, it can serve as basis to being pragmatic. And to the likeliness argument thinking about it: you have examples of naturalistic explanations and bupkiss in terms of non-naturalistic ones so odds are better to find yet another naturalistic explanation than anything else. And now, to the fourth ground: explanatory power.

The beginning is basically that it’s terribly difficult to judge between competing explanations without the PSR because “for no reason whatsoever” is always in play and on some criteria — namely simplicity — it’s unbeatable. Ok, it’s also beaten by pretty much everything on criteria like predictive power.

But does it make any sense to assign a probability to the hypothesis that a brick comes to exist ex nihilo in midair in front of us for no reason at all, assuming this is possible? We certainly cannot assign a probability grounded in the laws of nature to a brick’s coming into existence ex nihilo, in the way in which we can to the electron’s moving upwards in the Stern–Gerlach experiment, since the brick’s entry into existence would arguably not be governed by the laws if it happens “for no reason at all.”

So does that mean Mr Pruss admits random happenstance as a valid reason for things to happen under the PSR? That could get interesting…

For instance, if we deny the PSR, then for no reason at all, a cloud of photons, ℵ9314 in number, could suddenly appear ex nihilo just near the moon, heading for San Francisco. (Because the cardinality is so high, some of the photons would have to share the same quantum state; but photons are bosons, so they should be able to do that.) And the number of ways such things could happen seems to have no limit if the PSR fails. Or perhaps, ℵ9314 nonnatural beings could come into existence, each of which could then produce one photon.

Problem for that line of argument is, even on the rules of nature as they are currently understood and which serve as argument for the PSR hereabove, it’s possible. The probability’s vanishingly low, but virtual particles appear for no much better reason than random happenstance, interact and some of these interactions would produce photons. The probability is laughably low, but it’s already there under the PSR as currently argued.

On the other hand, if we get our probabilities a priori from some sort of principle of indifference, supposing all arrangements to be equally likely, the messy PSR-violating arrangements would seem much more probable.

Why would we get them from a principle of indifference though, as if no law of nature where applicable to that kind of events? I mean, you’re square in quantum physics’ domain here, our a priori probability calculation ought not to forget that it exists. Or the fact that the macro scale exists, thinking about it.

We need both parts for the explanation: without the PSR, the possibility of this happening for no reason at all would be impossible to rule out, and without the claim that existing beings are unlikely to cause it, the PSR would be insufficient (this suggests that if the cosmological argument can establish the existence of a First Cause, there is reason to think that the First Cause has a predilection for order, a fact relevant to the Gap Problem) […] It may seem that I am caught in a vicious circularity here.

I don’t think so. Mr Pruss might be caught in not working “independent any divine revelation or scripture” though: he’s predefining some properties of his gods in order for the PSR to be able to help him out proving them. Also, his gods may very well be tricksters: that predilection for order, if there’s one at all, only exists at macro-scale. For land’s sake, quantum physics exists and is a good way to describe micro-scale phenomena. And it’s a bit lasciate ogni ordine, voi ch’intrate.

One might think that some physical law, say, a conservation law, would do the explanatory work here, a principle other than the PSR. But the logical possibility of miracles shows that it should be possible for a supernatural being to cause photon clouds to show up ex nihilo, and if the PSR is false, such supernatural beings could be coming into existence all the time, causing the weird effects. Our best explanation for why this is not happening is that there is nothing in existence that would be likely to cause such supernatural beings to come into existence, and by the PSR they cannot come into existence uncaused.

That’s only an a priori probability though. Also, importantly, it assumes that the supernatural exists which is once again not working “independent any divine revelation or scripture”. If he wants to use miracles in his argument, I guess he needs to either show supernatural events first or admit he’s writing AU fanfic. Now on to the next argument: alethic modality, aka truth in the world as opposed to in someone’s judgement (that would be epistemic modality).

Why is it necessary that 2 + 2 = 4

Mr Pruss ought to chose his examples better: it’s not. (Yes, I did theoretical CS, aka college-level maths. Yes, we are pains in the neck about that. Yes, these things appear in practice: what does an int represents in a given programming language.)

And now, the modality accounts according to Pruss, starting with the narrowly logical one:

In a number of other early modern thinkers, we have the following “narrowly logical” account of modality, probably best developed in Leibniz. A proposition 𝑝 is necessary if and only if a contradiction can be proved from its negation. Assuming classical logic, as these thinkers did, it follows that necessity is equivalent to provability. And a proposition is possible if and only if no contradiction can be proved from it. […] Our last example has shown the general problem with narrowly logical accounts of modality: the grounding burden simply shifts to the question of the choice of the axioms and/or rules of inference and that question we cannot answer with the resources of the view in question.

Hm, so the issue is that narrowly logical modality is descriptive and not prescriptive? I mean ok, fair enough, but a paradigm based on the LEM was always going to have to reach for “add that to the axioms”. It would be interesting to see non-classical logics applied to that account of modality though.

Next us is the Lewisian account:

The Lewisian account, also known as Extreme Modal Realism (EMR), says that a proposition is possible if and only if it holds in some possible world, and necessary if and only if it holds in all possible worlds. This is only going to be of help if we have an independent account of possible worlds, and indeed EMR supplies one. A possible world is a maximal spatiotemporally interconnected aggregate of things. (We can also stipulate that abstract entities count as existing in every world.) We live in one of these worlds, the actual world, and there are infinitely many others. Every way that things could have been is a way that things are in some world. We then make a distinction between existence and actuality. Something exists provided it exists in some world or other. Something is actual provided it exists in the actual world. EMR has a number of problematic consequences. For instance, if EMR holds, consequentialistic moral reasoning breaks down completely because no matter what I do, the overall consequences in reality are the same, since reality always already contains all possible worlds.[…] Lewis, however, thinks that what matters ethically is not just the consequences but that I have produced them (Lewis 1986, p. 127). I cannot affect what happens in other worlds, but I can be the cause of goods in our world. Of course, this makes no difference in the space of all possible worlds – in infinitely many of them, people very much like me are causes of goods and in infinitely many of them, people very much like me are not causes of goods, and the distribution of worlds is not affected by my action. But my relationship to the goods is affected. However, this unacceptably reduces the moral weight of consequences. […] On Lewis’s view, however, my reason to help strangers is only the agent-centered reason to be the cause of goods because the consequences are always the same. But since the agent-centered reason to be the cause of goods has extremely low weight, it follows that EMR radically lowers the weight of reasons to help strangers. If we accept a more traditional assessment of the weight of these reasons, we shall have to reject EMR.

I see an argument to consequences here…two problems though: if the quantum many-worlds interpretation turns out to be true, the universe at large is pretty much like the one described by Lewis, so like it or not we’d have to deal with it. And second point, his personal morality pokes out here: he’s trying to derive an is form an ought here. (As an aside, of course one has reason to help out complete strangers in a utterly agent-centred, “empathy, what’s that?” view of morality: we’re social animals. One’s reason is PR)

Third follows the Platonic account (i.e. truth of propositions exist as ideal Platonic entities):

Note that the theoretical reason for believing in these Platonic propositions is largely independent of issues of modality. Adams then constructs a possible world as a maximal consistent collection of propositions. (An argument is needed that such collections exist, but let that pass.) Exactly one world is then absolutely actual: it is the one all of whose propositions are true. A proposition can be said to be true at a world, providing it is one of the propositions that are members of the collection of propositions that the world is identical with. Note that because the worlds are Platonic entities, I had to distinguish between the concrete universe, which we physically inhabit, and the actual world, which is the collection of all true propositions.

Platonic universes…joy. And yep, it’s Plantiga behind that one.

What is it that picks out one relation in the Platonic heaven rather than another as the relation of representation? […] The proponents of these Platonic worlds can argue, however, that they have no need to answer this question. The relation of representation is one of the primitive terms in their theory, and it is not a primitive chosen ad hoc to explain possible worlds but a primitive needed for other explanatory purposes, such as for making sense of our practices of claiming, believing, and paraphrasing.

Ok, they’re formalists like whoa.

But while a complete reduction is probably impossible, it could be desirable to give at least a partial reduction, on which the whole realm of alethic possibility would be seen to have its root in some more comprehensible subclass […] However, in a deeper way, the Platonic approach is not faithful to what the Aristotelian maxim affirms. When Aristotelians say that a possibility is grounded in an actuality, they mean that actuality includes some powers, capacities, or dispositions capable of producing that possibility, which of course once produced would no longer be a mere possibility.

That part on the Platonic account brings two things to my mind: first, Mr Pruss seems to be an Aristotelian. Second, he seems to love himself some is-ought problems: “That argument ain’t good because its consequences go against my morality. This one doesn’t work because it’s too arcane to my tastes. And this one? It doesn’t follow Aristotle!”

Fourth up is the Aristotelian-essentialist: essences define things and propositions are true if they don’t go against the essences of things.

But “derived” surely means “logically derived.” And so it turns out that the Aristotelian-essentialist needs elements of the narrowly logical view. Once again, the same question comes up: what grounds the choice of axioms or rules of inference? However, the Aristotelian is better off here than the proponent of just the narrowly logical view because the truths contained in the essences of things provide a rich set of nonarbitrary axioms.

For the Aristotelian-essentialist view — which Mr Pruss implies need a god of some stripe — that’s not much of a problem I think: in that adventure, one has to take some rules of logic as axiomatic, otherwise one falls in the stoic trap of not being able to state anything. Sometimes “because it works” is as good an answer as any. (And yes, I know it’s not exactly principled. But eh, Mr Pruss is slamming the Lewisian account because it offends his sensibilities.)

The problem, thus, is with what constrains what essences there could be. One answer, inspired by the static character of Aristotle’s universe, would be that all the essences that can exist in fact do exist, or at least existed, exist, or will exist. However, a crucial difficulty remains as to what “can” could mean here. What constrains which essences can exist?
Some of these problems can be solved by going a theistic route. Perhaps there is a God whose essence encodes necessary truths not just about himself but about others, such as that there can be no square circles, and that certain weird essences cannot exist.

That awfully limits one’s choices though: in that case, whose to say that there isn’t gods whose essences, taken together, serve as gatekeepers? Because it doesn’t help one’s cause? Sorry, once all bets are off, all bets are off. (And that’s violation of Natural Theology’s conceit № too-many-to-count)

Suppose now that none of the essences that are exemplified in our world is necessarily exemplified. We should then be able to describe a world full of really, really weird things – beings with essences that make their kinds be defined by the number of hairs, self-caused beings, and the like – as long as we do not transgress narrowly logical norms and as long as we take care to include none of the beings of our world. And such a world will be possible since the essences that exist in our world will be irrelevant to what goes on in that world as our world’s essences will be unexemplified there. Likewise, a completely empty world would be possible then – a world with no essences exemplified. In that world, it will be true that everything that is narrowly logically possible is metaphysically possible, since there will be no constraining essences at all. In particular, in that world it will be possible that Gödelian claims of arithmetic that are true at our world are false. And, of course, it would then be the case that S5 is false, but the Aristotelian-essentialist may not mind that consequence.

If we think that the space of all possible worlds is not such a slum as to include all such worlds, we have to think that at least one of the beings that exist in our world is such that its essence is necessarily exemplified, and that the essences of the necessary beings place constraints on what sorts of essences there can be, what sorts of arithmetical truths there can be, and so on.

Madre de Dio, Mr Pruss loves himself that is-ought problem! Why should the space of all worlds be so limited? Because Mr Pruss’s imagination conjured up something he didn’t like? He used “possibility” as an escape hatch earlier, so can the Aristotelian-essentialists who don’t want to reach for gods: it cuts both ways.

But it is still not clear why something could not have the power to act contrary to its essence.

By definition of an essence? I mean, earlier in the text:

Things that exist have essences. These essences, on this account, constrain what properties these things can have.

That is, they exemplify what a thing can and can’t do.

Last is the Aristotelian-causal version, which Mr Pruss is evidently holding: I mean he made no attempt to take it down whereas he spent a few pages going after the other four.

And now, some philosophical argumentation:

It is morally acceptable to redirect a speeding trolley from a track on which there are five people onto a track with only one person. On the other hand, it is not right to shoot one innocent person to save five.

I would guess that the is-ought problem strikes again here: morality is rather subjective. I’d bet one can find people stating that either both are bad (one’s murdering someone who asked nothing in both cases) or both are good (one saved five people through one murder — and so come up at +4 — in both cases).

Almost all moral theorists accept the supervenience of the moral on the nonmoral. But without the PSR, would we really have reason to accept that?

Depending on one’s definition of morality? Sure: on utilitarian morality they do what is moral because it helps the group and, because no man is an island, themselves as well by the way. I’ve seen that Mr Pruss prefers the rarefied air of the ivory tower but, at the end of the day, morality is for the real world or is useless.

Justification via the sense of deity

Ok, that part is not natural theology as defined in chapter 1 in the slightest. Because “I need to believe in God to accept the argument I use to prove God” is as much use as a chocolate teapot. And the “but that’s still useful because Calvin” afterwards is definitely not working independently of a divine revelation or scripture: Mr Pruss even cites Romans for land’s sake!

And now, the PSR’s putative defeaters. And well, the presentation Mr Pruss choose to use is rather weaksauce for the first one, modal imagination…

One can, arguably, imagine that a brick pops into existence uncaused. Therefore, one might conclude that it is possible that a brick pops into existence uncaused, and hence that the PSR is not a necessary truth. This is a popular Humean argument against the PSR.

It is, because it’s worse for defenders of the PSR that what his presentation implies: we know of things appearing for shit and giggles. They’re not big — indeed, they’re as micro-scale as can be — but they don’t need to to be defeaters. So I fear the whole “but did you really imagine that uncaused brick?” dance he indulges on is not overly useful: one doesn’t need to imagine uncaused things to use them in arguments.

Now, on to the second one: modal fatalism. Here’s Mr Pruss’s presentation of it:

  1. No necessary proposition explains a contingent proposition. (Premise)
  2. No contingent proposition explains itself. (Premise)
  3. If a proposition explains a conjunction, it explains every conjunct. (Premise)
  4. A proposition 𝑞 only explains a proposition 𝑝 if 𝑞 is true. (Premise)
  5. There is a Big Conjunctive Contingent Fact (BCCF), which is the conjunction of all true contingent propositions, perhaps with logical redundancies removed, and the BCCF is contingent. (Premise)
  6. Suppose the PSR holds. (for reductio)
  7. Then, the BCCF has an explanation, 𝑞. (by (15) and (16))
  8. The proposition 𝑞 is not necessary. (by (11) and (15) and as the conjunction of true contingent propositions is contingent)
  9. Therefore, 𝑞 is a contingent true proposition. (by (14) and (18))
  10. Thus, 𝑞 is a conjunct in the BCCF. (by (15) and (19))
  11. Thus, 𝑞 explains itself. (by (13), (15), (17), and (19))
  12. But 𝑞 does not explain itself. (by (12) and (19))
  13. Thus, 𝑞 does and does not explain itself, which is absurd. Hence, the PSR is false.

And now, he’ll go after van Inwagen’s modal fatalism argument by doing something I’d say is risky: checking the truth of the arguments’ premises. I mean, we could be tempted to do the same to his.

But we should not accept (11). We shall see that the main reason for believing (11) rests on a misunderstanding of how explanation works. Moreover, I shall argue that someone who accepts the logical possibility of libertarian free will should deny at least one of (11) and (12).

Before going further — and without dealing with the truth status of libertarian free will —, I have to note that it means someone holding to libertarian free will could reject both the modal fatalist argument and the PSR’s justifications: they’d just have to reject (12) instead of (11). I mean, Mr Pruss uses (12) to go after narrowly logical accounts of modality:

Third, it is impossible for anything to cause itself. […] But how would we go about proving this?

and, more importantly, in his Leibnizian cosmological argument’s outline (part of how to go from (3) to (4)).

So now, his explanation of why should one reject (11), with first an outline:

  1. If it is possible for 𝑞 to be true with 𝑝 false, then 𝑞 does not explain 𝑝. (Premise)
  2. If 𝑞 is necessary and 𝑝 is contingent, then it is possible for 𝑞 to be true with 𝑝 false. (a theorem in any plausible modal logic)
  3. Therefore, if 𝑞 is necessary and 𝑝 is contingent, then 𝑞 does not explain 𝑝.

With (27) being “If 𝑞 explains 𝑝, then 𝑞 entails 𝑝.”, (24)’s contrapositive.

Let me start with a quick ad hominem argument against (27). It seems a perfectly good explanation of why the dog did not bark that neither a stranger came by the dog nor did any other potential cause of the dog’s barking occur. But the explanans here only entails the explanandum if we suppose that it is a necessary truth that if the dog barked, its barking
had a cause. But opponents of the PSR are unlikely to grant that this is a necessary truth, unless they have some principled to reason to argue that dogs’ barkings metaphysically require causes, but some other things do not need any explanation, whether causal or not. But I doubt that there is a good way of drawing the line between barkings and other states of affairs.

Again?!? Damn, now I know where Lydia McGrew’s love of fallacies of the argumentum ad kind comes from…

Perhaps we can build that proviso into the explanation. Why do the planets move in approximately elliptical orbits? Because the main gravitational influence is that of an approximate point mass, and there are no other relevant influences. But the word “relevant” is crucial here, for, of course, there are many other influences, such as electromagnetic ones. The word “relevant” here seems to mean “relevant to affecting the approximate shape of the planets’ orbits.” But that is not quite right. Electromagnetic influences of the sort that the planets undergo are, in general, relevant to affecting the approximate shape of the planets’ orbits. They are just not relevant in this case because the gravitational influence of the sun swamps the other effects.

While the first defeater against (27) — that in statistic explanations the explanans do not entail the explandum per se but just makes it more likely — wasn’t all that bad, that one for non-statistical explanation is weak: it’s pretty much an injunction to be clear in one’s language (not cited) coupled with a failure of imagination when trying to build a correct proviso…and a correct explanation for the purpose, thinking about it: “Because the sum of the forces applied on the planets adds up to an approximate point mass” works just as well and has no problems with electromagnetic forces being swamped by the Sun and not explicated or anything: they’re in the summation.

Actually, the objector to the PSR should not say so. For if the PSR is false, then surely things can come into existence for no reason at all and can likewise pop out of existence for no reason at all. Thus, it is quite possible for all of the aforementioned to be true, and yet for the planets to pop out of existence, thereby preventing them from having any orbits at all.

Actually, the work is cut out in both ways: the opposite of “∀𝑥, 𝑝(𝑥)” isn’t “∀𝑥, ¬𝑝(𝑥)”. It’s “∃𝑥, ¬𝑝(𝑥)”. So, absent other data, neither side of the discussion know it is in fact possible: the planets could be in the set of entities to which causation applies. As for the counter that the loading up of provisos in the explanation is unfair even present the PSR given that one of the provisos gives the explanation by itself, not my fault Mr Pruss didn’t see the Σ in the second law of motion and so needs some. (Yes, that can be construed as an ad hominem. You noticed we were back in ad hominem country right?)

The punt for quantum mechanics-based objections is funny though:

The PSR does not say that for every contingent proposition there is the best possible kind of explanation, but just that there is an explanation, “an ‘explanation enough’” in Haldane’s words.

Damn if that doesn’t look like a punt to logical possibility…

Now, for his defence of causal principles and how to go from a local one to a non-local one:

Thus, a local CP about contingent substances holds that every substance has a cause.

I don’t know about that one…it would of course depend on the definitions of cause and substance used, but wouldn’t virtual particles fit the bill for a counterexample? If so, that paragraph about non-local CPs being derivable from local ones absent ad hoc restrictions is nice but falls at the first hurdle: actually establishing a local CP.

Next is the modal argument for a CP, which doesn’t look too bad at the beginning, but:

I shall now argue that if 𝐸 is a state of affairs that can have a cause, then 𝐸 is a state of affairs that does have a cause.

That does seem, granted given some odd assumptions like e.g. libertarian free will along with the randomness objection being true, to imply random blips to be a valid cause for that argument. On another tack, if virtual particles and the like don’t have causes as understood here, Mr Pruss is writing the setting for an AU: that’s already false of our world (consider virtual photons like those involved in the Casimir effects and their real counterparts like those created by particle-antiparticle annihilation).

Back to the PSR, we get an almost impressive piece of sleight of hand:

This argument has an interesting consequence. I have argued (Pruss 2004a) that if we reject the PSR because we think that it has some counterexamples, such as the BCCF according to the van Inwagen argument, we should instead accept the restricted PSR (R-PSR):

(R-PSR) Every proposition that possibly has an explanation actually has an explanation.

Now, since the R-PSR claims to be a metaphysical principle, we should take it to be a necessary truth.


Next, we get the argument once we have a PSR and, if I’m not mistaken, here:

But given a set of contingent entities, these entities can neither collectively nor individually causally explain their own existence. Nothing can be a cause of itself, pace Descartes. The existence of a cause is explanatorily prior to the existence of the effect, but nothing can be explanatorily prior to itself.

Mr Pruss commits a fallacy of composition: even if everything in the universe were contingent, it doesn’t have to be.

Next if going through some objections, starting with trying to get a basic principle to ground that use of the PSR (so as to avoid the Taxicab problem):

The idea is to explain the BCCF in terms of the Principle of Optimality: of metaphysical necessity, the best narrowly logically possible world is actual. However, Rescher’s suggestion is one that the defender of the cosmological argument need not worry about too much, since it is plausible that the best narrowly logically possible world is a world that contains God, considered as a maximally great being. Rescher himself thinks this. And so, in any case, we get the existence of God, albeit in a somewhat more roundabout way.

A problem though is that the PSR only gives you creator gods, with no other characteristics (ok, it’s eternal, outside the world and a few other not helping all that much things). The most narrowly tailored divinity to what one gets is the deists’ god, not the Christians’.

Next objection, to constructing the BCCF, is that some conjunctions don’t make sense even though its conjuncts do.

This argument is a challenge: if some conjunctions do not make sense, how do we know that the BCCF makes sense? One way to meet the challenge is to try to shift the burden of proof. A conjunction of propositions should be assumed to make sense unless it is proved not to.

Hell no! That’s Mr Pruss’s argument, it’s his cross to bear! Besides, with that non-constructive an argument how one’s to know he’s not fanficing again in building his BCCF? Or going for an inductive construction without base case? Then he tries to rewrite that as the BCCF*, which is…hardly more constructive. And tops that with…an appeal to æsthetics? See for yourselves:

It is highly plausible that that there are contingent beings is itself a contingent proposition. For if it were a necessary proposition that there are contingent beings, then we would have odd necessary truths such as that, necessarily, if there are no contingent nonunicorns, then there are contingent unicorns.

Next is the Hume–Edwards Principle (i.e. explain all conjuncts and you explained the conjunction).

The first objection to HEP is that it does not take into account the fact that there can be more to explaining the conjunction than explaining the conjuncts. If there were a hundred Inuit on a street corner in New York, individual explanations of each one’s presence would miss the point of explaining why there are a hundred Inuit all there. There is a coincidence to be explained.

Apart for random happenstance being an explanation for, you know, coincidences, wouldn’t the individual Inuit answers to the question give the group’s reason if there were one to be found?

Also, further in this chapter:

Quentin Smith has argued that the universe can cause itself to exist, either via an infinite regress or a circle of causes. However, while he has claimed that such a causal claim would provide an answer to the question “why does the universe exist?” (Smith 1999, p. 136), he appears to have provided no compelling argument for that conclusion.

That seems right, but given that earlier in the text Mr Pruss had punted to “broadly logical necessity” and hypothesises being “an ‘explanation enough’”, he can hardly complain when others use similar dodges.

Next is a treatment of the objection that causally efficacious necessary beings — or causally efficacious non-spatiotemporal ones for that matter — don’t exist.

If we agree with Newton against Leibniz that action at a distance is at least a metaphysical possibility, although present physics may not support it as an actuality, the pressure to see spatiality or even spatiotemporality as such as essential to causality is apt to dissipate – the restriction requiring spatiotemporal relatedness between causal relata is just as unwarranted as the restriction requiring physical contact.

The problem though being that if present physics are right in requiring temporal precedence, Mr Pruss is AU fanficing here: a god may well have created an universe like he describes, and that god may well be Christianity’s, but that universe so created ain’t ours.

Admittedly, a Humean account of causation on which causation is nothing but constant conjunction only works for things in time, since the Humean distinguishes the cause from the effect by temporal priority. But unless we are dogmatically beholden to this Humean account, to an extent that makes us dogmatically a priori deny the existence of deities and other nonspatiotemporal causally efficacious beings, this should not worry us.

I find rich of him to complain that Humean philosophers seeing causation in terms of their paradigm makes them dogmatics when one of his complaints towards the Platonic account of modality is that it doesn’t see actuality in Aristotelian ones.

One answer was already alluded to: some will insist that only spatiotemporal entities can be causally efficacious and it is implausible that a necessary being be spatiotemporal. But it was difficult to see why exactly spatiotemporality is required for causal connections.

Sheer pragmatism I’d guess? I mean, as Mr Pruss admits, current physics don’t admit any other form of causation. And science currently reign supreme as tool to understand the world — in no small part because it, by and large, works — so changing the allowable forms of causation re. our universe would have to show where physics currently fails, explain what the current understanding doesn’t, how could we falsify it et cætera.

But, likewise, it could be that the true system of ontology entails the existence of God. Another option for the defender of the epistemic possibility of a necessarily existing deity is provided by the ontological argument. […] It could, thus, be that in fact God exists necessarily in virtue of an ontological argument that is beyond our ken, or perhaps the non-question-begging justification of whose premises is beyond our ken, while we know that he necessarily exists by means of a cosmological argument within our ken. We do not, after all, at present have any good in principle objection to the possibility that a sound ontological argument might one day be found.

I know I did it a few times, but “one day you’ll see! we might be vindicated!” isn’t exactly convincing. Above all when one dismisses objections as “not presenting convincing arguments”.

Then, after a few variants on the ways to pas a PSR through, the Gap problem (i.e. how to go from a First Cause to a given god or gods). And we see straight away the rather closed circuit these philosophers work in:

The typical philosopher who accepts a necessarily existing First Cause is also a theist. Thus, there is not much of an audience for arguments that the necessarily existing First Cause is God.

Even without getting out of the Old World, one has Jewish, Muslim, animists and neo-pagan philosophers as an audience. And even if one tries to go the way that most of those are not credible philosophers but amateurs, so is one of the contributors of this very book. But that’s for another day…first up: agency

In contingent reality we find substances, and the existence of a substance is not conceptually explained by the activity of something other than that substance – substances are self-standing. At worst, the existence of a substance is conceptually explained by the existence of constituent parts, but if so, then these constituent parts will themselves be substantial. In the end we shall have to give a nonconceptual explanation, or else to find parts that are necessary. But it is false that goats and people are made up of necessarily existing parts.

Although if concepts like the quantum foam end up being structural features of any space-time, that might be the necessary substance right there.

Perhaps only agential explanations in terms of a necessary being combine the two crucial features: contingency of effect and the impossibility of asking for a further explanation of some further contingent fact. However, if one thinks that nonagential statistical explanations can also have this feature, then this argument will not impress.

If one admits randomness in the possible causes of something, then yes, stochastic phenomena also have that property.

The First Cause is an entity that has produced a universe apparently fine-tuned for life, containing beauty and creatures attuned to beauty, containing moral obligations and creatures aware of them; a universe containing conscious beings with free will; and a universe some of whose contents have objective functions (eyes are for seeing and so on – these kinds of functional attributions arguably cannot be reduced to evolutionary claims, although there is a large literature on this controversial claim).

That’s…more than a bit hasty: a ridiculously high proportion of the universe is actively hostile to life, so it’s hardly fine-tuned for it. I see beauty and morality as respectively subjective and intersubjective so these points are arguable and the last one is the Irreducible Complexity argument, which is yet to find a valid example for its claims given how life repurposes everything.

We have shown, let us suppose, that there is a First Cause. The further supposition that the First Cause is a highly intelligent and very powerful person acting purposively is highly plausible given all this data.

Although, given some parts like the very sketchy fine-tuning, if a personal First Cause there is, I’d say it’s most likely a trickster. That would make, say, Hinduism or Nordic Paganism vastly more plausible than Christianity.

We might see evil as ontologically inferior to the good. […] Seen from that point of view, evil can never be seen to be the victor. […] Evil can only mock the good but can never win.

First, but that’s par for the course in arguments from goodness, that’s the is-ought problem on steroids here. Second, it’s also wrong: nihilistic evil, which doesn’t aim to suffering but to utter destruction can win even on such a view.

Behind the twisting of human nature in a serial killer, there is the good of human nature – if it were not good, and if it were not in some way metaphysically superior to the evil so as to provide a standard against which that evil is to be measured, then the twisting would not be an evil.

Oh, we could see it as an evil even if, metaphysically, the best position were neutrality and both good and evil were to be seen as inferior as being deviations from balance. If is good what is, by and large, useful to society and by dint of us being social to individuals, a serial killer’s rampage is evil as being not even useless but damageable to society.

So by creating, the First Cause makes more good than evil come into existence, and if the First Cause is evil, then to do that is, well, stupid. But the fine-tuning of the universe suggests that the First Cause is highly intelligent.

Not so fast! Now, for a twist, let’s say the First Cause is an evil interested in suffering. So, by creating life, it increases the kind of evil it’s interested in by the sheer fact that to live is to suffer. That some good is created on the way is a by-product on this view.

Emergentist theories of mind are predicated precisely on a rejection of this axiom, but it will not do to use them as counterexamples to the axiom, since emergentism is controversial precisely because it allows for nonphysical properties to arise from physical ones in contravention of our axiom. […] Accounts that do not allow such reduction make the arising mysterious, and our being mystified here is a testimony to the plausibility of the axiom.

Rejecting a possible explanation just because it goes against what you want to prove is as annoying when Mr Pruss does it than when the Insane Clown Posse does. Also, choosing an account which doesn’t allow for a given thing to happen and being all aflutter when said thing happens hardly makes for a good argument.

If we do accept this argument for the First Cause’s having all the perfections of created things, we can proceed to argue further as follows […] Consequently, the First Cause not only has all the perfections of the things that exist in our world but also all the perfections of the things that exist in any possible world.

Wait… isn’t that in part the ontological argument? As in, “God must be the biggest, most impressive of all”? If so, I guess he was dead before Creation: it would be mightily impressive of something to manage to create anything while not being (I kid, I kid). More seriously, Mr Pruss loves himself some “if you’ll just accept my premises” it seems.

At the same time, the aggregation move that we had made raises the possibility that the First Cause is a polytheistic committee, having all perfections collectively but with no one deity having them all individually. If Aquinas is right that in any First Cause there must be identity between the thing and its existence, and that having all perfections follows from this identity, then the worry does not arise. If this is not a satisfactory solution, we may need to employ some other argument for the unity of the First Cause, such as that if there were multiple necessary beings, we would not expect to see a nomically unified world.

I’d say that all depends on exactly what it means for all parts of the world to run on the same laws: for example, there are many different clocks running in the universe. For a possibly more worrying one, space becomes time-like and vice versa inside black holes.

The second difficulty is that on this argument, the creator’s causal activity explains all contingent activity, including, presumably, any free choices by creatures. This problem infects other Leibnizian cosmological arguments. Probably, the way to handle it is to give a subtler and more careful definition of what it is to be a creator in 𝑤. Maybe the First Cause’s activity does not have to explain all free choices made by everybody; it may simply have to explain both the prerequisites for all free choices made by any contingent beings, and everything that does not depend on the free choices of contingent beings? This is probably all we need for the crucial uniqueness argument.

The problem is more for the theodicies though: unless you go the Divine Command Theory way, that does mean that evil exists at the First Cause’s leisure. Ok, it also does in the Divine Command Theory case, but it gets redefined as good because God’s morality is alien†.

Next up will be WLC for another cosmological argument, the Kalam one this time…that will be for May.

†: ⚠ TVTropes link.

Mile-High Reviews: The Blackwell companion to Natural Theology, part 1

Ok, let’s start this new series: Mile-High Reviews! I’m often travelling and need something to do in low-cost flights, so why not review books and other slogs? I’ll start with William Lane Craig’s & J.P. Moreland’s The Blackwell companion to Natural Theology. I’m not all that competent in philosophy, so I may miss evident issues or find problems with issues treated a thousand times. That also means that whatever I do find and is solid is a bad mistake indeed.

After a rather optimistic-sounding prologue, where Craig and Moreland presented the firepower they’ll bring to bear so to speak, let’s start with The Project of Natural Theology, an article by Charles Taliaferro. I’m just competent enough in philosophy to know that I’m an almost complete beginner, so that part will be less thorough than one speaking of, say information theory, history or even biology.

Natural theology is the practice of philosophically reflecting on the existence and nature of God independent of real or apparent divine revelation or scripture. […] Natural theology is often practiced in the West and the Near East with respect to the theistic view of God, and thus the God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Now I know why Lydia McGrew made her error of defining theism as believing in the god of Judaism and Christianity if that’s her examples… Also, practising with respect to a set view of god puts the lie to natural theology’s conceit to work “independent of divine revelation or scripture” I think.

According to classical theism, there is a creator and sustainer of the cosmos who is omniscient, omnipotent, necessarily existing, nonphysical, essentially good, omnipresent, without temporal beginning or end, and everlasting or eternal. […] In the current intellectual climate, the closest competitor with theism, and the customary launching pad for antitheistic natural theology arguments, is naturalism.

Going like that from classical theism to theism without provocation does worry me that a shell game awaits ahead, but so far it’s fair.

Also, I don’t think Mr. Taliaferro can be faulted for biasing the presentation of some common, mostly naturalist, arguments against the concept of natural theology — to wit: there’s no logical space for it (i.e. it purports to present a theory of everything but both the everything in question and parts of the theory itself like transcendence are hopelessly poorly defined), it doesn’t have much if any explanatory power, it’s projects human concepts and standards like crazy on the purported gods, we don’t have any other universe to compare this one to (that’s a point made against arguments from design) and, natural theology only ever brings you to deistic gods.

Next, he states that natural theologian will have to go against physicalism to defeat naturalist arguments and states the importance of enlisting the philosophy of the mind’s help. Specifically, he would weigh on the side of consciousness and mental states being non-physical because an appeal to consciousness doesn’t work as well if consciousness is an emergent property of our very physical brains:

How certain should we be that consciousness and other mental states are in fact marginal or thoroughly physical and identical to a bodily “web of links”? I suggest in what follows that once we recognize that some conscious, purposive explanations should count as bona fide accounts of human (and perhaps other animal) lives, one may see that the theistic appeal to consciousness, and the purposive account of the cosmos itself, should be taken seriously as well.

After a description of Dennet’s work as a fight against Cartesianism, follows this interesting titbit:

Without consciousness, we should not be able even to think that someone is sane or insane, let alone Jesus. Recognition of the reality of conscious awareness is not simply an obstinate belief; the reality of consciousness seems to be a precondition of inquiry.

Fair enough, but so is movement: we wouldn’t be alive to do that contemplation without. And movement is an emerging property of the mass, charge, space-time et cætera grouping Dennet favours so I guess I have an hard time seeing what makes consciousness intrinsically different from that.

There is a powerful, enduring argument against identifying consciousness and brain activity that is very much in favor now and that highlights the limitations of physicalist treatments of consciousness. A wide range of philosophers argue that it is possible for us to have an exhaustive observation of a person’s physiology, anatomy, all outward behavior, and language use and still not know that the person is conscious.

I’m curious about that one: are they speaking of philosophical zombies? I guess I might see it if I get my hands on the citations…

The difficulty of explaining away the obstinate reality of consciousness, and the ostensible contingency of the relationship between consciousness and physical processes, should caution those who dismiss theism in light of a confident form of physicalism.

That cuts both ways though: the mental supervening on the physical, as Nagel puts it, does put on rather shaky grounds those wishing to posit unembodied consciousness as a solution to anything. Or a non-physical consciousness for that matter: why would the mental get so thoroughly influenced by the physical then? And, for that matter, where’s an example of a consciousness non supervened on the physical and how would it work?

I shall assume (provisionally) in my reply to the first argument that consciousness does indeed exist and that there are problems with explaining away what appears to be a contingent relationship between consciousness and physical states and processes.

Given that the contingent relationship seems to be in the “consciousness contingent on physical processes” direction, that’s more of a problem for those who would hold consciousness to be a non-physical entity though: for physicalists of the “consciousness exist as an emergent property of some material states and processes” bent, that contingent relationship is pretty much a gimme.

Reply to Argument I

It seems that we can conceive of the one without the other, and we currently lack an explanatory scheme to show that there is an identity between them

For the first part, so what? Human beings can conceive of Arda, Narnia, Left Behind, golem stories and Arabian Nights so that just means human beings have a vivid imagination. And besides, the contingency is currently in the wrong direction for that argument.

If we cannot rule out that consciousness with respect to human beings is something nonphysical, how can we justifiably rule out that there may be a nonphysical theistic mode of consciousness (a God who knows, acts, and so on)? If it is possible that there is a nonphysical, purposive causal agent as conceived of in theism, is there not logical space for asking the theistic cosmic question that Phillips and Kai Nielsen seek to rule out?

It’s true that one can’t, which means that Phillips and Nielsen position is too strong. However, you still are in a worse position than ufologists or inter-stellar aliens seekers: at least, they know that flying objects or life are possible according to the rules of our universe. Indeed, they have examples to point to. You can do no more than state that your position is not logically impossible, which is a very low bar to clear.

In standard forms of the cosmological argument, theists ask the question of why the contingent cosmos exists rather than not. This is not akin to asking why everything exists, assuming God (ex hypothesi) is a substantial reality or subject who would (if God exists) be referred to as one of the “things” that exists. […] Nielsen’s objection to theism similarly seems to have purchase only if by “universe” we mean “everything.” If, instead, the “universe” refers to the contingent cosmos we observe, it seems that it is perfectly sensible to ask why it exists and whether it has a sustaining, necessarily existing, conscious, nonphysical, purposive cause.

That means natural theologians are smuggling part of their argument in though. First, because the cosmos doesn’t have to be contingent: that it be is an hypothesis which would help the natural theologians’ cause a lot, but it’s not a given at all (if only because properties of a set’s elements don’t necessarily apply to said set). Second, to couch the purported cause of the observable cosmos in terms of conscious, non-physical and sustaining entity is putting the lie to natural theology’s conceit that it’s led without regard to existing revelation or scripture: leading the conclusion towards a god similar to what Christian theologians generally hypothesise is giving implicit regard to Christian revelation at the very least (a less-Christian centric description of a possible creator god is non-physical, sustaining, necessarily existing, conscious — if barely — and non purposive. Yes, I just described Azathoth).

Consider, again, Nielsen’s claim that “God exists” is akin to “procrastination drinks melancholy.” […] I suggest that the second phrase is meaningless, but the first expresses a proposition which may, in fact, be true and so ought to arouse our interest in its truth.

That’s only if you can meaningfully describe god though, which is Nielsen’s point. Because if you can’t — and I’ve never seen theists manage to — “God exists” is exactly like “Merkavreeble lives”.

Reply to Argument II

Dawkins seems to suppose that if God exists, God’s existence should be evident in gravity, electromagnetism, nuclear forces, lumps of matter, rocks, asteroids, and black holes. […] Let us now turn to Narveson’s argument. Narveson wants scientific details about how divine agency works. He compares explanations that work (water boils because of molecules in motion) with those that do not (God commanded that there be light and, lo, there was light).

Well yes, and it’s not exactly a “how divine agency works” but more “how can I know it was divine agency and not demonic agency or happenstance”. Because, at the end of the day, most theists purport that their gods act in the world: traces of that ought to be visible. Also, even putting intent in the causal chain, we at best have claims of divine intent in Narveson’s negative example. Granted, admitting Genesis is right, divine claims but some gods are notorious trolls (cf. Vishnu, Loki).

Imagine, however, that a physicalist ontology is found wanting and (as suggested earlier) that we need to be open to nonphysical states, processes, and the like. Imagine that the mental is irreducible to the physical and that we give no primary place to the natural sciences, and that we further allow that intentional explanations involving purposes are all permissible.

Apart from the last — which is an “I need that otherwise no way I’m ending with a Christian-style god”…which, granted, was to be expected — that’s a big flight of fancy here. The first three look a lot like “imagine my position’s prerequisites were true” while the fourth is “imagine we put aside the best tool for truth-seeking we have on record”. Not a very convincing argument.

Reply to Argument III

Thought (whether human or divine) would not be small in physical size because nonphysical and divine thought (if classical theism is true) would be neither “weak” nor “bounded.” Cosmic theistic explanations would be in the form of appealing to the limitless knowledge and unsurpassable power of God. It may be that in constructing a theistic metaphysic, we employ the concepts of intentionality and consciousness that are used to describe our contingent and limited life, but in theism the concepts of intentionality and consciousness are then conceived in terms of a noncontingent, limitless, powerful, intentional, conscious Creator.

That’s a nice comeback, but that’s not one open to natural theologians at the outset: they’re supposed to work “independent of divine revelation or scripture”. That means, if they want to use the attributes of a Christian concept of the divine that they have to show first that’s it’s the applicable concept. Otherwise, they’re doing fanfic world-building.

Then he goes after Rundle’s critique — for which, really, “not enough data” is the only answer I feel confident in giving — but I find funny that he chides Rundle for professing bafflement over theistic claims when his defence against Nielsen boils down to wistful thinking, which is pretty much the pendant of that tactic. Or better yet, when he does the same re. Rundle a few lines after:

Rundle shapes his objection against a proposal that psychokinesis could provide a model for thinking of divine agency. […] This is puzzling.

Reply to Argument IV

From time to time various writers have told us that we cannot reach any conclusions about the origin or development of the universe, since it is (whether by logic or just in fact) a unique object, the only one of its kind, and rational inquiry can only reach the conclusions about objects which belong to kinds, e.g. it can reach a conclusion about what will happen to this bit of iron, because there are other bits of iron, the behaviour of which can be studied. This objection of course has the surprising, and to most of these writers unwelcome, consequence, that physical cosmology cannot reach justified conclusions about such matters as the size, age, rate of expansion, and density of the universe as a whole (because it is a unique object); and also that physical anthropology cannot reach conclusions about the origin and development of the human race (because, as far as our knowledge goes, it is the only one of its kind). The implausibility of these consequences leads us to doubt the original objection, which is indeed totally misguided.

What Swinburne — and Taliaferro by citing it in support — would have us forget, given that he told us earlier, is that the counter from uniqueness is tailor-made against the argument from design. To wit, the universe was designed because it looks as if it was designed [by human-like intelligences] so it was designed by someone and that someone is god. Cut off the argument from uniqueness (i.e. you have no other god-designed things on hand, how do you know how would it go around designing things?), and you get a god whose mind has human-like limitations — given that you can extrapolate its designs from ours — which sinks your defence against argument III.

I suggest that the most promising way to compare accounts of the cosmos is to appeal to such general criteria as explanatory scope, simplicity, compatibility with known science, support form other domains of inquiry including ethics or value theory, philosophy of mind, and so on. An analogy with assessing nonhuman animal mental life may prove helpful.

Looks like someone’s trying to smuggle some parts of his argument by the backdoor again: even if a god existed and were responsible for creating the universe, you would expect the laws of the universe and the ethical principles set down by man to have some alignment if said deity cares about human ethics or lack thereof. And, for example, Azathoth doesn’t give a shit about them. If the creation of the universe has a mindless source, you ought not to expect ethics or philosophy of the mind to be of any help.

Reply to Argument V

In pursuing a philosophy of God, I suggest philosophers of all stripes should pursue natural theology and follow the arguments wherever they lead.

After you. You can begin by stopping to try to smuggle YHWH ex hypothesi.

Then we get some general thoughts.

It is certainly right that simply having a greater number of arguments for one position (theism) rather than another (pantheism) is not, ipso facto, an advantage. The larger number of arguments may raise a larger number of good objections. But what Oppy’s analysis may lead us to miss is that independent lines of reasoning can increase the bona fide cogency of their mutual conclusion. So if religious experience gives one some reason to embrace pantheism and an argument from simplicity gives one reason to embrace pantheism, then pantheism is better supported than if one only had one such argument. This is not a matter of a mere disjunction but a case of one argument supporting the other.

I think you’re missing a bit Oppy’s point here…it’s, in convoluted language because whyever not, to make sure both arguments are sound.

It may be that we are at a point where the evidential basis for theism and pantheism is on a par, but we would also be in a position (ceterus paribus) where there is more reason to question the sufficiency of secular naturalism. Both the nontheistic and theistic arguments would function as providing independent reasons for seeking a nonnaturalist account of the cosmos.

That does require that they don’t undercut one another though. Because if the pantheist argument weakens the part of the theist argument treating secular naturalism and vice versa, you’re no better off in your quest to knock secular naturalism out of the race.

Well, it was a bit stream-of-consciousness, for which I ask for your forgiveness. Next time, I’ll see some Leibnizian cosmological arguments.