Thursday, 5 November 2015

The Cosmological Argument: Doubts, Difficulties and My Thoughts


About three years ago I became a theist because I found the cosmological argument irresistibly compelling at a rational level. I did not become affiliated with any religion straight away, although I became a Christian not too long after. Today I no longer believe the cosmological argument is sound or can be known to be sound. Let me emphasise this point because it has two parts: (1) I do not find any version of the cosmological argument known to me to be rationally compelling and (2) I do not believe that such an argument can be formulated such that the conclusion (that God exists) is known with certainty.

Where that places my Christianity or theism more broadly is unclear to me. Some people contend that it should remain entirely unaffected because I have a personal relationship with God which transcends rationality. However, relationships seem to me to be based on elements of reason and other elements which go beyond reason. This can be illustrated with the usual analogy used for arguing faith as a virtue: if there seems to be evidence that my spouse is cheating on me, I give her the benefit of the doubt because of how much faith I have in her. But what is the basis of this faith? It is the experience of my spouse in the past and from there, the knowledge of her character. It is a faith built on evidence.

Belief in God, I would say, is much more like online dating without the benefit of cameras or telephones. Certainly, over the course of an online friendship, two people would get to know each other and some degree of trust could establish itself. In the back of their mind, however, is always the knowledge that in the past these people have turned out to be fake, always the knowledge that there exist master deceivers online in these forums. So faith is possible but it seems to lack certainty. Is this a problem? Perhaps not. Few things in life are certain. For me, nonetheless, the cosmological argument had given me a scrap of the closest thing to certainty I could have outside of the truths of mathematics and those most likely truths gleaned from the natural world. So for the argument to be unsound is tantamount to having the online dating website put a marker on the beloved's profile marking it as "Doubtfully Genuine." Any semblance of a relationship is viewed with suspicion and as perhaps the cunning ploy of a deceiver.

Let me enumerate the reasons that I do not think that the known cosmological arguments are sound. First of all, I have never been Aristotelian in my metaphysics (I have viewed with much more agreement the views of Locke and on occasion Hume and Kant, though I have no established metaphysics within which I operate) which means that I invariably find the arguments of St Thomas Aquinas to need reformulation, if only linguistic and cosmetic at points. Aristotle's metaphysics suffers from the same problem, in my opinion, which besets his natural philosophy: despite beginning with some observation, the addition of wildly speculative elements and, more importantly, ontologically realising his linguistic constructions renders a metaphysics which seems common sense but lacks critical grappling with real metaphysical problems. Aristotle's defenders continually accuse his critics (at least in my non-professional experience) of rejecting first principles which should be assumed as axiomatic, and yet this label given to common sense principles does not allow for their critical analysis. It is not the job of philosophy to make common sense reputable, but rather to seek for actual truth, and if common sense is misleading or false, then all the worse for common sense.

Secondly, to his first and second ways I say that I am entirely comfortable with the possibility of an "actual infinite," and so deny that there needs to be some first mover or first efficient cause. I can see why a naive view of infinities leads to paradoxes but in my studies of mathematics I have found no logical contradictions when infinity is rigorously defined; this is by no means to say that the conclusions of operating with infinities are common sense. However, un-intuitive should not be taken to mean false lest one makes of one's common sense an idol.

Thirdly, when it comes to arguments from contingency (as Aquinas' third way is), claims are made which are entirely unverified and implicitly deny, again, the possibility of an actual infinite. How does one know what sort of entity produces a contingent event? Clearly we know from experience that contingent events are produced by other contingent events. Why is it not possible for this to have gone on eternally in the past? More importantly, arguments from contingency are liable to the fallacy of composition which asserts that because the members of some whole have a property, then the whole must have it. This is sometimes true (if all the parts of a car are red, then the whole car is red) but it is not necessarily true (carbon atoms do not have the same properties as carbon allotropes like diamonds or graphite, or diamond and graphite would be identical). I see of no way of inferring that the universe is contingent based on its parts, particularly since:

Fourthly, even if a necessary agent was somewhere necessary in a sequence of contingent events, there is no reason to think that this agent is personal. It is quite conceivable that laws of nature are metaphysically necessary and so can produce contingent events. Why is the world the way it is? We explain everything in it by natural laws, so it is plausible that it can be explained as a whole by natural laws (though here I am asserting only possibility and plausibility). It is sometimes objected that natural laws only explain how to go from one state of affairs to another, not how the whole chain started, to which I reply with two points:

Fifthly, that the only natural laws we know are the ones that take one existing state of affairs to another by some means and mechanism, but this does not imply that these are the only natural laws that exist. This is particularly important because when cosmological arguments make claims about the beginning of all time-space and further claim that such an event would be impossible without a personal agent, they are implicitly are claiming knowledge about atemporal causation. What caused the Big Bang, they ask? But such a question requires a different type of causation to the one we are familiar with in day-to-day life because our daily notions of causality are that some event A which precedes B in time can be the cause of B. Yet there is no possible event of this type preceding the beginning of time, and so we must remain entirely agnostic as to what sort of causality is required. If the Big Bang was really the absolute beginning of all of time and space, then when it is said that it had a cause we are importing an entirely foreign notion to the event. When an argument like the Kalam says that everything that begins to exist has a cause for its existence, it makes a claim bigger than the one we have experience of: that everything that begins to exist within time has a cause preceding it in time for its existence. So to that premise I simply say: I cannot know.

Sixthly, the rather major point that I am an instrumentalist and so I do not believe that the scientific theory of the Big Bang can be thought to have metaphysical implications. If you want to know more about the point of view known as "scientific anti-realism", have a look at the article on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. This means that in arguments like the Kalam where the universe is said to have a beginning, that premise must be proved by non-scientific means. If I was convinced of scientific realism, however, or even realism with respect to certain tenets, then I would furthermore believe two final points about quantum mechanics:

Seventhly, that the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics (or in other words, its under-determinism) leads to profound implications for the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) which underlies most if not all cosmological arguments. Where previously it was held to be certain that, if one measured something in a laboratory then it could in principle be explained uniquely by a preceding event, set of events or series of conditions, this need no longer be held. Every known result of quantum mechanics is consistent with the idea that an identical experiment can have different outcomes to which the only explanation is that the different outcomes were all possible. Because of Bell's theorem and its violation, I think a substantial case can be made that this result of quantum mechanics can be known to be metaphysically true.

Eightly, the interpretation of quantum mechanics which I favour as satisfactorily and elegantly explaining the results of physics is the many worlds interpretation. This actually is in dissonance with point seven and yet it still undermines some varieties of cosmological argument (albeit in a different way). This is because it removes the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics so much that it makes every event uncontingent. In technical terminology, all of physical reality is in a superposition of quantum states which make up a wavefunction that never gets collapsed. The classical analogue would be like flipping a coin and both heads and tails came up in different worlds which branch off from each other, equally real, but we experience only one of the two. To those who believe that many-worlds is quantum mumbo jumbo, I refer this article from Sean Carroll. The consequence of the many worlds interpretation is that the sum of all the contingent worlds makes a necessary whole, much like the sum of the two outcomes of the coin toss makes a necessary whole. That falsifies the claim of the argument from contingency.

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For those who are still reading I am going to add a final point in support of my claim that the soundness of the cosmological argument is unknowable with certainty by reason and experience that is available to us without extra revelation (which would be in contention anyway). It is, you might say, an argument from pessimistic induction: as our knowledge of science progresses and we learn more about the natural world, what we learn above all is how alien to our common sense it is. This makes evolutionary sense: the minds of human beings were not formed to contemplate quarks or comprehend how energy produces the curvature of space-time.

It is unsurprising that we intuit things that are false, but if we are honest with our findings we must acknowledge that the world is a weirder place than we could previously assume. The more we realise how unlike our daily life the real world is on scales that exceed it (the very small, the very fast, the very big, the very hot, the very cold, etc.) the more we must acknowledge how little we can justify on the basis of what appears obvious. Cosmological arguments are obvious arguments but the cosmos is not obvious. Therefore, to any claim of knowledge furnishes the premises of such arguments I respond "How do you know that?" Do not be surprised if I do not consider "It is obvious" to be an answer.

28 comments:

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  2. I will respond very briefly to this entry in general rather than with specifics, which I think is fine insofar as there are common themes that run through the entirety of the points you have raised, and because I am pressed for time.

    First: You seem merely to note some objections rather than explore them argumentatively. Thus, even though you have claimed to be talking about possibility and plausibility, that remains to be shown. (Personally, I find some of your objections rather dubious, although I am willing to be argued into accepting them.)

    Second: You have claimed that you think proponents of the cosmological argument avoid serious metaphysical heavy lifting, but it seems as though that is quite incorrect, since I am familiar with proponents' serious metaphysical explorations. (E.g.: for excellent defense of the principle of sufficient reason, see Pruss' multiple works; for excellent discussion of infinities, see Craig's multiple works, etc.)

    Third: I don't find much argumentation about first philosophy (metaphysics) in this article. E.g., rather than argue the point, you seem to just assume a very specific form of empiricism (which is more Humean than Kantian, since Kant was more sensitive to the metaphysical need of epistemological justifications for his empiricism than Hume). You seem to assume that you are engaged in metaphysics, but you contradict this via your favouring of how alien you think the world that we nonetheless seem to grasp is. A metaphysician would not have an easy time trying to claim that the metaphysics (rationalisation) held, which ultimately enables the conception of the world observed, is somehow refuted by that observed world. Yet this is what you seem to be claiming.

    Fourth: You seem to confuse metaphysical, logical, physical and scientific possibilities. This is a problem because some are more restrictive than others while others are more applicable than some. E.g. consider the differences between metaphysical vis-à-vis physical possibilities and logical vis-à-vis scientific possibilities. Different modes of possibility rightly apply in different contexts, some of which have far more dominance over others. (There is much talk about this in the literature. E.g. Plantinga's ontological argument employs broadly logical possibility, which in principle has dominance over scientific possibility. Of course, scientific experiment can correct and guide logical rationalisation via observable demonstrations, but I find it impossible (in the strong modal sense) to even think that the world defies logic, since logic in the broad sense involves the world and the thought that can think it. As a related point, you seem to think that quantum mechanics violates logic, viz. the principle of sufficient reason. However, there are many emprically equivalent interpretations of quantum mechanics, some of which do not violate logic, viz. the principle of sufficient reason. Since they seem to fit a coherent picture more so than alternative interpretations, I think that they are more plausible.)

    Fifth: You seem to be far more comfortable applying agnosticism to your consideration of God than to your consideration of extremely dubious speculations of fringe theories in science such as many worlds theories. There seems to be a gross inconsistency here to say the least.

    There is more, but that will have to suffice for now.

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    Replies
    1. First: I did not claim to have engaged in a full elaboration of all the objections and their ramifications. I have neither the time for that at present nor would I have achieved my aim of noting to a wider group what those objections were. I believe my claim had been to enumerate reasons, not engage in full discussions of them.

      Second: I do not claim that proponents of the argument avoid serious metaphysical work, and I am also quite familiar with Pruss and Craig on the topic. Craig I find mathematically naive and Pruss, whilst better, I find mistaken. If you would like to defend some specific argument given by either of those philosophers, perhaps I can be convinced.

      Third: I don't think metaphysics is first philosophy, so you should be unsurprised that it is not where I start. I am torn between considering logic or epistemology as first philosophy, but for the purposes of this it suffices to say that epistemology is prior to metaphysics (which I think is demonstrated by the claim that having a foundation in knowledge and particularly, how and what can be known, is prior to knowing any particular thing). You will note, now that this has been clarified, that most of my claims are claims about knowledge, not metaphysics.

      Fourth: I do not think that the PSR is a matter of logic, so again, you are attacking a strawman. Obviously I do not think that quantum mechanics is illogical since it would be refuting itself (given that QM was arrived at by logical inference from empirical phenomena). I think most of those other interpretations are contrived or at least make empirical claims which are stronger than the evidence provides (for instance, hidden variable interpretations claim knowledge about hidden variables which have never been observed).

      Fifth: I was pretty clear when introducing my last two points that I am a scientific anti-realist and so do not claim to derive knowledge about the real world from science. However, thinking that the many worlds interpretation is an extremely dubious speculation of a fringe theory betrays your clear ignorance on the topic, and is precisely the reason why I provided the link to Carroll's blog to further elaborate on your error.

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    4. Lobezno, I will respond to your responses in order. These are largish responses, so I will limit one response to your responses per post. (There is also a restriction on the amount of words this comments section allows, which limits me as such.) I will also just post these responses progressively, as I have time. There will be five in total. I think that it would be gentlemanly etiquette to withhold any responses that you may have until I have finished my responses. (Think of Leibniz and Locke.)

      First Response:

      I am aware that you did not claim to have attempted to have provided a “full elaboration” of your points about of the cosmological argument. However, I think that you did attempt to provide some warrant for your doubt of the cosmological argument. I just do not find much compulsion to think your doubt warranted in what you have provided, per the comments that I have already provided. What could compel me is some brief yet sufficient argumentation.

      E.g.: In your second point, you have suggested that you are “comfortable with the possibility of an ‘actual infinite’”, since in your “studies of mathematics”, you “have found no logical contradictions when infinity is rigorously defined”, and any “common sense” intuition to the contrary is “naive”. Great. I have no problem with this in mathematics. The problem, as I have stated elsewhere, is that this presupposes rather than argues that mathematics is consistent with metaphysics, which is the only way this can damage some requiment by which a mere Kalam cosmological argument is able to run. (I.e., this does not have any relation to a basic contingency cosmological argument.) Yet, this presupposition about the consistency of mathematics and metaphysics is neither modest nor plausible. Mathematics has less restriction than metaphysics. This is clear, I think, at least insofar as the entirety of mathematics can be soundly taken as fictional (qua anti-real) while the entirety of metaphysics cannot be soundly taken as fictional (qua anti-real). This is why Badiou, who is professionally a mathematician, a metaphysician and arguably the paradigmatic philosopher alive today, merely equates mathematics and metaphysics via an axiom. He cannot otherwise find a way to equate the two fields. (See Badiou’s Being and Event.) Meillassoux has attempted to argue his way to an equation of mathematics and metaphysics. (See Meillassoux’s After Finitude.) However, as commendable as that attempt is, it seems to be unanimously considered a failure by every philosopher other than himself, even among his supporters. You seem to have attempted to provide an answer to this conundrum, viz. that of the equation of mathematical and metaphysics infinities, in another direct response to my statement of this problem elsewhere. I assume that you would permit a complete presentation of it here:

      “I think it [i.e. the equation of mathematical and metaphysical infinities] does apply and the reason is quite simple: when any argument against actual infinities is formulated in logical form, the logical form of infinity is the same as the mathematical form. To use a crude example, an infinite number of apples is not physically a mathematical quantity, but when we discuss that group of apples (with reference to its number) we use language that can be transposed to mathematics.”

      The problem here is twofold. First: You have attempted to equate mathematics and logic, not mathematics and metaphysics. I do not think that many philosophers care to strongly deny that mathematics is merely a form of logic, especially after Frege. I certainly am happy to grant as much. Yet, logic and metaphysics are not synonymous. Second: You appeal to a dissociation of mathematics and physics. That is fine. But here you still only deal with mathematical infinities and just ignore the question of metaphysical infinities and even physical infinities. So, it seems as though you have not at all equated mathematics and metaphysics and a fortiori mathematical and metaphysical infinities.

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    5. For clarity, by the statement “[Y]ou [...] ignore the question of metaphysical infinities and even physical infinities.”, I mean that you do not address the possibility of either physical infinities or metaphysical infinities, but seem to still assume that they are both possible, e.g. “an infinite number of apples”, “an ‘actual infinite’” (by which I take you to mean an actually infinite past and future in some measure of time, the measures of which are mathematically countable), etc. But this is precisely the point of controversy, which hinges on, inter alia, the consistency of mathematical and metaphysical infinities, which is unsupported and disputed, as aforementioned.

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    6. Second Response:

      I had thought you meant to imply that proponents of the cosmological argument only use Aristotelian metaphysical assumptions, all of which, as you have said, “lacks critical grappling with real metaphysical problems.” If you did not mean to make such an implication, then I withdraw this point of criticism and apologise.

      I can accept that you think that “Craig” is “mathematically naive” and “Pruss” is “mistaken” about the PSR. However, you have not yet provided any warrant to compel any interlocutor’s assent to this judgement. As such, it remains, albeit unsupported.

      The language in your statement “perhaps I can be convinced”, which signifies a possible result of some argument that I could possibly provide, means ‘by chance it is possible that I could convince you of [some premise or conclusion]’. This is subtle, but if you meant the language that you’ve used, then you give away a poor attitude. When I have said that “I am willing to be argued into accepting [some premise or conclusion]” etc., I have not suggested that it is merely chance that ultimately plays the critical role for you and/or I, as if I am only by chance able to change my mind and/or you are other than by chance incapable of the production of any argument sufficient to change my mind. Rather, I have suggested that it is we as interlocutors that ultimately play the critical role, i.e. ‘I am willing to engage with whatever argument you provide and treat it as potentially sufficient to compel assent’. I.e., there seems to be a difference of intellectual humility, integrity and maturity evident, the deficiency of which, if maintained, is not conducive to any worthwhile discussion. I note as much at this very subtle point because it seems quite obvious at other points of your response.

      Yet, you will be able to find my comments with respect to Craig’s (and Badiou’s, inter al.,) point about the inequivalence of mathematics and metaphysics in my ‘First Response’ and my comments with respect to Pruss’ point about the PSR in my ‘Third Response’ and ‘Fourth Response’. That will have to suffice. However, even if you do not find any compulsion to assent there, that would only mirror the lack of compulsion to assent in what you have stated contra such points. As such, at best, there would not be any warrant either for assent to your thesis contra my thesis or vice versa.

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    7. Third Response:

      You have suggested that metaphysics is not first philosophy, which is demonstrable via the requirement of epistemology for any such metaphysics. The problem here is twofold.

      First: Your use of epistemology is suffused with metaphysical assumptions. Veritably, the minimal condition of thought itself, while epistemological, has metaphysical status, along with all the metaphysical and epistemological baggage that comes with that, such as any entities that function as conditions which render such thought possible at all, etc. You do not need to know ‘what’ any such entities are (i.e. their quiddity) to know ‘that’ such entities are (i.e. their quoddity). Furthermore, such entities may similarly be metaphysical and/or epistemological. So, I do not consider your claim demonstrable as such. At best, it seems, metaphysics and epistemology as such function pari passu, and that pari passu functionality of metaphysics and epistemology is first philosophy.

      Second: There is a deeper disagreement, which is that I do not often use the contemporarily conventional Anglo-American (and occasionally European) definition of ‘metaphysics’, which is theoretically synonymous and practically equivalent with ‘ontology’, which you seem to have used, and which I have used in the above paragraph to match what seems to be your usage. I use what I consider to be a more appropriate definition of metaphysics, which comes out of Kant et al., and which is just that pari passu function of ontology and epistemology. That is what I consider first philosophy, as do contemporaries such as Robinson, inter al. Thus, I think that your claims inevitably are about metaphysics.

      (As an additional point, metaphysics in this sense can also be contrasted with what is commonly called ‘ethics’, both of which also function pari passu. But insofar as metaphysics is of a higher order than ethics (since the former is theoretically dominant and the latter is practically subordinant), I say that metaphysics is first philosophy rather than ethics. Of course there are those, such as Levinas, who would argue to the contrary, that ethics is first philosophy rather than metaphysics. (See Levinas’ Totality and Infinity.) I am willing to further explore arguments to that end. However, I do not currently hold such a position as that which was held by Levinas.)

      As such, my statement that “I don't find much argumentation about first philosophy (metaphysics) in this article.” means, by definition, that I do not find much epistemological argumentation in this article. As I said, “rather than argue the point, even briefly, you seem to just assume a very specific form of empiricism”. Note that empiricism is an epistemological question, so my point about metaphysics being epistemological and ontological is not some post hoc ad hoc variation for my claim after your claim to care more about epistemology than ontology. Furthermore, the empiricism that you seem to hold seems to run contrary to any epistemological argumentation that you could have to warrant your hold of it, which was my point. Why is this so? Because any sufficient epistemological argumentation that you could offer for your empiricism about the observable world contra rationalisation (especially the PSR) is only cogitable via such rationalisation (especially the PSR). If you can show that you encounter no such problem, then I will gladly concede.

      Your attack against common sense will not help here, since, even though I could defend common sense (e.g. Kant himself was a philosopher of common sense), I do not here appeal to it. Rather, I appeal to metaphysics, which is what I consider to be the pari passu functionality of epistemology and ontology, as aforementioned. Also, your claim that the PSR is not logical will not help here, since I now attach the PSR to rationalisation simpliciter, which seems to me to be undeniable.

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    8. Fourth Response:

      If you do not think that the PSR is a question of logic, then I am not sure what type of question you think it is. Perhaps you would argue that it is a metaphysical question. But in the case of the PSR, only because of its basic applicability to both logic and metaphysics, it as a metaphysical issue would just seem like the substantive variant of it as a logical issue. So, I am not sure that you would want to argue that it is metaphysical, since you claim that it is not logical. (Note that by ‘metaphysics’, I mean ‘epistemology and ontology’, as aforementioned.)

      It seems to me that the ultimate account of the PSR is that ‘Whatever there is has a sufficient reason for its being, whatsoever that is.’ I.e., the PSR is basically just the ‘principle of causation’ (PC). This is also the core of what I think you mean to signify by what you have suggested, that “if one measured something in a laboratory then it could in principle be explained uniquely by a preceding event, set of events or series of conditions”. (I add that this should not be taken to imply that by “laboratory” you mean ‘apparatus for all possible observation’, which is not a sound claim, and which I assume you do not mean.)

      Now, I cannot think that it is possible to violate this PSR qua PC and not end in performative or some other sort of contradiction (e.g. logical, metaphysical, etc.). Since you have claimed that you have sufficient reason to doubt the PSR via quantum mechanics, I take it that you find that quantum mechanics merely functions with a certain amount of current unpredictability, which is accounted for via probabilities. Such current unpredictability accounted for via probabilities is not news. However, your doubt about hidden variables and other unobservables that could also help to account for such functionality is rather questionable. What is your warrant for this doubt? It seems to be merely because such hidden variables are currently unobservable. Alas, this would land you in a bind. You cannot say that there are no such current unobservables merely because you do not currently observe them, since that would be to beg the question. (It is also rather fallacious induction. Think of Hume’s black swans.) It seems far more judicious to treat hidden variables etc. as possible hypotheticals unless or until there is some sufficient reason qua cause to accept or deny them.

      However, there is a deeper problem here. Via your implied study of Hume, I think that you should already be aware that we do not observe any causation whatsoever, and, via your implied study of Kant, I think that you should already be aware that causation is a universal and objective necessary condition for any cogitation of observables and unobservables alike. Such indispensability of causation to cogitation is just the PSR qua PC. My suggestion of such indispensability is not that we do not want to rid ourselves of the PSR qua PC, but that it is impossible for us to rid ourselves of the PSR qua PC, since any thesis that we can rid ourselves of the PSR qua PC is self-contradictory, since any denial of the PSR qua PC is incoherent. (I deal with this in my work of Meillassoux, who also tried to deny the PSR qua PC.) The implication this has for quantum mechanics is that even if there are not unobservables at work, there is at least some feature of observable quanta that itself accounts for the functionality of such quanta, and that feature is just the sufficient reason qua cause in question. I.e., it does not, because it cannot, violate the PSR qua PC, due to the aforementioned Kantian, and, to a much lesser degree, Humean, laws.

      With respect to your point about self-contradiction, I do not think that it is obvious that it is impossible for you to mistakenly contradict yourself (just like any other thinker), hence my mention of the point in question. I agree with your clarification about inference, but this does not get you out of the bind that you seem to be in, which is, the dispensation in quantum mechanics of an indispensable such as the PSR qua PC.

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    9. Fifth Response:

      I am aware that you have claimed to be a scientific anti-realist. I never suggested that you claim the derive knowledge of the ‘real’ world from science. What I suggested is that you claim to derive knowledge about the world from science, which to me seems obvious from what you have said, compatible with instrumentalism, and just simply the very purpose of science. There is an obvious difference here which I assume you will not miss. If you are a scientific anti-realist, then the ‘world’ in question would just be taken as phenomenal, empirical, ideal, fictional, etc., the anti-realist classification of which is contingent to the type of your anti-realism. (I have written many papers on realism (and the real) and idealism (and the ideal), etc., which is one of my major areas of study (with respect to every philosopher I work on, from Parmenides to Meillassoux), so I typically pay close attention to those words and their contexts. Indeed, to any student of Kant, such words would stick out like a sore thumb. Suffice to say that I did not miss your identification as an anti-realist, as you seem to have confidently claimed on at least two occasions, as a defence against my criticism.)

      On a related point, anti-realism does not rule out (metaphysical) speculation about the real world simpliciter, but limits any such speculation from claims to (certain) knowledge. So, as a scientific anti-realist myself (a la van Fraassen and Kuhn), and an anti-realist in the continental sense as one who works with abyssal grounds etc. (a la Heidegger), I am quite free to speculate about metaphysics (a la Meillassoux), which I think is inevitable anyway, while restraining any such speculation from claims to knowledge (a la Kant).) So, I treat your comments about sufficient reason, God, etc. in the same way. You may reason quite soundly to, e.g., matter (in the Berkeleyan sense) or God (in the Cartesian sense), yet you may still say that because it is merely you that reasons as such, you do not possess knowledge (in the Kantian sense) of any such conclusion, and thus remain an anti-realist. Nonetheless, you could still live practically as if there is matter, with objective definition, God, along with other minds, etc. I.e. you can still be an anti-realist and a theist, like, e.g., Dummett, just as you can be an anti-realist and a proponent of multiple worlds, or whatever else.

      As to your assertion of my “clear ignorance” on the topic of multiple worlds, this is not the type of claim that seems to demonstrate any sophistication that the claimant may otherwise demonstrate. What do I mean by sophistication here? Notice that: (i) I always (at least endeavour to) preface my criticism with qualificational conditions, such as ‘it seems as though’, ‘you seem to’, etc.; and, (ii) rather than just accuse you of assumed ignorance etc., I just note what I think are problems with your claims, which any person can address whether or not demonstrative of ignorance. Additionally, avoidance of such bold claims as “clear ignorance” of the interlocutor also serves to save face, just in case it is somehow ironically evident in the claimant. Hence the point about “intellectual humility, integrity and maturity” in my ‘Second Response’. I.e. there seems to be far more sophisticated means to think and communicate. (As a disciplinary rule, it is best to condition thoughts and phrase statements as negatively as possible without any sacrifice of the efficiency of any such thought and statement. And there are many gradations of such disciplinary negativity.) Not all academics seem to cultivate such a manner (e.g. Carroll, Krauss et al. seem to lack it). But I am lucky enough to be able to spend time with those academics who have cultivated such a manner (i.e. Miklos Veto, Kevin Hart, etc.), from whom I try to learn. I would advise that all academics do similarly.

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    10. With respect to the Carroll article, I have read it, and did not find any information there that I have not already processed elsewhere. I reject the many worlds theory because of problems that I think it has, which are not the “silly” problems that Carroll discusses. I am concerned with problems that relate to implications for time, space, causation, inconsistent maintenance of observables and unobservables (viz. maintenance of unnecessary unobservables and misconceived observables), the impossibility of the separation of worlds (which relates to a problem in possible worlds semantics that suggests (many) possible worlds are impossible but a (one) continuum of possibility is necessary), identity, mereology, the implausibility of all models hitherto for the sustainability of many worlds, etc. These problems, which do not merely form a convergent argument but parallel arguments contra many worlds, are just some of many problems that Carroll does not even mention in his article, or if he does mention them (e.g. such as his mention of unobservables), he does not at all seem to do justice to such problems as critics seem to see them. Furthermore, at the end of the article, Carroll suggests that any alternatives to his position are ruled out via experimentation. But this seems to be either naive or dishonest, since the issue here is not experimentation but interpretation. What he would have to defend, sufficiently, which he has not, is his interpretation, not any experimentation. His claim that we do not have to make any additions to quantum mechanics is just, let us say, apparently incorrect and does not cut it as a sufficient defence, since there are assumptions required to make any interpretation at all, and in this case, his assumption is that of implausible unobservables.

      Your acceptance of such implausible unobservables, even if you do not find them implausible, seems to run contrary to your thesis against hidden variables and the PSR, since both hidden variables and the PSR are unobservables, just like the many worlds, yet the PSR seems plausibly indispensable, the hidden variables seem plausible, and the many worlds are dubious.

      I will also note that I am quite aware that many physicists find interest in many worlds theories. However, I referred to such theories as fringe-like and speculative because that is just what they are. Many worlds theories as a category of theory are popular. No doubt. But no one many worlds theory is currently uncontested, for sufficient reasons, and every many worlds theory currently encounters serious problems. Furthermore, no many worlds theory, at least to the best of my knowledge, has come to replace what we have long called the Standard Model. That is why I called them fringe-like. I called them speculative simply because all theories, even that poor Humean copy principle, in all of its basicality, is speculative.

      Finally, you have not addresses my central point here, which is the inconsistency of your agnosticism. As I have said, you can maintain theism and phenomenalism of some defensible sort. The paradigmatic figure for such compatibilism is Kant himself.

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    11. That will be all from me, Lobezno. I welcome any responses that you may have. I will consider them, should you offer any, but I will not provide any further responses myself.

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    12. Also, apologies for typographical errors. I counted three (two in the 'First Response' and one at the end of the 'Fifth Response'), but there could be more. (I wrote and re-read this in a rush.) I won't fix them because they are only minor and there is no way that I know of to edit any comment without deleting and re-posting it.

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  3. I like Rajat's comment and had a number of the same thoughts...just could never hope to put them as eloquently as he

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  4. How is any knowledge different to online dating a possible fake? Don't you have to appeal to something like 'its common sense that the things I see are also things that are real?' Or for the existence of other persons ie 'tony abbot is not a complex ai but a person experiencing life in the same way I am'.

    For me I don't have certainty of anything. I find compelling the notion that the christian God understands me better than anything else does, and in ways I would not have admitted to myself or others. This makes Christianity th most interesting thing in reality in my mind and even if it turns out to be a creep on the other end, I literally haven't noticed any where else to go. That is I say with peter where else have we to go?

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    1. I think that makes (personally) a pretty compelling argument for a Christian worldview, I agree. But the distinctly Catholic world view adds the requirement that certainty *can* be achieved on certain points. That's a major part of my problem.

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    2. "But the distinctly Catholic world view adds the requirement that certainty *can* be achieved on certain points." Just curious as to your source for this assertion? Calling to mind Bl. John H. Newman's famous quote: “Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt." Your word choice is also interesting, calling it a "requirement" that "certainty can be achieved." Just using the words "requirement" and "can be achieved" rather than "must be achieved" seems to me like a bit of a hedge? Hence my question. :-)

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    3. Just because the Catholic Church says it "can" be achieved doesn't mean that if you don't achieve certainty on those certain points that you can no longer consider yourself Catholic. As Montenegro said - it doesn't say certainty "must" be achieved in order to be Catholic.

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  5. Hello I was wondering if you could clear up a few points that you made which I find confusing.

    "which means that I invariably find the arguments of St Thomas Aquinas to need reformulation, if only linguistic and cosmetic at points."-Which points? All or just a few?


    "If the Big Bang was really the absolute beginning of all of time and space, then when it is said that it had a cause we are importing an entirely foreign notion to the event." -So the big bang may have been a random event? Do you believe in the big bang? Or is there not enough evidence to prove this?


    "This makes evolutionary sense: the minds of human beings were not formed to contemplate quarks or comprehend how energy produces the curvature of space-time."-how do you know this? Are there more references that would make this point clearer?

    Thank you for clearing this up :)

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    1. With the five ways, the language is not so Aristotelian that it cannot be pretty easily translated into more modern metaphysical language, but things like efficient causality or act/potency are Aristotelian terms. Efficiency causality is just what people mean by causality these days and potency is given by Aristotle an undue measure of realism, in my opinion. It is other things (like substance theory) where Aristotle more notably exceeds the bounds of his rational speculation.

      No, it doesn't mean the big bang was a random event (it could have been, I don't know), what that sentence is saying is that discussing causality before the big bang is challenged by the fact that it is impossible to discuss causality in the same way we do otherwise. Our only experience of causes are the ones where something happens and then (afterwards in time) something else happens which was caused by the previous event. But there is nothing preceding the big bang in time. But no, I don't believe in the big bang, not for lack of scientific evidence but for lack of scientific realism.

      The point about evolution is this: human brains evolved to best cope with the natural pressures which challenged survival and reproduction. So we have brains that give us all these mental traits which incline us to be good at survival and reproductive skills. At no point in our evolutionary history have we needed to solve partial differential equations, so it is unsurprising that humans are, by and large, not naturally talented at it. This becomes even clearer when we try and picture things like four dimensional Minikowskii space (this oddly behaving mathematical construction which general relativity uses) or other physics concepts. They're non-intuitive because our intuition was not made to understand such things.

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  6. Oh my gosh... Lobezno, did you delete my two-part response to your responses?

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. I am happy to assume that it was some technical error that caused my comments to be deleted. I have begun to re-write them under the initial comment thread that I began on this blog. However, they will not all be re-written at once, because I must tend to a few priorities.

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  7. Hi Lobi: I'm curious about your comment: "...the minds of human beings were not formed to contemplate quarks or comprehend how energy produces the curvature of space-time." Could you please elaborate? Do you mean by this that any human mind that does indeed contemplate quarks or comprehend how energy produces the curvature of space-time does so in spite of its formation? I ask, b/c I am trying to understand what exactly you think the "minds of human beings" were formed for? And while you're at it, maybe explain the inherent "theology" behind your statement implying that human minds are indeed formed, for this then begs the question (if that''s the correct phrase), who or what formed the human mind? And for what purpose if not to contemplate or comprehend the concepts you have cited? Thank you and God bless - nina

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  8. That's a really good point, I was begging the question when I made some assumption about what human minds were made for. What I should probably say instead is, that whatever the ultimate purpose of human minds are, they're very well adapted to the sorts of things that we deal with in day-to-day life. Our minds seem to be based around rules of thumb which make us excellent at making quick deductions in daily life, but unfortunately are not so well inclined to the more general principles that give rise to those laws of thumb. It's like we work with an approximate view of what the world is like and to picture the complete view we have to abstract a bit from what we experience.

    We're pretty decent at abstracting - some more than others, of course - but the conclusions of those people who are best at abstracting seem to be pretty far away from what we thought were the right principles for making deductions. To use that example of curved space-time: we have a pretty good feeling for the fact that gravity pulls us down towards the earth but when we examine it more carefully we end up building this really precise system where we have had to abstract a four dimensional space that does not even work like the three dimensional space that we feel is real. It's still gravity but it has conclusions which are remarkably non-common sense.

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    1. HI Lobi -would it be fair to say that your statement is a refutation of the work of the early scholastics, who abstracted and assembled their conclusions about Our Lord based on the Gospels and the early OT scripture?

      I would offer you this quote by St. Teresa Benedict of the Cross (Edith Stein): "Let me, O Lord, walk without seeing the paths that are Yours. I do not want to know where You are leading me. Am I not Your child? You are the Father of Wisdom, and also my Father. Even if You lead through the night, you are leading me to Yourself. Lord, let happen whatever You will; I am ready, even if you never satisfy me in this life. You are the Lord of time. Do all according to the plans of Your Wisdom. When You gently call to sacrifice, help me, oh yes, to accomplish it. Let me totally surpass my little ego, so that dead to myself, I may no longer live but for You!"

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