Simple Answers for Simpletons

It can’t just be me—surely other people have noticed the freakishly high frequency at which people who are trying to sell you something will insist that their product is easy to understand. In the public sphere, every time I hear a politician advocate for common sense solutions, I throw up a little in my mouth. Running a country (especially one with over 300 million people in it) is not easy. It’s can’t possibly be simple. Anyone who tries to convince you otherwise is lying to you.

Here’s a simple statistic: the US government spends over $400 million dollars … per hour. Can you even imagine that much money? Most people don’t make anywhere near that much in a single lifetime. (Indeed, most won’t even earn even one percent of that.) The US government spends that much every single hour.

Common sense has absolutely nothing to do with such a system.

You know what else common sense has nothing to do with? Anything. This alleged common sense thing is complete crap. It’s just crap. Common sense is an intuition, and intuitions are inconceivably unreliable. Seriously.

Creationists say that biologists are wrong about evolution. Why? Because it’s easier to believe goddidit. According to them, that’s a common sense answer. Those creationists who insist on trying to develop further reasons have been rather prolific, and you could end up wanting to claw your own eyes out before you finished reading all of their nonsense. (I recommend you stop before reaching that point.)

Denialists of global climate change deny that the planet is warming. Why? Because some scientists’ emails were leaked without context, and some of the stuff they said looked fishy, so obviously all scientific conclusions about climate are false. To them, easier to believe in a conspiracy than it is to understand all the complicated science that goes into climatology.

Birthers continue to insist that Barack Obama is ineligible for the office of the Presidency. Why? Because he’s black. Or something. Actually, I don’t really get this one at all. I guess “amazingly sophisticated multi-generational international anti-American plot” seems far more likely to them than “all the available documentation that demonstrates his US citizenship is authentic.” Whatever.

The point is that there are a lot of people who try to oversimplify reality to sell you a message, and these people are terribly misinformed. (I wanted to say evil, but Hanlon’s razor won out. I’m willing to believe that most of them are just well-intentioned fools.)

So in keeping with this spirit of oversimplified and/or completely wrong answers being given in lieu of actual reasoning, I’d like to address this little gem I came across today. Get your barf bag ready because it offers “six straight-forward reasons to believe that God is really there.” And you know what? They’re uniformly terrible reasons.

* * *

Does God exist? The complexity of our planet points to a deliberate Designer who not only created our universe, but sustains it today.

I’m sure I don’t know what this is supposed to mean. The complexity of “our planet?” The author simply must not have meant the physical structure itself…

The Earth…its size is perfect.

Holy crap, she did! She’s seriously trying to argue that an only an Earth-sized world can have an atmosphere capable of sustaining life. Well, she’s in for a little shock thanks to the discovery of this not-so-little rock, which is three times as massive as our homeworld.

The Earth is located the right distance from the sun. Consider the temperature swings we encounter, roughly -30 degrees to +120 degrees. If the Earth were any further away from the sun, we would all freeze. Any closer and we would burn up. Even a fractional variance in the Earth’s position to the sun would make life on Earth impossible.

Oh dear. Someone apparently doesn’t realize that we orbit the sun in an ellipse, meaning the distance between our spacerock and Sol varies quite a bit as we revolve around that big warm ball of fusion. Also, just to be safe, someone should probably tell her that the temperature swings we encounter don’t come from Earth’s distance from the sun but from its axial tilt. In truth, there’s no set distance at which a planet “must” be to support life; all that’s important are what the conditions are like on the ground, so to say. The Goldilocks zone can vary quite a bit!

Next, there’s a bit on about water, and it’s true enough that all the life that we’re aware of requires water to survive. This particular quote jumped out at me, however:

Water freezes from the top down and floats, so fish can live in the winter.

Apparently the wordsmith of this amazing exposé is unaware that many organisms can survive just fine after being frozen.

Evolution focuses on mutations and changes from and within existing organisms. Yet evolution alone [emphasis added] does not fully explain the initial source of the eye or the brain — the start of living organisms from nonliving matter.

Hey, you know what? This is actually 100% true, and it’s equally 100% vacuous. Consider: germ theory alone is not sufficient to fully explain why people get sick.

The theory of evolution describes how genetic changes occur in living organisms over time. Biologists who study evolution aren’t concerned with how that organic matter first came into existence; that’s simply not part of their job description. Creationists often allege that this transition from inorganic chemicals to organic life could not have happened naturally, but if they can’t even get evolutionary theory right, something tells me they won’t be all that interested in seeing the list of possible mechanisms to explain this shift. (Psst—none of these models explain the evolution of living organisms or the laws of physics, either. They don’t need to. Why not? Because that’s not what those models are for, just like how the scientific theory of gravity does nothing to explain why sugar tastes sweet.)

The universe has not always existed. It had a start…what caused that? Scientists have no explanation for the sudden explosion of light and matter.

Oh dear. Apparently not bothering to spend six seconds on Google qualifies as sufficient research to conclude that no scientist has an answer for what caused the big bang. That’s a shame, really, because those six seconds would have been a wise investment. I found this answer to common big bang misconceptions on my first search page. The author here explains why the criticism that the big bang model doesn’t explain the why is completely irrelevant.

Still not satisfied? (Or you didn’t read that article?) Okay, then let’s turn to our good friend Lawrence Krauss for an explanation of that why: before the big bang, there was nothingness, and nothingness is unstable. If you study nothingness, you’ll see that somethingness pops in and out of existence constantly within it. “Nothing is unstable.” You can get an introduction to this idea here (video), or you could check out his book if you want to know more.

PS to crazy Godlady: Krauss is a scientist, and since he has an explanation for that sudden explosion (even though it wasn’t really what we’d call an explosion—see the above misconceptions link for details), I think we can consider this claim thoroughly debunked.

How is it that we can identify laws of nature that never change? Why is the universe so orderly, so reliable?

If I didn’t know better, and if I didn’t know the context, I might be liable to misinterpret this as a failed zen koan. Why should the consistent nature of the universe be in any way remarkable? Is there any evidence to suggest that an unstable universe is even possible? Even if unstable universes are possible, not having an answer to why this universe is stable indicates the existence of a god exactly as much as the ingredients list on a box of Cheerios explains fluid dynamics. Appeals to ignorance explain nothing.

Interestingly enough, there appears to be no way to objectively confirm whether the laws of nature really are uniform; all we can tell is that they seem to be, so we assume that they are. As I mentioned earlier, your intuitions (in this case, that the laws of nature are unchanging) are not always reliable.

All instruction, all teaching, all training comes with intent. Someone who writes an instruction manual does so with purpose.

Holy crap, alert the press corp, someone has uncovered the instruction manual for the genetic code!

Oh wait, fakeout. Sorry. It actually turns out that DNA is actually just the product of other random processes. RNA is pretty badass, but if we’re going to offer that as a hypothesis for the origin of DNA, where did RNA come from? Well, it turns out that there’s more than one hypothesis for this. Scientists may not uniformly agree on these origins, but they offer a series of plausible mechanisms. The goddidit hypothesis certainly leaves far more unanswered questions.

[DNA is] made up of four chemicals that scientists abbreviate as A, T, G, and C.

These four options are just the ones that evolved naturally on Earth. We’re already aware of six possibilities now, but there might be a whole lot more options out there. This is just another example of science being freaking awesome, not that you should need any further proof at this point.

One has to ask….how did this information program wind up in each human cell?

One has to answer: pick up a basic biology textbook—evolution. That’s how.

Does God exist? We know God exists because he pursues us. He is constantly initiating and seeking for us to come to him.

Funny thing that she should mention that. When my friends “pursue” me, they hit me up online. Sometimes I get email. Sometimes I receive actual voice calls through Skype or on the phone. Sometimes people even send me letters or postcards through the mail. When anyone I actually know (and often people I don’t know—I’m looking at you, Nigerian prince!) wants to contact me, they have a whole host of ways to do this. At best, this hypothetical God character would be like a deadbeat dad: I’ve never once got a phone call, visit, or even a Hallmark card from the guy. I’d expect any omnipotent god who sincerely wanted to have a personal relationship with me to, oh I don’t know, introduce himself at least. Announcing “you must find me because I won’t come to you” is not a very convincing way to show someone that you’re interested in getting to know them.

It might be that the underlying reason atheists are bothered by people believing in God is because God is actively pursuing them.

This is not just ignorant, it’s vaguely offensive. It might also be that you’re an agent of Satan who’s devoting all her energy to leading innocent people away from God’s one true form of worship: skepticism.

But seriously, most atheists couldn’t care less what you believe as long as you don’t try to force your beliefs on others. That’s not so much to ask, is it? (Apparently it must be to some, given how often Christians fall back on their persecution complex any time there’s talk of separating religion from government. Hey, isn’t there some law about that somewhere?) So sure, believe in your invisible sky daddy all you like. It doesn’t bother me at all. As soon as you start trying to make me believe in him or adhere to your stupid dogmas, well, then we’ve got ourselves a serious problem on our hands.

Look throughout the major world religions and you’ll find that Buddha, Muhammad, Confucius and Moses all identified themselves as teachers or prophets. None of them ever claimed to be equal to God. Surprisingly, Jesus did. That is what sets Jesus apart from all the others.

Let me see if I’ve got this straight: Jesus is different from every other major world religion because he claimed to be a god. Hmm. I can’t help but notice that something seems to be missing from that list of current world religions. Also, there’s a minor issue of this list excluding all those other religions where so-called gods claimed to be, um, gods. She isn’t even presenting a coherent claim, really. It boils down to “Jesus claimed to be God, so Christianity is true.” I could just as well argue that Mohammed claimed to be speaking God’s words, so Islam is true. Even if we’re constraining ourselves solely to gods who incarnated, there were a bunch of those too.

There’s an obvious problem with any sort of claim to Jesus’s authority to speak for God: neither one of these characters exists or ever existed. There’s no reason to think any supernatural claim in the Bible is even remotely true. The Bible isn’t a good historical source, and many of its specific claims and teachings are incompatible with or blatantly contradict each other. If this book is the product of an omnipotent, omniscient being, that being certainly isn’t one that gives a shit about being understood. (This is probably why the Gnostics were often keen to argue that the world’s creator hated everyone.)

If you want to begin a relationship with God now, you can. This is your decision, no coercion here.

Believe in me. Love me. Worship me. Fear me. If you fail to do these things, I will punish you with unimaginable torture for all eternity.” Yep. No coercion there. None at all. I wonder why the term “God-fearing” is so often meant to carry a positive connotation. I’ve always been perplexed by that one. But moving on…

But if you want to be forgiven by God and come into a relationship with him, you can do so right now by asking him to forgive you and come into your life.

I require no forgiveness from an imaginary entity, much less this imaginary entity. Indeed, if God did exist, it would be he who owed an apology to us for being such an insufferable douchebag. No god who would design such an existence for humanity would be deserving of worship, and no god who would respond to mere skepticism with such a gross overreaction would deserve even the slightest bit of respect, adoration, or recognition. If there were really such a god, our world would be vastly different—but it certainly would not be better.

So, does God exist? Looking at all these facts, one can conclude that a loving God does exist and can be known in an intimate, personal way.

I reach a slightly different conclusion. Looking at all these “facts,” it seems that one can conclude only that you are an intellectually dishonest, morally bankrupt blowhard wallowing in her own willful ignorance. If you prefer to believe in God, well, good for you, but don’t try to use that belief as an excuse for your own blatant disregard for reality.

26 responses to “Simple Answers for Simpletons

  1. Not that I believe them, and not that I’m surprised, but Thomas Aquinas’ 5 proofs for the existent of god are much more interesting, logical, and sophisticated (I’ve copied this summation from Wikipedia):
    In the first part of his Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas developed his five arguments for God’s existence. These arguments are grounded in an Aristotelian ontology and make use of the infinite regression argument.[18][19] Aquinas did not intend to fully prove the existence of God as he his orthodoxly conceived (with all of his traditional attributes), but proposed his Five Ways as a first stage, which he built upon later in his work.[20] Aquinas’ Five Ways argued from the unmoved mover, first cause, necessary being, argument from degree, and the teleological argument.
    The unmoved mover argument asserts that, from our experience of motion in the universe (motion being the transition from potentiality to actuality) we can see that there must have been an initial mover. Aquinas argued that whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another thing, so there must be an unmoved mover.[18]
    Aquinas’ argument from first cause started with the premise that it is impossible for a being to cause itself (because it would have to exist before it caused itself) and that it is impossible for there to be an infinite chain of causes, which would result in infinite regress. Therefore, there must be a first cause, itself uncaused.[18]
    The argument from necessary being asserts that all beings are contingent, meaning that it is possible for them not to exist. Aquinas argued that if everything can possibly not exist, there must have been a time when nothing existed; as things exist now, there must exist a being with necessary existence, regarded as God.[18]
    Aquinas argued from degree, considering the occurrence of degrees of goodness. He believed that things which are called good, must be called good in relation to a standard of good – a maximum. There must be a maximum goodness that which causes all goodness.[18]
    The teleological argument asserts the view that things without intelligence are ordered towards a purpose. Aquinas argued that unintelligent objects cannot be ordered unless they are done so by an intelligent being, which means that there must be an intelligent being to move objects to their ends: God.[18]

    My friend Philosophy Bill (whom you ‘met’ in the climate conversation) once claimed he’d discovered a 6th proof: the existence of Elizabeth. That is, such a being as myself could only have been created by a god. (Trickster god, perhaps?) (Of course, he wrote these words with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek.)

    On a more serious note, I have to wonder what is meant by the phrase “the laws of nature.” Does she mean gravity? Thermodynamics? That lions are carnivores? The sun rises in the east? I’m baffled.

  2. from our experience of motion in the universe

    Well there’s a very serious problem because our experiences of motion in the universe do not accurately depict motion in the universe. Solid, apparently static objects exist in a constant state of motion, and they’re still mostly made up of empty space. The conditions of the universe during (and before) the big bang were like nothing we’re capable of intuitively understanding. This kind of argument by analogy fails here.

    That said, you might make an argument that the big bang was the initial mover of the universe, but what moved the big bang? Well, Krauss’s response to that question answers it satisfactorily, I think. Before the big bang, there was nothingness, and nothingness moves itself. It’s not intuitive, but facts don’t have to be.

    it is impossible for a being to cause itself

    Yeah, fair enough. That’s entirely true, but the cosmos isn’t a being. To go back to Krauss, the cause of something was nothing. What causes nothing? Itself. (Or nothing.)

    there must have been a time when nothing existed; as things exist now, there must exist a being with necessary existence, regarded as God.

    No regard for infinite regress, eh? If God existed when nothing existed, what caused God? Indeed, there was a time when nothing existed, and as a consequence of all the nothing, we now inhabit the universe.

    Aquinas argued from degree, considering the occurrence of degrees of goodness. He believed that things which are called good, must be called good in relation to a standard of good – a maximum. There must be a maximum goodness that which causes all goodness.

    I have multiple responses to this.
    1) Goodness is a social construct. It does not exist in any platonic sense beyond the realm of mental conceptualization.
    2) The existence of a hypothetical scenario in which goodness is maximized can itself serve as the metric by which we calibrate other moral evaluations.
    3) Let’s take the position that many theologians argue: without God, there can be no objective goodness. Let’s pretend that’s true. So what? Even if this were true, it can’t prove God. All it could demonstrate is a lack of philosophically objective morality. https://subjunctivemorality.wordpress.com/2012/06/13/objective-morality-as-a-shell-game/

    that things without intelligence are ordered towards a purpose … unintelligent objects cannot be ordered unless they are done so by an intelligent being

    Catalysis. What is the purpose of “super-absorbent polymer?” What is its purpose? It is a thing without intelligence that orders other things without evidence. Is its purpose to be used in disposable diapers? Of course not. It has no purpose, but it has utility, so we manufacture it for that purpose. What is the purpose of erosion? Wind and water order earth, but is the “purpose” of Earth to be reduced to a featureless blue ball whose continents have long since been eroded to sand? What “purpose” is there to fire, which is another form of unintelligence ordering unintelligence? There is an order to crystalline structures, yet we can demonstrate that these too occur without intelligent interference.

    the existence of Elizabeth

    Indeed, I have stumbled upon a similar proof. Biologists insist that humans are capable of reproducing only sexually, but it is obvious that my own parents never had sex, ergo I must be Jesus.

  3. *My* parents had sex; I know it for a fact as my bedroom was across the hall from theirs…I don’t think Bill was going for the biological argument, rather, he was making an observation on my super-abundant fantasticalness, not the virginity of my parents. 🙂 (Bill is an atheist, by the way; that’s part of what makes it so entertaining.)

  4. I was enjoying the article till I got to Lawrence Krauss. What in creation does he mean by “nothingness is unstable”? Nothing is… well… nothing. not anything. How can the absence of something be unstable? It doesn’t have any properties.

    I haven’t finished reading the whole thing. I still have to follow all your links around the internet. It’s like a game of hide and seek, what fun!
    Anyway, I found something else. You’re critiquing her claim that the earth is the right size and in the right location for life, but the article you linked to on discovery news, here http://news.discovery.com/space/earth-like-planet-life.html says something very similar.

    ‘”This is really the first ‘Goldilocks’ planet, the first planet that is roughly the right size and just at the right distance to have liquid water on the surface,” astronomer Paul Butler, with the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C., told reporters during a conference call Wednesday.
    “Everything we know about life is that it absolutely requires liquid water,” he added. “The planet has to be the right distance from the star so it’s not too hot, not too cold… and then it has to have surface gravity so that it can hold on to a substantial atmosphere and allow the water to pool.”‘

    The article also says that this is the first planet discovered besides earth that is the right size and location for life. This tells me that there must be some pretty specific requirements for life, which, as far as I can see, is precisely her point.

    Do you disagree with them or do you just take issue with her wording?

  5. This is one of those instances where I have no patience for philosophers. Philosophy has invented this concept of “nothing,” but there’s no evidence that that concept is coherent, meaningful, or even possible. The official answer to the question of how the absence of something can be unstable is that you’re mistaken about the properties of “nothing.”

    “You’re critiquing her claim that the earth is the right size and in the right location for life, but the article you linked to on discovery news … says something very similar.”
    Right, something very similar. The author’s implication is that a planet has to be Earth-sized to support life, but this isn’t an accurate implication. Life requires only that certain prerequisites be met, and size is not, strictly speaking, one of these conditions. Having an atmosphere, nutrients, water, and so on are requirements, and what this means is that size is relevant (because a planet that’s too big or too small may easily lack an atmosphere and so on), but it’s not, in the absolute sense, itself a requirement. To illustrate the point, astronomers suggest that we may be able to find life on comets and other non-planetary objects. Those are obviously not Earth-sized. (Granted, complex multicellular “animal” life is another story entirely. That would be almost certain to require quite a bit more space for a host of reasons.)

    There are pretty specific requirements for life, but they are not as she has characterized them.

  6. So, you have a problem with her defense of the argument, not with the argument itself. If I may say this, I think you’re merely being uncharitable. She never explicitly said that only an earth sized planet can support life. Here’s what she did say:

    “The Earth…its size is perfect. The Earth’s size and corresponding gravity holds a thin layer of mostly nitrogen and oxygen gases, only extending about 50 miles above the Earth’s surface. (1) If Earth were smaller, an atmosphere would be impossible, like the planet Mercury. (2) If Earth were larger, its atmosphere would contain free hydrogen, like Jupiter.”

    She made two relevant claims which I numbered 1 and 2. She did not say that if a planet is smaller or larger, it wouldn’t support life. She said if the earth were smaller or larger, it wouldn’t support life. If you think that’s untrue, then attack it. As it is, you’re putting words into her mouth. What she said is pretty much what the other article said, that the earth and Gliese 581g are the only known planets which are the right size and at the right location for life.

    It is, of course, possible to interpret her statement to mean that only earth-sized planets can support life, but then you can go on to interpret the other article as saying only planets the same size as earth and Gliese 581g can support life. Using a little charity in interpreting this would straighten a lot of things.

    As it is, I’m about to take this too far so I’ll just stop talking about this now.

    Lawrence Krauss. I’ll go out on a limb here and do some philosophy. Nothing, defined as the absence of something, is possible, if it is possible that the world around us would not exist. In other words, nothing is what there would be if something did not exist. So, is it possible for everything we know if to not exist? If so, then the existence of nothing is possible. The concept definitely seems to have meaning and it doesn’t sound self-contradictory. Do you have evidence that it is not any of those things (coherent, meaningful, or even possible)? If not, then why argue about it?

    As for Krauss statement, I think anyone can figure out that he’s not talking about nothing in the philosophical sense. The question is which ‘nothing’ is he talking about which existed where there was no time, space, matter or energy besides the philosophical ‘nothing’? And why couldn’t he give it a name that has less risk of being equivocated?

  7. I have a problem with the claim that the size of the Earth is “perfect.” It suggests that there can be a perfect size in the first place, and since life can occur in a wide variety of physical contexts, it’s clearly a ridiculous notion. I see no reason to use a “little charity” to interpret an argument that looks like a bad argument when it’s surrounded by equally bad arguments.

    Philosophical nothingness is a red herring. What evidence is there that that specific kind of nothingness is possible? Sure, you can say that it’s possible if you remove space (whatever that means), but what evidence is there that 1) space can, in fact, be removed in this way, or 2) philosophical nothingness would remain after space was removed?

    Philosophy is a discipline with disappointingly few checks on external validity. Sure, you can create a construct for an idea of philosophical nothingness, and you can arbitrarily define that construct in an internally consistent manner, but so what? Phlogiston was internally consistent. Aether was internally consistent. Neither idea corresponded with reality.

  8. You said there is no evidence that the concept of nothing is “coherent, meaningful, or even possible”. I defined nothing and said the concept sounded coherent and meaningful. Then I provided some thoughts on whether it is possible or not.

    You granted that one can define nothing in a way that is coherent and meaningful, but said that this does not make it possible.

    That’s true. But remember that we’re talking about Lawrence Krauss here. Krauss said that nothing is unstable and he uses this as an explanation for the origin of the universe. In philosophy, nothing is ‘not anything’ so it has no properties. Therefore, it cannot be unstable. So, Krauss is not talking about nothing in the philosophical sense. But then, what is he talking about? Prior to the universe, there was no time, matter, space or energy (I believe, that’s established scientifically). Can you think of anything else that would be in existence then (besides God)? Me neither. Then, what was Krauss describing as ‘unstable’? It was either the philosophical ‘nothing’ (not anything), which would be incoherent or nothing else, which would also be incoherent. Lawrence Krauss is defending an incoherent view.

  9. When I was growing up, we were taught that space (the stuff between planets) was nothingness. We now understand it to be something (just very, very little something). The nothing that Krauss talks about is a quantum vacuum–the absence of not just space, but of everything we think of as something. I see that as a fairly intuitive definition of nothing, and I don’t see why we should prefer a philosopher’s definition when the word is still perfectly serviceable. (Although you’re probably right in suggesting that things might be a bit clearer if he had coined his own word for it. This would allow him to argue something like “before the big bang was not ‘nothing’ but ‘nothing-like-substance-I-call-X.’ Indeed, ‘nothing’ does not and cannot actually exist.” It may seem to complicate things, but I don’t think it does so in a significant enough manner to justify criticizing his word choice.)

    We can actually find instances of this condition here in the real world, albeit on rather small scales. Inside these pockets of “nothing,” “something” continuously fluctuates in and out of existence. Thus, “nothing” is unstable because it doesn’t remain static.

    Just like philosophical objectivity is not the same thing as layspeak objectivity, philosophical nothing is not the same thing as layspeak nothing. I don’t see a problem here.

  10. And, food for thought: can philosophical nothingness be conceptualized? Can it be described? If so, is it still entirely without attribute? (In other words, if you can talk about philosophical nothingness, is the concept self-defeating?)

  11. The definition you provide for the quantum vacuum sounds pretty much like the definition I provided for nothing – the absence of something, the absence of space, and everything we think of as something.

    Yet, you say we can find instances of this in our universe. You find vacuums without space in our universe? How exactly do you find a portion of our universe with no space? Perhaps you have your terms mixed up. I know that there was no space or energy sans the universe, but quantum vacuums, which occur in the universe, do have space and I hear they have some energy in them too. It follows then that the quantum vacuum and the vacuum that preceded the universe are not the same thing. So, the fact that we observe things something coming in and out of existence in the universe does not constitute evidence that the same can occur sans the universe.

    If, indeed, Krauss has mistaken one vacuum for the other, well, perhaps he needs to take more care with his writing.

  12. Any error in the representation of nothing or description of observable facts is surely on my end and not his, given that I do not have a copy of his book in front of me to quote from. He gave a talk on this back in 2009, which I linked above (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo). I haven’t watched it recently, but he explains about the spontaneous creation and destruction of particles in the nothing-as-quantum-vacuum thing.

  13. I don’t think I need a video on the spontaneous creation of particles in quantum vacuums. I haven’t disputed that. what we need to do is take a check.

    1. We agree that particles can be created spontaneously in quantum vacuums.
    2. We agree that the vacuum that preceded the universe has no time, space, matter or energy, so it is definitely not a quantum vacuum

    The vacuum I just described is what philosophers call nothing and like you said, it’s a fairly intuitive definition of nothing. Heck, my 11 year old sister is here and she gets it. That nothing has no potential to do anything because there is, quite frankly, nothing in it. That should be obvious. I really think it should.

  14. Well, we don’t actually agree on point 2. I’ve conceded that my interpretation may be wrong, so I’m not really prepared to “agree” on a given definition. Ultimately, whether you want to describe nothing as having “no potential to do anything” is entirely irrelevant because philosophy has no purview here. When facts contradict philosophy, facts win. The philosophical definition itself has been challenged as erroneous, so you can’t use philosophy’s definition alone to defend itself.

  15. I don’t know what challenge has been presented against the philosophical definition, the definition which you yourself proposed and which my 11 year old sister gets, but I’ll drop it.

    Lawrence Krauss does explain what he means by ‘nothing’ in his debate with Rodney Holder here: http://www.premierradio.org.uk/listen/ondemand.aspx?mediaid={02949395-E52F-4784-BF29-3A3138738B0B}
    He said he means “no space, no time, no universe. The relevant portion starts around 10:40. It is of course, the same definition you proposed and I doubt the fact that it is not a quantum vacuum needs defense.

    It has been nice talking to you.

  16. As to the philosophical definition, my challenge is that it is incoherent. You’ve described it as the absence of everything, including attributes. But how can this be? You’ve claimed that things cannot come into existence from nothing, but in doing so, you have assigned an attribute to it! (Namely, you’ve given it the attribute of “static” by claiming that it is incapable of changing.)

  17. Since you are now engaging in philosophy, however reluctantly, I might enjoy this.

    ” You’ve described it as the absence of everything, including attributes. You’ve claimed that things cannot come into existence from nothing, but in doing so, you have assigned an attribute to it! (Namely, you’ve given it the attribute of “static” by claiming that it is incapable of changing.)”

    Victor Stenger says a similar thing here: http://blog.talkingphilosophy.com/?p=4754

    “Clearly, no academic consensus exists on how to define “nothing.” It may be impossible. To define “nothing” you have to give it some defining property, but, then, if it has a property it is not nothing!”

    I’ll quote Edward Feser:
    “But this is the muddleheaded stuff of a freshman philosophy paper — treating “nothing” as if it were an especially unusual, ethereal kind of substance whose nature it would require tremendous intellectual effort to fathom. Which, as everyone knows until he finds he has a motive for suggesting otherwise, it is not. Nothing is nothing so fancy as that. It is just the absence of anything, that’s all. Consider all the true existential claims that there are: “Stones exist,” “”Trees exist,” “Quarks exist,” etc. To ask why there is something rather than nothing is just to ask why it isn’t the case that all of these statements are false. Pretty straightforward. ”

    You are treating nothing as if it were something. To say that nothing cannot produce something is not to say that there is something called nothing which is static and cannot produce anything. It is to say that when there isn’t anything, no thing can be produced.

  18. I don’t think “nothing” is unfathomable, I just think people are wrong to assume they understand the consequences of “nothing” based on their intuitions alone. The descriptions of a construct can be internally consistent without actually corresponding with reality. Defining “nothing” as “the absence of all things” is simple. It’s easy to understand. It’s probably even right. But this is an entirely different sort of claim than “something cannot come from nothing.” There are two problems with this claim:
    1) There is no evidence that I’m aware of to suggest that this particular version of “nothing” existed before the big bang.
    2) Even if “the absence of all things” as defined by the Feser quote you’ve referenced is indeed what existed before the big bang, that does not mean that the assumption that “something” cannot come about naturally in such a state is correct. (It might still be an accurate assumption, but this does not prove it to be so.)

    After reading that Stenger page, I’ll endeavor to refer to Krauss’s definition of “nothing” as the “void” to differentiate, though I’m sure I’ll slip up occasionally.

    Feser’s distinction between “nothing” and “void” strikes me as pedantic at best. Looking at the universe through the lens of modern physics, it seems the official answer to this objection is that “nothing” has never existed. Feser also says this:

    To admit the obvious, though, would be to admit that there are questions that physics cannot answer, such as where the laws of physics themselves came from
    This strikes me as a meaningless objection. Stenger claims to provide an explanation for where these laws come from in the book he references in your link there. Not having read that book, I obviously cannot say whether or not he succeeds, but Stenger obviously believes he does, so Feser seems to be entirely disregarding this factor.

    Then there’s this: But even if the existence of the multiverse were established conclusively, that would of course just raise the question of why any eternal multiverse exists at all.
    This seems a rather funny argument because it could apply just as well to the existence of a divine force. Feser has shifted the type of question here as well. Previously, he was discussing questions of how the universe came to be, but now he’s asking for “why” it happened. In a materialistic explanation as provided by physics, there may be no answer to the question of “why.” It’s entirely conceivable that physicists would opt not to consider that question in the first place.

    “But this simply ignores, without answering, the central arguments of the Aristotelian, Neo-Platonic, Thomistic and broader Scholastic traditions, and indeed of modern Leibnizian rationalism “
    This also amuses me. He’s provided a list of three possible worldviews, but he refuses to accept the creation of a fourth? What makes these three ideas more valid than the one he’s rejecting?

    ” And since the arguments in question are the chief arguments in the Western tradition of philosophical theology, to fail to produce a rational criticism would simply be to fail to show that atheism really is rationally superior to that tradition.
    This is entirely, 100% wrong. It is not the job of “atheist” scientists to disprove philosophical models. It is up to those models’ proponents to prove them right by disproving the other models demonstrating that the evidence fits those models better than competing ones. This is how the burden of proof works. All that it is required for scientists to do is to demonstrate that their own hypotheses are possible, and then examine the evidence to determine the next step in the process.

    “that which is pure actuality, absolute simplicity, and subsistent being itself cannot possibly have not existed”
    There’s a problem here too: Whatever he’s talking about doesn’t exist now, so it cannot possibly not have not existed.

    After reading that Feder piece, it seems we agree on one thing: the concept of “nothing” that has been detailed here cannot possibly have existed. It’s just a shame that Feder’s wrong about why.

  19. “But this is an entirely different sort of claim than “something cannot come from nothing.” There are two problems with this claim:
    1) There is no evidence that I’m aware of to suggest that this particular version of “nothing” existed before the big bang.”

    Who is claiming that this sort of nothing existed before the big bang? Certainly neither I nor Feser. I believe God existed sans the universe.

    “2) Even if “the absence of all things” as defined by the Feser quote you’ve referenced is indeed what existed before the big bang, that does not mean that the assumption that “something” cannot come about naturally in such a state is correct.”

    I agree completely. No one I know has ever suggested such a thing. When they wish to argue that out of nothing nothing comes, they usually say things like this:

    “…the famous claim that ‘out of nothing, nothing comes’ (a claim that goes back to Parmenides of Elea in the 5th century B.C) is clearly true by definition. To exist or to be is to be a something or other, having one or more properties. ‘Nothing’, which is a term of universal negation, is ‘no thing’ – i.e. not a something of any kind at all. ‘Nothing’ does not have any properties (since there’s nothing there to have any properties). By definition, then, ‘nothing’ doesn’t have any properties capable of doing anything – certainly not creating something.” for example. That’s from Peter Williams here: http://www.bethinking.org/science-christianity/advanced/a-universe-from-someone-against-lawrence-krauss.htm

    It seems the rest of your comment is a response to Feser. It’s interesting of course, but I don’t want this to morph into a conversation about Feser. There is one important thing in there, though.

    ‘Feser has shifted the type of question here as well. Previously, he was discussing questions of how the universe came to be, but now he’s asking for “why” it happened. In a materialistic explanation as provided by physics, there may be no answer to the question of “why.”’

    I think it is you who has misplaced the topic of discussion here. The question which Krauss’ book was supposed to address, which Albert calls him out on, which Stenger attempts to aid him with and which Feser reiterates is “why is there something rather than nothing?” This can be seen from the title of Krauss’ book. That question obviously encompasses why the universe came to be and how it came to be. If you reread Feser’s post with that in mind, it might make more sense to you.

    “It is not the job of “atheist” scientists to disprove philosophical models. It is up to those models’ proponents to prove them right by disproving the other models demonstrating that the evidence fits those models better than competing ones. This is how the burden of proof works. All that it is required for scientists to do is to demonstrate that their own hypotheses are possible, and then examine the evidence to determine the next step in the process.”

    So, in your opinion, an atheist “scientist” can believe that certain philosophical models are wrong, but he does not need to provide arguments in support of the belief. It is the other people who need to support their beliefs while he seats there chewing his nails?

  20. That WIlliams article is full of so much inanity that I would need to spend an entire day writing a response. My main criticism is that he equivocates constantly throughout the piece, which makes it intellectually dishonest at best.

    “I think it is you who has misplaced the topic of discussion here.”
    I think you misunderstand me. I am not criticizing the topic, the criticism you are responding to of mine is one with a narrow focus. He attacked Krauss for not answering a question that his field does not endeavor to answer. The question of “why” has two different interpretations here:
    1) Descriptional – “What is the physical description of how the current state of affairs come to be?”
    2) Intentional – “What was the motivational force that drove a given action?”
    In terms of science and why anything in the natural world is the way it is, only questions falling into the first category are relevant. Someone who means to ask this form of “why?” is either 1) being obtuse or 2) gravely misinformed.

    “an atheist “scientist” can believe that certain philosophical models are wrong”
    Philosophical models can and often are constructed in an internally consistent manner which does not correspond with reality. This nothing/void distinction is one such case. Philosophers have created this concept of “nothing” that does not meet the scientific definition, which was constructed in an attempt to accurately describe a state in reality.

    “he does not need to provide arguments in support of the belief.”
    I have no idea where you’ve gotten this idea. Arguments must be grounded in evidence before we can rely on them. Of course scientists have to provide arguments (which rely on evidence) to support their claims. This is true of absolutely everyone: if you claim that something is true, you are required to provide support of that claim. You do not first have to disprove every alternative explanation (but it does help to strengthen your argument). Additionally, even if you can disprove every alternative, this alone is not sufficient to “prove” your own claim.

  21. “That WIlliams article is full of so much inanity that I would need to spend an entire day writing a response. My main criticism is that he equivocates constantly throughout the piece, which makes it intellectually dishonest at best.”

    Here’s a hint. Whenever I quote someone, I intend you to take note of and respond to the point in the quotation, not their entire article. If you were to quote from Krauss’ book for instance, and I responded by attacking the entire book rather then the quote, we would have a problem.

    “He attacked Krauss for not answering a question that his field does not endeavor to answer.”

    Perhaps. But it was the question Krauss wrote his book to answer. “Why is there something rather than nothing?” If Science can’t answer it, Krauss should have stuck to his field of expertize.

    i believe this discussion has run its course. Thank you for being hospitable. You have the last word, of course.

  22. Oh, did I miss that? I had meant to say that the question presupposes that there should be nothing, which there is no reason to believe without evidence. There is some doubt as to whether philosophical nothing (as opposed to Krauss’s void, or any other physicist’s alternative hypothesis, such as whatever m-theorists and so on have these days) is even possible, let alone the default state of the universe. It’s entirely possible that something is the default state, so my response to that question is “why should there be nothing rather than something?”

    The observation “out of nothing, nothing comes” adds literally nothing to the discussion. If it’s true that nothing comes from nothing, then it is clear that the default state of the universe was not this kind of “nothing.” (That does not rule out other definitions of “nothing,” of course.) Not that it matters, though, because with this strictly limited set of vocabulary, what Krauss argues for is not a universe from nothing, but rather a universe from void. To claim any victory on the theist side as a result of this distinction is nothing but an equivocation.

  23. I just couldn’t pass this up. 🙂

    “There is some doubt as to whether philosophical nothing (as opposed to Krauss’s void, or any other physicist’s alternative hypothesis, such as whatever m-theorists and so on have these days) is even possible, let alone the default state of the universe. ”

    Well, of course it isn’t. That is the theistic answer to the question. That there could never have been nothing. There has to be something that has always existed aka God. I believe the atheistic rivals are the universe and the multiverse. Nobody I know is arguing that nothing is the default state of the universe. They are simply asking a question to better understand the nature of the world. When you ask “why _______” [fill in the blank], you are not suggesting that it is not supposed to be that way. You are merely saying that if it is possible for it to not be that way, why is it that way? Nobody is saying there should be nothing rather than something.

    To quote Randal Rauser,
    “I started with existence. Why does anything exist at all?
    If everything’s contingent where does the chain of causes end?
    You’ve got to invoke necessity , a necessary agent cause
    Or I’m tellin’ you you’re left up around the bend.”

    I find it hard to believe that philosophers have all this while been arguing that nothing is the default state of the universe while saying that something must have always existed.

  24. I’m glad you and I agree on this nothing thing. Sadly, many apologists don’t see eye to eye with us on it. I often encounter the claim that “nothing can come from nothing, which is why we need God to explain the universe.” If we can all agree that this form of nothing never existed, it saves me a lot of time that I’d otherwise spend on eye-rolling.

    I think it’s important to avoid fallacies of composition by adding the disclaimer that “philosophers,” “theists,” “apologists,” “scientists,” “jugglers” and so on are all far too diverse to do any particular position justice. Not all philosophers (etc.) agree, so it’s probably unfair to lump them all together.

    Ultimately, though, I don’t really care what philosophers attribute the original cause of the universe (if any) to until they get in bed with the cosmologists to see what the data suggest. I’m a big fan of only basing beliefs on evidence.

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