Proving God Through Cosmology?

Follow up to: Making the Question Go Away

This is a recanted essay!: As a result of feedback with others who have read this, I now recognize this essay as misleadingly incomplete and partially inaccurate. I keep it up as a record of how I have previously thought, but do not stand by all of it.

 

There are a lot of arguments out there that claim to establish the existence of an entity referred to as “God”, who typically is considered to be some sort of maximally great being, with powers that are the envy of all superheroes, such as the ability to do anything that is logically possible, including know everything there is to know. And luckily for us, God is also as loving, caring, and benevolent as any being can possibly be… or so the story goes.

I’ve already shot down a few of the, in my opinion, more terrible arguments for the existence of this entity — in “Defining Away the Ontological Argument” I showed that the ontological argument is hopelessly circular. In “Why Not to Take Pascal’s Wager” I showed that Pascal’s Wager is perhaps one of the most flawed arguments ever uttered. In “But Religion is Useful!” I took down some arguments that we need religious belief to feel good about the world.

Now I want to aim my sights a little higher and attack what is referred to as the cosmological argument, or the idea that God exists because only God can explain why there is a universe, and since there clearly is a universe, there clearly must be a God who created it.

 

Why would I aim here? Most people would disregard the cosmological argument in passing if found to be false, and perhaps move on to some other argument like fine-tuning or biblical prophecies, but I think this is a grave error.

Quite simply, the cosmological argument is the most important argument in the atheist-theist debate. Most nearly every religion specifically states that God created the Heavens and the Earth, as stated in Genesis 1 and many chapters of many other Holy Books. If God is not responsible for the origin of the universe, God is “out of a job” as theologian Lee Strobel puts it, and nearly every religion is rendered false. Do not underestimate the magnitude of this.

And if we do, atheism wins the day again, emerging victorious over theism once and for all.

 

Formulating the Kalam

The current most widely defended articulation of this argument is called The Kalam Cosmological Argument and goes like this:

P1: Everything that began to exist has a cause.
P2: The universe began to exist.
C3: Therefore from P1 and P2, the universe has a cause.

However, at this point we notice that this argument doesn’t actually say anything about whether a God actually exists or not — it just says something about the universe. To solve this, some theologians have filled in some additional premises, which I will summarize as follows:

P4: Any cause of the universe must have existed prior to the universe.
P5: Anything that existed prior to the universe cannot be a part of the universe.
P6: All physical things are contained in the universe.
C7: Therefore from P4, P5, and P6; the cause of the universe cannot be physical.

P8: God can cause the universe to exist.
P9: No nonphysical object except God can cause a universe to exist.
C10: Therefore from C7, P8, and P9; God caused the universe to exist.

P11: Something must exist in order to cause something else to exist.
C12: Therefore from C10 and P11, God exists.

 

This argument looks logically valid — all four conclusions C3, C7, C10, and C12 do indeed follow logically from the premises. Therefore the only way to defend atheism is to demonstrate that a premise of this argument is false.

I’m also willing to grant P4, P5, P6, P8, P9, and P11 as obviously true. Therefore I have to make my objection against P1, P2, or P8 to debunk the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

The fact that I remain atheist indicates that I do think such a task can be done.

 

Is Our Universe Intuitive?

Premises like “The universe began to exist” and “everything that began to exist has a cause” seem obviously true, because they are intuitive. Our every day dealing with things overwhelmingly establishes that everything we see existing has had causes, and our knowledge of the Big Bang Theory does seem to indicate that the universe had a beginning approximately 13.7 billion years ago.

And these two facts would make it appear to logically follow that God must exist, and therefore atheists are in error.

 

But there is indeed caution that must be taken when arguing about how the universe is based on intuitions — the universe just isn’t that intuitive. Physics as a discipline is full of extensively counter-intuitive notions.

Consider this Carl Sagan quote I first mentioned in “To Be Close-Minded”, quoting from his book “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark”:

At the heart of science is an essential balance between two seemingly contradictory attitudes — an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counterproductive, and the most ruthless scrutiny of all ideas, old and new…

Consider this claim: As I walk along, time — as measured by my wristwatch or my aging process — slows down…

Here’s another: Matter and antimatter are all the time, throughout the universe, being created from nothing.

Here’s a third: once in a very great while, your car will spontaneously ooze through the brick wall of your garage and be found the next morning on the street.

They’re all absurd! But the first is a statement of special relativity, and the other two are consequences of quantum mechanics (vacuum fluctuations and barrier tunneling, they’re called). Like it or not, that’s the way the world is. If you insist it’s ridiculous, you’ll be forever closed to some of the major findings on the rules that govern the universe.

 

Very bizarre conclusions can be demonstrably true when it comes to physics, such as the idea that matter and energy are actually the same thing, or even the idea that light is both a particle and a wave, or that a particle can be in two places at the same time.

So we should be careful when trying to establish things that are “obviously true” about physics, because physics has again and again busted our notions of obviously true and thrown them out the window. Nothing should be considered obvious when it comes to physics… even notions such as the universe beginning to exist or needing a cause.

 

Beginning to Exist?

Let’s look at just that. Right away, however, we can spot some problems with P1 and P2 — specifically the idea of beginning to exist is, upon further reflection, not as obvious as it first looks, but instead nonsensical. And with that, P2 becomes false, and thus the cosmological argument is false, and thus atheism wins. Could it be that simple?

Sure, we can understand the intuition that paintings begin to exist once painters specifically decide to paint them. We can all agree that there once was a time before there were houses, and then houses began to exist once builders started making them. And sure even some things as our existence or the existence of trees can be said to be caused by certain natural processes.

We can also understand the intuition that the Big Bang sets a specific time — 13.7 billion years ago — when the universe is said to have started in some fashion, so we further understand the idea that prior to this, perhaps 14 billion years ago, there must have been absolutely nothing. What was responsible for this transition from nothing to universe? After all, “out of nothing, nothing comes”. How do we get this something from nothing? Why is there something rather than nothing?

 

But here is the catch: right away we run into a problem because we have never actually observed something to specifically begin to exist.

Instead, we have only observed certain arrangements of matter be changed into other arrangements. All paintings must come from pre-existing paint and canvases, all houses must come from pre-existing building materials, and even growth in living organisms comes from absorbing external nutrients and converting them.

We do not see anything that actually begins to exist from nothingness, in a “poof” sort of fashion. Instead, everything we observe comes from something else.

 

Sure, the phrase “began to exist” does make sense in those many instances — because arrangements themselves can be distinctive apart from what they are arranged from, as I argue in “Reductionism Made Simple”. There is a real difference between a house and a pile of building materials, even if they are the same basic things, and it does make sense to talk about a house beginning to exist when the arrangement is made.

However, applying the phrase “began to exist” to the universe is wholly different, perhaps even a nonsensical concept. If things don’t come into existence but instead rearrange, then perhaps it only makes sense to apply statements like “began to exist” to objects within the universe, and not to the universe itself.

Instead, despite the universe having existed for a finite amount of time, it is also true that since the universe includes time, there was no point in time where the universe did not exist, because there was no time prior to the universe. Thus notions of “prior to the universe” are completely nonsensical and incoherent.

Thus the universe still never “began to exist” and P2 can be stunningly rendered false without even assuming an infinitely old universe. …And thus there is no need to invoke God to explain the universe, and thus the Cosmological Argument is defeated and atheism wins.

 

Can God Create a Universe?

The problem is also complicated because of the idea of a cause involves preforming actions on physical things within time. However, when we look for the cause of the universe, we are looking for some notion of causality without time and without preforming actions on physical things, which is a contradiction — a cause with none of the things we would consider to be a cause, and instead incoherent concepts.

Instead, our conventional, intuitive notion of causality completely breaks down at this point, and we cannot really speak anything of “causes of the universe” as we would speak of “causes of the Great Depression” or “causes of the Earth”. We’re more accurately asking something like “what is north of the north pole?”

 

God is said to be a mind, even if he is fundamentally, ontologically, irreducibly so. God is said to think, deliberate, and preform actions. But this sets us up with having to reconcile this set of facts:

A: Thinking, deliberating, and acting require time in which to think, deliberate, and act.
B: God existed prior to the universe, and thus existed independent of and apart from time.

There quite simply is no coherent concept of how one can think without time — doing so just is not logically possible. How did God come to decide to act to create the universe, without time? And when did God go from a period of not creating the universe to a period of creating the universe, if there is no time in which this transition could be made? When did God notice that things would be better if there was a universe, if there is no “when” to speak of?

 

Saying that God created the universe without time does not make any sense with the current notion of causality that we have — God must be acting within time in order to do anything. Since it is logically impossible for actions to be taken outside of time, it is logically impossible for God to have created the universe.

This would indicate that P10 is false. (And if P10 is false and P8 + P9 are true, that means that C7 must be false by process of elimination, since the universe obviously exists, and therefore the cause of the universe is indeed physical.)

It would also indicate that P2 is false, because if it makes no sense to talk about the universe being caused and it is logically impossible for the universe to be caused, then the universe could not have been caused.

These accusations of incoherence when it comes to supernatural explanations are not new. We have no coherent notion of how irreducibly mental entities can exist and operate, simply because they are so fundamentally different with what we work with and study on an every day basis.

 

Conclusion

Thus we have three problems with the cosmological argument:

  • The universe did not begin to exist, because that assumes there was time prior to the universe, and there was not. Instead, it is accurate to describe the universe as having always existed, regardless of its age.
  • It is logically impossible to cause something to come into existence without time in which to take the action.
  • It is logically impossible for a God to think, decide, and/or act without time in which to preform these activities.

Thus the cosmological argument is unestablished and unjustified.

 

But that’s not all. In future posts, I’ll look to explore how to make sense of a universe that is finite in age but having always existed… we can resolve the argument more convincingly and satisfyingly if we come to a better understanding of how cosmologists and physicists currently understand causality and time. I’ll explain this new notion of causality and how it can be specifically applied to problems with the origin of the universe and God.

I’ll also look to answer some possible rebuttals to the three points that I made, such as Craig’s defenses of a created universe using arguments about infinities, as well as offer further objections against the cosmological argument.

Before commenting further, please note that this is a recanted essay that I no longer agree with.

-

I now blog at EverydayUtilitarian.com. I hope you'll join me at my new blog! This page has been left as an archive.

On 25 Nov 2011 in Recanted. 33 Comments.

33 Comments

  1. #1 Thinking Emotions says:
    30 Nov 2011, 1:49 am  

    Hey Peter, just wanted to drop by and say that this is a really great essay. This is definitely one of your best yet, and by far the most practical considering how ubiquitous this argument and line of reasoning is among the average Christian. My only quibble is that I’m not sure God actually “thinks” or “acts” in the way we would think or act, but I know you’re against those sort of objections because religious claims aren’t really truth-apt. I just thought I’d throw that out there because, to some, it may seem like you’re smuggling some incredulity into your thinking when it comes to how God operates.

  2. #2 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    2 Dec 2011, 1:44 am  

    Hey Peter, just wanted to drop by and say that this is a really great essay. This is definitely one of your best yet

    Wow, thanks! Do you have any other favourites, so I can know what other people like in my writing?

    ~

    My only quibble is that I’m not sure God actually “thinks” or “acts” in the way we would think or act

    Surely not, because he must do so without time or space. But we have absolutely no idea of what this would entail, and it is logically impossible to actually preform. To me, it’s like saying that a supernatural circle can also have four parallel sides, they’re just not “sides” in the way we think of them.

    ~

    but I know you’re against those sort of objections because religious claims aren’t really truth-apt. I just thought I’d throw that out there because, to some, it may seem like you’re smuggling some incredulity into your thinking when it comes to how God operates.

    I labeled this essay as a follow up to “Making the Question Go Away” so some of that incredulity is to be expected here.

    Though I do think the incredulity surrounding thinking without time is a legitimate and self-contained argument from logical contradiction, so if you want to make a challenge that I’m smuggling you’d have to explain how the argument fails or what precisely is being smuggled from where.

  3. #3 joseph says:
    2 Dec 2011, 5:22 am  

    “It is logically impossible to cause something to come into existence without time in which to take the action”

    While I agree this definitely hamstrings a lot of theistic theories origins of the universe, I think it must apply to certain atheistic theories. If there was a singularity, in which there was no time or space, how did it change? Could it not have?

    One interesting thought it leads me to is, “Is nothing an actual impossibility?”. WLC often repeats, “from nothing, nothing comes”, yet when opponents talk of virtual particles he’ll happily say “that isn’t nothing”. To many listeners that sounds like a good reply, to me it only highlights the absolute uncertainty we face when dealing with the concept of nothing.

  4. #4 Tom Mitchell says:
    2 Dec 2011, 11:08 am  

    Quite simply, the cosmological argument is the most important argument in the atheist-theist debate. Most nearly every religion specifically states that God created the Heavens and the Earth, as stated in Genesis 1 and many chapters of many other Holy Books. If God is not responsible for the origin of the universe, God is “out of a job” as theologian Lee Strobel puts it, and nearly every religion is rendered false. Do not underestimate the magnitude of this.

    And if we do, atheism wins the day again, emerging victorious over theism once and for all.

    You say that “the cosmological argument is the most important argument in the atheist-theist debate” but it is not the most important concern, or even a slight concern of the cream of the theist crop. I have tried to make this point with you before, but either it did not stick, or you have chosen to ignore it for your own political objectives. Regardless of whether the former or latter is the case here, I will restate my position as the voice of moderation.
    The “Atheist-theist debate” in my opinion is in some sense a farce. Atheists who are adamant enough about delegitimizing religion will use the most extreme, illogical, and radical theists as the base of their arguments. They do this because it is how you “win.” The problem with this is that the theists and their ideas that are attacked by atheists do not represent the wisdom or academic yield of theology as a discipline. They are showman masquerading as academics for the sake of personal power.

    This “most important argument” is not one I have ever read in any legitimate theological scholarship. And frankly, I believe both sides of this argument to be silly. Peter, I have long ago suggested to you some real theological scholarship to read. If you were to read that and then produce counters or arguments against it I would be interested. But what you are doing here seems to me a waste of your talents, and degrading to scholarship on either side of the fence.

    With my limited knowledge of the most basic concepts of theology I will shutdown this argument from both sides. Here I go. Fundamental to true theology is the theory that god and his or her religion must be symbolic and cannot be taken as literal. To show this I must briefly discuss one of the main purpose of religion.

    There are several purposes for religion, one of which is to mediate the anxiety caused by consciousness. Being conscious of our own consciousness humans are uniquely aware of two things: our own finiteness, and the potential for an infinite. The immediate reality that we define our self and our life by (finite) and that larger unknown that is the infinite wreak havoc on the human consciousness in forms such as death, purpose, and meaning. Religion (God) serves to mediate the anxiety that is created through knowledge of a potential infinite and a personal finiteness. God deals with the expression of the infinite and hope of realizing the piece of infinity that is attached to our own finiteness. Because of this God must be symbolic. To make God literal in any sense is to confine God to some portion of space-time or to sequester him from space-time altogether. Either of these options renders God finite in one way or another contradicting the purpose and nature of God. To offer a literal definition of God is to to destroy what God is, to create a false God, what religion calls idolatry.

    In the same way it is idolatrous to pray to a statue, it is idolatrous to confine God to any portion of reality that is below the infinite. Therefore anything that depicts God (being material and located in a specific space-time, not to mention geo-political context) must by symbolic.

    Once this is understood, it can easily be seen that the Cosmological argument is idolatrous. By stating that God is separate from the universe you have placed something outside, and thereby rendered God Finite. It is as simple as that to disprove this supposed most important argument. The same can be said for your atheist attacks against theism.
    You are trying to disprove a literal God as well. The literal god of idolatrous theists who are most likely writing or theorizing for the purpose of political manipulation or a career in showmanship.

  5. #5 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    3 Dec 2011, 1:18 am  

    @joseph:

    While I agree this definitely hamstrings a lot of theistic theories origins of the universe, I think it must apply to certain atheistic theories. If there was a singularity, in which there was no time or space, how did it change? Could it not have?

    I honestly don’t know, though I bet that is going to turn out to be an inaccurate description of cosmogenesis (the origin of the universe). I hope to do a lot of research on it before following up this essay.

  6. #6 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    3 Dec 2011, 1:35 am  

    @Tom:

    You say that “the cosmological argument is the most important argument in the atheist-theist debate” but it is not the most important concern, or even a slight concern of the cream of the theist crop.

    You seem to not be concerned with theories of a literal God, but rather with theories of a metaphorical God which does not actually exist. These are not the theories I am arguing against, and not what I mean by “theism”.

    My definition of “theism” is “the theory that at least one God literally exists”. I know of no theory that states one God literally exists that does not also state the cosmological argument — that God created the universe.

    Thus disproving the cosmological argument is vital to this type of theism.

    ~

    Atheists who are adamant enough about delegitimizing religion will use the most extreme, illogical, and radical theists as the base of their arguments. They do this because it is how you “win.” The problem with this is that the theists and their ideas that are attacked by atheists do not represent the wisdom or academic yield of theology as a discipline. They are showman masquerading as academics for the sake of personal power.

    Of course they don’t attack theology as a discipline, because they aren’t attacking what you consider to be “true theology”. Rather, they are just being silly attacking the popular theology that is actually held by millions of people and which makes up the vast majority of the philosophy of religion field.

    I also have no idea how you’d demonstrate they’re just in it for personal power. At worst, they just didn’t get the memo about which theology is the true one.

    ~

    This “most important argument” is not one I have ever read in any legitimate theological scholarship.

    This is because you have a different idea of what constitutes “legitimate theological scholarship” than those who use the cosmological argument. Perhaps you could say that the theological scholarship which uses the cosmological argument is irrational and thus illegitimate, but that’s begging the question until you actually show the cosmological argument is irrational. Hence, this essay (and the many that came before it).

    ~

    Peter, I have long ago suggested to you some real theological scholarship to read. If you were to read that and then produce counters or arguments against it I would be interested.

    I will, someday, though I doubt that I will actually have much to disagree with it if it truly is entirely metaphorical.

    But what you are doing here seems to me a waste of your talents, and degrading to scholarship on either side of the fence.

    With my limited knowledge of the most basic concepts of theology I will shutdown this argument from both sides. Here I go. Fundamental to true theology is the theory that god and his or her religion must be symbolic and cannot be taken as literal. To show this I must briefly discuss one of the main purpose of religion.

    ~

    God deals with the expression of the infinite and hope of realizing the piece of infinity that is attached to our own finiteness. Because of this God must be symbolic. To make God literal in any sense is to confine God to some portion of space-time or to sequester him from space-time altogether.

    I’m still not sure how this follows… To make God metaphorical is to confine God to nowhere, because God doesn’t actually exist.

    ~

    By stating that God is separate from the universe you have placed something outside, and thereby rendered God Finite.

    I also don’t see how this follows either. What is it about being outside the universe that makes something finite?

    ~

    The same can be said for your atheist attacks against theism.

    Why would I care about being idolatrous or not, if I don’t believe in God?

    ~

    The literal god of idolatrous theists who are most likely writing or theorizing for the purpose of political manipulation or a career in showmanship.

    I’m not sure how you would demonstrate that those who advocate a literal God are doing so deceptively…

  7. #7 Thinking Emotions says:
    3 Dec 2011, 3:02 pm  

    Surely not, because he must do so without time or space… and it is logically impossible to actually preform. To me, it’s like saying that a supernatural circle can also have four parallel sides, they’re just not “sides” in the way we think of them.

    What’s interesting is that God is actually confined within logic (can’t make a square circle or a triangle with four sides, etc), so that means something exists outside of God as a separate, restrictive force; thus, he is not omnipotent. People always thought the omnipotence paradox failed, but it actually ends up winning in a strange way. Or it’s possible that God is logic, as well as being omni-4, but I don’t know of anyone who believes in both and actually worships God (i.e., believes in an interventionist God that is omni-4/logic while also worshiping him).

    After all, either God embodies logic, logic exists outside of him, or God is the architect of logic. It’s hard to say which it is, but I’m convinced logic must exist outside of him.

    Is it truly a logical impossibility, as much as it is an empirical/physical one, to think or act without space or time? After all, God’s ontology is indeed miraculous. If theism is true, your arguments are insignificant because it looks like God did think and did act — sort of how an arrow can still hit its target despite Zeno’s paradox of motion.

    Also, in response to your reasoning about “Making the Question Go Away,” souls and God really aren’t that useful on Earth, but that doesn’t mean they won’t ever be useful, or that they have no purpose because we can’t see a purpose. Asking about the purpose of a soul isn’t a scientific or philosophical question, but more of a theological one. I’m pretty sure that if we went back in time and told Democritus or Aristotle about quantum mechanics, they would say what we were saying was incoherent, wrong, useless, etc.

    Anyway, the reason I liked this article so much was because it addressed a stupid argument that is accepted on its face value as complete and total fact by theists that know of it. It’s also a popular question by theists to atheists: “If God didn’t make the universe, what did?” Of course, I’m sure you are aware that no answer is even necessary. It doesn’t matter what did; in both of our opinions, it was not God.

  8. #8 Tom Mitchell says:
    3 Dec 2011, 7:39 pm  

    Peter,

    When I say God is symbolic I do not know if I would call it a metaphor per say, but I think there are some other things we need to clear up before we talk about that. You say

    Rather, they are just being silly attacking the popular theology that is actually held by millions of people and which makes up the vast majority of the philosophy of religion field.

    First, the fact that millions of people believe in God as a literal deity is true. But again I would bring up the question of audience. If you were writing to convince the vast majority of people to change their belief system, then fine; but I was under the impression that was not your objective. So I do not see why it matters that millions of people believe in a literal God.
    Second, your depiction of the philosophy of religion is lacking. What you claim to be “the vast majority of the philosophy of religion” is primarily the work of Christian apologetics. Christian apologists are people who have gotten into academics for the purpose of defending christianity against other ideologies. Just think about that for a second. There is nothing remotely logical about that. You cannot even call that scholarship, it is propaganda. Maybe there are a fair amount of Christian Apologetics, but you cannot say they are the majority of the philosophy or religion, or the majority of theism, without checking out the alternatives.

    A simple solution would be to preface your essays as against christian apologists, but personally I still think this is a waste of time. Someone that invested in an ideology is not going to change their mind no matter what type of proof you present them. If you are going to change their mind it is not going to be through a rational man paradigm. So if you are really want to persuade any christian apologists that stumble onto your site, then you need to change your rhetorical method. However, I envisioned a different audience of this blog. Not indoctrinated apologetics, but individuals raised in a religious environment who are rationally prone, or at least rationally curious. If this is your audience, then I would still suggest you change your rhetorical method for maximum yield. Even if said closet rationalists want to be scientific or whatever, religion is a huge part of their self. It is not so easy to completely demonize it (as you do when you make it into a battle between atheists and theists ), and even if some are able you miss the boat on convincing a sizable lot. Instead, why not use rational theism, which is, at least in the academic world, a sizable majority of itself against christian apologetics. I would say the primary camp is religious existentialism. The works I have recommended to you fall under this category, but are actually even a sub-field within that known as Transtheism.
    I know atheism is an important symbol to you, but to me I see aspects of it as working in the same way as the Christian apologetics only on the opposite team. I do not see how focusing your energy into “killing God” is helpful to your own personal growth or your Blog’s agenda. You said in your last response that you probably would not have a problem with a symbolic God, but your statement still denies the need of a God in your life.
    Both your position and the opposition seem equally immoderate in my opinion. The only difference being the historical weight of Christianity. Let’s say that you did manage to debunk Christianity. I bet in a couple thousand years there would be another Peter trying to debunk atheism. Not because atheism was corrupted by inevitable political processes, but because the structure of atheism as an ideology is used just as aggressively and oppressively as Christianity is used.
    One solution would be to create a normative interpretation of the body of thought, but that is what the Christian apologetics are trying to do now. I don’t think it works. The better solution is to create an ideology that does not contain potential for such abuses.

    But I have to go, and to explain what I mean by the last couple sentences is a long process.

    There were several of your comments that I did not respond to. The one that peaked my interest is

    ————-By stating that God is separate from the universe you have placed something outside, and thereby rendered God Finite.

    I also don’t see how this follows either. What is it about being outside the universe that makes something finite?—————–

    How could something be infinite if there was something outside of it? Doesn’t that contradict what infinite means? If there is something outside what is infinite that means there is a boundary on it, somewhere it stops, making it finite.

  9. #9 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    4 Dec 2011, 4:22 pm  

    Or it’s possible that God is logic, as well as being omni-4, but I don’t know of anyone who believes in both and actually worships God (i.e., believes in an interventionist God that is omni-4/logic while also worshiping him).

    This reminds me of the transcendental argument.

    ~

    Is it truly a logical impossibility, as much as it is an empirical/physical one, to think or act without space or time? After all, God’s ontology is indeed miraculous.

    I wouldn’t really know even how to go about this. I suppose that God could be rescued with radically different concepts of “think”, “act”, “create”, and “cause” that are fully and radically different from anything we encounter or can conceive of in real life. But these concepts would be completely incoherent for this same reason.

    If we allow this, I think we have to allow that there is no such thing as a logical impossibility. Even a triangle with four sides (something that is both three-sided and not three-sided) could be said to be possible if we have a fully and radically different concept of “side”. I think God’s actions are like this.

    One problem is that we already lack clear definitions of even temporal notions of “think”, “act”, and “create”, so we can’t readily compare them to nontemporal notions.

    ~

    If theism is true, your arguments are insignificant because it looks like God did think and did act — sort of how an arrow can still hit its target despite Zeno’s paradox of motion.

    Of course. Just like if a triangle with four sides exists, your argument that such a shape is impossible is insignificant. But that conditional will never occur, so we can disregard it.

    Zeno’s paradox of motion, however, can be resolved and shown to not actually be paradoxes without the need for invoking incoherent concepts. I don’t think my objections can.

    ~

    Also, in response to your reasoning about “Making the Question Go Away,” souls and God really aren’t that useful on Earth, but that doesn’t mean they won’t ever be useful, or that they have no purpose because we can’t see a purpose.

    That’s irrelevant because that’s not what I meant by “useful” or “purpose”. I’m saying we have no reason to think that such things exist at all. There is a difference between the hypothesis of the soul being useful and the soul itself being useful.

    ~

    Asking about the purpose of a soul isn’t a scientific or philosophical question, but more of a theological one.

    Ok. But then why should we care about theology, if it is totally independent of the world in which we live? It seems about as worthwhile as constructing theories of how magic works in Harry Potter.

    ~

    I’m pretty sure that if we went back in time and told Democritus or Aristotle about quantum mechanics, they would say what we were saying was incoherent, wrong, useless, etc.

    They would probably say that, but they would be wrong because they don’t understand quantum mechanics at all. Only after years of schooling in the scientific method, physics, and then quantum mechanics itself could they come to understand these theories. Afterward, they would admit that these theories are not incoherent/wrong/useless, but rather the opposite.

    On the other hand, their theories of souls and spirits were indeed incoherent/wrong/useless, because unlike quantum mechanics, they do nothing to explain how the world works.

  10. #10 joseph says:
    7 Dec 2011, 7:23 am  

    @Tom,
    Brief note, infinity discluding the number 1 is still infinity. So you could say God is not everything but still infinately…..large….or word of your choice.

    Personally I get a bit confused by Cantors Infinity Prime (is it called?), a set of infinity that contains all the other set of infinities.

  11. #11 Tom Mitchell says:
    7 Dec 2011, 11:52 am  

    @ joseph

    I am actually not very religious in the traditional sense, but when I hear arguments about God, a popular one is that he is all powerful. God created the Universe, the light, the dark, etc. We define bodies by territories that a conciousness has control over. If God really is all-power then nothing can be seperate from what is considered the body of God. Even if “God” has some sort of physical body in the sense humans do, the fact that he is all-powerful means his concious would extend across everything, meaning that God is infninte.

    For 1 of anything to be seperate from God implies that it exists outside of God’s soverginty.

    That is just my imagination of the Theist argument. Personally I believe in God not as a deity but a symbol of infinity. My conception is not in anyway linked to Christianity, but other notions of the infinite. I find something that is infinite (endless) cannot exclude anything, otherwise it would not be infinite.

  12. #12 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    7 Dec 2011, 5:12 pm  

    @Tom:

    First, the fact that millions of people believe in God as a literal deity is true. But again I would bring up the question of audience. If you were writing to convince the vast majority of people to change their belief system, then fine; but I was under the impression that was not your objective. So I do not see why it matters that millions of people believe in a literal God.

    Some of these people are rational (capable of recognizing and avoiding logically invalid conclusions) and can be convinced otherwise.

    ~

    Second, your depiction of the philosophy of religion is lacking. What you claim to be “the vast majority of the philosophy of religion” is primarily the work of Christian apologetics.

    Correct, but they produce arguments that occasionally merit debunking for the sake of these people. Mostly-rational people who would be otherwise ignorant of cosmology and might not think it through enough, thus mistakingly thinking that the cosmological argument is successful.

    You could perhaps accuse me of reinventing the wheel when it comes to argumentation, but I do think I have some rebuttals here that haven’t been seen in other works, such as the objection of a finite yet eternal universe and the objection of an incoherent God.

    ~

    However, I envisioned a different audience of this blog. Not indoctrinated apologetics, but individuals raised in a religious environment who are rationally prone, or at least rationally curious.

    I envision the same audience.

    ~

    If this is your audience, then I would still suggest you change your rhetorical method for maximum yield. [...] Instead, why not use rational theism, which is, at least in the academic world, a sizable majority of itself against christian apologetics. I would say the primary camp is religious existentialism. The works I have recommended to you fall under this category, but are actually even a sub-field within that known as Transtheism.

    You’ve gotten me interested enough to explore this avenue, but right now I don’t use it because I don’t believe it to be accurate, and I don’t want to convince people of what is not accurate.

    An analogy could be those who think a good approach is to convince conservative Christians not to become atheists, but to become more liberal Christians. However, I’m not sure it is actually easier to convince people to make this allegedly lesser swap, and even so, I don’t want to endorse a wrong position even if it is “less wrong”.

    On a somewhat related note, what do you think of Kierkegaard?

    ~

    I know atheism is an important symbol to you, but to me I see aspects of it as working in the same way as the Christian apologetics only on the opposite team.

    Do you mean that I employ the same fallacious / erroneous tactics? Feel free to elaborate.

    ~

    I do not see how focusing your energy into “killing God” is helpful to your own personal growth or your Blog’s agenda.

    I’m against literal-God-belief for a few main reasons:

    First, because of the direct and grave harms it can give rise to. I have personally recorded and analyzed these harms in my essay “But Religion is Useful!”, but also see Alonzo Fyfe’s “Religion and ‘More Harm Than Good’” and Greta Christina’s “The Top One Reason Religion Is Harmful”.

    Second, because it is a barrier to good philosophy. Too many people are convinced that morality comes from on-high, and are thus resistant to arguments about secular morality, and have resolved to stay confused forever and do imcompassionate things in the name of religion. We can also see these barriers in people thinking identities and thoughts come from souls, or anything else that makes the question go away, instead of actually dealing with it.

    Third and lastly, because it is a barrier to appreciating reality for what it is. I quote Richard Dawkins here: “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.” People devote their lives to becoming ministers, spreading and living falsehoods. Their lives are based on a lie, and they don’t know it. And for those of us who care about reality, this is sad. See Greta Christina’s “Atheism, Openness, and Caring About Reality” for more on this.

    I’m not really sure if I’m for or against metaphorical-God-belief, but I worry that…
    (1) it also plays into the second and third problem,
    (2) legitimates literal-God-belief and thus helps perpetuate the first problem,
    (3) is unnecessary (the concept of “If God is love, why not just say ‘love’?” seen in Adam Lee’s “God is Love”)
    (4) it isn’t actually metaphorical at all (see Greta Christina’s “When Anyone is Watching”)

    ~

    You said in your last response that you probably would not have a problem with a symbolic God, but your statement still denies the need of a God in your life.

    What is a “God” and why would I even want one in my life? I think I’ve been doing just fine.

    ~

    One solution would be to create a normative interpretation of the body of thought, but that is what the Christian apologetics are trying to do now. I don’t think it works. The better solution is to create an ideology that does not contain potential for such abuses.

    I don’t think there ever could be an ideology that is unabusable, but I think humanism or utilitarianism would be the closest.

  13. #13 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    7 Dec 2011, 5:20 pm  

    @Tom/Joseph:

    How could something be infinite if there was something outside of it? Doesn’t that contradict what infinite means? If there is something outside what is infinite that means there is a boundary on it, somewhere it stops, making it finite.

    Joseph is correct here, at least mathematically: there are an infinite amount of rational numbers between 1 and 2, which are entirely separate and non-inclusive of the numbers between 3 and 4.

    This is the notion of different kinds of infinity that, although very weird, comes up in discussions of ordinals.

    ~

    I am actually not very religious in the traditional sense, but when I hear arguments about God, a popular one is that he is all powerful. [...] If God really is all-power then nothing can be separate from what is considered the body of God.

    All-powerful here has been, I think, understood to be “capable of doing anything that is logically possible”. So God can be anywhere (and some theologies even say he is omnipresent and thus everywhere) and have power over everything, but can still be distinct from the objects he creates and controls.

    ~

    My conception is not in anyway linked to Christianity, but other notions of the infinite. I find something that is infinite (endless) cannot exclude anything, otherwise it would not be infinite.

    Then you don’t actually believe in an all-powerful God, I’m pretty sure. You believe in a symbol of a God — and the symbol itself has only as much power as we personally give it. The symbol itself could not have created the universe, and the symbol itself will not give us everlasting life after we die.

    It’s like how I believe in dragons — no, I don’t believe that dragons literally exist, but that the idea of dragons does exist in our culture. Is your belief in God like my belief in dragons?

  14. #14 joseph says:
    7 Dec 2011, 9:40 pm  

    @Tom,
    Don’t want to butt in too much as your exchanges with Peter always interest me….the problem many christians I’ve met have with an all-encompassing, all-pervading God is that would have umfortunate implications.

    The main one being that Satan, the opposer, would be in some way composed of God. Most Christians I know will teach that Satan is due for some sort of eternal destruction or imprisonment (things get difficult because no one agrees on how to read the book of Revelations). This would mean that a part of God would become so entirely corrupt that it was beyond salvation. This is a little at odds with other conceptions of God.

    Part of me wants to suggest that you get to know some evangelist, latter day saint, jehovah’s witness children and talk to them. They aren’t bad, or even irrational people (well, not generally, just irrational in specific points of belief), but I think the idea of a symbolic, or metaphorical, God, would simply fail to register at any level.

    As for deconversion, as someone with training in biology personally I was most sensitive to the conflict between the literal interpretation of Noah’s Ark and the Genesis creation account/s.

  15. #15 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    8 Dec 2011, 7:54 pm  

    Slightly off topic, but I point I feel compelled to make:

    Most Christians I know will teach that Satan is due for some sort of eternal destruction or imprisonment (things get difficult because no one agrees on how to read the book of Revelations).

    I’ve never understood why God is taking his sweet time on killing Satan. Answers to the question range from it’s a mystery so shut up, to God is infallible so shut up, to my personal favourite “Certainly, Satan and his demons wreak havoc in the world, but they are only allowed to go so far and no farther.” Basically, they have no idea.

  16. #16 joseph says:
    8 Dec 2011, 11:45 pm  

    The answer I was given in my youth (that raised further questions) was that:

    By tricking Humanity into having it’s own moral compass Satan had raised a legimate challenge to God’s Sovereignty.

    God had set some unspecified, untestable time limit in which Satan was allowed to determine whether or not humankind was capable of doing without God’s Rule.

    When this was determined, if in God’s favour (which of course it would be), Jesus would begin his reign, Satan would be barred from interfering. Humans who had not heard the message of Jesus, been killed while innocent etc would be ressurected, humanity would return to perfection under Jesus. After another period of time Satan would be allowed to test the “end product”, those that passed the test would be fine, those who didn’t would be annihilated. Satan would be judged and punished for the suffering inflicted.

    This raises 2 issues for me:

    1. Does God know the outcome, if so, all this suffering is God going through the motions, like a scientist torturing a human and saying “Yep, subject 7 billion felt pain, just like the 6,999,999,999 previous subjects”.

    2. Does God not know the outcome, if so Satan is acting as quality control, and being punished for it, and God is not all-knowing.

  17. #17 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    8 Dec 2011, 11:50 pm  

    I have some responses to that, but I think I’ll raise them in a new blog post rather than move this conversation further off-topic.

  18. #18 joseph says:
    8 Dec 2011, 11:54 pm  

    Very happy to get a blog response, bit worried my input is too specific to Jehovah’s Witnesses, but am looking forward to it.

  19. #19 Tom Mitchell says:
    9 Dec 2011, 9:46 am  

    @ Peter Part 1. I just started reading this series of posts. It has been a busy week. Hopefully I will get to your second post and Joseph’s post before my break is over.

    On a somewhat related note, what do you think of Kierkegaard?

    I have not read much of him. What I have read is more a critique of academics than religion. Unless that was your reason for bringing it up. I have read a fair amount of one of his successors Theodore Adorno, and I am not a huge fan of his.

    An analogy could be those who think a good approach is to convince conservative Christians not to become atheists, but to become more liberal Christians. However, I’m not sure it is actually easier to convince people to make this allegedly lesser swap, and even so, I don’t want to endorse a wrong position even if it is “less wrong”.

    Than this is where we clash. It is your position that I see “less wrong.” You see religion as an outdated method of producing knowledge; whereas I see the beneficial part of religion outside the production of knowledge. I have absolutely no problem sequestering religion from the definition of empirical territory, but I do have a problem classifying the religious question as obsolete, because the religious question is not one of description.
    I am sure that the majority of religious zealots who you wish to combat do not understand this. They are trying to say that religion is a literal depiction of reality. They are wrong, and probably hurting the evolution of humanity, but in my opinion, to annihilate religion in order to “cleanse these social diseases” will be equally detrimental in the long run. It would be a temporary solution, but within the century there would be another up rise to cleanse “rational zealots”. It would be much better to rectify the purpose of religion than to annihilate it.

    ~

    I know atheism is an important symbol to you, but to me I see aspects of it as working in the same way as the Christian apologetics only on the opposite team.

    Do you mean that I employ the same fallacious / erroneous tactics? Feel free to elaborate.

    ~

    I mean that you have a set of values that you are fighting for that I do not think are any more provable or logical than the existence of God. One such value being faith in the ability of humans to know reality and improve on it; another being faith in the ability of humans to be rational and through rationality transform human nature. These two values are both products of a faith in “scientific progress.” I define scientific progress as the ability to transform reality to our will, and in doing so inch closer to some utopian ideal.
    I think it is evident that humans do carry the potential to impact their reality—just as any other force in life does— What I do not think is evident or even remotely justified is faith in the idea that through transformation humans can create a utopian reality, or even the idea that people can truly know reality. The difference I see between you and Christian apologetics is that they have already resigned to the fact that their position is based on faith.
    ~
    “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.” People devote their lives to becoming ministers, spreading and living falsehoods. Their lives are based on a lie, and they don’t know it.

    Continuing my above mentioned argument, on what basis can you make the claim that the human condition is capable of understanding reality? Richard Rorty, a brilliant philosopher, makes the argument that faith in the idea that the human mind tries to accurately represent external reality is a priori to the creation of western philosophy, and that to truly develop as a thought-system philosophy must move past this misconception. To abandon the idea that the human machine is in anyway equipped to empirically measure/know reality. On my reading list is his book “Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature.” I would recommend it for you as well.
    I am not saying I completely agree with his assertion,
    You say that “People devote their lives to becoming ministers, spreading and living falsehoods. Their lives are based on a lie, and they don’t know it” but if you cannot prove that transformation of reality improves the human condition or that humans are capable of understanding the true nature of the world, than scientists and empiricists are just as deluded in devoting their lives to falsehood as priests and ministers.
    ~

    (3) is unnecessary (the concept of “If God is love, why not just say ‘love’?” seen in Adam Lee’s “God is Love”)

    I would not say God is love; God is a sense of depth, sacredness, respect, a feeling of utmost concern with a subject, and more specifically the subject of humanity.

  20. #20 Tom Mitchell says:
    9 Dec 2011, 10:17 am  

    @ Joseph and Peter
    How could something be infinite if there was something outside of it? Doesn’t that contradict what infinite means? If there is something outside what is infinite that means there is a boundary on it, somewhere it stops, making it finite.
    Joseph is correct here, at least mathematically: there are an infinite amount of rational numbers between 1 and 2, which are entirely separate and non-inclusive of the numbers between 3 and 4.
    This is the notion of different kinds of infinity that, although very weird, comes up in discussions of ordinals.
    ~
    Math is a linguistic construction, not reality. In a purely theoretical sense, yes there are separate numbers, but the practical use of numbers is to measure pieces of reality. Let’s say I was trying to count the number of elephants, and in all of existence there are 10 elephants. To have 10 elephants, there must have been counted 1-9 elephants. I can isolate these elephants into groups millions of miles apart (because I have all of existence to place them), but that does not change the fact that elephants 1-9 are encompassed in the total of 10 elephants.

    To say that God represents the infinite, is to say that the purpose of God, the idea of God, is to grapple with the possibility of something endless, something eternal, an infinity. I call this practical infinity. Just as in practice the number 10 encompasses every number before it to exist (1-9); infinity too must encompass every number before it. What this means when measuring something is something endlessly big/ encompassing.
    If infinity measures something that means that it takes up space-time. If it is endless that means it takes up all space-time. To be able to define a portion of space-time it does not encompass would mean it is not infinite. Therefore when defining something as infinite means that to ever acknowledge anything outside of it destroys its potential to be infinity.

    ~

    1. It’s like how I believe in dragons — no, I don’t believe that dragons literally exist, but that the idea of dragons does exist in our culture. Is your belief in God like my belief in dragons?
    No my belief in God is different from your belief in dragons. To me God is simply infinity. The reason it has to be symbolic is because the moment you try to accurately represent it is no longer endless. Imagine there were a “last number” beyond which there could be no other number. That would not be infinity. The idea of infinity is the idea that there is something beyond our potential to count/understand. To me this is existence itself. The Universe, what is beyond it, the nano-verse I do not see any end to it.

  21. #21 Tom Mitchell says:
    9 Dec 2011, 10:32 am  

    @joseph
    Don’t want to butt in too much as your exchanges with Peter always interest me….the problem many christians I’ve met have with an all-encompassing, all-pervading God is that would have umfortunate implications.

    The more the merrier! I really have no hostility towards you putting in your opinion. Though I think that I should clarify for you and Peter that my position is truly tranatheist.

    What I mean by this is that

    .1) My conception of God has nothiing to do with Christianity. In fact the only reason I use the word “God” is because it is the only suitable translation in english.
    .2) I do not believe in God as a creator.
    .3) God is purely a symbol for me to concive what is of the utmost concern

    My life is fleeting in the span of time. What idea/purpose should I attach it too to make it eternal? This is what I mean by infinity. What purpose, what meanign will last forever? Will any? When I say God is a symbol I do not think you guys are taking it symbolically enough. The entire discourse of christianity as a historical story is irrelevant for my spiritual journey. I do find christianity an important historic fact to explain phenomena of our cutlural evoltuion, but not the Chirstian God himself. Theism and Atheist both seem more political to me than spiritual. I am concerned with what is poltical, but also with the importance of purpose, meaning (a spirituality) to human life.
    So as to your question of satan, I would interpret satan as misplaced meaning life. Like a person who devotes their life to individual profit. I think this is a misguided endeavor that will ultimately leave their life hollow. For this “satan” element if you would call it that. I am not afraid of it, or disgusted, I feel pity for it. How sad is it the number of people who die without even considering what they are living for. As to heaven and hell, I do not believe in them at all. My conception of god is infinity, there is no distinction between sides.

    The christian mythology means nothing more to me than an interesting examination into the psyche of western culture.

  22. #22 Tom Mitchell says:
    9 Dec 2011, 10:36 am  

    P.S @ Joseph

    I apologize if I offended you by calling christianity “myth.” I think it is a good myth in lots of respect. I was just being honest. I do not take it as my personal lineage or as relevant to my own biography. Hope my words were not too blunt.

  23. #23 joseph says:
    9 Dec 2011, 12:11 pm  

    @Tom
    At the end of my day now, but thankyou for your manners, and no I am not worried by Christianity being called a myth in the slightest!

    I had your theistic position down as fairly similar to most buddhists I’ve met.

  24. #24 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    10 Dec 2011, 12:52 am  

    @Tom, Part I:

    You see religion as an outdated method of producing knowledge; whereas I see the beneficial part of religion outside the production of knowledge. I have absolutely no problem sequestering religion from the definition of empirical territory, but I do have a problem classifying the religious question as obsolete, because the religious question is not one of description.

    Maybe I should wait until I get around to reading Dynamics of Faith, but what is the religious question? And if it’s just “how do we conceive of infinity?”, why is that a question worth worrying about?

    Put another way, I see no questions I’ve currently encountered that can only be resolved with religious metaphor/symbolism. And I’m skeptical that religious metaphor will be useful in actually answering the question — I think that it will instead probably just make the question go away.

    To me, right now, metaphorical religion just seems to be a matter of personal preference — as long as your metaphors refer to actual facts, you are describing the world correctly.

    ~

    They are wrong, and probably hurting the evolution of humanity, but in my opinion, to annihilate religion in order to “cleanse these social diseases” will be equally detrimental in the long run.

    Right now my mission would probably be only to annihilate *literal* religion. And by “annihilate”, I mean “respectfully argue against on my blog, and occasionally in person”.

    ~

    It would be a temporary solution, but within the century there would be another up rise to cleanse “rational zealots”. It would be much better to rectify the purpose of religion than to annihilate it.

    These are both two fairly strong claims: (1) if the current religions are agreed to be irrational by society, new religions will just take their place and (2) the best way to prevent new religions from taking their place is to make religion metaphorical.

    ~

    I mean that you have a set of values that you are fighting for that I do not think are any more provable or logical than the existence of God. One such value being faith in the ability of humans to know reality and improve on it

    Humans obviously have the ability to know reality in any way it actually matters — on this, see my essays starting with “The Origin of Truth”.

    If you still object, feel free to raise commentary there, as I think you have done so in the past — remember our conversation about “Clarifying the Idea of Meaning”?

    As for “improve upon reality”, I’m not sure what you mean. We all individually have goals for what a better world looks like and are capable of fulfilling them, and often do. Likewise, we as a society have global goals that are also often fulfilled. Social progress exists — society has gotten more conducive to producing happy lives over time.

    ~

    another being faith in the ability of humans to be rational and through rationality transform human nature.

    I know for a fact that humans are capable of being rational — I’d say we’re having a rational disagreement right now. I definitely don’t think that anyone is perfectly rational, though, and I definitely think there are many irrational people. So I don’t know where I’m being faithy here.

    I am under no delusion that humans are able to accurately glean information about their surroundings on a consistent basis — instead, we make many errors on a frequent basis. Luke Muelhauser’s essay “The Crazy Robot’s Rebellion” I think brilliantly sums up all the problems in human rationality and what we can do about it. “Debiasing” is a thing.

    Perhaps you criticize my hopeful prediction that future generations will be more rational than current generations. I don’t actually have high confidence in this prediction though, so I don’t think you can correctly call it a faith. I would rather call it a guess based on current trends: education is improving, and better education should create more rational societies.

    ~

    These two values are both products of a faith in “scientific progress.” I define scientific progress as the ability to transform reality to our will, and in doing so inch closer to some utopian ideal.

    Depending on what is in your utopian ideal, we have indeed become inches closer to it. Again, social progress exists. The population today is now far less racist and sexist than it once was and the average person now has a much better standard of living. We have made great strides in understanding how the world works compared to what we once knew.

    ~

    Continuing my above mentioned argument, on what basis can you make the claim that the human condition is capable of understanding reality? Richard Rorty, a brilliant philosopher, makes the argument that faith in the idea that the human mind tries to accurately represent external reality is a priori to the creation of western philosophy, and that to truly develop as a thought-system philosophy must move past this misconception.

    How does Richard Rorty know this, though? If we cannot know external reality, how does Rorty know these facts about the human condition, human capabilities, and western philosophy?

    ~

    On my reading list is his book “Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature.” I would recommend it for you as well.

    Consider it added.

    ~

    you cannot prove that transformation of reality improves the human condition or that humans are capable of understanding the true nature of the world, than scientists and empiricists are just as deluded in devoting their lives to falsehood as priests and ministers.

    But I’m pretty sure I can. Again, we have gotten massive standard-of-living increases from our current scientific knowledge — this conversation wouldn’t even be possible without it.

    We can also quite clearly see that (most) scientists are not living out falsehoods, because typically their positions can be demonstrated, objected to, and falsified. And most of their positions have not been falsified yet, after much trying.

    And if this isn’t how truth works for you, then this conversation is completely pointless, because we would have literally no way to resolve it. Our words would be literally meaningless, no better than arguing “blah blah blah” against the statement “bleb bleb bleb”.

    And meanwhile while we’re floating in existential despair, other people will be testing scientific predictions and then using this knowledge to create new cures for diseases, or feed more people, or something less noble but still cool like study the reproductive cycle of newts.

    ~

    I would not say God is love; God is a sense of depth, sacredness, respect, a feeling of utmost concern with a subject, and more specifically the subject of humanity.

    But what motivates you to call this God? All I see is that it confuses people. Clearly you have the political motivations to co-opt and assimilate the religions of others, and perhaps you can claim the reverence and worship traditionally given to the literal God, but when I talk about having utmost concern for humanity, I just say “utmost concern for humanity”.

    I would even go as far as to say you’re violating the criterion of reasonable common usage, “or the idea that you shouldn’t ditch the commonly accepted and agreed upon definition unless you have a good reason to do so, as in a reason where the benefits of the new usage outweigh the costs of the confusion involved in not using the common term”.

    ~

    The idea of infinity is the idea that there is something beyond our potential to count/understand. To me this is existence itself. The Universe, what is beyond it, the nano-verse I do not see any end to it.

    Why this particular fascination, if I might ask? And why do you think it is something all of us must grapple with, and not just some of us?

  25. #25 joseph says:
    10 Dec 2011, 1:46 am  

    @Tom,
    “Math is a linguistic construction, not reality”
    I am very unclear what Maths is, the closest I can come is a system of logic, but I realise far greater humans than myself have failed to show this.

    Using your example, you may decide misusing it, if there could be an infinity of elephants (as someone who’s cleaned out cow pens, that be a lot of scrapping with the tractor) there could still be a giraffe, a non-elephant. Christians at times say something like “God is infinite goodness, this does not include evil”. For clarification, as you’ve said your God is an all-pervading infinity, does this include or disclude your idea of Satan?

    If Peter sees traditional religion, as you see Satan, something like a sad waste of time, what is to prevent him attempting to nullify it?

    I would also ask why you feel that making a meaning eternal is the best way to maximise it’s value. Entering a slight Zen-like mood can’t you say that perfection is maximising the good in every moment, and the fact that you possibly only have a finite number of moments (of an unknown number) only adds value to each one?

  26. #26 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    10 Dec 2011, 2:15 am  

    @Tom, Part II:

    Math is a linguistic construction, not reality.

    I would take issue with this statement. Math describes reality — it isn’t totally detached from it or arbitrary. But I think you agree with me here.

    ~

    If infinity measures something that means that it takes up space-time. If it is endless that means it takes up all space-time. To be able to define a portion of space-time it does not encompass would mean it is not infinite. Therefore when defining something as infinite means that to ever acknowledge anything outside of it destroys its potential to be infinity.

    These statements are either true because you are using a specific definition of infinity, or false based on the mathematical concept of infinity.

    I assume that you are using a specific definition of infinity that is just “encompassing of everything and excluding of nothing” — the largest possible infinity, so to speak. I don’t think such a number could be rigorously defined with math, but I’ll accept it for the purposes of this conversation.

    I think talk of math here is losing it’s connection to the main argument about the nature of a metaphorical/symbolic God, and starting to get too nitpicky, so I’m prepared to drop it.

  27. #27 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    10 Dec 2011, 2:30 am  

    @Tom/Joseph, Part III:

    Joseph: Don’t want to butt in too much as your exchanges with Peter always interest me….the problem many christians I’ve met have with an all-encompassing, all-pervading God is that would have umfortunate implications.

    Tom: The more the merrier! I really have no hostility towards you putting in your opinion. Though I think that I should clarify for you and Peter that my position is truly tranatheist.

    I agree here too — feel free to add to the conversation!

    ~

    My life is fleeting in the span of time. What idea/purpose should I attach it too to make it eternal? This is what I mean by infinity. What purpose, what meaning will last forever? Will any?

    The “Will any?” question intrigues me the most, because I don’t think that you can ever get an eternally impacting life. Eternity is more than just a long time, as you are no doubt aware.

    I don’t think that this is a worry we actually have to have, as I argue in “Do We Need an Ultimate Purpose?”, “More Problems With Ultimate Purpose and Heaven”, and “Is Naturalism Bleak and Hopeless?”.

    ~

    Theism and Atheist both seem more political to me than spiritual. I am concerned with what is political, but also with the importance of purpose, meaning (a spirituality) to human life.

    I think that two things are going a bit awry here:
    (1) you are using a notion of “political” that is not the one I would typically think of… what do you mean by “political”? (And what do you mean by “spiritual”?)

    (2) atheism is not really intended to be spiritual or political, but a specific statement that God does not exist — see “A-Unicornism and the True Definition of Atheism”. It’s akin to the position of heliocentricism, or that the sun is at the approximate gravitational center of our universe. Thus any accusation of politic play here is a problem not with atheism itself, but with those who are atheists.

    Just as heliocentricism is not the source of morality or spirituality, neither is atheism. Instead, you’ll have to turn to humanism.

  28. #28 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    10 Dec 2011, 2:38 am  

    @Joseph, Part IV:

    I am very unclear what Maths is, the closest I can come is a system of logic, but I realise far greater humans than myself have failed to show this.

    Stretching a bit off-topic again: I don’t think I’m that great, but I’m not aware of any failure to show that math is basically systematized logic, and logic is basically systematized language, and language is basically a systematized way of being able to explain what it is we experience.

    Statements like “1 + 1 = 2″ are definitionally true — the concept of 2 is defined in such a way to be “1 + 1″. We could have defined “2″ differently, since “2″ itself is just a squiggle, but we chose not to.

    I don’t know what problems with this reduction of math you face, but I’d be happy to try and grapple with them.

    ~

    Using your example, you may decide misusing it, if there could be an infinity of elephants (as someone who’s cleaned out cow pens, that be a lot of scrapping with the tractor) there could still be a giraffe, a non-elephant.

    This is a great point, but as I said before, I just don’t think that’s how Tom is using the word “infinity”. He just means something different than the mathematical concept of infinity, of which there are several.

    ~

    Christians at times say something like “God is infinite goodness, this does not include evil”. For clarification, as you’ve said your God is an all-pervading infinity, does this include or disclude your idea of Satan?

    This is a more interesting question, though, because it seems like if infinity includes absolutely everything, it must also include “not infinity”, which seems like a contradiction. But perhaps this is just confusing “not infinity” the concept with something that is actually the negation of infinity.

    ~

    If Peter sees traditional religion, as you see Satan, something like a sad waste of time, what is to prevent him attempting to nullify it?

    This is potentially how I see it, but I think there are also some religious ideas that lead to worthwhile philosophical thoughts, like the ones we are discussing.

  29. #29 joseph says:
    10 Dec 2011, 4:17 am  

    I was referring to Bertrand Russell’s Principia Mathematica, which I have not read, but seems to have been attacked by several notable mathematicians and philosophers. It makes me cautious in stating my gut feeling, that maths is a pure expression of logic.

    For some details, and a pleasant read, see:

    en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principia_Mathematica

  30. #30 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    14 Dec 2011, 4:43 pm  

    @ThinkingEmotions:

    My only quibble is that I’m not sure God actually “thinks” or “acts” in the way we would think or act, but I know you’re against those sort of objections because religious claims aren’t really truth-apt.

    I found out that my objection is very similar to Schieber’s Objection to the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

  31. #31 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    14 Dec 2011, 11:39 pm  

    @Joseph:

    I was referring to Bertrand Russell’s Principia Mathematica, which I have not read, but seems to have been attacked by several notable mathematicians and philosophers. It makes me cautious in stating my gut feeling, that maths is a pure expression of logic.

    I don’t know or understand enough mathematics to comment further, so you make a good point.

    It does seem though that all of math is definitionally true and that math could not be justified in any other way than through logic.

  32. #32 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    15 Dec 2011, 2:28 pm  

    @Joseph:

    Very happy to get a blog response, bit worried my input is too specific to Jehovah’s Witnesses, but am looking forward to it.

    I ended up writing “The Christian God Sure Takes His Sweet Time”.

  33. #33 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    18 Dec 2011, 4:08 pm  

    In my essay “The Christian God Sure Takes His Sweet Time”, a commenter named Lev objected to my argument that it is impossible to act outside of time. In the interest of grouping similar objections together, I am responding to his comment here:

    @Lev:

    I think I find fault with the points you made in ‘Cosmology’ about causality’s dependence on time. You’re correct that a being outside of time couldn’t ‘act’ in the same way beings inside of time do. I’d imagine he uses some form of action for which ours is a flat, poor representation. Said otherwise, why can’t there be a form of ‘action’ that isn’t constrained to time?

    You say you’d “imagine he’d use some form of action”, but I don’t think you’re actually doing that, because you can’t actually imagine or conceive what action this would be — such an idea is completely incoherent to us, because all action that we experience requires time in which to take place. You cannot actually imagine action that takes place outside of time.

    Why can’t there be a form of “action” that isn’t constrained to time? To answer this, I am going to first repeat my response to Thinking Emotions, who raised the same problem:

    If we allow this [and say that there can be actions that aren't constrained to time], I think we have to allow that there is no such thing as a logical impossibility. Even a triangle with four sides (something that is both three-sided and not three-sided) could be said to be possible if we have a fully and radically different concept of “side”. I think God’s actions are like this.

    One problem is that we already lack clear definitions of even temporal notions of “think”, “act”, and “create”, so we can’t readily compare them to nontemporal notions.

    I’d answer “Why can’t there be a form of ‘action’ that isn’t constrained to time?” with “Well, how can there be a form of ‘action’ that isn’t constrained to time?” — We could never think of one, and would have no ability to conceive of such an action, just like we have no ability to conceive of square circles or triangles with four sides.

    The very notion of all of these things is incoherent. Saying God created the universe adds nothing to answer how the universe came to be, it merely makes the question go away.

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