This is why I don’t respect William Lane Craig

William Lane Craig was presented with this from a fellow Christian:

Dear Dr. Craig

I have a question regarding the cause of the universe. We Christians hold God to be the cause and explanation of the natural world, yet Atheists frequently respond to me saying that you cannot apply causality to the universe itself. Because the universe is all of time and space, and since causality presuposses time and space, therefore the universe cannot have a cause.

So asking what the cause or the explanation of the universe is becomes meaningless.

So how can we say that God caused the universe or is the sufficient reason for the contigent existence of the universe if you cannot apply causality outside of time, or better said, if you cannot apply causality to time and space itself?

Could you help me out? Does the whole notion of causality indeed require the existence of spacetime?

God bless

Janey

I’ve addressed the First Cause argument in the past. Layman logic can get one to the point where it is obvious that God cannot be outside time and be the creator of the Universe as a result of causality. In fact, Janey already put a neat little bow on the issue for us: “Because the universe is all of time and space, and since causality presuposses time and space, therefore the universe cannot have a cause.” Naturally, whereas William Lane Craig fancies himself a student of broad, theoretical science – that is, he has read the Conservapedia page on physics – one would hope he would understand the problem being presented to him, thus causing him to surrender the point and never again use the First Cause argument. But instead, we get this:

I must confess that I’m baffled why atheists would think that causation presupposes time and space or at least time. Janey and John, you need to ask them what they mean by “causality” and what reason they have for believing that it presupposes time and space. They’re the ones raising the objection, so make them shoulder their burden of proof. After all, it’s not just obvious that causality presupposes time and space. So ask them for their argument.

No problem, bucko. Causality is a reference to force. Force is mass multiplied by acceleration. Acceleration is the change in velocity over time. Ergo, for there to be a force on something – that is, for something to be caused – time is necessary. Without time, there can be no change in velocity; without velocity there can be no change in acceleration; without acceleration, we have no coherent idea of what force even is, much less a way to measure it.

You’re welcome, Janey.

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Incoherent views

I’ve been following a comment thread over at The A-Unicornist that has mostly revolved around the First Cause argument. In it was this gem from family-harasser Jack Hudson:

…causation isn’t logically dependent on time.

This made me literally laugh out loud. It demonstrates what is one of the most incoherent view of reality I think most Christians hold. I’ve explained how it all works on FTSOS as well as in the comment thread, but I think it bears repeating one more time what, exactly, causality is.

Newton’s third law says that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Another way of saying this is, for every cause there is an equal effect. Or, to use exactly equal language again, for every force there is an equal opposing force. With that under our belts, let’s look at what force is.

Simply put, force is mass multiplied by acceleration, or f=ma. Let’s break it down further. What is acceleration? It is the change in velocity of an object over time. In other words, find the change in velocity in an object and divide that change by the amount of time it took for said change to occur and you’ve got acceleration.

I think if I left things at this point many people would be able to figure out the implications of what I’m saying. However, since I know Jack (who is obsessed with FTSOS) and other Christians will be reading this, I will spell it out. In order for something to have a force, it must have mass and acceleration. And in order for something to have acceleration, it must have velocity. And in order for something to have velocity, it must go through time. Tie it all together and we see that time is of the essence. At least to introductory physics. Without time, there is no causality. And what did we have ‘prior’ to the Big Bang? Certainly not time as we understand it. Therefore, it is logically incoherent to use the idea of causality in order to argue about how the Universe began.

If more Christians understood science, we wouldn’t have these sort of problems.

2010: FTSOS in review, July to September

This is the third installment of the 2010 review of FTSOS. See the first two here and here.

July:
Some of the smaller posts I’ve made that I think deserve a little more attention are the ones where I emphasize that biology is all about shape. The article I wrote about the fight against HIV is one of those posts. Research earlier this year found at least one location on HIV molecules that remains a consistent shape between individual viruses. This is important because HIV’s ability to be differently shaped in different parts of a single body makes it difficult to combat.

I also wrote about the difference between atheists, new atheists, and anti-theists. One of the public relation problems for atheism is that it is viewed as a dirty word. People assume it means absolute certainty, and that is seen as arrogant. It’s ironic because belief in God usually comes with certainty and that isn’t seen as being so arrogant, but I digress. Atheism is not certainty. Furthermore, where it is involved in new atheism and anti-theism, atheism acts as a descriptive base; new atheism and anti-theism are normative positions.

One of my all-time favorite posts is the one about photolyase and cancer. Photolyase is a protein that captures light and uses two of its constituents (a single proton and single electron) to force contorted nucleotides back into place. It is not present in humans, but is common in plants and other animals, helping to keep their genes functioning properly. This may be one reason we’re more susceptible to cancer than many of our fellow organisms.

August:
This was a skimpy month for FTSOS. I was away on a couple vacations for the bulk of the month, so the majority of the posts were either from my “Thought of the day” series or they were pictures/YouTube videos. But for what was there, I couldn’t resist pointing out and expanding on a fantastic quote from the judge who said Prop 8 in California is unconstitutional. In his quote he said a ban on gays getting married fails to advance any rational cause. I compared that sentiment to the idea that the majority cannot be allowed to discriminate simply because it is the majority.

I also made a post about a website devoted to philosophical thought experiments. The thought experiment I chose to highlight was Judith Jarvis Thompson’s Trolley Problem. My big motivator was a recent discussion with another blogger who laughably claimed that the trolley experiment was merely a logistical exercise, not an exercise about morality. To date he is still the only person in the world to believe that.

I also went through a few theistic arguments that are obviously failures. The most notable in my mind is the argument that says everything has a cause, therefore the Universe had a cause. There are two major problems with this. First, then why not just say a sort of ‘exo-nature’ caused the Universe? There is no need for consciousness – in fact, that only makes the theistic argument less probable. Second, the whole basis for this argument rests in the idea that forces result in reactions. For instance, if I push a chair, that chair moves; I applied a force. This is basic physics. But the whole shebang of forces and equal and opposite reactions? We’re talking about the science of what we know that happens within the Universe. And all we know necessarily breaks down prior to the Big Bang. The First Cause argument cannot be used because it rests about an unwarranted extension of science. Religion abusing science? Crazy, I know.

September:
The beginning of September was just as skimpy as the end of August because I was still on vacation. But while I never gave a huge post on the subject, the defining moment of the month (and year and decade and…) for me was my hike of Kilimanjaro. I have started writing about it at this point – just not for FTSOS. But in lieu of that you can read the account of the journey from my fellow group member and current Facebook buddy Jim Hodgson.

I also gave a very lengthy post on why prostitution ought to be legal. No one seemed to care, but I put a lot of effort into, so I thought I would mention it here. Basically, we make the practice illegal because of our own discomfort with sex as a society. We also draw false correlations between it and other illegal activities: of course one illegal thing will bring with it other illegal things if it’s something people want. Finally, for the safety and health of all involved, it would be better to legalize and regulate prostitution than keep the old system we have now.

One of the most popular posts on FTSOS that people found via search engines was the one where I lamented low science and math scores in the United States. A lack of funding relative to other areas, hostility towards science, and a general anti-intellectual trend in the U.S. all contribute to the decline of America on the world stage in education.

Another lament was my post about the anti-vax crowd causing deaths. The fact is, people who advocate against vaccines or for made-up alternatives to vaccines are making the world a more dangerous place, making people sick and even causing deaths. Get vaccinated – and, if you have them, especially get your children vaccinated.

Once again I really want to highlight a fourth post here. In this case, it is the one I made about the Problem of Evil. This has forever been an issue that no Christian (or other relevant believer) has been able to resolve. If God is good and evil exists, then we need to answer why. Appealing to free will fails because while God is necessarily good, free will does not need to necessarily exist. In other words, God is required to be good; he is not required to create free will.

Expect October to December tomorrow.

The failings of theistic arguments

Most theistic arguments are failures. The primary reason is that there is no evidence for a creator (or designer or whatever fundamentally dishonest weasel word a theist wishes to abuse). But even on a non-empirical, philosophical level, theistic arguments fail again and again. It doesn’t matter if it is an initial argument or a counter-argument being presented, it always falls flat on its face. Here are the top five worst theistic arguments (or counter-arguments).

5. The argument from personal experience: This argument is one where the believer argues that he has had some fantastic spiritual experience or that praying has worked or that he really feels the presence of God. It’s almost insulting to refute such tripe. First, personal experience is not evidence; it cannot serve as a basis for proving something to someone else. Second, praying, believing, having faith, and all that silly jazz has no evidence. The person is drawing anecdotes. Third – and this is to what it really comes down – what one feels is true is not a substitute for what is true. Personal experience might serve as an interest, but there is nothing which says one personal experience is more valid than the other without some outside evidence or method for discovering what is true.

4. The transcendental argument: This is extremely similar to the argument from consequence. It argues that a number of things (such as morality) are dependent upon God. It then reasons that since morality is true, God must exist. But this is clearly erroneous. The argument presumes morality based upon wide-spread agreement that it actually exists. But this agreement 1) is largely based upon the presumption that God exists because, well, that’s from where morals come, right? and 2) does not require that anyone accept that morality comes from God. It’s an interesting dichotomy. On the one hand, most people are assuming morality exists because they assume God exists (making the argument circular). But on the other hand, if someone accepts the existence of morality without God, this argument completely falls apart. If morality is a purely human affair, then it does not prove any god. Really, the way this argument ought to be framed – and this is a common mistake of the theist – is that objective morality only exists with the existence of God. But then the only way morality can be objective is if God exists. And so the circle runs.

3. The argument from reason: This awful piece of argumentation says that reason must come from a rational source, rationality cannot initially come from material things, and since reason clearly exists, God must also exist. This is similar to the first cause argument. And it’s just as weak. Nothing says rationality cannot come from a purely material source. That’s a bogus premise that ignores the power of natural selection. Humans evolved, in accord with every shred of evidence we have, from non-rational populations either without the hand of God (which is the most parsimonious possibility) or with an utterly superfluous hand of God (which may as well be the hand of ShamShams the Crazy Creating Unicorn).

2. The argument from degree: This one says that we can always imagine something with greater and greater properties. Eventually, we must conclude with something that has the greatest of all properties. It’s crap. We can conceive of a lot of things. That doesn’t mean those things therefore exist. It’s a simple word game, really.

1. The first cause argument: This posits that everything in the Universe has a cause, therefore something outside the Universe must have caused the Universe itself to exist. First, why not say Nature is the first cause? Not Nature in the sense of all that is within the Universe, but in the sense of a mindless actor which exists independently of the Universe, a sort of God without the intention; God only acts as a middleman. Second, what caused God? If he is without cause, where is the evidence? Third, we don’t even know if everything must have a cause. Of course, we know that everything which exists within the Universe must have a cause, but that says nothing of whether or not the Universe itself must be caused. (Note the distinction I wish to make: we know that what is within the Universe has cause, but the Universe as a complete entity is a different story.)