Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Can an eternal universe require a cause?

I had a couple of discussions recently regarding the Cosmological Argument, among various other topics related to that. As most should know, the Cosmological Argument is an argument that attempts to demonstrate the contingency of the universe. That is, it attempts to demonstrate that the universe requires a cause to bring it into or sustain it in being. Now on these aforementioned discussions the topic was brought up regarding the possibility of an eternal universe, and it was postulated that if the universe was eternal, then the cosmological argument would lose force.

Let me explain why this assertion might seem prima facie logical. If the universe is eternal—that is, existing infinitely into the past with no beginning—then it can have no events that temporally precede it. But if there are no events that precede the universe, then there can be no prior cause of the universe. Thus stated, the existence of the universe would not have been caused, and hence it would not be contingent. All this is to say that an eternal universe seems to logically side-step the cosmological argument.

But is this line of argumentation as logical as it seems? Spoiler alert: I don’t believe so. For everything here hinges on one’s ontology of causation. If causes must necessarily precede their effects then the line of argumentation above might indeed be valid. However, I maintain that causation is not this simplistic, and obviously I need to make a case for that here.

When we think of most causation, we tend to think in temporal, linear, and deterministic terms, such as when a billiard ball bumps into another. That is, we tend to think of (a) causing (b) which causes (c) etc., wherein this causation flows linearly as (a)→(b)→(c). But a lot of causation is non-temporal, simultaneous, non-linear, and non-deterministic. Let’s examine a few examples. Take the act of someone shaping a clay pot. The act of shaping the pot (the cause) is simultaneous with the effect of the pot being shaped. Notice that this is one event wherein the cause does not precede the effect, but is, rather, simultaneous with it. Or take the solidity of a table. This is an effect which is caused by the structure of the material constituents of said table. But the structure of the table does not temporally precede the effect of the solidity of the table. They are, once again, simultaneous. (Note: It seems, then, that Hume’s simplistic idea of causation as the constant conjunction of events, which could be ontologically loose and separate, is false.)

It should be apparent then that causation does not need to take place linearly, and causes do not always—and many times do not—precede their effects. So, what relevance does this have for the idea that an eternal universe is necessarily absolved of a cause? Well, it means that this proposition is false. For if causes do not need to precede their effects, then an eternal universe is still capable of being caused, as long as this causation is non-linear and non-temporal.

Now, this does not presently mean that I need to determine exactly how an eternal universe can have a cause, nor does it mean that an eternal universe necessarily does have a cause—the contingency of the universe would first need to be demonstrated. My current thesis is only that an eternal universe does not ipso facto evade talk of causation, and thus an eternal universe is not necessarily a refuge for naturalists from the efficacy of the Cosmological Argument.

Louis C.K. on atheism

"I'm not religious. I don't know if there's a God. That's all I can say honestly is 'I don't know.' Some people think that they know that there isn't. That's a weird thing to think you can know:

 'Yeah, there's no God.'
 'Are you sure?'
 'Yeah, no, there's no God.'
 'How do you know?'
 'Because I didn't see him.'

There's a vast universe. You can see for about a hundred yards when there's not a building in the way. How could you possibly...Did you look everywhere? Did you look in the downstairs bathroom? Where are you looking? 'No, I didn't see him yet.' Well, I haven't seen Twelve Years a Slave yet, it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. "

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

God has not revealed

I don’t believe that God has explicitly revealed anything to us as a human race, and it’s here that I part ways with the traditions of mainstream Christianity. I don’t believe scripture is God’s revelation to man—i.e. I don’t believe scripture can be preceded by a “Thus saith the Lord.” Obviously, I think the same regarding all other self-proclaimed holy books—even without needing to read them (see below). (Note that I do not take this to imply that scripture is not inspired, since I don’t believe inspiration necessarily entails any objective revelation.)

So why do I hold this belief, despite my self-identification as a Christian? Well for one thing, if the Bible is God’s be-all end-all of revelatory knowledge, he seems to have done a poor job of unambiguously alerting us to this fact. Are all the individuals who were raised Muslim, or Mormon, or Hindu just supposed to have a Damascus Road experience, and subsequently bow down to the book that completely contradicts their own worldviews that they have been indoctrinated with? Were all the millions of individuals who have perished, and continue to perish, without accepting the “good news” of Christianity simply being rebellious sinners who resisted God’s clear revelation? Forgive me, but I find this to be ridiculous. I personally have met adherents of other faiths (as we all have) who were devout and faithful followers of their God, and I find that it strains all credulity to believe that they knew that it was actually the Holy Bible that was God’s perfect revelation, as opposed to their own holy book, and were simply resisting this intuitive knowledge.

Moreover, are we just supposed to take the Biblical claims of revelation at face value? Well, if we can do this, then we have warrant for doing this for any self-proclaimed holy book or piece of writing, and thus we end up in confusion and contradiction. Heck, I once encountered a homeless man who claimed that he was a modern day prophet for God. If claims of revelation can be taken at face value, then who are we to say this man is a false prophet?

This leads us to another point, namely that the act of God supposedly choosing prophets to privately record his revelation seems extremely problematic. Understand that inspiration by God of prophets in order to expound revelation is a private and subjective experience, on the part of the prophet. So how can we, who are not in any way involved in this experience, ever objectively verify that God is behind the scenes pulling the strings, as it were? As outsiders we are in no epistemic position to affirm, or deny, that an individual is indeed a spokesman for the big man upstairs. The role of prophet, then, as a medium for revelation is not satisfactory—at least not if God wants this revelation to be clearly given to all mankind.

This isn’t even the worst part, however, regarding God’s supposed method of revelation. For it’s not as if the so-called vehicles of divine revelation are contemporary individuals with whom we can converse and question. No, the mediums of so-called divine revelation are primitive, anonymous authors writing hundreds (and some thousands) of years ago. How can a reasonable person ever be convinced that writings of this nature are indeed God’s clear message to the human race? Not to mention that these writings are liable to a myriad of different and often conflicting interpretations. Couple this with the fact that there are innumerable denominations based on these differing interpretations, and one is inevitably drowning in the sea of uncertainty and obscurity. These are the fruits of God’s “clear” revelation.

Please understand that my point of contention here is not necessarily that God has not revealed anything to us. Rather, it is that even if he has indeed done so, he has done so in the most ambiguous, obscure and confusing fashion possible. It is not clear that God’s revelation is to be found in the Christian scriptures (which cannon?); it is not even clear that Christianity is true; it is not clear that Jesus is God; it is not clear that God has explicitly intervened in the world in the past; it is not clear that God has a plan for us; it is not clear that there is hope for a future realm wherein we will be in communion with him; it is not clear that God even desires communication with us; it is not even clear that God exists.  Note again that I’m not claiming that any of these propositions are false, but only that their truth is not clear, irresistible, and unambiguous.

These are the reasons I don’t believe that God has revealed anything to us. This is hard for fundamentalist Christians to swallow, and obviously they wouldn’t agree with me. But my faith is more than believing that the Bible is a manual that has been dropped from heaven, pre-packaged with the do’s and don’ts of God. The Bible is nothing but our own struggle to understand what in world is going on in this universe, and where God fits into this discussion, if anywhere. I’m alright with the ambiguity and obscurity of existence, and we all should be—there’s nothing we can do about it. But most of all we should stop pretending that this ambiguity doesn’t exist and that God has explicitly lifted the veil from our eyes. For as Paul said, indeed we see through a glass darkly.