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Need an Intelligent AND RESPECTFUL Answer...
killyoko
Hello, I have been having a discussion about Christianity & belief with a Catholic acquaintance over email. He recently sent me this, as an entry into the more basic arguments for belief. I'd like to hear anyone's thoughts on what he says, and how to mount an intelligent and respectful response.

Begin Quote:
Every material thing has a cause. The light we see during the day is caused by the sun, the tree in the park was caused by the planting of a seed, etc.

Since every material thing has a cause, and these causes themselves are material things, and so are their causes, it would seem that there is an infinite number of causes which precede the light and the tree mentioned above.

However, upon reflection, an infinite regress in causation is untenable. Because if there is an infinite number of preceding causes, it would take an infinite amount of time for all of the necessary causation to take place. And if it took an infinite amount of time, then, by definition, we could never have arrived at the current state of affairs.

It follows, therefore, that there must have been a beginning to the chain of cause and effect which leads to our current state. And if there was a first cause, then that cause itself could not have been a material thing or we end up with the problem of infinite regression.

The conclusion, then, is that this first cause must have been a non-material thing.

And the common term by which human beings refer to the non-material source of the material world is “God.”

End Quote. Thanks for any help you can give.
 
catman
My thoughts on the matter while reading your post:

1. Perhaps the Universe, in one form or another, has always existed. If not, what preceded the "Big Bang" is unknowable at present and may always be.

2. So whence came this postulated "non-material thing"?

And, most importantly,

3. It is a series of very long jumps from the postulated "non-material thing" to Christianity and Catholicism.

In short, sometimes it is better to state that we have insufficient data to explain the origin(s) of the Universe than to use a (theo-)philosophical argument to attempt an explanation.
 
Theory_Execution
I would start with his opening statement: Every material thing has a cause.

We do not know this, the current understanding of science has nothing to say on this point.

The furthest we can look back at the moment is to say, prior to the rapid expansion of space itself (the Big Bang), all matter and energy that existed was present. There is no evidence to sugest it was created/caused so for now, we must wait for data to come in.

And you need look no further at the argument.
 
JohnH
An interesting aspect of almost all religions is the need for a creation myth. Why should I choose a specific one.

I was posed this very question a few weeks ago. Unfortunately I had already puked twice and needed to get home so I felt uncomfortable trying to form a response. It does seem such a simple explanation for the existence of a god, but it actually proves only that at a very basic level we cannot now say how the universe started if it was not like Catman says always here. It proves nothing about the bible version of creation nor any other creation myth. This is equivalent of saying humans do not now know how the universe came to be so therefore the Flying Spaghetti Monster must have created it.

People wish to find a cause for existence and refuse to believe that happenstance is as good an explanation as any other. There is no need for a higher being and humans are only fooling themselves to believe in one.

In addition I might point out that the bible has so many errors of history and errors of biology why should we believe the story of the creation of the earth, in 6 days and 6 nights and only 6000 years ago.

Most of religion is about making one more comfortable about themselves and it is scary and not comforting to think that one is the result of random occurrence.
 
JDHURF
The cosmological argument is surely one of the weakest. But leave it to a Catholic to present its most intelligent version.

A while back I wrote an entire critique of the first-cause argument. I go over every aspect. I just now put it up on my blog for easy reference for you:

http://secularhum...cause.html
[img]http://www.atheists.org/images/headerLogo.png[/img] is not a valid Image.
 
Photon
killyoko wrote:

Hello, I have been having a discussion about Christianity & belief with a Catholic acquaintance over email. He recently sent me this, as an entry into the more basic arguments for belief. I'd like to hear anyone's thoughts on what he says, and how to mount an intelligent and respectful response.


Welcome killyoko!


Every material thing has a cause. The light we see during the day is caused by the sun, the tree in the park was caused by the planting of a seed, etc.

Since every material thing has a cause, and these causes themselves are material things, and so are their causes, it would seem that there is an infinite number of causes which precede the light and the tree mentioned above.

However, upon reflection, an infinite regress in causation is untenable. Because if there is an infinite number of preceding causes, it would take an infinite amount of time for all of the necessary causation to take place. And if it took an infinite amount of time, then, by definition, we could never have arrived at the current state of affairs.

It follows, therefore, that there must have been a beginning to the chain of cause and effect which leads to our current state. And if there was a first cause, then that cause itself could not have been a material thing or we end up with the problem of infinite regression.

The conclusion, then, is that this first cause must have been a non-material thing.

And the common term by which human beings refer to the non-material source of the material world is “God.”



This is the famous "First Cause Argument". It is founded upon Aristotle's musings about a Prime Mover. Aristotle noticed that the world is in a perpetual state of movement, from things traveling between positions to things growing, changing temperature, changing phase, things like that. He argued that behind every movement there must be a chain of events that brought about that observed movement. Aristotle claimed this sequence of events must lead back to something which moves but is itself unmoved. This he referred to as the Prime Mover. And then of course follows the leap to God.


Thomas Aquinas took this idea and expanded it into the "First Cause" argument that you outline above. According to this argument, observed events are products of a series of previous causes. If this series cannot go back in time forever, there must be some first cause which was not itself caused by anything else. And that first uncaused cause is God.

Now there are a few serious problems with this argument:

P1: Every thing has a cause.
P2. If the universe has a beginning, there cannot have been an infinite number of preceding causes.
C: Therefore, at least one thing is itself uncaused, the First Cause, and we call this God.


We can abandon the argument logically if any of the premises are false, or if the conclusion does not follow from the argument (a non sequitur). In this case, both premises are in dispute, and the conclusion does not follow anyway. So there is very little merit to the argument.

P1: If everything has a cause, then presumably one should be able to point to the cause of various quantum phenomena, like virtual particles, radioactive decay of a specific atom, or the switching of neutrinos between various types during flight. There are no known identifiable causes to the phenomenon, and in fact quantum mechanics shows that the behaviour is inherently probabilistic, such that it is impossible in principle to predict which specific atoms will decay, which regions of space will spontaneously form virtual particles, or which neutrinos will switch flavours. Without a cause for these events, P1 fails.

P2: If the universe has a beginning, in the sense that time and space come into existence at whatever event that was the Big Bang, it makes no sense at all to talk about a preceding cause. If time does not exist, how can you define cause and effect sensibly? The famous analogy is to ask what is north of the North Pole? It is a category error. If the universe is infinite in its existence from progenitor forms, it is entirely possible that the string of events extends infinitely into the past. Current string theory and M-theory hypotheses contend that something may actually have "caused" the Big Bang, from multidimensional brane collisions to mere quantum fluctuations, but as of yet, there is no supporting evidence or even a reasonable test for these hypotheses. But it doesn't rule out a naturalistic "First Cause", which brings us to the conclusion.

C: If at least one thing is uncaused, there is no reason to jump to a supernatural explanation at all, let alone an intelligent one, let alone the Bible God. The conclusion does not follow from the premises. There are many more possibilities than a supernatural god, even if you grant the first two premises. There could be multiple uncaused causes, like multiple gods for example, or the uncaused cause could be an unintelligent, impersonal entirely natural phenomenon.

If we jump to the conclusion that that God is required to explain the existence of the universe, this argument still does not explain why God exists. If you invoke God to reply to the query "Why is there a universe rather than nothing?" you raise the further question "Why is there a God rather than nothing?" All this does is move the infinite regress problem back one step, and does not resolve the issue. For what caused god? If you grant P1, that everything has a cause, but then use special pleading to say that god does not require a cause, why not just use special pleading to say that the universe doesn't require a cause? Invoking god resolves nothing in the special pleading logical fallacy.

The fundamental question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" is unanswered in either case, so why propose a supernatural entity for which there is no objective evidence, whose existence has not been previously established, to explain a universe which we know exists?
 
killyoko
Thanks everyone for the responses, there's lots of good stuff in here. Gee, I love the internet! I'll compile a response to him, and then maybe post his response. We're not trying to change each others' minds, just having a conversation.
My main problem with his argument is that it's a huge leap to go from "something created the universe" to "my God created the universe." Religious Plurality, to me, is probably the single biggest argument against God--from a philosophical standpoint. I arrived at the conclusion many years ago that when it comes to religion, "they're either all right, or they're all wrong." Being "all right" points to deism; (or pantheism?) being "all wrong" points to atheism.
Cheers everybody, and thanks again. Any additional responses/perspectives would be appreciated.
 
seeker
All of the above arguments are excellent in their own ways. Something else you may want to consider though is that the Catholic God, much like any religion's God, has particular attributes. What does this argument really have to do with that particular God?

Who is to say that a first cause has intellect or will of any sort? The Christian God has complex attributes that make no real sense when one weighs them out. Are we to imagine some immaterial energy field that existed for eternity in nothingness suddenly decided to start creating things? What would these creations be based on?

Something that has already existed for an eternity with nothing else would never have a concept of material existence. Fundamental aspects like time and space would be completely meaningless to such a creature. You have a lot more than just the possibility of existence to deal with.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
 
Theory_Execution
I am not sure your Christian friend is not after converting you - it is an aspect of their religion to spread the idea and convert.

Also, if he is a Catholic maybe you should go some way to persuading him to not sending money to the Vatican - seeing as they keep covering up child rape an' all (to ignore their historical and other crimes).
 
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