Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Anything that Begins to Exist Has a Cause (p. 4)

Anything that Begins to Exist Has a Cause
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Conclusion



The first premise of the KCA is “anything that begins to exist has a cause” where “cause” is understood to include both material and efficient causes, making the premise tantamount to “it is not the case that something begins to exist with no efficient cause and no material cause.” Something coming into being with no efficient cause and no material cause would constitute something coming into being from nothing and thus a violation of ex nihilo nihil fit (from nothing, nothing comes). Three reasons to believe ex nihilo nihil fit:
  1. Something coming into being from nothing is literally worse than magic. If the intelligent atheist has good reason to accept the implausibility of magicians who can pop things into being by waving their magic wands, she has even better reason to accept the implausibility of things popping into being uncaused out of nothing.
  2. If ex nihilo nihil fit can be violated, it becomes inexplicable why anything and everything doesn’t pop into being out of nothing. The ex nihilo nihil fit principle is the best and only explanation for why not everything and anything pops into being uncaused (i.e. no efficient cause and no material cause).
  3. Common experience and scientific evidence confirm ex nihilo nihil fit. Related to the second reason, the fact that we don’t see anything and everything popping into being from nothing gives us substantial evidence for the “anything that begins to exist has a cause” premise. Science (e.g. the conservation of electric charge) and common experience provide significant support.
The first reason is akin to the intuitive plausibility ex nihilo nihil fit has right off the bat. Consider the robots on Pluto scenario, where a person says, “These robots might have popped into being uncaused out of nothing.” Clearly such an explanation isn’t a viable option, and even atheists have a natural skepticism towards violations of ex nihilo nihil fit, at least when such violations are not convenient for atheism.

When considering the rebuttals to the three objections I discussed, it becomes increasingly evident that the rational support for ex nihilo nihil fit is extremely strong, unsurpassed by even the best confirmed physical laws that astrophysics relies on. One reason is that if we accept that ex nihilo nihil fit can be violated at all, we cannot justifiably assume the uniformity of nature with respect to things coming into being from nothing only infrequently, because qua nothing there isn’t anything to constrain the frequency of how often such things would happen, and so there is no good justification for the belief that it would continue to occur only infrequently. The upshot would be we would have to abandon our natural skepticism to “things coming into being from nothing” claims, and this seems unreasonable. Ex nihilo nihil fit should, all things considered, be accepted with a great deal of confidence.

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Anything that Begins to Exist Has a Cause (p. 3)

Anything that Begins to Exist Has a Cause
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Objection: Violations of ex nihilo nihil fit occur far away



Objection:

The second reason offered for the ex nihilo nihil fit principle is that if the principle could be violated it becomes inexplicable why anything and everything doesn’t pop into being uncaused out of nothing. But how do we know that doesn’t happen? True, we haven’t seen it, but that’s an awfully small sample space given how huge the universe is. Perhaps anything and everything does pop into being uncaused out of nothing, and it’s just that this happens somewhere out there in the vast cosmos beyond our own observable sphere.

Rebuttal:

One wonders if critics would give the same skepticism to the physical laws that astrophysics relies on as they do to ex nihilo nihil fit, since astrophysics also assumes that the laws that hold in our own tiny observable sphere also apply far out in space. Should we reject this assumption that astrophysics relies on, and thereby also reject the claims of astrophysics? I think not. Science in general assumes something called the uniformity of nature (nature operating uniformly, in some relevant sense, in the past and in the future throughout various locations; e.g. the physical laws of last year on earth will apply next week on Pluto), and this axiom is particularly useful in astrophysics. If the critic doesn’t apply the same level of skepticism for the physical laws that astrophysics relies on and offers no justification for the double standard, I think we have a case for special pleading here because there doesn’t seem to be a relevant difference between the two.

One reason there doesn’t appear to be a relevant difference is this: anything and everything popping into being uncaused out of nothing somewhere out there in the cosmos flagrantly violates physical laws, in particular the conservation of mass-energy. Should astrophysics embrace the uniformity of nature only when it isn’t inconvenient for atheism? That seems pretty extreme.

On top of that, we can modify the claim and note that if ex nihilo nihil fit can be violated it becomes inexplicable why anything and everything doesn’t pop into being uncaused out of nothing within our own observable sphere. After all, why would nothingness have a proclivity to have some things pop into being from it only when we’re not looking? What makes nothingness so discriminatory? Again, nothingness has no properties, so to ascribe such a proclivity to nothingness would be to make a category error, like ascribing weight to the number seven. And again, “inexplicable” means “there can’t be an explanation.” So it’s not just that ex nihilo nihil fit is the best explanation for why anything and everything doesn’t pop into being uncaused out of nothing within our own observable sphere, it’s the only explanation. All things considered then, saying “Maybe anything and everything pops into being somewhere out there in vast unobservable space” not only abandons the laws of physics, it does little more than move the problem elsewhere. Thus we’re better off accepting the laws of physics and accepting that it is not the case that anything and everything pops into being uncaused out of nothing, but if one insists on abandoning such laws of physics, we still have serious problems with abandoning ex nihilo nihil fit, albeit problems moved into another room.

Objection: Violations of ex nihilo nihil fit happen rarely



Objection:

Perhaps the reason why we don’t see violations of ex nihilo nihil fit is that they happen too rarely to be observed. This, it still might be possible that (for example) the universe sprang into being uncaused out of nothing.

Rebuttal:

It’s notable that this sort of response wouldn’t be accepted in cases where atheism isn’t threatened. Think back to the case of the police officer finding a suspiciously large amount of money in my trunk. If I say, “This money popped into being uncaused out of nothing” not even an atheist police officer would accept this is a plausible theory. If the police officer noted that scientific evidence and common experience suggests that this sort of thing just doesn’t happen, the response “Well, maybe it does happen and it happens only rarely” would do little to convince any reasonable person that the money popping into being uncaused is a viable possibility. Why then should we make the universe an exception to this sort of thing? I thus think an atheist who thinks “the universe came into being uncaused out nothing” is a viable option might be using double standards.

Regardless, there are other points to consider. First, it becomes inexplicable why violations of ex nihilo nihil fit would happen only rarely. Remember, nothingness has no properties, so it wouldn’t make any sense to ascribe a “things always come into being only rarely from it” property to it.

Second (and related to the first reason), we couldn’t rely on the uniformity of nature to think that this pattern of “it happens only rarely” will continue to work in the near future for our own observable realm. There can’t be anything to constrain how often things come into being from nothing, because (qua nothing) there isn’t really anything to constrain. We also cannot ascribe to nothingness a lawlike property to (for example) ensure have things pop into being from it only once every x number of years such that it happens too infrequently for us to notice, because nothingness has no properties (since qua nothing, there isn’t really anything to have properties).

Why is that a big deal? Because the typical atheist will naturally have a great deal of skepticism about something coming into being from nothing (at least when it’s not inconvenient for atheism). To illustrate, imagine you’re an atheist who rejects the uniformity of nature with respect to things coming into being from nothing. If I say that a rock I am holding popped into being uncaused out of nothing, you could not justifiably dismiss it merely because we haven’t seen such things happen in the past if you grant that ex nihilo nihil fit could be violated, because there cannot even in principle be any metaphysical or physical law (or anything else) restricting the frequency of things popping into being uncaused out of nothing. So even if you believe that it’s currently rare for things to come into being from nothing, you would have no basis for thinking that would hold tomorrow or next week in your neighborhood, since the uniformity of nature wouldn’t apply to how often things come into being nothing. You could then be reasonably worried that a large building might pop into being from nothing above your home and crush it, but clearly such a worry seems unreasonable.

To illustrate this one step further, suppose astronauts landed on Pluto and found robots there. One astronaut, desperate to avoid believing in a nonhuman creator, says, “Maybe these robots popped into being uncaused out of nothing shortly before we got here.” If others told him we’ve never seen such a thing happening, his reply that “Maybe things pop into being only rarely, at least until recently” or “Maybe it happens only when we’re not looking” would seem terribly ad hoc, in addition to all the other problems I’ve mentioned (the three reasons to believe ex nihilo nihil fit I gave earlier). But more to the point, you would greet the astronaut’s claim with severe skepticism, but unless you held to the uniformity of nature (as regarding the impossibility or rarity of things popping into being from nothing) you could not possibly justify your skepticism, and if ex nihilo nihil fit violations can happen at all, you would have no basis for thinking that the uniformity of nature regarding the rarity of things coming into being from nothing would continue to apply.

We thus have two options: (1) abandon seemingly justifiable skepticism against claims like the astronaut saying the robots popped into being from nothing; (2) accept ex nihilo nihil fit.

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Anything that Begins to Exist Has a Cause (p. 2)

Anything that Begins to Exist Has a Cause
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Objection: Physics gives examples of things coming into being from nothing.



Objection:

Science has observed that fluctuations in the quantum vacuum bring about virtual particles, and since the particles come from a vacuum we have something coming into being from nothing. Also, physics tells us that if we have two physically identical uranium-238 atoms, it’s possible for one to emit an alpha particle (two protons and two neutrons) while the other one doesn’t, with no causal explanation for the different outcome. Thus, the alpha particle emission is an uncaused event.

Rebuttal:

Alleged examples of things coming into being come in at least two basic types. The first instance (as in the particles emerging from the quantum vacuum) uses the term “nothing” to refer to the quantum vacuum or some other sort of physical reality, which isn’t literal nothingness. Nothing by definition isn’t anything. So here’s a test: if the “nothing” you see someone describe has physical properties, then it’s not literal nothingness. Something coming into being from literally nothing means it doesn’t come into being from anything—not physical laws, not quantum vacuums, not anything. The phrase “X comes from nothing” doesn’t mean X comes into being from something and that something is called “nothing.” Rather “X comes into being from nothing” means X comes into being but there isn’t anything that X comes into being from, i.e. X comes into being with no efficient cause and no material cause. That means X doesn’t come from a quantum vacuum, the laws of physics, or anything else.

The idea bears repeating: if they’re talking about the physics of the alleged nothingness, then it’s not literal nothingness. Literal nothingness (nonbeing) has literally nothing—no space, no time, no matter, no energy, no physical stuff at all—and thus no physics. One might as well talk about the physics of the number six.

Another basic type of “scientific” response is to conflate causality with determinism, or at least to conflate a cause of an event (as in outcome 1 coming about versus outcome 2) with a cause of the existence of a thing. The difference is important but subtle. To illustrate, consider the case of two physically identical uranium-238 atoms A and B, where atom A emits an alpha particle and atom B does not. It may indeed be true that identical physical conditions can produce different outcomes, and while this would rule out the uranium atom deterministically bringing about the alpha particle, it doesn’t rule out indeterministic causation. So let’s consider the theory that the uranium atom indeterministically causes the existence of the alpha particle. This theory would entail that the existence of the alpha particle has a causal explanation, but this theory would also imply that there is no causal explanation for why uranium atom A emitted an alpha particle and physically identical uranium atom B did not, i.e. there wouldn’t be a causal explanation for the different outcomes between the two physically identical atoms (though there would be a “random chance” explanation for the difference), even though the existence of the alpha particle would have a causal explanation. The “anything that begins to exist has a cause” claim says that every thing that begins to exist has a cause, but allows for the possibility of uncaused events (e.g. outcome 1 coming about versus outcome 2).

It’s also worth noting that if nothing else, the alpha particle has a material cause: the two protons and two neutrons come from the uraniuim-238 atom itself, thereby transmuting the uranium-238 atom into an atom with two fewer protons and two fewer neutrons. One could say that the alpha particle has a material cause but no efficient cause, but then if the uranium-238 atom with its properties does not indeterministically cause the existence of the alpha particle, why does the uranium isotope have a highly predictable half-life? And why is it that the uranium isotope consistently (albeit randomly) emits alpha particles whereas carbon-twelve atoms do not? By far the best explanation is that the properties of the uranium atoms indeterministically bring about alpha particles.

But as I mentioned ealier, even if the alpha particle didn’t have an efficient cause, it remains true that the alpha particle has a material cause. So even if the event is uncaused (no causal explanation for the different outcomes), the thing (the alpha particle) still has a cause for its existence—a material cause if nothing else.

Objection: Ex nihilo nihil fit applies only within our universe



Objection:

The theist commits a fallacy of composition, thinking that what is true of its parts (stuff within the universe) is also true of its whole (the universe itself). Specifically, the theist reasons “Ex nihilo nihil fit is true within the universe, therefore it also true of the universe.” But that’s fallacious. Maybe stuff within the universe cannot pop into being from nothing, but that doesn’t mean the universe itself can’t pop into being from nothing.

Rebuttal:

First, the fallacy of composition depends on the circumstances, viz. whether the composition would create a relevant difference. If for example a wall is made entirely of large red tiles, we can justifiably say that the wall is itself red. Second, the fallacy of composition doesn’t really apply here. While one could make an argument like, “Ex nihilo nihil fit is true within the universe, therefore it’s true of the universe” that argument wasn’t made in any of the three reasons I gave for the “anything that begins to exist has a cause” claim. That said, scientific and empirical confirmation do constitute legitimate evidence for ex nihilo nihil fit (ENNF). But couldn’t one argue that scientific confirmation only establishes ENNF holding true for within our universe?

One thing to understand is that ENNF is not being offered as a mere physical law but rather a metaphysical principle that applies to anything in reality. One view on ENNF is that, just as the number six lacks the potential for things to come out of being from it, nothingness qua nothing likewise lacks the potential for things to come out of being from it such that ENNF is a metaphysically necessary principle that applies not just in our universe but everywhere. But another idea is that ENNF holds merely as a physical law, a principle that holds in the universe but possibly not outside of it. How to explain why ENNF holds as a physical law but not a metaphysical one? How to explain why ENNF holds within the universe but not outside of it? Two types of factors present themselves:
  1. Intrinsic. In general, one way for a constraint to occur in different circumstances is that the properties of the thing in question (e.g. the properties of the electron) bring the different constraint about. This doesn’t hold true for nothingness, since qua nothing there isn’t anything to have properties.
  2. Extrinsic. Another way is for some external “force” to place constraints on the thing in question. This doesn’t work for nothingness though, since qua nothing there isn’t really anything to constrain. So neither the universe nor anything in it can place a constraint on nothingness where there would otherwise be none, since qua nothing there isn’t anything to constrain.
If violations of ENNF are possible outside the universe then they’re possible within the universe, because there isn’t anything about the universe (or nothingness) that could make a difference with respect to the possibility of things coming into being from nothing; the universe can’t place a constraint on nothingness where there would otherwise be none, and nothingness can’t have any properties that would give it a predisposition to have things come into being from it in certain conditions but not others.

If ENNF can be violated, it really does become inexplicable why not anything and everything pops into being uncaused out of nothing all the time. The proponent of ENNF violations would have to say something like, “Well, things could pop into being from nothing all around us, but this just doesn’t happen and there’s no explanation for why it doesn’t happen.” In light of scientific conservation laws this doesn’t appear plausible. It seems that physical laws describe a genuine necessity, that e.g. fifty kilograms of electrons can’t just pop into being uncaused out of nothing before one’s eyes. So scientific confirmation is important not only for establishing that ENNF holds true in our universe but also for establishing that ENNF applies everywhere. Consider the following argument:
  1. If violations of ENNF are possible outside the universe, then they’re possible within the universe.
  2. Violations of ENNF are not possible within the universe (as confirmed by science).
  3. Conclusion: therefore, violations of ENNF are not possible outside the universe.
Premises (1) and (2) are both justifiably true, which means the conclusion is true also. And of course, if ENNF applies both inside and outside the universe, it applies everywhere.

Another problem with certain conditions making it more likely (as from impossible to possible) for a thing to come into being “uncaused” is this. If conditions C make it more probable for thing x to come into being, and x comes into being when no factors apart from C brought x into being, then C by definition causes x to come into being. This will of course depend on one’s definition of “cause” but it works with the conception that I (and I think many others) use, because by conditions C causing x I mean that C (deterministically or indeterministically) brings about x such that if C is the only thing making it more likely for x to come into being, then C causes x’s existence should x come into being. To illustrate, if the rays from a fired ray gun is the only thing that increases the probability of a mouse coming into being (say, from 0% to 30%), then the ray gun causes the mouse to come into being should the mouse come into being.[1] So external conditions making “X comes into being uncaused” more likely does not seem to work if one is looking for a bona fide uncaused creation event. If the ex nihilo nihil fit principle is to apply in some conditions, it applies in all conditions, because one cannot sensibly say it applies only to some conditions and that other conditions make it more likely for things to come into being uncaused. Thus the ex nihilo nihil fit principle holds either everywhere (i.e. in all conditions) or nowhere.


[1] Note that I’m defining “cause” in such a way that includes “conditions C indeterministically bringing something into existence.” On the other hand, if one’s definition of “cause” is “that which deterministically brings about something” then an indeterministic cause is (on this definition) logically impossible, and I’ve seen some define “cause” in such a way to include only those things that deterministically brings about something, but I don’t think this matches what people normally mean by “cause.” Suppose for example a special kind of rock thrown against a glass window has a truly random 50% chance of breaking the glass, and that this rock breaks the glass. Since the rock breaks the glass, the rock brings about the breaking of the glass, and so the rock causes the glass to break in the ordinary conception of “cause” even though it would be indeterministic causation.


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Anything that Begins to Exist Has a Cause

Home  >  Philosophy  >  Atheism/Theism

Anything that Begins to Exist Has a Cause
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The idea that “anything begins to exist has a cause” is basically an affirmation of ex nihilo nihil fit, which is Latin for “from nothing, nothing comes.” In other words, it is not the case that things pop into being uncaused out of nothing.

Relevance to theism



The claim that “anything that begins to exist has a cause” has important relevance to something called the kalam cosmological argument (KCA). The KCA goes like this:
  1. Anything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe begins to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
Further arguments are given to show that the cause of the universe is (among other things) a transcendent personal cause. If we have adequate grounds for thinking the universe has a transcendent personal cause, this gives at least some evidence for the truth of theism. In this article though I’ll just be arguing for ex nihilo nihil fit.

The meaning of the first premise



First some philosophy lingo. A material cause is that which a thing is made out of, and an efficient cause is one that produces the effect. For example, in the case of a woodworker making a wooden sculpture, the sculpture’s material cause is the wood and the sculpture’s efficient cause is the woodworker.

It’s important to keep in mind that “anything that begins to exist has a cause” is using the phrase “has a cause” in a way to include both material and efficient causes, such that it means “anything that begins to exist has a [material or efficient] cause.” Put another way, the first premise means “it is not the case that something begins to exist with no efficient cause and no material cause.” Something beginning to exist with no efficient cause and no material cause constitutes that something coming into being from nothing, with “something coming into being from nothing” meaning that something comes into being but it doesn’t come into being from anything (no efficient cause and no material cause). So the first premise is basically just an affirmation of ex nihilo nihil fit.

Justification for ex nihilo nihil fit



The ex nihilo nihil fit principle has intuitive plausibility right off the bat. To illustrate, suppose a police officer finds a suspiciously large amount of money hidden in the trunk of my car and she asks me how it got there. I say to her, “Well officer, all the money just popped into being uncaused out of nothing!” Any rational police officer, even an atheist one, would immediately disbelieve me. Even if I showed the officer a video of the money apparently popping into being from nothing (one frame shows no money, the next frame shows the money) the officer would still disbelieve me and suspect I faked the video recording in some way. When confronted with a claim that something (as money, rocks, or cars) popped into being from nothing, our normal reaction is severe skepticism. If an atheist shares this same skepticism but suddenly abandons it when it comes to the universe, such a maneuver would strike me as intellectually suspicious. In any case, there are at least three reasons to accept ex nihilo nihil fit.

First, violations of ex nihilo nihil fit are literally worse than magic. When a magician waves his magic wand and *poof* a rabbit pops into being, at least you have the magician and the wand to bring about the rabbit. A rabbit popping into being without any cause whatsoever is like magic but worse because there’s not even anything to poof the rabbit into existence. A similar thing holds true for mariachi bands, tuna factories, and space shuttles poofing into existence uncaused; it’s like magic but worse because there’s not even anything to do the poofing. If the intelligent atheist has good reason to accept the implausibility of magicians who can pop things into being by waving their magic wands, she has even better reason to accept the implausibility of things popping into being uncaused out of nothing.

Second, if something can pop into being out of nothing, it becomes inexplicable why anything and everything doesn’t pop into being uncaused out of nothing. If someone says only universes can pop into being out of nothing, this raises an important question: what makes nothingness so discriminatory about what can and can’t pop into being from it? Nothingness has no properties (since there isn’t anything to have properties), and so to ascribe nothingness with a proclivity to have some things pop out of it and not others would be to make a category error, like saying the number six has a color. Another way to look at it: if things can pop into being from literally nothing, there’s nothing that would restrict or constrain what would come about, because there isn’t really anything to constrain (nothingness is quite literally nothing after all). Thus if things can pop into being uncaused out of nothing, it becomes inexplicable why anything and everything doesn’t pop into being uncaused from it; e.g. it becomes inexplicable why horses, mountains, and root beer floats don’t also pop into being uncaused. And of course, “inexplicable” means “there can’t be an explanation.” So it’s not merely that ex nihilo nihil fit is the best explanation for why everything and anything doesn’t pop into being uncaused, it’s the only explanation. The fact that that ex nihilo nihil fit is the best and only explanation for why not everything and anything pops into being uncaused provides substantial rational support for “anything that begins to exist has cause.”

Third, common experience and scientific evidence confirm that something cannot come into being from nothing. For example, if ex nihilo nihil fit could be violated it becomes inexplicable why (for example) there are not violations of the conservation of electric charge via a bunch of electrons coming into being from nothing, yet we can be pretty confident in thinking that the conservation of electric charge is a bona fide law of physics. The fact that this (and various other) laws of physics disallow various things coming into being uncaused out of nothing provides confirmation of “anything that begins to exist has a cause.” The third reason is also related to second reason. The empirical fact that we don’t see anything and everything coming into being uncaused gives us reason to think such a thing can’t happen, since ex nihilo nihil fit both explains and predicts this. It’s not as if nothingness could have a predisposition for things to pop into being from it such that it happens in cases when we’re not looking but never when we are looking. What would make nothingness so discriminatory? Nor is it the case that things popping into being from nothing is prohibited by some locations (as the ones human occupy) and not others. It doesn’t make sense that our own observable sphere puts constraints on nothingness where there would otherwise be none, because nothingness isn’t anything, so there’s literally nothing to constrain regarding what, where, and when something comes into being out of it. (It’s more sensible to view nothingness qua nonbeing as simply having no potential for something to come into being out of it.) One can’t exactly inhibit the cause of something popping into being when there’s literally no cause. If things can pop into being uncaused (i.e. no efficient cause and no material cause), they can do so anywhere at any time precisely because there is no cause.

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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Does Necessary Falsehood Require Self-Contradiction?

Home  >  Philosophy  >  General Philosophy

An Objection Against Theism

In the moral argument and the Leibnizian cosmological argument I’ve argued for the sort of God whose existence is a necessary truth, where a necessary truth is a truth that can’t be or couldn’t have been otherwise. For example, “There is no married bachelor” is a necessary truth. The idea that God has necessary existence can be motivated further by the idea that God is the greatest conceivable being, and as the greatest conceivable being God would have the greatest possible form of existence (necessary existence).

One objection an atheist could make against God’s necessary existence is that the only way something can be necessarily true is if its denial is logically contradictory. For example, There is no married bachelor being false would mean that there is a married bachelor, which is self-contradictory because bachelors are by definition unmarried. However, there’s nothing self-contradictory about God not existing, so God’s existence isn’t a necessary truth.

While I agree that God’s nonexistence isn’t self-contradictory, the idea that the only necessary truths are those whose denials are self-contradictory (and by extension, the idea that the only necessary falsehoods are those that are self-contradictory) has a fatal problem that I’ll talk about this blog entry.

Logic and Lingo

Before going on I’ll introduce some logic and lingo. In a branch of logic called modal logic, “necessary” and “possible” are often thought of in possible world semantics, where a possible world is a complete description of the way the world is or could have been like. A necessary truth is said to be true in all possible worlds, and a proposition is said to be possibly true if it is true in at least one possible world. Where p is a placeholder for some proposition, □p is shorthand for “p is true in all possible worlds.”

One interesting thing about possible world semantics: if □p is true in one possible world, then p is true in all possible worlds. To illustrate, suppose □p is true in one possible world that we’ll call Alice. Then p is true in all possible worlds, because if p is false in some possible world (call that world Bob) then it wouldn’t be true in Alice that p is true in all possible worlds (since Bob is a possible world where p is false).

In philosophy, an analytic statement is a statement that is true by virtue of what it means such that a self-contradiction is present in the meaning of its denial, e.g. It is not the case that Sam is a married bachelor is an analytic truth because the meaning of its denial (Sam is a married bachelor) contains a self-contradiction (bachelors are by definition unmarried). A synthetic statement is a statement that is not analytic, i.e. its denial isn’t self-contradictory. “Abraham Lincoln had a beard” is an example of a synthetic statement. One point that will be important later on: even if it is true that no synthetic statement holds in all possible worlds, this is not part of the definition of a synthetic statement.

Since an analytic truth is one whose denial is self-contradictory, another way of saying “The only necessary truths are those whose denials are self-contradictory” is “All necessary truths are analytic.” A truth is necessary only if its denial is necessarily false. Thus if all necessary falsehoods are self-contradictory, then the only necessary truths are those whose (necessarily false) denials are self-contradictory, which would mean that all necessary truths are analytic. The upshot is that if all necessary falsehoods are self-contradictory, then all necessary truths are analytic. However, the proponent of “All necessary falsehoods are self-contradictory” or “All necessary truths are analytic” has a fatal problem.

The Fatal Problem

To see the fatal problem let’s take this step by step. Notice that statement (1) below:

      (1)    All necessary truths are analytic truths


entails this:

      (2)    There is no non-analytic truth that is a necessary truth.


Non-analytic truths are synthetic truths, so (2) entails:

      (3)    There is no synthetic truth that holds in all possible worlds.


The denial of (3) is this:

      (4)    There is a synthetic truth that holds in all possible worlds.


By virtue of what (1) means, (1) and (3) are logically equivalent. Here’s the problem: is (3) a necessary truth? If the answer is “No” then there is some possible world where (3) is false, and thus there is some possible world where a synthetic truth is a necessary truth—some possible world where □p is true for some synthetic proposition p. But recall that if □p is true in some possible world, then p is true in all possible worlds. So denying that (3) is a necessary truth would mean that (3) is false, for there would have to be some synthetic statement that is true in all possible worlds.

The proponent of (1) could say that (3) is a necessary truth, but according to the proponent, only analytic statements can be necessary truths, and so for (3) to be an analytic truth its denial (4) must be self-contradictory. But there doesn’t appear to be anything about the meaning of (4) that contradicts itself like “Sam is married and not married” and “Sam is a married bachelor,” since it just isn’t true by definition that a synthetic statement doesn’t hold in all possible worlds. Thus, it is not true that all necessary truths are analytic.

Conclusion

While “all necessary truths are analytic” and “necessary falsehood requires self-contradiction” may seem like a reasonable claims on the surface, it ultimately doesn’t work. This is interesting because it leaves the door open (at least for the agnostic and theist) for a God who exists necessarily even though God’s nonexistence isn’t self-contradictory.

While I found it somewhat surprising the way in which “all necessary truths are analytic” can be disproved, the idea that not all necessary truths are analytic has for me been rather unsurprising. Consider for example the proposition It is morally wrong to torture infants just for fun. There doesn’t appear to be anything self-contradictory about that claim, yet there is no possible world where someone torturing infants just for fun isn’t doing something morally wrong. Incidentally, the necessity of at least some moral truths also helps make for an interesting moral argument for a necessary being grounding morality.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Rosenberg’s Argument from Evil Folly

In my last blog entry I mentioned the debate between atheist Alexander Rosenberg versus William Lane Craig, the debate topic being “Is faith in God reasonable?” Alexander Rosenberg denies the existence of objective moral values but in the debate he had with William Lane Craig he argued the problem of evil. Yet without belief in an objective moral standard (as of what is morally good) the argument from evil shoots itself in the foot, because it removes all grounds for attacking even a trivial theodicy (where a theodicy is an alleged reason of why God allows evil).

Suppose a hypothetical theist—call him Theophilus—concedes there are evils in the world but believes it is morally good for us humans to try to fight against them (refraining from doing morally wrong actions, advancing medical technology, learning to share our food with the hungry, etc.) with the limited abilities that we have, with the obstacles we face etc. and that this is better than God making the evils any less bad, such that if God shared this standard of moral goodness, God would allow all the evil that exists in this world, because on this standard of moral goodness God would have morally sufficient reasons for doing so (it is good for humanity to fight against these evils with limited abilities etc.).

An atheist might reject Theophilius’s view of what is morally good, and say that if God adopted the atheist’s standard of moral goodness, God would not allow the evil that we see.

So on one standard of moral goodness, God would not allow the evil in the world, but on another moral standard, God would allow our world’s evil. The problem for atheists who reject moral objectivism but embrace the argument from evil is this: without an objective standard of goodness, there’s no objective fact of the matter about which standard of goodness God would adopt if he existed, and thus there’d be no objective fact of the matter over whether God would allow evil if he existed, in which case the argument from evil would collapse under its own weight.

I’m not saying Theophilus’s theodicy is correct. But even if we grant it as foolish, without an objective moral standard the atheist who rejects moral objectivism is powerless to reject even Theophilus’s theodicy for why God allows evil. So for the atheist to put forth a successful argument from evil, the atheist needs to adopt an objective moral standard. However, it seems that if God does not exist, then objective morality does not exist, and if that’s true, then if objective morality does exist, then God does as well. Paradoxically, the argument from evil can be used as an argument for theism as follows:
  1. If God does not exist, then objective evil does not exist (since there wouldn’t be an objective moral standard).
  2. Objective evil does exist (thereby entailing an objective moral standard).
  3. Therefore, God exists.
It may seem like a trick, but as long as the first premise is true, objective evil implies God’s existence. The argument from evil is emotionally powerful, but emotions sometimes mislead the intellect. As long as the first premise is true, the argument from evil doesn’t work intellectually, even if we don’t know why God allows evil. (Since I’ve argued for the idea that objective morality doesn’t exist if God doesn’t exist elsewhere, I won’t repeat myself here about why objective morality implies God’s existence.)

Without conceding the existence of an objective moral standard, the atheist is powerless to attack even facile reasons for why a perfectly good God would allow evil, at least when such reasons are consistent with the theist’s view of moral goodness. This raises another point: even if the atheist has no grounds for thinking that God (if he existed) would adopt the atheist’s standard of goodness when deciding what evils to permit, couldn’t the atheist at least criticize the theist for having an inconsistency in the theist’s conception of goodness with respect to a perfectly good God allowing evil? That depends on the theist, but it’s relatively trivial to construct a view of goodness that is consistent with a perfectly good God allowing evil in the world, as the case of Theophilus illustrates. Even if Theophilus’s view of goodness is mistaken, it isn’t self-contradictory. Similarly, even if my own view of moral goodness is mistaken, I doubt there is anything self-contradictory about it with respect to a perfectly good God allowing evil in the world, in part because I don’t claim to have a complete picture of what moral goodness constitutes (though I’m pretty sure we’re to love our neighbor as ourselves), and I concede that there might be goods I am unaware of that constitute at least part of the reason for why God allows evil.

But even if I were to have an inconsistency in my own personal view of moral goodness, without an objective moral standard atheists doesn’t have a good argument from evil that is reasonable for them to accept. Without an objective moral standard, there’s no objective fact of the matter about which standard of goodness God would adopt if he existed, in which case there would be no objective fact of the matter about whether God would allow evil if he existed, in which case the argument from evil would collapse under its own weight. Consequently, atheists who reject moral objectivism shouldn’t be using the argument from evil.

Friday, February 1, 2013

WLC versus Rosenberg

William Lane Craig (WLC) recently debated atheist Alex Rosenberg, the debate topic being “Is faith in God reasonable?”. How did it go? Quote from a Philosophy Bro tweet near the end of the debate:
"He has a magic sky friend, how good at this could he I HAVE MADE A HUGE MISTAKE" -Basically everyone who has ever faced WLC
If you missed the debate, there’s still a chance to see it here:



After you’ve watched the debate, you can find a tongue-in-cheek summary of it at Wintery Knight’s blog.