Friday, July 28, 2006

Another mind-tickler

A common tactic of non-theists when denying the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is to lean on intrinsic probability, al la Hume, as all but defining miracles out of the picture. As Bart Ehrman recently argued with William Lane Craig, history deals in the probable; but miracles are by definition improbable (i.e., tremendous and exceptional irregularities), otherwise they just become infrequent natural reoccurrences; hence, history cannot in principle evidentially establish a miracle. The same line of reasoning goes for science: since miracles are intrinsically the least likely outcome, and since science deals only in the most easily verifiable (observable, repeatable) phenomena, so science in principle cannot establish a miracle. And, since miracles in general are so incredibly unlikely (improbable), there's no sufficient reason to believe one, such as the Resurrection, has actually happened. Given the regularity of nature (for understanding history, science, etc.), there's always a preponderant methodological "duty", as it were, to find a natural explanation for an alleged miracle, even the Resurrection.

But, if I may ask by analogy, what about the Big Bang?

I know, I know: there's lots of evidence for the Big Bang.[1] But this is a philosophical point -- and everyone knows we philosopher-types have no interest in facts! -- so indulge me. (Ooh, scaaarry, "e-vi-dence"! Meet my friend Derrida....)

Consider. Experience confirms time and again, without fail, that universes do not spring into being from singularities. No one's ever observed this phenomenon, nor even claimed to observe it. Worse, it can't be repeated empirically; it's completely outside our evidential ken. It's not subject to the scientific method, so, frankly, it's not science. At the envelope of the Big Bang, astronomy becomes cosmology becomes cosmogony becomes history. Absent repeatability and verifiability, the Big Bang cosmologist can only dig as deeply as an archeologist: to the very edge of time, but not back into it. This, of course, means a cosmologist is ultimately (or should I say radically?) bound by the same methodological strictures as the historian. As such, given the regularity of nature and the overwhelming bias in favor of naturalistic empirical probability, then all our testable, verifiable evidence actually refutes the idea that universes "bang" out. The number of empirically verifiable and actually perceived non-Big-Bang-like phenomena is virtually countless (say, 3409857349856324), while the observed and verifiable number of Big Bangs is, well, 0. The odds are so incalculably low that this universe came to be, that there is an incumbent methodological duty to conceive of a different explanation, one that at least lines up with consistent empirical evidence.[2] Or, if I may quote the indefatigable Richard "Alvin" Carrier, Infidel Extraordinaire, on the need of extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims:

Since there is no observable divine hand in nature as a causal process, it is reasonable to conclude that there is no divine hand. After all, that there are no blue monkeys flying out my butt is sufficient reason to believe that there are no such creatures, and so it is with anything else.

There you have it! No direct, repeatable evidence of blue butt monkeys means no blue butt monkeys! No direct, repeatable evidence of resurrections means no resurrections!

But, um, my point is, why can't I chant right along with it all: "No direct, repeatable evidence of Big Bangs means no Big Bangs!"? The Big Bang is an extrapolation from various pieces of evidence; and so is the Resurrection, at least as a topic of debate. (I leave the hunt for blue butt monkeys to my betters.) From a strict epistemological perspective, what compels a man to overcome his empiricism regarding singularity explosions, but does not compel him to overcome a similar empirical skepticism with regard to miracles? Regardless how much evidence there is for the Big Bang, or the Resurrection, there is on principle an intrinsic probability against such things ever happening. Yet, strangely, while both history and cosmogony can prove the truth of a totally unique and improbable occurrence (the Big Bang), no amount of evidence seems to budge the unbudgable atheist.

Now, let me just tighten the laces a little. Even if one were willing to suspend his empirical skepticism of Big Bangs, what does one do with the strictly natural basis for it? If common and verifiable experience weighs against Big Bangs as real phenomena on principle, how much more so does it weigh against uncaused effects! If the Big Bang happened, it happened as a natural phenomenon, and the number one rule of empirical savvy is that there is always a cause.

So, if you please, what natural entity caused the Big Bang? If the universe came to be, what effected that state of affairs?

"Prior" to the Big Bang there "was" a reality that we can call, if not incontestably "supernatural", at least "natural". If the cosmos is the sun total of natural reality, and if it had not yet come into being, then there was an "ontic phase" strictly distinct from nature. So, if this extra-natural "phase" caused the universe, then eo ipso we encounter a supernatural cause for nature! And if there was simply nothing--? Once again, the empiricist, against ALL known reality, must account for an uncaused effect of massive proportions.

[1] And I also know it's the sweetest irony to see, in a single ideological generation, nearly all atheists turn from once-vehement supporters of an eternal cosmos to now-vehement supporters of a naturally banged universe.

[2] And the ol' retort that, well shyoot, our just bein' here eo ipso makes the odds of the universe 1 to 1 is about as compellin' as th' arg'ment that th' existence o' claims fer Christ's Res'rection make that just as lahkely. After all, in both cases no one would claim t' exper'ence either phenomenon -- cosmic r'ality? absurd idear! divine resurrection? absurd idea! -- unless there were a substantial basis in r'ality t' gen'rate that ther conception.


D.J. Skull-Fog said...

I just read the cosmological argument in (of all places) Philosophy for Dummies. And it goes, a little something like this:

1.The existence of something is intelligible only if it has an explanation. (By the defenition of intelligibility)

2.The existence of the universe thus either

a) is unintelligible, or

b) has an explanation. (From Step 1)

3.No rational person should accept 2-a. (By defenition of rationality)

4.A rational person should accept 2-b: The universe has an explanation. (From Steps 2 and 3)

5.There are only three kinds of explanation:

a) Scientific: Explanations of the from C+L -> E (independent initial physical Conditions, plus relevent Laws, yeild the Event explained)

b) Personal: Explanations that cite the desires, beliefs, powers, and intentions of some personal agent.

c) Essential: The essence of the thing to be explained necessitates its existence or qualities.

6.The explanation for the existance of the whole universe can't be scientific. (There can't be initial physical condidtions and laws independent of what is to be explained)

7.The explanation for the existence of the whole universe can't be essential. (The universe is not the sort of thing that exists necessarily.)
Therefore (hold on to your chair),

8.A rational person should believe that the universe has a personal explanation.

9.No personal agent but God could create an entire universe.

10.A rational person should believe that there is a God.

Michael Turton said...

But, um, my point is, why can't I chant right along with it all: "No direct, repeatable evidence of Big Bangs means no Big Bangs!"?

Probably because there is direct observable evidence. Cosmic background radiation.

Why do you post these rants? Most of methodological naturalists I know -- not non-theists as many believe in the supernatural -- take other approaches than the intrinsic probability approach. It's a bogus argument, IMHO, though not for the reasons you adduce.

9.No personal agent but God could create an entire universe.

10.A rational person should believe that there is a God.

Accepting all else, 9 and 10 above are absurd. After all, there is no reason to think that a single personal entity created the universe, and no reason to think it was supernatural either. For all you know, we're the experiment of highly advanced aliens.

No matter how you slice it, you can't get "God" out of "I don't know."

BTW, I was an admin and mod at Infidels for many years, and have great respect for Carrier, whom I have corresponded with many times.


the Cogitator said...


I could very well ask why do you read these rants?

The actualization of a contingent state of affairs finds its cause outside itself, and that's really the whole ball of wax there. Do you claim the universe is necessary? If not, then account for its existence on purely naturalistic terms (ie., square the circle). If the univrse exhibited the ocnditions to bring about a) its own existence or b) its state as we see it today, then it would have existed as it is today from all time. But since it has existed in many different "phases", with many different contingent qualities, for only a finit time, its existence demands a non-natural cause outside itself. This "decision" to bring about the universe just is how we, in part, understand God's act of creation. Bringing about a change that natural means are unable to is simply what volitional causation means.

Further, your red herring about aliens greatly misses the "cosmic" point: we're not talking about the humanly observable universe, but the universe as a whole, on the metaphysical terms of its naturalistic contingency. By this sort of logic, if we were discussing minds and matter, you'd start bringing up "evil demons" tampering with our "brains in a vat", all the while missing the point that naturalism as such fails to account for intentional states and mental causation. The issue is not us, but THE UNIVERSE itself. As we see its amazing beauty and radical contingency, so we deduce from that, in terms of natural religion, lessons about our own created splendor and humbling finitude.

In any case, the teleological argument -- which is not to be confused with the cosmological argument -- is not based on extracting God from I don't know, as you suggest, but on understanding God's creation (the fact) in light of the limits of our cosmological knowledge (the exhibits).

Cheers for now,

PS. Do you consider the universe beautiful? Or does it merely appeal to your tastes? Is there such a thing as beauty outside your perception of it? I do not ask this with barbs; I am simply curious if you look at the skies above with a sense of beauty or rather simply with the feeling, "Gosh that's neato!"

the Cogitator said...


You can learn humility and gratitude from the universe (deism), or you can learn these from revelation on their own terms and then gain insight into the universe (Christianity). As Newman said, "I do not believe in God beasue I see design, but in design because I believe in God." God is that very entity (sometimes I hate talking my Lord this way) that accounts for the pervasive reality of PURPOSE towards good ends (enetelechies at every level), not simply the tinkerer that makes nifty galaxies and trees.