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Posts: 7,547
Reply with quote  #61 

I am currently reading a book by the late Professor Victor Stenger on the (lack of) scientific evidence for God’s existence. When I came to what is posted below, since it dealt with kalâm I remembered this discussion and thought I would chuck an extract from the book into it.

‘[William Lane] Craig claims that if it can be shown that the universe had a beginning, this is sufficient to demonstrate the existence of a personal creator. He casts this in terms of the kalâm cosmological argument, which is drawn from Islamic theology. The argument is posed as a syllogism:

1)     Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

2)     The universe began to exist.

3)     Therefore, the universe has a cause.

‘The kalâm argument has been severely challenged by philosophers on logical grounds, which need not be repeated here since we are focusing on the science. In his writings, Craig takes the first premise to be self-evident, with no justification other than common, everyday experience. That’s the type of experience that tells us the world is flat. In fact, physical events at the atomic and subatomic level are observed to have no evident cause. For example, when an atom in an excited energy level drops to a lower level and emits a photon, a particle of light, we find no cause of that event. Similarly, no cause is evident in the decay of a radioactive nucleus.

‘Craig has retorted that quantum events are still “caused,” just caused in a nonpredetermined manner—what he calls “probabilistic causality.” In effect, Craig is thereby admitting that the “cause” in his first premise could be an accidental one, something spontaneous—something not predetermined. By allowing probabilistic cause, he destroys his own case for a predetermined creation. We have a highly successful theory of probabilistic causes—quantum mechanics. It does not predict when a given event will occur and, indeed, assumes that individual events are not predetermined. The one exception occurs in the interpretation of quantum mechanics given by David Bohm. This assumes the existence of yet-undetected subquantum forces. While this interpretation has some supporters, it is not generally accepted because it requires superluminal connections that violate the principles of special relativity. More important, no evidence for subquantum forces has been found.

‘Instead of predicting individual events, quantum mechanics is used to predict the statistical distribution of outcomes of ensembles of similar events. This it can do with high precision. For example, a quantum calculation will tell you how many nuclei in a large sample will have decayed after a given time. Or you can predict the intensity of light from a group of excited atoms, which is a measure of the total number of photons emitted. But neither quantum mechanics nor any other existing theory—including Bohm’s—can say anything about the behavior of an individual nucleus or atom. The photons emitted in atomic transitions come into existence spontaneously, as do the particles emitted in nuclear radiation. By so appearing, without predetermination, they contradict the first premise.

‘In the case of radioactivity, the decays are observed to follow an exponential decay “law.” However, this statistical law is exactly what you expect if the probability for decay in a given small time interval is the same for all time intervals of the same duration. In other words, the decay curve itself is evidence for each individual event occurring unpredictably and, by inference, without being predetermined.

‘Quantum mechanics and classical (Newtonian) mechanics are not as separate and distinct from one another as is generally thought. Indeed, quantum mechanics changes smoothly into classical mechanics when the parameters of the system, such as masses, distances, and speeds, approach the classical regime. When that happens, quantum probabilities collapse to either zero or 100 percent, which then gives us certainty at that level. However, we have many examples where the probabilities are not zero or 100 percent. The quantum probability calculations agree precisely with the observations made on ensembles of similar events.

‘Note that even if the kalâm conclusion were sound and the universe had a cause, why could that cause itself not be natural? As it is, the kalâm argument fails both empirically and theoretically without ever having to bring up the second premise about the universe having a beginning.’

Stenger, Victor J.. God: The Failed Hypothesis. Prometheus. Kindle Edition.

Professor Stenger nevertheless does go on to examine the second premise, but I have perhaps exceeded the bounds of fair dealing more than sufficiently already. The book cost me £8.69 in the Kindle edition, so not exactly a bank-breaker if anyone wanted to read on.


Posts: 1,856
Reply with quote  #62 
As I recall, Stenger is a New Atheist type. New Atheists are notoriously bad when it comes to philosophy. Dawkins's section in his God Delusion on the philosophical proofs of God was panned even by atheist philosophers. This seems no exception to that rule.

It isn't clear what Stenger means by accidental. Either he means quantum phenomena aren't caused, which is a philosophical issue - science cannot prove something has no cause at all; or he is admitting that these phenomena have cause, just that the causes are seemingly probabilistic (which is correct). I'm not especially familiar with Craig's version of the Cosmological argument, the so called Kalam argument, but Stenger doesn't seem to have landed a blow on it. Cosmological arguments don't maintain there is no contingent causation, under which category probabilistic causation fits, but that there can't only be contingent causation.

Feser has a good overview of the philosophical implications of radioactive decay and causation here, including some interesting remarks on the limits of physics and science in understanding the world (which he has written on at length, including his recent Aristotle's Revenge):

This is an interesting post on some of the philosophical shortcomings physicists are prone to:

Note: Of course there is no scientific proof for God's existence. Leaving asides questions about revelation and miracles, etc (which are partly historical arguments, more than strictly scientific ones and a very different class of claim), it isn't in the nature of empirical evidence to prove or disprove the existence of God in the classical sense (as the unmoved mover, etc.). One of the critiques of Intelligent Design arguments by some theists is precisely that, even if they are correct, they would only prove some kind of relatively (from our perspective) powerful designer of life on earth, and not that this was the God of classical theism. Of course, atheists sometimes accuse all theistic arguments of having this kind of problem, and often seem ignorant that theistic philosophers like Aquinas argue at length that what the Cosmological argument, for example, shows is the cause of all must have all the attributes we associate with the classical theistic God. But there's a difference between pure actuality, necessary being, the unmoved mover, and the other candidates that the Cosmological arguments seek to prove and the mere more powerful designer that ID can show. The kind of ontological dependence involved in the former is not necessarily present in the latter.

Posts: 1,856
Reply with quote  #63 
I should add that Feser and some others have critiqued Craig's Kalam argument because it does rely on the notion the universe had a beginning in time. It isn't necessarily they disagree with this premiss per se. If they are Christians, they accept it. But going back to the Middle Ages it has been debated amongst Aristotelians whether reason can prove the universe is eternal or had a beginning in time. Aquinas famously thought it couldn't do either, though he believed it had a beginning because the Christian revelation says so (but he didn't think this could serve as a premiss in a philosophical proof - it was a matter of faith). The standard versions of the Cosmological argument do not require the universe to have a beginning in time. They argue that it* is ontologically dependent, which is distinct. 

* I'm using the term the universe here for short-hand. It also isn't necessary for most of these arguments to treat the universe as a single entity in its own right, rather than an aggregate. Indeed, this is generally how they treat it.

Posts: 7,547
Reply with quote  #64 
A great joke I came across today, somewhat relevant to what has become the dominant topic of this thread:

Schrödinger and Heisenberg are stopped by a traffic cop.

Police Officer: Do you know how fast you were travelling sir?
Heisenberg: No, officer
PO: 90 mph, sir
H: Great, now we're lost
PO: and did you know you have a dead cat in the boot
Schrödinger: We do now
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