First Cause Arguments for the Existence of God


#1

This is a longish post; I’m going to have to split it into sections. Please be patient; I can post only one section per minute.


#2

First Cause Arguments are Logical Arguments. They logically deduce the existence of God from particular premises. Assuming the deduction is correct and the argument is thus valid, the discussion centers around whether the argument is sound, that is, whether premises are true.

Logical arguments stand on their own. The number of logical arguments of dubious soundness which reach the same conclusion is not evidentially probative, because the “probability space” of logical arguments is not finitely measurable. Even if it were finitely measurable, we would expect true premises to be relatively rare; there should thus be more unsound arguments than sound arguments.

It’s important to remember that the unsoundness of an argument doesn’t imply that all its premises are unsound. Nor does the unsoundness of an argument imply the conclusion is false. Finding an argument unsound merely shows that the conclusion is not proven by that argument. Specifically the philosophical position of atheism is not predicated only on the unsoundness of the logical arguments for the existence of God; rebutting the logical arguments, however, is important to the narrower finding that there is no known reason to doubt atheism.


#3

All First Cause-like arguments have the same structure:

      P1: Everything that Exists (whatever that is) must be or contain an entity with some property

P2: The Material Universe (whatever that is) and does not have that property, and nothing it contains has that property

C: Something must exist which is not the Material Universe or something it contains

          The original First Cause argument substitutes "uncaused cause" for the specified property:

P1: Everything that Exists must be or include an entity which has the property of being an uncaused cause
P2: The Material Universe does not have the property of being an uncaused cause, and nothing it contains has the property of being an uncaused cause

C: Something (God) must exist which is not the Material Universe or something it contains

All the variants of the First Cause argument substitute different properties (e.g. unmoved mover) for the specified property in the basic structure.

#4

There are two general premises which are known to be false, the premises of composition and decomposition:

[list=1]
*]Composition: If the entities which compose an entity have some property, then P has that property
*]Decomposition: If a composite entity P has some property, then the entities which it comprises have that property
[/list]
It is easy to think up counterexamples which contradict these premises.

The Fallacy of Composition is to conclude that a property shared by a number of individual items, is also shared by a collection of those items; or that a property of the parts of an object, must also be a property of the whole thing. Examples:

“The bicycle is made entirely of low mass components, and is therefore very lightweight.”

"A car uses less petrochemicals and causes less pollution than a bus. Therefore cars are less environmentally damaging than buses."
Fallacies of Composition at Infidels.org

If you can deduce a conclusion known to be false from a premise, that premise is false. Composition and Decomposition are thus argumentative fallacies.

Again, it’s important to understand that simply because these premises are false does not imply that if the parts have some property that the whole does not have that property, or vice versa. Their falsity merely implies that you cannot come to any definite logical conclusion about the relationship between the properties of the parts and the properties of the whole.

First Cause arguments discuss two composite entities: Everything that Exists and the Material Universe. I will show that all the First Cause arguments implicitly include the premise of composition, and they are therefore not sound.


#5

Everything that Exists (whatever that is) is definitely an entity. It is a composite entity, comprising (of course) everything that does, in fact, exist. Everything that Exists might be finite or infinite, bounded or unbounded; it might include God or not include God, it might or might not be equivalent to the Material Universe, but there can be little doubt (if we are going to have any sort of useful ontology) that Everything that Exists does, in fact, exist.

Because Everything that Exists is an entity, we can show that a class of properties are not composible; we know that even if all the parts of Everything that Exists have these properties, Everything that Exists itself cannot have these properties. These properties are properties of external relationship.

Properties of external relationship are just those properties which specify the relationship of an entity to something which is not that entity. “To the left of”, “two feet away from”, “at some latitude and longitude”, “within a country”, are all examples of properties of external relationship. My physical body has the property (as I’m writing now) of being to the left of my home brewery*, two feet away from my brewery, at 37° 36’ 50" N by 122° 29’ 09" W (Pacifica, CA), and within the United States of America.

It is clearly logically impossible for Everything that Exists to any properties of external relationship: There is nothing other than Everything that Exists with which to have a relationship. We know, therefore, that properties of external relationship are not universally composible. We cannot infer from the fact that every part of some entity has some property of external relationship that the composite entity also has that relationship.

For instance every point on the surface of a sphere has the property of latitude and longitude, but the sphere itself has no such property. “Latitude and Longitude” is a property of external relationship, a relationship between a point on a sphere and two other points on that sphere which determine a pole and a meridian.

*Yes, I brew my own beer, and it’s quite delicious, that is if you like beer more flavorful than Budweiser. I brew more than I can drink myself, and give a lot of it away. If any of you are near Pacifica and would like to try it, PM me.


#6

I want to discuss more precisely what is meant by the “Material Universe”. Since the advent of General Relativity Quantum Mechanics and exotic Cosmological speculation (such as the Multiverse), we can no longer naively call the protons, neutrons, electrons, and photons that compose the prosaic obserable universe of light and matter the Material Universe. Whatever the Material Universe is, whatever properties it has, it is subtle and complex indeed.

A more modern definition of the Material Universe is just the collection of those entities which are required by the best scientific theory of everything, and everything which those fundamental entities entail. In the ideal case, the Material Universe comprises those entities specified by the best possible scientific theory; in practice, we say everything we currently know about the Material Universe is specified by the best current scientific theory. This position is often referred to as Scientific Materialism.

The Material Universe, of course, comprises all material things. The question then, is: Is the Material Universe the same as Everything that Exists?


#7

Now that we’ve covered the background, we’re in a position to evaluate the First Cause argument and its variants. All of the properties used in First Cause and related arguments reference properties of external relationship:

[list=1]
*]First Cause: something is caused by something else
*]Prime Mover: something is moved by something else
*]Temporal Origin: something follows in time something else
*]Purpose: something is intended by something else
*]Cosmological: something is explained by something else
[/list]
Since all of these properties are properties of external relationship, we know that they are not universally composible. We know that Everything that Exists cannot be caused by, moved by, follow in time, intended by, or explained by something outside itself; there is nothing other than Everything that Exists with which to have any of these relative properties.

Since we know we cannot justify composing these properties, and since the Material Universe is itself a composite entity, even if we know that all material things have some property of external relationship, we cannot logically conclude from that fact that the Material Universe has that property. If we are going to ascribe some property of external to the Material Universe, it must be justified independently of even all its parts having that property.

Therefore, for instance, even if we know that all individual material things are caused by some other material thing, we cannot simply use this fact to deduce the conclusion that the Material Universe is itself caused by something else. To do so, we would have to assume (explicitly or implicitly) the premise of Composition, which is known to be false. The inclusion of a false premise renders an argument unsound and the conclusion suspect.

Nor can we justify asserting a property of external relationship to the Material Universe on logical grounds. Since Everything that Exists cannot have a property of external relationship, then we can conclude that properties of external relationship cannot be logically necessary.

Since we don’t have any justification for attributing a property of external relationship to the Material Universe, any assumption of that property is deniable without entailing either a logical contradiction nor any false-to-fact observation. We can, for instance, deny the external relationship of causality to the Material Universe without contradicting the observation that every individual material entity appears to have a causal relationship with another material entity (because the premise of decomposition is equally false).

Therefore, no First Cause-style argument, that is, an argument asserting a property of external relationship to the Material Universe, can be known to be sound. We simply cannot know whether the attribution of such a property is, in fact, true. Therefore no First Cause-style argument can establish reasonable doubt against even Scientific Materialism, much less atheism.

Q.E.D.


#8

[quote=PLP]All the variants of the First Cause argument substitute different properties (e.g. unmoved mover) for the specified property in the basic structure.
[/quote]

whatever else might be true of the argument-forms you detail here, the first premise of the kalam cosmological argument is unlike those you present:

  1. everything that begins to exist has a cause.

as such, the KCA avoids the charge of composition.


#9

[quote=PLP]The Material Universe, of course, comprises all material things.
[/quote]

by which you mean to establish “The Material Universe” as a kind of a proper name for the set of all material things.

but if that’s true, then the theistic arguments concerning the material universe proceed thusly:

  1. everything that has being contingently requires something that has its being necessarily in order to explain its existence.

  2. there is no material thing that has its being necessarily;

  3. therefore there must be some non-material necessary being in order to explain the existence of every material thing.

  4. but “every material thing” is just “the material universe”.

  5. therefore “the material universe” requires a non-material necessary being in order to explain its existence.

The question then, is: Is the Material Universe the same as Everything that Exists?

and the answer is, of course, no: there is at least one Thing that is not a member of the set of all material things, namely the necessary being responsible for the existence of the universe of contingent material beings.

say what you want about that argument, but it doesn’t suffer from the fallacy of (de)composition.


#10

[quote=john doran]whatever else might be true of the argument-forms you detail here, the first premise of the kalam cosmological argument is unlike those you present:

  1. everything that begins to exist has a cause.

as such, the KCA avoids the charge of composition.
[/quote]

First, the KCA depends on how we construe “begins”. We can construe “begins” as an external relationship or an internal relationship. In the sense that “begins” implies reference to an earlier moment in time, or, more precisely, a time-wise relationship to some other event, it is an external relationship.

To the extent that implies an internal relationship, (i.e. just an earliest moment in time, whether bounded or unbounded), it avoids the charge of of composition at least on this point. However, extending the relationship between a time-like boundry and causation from the objects which compose the material universe to the material universe itself still employs the fallacy of composition.


#11

[quote=john doran] say what you want about that argument, but it doesn’t suffer from the fallacy of (de)composition.
[/quote]

To the extent that “contingent” and “necessary” mean “caused” and “uncaused”, (or "externally explained and not externally explained) it’s just the First Cause argument, and premise 2…

  1. there is no material thing that has its being necessarily;

…employs the fallacy of composition to infer from the fact that each part of the material universe is caused to the unsound conclusion that the material universe itself is caused.

To the extent that “necessity” can be interpreted in terms of modal logic, the re-interpretation of premise 1, “An uncaused thing must exist in all possible worlds,” hastily generalizes (itself a fallacy) from causality being true in this possible world to the conclusion that causality is true in all possible worlds.

To the extent that “contingent” and “necessary” do not mean caused and uncaused and do not reference modal logic, you will have to explain more precisely what you do mean.


#12

[quote=PLP]Everything that Exists (whatever that is) is definitely an entity. It is a composite entity, comprising (of course) everything that does, in fact, exist.

[/quote]

That is not an entity, but rather a definition.

For example, it does not now contain the boiled egg that I did not yet boil, even if it contains the raw egg that will be boiled. And it no longer contains the boiled egg I ate yesterday.

What “exists” (and that is an ambiguous term), changes over time. What potentially can be manifested in the material universe is not necessarily ever manifested. Possibilities and manifestations of those possibilities are not equivalent in “existence”.

But at any moment in time, it refers to something different. It does not exist in the way you make it out to exist.

Since it is constantly changing in its “composition”, you cannot talk about it as a fixed entity.

Again, since it is changing from moment to moment, it can at least be said to have a relationship with itself at other moments.

But the very fact it is changing as I described shows that you have missed something crucial by thinking you could capture “all that exists” in a single entity in the present tense.

hurst


#13

Not if there are things that exist outside of the “Material Universe”.

By the way, your use of “Material Universe” suffers the same deficiency as your use of “Everything that Exists” because you define it as “all material things”, which is nothing other than a definition of type, yet use it as a reference of entity. It does not actually contain all material things that ever were or will be, but only refers to the category of material things.

Your use of such definitions is tantamount to substituting a term of classification of things to refer to the actual things. You chase a shadow in doing that, though. For example, would you say “humanity” is the composition of all humans? But yet you say existence (“Everything that Exists”) is the composition of all that exists and that the “Material Universe, of course, comprises all material things”. But “humanity” is not all humans in the sense of a fixed composition (or would you say it includes yourself as an infant, as a toddler, and as an adolescent?). It is an abstract concept that it used to describe the essence shared by all humans and only by humans. Likewise, “Material Universe” is not all material, but only the concept used to refer to all that is material; and what it actually refers to is different at any moment in time because there are different material things to refer to at any moment in time.

I hope this clarifies the issue.

hurst


#14

[quote=PLP]To the extent that implies an internal relationship, (i.e. just an earliest moment in time, whether bounded or unbounded), it avoids the charge of of composition at least on this point. However, extending the relationship between a time-like boundry and causation from the objects which compose the material universe to the material universe itself still employs the fallacy of composition.
[/quote]

no, it doesn’t, since the argument doesn’t proceed from the premise “everything in the universe began to exist”, to the conclusion “therefore the universe began to exist”.

that the universe began to exist is a premise accepted on empirical and logical grounds.


#15

[quote=PLP]To the extent that “contingent” and “necessary” mean “caused” and “uncaused”, (or "externally explained and not externally explained) it’s just the First Cause argument, and premise 2…
[/quote]

no, it’s not. at all.

think of it this way:

  1. if a thing has its being contingently, then it requires a being that has its being necessarily in order to explain its existence.

  2. each material thing that exists has its being contingently.

  3. therefore there must be at least one non-material necessary being to explain the existence of each material thing.

  4. but the set whose members are each material thing is just “the material universe”.

  5. therefore the material universe requires a necessary being to explain its existence.

[quote=PLP]…employs the fallacy of composition to infer from the fact that each part of the material universe is caused to the unsound conclusion that the material universe itself is caused.
[/quote]

this, again, is mistaken. as you can see, the argument does not proceed in that manner.

but even if it did, you seem to make the unwarranted assumption that every argument proceeding by way of composition is fallacious. which is itself a false assumption. consider:

  1. every brick in the wall is stone.
  2. therefore the wall is stone.

or

  1. every part of the ball is red.
  2. therefore the ball is red.

these arguments are no different than:

  1. every material thing is contingent.
  2. the universe is just the set of all material things.
  3. therefore the universe is contingent.

unless, of course, you are making the further claim that “the material universe” is some kind of mereological whole distinct from the sum of its constituent members. but why should anyone believe that?

[quote=PLP]To the extent that “necessity” can be interpreted in terms of modal logic, the re-interpretation of premise 1, “An uncaused thing must exist in all possible worlds,” hastily generalizes (itself a fallacy) from causality being true in this possible world to the conclusion that causality is true in all possible worlds.
[/quote]

i don’t understand what you’re saying here. “necessity” just means “existing in all possible worlds”. and a necessary being is (necessarily) uncaused.

i don’t follow your reasoning about going from uncaused to necessary, but i know it’s not any kind of reasoning in which i have engaged…

[quote=PLP]To the extent that “contingent” and “necessary” do not mean caused and uncaused and do not reference modal logic, you will have to explain more precisely what you do mean.
[/quote]

contingent and necessary are terms of modal logic; “contingent” here just means “possibly not-existent”, or “non-existent in some possible world”.

i continue not to understand your apparent conflation of causality and modality.


#16

[quote=john doran]no, it’s not. at all.

think of it this way:

  1. if a thing has its being contingently, then it requires a being that has its being necessarily in order to explain its existence.

  2. each material thing that exists has its being contingently.

  3. therefore there must be at least one non-material necessary being to explain the existence of each material thing.

  4. but the set whose members are each material thing is just “the material universe”.

  5. therefore the material universe requires a necessary being to explain its existence.

this, again, is mistaken. as you can see, the argument does not proceed in that manner.
[/quote]

4 and 5 immediately make the mistake of composition. You go from “every material thing is contingent” to “the set of all material things is contingent” which is, well, exactly the mistake of composition.

but even if it did, you seem to make the unwarranted assumption that every argument proceeding by way of composition is fallacious. which is itself a false assumption. consider:

  1. every brick in the wall is stone.
  2. therefore the wall is stone.

or

  1. every part of the ball is red.
  2. therefore the ball is red.

these arguments are no different than:

  1. every material thing is contingent.
  2. the universe is just the set of all material things.
  3. therefore the universe is contingent.

And these arguments are no distinct from this one, either:

  1. All blue things are blue (trivially true)
  2. Let X be the set of all blue things
  3. Therefore X is blue
    But it’s silly to say that the set of all blue things is blue, isn’t it?

Or an even sillier one:

  1. Every natural number is even or odd
  2. The natural numbers is just the set of all natural numbers
  3. Therefore the natural numbers are either even or odd

unless, of course, you are making the further claim that “the material universe” is some kind of mereological whole distinct from the sum of its constituent members. but why should anyone believe that?

[quote=PLP]Again, it’s important to understand that simply because these premises [composition and decomposition] are false does not imply that if the parts have some property that the whole does not have that property, or vice versa. Their falsity merely implies that you cannot come to any definite logical conclusion about the relationship between the properties of the parts and the properties of the whole.
[/quote]

In other words, what PLP has said is not: “no whole has a property which all its parts have,” but rather that one cannot go from “all the parts are P” to “the whole is P,” which is exactly what you did. It takes further justification.

In other words, it falls on the person making a first-cause argument to show that (to take your words) the universe is not a mereological whole distinct from the sum of its members.


#17

[quote=hurst]That is not an entity, but rather a definition.
[/quote]

Well, it’s a definition of an entity.

What “exists” (and that is an ambiguous term), changes over time. What potentially can be manifested in the material universe is not necessarily ever manifested. Possibilities and manifestations of those possibilities are not equivalent in “existence”.

Indeed. Existence is a slippery term. This merely argues that it’s difficult to make any statements with confidence about composite entities.

But at any moment in time, it refers to something different. It does not exist in the way you make it out to exist.

Can’t argue with you there. It should be noted that all the objections you raise to Everything that Exists (and they’re good objections) apply to the Material Universe, which is changable and composite.

Generally, all First Cause style arguments refer to at least one changable, composite, abstract entitu, i.e. the Material Universe. Also, we refer to ordinary entites (such as a person) which changes over time. If we extend our spacial reasoning to time, and consider an “entity” something that exists in four space-like dimensions, then changability is not a big issue.

Since it is constantly changing in its “composition”, you cannot talk about it as a fixed entity.

No, but we can talk about it as an entity with some essential properties, i.e. just those invariant properties (or rule-varying properties, which are just meta-invariances) which identify the entity.

Again, since it is changing from moment to moment, it can at least be said to have a relationship with itself at other moments.

Indeed it can; these are properties of internal relationship, which seem unobjectionable. However, I don’t see how you can make First Cause-style arguments work with internal relationships.

But the very fact it is changing as I described shows that you have missed something crucial by thinking you could capture “all that exists” in a single entity in the present tense.

Perhaps so. In which case, all First Cause-like arguments also miss something crucial, because the Material Universe has the same problems as Everything that Exists. One might even infer from the fact that the different descriptions have the exact same problems to the conclusion that these descriptions are equivalent!


#18

[quote=EnterTheBowser]4 and 5 immediately make the mistake of composition. You go from “every material thing is contingent” to “the set of all material things is contingent” which is, well, exactly the mistake of composition.
[/quote]

no, it’s not - the set of all material things just is every material thing. unless you are claiming that there is something extra to a set apart from the membership of its constituents. that is mereology, and is a substantive and controversial philosophical position, similar to saying that there is an entity that is me and an entity that is the ball i am holding, and a third entity that is me-holding-the-ball.

you’re certainly welcome to make the claim, but you can’t simply stipulate it by fiat - you’re going to have to provide a good reason for accepting it.

[quote=EnterTheBowser]And these arguments are no distinct from this one, either:

  1. All blue things are blue (trivially true)
  2. Let X be the set of all blue things
  3. Therefore X is blue
    But it’s silly to say that the set of all blue things is blue, isn’t it?
    [/quote]

not if by that you mean something synonymous with “every member of the set of blue things is blue”.

but whatever - please demonstrate the fallacy in:

  1. every part of the ball is red.
  2. therefore the ball is red.

3 looks synonymous with 1. so, no, it’s not silly at all.

[quote=EnterTheBowser]In other words, what PLP has said is not: “no whole has a property which all its parts have,” but rather that one cannot go from “all the parts are P” to “the whole is P,” which is exactly what you did. It takes further justification.
[/quote]

look, this is straightforwardly false if taken as an exceptionless norm. see, for example, the syllogisms i presented concerning the ball and the wall.

i hate to pull this card on anyone, but you should do some more research into logic and informal fallacies. otherwise, there is no point continuing down this road.

[quote=EnterTheBowser]In other words, it falls on the person making a first-cause argument to show that (to take your words) the universe is not a mereological whole distinct from the sum of its members.
[/quote]

that’s absurd. if you tell me “you know, you might think that there are only two things in front of you - the table and the ashtray, but there is actually a third: the table-and-the-ashtray that is distinct from either”, you’re telling that i can’t ask “what do you mean? why would you believe that?”?

look, once again, this is rock-bottom reasoning, man - if you make an affirmation, then it is up to you to support it.

all i’ve done is ask for the proof.


#19

[quote=hurst]Not if there are things that exist outside of the “Material Universe”.
[/quote]

Right. That’s one answer; the other answer is that there are not things outside (or other than, if we want to be picky about specifying spacial relationships only within the Material Universe). And, of course, the epistemological question is: If there are things other than the Material Universe, can we have any knowledge at all about them? Is belief in things other than the Material Universe rationally justifiable?

By the way, your use of “Material Universe” suffers the same deficiency as your use of “Everything that Exists” because you define it as “all material things”, which is nothing other than a definition of type, yet use it as a reference of entity.

No argument there. The definitions are very abstract and impose no small difficulty. However, I submit that these fundamental ontological problems are inherent in the First Cause argument in the first place. If you deny that the Material Universe and Everything that Exists are not good ontological descriptions, the First Cause arguments simply collapse into incoherence.

Your use of such definitions is tantamount to substituting a term of classification of things to refer to the actual things. You chase a shadow in doing that, though. For example, would you say “humanity” is the composition of all humans?

Sure, why not?

But yet you say existence (“Everything that Exists”) is the composition of all that exists and that the “Material Universe, of course, comprises all material things”. But “humanity” is not all humans in the sense of a fixed composition (or would you say it includes yourself as an infant, as a toddler, and as an adolescent?).

Well, if we define the entity that is me personally as a four-dimensional entity with some invariant or meta-invariant essential properties, then it’s not quite so problematic.

But ontology is always problematic, and especially in ordinary usage (i.e. talking about rocks and trees) the amount of handwaving and imprecision is staggering.

Still and all, pointing to imprecision, vagueness, and ambiguity in ontological speech simply strengthens the conclusion that First Cause arguments, by employing such vague speech, do not constitute a reason to disbelieve Scientific Materialism. If we can’t talk about the Material Universe as an entity at all, we cannot find it lacking in critical properties.


#20

[quote=john doran]that the universe began to exist is a premise accepted on empirical and logical grounds.
[/quote]

I don’t know… the phrasing seems ambiguous and equivocal. I might accept that the Material Universe has an earliest moment in time. I’m not sure, though, that “began to exist” is the best way to describe having an earliest moment in time without encouraging us to use the connotations of the phrase to assume additional hidden premises.

Regardless, the premise establishing relation between “began to exist” (in the sense of earliest moment in time) and “had a cause or necessarily exists”, is dodgy on a couple of levels. At the very least, to apply the relation to the Material Universe (assuming, of course, that we can talk about such abstract, composite entities, contra hurst’s objections) is either a fallacy of hasty generalization, composition, or is simply asserted and can be equally simply denied.


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