A New Theist Response to the New Atheists
eBook - ePub

A New Theist Response to the New Atheists

Kevin Vallier, Joshua Rasmussen, Kevin Vallier, Joshua Rasmussen

  1. 216 pagine
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

A New Theist Response to the New Atheists

Kevin Vallier, Joshua Rasmussen, Kevin Vallier, Joshua Rasmussen

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Anteprima del libro
Indice dei contenuti

Informazioni sul libro

In response to the intellectual movement of New Atheism, this volume articulates a "New Theist" response that has at its core a desire to engage in productive and depolarizing dialogue.

To ensure this book is of interest to atheists and theists alike, a team of experts in the field of philosophy of religion offer an assessment of the strongest New Atheist arguments. The chapters address the most pertinent questions about God, including politics and morality, and each essay shows how a reflective theist might deal with points raised by the New Atheists.

This volume is a serious academic engagement with the questions asked by New Atheism. As such, it will be of significant interest to scholars working in the philosophy of religion and theology, as well as those engaged in religious studies generally.

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Part I
God and reason

1 Paradoxes of infinity and the first cause

Alexander R. Pruss

1. Introduction

I begin with an initial outline of a version of the Kalam cosmological argument for the existence of God:1
  1. (1) There is a cause.
  2. (2) There is no circle of causes.
  3. (3) There is no infinite regress of causes.
  4. (4) If (1)—(3), there is an uncaused cause.
  5. (5) So, there is an uncaused cause.
  6. (6) If there is an uncaused cause, God exists.
  7. (7) So, God exists.
Some of the premises are more controversial than others. Premise (4) is completely uncontroversial: if there are no uncaused causes but there is a cause, then that cause has a cause, which in turn has a cause, and so on, which either leads to a circle or a regress. Premise (1) is widely accepted, but somewhat more controversial, as there are philosophers who think that because fundamental physics can be formulated without the word “cause,” we should be skeptical of whether there is causation.
Premise (2) is often intuitively accepted, but it has been proposed that the universe can be explained by circular causation2 or, more modestly, that the existence of closed-time solutions to Einstein’s equations shows the possibility of circular causation. Although there are many interesting things to be said about circular causation, in this chapter I will bracket these questions. A reader who wishes to investigate (2) may wish to think about the paradoxes of time travel.3
That leaves two highly controversial premises: (3) and (6). At least since Hume, positing an infinite regress of causes has been a standard alternative to a theistic posit of an uncaused cause.4 Moreover, some cosmological arguments for the existence of God allow for an infinite regress of causes, holding that God could create such a regress from eternity.5 Premise (3), which rejects infinite causal regresses, is thus controversial in both theistic and nontheistic circles, and this chapter will be largely devoted to examining that premise.
Finally, regarding (6), God is not the only candidate for an uncaused cause. One might think instead that there are uncaused random quantum fluctuations all around us, none of which is God. Granted, (6) does not say that every uncaused cause is God, but if some uncaused causes are not God, then perhaps no uncaused cause is God, and there is no God (since it’s very plausible that if God exists, he is an uncaused cause). Moreover, one might think that something other than God—say, the Big Bang—could be not just an uncaused cause, but an uncaused ultimate cause—that is, an uncaused cause of all other entities, or at least all other contingent and/or concrete ones.6
Kalam arguers offer two kinds of considerations in favor of the rejection of infinite causal regresses in (3).7 One kind is empirical: they argue from empirical data in favor of a Big Bang cosmology with a finite past. If the past is finite, then perhaps there just was no time for an infinite causal regress. However, one may have two kinds of worries here. First, there is scientific speculation about the possibility of physical realities preceding the Big Bang. Second, if time is continuous, there could be an infinite number of instants of time even in a finite interval of times, which would allow for an infinite number of causes even in a finite past.
Another kind of consideration in favor of (3) is conceptual arguments against infinities, either actual infinities in general or infinite sequences of past events. After all, if there can’t be an infinite sequence, there can’t be an infinite regress.
In this chapter, I will offer a different set of conceptual considerations in favor of (3). I won’t object to the possibility of infinities as such. Denying the very possibility of infinities would arguably put mathematics in serious jeopardy. After all, everything can be made to follow from an impossibility, so if the axioms of mathematics entail there are infinite numbers of things—like an infinite number of primes—and infinities are impossible, then everything, including self-contradictions, follows from these axioms. Moreover, it would be most mysterious why the study of mathematical structures based on axioms from which contradictions follow is so useful in science.
Instead, I will argue for causal finitism, a view (or family of views) on which an infinite number of items cannot be causally prior to one effect. Given causal finitism, (3) follows, since each of the infinitely many items in a causal regress would be causally prior to the item from which the regress started, contrary to causal finitism.
However, I won’t have much to say regarding (6) and the identification of God with the first cause. Premise (4) can be easily and uncontroversially strengthened to yield the conclusion that every cause has an uncaused cause in its causal history. Taking all the uncaused causes together, we get an ultimate—but perhaps plural—cause of the rest of the causal nexus. One can then argue that the elegance and unity of the observed parts of the causal nexus give us some reason to think that the ultimate cause is singular rather than plural. One might further deploy design arguments to argue that the ultimate cause is likely to be an agent moved by good reasons.8
I find this line of thought powerful, but I won’t defend it in this chapter, both for the obvious reason of space, but also for a more principled reason. I would like this chapter to be an invitation to an atheist to take causal finitism seriously, and hence to take seriously the existence of an ultimate uncaused—perhaps plural—cause and then to join in a common investigation of what this ultimate uncaused cause may be like.
In the next three sections, I will sketch three causal paradoxes of infinity, two of them well known and one new, and argue that they, and others like them (there are many more!), give us good reason to accept causal finitism—namely the view that infinitely many things cannot causally impinge on a single effect. The first paradox is more of a warmup than a serious paradox, but it helps clarify the line of thought.9

2. Thomson’s Lamp

Consider a lamp with a toggle switch. Each time you flip it, the lamp changes between being on and being off, and nothing else can affect the state of the lamp—the lamp and switch are indestructible. At 10 a.m., the lamp is off. Then at 10:30, the switch is flipped. And again at 10:45, 10:52.5, 10:56.25, and so on. Between 10 and 11, the switch is flipped an infinite number of times. At 11, the lamp must either be on or off. But which? It’s on after an odd number of flips and off after an even one. But after an infinite number? There seems to be no answer. This story is known as the Thomson’s Lamp Paradox.10
But where exactly is there a paradox? One could simply say that although the story tells us what happens after a finite number of switch flippings, it is simply silent on what happens after an infinite number. The story is compatible with the final state being on, and it’s compatible with the final state being off. It just doesn’t say which.11
But while this response has a lot going for it, there is still something puzzling. The story specified that the only thing that can affect the state of the lamp is the flipping of the switch. The lamp’s final state, thus, is either an uncaused and unexplained brute fact, or else it is an outcome of the switch flips.
Let us take the two options in turn. The principle of sufficient reason (PSR) says that every contingent fact—a fact that holds but does not need to hold—has an explanation. The first option implies that the final state of the lamp violates the PSR. Although many contemporary philosophers end up denying the PSR for other reasons, the PSR is still sufficiently intuitive that having to deny the PSR may be taken to be paradoxical.
Moreover, holding the PSR to be necessary can be argued to be important to both philosophical and scientific reasoning.12 For instance, a central method both in contemporary philosophy and science is the inference-to-best explanation, where we conclude that the best putative explanation of a phenomenon is likely to be the truth of the matter. But if there can be unexplained phenomena, then we always have a competing nonexplanatory hypothesis which says that the phenomenon in question happens for no reason at all.
The only epistemically responsible way to rule out such a nonexplanatory hypothesis without accepting the Principle of Sufficient Reason would be to hold a priori that unexplained brute phenomena are unlikely. But contingent matters that cannot be explained also cannot be said to be either likely or unlikely. That said, defending this claim in detail would take us too far afield.13
In any case, there is another problem: one can tell the Thomson’s Lamp story in what seems to be a completely deterministic setting, and the idea that the output of a completely deterministic system would violate the PSR is paradoxical.
The second option is that the final outcome is the result of the switch flips. But now we have an intuitive puzzle. If we have a sequence of switch flips between 10 and 11 a.m., it shouldn’t affect the causal contribution of any switch to change when that flip happens, as long as the order is kept the same. For instance, if there are only three flips, at 10:15, 10:30, and 10:45, the causal contribution of each will be unchanged if I shift them, respectively, to 10:05, 10:50, and 10:57—the first flip will turn the lamp on, the second will turn it off, and the third will turn it back on.
This lack of causal difference should intuitively be true even if there are infinitely many flips. Let’s suppose we move the 10:30 flip to 10:45, the 10:45 flip to 10:52.5, the 10:52.5 flip to 10:56.25, and so on. That shouldn’t affect the final lamp outcome. But this shift is equivalent to simply omitting the 10:30 flip. And, intuitively, omitting a single flip in a sequence should reverse the final outcome. So we have fairly intuitive arguments that the shift both would and would not affect the final outcome, and that is a paradox.
Still, perhaps the best bet here is to deny either the intuitive shift invariance or the intuitive thesis that omitting a flip reverses the outcome. We could, however, suppose some sort of a messy function from infinite sequences of flip times to final outcomes, a function that doesn’t satisfy shift invariance or doesn’t satisfy omission reversal (or satisfies neither). Perhaps that function would be indeterministic. That function would have to be encoded in the laws of nature. Thus, the view would have to say that in any world where a lamp capable of an infinite number of flips can be made, there would have to be some additional law of nature specifying what happens in the case of an infinite number of flips. It is, however, implausible that such a law would have to exist.
Now, if causal finitism is true (i.e., if infinitely many causes cannot impinge on a single effect), then we have a very simple solution, one that explains why the lamp situation cannot happen: it cannot happen, because it makes the final state of the lamp have an infinite number of flips in its causal history. Being able to give such a principled explanation for why a paradoxical story is impossible is evidence for causal finitism.
Nonetheless, this paradox is not particularly strong. A philosopher can, after all, hold that the PSR is a mere rule of thumb (and perhaps we wouldn’t expect a rule of thumb to apply in such a strange case as the lamp) or else posit that there would have to be some arbitrary law of nature in any world where one can make a lamp like Thomson’s. If Thomson’s Lamp were the only paradox of infinity that causal finitism resolves, this success would provide very weak evidence for causal finitism. But there are more interesting paradoxes ahead, and causal finitism’s success in explaining what goes wrong in all these cases will provide a good inference-to-best-explanation argument for the truth of causal finitism.

3. Grim Reapers

What the defender of causal finitism really wants is a paradox that has more paradoxical force than Thomson’s Lamp, one where allowing infinite causal sequences leads to a contradiction or at least to a denial of an uncontroversial necessary truth. The Grim Reaper Paradox provides something of the first sort.
We have a victim, Fred, who is alive at 10 a.m. Now, a grim reaper is a machine that has a dial set for a particular time. At that time, the grim reaper wakes up and checks to see if Fred is alive. If Fred is not alive, it goes back to sleep. If Fred is alive, it instantly kills Fred. (Though the killing doe...

Indice dei contenuti

  1. Cover
  2. Half Title
  3. Series
  4. Title
  5. Copyright
  6. Dedication
  7. Contents
  8. List of contributors
  9. Introduction
  10. Part I God and reason
  11. Part II God and morality
  12. Part III God and theology
  13. Index
Stili delle citazioni per A New Theist Response to the New Atheists

APA 6 Citation

[author missing]. (2019). A New Theist Response to the New Atheists (1st ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/1378830/a-new-theist-response-to-the-new-atheists-pdf (Original work published 2019)

Chicago Citation

[author missing]. (2019) 2019. A New Theist Response to the New Atheists. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis. https://www.perlego.com/book/1378830/a-new-theist-response-to-the-new-atheists-pdf.

Harvard Citation

[author missing] (2019) A New Theist Response to the New Atheists. 1st edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/1378830/a-new-theist-response-to-the-new-atheists-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

[author missing]. A New Theist Response to the New Atheists. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis, 2019. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.