April open thread

Given my current posting rate, monthly seems about right for frequency of open threads. So expect one of these on the first of every month, or shortly thereafter–in this case, I was terrified of posting anything yesterday lest it be mistaken for an April Fools joke.

As always, questions for me and post requests are welcome, even though I’ve still got a partially-written post responding to the last open thread that I need to finish. Eek! Time to get on that… Self-promotion is also welcome!

  • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

    I’ve been doing a lot of research on relativity and spacetime as a four dimensional entity lately, and the more I get into it, the more it seems that this is a huge defeater for a number of theistic apologetics arguments.

    The most important part is that the reason a 4D spacetime is accepted is because of the evidence we have for relativity, but once you start thinking about time in this way, it absolutely kills any “First Cause”/Kalam style arguments. It undercuts a contingency argument, since on a space-time view, it simply “exists” as an entity and could easily count as the “necessary something” (though the Universe as a general thing does that already).

    But it also seems to undercut the fine-tuning argument. If some kind of spacetime simply exists, then what exactly gets finely tuned? It removes one of the main notions of a “designer” being required.

    Am I making too much of this view and are there answers to this kind of objection I’m not seeing? The part that makes me so interested in it is that this kind of thing is where science currently leads us to understand space and time, and when apologists like Craig try to get out of this they can get caught doing science denial. It seems pretty strong since while the topic is complex, it ends up being great for a “big debate” with someone like Craig since any opponent can reply to the Kalam with a quick “Your understanding of time and causality is a century out of date thanks to Relativity” and it would put him immediately on the defensive.

    • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

      Fine-tuning arguments are usually about the laws governing matter, not about the particular arrangement of matter at any given time.

      I think you’re making too much of 4D spacetime. It’s not that hard to modify first-cause arguments to accomodate it. Also, physicists can’t actually prove a “block” view of time, they can only make philosophy-laden arguments for it based on circumstantial evidence.

      • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

        As far as physics and 4D, it’s more about there being no absolute moment than it is about proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that space-time is 4D. What we do have is significant evidence for time not being absolute in Lorentz Invariance.

        Sure, any theist can come up with their own views and insist there’s some absolute “god time” like Craig does, but they have to deny that Lorentz Invariance happens and that we could never observe it “not happening”. The issue there is that if they go this route, then they can’t conduct the first cause arguments without being circular (or at least I think so, I’m open to correction!).

        Still, I’m interested to hear how you think a First Cause argument could be modified to get around a 4D spacetime view.

        • Chris Hallquist

          FWIW, Craig’s neo-Lorentzianism doesn’t strike me as defensible, and he’s not very up-front about the problem, which I’d consider a minor instance of his dishonesty. But I don’t think it’s the worst problem with Kalam.

        • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

          I’m a little unclear on what the problem is between First Cause and block time is to begin with. (That is, I can think of several conflicts, but I have no idea which one you’re thinking of.)

          But here are a few resolutions:
          1) If you believe in a singularity (WLC does, but I don’t), that occurs at a single absolute event (ie an absolute position and time).
          2) The CMB defines a special reference frame. Why is a “god time” any crazier? More generally, I don’t see anything wrong with a god causing a whole set of events even if in some reference frames the events are not simultaneous with each other. The events are space-like separated, that’s all that matters.
          3) God isn’t causing any particular moment, he is causing the whole space-time.

          (Disclosure: I am a physicist, but not a cosmologist)

          • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

            I’m largely thinking of Craig’s own words on the tenseless theory:
            “From start to finish, the kalam cosmological argument is predicated upon the A-Theory of time. On a B-Theory of time, the universe does not in fact come into being or become actual at the Big Bang; it just exists tenselessly as a four-dimensional space-time block that is finitely extended in the earlier than direction. If time is tenseless, then the universe never really comes into being, and, therefore, the quest for a cause of its coming into being is misconceived”
            -WLC in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, pp. 183-184

            As far as your other points, there are a few issues:

            1.) Craig doesn’t actually believe the singularity existed (he claim’s it must be equivalent to “nothing”, which is absurd). Further, we have other very good evidence that there is no such singularity since we know that GR is incomplete and incomplete physical theories lead to singularities when pushed too far. Still, if you’re going to go with a singularity then you’re going to deny other aspects of physics since then you’re saying that physical material other than bosons at the same energy level can occupy the same space.

            2.) The CMB can be considered to be “at rest” with respect to other reference frames, but it is not, to my knowledge (so please correct me if I got this wrong!) classified as a “privileged reference frame”, since Einstein’s assumption for SR was that there are no reference frames where the laws of physics work differently.

            3.) This could work, but on the tenseless/4D view you don’t have to infer a creator, since the moment would just always exist. Basically, you wouldn’t “need” a cause, you could still say there was one, but it isn’t required since normal assumptions of causality wouldn’t apply to the whole of a space-time.

            Now for my own disclosure, I’m an engineer and not a physicist, so I fully admit I could have the science mistaken here, but this is my understanding. I’d love to hear back and be corrected if you think I’ve got something wrong on this!


          • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

            I basically agree with all your objections, but I think it’s hard to say whether the Kalam argument is made any worse with block time. It’s a pretty poor argument to begin with. I don’t take it for granted that just because WLC thinks block time defeats his argument, that this is actually true. He has a pretty poor record on physics.

      • Ken Browning

        I think you’re making too much of 4D spacetime. It’s not that hard to modify first-cause arguments to accomodate it.

        Yes, it’s easy to modify deductive arguments as the evidence builds. That’s a problem not a feature. They are only valuable to the extent that the premeses are grounded in reality. And how does one verify groundedness? Consider a Sherlock Holmes mystery where the story line goes: Sherlock makes a string of deductions that are so brilliant that the detectives and magistrates hang the perp without tying the deductive string to sufficient evidence.

    • JohnH

      Counter Apologist,
      4D spacetime view doesn’t appear to do anything to First Cause arguments, at least for the Catholics I have discussed such things with. They are found of saying that if there were an eternal foot in the sand that it would still need a cause. Or that an infinite chain of train cars eternally moving in an eternal pocket universe would still have required a first cause outside of that universe.

      It appears that First Cause is not an actual argument based on tracing physical causes back through time but that time and existence itself requires a cause. I think the best way to understand what it is that they are trying to say (and to deconstruct it) is to look at Ann Rand and the Objectivist where it becomes clear that the orthodox view of God is nothing more then a confusion on the fact that existence exists; asking the question of what caused existence is just a confusion as anything that could cause existence either exists or it does not exist, if it exists then it by definition is part of existence, if it does not exist then a contradiction occurs. The orthodox view of God sort of takes the view that God does not exist in the normal sense and just goes off the deep end from there.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Some say that April is the cruelest month, but my choice is February.

  • MNb

    @CA: Using 4D-time-space ie relativity to counter the cosmological argument runs into the same problem as using to defend it. The General Theory of Relativity fails on a subatomic level and thus say the first half second after the Big Bang, whatever that event means. The GTR should not be connected to the cosmological argument at all.
    The correct questi0n is: should the Big Bang have a cause? The answer is not so simple. For instance, even if you give a positive answer, it’s a fact that the physical constants were fixed in or very shortly after the BB. If it’s valid the cosmological argument supports polytheism rather than monotheism – every physical constant its own metaphysical cause.

  • AndrewR

    Since it’s open thread…

    Am I the only one who found this disappointing?

    “here’s my very brief attempt at why, given theism, I went with Catholicism: – http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked/2013/04/why-i-am-catholic.html

    Given theism?

    • Chris Hallquist

      To be fair, she had to work under a 200 word constraint. That said, while the “you sound Catholic paragraph” is semi-understandable, I don’t know what’s going on with:

      “It’s not a religion that doesn’t mind what people think, as long as they all get along – it’s truth-seeking.”


      “Catholicism is specific enough to make philosophical demands and to do me the courtesy of not pretending it’s no big deal to differ with them. It welcomes faith seeking understanding, but spurns the comfort of agree to disagree.”

      That’s true of lots of religious lineages other than Catholicism, including Protestant and Islamic fundamentalisms. And while I can accord a Plantinga some level of respect for at least having intelligible views (unlike some uber-liberal theologians), that doesn’t give me the slightest desire to become a fundamentalist.

      • AndrewR

        Point taken. I guess it’s just that outspoken atheist -> theist is a reasonably rare blogosphere thing and I’ve been hoping there was some new insight that could be provided or some argument for theism I hadn’t previously considered that I should be paying attention to.

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