28 August 2009

Cosmological Fallacy

The irrationality of a thing is no argument against its existence, rather a condition of it.
---Friedrich Nietzsche

At the latter end of the 1200's, John Duns Scotus put forth his idea of the first efficient
cause (Opera Omnia. Civitas Vaticana: Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1950-). It was an attempt to logically prove the existence of god. His argument, composed of seven steps, is as follows:
(1) No effect can produce itself.
(2) No effect can be produced by just nothing at all.
(3) A circle of causes is impossible.
(4) Therefore, an effect must be produced by something else. (from 1, 2, and 3)
(5) There is no infinite regress in an essentially ordered series of causes.
(6) It is not possible for there to be an accidentally ordered series of causes unless there is an
essentially ordered series.
(7) Therefore, there is a first agent. (from 4, 5, and 6)
These seven steps, in effect, refuted while achieving nearly the same end, instead of improved upon, the argument of Anselm in his Monologia. Scotus's final step, that there is a god, is dependant upon each of the prior steps proving to be a logical possibility. Interestingly, steps 1, 2, and 6 are basic tenets of quantum physics (History and Root of the Principles of the Conservation of Energy. E. Mach. Open Court Pub. Co., IL., 1872). Steps 3-5 are the most difficult to support, and are most likely illogical and untrue.

Step two requires that no effect is can be caused by nothing. In effect, something must be the cause. Since something must be caused by something, cause and effect is circular. This is widely supported by physics, particularly quantum physics. Many philosophers have attempted to side-step this (notably Davidson, Haack, and Gasking) by creating a pseudo cause and effect that is dependent upon human manipulation. For this pseudo situation to be true, it would follow that a god is a manipulation of man and exists solely because of man. Nietzsche and Sartre both made that claim. This is antithetical to the theist view of a god.

Step three involves there being a terminal point for causes. Since each effect follows a cause, Scotus is requiring time to be linear. There is no other possibility. While this is a viable possibility, there are problems with it. There are fields of physics dedicated to proving that linear time either does not exist or runs concurrent with non-linear time at various intersections.

Even Anselm recognized that linear time was a problem to any theory of a god:
By contrast, if something is in no way constrained by confinement in a place or time, no law of places or times forces it into a multiplicity of parts or prevents it from being present as a whole all at once in several places or times (Monologia,22).

That a circle of causes is impossible (step three), according to Scotus, violates the second and fourth step. If an effect can not be produced by nothing at all , then it goes to logic that every produced effect is dependent upon a prior effect, and that each that follows is also dependent on the prior, without terminus. This is itself a circle. From Buddhism this point is made clear. The Buddhists believe that when one looks at a stream, one sees both the end and the beginning of the stream; it is the end of the source of the stream and the beginning of a new source.

Given the possibility of the fourth step being true, that an effect must be caused by a prior one, as it does follow from two, the fifth step potentially violates 1, 2, and 4. For the fifth step, that an infinite regress is not possible, to be logical and true, it would require that time be absolutely linear, with a definite beginning and end. This would be an establishment of a primary cause, and as such makes the first two steps either illogical or false. An effect that can not cause itself (α), and one that must be caused (β), can not be dependent upon linear time (~γ), a primary. But if time is linear (γ), then α and/or β is not possible.

If α is not true, then an effect can be the cause of itself. But, if this is so, then it follows that any effect can be the cause of itself, and is not limited to a god. In this, if a god is the cause of itself, and with α being false, self-causation of effect is granted. Because this law would need to be an universal one, in order not to violate multiple rules of physics, it would also follow that a tomato could be the cause of itself. A human could be the cause of a human. Darwinian evolution would be an anomaly.

Also, if β is not true, then an effect can be caused by nothing. This would allow for a god to be created without causation. That in itself violates many laws of physics and would require a nothing to not only have a definite property, but be uncaused. And if a nothing has property, then it can not logically be “nothing”; it is something. What follows then is that nothing is something and is the cause of an effect. If this nothing is something, then it is the primary point of causation (β therefore α) and time must be linear (if β and α therefore γ). But as has been shown, α and/or β must not be true for γ to be true ( ~α and/or ~β therefore γ).

There is much debate as to whether time is linear. It has been conjectured that time exists in a manner that we do not readily understand, and that our theory of time is limited to being linear by necessity. Einstein was certainly not the first nor the last to hypothesize the possibility of time travel. For this to be conceivable, time can not be linear. To travel back in time, say ten years, requires that time runs parallel, because if it did not, and we were able to travel backwards, we would most likely de-age ten years. To do otherwise would violate all knowledge we have of physics. Because we would be traveling between two points along a line, and since we can not exist in tangent with another of ourselves at that same point, we must regress. But if time is parallel or circular, we could achieve travel and exist with ourselves simultaneously at the same point in time. Non-linear time proves Scotus's fifth step to be illogical and false.

With the possibility of non-linear time, and with the above by Anselm, it is theoretically possible that the multiverse theory is plausible. The multiverse theory proposes that our universe is not unique and that there are at least one other universe coexisting with ours. This calls into question most of our current understanding of physics. Also the existence of a god becomes more feasible.

This possibility can then uphold many of Scotus's steps and could ratify Anselm as well. The problem of linear time would be solved as both linear and non-linear could exist together, and that in our universe it would be entirely possible to have a first cause that arose from nothing, which would be a crossing between multiverses. More clearly, since Scotus has put forth that an infinite regression is not possible, and that an effect can not cause itself or be produced by nothing at all, if a god existed in another universe and crossed into our own, that god would arise from nothing and yet not cause itself. This would give support Anselm's idea entirely. But to support Scotus fully, his first efficient cause would need to be amended as such:
1. No effect can produce itself.
2. No effect can be produced by just nothing at all.
3. There is no infinite regress in an essentially ordered series of causes.
a. Only if time is linear
b. If time is non-linear than an infinite regress of causes is possible.
c. The infinite regress requires that there be at least 1 other universe, a multiverse.
d. Because of the multiverse, regression can cross between time and place.
e. This amends #2 as the multiverse is a form of nothing in that it exists outside of our time and
4. Therefore, an effect must be produced by something else. (from 1, 2, and 3)
5. It is not possible for there to be an accidentally ordered series of causes unless there is an essentially
ordered series.
6. Therefore, there is a first agent. (from 3, 4, and 5)
But even with these modifications the final step is logical, but does not necessarily equal that the first agent is a god. The first agent could simply be another being that has crossed the boundaries of the multiverse.

While Scotus went to great pains to formulate a logical representation for the existence of a god, to the satisfaction of theists, he went wide of the mark. Granted it is not feasible to assume that he would have the knowledge, or even the insight to it, of what we now possess. He worked with what was available to him in his time and while his first cause is flawed, it can be repaired and can still be possible. At our current level of understanding of the universe we can not unequivacably dismiss his theory. In fact, as our base of knowledge grows, it does make his first cause more probable.

15 August 2009

Science as Religion

Saint Anselm, in the Monologion, postulated that there is some one thing that exists which all things exist and that one thing exists through itself so therefore is greater than all other things. The significance of this statement is that Anselm side-stepped the problem of faith in a fairly convincing way. He would later define his position even more sharply in Proslogion.

Religion is philosophy. For a religion to not be a philosophy, it must prove that its deity truly exists. None can do that and they rely upon "faith". The position of faith has been argued since before Anselm's time to the present. Kant worked around the issue with his Categorical Imperative, which loosely outlined, is the work towards the greatest good. Kierkegaard addressed faith as the only way a person can achieve the true self.

But Kierkegaard realized that Christian religion, and I would argue religion in general, harms itself with dogma, because its dogma denies reason because of its paradoxes. To counter this Kierkegaard made his argument of faith through the absurd (suspension of reason to believe in something higher than reason).

Interestingly, Pope John Paul II made this statement: Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish (John Paul II, "Letter to Reverend George V. Coyne, S.J.", Origins, 378.).

It is a tantalizing statement. Science and religious philosophy have virtually always been at odds, basically because science does not require faith; science deals ultimately with absolutes (water exists). If science and religion work more closely, will science remove faith, as faith is superstition? Did John Paul introduce something more dangerous than the faith problem by introducing the possibility that science is religion?

Think about that last statement. Science deals with absolutes. It does not require Kierkegaard's absurd, embraces (to a point) Kant's Categorical Imperative, and also fulfills Anselm's test. For religion to be something other than philosophy, it must prove its deity exists absolutely and therefore remove the need for faith. Following this line, science is the only true religion. I tend to believe that John Paul saw this issue coming to a head in the near future and attempted to stave it off by joining religious belief with science again, as it was before Copernicus.

04 August 2009

Death and Humanity

First off, let me toss out there that death is a state (being dead) and does not have the usual religious attributes attached to it. You die you are dead. That being said, Feldman's Termination Thesis (2000) is to me, the most logical position to take regarding death. In layman's terms, when we die, everything about us ceases to exist. In effect we are annihilated in the process. Religion of course has spawned the theory that we exist beyond death, as though death is a transitory state, akin to Donne's Death Be Not Proud. Religion takes advantage of a common human flaw, the need to exist beyond our given span in time. Ozymandias comes to mind. We humans mate for the sake of continuing our line, the same thing that other animals do. And for some reason, humans spend thousands of hours worrying about what comes after death, as though there must be something beyond, that there is no logical reason for us to be born, live and then die and then have nothing else.

Death is death. Moths die. Plants die. Solar systems die. Humans die. That is the commonality that brings us all together, that is the universal truth.