174 Replies to “Carroll vs Craig debate”

  1. davehooke
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    says:

    keiths:
    Allan Miller:

    Of course, because like the rest of the English-speaking world (apart from a grumpy contrarian or two in the UK ), I use the word that way!

    Forgive me if this isn’t a humorous reference to my comment about use of “moot”, but I am compelled to point out that “moot” doesn’t mean “irrelevant” in the UK at all.

  2. davehooke
    Ignored
    says:

    JT:
    keiths,

    If you watch the Science Channel, they talk over and over again about how some cosmologists believe the world, etc. is a gigantic computer simulation.

    I don’t think any cosmologist believes this to be the case. It is an interesting philosophical argument. One of the following three propositions must be true:

    (1) The chances that a species at our current level of development can avoid going extinct before having the computing power to simulate the human mind is negligibly small.

    (2) Almost no civilisations that have the computing power to simulate the human mind are interested in running computer simulations of minds like ours.

    (3) You are almost certainly in a simulation.

  3. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths:

    To identify something as a necessary cause, you have to explain why it’s necessary — which explains its existence.

    davehooke:

    Not in all senses. That which is only causally necessary does not exist in all possible worlds.

    True. I am using ‘necessary cause’ to mean ‘necessarily existing cause’. Such a cause would exist in all possible worlds.

    keiths:

    Of course, because like the rest of the English-speaking world (apart from a grumpy contrarian or two in the UK ), I use the word that way!

    davehooke:

    Forgive me if this isn’t a humorous reference to my comment about use of “moot”, but I am compelled to point out that “moot” doesn’t mean “irrelevant” in the UK at all.

    Ha ha! No, it’s Allan Miller who is the grumpy contrarian 🙂 , for insisting that the word ’cause’ excludes static equilibria.

    I believe you when you say that ‘moot’ qua ‘irrelevant’ is an Americanism.

    One of the following three propositions must be true:

    Here’s a video of Bostrom presenting the argument.

  4. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    Mike,

    I think I have a pretty good idea of what you think a transcendent cause is.

    Evidently not, or you wouldn’t have asked me whether I thought that dark matter, dark energy and neutrinos were transcendent causes.

    I am still trying to figure out how you explain that an “effect” measured by someone embedded in a universe can certify that the effect is due to a “transcendent” cause.

    The same way you “certify” that an effect is due to a non-transcendent cause. You build a model, you derive distinct predictions from that model, and you see how well those predictions match observations, as compared to predictions derived from competing models.

    Even that presentation by Savage disclaims that notion in the last two or three slides.

    What “notion”? Please be specific. He doesn’t contradict anything I said about his model.

    The presentation is, um, “colorful;” I’ll give it that. But I don’t see how one can conclude that our universe is a simulation by “transcendent causes.”

    He’s not concluding that, and neither am I. We are simply arguing that it is a legitimate question that may in fact be testable.

    If it were, the problem still remains as to how someone within that simulation would do an experiment that would answer that question unambiguously.

    Science doesn’t give perfectly unambiguous answers. Whether the causes are transcendent or not, you build a model and see how well its predictions hold up. It’s science 101, Mike.

    I am in agreement with Carroll on this.

    On what? Please be specific.

    All these models are trying to simulate what we already see as well as determine what available probes we can use. I don’t see anything in those models that hints of “outside” programmers as “transcendental causes” of our universe.

    So? I haven’t claimed that there are such hints in those models. Nor has Savage. You’re not paying attention, Mike.

    Don’t mistake the programmers of the model as being analogues of transcendent causes for the universe.

    Do you have an argument to present on that point?

    It is a bit premature to think that this presentation by Savage is realistic given so many unanswered questions that are already on the table awaiting experimental confirmation.

    Of course, which is why no one is claiming that it’s “realistic”. It’s an interesting idea, and Savage has done a good job of figuring out how it might actually be testable.

    The little exercise I suggested is still a good starting point to try to understand what experimentalists are up against when probing the universe.

    What’s the point? It’s not like I haven’t thought about testability before.

    On the other hand, if you could actually identify a specific statement of mine that you disagree with, quote it, and then explain why you think it is wrong, then we might be able to have a productive debate.

    If someone embedded in a universe detects an “effect” of some sort in that universe, how does one answer the question that the effect “came from outside”? If you can come up with such an experiment, you get a Nobel Prize.

    You can’t prove it, any more than you can prove that an effect comes from inside . You just build models and test them against observations. If your model holds up well, your belief that it corresponds to reality is strengthened (if you’re a scientific realist, anyway).

    I don’t object to “wacky” ideas in theoretical physics or cosmology; it’s a creative and necessary process, and things will get sorted out in the long run.

    Exactly. So why panic when you hear the word “transcendent”?

    But please understand that wacky ideas aren’t always what they may appear to the layperson.

    Or to a scientist who hasn’t thought about them carefully enough.

    P.S. Surely you can find one statement I’ve made in my argument, quote it, and explain why it’s wrong. Can’t you? If not, then who and what are you arguing against?

  5. Allan Miller
    Ignored
    says:

    Ha ha! No, it’s Allan Miller who is the grumpy contrarian , for insisting that the word ’cause’ excludes static equilibria.

    Harrumph! I call upon no lesser an authority than Professor Wikipedia:

    Of Aristotle’s four kinds or explanatory modes, only one, the ‘efficient cause’ is a cause as defined in the leading paragraph of this present article. The other three explanatory modes would now be called material composition, structure and dynamics, and, again, criterion of completion. The word that Aristotle used was αἰτία. For the present purpose, that Greek word would be better translated as “explanation” than as “cause” as those words are most often used in current English. Another translation of Aristotle is that he meant “the four Becauses” as four kinds of answer to “why” questions.

    The article is jam-packed with explicit and implicit language where cause/effect is a succession, dealing with events and change. It ain’t just me!

  6. SophistiCat
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths:
    That may explain your confusion. The topic is not the first premise of the Kalam argument.The thread topic is the Carroll-Craig debate, and the subtopic I’ve been focusing on is not the Kalam, but rather Carroll’s statement about the “not-even-wrongness” of asking about transcendent causes.

    Yes, sorry, I somehow assumed that the topic was Lizzie’s follow-up to her own OP. That may have been the reason she made the OP, but she clearly didn’t intend to limit the discussion to her question.

    However, Carroll’s comment does have a context, and the context is Kalam’s first premise.

    You are assuming that transcendent causes cannot be part of a model, but why?

    By definition. Transcendent causes transcend the physical universe (here and elsewhere I do not pretend to know exactly what “transcendent” or “cause” mean – I infer their meaning from the way these words are used in the context of the particular debate). But what is a physical universe? I cannot speak for Carroll, but I think he would say that this is just what a physical model – a description of some “unbreakable pattern” – aims to represent. Anything that can be made part of the model is, by definition, part of the physical universe. And I think that even Craig would agree to this. He wants his personal or transcendent causes to be non-physical, not subject to modeling by unbreakable patterns.

  7. Mike Elzinga
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths: Or to a scientist who hasn’t thought about them carefully enough.

    Well, I’m only a physicist; and only a fairly successful experimental physicist at that. Perhaps you believe that experimental physicists are too far below the stratospheres of philosophical discourse and too lowbrow to appreciate the finer points of philosophy.

    You are free to build any kind of models you like; and you are free to use any props or scaffolding that will aid in visualizing and building your models and theories. It’s a creative process. However, if you want to be a theorist who is taken seriously, you aren’t finished until you place those experimental handles on your theory.

    Flashy theories are risky for neophytes starting out. Better to take on a few “mundane” tasks to cut one’s teeth on. And if one’s theories never pan out, one can always go to Wall Street and use one’s mathematical skills to beat the odds and get very rich.

    You say you have thought about testability; yet you seem to want to avoid a specific exercise that would test your understanding. That is not an uncommon response for those who haven’t really thought things through.

    I don’t really care; but I suspect it is not I who is in a “panic.” And I don’t feel a need to press the issue any further.

  8. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    Allan,

    The article is jam-packed with explicit and implicit language where cause/effect is a succession, dealing with events and change. It ain’t just me!

    It’s your exclusion of static equilibria that is grumpily contrarian, not your inclusion of succession, events, and change.

    I happily include the latter (as in my example of a firecracker with a lit fuse).

  9. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    SophistiCat,

    However, Carroll’s comment does have a context, and the context is Kalam’s first premise.

    Carroll isn’t limiting his comment to that context. He’s speaking of transcendent causes generally, as this quote from the debate makes clear:

    And modern physics, you open a quantum field theory textbook or a general relativity textbook, you will not find the words “transcendent cause” anywhere. What you find are differential equations. This reflects the fact that the way that physics is known to work these days is in terms of patterns — unbreakable rules, laws of nature. Given the world at one point in time, we will tell you what happens next. There is no need for any extra metaphysical baggage like transcendent causes on top of that.

    keiths:

    You are assuming that transcendent causes cannot be part of a model, but why?

    SophistiCat:

    By definition. Transcendent causes transcend the physical universe..

    Yes, but “transcends the universe” doesn’t necessarily equate to “cannot be modeled”.

    Anything that can be made part of the model is, by definition, part of the physical universe.

    Here’s what you’re doing, in effect:

    1. You draw a circle around the physical universe as you currently understand it, labeling it ‘U’.

    2. If you discover a new cause T outside of U, you draw a bigger circle around both T and U.

    3. Then you erase the inner circle and move the label U from the inner circle to the outer.

    4. Since T is now inside U, you no longer consider it to be “transcendent”. You erase the T and replace it with a C.

    But this is purely definitional. By that logic, even an immaterial God, if he existed, would be redefined as part of the physical universe.

    In the end, it doesn’t matter how you draw the circles or label them. The circles and labels are just for our convenience. They don’t alter the underlying reality. You can’t define the questions away.

    And I think that even Craig would agree to this. He wants his personal or transcendent causes to be non-physical, not subject to modeling by unbreakable patterns.

    I don’t think Craig would agree at all. He wants his favorite transcendent cause to exhibit lots of unbreakable patterns: Always good, always wise, always loving, all-powerful,. etc. He wants a transcendent God who has intelligent life in mind when he creates the universe (hence the fine-tuning argument). He doesn’t want a God whose behavior is purely random.

    Unfortunately for Craig, his model’s predictions run afoul of observation and land with an ignominious thud.

  10. davehooke
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths: keiths:

    To identify something as a necessary cause, you have to explain why it’s necessary — which explains its existence.

    davehooke:

    Not in all senses. That which is only causally necessary does not exist in all possible worlds.

    True. I am using ‘necessary cause’ to mean ‘necessarily existing cause’. Such a cause would exist in all possible worlds.

    Your metaphysics is expanding.

  11. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    davehooke:

    Your metaphysics is expanding.

    Do potentially existing transcendent causes count against my metaphysical budget? 🙂

  12. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths:

    Or to a scientist who hasn’t thought about them carefully enough.

    Mike:

    Well, I’m only a physicist; and only a fairly successful experimental physicist at that. Perhaps you believe that experimental physicists are too far below the stratospheres of philosophical discourse and too lowbrow to appreciate the finer points of philosophy.

    Heh. Mike, if you condescend to someone, don’t be surprised when they condescend back.

    You are free to build any kind of models you like; and you are free to use any props or scaffolding that will aid in visualizing and building your models and theories. It’s a creative process. However, if you want to be a theorist who is taken seriously, you aren’t finished until you place those experimental handles on your theory.

    Who is this phantom you are arguing against? No one in this thread has suggested that we stop testing our theories.

    Flashy theories are risky for neophytes starting out. Better to take on a few “mundane” tasks to cut one’s teeth on.

    More condescension.

    You say you have thought about testability; yet you seem to want to avoid a specific exercise that would test your understanding.

    I don’t blame you for wanting to change the subject. This must be embarrassing for you. You still haven’t found even one statement from my argument about which you can say “this is wrong, and here’s why.”

  13. Mike Elzinga
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths: I don’t blame you for wanting to change the subject. This must be embarrassing for you. You still haven’t found even one statement from my argument about which you can say “this is wrong, and here’s why.”

    You sound like one of the denizens over at UD.

    And you misread me completely.

    Life is short. Try to make it interesting and fun while you can. 🙂

  14. davehooke
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths:
    davehooke:

    Do potentially existing transcendent causes count against my metaphysical budget?

    Don’t get me started on “potential”. Thomism, with its reification of pure concepts and Aristotleian understanding of physics, should have no philosophical adherents today.

    I’m pretty sure that isn’t what you meant, but that word sets me off. Back on topic, do you have any ideas as to what might necessarily exist, if anything?

  15. SophistiCat
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths:

    Yes, but “transcends the universe” doesn’t necessarily equate to “cannot be modeled”.

    Here’s what you’re doing, in effect:

    1. You draw a circle around the physical universe as you currently understand it, labeling it ‘U’.

    2. If you discover a new cause T outside of U, you draw a bigger circle around both T and U.

    3. Then you erase the inner circle and move the label U from the inner circle to the outer.

    4. Since T is now inside U, you no longer consider it to be “transcendent”.You erase the T and replace it with a C.

    But this ispurely definitional.

    Yes, just like I said. But we do need to define our terms. We have agreed on a definition of a “transcendent cause” as a cause that transcends the physical universe. I have already made much about the concept of causation being controversial, but in our latest exchange I agreed to put those concerns aside and focused instead on the physical universe. Surely, we need to understand at least what that means? Otherwise the entire concept of transcendent cause is hanging free and you are just whistling in the wind.

    I proposed to define the physical universe as that which is amenable to modeling by “unbreakable rules,” to use Carroll’s expression. This is not an arbitrary definition: I think it is consistent with how Carroll and many others use this concept. Moreover, I think it is consistent with how non-physicalists such as Craig think of the physical.

    By that logic, even an immaterial God, if he existed, would be redefined as part of the physical universe.

    No, because anything that follows unbreakable rules would not be thought of as God. You are right that there are some properties that are usually attributed to God, and those properties can give rise to observable regularities. But God cannot be entirely regular; he must be able to escape our attempts at capturing him in some sort of a model. This is why God will always be transcendent. The same goes for other things that are thought to be non-physical, such as personal causes.

  16. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    davehooke,

    Back on topic, do you have any ideas as to what might necessarily exist, if anything?

    Not really. Anselm-style ontological arguments don’t work, in my opinion.

    Here;s the only approach I can think of that is even remotely plausible:

    1. If true philosophical nothingness somehow turns out to be logically incoherent, then it is necessarily true that something exists. However, this isn’t the same as saying that any particular thing necessarily exists.

    2. If it is necessarily true that something exists, then at least one possible world is instantiated.

    3. If all possible worlds are equally real, as David Lewis has argued, then the fact that one possible world is instantiated implies that all possible worlds are instantiated.

    4. Thus, under those two premises (the incoherence of nothingness and the equal reality of all possible worlds), everything would necessarily exist.

    No one has yet demonstrated the truth of those two premises, in my opinion, but if they could, then I think my argument would hold.

  17. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    #4 should read:

    4. Thus, under those two premises (the incoherence of nothingness and the equal reality of all possible worlds), everything that is possible would necessarily exist.

  18. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    SophistiCat,

    No, because anything that follows unbreakable rules would not be thought of as God. You are right that there are some properties that are usually attributed to God, and those properties can give rise to observable regularities. But God cannot be entirely regular; he must be able to escape our attempts at capturing him in some sort of a model. This is why God will always be transcendent. The same goes for other things that are thought to be non-physical, such as personal causes.

    You can model something without modeling it completely. Otherwise science would never have gotten off the ground. Imagine if we dismissed all of psychology on the grounds that the human mind hasn’t been completely modeled!

  19. SophistiCat
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths:
    SophistiCat,

    You can model something without modeling it completely.Otherwise science would never have gotten off the ground.Imagine if we dismissed all of psychology on the grounds that the human mind hasn’t been completely modeled!

    Yes, and if you hold their feet to the fire, most non-physicalists would agree that their supposedly non-physical actors are partly regular. But the doctrinal point on which they will remain firm is that some core part of them is not amenable to modeling in principle. This is what even such radically different non-physicalists as Craig and Nagel will agree on. Otherwise I simply cannot see a meaningful distinction between physical and non-physical (transcendent). What would you propose as transcendent? Something that sounds weird and woo-ish?

  20. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    SophistiCat,

    Yes, and if you hold their feet to the fire, most non-physicalists would agree that their supposedly non-physical actors are partly regular.

    Right, and regularity can be modeled.

    But the doctrinal point on which they will remain firm is that some core part of them is not amenable to modeling in principle. This is what even such radically different non-physicalists as Craig and Nagel will agree on.

    There’s no rule that says we must model everything. Partial modeling is acceptable, and is in fact the norm. Our models are rarely complete.

    Otherwise I simply cannot see a meaningful distinction between physical and non-physical (transcendent). What would you propose as transcendent? Something that sounds weird and woo-ish?

    As I’ve said throughout the thread, I take ‘transcendent’ to mean ‘transcending the universe’. Whether a particular cause qualifies as transcendent depends on how you define the universe — how you draw the circle that gets labeled ‘U’.

    If you draw U to encompass all of physical reality, then transcendent causes, if they exist, must be non-physical by definition. If you draw U to encompass only the particular space-time bubble we inhabit that had its origin in the Big Bang, then transcendent causes could be either physical or non-physical. Other ways of drawing U are also possible.

    My feeling is that the cause of the Big Bang (assuming that there is a cause) is probably physical, given that there are already some decent physical models of how it could happen.

    The cause of the multiverse ensemble, if there is one? Probably physical, in my opinion.

    I don’t expect us to find any God-like transcendent causes, and though I can’t rule it out, the gaps are shrinking.

    But again, my point in this thread is not to promote any particular notion of a transcendent cause. I’m just disputing Carroll’s claim that the very idea is incoherent — “not even false”, as he puts it.

  21. SophistiCat
    Ignored
    says:

    Well, at this point your attack doesn’t look like much. You are not trying to engage with Carroll’s argument, charitably interpreted. You jumped on the words “transcendent cause”, but having no fixed, meaningful concept of a transcendent cause, you are just whistling in the wind.

  22. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    SophistiCat,

    Well, at this point your attack doesn’t look like much. You are not trying to engage with Carroll’s argument, charitably interpreted. You jumped on the words “transcendent cause”, but having no fixed, meaningful concept of a transcendent cause, you are just whistling in the wind.

    Not so. My argument applies to transcendent causes, broadly defined, and that includes God. Since God was the very topic of the debate, you can hardly accuse me of twisting Carroll’s meaning!

  23. SophistiCat
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths:
    Not so.My argument applies to transcendent causes, broadly defined,

    Yes, that’s the problem. You took the words out of context, and you don’t even ask yourself what might have been meant by them – you just define them as you wish. Which is why your attack misses the target. Anyway, I think this conversation has run its course.

  24. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    SophistiCat:

    Yes, that’s the problem. You took the words out of context, and you don’t even ask yourself what might have been meant by them – you just define them as you wish. Which is why your attack misses the target.

    Come on, SophistiCat. That’s pretty lame.

    God obviously qualifies as a transcendent cause under my definition. My argument therefore applies to God, and God was the topic of the debate. My argument is right on target.

    Anyway, I think this conversation has run its course.

    Perhaps it has. You seem to have run out of counterarguments.

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