A Good Infinite Regress Step of Some Cosmological Arguments

Is there a God? If so, what is She like?

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Lawrence Crocker
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A Good Infinite Regress Step of Some Cosmological Arguments

Post by Lawrence Crocker »

Arguments for the existence of God purporting to show that there must have been a creator ex nihilo, first mover, or ultimate sustainer of physical reality all share a step that the particular sort of infinite regress that there would otherwise be is a metaphysical impossibility. This is often put in some such as, “a completed actual infinity is impossible.” For example, the Kalam argument denies the possibility that physical time could have existed forever (i.e. time cannot be of order type *ω). No contradiction, however, can be produced from time having already gone on forever, and many of us think that the argument is no better than “I cannot imagine how time could extend infinitely into the past; therefore time does not extend infinitely into the past."

There is one form of the cosmological argument, however, for which the impossibility of an infinite regress seems to me to be on much better footing. This is where what is denied is explanation that goes on infinitely – infinitely many steps, infinitely far back, or infinitely deeper. Being finite, we cannot handle an infinite explanation. If in order to understand F1 we need an explanation of F2 for which we need an explanation of F3, and so on, then we will never understand F1.

If a cosmological argument premise denying infinite explanations is true, however, that does not put the whole argument in the clear. There remains the regress stopper – God’s existence must preclude the need for any further explanation. God can be such a stopper only if the concept of God has some very special properties. Sometimes this is put as “God is self-explanatory.”

Many have asserted that God is self-explanatory or that, if God exists, his existence is self-explanatory. If this is true all those of us who find no conceptual impermissibility in asking “what explains God?” are flat wrong. I, for one, have never come close to being persuaded.

Quite a different problem with an explanation based cosmological argument is that there may well be no explanation for some phenomena. That this uranium atom, and not that one, gave off an alpha particle at a particular time has no explanation at all under the quantum theory interpretation now in vogue. Explanation runs out with a stopper very different from God.

So, even were I right, as I think, that some cosmological arguments have a true “no infinite regress” premise, that is only one step towards showing those arguments sound, and very steep steps remain.

For slightly more detail, and a caveat or two, you could look to my blog LawrenceCrocker.blogspot.com.
Reflex
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Re: A Good Infinite Regress Step of Some Cosmological Arguments

Post by Reflex »

Once you know God IS, arguments for or against God's existence are meaningless noises.
ken
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Re: A Good Infinite Regress Step of Some Cosmological Arguments

Post by ken »

Lawrence Crocker wrote:So, even were I right, as I think, that some cosmological arguments have a true “no infinite regress” premise, that is only one step towards showing those arguments sound, and very steep steps remain.
Before we can begin to look at the steps towards seeing if some cosmological arguments are sound or not, what are the actual "no infinite regress" premises you think are right?

Let us look at them first, and see if they are right, before we begin to look any further.
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Lawrence Crocker
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Re: A Good Infinite Regress Step of Some Cosmological Arguments

Post by Lawrence Crocker »

[quote="ken"what are the actual "no infinite regress" premises you think are right?.[/quote]

The ones that deny an infinite regress of explanation.
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Immanuel Can
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Re: A Good Infinite Regress Step of Some Cosmological Arguments

Post by Immanuel Can »

Lawrence Crocker wrote:There is one form of the cosmological argument, however, for which the impossibility of an infinite regress seems to me to be on much better footing. This is where what is denied is explanation that goes on infinitely – infinitely many steps, infinitely far back, or infinitely deeper. Being finite, we cannot handle an infinite explanation. If in order to understand F1 we need an explanation of F2 for which we need an explanation of F3, and so on, then we will never understand F1.
Lawrence, what do you think of the implications of an infinite regress of causes if coupled with entropy?

Let me put it this way:

If the universe were an infinite regress of causes, and
Entropy is a persistent feature of this universe, then it follows that
The universe is infinitely old, and so is entropy.

But if entropy has had an infinite amount of time to operate, then
No matter how slow the rate of entropy, it has completed its task an infinite span of time ago.

Therefore, heat-death has taken hold of the universe an infinite amount of time ago, and
Nothing is now happening.
Nor will it ever.


But something IS now happening...
Therefore, either the causal chain is not infinite, or entropy is not a scientific regularity.

Easiest conclusion: the causal chain is not infinite, but terminates at some first cause.

Interestingly, the same applies if we just go with your causal sequence, even if we eliminate entropy as a feature of the universe. The reasoning goes like this:

F1 cannot happen until after F-1 has happened. F-1 cannot happen until F-2 has happened. F-3 cannot have happened until after F-4 has happened...and so on.

Now, really, this is just a description of what we mean by "causality": F-2 is a precondition for F-1 and so forth.

But back the chain up, and F-infinity doesn't ever happen. Why not? Because it's an infinite amount of time ago, and infinity isn't a point, but rather the concept of there not being such a point.


Either way, one cannot make sense of either entropy or of the causal chain itself if one posits an infinite regress.

Thoughts?
ken
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Re: A Good Infinite Regress Step of Some Cosmological Arguments

Post by ken »

Lawrence Crocker wrote:
ken wrote:what are the actual "no infinite regress" premises you think are right?.
The ones that deny an infinite regress of explanation.
But I have not yet seen one premise that denies an infinite regress of explanation that is right.
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Re: A Good Infinite Regress Step of Some Cosmological Arguments

Post by ken »

Immanuel Can wrote:
Lawrence Crocker wrote:There is one form of the cosmological argument, however, for which the impossibility of an infinite regress seems to me to be on much better footing. This is where what is denied is explanation that goes on infinitely – infinitely many steps, infinitely far back, or infinitely deeper. Being finite, we cannot handle an infinite explanation. If in order to understand F1 we need an explanation of F2 for which we need an explanation of F3, and so on, then we will never understand F1.
Lawrence, what do you think of the implications of an infinite regress of causes if coupled with entropy?

Let me put it this way:

If the universe were an infinite regress of causes, and
Entropy is a persistent feature of this universe, then it follows that
The universe is infinitely old, and so is entropy.

But if entropy has had an infinite amount of time to operate, then
No matter how slow the rate of entropy, it has completed its task an infinite span of time ago.

Therefore, heat-death has taken hold of the universe an infinite amount of time ago, and
Nothing is now happening.
Nor will it ever.


But something IS now happening...
Therefore, either the causal chain is not infinite, or entropy is not a scientific regularity.

Easiest conclusion: the causal chain is not infinite, but terminates at some first cause.

Interestingly, the same applies if we just go with your causal sequence, even if we eliminate entropy as a feature of the universe. The reasoning goes like this:

F1 cannot happen until after F-1 has happened. F-1 cannot happen until F-2 has happened. F-3 cannot have happened until after F-4 has happened...and so on.

Now, really, this is just a description of what we mean by "causality": F-2 is a precondition for F-1 and so forth.

But back the chain up, and F-infinity doesn't ever happen. Why not? Because it's an infinite amount of time ago, and infinity isn't a point, but rather the concept of there not being such a point.


Either way, one cannot make sense of either entropy or of the causal chain itself if one posits an infinite regress.

Thoughts?
You may not be able to make sense of this, but I can.
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Immanuel Can
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Re: A Good Infinite Regress Step of Some Cosmological Arguments

Post by Immanuel Can »

ken wrote:You may not be able to make sense of this, but I can.
I eagerly await your explanation, then. How can any causal chain ever start, given an infinity of necessary previous causes?
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Hobbes' Choice
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Re: A Good Infinite Regress Step of Some Cosmological Arguments

Post by Hobbes' Choice »

Immanuel Can wrote:
ken wrote:You may not be able to make sense of this, but I can.
I eagerly await your explanation, then. How can any causal chain ever start, given an infinity of necessary previous causes?
That's your problem theist.
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Immanuel Can
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Re: A Good Infinite Regress Step of Some Cosmological Arguments

Post by Immanuel Can »

Hobbes' Choice wrote:That's your problem theist.
Incorrect. A Theist, by definition, believes in the First Cause, not any infinite regress. It's anyone who is NOT a Theist who cannot explain infinite regress.
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Re: A Good Infinite Regress Step of Some Cosmological Arguments

Post by uwot »

Immanuel Can wrote:A Theist, by definition, believes in the First Cause, not any infinite regress. It's anyone who is NOT a Theist who cannot explain infinite regress.
That's because anyone who is NOT a Theist is not committed to an infinite regress, and some of us know that some unscrupulous, possibly desperate, theists have deluded themselves that the only alternative to an infinite regress, is their own favourite flavoured god.
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Hobbes' Choice
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Re: A Good Infinite Regress Step of Some Cosmological Arguments

Post by Hobbes' Choice »

Immanuel Can wrote:
Hobbes' Choice wrote:That's your problem theist.
Incorrect. A Theist, by definition, believes in the First Cause, not any infinite regress. It's anyone who is NOT a Theist who cannot explain infinite regress.
It's still your problem, always will be. You are just too blinkered to see it.
You cannot end a problem with a phrase.
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Re: A Good Infinite Regress Step of Some Cosmological Arguments

Post by uwot »

Lawrence Crocker wrote:No contradiction, however, can be produced from time having already gone on forever, and many of us think that the argument is no better than “I cannot imagine how time could extend infinitely into the past; therefore time does not extend infinitely into the past."
Many people have the same type of faith in metaphysical 'time', that some have in a metaphysical 'god'. You can no more see time than you can see god; all you can do is count events. We simply do not know what the conditions were before the Big Bang, whether there were any events to count. Think about it: given that a year is the 'time' it takes for the Earth to orbit the Sun, how many times did the Earth orbit the Sun before there was even a universe?
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Re: A Good Infinite Regress Step of Some Cosmological Arguments

Post by uwot »

And by the way, Happy Birthday, Lawrence.
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Immanuel Can
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Re: A Good Infinite Regress Step of Some Cosmological Arguments

Post by Immanuel Can »

Hobbes' Choice wrote:It's still your problem, always will be. You are just too blinkered to see it.
You cannot end a problem with a phrase.
Do you have anything actually relevant to say? No? Okay. Bye.

I shall not bother hereafter.

That's one problem ended. 8)
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