Camp Session 1: The Existence of God

October 14, 2012 Class Sessions  4 comments

Is there any evidence that God exists? In this first apologetics camp, we take a look at this fundamental question. We discuss 3 major arguments for God’s existence (based on the origin of the universe, the design of the cosmos, and the existence of an immaterial mind).

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NOTE: Due to an unexpected technical meltdown that is completely my fault (Deming), the audio recording for this class was deleted. In it’s place we have added a talk that Taylor and Deming gave a couple years ago at a different apologetics class. We cover a lot of similar topics so I thought this would be an adequate replacement. (Incidentally, feel free to check out the other classes there for additional apologetics materials, or if you can’t get enough of our deep, baritone voices).

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4 comments to Camp Session 1: The Existence of God

  • Kyle Deming  says:

    Hey everyone, if you have any questions about the content of these sessions, please leave a comment here and we’ll have a WordPress comment dialogue. Boom baby!

  • Clinton  says:

    I have a problem with your use of the Kalam Cosmological Argument. I’m not sure that you can prove that everything has a cause. Just because everything we can observe has a cause does not mean that everything does. Causal relationships are inherently temporal. If event B is caused by event A, then event A had to happen before event B. This is a key point to causality. Without this being the case, we cannot determine causal effects. The problem this brings up is that an event cannot occur before another event if there is no time. And because time is part of our universe, it did not exist at any point when our universe did not exist. Therefore, talking about what caused the universe is illogical. This is not to say that this is an argument that God could not exist, it is not. God may have created the universe, and time along with it, but to use the concept of cause is fallacious. This does however make this argument invalid since nothing outside of time can cause anything due to the definition of causality. I realize that this looks like a semantic issue, but it isn’t, cause has very specific connotations that are necessary for this argument.

  • Kyle Deming  says:

    Hello Clinton, thanks for your feedback!

    I’d like to raise a few points in response.

    1.) In order to accept the Kalam Cosmological Argument, all we have to do is show that the premises are more plausible than not. So, we don’t necessarily need to ‘prove’ beyond a shadow of a doubt that the first premise (everything that begins to exist has a cause) is true. As long as it’s more plausible than the opposite (some things can begin to exist without a cause), the argument is still a good one.

    2.) What evidence do we have that the causal premise is true? Here I would raise several arguments;

    a.) It is an intuitively obvious metaphysical principle that things that come into being must have a cause. Simply consider the alternative – something popping into being uncaused out of nothing. Is it really plausible to suppose that things can just pop into being uncaused out of nothing?

    The strength of the intuition in this case is so strong that it can hardly be defeated by any argument. After all, the premise of any argument that tries to establish something coming into existence uncaused out of nothing is almost certainly going to be less plausible than the causal premise itself. This would be like trying to establish an argument that I don’t have a mind. Even if you provide a pretty darn good argument, it’s still going to be less convincing than my own internal experience of my mind.

    Indeed, the causal principle is arguably the foundational principle of science and metaphysics. I can hardly imagine an argument that would be sufficient to overturn this metaphysically mundane principle.

    b.) This principle has more inductive evidence than any other principle of human experience. We have ample experience of things that come into existence having a cause, but no counterexamples. All of the inductive experience of the human race and our own experience up until this present point should at least cause us to give the principle the benefit of the doubt! Otherwise you will have to throw out induction altogether, since there are no examples I can think of where inductive evidence is as strong. If inductive evidence doesn’t work in this case, it seems to me that we’ll just have to throw it out completely. This is an unwise move, however, because induction is the basis of almost all scientific knowledge.

    Possibly you may at this point wish to point to the supposed counterexample of virtual particles. However, even though virtual particles are created in a so-called “vacuum” – in this case the term vacuum is a bit of a misnomer. The quantum vacuum is actually a sea of fluctuating energy. Even if the momentary creation of virtual particles is not fully deterministic, these events do have a cause based on the structure of the sea of fluctuating energy in the quantum vacuum.

    So, we have overwhelming inductive grounds for affirming this very plausible principle. Remember, we only have to show that it is more likely than it’s opposite! So we are in pretty good shape as far as I can see.

    Your primary objection is that events must happen temporally prior to their cause. Since the beginning of the universe marks the beginning of time, there can be no prior cause.

    However, this ignores the possibility of simultaneous causation – A cause does not need to be temporally prior to the effect if it is simultaneous with it’s effect. For example, a weight resting on a pillow for all eternity is such an example. The weight is the cause of the depression in the pillow, even though the effect is simultaneous with the cause.

    In fact, if we reflect on the case in question we will see that simultaneous causation is what we would expect. God, as an ultimately powerful agent, would create the universe the instant he decided to bring it into existence. Once God, an omnipotent being, has decided to create the universe, what could possibly be the holdup? It would be silly to think of God deciding to create the universe and then mustering up the strength to create the universe after a few seconds or minutes. Rather, since He is all-powerful, His intention to create the universe would plausibly cause the universe to come into being instantaneously. We can therefore be justified in our belief that the creation of the universe was a case of simultaneous causation.

    This all being said, I must say that you are clearly well informed on this argument as you are discussing very core and important issues at the cutting edge of this discussion. Hopefully my response is somewhat useful in your thinking about this matter. By all means feel free to continue the dialogue! Thanks.


  • Clinton  says:

    Firstly, I’d like to say, thank you for taking the time to respond to my questions thoughtfully. I will address your points in the order you raised them as much as possible.

    For point one, I agree that total proof is not needed for a logical argument, but the less sure each premise, the less sure the final outcome is. When basing an argument on ‘more plausible than the opposite’ you are making a statistical argument which is not in itself a problem, but is inherently weaker than one based on axioms. I don’t think that is the largest problem with the Kalam argument, so I don’t think it’s worth spending much time talking about.

    Point two is really the meat of the discussion. First, the appeal to intuition you raise in point 2a. I think appealing to intuition is very dangerous when dealing with extremes in physics. Many things in physics do not act how we would intuit they would. Partial/wave duality is one of those things and the effects of relativity near the speed of light are another extreme in physics where our intuition will usually fail us. As for the law of causality and its fundamental status in metaphysics, I would say that it, like every other known law of physics and reality, only makes sense within our universe. We know nothing, and can postulate nothing, about any laws that may govern outside of our universe. And by outside, I speak in both time and space dimensions.

    On point 2b, I chose not to bring up virtual particles for the reasons you listed above. Though they give us an interesting possible non-God cause to the universe assuming that the Kalam Argument were accepted. There could be some kind of ‘ sea of fluctuating energy’ where universes pop into existence then decay away. Of course there is no evidence for this and I don’t personally agree with this explanation but it does give a mechanical cause of the universe that does not need a mind to choose when to cause the universe. It happens in a non-deterministic manner which avoids the problem of needing a will to create.

    That leaves simultaneous causes. These are pure nonsense. On the link you included in your response is Kant’s example of the cause-effect of a fire in a fireplace and a heated room are listed as an example of a simultaneous cause. This is clearly false. Anyone who has lit a fire in a cold room knows that the room takes time to heat. Furthermore, this is looking at a very macroscopic level. A fire is not a single event, it is a mass of billions of chemical reactions first in the wood, where heat breaks carbon and hydrogen bonds in the cellulose of the wood, followed by other chemical reactions with oxygen to create water and carbon dioxide and more heat. Each of these tiny causes has a tiny effect that increases the heat in the room. This heat is transferred mostly through convection, which is more tiny causes and effects, to heat the room.

    A similar problem arises when looking at the example of the creation of a lap. Sitting down and a lap being created can appear as a simultaneous cause-effect, but if we look closer we see that both sitting and the creation of a lap are both effects of flexing and relaxing muscle cells, which in turn were caused by chemical reactions between nerve cells, etc.

    The final example of a weight on a pillow produces a couple of problems. First, this example only works in the case where the weight is on the pillow for all eternity. If the weight were dropped on the pillow at some time, we could say that the weight falling happened before the depression. To make it simultaneous requires the addition infinite time. The universe does not have this luxury, we have strong evidence that the universe began to exist. And, even if we did not, the Kalam Argument falls apart without the universe having a beginning.

    But even the pillow example is not so simple. The depression in the pillow is caused by the force of the weight. This force comes from the acceleration applied to the weight due to gravity. Gravity requires two bodies, the weight will not cause a depression on the pillow in a vacuum or near vacuum, it will only occur near the earth. (Or some other similarly massive object.)

    One quick final note. If we did expect God to create through simultaneous cause would He not have created the earth the same way? Why then did it take Him 6 days? (Possibly literal days, possibly metaphorical days since the Hebrew word that is translated to day is also used to mean period of time.)

    Again I thank you for taking the time to reply to my questions and comments, I look forward to seeing your responses.

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