Part of a response to: 

The argument we have been given — the kalam cosmological syllogism — is this:

1-Whatever begins to exist has a cause (of its beginning to exist)

2-The universe began to exist

3-Therefore, the universe has a cause (of its beginning to exist)

Two immediate questions to ask when we come to assess it: (a) What lies in the scope of the quantifier in (1)? (b) What exactly do we mean by “the universe”?

Let “causal reality” be the complete network of actual causes. If God exists, then God is part of causal reality; if not, not.

Let “natural reality” be the entire domain of natural causes. If God exists, God is not part of natural reality; rather, if God exists, God is the cause of natural reality. However, if there is nothing supernatural, then natural reality just is causal reality.

Causal reality is structured by the causal relation. Under the causal relation, causes are prior to their effects. Note that this has nothing to do with temporal priority: if there are non-temporal causes and effects, the causal relation still imposes a priority / posteriority relation on them.

Question: Is there a first cause in causal reality? If so, then, causal reality begins with that first cause. Moreover, it might seem right to say that causal reality begins to exist with that first cause. (Of course, “begins” here is not temporal; it is simply causal.)

Consider this argument:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause (of its beginning to exist).
2. Causal reality began to exist.
3. Therefore, causal reality has a cause (of its beginning to exist).

The conclusion of this argument is necessarily false. (Causes are distinct from their effects. A cause of causal reality would be distinct from causal reality. But all causes belong entirely to causal reality.)

So, one of the premises of this argument is false.

Now, consider this argument:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause (of its beginning to exist)
2. Natural reality began to exist.
3. Therefore, natural reality has a cause (of its beginning to exist).

If you are a naturalist, you think that causal reality just is natural reality. So, of course, if you are a naturalist, you think that the conclusion of this argument is false. (If you think that it is necessary that causal reality is natural reality, then you think that this conclusion is necessarily false.)

By the lights of naturalists, then, at least one of the premises of this argument is false.

Moreover, what naturalists say about the falsity of the premises in this latter argument is dictated by what is said about the falsity of the premises in the former argument. If we avoid the conclusion that causal reality has a cause by rejecting the claim that *Whatever begins to exist has a cause (of its beginning to exist)*, then we avoid the conclusion that natural reality has a cause by the very same move. However, if we avoid the conclusion that causal reality has a cause by rejecting the claim that causal reality began to exist, then we avoid the conclusion that natural reality has a cause by denying that natural reality began to exist. Moreover, if we nonetheless maintain that there is a first cause in causal reality, then we also nonetheless maintain that there is a first cause in natural reality!!

So, here’s the response. Tell me whether you think that there is a first cause in causal reality, and tell me whether you think that causal reality began to exist with that first cause. If you accept both of these claims, then you must reject that claim that whatever begins to exist has a a cause of its beginning to exist. However, if you reject the claim that there is a first cause in causal reality, then you are not a theist!; and if you reject the claim that causal reality began to exist even though there is a first cause, then surely you have to allow that I can deny that natural reality (the universe) began to exist even though there is a first natural cause!

What if you suppose that “the universe” is a proper part of natural reality? Well, in that case, on any view, the universe can have a natural cause. But most working cosmologists do think that what they call “the universe” is a proper part of natural reality. So we lose nothing by identifying “the universe” with what I have called “natural reality”.

What if you insist that “begins” in the argument must be read temporally. “Whatever comes into existence in time has a cause of its coming into existence in time. The universe comes into existence in time. So the universe has a cause of its coming into existence in time.” Well, now we ask: what about those things that exist at the first moment of time (assuming that there is one). Do they come into existence in time at that time? If God exists, does God come into existence in time at that first moment of time? If not, why should we say that the universe comes into existence in time at that first moment of time? (Note, by the way, that many working cosmologists think that there is a part of the history of the universe that is not temporal. Time may not be fundamental!)

bookmark_borderOntology 101

I’m no expert in metaphysics, so this post won’t be a polished lecture for a philosophy class (I do, however, have certification from Honda Motors to do repairs and maintenance on their cars, but that was from 1980, so it probably has expired).  But the questions raised by Jeff Lowder in his recent post on Moral Ontology  ( intrigue me, and perhaps I can make a small contribution towards development of the basic categories needed to get the Argument from Moral Ontology off the ground.

I have previously noted that the use of three criteria creates the possibility of not three but, rather, eight types of entities (2 to the 3rd power).  On the face of it, there are actually four criteria used in Jeff Lowder’s proposed ontology, which would create the potential for not eight but sixteen different types of entities (2 to the 4thpower):

C1. Is this entity a natural entity?
C2. Is this entity able to affect nature?
C3. Is this entity a person?
C4. Is this entity a part of nature?

Since ‘nature’ is defined as “the spatio-temporal universe of natural entities”, it might be possible to reduce the above four criteria to three criteria by means of the following assumption:

A. Something is a part of nature IF AND ONLY IF it is a natural entity.

If (A) were true, then (C4) could be reduced to (C1), and we could replace references to (C4) with qualified references to (C1). 

But (A) appears to be false to me.  Time is a part of nature, but time is not a natural entity.  Space is a part of nature, but space is not a natural entity.  I’m no metaphysician, but these seem more like relations than entities.  One entity can begin to exist prior to another entity (temporal relationship).  One entity can circle around another entity (spatial relationship).  Time and space appear to be about relationships between entities, rather than being entities themselves. 

But (A) might be salvageable by restricting the scope of the statement to entities:

A1.  An entity is a part of nature IF AND ONLY IF it is a natural entity.

If we accept (A1), then (C4) could be reduced to (C1), and we could get down to just three criteria (and eight types of entities), instead of four criteria (and sixteen types of entities).  I don’t see an obvious problem with (A1), so I’m going to provisionally accept (A1) and continue on under the assumption that we can reduce (C4) to (C1).  Since (A1) relies on the distinction between ‘entities’ and ‘non-entities’ it would be good to have a clear understanding of this distinction, but I’m not going to attempt to make that clarification here (I would expect to distinguish between entities, properties, events, and relations, for starters).

The Argument from Moral Ontology (hereafter: AMO) will probably not be successful if the three criteria carve out eight different types of entities as opposed to three, so it is worth thinking about how many of the possible combinations of the remaining three criteria end up making sense.  Some combinations of these criteria may be self-contradictory or incoherent.  If so, then we can reduce the number of types of entities to something less than eight.

Let’s take the criteria two at a time, and consider four combinations for each of three different pairs of criteria.

Natural vs. Able (to Affect Nature)

N    A
T    T
T    F
F    T
F    F

In order to avoid reference to the fourth criterion (‘part of nature’), I will interpret (C2) as follows:

(C2*)  Is this entit
y able to affect a natural entity?

NA1.  Natural and Able
This is a no-brainer.  Obviously there are natural entities that are able to affect a natural entity.  The sun can warm a stone, for example. The sun is a physical entity, so it is a natural entity.  A rock is a physical entity, so it is also a natural entity.  The sun can affect a stone, so the sun can affect a natural entity.

NA2.  Natural and Non-Able
This is an interesting combination.  Physical entities are paradigm cases of natural entities, based on the definition.  It seems to me that physical entities not only are typically able to affect a physical entity, but that a physical entity must, of logical necessity, be able to affect a physical entity, and thus be able to affect a natural entity.   Isn’t this a necessary condition of being a physical entity?  So, at first blush, this category appears to be incoherent.

But what about an isolated single atom or sub-atomic particle?  Can’t we imagine, for example, a single electron existing all by itself, with no other physical particles with which to interact and affect?  Such a lonely electron would not be able to affect other physical entities because there would be no other entities to affect.  Although there may never have been a time when the only physical entity in existence was a single electron, we can conceive of this scenario, and there appears to be no logical contradiction or impossibility about there having been such a circumstance at some point in time.

Nevertheless, such an electron would still have the power to repel another electron if another electron were to come into existence.  So, the one lonely electron does have the potential to affect another physical entity, once such an entity comes into existence.  Apart from such potential, the single particle would not be an electron, for being an electron means having a negative charge, and having a negative charge means having the power to repel other particles with a negative charge.

So, given some clarification of the concept of ‘able to affect a natural entity’, my inclination is to reject the ‘natural and non-able’ category as being incoherent.  In doing so, I commit myself to understanding the concept of a ‘physical entity’ to logically entail the concept ‘able to affect a physical entity’.

NA3.  Non-Natural and Able

If there are supernatural persons, then there are non-natural entities that are able to affect natural entities.  Whatever ‘supernatural’ means, it surely excludes natural entities.  So, a supernatural entity would necessarily be a non-natural entity.  Furthermore, supernatural entities, or at least some supernatural persons are supposed to be detectable by means of their occasional interventions and interactions with natural entities: ghosts appear or make noises,  demons possess people or animals and cause odd behavior or illness,  gods intervene in nature causing storms or calming a raging sea.  If there are such supernatural persons, then there are non-natural entities that are able to affect natural entities.

However, the idea of a ‘supernatural person’ has seemed to some people to be an incoherent idea.  If a supernatural person is a bodiless person, and if Antony Flew was correct that the idea of a bodiless person is incoherent, then the idea of a supernatural person is also incoherent.  Further, if the idea of a supernatural person is incoherent, then it might well be the case that the more general category of non-natural entities that are able to affect a natural entity  is also incoherent.

It is not clear to me that Flew was correct on this point, so I’m not ready to set aside this category as a logical impossibility.  But it is certainly controversial whether this category represents a coherent concept.

NA4.  Non-Natural and Non-Able
Numbers and other abstractions appear to fall into this category.  The number two is clearly not a physical entity, nor is it reducible to physical entities.  Like other sorts of entities, numbers exist, and numbers have properties.  The number two is an even number and it is greater than one and less than three.  So, it is plausible to think of numbers as entities.  

But numbers don’t occupy space, nor do they begin to exist at a particular moment, nor cease to exist at a particular moment.  Numbers do not have mass, nor do they have energy, nor do they have a size, shape, or velocity.   So, the number two is not only not a physical entity, but it is nothing like a physical entity.  Even supernatural persons (gods, ghosts, and demons) have positions in space and time.   A ghost can be here now, or have been in that house over there last week, but not the number two. A demon can come into existence at one point in time, and cease to exist at a later point in time, but not the number two.  So, it seems right to say that if the number two is an entity, it is NOT a natural entity, and thus it must be a non-natural entity.

Because the number two cannot occupy space, have a shape or size, have mass or energy, have a velocity, begin to exist or cease to exist, it is difficult to see how the number two could affect a physical or natural entity.  Furthermore, the properties of the number two don’t ever change, and cannot change. The number two cannot be less than three today but more than three tomorrow.  The number two cannot be even today but odd tomorrow.  

So, the number two appears to possess a quality that even God cannot have: immutability.  Ancient theologians tried to attribute immutability to God, but the idea of an immutable person is, as Swinburne argues, an incoherent idea.  But numbers   not only can be immutable, they appear to be necessarily immutable.  Since the properties of numbers cannot change, it
is difficult to see how an unchanging number can cause a change in a natural entity.  

The same problem exists for the idea of an unchanging cause of the origin of the universe.  In the Kalam cosmological argument, the cause of the beginning of the universe is inferred to be a person, because only the choice of a person can explain why the universe would begin to exist at a particular point in time (an unthinking mechanical cause would always be operative and thus cannot explain why the universe began at a particular instant rather than at some previous instant).

Setting aside my theological musings, it appears to me that the number two is a non-natural entity which is NOT able to affect natural entities, in which case the ‘Non-natural and Non-able’ combination represents a coherent idea or category of entities.

Could there also be a ‘supernatural person’ who is not able to affect natural entities? hmmmm.

I’m not sure what to say about that.

To be continued…

bookmark_borderWhy Strong Pro-Gay Marriage Supporters Should Still Be Worried; Or, It’s A Long Way To Tipperary

     In my initial post on same-sex marriage (“One Reason Why Strong Pro-Gay Marriage Supporters Should Be Worried” (12-10-2012) I claimed that the Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 US. 558 (2003) heavily relied upon (perhaps I should have just said “gave much weight to”) the decisions of the European Court on Human Rights (ECHR) with respect to consensual homosexual conduct. The point that I wanted to make was that, given that this claim was true, the Court should also heavily rely upon (i.e., give much weight to) the decisions of the ECHR denying that the right to same-sex marriage is fundamental—especially because forty-one States (plus the District of Columbia, and the Commonsealths of Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands), and the United States itself, do not legally authorize same-sex marriage.
     I am grateful to rg57 for writing: “I think you’re overstating the weight given to ECHR. The decision in Lawrence  referred to ECHR only ‘to the extent Bowers [the case being overridden] relied on values shared with a wider civilization’ and for ‘The sweeping references by Chief Justice Burger to the history of Western civilization.’’’.:Alas, what I should have done my first post, but egregiously failed to do, was to have also included the following passage from the Court’’s opinion in Lawrence, 539 U.S. at 576-77 (bracketed matter added): 

The foundations of Bowers have sustained serious erosion from our recent decisions in Casey and Romer. When our precedent has been thus weakened, criticism from other sources is of greater significance. [Matter pertaining to developments in American jurisprudence omitted.]To the extent, Bowers relied on values we share with a wider civilization, it should be noted that the reasoning and holding in Bowers have been rejected elsewhere. The [ECHR] has followed not Bowers but its own decision in Dudgeon v. United Kingdom. [Further citations to ECHR decisions omitted.] Other nations, too, have taken action consistent with an affirmation of the protected right of homosexual adults to engage in intimate, consensual conduct.  [Citation omitted.] The right the petitioners seek in this case has been accepted as an integral part of human freedom in many other countries. There has been no showing that in this country the governmental interest in circumscribing personal choice is somehow more legitimate or urgent.

     So, besides undercutting Chief Justice Burger’s reliance on “values we share with a wider civilization,” the Court in Lawrence deemed the constitutional law of the Council of Europe concerning private homosexual conduct as providing a substantial factor, albeit not dispositive, supporting its holding respecting private homosexual conduct. I

     Well, let us just suppose that I had indeed overstated the weight given in Lawrence to the decisions of the ECHR. Nevertheless the fact is that Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer (who were in the Lawrence majority). and Sotomayor (all sitting justices) maintain that it is quite legitimate for the Court to consider  foreign law in determining the meaning of constitutional provisions pertaining to individual rights.

     For example, the Supreme Court in Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005) ( ruled that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments prohibit the execution of a juvenile offender who was older than 15 but younger than 18 when he committed a capital crime. The Court, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy (joined by Stephens, Breyer, Souter, and Ginsburg) declared:   

It is proper that we acknowledge the overwhelming weight of international opinion against the juvenile death penalty, resting in large part on the understanding that the instability and emotional imbalance of young people may often be a factor in the crime. See Brief for Human Rights Committee of the Bar of England and Wales et al. as Amici Curiae 10–11. The opinion of the world community, while not controlling our outcome, does provide respected and significant confirmation for our own conclusions. **** It does not lessen our fidelity to the Constitution or our pride in its origins to acknowledge that the express affirmation of certain fundamental rights by other nations and peoples simply underscores the centrality of those same rights within our own heritage of freedom.

     And in the more recent case, Graham v. Florida¸ 560 U.S. ___ (2010) (, the Court ruled that juvenile offenders cannot be sentenced to life imprisonment with parole for non-homicide offenses. The Court declared (in an opinion by Justice Kennedy, joined by Justices Stephens, Breyer, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor):     

     The Court has treated the laws and practices of other nations and international agreements as relevant to the Eighth Amendment not because those norms are binding or controlling but because the judgment of the world’s nations that a particular sentencing practice is inconsistent with basic principles of decency demonstrates that the Court’s rationale has respected reasoning to support it.

     Yes another factor should be considered. There are thirty States with constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. A constitutional ban on same-sex marriage signifies a judgment that any right to same-sex marriage is not fundamental. Eleven other States have statutory bans; as do the Commonwealths of Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands. Of the ten jurisdictions (nine States and the District of Columbia) that legally authorize same-sex marriage, three (i.e., Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut) do so either by virtue of novel judicial interpretations of state constitutional provisions. The other jurisdictions (six States and the D.C.) do so as a matter of statutory law. All this is of great significance because it is one thing for a State to legally authorize same-sex marriage by virtue of a constitutional provision, and quite another to do so only by virtue of a statutory provision. The significance of the difference cannot be plausibly minimized. To authorize same-sex marriage only by statute presupposes the power of the jurisdiction to repeal or modify the authorizing statute. The status of the right in question, therefore, cannot be regarded as being one that is fundamental in the jurisprudence of that jurisdiction. Therefore, either a statutory authorization of or a ban on same-sex marriage perhaps may well signify a judgment that the right to same-sex marriage is not fundamental. So it follows that a Court holding denying that the right to same-sex marriage is a federal constitutional right would not lack “respected reasoning to support it”—domestic or foreign.

     Somewhat similar considerations apply to public opinion polls. One cannot at all infer that the majority of surveyed Americans would now say that the Court should hold that there is a federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage just because a majority of Americans for the time being say that they support same-sex marriage without further qualification. Clearly, it is only if someone says that the right to same-sex marriage should be a federal constitutional right that we may conclude that that person would say that the right is fundamental for federal constitutional purposes. It would be interesting to see the results of a fairly conducted public opinion poll in which the public was asked whether they would approve of the Supreme Court ruling that the right to same-sex marriage is a federal constitutional right; i.e., one that is binding upon not only the United States, and its possessions, territories, and the District of Columbia, and all the fifty states—the public being informed that forty-one states, plus the two commonwealths,  constitutionally or statutorily ban same-sex marriage. As far as I know, no such public opinion poll has been conducted. So public opinion polls thus far conducted on same-sex marriages should at most minimal significance for the Court.

     Liberty-Rights specified in the Bill of Rights (Amendments I-VIII) are incorporated by the Fourteenth Amendment (1868). These liberty-rights are: religious freedom, freedoms of speech, press, and assembly, and the right to keep and bear arms. There are other liberty-rights deemed to be fundamental by virtue of the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. These liberty-rights include (but are not limited to) certain rights pertaining to marriage, contraception, early-term abortion, consensual, noncommercial homosexual conduct by adults in the privacy of the home or its functional equivalent, parental control of education of children). The latter class of liberty-rights are (or should be) chiefly grounded not upon public policy considerations but rather upon the basic exigencies of human dignity and which are, as I would put it, the essential badges and incidents of free persons within the United States or subject to their jurisdiction..As the Court explained in Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 722 (1997) (op. by C.J Rhenquist, with O’Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas concurring):

[T]the Due Process Clause specially protects those fundamental rights and liberties which are, objectively, “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition,” [citations omitted].(“so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental”), and “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty,” such that “neither liberty nor justice would exist if they were sacrificed,” [citation omitted].[Note*]

Note *: I do not read Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the Court in Lawrence as being inconsistent with the just-quoted passage. In Lawrenece Kennedy remarked: 539 U.S. at 578-79:”Had those who drew and ratified the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth Amendment or the Fourteenth Amendment known the components of liberty in its manifold possibilities, they might have been more specific. They did not presume to have this insight. They knew times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress. As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom.”


     So it is of great importance that any liberty-right must be fundamental in the requisite sense. However, what is the requisite sense in any particular case can be admittedly a matter of acrimonious debate among the justices, other jurists, and legal commentators. I need not further address this matter here. It suffices for my purposes to point out that four sitting justices (i.e., Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Alioto) are certainly going to rule that the right to same-sex marriage is not a federal constitutional right, that homosexuality is not the basis of a so-called suspect class for equal protection purposes, and that DOMA is valid. With respect to the other sitting justices (Kennedy, Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan), I cannot but think that one or more of them will in all probability conclude (or should conclude) that the right to same-sex marriage is not fundamental in the requisite sense (whatever that might be) if only for the reasons I have set forth in this and my initial post. It seems incredible that a majority of the Court would rule that the right to same-sex marriage is fundamental given the rulings by the ECHR on this matter and the fact that the overwhelming majority of American jurisdictions, including those that only statutorily authorize same-sex marriages, implicitly reject the thesis hat the right to same-sex marriage as fundamental. Given the foregoing, strong pro-gay marriage supporters should brace themselves for an unwelcome outcome. Yet, I admit that all things are possible since some justices forget from time to time that it is the Constitution that he or she is expounding.
[originally posted December 18, 2012; updated February 4, 2013]

bookmark_borderFreedom of the Press Foundation

Nonbelievers have a strong interest in free speech and a free press, particularly where freedom to publicly criticize religion in concerned.

This is particularly clear in Islamic contexts, where religion is socially very powerful. Since censorship is usually deployed by the powerful in protection of their interests, it’s understandable that Muslim countries are often in the lead in attempts to suppress mockery and criticism of religion.

In the United States, religion is not quite so powerful now—perhaps this is why we enjoy a greater latitude in confronting religion compared to, say, the nineteenth century with its Comstock laws and so forth. But this doesn’t mean that freedom of speech and a free press are not matters of concern in the US. Reporting and criticism involving powerful corporate and government interests have a way of being directly and indirectly suppressed.

I’d like to be consistent in supporting free speech. I also I don’t want to vulnerable to possible arguments that all societies restrict free speech in matters sacred to them—for Muslims it is religion, for post-Christian Westerners it is money and nationalism. So let me suggest a donation to the Freedom of the Press Foundation, as one way of supporting a free press at home, so we can feel better about supporting a free press abroad.