Dr. Carlo Alvaro and Dr. Richard Carrier Debate the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Friend of Infidels Richard Carrier recently debated Carlo Alvaro on the Cosmological Argument. Alvaro apparently had a less than pleasing experience, claiming:

  • “It is regrettably clear that Dr. Carrier was never interested in having a fair-minded exchange; rather, he seems more interested in increasing website traffic audience engagement and Patreon donations.”

 If you are interested in the Cosmological argument, put simplistically you can think I had parents, and they had parents, and they had parents and so on until we get back to some point and some cause that didn’t have parents. This type of argument reminds us of Zeno’s paradoxes. The idea is that if we trace the stuff of reality back in time, it must have started somehow with something that did not itself have a cause. Theists call this cause God.

Generally speaking, in the continental philosophy tradition this type of argument has long been abandoned because it results in what Kant calls an Antinomy, both sides depending on an idea that can’t be thought:

(1) The atheist must either suppose something there is no evidence for, that the universe popped into existence out of nothing, or that the causal series of reality goes back infinitely, even though we can’t think an infinite causal series (try and picture it – we can only picture an indefinite causal series, not an infinite one).

(2) The theist on the other hand has to suppose the first cause is mind like, for which there is no evidence, and that it is an unthinkable type of mind. For instance, my mind is in the present, and I can remember my past presents, and imagine my future presents. But I am only ever present. Now, that is my finite mind, whereas an infinite or eternal mind, since it is outside of time in that it created time, must be simultaneously present in the past, present, and future, which is unthinkable. For example, an infinite mind would be able to give full attention to the square on page 3 and the circle on page 7 at the same time and in the same way, which (a square circle) is not something I can think. In fact, an infinite mind is such a unfamiliar concept that supposing such a thing for an argument is empty. Amplifying that, an omniscient mind is so foreign to what we can think it defies sense. Theists often like to cite the idea of an infinite mind without considering the impossibility of such a thing given our point of reference of our finite mind. Theists make the inference to an eternal, omnipresent mind without the slightest insight into what such a mind is like or if it is even possible. Suppose a God who is present everywhere and sees everything past, present and future. Now consider a baseball field that has a game at 10am and none at 2pm. For the usual concept of divine mind to work, God, who is at all times, must be “simultaneously” watching the players in the 10am game and watching the 2pm empty field: simultaneously seeing (i) game and (ii) no game. Our finite mind can’t even picture what such a contradictory simultaneous mental experience would be like, or even if it is possible for any type of single mind to have such a seemingly contradictory experience.

So, we have 2 positions, God as the beginning of a causal chain vs popping into being out of nothing and an infinite causal chain, both sides needing to suppose an unthinkable idea in order to make their arguments work.

Finite/human thinking is finite because it is limited by the principle of contradiction: where there is contradiction thinking can’t happen so thinking moves by avoiding contradiction. Since ancient times, the principle of contradiction has been characterized as “something cannot both be and not be, at the same time and in the same way.” Kant modified this to exclude “at the same time,” since analytic judgments are also governed by the principle of contradiction even though they are merely the containment of the predicate in the subject, the mere relation between concepts (eg “All bachelors are unmarried”) and so bear no relation to time. Kant reintroduces “at the same time” into the highest principle of synthetic judgments, as I noted in a previous post in this series linked to below.

Hegel finalized this analysis by showing we go beyond finite thinking to absolute thinking where contradiction isn’t the limit of thinking but the vehicle of it (negatively). So for instance, in looking at the sock, the category of Unity is there but hidden, but when we tear the sock the category is un-covered precisely “as a lost Unity.” In this case thinking does not passively receive its content, but produces it, and is called absolute in the sense in the Bible God in Genesis brings beings into existence through his logos (words/thoughts)

If you would like to read the debate, here is the first post on Dr. Carrier’s blog:

For more on Kant and the limits of reason, see my posts:

Heidegger’s Hegelian Phenomenological Method (Part 1/2)

Heidegger’s Hegelian Phenomenological Method (Part 2/2)