First Cause Rebuttal Examined
Mark M. Gunderson and Victor Gijsbers

From: "Mark M Gunderson"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: probably been answered before ...
Date: September 27, 2001 10:37 AM

Mr. Walker,

I apologize if you have addressed this issue countless times before.

Under your FAQ, you address the "First Cause" via Mr. Gijsbers' piece. Here are some problems that seem evident to me:

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Victor: "...time did not exist before the Big Bang..."

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Before the universe came into existence, there was no matter or energy -- from this universe. His statement that time did not exist is only consistent with theory that our universe is all that has ever existed. An immaterial deity would either define its/his/her/their own physics and time line or else not be constrained by time. So it is possible to say a deity "is" in the eternal sense, separate from our sense of time.

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Victor: "Quantum mechanics works with events in nature that are, or at least seem to be, completely random."

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If these events are completely random, they would adhere to no pattern and would be impossible to detect. We can theoretically only ever observe single instances which appear to be random, for if it happens more than once, it isn't random. And if it does only happen once, how are we ever to determine whether there was a cause or not? One would only be able to determine by observing that single phenomenon. A deity, existing within its/his/her/their own physics or lack thereof, need not hold to this trend of causation. The deity is immaterial, not energy/matter, and so needing no cause. If one says the same of laws of physics, that they always were there, then the laws of physics seem strangely godlike. Impersonal? Yes, but also eternal and omnipotent in that nothing outside those laws can change them.

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Victor: "Hume showed that humans cannot perceive 'cause' and 'effect', but construct these notions from past experiences."

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If Hume is correct, and we should doubt our notion of cause, then perhaps we can say Hume's cause for making this particular argument was a bad case of indigestion, instead of any particle of truth or sound reasoning. Of course, that is impossible to prove. Just as accepting that we are significantly unreliable in distinguishing cause makes it tricky to support or refute, well, any argument ever put forth.

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Victor: "Even if we agree that everything we see has a cause (which for quantum reasons I won't) how can we infer from that everything has a cause? This is mere speculation, it is not knowledge we can ever have."

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How do you decide what to believe and what not to believe? Mr. (I apologize, by the way, if it is "Dr.") Gijsbers seems to rely heavily on observation for his refutation (though I am not saying all Atheists claim to). Does it not make sense to believe "A" if you have only ever conclusively observed "A," and the instances in which you are unsure about "A" are both 1) few and 2) possibly "A"? As for this pointing to everything having a cause, no theist arguing first cause would say the deity he believes in had a cause. He merely believes that in the set of physics for this universe, everything in this universe has a cause. The deity is separate from all of that.

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Victor: "...the Universe is not a thing..."

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The universe is a thing in the same sense that any whole composed of parts is a thing. As for a deity being part of that whole, again, the deity is separate from the universe.

Well, this is long and perhaps tiring to read.

Mark
California

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From: "Victor Gijsbers"
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: Re: Questions about your FAQ piece
Date: September 29, 2001 10:53 AM

Here's my reply to the questions about my FAQ-piece.

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Victor: "...time did not exist before the Big Bang..."

Mark: Before the universe came into existence, there was no matter or energy -- from this universe. His statement that time did not exist is only consistent with theory that our universe is all that has ever existed. An immaterial deity would either define its/his/her/their own physics and time line or else not be constrained by time. So it is possible to say a deity "is" in the eternal sense, separate from our sense of time.

Victor's reply: This is true, but irrelevant. The First Cause argument uses evidence from our Universe in order to show that our Universe must have had a cause. If we denote our time by time_1 and some external time by time_2, we can rephrase the first Axiom from "Everything that happens has a cause" to "Everything that happens in time_1 has a cause". We cannot say anything about time_2, because we have no knowledge at all concerning it. Hence, the conclusion can only refer to time_1, and not to time_2. If time_1 did not exist before the Big Bang, it is impossible that the Big Bang had a cause in time_1. It might have had a cause in time_2 ... but we don't know, because we know nothing about time_2. Hence, the assumption that our Universe has a cause in unfounded.

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Victor: "Quantum mechanics works with events in nature that are, or at least seem to be, completely random."

Mark: If these events are completely random, they would adhere to no pattern and would be impossible to detect. We can theoretically only ever observe single instances which appear to be random, for if it happens more than once, it isn't random. And if it does only happen once, how are we ever to determine whether there was a cause or not?

Victor's reply: In quantum physics, predictions are not made about any single measurement; predictions are made about a set of identical measurements on identically prepared systems. What this means is that quantum physics does not say "If you measure the speed of this particle, you will find v1", but instead says something like "If you measure the speeds of all these identically prepared particles, you will find v1 in a certain fraction f1 of all measurements". Quantumphysics work with stochastical predictions only. According to the most popular interpretations it is completely unpredictable (and hence random) what specific value any one measurement will give you.

For instance, when photons reach a window, most will pass through it, but some will be reflected. We could make a statement like "99% of the photons will go through, and 1% will be reflected". But we could not for any given photon predict what it will do, that is random. It has no cause.

There are, admittedly, interpretations of quantummechanics in which even such things have a cause. However, these interpretations are necessarily non-local, which means that there can be instanteneous action at a distance. This is not necessarily impossible, but it is at least as counterintuitive as randomness.

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Mark: A deity, existing within its/his/her/their own physics or lack thereof, need not hold to this trend of causation. The deity is immaterial, not energy/matter, and so needing no cause.

Victor's reply: We can't say anything about this. As we know absolutely nothing about God or her surroundings, we cannot say whether she does or does not need a cause. But what seems certain is that if you postulate an uncaused god, it would be even less controversial to postulate an uncaused Universe. This is another argument against the First Cause argument.

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Mark: If one says the same of laws of physics, that they always were there, then the laws of physics seem strangely godlike. Impersonal? Yes, but also eternal and omnipotent in that nothing outside those laws can change them.

Victor's reply: No one claims that the laws of physics are eternal or 'always there'. In fact, the known laws of physics break down in our models when we get very near to the Big Bang. (On the scale of 10^-34 seconds ... extremely near to the Big Bang.) And it is meaningless to say that the laws of physics held before the Universe came into existence. Hence, I don't think you can make the case that they are eternal or immutable.

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Victor: "Hume showed that humans cannot perceive 'cause' and 'effect', but construct these notions from past experiences."

Mark: If Hume is correct, and we should doubt our notion of cause, then perhaps we can say Hume's cause for making this particular argument was a bad case of indigestion, instead of any particle of truth or sound reasoning. Of course, that is impossible to prove. Just as accepting that we are significantly unreliable in distinguishing cause makes it tricky to support or refute, well, any argument ever put forth.

Victor's reply: I agree with you in that Hume brought his skepticism too far. Especially his cases against induction make you wonder why he speaks at all if there is no reason to believe that what he says will be understood. What Hume did point out however, is that cause and effect cannot be perceived. We postulate them and we use them in our daily lives and even in higher physics. But dare we use such uncertain notions when looking at the very ground of being? If Cause is somewhat doubtful in our daily lives, and far more doubtful in quantummechanics ... then how can we rely on it when we take it to the extreme of extremes, the beginning of the Universe?

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Victor: "Even if we agree that everything we see has a cause (which for quantum reasons I won't) how can we infer from that everything has a cause? This is mere speculation, it is not knowledge we can ever have."

Mark: How do you decide what to believe and what not to believe? Mr. (I apologize, by the way, if it is "Dr.") Gijsbers seems to rely heavily on observation for his refutation (though I am not saying all Atheists claim to).

Victor's reply: I do, because in physics (and we are talking physics here, not mathematics) observation is the primary method of gaining knowledge. The point I make is not as esoteric as it may seem. We perceive cause and effect in a limited number of cases, but I'm very willing to accept cause and effect in all cases like the ones we observe. But we perceive not only a limited amount of things, we also perceive a very selective amount of things. We do not perceive anything smaller than a few tenths of a millimeter. Who says that causality holds all the way down? (And once again, quantum physics says it does not.) We observe distances up to a few light years at most (the stars are such a distance away). Who can say whether cause holds all the way up to infinity (and beyond)? We see only things in the present state of the Universe. Who can say whether cause holds all the way to the very beginning of the Universe, when even parts of physics seem to break down? How can we extend the notion of cause from the observed or observable to the unobservable? That we can does not seem clear to me at all, and hence I do not think that we can assume that everything has a cause, even if we had no other arguments for it.

Mr. Gijsbers is fine, by the way. You can even call me Victor if you'd like. :)

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Mark: As for this pointing to everything having a cause, no theist arguing first cause would say the deity he believes in had a cause. He merely believes that in the set of physics for this universe, everything in this universe has a cause. The deity is separate from all of that.

Victor's reply: In that case, the theist undermines his own case. If "everything in this universe has a cause", it does not follow that the Universe itself has a cause. Hence, the theist who claims what you claim cannot prove that the Universe had a cause, and cannot use the First cause argument.

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Victor: "...the Universe is not a thing..."

Mark: The universe is a thing in the same sense that any whole composed of parts is a thing. As for a deity being part of that whole, again, the deity is separate from the universe.

Victor's reply: Not quite. The Universe is the set of all things. If you claim that the Universe is a thing itself, we must say that the Universe contains itself. This is possible. (I no longer agree with what I wrote in this article: "And a set cannot be a member of itself" is simply not true. I'll have to update it.) But this makes the Universe something that is very different from any other thing; because no other thing contains itself. So even if you claim that the Universe is a thing, it is something fundamentaly different from all other things, and we cannot just claim that something that holds for all other things must also hold for the Universe.

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Mark: Well, this is long and perhaps tiring to read.

Victor's reply: Actually, it was quite entertaining. You made some good points, but I hope to have answered them all. Please tell me if you don't think I have.

Greetings,
Victor Gijsbers

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