Question For You Cliff
From: Derrick Leasure
To: firstname.lastname@example.org <email@example.com>
Date: Friday, October 09, 1998 9:36 PM
Subject: Pseodo-philosophical question for you Cliff
Hi there Cliff. I am writing this so that you can post it along with your reply. The question I'm going to present to you is pseudo-philosophical in nature and I have Never had an atheist be able to give me an answer to it. I will first preface the question with a brief introduction of myself so you will know the perspective from which I am writing. I was a strong atheist.(For your readers that do not clearly understand that term I will say that it means that an individual has concluded that there is no god, as opposed of simply not believing that a deity exists (weak atheism). While I was at college and became "enlightened" I realized that there are certain scientific truths that cannot be relinquished regardless of your stance on the existance of deities. Not of the least of these is the basic law of cause and effect. The sun exists (the effect) because hydrogen exists(the cause). Hydrogen exists(the effect) because the atoms that make it up exist(the cause). Atoms exist(the effect) because ??? exists(the cause). In other words, there had to be a cause for the initial atoms that came to exist or there would simply be nothingness. If there was not a cause that is not held captive to the laws of our universe, the only other possibility would be a state of complete nothingness. Since there is something other than pure nothingness, it only stands to reason that something that is not held to our natural laws, ie. super-natural, created the initial beginnings of our universe including the very laws that hold this argument to be true. Again, my point is simply this: Something that works outside of the laws of physics had to create the initial matter from which our existance stems from. This is evident because there would be absolute nothingness if it were not for the fact that something above our natural laws created the initial matter. There HAD to be a cause and this cause HAD to have been performing outside of the laws of physics. For this cause to be performing outside the laws of physics it would have to be not subjected to our natural laws, thus supernatural. So the only logical conclusion to this argument is that there MUST be something that performs outside the laws of the universe since there is something other than pure nothingness. I look forward to your reply.
The question I'm going to present to you is pseudo-philosophical in nature ...
I will try to address your questions, though I suspect you think these are iron-clad, impenetrable truths. Many questions that people ask are based on unreasonable or unjustified presuppositions, or the questions are themselves flawed in some way, and thus cannot be answered. Some might think this is just a polite way of calling them trick questions; however, I have no way of knowing somebody's motives, so I take all questions at face value and try to give everybody the benefit of the doubt as to their intentions. (All of this is in response to your use of the term pseudo-philosophical: I have no clue what you mean by that, but must take on your question nonetheless because, after reading the rest of your letter, I think there is enough to go on.
I will sift through your paragraph and address what I see to be flawed presuppositions, premature and unjustified conclusions, and other problems. Then, I will try to get to the gist of what I think your question is, and address what I think your real question is, and answer my understanding of what I think your question really asks.
Since I feel the need to clarify your question, it will be your responsibility
to point out if I have missed some aspect of your claims, and to point
this out in the clearest terms possible. This is where most of the
dialogues on our "Letters" section have failed: a good discussion
requires clarity of thought. Many people do not have the patience to engage
in a clearly stated discussion.
The question I'm going to present to you is pseudo-philosophical in nature and I have Never had an atheist be able to give me an answer to it.
First, I must clarify the definition of atheism: Atheism is the lack of a god belief, for whatever reason; an atheist is somebody who is not a theist. Within that group we find several subcategories:
In all cases except the first, it is the theist who makes the god claim; it is not the atheist who makes any claims. For a theist to define atheism as the outright denial of a god is unfair, and is insensitive to the statements of atheists throughout history.
If you have never had an atheist answer your question, I wonder just what you mean by atheist. I also would like to know how many atheists you have discussed this question with: what is your sample? As we will see, the gist of your question (as I understand your question) is one of the basic historical arguments between theists and atheists.
If my discussion, thus far, is acceptable to you, we can move on.
While I was at college and became "enlightened" I realized that there are certain scientific truths that cannot be relinquished regardless of your stance on the existance of deities. Not of the least of these is the basic law of cause and effect....
I don't know what "enlightened" means.
I do know that every action has an equal and opposite reaction and that matter-energy can neither be created nor destroyed. However, since the discovery of the theory of relativity and the questions raised by quantum mechanics, I cannot be sure if everything has a single, direct cause. Many things and situations result from a number of factors, sometimes interrelated, often unrelated.
Far from being as cut-and-dried as appear to assume, the idea of causality is very complex, and raises more questions for more people than it answers.
Philosopher and novelist Robert Anton Wilson, in his novel "The Universe Next Door" (part of his "Schrödinger's Cat" trilogy), summarizes this problem very poetically, in the form of a fictional history of planet earth ("Terra"):
of atomic weapons was widely blamed on a primate named Albert Einstein.
Even Einstein himself had agreed with this opinion. He was a pacifist and
had suffered abominable pangs of conscience over what had been done with
his scientific discoveries....
"Actually the discovery of atomic energy was the result of the work of every scientist, craftsman, engineer, technician, philosopher, and gadgeteer who had ever lived on Terra. The use of atomic energy as a weapon was the result of all the political decisions ever made, from the time the vertebrates first started competing for territory.
Most Terran primates did not understand the multiplex nature of causality. They tended to think everything had a single cause. This simple philosophic error was so widespread on that planet that the primates were all in the habit of giving themselves, and other primates, more credit than was deserved when things went well. This made them all inordinately conceited.
They also gave themselves, and one another, more blame than was deserved when things went badly. This gave them all jumbo-sized guilt complexes.
It is usually that way on primitive planets, before quantum causality is understood.
This problem of causality extends to more than just sociology and psychology, and is one of the basic problems of almost every science.
If we insist on a cause, we must address the philosophical notion of "first cause" (or as theistic philosophers say, "The First Cause"). If we demand that the universe needs some sort of "cause" to explain its existence, then we must (in order to be consistent) demand that that "cause" be explained by another "cause" and so on. Eventually (logically) one must settle on an "uncaused cause" or remain agnostic in this matter.
Dr. Walter Martin, most famous for his work on alternative sects of Christianity such as Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnesses, most succinctly pointed out that the Christian, by faith, settles on the Christian God as being the "uncaused cause."
Very few atheists would go this far, postulating a "God" as an "uncaused cause," and either would think that the universe needs no explanation for its existence or, more likely, would remain agnostic on this matter.
To me, the issue is more basic. For me to think that the universe has a "cause" or a "creator," I need awareness of the creator itself.
I have never seen the end or the beginning of the universe. I do not know what the basic units of matter-energy are, and cannot tell you if there is a fixed amount of these units in the universe. I don't know if these units are capable of being created from nothing or destroyed into nothing. What I can observe (about what we know in our corner of the universe) is that matter-energy, as we know it, is converted from one form to another and back, but nobody has shown that something can be created from nothing or annihilated into nothing.
So, for me to go further than "the universe is," is for me to go beyond what I can know or verify at this point.
If I imagine the need of a creator, I do best to look for evidence of creation. This would entail finding something that appears unnatural in its surroundings. I can see evidence that chunk of rock has been struck and formed into an arrowhead. I can dig to where nobody could possibly have been, and see if this arrowhead shape occurs naturally. If it does not, then I have one clue that it was formed by an intelligent entity.
An easier example is the famous idea of finding a watch in the desert. How do I know that the watch is the result of a creative act, and is not naturally occurring? First, it does not look anything like the rest of its surroundings (like the arrowhead in the discussion above). Second, it has the marks of having been formed by an intelligent being.
But this is not enough for me to know that the watch was created, and is not, somehow, part of the natural environment. It is possible to be mistaken when this is the only criteria we use to establish that the watch was created.
Most importantly (and this point cannot be overemphasized when discussing atheistic philosophy), I can know that the watch is the work of a creator because I can go to Switzerland or some other place and observe watches being created by watchmakers. It is the existence of the watchmaker and my observation of the watchmaker at work which prove to me that the watch was created.
So, then, to postulate the existence of a creator of matter-energy itself (a creator of the universe), based on the characteristics of the universe itself, is premature. We have no experience "outside" of the universe with which to compare our observations. We cannot tell if matter-energy is unnatural or if time-space is something that needs "outside" intervention to be maintained. We have never been "outside" (whatever that would mean) to make a comparison.
We can observe a volcano and explain it as the result of natural geological causes; we no longer need to think of it as revenge from any gods. Nuclear energy is as natural as the sunshine. We cannot go so far as to insist that even life and consciousness are unnatural, that they cannot be explained as the result of matter and energy and information behaving in specific ways under specific conditions.
We don't have this luxury when pondering the existence of the universe, simply because we have never been "outside" the universe to make comparisons, and we have never encountered a "God" who can consistently be detected and observed in the act of creation.
In short, it boils down to: "Show me or describe to me your creator." Once this is done, we can then know that the universe was created, and has not always existed in one form or another. Until you do this, though, your demands for a "cause" are premature.
Thus you have my twist on the standard atheistic response to the standard (yea, worn out, already) theistic "first Cause" argument.
Any other questions?
-- Cliff Walker
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