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Source: p 100-101, The God Delusion, By Richard Dawkins

1. The Unmoved Mover. Nothing moves without a prior mover. This leads us to an infinite regress, from which the only escape is God. Something had to make the first move, and that something we call God.

2. The Uncaused Cause. Nothing is caused by itself. Every effect has a prior cause, and again we are pushed back into infinite regress. This has to be terminated by a first cause, which we call God.

3. The Cosmological Argument. There must have been a time when no physical things existed. But, since physical things exist now, there must have been something non-physical to bring them into existence, and that something we call God.

All three of these arguments rely upon the idea of an infinite regress and invoke God to terminate it. They make the entirely unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune to the regress. Even if we allow the dubious luxury of arbitrarily conjuring up a terminator to an infinite regress and giving it a name, simply because we need one, there is absolutely no reason to endow that terminator with any of the properties normally ascribed to God; omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, creativity of design, to say nothing of such human attributes as listening to prayers, forgiving sins and reading innermost thoughts.

My question: 2. What does Richard Dawkins suggest is the main flaw in these first three arguments?
✓ There is no reason to endow the terminator with god-like qualities.
✗ There is no evidence for the arguments.

The bolded words influenced me to think ✗; but the correct answer is ✓. Why?

Also, is ✗ a stronger argument than arguing whether "God himself is immune to the regress"?

  • 1
    The Terminator? Now that's an interesting image of God! – user4894 Oct 19 '14 at 11:20
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    Why does he think everything has a cause? Eternal things (Which deities are) have long held to not need causes? Heck 80 years ago the universe was thought to be eternal and uncaused. – Neil Meyer Oct 20 '14 at 11:52
  • Who says that the first one is the correct answer? Not sure I agree or disagree, but some context would be helpful. – James Kingsbery Oct 20 '14 at 16:53
  • With respect the first cause there is an interesting talk in TED: ted.com/talks/jim_holt_why_does_the_universe_exist – borjab Oct 20 '14 at 17:33
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    I'd like to note that neither (1), (2) or (3) are arguments Thomas Aquinas actually makes. Dawkins is fighting with a straw man and utterly failing to understand, let alone critique Aquinas's actual arguments. – shane Oct 23 '14 at 10:47
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I think Dawkins is a little sloppy in explanation here, but his counter-argument, once understood, is devastating.

Firstly, he notes in passing that these arguments assume that there must be a "first cause". This is not readily apparent. We could live in a universe that has existed forever, or a universe that exists within some greater structure which creates and destroys universes in accord with some eternal equilibrium.

Secondly, he attacks the lack of explanation (the "entirely unwarranted assumption") as to why God should somehow be immune from requiring a cause. Implied in this is that if we postulate a first cause, there should be some attempt to address why it itself does not need to be caused by anything.

Thirdly, he attacks the arbitrary assignment of qualities to this "first cause" (such as omniscience, goodness, etc). He seems to attack the "dubious luxury" of having a terminator a little more strongly than is warranted, but as he proceeds it becomes apparent that he's skipping right into the presumption of an intelligent entity, which more than deserves the ridicule. And of course, even if we did assume that some intelligent entity was the "first cause" we would not be able to infer anything of their motives from the simple act of starting everything.

His attack is not so much based on the lack of evidence for the arguments as on the failure of the argumenter to even perceive that evidence is necessary.

  • Conversation between Virmaior, Quirk, and goldilocks moved to chat. – stoicfury Oct 22 '14 at 7:40
  • He is immune because his existence is eternal. Just like the static universe was thought to be immune from a cause. – Neil Meyer Oct 22 '14 at 8:50
  • Do you say previous cause in a temporal sense? Universal laws fulfill the conditions to be a previous cause in the temporal sense but not in the root case sense. On the other hand God is immune in the temporal sense but not in the root cause sense. – borjab Oct 23 '14 at 10:16
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    @NeilMeyer He is immune because his existence is eternal. ...which is another way of saying "except for things that don't have a 'first cause'." – user2338816 Oct 29 '14 at 10:07
  • No it is a way of saying things that have always existed cant have something making it because there has never been a state of non existence... because it is eternal. – Neil Meyer Oct 29 '14 at 10:39
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It is important in reading Dawkins to understand that the only evidence that is admissible are essentially material:

  1. Things we detect directly with our senses
  2. Things we can detect by having our senses enhanced (e.g., via telescope, magnifying glass)
  3. Models that can be created as a result from data collected in 1 or 2.

Since Thomas's argument does not use only material evidence (and that which can be logically derived from it), it must be wrong in Dawkins's eyes.

  • Does he make these assumptions explicit in any of his writings? – Dave Oct 20 '14 at 17:56
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    Yes, he discusses these in the God Delusion somewhere early on... might be the introduction, or one of the first chapters. I think he phrases it more along the lines of "how do we know that something is true." – James Kingsbery Oct 20 '14 at 18:37
  • Even a magical / spiritual God will have the same problems: Does not explains why there is an Unmoved Mover and Uncaused Cause and does not tells us which kind of cause o mover. God could be a physical or logical principle. It is a bit like when a kid asks a lot of "why?" questions and the parent says "because I tell you". Why god has this attributes and not others? why there is universe and god at all? Why did god decided to create the universe like this and not the other way? And of course this concept of god does not need to be intelligent at all. – borjab Oct 21 '14 at 8:45
  • The existence of a purely spiritual god could still be demonstrated with science if the god had anything to do with the creation/development of the universe. We live in a physical universe and any interaction with it has consequences which we can detect and measure. Any time 'god' interacted with the universe he would pull his 'arm' out dripping with physics and we would be able to see the results. Like a meteor strike leaves a crater long after the fragments have been eroded away to dust, we should be able to see the evidence of a huge invisible cosmic something arbitrarily changing things. – JonS Jul 15 '15 at 9:03
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Dawkins' counter arguments to the arguments you list is written right in the paragraph you provide (it seems a lot of people are offering extraneous reasons). They are:

  1. Either infinite regresses exist or they do not (either they can be terminated [ended/no longer infinite] by things, or they cannot). If you believe in an infinite regress, and you invoke something that stops infinite regresses, then you don't believe in infinite regresses. They are just regresses that regress until they are stopped by something, i.e. God or some sort of "infinite-regress-stopper". You can't say (without sounding silly) that infinite regresses exist and then invoke God as a terminator of infinite regresses (because then they aren't infinite).

    Stated differently, if infinite regresses are part of the way things are, and God exists, he too would be subject to infinite regress (otherwise infinite regresses aren't part of the way things are). Where did he (God) come from? Where did the thing that created God come from? Where did the thing that created the thing that God came from come from? etc. etc. etc. It doesn't make sense to invoke infinite regresses and simultaneously invoke something that makes them very not infinite.

  2. He continues by saying that even if for whatever reason we allow you to believe both in "infinite regresses" and "not infinite regresses" at the same time, there's no support for the fact that the entity/object that breaks the infinite recess is "God". It could very well be a super infinite regress-breaking alien species from Alpha Centauri, or an infinite regress-breaking physical object/event with no consciousness at all (for example, maybe The Big Bang (not conscious) is the terminator of the infinite recess). We have the same (virtually none) evidence for each of these possibilities.

  • If he where to explain why he thinks everything has a cause then maybe his argument would be better. Claiming the universe has a cause and claiming everything has a cause is not the same. – Neil Meyer Oct 22 '14 at 8:47
  • I'm sure he would say it is simply a matter of induction. Just as we inductively hypothesize the universal existence of gravity (that is, the theory of Gravity, and that it exists everywhere even though we obviously haven't been everywhere to test it), we can also see that things seem to have causes around us. In fact, there seem to be no things without causes. So we form a hypothesis, or a theory, of causality, in this case known as determinism. I'm quite sure he believes that everything has a cause, although he probably doesn't spend his time mulling over first causes ad infinitum. – stoicfury Oct 23 '14 at 0:52
  • The difference is that we have been able to find gravity everywhere we have tried to find it. However we haven't find causes for a few things. Hey, maybe we have not looked well enough but there are both science and metaphysical facts without found causes. P.S: Here you are talking about root causes not time causes. – borjab Oct 23 '14 at 16:49
  • "there are both science and metaphysical facts without found causes". I'd be quite interested in hearing one. Not sure what you mean by "root causes" vs "time causes"; generally, a "cause" is an explanation for a relation between two events, the former event being seen as entity that gives rise to the second event. – stoicfury Oct 23 '14 at 22:54
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You can refute or weaken an argument by pointing out an exception to the rule. If someone says: "Material animals are always denser than air, so animals can never fly", you can point to a bird and say: "See ? While your assumption is correct, there is also dynamic lift (wings) which are able to give birds flight. Your conclusion is wrong". If your exception (counterexample) does not fit (you are pointing to animal gliders which always need to jump higher off the ground), you are committing special pleading.

Response to Dawkin's point 1 (in the quote): Dawkins knew little about Aquina's scholastic philosophy. In Aquina's world, what we would call special pleading was totally acceptable for supernatural beings. We can also correct the argument of Aquinas (example for the uncaused cause): "Nothing what we experience in our world is caused by itself. Every ordinary effect has a prior cause. This has to be terminated by a special first cause, something which does not or only partially belong to our world, and this is God."

While the original version has the problem that it contains a contradiction ('Every' means 'always', so every effect includes God), the contradiction is now removed and more to the form Aquinas intended. It also strengthens the argument because it now requires only a supernatural being instead of a specific God.

I still would not accept that because you need to specify what "caused by itself" meant. You really needed to be sure that something like that does not exist in nature (and would negate the argument and level down the being from "supernatural" to "natural"). Even then it is not necessary that it has the attributes of Aquina's "God" (as Dawkins rightly remarked). And every supernatural argumentation has the problem of ascribing normal argumentation based on normal behavior, to something which does not need to fit the "norm" (otherwise it wouldn't be supernatural). If such things really exist, you are not allowed to ascribe any property to them. I for my part have every reason to believe that the agnostics are right: You cannot refute or prove a supernatural being.

Response to Dawkin's point 2 (The argument about infinite regress itself):
I do not think it is correct to believe that nature is bound by something human mind is able to comprehend. If we have something like the universe, I and many people have problems with both ideas: infinite past or a specific timepoint with the universe beginning. We only experience something with past and future, by extrapolating our personal experiences to unknown phenomena...I think it's foolish.

Response to Dawkin's point 3 (Concerning "There is no evidence for the arguments"):
With his additions "entirely unwarranted" and "dubious", what Dawkins does is whistling in the dark. He is correct that the argument is not a proof, but his reply does not invalidate the impossibility of such a thing. So what Aquinas, or his counterparts Dawkins, Stenger & Co., write in their books is loaded with gratuitous nous like "delusion" and adjectives like "omnipotent", "omniscient", "illusion", or "dubious" to give the reader the impression that the basis for their wobbling arguments is much more stable than it is. Dawkins at least is nice enough to allow the remote possibility of a God while Aquinas will not allow one ounce criticism.

  • "Dawkins at least is nice enough to allow the remote possibility of a God"... That doesn't sound like Dawkins. – James Kingsbery Oct 20 '14 at 16:56
  • Just using the concept of linear time brings a lot of physical problems. Without universe there is no time so no God can exist before universe because there is no before at all. – borjab Oct 21 '14 at 8:52
  • However we might be able to say things like "root cause". Why is the speed of light like this... because the Maxwell equation of electromagnetism have wave solution with this value. Why do electromagnetic force exits. Why X dimensions? etc. One nice answer is "because it could exists and nothing contradicted it". Other possible universe could exist in parallel and we do need no explanation at all. Solved – borjab Oct 21 '14 at 9:06
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I am guessing that what Dawkins is getting at is that there is evidence to suggest that cause and effect is not universal. There are effects that have no cause.

This is the mainstream view of quantum physics which posits that there are no hidden variables in our quantum description of reality. In our quantum theory, quantum entities are popping in and out of existence all over the place.

Therefore, whatever quantum fluctuations may have caused our universe to appear, they did not require any god-like ("terminator") qualities to create them.

I have read a couple of Dawkins' earlier books, but not this one. I assume that "terminator" is his term, as the terminus of the causal chain - a classic Dawkins provocation.

  • Why is the schrodinger cat dead when I open the box? Just chance. God is randomness? Oh godness Fortuna! – borjab Oct 21 '14 at 8:48
  • @borjab I wouldn't read it too literally. A thought experiment is more poetic than scientific. In the real world, the cat would be either alive or dead, not both. The thought experiment is intended to illustrate the idea that quantum entities can be in superpositioned states - i.e., both a particle and a wave - until an actual observation is made. If we do not directly observe an electron, then it is in a mixed (superpositioned) state of both wave and particle, amongst other things. – Nick Oct 21 '14 at 16:37
  • The point is that this death or alive issue may have no cause at all. So randomness can be an uncaused cause. – borjab Oct 22 '14 at 8:12
  • Off topic. From the physical point you could say that the cat will be death in one parallel universe and alive in another. The nice thing is that parallel universe could explain the world: "every possible universe exists". en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Many-worlds_interpretation – borjab Oct 22 '14 at 8:21
  • @borjab The many world interpretation has gained considerable respectability in more recent years, along with a host of other multiverse interpretations. Sad what happened to the man (Everett) who initially proposed it. I love this stuff. Especially with a good book in bed at night. Real oh-ah stuff. – Nick Oct 22 '14 at 13:11

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