Athanasius’ Cosmological Argument
Posted: 28 September 2013 02:41 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Athanasius was a fourth-century bishop of Alexandria. His real fame rests with theological debates that need not detain us here.
This thread is not about him but an argument he makes and is repeated at a blog I follow by James Chastek, Just Thomism. Despite the blog’s title, it’s a storehouse of later Hellenistic-age philosophy. I find it fascinating partly because, as Chastek points out, it doesn’t fit the usual categories of arguments for God’s existence, and is quite elegant. I present it without having a firm opinion of my own about it; my only contributions are in [square brackets].

The last paragraph might especially interest those who talk about the ‘structure’ of the Universe thinking that structures or laws or regularities are uncontroversially natural. Chastek is not writing for duffers, so careful about wading in with a two-by-four with a nail stuck in it. Thankfully he is usually clear and rewards careful reading even if you disagree.

The rest of this post is a long quote from Chastek, with Athanasius’ original argument (translated of course) in a quote-box:

“From [Athanasius’] On the Incarnation c. 2:

  [I]f everything has its beginning of itself, and independently of purpose, it follows that everything would only exist, so as to be alike and not distinct.
  And, given that body is homogeneous, it would follow that everything must be sun or moon, or that a man would be only a hand, or eye, or foot.
  But as it is this is not so; rather, we see a distinction of sun, moon, and earth; and again, in the case of human bodies, of foot, hand, and head.
  Now, such arrangement of separate things as this tells us not of their having come into being of themselves, but shows that a cause preceded them; namely God, the one who makes and orders all.

“I’ve been fascinated by this argument since the moment I read it, now over fifteen years ago. It is at once more simple than other arguments (proving existence and providence at a single stroke, and apparently from the mere nature of the distinct things we see around us) and at the same time it does not neatly reduce to the other well-known genera of cosmological arguments. There is more to the argument, for example, than a teleological proof, a Platonic One-over-the-many proof, or even a first efficient cause proof.

“First, to start with the simpler parts of the argument, Athanasius’s examples appear to be chosen to establish that the cause he is speaking of is (a.)  outside the cosmos (this is the sense of using the examples of sun and moon) and (b.) is at work in each of the parts of the universe (this is the sense of using the example of the parts of the body.) The first example points to the existence of something supernatural; the second points to the existence of something involved with natural things.

“But the main work of the argument is the first conditional. Let me put the conditional in a slightly more complicated form, defend it, and then show how it is equivalent to Athanasius’s:

  If diverse things form a single reality,* there is some cause separate from them. (footnote: *By reality I mean that they either form a single being (like the parts of a body form an animal) or that they coalesce to form a single activity (like vector forces coalescing to form a single vector, or cars colliding at an intersection))

“The best defense of this premise is, oddly enough, in Chapter VI of William James’s Psychology “On the Mind-Stuff Theory” (it’s also in Volume 53 in the Great Books series). James uses it to show that, despite all the best efforts to the contrary, psychology has to posit the existence of a soul separate from all mental reality; though the same premise gets us Athanasius’s conclusion that we need some being separate from all natural or noumenal reality. To give just one of James’s examples, muscle fibers might each all contract, but the only way they cause a leg-bone to move is if there is a tendon uniting the two. More broadly, distinct realities are each contained in themselves, and one can no more get a single effect out of them without an extrinsic cause than you could form a twelve-word sentence by having twelve men each think of a distinct word at the same time.** (footnote: **It’s interesting that this premise is compatible with (though does not require) a complete denial of immanent teleology. One might visualize a cosmological argument that argued to the divine existence both from the affirmation [or the] denial of immanent teleology.)

“It follows that if we deny there is a cause separate from diverse things, that either

  a.) there are no diverse things

  b.) diverse things do not form a single reality.

“Athanasius’s explicitly addresses (a.) but not (b.), which is excusable if it is unintelligible – as I think it is – to speak of diverse things that do not in any way form a single system or reality. In fact, this seems to amount to saying that we have two utterly distinct universes, each a single, utterly homogeneous whole, which do not and cannot interact with each other in any way and yet are both homogeneously physical (which is certainly not what the multiverse theory says, since if this were the claim then [one would be asserting] an utterly useless, unconfirmable reality that would explain nothing about the world we live in).  That said, denying (a.) also doesn’t make much sense, so this leaves us with some separate cause of all distinct things that form a single system.

“When I proposed this argument to a class, one student suggested that the laws of physics could play the role of the separate thing. It was a fascinating suggestion since it points to the peculiar way in which physical law plays a divine role for us – pervading all things and binding them together, while somehow being separate from them. At once perfectly immanent and transcendent! All this is made possible by our unwillingness to take a stand on what physical law is: if it is really separate from the universe, then they are by definition supernatural; if we make them only immanent to the universe, then they become mere parts of the system, but then they become distinct parts of the system, even though the only reason we posited them was to explain the actions of all the parts. Putting the laws of nature into the universe seems like trying to explain spelling by positing more letters.”

Chris

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Posted: 24 October 2013 04:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Here is what I was taught about the Cosmological Argument for the benefit of other readers since the OP may already know the argument:

A)  If there is no God, then the question must be asked: “Where did everything come from?” 

(this is the basis for the argument itself inside each human beings mind. Athanasius was simply trying to answer it for himself and then expound as Niesche tried with existentialism)

    1)  The laws of science indicate that every effect must have an adequate cause therefore:

        a)  An infinite Creation demands an infinite cause, an all powerful, all knowing uncaused first cause, or simply put - God.

        b)  Just as the existence of a watch logically demands the existence of a watchmaker, the existence of Creation demands the existence of a Creator.

There are only two options.  Either everything is caused and temporal or uncaused and eternal.  Both logic and the laws of science rule out the second option.

So here is where it gets really interesting to me:

Many arguments disprove the eternality of matter and the universe (which we know is mostly made up of empty space).  One argument comes from the First and Second laws of Thermodynamics, two indisputable facts of science.

1)  Energy isn’t being and cannot be created or destroyed anywhere in the universe.  It is set, finite and limited.  E=mC^2
2)  All energy is moving toward a state of maximum entropy, uselessness, randomness and disorder.  Yes just look around us)
  see L. Barnett’s quote in the book The Creation Evolution Controversy   This would amount to ultimate heat death of the universe.

So in conclusion:  The universe cannot be eternal.  It is thus like a GIANT WINDING DOWN CLOCK or a burning down candle.
It limited amount of energy would have long since reached this heat death state had it existed for infinite time. It cannot be infinitely old.
Therefore it cannot have always existed and must have a beginning.  It must have a cause.

The First cause must be uncaused and that first cause must therefore exist outside and ABOVE the physical laws of the universe.
It must be above natural law and therefore supernatural.

I.E ..........IT is Spirit.  You’all can take it from there.  smile  The above is the Cosmological Argument put succinctly.

 

 

 

2)

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Posted: 25 October 2013 05:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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rodin46 - 24 October 2013 04:39 PM

A)  If there is no God, then the question must be asked: “Where did everything come from?”

If the universe is infinite in space and time, then there is no beginning or end. The universe was, is and will be.
 

The laws of science indicate that every effect must have an adequate cause

Not necessarily so.

Radioactive decay is a stochastic process. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioactive_decay

Radioactive decay is a stochastic (i.e., random) process at the level of single atoms, in that, according to quantum theory, it is impossible to predict when a particular atom will decay.

Apparently, quantum events have no adequate cause or effect.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121002145454.htm

If an event A is a cause of an effect B, then B cannot be a cause of A. Now theoretical physicists from the University of Vienna and the Université Libre de Bruxelles have shown that in quantum mechanics it is possible to conceive situations in which a single event can be both, a cause and an effect of another one.

In other words, A causes B causes A. A cyclic causal system?

a)  An infinite Creation demands an infinite cause, an all powerful, all knowing uncaused first cause, or simply put - God.

Or is it the tao?

b)  Just as the existence of a watch logically demands the existence of a watchmaker, the existence of Creation demands the existence of a Creator.

Inappropriate analogy.

We know a watch is a human invention (which implies a watchmaker) but if we find a universe it does not imply there is a universemaker.

There are only two options.  Either everything is caused and temporal or uncaused and eternal.  Both logic and the laws of science rule out the second option.

If the universe is infinite, then it is eternal and uncaused.

So in conclusion:  The universe cannot be eternal.  It is thus like a GIANT WINDING DOWN CLOCK or a burning down candle.

That the universe is not eternal, is not shown.

A clockwork universe is not a tenable concept.

It limited amount of energy would have long since reached this heat death state had it existed for infinite time. It cannot be infinitely old.

Heat death of the universe is not quite so simple.

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heat_death_of_the_universe

Dispute:

There is dispute over whether or not an expanding universe can approach maximal entropy; it has been proposed that in an expanding universe, the value of maximum entropy increases faster than the universe gains entropy, causing the universe to move progressively further away from heat death.

Recent analysis:

A recent analysis of entropy states that “The entropy of a general gravitational field is still not known,” and that “gravitational entropy is difficult to quantify.” The analysis considers several possible assumptions that would be needed for estimates, and suggests that the visible universe has more entropy than previously thought. This is because the analysis concludes that supermassive black holes are the largest contributor.

There is also the mysterious dark energy/matter which is 96% of the universe.

Therefore it cannot have always existed and must have a beginning.

It can have always existed and it need not have a beginning.

It must have a cause.

Not necessarily so. There are anticausal and acausal systems.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anticausal_system

An anticausal system is a hypothetical system with outputs and internal states that depend solely on future input values. Some textbooks and published research literature might define an anticausal system to be one that does not depend on past input values (i.e. its outputs and internal states depend only on future and possibly present input values).

An acausal system is a system that is not a causal system, that is one that depends on some future input values and possibly on some input values from the past or present. This is in contrast to a causal system which depends only on current and/or past input values. This is often a topic of control theory and digital signal processing (DSP).

Anticausal systems are also acausal, but the converse is not always true. An acausal system that has any dependence on past input values is not anticausal.

Bold added by me.

So, there are causal, anticausal and acausal systems.

The First cause must be uncaused and that first cause must therefore exist outside and ABOVE the physical laws of the universe.
It must be above natural law and therefore supernatural.

An uncaused first cause is incoherent.

There is no evidence that there is anything “outside” the universe or any supernatural entity/deity.

OTOH, consider this: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/11/27/physicists-universe-giant-brain_n_2196346.html

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Posted: 25 October 2013 08:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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inthegobi - 28 September 2013 02:41 PM

  [I]f everything has its beginning of itself, and independently of purpose, it follows that everything would only exist, so as to be alike and not distinct.
  And, given that body is homogeneous, it would follow that everything must be sun or moon, or that a man would be only a hand, or eye, or foot.
  But as it is this is not so; rather, we see a distinction of sun, moon, and earth; and again, in the case of human bodies, of foot, hand, and head.
  Now, such arrangement of separate things as this tells us not of their having come into being of themselves, but shows that a cause preceded them; namely God, the one who makes and orders all.

In a way, this part about things being physically distinct from one another does in a way foreshadow the second law of thermodynamics, although it wasn’t known at 400AD. This argument doesn’t seem to be that bad, until we come to jumping from a needed cause to God being the only possibility for a cause. That’s basically what they thought back then, but we now know that the universe supplies a whole lot of interesting causes for having distinguished parts, and we also know that “God did it” is not a viable substitute for “we don’t know,” if we try to trace causation all the way back to the instant of the universe’s creation. In this way this isn’t any different from any other form of the Cosmological Argument.

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Posted: 25 October 2013 10:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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TromboneAndrew - 25 October 2013 08:51 PM

In a way, this part about things being physically distinct from one another does in a way foreshadow the second law of thermodynamics, although it wasn’t known at 400AD. This argument doesn’t seem to be that bad, until we come to jumping from a needed cause to God being the only possibility for a cause. That’s basically what they thought back then, but we now know that the universe supplies a whole lot of interesting causes for having distinguished parts, and we also know that “God did it” is not a viable substitute for “we don’t know,” if we try to trace causation all the way back to the instant of the universe’s creation. In this way this isn’t any different from any other form of the Cosmological Argument.

Right. There’s that T-Bone.  Good point.
I just skimmed this quickly.  It seems to question the universe’s workings while at the same time explaining how the universe works.
It’s asking a cosmological loaded question.

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