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Infinite regress of causes
Posted: 22 January 2009 01:38 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Do you think that an infinite regress of causes is impossible?

A specific example : Is it logically possible that the universe was created by a god, which was created by a god, which was created by a god   - ad infinitum?

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Posted: 22 January 2009 01:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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If I were a skeptic I’d want to see more meat on the hook before nibbling.  wink

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Posted: 22 January 2009 01:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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huh?

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Posted: 22 January 2009 02:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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wandering - 22 January 2009 01:23 PM

huh?

In other words, the topic will probably receive more attention if you take a position at the outset rather than simply starting a thread that asks an academic question.

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Posted: 23 January 2009 10:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Bryan - 22 January 2009 02:14 PM

In other words, the topic will probably receive more attention if you take a position at the outset rather than simply starting a thread that asks an academic question.

Thanks.


I think that a scenario in which the world was created by a god, which was created by a god, and so ad infinitum logically impossible. It seems to be the equivalent of the earth standing on a turtle, standing on a turtle - ad infinitum.

However, I cannot put to words the exact reason why it seems implausible to me.

Can anyone help?

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Posted: 23 January 2009 11:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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To say that it is logically impossible is to say that there is some contradiction implicit in the claim. I don’t see one, at least not offhand.

But there are all sorts of logically possible scenarios that we have no reason to believe are true, like the claim that the moon is made of green cheese. There are also all sorts of logically possible claims that fall afoul of Occam’s razor, like that each atom has a leprechaun in it that is in charge of its causal interactions. The case you raise sounds rather like the second. It is overly complex.

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Posted: 23 January 2009 01:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Doug makes some good points, but the Kalam argument does make the case that the infinite regress implicitly requires the crossing of an actual infinite, which may well be impossible even if it is difficult to establish it via the demonstration of a contradiction.  Before the most recent god created things an infinite amount of time (or at least an infinite number of distinct events each of which would take/make time) must have already passed, and that concept is problematic (Wm Lane Craig calls it “counterintuitive”) if not impossible.  It seems you could always (forever) add one more god and one more miraculonanosecond to the process at either end before the universe is created.  So it would be forever before anything got created (never?).

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Posted: 24 January 2009 10:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Bryan - 23 January 2009 01:20 PM

Doug makes some good points, but the Kalam argument does make the case that the infinite regress implicitly requires the crossing of an actual infinite, which may well be impossible even if it is difficult to establish it via the demonstration of a contradiction.  Before the most recent god created things an infinite amount of time (or at least an infinite number of distinct events each of which would take/make time) must have already passed, and that concept is problematic (Wm Lane Craig calls it “counterintuitive”) if not impossible.  It seems you could always (forever) add one more god and one more miraculonanosecond to the process at either end before the universe is created.  So it would be forever before anything got created (never?).

But why is this problem exclusive to god? Same with ANY occurence that had to cross an actual infinite, and I suppose that the big bang did. Do you have a problem with saying the big bang happened because it had to cross an actual infinite?

[ Edited: 24 January 2009 02:42 PM by wandering ]
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Posted: 26 January 2009 09:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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wandering - 24 January 2009 10:06 AM
Bryan - 23 January 2009 01:20 PM

Doug makes some good points, but the Kalam argument does make the case that the infinite regress implicitly requires the crossing of an actual infinite, which may well be impossible even if it is difficult to establish it via the demonstration of a contradiction.  Before the most recent god created things an infinite amount of time (or at least an infinite number of distinct events each of which would take/make time) must have already passed, and that concept is problematic (Wm Lane Craig calls it “counterintuitive”) if not impossible.  It seems you could always (forever) add one more god and one more miraculonanosecond to the process at either end before the universe is created.  So it would be forever before anything got created (never?).

But why is this problem exclusive to god?

I don’t think it is—but your initial example included god as I recall.

Same with ANY occurence that had to cross an actual infinite, and I suppose that the big bang did. Do you have a problem with saying the big bang happened because it had to cross an actual infinite?

I would, yeah.  But I’m a theist to begin with.

I’ll go ahead and mention that some cosmologists do suggest an uncaused universe.  So they don’t buy the infinite regress, either.

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Posted: 12 March 2009 02:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Well, the thing about this with respect to the Kalam argument is that it uses an excuse to arbitrarily skip this problem.

Sorry, but if your argument runs afoul of the issue of infinite regression, then there is a problem with your argument, not with the concept of infinite regression.

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Posted: 13 March 2009 07:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Mathenaut - 12 March 2009 02:18 PM

Well, the thing about this with respect to the Kalam argument is that it uses an excuse to arbitrarily skip this problem.

Could you be more specific?

Sorry, but if your argument runs afoul of the issue of infinite regress(), then there is a problem with your argument, not with the concept of infinite regress().

Did I miss something or did you just dismiss the Kalam argument without any apparent specific justification?

The Kalam argument suggests that crossing an actual infinite via successive addition is impossible.  If correct, that makes an infinite regress impossible.

Why would that be properly termed “an excuse”?

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Posted: 13 March 2009 08:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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These types of metaphysical meanderings must use ‘time’ as a concept, and in addition ‘infinity’ as another concept.

I believe that time is a human construct to explain the actions of the physical observable world, the laws of thermodynamics and the ‘arrow of time’ notwithstanding.

Infinity or infinite describes something that is beyond the pale of human understanding, and human understanding has limitations.

Having said the above, many scientists now consider the concept of an infinite series of forming and expanding universes.

The terms used in these types of discussions become rather squishy and hard to pin down.

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Posted: 13 March 2009 10:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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The thing is, Bryan, the Kalam argument simply dismisses the infinite regression problem without properly addressing it.  It is an attempt to place an arbitrary end where there is no real justification for it, and place your specific god at the end of it.

I understand that it may make perfect sense to you as a theist…but to anyone who isn’t, this is pretty ridiculous.  Though, this is just the beginning of issues regarding the Kalam argument.

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Posted: 14 March 2009 04:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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This is The Cosmological Argument.  From the wiki:

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

The cosmological argument is an argument for the existence of a First Cause (or instead, an Uncaused cause) to the universe, and by extension is often used as an argument for the existence of God. It is traditionally known as an argument from universal causation, an argument from first cause, the causal argument or the argument from existence.

The cosmological argument could be stated as follows:

  1. Every finite and contingent being has a cause.
  2. Nothing finite and contingent can cause itself.
  3. A causal chain cannot be of infinite length.
  4. Therefore, a First Cause (or something that is not an effect) must exist.

Objections:

One objection to the argument is that it leaves open the question of why the First Cause is unique in that it does not require a cause. Proponents argue that the First Cause is exempt from having a cause, while opponents argue that this is special pleading or otherwise untrue.[12] The problem with arguing for the First Cause’s exemption is that it raises the question of why the First Cause is indeed exempt.

Secondly, the premise of causality has been arrived at via a posteriori (inductive) reasoning, which is dependent on experience. David Hume highlighted this problem of induction and showed that causal relations were not true a priori (deductively). Even though causality applies to the known world, it does not necessarily apply to the Universe at large. In other words, it is unwise to draw conclusions from an extrapolation of causality beyond experience.

Now, the scientific positions:

The argument for a Prime Mover is based on the scientific foundation of Aristotelian physics. Some physicists feel that the development of the laws of thermodynamics in the 19th century and quantum physics in the 20th century have weakened a purely scientific expression of the cosmological argument. Modern physics has many examples of bodies being moved without any known moving body, apparently undermining the first premise of the Prime Mover argument: every object in motion must be moved by another object in motion.

It is argued that a challenge to the cosmological argument is the nature of time. The Big Bang theory states that it is the point in which all dimensions came into existence, the start of both space and time. Then, the question “What was there before the Universe?” makes no sense; the concept of “before” becomes meaningless when considering a situation without time, and thus the concepts of cause and effect so necessary to the cosmological argument no longer apply.

As Rovelli and others suggest, time is all a matter of perspective - not a feature of reality, but a result of missing information about reality. Although their work is still merely hypothesis, the mere notion that the concept of time, and thus the motion of objects with respective causes and effects, could be an illusion caused by perspective, pokes another hole in the First Cause argument. Without time, there need not be a true beginning to apparently causal events in a seemingly infinite regress.

Now, the regress argument:

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

The regress argument (also known as the diallelus) is a problem in epistemology and, in general, a problem in any situation where a statement has to be justified.

According to this argument, any proposition requires a justification. However, any justification itself requires support, since nothing is true “just because”. This means that any proposition whatsoever can be endlessly (infinitely) questioned, like a child who asks “why?” over and over again.

Infinitism argues that the chain can go on forever. Critics argue that this means there is never adequate justification for any statement in the chain.

Which leads us to infinitism:

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

Infinitism is the view that knowledge may be justified by an infinite chain of reasons. It belongs to epistemology, the branch of philosophy that considers the possibility, nature, and means of knowledge.

Knowledge is widely accepted as meaning justified true belief. Traditional theories of justification (foundationalism and coherentism) and indeed most philosophers consider an infinite regress not to be a valid justification. In their view, if A is justified by B, B by C, and so forth, then either (a) the chain must end with a link that requires no independent justification (a foundation), or (b) the chain must come around in a circle in some finite number of steps (the belief may be justified by its coherence) or (c) our beliefs must not be justified after all (as skeptics believe).

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Posted: 14 March 2009 07:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Mathenaut - 13 March 2009 10:25 PM

The thing is, Bryan, the Kalam argument simply dismisses the infinite regression problem without properly addressing it.  It is an attempt to place an arbitrary end where there is no real justification for it, and place your specific god at the end of it.

I’ve explained to you why that isn’t the case.  Will you deal with the substance of the objection to an infinite regress or not?

I understand that it may make perfect sense to you as a theist…but to anyone who isn’t, this is pretty ridiculous.  Though, this is just the beginning of issues regarding the Kalam argument.

I’m not averse to starting at the beginning.  Are you?

[ Edited: 14 March 2009 07:47 AM by Bryan ]
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Posted: 14 March 2009 07:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I’ll zero straight in on they key graph:

kkwan - 14 March 2009 04:16 AM

As Rovelli and others suggest, time is all a matter of perspective - not a feature of reality, but a result of missing information about reality. Although their work is still merely hypothesis, the mere notion that the concept of time, and thus the motion of objects with respective causes and effects, could be an illusion caused by perspective, pokes another hole in the First Cause argument. Without time, there need not be a true beginning to apparently causal events in a seemingly infinite regress.

Time isn’t the issue.  The issue is crossing an actual infinite via successive addition, which appears to be impossible regardless of time. 

Regress arguments from epistemology seem of dubious value when we’re talking about causation rather than justification; in any case it’s not apparent how one could cross an actual infinite via successive addition in justifying a statement any more than once could produce a cause via the crossing of an actual infinite via successive addition.


Saying “Ta-da!” at the end doesn’t fully account for the phenomenon.

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