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Tuesday, March 05, 2013

A Ride On Schopenhauer's Trolley

 Pee-Wee's Big Adventure Breakfast Machine

An Iron-Clad Proof of God
by Rabbi Adam Jacobs


"... The theological philosopher Edward Feser has done a great job explaining this facet of the argument (and the argument as a whole) in his book "The Last Superstition." By way of analogy, he has the reader envision a hand which is holding a stick which is pushing a stone. Would it be accurate to suggest that the stick is pushing the stone? Not really, as the hand is doing the pushing. But what allows the hand to push in the first place? The arm, which in turn is dependent on the muscles which are dependent on cells which are dependent on molecular structure which is dependent on atomic structure which is dependent on the primary forces of gravitation, electro-magnetism and the weak and strong nuclear forces which are dependent on ... what? What we'll see is that even if there were an infinite series of contingent causes such as these, we would still need a final, un-caused cause to get the ball rolling. Without it, nothing could unfold as nothing would have started the process...."


I suppose most people who read this blog would label me a "believer". So why do I think this argument above is wrong-headed? Wrong-headed in the sense that it is a bad idea beyond the fact that God needs no proof. God only requires proof in the nations of perpetual argument.

It depends on the thorough-going and consistent misapprehension of the complexity of the meaning of the word "cause", beginning in the section I underlined and put in italics, and the rest you will have to go and read on your own.

The problem here is the nature of the Image we create to guide our thinking - the "analogy" of Dr. Feser that Rabbi Jacobs refers to.
The author of the argument has created an image of a series of actions.
I can create a series of actions, too.
I can create a Rube Goldberg affair... a Pee-Wee's Big Adventure type of process-breakfast-machine, wherein an animatronic hand of Lincoln pushes a stick,
the stick pushes the rock,
the rock falls off a table and down a chute,
the chute drops it onto a see-saw,
whereupon the rock forces its end of the see-saw down,
the other end goes up, pulling a string which is connected to a toaster and thereby turns on the toaster to toast two slices of bread.
When the bread is done, they pop up mightily from the toaster, falling upon a breakfast platter.
The new weight on the breakfast platter causes the butter-machine to begin and the weight of the toast causes the platter to sink down slightly, but enough to activate a small switch beneath, which switch then sets off a small alarm, which activates the hand of Lincoln, and it is time to push another stone and begin everything again.

So we have a circular process. We could look at it like a cyclic group.
As it stands, it does not stretch back to an infinity of causes, but merely cycles through a limited number.

Of course, we could then stand back and ask what "caused" this circular process. But we could just as well invoke another circular process, and so on. It all comes down to whether one already believes that there is a necessary beginning to a series of contingent events. An Image of endless regression is how we imagine; it is not necessarily what the World is.
Dr. Feser used a series as an analogy. If we ask "Analogy to what?", it would probably be answered that it was an analogy to the real state of affairs in the world. Unfortunately, that presupposes what the analogy is being used to prove.
It all hangs on whether one comes to the argument already convinced that one can talk about all the events of the Universe as an endless series of causal events, stretching back into the mists of time. This gives us the model upon which the argument works its magic, so that's what we imagine.

However, a circular process would short circuit it. Even more, there is an unproven assumption that all events have a definite "beginning", such as there must be a definite time when man came down from the trees and walked upright across the savannahs... trouble is, we cannot actually determine if there is: it is our sense of science and logic that makes us put such "beginnings" into the historical record.
Even though we may possibly pin point the time when the first hard drive came into existence (and such inventions are themselves unclear as to first occurrence, due to things such as simultaneous invention), it seems that there is yet a large set of events that is not so definite, and thus, cannot be said to have been caused in the same sense that something definite was caused....
The beginning is unclear and "sloppy".... so it is obscure when the cause left off and the new being began its life.Causes may not be so easily  distinguished from their so-called effects.

In Logic, we may derive propositions which are carriers of what we have defined as Truth: "All men are mortal, Joe is a man, therefore, Joe is mortal."
The conclusion, Joe is mortal, carries the same "truth" as do the premises. The way it is derived is different, but the truth value is the same.

This type of Argument about God seeks a Logic which does more than carry truth along; it seeks to suddenly bestow necessity upon the propositions it works upon, and discover that necessity within the realm of Creation.

A long time ago, Schopenhauer observed that the Principle of Causality is not like a trolley or a taxi: one cannot merely take it so far, then one may hop off at any place along the city street one wishes.


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