Rational Responder Sam Poling debates Paul Herrick

RationalResponseSquad's picture

Dr. Paul Herrick, a professor of philosophy from Shoreline Community College, who wrote an essay entitled "Contra Carrier: Why Theism Is Needed To Explain Everything" debated Samuel Thomas Poling of the Rational Response Squad Washington on the modal cosmological argument.

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Paul Herrick's Falsely Claims The Universe is Contingent

 

The claim that the Physical universe is contingent is fallacious. 

Each existent (being/thing) in the physical universe is contingent only upon the reconfiguration of pre-existing existents of the physical universe.  That is, the set of all things does not expand or contract when a new existent is “created”.  In fact the term creation is a misnomer.  The simplest and only necessary precursor to the existence of any thing in the set of everything is the set of everything itself.  This is to say that the only thing necessary for the existence of anything is the existence of the physical universe.  The existence of the physical universe is the simplest non-contingent which is necessary for all that is contingent.

Existence exists and only existence exists.

This is axiomatic in that it is self-evident and indisputably true.  As soon as one posits that something else exists, they are only giving name to something inside the set of all things.  There is no thing that can exist without being an existent.  No thing is nothing and the set of nothing contains no things.

The vast unnecessary leap to a god as a necessary being creates complexity where none is required.  The simplest non contingent is the physical universe itself.  No thing ever came from nothing.  No thing ever became nothing.  All things are contingent only on that which has always existed – EXISTENCE.  No experiment has ever created or destroyed anything.  All we have ever objectively observed is the reconfiguration of that which exists.

There is no god and a god is not necessary.

 

Wonderist's picture

Good effort, Samuel. You

Good effort, Samuel. You stuck to your guns and didn't let him pull one over on you. I would like to make a suggestion: In a debate between two people, it's natural that you don't have to spell out all of your reasons, because the other person is usually able to follow along at a high level. Like when solving a math formula, all you need is the right answer. But when you're writing an exam (i.e. when there's an audience) it's better to lay out all of your reasoning so you'll get full marks.

In your mind you may be reasoning things out, but when you speak, to the audience it may sound like you're jumping from input (remarks from Herrick) straight to output (your counterstatement or question). For the audience's sake, it would be better to lay out your reasoning. For example, Herrick might say "if I showed you a necessary explanation" and you interrupt with "but god is contingent". In your mind it might be very clear that you've already shown that god is contingent, but that doesn't mean the audience is following you. I would suggest being more explicit, like saying "If you showed me a necessary explanation, fine, but I don't think you've adequately shown that your 'god' is actually necessary, because X, Y, Z." That's just one example. My suggestion is more general to the whole debate. Spell it out for the audience. In fact, don't think of it as a debate between you and your opponent. Think of it as a demonstration from you to the audience. "His argument is flawed because of X, Y, Z, and he also failed to show blah because of A, B, C." For example, you might have to spell things out like, "In order for something to be considered 'necessary', it must meet these criteria: X, Y, Z. Herrick failed to show that his explanation meets criteria Y and Z because it's possible that god could be A or B." You're not actually talking to Herrick, but to the audience. As if you're writing an exam on the fly, trying to demonstrate every step of your reasoning.

It will take practice. Try explaining your ideas to people who aren't as advanced as you are. They may not have your level of knowledge of logic or understanding of theistic arguments, or they may simply not be able to make the intuitive leaps that you make in your head. By practicing with such people, you'll be able to see where you need to explain more, and where you need to use simpler language to make things more clear.

Again, good work. Looking forward to your next one!

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Wonderist's picture

By the way, Herrick goes on

By the way, Herrick goes on and on about how god is an 'explanation for the data', like quarks are for neutrons. The best counterargument to this is that the explanations of science are predictive explanations, not just ordinary everyday explanations. The reason physicists 'know' there are quarks is because the predictions made by the quark theory reliably come true. What predictions does the god hypothesis make that have reliably come true? None. His use of the word 'explanation' is bogus. 'God did it' doesn't *explain* anything in any real way. It is an 'explanation' that doesn't explain anything. A difference that makes no difference. You might as well say that the universe is god, in which case, why call it god and not just 'the universe'.

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The contingency of the universe

It seems to me that you are equivocating on the meaning of the word contingent. You say that each thing in the universe is contingent only upon the configuration of the rest of the universe and so on. This is to use contingent to mean depends upon. But when theists and logicians and scientists (such as Steven Weinberg) say that the universe is contingent, they mean contingent as the word is used in modal logic. In logic, we say that something , call it X, exists contingently if its nonexistence is logically possible, meaning there are possible (i.e., consistently describable or noncontradictory) circumstances in which X would not exist. And of course the physical universe is surely contingent in this sense, for surely a different physical universe might have existed instead--scientists even theorize about such a possibility. So, of course the universe is contingent. And the logical opposite of contingent existence is well defined in logical theory, it is of course necessary existence.  

Contingent VS Necessary

 

The Universe (the set of all existents) cannot exist contingently as its nonexistence is logically impossible, there are no possible (i.e., consistently describable or non-contradictory) circumstances in which it would not exist.  The act of description subsumes a describer within the context of the existing universe and therefore logically self contradicts any attempt to logically theorize the possibility of alternate universes or a void.

Wonderist's picture

Paul Herrick wrote:It seems

Paul Herrick wrote:
It seems to me that you are equivocating on the meaning of the word contingent.

Actually, it is you, Paul, who are equivocating, and the word is 'god'. You are using 'god' to mean 'existence' and saying the blatantly obvious, "Well of course existence exists!" No surprise there, but my question to you is, "Why call it god?"

By the way, as my signature shows, the universe is one of those things that logically must exist, and you shouldn't be surprised of that. The only way to ask the question, "Could the universe possibly not exist?" is for there to be a universe containing a questioner who asks the question. Think about this one really hard. Your intuitive idea that the universe could not exist is an example of the flawed intuition of humanity. Your whole argument is wordplay in an attempt to back up your intuitive conclusion. You're working from conclusion to premises, rather than the correct way around, from premises to conclusion.

As far as modal logic goes, it is my opinion that the major flaw in modal logic, as also in quantum mechanics, is that it is so easy to convince yourself that you understand it and have used it to come to The Truth(tm), and be utterly and completely fooling yourself.

But all of that aside, even if you manage to prove that existence exists, my question to you remains. Why call it god?

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Philosophy

 

Natural: You say that scientific explanations are predictive and suggest that since theistic explanation is not predictive it must not be a legitimate form of explanation.  But I want to remind you that the Harvard philosopher Hilary Putnam has shown that not all explanations can be predictive. If you suppose all exlanations are predictive, all the way down, you end up with a vicious infinite regression. (This is because every predictive explanation includes and presupposes facts already established, facts previously established, thus if all explanations are merely predictive ones, then there remain surd or unexplained facts...

It follows that there must be a level of nonpredictive explanation more fundamental than the predictive explanations of science, science cannot be the ultimate level of explanation. This is why I cannot accept your argument, and this is why you need to rethink your claim, that theism is not explanatory. This is also why you need to rethink your view that science accounts for everything.

Wonderist's picture

Paul Herrick wrote:Natural:

Paul Herrick wrote:

Natural: You say that scientific explanations are predictive and suggest that since theistic explanation is not predictive it must not be a legitimate form of explanation.  But I want to remind you that the Harvard philosopher Hilary Putnam has shown that not all explanations can be predictive. If you suppose all exlanations are predictive, all the way down, you end up with a vicious infinite regression. (This is because every predictive explanation includes and presupposes facts already established, facts previously established, thus if all explanations are merely predictive ones, then there remain surd or unexplained facts...

I did not claim that all explanations are predictive. I countered *your* claim that god is an explanation of the same type that quarks are for neutrons. They are fundamentally different kinds of explanations. The scientific explanation is a predictive explanation. It allows you to make accurate and reliable predictions about reality as we know it. Saying "God did it" is not such a predictive explanation.

Of course not all explanations are predictive. I could say that "It's raining because God is sad and he's crying, and the rain is God's tears." That's an 'explanation', but it is a useless one, because it does not tell us anything about reality. It is made up, and it's not predictive.

Such 'explanations' are a dime a dozen. Cheaper than that, actually.

Quote:
It follows that there must be a level of nonpredictive explanation more fundamental than the predictive explanations of science, science cannot be the ultimate level of explanation.

This is a non-sequitur. You assume that there must be an 'ultimate level' of explanation. That's a theistic bias on your part. Explanation is something humans do. We invent all sorts of explanations for all sorts of things. Some of those explanations are scientific. "God did it" is not. That is all I'm saying. You are jumping from that to some sort of mystical 'ultimate' explanation that you presume/assume is necessary. (Likely you also presume to have found it.)

Quote:
This is why I cannot accept your argument, and this is why you need to rethink your claim, that theism is not explanatory. This is also why you need to rethink your view that science accounts for everything.

I couldn't give a damn if you accept my argument. I was talking to Sam, not you.

And what's with putting words in my mouth? I did not claim that science accounts for everything. There's your theistic bias seeping in again. It is the theist who is obsessed with having an 'account of everything'. Atheists are comfortable with some things being unknown at present. The unknown inspires us to continue to investigate the universe and to learn as much as we can. It is the theist's fear of the unknown which causes them to invent 'explanations' of the 'ultimate level' of "God did it!" It's pathetic, really. I'm sorry that you're so terrified of the unknown.

Finally, I'll address your fundamental misunderstanding of what I was talking about in regards to the value I place on predictive explanations.

You assumed I was saying a whole bunch of stuff that I wasn't saying. What I *was* saying is that science has a leg up on the explanation of "God did it!" which is fundamentally more valuable: It can make accurate and reliable predictions that we can test ourselves in this physical universe, without having to die first.

This is incredibly important. Predictions are the foundation for knowledge. Out of all the possible explanations for things, it is only the *predictive* explanations that really tell us something that we can *know*.

When I say that I *know* that gravity exists, I am saying that I can make predictions about gravity. I can, for example, predict that if I let go of an apple, the apple will fall to the Earth. That's a prediction, and it's easily testable. It is also very reliable. It works every time I try it.

Not only that, but I can also make very *accurate* predictions. I can measure the height at which I'm holding the apple, and make a calculation based on Earth's gravitational acceleration at the surface of 9.8m/s^2, and I can predict very accurately exactly how much time it will take the apple to fall.

Such is the nature of the explanation of quarks for neutrons. Using particle accelerators, physicists can make predictions, using quark theory, to predict what particles will form, and also to predict their paths. These predictions take more equipment to test, but they are also very accurate, reliable, and testable.

"God did it" makes no such predictions. It does not really explain things the way a scientific theory explains things. In fact, "God did it" is utterly useless as an 'explanation' because it can literally explain anything. That which explains everything explains nothing.

As far as Hilary Putnam is concerned, I don't know if what you say about him is true, or whether you interpreted him correctly, but in the end it doesn't really matter.

Your claim is that not all explanations are predictive because you would need to know something before you can make the prediction, which is an infinite regress. And so, you are looking for the more fundamental basis of knowledge.

But in fact, this is not true. You do not need to know anything before you make a prediction.

Just like explanations, you can predict whatever pops into your head. You can predict that the moon is made of green cheese, or that the world will end in 2012.

At a fundamental level, you are relying on your experiences, your memory, and your base intuitions. We don't have to 'know' that we experience things, we just do. We don't have to 'know' we have a memory, we just do. We don't have to 'know' we have intuitions, we just do. No epistemology can bypass these fundamentals, not even theism.

At a fundamental level, if we follow Descartes' lead with an initial blank slate epistemology, I have experiences, I can remember them, and I have intuitions (the ability to make pretty good guesses).

I can, for instance, experience the world as a baby does, crying, seeing a face appear (mommy coming to check on the baby), crying again later, and seeing the same face appear. This is intuition (crying), experience (seeing face appear), and memory (remembering multiple experiences from the past). As a baby, I can make a prediction of the sort, "I wonder if I cry, maybe that face will appear." This is an intuition (the prediction), a memory (remembering the prediction to confirm or disconfirm it later), and an experience (either the face appears or it doesn't).

That's all you need to bootstrap your epistemology. Fortunately for us, evolution provided us with these basics as part of our human genetic heritage. We don't need to justify our experiences, our memory, or our intuition, we just have them, and we do the best we can with what we have.

However, where theists like you make the mistake is to say, "Aha! I'm just using the same system of confirming my intuitions!" The mistake is that you forget that this is just a starting place, a foundation. You must take the time to build up a stronger epistemology on top of this, or you will wind up making a whole lot of wrong intuitions into dogma (which is essentially what religion is).

The problem is that intuition is our basic, natural ability to make pretty good guesses. It is *not* an ability to make *perfect* guesses.

Science is an endeavour to systematize this epistemological process in order to weed out our human intuitional errors -- and there are many such errors.

So, all this is to say that it still stands that only *predictive* explanations are useful ones. "God did it" is the ultimate in useless explanations. Science is our best tool for developing useful predictive explanations for things. Yes, we use intuition, but only as a foundation. We tweak it, correct it, and constantly double-check it with systematic gathering of evidence, via the scientific method. Without science, all you have are basic intuitions, which are notoriously biased and error-prone.

*Do not* glorify your intuitions by calling them an 'ultimate level of explanation'. That would be arrogance and hubris of the utmost degree.

That would be like a kid on a Big Wheel claiming he can win the Indy 500. The Big Wheel may be the child's most beloved and cherished toy, and the child may really believe he can win the Indy 500, but in the end, it's childish thinking with toy logic. Put that child in the actual race, and we'll see what happens (i.e. test that prediction to see if it's accuracte and reliable).

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HisWillness's picture

While we have you on the

While we have you on the phone, here, Paul: your introduction with "youthful" and "someone so young", "attempting to make sense of the world", "deeper understanding", etc. has to be the most condescending weasel-word undercutting of a debate opponent I've ever seen. I'd congratulate you, but I don't know if you're just naturally passive-aggressive, or if that was on purpose.

Either way, it was a brilliant tactic. I'm going to have to figure out a way to use that one in debate myself.

Saint Will: no gyration without funkstification.
fabulae! nil satis firmi video quam ob rem accipere hunc mi expediat metum. - Terence

Vastet's picture

I wonder if we'll have to

I wonder if we'll have to wait another year for his next response.

Once-Proud Canadian, Enlightened Atheist, Gaming God.

missed it

i must have missed the ny times article "shoreline community college professor proves existense of god"  because surely if his essay had any merrit, if it had anything new to offer in this age old philosophical debate, there would have been one.  please send me the link.  thanks