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A Conversation on Final Regress and First Causes

I recently had a conversation with some gents that I thought I would paraphrase for my blog.  I think I’ve had the same kind of conversation a dozen times in the last three months.  I have combined all the conversations into one paraphrase.  The Internet is filled with conversations like this.  If you have got one feel free to share.  Enjoy.

Them:  We believe science is the only way to learn about the world and religion is just faith-mongering superstition.  There is no scientific basis for believing in the existence of God.  Belief is just irrationalism.  I know what you’re going to say.  That there had to be something that has always existed.  Why not the universe?

Me:  Well, science says that the universe had a beginning.  So I guess the universe can’t be the thing that has always existed.  Surely that means we can explore other options.

Them:   Did I say that I accepted that something has always existed?

Me:  No.  Do you?

Them:  No.

Me:  So something can come from nothing?

Them:  No, that’s now what I’m saying.

Me:  Well, if it isn’t the case that something has always existed then there is only one alternative, and that is that you posit that something can come from nothing.

Them:  What I am saying is that we can’t know which is true, whether something has always existed or if something can come from nothing.

Me:  Well, for which do you have evidence for?

Them:  Evidence?

Me:  Well, you’re claiming the high road of science so obviously you must be willing to accept, provisionally at least, where the evidence takes you.

Them:  But we can’t know which.  That’s my point.

Me:  So you should be a principled agnostic, then.

Them:  I’m not, I’m an atheist.

Me:  But if you’re saying you can’t know then agnosticism is the proper answer.

Them:  But I’m an atheist.

Me:  lol, whatever.  Moving on.  The evidence would seem to suggest that the universe hasn’t always existed.  It had a beginning.  Regardless of the fact that you can imagine scenarios by which the universe could regress infinitely, it would seem that science tells us there is a hard limit on speculations about what was ‘before.’

Them:  But if everything requires a cause then that would include God.

Me:  Who said everything requires a cause?  The whole point of our conversation to this point has been on the general agreement that something has always existed- without a cause.  So you are misrespresenting the argument.  The argument is really, best known through William L. Craig, is that everything with a beginning has a cause.

Them:  But maybe the universe didn’t have a beginning.  Once we know more through science we’ll know what happened before.

Me:  So you are agreeing that anything with a beginning has a cause.

Them:  No, I’m not saying that.  I’m saying that science might be able to show one day what was before the Big Bang.

Me:  Can you think of any thing with a beginning that doesn’t have a cause?

Them:  No, just the universe.

Me:  Doesn’t that seem a little like special pleading?

Them:  No.  Science might tell us one day.

Me:  Does it seem to you that the rest of our experience of reality demonstrates the principle that things with beginnings have causes?

Them:  Yes.

Me:  So, against the ‘uniform experience of humanity’ that things with beginnings have causes you, in spite of the evidence that the universe has a beginning, won’t extend your empirical principle to the universe?

Them:  That’s right.

Me:  Why?

Them:  Because scientifically, there is no evidence for the existence of God, that’s why.

Me:  What you mean of course is that any evidence for the existence of God must be dismissed because you already know there isn’t a God.

Them:  Why are you threatening me?  I don’t like your tone.  This is the problem with fundamentalists.  They always get personal.

Me:  heh I’m impressed.  The ‘religious people are arrogant for asserting they know the truth and are insulting me when they do so’ card usually comes out much earlier.

Them:  I don’t know what you mean.

Me:  No, you wouldn’t, would you.  Ok, so moving on.  There is a fundamental problem with you’re approach here.  You keep citing the science but you refuse to actually follow the science.  The science says that the very laws of nature which the scientific method relies upon break down and are fundamentally unknowable prior to a certain point very early after the Big Bang.  In principle, then, you can never know anything scientifically before that point.  If you follow the science, you reach the end of the road on what it can say.

Them:  But science might be able to figure out a way.

Me:  Do you know what ‘fundamentally’ or ‘in principle’ means?

Them:  I don’t know why you have to get so angry.

Me:  Look, you don’t believe me.  Fine.  Here, look- link, link, link, link.  They all say the same thing.  It would seem that if you do care about science, then you should concede that we are discussing something that is, definitionally, outside of the direct observation of science.

Them:  But science is the only way of knowing truth, something outside the direct observation of science can’t exist because we could have no evidence for it.

Me:  But maybe there are other ways of learning about reality.

Them:  Are you listening to me, you fundamentalist pig?  I just told you that science is the only way of learning about reality.  Irrational faith monger.  Superstitious prig.

Me:  Prig?

Them:  Yea, you hate women who have abortions, hate homosexuals, and tell other people how to live their lives.  That’s how we know that religion is false.  It is authoratarian and a way for people to cope with death and people who are different then them.

Me:  All I said was that science might give us another way of learning about reality.

Them:  Prig.

Me:  Could you address the point?  I mean, do you scientifically know that your mother loves you?  Or your wife?  Can you scientifically prove an axiom, such as the law of noncontradiction?

Them:  Axioms can’t be proven, moron.  That’s the point.

Me:  So why do you use them?

Them:  We have no choice.

Me:  Surely that in itself requires an explanation?  That reason and logic works requires an explanation, too.  Can science give it?

Them:  I don’t think so.

Me:  Then you admit then that there are things that science can’t explain.  Why not others?

Them:  I never said that science can explain everything.  I only said that it is our only way of knowing things.

Me:  So you know that you love your wife/girlfriend/boyfriend scientifically?

Them:  Of course not, that’s absurd.

Me:  So there are things you know that you don’t know through science.

Them:  I never said that.  I only said that science is our only reliable way of knowing things.

Me:  I’m quite certain that this is not what you said.

Them:  There you go again, insulting me.

Me:  What are you talking about.

Them:  You just called me a liar.  I know what I said.

Me:  You guys are a hoot.  Ok, so just because you think it is the most reliable, you admit that there are other ways of knowing things.  Since science cannot tell us what is before the Big Bang, and you know that other methods might not be reliable, don’t you concede at least that it isn’t mere superstition or ‘faith-mongering’ to infer that there may be something else that is the thing that has always existed and that thing might be God?  Maybe?  Might be?  Reasonable to at least consider it?

Them:  Nonsense.  I already told you that religionists are irrational fear mongerers.  There is no scientific basis for God.  Period.  I don’t know why you keep trying to deny that incontrovertible fact.

Me:  Why am I having this discussion again?

Them:  Because you are a militant prig who wants to dictate to others what to believe based on ancient myths and old books.

Me:  heh ok, so you agree at least that science tells us that the universe had a beginning, right?

Them:  Yes.

Me:  You agree that as far as we know, everything with a beginning has a cause, right?

Them:  Right, just not the universe.  That is the one exception.

Me:  Why are you giving it an exception?

Them:  Because there is no scientific basis to infer the existence of God, and if the universe isn’t an exception, that might be construed as a reasonable, if not outright scientific, basis for inferring the existence of God.

Me:  You’re killing me.

Them:  More ad hominem.  Keep it up.  This is why Christianity will be gone one day.  Such intolerance.

Me:  Look, I just want to make one point here, and then clearly it isn’t worth talking any more…

Them:  See, always running from people who tell you the real truth… typical…

Me:  Yea, whatever.  My point is this.  If the thing we are considering is not, in principle, detectable by the scientific method, it should follow that if we have a cause to at least investigate the question- and in my view, the science itself says we do- we will have to use a method more appropriate to the task.  Namely, this entity, if he exists and if he his able, will have to reveal himself to us since we cannot go out to him.  So, we should be looking for Revelation.

Them:  Oh, that’s right.  More old books and fairy tales.  Look, there is a leprechaun under my foot.  You’re telling me that this omnipresent and omnipotent God can only think to communicate through flawed and corrupted texts that were tampered by the powers that be in ways we know not?  Absurd.

Me:  You are equiovocating.  I only said Revelation but you automatically assumed I meant ‘The Bible.’  That isn’t at all what I meant.

Them:  But Christians believe that the Bible is God’s Word, God’s revelation.  So my assumption was reasonable.

Me:  Maybe you think so, but that is not what I am saying, so at least in regards to me, you can set that assumption aside.  That is not what I mean when I use the term.

Them:  Nonsense, you’re a Christian.  That’s what Christians mean.  Like I said, the Bible is a stupid way for God to reveal himself.

Me:  Well, alright.  I guess my work here is done.  Good talking to you, I guess.

Them:  Goodbye, irrational prig and Gay hater.  None of that blind faith for me.

Me:  It would seem that if anyone is guilty of ‘blind faith’ it is you.

Them:  Nonsense.  Haven’t I been clear that I rely on the scientific method for truth?  Nothing blind about it, buddy.

Me:  But you are relying on possibilities and uncertaintities, not what is scientifically known.  Science tells us the universe had a beginning.  You have faith that science will be able to go beyond the limitations set by the standard theories even though there is no hope, in principle, that it can.  You posit that maybe the universe has always existed, perhaps fluctuating eternally, or maybe in a multiverse scenario, and because of these logical possibilities you set aside what appear to be empirical realities.  That looks like blind faith to me.

Them:  Of course it isn’t blind.  Science gave us microwave ovens, space flight, and the atom bomb.   It is entirely reasonable to believe that the march of science will blow through all limitations some day.

Me:  Wow, I guess you showed me.  That’s not ‘faith’ at all.

Them:  Always so sarcastic.  One of these days our world will be free from your tyrannical ravings and we will purge supersition from the world.  Then, science will reign supreme and infantile superstitions won’t be allowed to persist.  No more crusades, no more hatred, no more inquisitions.

Me:  Uh, hasn’t a tremendous amount of death been handed out under atheistic governments, so much that it dwarfs what has been done by Christians?

Them:  Nonsense.  Communism was just another religion.

Me:  So, anything that results in consequences you abhor is religion, by definition.

Them:  That’s right.  Wait, no.

Me:  Yea, ok.  Peace out, home slice.

Them: Prig.


1 comment

1 ping

    • Chuck on January 29, 2009 at 3:18 pm


    I’ve had more than my share of conversations like that, and they always end the same way. As a result, I’ve pretty much given up trying to have an intelligent, reasoned, argument with anyone in an online forum anymore.


  1. […] have been hugely entertained by reading an extended forum discussion responding to my post yesterday which was a paraphrase of several conversations I’ve had in the last few months.  As one […]

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