Sean Carroll’s refutation of William Lane Craig- UPDATED (and heavily revised)

Although originally set forth as a refutation of a Kalam argument proposed by WLC, Sean Carroll gives a refutation of any attempt to found a cosmological argument on the findings of modern cosmology:

Why should we expect that there are causes or explanations or a reason why in the universe in which we live? It’s because the physical world inside of which we’re embedded has two important features. There are unbreakable patterns, laws of physics—things don’t just happen, they obey the laws—and there is an arrow of time stretching from the past to the future…. But crucially, both of these features of the universe that allow us to speak the language of causes and effects are completely absent when we talk about the universe as a whole. We don’t think that our universe is part of a bigger ensemble that obeys laws. Even if it’s part of the multiverse, the multiverse is not part of a bigger ensemble that obeys laws. Therefore, nothing gives us the right to demand some kind of external cause.

Carroll wins this debate decisively, and while he may not always respond to Craig formally (which might lead some to think he isn’t responding to him) he clearly refutes the arguments against him. For example, he gives very good reasons why fine tuning can’t be designed, and so must either be a stroke of good luck or follow from some law. Since he sees fine tuning arguments as the best Craig has to offer (and he’s right in this) nothing I say after this, which will be critical of Carroll, need bother him all that much. I concede his refutation of what is, to him, the best argument against him. But I disagree with the universality of the account of cause that Carroll is working from.

Carroll’s argument turns on what can count as a cause, and for him this is an entity that is prior in time (and so in the general procession of entropy) and which is co-ordinated with its effect under some general law. First, my suspicion is that it is impossible to restrict the meaning of “cause” to this, even in cosmology, for two reasons: (I) At some point cosmologists will appeal to a cause and effect happening at the same time, and so the arrow of time will become superfluous, but this is the only connection that Carroll’s account of cause has to concrete objects in the universe (one can sense time and disorder but not “laws”). (II) cosmologists will have to make some use of statistical laws, but a statistical law cannot predict a particular as particular (e.g. the likelihood that I will have a car accident can’t explain my having this accident here and now.) But so far as this is the case, Carroll’s account of a cause can only be exhaustive if  either i.) There is no cause at all of particulars. or ii.) Particular things are not real. Both alternatives commit him to idealism, just as Berkeley proved they would; and “idealist naturalism” is almost certainly an oxymoron.

But the deeper problem with Carroll’s attempt to universalize his account of cause is that if all he means is that there can be no intrinsic argument within cosmology that concludes to God, then it’s not even clear if Craig himself needs to dispute this. If all Carroll means is that theology is not included as a subtopic in cosmology, and so can’t be concluded to by methods that Cosmologists use, then its hard to see what objection Craig would have. But if what Carroll wants to deny that cosmology can provide various data points that provide evidence for God when viewed in light of an account of cause that is broader than the one used by Cosmologists, then he is ipso facto working from the wrong account of a cause. After all, he’s giving an account of cause that is tailored to cosmology, or at least to the science of natural objects.

To his credit, Carroll does offer some dialectical arguments for Naturalism too, which I’ll have to deal with later.

Sinon’s speech in II Aeneid

1.) Usually long speeches start with some sort of formal introduction line to set the stage for the audience. Sinon’s speech (teh formal part of the speech, not his initial lament) simply starts. The transition is so jarring that line was added later to give the speech a more characteristic feel. But vergil knew what he was doing. The absence of the introductory line gives the speaker makes the speaker substanceless, as though he is a voice without a body or person behind it.

2.) The speech is a good illustration of how what does all the heavy lifting in manipulation is not intelligence but egoism and self-absorption. Sinon never ceases to speak about himself.

3.) The main rhetorical lever of the speech is Sinon’s tale of hardship, that is, the moral authority that we impute to people who have tales of sorrow. No one questions or disputes a doctrine or belief that one bases on, say, a dead child.

4.) The speech is heavy on pathos but light on coherence. What relation does Sinon have to Belidus? How could Sinon’s father both be poor and afford to send him in arms to war? Again, how does the poverty of his father jibe with his reference to having a kingdom? Who is Sinon’s friend that Odysseus kills? All the details are sad, to be sure, but they don’t form a coherent narrative.

5.) Sinon manages to display about half the characteristic features of a liar in the opening lines of his speech: he is over-formal, emphatic, answering questions no one is asking, protesting his honesty when no one questioned it, etc.

An informal fallacy

hypothesis: If a doctrine gains widespread acceptance, our account of its historical progress needs to include an account of how it is rationally persuasive; and if it either loses or fails to attain this, our account must include an account of how it is not rationally persuasive.

The hypothesis is in the domain of logic because it concerns the formal structure of the account we give of a subject. If we grant the hypothesis, then we recognize an informal logical principle, the corruption of which would therefore count as an informal fallacy. (Now all we need is one of those snappy names.)

So Scholastics can no longer speak of Nominalism or Cartesianism as though they were infections, nor can others speak of the rise of Christianity as mere toadying to Constantine, nor can Christians themselves deal with the widespread abandoning of the faith in Europe and Canada as mere wickedness.

A thing does not have to be true to be rationally persuasive, but widespread acceptance counts as presumptive evidence that needs to be acknowledged and addressed.

The desire for universal humanities

What do the humanities have in common? They’re not sciences, but to leave it at this wouldn’t explain how there could be orders of priority among them or why they don’t include every discipline that isn’t a science.

The term could have a definite meaning for those who see it as handing over a culture and ancestral inheritance, and it’s hard to see what it would mean for anyone who doesn’t see this as necessary. The contents of the inheritance weren’t chosen randomly, but because they were particularly beautiful, important to know, or conducive to clear thought, but it is still necessary to their constitution that they are ours.  Sciences strive for a universal viewpoint, which allows them to speak to everyone indifferently while, for the same reason, it makes them unrooted from anything that is our own.

Or at least anything that is our own until now. The objection to the humanities seems to be precisely against their lack of universality: they are only Western and therefore leave off the insights of the rest of the world. We rebel against the parochial character of the humanities and desire diversity instead. Diversity as a curriculum is thus a proposed replacement for the humanities.  It’s too new to have any classic texts, at the moment it has only aspirations to a world culture which it strives to attain by insisting on the equality of all cultures and the attempt to make institutions of learning into societies that anticipate this final world culture.

The goal – whether sought consciously or not – is a sort of universal humanities, which would have texts and traditions in which anyone in the world can feel the same stirring in the soul and sense of identification that Westerners could once feel in reading The Iliad or which Muslims feel in making the Hajj. This universal humanities would allow us a context in which the sciences could be meaningful and valued as opposed to being mere curiosities or tools of power, which, for the moment, is all they are. Scientists at the moment can’t see any of their discoveries as advancing the glory of anything, or as moments in a venerable tradition. A universal humanities – diversity – will provide precisely this context, or so is the hope.

There’s nothing odd in this desire for universality and its concomitant rejection of parochialism: Alexander wanted the whole world to be Hellenic; Catholicism wanted a universal Christendom; Rome wanted all the world under Caesar; Communism wanted to unify all the proletariat, etc. The very idea of “the West” that the humanities used to draw from was an attempt at universality, though the curriculum of diversity now critiques this as not universal enough.

Like all attempts at new cultures diversity requires a new man – and by new I mean even biologically new. At present we have no real facility at the sort of universalism that diversity requires: what is our own is still too racial, religious, ethic, localized, and familial for those who want diversity to inform what is our own; and as far as anyone can tell, our desire for cozy parochialism is as biological as eye color. Diversity must dissolve all this, and from the perspective of those of us who define ourselves by it, this is horrible. In fact, it is the end of the world.

Immortality and creation on Neutral Monism

1.) My suspicion is that the debate over consciousness will end up gathering consensus for Neutral Monism. As the debate is presently framed, both eliminativism and dualism are the extremes, and no coherent account of supervenience appears possible.

2.) Neutral Monism will end up looking a lot more like “dualism” than materialism since it will require both personal immortality and strict creation of the material world and of each new consciousness. Here’s the first argument:

Whatever is sufficiently fundamental (matter, energy, momentum, etc.) is conserved.

But, according to Neutral Monism, consciousness is just as fundamental as things like matter, energy, momentum, etc.

Therefore, consciousness must be conserved.

Just as matter does not cease to exist, neither does consciousness. Neutral Monism thus concludes immediately to the immortality of the soul as the analogue to the conservation of matter. But though matter is only conserved by becoming diverse individual things over time, a consciousness just is this individual.  Matter is therefore conserved, but not as a self; consciousness is conserved as a self.

3.) Here’s the other argument:

What comes to be from matter is material

According to neutral monism consciousness is not material (matter is the other track or manifestation of the one thing at the bottom of things).

Consciousness comes to be.

Therefore, consciousness comes to be from something other than the material.

This amounts to what St. Thomas would have called creation in the strict sense. In fact, there are two sorts of creation in neutral monism, one to explain how a new consciousness can arise, and another that would be necessary to account for how matter can arise from something other than itself.


The necessity of soul from the reality of action

The Contemporary debate over free will is centers on whether the system in which X occurs can give a sufficient account of the actions of X. Those denying free will answer yes, those affirming it say no.

Interestingly, for St. Thomas this way of framing the question did not make for a debate over free will but for a debate over whether life existsand therefore over whether there is such a thing as soul in addition to body (i.e. soul in addition to physical systems). Life is only really different from the merely physical if there can be self action – i.e if we can isolate some individual from a larger environment or system of interactions attribute an action to it. So does any action come from an individual as such, or does all action occur by the interaction between individual things?

The second thesis, which sees interaction as sufficient, cannot isolate any system from the universe and so it must argue that the universe alone acts.  But the only reason the universe is not moved by something else is because there is nothing else to move it. But if there is nothing else, and all actions really are interactive, then the universe ought not to act at all. And so the pan-interactionist thesis, while claiming to suffice to explain action, concludes to its impossibility.

And so the to account for action – even an action that seems purely physical – we need to posit something in addition to individual things qua existing in interactive systems. Soul must enter into the picture somewhere as something that can act without merely interacting. Seen from this angle, the interaction problem, while raising a crucial question, is a colossal missing of the point – we need soul precisely because interaction does not suffice to explain action. The reality of action – so strongly stressed by Blondel and Hannah Arendt, but which has largely fallen from view – requires the reality of something transcending merely physical systems.

There is thus, at minimum, one soul. If we hypothesize that it explains all motion by itself, then we posit a universe soul and speak of the universe alone as alive. All else is alive only as organs of the universe-zoön. But if I decide that I act – even though this self is clearly conditioned by interactive systems and perhaps even by the animate universe – then I too must be ensouled. I see no rational way to allow soul to the universe and deny it to myself – I allow soul so far as I am convinced anything is alive, and while I can make sense of denying life altogether I can make no sense of allowing it to be real to something other than myself while denying it to myself.

This is really a corollary to Arendt’s claim that to act is to be an origin of something and therefore for there to be something new in the universe. This requires that the physical universe be an instrument of the living. It is arguably a necessary instrument, i.e. the universe is to all action what a saw is to sawing. On this account, the actions of living individuals, while transcending the physical, could not exist without it, and so while no soul interacts with matter it nevertheless cannot exist without it.




Theodicy and the praise of matter

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t like the “the free will” defense in theodicy since a free will cannot establish even the metaphysical possibility of moral evil. But there is nothing wrong, it seems to me, with an analogous argument applied to the cosmos which targeted not moral evils but bad luck. Evils little kids dying of cancer, a town destroyed by a hurricane or tornado, finding a job on the top floor of the Twin Towers, etc. are all cases of bad luck, and these make the most persuasive matter for the argument from evil. After all, we don’t wonder why moral evils happen – the maddening thing about them is the bad luck element in them, which seems to argue that the universe is an irrational place with no interest at all in us.

Bad luck is a sort of contingency, and so the bad luck defense is rests on the premise that contingent being is somehow a necessary good.  In fact, it is not just contingent being but precisely material being that can be lucky or not. Luck requires a common, homogeneous world with possible competing goals that just is existence in space and time.  It requires a world of goods that are not able to be shared, that is, goods that are beneath the common good. This alone is what allows for accidents to happen and for there to be irrational outcomes – the sort of irrationality that is so effective at making us raise the question whether there is any rational source of the universe. We didn’t need a free will defense so much as a defense of matter.

But then what can be said in praise of matter? Why not read Genesis as pointing to an original creation where we were preserved from bad luck?

Participation and equivocation

1.) Here’s a sophistry:

To burn a book, a thing must be hotter than Fahrenheit 451

No mob of angry Nazis is hotter than Fahrenheit 451

Therefore, no mob of angry Nazis ever burned a book.

The sophistry is that, if one wanted to prove the conclusion that the Nazis didn’t burn books (or prisoners, for that matter) the argument is worthless, since it would involve an equivocation on the word “burn”. In the first premise “burn” is said of an instrument or secondary cause; in the conclusion it is said as a primary cause.

But suppose we wanted to have a super-precise language that could make equivocations like this clear. Say that we added an “el” to the end of any word that was a secondary cause. Then the first premise would be “To burnel a book, a thing must be hotter than 451.” and the conclusion would be that Nazis don’t burnel books, which everyone already knows, but nobody much cares about.

But note that even if we did this, we could still immediately conclude that if something was burneling something, then something was burning it too. And so even if we tried to clarify the equivocation, we could still make the inference.

2.) On this sort of analysis, the Five Ways start with moverels, causels, necessariels, goodels, and intentionels. But the preferred way to deal with this sort of inference is to conclude to an equivocal term.

3.) It’s important to stress just how different the equivocals are: if something scissorels or cutels it is hard, metallic, inanimate, non-responsible,  manual, etc. But one can find none of these qualities in something that cuts.

4.) Deep Blue didn’t beat Kasperov, it beateled him.

5.)  The Chinese Room is the claim that the guy is in the room is talkeling Chinese. This isn’t just true of verbs. Natural things are composed of actel and potency; God is act. Again, we wouldn’t need the mystical sounding “God is not a being among beings” trope, we could just say “God exists, the universe existels”

6.) But this starts to make clear why the “el” suffix can’t work. We know and name the secondary things first, but we don’t know them as secondary. I can’t start off saying that the things around me existel, even though this is exactly what I would name them after giving a cosmological argument that proved that God exists.

7.) This is why the desire for a language without equivocations and even the desire to avoid every equivocation in an argument is misplaced and unnecessary. In fact, such a desire would make metaphysics impossible.

Husserl’s tape recorder and intention in nature

Husserl argues somewhere that recording devices register sounds but they are not hearing. The recording device (and I betray my age by not knowing what to call it except a tape recorder) is more like a giant dumping ground for anything that causes pressure waves in the air, but hearing is a focused and intentional activity. If I’m having a conversation in a restaurant, I am paying no attention to the music or the bells on the cash drawer opening: if you asked me what music was playing or how many times the cash drawer opened I’d be completely at a loss to answer. But a recording device would make a record of everything – one could simply go back and count or observe whatever he wanted. This feature of intentionality was popularized by the selective attention test which people often try to pass off as a limitation of focus – when in fact it is precisely what makes knowledge possible.

Human beings can only learn because they are capable of focusing on the essential as opposed to all possible information that could be an object of focus. This creates blind spots in which illusionists can hide information, to be sure, and none of our faculties are infallible, but to process all possible information equally and without a filter for the essential would leave us with a heap of nonsense.  Like the recording device, we would accord equal weight to the sound of the cash drawer, the background music, the clink of knives, and the conversation we were having. But this heap of things is not information about anything. They form no unity, nor does their being together constitute anything that exists.  There is no possible science of this heap of accidental features of the world. Intention is attuned to unities, and, so far as unity is convertible with being, to real existence and essence. As far as we can tell, it’s proper to intention to have such an attunement.

But this is just what makes things interesting for natural theologians, since nature seems to have just this sort of attunement to all the possible information in its environment. To be sure, nature also uses selection mechanisms that work like sieves that shake all the potatoes until all the runts fall out of the batch, but this is not the same thing as signal processing, which focuses within and selects from a field of possible information. Human beings clearly do this, as do the higher animals, but there is also good evidence that plants do it also. It seems this sort of focus on one out of many possible outcomes occurs in the inorganic world as well, since the particles in the double-slit experiment must be given, at a minimum, a way to actualize different outcomes in a field of possible information (sc. whether someone is observing the experiment or not).

All this might lead us in the direction of Leibnizian monads, that is, nature is fundamentally units capable of processing information as opposed to being (in a view we seem to think is scientific) a vast field of locks and keys that are shaken together with the result that some fall together. Nature only seems blind because it is instinctual,  that is, capable of focusing on things in a vast field of possible information. If nature were blind like a machine, it would be like Husserl’s tape recorder.

This is a new account of teleology, which, like Aristotle’s teleology, is intrinsic to things. Nature is fundamentally instinct, and it is instinct that conditions mechanism, and not the other way around, in the same way that potato shakers are only built after we have looked at all the potatoes and made a determination of which ones will count as runts, or the way we might build a radio that only tunes in one channel after we have determined that such a radio will suffice for our needs.

Here is the basic argument:

Machines are conduits that convert free energy into something of value.

What counts as valued is determined in advance by some unified being responding to possible features of its environment. therefore, etc.


I just happened to read this quotation from Patricia Churchland…

Studying the brain and thinking about how it works became a joyous obsession. Almost nothing about the brain, from tiny molecules shifting between neurons to the whole nervous system, failed to be fascinating. What is the me in all this—and, for that matter, the we in all this, my husband Paul and I wondered.

…at the exact same time as I was translating this one from Augustine, where he is trying to explain how we avoid the Delphic injunction to “Know Yourself”*

The mind sees some things intrinsically desirable (pulchra)  in that more excellent nature which is God: and while it should remain steadfast that it may enjoy them, it is turned away from him by wishing to appropriate those things to itself, and not to be like God by God but on its own. And so the self moves and slips down into what is less and less, which it thinks to be more and more; for it is neither sufficient for itself, nor is anything at all sufficient for it when it loses the one who alone suffices. In anxiety and distress it fixes itself too much on its own actions and upon the unquiet delights which it obtains through them. Thus,  it feels these things which it knows and loves so well cannot be held unless held fast with anxious care. And so it leaves off thinking of itself, in thinking this very self cannot be lost.

The strength of love is so great that the mind draws in to itself those things which it has long thought of with love. But these things are physical which it loved externally through the physical powers,  and yet it cannot carry those physical things themselves into its own incorporeal nature; therefore it assembles certain images of them, and thrusts into itself what it has made from itself.


*De Trinitate, X, p. 7 edited for length and readability.


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