What Do You Think?

David Hume argued that there are "four possible hypotheses concerning the first causes of the universe."
1) That they are endowed with perfect goodness;
2) That they have perfect malice;
3) That they are opposite containing both goodness and malice;
4) That they have neither goodness nor malice. [Dialogues, XI]

Which one do you think is preferable when you look at the world, and why?

29 comments:

Chris said...

What I think is this a very confusing set up. "First causes" appears to be oxymoronic. Goodness and badness aren't really relevant when it comes to First Cause. Goodness and badness are essentially human understandings and moral distinctions. We know the Bible says that God called it good, meaning he liked what he created. What I think is preferable, relative to first cause, has no relevance to current world condition. I prefer the world to be good today, but I'm not sure how that relates to First Cause.

John W. Loftus said...

Chris, Hume probably phrased it this way so as not to prejudge the nature of that cause (or causes). We do know that the universe began, so what do you think about the nature of its cause (or causes)?

Chris said...

But don't you think that setting up the argument with good and bad distinctions is prejudiced? It makes an assumption that is not in evidence. It presupposes that the First Cause was endowed with either one, both or neither of these distinctions, distinctions that I might add, only have relevance within a human context. It, by its construct, argues against the Divine or First Causer being motivated by other factors entirely. It also argues that the Divine or First Causer is somehow constrained by our definitions of Good and Bad.

Daniel said...

I suppose this impinges directly on another question:
Is it better for us to exist? For conscious animals other than us?

We must base the "goodness" or "badness" of this First Cause upon the effects, right? And so how do we evaluate those? I would evaluate the effects against the contrary -- the possibility that nothing exists. How do we make such a comparison?

To be, or not to be, that is the question...

Is existence and consciousness valuable from some outside perspective? Obviously we value it, since we have/are both. But how is it possible to say "it is better that we exist," or, "it would have been better for nothing to exist"?

I'm certainly glad that I exist, but if I never had, then I wouldn't have known otherwise. In that sense, then, only from the perspective of the First Cause could we hope to answer Shakespeare's question.

And to start to try to do that is to descend into irrationality. Is the First Cause God? The Christian God? Is it a rational creature? What if we were made whimsically, rather than with intent? (those are my favorite creation myths)

John W. Loftus said...

I agree with you Daniel. Given the existence of this world it is better that we never existed, especially since this universe will eventually reach absolute zero degrees someday. And it is especially true that given the existence of this world and also a good Creator, it would have been better that he never created it in the first place, if he did.

And Chris, so your answer is that you don't know? Agnosticism? That's interesting, given the fact that you post here as a Christian.

exbeliever said...

Humes statement, of course, assumes that the universe must be "caused." While we can inductively conclude that everything that begins to exist within space-time must have a cause, we do not know if this is true of space-time itself. We can't prove this inductively.

I also agree that it seems odd to label a cause "good" or "bad." I tend to think of existence as just being.

I think your general question, though, is a good one. If it was demonstrated that a being created the universe, and we were judging only by the data of our experience with existence, would we call this being "good" or "evil"?

Well, I have it pretty good--plenty to eat, good education, great friends, supportive family. But most of the world's population cannot say this. I guess, then, I would be more likely to attribute the universe to a demon than an angel.

John W. Loftus said...

Point well taken exbeliever. We could rephrase it to read, "four possible hypotheses concerning the purported first causes of the universe." Except that if scientists were to figure out a cause (or explanation) for this universe, then whether or not one believes a God created it doesn't matter. We still can ask about such possibilities. Even if we didn't assume that there was a beginning to the universe at all, as Aquinas did in his Five Proofs, or that the universe was a brute fact, we can still ask about these possibilities...we just may have to rephase the question.

BTW: Hume argued for the last one, recently called the Hypothesis of Indifference.

comradebillyboy said...

#4. How can a natural phenomenon be either good or bad? Is gravity good or evil; what are the ethical implications of Newton's laws? Giving human characteristics to natural occurances seems to me to be a form of animism.

Chris said...

Agnostic? Please. What? John, do you expect Christians to have all the answers? If you do, I can see why you have a problem with Christians. My humility in such things supercedes my willingness to speculate. In the world today, I see good and bad, but I don't assign these values to the natural universe, just to humankind.

John W. Loftus said...

Chris then you are evading the question. [Hint: it's about the God you believe in.]

Chris said...

God is perfectly Good and can create anything and has created everything. This means he can create both good and bad, as we define those terms. As we define bad as lacking good, or falling short of good, I surmise that there is no such thing as perfectly bad. I view badness and perfection as mutually exclusive. Since badness is therefore imperfect, or lacking perfection or falling short of perfection, the word "perfect" cannot be used to modify it or even to signify ultimate badness. It follows from this that badness is not capable of creating anything other than badness. Imperfection, if capable of creating, only creates imperfection. Imperfect cannot create perfect (ultimate good). Therefore, since we see both good and bad in the world today, it follows that the Creator is perfectly good.

tigg13 said...

Chris, you have very clearly pointed out that bad cannaot create good, but you have not explained how good (god) can create bad. Particularly when, as you state, badness and perfection are mutually exclusive.

Personally, I can only narrow theese options down to two. Either goodness and badness are illusory and subjectively assigned, or there is only goodness and everything is perfect just the way it is right down to our desire to make things better.

In other words, I am willing to allow for the existance of absolute good, but not for absolute evil.

Chris said...

Bad and good are words we use to describe things and yes I believe they are subjectively assigned. We would describe an earthquake as bad and it certainly is bad from our perspective, but perhaps God doesn't see them in that light. The Bible defines God as Good, Ultimate Good, Perfectly Good. Satan on the other hand is described as bad or evil. Not perfectly evil however, since that would argue for some antithesis to God; a being equal to God but his exact opposite. We know from the bible this is not the case since Satan is a created being. The created cannot be equal to the Creator. God, in his design of creation allows for bad. It therefore had to have been contemplated by the Creator and subsequently became part of the design. It manifests itself in choice, in a menu of choices for the created being. When I said that badness and perfection are mutually exclusive, that was a poor choice of words, since Perfect God, who has created everything, can therefore create badness. It does not work in the other direction. Its like when you introduce a color to pure white, you can never achieve pure white again. Pure white can become other colors with the introduction of other pigments. Other pigments can never become pure white with the introduction of pure white. Its a weak analogy I know, but hopefully you get the gist of what I'm saying.

Daniel said...

Chris,

In your attempt to avoid the Problem of Evil it appears that you want evil not to exist. Hoping won't make it so, though, I'm afraid. Yes, evil may be an "inter-subjective perspective" that all humans share -- that long and tortuous deaths are evil, that madness is evil, that the rape and murder of children are evil, that cancer eating away your body is evil. That doesn't mean it isn't a valid perspective, or that it doesn't describe our shared experience of pain and sorrow. Of course, greater minds have taken pains to carefully define evil in attempts to make it objective, using evidential methods.

If we consider a basic evaluation of each potential event/action solely in its effects, and solely in whether those effects cause pain, insanity, rape, murder, sorrow, etc., then we have a working objective definition of evil -- some distinct criteria. The experience of each of those is subjective, just as consciousness is, but qualitatively this doesn't render the judgment invalid.

Back to the consideration here -- I would say that saying that the universe is caused denies the non-creation of matter and energy. Asking why matter and energy exist at all, rather than nothing, is a valid question, but quickly dead ends, in the same way that asking the theist why God exists at all (esp considering the lack of necessity for creation of matter and energy) does.

I am inclined to agree that it would be better for nothing to exist at all than for things to exist which would become conscious and suffer and die and go through what humans do. For in the absence of consciousness, there is only a value-neutral nothingness, ignorant bliss.

This is the same reality we will experience when we die, just as we did before we were conceived.

In that sense, it doesn't have to extend to the universe, or the cause thereof, but we can frame the existential dilemma upon our own lives, just our human existence. Is it better that I exist...instead of is it better that everything does?

Francois Tremblay said...

The most likely is that Hume was a particularly bad epistemologist.

Bahnsen Burner said...

I agree completely with Franc's statement here. Hume made several key mistakes at the fundamental level. Among them, he held that perceptual integration of sense data was volitional. This is not true. It is autonomic. He also held that, since there was no objective guide to integrating sense data, whatever perceptions we volitionally assemble from the data of the senses are arbitrary. Consequently, the concepts we form from the resulting percepts are also arbitrary. Hume also held to the event-based model of causality, which ignores the necessary relationship between an entity and its own actions. This is why Humean-influenced philosophy allows a thinker to ignore the context of an entity's nature while estimating the range of possible outcomes of an "event," which is conceived as action without identity. As a result of these invalid premises, Hume had no alternative to the skeptical conclusions he drew, such as his famous undermining of induction. His conclusion about induction logically follows from his premises. The key to answering Hume on his conclusion about induction is to examine his premises. Once they're corrected, the problem evaporates. This pulls the rug out from under Bahnsen's transcendental argument, and annoys presuppositionalists to no end.

Regards,
Dawson

beepbeepitsme said...

I am not convinced that the universe requires a "first cause".

Chris said...

Beep- You have a first cause. The tree under which you sit, contemplating the randomness, has a first cause. It's not logical to assume that the universe has not been caused.

Bahnsen Burner said...

Chris: "Beep- You have a first cause. The tree under which you sit, contemplating the randomness, has a first cause. It's not logical to assume that the universe has not been caused."

What exactly do you mean by 'universe'? This is what's often missing when theists insist on a cause for the universe as a whole - a definition of the term being discussed. If 'universe' is the sum total of everything that exists (which is how I use the term), then concepts of causality can only apply within the universe - since causality presupposes the existence of whatever is doing the causing - not to the universe itself. Theists don't like this because it doesn't accommodate their theistic stipulations. Theists need to make a decision: do you start with what exists, or do you start with non-existence, thereby giving rise for a need to explain the fact that there is something? Since I start with existence, there's no validity to the idea that existence needs to be explained. To what would one appeal to explain existence? To nothing? What would that explain? Does pointing to nothing explain something? Not in my book.

Regards,
Dawson

Chris said...

"Since I start with existence, there's no validity to the idea that existence needs to be explained."

You're starting point is arbitrary, as you would likely claim mine is. Your arguments presuppose this starting point.

The term "universe" I take to mean everything except God, which of course, is my starting point.

Bahnsen Burner said...

Chris: "You're starting point is arbitrary, as you would likely claim mine is."

Do you have an argument to support your charge that existence is an arbitrary starting point? How is existence arbitrary? If you say your god exists, you're making use of existence yourself. And yet you deny your starting point is arbitrary?

Chris: "Your arguments presuppose this starting point."

My arguments presuppose the fact that something exists. Existence is irreducible. To what would existence reduce? To non-existence?

Chris: "The term "universe" I take to mean everything except God, which of course, is my starting point."

What concept do you offer in place of 'universe' as I use it? Don't you have a concept which includes everything, including your god? Also, by what means do you have awareness of your god? How do you distinguish your god from something you're imagining? How can I distinguish your god from something you're imagining?

Regards,
Dawson

Chris said...

Dawson,

"Existence is irreducible"
________________________

You're repeating what you previously stated. It is your starting point. You make this statement definitively as if it requires no proof. I say that God is irreducible. That is my starting point. You require proof of me to make this claim. I require proof of you to make your claim. We are at an impasse. No "proof" from either side is possible to anyone's satisfaction.
______________________________

"Don't you have a concept which includes everything, including your god?"
__________________________

Of course not. God is apart from everything. Including God in the definition of the universe, is to make him subject to it instead the Causer of it. The bible says he is without beginning or end, from time indefinite to time indefinite. The name Jehovah means "causes to become". He is the First Cause. You prefer to relegate this concept to "the universe" or existence itself. Again, you have no evidence of this so therefore you must have faith that your argument is correct, as I do.

Regards,
Chris

Closet Atheist said...

This is my first time making a post here.

Chris,

You're repeating what you previously stated. It is your starting point. You make this statement definitively as if it requires no proof. I say that God is irreducible. That is my starting point. You require proof of me to make this claim. I require proof of you to make your claim. We are at an impasse. No "proof" from either side is possible to anyone's satisfaction.

This supposed 'impasse' does not exist.
Theists claim that there must be a 'first' cause for the 'universe' to come into existence does not explain where god came from. Your claim that there must be a 'first' cause for something to exist does not explain how god got there in the 'first' place. Theists cannot prove the 'first' cause as there is no empirical evidence supporting it.
Since atheist do not require a 'first' cause our claim is that the 'universe' has always existed. Our proof being everything that is around us.

Chris said...

Closet Athiest,
Of course it's an impasse. Merely stating that the universe has always existed doesn't make it true and certainly doesn't make it provable. It is presupposed by you to be the case in the same way I presuppose God. I say that God has always existed, you say the universe has always existed. Your statement is one of faith and not fact.
Regards,
Chris

Bahnsen Burner said...

Chris -

Here are some points for you to consider:

Theism and Its Piggyback Starting Point

Regards,
Dawson

Rusty Cuyler said...

There always seems-- to me, at any rate-- to be a big elephant in the room that gets ignored by the theist (hereafter simply called "Christian," since that is presumably the focus of this site) whenever one of these "First Cause" debates starts up.

It's not (necessarily) the question of how one accounts for the existence of a God who is presupposed to act as the "first cause" in these debates. It's more about where the Christian winds up when they declare victory in these debates, usually with some variation of "you can't prove God doesn't exist, so there."

The problem with this is that the debate by now has long since moved beyond the archaic and quaint myths set forth in Genesis (that is, these have been shown to be at the least literally impossible by acknowledgement of a few minor details like the basic laws of thermodynamics, general and special relativity, paleontology, etc.). And, having dispensed with those, I think it becomes necessary to question everything constructed upon the foundations provided by those myths.

In other words, at some point in virtually every debate like this that I've ever seen transpire, the Christian is inevitably forced to sacrifice the only evidence (the Bible) that they have for their belief in order to contend with the rational arguments of the atheist.

To me, this paradoxical outcome cannot be simply dismissed by some hand-waving and figurative re-imaginings of the various myths and other passages in the Bible. If it's supposed to be evidence, then why is it that the stories told in the Bible lose their evidentiary value when reason enters the equation? On what authority do you get to decide which parts of the Bible get to be dismissed as evidentiary or interpreted figuratively? And perhaps equally important, at what point in history did God Himself clearly permit someone to start waving their hands over a tricky passage of the Bible and say "Well, maybe we're not supposed to take it literally"? Why would Christians from an earlier era not be permitted to treat the Bible with the same arbitrary approach?

Chris said...

Rusty,
Let's forget about the bible for a second, since it has been logically parsed and thoroughly deconstructed for centuries. What really irks athiests and perhaps gives them the most evidence supporting their case is that Christians are not of the same belief on any one doctrine. This has been going on since the death of the apostles and to some extent even with them there was discord. The apostles didn't understand Christ or misread him a number of times. And these were believers of the message and eyewitnesses to events. Its no wonder the skeptically inclined throw their hands in the air and say "What's the use?".

The Christian is opposed by everyone. He is opposed by people who are even in his own congregation. This does not mean we don't love our Christian brothers and sisters, it just means we have differing ideas of what scripture means to us. The Christian is opposed by other Christians not of his denomination. I see this constantly. There are liberal Christians and Conservative Christians, there are Catholics and Protestants, there are Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, all believing that they have the truth and the others are on the high road to hell.

And the book says what it says, yet we have so many interpretations of what it might mean.

Still we seek the truth. We search for it as if it were a buried treasure. The skeptics believe the treasure is imaginary and they fashion all manner of argument supporting their case. However, as is the case with most skeptics, they are armed in the traditions of the ancient and recent philosophers to deconstruct your belief, but are not equipped to present any compelling alternative case. Its like a defense attorney who can dismantle the prosecutions case but when tasked with presenting his client's defense has no witnesses to call.

And I will point out, similar to Christians, athiests are not of the same belief. They are all over the board as we are. What appears to unify them is their anomosity towards Christians.

Back to the bible. Logical deconstruction of the bible has been going on since the canon was compiled, likely earlier. It has only been within the last couple of centuries, in an era of liberalism, that this effort has taken on a more vigorous face. Christians see this effort as the work of an evil force. This amuses the athiest, perhaps frustrates him because its not tidy, not mathematical, not logical this evil. Its tough for the athiest to rap their logical brains around this illogical concept and their arguments grow lowder and more frenzied but for the most part, fall on deaf ears. The steadfast Christian has a suit of spiritual armor that can be dented but not penetrated by the athiest.

I am one to be persuaded by logic. But the arguments against theism in general and Christianity in particular are not accompanied by any alternative working model of life. There are numerous theories that are so full of logical holes that you could drive Pharaoh's army through them. The atheistic response is to give up on searching for the Divine entirely and instead place primary confidence in mankind's ability to cure its own suffering, its own inevitable death. Then what is beyond? Athiests claim nothing. That is a profession of faith.

Regards,
Chris

Chris said...

Dawson,
I posted a response to "Points I should consider" on your site.
Regards,
Chris

Rusty Cuyler said...

Chris,


The apostles didn't understand Christ or misread him a number of times. And these were believers of the message and eyewitnesses to events.


On what authority do you make such a claim? How do you know this is true, and how do you counter your fellow Christians who might say, “But there is no discord, no disparity—the fault lies with your exegesis, not with the text.” And if your statement is legitimate, if the apostles and by extension those who wrote the books in the NT misunderstood and misread Christ, how can we determine what Christ really meant?

Its no wonder the skeptically inclined throw their hands in the air and say "What's the use?".

Why would you expect otherwise? If one makes the claim, as is often done, that the Bible is a “guide to life,” then it should have some sort of value as such. Let me make an analogy—if you were to buy a car, you’d have a reasonable expectation that the owner’s manual would provide you with useful information as to the maintenance of the car. But if, instead, you found numerous passages that seem to contradict each other (e.g., “Change the oil every three months or three thousand miles” on page 332; “Change the oil only when the 'service engine soon' light shows” on page 20), and things that seem downright counterintuitive (“Drive as fast as you can and mercilessly run over pedestrians, who do not deserve to live since they are not driving cars”), you might be a little put out. And perhaps when you contact the manufacturer, the helpline representative informs you that if you really seek the truth of how to check your transmission fluid levels, then you will need to read the manual in the original Greek. Or even in Hebrew, which turns out to be the original language of the first 2/3 or so of the manual (which also, by the way, turns out to have originally been written for a completely different kind of car that runs on diesel, etc.).

Like all analogies, obviously, this one is imperfect, but it does get to the heart of the problem—what is the message of the Bible, and couldn’t it be just a little bit less confusing, considering that humanity’s purportedly immortal souls hang in the balance?

However, as is the case with most skeptics, they are armed in the traditions of the ancient and recent philosophers to deconstruct your belief, but are not equipped to present any compelling alternative case.

That certainly may be true of an ancient critic of Christianity such as Celsus, whose sole purpose is to demonstrate that Christianity is not “the true doctrine,” but are you accusing Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, etc., of failing to propose systems by which a person might organize/examine their lives, or ways in which we might organize human society as a whole?

And I will point out, similar to Christians, athiests are not of the same belief.

This is due to the fact that there is no belief system inherent to atheism. Atheists merely conclude that there is no evidence for the existence of God/gods. What atheists may believe beyond that has nothing to do with their atheism.

They are all over the board as we are. What appears to unify them is their anomosity towards Christians.

I would hesitate to make such a broad generalization. There are no doubt atheists with considerable animus toward Christians, but for my part, I wouldn’t characterize it as such. I often feel frustration with the Christian belief system and the way some people use it to justify intolerance or force people to adopt a rigorous morality that is often not practiced by those who are doing the forcing and which is based solely on dogma and is sorely lacking in reason . . . but I recognize that Christianity does not always motivate people to do evil, and there are many people who proudly proclaim their Christianity that I would classify as good and moral by any criteria I might employ.


I am one to be persuaded by logic. But the arguments against theism in general and Christianity in particular are not accompanied by any alternative working model of life.

I think this misses the point. If the site (or even this thread) were called, “Why Humanism is the Most Awesomest Philosophy EVER,” then, yeah, we could get into a critique of an alternative to Christianity. But beyond that, there is a very important distinction to be made between atheism and just about any theism, particularly Christianity: atheism does not presume to propose a system of belief that promises to provide absolute truths and certainties (or any system of belief at all, actually). Atheists are actually comfortable with “I don’t know” as a response to a wide variety of questions. You might consider it to be a little unfair that you have to defend your belief while we skeptics/atheists get to simply criticize it without having to construct and defend a belief system of our own, but again, that’s not what the site is about (or at least that’s what I’m given to understand).


There are numerous theories that are so full of logical holes that you could drive Pharaoh's army through them.

This is no doubt true, and although I wouldn’t wish to speak for my fellow atheists, it’s also kind of the whole point. So if a particular philosophy or belief system is found lacking, that’s not necessarily a problem—it just means that we have to reevaluate, and continue to observe and test hypotheses. Unlike the Christian, we’re not going to be saddled by centuries of doctrine and/or a need to reconcile particularly perplexing and irrational edicts-- from a God we can’t see and are told we can’t even imagine-- with the reality of the world that we actually inhabit, that we actually affect and that actually affects us.

Then what is beyond? Athiests claim nothing.

No, we don’t actually “claim” anything of the sort. We just admit that we don’t know.

That is a profession of faith.

No, it’s not. I have no idea what happens when we die. I can offer an educated guess based on what we can learn from biology, etc., but I really just don’t know. Maybe there actually is some sort of Supreme Being that exists, who will bestow either punishment or reward in an afterlife upon me and the rest of humanity.

And thus, we come back to the heart of the matter. Give me a logical reason to believe that Christianity has the right of it with regard to such questions as what happens when we die, and I’ll be the first in line to sign up at church. (Oh, and make sure you also provide me with a logical reason for choosing one particular church over any other while you’re at it.)