Infinite Regress

In a post last month, I mentioned the thegodcontention debate website in which the apologist position is defended by Timothy McCabe. Interestingly, McCabe responded (quite civilly I might add given the criticism I leveled about his presention of the position that “the the Laws of Logic can only be valid if Christianity is true.”) I certainly appreciate his taking the time to respond, which I rarely get on this blog. And, as luck would have it, he has presented some interesting items for discussion.

Since there are some major philosophical paradoxes to discuss, I’m going to take his arguments a little bit at a time.  We’ll start with his first substantial rebuttal:

If you would like to actually address the arguments that I make rather than those that Craig makes, you can find a more developed argument against Atheism and Polytheism (one that not only necessarily leads to a god, but an eternal, omnipotent, monotheistic, personal God) right here:

These are bold claims indeed if he hopes to whittle an argument by necessity all the way down to a monotheistic and personal god! So let’s take a look.

1. Infite Regress is logically incoherent.

Here, McCabe relies largely on human intuition to make his point. It is indeed paradoxical to posit a infinitely aged universe because it seems to defy the possibility of a ‘present.’ How did we get to the present considering there was an infinite amount of time prior to the present? An infinite amount of time cannot pass, right? This aspect of infinity is major component of the Cosmological Argument (which posits the necessity of a First Cause.) This power in this argument is much less of a parlor trick than the difficulty the human mind has in dealing with the concept of infinity. This is the same reason Zeno’s Paradox drives us crazy with our ability to traverse a distance that can be infinitely subdivided into smaller and smaller segments (which I referred to in the aforementioned post.)

“My Bad.”

Unfortunately for McCabe, science has taught us again and again that our intuition can only take us so far in the quest to understand the universe. This should be obvious from Einstein’s Theory of Relativity which shows us that the intuitive physics derived by Newton and his contemporaries is really a simplification of reality. The very idea that time travels a different rates for observers in relative motion is not at all intuitive, for instance. On the atomic scale, the idea that atoms are made mostly of nothing defies our intuition when we try to put our hand through a brick wall. And there is very little that is intuitively consistent with Quantum theory (so much the case that one of the most famous quotes about it, coined by Feynman, is: “If you think you understand Quantum theory, then you don’t understand Quantum theory.”) In the same way that it’s futile to attempt to understand the quantum world in the same terms as we understand the macro-world, it’s futile to try to break down what the Cosmological Argument means by ’cause’ to ‘somewhere’ time and space as we know it even existed.

You should notice immediately that simply generating an exception (not to mention a very specific type of exception, like a monotheistic, personal god) is not a legitimate way of escaping the paradox itself. The argument essentially says:

Everything has a cause. No wait, everything doesn’t have a cause. But what doesn’t have a cause can only be one thing.

And then it proceeds to fallaciously draws a fanciful inference about the essential properties of that uncaused one thing.

Okay, that’s enough for now. Tomorrow we will examine McCabe’s leveraging of the notion of “temporality” and how he amazingly arrives at the conclusion that “The ultimate first cause of every temporal event is an eternal person, and if there are multiple eternal personal uncaused First Causes, they are perfectly united as One God.”  (Along with these conclusions, he accuses the contrary arguments as ‘incoherent’ no less than six times. McCabe should read Mistakes Were Made, but Not by Me.)


3 Comments to “Infinite Regress”

  1. Timothy McCabe 14 July 2011 at 7:29 pm #

    (1) Your first rebuttal argument seems to be the following:

    P1. People have been wrong in the past.
    P2. McCabe is a people.
    C. Therefore McCabe is wrong.

    Please let me know if I’m missing anything here.

    (2) Your second argument is a standard straw-man mischaracterization of the cosmological argument: the argument never suggests that “everything” has a cause. That would require infinite regress and would therefore be incoherent.

    My premise is that everything that changes over time has a cause. I even demonstrate this deductively and prove the impossibility of the contrary. Of course, the premise does not apply to anything that does not change over time. One Atheist suggested to me that the universe, by my argument, could be uncaused, because the overall quantity of matter and energy is unchanging. Of course, as I pointed out to him, the universe is far more than simply a quantity.

    My point is that your second rebuttal is a straw-man.

    God bless!

  2. Jon K 14 July 2011 at 10:50 pm #

    Pretty good. First you overlay my comments onto a staw man and then you accuse me of setting up a straw man. So here goes…

    (1) My argument was nothing of the sort (although if you replace your conclusion’s ‘is’ with ‘may be’ I’m perfectly fine with the framing. My point actually was that your initial statement that “Infinite Regress is Logically Incoherent” is not a meaningful premise to start from. The concept of infinite regress is no more logically incoherent than the concept of infinity itself, which is perfectly logical. What I guess you mean to argue is that the actualization of the concept of infinite regress in the world of experience creates a problematic paradox. My argument is that this is because there are some important things you do not understand about the nature of reality, time, etc. and you are pointing to where this simplistic representation fails and saying “see, it doesn’t make sense – we need a god here.” I offered a couple examples (your “People have been wrong in the past” premise) such as Einstein’s extension of Newtonian physics as a mere analogy of this type of error not as any type of logically formulated premise.

    (2) A being, entity, essence, whatever that is itself a cause, mover, changer, communicator, being, (…whatever) that does not change over time is about as incoherent a notion as you can offer. Your entire argument simply moves this causal ‘incoherence’ you identify to a ‘place’ where, by your very definition of unchanging, it must remain impotent with respect to time. (Which obviously means it cannot know things, respond to events, affect changes.) This tactic certainly does not resolve the paradox, only throws a blanket over it.

  3. Timothy McCabe 10 December 2011 at 4:37 pm #

    1. My mistake. Thanks for clarifying your argument.

    2. The concept isn’t incoherent in the slightest. I believe I address your concerns more fully here:

    Please let me know if you still find it incoherent and why.

    God bless.

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