Sunday, 12 August 2012

Loaded Questions and the First Cause Argument for the Existence of God

The holidays are soon over, and it's time to get serious again. I am now assuming that you have been less serious during the holidays, which I'm sure will apply to most of you, yet there might be one or two of you (and I really have no clue who "you" is, or are) who have been just as serious, if not even more serious, during the holidays than before. Enough verbal diarrhoea, let's get to the point.

Part of growing up, for most people, is about questioning your own existence, your own assumptions, whether what you believe is true can be justified, and of course whether what other people think is true is in fact justifiable. The process involves a lot of arduous thinking, at least when you get to the more complex questions, which is why some people might not make it past the "are red dresses really more sexually appealing than blue dresses?"-stage. In my opinion, red goes with brunette and blue goes with blonde, but I digress.

As you have probably guessed from the title, this post is about loaded questions, or questions with ammunition if you like. Why? Because by knowing when a question is loaded, you might realise that the question you are about to ask is presumptuous and might need to be preceded by a less presumptuous question before you ask the loaded question, if you are to ask said loaded question at all. We all come across loaded questions all the time, because they save time in the long run, but when you are discussing topics of importance it's important to be aware of them. Here's a couple of loaded questions, ranging from strikingly obviously loaded to less obviously loaded.

1. Have you stopped beating your wife yet?
In this case, not only does the question assume that you have been beating your wife, but no matter what your answer is, it will confirm the mentioned assumption. Of course you could throw your leather glove on the ground in front of whoever asked you such a question and answer "that's a loaded question, and I think we should discuss this matter with a pair of rapiers by the graveyard tomorrow at noon", but that would hardly be an answer to the question. It would be your reaction, nothing more. It was a yes or no question, and your noble attitude doesn't change that fact. This is how the question should be phrased:
- Do you have a wife?
- If yes, have you at any point been beating her?
- If yes, have you stopped beating her?

2. Who killed my brother?
Well, the two assumptions in this question are that your brother is dead, and that an agent killed him (by agent I am not referring to a trained government assassin, but a person who has intentions and means of fulfilling these intentions with an action). Well, it also assumes that you had a brother in the first place, but I guess all loaded questions tend to assume that you aren't delusional... This is how the question should be phrased:
- Do I have a brother? (I just had to)
- If yes, is he dead?
- If yes, was he killed?
- If yes, by whom?

3. What is your favourite colour?
Seems fairly innocent, doesn't it? Well shut up because it's still a loaded question. Stop crying, I'm sorry for hurting your feelings. Anyway, it assumes that you have a favourite colour. This is how the question should be phrased:
- Do you have a favourite colour?
- If yes, what is it?

4. What caused the Universe to begin to exist?
This is the pinnacle of our tedious journey of nitpicking. It seems like the most basic question you can ask, but it is still a loaded question. First of all, it assumes that the Universe began to exist (it did), but it also assumes that something caused it to exist. Now before you pull down your pants and come running at me with fiery torches, hear me out. This is how the question should be phrased:
- Did the Universe begin to exist?
- If yes, did anything cause the Universe to exist?
- If yes, what was it?

Now, this is where anyone who believes in a Creator thinks skipping the second question is OK. Somehow, they assume that everything that begins to exist must have a cause. Sure, that would seem extremely intuitive, and is the first premise of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, but it still has not sought out to prove that everything that begins to exist must have a cause. For anyone who pursues the question of the existence of the Universe honestly, it is obvious that if the answer to the second question is no, the third question becomes meaningless. But if you're religious, you would probably use Newton's third law (N3) as a means of demonstrating that because every action has an equal and opposite reaction, then obviously every effect (opposite reaction) must have a cause (action). Sure, but you must here assume that the Universe is an effect, and not merely a cause - the first cause, which is according to Einstein's Theory of General Relativity a distinct possibility, or in fact a necessity. 

N3 assumes, unless I am horribly mistaken, that as long as there is a time vector then every cause has an effect. (It states that time and space started at the Big Bang) The premise is not "everything that begins to exist has a cause", it should be "everything that begins to exist and is not preceded by anything with respect to time, has a cause". Time is a necessity when talking about causality. A cause must come before the effect. Now the problem with asking the questions "what came before the thing that wasn't preceded by anything?" or "what time was it before time existed?" is quite obvious. They make no logical sense. How can an effect (the Universe) come after a cause when the notion of "coming after" is only meaningful after the Universe already exists? Surely, I can't be the only one whose brain explodes every time someone asks "what came before the Big Bang?".

I do concede, however, that there was a point where the Universe was not theorised to be the beginning of both space and time. I believe Einstein stated that although space began with the Big Bang, time did not, but was a dimension stretching ad infinitum. Sure, at that point you could ask the question "what came before the Big Bang?" which is effectively the same thing as asking "what caused the Big Bang?" because as I have already mentioned, the cause must come before the effect, but it isn't so anymore.

It really does seem like the Universe is the uncaused cause; the unmoved mover, but now that I think about it, I retract my statement about red versus blue dresses for blondes and brunettes. It depends on the person, and I'm sorry for leaving redheads out of the equation. If there was indeed one hair colour that matches any colour of dress, I would have to give it up for black hair ... or no hair.