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.


  1. I like this post.

  2. Hello there. I just felt like pointing out that Newton absolutely did not say anything at all about the big bang! Hehe. That theory is from the last century. Newton himself believed in an eternal, static and homogeneous universe with no beginning or end (this is the reason for Olber's paradox). How he could view the universe as being eternal while also being a scriptural fundamentalist is something of an open problem, I should say!
    Otherwise interesting stuff, though the cosmological argument should really be attributed to Aristotle, and as an argument for the existence of God it would perhaps in the Western world make more sense to consider Aquinas' take on it, since he is a after all a recognised church doctor and used it as one of his quinque viae (five ways) to God.
    Oh, and one last thing, Newton's third law is an a posteriori or empirically observed law of nature that only holds, like the rest of Newton's laws, for objects of medium size (i.e. neither on a microscopic not a macroscopic scale) -- and should thus hardly be used as some sort of metaphysical principle!

    1. Wow, I meant to write Einstein, not Newton. I am addressing the most used version of the argument, which is the KCA (as spammed by William Lane Craig). mI attribute it to doesn't really matter though, the argument stands on its own feet.

      I agree, there are many ways of finding flaws in this argument, and the fact that all of the laws of physics are a posteriori as far as I am concerned, would be one of them. Another one has to do with what it means for something to begin existing, and demonstrating that nothing that we would use as examples in every day life has the same characteristics of "beginning to exist" as the Universe would have, making it a false analogy and therefore an invalid argument to make.

      I have corrected the name from Newton to Einstein.

    2. What is your take on the beginning of the universe anyway? To me it seems a true antinomy in that a universe that has always existed is as absurd as creatio ex nihil. Where do we go when the two possibilities are (hehe) both impossible?
      Actually, by the way, have you considered that time might be a mental construct? Not in the Kantian sense, which I can't really believe in, but in the sense that it's a measure of how matter changes. Change is the only thing that actually really ever happens in the universe. We perceive time as things change, as a measure of how much. If nothing moved there would be no time. Consider, e.g., how a second is accurately defined as the number of vibrations of a certain atom at a certain temperature. So I would actually deny that time existed before the big bang. It, like space, simply does not make sense without matter.

    3. Well, I already wrote in my blog post that time didn't exist before the Big Bang, because time and space are interdependent and as such you can not have time before space existed, argue some. Which means that the very notion of "what happened BEFORE the Big Bang" is meaningless in the only sense of the word "before" we know.

      Lawrence Krauss goes out of his way to explain that "nothing" is not a "philosophical", but a scientific/physical concept, if it is to be used correctly. Creatio ex nihilo does not in fact refer to from "nothing" but from the absence of "something". Given that "something" is a physical concept (the sum of all space, matter, energy, time, etc.), "nothing" would simply mean whatever you can have when you remove all those things. So it may not in fact have been "nothing", and it would definitely not fall victim to the infinite regress of causality because this (as you pointed out, a posteriori) a posteriori is reliant on time, which doesn't exist. I think, although there are many hypotheses, the one advocated by Krauss is the zero-energy quantum fluctation phenomenon, which is basically *nothing* in an unstable state, which can spontaneously produce *something*.

      Though this may not satisfy the notion of a "cause" of the Universe. There is also the option of the Universe not having a cause, which I could delve into in another blog post.

      May I ask how you stumbled upon my blog? I know you're anonymous but it would be nice to know who's visiting the blog etc.

    4. Yeah, I assumed you were endorsing Einstein's view on the matter, but I guess not. He was famously wrong about God playing dice!
      Well, a concept is whatever it's thought to be, but I agree that it makes more sense to think of it in physical rather than philosophical terms. Interesting to think of it as standing outside causality. The only (human) problem about that is that we're so conditioned to believe in causality that it's almost impossible not to. That's not a serious counter-argument though. Still, Kant nearly had it when he made that a mode of human consciousness, and not a physical part of the world!
      Friend of a friend of a friend on Facebook. Heh. At least I'm glad to see there are still a few thoughtful people left in Norway. I actually thought they didn't exist.

    5. Well, from a skeptical perspective, I am neither a theist, nor a deist. Nor do I think pantheism is anything other than a nice poetic mantra that makes it easier for people who really don't believe in a creator of the Universe, to still seem approving of the concept of God by basically just labeling the reality we live in "God".

      Do you mind elaborating on what you mean by "Kant nearly had it when he made that a mode of human consciousness (...)" ?

      Also, if you are a friend of a friend of a friend, how did you manage to find my blog? I'm pretty sure it has terrible publicity...

  3. Kant says that causality is not itself in the world, but is (like space and time) imposed by our minds onto the world when our sense perceptions our processed. Quite an idea. It's a like a pair of sunglasses you can never take off, so you can never see the real world as it is.
    I found you, then your blog. Suffice to say, I was trying to kill some time.

    1. I see. It depends what you mean by causality. I'm not sure dismissing the notion that forces act on matter etc. (which is a form of causality after all) is warranted. I guess I would agree with the idea that causality being an absolute rule for absolutely everything within the universe lacks justification, though. What Kant says seems to be one of those unfalsifiable ideas, like the Brain in a vat idea, so while it may very well be true, it's a difficult idea to accept, though I haven't seen the arguments for the position.