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The question comes out of an thought experiment which goes like this:

The question comes out of an thought experiment which goes like this: Suppose i ask you to choose a random word from English dictionary. And I tell you to find its definition. Now the definition of the word will also contains some set of words. I ask you to find the definition of all words taking one at a time. The definition of this second word will also contain some set of words, so you have to repeat this definition finding until you reach a word which has already been defined. Now you take the second word from the definition of the very first word you chose and keep repeating this process. As there are finite number of words in English dictionary, you will reach a point where there is nothing to define. Hence, if a set of definitions(in this case the English dictionary) there are finite definitions for each unknown. Accordingly, if our laws of universe are finite, then there will be finite answers to explain the entire universe. Or we can say existence of each physical process can be satisfactorily...

This is a first-rate question, if a little complicated, and deserves a longer (first-rate) answer. But it's Thanksgiving so I have to be brief! First your point about the dictionary is quite fascinating. I'm pretty sure Wittgenstein (and maybe Augustine) made roughly similar or closely related observations -- but partly in service of recognizing that ultimately for language/meaning to work we must connect (some) words not merely to other words but to 'reality' (or at least our perceptions thereof) -- we have some 'ostensive' definitions whereby we assign the meaning of a word by relating it directly to some object or object of perception ... (Not that that is problem-free itself, but it attempts to break the cycle of words-words definitions). Second, I'm not entirely clear on the analogy you make between the definition case and that of physical laws (and not clear whether the point I just made about ostensive definitions would apply in some analogous way to the laws). But apart from the analogy I can say you also have your finger on a very deep issue about explanation etc. -- and one response might be to point out that while perhaps we can explain various particular events by reference to the physical laws constitutiong the framework, that general strategy won't explain the laws themselves -- that at some point explanation of the system itself requires going outside the system (perhaps there's the analogy to ostensive definition) -- I think the great medieval thinker Maimonides made a point similar to this -- ultimately using it either as part of an argument to believe in the existence of God (as something outside the physical system that could explain the physical system), or at least to recognize that you can't apply the normal model of explanation of normal events back to explain the 'beginning' of the universe, creation ex nihilo .... Does this mean a 'theory of everything' isn't possible? Well, of course, better ask the physicists that. Pretty clearly such a theory would also have to explain itself ... (or else perhaps could a Theory of Everything include God etc.)? .... Anyway much more to say here, but many deep points are raised in your question ....

hope this is useful!

ap

This is a first-rate question, if a little complicated, and deserves a longer (first-rate) answer. But it's Thanksgiving so I have to be brief! First your point about the dictionary is quite fascinating. I'm pretty sure Wittgenstein (and maybe Augustine) made roughly similar or closely related observations -- but partly in service of recognizing that ultimately for language/meaning to work we must connect (some) words not merely to other words but to 'reality' (or at least our perceptions thereof) -- we have some 'ostensive' definitions whereby we assign the meaning of a word by relating it directly to some object or object of perception ... (Not that that is problem-free itself, but it attempts to break the cycle of words-words definitions). Second, I'm not entirely clear on the analogy you make between the definition case and that of physical laws (and not clear whether the point I just made about ostensive definitions would apply in some analogous way to the laws). But apart from the analogy I can say...

Does the principle of increased entropy support or challenge the Cosmological

Does the principle of increased entropy support or challenge the Cosmological argument? I am getting mixed messages and am unsure which if any are valid.

Good question, and undoubtedly others are better equipped to give better or deeper answers. But I'll take a quick stab. First, there are at least several different categories of Cosmological Arguments, but I'm guessing you have in mind those involving design of some sort -- increasing entropy seems to suggest the cosmos tends toward disorder, which seems to undermine the notion that there is any sort of (intrinsic) or ultimate ordering. But now, with respect to design, what's to refute the idea that the increasing disorder is PART of the design, part of its aim? (the general problem with design arguments is that no one is ever very clear on just what the purported point of God creating the universe is .... But presumably introducing human beings to contemplate the universe (and God) is part of it, and why couldn't a cosmos with increasing entropy be something good for human beings to contemplate?) ... As far as other forms of Cosmological Args go, by my understanding they tend to involve intelligibility concerns: we couldn't make sense of motion, or of causation, or of the existence of the cosmos at all, unless there were a First Mover, Cause, or Necessarily Existent Creator. As far as I can see those forms of argument are neutral on the existence of entropy. So, in short, I can see where your intuition comes in -- but seems to me a lot more work has to be done before the fact of entropy would really raise a challenge for Cosmological Arguments.

hope that's a useful start!

ap

Good question, and undoubtedly others are better equipped to give better or deeper answers. But I'll take a quick stab. First, there are at least several different categories of Cosmological Arguments, but I'm guessing you have in mind those involving design of some sort -- increasing entropy seems to suggest the cosmos tends toward disorder, which seems to undermine the notion that there is any sort of (intrinsic) or ultimate ordering. But now, with respect to design, what's to refute the idea that the increasing disorder is PART of the design, part of its aim? (the general problem with design arguments is that no one is ever very clear on just what the purported point of God creating the universe is .... But presumably introducing human beings to contemplate the universe (and God) is part of it, and why couldn't a cosmos with increasing entropy be something good for human beings to contemplate?) ... As far as other forms of Cosmological Args go, by my understanding they tend to involve...

Good question, and undoubtedly others are better equipped to give better or deeper answers. But I'll take a quick stab. First, there are at least several different categories of Cosmological Arguments, but I'm guessing you have in mind those involving design of some sort -- increasing entropy seems to suggest the cosmos tends toward disorder, which seems to undermine the notion that there is any sort of (intrinsic) or ultimate ordering. But now, with respect to design, what's to refute the idea that the increasing disorder is PART of the design, part of its aim? (the general problem with design arguments is that no one is ever very clear on just what the purported point of God creating the universe is .... But presumably introducing human beings to contemplate the universe (and God) is part of it, and why couldn't a cosmos with increasing entropy be something good for human beings to contemplate?) ... As far as other forms of Cosmological Args go, by my understanding they tend to involve...

Is it a contradiction to believe in God and also in science? I believe in

Is it a contradiction to believe in God and also in science? I believe in evolution and look at the Big Bang theory skeptically, but I also believe in God as the creator of everything. Many have often told me that you can't really accept these theories and also believe in God without causing a contradiction, but I always thought of it as science answering how things happen, whereas my faith in God answers why things happen. What do you think?

A wonderful, rich, and controversial question -- and there are lots of people out there thinking about it. (I happen to like Paul Davies on this subject -- but see also very recent books by Thomas Nagel and Alvin Plantinga ...) Just a quick thought for here. If someone says there's a contradiction they have to be able to state explicitly what it is. You get quick contradictions if perhaps you read the bible very literally and then listen to scientific theories of the creation of the universe, and/or the development of human beings. But lots of deeply religious people do not think the bible is to be read entirely literally, including such famous thinkers as Maimonides, Aquinas, and others. Given what you say it sounds like you're in the 'non-literal' camp ... but then to be sure you're NOT accepting contradictions you need to spell out as explicitly as you can just what science says about creation and what the Bible says, and satisfy yourself they are consistent ... As for your latter point, well -- the line between 'how' and 'why' really is not clear at all. Some read scientific claims as describing 'necessities,' laws which necessarily govern what happens -- and if something 'necessarily' happens that may well be to explain 'why' it happens. Or if you want to reserve for God (say) the explanation of 'why' things happen in the sense of 'to what end or purpose' -- well you need to look quite carefully at what science suggests about purposes and then, separately, really consider whether the empirical evidence, i.e. the course of events in the world, really does support the view that things, everything, the whole package, occurs for some purpose. (Can you say what that purpose is? If not, then why believe there is one?) Anyway this is all just the tip of the iceberg -- have a look at the authors I mentioned, and maybe my own introductory volume "The God Question: what famous thinkers have said about the divine"...)

best,

ap

A wonderful, rich, and controversial question -- and there are lots of people out there thinking about it. (I happen to like Paul Davies on this subject -- but see also very recent books by Thomas Nagel and Alvin Plantinga ...) Just a quick thought for here. If someone says there's a contradiction they have to be able to state explicitly what it is. You get quick contradictions if perhaps you read the bible very literally and then listen to scientific theories of the creation of the universe, and/or the development of human beings. But lots of deeply religious people do not think the bible is to be read entirely literally, including such famous thinkers as Maimonides, Aquinas, and others. Given what you say it sounds like you're in the 'non-literal' camp ... but then to be sure you're NOT accepting contradictions you need to spell out as explicitly as you can just what science says about creation and what the Bible says, and satisfy yourself they are consistent ... As for your latter point, well --...

I'm attending a lecture on the philosophy of science, and our professor told us

I'm attending a lecture on the philosophy of science, and our professor told us yesterday that "we constantly rely on inductive reasoning all the time in our lives, such as when we assume that the floor won't suddenly collapse beneath our feet if we walk forwards." This struck me as odd. Is it accurate to say we "assume" such a thing? It seems to me that we don't even think about these things at all, much less try to justify any such assumptions - saying we're relying on some kind of argumentation seems like a stretch, but perhaps it isn't. Is everything we do, then, the result of certain processes of reasoning? Or are there things we just do without any reasoning to support them?

Hm, I wonder if you were in MY early modern class (where I use this example with Hume ....!) In any case I might only add to Stephen's reply that one small test that we are making an implicit assumption P is to imagine, for a moment, that we didn't believe the proposition P in question -- if we tell ourselves (if we assume) "the floor WILL give out if I walk forwards" then we pretty clearly wouldn't walk forwards, which suggests that the fact that we ordinarily DO walk forwards was relying on the assumption that the floor would NOT give out .... (And of course once we admit to ourselves our implicit assumptions, we might then examine the origin/source of the assumptions, such as some implicit process of inductive reasoning ....)

ap

Hm, I wonder if you were in MY early modern class (where I use this example with Hume ....!) In any case I might only add to Stephen's reply that one small test that we are making an implicit assumption P is to imagine, for a moment, that we didn't believe the proposition P in question -- if we tell ourselves (if we assume) "the floor WILL give out if I walk forwards" then we pretty clearly wouldn't walk forwards, which suggests that the fact that we ordinarily DO walk forwards was relying on the assumption that the floor would NOT give out .... (And of course once we admit to ourselves our implicit assumptions, we might then examine the origin/source of the assumptions, such as some implicit process of inductive reasoning ....) ap

Is atheism a scientific worldview? Many people who try to promote atheism seem

Is atheism a scientific worldview? Many people who try to promote atheism seem to think so.

Well much depends on what "scientific" is taken to mean (obviously), and there are plenty of philosophers who think that science strongly supports, provides evidence for, theism -- or at least that science is essentially neutral on the question of theism/atheism. But what does seem deniable is that actual scientific research, and its many applications, makes no explicit reference to God -- so that would seem to support the idea that science works in an atheist framework, on the assumption of atheism, and has managed to be pretty darn successful in so doing. That doesn't mean that various scientific results are not consistent with theism (though of course we want to recognize the difference between believing in "God" in general and believing all the numerous details of any particular religion); but it does suggest that atheism and science have a kind of natural fit, in a way in which theism -- especially when entwined with all the details of the particular religions -- does not.

IMHO, anyway!

Andrew Pessin

Well much depends on what "scientific" is taken to mean (obviously), and there are plenty of philosophers who think that science strongly supports, provides evidence for, theism -- or at least that science is essentially neutral on the question of theism/atheism. But what does seem deniable is that actual scientific research, and its many applications, makes no explicit reference to God -- so that would seem to support the idea that science works in an atheist framework, on the assumption of atheism, and has managed to be pretty darn successful in so doing. That doesn't mean that various scientific results are not consistent with theism (though of course we want to recognize the difference between believing in "God" in general and believing all the numerous details of any particular religion); but it does suggest that atheism and science have a kind of natural fit, in a way in which theism -- especially when entwined with all the details of the particular religions -- does not. IMHO, anyway! ...

Let's say I have a machine with a button and a light bulb where the bulb lights

Let's say I have a machine with a button and a light bulb where the bulb lights up if and only if I press the button. I don't know anything about it's inner workings (gears, computers, God), I only know the "if and only if" connection between button and light. Can I say that by pressing the button I cause the bulb to light up? (I would say yes). It seems to me that for the causal connection it doesn't matter that I don't know the exact inner workings, or that I don't desire the effect (maybe I press the button just because I enjoy pressing it, or because there is strong social pressure to press it, ...), and that I consider it very unfortunate that the bulb lights up wasting electric energy. Let's now change the terms: instead of "pressing the button" we insert "having a kid" and instead of "the bulb lights up" we have "the kid dies" (maybe when adult). I think the "if and only if" relationship still holds, and so does the causal connection. It would seem to me that parents are causally connected to...

Great set of thoughts, here. But maybe one quick mode of response is to remark that much depends on just what you take the word "cause" to mean. You could take it to mean something like this: "x causes y" = "y if and only if x", as you've suggested. Then, granting that both cases above are cases fulfilling the "if and only if", sure, giving birth would count as a cause of the later death. But now two things. (1) Why should "cause" mean precisely that? Wouldn't it be enough if the x reliably yielded the y, even if things other than x could yield the y too? (i.e. couldn't you drop the 'only if' part, so 'x causes y' would mean 'if x, then, y', even if it might also be true (say) that 'if z, then y'?) Going this route would preserve your intuition that both cases above are cases of causation, but focus on whether your particular definition is the best one. (2) Perhaps more importantly, though, one might examine the 'pragmatics' of causation -- how people actually use the word, different from how very precise philosophers or scientists might define it. So, for example, we often restrict the word 'cause' not just to every factor which may be necessary or sufficient or both for an effect, but to the most salient factors, the most explanatorily relevant ones, the most proximate ones, etc. So, you strike a match and it lights; strictly speaking many things are at least necessary for that (the presence of oxygen, the existence of the match, the laws of physics, etc.) but we often say 'the striking caused the lighting', even though all those other factors were necessary. Indeed the striking was neither necessary nor sufficient for the lighting -- the match could have been lit other ways, and striking on its own (without oxygen etc) wouldn't light. So our ordinary use of 'cause' is far looser than some technical philosophical definition. So the question for you is: how, ultimately, are you going to use the word 'cause', and are you justified in choosing that use in light of competing uses?

hope that's useful ...

ap

Great set of thoughts, here. But maybe one quick mode of response is to remark that much depends on just what you take the word "cause" to mean. You could take it to mean something like this: "x causes y" = "y if and only if x", as you've suggested. Then, granting that both cases above are cases fulfilling the "if and only if", sure, giving birth would count as a cause of the later death. But now two things. (1) Why should "cause" mean precisely that? Wouldn't it be enough if the x reliably yielded the y, even if things other than x could yield the y too? (i.e. couldn't you drop the 'only if' part, so 'x causes y' would mean 'if x, then, y', even if it might also be true (say) that 'if z, then y'?) Going this route would preserve your intuition that both cases above are cases of causation, but focus on whether your particular definition is the best one. (2) Perhaps more importantly, though, one might examine the 'pragmatics' of causation -- how people actually use the word, different from how...

Is religion the true enemy of freedom in a democratic society since it teaches

Is religion the true enemy of freedom in a democratic society since it teaches us that we have to think a certain way or is science since it teaches us that nobody is truly free but a product of deterministic forces?

Or another mode of reply: First suppose that science DOES suggest determinism. How would anything be different in our lives? Wouldn't democratic processes work precisely the same way as they have been? (After all, our behavior has been deterministic all along, so why would discovering/proving/merely believing that it is deterministic change anything?) Or since 'freedom' seems to be the larger concern for you, again, what would be different? All the cases where we've held people responsible for their behaviors, we still would hold them, wouldn't we? we'd still lock up bad people, teach our children to be good, etc.... So it isn't clear to me why scientific results would threaten anything, really. Ditto for religion: if we think religions are in the business of generating true claims about the world, then, where they succeed, we should be happy to endorse their claims (assuming we want the truth). Whichever dogmatic religions you're thinking of ARE dogmatic because they believe they have the truth which, I suppose, isn't necessarily a bad thing. Of course, greater humility about knowledge is probably more appropriate -- but then very little stops most people from believing their religious beliefs along WITH the humility of recognizing they may be wrong -- so it isn't religion itself which 'suppresses freedom (of thought)', but dogmatic bossy people (some of whom are religious, but many of whom are not) ....

hope that's useful! ...

ap

Or another mode of reply: First suppose that science DOES suggest determinism. How would anything be different in our lives? Wouldn't democratic processes work precisely the same way as they have been? (After all, our behavior has been deterministic all along, so why would discovering/proving/merely believing that it is deterministic change anything?) Or since 'freedom' seems to be the larger concern for you, again, what would be different? All the cases where we've held people responsible for their behaviors, we still would hold them, wouldn't we? we'd still lock up bad people, teach our children to be good, etc.... So it isn't clear to me why scientific results would threaten anything, really. Ditto for religion: if we think religions are in the business of generating true claims about the world, then, where they succeed, we should be happy to endorse their claims (assuming we want the truth). Whichever dogmatic religions you're thinking of ARE dogmatic because they believe they have the truth...

Scientific skepticism seems to be on the rise in the past few decades

Scientific skepticism seems to be on the rise in the past few decades (postmodernism, the climate change debate, controversy surrounding genetics & cognitive sciences, creationism, alternative medicine, etc). Some say scientific discoveries are relative; others say they are false; others say they are a conspiracy by special interest groups to sway public opinion, or keep people in the dark. This has raised a question I think we need to answer, as a society, if we are to draw the line between science, pseudoscience and charlatanism, and to move forwards into the future: what good reasons are there for trusting in scientists and their theories? What makes trusting what a scientist says about his or her specialty, or trusting a scientific journal or article or experiment on some specific theme, when we know little about it from experience, any different from trusting a member of the clergy or a holy text? All this, of course, from the point of view of a person who is neither a scientist nor knows...

fantastic question, and one I struggle with as well. I don't have a very good answer to offer, but can recommend a couple of things which might help you formulate your own answer. A new book called "Voodoo Histories" is a study of conspiracy theories, and while it's not specifically about science it discusses many relevant questions (and provides some analysis of why people pushing 'bizarre' theories find them more credible and hold them to lower standards of evidence than the 'official' theories they're claiming involve conspiracies); and an article by Larry Laudan from a few decades ago called something like "A Confutation of Convergent Realism," which shows how science past was very successful despite having many/almost all false theories, which undermines the claim of contemporary Realists about science that contemporary science (with all its successes) has a very good claim on the 'truth. For my own two cents, you sound a little too dismissive re (say) "the peer review system," since if that doesn't satisfy skeptics then maybe they're not just skeptics but conspiracy theorists .... YOu might also add that, though there is always disagreement across science, there is also something like a consensus that forms around major theories -- precisely the kind of thing that lacks deeply across religious beliefs ...

Where things gets VERY complicated of course is when political agendas get mixed into scientific issues, eg re climate change -- both sides cite their 'experts', it becomes very hard for someone not thorughly immersed to decide whom to believe ...

fantastic question, and one I struggle with as well. I don't have a very good answer to offer, but can recommend a couple of things which might help you formulate your own answer. A new book called "Voodoo Histories" is a study of conspiracy theories, and while it's not specifically about science it discusses many relevant questions (and provides some analysis of why people pushing 'bizarre' theories find them more credible and hold them to lower standards of evidence than the 'official' theories they're claiming involve conspiracies); and an article by Larry Laudan from a few decades ago called something like "A Confutation of Convergent Realism," which shows how science past was very successful despite having many/almost all false theories, which undermines the claim of contemporary Realists about science that contemporary science (with all its successes) has a very good claim on the 'truth. For my own two cents, you sound a little too dismissive re (say) "the peer review system," since if that...

This is a response to an answer given by Miriam Solomon (http://www

This is a response to an answer given by Miriam Solomon (http://www.askphilosophers.org/question/3533). In her response Miriam claims that "...in the 16th century, it was against the laws of nature to claim that Earth moves around the sun." Surely this is missing the point. It was not against the laws of nature but against the contemporary "theories" (*approximations* of the laws of nature) in science. Therefore it was not the laws that were wrong (as she claims), but the theories. Furthermore, to develop upon the original question; the existence of ghosts contradicts currently-held theories of science but also the very conception of ghosts is *self-contradictory*. (For example; If ghosts are capable of physically interacting with their environment they are subject to the action-reaction law of classical mechanics. But if they are capable of travelling through solid objects they do not exert force upon their environment and are not subject to said law: a contradiction.) From this perspective isn't asking ...

Haven't read the original exchange, but in response to the contradictions point: sure if you define ghosts that way then they may be self-contradictory, thus impossible. But then philosophers of science talk about cases where you begin with one cnoception of a thing and then as science/theorizing progresses that conception gets revised. So, perhaps, 'common-sense' intuitive conceptions of ghosts may involve that self-contradiction, but of course most people haven't thought too hard about developing a detailed or sophisticated coneption of ghosts, and once they do they may well be willing to revise one or both of the contradictory features -- eg maybe grant that ghosts are 'spirits' in the early modern sense (very fine fluids) which do indeed have causal interactions with the physical world (but perhaps only with such slight effect that they are very hard to detect) ... or, perhaps, if mind-body (spirit-physical) interactions do occur, maybe there are primitive ceteris paribus laws governing them, knowledge of which would force various revisions to the 'classical mechanics' laws you mention etc... maybe in fact any evidence that the laws as currently known are not perfectly followed to precision would BE evidence that there's more than what's physical, and thus could consttute evidence for (non-self-contradicotry) 'ghosts' ....

ap

Haven't read the original exchange, but in response to the contradictions point: sure if you define ghosts that way then they may be self-contradictory, thus impossible. But then philosophers of science talk about cases where you begin with one cnoception of a thing and then as science/theorizing progresses that conception gets revised. So, perhaps, 'common-sense' intuitive conceptions of ghosts may involve that self-contradiction, but of course most people haven't thought too hard about developing a detailed or sophisticated coneption of ghosts, and once they do they may well be willing to revise one or both of the contradictory features -- eg maybe grant that ghosts are 'spirits' in the early modern sense (very fine fluids) which do indeed have causal interactions with the physical world (but perhaps only with such slight effect that they are very hard to detect) ... or, perhaps, if mind-body (spirit-physical) interactions do occur, maybe there are primitive ceteris paribus laws governing them,...

I really don't understand what the big deal is with the apparent 'fine tuning'

I really don't understand what the big deal is with the apparent 'fine tuning' of the constants of the universe, or even if 'fine tuning' is even apparent! The conditions have to be just right for life to emerge, sure, but so what? Conditions have to be just right for many things in the universe to occur, but we don't always suspect an outside agent as responsible for setting them up that way just so they'll happen. Is this the final refuge of the 'god of the gaps' habit the humans tend to fall in to? I also don't get the need for a multiverse theory either. To me it's a bit like saying, because I rolled a six on a die there must be five others each rolling the other possible numbers in order to explain it. Okay, much bigger die....

let me add a bit more in favor of the argument here ... we do tend to believe that certain very improbable things do not occur by chance -- poker/slot machine analogies common -- if your friend gets five royal flushes in a row you'd almost certainly be pulling your piece on him -- the fine tuning argument suggests that the very same sort of very ordinary, accepted reasoning applies to the universe -- that the specific tuning of the various constants is so improbable, when all others are possible (no combination of which would lead to any foreseeable valuable universe, key point), that just as you respond to your poker friend you should respond to the universe: not likely to have occurred by chance (tho always, of coure, remotely possible) -- but still the fact it is remotely possible that your friend randomly drew 5 straight royal flushes would stop no one from reaching for their piece ....

i have a bit more about the argument in my book 'the god question' --

hope that helps!
Andrew

let me add a bit more in favor of the argument here ... we do tend to believe that certain very improbable things do not occur by chance -- poker/slot machine analogies common -- if your friend gets five royal flushes in a row you'd almost certainly be pulling your piece on him -- the fine tuning argument suggests that the very same sort of very ordinary, accepted reasoning applies to the universe -- that the specific tuning of the various constants is so improbable, when all others are possible (no combination of which would lead to any foreseeable valuable universe, key point), that just as you respond to your poker friend you should respond to the universe: not likely to have occurred by chance (tho always, of coure, remotely possible) -- but still the fact it is remotely possible that your friend randomly drew 5 straight royal flushes would stop no one from reaching for their piece .... i have a bit more about the argument in my book 'the god question' -- hope that helps! Andrew