• Burden of Proof

    I was asked by a fellow blogger to write something on the burden of proof. We often hear the maxim “the burden of proof falls upon the person making the claim” or something like that. Why is this the case? Does it stand?

    Well, first of all, anyone could come up with almost infinite claims. I’ve got a magic badger under my pillow which dances the tango every Tuesday night whilst writing computer programmes in C+.

    For this claim to be true, there must be some sort of evidence, and for me to claim it as such, the burden of proof is upon me to establish the high probability of this being true. I could also defer to Bayesian probability here. Because if I said that I own a cat, then this is very credible given background probabilities, and most people would not demand proof from me (perhaps they should, I don’t like cats much).

    So when it comes to supernatural things, like gods, this becomes contentious. Some people say things like, “Well, surely the atheist is claiming that there exists our universe which is uncreated by a god”. They might, but I think the more accurate and savvy atheist would state, “We don’t know how the universe was created, but we;re doing our best to find out, and this involved methodological naturalism, because this is the only really reliable tool for investigating such things”. It is worth checking out my post on relying on naturalism as an explanation for things as having a far greater probability and having won every single competition with supernaturalism to date.

    Essentially, on the universe thing, really the atheist should defer to agnosticism, and a higher inductive probability that naturalism will provide the answer. So there should be no real burden of proof. This is because they are not so much stating that the universe is naturally caused, per se, but that the likelihood is that those who claim God caused it are wrong. In other words, in legal terms, it is not guilty as opposed to innocent.

    Let me explain.

    The atheist looks to theists who claim that God caused the universe and say, “That is a positive claim, and the burden of proof is on you for that. I don’t make a claim that the universe was caused naturally (that is still being looked into), I am saying that God is not guilty of causing it.”

    God caused the universe – Guilty

    God didn’t cause the universe – Not Guilty

    Naturalistic causes caused the universe – Innocent

    The difference is subtle but is what the legal system depends on. When, as a juror, I say Bob is not guilty of murdering Jane, I am not saying he is innocent. I am saying there is insufficient evidence, beyond reasonable doubt, to assert he is guilty. And that’s all. He may still have committed the offence, but on that evidence, we cannot conclude this. It is up to the prosecutors to provide the evidence of this.

    We often hear “innocent until proven guilty”. This should more correctly be, “not guilty until proven guilty”!

    The prosecution are the ones coming to the table with the claim. The more outrageous the claim, the more evidence is required to substantiate it. That is how it works. See the related posts below for further reading.

    This video form the Atheist Experience spells the issue out really well.

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    Category: EpistemologyFeaturedPhilosophyPhilosophy of ReligionSkepticism

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    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce

    • Michael R

      The natural threshold for belief, in the brain, is an observable and reliable pattern of events. When something is observable and reliable, it triggers a feeling of certitude in the brain, we relax and become confident in acting upon such knowledge, and it seeps into our subconscious.

      When something is uncertain, the natural brain reaction is an unpleasant feeling of fear, concern etc. This feeling makes us avoid or ponder the uncertain object, and it keeps the object in the “front” of our brain so that we examine it more closely and try to resolve the mystery.

      Thus, observable repetition/reliability is the brain’s natural threshold for belief. Much the same as burden of proof. It’s natural. And it requires effort to transcend this natural threshold.

      So, maybe the way to debate, is to question why and how Christians make exceptions to the natural brain threshold. What made them defy the brain’s natural mechanism? If they defy the natural mechanism for God, and form beliefs about him out of thin air, then why not form other evidence-poor beliefs about other things?

      If they’re honest, they will probably answer that their beliefs come as a package i.e. they acquired them as part of their family/community environment.

      Changing beliefs probably requires an unpleasant experience (either gradual or sudden) such that the packaged environment becomes undesirable, and the person then starts to drift towards another package of beliefs that include rational arguments, and the community of non-believers, and figures like Dawkins and Harris.

      Valerie Tarico has some good videos on how beliefs are formed, maintained, resist change, and occasionally change:

      Valerie Tarico – Can we Know Anything?
      Valerie Tarico – How Beliefs Resist Change

    • The claim that the universe is the result of natural causes is actually incoherent. You would have to claim that prior to the existence of a space and time, and prior to the existence of a realm governed by laws of nature, some “natural” phenomena with “natural causal” powers existed which could bring the space time nomological realm into existence

      Unless beings which trancend space and time and which have causal powers that arent governed by the laws of nature count as “natural” this isnt going to be plausible.

      Sorry but its not true that incoherent claims about natural beings existing before nature exists isnt innocent until proven guilty.

      • I’m sorry, I fail to see how God as a brute fact causing the universe is simpler than universe as brute fact?

        You perhaps smuggle in your assumptions by claiming the universe is a result rather than just is.

        • Now your straw manning ( much like you did a paper of mine a few months back) . Madeleine didnt argue that the Universe wasnt a brute fact, nor did she appeal to simplicity.

          What she did was address your claim that the claim the universe has a natural cause is “innocent” until proven guilty and your suggestion that using methodological naturalism we will discover the answer. Apart from this being absurdly circular, (using a method that only allows natural causes to examine the question of whether there are any), it in fact involves the denial of the claim that the Universe is a brute fact, and suggests its a reasonable possibility that nature has a natural cause, thats incoherent. Its assuming nature exists as a cause to then explain what caused nature to come into existence.

      • Furthermore, the cutting edge of physics, whether loop quantum cosmology or MWI is a far better bet than goddidit through filling the gaps.

        In other words, you seem to want to plug gaps rather than allow for options to develop. It’s rather like thinking thunder and lightning is Thor’s anger.

        • Furthermore, the cutting edge of physics, whether loop quantum cosmology or MWI is a far better bet than goddidit through filling the gaps.

          In other words, you seem to want to plug gaps rather than allow for options to develop. It’s rather like thinking thunder and lightning is Thor’s anger.

          That reply might have substance if it had responded to the point actually made, but it doesn’t.

          First, I didn’t suggest that God was necessary to full a gap in our knowledge, what I said was that our knowledge tells us that, in principle, you cant explain the existence of nature by appealing to natural causes, Because such an explanation is incoherent. Nature is what your trying to explain, so postulating nature to explain it doesn’t actually answer the question. It’s a point about the logic of explanation.

          I know its common to caricature theistic arguments as arbitrary claims that “godid it” using slogans like “God of the gaps” and primitive stories about Vikings and thor.

          Unfortuntately, slogans and caricatures don’t address the problem that you don’t explain why X exists by postulating that prior to X to existence, X existed and brought about X. Thats simply nonsense.

          • Reynoldsp56

            what I said was that our knowledge tells us that, in principle, you cant
            explain the existence of nature by appealing to natural causes, Because
            such an explanation is incoherent. Nature is what your trying to
            explain, so postulating nature to explain it doesn’t actually answer the
            question. It’s a point about the logic of explanation.

            Sure you can. Why not? We have mathematical models that explain the orbits of the planets. We have millions of scientific experiments that show how things are done in nature. Through numerous studies and experiments we can show how lightening is created, example.

            Do we understand how the universe came to be? No, but considering the age of the universe we have barely begun to study the universe. It is a ridiculous notion to think that just because we don’t have all the answers now that we won’t eventually have the answers.

            Basically, if you want to show that there is another cause, one that is even more complex and complicated than the one we have now then you should be able to live up to the burden of proof that you require for a natural explanation. What was the being that created everything? How did he/she come to be? How exactly did he/she do it? Questions like that. Did you say that God created everything? No, but that does seem to be the direction you are headed in.

      • And as mentioned above, you would be inductively ill advised to back the supernatural horse. It’s lost every race so far and has never ever supplanted naturalism as a causal explanation. That’s one way traffic.

        • And as mentioned above, you would be inductively ill advised to back the supernatural horse. It’s lost every race so far and has never ever supplanted naturalism as a causal explanation. That’s one way traffic.

          Care to demonstrate from the history of thought the inductive claim your confidently asserting? Cause I am skeptical you can.

          Remember, we should not accept postive claims without proof, thats the whole point of your post.

          • c You name me times, or even a single time, when supernaturalism has supplanted naturalism in explanation.

            Because we have the vagaries of the gods as explaining weather, plate tectonics, evolution, the moon, the sun, etc etc.

            Inductively, it seems almost trivial that this is the case.

            • c You name me times, or even a single time, when supernaturalism has supplanted naturalism in explanation.,

              Two things, here

              First, note your answer contradicts what you say in the post above. You made a universal generalisation. That supernaturalism has “ lost every race so far and has never ever supplanted naturalism as a causal explanation” I asked you for evidence of this generalisation. Your response was, not to provide any such evidence, to ask me for reasons for thinking its false, and then maintaining that if I cant you can continue to assert its true.

              So now suddenly, when it’s a claim you make about the history of religious thought apparently the burden of proof is on those who disagree with you and not on the person who makes a claim.

              Sorry but simply arbitrarily shifting the burden of proof, and contradicting yourself isn’t an answer, again, please substantiate the universal generalisation you just made.

              Second, if you read my comments carefully you’ll see I did provide an example of “ a time or a time” when supernaturalism supplanted naturalism in explanation.

              In earlier medieval natural philosophy, which was dominated by Aristotle, God was the first or ultimate cause, however God created natural essences, which by there own natural had certain natural inherint causal powers God concurred with these powers but they were distinct from his causal efficacy, so most natural phenomena could be explained directly by natural causes God was invoked as the ultimate by the first cause God. This can be seen by reading Thomas Aquinas, who responds to the objection that everything we know can be explained by natural causes in precisely this way.

              Whats interesting is that the rival view “occasionalism” attributed all causal transactions to God and denied there were any natural causes at all other than God. The Muslim thinker, Al Ghazali, in his criticism of the scientists of his day stated that if one object, like fire, appears to cause another object, like cotton, to burst into flame, this is not because it has a natural inherint aristotelan essence, but because God has decreed that when fire is placed next to cotton, cotton will burn. Natural causation therefore doesn’t involve powers inherit in nature it involves a law of nature which dictates that when A happens B will happen and laws of nature just are divine decrees. All so called natural causation therefore is simply divine causation. There is no natural causation in nature.

              This view, which replaced natural causes in terms of natural essences, with supernatural causes in terms of divine laws of nature, became dominant in the *late middle ages* and the *enlightenment* and it coincided with the rise of science which emphasised laws of nature over natural essences and vindicated the picture of a universe governed by natural law over one full of Aristotelian essences. It appears to be dominant in the post Cartesian scientific era.

              So here is the odd rub, it was in so called the “dark ages” people explained things like lightening in terms of natural causes and only at the ultimate first cause level did God cause such things. The renaissance rise of science and enlightenment however saw people claiming that lightening was caused directly by God, God has decreed certain regularities occur, one of the regularities he decrees is that when certain conditions obtain lightening obtains. Such decrees were called laws of nature. In fact explanation in terms of laws of nature, wasn’t an attempt to replace theistic explanations with natural ones, it was often an attempt to replace naturalistic explanations with theistic ones and it proved to be more successful the work of Newton for example in attempting to explain various phenomena in terms of laws of nature rather than natural essences is an example..

              So again I’ll ask you, what evidence do you have that can you show me a study of from intellectual history which shows that earlier thinkers postulated God to explain lightening and thunder, but these explanations slowly were pushed back in face of naturalistic ones over time. Certainly when I read the theistic arguments of Plato or Aristotle, or Aquinas, and compare it with latter more occasionalist thinkers of the late middle ages I don’t see that picture.

              Care to come up with the evidence? or are we going to here caricatures about Thor and thunder, slogans about God of the gaps, and assertions that people shouldn’t make claims without discharging a burden of evidence, because as far as I see you haven’t discharged the burden you claim to believe. Appealing to the historical ignorance and prejudice of some freethinkers isn’t discharging an evidential burden.

            • Reynoldsp56

              You can look through science text book after science text book, peer-reviewed study after peer-reviewed study and I would bet you that not one study that has been repeatable has shown a supernatural cause to be the reason for some event or outcome. All you have to read the books and studies and you won’t see one pointing to the supernatural as a cause or reason.

      • Geoff Benson

        The statement ‘prior to the existence of a space and time’ is incoherent. Use of the word ‘prior’ in respect of time really is simply wordplay.

        In reality, you are conjuring a solution to something that has troubled mankind since the beginning of logical thought. The reality, if ever we begin to understand it, is likely to require the creation of new words and concepts. The word ‘creator’ will not, I suspect, feature.

        • Yes, indeed!

          • Cheer leading isnt a rebuttal either.

            • Geoff Benson

              It’s endorsing agreement with a point. Put it how you like.

        • The statement ‘prior to the existence of a space and time’ is incoherent. Use of the word ‘prior’ in respect of time really is simply wordplay.

          Actually this is false, and simply dismissing an argument by calling it “word play” isn’t actually rebutting it. If it was I could simply use a pejorative term to discribe your comments and hey presto it would be rebutted.

          Your assuming the word “prior” means prior in time, but it doesn’t, Madeleine is making using the word prior in the sense that a cause is ontologically prior to its effect, this doesn’t necessarily involve priority in time seeing similanteous causation where a cause brings about an effect immediately is possible.

          The point is however that a cause is supposed to bring about an effect and so there is an important sense in which the cause cannot exist unless the effect already does.

          In this instance, Johnathan is suggesting the effect, the existence of a law governed space time cosmos, was brought about by natural causes, but that can happen only if natural causes already exist, but they cant already exist because if they did the cause wouldn’t have brought them into existence.

          Simply calling opinions you disagree with “conjuring” and expressing faith that in the future there will be a solution to a problem which doesn’t require God. Doesn’t actually address the problem which is that Johnathans position is incoherent and involves an effect bring its own cause into existence.

          If a theist had proposed an account of divine creation which involved such bootsraping atheists would reject it out of hand, in fact that’s precisely the reason Morris and Menzels theory of absolute creation was rejected, and its also the reason Mackie gives for rejecting divine command ethics, (that you would need obligations to ground obligations). You cant just arbitrarily declare bootstrapping is acceptable when it’s a naturalistic explanation.

          • Geoff Benson

            You are clearly well versed in word play, and I have little doubt could run philosophical rings round me in that department. But let’s have a look at what you say.

            You say that Madeleine was using the term ‘prior’ in the sense of ‘ontologically prior’. Then you say that a cause and effect could happen simultaneously and that you think this is possible. How? Maybe it is but I can see no evidence for use of the word ‘possible’ . It’s just as easy for me to say that it’s possible that in certain conditions the effect is independent of the cause.

            Your response, for me demonstrates the difficulty with using current words with concepts we don’t yet understand. However much you claim the word ‘prior’ need not be used in a temporal sense, that is precisely what your words imply.

            Jonathan will no doubt speak for himself, but my take on what he says is that any explanation is likely to be naturalistic, in the sense that there is no divine agency. That’s not an unreasonable assumption, given that there is no evidence whatever of divine intervention in the world to date.

            And incidentally, if you want me to change the word ‘conjure’ to ‘speculate’ then that’s fine.

            • You are clearly well versed in word play, and I have little doubt could run philosophical rings round me in that department. But let’s have a look at what you say.

              Again simply dismissing arguments by calling them “word play” isn’t a rebuttal. I could just as easily dimiss everything you say by calling it a word play.

              Unfortunately defending your position requires offering actual reasons and arguments.

              You say that Madeleine was using the term ‘prior’ in the sense of ‘ontologically prior’. Then you say that a cause and effect could happen simultaneously and that you think this is possible. How? Maybe it is but I can see no evidence for use of the word ‘possible’ ..

              Well the fact you see no evidence isn’t really relevant. The issue of similanteous causation, where cause and effect occur at the same time, is widely discussed in the literature and numerous examples have been given have you read this literature? Have you got rebuttals to it? If you haven’t your “not seeing how” counts for nothing. Refusing to look at something and then complaining you don’t see it isn’t really something sensible.

              (Here is one example: the book on my book shelf are held up in position by the shelf, yet the shelf holding them up and the book staying up is simultaneous in time,)

              But let me add here that, if you maintain that a cause and effect cant be simultaneous in time and that’s not possible then naturalistic explanations of why nature exists are obviously sunk. Obviously the nature exists at the same time nature exists, so, by your own logic nature cant be the cause of nature.

              It’s just as easy for me to say that it’s possible that in certain conditions the effect is independent of the cause

              Actually it’s not because that would be incoherent, if an effect does not depend on the cause in anyway then its not caused by the cause. The idea however that one thing depends on another for its existence, but they both exist at the same time isn’t obviously incoherent in this way.

              Your response, for me demonstrates the difficulty with using current words with concepts we don’t yet understand. However much you claim the word ‘prior’ need not be used in a temporal sense, that is precisely what your words imply.

              This is just an assertion that prior means what you said it does, not actually an argument. Thumping the table and dogmatically stating, “it is as I say” isn’t really a compelling reason for anything.

              Jonathan will no doubt speak for himself, but my take on what he says is that any explanation is likely to be naturalistic

              I already pointed out, its incoherent to postulate that the explanation of why nature exists is “natural”, if you postulate nature to explain nature you haven’t explained anything, you have just asserted nature exists prior to nature and raised the question again.

              in the sense that there is no divine agency. That’s not an unreasonable assumption, given that there is no evidence whatever of divine intervention in the world to date.

              Note your argument here is simply circular, if God provides a more adequate explanation certain phenomena than naturalism does, then that counts as evidence for theism, that’s what an argument to the best explanation involves. To contend that all arguments to the best explanation for theism fail because there is no evidence for theism is in fact to simply assert what is at issue and use it as an assumption for proving it.

              Unfortunately, you don’t get to just assert all such explanations fail, and use that you dismiss all purported explanations before you examine them. You need to show they do, that is either by showing theistic explanations fail certain criteria for adequacy or providing a better naturalistic explanation. In otherwords again, you need to actually do the work of assessing evidence and providing reasons. Have you done this? Until you have all your doing is expressing your faith that an inquiry you haven’t done turns out the way you say it does. I don’t take the word of professed skeptics on faith.

            • Geoff Benson

              Your points boil down to two issues

              a) Can something happen without a cause?
              b) If you can’t explain something then why not say ‘god did it’?

              Your example of simultaneous cause and effect is interesting, but what you describe is what I would refer to as interdependent equilibrium; where neither is actually separately either a cause or effect, the ‘effect’ being that the shelf remains in place. Be that as it may, backward causation is very much a phenomenon in quantum physics, with the study of entanglement. I have not the slightest understanding of this, other than what I can glean from simplistic explanations, but it shows that assertions, such as ‘every effect must have a cause’ might not be so obviously true.

              So then to your next assertion (see, assertions creep in so easily) that maybe god is an explanation. Well yes, but if you want to claim that as evidence then you have to supply something more. Here’s an assertion; other than you saying that god might be the explanation you have no other evidence in support. I can just as easily say leprechauns or fairies might be an explanation, but without some extra evidence you’d be right to be cynical. Even if you just wrap it under the umbrella of ‘supernatural’ causes, you’re still stuck with finding some more evidence.

          • D Rieder

            “You cant just arbitrarily declare bootstrapping is acceptable when it’s a naturalistic explanation.”

            From my standpoint, I don’t just “accept bootstrapping when it’s naturalistic.” I adopted it from the theists who seem to bootstrap their divine explanation. It evens the playing field and makes the riddle much less difficult.

            I would be happy to drop back to the, “I don’t know exactly” if the theist would do the same.

            “If a theist had proposed an account of divine creation which involved
            such bootsraping atheists would reject it out of hand, in fact that’s
            precisely the reason Morris and Menzels theory of absolute creation was
            rejected, and its also the reason Mackie gives for rejecting divine
            command ethics, (that you would need obligations to ground obligations).”

            Best I can tell, this is what the theist is doing. In what way is God not a bootstrapped explanation which involves manufacturing attributes, capabilities and a nature precisely defined and articulated TO SOLVE the very problem we are talking about?

            EG…”The universe needs an explanation because it can’t just “be.”

            • So I’ll just edit and drop back to the issue of what is the universe? IF it is the expanding space/time continuum that began perhaps 13B years ago from what seems to have been an infinitely dense “point” which is what I think the big bang suggests, then I see no problem with assuming that IT had naturalistic causes.

              I doubt that, either the cause is a space/time phenomena or it transcends space/time, if the former then it cant really have caused the beginning of space time can it. If it had then space time would have caused the infinite dense point from which space time began. In which case it had both began and not began at that point.

              On the other hand if it transcends space time, then you’d be using the word “natural” in an idiosyncratic way. Things which transcend time and space and which have causal powers would be designated “natural” as opposed to “supernatural”, you can use the word natural that way if you want, but if you do then natural causes aren’t an alternative to theism, because God would by that definition be a natural cause.

              If we are using universe to mean absolutely everything natural, then true, it’d be hard to come up with an explanation that it began itself while it (including quantum fields and the “laws of nature”) didn’t exist. But why would anyone just assume that….that everything natural popped into existence then? I don’t.

              Because that would be the only alternative if you rule out supernatural causation. If the universe ( so defined) doesn’t have a natural cause, then either it is either caused by something supernatural, or it has no cause at all, in which case it popped into existence uncaused out of nothing.

              And I’m curious how you know what, exactly, Madeline meant by prior

              Because she said a “cause is prior to its effect” and that’s how the word prior typically functions when people talk about causal priority.

            • D Rieder

              Thanks for replying. I’ve been trying to put some of my thoughts on paper concerning these issues and this gives me an opportunity to do so. So any comments from you are welcome{:

              “either the cause is a space/time phenomena or it transcends space/time,”
              “On the other hand if it transcends space time, then you’d be using the word “natural” in an idiosyncratic way.”
              emphasis mine
              I’m not sure why we’d need to consider the cause “transcending” nature or being “super” to nature. I see no reason to think that at all. All it seems to require is a realm of natural existence that is not IN space time. That doesn’t connotate transcendence to me. And neither does it seem impossible. Leastwise not impossible according to the theist who asserts HIS cause does not exist in space time either…which means that by definition, existence does not depend on space time.

              I consider how time AND space seem so malleable and vulnerable TO and affected BY the actions and presence of matter/energy, I would be inclined to think time/space was subject to, dependent on and an emergent part OF nature, not basic TO nature. IOW, the cause of the expanding existence of space time we see now could be due to/caused by a timeless/eternal background aspect of nature. We need not call it super…anything at all. Perhaps that IS as much nature as the nature we see around us now that seems to depend on space and time. Nature may well also include a timeless spaceless existence/realm/arrangement with the potential to erupt into time/space components such as universes like the one we see around us with time/space and matter/energy as emergent features.

              Conjecture? True.

              But there is no more conjecture in what I am imagining than the person who imagines a supernatural solution that also just happens to be a super-mind. Particularly when I realize that that person has defined and characterized this super cause TO answer all these conundrums and puzzles. You would call my characterization of a timeless spaceless nature idiosyncratic. Why? Perhaps it is idiosyncratic for theologians TO posit a super nature when all that is needed is to properly and compoletely define nature. I would like to think the real puzzle IS “what is nature?” and not simply catalogue it in the folder of…supernaturalism.

              I note the many capabilities and characteristics attributed to God just happen to address this or that conundrum. And these characteristics/features/abilities/attributes seem to be generated ad hoc JUST to address these conundrums. Of course, if God did not have those qualities he couldn’t BE the cause of the universe. But so what? It seems to be the only reason those qualities are assigned is so THAT God can be called the cause. God turns out to be a solution by those who are (IMHO) imagining “just so” qualities they give him. But a God is not the only solution as long as I give myself the same latitude and flexibility to assign and manufacture definitions and attributes of and about nature just like the theologian gives himself when he defines God. IF theists had to justify their assignment of God’s qualities beyond that those qualities just happen to be needed so God can be the answer and solution, then they’d be in the same boat they might want to put me into…having to justify my conjecture. But I needn’t take the bait when I am simply doing the same as they are…ie solving problems by assigning properties.

              Plus, I see no real solution in positing a God. Basic and necessary existence (along with morality, consciousness, enjoyment, purpose, etc.) is still a puzzle even if one pushes it up/back/away to the supernatural and attributes it to a nonmaterial mind. It just transfers it one step away and the puzzle remains. Why is it easier to assume a supernatural realm doesn’t succumb to or isn’t subject to, say, entropy? That is pure assertion. How can this supernatural realm (or the God that exists there or IS the supernatural realm) simply generate/possess boundless energy and skill that would seem to be needed to “create” a universe from nothing? How does a God come to be a basic and necessary existence other than by definition? What explains God other than via definition…God is explained as his own explanation. Why would the “nature” of a God be good…particularly? How does God’s nature come to be good? Since there is no other basic nature than God’s how would HE even know of evil? What does good even mean to a God whiling away the nonhours of his endless existence? Of what value are values when they are abitrarily assigned by a God who really has no basis to value anything other than his arbitrary decision that this is of value and that is not of value. And the list continues. These questions still reman.

              The puzzle of how and why this supernature mind just happens to exist and just happens TO be able to create universes is still unanswered. And, even if we suspected we knew how and why he exists, we still would never know for sure HOW it is done or even WHY. So the questions only increase and the means to answer them are pushed futher away.

              IOW, I agree there are puzzles that haven’t been and may not be solveable through observation and reason. But positing a God became an ad hoc solution for me once I realized it only works if I (or someone else) special plead God and his assorted attributes INTO existence. It doesn’t make it wrong…just unnecessary and, at least to me, unfulfilling. I suppose that’s what the millions who have become atheists also think when faced with these dilemmas. YES there are dilemmas, but those dilemmas aren’t answered by positing yet another unexplained dilemma.

    • D Rieder

      The issue here seems to be what the term, “universe” means. IF it means the space/time matter/energy existence that seems to have begun to expand some 13B years ago from a dense hot point, then discussing a naturalistic cause seems completely coherent. THAT can actually be studied, explored and perhaps eventually explained. Given our universal experience that where causes have been isolated they’re all natural, it seems a natural cause of the big bang the most likely.

      BUT if we agree that the big bang represents an actual beginning of everything material just popping brutally into existence out of nothing, then it’s harder to consider it being the result of natural causes.

      Mind you, even assuming the latter version is less problematic for me than assuming a supernatural existence as the explanation for natural existence because even then, we’ve just pushed back the realm needing explanation one step and have provided no ultimate explanation.

      At some point, we just need to assume something exists/happens necessarily whether it be a timelessly existing God, some timelessly existing quantum field from which universes occasionally/continually spew or even that a universe somehow just popped into existence out of nothing.

      • Supernaturalism introduces another entity which needs explaining.

        1) universe is brute fact

        Or

        2) universe is caused by God, which is a brute fact

        Ockham’s Razor at least prefers 1).

    • Reynoldsp56

      I was recently reading a Christian apologist’s blog where he thought that the burden of proof was on the atheist to disprove God rather than on the theist to prove him. He wrote:

      I explain how an atheist can defend the claim that God doesn’t exist by
      showing (1) the concept of “God” is incoherent; (2) the concept of God
      contradicts known evidence.

      This is an impossible standard to meet mainly because in response to anything offered by an atheist a theist will just say that “God’s ways are not our ways.” or “God is so far above us.” How many times has someone said something to the effect that “We may not understand now but when we meet God face to face we in the next life we will then.” Even William Lane Craig has said that if he were to go back in time to the tomb of Christ and not see a resurrection he will still believe because he has the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. You can never disprove God to a faithful believer no matter the mountains of evidence that you present.

      • God is indeed a prime victim of ad hoc rationalisation, and can move like the pea in a shell game. You think you’ve nailed him down, or the theist, only for a sleight of hand to reveal him over there, in a different form (cup).

        I think it is fascinating that God has for millennia been used as attribution: to explain things. And yet, as time has passed, those things have been explained naturalistically (think lightning etc). Now God has been pushed out of our universe and only seeks to explain the beginning of the universe (and perhaps consciousness). In other words, only the things we don’t understand. The ultimate argument from ignorance.

        She is so malleable that there are 42,000 different denominations of Christianity and who knows how many religions!

    • Udaybhanu Chitrakar

      Some scientists claim that the universe has actually originated from nothing without needing any divine intervention. If everything has originated from nothing, then not only the total matter and energy, but the total space-time also of this present universe have originated from nothing. So not only its total matter and energy, but its total space-time as well should always remain zero. Scientists have successfully shown as to how the total matter and energy of this universe always remain zero. Now the burden falls on these scientists to show how the total space-time of our present universe also always remains zero. And it should remain zero if the universe has actually originated from nothing. Again the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. So they have the burden to answer this question: How does the total space-time of an ever-expanding universe always remain zero?

      For a detailed discussion of this point one can see the below-listed links:
      1) https://sekharpal.wordpress.com/2015/10/23/a-fundamental-flaw-in-the-thesis-a-universe-from-nothing-part-i/
      2) https://sekharpal.wordpress.com/2015/10/23/a-fundamental-flaw-in-the-thesis-a-universe-from-nothing-part-ii/

      • This is interesting because I am just finishing off my book on the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Ex nihil nihilo fit is a mere assertion, and the scientist could say back to the claimant that they have the burden of proof to show this is always the case.

        You might say that they can do this by looking at cause and effect around us. However:

        1) This is transformative creation, such that things are only create from pre-existing matter. Nothing we know about has ever come into existence, so you cannot make a rule about that, either way. Thus the claim that the universe came from nothing is a rule made of one (the universe), on assertion, and applied to itself. Ie it is circular.

        2) This would require a particular understanding of causality which is simplistic and naive (A causes B causes C etc). Such discrete cutting up of time and causality is problematic, and does not bode well for such a position.

      • Geoff Benson

        The quote, both from this comment and the linked articles, goes along the lines of ‘scientists say something can be created from nothing’. Now I know the author of the linked articles admits to being a scientific layman, but that is no excuse for his patently illogical approach.

        The author does not specify who the scientists are who say this but, I suspect, he is not quoting scientists at all, rather the traditional statements that ordinary people make on the subject from an intuitive point of view, in effect creating a straw man argument. I have never heard any scientist say ‘something was created from nothing’ in this context; lots of hypotheses have been put forward and there seems a likely prospect that any answer lies in the realm of quantum physics. Making vague statements that refer to ‘space time’ and ‘zero energy’ simply sound clever to those unfamiliar with the subject, but probably amount to little more than gibberish without a very strong foundational knowledge of the subject.

        Suppose there is no such thing as ‘nothing’? Then what? As Jonathan points out, we have never witnessed creation of anything, only the variation in form of whatever already exists. Perhaps non-existence is a fallacy?

    • Udaybhanu Chitrakar

      It was E. P. Tryon who first proposed in the year 1973 that our universe may have arisen as a quantum fluctuation of the vacuum without violating any conservation law of physics (Tryon, Nature 246, 396, 1973). Thereafter a lot of scientists began to say the same thing. Among them some prominent names are: Victor J Stenger, Alan Guth, Andrei Linde, Stephen Hawking, Lawrence Krauss, Michio Kaku, Alexei V. Filippenko, Jay M. Pasachoff and Paul Davies. Alexander Vilenkin proposed a somewhat different theory because in his model the vacuum itself was not there. The only reason as to why so many scientists have proposed that our universe could have come from nothing without any divine intervention is that they have found that the total energy of the universe is zero.

      I have gone through the below-listed links where it has been mentioned that the total energy of the universe is zero:

      1) http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1086/368258/pdf (V. Faraoni and F. I. Cooperstock)

      2) https://www.astrosociety.org/publications/a-universe-from- nothing/ (Alexei V. Filippenko and Jay M. Pasachoff)

      3) http://mxplx.com/meme/2098/ (Stephen Hawking)

      4) http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/r/richardpf719034.html
      (Richard P Feynman)

      5) http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?pid=S0103-97332010000100001&script=sci_arttext (A. A. Sousa; J. S. Moura; R. B. Pereira)

      6) http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703946504575469653720549936 (Lawrence Krauss)

      7) http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/is-the-universe-a-free-lunch-1340153.html (Paul Davies)

      8) http://www.wall.org/~aron/blog/did-the-universe-begin-vii-more-about-zero-energy/ (Aron Wall)

      9) http://www.wall.org/~aron/blog/did-the-universe-begin-iv-quantum-eternity-theorem/ (Aron Wall)

      10) http://arxiv.org/pdf/gr-qc/0605063.pdf (Marcelo Samuel Berman)

      11) http://www.science20.com/hammock_physicist/all_zilch_much_ado_about_nothing_0 (Johannes Koelman)