Saturday, March 28, 2009

What's Important About Consistency?

In my posts and in my discussions about worldviews, I stress consistency. When I say "consistency" I'm talking about the beliefs within a worldview being logically compatible with each other and beliefs being compatible with the adherents' behaviors.

One of the "worldview tests" that Kenneth Samples discusses in his book on worldviews, "A World of Difference", is a test for internal consistency. Any worldview that claims to accurately reflect reality (be true) must maintain consistency among its beliefs. Truth cannot conflict with truth. So, if a worldview were to say that 2+2=4 and that 3x2=5, it would have a serious problem. The fact that the second claim is false has no bearing on the truth of the first claim, it only has bearing on the truth of the worldview as a whole. Any worldview that contains two contrary beliefs that cannot be resolved within the framework of the worldview without creating more contrary beliefs must be discarded.

An apologist for any worldview (Christianity, Naturalism, Islam, etc) must be able to answer seemingly contradicting beliefs if they wish to maintain the claim that their worldview is true. If they cannot resolve the conflicts, then they run the risk that the person they are trying to convince will look elsewhere.

An apologist may also take it to the next level, and be aware of the inconsistencies in the competing worldviews and how to demonstrate that they are, in fact, actual inconsistencies (versus just paradoxes). This is where it becomes quite important to be aware of and avoid the "straw man" fallacy (see my post "This Argument is Full of Crap!") and Greg Koukl's new book Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions.

There is another way that a worldview can be inconsistent. It is inconsistency with the behavior of the person defending it. Now, I am well aware that it is not a valid, logical test for truth to look at the adherents' behavior, but many people do (some people even know its illogical, but still claim it is logical to avoid the implications of the worldview they are opposing).

This probably applies more to Christianity than the other worldviews. Unfortunately, today's Church has received the stereotype of being "hypocritical" in the eyes of the secular world. Of course, I am not going to deny this for one second. What I am going to say is that the Church's behavior has drastically damaged its ability to witness to the secular world. This also has an even worse effect if the Christian is discussing one-on-one with a person and behaves in a way that is against what he is "preaching".

I will address the Christian behavior issue more in two posts called "What's Up With Atheistic Evangelism".


  1. Consistency, eh?
    Dharmakirti made this argument against theism's teleological argument (see: St. Thomas Aquinas; Intelligent Design) based on the internal inconsistency of the argument. While he was arguing against Indian theists, the argument still fits against Western teleogical arguments.

    The motivation of the teleological argument is the principal of causality. Everything in the universe has a cause. When those causes are traced to their origin we end up with Aquinas's "Prime Mover" (God), the first cause. But the irony, is that the principle of causality must be abandoned for this first cause (God), which is uncaused. Dharmakirti basically corners the theist and points out that the postulation of the uncaused Causer is an arbitrary metaphysical hypothesis; this whole time you have been arguing based on the principle of causality, then at the very conclusion it must be abandoned.

    I don't think the argument from design is that bad, but I think it's clear that the core axiom (the first cause is uncaused) is blatantly arbitrary - and inconsistent with the principle of causality that theists use up to the Prime Mover. A conjunction changes this in the mind of the theist.... "there is a principle of causality BUT it does not apply to the uncaused Creator." Arbitrary? Yes, but not proven to not be true, nor proven to be true.

  2. Samuel,
    Why do you believe that the "Prime Mover" (God) is limited by causality?

    What alternative would you posit that would be immune to your own argument?

  3. I didn't say the Prime Mover is limited by causality.

    Rather the teleological argument uses causality as its basis for going back to the Prime Mover, but that the Prime Mover is exempt from the same principle.

    It either has to be logically inconsistent or an arbitrary axiom. I think most would understand it as an arbitrary axiom.

    Non-inductively build up theories and arguments will always tend towards a bit of arbitrariness on their axioms by the nature of themselves.

  4. So, by stating "I think most would understand it as an arbitrary axiom," what conclusion are you implying?

    What alternative would you posit that would be immune to your own argument?

  5. I think it reduces to being arbitrary and that's about as far as it can go.

  6. So, "I think most would understand it as an arbitrary axiom," stands by itself, with no intended implications?

    Also, do you wish to provide an alternative that is immune to your own argument?

  7. I'm not making an argument.
    I'm just pointing out that the conclusion of the teleological argument is arbitrary.

  8. If the conclusion is arbitrary, then there must be at least one other option. What is that other option?

    If you didn't make an argument, is it safe for me to conclude that (summed up) "God is not limited by causality in Christian doctrine" is just a complaint?

  9. it's pretty much a complaint.

    The teleological argument for God's alternative is to keep going on ad infinitum with a chain of causality.

    Then we have to deal with teh Kalaam argument, but I think it hinges on ones conception of time. If time is linear, infinite regression is absurd. If time is non-existent, cyclical, or something else, the infinite regression argument makes sense.

  10. Big Bang cosmology has confirmed that time is linear. Does that eliminate God's alternatives from the realm of possibility?

  11. I deleted all above comments to condense to this one single comment.

    Big bang has not confirmed time is linear.
    Time as we measure it is only measuring the intervals of time as we perceive them. How do you account for time in the face of relativity?


    Yay quantum physics!
    "Paul: We have this overwhelming impression that time is in some sense moving, that things change. And our whole language, our entire way of thinking about the world, is rooted in this idea of a flux of time. Yet when physicists in the laboratory look to see what causes this flux, when they investigate how we can measure the flux of time, there’s nothing there! Time doesn’t seem to ‘move’ or pass at all.

    Phillip: Hold on there, Paul. I thought clocks measured the passage of time.

    Paul: No, they don’t! That’s a common fallacy. Clocks measure intervals of time, not the motion of time; just as rulers measure intervals or distances in space, and not speed or motion through space. So I’m not saying that there is no time as such, that time itself is an illusion. Certainly we can measure intervals of time. What we can’t measure is the passage of time. Not only can we not measure it, but many philosophers and scientists argue that time simply doesn’t pass, that our psychological impression of the passage of time is simply an illusion."

  12. "I deleted all above comments to condense to this one single comment."
    Cool. I removed them permanently to keep the page "clean". :)

    What do you mean " the face of relativity"?

    Do you have a scholarly source that can backup this claim?

    If the observer is constrained by a certain speed of the passage of time, how is it possible to observe that a speed exists outside of that constraint?

  13. Relativity? The relativity of time. See the twins example (often erroneously called the twins paradox).

    Time as a dimension is different from time as a measurement. In a sense, based on quantum physics time doesn't really exist or at least we don't really understand it's nature. In a newtonian sense, time does exist - but it's merely a measure of an arbitrarily contrived standard of intervals. If you were going near the speed of light, and I stayed in Oklahoma - time would pass differently for each of us. One year for you might be ten years for me. If you stayed at light speed for 10 years, you would come back maybe with a few gray hairs while I might be heading to a nursing home. This has been shown mathematically - it has also been shown empirically (see link provided) with atomic clocks and jet planes. With jet planes, the time lag is minute - but it is still existent. And they aren't going anywhere near the speed of light.

    My sources: Albert Einstein, a really nerdy girl I had a crush on in high school who was obsessed with physics, and undergrad Intro to Physics at OU.

    for the best explanation of quantum physics by a qualified person:

  14. I'm talking about the objective passage of time. Not the appearance of the passage of time (which is relative to the speed you are moving in relation to the object you are comparing to).

    Who's holding the watch that determines a certain amount of time has objectively passed?

    If the twin-on-earth's watch hit 20 years, would he be waiting for his brother to return for 20 more years (the twin-in-space's watch would register 10 years at the time the earth watch registered 20 years)? What clock is the two watches compared to as a standard for determining that they only measure a relative interval of objective time?

  15. The whole point is that the passage of time is arbitrary. It doesn't just merely appear that the twin in the spaceship is passing time slower in relation to the twin on earth; in relation to the twin on earth, time IS passing slower for the twin in the spaceship.

    With the empirical experiments there are atomic clocks on both the jets and on the fixed ground locations. Paul explains it quite well on the provided link. If we had spaceships that could go the speed of light we could do the same. The atomic clock on the spaceship moving at the speed of light would move slower than the atomic clock on earth.

    I recommend reading Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game" series for an understanding of how this would work.

    To try to answer your last question which I am not sure if I grasp....
    If we both bought identical watches and synchronized them.... and I went in a spaceship at the speed of light for 1 year and came back.... You would have aged perhaps 5 years (I don't know the exact ratio) whereas I would have aged 1 year. For me, 1 year of time would have passed while I was on the spaceship. For you, 5 years of time would have passed.

    The point is that time as a measure of intervals is an arbitrary construction. If we had a clock somewhere else, then we are just measuring time relative to that clock.

    You might check youtube to see if there is a video that explains this.... I will see if I can find something.

  16. I'm thinking on paper here, so forgive me if it gets crazy.

    In your example, YOU are holding the watch that determines "1 year has passed". When MY watch said that 1 year had passed, I would still be waiting 4 more years before you returned. As travel speeds up, so does decay.

    If we had a third person who was traveling at only half the speed of one and twice the speed of the other (the average between rest and light-speed), then the person at rest would be making all movements in slow motion, while the person at light-speed would be making all movements at high speed.

    This is how I understand it, how about you?

    My question would then be, if it were possible to be at complete rest (positioned on no moving celestial bodies, and traveling opposite the velocity of the universe's expansion- so to cancel all movement do to the expansion of the universe), would time pass at absolute 0 (time freeze) from everyone else's perspective, yet time still passes for you? If a moving observer records the location of a photon, moves at the speed of light (maximum possible speed) for the time it would take the photon to change its position (using the "absolute rest" person's watch), how long would it take according to HIS watch before he could make the observation that the photon had changed position? If the answer is "infinite amount of time" or "never", then we know that time is completely relative. If, though, an amount of time CAN be arrived at in which the photon could then be observed to change position, then we know that time has an absolute speed at which it MUST change; therefore it is not arbitrary or completely relative.

    I know that it would take a lot of brain power to figure out the answer (because of the calculations involved), and we don't have that at our disposal. But, I can tell you that we can quickly figure out whether or not time is arbitrary or not. If even one factor involved in the calculations is an actual infinite, then it is. If all the factors involved in the calculation have values not equal to infinity, then time has a minimum. No actual infinites exist in our universe, so we can quickly say that no factor will be an actual infinite, and conclude that time must have an absolute minimum progression.

    The implications of the conclusion of an absolute minimum progression of time would be that time is either "hard coded" into the physical universe to progress at an absolute speed (its just relative to us, because of our velocity through space), or that time exists objectively and absolutely outside the universe (still relative to us).

    If we work backwards and start with time having an infinite minimum (the traveling person NEVER being able to observe the change in the "at rest" person's photon's position) then we would arrive on the top of the calculations with, at least, one actual infinity existing and a universe that is capable of accommodating the idea that it is possible for time to "stand still". We could further conclude that either the universe was eternal or that time exists eternally (in both directions) outside the universe, giving credence to the idea of a level 2 or 3 multiverse, which is required to reconcile the eternal universe, as predicted in eastern scriptures and alluded to by Paul in your link, with empirical evidence for Big Bang cosmology.

    To wrap it up, my point in this thought experiment is that time is required to exist and be finite. Thus (by your own admission above) an infinite regression is absurd. If you wish to hold that the conclusion of the teleological argument is arbitrary, then you must provide an alternative to an eternal God to escape the implications of His existence.

    This discussion has no where else to go, unless you are willing to put forth an alternative.

    So, once again I ask you to posit something that is immune to causality.

  17. As travel speeds up, it isn't decay that is speeding up. Rather, as I move near the speed of light, my time relative to you is slower. Your time relative to me is faster.

    The person moving half the speed of time would be moving in relation to us.

    It's not that they experience time faster. All 3 would experience the passing of time the same; if all 3 were 20.... 1 year for each would make them 21. But the one moving speed of light would be 21 when the one moving half would be 25 and the one not moving would be say 50. The math in my example isn't perfect, we need a physicist to work that out for us - but the principle is there. I get the principle, not the specifics of how it works in the same way that I get the principle of how to start my car but can't explain combustion.

    I'll get back to you on the time thing, but I think the quantum physicists are the ones to look to for answers. It takes me enough effort just to decode their answers.... and we probably need to figure out what we are talking about when we refer to time. Because in the relativity examples time is a measure of intervals; not a concrete dimension.

    Einstein arrived at your problem "time is required to exist and be finite" and I think his conclusion may have been along the lines that the past, present, and future are all illusions.... Some deep ontological stuff that I can't hammer out right now on a comment.

    I will say, if we have a paradigm shift, it is no longer absurbd; but the traditional ontological language employed is inadequate to describe it. Sunyata (emptiness) may be a different paradigm for viewing phenomena that makes sense of this wacky science.

    I don't see how it follows that if the universe is finite there must be an eternal God. And again, perhaps our own language limits us from talking about reality as it really is and leads us to conclude that "to not exist and to be infinite" is absurd when it may not be.

    I posit that nothing is immune to causality. Wheels go round and round but where do they begin? The trouble is explaining how this can work in the face of implications of a finite universe with the Big Bang.... but what caused the Big Bang?

    Here is the problem of Causality.
    The Christian answer is the Uncaused caused the Big Bang and was the first Cause.
    My answer is there was a cause that caused the big bang, which will cause the big crunch, which will cause another big bang, ad infinitum. But because of the structure of the universe after the big bang, time is meaningless before the big bang and therefore our empirical methods only allow us to perceive it as finite.... I need to hammer this out better, but I hope you can see the direction I am going.

    But before the big bang, there was not nothing, but rather emptiness/void - and out of void came form (the big bang), but the nature of void is immeasurible hence we cannot measure time in the void. So the cycle goes on, void to form, form returns to void, and repeat. We can only measure so far back as form begins, but void is not nothingness.
    The strength of the above argument is I don't have to abandon causality to explain origins; and I can therefore maintain consistency.
    The weakness is that I cannot empirically prove it; it is a metaphysical postulation. My postulation and Christianity's are both metaphysical - but my postulation maintains causality; and therefore maintains consistency because my first cause does not have to abandon causality.

    Whew, that was a mouthful.

  18. The only way that your view (big bang, big crunch, big bang, big crunch, etc) remains consistent is if time is cyclical. However, general relativity predicts that time is linear. The measurements of the microwave background radiation (check wikipedia) show that the universe has a "flat" geometry (including the dimension of time). Meaning that the dimensions do not wrap around back onto themselves (like a cylinder does).

    Since the geometry (including time) of the universe is flat (like a sheet of paper on a table), an infinite regression (as you're proposing) is, not only absurd, but impossible.
    The fact that time is linear requires that causality be abandoned at some point. So, to maintain your position you must either abandon empirical evidence produced by the microwave background radiation or you must alter that evidence to fit your view.

    If you wish to maintain consistency, the only way for you to do so to posit an eternal multiverse that exists outside the universe.

    I agree that the need for a beginning does not point directly to the Christian God. However, it does point to the need for a beginner, and since time is linear and has a beginning, that Beginner must be eternal. We have two options, an eternal God or an eternal multiverse. When one has been eliminated, it can be concluded that the other must exist. But that does not seal the deal, because there are several options of types of multiverses and several options of types of gods (from the different religions).

    I would also like to point out that an eternal God and a finite multiverse are not mutually exclusive (an eternal God and an eternal multiverse are mutually exclusive). So that throws another wrench into the equation because a multiverse may not be eliminated. At that point, the different multiverse models would need to be eliminated individually.

    My point is that you can maintain consistency, without going against the evidence, by positing an eternal multiverse.

  19. I'm getting around infinite regression by positing that the universe had a finite start, which is what science will also say. Before that it was void. It will come to a finite end. Then there will be void. Out of void will emerge a finite start. During void there is no rupa (matter or form). It's not an infinite regression of matter or form. Matter has a finite regression. Emptiness (sunyata) is persistent though.


    Lee is simply brilliant. I feel like I posted too much of his whole post in this comment, but without the context it wouldn't make sense.

    "The fact these quantum effects are observed – breaking cause and effect within the universe, appearing to come from nothing and back into nothing highlights how the theist’s original premise is flawed – there is an uncertainty in the known universe today, so how can anyone express certainty back at the beginning?

    They cannot.

    At the point of the Big Bang the physics is in the arena of the Quantum world – these effects then cannot be ignored. It shows that when the theist ignores them, they are making an assumption, and with this assumption their argument fails.

    It shows that their inductive argument is flawed and black swans (Who said that?) are everywhere.

    But wait... there is more.

    The theist is also claiming that the universe cannot be ‘uncaused’ yet this is precisely the claim being made by them about their god.

    There are no reasons given for this claim for an uncaused God, other than (paraphrasing) “well, the universe cannot be uncaused, so it has to be God” Erm... have we heard this argument before? Isn’t it an argument from both ignorance and a hint of special pleading to boot?

    Actually, this isn’t fair... what I hear often is that “God didn’t begin to exist, but always existed” – this is special pleading and I could easily change the word ‘God’ and argue that the universe always existed with equal merit (actually I feel greater merit since I have time on my side... he he).

    Now is probably a good time to place the Quantum mechanical effects back on the argument table for some fun.

    If these quantum effects are seen within the universe (and they are) why is it unreasonable to move these ideas to the very start of the universe? Why is it impossible to say these quantum mechanical effects did NOT happen at the start?"

  21. Are you saying that new "matter and form" are created from the void or is it the same "matter and form" as the iteration before?

  22. if matter and form ceased to exist, how can the same matter and form come to exist?

  23. I'm going to accept that comment as "its new".

    How can something emerge from void alone?

  24. How does God create ex nihilo?

  25. Do you think Creation ex nihilo is the same as what you are positing? If not, why are you changing the subject?


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