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The Big Picture

'Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates? Morons.' -- Vizzini from "The Princess Bride"

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Grandfather Paradox and the First Cause

Last time we looked at time travel and the grandfather paradox. We decided that by applying rules which we knew to be true and using some logic we could fix the problem causing the paradox. We did this by breaking up the timeline into two independent components, a chronoligical component and a cause-effect component, then by placing all times and events in sequence according to the rules we determined we worked out a solution that fixed the looping of time for both the main timeline, and the timeline of our traveler.

Before continuing, I would like to revisit Hefe's personal timeline very quickly and try to clarify why it doesn't loop back any more. If we were to instead of looking at chronological time, consider only biological time, that internal timeclock that all organisms possess. Hefe, even though he travels through time is always aging, his clock is always moving forward due to his internal metabolism. Days pass for him regardless what year he is visiting. He gets tired, hungry; his heart beats in rhythm.

Time is always moving only in one direction for him, towards old age. This is true no matter what. If that "master" timeline that we discussed is compared to Hefe's biorhythms we see then why it is considered absolute.


So why did I bring all this up about the grandfather paradox; well it certainly isn't because I, or anyone else I know of, is planning any time travel soon that's for sure. So it must be important for metaphysical reasons, not scientific ones. Science just plays a role in understanding it.

In my dealings with debating Christians I often run up against arguments from personal incredulity or intuition, a logical fallacy that is very hard to deal with in short order. The reason is clear, one can quickly in a few phrases make an argument that sounds logical or seems intuitively correct on its surface. But to defeat the argument is very difficult, involving many facts and a difficult logical path. Time travel is the perfect example, that being why I chose it. It is easy to set up the paradox; If I go back in time to kill my grandfather before he met my grandmother, then I would never be born, if I was never born, then I couldn't go back and kill my grandfather....

Yet it is quite difficult to explain how time really operates; It took that entire post, and even then it is a complicated and rather incomplete explanation. You see the problem, and consequently why it is a very effective method of spreading misperception. How many people would read the grandfather paradox and think it through to see its flaw (cause must precede effect).

One of the most intriguing arguments, from my perspective is the argument concerning "First Cause", of the Universe and of God. The most concise defense of this is by my favorite target, Jonathon Sarfati of the Answers in Genesis Ministry. His piece entitled, "If God created the universe, then who created God?" is a perfect example of this type of fallacy (and a number of others). We will look at two claims he makes that deal directly with what we have learned up to this point about time and cause and effect.

Sarfati opens up with:

[If God created the universe, then who created God?]
A number of sceptics ask this question. But God by definition is the uncreated creator of the universe, so the question ‘Who created God?’ is illogical, just like ‘To whom is the bachelor married?’
So a more sophisticated questioner might ask: ‘If the universe needs a cause, then why doesn’t God need a cause? And if God doesn’t need a cause, why should the universe need a cause?’ In reply, Christians should use the following reasoning:
1. Everything which has a beginning has a cause.
2. The universe has a beginning. 1
3. Therefore the universe has a cause.
[emphasis in original -- see article for footnotes]
There are actually three fallacies here:
The first is his explanation of why the question is invalid. He is wrong, it is quite valid, and he is dodging by saying "by definition" God does not have a cause. The problem is that the definition is just supposition, and not a statement of fact. How can one go about proving it as a fact? They cannot, it is a matter of belief, the definition is a restatement of belief. For example, if I said, "The sky is the color ffopty" and I define ffopty to be the same color as the sky. Then, by Sarfati's logic I am not only correct, but irrefutably so. Because I defined it as such, and that definition was a product of my desire to do so, certainly no based on any factual evidence it is so. One can, by comparison, define blue to be the wavelength of light at 480 nanometers, and then measure the wavelength of the ambient light outside, it would be roughly 480 nanometers (with a number of other wavelengths thrown in as well). That is factual. My arbitrary definition of ffopty is based only on what I want it to be, and is useless for evaluating the sky's color. An arbitrary definition is useless as a logical point.

The second fallacy is equivocation. On what basis can one compare God and the Universe? One is supposedly purely supernatural, and the other has only ever been observed to be purely natural. What makes cause and effect follow the same rules for both, giving Sarfati the "easy out" of turning the tables and arguing about the cause of the Universe.

The third fallacy is the very cause and effect in time that we have been contemplating, in the form of his three points above (see the original article to see how he explains it).

But like I said, we will only look at two claims here, the easy one (the first), and the hard one (the third). The second one is not really interesting for our purposes, and usually one we can let slide -- for the sake of stimulating debate.

Claim one:
"But God by definition is the uncreated creator of the universe, so the question ‘Who created God?’ is illogical"
Sarfati defines God as being "uncreated", and thus asking the question is illogical. But is it really? Suppose I was a very bright scientist and I created a time machine -- I'd do it with some style and make it out of a two seater DeLorean. I would travel back and pick up someone like Plato, who was well aware of Greek Mythology, come back to the present and set him up in a debate with Sarfati, discussing this very issue. I would assign Plato to defend Zeus, the king of the gods. Of course the very first thing Plato would say is that Zeus, by definition, is the king of the gods, therefore there is no other god greater than he, and by extension God cannot be greater than Zeus. Sarfati could respond by saying that God is uncreated, by definition, and thus has to be greater than Zeus and by extension created Zeus, as he is the creator of all. It is the recently resurfaced "My God is bigger than your God" argument that we've seen on occasion coming from Christian 'leaders' regarding Allah, the Islamic God.

That little debate demonstrates nicely why defining something by belief means nothing, how is one to decide which is true, Zues is the greater god, or God is, if both by their very definitions are the very best gods. Of course, there are any number of ways to demonstrate just how absurd the argument made by Sarfati really is. It simply boils down to that he is only trying to convince the already converted. For example, one could counter that uncreated is not the same as uncaused. A cue ball hitting the 8 ball did not create the 8 ball, but it certainly caused the 8 ball to move. This of course works to your favor, in that almost always the Sarfati types will counter with, "But God is also by definition uncaused". By regressing this cat and mouse definition game back, eventually they will back themselves into a contradiction not unlike the "God is Omnipotent and Omniscient" contradiction -- it is not possible to be both. (That contradiction is an excercise for you the reader, but think of this example: imagine a super accurate map of the entire world, one so detailed that it includes a complete image of itself on the map, but that map also includes all details, which includes a complete map of itself, including a map of itself.....) Thanks go out to Dan Barker and his book, "Losing Faith in Faith" for proposing this type of rebuttal.

Claim two:
Let us now attack his argument about the universe being caused. First, does the universe have a beginning? You bet it does! Was it caused? Yes. But so what? Really, so what? Everything in the natural universe has a beginning and a cause, why should the universe be any different. Sarfati goes on at length discussing cause and effect and trying to turn my position (and others who claim the universe has a natural cause) into one of being that what we're really saying is the universe does not have a cause. I have already admitted to agreeing to his point three (although his argument of three points is really nothing but a giant Post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, but we'll save that for another time). So his entire defense falls flat, for the simple reason is that there is a huge pool of possible explanations for the cause of the universe -- of which we cannot cover them all, but let's look at one possibility. He mentions one fact that should pique our curiosity. He claims (rightly) that time actually began at the Big Bang. Aha! Time! That sounds familiar... We have looked at cause and effect and time -- it is the grandfather paradox! Since we have already conquered that one, it should be straightforward to "expand" that one out to encompass all of time.

All we have to do here is show a possible, plausible cause to the universe, it doesn't at this point have to be how it actually occurred. The reason is simple. Sarfati, and others, posit it simply, that the only possible cause has to be God, as there clearly has to be a cause, and there are no alternatives. (There actually are alternatives, many of them.) But we can have some fun and still be well within the realm of science and possibilities.

We have already decided that the paradox would not loop infinitely, that it would all happen once, and only once, although some events would (could) happen multiple times out of chronological sequence but in cause-effect sequence. So let us take as a scientific given that time began at the big bang, we shall also take the latest scientific theory about the end of time and the universe as well, the big fade. It is a complicated theory, but simply, everything in the universe will eventually drift so far apart that the temperature of the universe and everything in it will drop to absolute zero and just blink out. What if this event triggers a time travel 'event' like our time traveller, hefe, going back in time to kill his grandfather, only this event was to travel back in time and 'cause' the big bang. Thus the reason for the universe's existence is its demise, the grandfather paradox to the extreme.

I'm not advocating this as how it really happened, merely putting forward a wild theory that could be true. Since it is an alternative and not impossible, then Sarfati's argument that there is only one possible cause is disproven, and debate over.

Maybe some time in the future, I will discuss some of the more likely causes of the universe that have much more scientific and factual grounding than being merely 'possible'. But only if I have enough time.....

Bonus fun:
if you managed to get through Sarfati's tangled mess, you came across this gem in his explanation of cause and effect:
"I have plenty of theoretical and practical experience at quantum mechanics (QM) from my doctoral thesis work [...] If QM was as acausal as some people think, then we should not assume that these phenomena have a cause. Then I may as well burn my Ph.D. thesis, and all the spectroscopy journals should quit, as should any nuclear physics research."
Care to venture which logical fallacy this is? Answer here.

I just wonder if he would do it if proven wrong? (Of course what he was arguing was a non sequitur fallacy, so his PhD is safe; although the University that issued his doctorate should consider revoking it on the grounds that no one so misinformed deserves a PhD -- oops I just committed an ad hominem attack)

I hope you enjoyed this, and happy logical thinking!



At August 19, 2006 12:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At September 04, 2008 8:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn you're good. I like your post. :)

Kind regards,


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