contingency

To completely tell the story of something, you have to talk about something other than the thing itself.

To completely tell the story of a sub-atomic particle, you have to talk about the atom.

To completely tell the story of a living cell, you have to talk about the cellular organism it is a part of.

To completely tell the story of a tree, you have to talk about rain, soil, wind, sunlight, etc.

To completely tell the story of a human, you have to talk about their parents.

To completely tell the story of a website, you have to talk about the internet.

To completely tell the story of the scientific method, you have to talk about regularity and the desire to know.

To completely tell the story of the earth, you have to talk about (presumably) the sun.

To completely tell the story of the sun (and our solar system), you have to talk about the milky-way galaxy.

To completely tell the story of our galaxy, you halve to talk about the universe.

To completely tell the story of our universe, you have to talk about something other than our universe.

21 thoughts on “contingency”

  1. To completely tell the story of God and the universe, you have to talk about something other than God and the universe.
    Etc.

  2. Or, if God and the universe is all there that exists we can probably stop there. Or, if God doesn’t exist we could have stopped at the universe.

  3. Or, if we go with the standard definition of universe (being all that exists) then we could also have stopped at the universe.

  4. “To completely tell the story of our universe, you have to talk about something other than our universe.”

    Theological justification of multiverses?

  5. Damian/Ken,
    comment 1 – merely continues the regress into divine ontological category – which isn’t exactly much a defeater for at least some kind of theism
    comment 2 – ah yes, the question of ‘where to stop’ the regress of causality. Options: a) pick a point any point, or b) don’t stop, just let the regress be infinite, c) logically infer an infinite ‘capital C’ Cause from the regress d) shrug shoulders and refrain from comment :)
    comment 3 – that Saganian definition goes beyond any evidence we have (or could have). We don’t (experimentally) know that the universe is finite or infinite (or whether it is an ‘open’ or ‘closed’ system). We are safest to say that the universe is ‘all that we see around us’.
    comment 4 – see comment 1 :)

    A key characteristic of the principle of contingency is that the thing in question is contingent upon something other than itself. If we are locked into some kind of naturalistic ontological monism, then this sets up the whole infinite regress of “but what caused the cause”.
    Theism in general, and monotheism in particular, doesn’t assume this ontological monism (there is only one kind of ‘being’/essence/’stuff’, because we just know…), and infers a wholly distinct level of existence/causality, which is why we speak of not simply another ontologically-identical-yet-prior cause (just another link in the causal chain), but rather a ‘captial-F’ First Cause. Or more directly, a God, which, by definition, is a Final Infinite Cause.

  6. Comment 3 didn’t say anything about finite or infinite. Just the standard definition of the Universe being ‘all that exists’. There is bound to be much much more that exists than what we can currently observe (dark matter is a humbling reminder of this) perhaps even God.

    If we use the standard definition for the universe of ‘all that exists’ and God really does exist then your very last line in the OP was unnecessary because there *would* be nothing else with which to explain the universe.

    This topic is often confused by cosmologist’s use of ‘universe’ and ‘multiverse’ where ‘multiverse’ is used as a placeholder for ‘something outside of what we can currently observe’ but which would actually fit within the standard definition of ‘universe’ because, if it exists, it is *in* our universe; we just didn’t imagine our universe to be embracing enough in the first place.

    I realise that you don’t want your God to be *in* (or, bounded by) anything but I really don’t understand how you can go on believing you are are being rational when you say in one breath that God exists but does not belong to the set of all-things-that-exist.

    If we use the definition of the universe being ‘all things that exist’ then, like it or not, if God exists then God is a part of the universe and we need nothing else to completely tell the story of our universe.

    Unless you can come up anything other than the standard incoherent denial of logic that you’ve now spanned across multiple posts and multiple blogs I’m going to have to leave you to your own devices as there really is no benefit in even attempting a conversation when one person insists that p&¬p.

  7. did you see anything at all I wrote about the assumption that there is only one kind of ‘existence’? Because the ‘problem’ that you insist ‘exists’ with my ‘exist’ language has not a little bit to do with this.

  8. Oh, I saw it all right but when you disagree with my statement “There exists nothing other than things that exist” you are going to have to tell me what you define the first ‘exists’ as and what you define the second ‘exist’ as. Which, so far, you’ve not done.

  9. I was referring more to comment 5 here, but thanks for the cross-link, it’s helpful to link conversations.

    First of all, simply adding ‘First’ and capitalising the ‘C’ in Cause denotes a linguistic attempt (which will always be imperfect – but we don’t have to mistake linguistic [apparent] contradictions for logical ones) to speak to the distinction between ‘just one more cause in the chain’ and a ‘wholly different kind of Cause’.

  10. Ha! I misread your comment #7. Regardless, your very last line attempts to reintroduce the concept that there exists something outside the universe that helps to ‘tell the complete story’. So I repeat that if we use the bog-standard definition of the universe being ‘all things that exist’ then, like it or not, if God exists then God is a part of the universe and we need nothing else to completely tell the story of our universe. And iff God doesn’t exist then we still need nothing else to completely tell the story of the universe.

  11. Maybe – but only if we use that definition of “the universe”; which is Sagan-ish, and ontologically monist (assumes one kind of existence).

    We don’t know how much we know about the universe (.000000006% or 10% or more of all there is to know?), and we definitely don’t know enough about the universe to define it in a totalising, ‘nothing else’ (not to mention ontologically monist) kind of way.

  12. (addition-slash-edit: a key point is that I think that definition is so philosophically loaded that it is anything but a “bog-standard definition” – and I have made a lap around the online dictionaries)

  13. I can’t think of any form of existence that can’t be covered by ‘all that exists’. Perhaps you’d like to define this other kind of existence that you claim I’m disregarding?

  14. I think part of it is that the phrase “all that exists” is a totalising, enclosing, boundary-implying, this-far-and-no-more kind of phrase. We have no ‘this is everything and no more’ experiences (let alone experi-ments), so why use this definition of universe?

    As for another kind of existence, we’d first want to find a symbol/word/category for ‘this’ kind of existence, and then discern how the other kind would be different. It is in this kind of context of the task of basic ontological distinction that the language of (Aristotle) physics/metaphysics or even natural/supernatural makes basic sense. The capital-F First Cause (or Unmoved Mover, etc.) is seen to be the metaphysical Entity (capital E) ‘behind’ all physical entities (lower-case e) – and the supernatural Cause (capital C) ‘behind’ all natural causes (lower-case c).

  15. (another addition-slash-edit: basically, an ‘other’ kind of existence would have to be fundamentally constitutively different/distinct from ‘this’ kind of existence. So it makes sense to say something like: let ‘this’ be ‘x’, and ‘that’ be ‘X’, or whatever)

  16. Dale, you’ll note that in my comment #6 I made it clear that when I say ‘all that exists’ there’s potentially much that we don’t currently observe or understand that is very likely to exist. But you make it out as if I’m saying it’s only what we currently know that I am willing to include in this definition. Not so.

    The language is plain enough: all that exists is *all* that *exists* and your attempts to limit my use of *all* and *exist* perhaps speak more of your desire to remove some things from investigation (or coherence for that matter) than anything else. If we define the ‘universe’ (and, yes, it is a standard definition) as ‘all that exists’ and God exists then God is in the universe.

    There exists nothing other than things that exist. Plain and simple. No hidden boundaries. No presuppositions about dark matter, deities or demons. If they exist, they exist. I’m amazed that you can even deny the statement and consider yourself a person of reason.

    (Out of interest, are there another other Christians reading this — and I know you are — who don’t agree with that statement? That there exists nothing other than things that exist?)

  17. Damian,
    Thanks again for pressing me – it is always helpful and I learn (ever so slowly, perhaps?) to communicate better as a result. Rather than making it sound like you were not allowing for ‘more’ stuff, I should have specified something to the effect of ‘not allowing for ‘fundamentally distinct kinds of stuff’ (like a capital-C ‘last/first/final/uncaused/ultimate/ending/etc ‘Cause’). We either think the chain is infinite, or that it stops somewhere. I think it’s anything but obvious that it stops with the universe?

    I’ll push back that ‘all that exists’ is not a standard definition and perhaps ask you to refer me to relatively reputable dictionaries?

    But, further, I actually (in a qualified sense – and I’m hoping I’m not just muddying the conversational waters here!) am prepared to accept the statement “there exists nothing other than things that exist”!!! How ’bout that!? :) Of course, the point is that God does not ‘exist’ in the same way that my chair, my son, my website or our galaxy or anything else we see ‘exists’. God is not a physical/material being. If we were going to talk about God ‘existing’ in any way at all, we’d have to use a different, distinct, separate word for it. Perhaps we should say that God is the source of existence itself, or that God capital-e ‘Exists’. Which would fit into your statement something like this:

    “There exists nothing other than things that exist; which of course does not address things that have a fundamentally different/distinct/logically-and-causally-prior kind of ‘Existence’ which we could/should/must signal by capitalising the ‘e’.”

    Or put more simply – “nothing exists except existing things – excepting of course Existing things”

    It’s the ontological monism that we’re clashing over, yes?

  18. yet another edit/addition!: when I said it’s not obvious that it [causal chain] stops with the universe, this is different from saying that it’s not obvious that there is more out there in the universe.

    ‘more unseen things’ is (I suspect we both agree) not just possible but pretty much undeniable. Again, we don’t even know how much of it we’re seeing/detecting – and the idea of a ‘line’ or ‘boundary’ for even our physical universe blows at least my mind!?

    What I’m talking about is not just ‘more of the same’, but ‘more’ in the sense of a completely different kind of thing Thing (or even ‘THING’).

    If we use the chain metaphor (or a reeeeeeeally tall stack of turtles, you choose the metaphor? ;D ), I think we both agree that the claim that ‘there are many more links out of our field of vision’ is non-controversial. What theism claims is that the entire chain is ‘held’ by a chain-maker/holder/etc. and I’d say not just at one end, but at both ends, and at every point in between as well. The holder is not itself made of ‘chain-ish’ stuff. And with that, I think that’s as far as that metaphor needs to be taken!

  19. Sorry about the delay; finally got half an hour spare!

    I think we’re getting somewhere and I suspect the issue was largely to do with presuppositions. You were afraid that my definition of ‘universe’ presupposed that it was only made of matter but when I was careful to define it in such a way as to avoid such a presupposition you were able to accept it — albeit tentatively. However, I want to push back (to use your Christianese) and ask that you come up with a definition that doesn’t hint at or presuppose that there exists a God (with capital “E’s” and “C’s” etc). If you presuppose something like this you might as well simply say “I believe this” and end it there. And I might as well simply say “I don’t believe this”.

    Can we not simply say that “There exists nothing other than that which exists”? Surely this holds the least presuppositions? If there is a set of all things that exist and if God exists then God belongs to the set of things that exist. If we can get to a point where we agree on an all-inclusive use of ‘exist’ then we can begin to ask questions like “how can *we* know something exists?” And from there we can examine our reasons for believing whether a God exists. Or not.

    As an aside, I think that part of the confusion is to do with the time-factor. We can talk about ‘everything that exists’ but this implies only the present. What about the library of Alexandria? Does that fit in the description of a universe which is “all that exists”? Perhaps our definition needs to add the dimension of time. After all, it is possible that there *was* a God who caused everything but who no longer exists. Just as it is possible that there continues to be a God or that God is just an imaginary concept. Or, interestingly, that maybe there *will* some day be a God who emerges from simplicity. All valid concepts.

    I’m afraid I don’t have much time (or mental space) at the moment and so further replies may be sporadic.

  20. Thanks Damian,
    I appreciate your tone and openness to work things out logically.
    ((I thought it would be fitting to say quickly that whilst I do think ‘logic’ or ‘looking at the world’ alone is enough to warrant belief in at least some kind of First Cause, etc., I do not see it as ‘enough’ to ‘get’ a person all the way to endorsing/affirming the Christian beliefs about the nature of God. The original post was in this sense in the vein of not ‘Christian Theology’ but ‘natural theology’.))
    You’re right to identify and question a definition based on presuppositions. I could waffle on about how language itself requires at least some presuppositions, and I think I’d be right, but won’t go there for now.
    For me a key point in our discussion is what I would say is the need for our definition of ‘universe’ to be pretty tentative. And I do think that science confirms again and again this need for non-finality – openness to being surprised. I’m not sure that we could ever have a precise, or final or ‘finished’ enough definition of ‘universe’ to enable us to take the idea of (a) ‘God’ and simply compare and contrast and ask such questions as ‘Does ‘God’ belong to it’ or similar. Sagan’s (in)famous definition of ‘kosmos’ is incredibly too precise – observationally speaking; it is dripping/overflowing with philosophy/’naturalism’ – so our hesitancy about presuppositions should also apply to his definition. Even definitions of the universe as ‘all space/matter/energy’ are over-reaching in a sense. The most accurate way to speak would perhaps be to talk about what we actually observe. Not totalising concepts of ‘all’ space/matter/energy, but the actual space/matter/energy that we see (or at least see the effects of – i.e. a sub-atomic ‘x’ making a strike on a plate, etc. – seeing the effect, but not the thing).

    What I think we find is that we cannot avoid thinking in categories. The notion of “a set of all things that exist” is (at least grammatically) an imaginary/conceptual (not in the sense of ‘just in your imagination’, but in the sense of ‘as opposed to (in)directly observed’) category in which anything that exists is said to be ‘in’. The point is not that this is wrong, per se, but that category-creating presuppositions are already at work already in this language.

    What I’ve done in my original post is to highlight the reality of contingency – which observes the category distinctions (i.e. the distinction between the compo-nent of say, a cell and the compo-sition of an organism) that are directly observable and infer (from the established/observed principle of things being ultimately explained by things other than themselves) to an ultimate/final distinction between the universe and something (let’s be honest – some kind of a God) that caused the universe which is not itself the universe.

    Overly precise definitions of ‘universe’ or ‘God’ are not necessary at this point (the point of making a basic category distinction between ‘world’/’universe’/’that-stuff-we’re-looking-at’/etc. and ‘God’/’first-cause’/’source’/’not-like-that-stuff-we’re-looking-at’/etc.).

    That rather dense and lengthy ‘clarification’ hopefully provides a helpful ‘next step’ in our up-to-now enjoyable exchange :)

  21. ((and completely understand about reply-time – I’ve got quite a bit to do this week, so really shouldn’t comment too much either!))

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