Must the Beginning of the Universe have a Personal Cause? (Part 3)

by Luke Muehlhauser on October 20, 2010 in Guest Post,Kalam Argument

Guest blogger John D of Philosophical Disquisitions summarizes contemporary articles in philosophy of religion in plain talk so that you can be up to speed on the God debate as it ensues at the highest levels of thought.

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This post is part of a series on Wes Morriston’s article “Must the beginning of the Universe have a Personal Cause?” The article takes a long hard look at premises (1) and (4) of the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA), as defended by William Lane Craig.

We are currently looking at premise (1) of the argument, which states:

(1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence.

Craig offers various informal lines of support for this premise. In the previous entry we looked at his attempted appeal to the principle ex nihilo nihil fit. As we saw, this principle is subject to a number of possible interpretations, none of which is favorable to Craig.

In this entry, we will look at Craig’s other attempts to support and defend premise (1). These include (i) an appeal to its intuitive obviousness; (ii) a criticism of atheist disingenuousness; and (iii) an appeal to its empirical support. Most of our time will be spent on the first of those defenses.

Does God Begin to Exist?

Craig thinks that premise (1) of the KCA is intuitively or self-evidently obvious. Intuitions have a somewhat dubious philosophical value (doesn’t everything?), but it is clear that it would be impossible to function without them. So we cannot automatically impugn Craig’s appeal to intuition.

We can, however, question it on two fronts. First, we can ask whether Craig is sufficiently clear about what it is that is intuitively obvious. Second, we can ask whether it is in fact intuitively obvious. This latter question will force us to distinguish between different varieties of intuition.

To see why the first question is important we need to consider another question: Does God begin to exist? It may seem obtuse to ask such a question since the KCA clearly appeals to God as the explanation of that which begins to exist. But, recall, Craig has a peculiar conception of God’s relationship to time. He thinks that God was timeless prior to the universe, but then became temporal at the beginning of the universe so that he could interact with human history.

Given that conception, the following self-defeating argument seems to be in order:

(a) God became temporal at the beginning of the universe.
(b) This implies that God “began to exist”.
(c) Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence.
(d) Therefore, God must have a cause of his existence.

From Craig’s perspective, something must be wrong with this argument, but what? One answer that he gives is:

(a) The phrase “begins to exist” does not cover things that have timeless existence.

This would defeat (b) from the argument just outlined. The problem is that it redefines what it means for something to begin to exist. And once we engage in such an exercise, the intuitive obviousness of the original premise may evaporate.

A Metaphysical Intuition?

Craig sometimes defends premise (1) on metaphysical grounds. The idea here is that our understanding of the deepest metaphysical structure of reality (being, non-being, causation etc.) precludes the absence of an efficient cause.

You may be wondering: what is an efficient cause? The answer brings us back to Aristotle’s theory of causation. Aristotle argued that there were four distinct conceptions of “cause” that could be applied to any object. They were:

(i) The material cause: the physical material out of which the object was made;
(ii) The formal cause: the overall form of the object or that which makes the object an instance of a particular class;
(iii) The efficient cause: that which brings about the change that produces the object;
(iv) The final cause: the purpose or telos of the object.

Once the Aristotelian foundation of Craig’s metaphysical intuition is revealed, a problem emerges. Craig is asking us to accept that an efficient cause has metaphysical priority over a material cause. After all, he thinks that God created the universe out of material nothingness.

But surely our metaphysical intuitions support the need for a material cause just as much as the need for an efficient cause? Craig provides no argument for thinking otherwise.

A Synthetic a priori intuition?

Looking at premise (1), it is clear that it is not what we call an analytic a priori truth. That is to say, it is not a trivial, tautologous or definitional truth like “All bachelors are unmarried men.” Premise (1) is trying to say something with real metaphysical bite. That must mean that it is a synthetic a priori truth.

What are the criteria for a synthetic a priori truth? Well, first, its truth must be obvious or self-evident. Second, its truth should become more obvious the more you know about it. A classic example of a claim meeting both criteria is: “the surface of an object cannot be both red all over and partly green, at the same time.”

It is not clear that premise (1) meets either of the criteria. It does not seem to be self-evidently true. There is, after all, no logical contradiction entailed by the notion of something popping into existence without a cause. Nor does it become more obvious the more we know about it. To see this, we need to examine an area about which we lack intuitions: quantum mechanics.

Morriston points out that, according to at least some theories, quantum events such a radioactive decay begin to exist without a cause of their existence. Craig is ready with a response to this. He says that quantum events have necessary, but not sufficient causes: the sub-atomic vacuum contains the energy that is necessary for the event. The event then occurs in an indeterminate manner, but without the sub-atomic vacuum, no event could occur.

Morriston thinks that this is a very odd response. First, it qualifies what is supposed to be an a priori intuition with empirical evidence, and then it concedes that events can have necessary but not sufficient causes of their existence. Consequently, it effectively restates premise (1) of the KCA as the following:

(1a) Whatever begins to exist must have a necessary cause of its existence but not necessarily a sufficient cause of its existence.

This is downright counter-intuitive. How could it be that necessary, but not sufficient, conditions can cause something to come into existence? Causation requires both. Furthermore, this restatement is actually consistent with some contemporary cosmological theories in which the universe comes into existence through, for example, quantum tunneling (Vilenkin’s theory).

Craig usually dismisses these theories on the grounds that they are not really cases of something coming from absolute nothingness. But that is not what they are claiming: they are claiming that something can come into being from an insufficient something else. Craig seems to accept this.

In the end, Morriston thinks it is best to avoid the application of a priori intuitions to the origin of space and time. This is clearly going to be a counter-intuitive domain.

The Accusation of Insincerity

Craig sometimes accuses those who reject premise (1) of insincerity. He thinks they are being deliberately obstinate because they are trying to avoid the manifest truthfulness of God’s existence.

I’m almost inclined to avoid discussing this since it is really more about Craig’s theological views than it is a contribution to the defence of the KCA. However, since Morriston discusses it, a few words might be in order.

Craig’s basic view is that non-believers are morally responsible for rejecting God. The internal witness of the Holy Spirit is available to all, and apologetic arguments can supplement this direct access to religious truth. It is only through active, blameworthy rejection that God’s existence can be dismissed. So because non-believer’s are morally responsible for rejecting God, they deserve whatever punishment (i.e. hell) they get.

Morriston thinks that this point will only appeal to those who have already embraced the Evangelical worldview, complete with its metaphysics of the afterlife. This suggests that the KCA might be a bad argument to deploy in an apologetic context. At least, it would be if you are going to blame your opponent for their obstinacy.

Morriston also observes that the atheists and skeptics he has known seem to have genuine, sincere doubts. That’s nice to know.

Empirical support for Premise 1?

Finally, Craig sometimes appeals to the empirical support for premise (1). The idea here is that we have never observed an event or object beginning to exist without a cause. So premise (1) has the strongest imaginable empirical support: always verified, never falsified.

That should satisfy all those obstinate, empirically-minded atheists, shouldn’t it? Well, actually, no. First, we don’t always find causes when we look for them. Secondly, our empirical evidence is always going to be limited to causation taking place within the spatio-temporal universe. Thirdly, and relatedly, all empirical evidence supports the need for temporal relations to exist between causes. This is something that Craig denies.

Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, no empirical evidence supports Craig’s notion of creatio ex nihilo. That is, we have never witnessed the creation of a material something out of an immaterial nothing.

That ends our analysis of premise (1). In the next post, we will consider premise (4).

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{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

Yair October 20, 2010 at 6:26 am

I would note that it is doubtful whether quantum mechanics requires even a necessary (i.e. material) cause to exist. The radioactive decay of an atom generally requires the prior state of an atom, which has energy larger than the vacuum’s. Yet, energy is only conserved on average. It is possible to start with a state of lower energy and reach at a later time, with low probability, an atom that decays. Furthermore, the same radioactive decay can be observed from infinitely many initial states. The given decay event can happen from virtually any possible initial conditions, which is the exact opposite from what ‘necessary cause’ implies. So the idea that there is some necessary, even if not sufficient, cause to this decay event seems doubtful.

The only thing that is really necessary under QM for the observation of the radioactive decay is the applicability of the laws of QM. [Well, a few other things too - like not being in an energy eigenstate, or having a state with the right baryon number, and so on.] This implies an earlier time, and hence a state at that time. And any state has an energy which is equal or higher than the vacuum’s. Interpreting the need for the vacuum energy as a necessary material cause for the event is therefore also circumspect, as this amount of energy is required for QM to be applicable at all.

However, the above is based on non-relativisitic intuitions and ignores energy eigenstates. A proper treatment of this requires QFT, which I haven’t done in ages, and a non-standard treatment at that – seeing which initial conditions can lead to the measurement of an atom, rather than what measurements some initial conditions leads to. I suspect the results would be qualitatively the same – a huge number of states, with arbitrarily low energies, can lead to the local measurement of an atom on the verge of decay.

And I didn’t even begin to consider the issues of observation, remaining in the traditional Copenhagen interpretation. In the more plausible Multiple Worlds Interpretation, this whole picture of causation becomes childish, but in these terms there is again no necessary real necessary cause, just quantum possibilities.

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Luke Barnes October 20, 2010 at 7:06 am

I think you’ve missed one of Craig’s arguments, which goes back to Jonathon Edwards, I think: If something can come from nothing, then anything could come from nothing. Any thoughts?

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Patrick October 20, 2010 at 7:36 am

Heh. On one hand, I know that the “why is there something rather than nothing” argument is mind blowing, and difficult to answer.

On the other hand, I have to laugh. The “I don’t understand how that happened, so God must have done it” argument has been pushed back ALL THE WAY TO THE ORIGIN OF THE VERY CONCEPT OF THINGS EXISTING! Its the grandest intellectual retreat in the history of the human race.

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Observer October 20, 2010 at 8:03 am

Can you clarify: He says that quantum events have necessary, but not sufficient causes: the sub-atomic vacuum contains the energy that is necessary for the event.

I don’t know what the difference is between a necessary and sufficient cause.

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lukeprog October 20, 2010 at 8:14 am

Observer, here ya go.

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Garren October 20, 2010 at 8:53 am

This would apply better to an earlier installment in this series, but I still think it’s worth sharing what I stumbled across while reading Epicurus’ “Letter to Herodotus” last week:

“To begin with, nothing comes into being out of what is non-existent for in that case anything would have arisen out of anything, standing as it would in no need of its proper germs. And if that which disappears had been destroyed and become non-existent, everything would have perished, that into which the things were dissolved being non-existent. Moreover, the sum total of things was always such as it is now, and such it will ever remain. For there is nothing into which it can change. For outside the sum of things there is nothing which could enter into it and bring about the change.”

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PDH October 20, 2010 at 9:02 am

I think you’ve missed one of Craig’s arguments, which goes back to Jonathon Edwards, I think: If something can come from nothing, then anything could come from nothing. Any thoughts?  

I don’t know but I do wonder why atheists are constantly expected to answer such questions given that we are not necessarily committed to creatio ex nihilo whereas Kalam proponents necessarily are.

When I look as honestly as possible at Craig’s thoughts on tigers popping into existence uncaused and whatnot I can concede that that is implausible. However, when I ask myself what it is that makes it implausible it’s not the idea of something being uncaused (QM may well allow for that, at least in the sense required) rather it is the idea of something popping into existence out of nothing.

But that is what Craig insists on.

Meanwhile, we have other options. When I bring up Hawking’s No Boundary model or something like that I’m told that the quantum vacuum is ‘not really nothing.’ Well, isn’t that a good thing? If the universe, or at the least the ‘vacuum’ that it came from, is eternal we no longer have the problem of spontaneously existing tigers to deal with. I’m not going to pretend to fully understand quantum tunnelling and imaginary time and all that, it’s enough for me that the people who do understand agree that it is at least consistent with the evidence. It’s a possibility. We don’t have to stick our neck out on these metaphysical questions if we don’t want to.

So, I’m getting a little tired of theists making a bunch of extremely bold assumptions about horribly complicated things that no-one is in a position to conclusively answer and then challenging me to resolve problems that result from those assumptions when I’m not prepared to go out on a limb and make those assumptions in the first place. Asking me to explain creatio ex nihilo (a religious doctrine) is like asking me to explain transubstantiation. It’s not my problem. Trying to work out what Hawking is going on about is my problem.

This, OTOH, is something that Kalam proponents do have to deal with and I would caution them against trying to find new problems with creation out of nothing as long as atheists have the option of avoiding it altogether (and no-one, so far as I know, has ruled out that possibility).

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Charles October 20, 2010 at 11:33 am

My problem with Premise 1 has always been the way it takes our intuition about everyday things (babies, bicycles, computers, trees) and applies it to the universe as a whole. If our intuition doesn’t help in well known edge cases (atoms, extremely massive objects, travel near the speed of light), why think it can help us here?

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MichaelPJ October 20, 2010 at 4:06 pm

I think you’ve missed one of Craig’s arguments, which goes back to Jonathon Edwards, I think: If something can come from nothing, then anything could come from nothing. Any thoughts?

“Exists(x) (x can come from nothing)” does not imply “ForAll(x) (x can come from nothing)”, surely?

Another thing that’s occurred to me is this: apologetics are often fond of Aristotle’s distinctions between kinds of causation. Now, supposedly it is intuitive that everything that begins to exist has a cause; then Kalam yadda yadda.

So what about pointing out that it is equally intuitive that everything must have a material cause; after all, this is what we observe with tigers etc. Not just that they are caused to come into existence, but that they come into existence out of some pre-existing stuff. So the universe must have a material cause. So there was matter before the universe. Contradiction? Suggests there’s something wrong with that form of argument, at any rate.

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Steven October 20, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Is it just me, or could Craig’s own argument to dismiss quantum events be used against him?

“The event then occurs in an indeterminate manner, but without the sub-atomic vacuum, no event could occur.”

Now let’s apply that to this Theistic Creator:

“The event [of Creation of the universe] then occurs in a manner which is not understood by humans, but without the atemporal being, no event could occur.”

It just seems to me that Craig’s objection is that some prerequisite conditions are necessary for something to come out of nothing, therefore, it doesn’t disprove his point, without realizing that God’s existing is a prerequisite to make his argument work.

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Steven October 20, 2010 at 4:43 pm

“Exists(x) (x can come from nothing)” does not imply “ForAll(x) (x can come from nothing)”, surely?Another thing that’s occurred to me is this: apologetics are often fond of Aristotle’s distinctions between kinds of causation. Now, supposedly it is intuitive that everything that begins to exist has a cause; then Kalam yadda yadda.So what about pointing out that it is equally intuitive that everything must have a material cause; after all, this is what we observe with tigers etc. Not just that they are caused to come into existence, but that they come into existence out of some pre-existing stuff. So the universe must have a material cause. So there was matter before the universe. Contradiction? Suggests there’s something wrong with that form of argument, at any rate.  

My thoughts on this exactly. I can bet that Craig would object to this by saying that because it is impossible that the universe was created from other matter (as that just prompts restating the question so it becomes “What created the matter that created the universe?”), it is necessary that some immaterial creator must exist. But this, I think, undermines the intuitive backing behind the KCA.

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Observer October 20, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Thanks Luke. That was helpful. And I do agree:

1a) Whatever begins to exist must have a necessary cause of its existence but not necessarily a sufficient cause of its existence.

Is downright counter-intuitive.

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DeformedMegalomaniac October 20, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Great point about the intuitive nature of what we actually observe: everything that begins to exist has a material cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore the universe has a material cause. Craig definitely denies this.

On a slightly related note, I want to hear some you guys’ perspectives on the ideas of nothingness, beginningless, timeless, and spaceless. Epistemically it seems to me that it is impossible to know what these mean. For example, does a colorblind person who says not-black, not-white, or not-gray really have knowledge of red or green or blue. Can he really even know what red means? Analogously, does Craig really know what he means when he says not-time, not-space, not-being, etc…? Can Craig in principle know what these mean?

I realize that those intutions are vague and problematic but I’m hoping some you philosophers of language can help me clarify and resolve such intuitions as they relate to Craig’s uncaused, beginningless, timeless, spaceless god. Please share your thoughts and refutations to help me clarify.

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Steven October 20, 2010 at 7:26 pm

Deformedmegalomaniac:

While I’ve never studied philosophy or anything of the like, I think that this phenomenon is interesting to note: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blindsight. But I agree that nothing is something we can’t conceive–it wouldn’t even be a concept.

I don’t quite understand how you’re supposed to understand something that is timeless, but because every action and thought process requires time to take effect, I’d say that anything that is timeless is unable to think or act. If I’m not confusing Craig’s arguments, his response is that an eternally sitting person can stand up, but I don’t think that addresses the problem. The act of standing up requires a thought process, which requires time. Furthermore, if all you’ve ever done for eternity is sit-down, how would you have knowledge that standing up is an option? One might argue that the desire to stand up comes naturally with the development of the brain, but development implies time. I suppose you can argue that a fully developed mind can exist, but not only is this ridiculous, but again, for that mind to make a decision to change the state of its body or of its surroundings, time must elapse. It just seems that any sort of will is by definition subject to time. And if Craig says that no will is required…well, his argument for Theism is destroyed.

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DeformedMegalomaniac October 20, 2010 at 7:51 pm

(a) God became temporal at the beginning of the universe.
(b) This implies that God “began to exist”.

I’m no theist, but Craig’s definition of ‘existence’ doesn’t commit him to (b). I’m pretty sure he would say that ‘becoming temporal’ is distinct from ‘beginning to exist’. Craig would probably give an example of God creating a non-temporal being (like an angel) logically before (though not temporally before, since there was no time) creating time. God exists ‘logically before’ or ‘logically prior’ to creating time. He doesn’t ‘begin to exist’ when he enters into time.

Personally, I’m not sure that any of this really has the content that Craig thinks it does but that is what he would say.

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Camus Dude October 20, 2010 at 8:12 pm

@ Deformed: I wondered about that myself. Perhaps it turns on what “temporal” and “became temporal” mean? I’m not sure the idea of something “becoming temporal” really makes any sense in the first place. I can see something becoming temporal at the same time that it begins to exist, but what does it mean for something to exist, and then “later” (it’s even hard to talk about!) “become temporal”?

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DeformedMegalomaniac October 20, 2010 at 9:13 pm

@ Steven: I agree with you about blindsight. It is fascinating.

Your intuition that all thought processes presuppose time makes a lot of sense. That is definitely the type of thinking that I’m familiar with. Craig would probably say that before entering into time god has all of his thoughts simultaneously. It would be similar to me picturing a red circle. I think of two things at once (a circle and a color). God, however, is able to think an infinite number of things at once. This seems a little weird to me though to use the temporal concept ‘simultaneous’ to describe what happens timelessly. We just don’t seem to be able to escape temporal thinking. At least, I don’t seem to be able to. I think this was pretty much your point and I’m with you.

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DeformedMegalomaniac October 20, 2010 at 9:23 pm

@Camus: I’m right there with you. I don’t seem to be able to talk or think using non-temporal language. When I think of time ‘coming into existence’ I always seem to invoke the concept of time: 1) at time, T1, time didn’t exist and 2) at T2 time exists. Of course, the first sentence is saying that time both exists and doesn’t exist which seems absurd. You’re right…I don’t even know how to talk about it.

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Steven October 20, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Simultaneous: Occurring, operating, or done at the same time. Note the last word. I think simultaneous, by definition, implies that time already exists, thus rendering Craig’s argument that this can exist outside of time incoherent. But let us grant his argument for a second.

What thoughts can God think before time? Wouldn’t this mean that God thinks of evil, perpetrating evil and being evil at the same time that he thinks of good, perpetrating good and being good at the same time? But isn’t this contradictory? Furthermore, how would God choose which thought of his to enact? And wouldn’t making a choice require time?

On the other hand, if God only thinks about specific issues because he consciously picks what to think about, well, then, time would be necessary for him to make a choice of what to think about. Or, if God just happened to have some thoughts that were held simultaneously, and he acted on them, with the result of the universe, then our universe is not the result of a rational, personal thing, but of chance–the chance that God happened to be thinking about the universe.

Those are my first impressions on this topic…

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DeformedMegalomaniac October 20, 2010 at 10:27 pm

@Steven: thanks for your thoughts on the subject. Just to clarify, I wasn’t saying that Craig actually argued for the simultaneous thoughts position. I was just guessing at his possible response. I’ve heard him use terms such as ‘logically prior’ or ‘logically before’ in order to avoid the temporal implications of the word prior but I’ve never heard him flesh out what it means to think timelessly . Anyway, I don’t want to put words in his mouth.

With that said, I don’t see how putting the word ‘logical’ in front of prior solves anything. It also seems like the idea of agent causation being the cause of the universe invokes time. Like you said, making a choice requires time. To say that it doesn’t require time means that it is referring to a type of agent causation that I am totally unfamiliar with (and I’m guessing Craig is unfamiliar with it too).

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Camus Dude October 20, 2010 at 11:30 pm

@ Stephen & Deformed: Not to be an echo chamber, but I agree. I have thought for sometime that it is inconceivable for thought not to be sequential, which implies that thought necessarily needs time. Now, this is just my intuition, but it appears I’m not the only one with it, which seems to me at least a small datum.

I agree too about agent causation. Right there in the term – causation; that’s a temporal notion, (I think – I mean can a cause be simultaneous with its effect? Maybe some sort of quantum stuff I don’t understand, but not “normally” right?) – if so, then being an agent capable of thoughts or choices would necessarily entail temporality.

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Paul King October 20, 2010 at 11:58 pm

Another problem with the use of intuition to support Craig’s first definition is that Craig uses his own idiosyncratic definition of beginning, a definition carefully engineered to produce the result that he wants. Thus his premise differs from the one we intuitively assent to in ways that are relevant to his argument. Indeed, if we assume that there is no time prior to the existence of our universe – as Craig does – then we cannot say that our universe has a beginning in the intuitive sense at all. Does something that has always existed require a cause ? Our intuition says no.

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AndrewR October 21, 2010 at 2:31 am

I think Craig is making another misleading appeal to intuition by using the words “eternal” and “eternity” to refer to God’s actions in his non-temporal state.

For example: ” a man sitting from eternity may will to get up” (may not be an exact quote)

The intuitive definition of eternity is “infinite time”, though, which does not describe the pre-universe state. The pre-universe state is “no time”. Maybe the word has a different meaning in philosophy of which I am unaware.

A man who has been sitting for an infinite amount of time can will to get up, but I don’t see how a sitting man in a non-temporal environment can do anything.

Maybe Craig isn’t deliberately muddying the waters here. As we’ve already seen in this thread, English is a poor tool for talking about a non-temporal environment.

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Camus Dude October 21, 2010 at 3:40 am

but I don’t see how a sitting man in a non-temporal environment can do anything.

I think you’re on to something here. The ONLY model of actions (doing something) are those that are a result of physical processes in the brains of animals (of varying levels of consciousness). The important thing to note is that actions are results of some sort of neurological processing which takes time, thus action, and the processes (thought for self-aware beings like us) in the brain, are necessarily temporal, it seems to me.

I suppose I could just simplify this and say that all examples of minds that we have ever encountered have been in some sense dependent upon physical processes. I don’t think a non-physical conscious being is even a coherent notion.

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Charles October 21, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Jonathan Pearce writes: It seems somewhat presumptuous to make a generalised rule about something that has only happened (to our knowledge, and that is itself open to challenge) once, and in such a way that we do not know the causal process, and therefore cannot make a generalized rule.

I think this is exactly right.

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mojo.rhythm October 21, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Nice post,

Looking forward to the next installment!

BTW folks, Craig responded to Wes in an interview here. Beware: it is freakin loaded with ad-hominems!

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DeformedMegalomaniac October 21, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Another interesting thought I had is that Craig always says that god caused space and time and therefore must be outside space and time at creation. However once god creates the universe he enters into time. If this is true then isn’t Craig committed to saying that at this moment god could not create another space and time universe? God has to be outside space and time to create space and time, right? If he can’t then that would count against his omnipotence.

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lukeprog October 21, 2010 at 5:48 pm

I have been rickrolled!

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wissam October 24, 2010 at 6:24 am

Quick question 1: Isn’t a sufficient condition (or cause?) symbolized by N(x–>y)?

Quick question 2: Is divine will (of creating the universe) a sufficient condition or a cause of the existence of the universe?

I’m asking these questions for the following reason:

1. Ng.
If God (or divine will) exists, God (or divine will) is necessary.

2. SC=df (x) N(x–>y)
For all x and y, if x is a sufficient condition (or cause) of y, then necessarily, if x then y.

3. g=df SC of u.
God (or divine will) is defined as a sufficient condition (or cause?) of the universe.

3. N(g–>u).
From 2 and 3, it follows that, necessarily, if god (or divine will) exists then the universe exists.

4. (x&y)[Nx & N(x-->y)]–> Ny.
For all x and y, if x is necessary and necessarily if x then y, then y is necessary.

5. Nu.
From 1, 3, and 4, it follows that the universe is necessary.

6. ~Nu.
However, the universe is not necessary.

6 implies that the 1, 3 & 4 cannot all be true since 6 contradicts 5, and 5 follows from 1, 3 & 4.

What do you think?

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wissam October 24, 2010 at 6:30 am

I call the argument ^^ “the atheistic argument from contingency”.

I have a more sophisticated form of the argument but it takes too long too explain. It is extremely technical and it is of no use in a debate.

Anyway, I would appreciate some reflections on the argument and quick answers to my questions. Thank you!

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wissam October 24, 2010 at 6:33 am

Fixing premiss 2:

SC=df (x&y) N(x–>y)

A sufficient condition (or cause?) is defined as: for all x and y, necessarily if x then y.

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Yair October 24, 2010 at 9:36 am

6 is begging the question for the atheist side. Under the theistic view, god and (arguably) the universe are both necessary.

I find all discussion of contingency hopelessly ethnocentric. It is nothing but foundless human intuition.

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wissam October 24, 2010 at 9:40 am

Yair,

All I was trying to argue is that theists can’t argue from contingency to God because it is exactly contingency which disproves God!

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wissam October 24, 2010 at 9:49 am

Actually, the Theistic argument from contingency is one of Craig’s favorite arguments.

Anyway, one cannot read Craig’s cosmological arguments and ignore Quentin Smith. Q.S. has argued effectively against the kalam and for god’s probable and necessary nonexistence. His work is not to be missed!

My opinion on Craig apologetics:

a) Kalam: prima facie reasonable. However, some careful reflection will completely blow it out of the water.

b) fine-tuning: his version of it is horrible but I find Collins’ argument the most convincing version anyway (albeit not very convincing).

c) Ressurrection of Jesus: are you fucking kidding me?

d) Moral argument: EUTHYPHRO….c’mon Craig, this was solved since Plato, get with the program!

e) Holy Spirit epistemology: I am not even going to dignify the personal experience argument with an opinion :P

I really can’t even begin to understand how atheists lose to Craig in debates. His arguments are pathetic!

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Muto October 24, 2010 at 4:50 pm

Wissam,
Great argument. I was always confused by the contingency argument, since it seemed to have the contingency of the universe as premiss, but it conclusion seems to indicate the necessity of the universe.
Howeer the theist might answer:
i, god is contingent
ii,god is not a sufficient, but only a necessary cause of the universe

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Camus Dude October 24, 2010 at 5:30 pm

@Muto: I think it would be a rare theist who would admit your i. I know when I was a theist I would’ve said god was a necessary being. Same with ii, now that I think about it.

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Muto October 24, 2010 at 6:34 pm

CamusDude,
You are right. When I think about it, i, would be enough to lead the contingency argument into trouble.

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wissam October 25, 2010 at 6:16 am

@Muto and CamusDude

(i) By definition, God is a non-contingent being. God can be either impossible or necessary. If God is not necessary, then God is impossible. You can also argue that God is not defined as a non-contingent being. Then, not also would the theistic argument from contingency be in trouble but so would the ontological argument Plantinga and Craig posed.

(ii) if god (or divine will ) is not sufficient, then how the hell could God be omnipotent? If god (or divine will) exists then this would necessarily imply that the effect (or what is willed) exists. If that failed, then god’s will is short-coming! This is not something you would like to stick to a perfect omnipotent being.

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Muto October 25, 2010 at 7:12 am

Wissam,

Regarding i,:
You are right this would be a strange place to for the theist. However I am not able to wrap my head arround the concept to define something as necesary.

Regardin ii,:
I am quite confused. I took god is sufficient for the universe to mean the following:
god->universe.
However it is quite conceivable, since god has contracausal free will (a very convoluted concept), that god decides differently and creates something different or nothing at all.
Hence from the proposition “god exists”, the proposition “universe exists” does not necessarily follow.

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wissam October 25, 2010 at 8:22 am

//Regardin ii,:
I am quite confused. I took god is sufficient for the universe to mean the following:
god->universe.
However it is quite conceivable, since god has contracausal free will (a very convoluted concept), that god decides differently and creates something different or nothing at all.
Hence from the proposition “god exists”, the proposition “universe exists” does not necessarily follow.//

I have two things to say about your comment.

First of all, this means that God’s decisions are also contingent and we’ve gotten nowhere with regards to the contingency argument. This destroys the theist’s position once more.

Second of all, I phrased my argument in another way. If you look at what I wrote in the parentheses, you would see this:

In crude form, if god wills that a universe exists then it necessarily follows that a universe exists, and since this will necessarily exists, then the universe is necessary.

Let me support the part that divine will necessarily exists:

Basically, in all possible worlds, god has the same reasons for action. God always does the right thing (in all possible worlds). Disregarding free will, god is necessarily good and thus in all possible worlds, he never does the wrong thing. If we think it is a good thing to create the universe, then god always creates the universe. If it is not a good thing, then god never creates a universe. Also, god has the same beliefs in all possible worlds since he is essentially omniscient. Since the Creator always thinks in the same way, he will always create the universe.

God’s will is necessary. God’s will necessarily causes his actions. Therefore, God’s actions are necessary.

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wissam October 25, 2010 at 8:36 am

For those who find contingency arguments interesting, I suggest you read SEP’s article on Spinoza’s Modal Metaphysics. Spinoza makes similar arguments but instead concedes that the universe is necessary (since well, Spinoza believed in God).

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/spinoza-modal/

I didn’t read the whole thing yet…

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Muto October 25, 2010 at 9:59 am

Wissam,
I think your answer is quite satisfactory. However, what if the action “create universe”is neither good nor evil but neutral. Would the divine will to create the universe still be necessary?

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wissam October 25, 2010 at 10:06 am

Muto,

Here’s the deal: an action is either good or not good and it can’t be both good and not good. We can frame omnibenevolence as always doing the good. Neutral is not-good so if creating the universe is neutral (which means not good) then god never does it.

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wissam October 25, 2010 at 10:08 am

Excuse me: omnibenevolence=df property which necessarily entails doing the good and only the good.

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wissam October 27, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Technical mistake:

Premiss 2: SC=df the x such that N(x–>y).

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wissam October 27, 2010 at 1:11 pm

Anyway, I think we derailed the conversation a bit since the thread deals with the kalam argument. Luke did a great job of revealing Craig’s confusion (or perhaps his intentional obfuscation). Premise 1 is extremely weak and without support and some would go as far as to say that it’s downright false. However, what is weaker is that the 4th premise is even weaker! Is this what theist apologists think is the best argument for the existence of the Christian god?! It took Christians thousands of years to come up with this?! This is pathetic!

The only hope for saving the tenability of theism is by relying on their less known arguments: the evolutionary argument against naturalism is a prime candidate, Collins’ strongest version of the fine-tuning argument (which ironically presents a weaker theistic conclusion), and maybe the argument from consciousness.

Sidenote: Muslims will perhaps stick to arguments from Qur’anic i’jaz which, like the topics of Biblical Inerrancy, are murky waters. Atheists usually do not have as good knowledge of scripture as the Muslims and Christians. However, atheists should not be dragged into the trouble of scriptural interpretation; they should attack the argument from miracles in general, thereby taking down all miraculous claims (including the Ressurrection Of Christ).

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