Craig’s First Premise in 1979 and 2009

by Luke Muehlhauser on August 25, 2009 in Guest Post,Kalam Argument

1979_vs_2009

This is a guest post for my series Mapping the Kalam. It offers a comparison of Craig’s defense of the first premise of the KCA in 1979 and in 2009. This post was written by Dave Chaffee.

The First Premise: Everything that begins to exist has a cause

This writing refers to Craig’s 1979 book, The Kalam Cosmological Argument and to Craig and Sinclair’s update of it in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (2009).  The first premise is stated as “Everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence”. Here is the structure of this post:

  1. The First Premise in 1979
    1. To deny the first premise is absurd
    2. Some philosophical opponents concede the first premise
    3. The argument from empirical facts
    4. The argument from the a priori category of causality
    5. Observations
  2. The First Premise in 2009
    1. Ex nihilo nihil fit
    2. Why only universes?
    3. Experiential confirmation
    4. Objections
    5. Observations & Rantings

1: The First Premise in 1979

According to Craig, a rigorous defense of this premise was unnecessary because to deny the premise is absurd and because some philosophical opponents concede the first premise. Nevertheless, he sketches two arguments that could be pursued for the stubborn and procedural bores who are agnostic on the first premise.  He calls these ‘the argument from empirical facts’ and ‘the argument from the a priori category of causality’.

1.1:  To deny the first premise is absurd

The quotes that follow are from pages 141-145:  “no one in his right mind really believes it to be false”; “the idea that anything, especially the whole universe, could pop into existence uncaused is so repugnant that most thinkers intuitively recognize that the universe’s beginning to exist entirely uncaused out of nothing is incapable of sincere affirmation”; “that it should begin to exist utterly uncaused out of nothing is too incredible to be believed”; “that something should spring into existence out of nothing is so counter-intuitive that . . .  seems to colour one’s intellectual integrity”; “it is inconceivable that the universe should spring into being out of nothing”; “for the universe to spring into being uncaused out of nothing seems intuitively to be really, if not logically, absurd”.

The last quote is particularly interesting in that Craig is granting Hume’s argument that the first premise is a synthetic statement, meaning that its denial involves no logical contradiction. By contrast, an analytic statement can be assessed to be true or false a priori. Still, for Craig, to deny the first premise is tantamount to telling him ‘it’s turtles all the way down’.  This thread in Craig’s writing is never advertised to be an actual argument, so we should be careful not to disparage it as such.  I respect his feelings here, and he certainly represents the majority view.

1.2: Some philosophical opponents concede the first premise

Hume, in a letter written to John Stewart in 1754, says “I never asserted so absurd a proposition as that anything might arise without a cause: I only maintain’d, that our Certainty of the Falsehood of that Proposition proceeded neither from Intuition nor Demonstration; but from another Source”.

Other philosophers concede the first premise including G. E. M. Anscombe, P. Zwart, and C. Broad.  These details are interesting, but again, this is not an argument for the first premise.  It is a simple fact that many philosophers, past and present, agree wholeheartedly with the first premise.  Later, it will become important to look at the arguments these, and other philosophers, construct for and against the first premise.

1.3: The argument from empirical facts

Craig states that ‘the empirical evidence in support of the proposition is absolutely overwhelming’.   However, despite the purported overwhelming evidence, Craig anticipates that philosophers would not be impressed by such an argument.  He wraps up his one-paragraph sketch of this argument by saying ‘the causal proposition may be taken as an empirical generalization enjoying the strongest support experience affords’.   Craig gives not a single example of this overwhelming evidence, nor does he explain why philosophers would not be receptive of the argument.  I will return to these issues in the observations.

1.4: The argument from the a priori category of causality

Craig spends a considerable percentage of his first premise writing (3 of 8 pages) about the argument from the a priori category of causality.   Before considering the idea of this argument, we must take a little detour into Kant’s philosophy.

Immanuel Kant claimed that the mind comes equipped with a number of concepts, which are called Categories.  They function to organize sensory data obtained via the body.  Through this organization, the mind develops and interprets the world.  Accordingly, we relate to a perceived world – a representation constructed by the mind – rather than directly with the real world.  Back in the eighteenth century, this was a radical idea.  Kant’s system is as follows:

QUANTITY

QUALITY

RELATION

MODALITY

Unity

Affirmation

Substance-Accident

Possibility

Plurality

Negation

Cause-Effect

Actuality

Totality

Limitation

Causal-Reciprocity

Necessity

The tradition of proposing fundamental categories and critiquing them goes back at least as far as Aristotle.  Kant’s work was (and is) very influential and many subsequent thinkers have modified his system.  One such person was Stuart Hackett, a teacher that Craig had back at Wheaton College. (And they were both later faculty members at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.) Hackett modified Kant’s system (and it is thus referred to as a neo-Kantian system) in three primary ways as related in his 1957 book The Resurrection of Theism: the number of categories are reduced (totality and limitation are eliminated; existence is equated with substance); the categories are now taken to having application beyond sense data; and the categories furnish knowledge of things in themselves.   The last two changes are as substantial as they are controversial.  Remember, Kant’s view was restricted to the interpretation of sense data and that the mind was said to construct a representation of the world.  Hackett’s epistemology (theory of knowledge) is that these categories correspond to the true nature of reality. In this view, we do not merely perceive the world – we are actually recognizing true knowledge of the world. If one accepts this framework, the principal of causality follows.  In simpler terms, the argument says that we would not infer causality at all, unless it was an objective, true, universal fact of reality.  Essentially, it is a philosophically complex way of defining the first premise to be true.

1.5: Observations

When Craig remarks on the absurdity of denying the first premise, he frequently uses the phrase “uncaused out of nothing” and contrasts that with “caused to exist”.  But, to be more accurate, the latter phrase should be “caused to exist out of nothing” since Craig believes in creation ex nihilo.  It boils down to caused versus uncaused, and perhaps determinism versus indeterminism.  In trying to understand Craig’s meaning, we are only told that he is looking for “something that brings about the inception of existence of another thing”.  It is an odd choice of words, since if we are allowed to start with “something”, then the presence of another something would seem far less mysterious.  Another curious aspect of his language is that he considers the entire universe to be especially unlikely to exist without a cause. In some ways, this reminds me of the contention that a small rock could more plausibly float relative to a large one (of the same density).  But, these little leanings are of no great importance, and again, Craig is not trying to build up a legitimate argument for a premise he believes to be obviously true.  (This explains why Craig’s section on the first premise is only eight pages in length, or ten counting the endnotes.)

In the argument from empirical facts, Craig is referring to objects like a horse – which (proximately, at least) don’t pop into existence uncaused out of nothing.  Anyone can come up with a lengthy list of causes and effects, and extrapolate that into a generalized concept of reality.  The problem with the argument is that these causes and effects pertain to matter and energy working within time – it is a development of already existing material in an already existing universe.  The situation is not analogous to the (postulated) creation of matter and time itself.  This, in my view, is why Craig suggested that the argument would not be impressive to philosophers.

Interestingly, it is exactly this argument that Craig advances in his 2009 update – whereas the argument from the a priori category of causality is completely ignored.  An outline of Craig’s 2009 update to the Kalam Cosmological Argument is the task to which we now turn.

2: The First Premise in 2009

In The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, the first premise still only receives about nine pages of specific treatment, including footnotes.  To be sure, Craig still has disparaging things to say to those who would entertain the denial of the first premise.  For example:  “To suggest that things could just pop into being uncaused out of nothing is to quit doing serious metaphysics and to resort to magic.”   And another: “Such a confession merely expresses the faith of an atheist.  For it is, we repeat, literally worse than magic”.

Despite the consistent acrimony, Craig’s 2009 discussion of the first premise has changed in revealing ways since 1979.  First, although he takes the premise to be obviously true, he tempers this assertion by saying ‘at the least, more plausibly true than its negation’.   Perhaps I am reading too much into this statement, but it seems to grant that one could deny the first premise and still count as a rational human being.  This seems to be an echo of Craig’s acceptance of Hume’s argument that denying the first premise doesn’t imply a logical contradiction. More important than this qualification, and what may have inspired it, is Craig’s discussion of a couple of areas that were utterly neglected in his earlier work: quantum mechanics and alternative theories of time.

2.1: Ex nihilo nihil fit

This Latin phrase means ‘from nothing, nothing comes’.  Ancient Greek philosophers, such as Parmenides, used this principle to argue for an eternal world – a world that always existed.  Craig argues that ‘to come into existence without a cause of any sort is to come into being from nothing’.  To make the reader aware of just how absurd the idea of something coming from nothing is, he states that nobody ‘sincerely believes that things, say, a horse or Eskimo village, can just pop into being without a cause.’

Quantum Mechanics

He addresses the claim that quantum mechanics provides an example of something coming into existence uncaused from nothing – the virtual particle.  He characterizes the actual existence of virtual particles to be in dispute.  And, aside from that, says that not all physicists believe that subatomic events are uncaused.  He argues that most mathematical descriptions of quantum mechanics are fully deterministic.  Further, and independently, he says that if virtual particles exist, they rely on background energy present in the universe for a material cause. Lastly, he argues that Vilenkin’s quantum creation model is not a valid case of creation ex nihilo because an initial uncertainty-allowed, tunneling particle is an example of something coming from something.

Theories of Time

Next, Craig considers theories of time – which he takes to be a more worthy objection.  There is the A-Theory of time, where the past no longer exists and the present is always in a state of just becoming actualized.  This is also referred to as a tensed theory of time.  By contrast, on the B-Theory of time (or tenseless time), time is like a direction where the past still has a valid existence even if we cannot access it.  Craig comments: “If time is tenseless, then the universe never really comes into being, and, therefore, the quest for a cause of its coming into being is misconceived.”  To illustrate this, he points out that it would be like saying ‘a meter stick beings to exist in virtue of having a first centimeter’.  He states that the KCA is predicated on an A-Theory of time, and in that context argues that even removing the initial Big Bang singularity (if that can be justified) does not remove the beginning.  Having a finite past implies a beginning whether or not a particular beginning point is defined.

Craig concludes the section by confessing surprise that many non-theists take issue with the first premise.

2.2: Why only universes?

If something can come from nothing, then it would seem like special pleading to suggest that this holds true for the universe, but not other things.  Craig asks why ‘bicycles and Beethoven and root beer’ don’t pop into being from nothingness.  He asserts that nothingness can have no properties – so there can be no reasons for nothingness to manufacture universes rather than other things.

Next he addresses critics that would grant the first premise in the universe, but suggest that it is not necessarily true of universes.  The first premise is taken to be a metaphysical statement – true for all reality, and not dependent upon some contingent, physical, cosmic evolution.

A third objection is that to deny the causal principle ‘stifles the scientific exploration of cosmological questions.’  Without the need of a causal explanation of the origin of time and the universe, this physics would simply stop.  He points out that many models have been constructed in the attempt to provide a theory that did not require a beginning – the Steady-State model, quantum vacuum states, imaginary time regimes, etc.

2.3: Experiential confirmation

Here Craig appeals to our common experience of cause and effect, the same argument he figured would be unconvincing to philosophers in 1979.  We are told that scientific naturalists have the strongest of motivations to accept it.

Craig discusses Wes Morriston’s objections to other statements of the Causal Principle: that (i) everything that begins to exist has a material cause and (ii) causes always stand in temporal relations to their effects.  Morriston holds that these are incompatible with the KCA.  Craig agrees that the evidence for (i) is impressive, but that it is not “unequivocal or universal”.

At the end of this section Craig states that ‘if coming into being without a material cause seems impossible, coming into being with neither a material nor an efficient cause is doubly absurd.’  Apparently, people who reject Craig’s argument are precisely twice as crazy as he is!

2.4: Objections

In this section, Craig focuses on J. L. Mackie’s objections to the KCA, which primarily targeted the first premise.  Mackie asks why, if the universe cannot come from nothing, that God can create it from nothing.  Craig says that Mackie doesn’t refute the principle; it’s just that he hasn’t been given an a priori reason to accept it.  Craig says it’s plausible to affirm the Causal Principle and asks: “Does anyone really believe that, however vivid his imagination of such an event, a raging tiger, say, could suddenly come into existence uncaused, out of nothing, in the room right now?”

2.5: Observations & Rantings

Definitions and acceptable constructs when it comes to terms like everything, nothing, something, cause, and beginning are sorely needed in this section.  The concept of nothingness in particular has a long and troubled history – asserting the existence of nothingness would seem to be its own denial.  If we assume the existence of married bachelors, what do we get – quasi-illegitimate children? In one sense, ex nihilo nihil fit cannot be applied to temporal or logical progression, because asserting the existence of nothing necessarily denies the existence of bothersome things like time and logic. Of course, the very assertion of the existence of nothing is its denial – so how can we properly use the term?!

So, let’s try again.  Prune the concept of nothingness so that it means the non-existence of our space-time bubble of a universe, but assume that there is a “reality beyond” that includes logic.  Now, asserting that something exists, combined with ex nihilo nihil fit, affords a conclusion that there is always something logically prior to the universe.  Great, but what does something mean here?  Perhaps this is a way to say it always existed.  But this is a highly unusual conclusion to draw if you are advocating the kalam cosmological argument.  On the other hand, if we assume the something is the “reality beyond”, all we have done is agree with our assumption.  And, it isn’t a proper argument to presume the presumption.

Another interesting avenue for future exploration is to consider the commonplace Christian idea of creation ex nihilo.  To have God conjure the universe from nothing makes God a magician.  On the surface, at least, it would seem to make more sense from the universe to derive from God.  This is a pantheistic (or panentheistic) notion.

Conclusion

I find the first premise to be completely fascinating, because it gets right down to some fundamental questions such as the nature of time; causality; the concept of nothingness; and whether nothingness does, has, or could actually exist.  Another aspect I find intriguing is that most of the properties of Craig’s First Cause – immateriality, changelessness, and timelessness – are very much in agreement with the attributes I would ascribe to the concept of nothingness.  Any feedback or insights to my summary of Craig’s writing on the first premise is very much welcomed.  In particular, good and accessible references to the subjects of time, causality, and nothingness are needed.

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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Reginald Selkirk August 25, 2009 at 6:59 am

is to quit doing serious metaphysics and to resort to magic.”  …  For it is, we repeat, literally worse than magic”.

Odd that a theist should use “magic” in such a disparaging way.

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Chuck August 25, 2009 at 7:37 am

He argues that most mathematical descriptions of quantum mechanics are fully deterministic.

Is Craig defending Many Worlds? Because that is the only interpretation I know of that is fully deterministic. What an odd view for a Christian to take …

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tdd August 25, 2009 at 7:38 am

Real magicians use physics. Performing magic is far superior to metaphysics.

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Ryan August 25, 2009 at 9:02 am

“Nothing” does have at least one property: It is symmetrical. No matter which way you view it, it looks exactly the same. This is important because Victor Stenger argues that physical laws come from symmetries and thus would be present even in a total, spaceless void.

I don’t think there is any known mechanism that produces particles or space from nothingness (in spite of what you may read in pop science articles). Still, it is possible that the laws of physics could somehow give rise to matter and energy.

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BJ Marshall August 25, 2009 at 10:33 am

I think a major flaw in the KCA rests on the idea that the universe can be explained as being caused. George Smith (Atheism: The Case Against God) asserts that “[e]xplanations, by their very nature, must fall within the realm of natural causality” (p.123). Here’s my own argument to this point: Since the universe consists of all there is, and there is nothing outside our universe, then nothing outside our universe can be said to cause our universe. (Even if we were to grant a multiverse, I think this argument would hold regarding the “first” instance of a universe.)

Reading your material on A- and B-Theories of Time seemed to strike me as a false dichotomy: Either the past still exists and we can’t access it, or we are recreating the present all the time. What about the past simply no longer existing? Are there other explanations we should look to?

Smith also says, on the same page, that it is irrational to jump from the statement “x is unexplained” to the conclusion “therefore, a supernatural power caused x.”

Here’s another interesting point: The universe simply existing since time began is completely consistent with the first law of thermodynamics; namely, that matter/energy can neither be created nor destroyed (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_law_of_thermodynamics and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservation_of_mass).

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Taranu August 25, 2009 at 11:23 am

Wow, I loved reading this post and I found particularly interesting the part about creation ex nihilo.
 
“Another interesting avenue for future exploration is to consider the commonplace Christian idea of creation ex nihilo.  To have God conjure the universe from nothing makes God a magician.  On the surface, at least, it would seem to make more sense from the universe to derive from God.  This is a pantheistic (or panentheistic) notion.
 
Do you know any arguments Craig uses to defend creation ex nihilo from the panentheistic view?

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Reginald Selkirk August 25, 2009 at 11:59 am

If something can come from nothing, then it would seem like special pleading to suggest that this holds true for the universe, but not other things.  Craig asks why ‘bicycles and Beethoven and root beer’ don’t pop into being from nothingness.

Isn’t that the fallacy of composition, to assume that the Universe is just like a typical thing existing within the Universe? And rather than address that, Craig just keeps giving more examples of it.
 

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lukeprog August 25, 2009 at 11:59 am

Ryan,

Isn’t it one possibility that matter-energy is just a manifestation of the geometry of spacetime, and that the geometry of spacetime is a manifestation of physical laws, and that physical laws are a consequence of symmetries?

I have no idea if this is at all plausible, but it’s a thought. I think there are philosophers who defend each step in that chain, though I don’t know how well they defend these steps.

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cl August 25, 2009 at 2:51 pm

Hi Dave. I’m not an atheist, and although I think the first cause argument can be cogent depending on how it’s argued, I currently don’t think it benefits atheism or theism, per Russell’s objections in <i>Why I’m Not A Christian</i>. Nor do I believe QM constitutes a <i>bona fide</i> example of something coming from nothing, because it’s an assumption that the particle tunneled from nothing. So there’s a little bit of where I stand, if that helps.

<blockquote>According to Craig, a rigorous defense of this premise was unnecessary because to deny the premise is absurd and because some philosophical opponents concede the first premise. …This thread in Craig’s writing is never advertised to be an actual argument, so we should be careful not to disparage it as such. I respect his feelings here, and he certainly represents the majority view.</blockquote>

Your caution is commendable. Still, in a spirit of rational riguer, the whole of Craig’s 1979 defense of premise 1 as cited here is a defense from personal incredulity, and from <i>Blackwell</i> it seems not much has changed (the raging tiger analogy, for example). Also, don’t hundreds if not thousands of years worth of philosophy, religion, and science all concur on the usefulness of ruthlessly questioning the obvious, and the foolishness of failing to do so? On those grounds alone we should scrutinize premise 1.

<blockquote>The problem with the argument is that these causes and effects pertain to matter and energy working within time – it is a development of already existing material in an already existing universe. The situation is not analogous to the (postulated) creation of matter and time itself.</blockquote>

That’s true, if Craig really believes in creation <i>ex nihilo</i>. Personally, I don’t, so I don’t share the objection that Craig’s first premise is only relevant under the typical descriptions of causality we see <i>in this universe</i>.

<blockquote>Definitions and acceptable constructs when it comes to terms like everything, nothing, something, cause, and beginning are sorely needed in this section.</blockquote>

YES, standing ovation, in fact. Along these lines, I would like to ask Craig if his definition of <i>causality</i> necessarily entails <i>consciousness</i>.

<blockquote>Any feedback or insights to my summary of Craig’s writing on the first premise is very much welcomed. In particular, good and accessible references to the subjects of time, causality, and nothingness are needed.</blockquote>

There’s a good stream of thought in DD’s post series, “Theistic Critiques of Atheism,” parts 12-14. In particular, the “time” situation gets addressed <a href=”http://blog.evangelicalrealism.com/2009/06/22/theistic-critiques-of-atheism-part-12/#comment-11211″>here</a>. Thank you. I enjoyed your essay.

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cl August 25, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Damn. Sorry about the HTML. I wanted it to look something like this:
Hi Dave. I’m not an atheist, and although I think the first cause argument can be cogent depending on how it’s argued, I currently don’t think it benefits atheism or theism, per Russell’s objections in Why I’m Not A Christian. Nor do I believe QM constitutes a bona fide example of something coming from nothing, because it’s an assumption that the particle tunneled from nothing. So there’s a little bit of where I stand, if that helps.

Dave: “According to Craig, a rigorous defense of this premise was unnecessary because to deny the premise is absurd and because some philosophical opponents concede the first premise. …This thread in Craig’s writing is never advertised to be an actual argument, so we should be careful not to disparage it as such. I respect his feelings here, and he certainly represents the majority view.”

Your caution is commendable. Still, in a spirit of rational riguer, the whole of Craig’s 1979 defense of premise 1 as cited here is a defense from personal incredulity, and from Blackwell it seems not much has changed (the raging tiger analogy, for example). Also, don’t hundreds if not thousands of years worth of philosophy, religion, and science all concur on the usefulness of ruthlessly questioning the obvious, and the foolishness of failing to do so? On those grounds alone we should scrutinize premise 1.
Dave: “The problem with the argument is that these causes and effects pertain to matter and energy working within time – it is a development of already existing material in an already existing universe. The situation is not analogous to the (postulated) creation of matter and time itself.”

That’s true, if Craig really believes in creation ex nihilo. Personally, I don’t, so I don’t share the objection that Craig’s first premise is only relevant under the typical descriptions of causality we see in this universe.

Dave: “Definitions and acceptable constructs when it comes to terms like everything, nothing, something, cause, and beginning are sorely needed in this section.”

YES, standing ovation, in fact. Along these lines, I would like to ask Craig if his definition of causality necessarily entails consciousness.

Dave: “Any feedback or insights to my summary of Craig’s writing on the first premise is very much welcomed. In particular, good and accessible references to the subjects of time, causality, and nothingness are needed.”

There’s a good stream of thought in DD’s post series, “Theistic Critiques of Atheism,” parts 12-14. In particular, the “time” situation gets addressed here. Thank you. I enjoyed your essay.

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Ben August 25, 2009 at 3:06 pm

It is interesting that the attributes of nothingness and God seem to have a whole lot in common.  haha, I remember concluding that God equals nothing over and over again when I was a theist and trying to wrestle out a logical proof for his existence.  That was long before I exited the religion, too.  Hard to believe I didn’t just listen to what I was saying.
 
Ben

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Michael August 25, 2009 at 6:48 pm

Chuck — I was about to mention Many Worlds! Actually MW might be the answer to Craig since then we can possibly expect SOME worlds to have bicycles popping in out of nowhere.
I think the main point Craig misses is in his objections to quantum physics — the key issue is that whether or not everything has a cause is an empirical issue, however the current debates in QM pan out! The fact that we’re having them shows that we cannot just use our intuitions of causality and absurdness to reason about the real world.

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lukeprog August 25, 2009 at 7:14 pm

Michael: the key issue is that whether or not everything has a cause is an empirical issue, however the current debates in QM pan out! The fact that we’re having them shows that we cannot just use our intuitions of causality and absurdness to reason about the real world.

Indeed.

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lukeprog August 25, 2009 at 9:16 pm

Robin le Poidevin has some interesting thoughts on the first premise in Must the universe have a cause?

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Dace August 25, 2009 at 10:47 pm

Perhaps someone can help me: if the A theory of time is true, what is it that makes facts about the past true? What’s the usual explanation that a philosopher might give?

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oliver August 26, 2009 at 1:17 am

I’ve always thought we grant Premise 1 of the KCA too easily.
 
 
“Everything that begins to exist has a cause..”




On what basis does one support such a premise, I wonder? What does ‘begins to exist’ mean? Does a ham sandwich ‘begin to exist’ only after you’ve slapped a slice of ham between two slices of bread? Did it ‘not exist’ prior to that? If this is the case, then everything we observe from experience and label as things which ‘begin to exist’ are really just things that are the product of rearrangements of pre-existing materials. In applying ‘began to exist’ to the universe, it seems the KCA proponent has pulled off a neat bait and switch (in Premise 2 of the KCA), in which he has redefined ‘beginning to exist’. When referring to the universe, I doubt that any proponent of the KCA imagines that by saying “the universe began to exist” he means the universe arose from prior existing materials, and is just a modification of them (as we can say of chairs, horses, computers, and everything, from our everyday experience, that we colloquially say ‘begins to exist’)
 
 
It seems to me that when we stick to one meaning for the phrase ‘begins to exist’, and apply that same meaning of that phrase to both premises, the KCA becomes meaningless:
 
 
a) If by ‘begins to exist’ the KCA proponent means occurring as a result of the rearrangement of pre-existing materials, then he is implying, in Premise 2, that the universe had a cause that made it change from a prior state (that we don’t know about yet) to its pre-Big Bang state (singularity) – which defeats the KCA. This is because we would have no way of evaluating the events, if any, that ‘preceded’ the Big Bang, since under the current models predictability breaks down at the singularity.
 
 
b) If by ‘begins to exist’ the KCA proponent means arising out of nothing, then it means Premise 1 collapses, because it cannot be demonstrated. Chairs and horses do not ‘arise out of nothing’ so it is not as if from experience we are in position, within the scope of this argument, to hold the assumption that they can.
 
 
Proponents of KCA seem to use the definition of ‘begins to exist’ in (a) when referring to Premise 1, and (b) when referring to Premise 2. The definitions are not the same, yet the Kalam Cosmological Argument  is presented as if they are. To me this qualifies as a fallacy of equivocation.
 
 
What do you guys think?

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Taranu August 26, 2009 at 4:56 am

Craig states in his debates that God’s decision to create the Universe including time was simultaneous with the act of creation itself and that examples of decisions being simultaneous with their enactment can be found  in everyday life. Though I don’t recall he ever gave one during his debates. Do you guys know if this claim can be open to criticism?
 
 

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Reginald Selkirk August 26, 2009 at 5:39 am

Taranu: Craig states in his debates that God’s decision to create the Universe including time was simultaneous with the act of creation itself…

Before I would venture criticism, I would ask for a clarification of what simultaneity means in a situation where time does not exist (e.g. God-land, which in this account must be outside the Universe which includes time).
 

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Jeff H August 26, 2009 at 8:56 am

Taranu: Craig states in his debates that God’s decision to create the Universe including time was simultaneous with the act of creation itself and that examples of decisions being simultaneous with their enactment can be found  in everyday life. Though I don’t recall he ever gave one during his debates. Do you guys know if this claim can be open to criticism?

In addition to what Reginald said, I would debate that on the basis of neuroscience. Electrical impulses, no matter how fast, do take time to travel, and this time can be measured. Just because I have the feeling that as soon as I decide to move my hand, it moves – doesn’t mean that the two events are actually simultaneous. Unless he is willing to posit the idea that electricity moves at the speed of light, I think this is just about the most ridiculous thing you can say. Shame on you, WLC! Shame! Lol…

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Jeff H August 26, 2009 at 8:59 am

oliver: To me this qualifies as a fallacy of equivocation.     What do you guys think?

I think you’re exactly right. Alongside that, I would then take issue with the meaning of “cause”. If we have no true examples of things beginning to exist (out of nothing), then every example of cause and effect is simply a transference of matter/energy into another location or form. The idea that a being can “cause” something to come from nothing seems to be entirely unintelligible in this sense. If he is willing to posit that the universe was made from prior materials, or otherwise proceeded out of God’s “stuff” himself, then fine, but I don’t think we can meaningfully state that something can be “caused” into existence from nothing – whether with or without a divine being around.

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Jake de Backer August 26, 2009 at 2:00 pm

I have heard Craig ellucidate, at the request of his opponent, on the nature of “simultaniety”.  He said, and I am certainly paraphrasing here:
 
“Witnessing a bowling ball impress upon a bed mattress would be an example of simultaneous energy/form transference.  Without the ball, the mattress remains the same, even when the ball is within a hair’s distance of it’s impingement on the mattress, the mattress isn’t effected.  It is not until the moment of contact until the mattress responds by opening a  newly formed depression in it’s surface.”
 
In the interest of killing two birds with one stone, if you all could pray that I find the transcript and it appears on my car seat today after work, I will “simultaneously” convert to our Lord Christ Jesus and post Craig’s actual quote.
 
Praise be His name,
J. de Backer
 
 

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Yair August 26, 2009 at 7:44 pm

 

Michael: the key issue is that whether or not everything has a cause is an empirical issue, however the current debates in QM pan out! The fact that we’re having them shows that we cannot just use our intuitions of causality and absurdness to reason about the real world.

Quoted for truth.
 
The only argument in support of premise 1 that has any merit, in my opinion, is the methodological argument – that we shouldn’t assume there is no cause, lest we fail to search for and find it. But this doesn’t mean that we should accept that there is a cause, and strongly suggests we should not accept just any cause – only ones that we can actually find, i.e. scientific ones, are worthy of even being considered. There is no shortage of those.
However, the question underlying the KCA is “why is reality this way, instead of another?”. The KCA is just a poor way of trying to get to the reason behind it all, to the final cause. We don’t really have any answer to that question. The only thing I’m familiar with that ever came close is Tegmark’s suggestion that all mathematically-possible worlds actually exist as physical worlds. In that case, perhaps it would be possible to construct some argument that demonstrates that selecting just some possible worlds (or just one) is impossible, as it posits a reality outside reality that does the selecting. However, neither this argument nor Tegmark’s premise are established yet, and I’ve yet to see another possible answer.

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Mike Young August 26, 2009 at 9:30 pm

I am a Christian theist. The best way for you to disprove Craig is to give an example of a thing that begins to exist without a cause. You cant do this and you never will so then you might try number (2): attack the idea of causality. Now, to do so would undermine almost all scientific argument (imagine doing science without the assumption of causality) but this would get youa way around Craigs point. Given that you wont accomplish either of those things, your best bet is to attack the idea of God as the cause. I care deeply about this topic (I am a christian after all) it pains me to watchthe other side wasting their time attacking something they cannot ever get around when they could be challenging me and making me think. Focus on God as cause and try to prove that false or impossible or incoherent. Everything that begins to exist has a cause, you’re never getting around it.

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Jake de Backer August 26, 2009 at 9:34 pm

Oliver,
 
The argument in your last post, concerning the validity of the “begin to exist” portion of the first premise in KCA, is incredibly lucid and I sincerely enjoyed reading it.  Did it originate with you?  Are you quoting or expanding on an argument from an external source?  If so, I would love to know who first conceived of it or who may have served as intellectual inspiration for you because honestly, between thousands of articles, book reviews and debate transcripts I don’t think I’ve come across that point and it’s quite valid.  Anyway, I just wanted to commend your (successful, in my opinion) attempt to reduce the KCA (or at least the first premise thereof) into rubble.
 
Regards
J. de Backer

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Dace August 26, 2009 at 9:51 pm

@Mike Young
I’m sure others will respnd to you, but there is a point I wish to make. Why should any of us here be concerned to disprove’s Craig’s argument, rather than simply casting doubt on it? Do we have to accept the conclusion of every valid argument who’s premises we are unable to disprove? If you think we do, then I have an argument for you:
1. The Kalam cosmological argument is sound if and only if everything which begins to exist has a cause.
2. Everything which begins to exist does not have a cause.
3. Therefore, the Kalam Cosmological is not sound.
 
(Good luck trying to disprove 2).

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oliver August 27, 2009 at 12:39 am

@ J. de Backer

Thanks for your comments. Honestly, I had always had trouble accepting that first premise, because Craig was never clear about what he meant when he said ‘begins to exist’. It seemed so obvious that he was equivocating with his use of the phrase in premises 1&2 of the KCA, and I often wondered why no atheist debater ever raised this objection in the dozens of debates they’ve had with Craig. I ended up concluding it perhaps must have been such a weak objection that atheist debaters didn’t think it worth their time to raise it. But then later I came across several blog posts, comments, and podcasts in which others had raised this same objection, so obviously many have considered it too. It’s just that for some strange reason, in formal debates it’s never raised. I would imagine this objection has been floating around for a long time, but I wouldn’t know who may have first thought of it.

Here are some of the resources I came across that clarified it for me a little. In their critique of the KCA, they do address this same objection:
 
http://www.dbskeptic.com/2009/03/15/a-critical-examination-of-the-kalam-cosmological-argument/
 
http://www.anatheist.net/articles/arguments-for-god/cosmological-arguments/kalam-cosmological-argument/

I really am curious as to why this objection isn’t popular among the philosophers who debate Craig, that’s why I threw it out here to see if some would think it was not strong enough. Maybe it is flawed. But if this is a good objection (which I think it is), then atheist debaters would be better off using it to debunk the KCA in 60 seconds rather than spend 98% of their precious 8-minute rebuttal time bogged down in arguing about infinities.

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Reginald Selkirk August 27, 2009 at 6:21 am

Jake de Backer: I have heard Craig ellucidate, at the request of his opponent, on the nature of “simultaniety”. He said, and I am certainly paraphrasing here:

What does this, an example of natural objects in a natural world, have to do with the use of the concept of simultaneity in a realm somehow outside the natural universe? It appears to be a total nonsequitur.
 

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lukeprog August 27, 2009 at 6:54 am

Reginald,

This is indeed a major doubt. All of our concepts are ones that seem to hold within spacetime. But we have no idea what to expect outside the context of spacetime. Craig picks and chooses which concepts are plausible. When they support the Kalam, he appeals to principles that hold within spacetime. When they contradict the Kalam (especially Craig’s concept of God), then he ignores those principles – for example that we’ve never seen a mind exist without a brain, or that we’ve never seen a spaceless being, or a timeless being, or a being that can create something from nothing.

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cl August 27, 2009 at 9:23 am

 
At certain times in these discussions, the word time should not be thought of as something that exists or not, meaning, time is simply a given whenever consciousness exists, because time (in that sense) is really just a metaphor for an interval which is a perception. IOW, if God exists, we get time for free.
 
I also believe we should question the assumption that whatever “caused” the universe must exist outside the universe.
 
Lastly, Jeff H said, “The idea that a being can “cause” something to come from nothing seems to be entirely unintelligible in this sense. If [Craig] is willing to posit that the universe was made from prior materials, or otherwise proceeded out of God’s “stuff” himself, then fine, but I don’t think we can meaningfully state that something can be “caused” into existence from nothing – whether with or without a divine being around.”
 
I agree.
 

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Mike Young August 27, 2009 at 8:51 pm

@Dace
First off, if doubt casting is your goal then you can do that with anything. I can cast doubt on my own existence. The goal ought not to be to cast doubt on what you disagree with but rather to find out what the truth of the matter is. Second, my point was to show that on a scientific naturalistic framework you need premise one to work. If you cast doubt on premise one you must also cast doubt on scientific naturalism. To use a premise like your premise two to cast doubt on the KCA but then accept premise one of the KCA for the sake of science is intellectually dishonest.
Second, no you don’t have to accept every valid argument whose premesis you cannto disprove, you must however accept every valid argument whose premesis you presuppose. Natural science presupposes that all events have causes and that all causes follow laws of nature that we can know, this is how the scientific method works. Allowing one thing the occur uncaused and you sever this link between events and causes, effectivly slitting the throat of science. If you rejects science you may reject premise one of the KCA.
Third I never said you cannot reject premise one, What I was showing is that your worldview requires premise one to sustain itself, unless you grant the universe the property of beginning uncaused as an ad hoc solution to get around the problem.
So my response is this, I will gladly accept premise 2 if you accept it. Of course as soon as you accept it you must also accept that it severs the link between causes and events. And as such you would have

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oliver August 28, 2009 at 2:21 am

Mike Young: Everything that begins to exist has a cause, you’re never getting around it.

@ Mike Young
1. How are you defining ‘beginning to exist’?
2. Does that definition of ‘begins to exist’ apply to both instances that the phrase is used (in the 2 premises of the KCA)?

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Arnold September 1, 2009 at 6:27 am

oliver: I’ve always thought we grant Premise 1 of the KCA too easily.     “Everything that begins to exist has a cause..” On what basis does one support such a premise, I wonder? What does ‘begins to exist’ mean? Does a ham sandwich ‘begin to exist’ only after you’ve slapped a slice of ham between two slices of bread? Did it ‘not exist’ prior to that? If this is the case, then everything we observe from experience and label as things which ‘begin to exist’ are really just things that are the product of rearrangements of pre-existing materials. In applying ‘began to exist’ to the universe, it seems the KCA proponent has pulled off a neat bait and switch (in Premise 2 of the KCA), in which he has redefined ‘beginning to exist’. When referring to the universe, I doubt that any proponent of the KCA imagines that by saying “the universe began to exist” he means the universe arose from prior existing materials, and is just a modification of them (as we can say of chairs, horses, computers, and everything, from our everyday experience, that we colloquially say ‘begins to exist’)     It seems to me that when we stick to one meaning for the phrase ‘begins to exist’, and apply that same meaning of that phrase to both premises, the KCA becomes meaningless:     a) If by ‘begins to exist’ the KCA proponent means occurring as a result of the rearrangement of pre-existing materials, then he is implying, in Premise 2, that the universe had a cause that made it change from a prior state (that we don’t know about yet) to its pre-Big Bang state (singularity) – which defeats the KCA. This is because we would have no way of evaluating the events, if any, that ‘preceded’ the Big Bang, since under the current models predictability breaks down at the singularity.     b) If by ‘begins to exist’ the KCA proponent means arising out of nothing, then it means Premise 1 collapses, because it cannot be demonstrated. Chairs and horses do not ‘arise out of nothing’ so it is not as if from experience we are in position, within the scope of this argument, to hold the assumption that they can.     Proponents of KCA seem to use the definition of ‘begins to exist’ in (a) when referring to Premise 1, and (b) when referring to Premise 2. The definitions are not the same, yet the Kalam Cosmological Argument  is presented as if they are. To me this qualifies as a fallacy of equivocation.     What do you guys think?

Oliver, this is a very astute observation; one made nealry verbatim by Quentin Smith in a debate with Craig some years ago:
Fro here: (http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/craig-smith2.html)
From Quentin Smith:
“Bill’s basic argument is this: his first premise is: Whatever begins to exist has a cause. Second premise: The universe began to exist. And the conclusion is: The universe had a cause. Now this argument commits the fallacy of equivocation, and what that means is that the word “cause” is used in a different sense in the premise, Whatever begins to exist has a cause, than it is in the conclusion, The universe has a cause. For when we examine “things that begin to exist have causes,” what we really are examining are re–arrangers of pre–existent materials. Anything we point to in our daily life that we say has a cause, say, a statue, is a rearrangement of, say, a slab of marble. And even a human being is a rearrangement ultimately of chemicals and atoms and quarks and so on. And so insofar as “Whatever begins to exist has a cause” has any support at all, it would have to mean “Whatever begins to exist has a re–arranger of its pre–existent materials.” Now given that, and given the second premise, the universe began to exist, we cannot infer that universe has a re–arranger of its pre–existent materials, for if the universe began to exist, there are no pre–existent materials, so that if “cause” has any meaning at all in the conclusion, it has to mean something that creates the materials from nothing, and we have absolutely no experience of that in any of our lives, in any of science, anywhere. It’s just an idea that appears solely in theism. So I see no evidence for it based on empirical observation, scientific evidence, or anything. It seems to me a proposition of supernatural theology. So I don’t think that that is an argument that a rational person should accept.”
So, either God is the cause of the BB, in which the pre-arranged materials are mere parts of God–which entails pantheism…
Or, God instantiated a true ex nihilo creation, which means that God can instantiate true contradictions and therefore contradicts all of Craig’s previous arguments that it is true that “from nothing, nothing comes…” (unless Goddidit… with magic).
So, either (A) God makes impossibilities actual, or (B) pantheism.

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lukeprog September 1, 2009 at 6:57 am

Craig responds:

[Quentin] accuses me, with regard to the first premise, of equivocating on the word “cause” because he thinks it must mean material cause in the one case, but in the conclusion it doesn’t mean material cause. I don’t think it’s an equivocation at all. I’m using the word cause here simply to mean something that produces something else, and in terms of which that other thing, called the effect, can be explained. Whether it’s an efficient cause or material cause is simply left out of account. So I’m not specifying in the first premise what kind of cause it has to be, but simply that there must be a cause. Now I would also say that we do have something of an analogy with creation out of nothing in our own mental ability to create thoughts in our minds, thought–worlds, fantasies. Now this is an analogy, perhaps, with God’s creating the universe. Now don’t misunderstand me; I’m not saying that we’re all just dreams in the mind of God or something. But I think it does provide something of an analogy of the idea of creating out of nothing. And finally, I would point out that the Big Bang model of the origin of the universe, as Quentin himself said later, posits the origin of the universe without a material cause. So even in the Big Bang theory you have no material cause of the origin of the universe. But I’m maintaining that you must at least have an efficient cause to bring it into being, even if we both agree that there is no material cause. So I don’t think the argument is equivocal.

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Taranu September 2, 2009 at 12:50 am

lukeprog: Craig responds:

“Now I would also say that we do have something of an analogy with creation out of nothing in our own mental ability to create thoughts in our minds, thought–worlds, fantasies. Now this is an analogy, perhaps, with God’s creating the universe. Now don’t misunderstand me; I’m not saying that we’re all just dreams in the mind of God or something. But I think it does provide something of an analogy of the idea of creating out of nothing.”

What makes Craig think our minds produce thoughts out of nothing? They are the result of physical processes in our brains, to imply otherwise is to presuppose souls that miraculously create thoughts like God miraculously created the Universe.

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lukeprog September 2, 2009 at 12:57 am

Yes, it’s a bad analogy, but I think Craig’s first point about referring to a cause in general is valid; he need not be equivocating. But there might still be a way to tease out a problem from that issue.

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Deus June 21, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Damn! You have such a deep phylosophical knowledge! And i’m not saying it with sarcasm. Ive been studying your stuff and Craig’s stuff for a long time and i feel dumber every day! :D

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