The KCA has a new Convert

by Luke Muehlhauser on December 24, 2009 in Kalam Argument

Christian philosopher Joshua Rasmussen was once a critic of the Kalam Cosmological Argument for God’s existence, but he has changed his mind. He now thinks the KCA is defensible:

I now think the argument is defensible – at least to someone with my background beliefs about time and causation. Previously, there were three obstacles to my confidence in the argument: (1) seeing how to justify the finitude of the past; (2) seeing how to justify the inference from the finitude of the past to the universe’s having a genuine beginning to its existence; and (3) seeing why a cause of our universe should be a personal agent… Those obstacles have recently been removed for me.

Rasmussen now justifies (1) the finitude of the past by citing Alex Pruss’ grim reaper argument (here and here).

His change of mind concerning (2) how to justify the inference from the finitude of the past to the universe’s having a beginning came in a flash of insight:

A bigger obstacle for me has been the inference from a finite past to a beginning of our universe. The worry here is that God is supposed to have existed for a finite duration of time (on Craig’s view anyway) yet lack a beginning. Why can’t the universe be like that? Craig answers that it’s because the universe never had a timeless state, whereas God has. I’ve had an idiosyncratic difficulty with this answer by virtue of my belief that there is no such thing as a timeless mode of existence (better: my lack of belief in the intelligibility of ‘timeless existence’). Plus, if there can be timeless states, then why couldn’t the universe itself have sprung from a timeless state? Why think state-event causation is impossible?

Staring out a car window, blurred trees and grass before me, a light-bulb flashed in my mind. I had been wrong–foolishly wrong–to think that something could exist for a finite amount of time, have no prior non-temporal state of existence, and yet not have begun to exist. If a pen cap has existed for a finite duration of time (and has no non-temporal state), then that pen cap just obviously had a beginning–no matter whether other things happened to exist earlier than it or not. Somehow that just seems as obvious as can be to me now.

And concerning (3) why the cause of the beginning of the universe should be personal, Rasmussen offers the following argument:

(1) Every event has a cause.
(2) There was a first event E [by a grim reaper argument].
(3) Therefore, E had a cause.
(4) Circular causal chains are impossible.
(5) Therefore, the cause of E was not an event [because E was the first event].
(6) If the cause of E was not an event, then it was the action of a personal agent (what else?).
(7) Therefore, E was caused by the action of a personal agent.

If someone complains that actions are themselves events, then I suggest dropping (6) and modifying (1) to

(1*): Every event that isn’t the freely chosen action of a personal agent has a cause.

What do you think?

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Reginald Selkirk December 24, 2009 at 6:58 am

(5) Therefore, the cause of E was not an event [because E was the first event].
(6) If the cause of E was not an event, then it was the action of a personal agent (what else?).

If someone complains that actions are themselves events, then I suggest dropping (6) and modifying (1) to

(1*): Every event that isn’t the freely chosen action of a personal agent has a cause.

I was about to complain that actions of personal agents are most certainly events. Apparently this is so obvious that Rasmussen himself notices it.

His attempt to circumvent it smacks of special pleading and is unconvincing. It also defies our every day understanding of the world. Do we generally refer to actions carried out by personal agents as uncaused? No, absolutely not.

A: “What is the cause of the coffee spilled on the rug?”
B: “It is uncaused, Johnny did it.”

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Torgo December 24, 2009 at 7:18 am

Maybe he says more in his original paper, but how does he make sense of personal agents who exist non-temporally? How can a person who is alleged to be non-temporal think, reason, feel, let alone cause events?

Also, it’s been a while since I reviewed Craig on state-event causation, but as I recall, his description of states as non-temporal was unconvincing. His examples involved states that were unchanging (I think ice caused by below freezing temperatures was one), but nevertheless by their nature endured through time. Can anyone support this more convincingly?

Finally, am I right that (1) and (2) only work on an A-theory of time? I know Craig argues for that, but the B-theory is more widely accepted among scientists. And wouldn’t the B-theory resolve some of these problems about causation? For instance, if the B-theory is correct, then the universe does not begin to exist in the sense the KCA uses “begin.”

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Silas December 24, 2009 at 7:22 am

I don’t believe anything can *exist* timelessly or spacelessly. What does that even mean?

Let’s imagine this scenario. God hangs around, enjoying his state of non-spatiality and timelessness. Then he thinks, “Wow, Chuck Norris is so awesome.” Didn’t time pass between those two moments? Well, maybe, but God is changeless. He doesn’t suddenly come to think such things (or does he?), he just is *himself* all the time.

Now, he *did* create the universe. But he is changeless. Why did he decide to create a universe all of a sudden then? Something must have changed. But no, he exist timelessly, remember? So we cannot say that he existed prior to the creation of the universe. If he did, it would mean that he existed, and then something happened (to him) so that the universe came into being.

Just some random thoughts.

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Rizmonster December 24, 2009 at 7:25 am

Luke,

I don’t know what it is, but your website loads slower than any other website I’ve ever been to. I think it’s the cloud background. You may want to think about that. It basically freezes my computer for a good 30 seconds to a minute every time I open your page. My computer isn’t old or slow either. And, it doesn’t happen on any other blog I read.

I’m not sure. I don’t know if anyone else experiences this or not, but I’d just thought I’d share because it makes me not want to come here to read anything. If it continues, I probably won’t, because it’s so frustrating.

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Bill Maher December 24, 2009 at 8:02 am

The middle ages was such a better time for Christian philosophers. Since everyone believed, Christian thinkers were very cut throat about who had the better proof and would go out of their way to disprove other people’s. The classic example being Anselm and Guanilo’s debate. Guanilo was a devout Christian, but still thought the ontological argument was crap.

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Silas December 24, 2009 at 8:03 am

That happens to me too, Rizmonster.

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thecos December 24, 2009 at 8:30 am

Rizmonster, I have the same problem. Sometimes I suspect its that funny little bar that appears as the bottom.

Anyway, just read the GR argument so I haven’t really thought about it much, but I always wonder with if these paradoxes still hold up when the physical constraints of our universe are added (such as no faster than light communication). These scenarios always seem to require either instantaneous ftl synchronization or that each object somehow occupies the same spatial location.

I was wondering if anyone else ever thought of these things in this way. It seems like if there’s no ftl communication and if the GRs had any nonzero size and spatial separation, there would be some kind of limit on how many GRs could occupy the space around the dude, and that they couldn’t just instantaneously know if the dude was still alive. I’m not convinced that this actually matters, but at the very least, this kind of scenario doesn’t seem to obviously say anything meaningful about our universe. It would be cumbersome to have to incorporate every known physical law into these thought experiments, but I think its worth noting that as the problem is described, there seem to be other assumptions about reality in play here that might be the true source of the contradiction.

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lukeprog December 24, 2009 at 9:14 am

Rizmonster and Silas and thecos, thanks for the feedback. I deactivated that bar now. Is it any better for you guys? Please let me know.

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Badger3k December 24, 2009 at 9:32 am

His basic premise, that everything has a cause, only applies to non-quantum effects, where some apparent acausality has been seen, and only applies once the universe is in existence in it’s present state – without the time dimension, cause and effect is meaningless. What is the cause when there is no time sequence? Further, as stated above, how is this personal agent existing in a timeless…well…wherever? Is this another universe, in which case there may be time? Is this…well, where? Does he even worry about trying to make sense, or is it enough that his mental masturbation occurs to keep him satisfied?

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John D December 24, 2009 at 3:24 pm

Agree with Reginald Selkirk. The special pleading is almost painful.

I would consider myself reasonably well-versed in the arguments about free will. I would have to say I have never seen anybody offer a sensible account of libertarian free will that is compatible with an indivisible self (which presumably God is — does anyone argue for a bundle-type theory of God’s personality?). Robert Kane tries hard, but fails miserably.

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Kiwi Dave December 24, 2009 at 5:54 pm

Luke – IExplorer is still very slow to load your site and freezes when I load the comments. The site is OK with Firefox.

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lukeprog December 24, 2009 at 6:48 pm

Shit, that’s happening for me now too on IE. I’ll try to figure it out, but alas I’m not a programmer…

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Jake de Backer December 24, 2009 at 7:31 pm

Rizmonster, Thecos, Luke, Silas,

You guys just need to pull this shit up from your iPhones, Laptops are so 2008.

J.

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nal December 25, 2009 at 7:44 am

(1) Every event has a cause.

Then the beginning of time had a cause, and the cause must precede the event. But nothing can precede the beginning of time. Therefore the beginning of time could not have been caused.

If one argues that the cause of time and the beginning of time occurred simultaneously, then our normal understanding of cause and effect is rendered meaningless.

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Naug December 26, 2009 at 12:42 am

I think that premise (1) is butchered by quantum mechanics, where many events indeed seem to be causeless. You can predict the behaviour of the very small statistically, but not individually on a particle per particle basis.

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Rhys Wilkins December 26, 2009 at 5:56 pm

The argument might possibly be sound if a reasonabhle case could be made for the existence of free will. But free will is simply bullshit.

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Ian December 27, 2009 at 1:45 pm

1) Don’t you think its telling that in the linked discussion of the grim reaper scenario everyone is talking about the implications of *relativity*. Seems it is pretty obviously refuted by QM. Not to mention that its simply a time-reversal of Zeno’s paradox.

2) This is bizarre. If something is finite in time then how can it not have a beginning, surely that’s just the definition of finite in time? Why do you need to ponder on a pen cap to tell you that? Am I missing a way you can definite finite time periods so that the realisation they have a beginning is more profound than just Duh!?

3) And this just suffers from the standard cosmological argument of hiding the rabbit in the hat to pull it out later. Axiom 1: Every event has a cause. Erm… well there’s the rabbit going in. The rabbit in this case is that the first event has a cause. It may be the case that every other event has a cause, but the fact that the *first* event has a cause is exactly what you’re trying to show. Assuming it implicitly in the first axiom is just stupid (of course, hiding it among all the other events that *do* have a cause is just obfuscation since none of those other events are used in the argument – the purpose of axiom 1 for this argument is *only* to assume that the first event had a prior cause).

Wow, this is really pretty crappy stuff.

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Alias February 3, 2010 at 8:00 am

One insightful commentator challenged (1*) by raising this question: “Do we generally refer to actions carried out by personal agents as uncaused?” His answer: “No, absolutely not.”

A few data points to consider in reply:
1. By “freely chosen actions,” I didn’t just mean the actions themselves. I realize I wasn’t as clear as I might have been. I meant to include in the “free action” the person’s freely performing it. For example, let A = the action consisting of Johnny freely choosing to perform (or cause) the action of raising his hand. My claim is that A itself doesn’t have to be caused. Actually, I would argue that if John were caused to make his hand go up, then John’s action wouldn’t be “free” in the libertarian sense.

2. It is an open question whether something could have a non-causal explanation. (cf. Tim O’Connor on agent causation). My own view is that free actions (one’s freely causing/performing an action) are explained, to some extent, by psychological states, thought hey are not caused. This is a subtle distinction, perhaps, but an important one.

3. My argument doesn’t presuppose that there are, or even could be, any actions that are free (in the libertarian sense). Rather, as I see it, it is a consequence of the argument that at least one action is free in the libertarian sense. Thus, a prior defense of libertarian freedom is not required, though one could certainly attack the argument by giving an argument against there being any libertarian-ly free actions.

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Michael March 5, 2010 at 11:17 pm

nal: (1)Every event has a cause.Then the beginning of time had a cause, and the cause must precede the event. But nothing can precede the beginning of time. Therefore the beginning of time could not have been caused.
If one argues that the cause of time and the beginning of time occurred simultaneously, then our normal understanding of cause and effect is rendered meaningless.  

There are two possible responses to this I believe. The first being simply that the cause of time would be logically prior, not temporally. I think Craig has mentioned this at times. The second is that some causes are actually simultaneous with their effects. One easy example is a truck pulling something. The cause of the object being put into motion is the truck begins moving, but since the truck is connected to the object being towed, it moves simultaneously.

For an interesting post on tow trucks, check this out.

http://www.doxazotheos.com/?p=94

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Steve Maitzen March 6, 2010 at 5:14 am

Michael:
There are two possible responses to this I believe. The first being simply that the cause of time would be logically prior, not temporally. I think Craig has mentioned this at times. The second is that some causes are actually simultaneous with their effects. One easy example is a truck pulling something. The cause of the object being put into motion is the truck begins moving, but since the truck is connected to the object being towed, it moves simultaneously.

1. I don’t get how the cause of something could be logically but not also temporally prior to it. Imagine a ball manufactured by solidifying molten red plastic. The ball’s existing is logically prior to its being red: its being red logically entails its existing, but not conversely. Yet the ball’s existing isn’t the cause of its being red.

2. I don’t think it’s good physics to say that some causes are simultaneous with their effects. As I understand it, relativity theory says that all causal interactions are transmitted no faster than the speed of light. (Please don’t bring up quantum non-locality, since no one yet knows what’s really going on there.) If the truck stops, the loss of pulling power takes a brief interval to reach the towed object. If the moon were to vanish, the gravitational effect would take 1.3 seconds to reach Earth; the gravitational state of the Earth at this moment is the result of (among other things) the state of the moon 1.3 seconds ago.

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Michael March 7, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Actually, Quentin Smith and Eric Dent, among others, agree that a cause is not necessarily prior to its effect. Smith actually uses this principle to form an argument for how the universe caused itself and that there is no need to posit God.

Here are some articles they have written.

http://www.uncp.edu/home/dente/causation/causation.htm
http://www.qsmithwmu.com/the_reason_the_universe_exists_is_because_it_caused_itself_to_exist.htm

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Steve Maitzen March 7, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Michael: Actually, Quentin Smith and Eric Dent, among others, agree that a cause is not necessarily prior to its effect. Smith actually uses this principle to form an argument for how the universe caused itself and that there is no need to posit God.
Here are some articles they have written….

Thanks for the articles, but I doubt that they rescue your point. I’m aware of Smith’s line (he employs it in his contribution to the Cambridge Companion to Atheism, which I reviewed a couple of years ago). On his view, the universe is “internally caused to exist” because each total state of the universe is caused by earlier total states of the universe; there’s no first total state of the universe, since the temporal interval is open at its earlier end. None of that implies that some cause (i.e., some event) is simultaneous with its effect (some other event). Whatever one thinks of Smith’s atheistic KCA (and the fact that he sometimes uses loose language in talking about it), nothing in it implies that some cause is simultaneous with its effect, which would be bad physics.

The Dent article is apparently about causation in organizational behavior. I’ll give it a read, but I’ll be surprised if it shows that relativity theory is wrong in claiming that the transmission of causal energy always takes time. I suspect Dent uses the term “cause” in a way different from the way physics uses it. If he refutes relativity theory, I promise to come back here and eat my words.

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