Friday, November 30, 2007

Craig's Cosmological Argument - Cause Qualities and Conclusions

These are my notes from an argument given by William Lane Craig in a debate - specifically, his Cosmological Argument for the existence of God. I don't agree with Craig on everything (most notably his Molinism), but he's no slouch of a philosopher and apologist - the man can put together a powerful line of reasoning, and I think this is one of his best. Enjoy, and if you have any thoughts, I'd love to discuss them in the comments!


Craig’s Cosmological Argument – Cause Qualities and Conclusions

1. Everything that begins to exist must have a cause
2. The universe began to exist
Supporting evidence: Big Bang Cosmology and the Law of Entropy
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause

If the universe has a cause, such a cause must have a number of striking qualities:

As the cause of space and time, this cause must transcend space and time, and must therefore:

a. exist non-temporally and non-spatially (at least without the universe)

b. be changeless and immaterial

  1. something can be timeless only if it is unchanging
  2. something can be unchanging only if it is immaterial

c. must be unimaginably powerful

  1. since it created all matter, space and time

d. must be personal

  1. the only entities we know of which can be timeless and immaterial are either minds or abstract objects (e.g., numbers)
  2. but, abstract objects don’t stand in causal relations
  3. therefore, the transcendent cause of the universe must be an unembodied mind

Only a free agent can account for the origin of a temporal effect from a timeless cause
  1. if the cause of the universe were an impersonal, mechanically operating cause, then the cause could never exist without its effect
  2. for if the sufficient condition of the effect is given, then the effect must be given as well
  3. the only way for the cause to be timeless but for its effect to begin in time is for the cause to be a personal agent who freely chooses to create an effect in time without any antecedent determining conditions

Conclusion from the Cosmological Argument:
A personal creator of the universe exists, who is uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and unimaginably powerful.

29 comments:

Paul said...

I like your outline of the argument. I have a problem, however, with the very first line.

I'm not sure it's coherent to talk about a cause outside of time. What can it mean for a cause to be outside of time? Every cause we see otherwise (than the universe) is inside of time. My dictionary says that a cause is "anything *producing* an effect or result . . ." The word "producing" requires time. So it seems contradictory to imagine a cause outside of time.

Doctor Logic said...

I, too, have a problem at the first line. If we see that a subset of events inside the space time continuum have a cause (though not all events, e.g., radioactive decay), that does not mean that 1) all events have a cause, or that 2) the continuum itself has a cause.

Also, the beginning of the universe is also misunderstood in this argument. The Big Bang is also the beginning of time in cosmological models. That makes time akin to latitude on a sphere. This means that, in four dimensions, the universe has a beginning in the same way that a sphere has a "beginning" at its pole. Yet we would not say that a sphere comes into existence at its pole. We would say that the sphere (in the Platonic sense) simply exists, and that it is bounded at its pole.

Aaron Snell said...

Paul,

Thanks for stopping by, and great question. It seems to me that logical causation is different from temporal causation. In other words, God is logically but not temporally prior to the beginning of the universe. This has a lot to do with the nature of an eternal being in relation to created time, a subject on which Craig has written and spoken quite often. I certainly haven't digested everything he's said on this, but here's a pertinent repsonse to a related question:

"A person can exist changelessly and then freely execute a certain intention because free will doesn’t require any antecedent determining conditions. The very nature of free will is the absence of causal determinants. So a free choice has the appearance of a purely spontaneous event. The man can simply freely will to stand up. Thus, you can get a temporal effect from a changeless cause, if that cause is a free agent. Now in God’s case, God exists changelessly without the universe. Creation is a freely willed act of God that, when it occurs, brings time into being along with the universe. Thus, to say that “a finite time ago a Creator endowed with free will could have willed to bring the world into being at that moment” does not imply that there was time prior to that moment...

...What timelessness entails is that one doesn’t do anything different, that is, that one does not change. Timelessness implies an unchanging state of being. Now some activities don’t require change and time. For example, knowing something doesn’t require change or time. God can know all truths in that timeless state without any change. Similarly, one can have unchanging intentions. So long as one’s intentions don’t change they can be timelessly held. That’s why I said that God can exist without the universe with a timeless intention to create a world with a beginning."


What do you think?

Aaron Snell said...

Sorry Paul, I meant to include this on my previous comment. Here's the source of the above quote for some helpful reading:

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5839

Aaron Snell said...

Hi doctor(logic), and thanks for the thoughts - you're welcome here any time.

I definitely want to respond to you two objections, but I'd like to take a little more time than I have right now. I should be able to get to it in the next couple of days (busy time right now).

Paul said...

Aaron, your response to my question didn't address the question, as far as I can see. We can talk about the timelessness of God, that's fine, but that doesn't have anything to do with the coherence of the idea of a cause outside of time.

Doctor Logic said...

Aaron,

This may be a topic for another post, but I have a big problem with this:

A person can exist changelessly and then freely execute a certain intention because free will doesn’t require any antecedent determining conditions.

Let's define the term deterministic.

If an event occurs at time T, then we can always ask whether that event depends on conditions prior to T. If it depends wholly on those conditions, then the event is wholly deterministic.

(Note that if some condition is constant throughout time or external to time, then that condition is present prior to T.)

If the event is partially deterministic, then we can factor the event into event elements determined and event elements not determined.

For example, radioactive decay is at least partially deterministic. The energy of the decay and the probability distribution for the decay fragments is fixed by past conditions. However, the actual direction of the decay fragments and the actual time of decay are not determined. That makes these elements of a radioactive decay random, 'random' being defined as the complement of 'determined'.

If a person's decision is not determined then it is purely and fundamentally random. If it is partially determined, then it is partially random.

Craig thinks that there is a third category after deterministic and random. However, as I have defined them, they are logical complements. So a third category is logically incoherent.

So, I want to know, based on my definitions, what is a "free" decision (or the free part of a decision) determined by? If it is determined by nothing, then the decision is fundamentally random, and we don't thereby obtain the kind of responsibility for which the notion of free will was invented.

mattghg said...

DL,

I wonder if you could expand a bit on how we get from The Big Bang is also the beginning of time in cosmological models to That makes time akin to latitude on a sphere? Surely the big bang could be the beginning of time and yet the tensed theory of time still but true?

But anyway, it seems to me that on the view of time you're presenting, it's just as true to say that I no more began to exist at my birth (or whenever) than a line on a sphere begins to exist at one end. But do I then "simply exist" in the Platonic sense?

Also, I don't think the free will debate can be settled by definition like that. But you're right, it's a topic for another post.

Best, MG

P.S. - Craig defends the causal premise of his argument here.

Doctor Logic said...

MG,

Cosmologists look at the universe in 4 dimensions. It's sort of like looking at a whole reel of film instead of just the movie characters in the frames. When we're in the middle of watching a movie, we can make out characters, and we have a sense of time. From frame to frame, stuff happens. But cosmology is about the reel of film. In the standard Big Bang model, the universe is all there is, and there is a single first frame to the movie.

In this analogy, time is like the frame number. If the universe is closed, there is a first and a last frame number. If it is bounded only at one end, then there is a first frame number, but no last frame number.

The Cosmological Argument is based on human intuition that everything must have a cause. Most things do have a cause (although quantum events have aspects that are uncaused, so the intuition appears to be wrong). However, this intuition is based on looking at differences between frames on the reel. A cause is the name we give to the connection between the state of frame N and the state of frame N+1 (e.g., what was it yesterday that caused today?). Causation does not apply to the reel itself because the reel is not a frame. The reel doesn't exist in the movie. The reel has no frame number of its own, and causality only applies to things that can be labeled by frame numbers.

I think the whole argument is a founded on linguistic confusion. When we live our lives in the frames of the movie, we can get by with treat just about everything with the same frame-based thinking. However, the universe itself is the exception to that rule. We cannot just go by our frame-based intuitions any longer, and have to make our definitions and assumptions explicit.

But anyway, it seems to me that on the view of time you're presenting, it's just as true to say that I no more began to exist at my birth (or whenever) than a line on a sphere begins to exist at one end.

You exist within the time continuum, and time extends both before you and after you. That's why it is different. In the analogy, there are frame numbers before and after you, and it makes sense to ask what it was in frame N-1 that led to you at frame N.

mattghg said...

What about the first frame on the reel?

Paul said...

The problem with the first frame on the reel is the one I mentioned in my first post. If, by definition, there is no frame before the first frame, it doesn't make any sense to ask what frame is before the first frame (= what caused the universe). It's not the the answer to the question is wrong, is that the question itself doesn't make any sense. It doesn't mean anything when we say that "X caused Y" when X is outside of time. The whole concept of "caused" is time-dependent. We never see *anything* caused without it happening in time, right?

Aaron Snell said...

Gentlemen,

Sorry for being gone so long, and leaving you hanging without a reply. Life has been busy lately, as I'm sure you can understand. My apologies, and thanks for not giving up on checking back here.

Paul,

I'm sorry my response didn't address your question adequately. Let me try again. What I was trying to get at was that a temporal effect can originate from a timeless cause.

You said, "What can it mean for a cause to be outside of time?"

A timeless cause of time would be eternally causing its effect. I don't see a problem here.

You said, "The word "producing" requires time."

My question is, does it? Logical causation certainly doesn't.

Both you and doctor(logic) are taking your cue from physics (not surprising for a physicist:)) and assuming that causality is necessarily temporal. This is a point of dispute among philosophers, so I don't think your position can be assumed.

My point in quoting Craig was to give you his answer to how a timeless cause can have a temporal effect. I actually don't know if I'm totally on board with him on this (see my upcoming response to DL), but I thought it was interesting. This quote, from Matt's link above, is also interesting and perhaps more constructive for our purposes:

"First and foremost, the causal premiss is rooted in the metaphysical intuition that something cannot come into being from nothing. To suggest that things could just pop into being uncaused out of nothing is to quit doing serious metaphysics and to resort to magic. Second, if things really could come into being uncaused out of nothing, then it becomes inexplicable why just anything and everything do not come into existence uncaused from nothing. Finally, the first premiss is constantly confirmed in our experience, which provides atheists who are scientific naturalists with the strongest of motivations to accept it."

For me the question is metaphysical: how could something come from nothing? Clearly, there is something. It also seems that something came into being. But why is there something rather than nothing? That the universe is finite speaks, to my mind, of a metaphysical necessity of an uncaused cause. If this is the case, then the implication is that a necessarily temporal view of causality is deficient and should be re-thought.

More to come later...

Paul said...

Aaron, you're not reading my words carefully enough. When you mention a timeless cause of time, you're still missing it. I'm talking about a timeless cause of *anything.* How can a cause be outside of time if every cause we see is within time? There is absolutely no precedent for a cause outside of time.

Also, what is logical causation? My sense of the term is that it is not physical causation (the universe coming into being). How can something physical be caused logically? Do we have any other instances of a logical conclusion actually creating something physical, like the universe?

I have no answer for why there is something and not nothing, but your proposed answers don't seem justified,, and I'm willing to let the question remain at a mystery, rather than jump to a conclusion that is incoherent because it involves a cause outside of time.

willingthrall said...

I thought there was a weakness in his argument at this step:

"Everything that begins to exist must have a cause"

It appears that Physicists are willing to accept the existence of purely random events on the quantum level of reality. If the universe's origin in the Big Bang was a similar purely random event, this premise may be unsound.

mattghg said...

willingthrall,

Now, I ain't no fizzy cyst, but ISTM that clearly whatever the beginning of the universe was, it wasn't that. No universe means no "quantum level of reality". That level is part of the universe, and it's not as if it can cause itself to come into existence.

Paul,

The whole concept of "caused" is time-dependent. We never see *anything* caused without it happening in time, right?

You keep insisting that causation necessitates time, and Aaron and I keep disagreeing. What gives? Of course every cause we obvserve is in time, because we are in time! It doesn't follow that causation is necessarily temporal. We never "see" anything that isn't it time, but it doesn't follow that everything is in time.

It doesn't mean anything when we say that "X caused Y" when X is outside of time

Yes it does. Say we adopt a counterfactual view of causation - so, if God did not (timelessly) will the creation of the universe, the universe would not exist. On this analysis, God is the (timeless) cause of the (temporal) universe. Voilà.

And does it make sense to say that Y sprang into existence, uncaused, out of nothing? Do me a favour.

Paul said...

Matt, the only reason I say that causation necessitates time (that is, time is required for causation) is because, as you yourself say, "Of course, every cause we observe is in time." It's obvious to make the conclusion if *every* *single* cause we have experience with requires time. We have no example that we can point to in which causation doesn't require time (except what you merely hypothesize for the universe).

How can we know anything about a physical object (universe, apple, whatever) that isn't in time?

On what basis do you say that the universe would not exist if God did not timelessly create it? That seems to be an assumption.

I admit the existence of the universe is a mystery, but that doesn't mean I'm going to adopt unwarranted conclusions just to get rid of the mystery.

Doctor Logic said...

MG,

What about the first frame on the reel?

Intuitions about surfaces don't apply to the things those surfaces are painted on.

At just about every point on Earth you can sensibly talk about the point north of it. However, the North Pole is the exception to the rule. Asking what came before the Big Bang is like asking what's north of the North Pole.

I'm going to (technically) disagree with Paul (although it may just be semantics)...

I agree with you that there is another, non-temporal sense of the word causation that gets used. For example, the theorems of geometry are in some sense "caused by" the axioms of geometry. However, this does have the same meaning, nor is it the case that every proposition has a prior non-temporal cause.

First, when we say that the axioms of geometry "cause" the theorems of geometry, we're often (though not always) talking implicitly about the functioning of rational minds. A rational mind will be caused (in the temporal sense) to arrive at the theorems of geometry if it accepts and applies the axioms of geometry. Interestingly, that's not how we obtained the axioms, historically speaking. We actually worked backwards, i.e., given the theorems and "facts" of geometry we were led through inferences to the axioms. So, this particular sort of causation is often bi-directional. A cause can be an effect, depending on which way the rational mind is performing its inferences.

Second, if there is a sense in which one fact causes another non-temporally, that causation is probably bidirectional also. If P1:x=5, P2:x=y, P3:y=5, does P2 cause P3 or does P3 cause P2?

Third, our intuitions about logical relationships include the concept of founding assumptions, i.e., logical facts that cannot rationally be shown to be necessary without assuming themselves. I cannot use the rules of logic to show that the rules of logic should be assumed. This means that not every logical statement has a "cause" in the non-temporal sense of the word.

So I guess my question to you would be, how do you define causation with respect to the universe?

Doctor Logic said...

Aaron,

For me the question is metaphysical: how could something come from nothing? Clearly, there is something. It also seems that something came into being. But why is there something rather than nothing? That the universe is finite speaks, to my mind, of a metaphysical necessity of an uncaused cause. If this is the case, then the implication is that a necessarily temporal view of causality is deficient and should be re-thought.

I want to say again that when physicists talk about the universe "coming into being" they do not mean in the temporal sense we would use when saying that a material object comes into being. It is a statement about the bounded structure of spacetime. It's a completely physical statement and at the same time not the kind of temporal causation we normally refer to. It's basically the statement that the universe is rather pointy-shaped at one end.

Look at it this way. If the universe existed forever, would we be having this conversation? Probably not. IOW, if the universe were an infinitely-long 4-D cylinder, we might not be having this discussion. Yet, if it is a 4-D sphere, suddenly we have a metaphysical crisis on our hands? I don't see it.

So whatever the discussion is, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the Big Bang (i.e., the pointy bit).

Do you think the argument works if there is no Big Bang and the universe is eternal?

The idea that something comes from nothing is neither a logical nor a metaphysical impossibility. The only thing that seems impossible (well, unreasonable) is that all things come from nothing (because we have many trusted examples of things apparently coming from something). For example, the idea that that radioactive decay is metaphysically random (in part) is not invalidated by the idea that some events (indeed most events we see) are deterministic.

I really don't see why there cannot be certain exceptions to the rule of causation as long as the assumption is consistent with the boundary condition (that most things are apparently deterministic).

Paul said...

DL, thanks for your ideas about causation. I think the trouble comes when one attempts to graft logical causation into the physical realm. The two seem to be disparate realms. How can a logical conclusion cause something physical to exist? Do we have any examples of that? I don't think so. So I don't see how any logical conclusion about the nature of the universe can be sufficient to explain how it was caused to be.

willingthrall said...

Aaron writes:

"Now, I ain't no fizzy cyst, but ISTM that clearly whatever the beginning of the universe was, it wasn't that"

Uh, actually, regardless of what you happen to believe, the Argument of Craig, which initiated this discussion specifically cited the Big Bang as supporting evidence. If you are going to use concepts from physical science in order to attempt to prove the existence of God, you have to accept all of physical science, not just the parts you like. By declaring yourself to be no "fizzy cist" you have declared that even you don't care about the argument as argument, but only the conclusion. You are undermining its premises for short term rhetorical gain and risking intellectual incoherence.

Also note: If you claim that whatever it is that determines the rules of quantum mechanics are valid is part of the universe, then a critic can claim that Craig's unembodied mind is part of the universe as well.

Not to mention the fact that we haven't even discussed whether everything must have *a* cause. Why can't a thing have a network of many causes? Then we have to determine whether the universe is a mere thing that requires a cause (or causes) or whether it is simply a synonym for all the network of causes which interact to form the individual things we see around us.

Aaron Snell said...

Not much time here, and though I'm long overdue in responding to DL, I just would like to point out to Robert (willingthrall) that he mistakenly attributed Matt's "Now, I ain't no fizzy cyst, but ISTM that clearly whatever the beginning of the universe was, it wasn't that" to me. So no, Aaron didn't write :)

Also, Robert, you seem to have missed Matt's point, anyway - no universe means no quantum level of reality in which random events can occur at all. He didn't seem to me to be dismissing anything out-of-hand - rather, he sketched out an argument against your point. And be careful you don't fall into the hole dug by many who appeal to quantum mechanics in these discussions: "random" does not mean "uncaused", but just "undetermined". Maybe I'll do a separate post on this (along with several others that have come up in this conversation).

"Also note: If you claim that whatever it is that determines the rules of quantum mechanics are valid is part of the universe, then a critic can claim that Craig's unembodied mind is part of the universe as well."

No, I don't see how that follows at all.

Sorry, DL, I promise I'll get to your comments as soon as my stupid schedule will allow - take it as a compliment that I want to make sure my response is well-thought-out :)

mattghg said...

Ouch.

willingthrall,

Mate, lighten up. You're the first person on the 'net to accuse me of arguing in bad faith. I'm not. I have massive respect for physics, in fact I thought my argument against your position (which Aaron has now helpfully clarified) was a physicial argument. But, like I said, I'm not a physicist. Are you?

By the way, when I was at university, some of the physics students had a society called "The Fizzy Cysts".

Paul,

How can we know anything about a physical object (universe, apple, whatever) that isn't in time?

Er, there are no *physical* (which I'm taking to be synonymous with "material") objects which aren't in time, I think by definition - that's how I'm taking Aaron's (well, WLC's) premise "2. something can be unchanging only if it is immaterial". But immaterial objects like abstract objects (e.g. numbers) are - as per one of the other premises -, and we have no trouble being aware of them (N.B. The point here is not to get into an argument about conceptualism).

On what basis do you say that the universe would not exist if God did not timelessly create it? That seems to be an assumption.

It's only meant as a plausible account of what causation means non-temporally. You seemed to be saying that such an idea was incoherent.

DL,

Good question. I, too, will have to defer my answer to you until tomorrow. Sorry. It's pretty late in this timezone.

Regards,
MG

Paul said...

Matt, OK, I take your coment as a hypothesis or an assumption, not a proved conclusion.

I still say that to say a timeless cause caused a material thing is incoherent, because what is a timeless cause? Every cause we see (of material things) is time-bound. The whole idea of a cause is change, which requires time. So to even mention a timeless cause is like talking about a tree with no trunk and no leaves.

DL, what do you think about the coherence of a timeless cause?

mattghg said...

DL,

By "cause I mean what it is that gives a necessary condition for something to be the case. It follows that there can be multiple causes for a given event or thing. I think this is captured with your analogy of the videotape playing. But at this point I'm not asking about the reel itself; I'm asking about the first frame on the reel. If every other event in the univese has at least some reason for happening, what is it about the big bang that makes it an exception?

It's possible I'm just being confused by your switching analogies here, but the North Pole one doesn't help me. Sure, we measure the latitude of any point on the surface of the earth by reference to the North Pole. So this corresponds to time (say, in years post-bang). But none of these points owes its existence to the North Pole. The question is not "what came before the big bang?" - no-one, certainly not WLC, is saying that anything came (temporally) before the big bang. The question is "what caused the big bang?"

MG

Doctor Logic said...

Paul,

DL, what do you think about the coherence of a timeless cause?

I think one can devise a sense of the term, but that any such definition is being misapplied with respect to the Big Bang. See my response to MG below...

Doctor Logic said...

MG,

If every other event in the universe has at least some reason for happening, what is it about the big bang that makes it an exception?

It is the first event, so it is exceptional. This is sort of like the first prime number. Why is 2 unique in having no prior prime number? Merely in light of the fact that it is the first.

I can construct any number of systems bounded at one end (like the universe is), and then find an exceptional fact about the system's boundary.

The question is not "what came before the big bang?" - no-one, certainly not WLC, is saying that anything came (temporally) before the big bang. The question is "what caused the big bang?"

If you step out of time, you step out of the universe. In that case, as I said in my last post, the Big Bang is irrelevant, right? If the universe were infinitely old, you could still step outside of it.

If a universe with a Big Bang needs some external cause, then so does a universe that is infinitely old. Big Bang physics contributes nothing to WLC's argument at all.

How about a Platonic tetrahedron? Does that need a cause external to itself?

You see, if you step out of spacetime, the universe is not much different from a Platonic polygon/polyhedron. All these Platonic bodies have somewhat arbitrary internal coordinate systems (just like spacetime).

It seems to me that Platonic forms do not need external causes. That just adds to the number of assumptions we need. Instead of assuming that Platonic forms simply exist, we would be assuming that there must be something more complex that all the Platonic forms put together that is responsible for creating the forms. It's all pointless (ha ha, sorry about the pun).

Steven Carr said...

Why do you disagree with Craig's Molinism?

Molinism has the great advantage of being true.

In fact it is no more than a tautology.

Molinism claims that a person will freely choose one particular way in each set of logically possible circumstances that could occur in a real world.


Let us take two sets of logically possible circumstances which could have occured in the real world, but did not.

1) I am sitting down to breakfast in an hotel at 8:30 am on Sun 30/12/2007, and a waiter is asking me ‘Tea or Coffee’, and God has infallible knowledge that I will choose tea.

2) I am sitting down to breakfast in an hotel at 8:30 am on Sun. 30/12/2007 , and a waiter is asking me ‘Tea or Coffee’, and God has infallible knowledge that I will choose coffee.


Clearly, I can conceive of both sets of circumstances, and they are both possible, and they are clearly different to each other.

We can apply Molinism to each set of circumstances, and see if Craig's claim is true that a person will freely choose one particular way in each set of logically possible circumstances that could occur in a real world.

Craig’s Molinism works perfectly here.

In the first, I will freely choose one particular way, just like Craig said I would. I will choose tea.

In the second set of circumstances, Craig is right again. I will choose one particular way. I will choose coffee.

Of course, my choices are different in the two sets of circumstances, but I’m sure Craig will agree that free agents will choose differently in different circumstances, and it cannot be denied that the 2 circumstances are different.

And Craig is right once again that not even God can determine my choice in those 2 sets of circumstances.


In set 1), I drink tea, and in set 2), I drink coffee, and there is nothing God can do to change the outcome of either set of circumstances.

And as neither set of circumstances came to pass, our knowledge of how I would have chosen in each set of circumstances is 'middle knowledge'.

So Molinism is not only true, but tautologically true.

It amounts to the claim that , because each logically possible set of circumstances must include an omniscient being, then people will freely choose one particular way in each logically possible set of circumstances.

Which is no more than a tautology.


In fact, Molinists usually have to deny that an omniscient being is included in each set of logically possible circumstances to get around the fact that Craig's Molinism is no more than philsophical sleight of hand.

Aaron Snell said...

Sorry I've been gone so long, everyone. Paul and doctor(logic) deserved better responses, but the holidays have left me much less time for blogging than I'd hoped, and I decided I wanted to do further study and thinking on the issues you two brought up before responding. I hope to open this topic up again in the near future on a new post - maybe we can pick it up then, if that's OK. Thanks again for your contributions.

Aaron Snell said...

Steven,

The topic of molinism is beyond the scope of this post. Maybe I'll do a separate post on it in the future, and we can discuss it then, because frankly I don't have the time right now. I will say that I find your description of molinism to be incomplete in some crucial ways, but we'll have to get into that later.