The X that Caused the Universe

The Kalam cosmological argument includes this bit of reasoning:

1. The universe began to exist.
2. If the universe began to exist, then something (other than the universe) caused the universe to begin to exist.
Therefore,
3. Something (other than the universe) caused the universe to begin to exist.

This reasoning seems fine to me. The universe did not come from nothing; it came from something. The disagreement between atheists and theists is (or should be) over the nature of the something from which the universe came.

For atheists, the X that caused the universe to come into being was something that was unthinking or impersonal, whereas for theists the X that caused the universe to come into being was something personal or mental. The universe is the product of a person or mind, according to theism, and it is not the product of a person or mind, according to atheism.

One qualification needs to be made here. From an atheistic or naturalist point of view, the universe could be the product of a person or mind so long as that person or mind was itself produced by purely physical or impersonal forces, or so long as the ultimate source of a causal chain of persons (that produced the universe) was some unthinking and impersonal thing.

A similar qualificaiton needs to be made about theism. From a theistic viewpoint, the universe could be the product of an unthinking or impersonal thing so long as that unthinking or impersonal thing was brought about by a mind or person, or so long as the ultimate source of a causal chain of unthinking or impersonal things (that produced the universe) was some mind or person.

Alas, it appears that the difference between atheism and theism concerning the origin of the universe, is not as clear and straightforward as one might wish. Atheism is compatible with the universe being the product of a person or mind, and theism is compatible with the universe being the product of an unthinking or impersonal object or force. The disagreement is really about the ultimate source of the universe.

So, even if we can definitively establish that the cause of the existence of the universe was a mind or person, that would not be sufficient to rule out atheism, for that person or mind might in turn be the product of unthinking and impersonal forces. Similarly, even if we can definitively establish that the cause of the existence of the universe was some unthinking or impersonal force of nature, that would not be sufficient to rule out theism, for that unthinking or impersonal force of nature might in turn be the product of a mind or person.

About Bradley Bowen
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06214558335964572038 webulite.com

    I think that the key is the term "supernaturalism". This essay describes the critical issue well;

    http://webulite.dyndns.org:8080/defining_supernaturalism

    Cheers! webulite.com

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03859046131830902921 Mark Plus

    If the line of inquiry into the earliest, currently inferable state of the universe runs out up against a limit at some point, it doesn't follow that the universe "began to exist" at that point. It just means that the line of inquiry has run out of data without assuming anything about "origins."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07740816003291428890 toomanytribbles

    no no no no…. it's turtles all the way down!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04982524614308121228 Mark Jones

    A temporal causality argument like this has numerous problems, doesn't it?

    First, we don't *know* the universe began to exist.

    Then, there's a hidden assumption that for something to begin to exist needs a cause. We simply don't *know* that, absolutely, which is what the argument requires.

    Thirdly, *causing* or *creating* are temporal concepts, so one would think they are impossible before time starts.

    If one could overcome these objections, then the rest of your article looks spot on to me! It's the *ultimate* explanation we are seeking. The key to the preferred explanation is the one with less information. A brute complex deity contains a lot more information than an alien intelligence, for example, since that can be explained by the more economic (than a deity) theory of evolution. Plus the theory provides predictive power, which the deity explanation does not.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06592122769805439088 Glen Mark Martin

    Step 2 is not a given. This is the old Prime Mover argument, and it doesn't hold up. In quantum theory, it is not only possible for uncaused events to take place, it is expected….

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Mark Jones said:

    Thirdly, *causing* or *creating* are temporal concepts, so one would think they are impossible before time starts.
    ==========
    Good point. You can substitute the idea of explanation for the idea of cause. I think it is the principle of sufficient reason that cannot be avoided.

    What does "before time starts" mean? Isn't "before" also a temporal concept?

    Question: Can events occur prior to time starting? If not, then how can the start of time be explained? I suppose you could imagine some being or force that had a nature such that it would bring about the start of time. But it is hard for me to see how a thing or force could start time, without there being some change or event that occurs in that being. But any change or event that occurs implies that time has passed.

    Can you explain the idea "before time starts"? and how one might give an explanation for why time started?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Glen Mark Martin said…

    Step 2 is not a given. This is the old Prime Mover argument, and it doesn't hold up. In quantum theory, it is not only possible for uncaused events to take place, it is expected….
    ========
    Can you say a bit more about this counterexample?

    Are the "uncaused events" that you have in mind events that have no explanation?

    Radioactive decay is supposed to be a random event. So, the decay of a particular uranium atom at a particular time is "uncaused" in some sense. Nothing made the atom decay at that particular point in time. But the decay of that atom can be explained, and that a certain portion of uranium atoms will decay in a particular span of time can be predicted. So, it seems to me that there is a reason or explanation for the decay of a specific uranium atom, even if it is true to say that this event was "uncaused".

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Mark Jones said…

    First, we don't *know* the universe began to exist.
    ========
    None of us was present at the Big Bang, so we don't have eyewitness evidence that the universe began to exist.

    It is not a necessary or analytic truth that "The universe began to exist", since there seems to be no contradiction involved in supposing that the universe has always existed.

    So, we don't have direct observations verifying that the universe began to exist, and we cannot prove the impossiiblity of an eternal universe, but aren't there good reasons for believing that the universe began to exist?

    By "universe" I have in mind the totality of matter and energy in the forms with which we are familiar. The atoms and molecules that make up the present universe came out of the big bang about 15 billion years ago. What existed prior to the big bang is a matter of speculation, but presumably whatever existed was very different from the matter and energy that we observe today.

    My assumption is that something existed prior to the big bang, and that the nature of that something was such as to bring about the big bang. My assumption is that there is an explanation or reason for the big bang.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Mark Jones said…

    Then, there's a hidden assumption that for something to begin to exist needs a cause. We simply don't *know* that, absolutely, which is what the argument requires.
    ===============
    Yes, that is an assumption behind premise 2. Why does the argument require that we know this absolutely? Why isn't it enough that there are good reasons to believe that things that begin to exist were caused to exist?

    It seems to me that there is massive experience and observation supporting this assumption, so we ought to accept the assumption as true unless and until somebody comes up with solid evidence to the contrary.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Mark Jones said…

    Thirdly, *causing* or *creating* are temporal concepts, so one would think they are impossible before time starts.
    ==========
    The word "starting" is also a temporal concept.

    "Gentlemen, start your engines" implies (a) a point in time in which the engines are not running, (b) a point in time in which the engines are running (if the directive is followed), and (c) that the point in time in which the engines are running is (or should be) after the point in time in which the engines were not running (the reverse order is implied by the words "Gentlemen, stop your engines").

    I realize that you might be using "before" and "starts" in some non-literal way, but in that case you need to clarify what it is that you do mean by these words.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04982524614308121228 Mark Jones

    Bradley Bowen said:

    "Can you explain the idea "before time starts"? and how one might give an explanation for why time started?"

    LOL, no! Any more than I can explain a creation or cause without time. But that's rather the problem of the whole argument isn't it? And you also say:

    "I suppose you could imagine some being or force that had a nature such that it would bring about the start of time."

    How does anything 'bring about' the start of time without time to bring it about in?

    As I'm sure you are aware, physicists such as Hawking, Krauss and so on are suggesting a universe from literally nothing. Difficult to get the head around, but they say it's down to the maths! Of course, it's not a settled matter by any means, yet, just informed speculations. I think.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04982524614308121228 Mark Jones

    Bradley Bowen said

    "So, we don't have direct observations verifying that the universe began to exist, and we cannot prove the impossiiblity of an eternal universe, but aren't there good reasons for believing that the universe began to exist?"

    But as we've been discussing, isn't this begging the question? The language of four dimensional beings seems inadequate to describe what needs to be described here.

    "What existed prior to the big bang is a matter of speculation, but presumably whatever existed was very different from the matter and energy that we observe today."

    As I suggested before, simpler explanations can be reasonably preferred.

    "My assumption is that something existed prior to the big bang, and that the nature of that something was such as to bring about the big bang. My assumption is that there is an explanation or reason for the big bang."

    As I say, this doesn't seem to be a safe assumption. Does it?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04982524614308121228 Mark Jones

    Bradley Bowen said:

    "Why does the argument require that we know this absolutely? Why isn't it enough that there are good reasons to believe that things that begin to exist were caused to exist?"

    I think that's fine if the proposal is just that there's a reason to think the universe was started by something. I was under the impression the aim was to provide a proof of God? But I stand to be corrected; wouldn't that just mean that Lane Craig is arguing that something *might* have happened. I couldn't very well object to that :-) . For the formal argument to be valid, the conclusion should follow *necessarily*, so it would have to be known absolutely. Wouldn't it?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04982524614308121228 Mark Jones

    Bradley Bowen said:

    "Why isn't it enough that there are good reasons to believe that things that begin to exist were caused to exist?

    It seems to me that there is massive experience and observation supporting this assumption, so we ought to accept the assumption as true unless and until somebody comes up with solid evidence to the contrary."

    That is certainly true about things, but frankly I have no idea if it's true about universes.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06214558335964572038 webulite.com

    As I said to begin with. I think the key issue here, is if one has a belief in the supernatural.

    see; http://webulite.dyndns.org:8080/defining_supernaturalism

    If anyone wants to follow up, they can contact me at webulite@gmail.com

    Cheers!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04982524614308121228 Mark Jones

    Bradley Bowen said:

    "I realize that you might be using "before" and "starts" in some non-literal way, but in that case you need to clarify what it is that you do mean by these words."

    Hmmm. Do I need to? Shouldn't that be the responsibility of whoever's posing the argument and using these words to justify his conclusions? Our linguistic difficulties are just a symptom of the problems with the argument, aren't they?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04982524614308121228 Mark Jones

    Thanks for the replies, Bradley, incidentally :-) .

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Bradley Bowen said:

    "Why does the argument require that we know this absolutely? Why isn't it enough that there are good reasons to believe that things that begin to exist were caused to exist?"
    ====
    Mark responds:
    I think that's fine if the proposal is just that there's a reason to think the universe was started by something. I was under the impression the aim was to provide a proof of God? But I stand to be corrected;
    ========
    Bradley replies:

    Craig uses that bit of reasoning as a part of an argument to show that God exists, but I'm using it as an argument to show that something or other existed prior to our universe coming into existence.

    The something or other need not be a person or mind, but might have been some sort of primordial stuff that operated under different principles than the laws of physics under which the electrons, protons, neutrons, etc. of the current universe operate.

    Craig has arguments to try to show that the cause of the beginning of the universe is a mind or person. I'm assuming those arguments are not conclusive and leave open the possibility that an impersonal unthinking entity or force could be the cause.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Bradley Bowen said:

    "Why does the argument require that we know this absolutely? Why isn't it enough that there are good reasons to believe that things that begin to exist were caused to exist?"

    Mark Jones replied:

    wouldn't that just mean that Lane Craig is arguing that something *might* have happened. I couldn't very well object to that :-) . For the formal argument to be valid, the conclusion should follow *necessarily*, so it would have to be known absolutely. Wouldn't it?
    ========
    Bradley responds:

    I think you are confusing validity and soundness. The argument I presented is deductively valid. It is a classical modus ponens:

    P
    If P then Q.
    Therefore,
    Q

    You cannot get any more valid than that!

    Your objections are to the truth of the premises, specifically in this case you cast doubt on the truth of premise 2.

    Traditionally, philosophers sought to construct arguments from self-evident premises using formal or deductive logic in order to prove the existence of God in the fashion of Euclidean proofs in Geometry.

    While such proofs are worth seeking and considering, I see no reason to cast aside arguments from premises that are less than self-evident, from premises that are probably true, or that are well-supported by evidence, or even premises that are plausible given our current state of knowledge.

    Since I am no longer a religious person, I have no psychological need for certainty. I am OK with probability and a significant degree of uncertainty.

    Since one of Euclid's self-evident assumptions turned out to be false, I think we all need a bit of humility and to learn to live with uncertainty and fallibility.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Mark Plus said…

    If the line of inquiry into the earliest, currently inferable state of the universe runs out up against a limit at some point, it doesn't follow that the universe "began to exist" at that point. It just means that the line of inquiry has run out of data without assuming anything about "origins."
    ==============
    Bradley responds:

    Good point. I agree.

    When I say the universe "began to exist" I don't mean that there was a point in time in which there was nothing followed by a point in time in which this universe existed. The point of the argument is to say that such a possibility makes no sense (or is improbable, contrary to experience).

    The X that I am supposing caused the universe to begin to exist, is probably what you would call an "earlier phase" of this universe. So there may be a semantic confusion or disagreement here.

    If there was some primordial stuff or energy that produced the big bang about 10-15 billion years ago, and if that primordial stuff or energy did not function in accordance with the laws of physics that are operative today, then I would be inclined to say that the primordial stuff or energy was not an earlier phase of our universe, but was the X that caused or brought about our universe.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Bradley,

    For the various reasons discussed here the Kalam argument, despite its scientific pretensions, is not a very good one. Kalam is a version of arguments that discuss regressions and suggest that it is not reasonable to believe that they are infinite, and thus that there must be some starting point. Aquinas’s first three ways are of that sort.

    I’d like to suggest here a variant based on the concept of explanation. We all know that explanations exist and that they explain part of the data we have from our experience. Further we all know that explanations are hierarchically ordered, with more superficial explanations being subsumed into more powerful ones (think natural science, for example). Let us consider all explanations there are (including undiscovered explanations) and count possibilities:

    1. One possibility is that it is turtles all the way down: explanatory regressions never stop.

    2. Another is that hierarchies of explanations stop, but in several starting points. In other words that experiential reality is epistemically multipolar with various ultimately independent epistemic fields.

    3. The final possibility is that all explanations converge into one overarching explanation.

    Possibility (1) appears absurd. Possibility (2) contradicts the instincts of both theists and naturalists. We have a sense that reality (which produces all of our experiences) is a unitary thing, and thus that knowledge about reality must ultimately form a unity too. Without further ado let us reject (2) also and concentrate on the third possibility.

    Suppose then there is one overarching explanation for the whole of our experience of life, sitting on top of a pyramid of lesser explanations. What can we reasonably say about the nature of that overarching explanation? In particular is it reasonable to expect that it will be personal/purposeful (as theists think) or mechanical/blind (as naturalists think)?

    One issue to consider here is the mind body problem. Here is why: One thing we know about the pyramid of all explanations is that some explanations in it are personal and some explanations in it are mechanical. If it all ends in one overarching explanation then at some point either the mechanical explanations must be subsumed into personal ones or else the personal explanations must be subsumed into mechanical ones. Which alternative is more probable? Considering the mind body problem and how difficult it has proven to solve the hard problem of consciousness it looks like the latter alternative is quite problematic. The former alternative, never mind naturalists deriding it as “supernaturalistic”, suffers from no conceptual problems I can see. In short it is conceptually easy to subsume mechanical explanations into personal ones, and it is conceptually hard to subsume personal explanations into mechanical ones.

    Another issue to consider is natural science: Natural science displays a well articulated hierarchical order of explanations of strictly mechanical nature. This explanatory sub-pyramid works so well and explains so much, that naturalists assume that the entire explanatory pyramid must follow the same pattern. The problem here is that at the very top of the scientific sub-pyramid of explanations science has discovered facts that create conceptual problems for the hypothesis that they can be further explained mechanistically. Such facts include the apparent fine-tuning of the fundamental constants, as well as the computational complexity of the behavior of the physical primitives. An additional problematic fact is that despite the huge advances of scientific knowledge in the last century there is still nothing we know about matter that would suggest that matter structured in a particular way should become conscious. So, where it really counts, namely at the very top of its explanatory sub-structure, natural science has created conceptual problems for the hypothesis that the overarching explanation is of a mechanical and not of a personal nature.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Dianelos refers to "the hard problem of consciousness." What exactly is that problem? Why does behaviorism fail to solve it? Is there any way to describe consciousness except in the first-person singular (using "I" or "my")?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Dianelos said…

    Kalam is a version of arguments that discuss regressions and suggest that it is not reasonable to believe that they are infinite, and thus that there must be some starting point.
    =======

    Yes, and as we have discussed previously, I don't see a problem with an infintite series of days extending into the past, so I don't buy that part of the Kalam argument, as presented by William Craig.

    But I do think it makes sense to talk about the universe-as-we-know-it having a beginning, and if it did begin to exist, then that beginning must have a cause or explanation.

    Basically, the big bang explains the origin of this universe, but then there is the question of what caused the big bang. The causal chain keeps going back.

    The "must" here is not one of logical necessity. It is logically possible that this universe came into existence without any cause or reason. However, this is contrary to our experience of how things come into existence, and hence is improbable.

    The regress of explanations that you speak of is compatible with there being an infinite chain of physical cause and effect going back through infinite time, as Aquinas understood.

    One can step back from an infinte system of cause and effect, and ask, "Why does this system exist rather than not exist?" or "Why this precise system of cause and effect rather than some other system of cause and effect, or rather than just a set of entities that do not causally interact with each other?"

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Ted,

    You write: “What exactly is the [hard problem of consciousness]?

    Well, on materialism the question is how come the lights are on inside. Science has taught us a mountain about matter, and there is nothing in that knowledge that so much as suggests the idea that matter when structured in some particular way would become conscious. And there are several arguments that purport to show that no matter what science may discover about matter in the future, it will never so much as suggest the possibility of consciousness.

    Why does behaviorism fail to solve it?

    Behaviorism solves all problems about objective phenomena that we tend to relate to consciousness, including intelligent, cultural, and moral behavior. I have no doubt that behaviorism can also explain the phenomenon of philosophers discussing the hard problem of consciousness. But this state of affairs only makes the problem harder: If one can explain everything that is scientifically observable without assuming that the lights are on inside, then it follows that the fact that the lights are on inside (a fact we can’t escape noticing) cannot be explained using only scientific knowledge. Which is anathema not only to materialism, but also to scientific naturalism according to which there is nothing in reality that cannot be explained by natural science alone.

    Is there any way to describe consciousness except in the first-person singular (using "I" or "my")?

    As far as I can see, there is no way whatsoever to describe consciousness. Rather the description of anything else in the end reduces to mentioning conscious experiences one assumes the other fellow shares.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Dianelos says that there is no way to describe consciousness, but I should think that at least one way would be to describe what one apprehends in one's field of vision or the sounds that one is hearing (or sensations felt, etc.). Certainly there need be no assumption here that anyone else shares the given experience.
    The problem of consciousness is presumably that of explaining why anyone at all is conscious, as opposed to just going through life robot-like. I see no good answer to that either from naturalism or theism. It is simply a brute fact that consciousness exists (and the only way each of us is sure that it exists is JUST from our own case).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04982524614308121228 Mark Jones

    @Bradley

    Apologies for the delay in replying; I’ve been away.

    “I think you are confusing validity and soundness.”

    I think you're right; I never know if it’s validity or soundness affected when the argument rather glosses over an assumption! I think that the argument could be re-drawn to uncover what is not so obvious in yours:
    1 For anything to begin to exist needs something other than it to cause it.
    2 The universe began to exist.
    3 So, something (other than the universe) caused the universe to begin to exist.

    But probably that's just an issue I have with the modus ponens form.

    “I see no reason to cast aside arguments from premises that are less than self-evident, from premises that are probably true, or that are well-supported by evidence, or even premises that are plausible given our current state of knowledge. (…) I think we all need a bit of humility and to learn to live with uncertainty and fallibility.”

    I couldn’t agree more; hence my doubts about the premises of the original argument. We can surely weigh our certainty according to the evidence available, but evidence for ultimate origins seems a long way from conclusive, for the moment, and science continues to work its way back to the Big Bang. So we should be ultra-critical of these premises, I think. But, as you say, a person can take the argument and apply their own ‘ratio’ of evidence to it, which seems reasonable to me, if one doesn't need a *proof*.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Ted writes:

    Dianelos says that there is no way to describe consciousness, but I should think that at least one way would be to describe what one apprehends in one's field of vision or the sounds that one is hearing (or sensations felt, etc.). Certainly there need be no assumption here that anyone else shares the given experience.

    Let’s take a paradigmatic empirical fact, namely that water freezes when cooled sufficiently. How can one possibly describe that empirical fact to somebody who has never experienced water, or cooler and warmer things, or hard and soft things?

    Perhaps the idea is that one may describe these things to an intelligent albeit not conscious computer. Indeed, for all we know, such a computer may do some cutting edge physics and thus know of many such empirical facts. But the way we use “know” in that context is by analogy, namely in the sense that the computer would produce output comparable to a person who understood such descriptions. But I don’t think this implies that the computer understood the description. After all it’s trivially easy to build a contraption that will correctly identify colors; but this does not mean that we have thereby described to it how different colors are like, notwithstanding the fact that it produces the appropriate behavior. Incidentally, such a contraption does not even require a computer, but can be built with a few transistors, some light sensitive diodes, some pieces of colored gelatin, and a few leds – at a cost of perhaps 5 dollars. With a few more dollars one can build a contraption that will detect itself in the mirror, which of course does not imply that it possesses self-awareness. Such examples, I think, demonstrate why behaviorism cannot really solve the hard problem of consciousness.

    The problem of consciousness is presumably that of explaining why anyone at all is conscious, as opposed to just going through life robot-like.

    Right.

    I see no good answer to that either from naturalism or theism.

    It seems to me that the problem arises only on naturalism, for it’s naturalism that posits a mechanical “robot-like” reality. It’s here then that the question arises about why there should be consciousness at all. Theism on the contrary posits a personal, “mind-like” reality where consciousness is primary. On theism the question of how mechanical phenomena arise is trivial to answer, namely that God’s will produces the respective order (see “general providence”).

    It is simply a brute fact that consciousness exists (and the only way each of us is sure that it exists is JUST from our own case).

    Yes, we are first and foremost conscious beings, and that’s why I’d say that the default ontological position is that reality is personal.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Bradley,

    You write: “Yes, and as we have discussed previously, I don't see a problem with an infintite series of days extending into the past, so I don't buy that part of the Kalam argument, as presented by William Craig.

    I have not read William Craig’s book about the Kalam cosmological argument, but from what I gather it seems to me that the weakest link is in its second part: Granted that there is an uncaused cause, which is non-physical, spaceless and timeless, why should that cause be personal and hence potentially identifiable with God? Why can’t the naturalist claim that the big-bang singularity is precisely that uncaused, non-physical, spaceless and timeless, cause? A possible answer would be that a timeless person can cause something in time, whereas a timeless non-person can’t – but I think here the argument gets too exotic.

    The regress of explanations that you speak of is compatible with there being an infinite chain of physical cause and effect going back through infinite time, as Aquinas understood.

    The argument from explanations I suggested avoids complex discussions such as infinite time or whether actual infinities are possible or not. I don’t think that anybody would want to defend the thesis that the limited amount of data at our disposal allows for an infinite hierarchy of explanations. Moreover the argument from explanations avoids another trouble spot of the cosmological argument, namely the idea that however the cause of our universe was, it may well not exist anymore. Finally the argument from explanations avoids the possible naturalistic defense that the entire universe is a brute fact with no reason or cause behind it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Dianelos said…

    Granted that there is an uncaused cause, which is non-physical, spaceless and timeless, why should that cause be personal and hence potentially identifiable with God? Why can’t the naturalist claim that the big-bang singularity is precisely that uncaused, non-physical, spaceless and timeless, cause? A possible answer would be that a timeless person can cause something in time, whereas a timeless non-person can’t – but I think here the argument gets too exotic.

    Bradley responds…

    I was not arguing for an uncaused cause or for a first cause, just for something-or-other that was the cause of the beginning of the universe.

    I believe that the cause of the universe was something physical and something in time, not something non-physical and outside of time. To be something other than the “universe at an earlier phase” the something-or-other must be radically different in nature from this universe (e.g. not composed of electrons, protons, and neutrons that operate under the laws of physics that we observe today), but it need not be so different as to be non-physical and timeless.

    If there was no time, then there would be no events, and if there were no events, then there could be no causation. Or so it seems.

    A counterexample might be radioactive decay. As I understand it, there is no mechanism operative in (or around) a uranium atom that triggers the decay of that atom at a particular moment in time. A uranium atom is thus unlike a time bomb, which does have a mechanism that determines when the bomb will go off. The uranium atom simply has a tendency to decay, a certain degree of probability that it will decay over a given period of time.

    Suppose that there was a physical something-or-other that existed prior to the big bang. Suppose further that this thing had a certain degree of probability that it would produce (or perhaps become) a universe over a given period of time. I suppose, on the uranium atom analogy, there need be no mechanism that is operative and which would go through various stages of progress until a particular tipping point was reached and then trigger the origin of the universe.

    It could be the case that, based simply on an internal tendency of the something-or-other the passing of time results in the production of a universe. But even so, time must pass, given that the tendency is a certain degree of probability of producing (or transforming into) a universe in a given amount of time.

    I agree with Swinburne that the idea of a timeless person makes no sense, but a timeless impersonal cause of an event also does not make sense.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Bradley,

    Academic philosopher Edward Feser has something to say on this issue, see: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/03/straw-men-and-terracotta-armies.html – it's an interesting read.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Edward Feser (a specialist in Thomistic philosophy) argues that the cosmological argument is being routinely trivialized beyond recognition, up to the point that we now have an urban legend with people simply repeating one another.

    It seems that the idea of the argument has little to do with causality extending to past times. Rather the question is about causality in general, including causality right now. So, for example, what causes my experience of the computer monitor right now? One could answer that question speaking of a causal chain with, at one end, electrons and photons somehow behaving in a particular way in the computer screen, and, at the other end, my mind somehow registering optical perceptions. Now there are three alternatives: First, that this is all there is, and the end-points of that causal chain are brute facts of reality without any possibility or need to explain these “somehow”s. Secondly, that causal chain extends infinitely into some transcendental realms. Here the “somehow”s are never explained but only pushed one step back for ever. Thirdly, that causal chain extends into a transcendental fixed end-point which is a brute fact of reality, and is the best and ultimate explanation of the “somehow”s. The cosmological argument proceeds by arguing against the first and second alternatives. Further the remaining viable third alternative is seen as pointing to one transcendental end-point for all causal chains there are (including the temporal ones which extend to the past). Further that single uncaused cause of all causal chains will be seen to be not of a mechanical but of a personal nature.

    I suppose something like the above would be a powerful interpretation of the cosmological argument. So “the X that caused the universe” is not really what the cosmological argument is about. Rather the question is about the X that is causing everything at all times and everywhere, or, if you prefer, about X the nature of causality itself. (Incidentally, the etymology of “cosmology” is “reason of the cosmos” and not “origin of the cosmos” as is now used in relation to scientific cosmology.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Dianelos argues that, since one can't "describe" the fact that water freezes to a person who has never experienced water (or cooler and warmer things or hard and soft things), it follows that it is impossible for anyone to describe consciousness at all. That bit of reasoning eludes me.

    He also maintains that theism can explain why anyone at all is conscious by simply presupposing that reality is personal (and “mind-like”) and that consciousness is primary. I fail to see how presupposing THAT explains why anyone at all is conscious. We still want to know something about the origins of it all.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Dianelos said..

    I suppose something like the above would be a powerful interpretation of the cosmological argument. So “the X that caused the universe” is not really what the cosmological argument is about. Rather the question is about the X that is causing everything at all times and everywhere…
    ========
    Bradley responds…

    There are different and various cosmological arguments. So, I doubt that a blanket statement about what "the" cosmological argument means will hold up under close examination.

    I think the Kalam cosmological argument is about "the X that caused the universe".

    You may well be correct about the best/strongest version of the cosmological argument for God being about something else.

    I was drawing from the Kalam cosmological argument, but using only a piece of it, and not to argue for God, but to argue for the universe having a cause of it's beginning.

    So, I'm not really trying to interpret the Kalam argument for God, just borrowing some logic from it.

    Another way to look at what I was doing here, is that I'm thinking about the implications of Dawkins' concept of God. When Dawkins defines "God" he focuses in on God as creator, and of course Dawkins is generally focused on creationism vs. evolution.

    You, and Anselm, and Swinburne, on the other hand, understand "God" to mean something like "the perfect person" or "the unlimited person". These alternative conceptions of God lead to different ways of thinking about the relationship between God and the universe.

    I was just trying out Dawkins more empirical/causal concept of God. Taking it for a spin.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Ted writes: “ Dianelos argues that, since one can't "describe" the fact that water freezes to a person who has never experienced water (or cooler and warmer things or hard and soft things), it follows that it is impossible for anyone to describe consciousness at all. That bit of reasoning eludes me.

    Well, I gave one example of a common empirical and indeed objective fact, namely that water freezes when sufficiently cooled, and pointed out that one cannot describe that fact to a person who does not share the respective range of experiences. So, I say, it is established that one cannot describe common facts without assuming that the other fellow is not only a conscious being but actually shares many of the relevant experiences.

    Perhaps the idea can be generalized as follows: All facts one knows reduce to a set of data about conscious experiences. To describe a fact to somebody else entails that the other person will come to know about the described fact as well as one does. Therefore, to describe a fact entails that the other person will be able to reduce it to the same set of conscious experiences. Therefore in order to describe a fact the other person must have knowledge about the relevant conscious experiences. The only way to have knowledge about conscious experiences is to have experienced them. Therefore one can only describe a fact to a person who shares with one the range of the relevant conscious experiences. (In this context it is interesting to mention that science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem has written about the difficulty of communicating with alien intelligences in various of his books, including Solaris and The Fiasco.)

    He also maintains that theism can explain why anyone at all is conscious by simply presupposing that reality is personal (and “mind-like”) and that consciousness is primary. I fail to see how presupposing THAT explains why anyone at all is conscious. We still want to know something about the origins of it all.

    Well, all origins stop at what is most basic (i.e. the “substance”) of reality. According to the theistic understanding what is most basic in reality is consciousness, hence one says that the theistic reality is personal. On theism then, one must not explain the origin of consciousness (for consciousness *is* the origin) but rather explain the origin of matter. And when one realizes that what we call “matter” or “material properties” is actually nothing more than orderly patterns present in part of our experience of life, that task for theism becomes very simple. Theism does not suffer from a “hard problem of matter” (i.e. to explain how come there is matter in a basically conscious reality), the way naturalism suffers from the “hard problem of consciousness” (i.e. to explain how come there is consciousness in a basically material reality).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Dianelos still insists that theism can explain why consciousness exists, whereas naturalism cannot. I agree that naturalism has no good explanation for the origin of consciousness, but I do not see how simply saying "It was there from the start" is any better. No evidence whatever exists for the existence of consciousness, say, a billion years ago. For the theist to insist that consciousness did exist back then is simply a made-up notion, not supported by any data.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    webulite.com said…
    I think that the key is the term "supernaturalism". This essay describes the critical issue well;

    http://webulite.dyndns.org:8080/defining_supernaturalism

    ============
    Thank you. Nice post by Richard Carrier on "supernatural" vs. "natural" distinction.

    Here is a relevant quote from the article:

    How would a natural God be different from a supernatural God? Well, he would have a body of some kind, and all his thoughts would be the product of a machine of some sort, like a brain, and he would only be able to realize his will by initiating a chain of causes-and-effects that is entirely reducible to nonmental events.
    =========
    If the X that caused the universe to begin to exist was a "natural God" then naturalism could still be true even though the universe was created by a person.

    Would atheism be true though? I guess it depends on what conception of "God" the atheist had in mind. If the atheist was denying the existence of gods in the sense of "supernatural" persons, then the existence of a "natural God" would not count against that sort of atheism. It all depends on the concept of "God" that the atheist had in mind.

    If the X that caused the universe to begin to exist was a "supernatural God" then naturalism would be false and supernaturalism would be true.

    In this case atheism would also be false, since it would be very odd for an atheist to deny only "natural" gods and not "supernatural" gods.

    "Theism" in some broad sense of the word would be true in this case, but traditional theism (of the big 3 western religions) might still be false, depending on the characteristics of the "supernatural God". Only a god that was eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good would confirm the truth of traditional theism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11755810700243260374 Qais Omar

    The tragedy of human thought is that the question it asks is cannot be answer by Man. You don’t have to burden yourself with believing in God, but answer to the question of life and universe which human intellectual have tried to give have been waste of time and nothing more then idle talk. The essence of this argument is this:

    It is not God but nature, which created the cosmos.

    Nature, limited by the laws of science undertakes its creative activity without any thought or feeling. It is nature, who itself is governed by law of Gravity, which has proposed the Theory of Relativity, and has designed the structure of the Atom. The brain of nature has designed the genetic code, which forms the basis of life, and active in organising the complex world of microorganism, and is responsible for their evolutionary stages of development. Its nature, which wields its authority over life and death. It is the artist who creates the miracles of beauty and ugliness. It array a vast array of feeling and thought; it is witnessed in wonderful rainbow of life, in the rose and tulip, and in the song of nightingale and turtledove. Nature is the pure consciousness. It is the accomplisher, the creator and maker. Nature is death, destruction and total annihilation.

    What a injustice then, is the fact that nature despite having absolute intelligence, faculty of speech and the most sophisticated tools of creation, is itself is totally mute and does not speak with us. The arguments of the devotee of nature are clearly ludicrous. Nature is not a ‘being’. It is totally speechless and cannot even tell us “I AM NATURE”, I am the Lord of all, whatever you are it is because of me, I bring together the opposite of life and death, I am the laws of creation and destruction, but the tragedy is that having granted you speech, letters and books, intelligence and communication and mountains of poetry and eloquence, i myself have become totally mute, and do not have the power to manifest and express myself in anyway, O what a calamity that I am more helpless and weak than my own creation, at the very least I am not God’. It is at this point that the statistics of God begin to stack up…..

    This is an extract from a book Argument with refference to Quran by Proffesor ahmed rafiqu akhtar