Libertarian Free Will Defeats the Kalam Cosmological Argument (#2)

Libertarian Free Will Defeats the Kalam Cosmological Argument (#2) May 21, 2016

When originally posted this some years back, I had a comment to answer on the original blog post, now here at Libertarian Free Will Defeats the Kalam Cosmological Argument. I did not want to lose all the work to a comment forgotten in the annals of blog history. So here is the original post almost in full to remind you, with subsequent comments and replies afterward:

Everything which begins to exist has a cause for its existence

The universe began to exist

Therefore the universe had a cause (for its existence)

Essentially, this argument implies by assertion that you cannot have ex nihilo creation – that an event cannot be created out of nothing. Only God, it supposes, can do this. And thus the universe, created out of nothing (arguably) was created ex nihilo by God. The causal chain goes back to the Big Bang and stops. How can this be explained? Well, since causality must continue regressing backwards, if there is a beginning to causality, it can ONLY be explained by God.

However, the theist is usually, if not a Calvinist, an adherent to the notion of libertarian free will (LFW). By this, I mean that they believe an agent could make free choices – could have done otherwise. This implies that the agent is the originator of a freely willed decision, or the causal chain in a decision. The determinist, on the other hand, believes that every effect has a cause and that that cause is itself an effect or a prior cause and this goes back to the Big Bang or similar starting point where physics breaks down, or some other such situation (Loop Quantum Cosmological loop or suchlike).

The point is that the denier of LFW claims that the agent is themselves part of a larger causal chain which explains why the agent did what they did; that the reasons were derived from what is known as the causal circumstance – the snapshot of the universe at that prior moment to the event.

Back to the theist. So they generally believe that the causal chain starts with the agent; that they originate the causal chain. This allows them ownership over the decision so that the reason for the decision cannot be further abrogated to other causes. But this means that the agent is creating something out of nothing. There is ex nihilo creation, since no prior reason can be given to explain the agent’s decision, otherwise we return to determinism.

But allowing for ex nihilo creation defies the opening premise of the KCA. William Lane Craig is always espousing the intuitive ‘truth’ of the metaphysical claim that ex nihilo nihil fit – out of nothing, nothing is made. But the theist is pretty much always an adherent of the KCA AND LFW!

Potential Objections

The theist seems to use one of two defences here:

1) That prior causes merely influence but do not define the decision

2) That the agent is itself a cause – and that is fine. For example, there is the theory of agent causation supposing that agents are different to events and event causation. People can somehow ground causal chains and decisions in a way which is different to, say, a boulder rolling down a hill, hitting a tree and a pine-cone falling out. That kind of causality has no agency.

1) can easily be answered as I have done here.

2) is a non-starter, as far as I am concerned. Agent causation is a theory developed by people like Roderick Chisholm half a century ago. I am not that sure that many people adhere to it these days. It seems there is no good reason for asserting that agents are causally different to standard events. One can appeal to some kind of dualism, but causality is metaphysical as a concept, and dualistic substances need adhere to it in the same way matter does, too. To merely suppose an agent can be sufficient explanation for the cause of a decision is particularly question-begging. Without causal reasons, a decision grounded in no reason other than ‘the agent’ is synonymous with random. Brain events, genetics and biology, we know, cause agents to make the decisions they do. Mixed with the environment, and you have a causal circumstance and determinism.

We know, for example, that in the Benjamin Libet style experiments (where we can observe that the brain kicks into gear before the conscious brain ‘decides’ to press a button) we can actually ask the subject to press a left or right button and send trans-cortical stimulation (magnetic stimulation) in to the brain and make the agent either choose left or right, depending on where we send it. The agent then assigns their own agency to that afterwards claiming that they freely chose left or right.

No, the agent cannot be asserted as an entity able to start a causal chain, because this assumes that a causal reason is given for a causal chain, but in a causal vacuum.

Which means that the adherent to the KCA cannot consistently and coherently be an adherent of libertarian free will. Theists, then, are not logically consistent.

As Paul Russell states (Freedom and Moral Sentiment, 1995, p.14):

…the well-known dilemma of determinism. One horn of this dilemma is the argument that if an action was caused or necessitated, then it could not have been done freely, and hence the agent is not responsible for it. The other horn is the argument that if the action was not caused, then it is inexplicable and random, and thus it cannot be attributed to the agent, and hence, again, the agent cannot be responsible for it. In other words, if our actions are caused, then we cannot be responsible for them; if they are not caused, we cannot be responsible for them. Whether we affirm or deny necessity and determinism, it is impossible to make any coherent sense of moral freedom and responsibility.

This problem is known as the Dilemma of Determinism and requires something a little special if the theist wants to bypass issues raised by the KCA in order to solve it.

And this is a comment from IceKnight366:

Couple reasons why these line of arguments fail (believe it or not there seems to me to be two arguments taking place here).

First argument objections (The proponent of the KCA can’t reasonably hold Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit AND God creating the Universe):

1) You equivocate the definition of ex nihilo used in the KCA. Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit just means that whatever exists must have a cause – something cannot come into being uncaused. Whether that is a material or efficient cause, there must be a cause. On the KCA, the theist says that the universe came from an efficient cause (God). Whereas on atheism the universe neither has an efficient cause OR a material cause – It just pops into existence from nothing. You are equating Ex Nihilo with Material Cause. That is, if the universe doesn’t have a material cause (like God and His decree) it comes from nothing! But of course it didn’t really come from nothing, it came from God! So the theist is amply justified affirming both Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit AND the de facto of God cr eating t he universe.

Second argument objections (Agent Causation is incoherent):

1) You have an improper definition of LFW. Now this point I don’t necessarily think undercuts your argument but is important to get right for other issues. However, I could be wrong – maybe your improper definition does undercut the argument (you or someone else can point that out if true). The proper definition of LFW is not the ability to choose A or -A. The proper definition is being able to do either A or -A without any determining factors. So you might want to change that.

2) It seems the argument epistemically defeats itself. You assert that LFW defeats the argument yet you deny that agent causation is possible. You cannot deny agent causation and affirm LFW. So if you deny agent causation you also deny LFW. However, if you deny LFW then you have no good reason to believe this argument is good. That is, if you don’t hold to LFW then that means that you were forced to give this argument – you had no choice but to say what you said. But if that is the case then you have no grounds for saying it’s a good and certainly not, a convincing argument.

3) All that is needed to defeat the argument is if agent causation is even POSSIBLE. So long as it is even possible the argument fails. Thus, in order for this argument to go through you must show that agent causation is necessarily impossible. If and until you do that there is no reason to reject the KCA based on this argument. Even if agent causation does not obtain for finite physical beings like us (even though that itself is false as I think there are plenty of arguments in favor of dualism) there is no reason to believe that it couldn’t obtain for an immaterial cause like the KCA deductively concludes. You must show that the entire concept of agent causation is impossible. Quite a large burden to carry… Cheers.

As you can see, lots to unpack here. So let’s get started.

On the first 1) he accuses me of equivocating on ex nihilo nihil fit. My point was this: causality is claimed to be grounded in the prime mover in the KCA, qua God. God is the only entity which is uncaused, no matter whether material or efficient. God is a brute fact, he is the originator of the causal chain which is everything. However, it is this sort of causality which needs to happen for a freely willed causal chain. The causality must be originated in the agent for the agent to have ultimate responsibility for the action. The only way for the theist to get around this (and I have a friend who tried this) is to ground every freely willed decision by an agent somehow in God, but magically allowing the agent to still have control over the causal chain. I can’t see a way around this causality and I am not sure that the commenter has convinced me otherwise.

On point 1) on agent causation:

The proper definition of LFW is not the ability to choose A or -A. The proper definition is being able to do either A or -A without any determining factors. So you might want to change that.

The definition I use is the  theoretical ability to choose otherwise in a given causal circumstance (ceteris paribus). Such that an agent has the ability to choose A or ~A in CC1 (Causal Circumstance 1). This would mean the same as your definition since it would imply acausal causality – as agent causalists would say, the agent originates the causality (such that the agent is a prime mover of sorts).

On point 2):

“It seems the argument epistemically defeats itself. You assert that LFW defeats the argument yet you deny that agent causation is possible. You cannot deny agent causation and affirm LFW. So if you deny agent causation you also deny LFW. However, if you deny LFW then you have no good reason to believe this argument is good. “

I believe neither argument is good as I have documented at length elsewhere (I have written a book on free will and have one in the pipeline on the KCA). I argue, as anyone atheist arguing against theism, from a position of being a theist holding to both. IF they hold to the KCA, they cannot hold to LFW and vice versa.

On point 3):

“All that is needed to defeat the argument is if agent causation is even POSSIBLE. So long as it is even possible the argument fails. Thus, in order for this argument to go through you must show that agent causation is necessarily impossible… You must show that the entire concept of agent causation is impossible.  “

I think you miss my point. I think neither are possible, but the theist does. Again, see my point above. It’s either / or for the theist. The theist believes both are true, I argue they are mutually incompatible.

Thanks!

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