Aquinas and the Kalam; Necessity and Induction

Aquinas and the Kalam; Necessity and Induction June 26, 2018

Some time back, I was put onto a paper on the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA) called “New remarks on the cosmological argument” by Gustavo E. Romero and Daniela Pérez. It is packed full of formal logic and propositional calculus. One excerpt that chimes very well with claims in my own book (Did Got Create the Universe from Nothing?) concerns necessity and inductive observation of the universe around us.

William Lane Craig, a major apologist proponent of the argument, often claims that the argument is deductive, not inductive, and the conclusion necessarily follows from the premise. What he fails to admit is that the premises are themselves inductive and are open to some serious criticism.

The above paper states:

According to the preceding analysis, physical cosmology has precedence over philosophical cosmology. In fact, a given interpretation of a cosmological argument can be at odds with observational facts. For instance, some of the premises of the Cosmological Argument can be interpreted as expressing a necessary truth, when actually the validity of the premises might depend on the way things are in the universe. An example of this is the assertion by Aquinas that “There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible”. This statement is far from being a necessary  truth (i.e. one which negation implies contradiction). The truth value of the statement, as already mentioned in “Second premise” and discussed in the references cited therein, depends on the structure of the space-time. In space-times with time-like closed curves is possible, in principle, to have objects that never began to exist but whose changes of state are always causally linked to previous changes. This causal relation is always locally future-directed, but never globally, because this general-relativity admissible space-times are not globally hyperbolic (and hence they present Cauchy horizons). Whereas there exist in the universe matter with energy-momentum distributions capable of shaping space-time curvature to make such self-existent objects possible, is a matter of fact and not of philosophical analysis.

By other hand, philosophical cosmology can shed light on our assignation of meanings to different models of syntactic arguments, allowing to generate coherence tests for such arguments. The value of the conclusions will depend on the value of the premises, which sometimes ought to be assigned in accordance with observations or experiments.

Summing up, we can say that in philosophical cosmology speculative metaphysics meets experiment, for the benefit of our understanding of the world.

In simple terms, garbage in, garbage out. The necessary conclusions of a philosophical argument depend on the soundness of its premises. In the case of the Kalam, these are up for grabs.

For example: Everything that begins to exist has a cause for its existence. This opening premise is not necessarily true. Several options are open to us here:

  1. The black swan scenario of induction – everything we may have seen so far; but that does not mean to say we haven’t seen something uncaused in the same way “all swans are white”, until we found black swans in Australia.
  2. It is flat wrong because there are uncaused things we know about (quantum claims etc.).
  3. Our understanding of causality is faulty or ill-defined.
  4. Connected to 3) is the idea, as set out in the book, that causality is a single matrix of interconnectivity, so all things have a cause is all things in the universe, or the universe. These aren’t separable entities but one giant unit of causality. You cannot, then, make a universal rule from one example and then apply it to itself.

Of course, with option 4) here, you end up with an odd version of the KCA.

The universe had a cause for its existence.

The universe began to exist.

Therefore the universe had a cause for its existence.

This is rather circular and problematic.

The second premise, that the universe began to exist, is also an inductive premise that is not necessarily true. It relies on scientific conclusions that are, as we speak, not agreed upon. Theories abound about the creation (or not) of the universe. Many still think some kind of cyclical universe exists, others that it can exist infinitely into the past.

The point is, the KCA is far from deductive and philosophically necessary.

The final remarks in the paper are also interesting:

Both causation and space-time are intimately related to change, i.e. to events, ordered pairs of states of things. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to make sense of the concept of causation outside space-time. This in no way means that the universe cannot have an explanation. Causation is only one possible form of event generation,  but not the only one. Decay and spontaneous symmetry breaking are examples of event generation without causation. It is very likely that an explanation of the origination of the universe should involve a quantum theory of gravity. In such a theory, space-time at the Planck-scale would not have a causal structure since it would not be represented by a continuous and differentiable manifold endowed with an affine connection. Aquinas’s argument correctly suggests that some happenings in the world are causeless. Likely, this reasoning is valid for the universe as a whole, since cause and effect are concepts that make sense only within the universe, because they are unavoidably linked to continuum space-time. We conclude that what is the ultimate explanation for the universe cannot be established from our present knowledge of the world.

The conclusion at the end is not something I had previously considered in that kind of strong agnostic sense: that we simply cannot know the explanation for the universe from our present knowledge, or perhaps because we are within the universe. I would be interested in some discussion on this below.

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