Causality and Kalam

Causality and Kalam February 1, 2021

A YouTuber commenter hit me with this comment the other day in the context of me having written a book on the Kalam Cosmological Argument (Did God Create a Universe from Nothing) [UK]. Here is his comment, with my reactions interlinearly:

The central thesis of your book against the Kalam, it seems to me, is the idea that the first premise only has examples of things rearranging themselves, while the second premise requires that the universe had no material cause at all. And so there is an equivocation going on. Quentin Smith also pointed this problem in his debate with Bill Craig.

Actually, there are 13 different arguments, if I recall correctly, though this does have some prominence. The idea here is that there is no creation ex nihilo when we are talking about anything “within” the universe (a problematic term that I also deal with). A chair is just a reformulation of pre-existing atoms. Therefore, to say that nothing comes from nothing (ex nihilo, nihilo fit) is to draw from a rule of, at most, one (the universe itself) to then apply that “rule of one” to the universe itself.

This is a very quick summation that leaves out an awful lot of other reasoning, but it should lay the groundwork for you.

Now, Craig tried to circumvent this problem in many ways, but I think he really failed. Nevertheless, philosopher Josh Rasmussen presented an interesting rebuttal which I couldn’t refute:

“Finally my third response is that this principle that whatever begins to exist has a cause is supported by a more general principle that beginnings in general have a cause. So, even if the only beginnings you see are rearrangements, still the causal order with respect to rearrangements supports the general principle that predicts this set of observations; it predicts that every beginning has a cause. That’s because the general principle successfully predicts the restricted principle.

I think this falls into the same problem entirely, not least concerning the subjective and conceptual nature of “beginning”. “Beginning” is an abstract idea, such that when a chair “beings to exist” is a conceptual delineation marked by an individual conceiver. You can think of this in reverse, too. When does a chair stop being a chair? We get onto the Sorites Paradox again.

As I set out in my book, causality should not be seen in this linear manner, but as one big intersectional matrix.

As a comparison take all the coffee mugs you know about. Probably they all have a cause. Even if they’re just rearrangements, those rearrangements of molecules are caused by prior — whoever put those cups together or whatever factory produce them. And I think that’s evidence that probably even the coffee mugs you don’t know about have a cause, so you extrapolate from the known cases into the unknown cases.

Again, this is just the big causal matrix that is the universe. It is one big matrix of causality, and so we again have a derived rule of one being taken as universal and then being applied to itself.

In simple terms, it is an inductive rule of one: “This one thing X is a causal matrix, and so, therefore, everything has causality, and so, therefore, this one thing X was caused.” I just don’t think this argument does what either Craig or Rasmussen thinks it does.

The idea here is that if every arrangement you know about has a cause then unless you have some independent reason to think that there’s a relevant difference between arrangements and non-arrangements you have evidence for thinking that every beginning has a cause and that’s sort of a key point there; is that if there’s a reason to think there’s a relevant difference, then you could perhaps break the argument, but it’s not enough to point to a difference: you need some reason to think there’s a relevant difference. If somebody says “oh look all these blue things have a cause, but we’ve never seen red things have a cause.”

I think “a cause” is the problem here. I talk about this a lot in the book, but you can’t just take a single point out of a linear causal chain (M) and say that M was caused by L. Because the universe is not made up of linear causal chain but one big unitary causal matrix. Cutting (quantising) time and causality up like this is hugely problematic and falls victim to Sorites-style issues.

Okay but the difference between blue and red… is that a relevant difference between cause? It doesn’t seem relevant and so unless you have a relevant difference you’ve got some reasons to think that difference is relevant then your observations of arrangements being caused is evidence for the general principle that any beginning has a cause it’s evidence and I think it’s evidence I think it’s good evidence.”

Source: “3 Responses to this Common Objection to the Kalam (Dr. Josh Rasmussen)”

So, what do you think? Do you think Josh produced a successful undercutting defeater to this objection?

I would go and have to read the source material here from Rasmussen but I don’t think it has the force this commenter thinks it does.

It’s difficult for me to do this justice here so, you know, you’ll have to buy my book! (If it’s any consolation, I think it’s my best one!)


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