Friday, January 22, 2010

Who made God?

I think the classical answer to this is to say that there are two types of things that exist: things that might or might not exist, and things that have to exist. As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy puts it,




It is commonly accepted that there are two sorts of existent entities: those that exist but could have failed to exist, and those that could not have failed to exist. Entities of the first sort are contingent beings; entities of the second sort are necessary beings.



According to the Christian tradition, God is supposed to be omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good. His existence is not contingent on any outside forces. If it were contingent, then those forces would have power over Him, and he would not be omnipotent. Hence, it is supposed that God's existence is necessary and not contingent. If something has to exist, then it is part of the very definition of God's nature that he was not created and could not be created.



Consider cosmological arguments for the existence of God for a moment. One type of cosmological argument for God is called a kalam cosmological argument. A kalam cosmological argument follows this format.



1. Whatever begins to exist, must have a cause of its existence.



2. The universe began to exist.



3. Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.



In other words, according to the principle used in premise 1, before we know whether we need to ask for a cause of something, we need to discover whether or not, ex hypothesi, it began to exist. If it didn't have a temporal beginning, then a cause may not be needed. This argument is based on the claim that, either through mathematical arguments, or as the upshot of discoveries in astrophysics, we have good reason to suppose that the universe had a temporal beginning (the Big Bang maybe?)



Another cosmological argument for God, found in Aquinas's Third Way, goes like this:



1. Whatever exists contingently must have a cause of its existence.



2. The (physical) universe, and everything in it, exists contingently. It might or might not exist.



Therefore, the universe must have a cause that is independent of the physical universe.



Now, I am not here contending that these are good arguments. However, they are ways of arguing for the existence of God that have been popular amongst philosophers. What I am saying is that these arguments for the existence of God present us with a conception of God that does not need a cause. In fact, if something were to cause God to exist, the God would not be a necessary being, and hence, wouldn't be God.



For this reason, I don't think that the question "Who made God" is the stunning refutation of theism that some people think that it is.

30 comments:

Steven said...

What arguments, besides the AFR, do you think are good?

Crude said...

One thing I'm curious of: What if an omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good God could, in fact, be caused? Has anyone ever objected to the cosmological argument on the grounds that such is possible?

I mean, I've seen philosophical arguments asserting everything from "things can pop into existence utterly uncaused" to "accidental and/or ordered infinite regress is possible" to otherwise. Has anyone ever argued "God may or may not exist, but if He does not exist yet, He may in the future"? That seems less wacky than the previous two claims. The closest one I can think of is Frank Tipler, and I think even he would identify God as both the Alpha and the Omega, so to speak.

I would agree with Victor otherwise, though I think the cosmological argument is good. It's just not conclusive. (Then again, as Van Inwagen would probably say, few arguments are.)

Mark Frank said...

I agree that just objecting "who made God?" is rather unsatisfactory. Those who believe in God define it as being the kind of thing that doesn't get made - either because it is "necessary" or "never began to exist".

My problem with is that philosophers have used these words (or similar foreign language terms) which try to describe ideas that are so totally beyond our experience and comprehension it is hard to know if they really mean anything.

For example "necessity" comes in many flavours is relative to some set of constraints, laws or rules. If I say it is necessary to gain a visa before going to the USA there is an implied set of rules. If I say that the sum of the angles in a triangle is necessarily 180 degrees that is relative to Euclidean geometry. I guess the necessity of God's existence is some kind of metaphysical necessity or synthetic a priori necessity. But if you are unhappy with what that means then the you unhappy with the argument that God is a necessary being.

Doctor Logic said...

Well said, Mark.

If God is necessary, what is he necessary for?

The kind of people who respond "Who made God?" probably don't think God is necessary for anything because he's not visibly necessary for anything going on in their lives.

The Kalam and the Third way both fail to address what it is that God is necessary for. If we are to arbitrarily declare God as necessary (and not needing a cause), why not do the same for the universe?

Victor Reppert said...

I don't think a necessary being is supposed to be necessary for anything. This objection seems to rest on an equivocation.

"Necessary: just means it cannot fail to exist, or that it doesn't depend on anything else for its existence.

Mark Frank said...

Actually I agree with Victor that a necessary being doesn't have to be necessary for something. In some card games it is necessary to follow suit but that is not necessary in order to do or achieve something - it is just the rules of the game.

My point is that when you say something necessarily exists that necessity implies an "or else". It is necessary to follow suit or else you are not playing Bridge. It is necessary to have a visa or you are breaking the law. It is necessary for God to exist or ....?

Clearly some people believe there is some kind of ultimate or metaphysical necessity but my point it is that unless you can make sense of this type of necessity then you cannot make sense of statements about God necessarily existing. And personally I cannot make sense of this type of necessity.

Dustin said...

I'm not sure that objection works though. If I say it is necessary that 2 and 2 equal 4 in Euclidean mathematics, "Or else what?" would be kind of a weird way to respond. There isn't any "or else." There can't be. That's why it's necessary.

Often, in philosophy, talk about necessity is phrased in terms of talk about possible worlds. There are plenty of possible worlds where Victor does not exist--he is contingent--but none where A=/A (that is necessary.) A necessary being is one existing in all logically possible worlds. Now of course many people think there isn't any such being, but I think most agree that they understand what is meant by talk about one.

Dustin said...

Of course my last comment should say that A=/A is *impossible* (true in no worlds) while A=A is necessary (true in all worlds.)

DL said...

“It is necessary to have a visa or you are breaking the law. It is necessary for God to exist or ....?”

...or you are breaking the laws of logic. Of course, “logically necessary” isn’t always what philosophers mean when they talk about necessity, though of course all philosophical proofs revolve around some sort of logical requirement. In the particular case of proving God’s existence, the arguments also often work out to “What is God necessary for? Everything else!” That is, given the world around us, it could exist only if we trace back to some Ultimate Being, aka God. (Different arguments differ as to whether they demonstrate that for anything that might exist, you can work back to God, or whether they depend specifically on the kind of world we find ourselves in, but since that world is the one that happens to actually exist, that’s OK.)

Mark Frank said...

Dustin

My problem is that the "God is necessary" argument is only as good as our grasp of the kind of necessity involved. Maybe it is like mathematical or logical necessity. But the nature of that necessity is itself a subject of philosophical debate (and rather a theoretical ground for basing your whole life - worship, morality etc.) Is is just true by definition or is it some kind of synthetic a priori truth? All sorts of things which we might have thought were logically or mathematically necessary true 200 years ago have turned out not to be so eventually e.g.

The sum of the angles in a triangle is 180 degrees

The the velocity of two objects relative to each other is the sum of the two velocities relative to a fixed observer

And I would also contend: "Everything that comes into existence must have a cause"

The concept of necessity works just fine in our everyday language with its implied "or else". But when we try to promote to be some kind of universal necessity I am not sure we really know what we are talking about.

The all possible worlds definition doesn't help. "Possible" has exactly the same features as "necessary". What is not possible according to the rules of chess is possible outside those rules. In fact "possible" could be defined as "not necessarily false".

DL said...

"All sorts of things which we might have thought were logically or mathematically necessary true 200 years ago have turned out not to be so eventually"

Not so: anyone can make a mistake, of course, but if an argument is genuinely logically or mathematically valid, then it is absolutely necessary that it be true.

The sum of the angles in a triangle is 180 degrees

And so it is, and never could fail to be. Oh, perhaps you’re thinking of non-Euclidean geometries: a Euclidean triangle sums to 180 degrees, whereas other kinds of triangles don’t, but that proof only ever applied to Euclidean triangles in the first place. It’s our definition of “triangle” that changed, not the mathematical proof. (We could have decided that Riemannian “triangles” shouldn’t be called “triangles” at all, for example. That’s why it’s so important to be clear on our definitions, but once we agree what it is we’re talking about, the logic can never change.)

The velocity of two objects relative to each other is the sum of the two velocities relative to a fixed observer

But that was not a logical or mathematic claim; it’s a claim of physics, and physics does depend on our observations. As our observations change, so can our understanding of physics.

And I would also contend: "Everything that comes into existence must have a cause"

What can you name that comes into being without some kind of cause? If any sort of entity, call it X, can come into being for no reason at all, then why aren’t we overrun with X’s? Why would there be an X here and not there, or now and not then? Any answer to that question is a “cause” for X. Or to put it the other way around, if something “comes” into being, then that means that at some point, it wasn’t in being yet. Why not? If it needs no cause to bring it into being, then why doesn’t it exist “already”?? In other words, trying to suppose that there could be such an entity does indeed run into logical contradictions.

The all possible worlds definition doesn't help. "Possible" has exactly the same features as "necessary". What is not possible according to the rules of chess is possible outside those rules. In fact "possible" could be defined as "not necessarily false".

Sure, that definition works. Again, though, when philosophers talk about possible worlds, they mean “according to the rules of logic”. There are possibilities outside the rules of chess because chess does not define all of reality. There are no rules outside of logic, though: that’s the most fundamental level there is. So a “possible world” means any state of affairs that doesn’t contain a contradiction.

Mark Frank said...

Dustin

On necessity

My point is that we think we have a grasp of what it is to be logically or mathematically necessary but if things we thought were necessary turn out not to be so – then how can we be sure? For centuries Euclid’s fifth postulate was thought to be absolutely true a priori. Then it turned out it need not be true under all conditions. Many philosophers hold that the only statements that are true without any condition are those statements that are true by definition. There is no synthetic a priori – only analytic a priori.

On causality

You wrote:

What can you name that comes into being without some kind of cause? If any sort of entity, call it X, can come into being for no reason at all, then why aren’t we overrun with X’s? Why would there be an X here and not there, or now and not then? Any answer to that question is a “cause” for X. Or to put it the other way around, if something “comes” into being, then that means that at some point, it wasn’t in being yet. Why not? If it needs no cause to bring it into being, then why doesn’t it exist “already”?? In other words, trying to suppose that there could be such an entity does indeed run into logical contradictions.

As I am sure you know many people have put forward quantum phenomena as examples. Electrons pop into existence and out again without any discernable cause. We aren’t overrun because they also pop out of existence. Of course there is no answer to why there is an electron now and not at another time – that’s the whole point – it just happens. Your” why” questions do not need to have an answer. It may turn out that one day we discover there is an answer. But the point is that there is no logical reason why there has to be an answer. Quantum physics proceeds just fine on the assumption that it just happens.

On possible worlds

My sole point was that talking of all possible worlds throws no light on the nature of the necessity. It is just a different way of expressing the belief that there is some kind of universal necessity.

DL said...

"For centuries Euclid’s fifth postulate was thought to be absolutely true a priori. Then it turned out it need not be true under all conditions."

I think you’re misunderstanding the mathematical situation. What mathematicians discovered is that there were other consistent systems besides Euclid’s; they didn’t discover that anything previously proven about Euclidean geometry was wrong. Pythagoras's theorem is absolutely safe.

"As I am sure you know many people have put forward quantum phenomena as examples."

Many people don’t understand the difference between physics and metaphysics, alas. The fact is, there are answers to why there is an electron here and not there, or else physicists would be greatly shocked -- not to mention out of a job. There are certain, very specific, very limited things that quantum mechanics cannot explicate, but there are nonetheless very detailed rules about how quantum particles can and do behave. That a few certain details may be essentially beyond the grasp of physics does not mean there is no reason for them: merely that there is no physical reason.

(And electrons’ alleged ability to “pop out of existence” for no reason does not explain why we’re not overrun: maybe that would explain why we won’t be overrun a second from now, once they’ve all ‘popped out’ -- although if there’s no reason for that either, then you can never actually expect it to happen, all you can say is that it might be possible that we stop being overrun by them at some future point -- but my point is if there were “no reason” one way or the other, then there is equally nothing to stop an infinite number of electrons suddenly popping up this very instant, simultaneously.)

"My sole point was that talking of all possible worlds throws no light on the nature of the necessity. It is just a different way of expressing the belief that there is some kind of universal necessity."

Yes, logical necessity. If you don’t accept that, then you don’t accept logic. In which case we might as well give up -- if you don’t believe in logic, then yes, my questions need not have an answer; in fact, no questions do. Indeed, it becomes meaningless to say that any question has an answer at all.

Mark Frank said...

DL
I am going to step back a bit and start with your final comment.

Yes there is such a thing as logical necessity e.g. If all men are mortal and Socrates is a man then Socrates is mortal . My point is:

1) The metaphysical status of this necessity is disputed. Are such statements true by definition or do they represent some kind of a priori synthetic truth? As I am sure you know, there are almost as many different positions on this as there are philosophers.

2) Many statements which in the past have been regarded as logically necessary true turn out to be false under some conditions. Euclid’s fifth postulate was considered not just to be an axiom of geometry, but a necessary truth about the world. As you say, the deductions that flow from Euclid’s axioms still hold – but the fifth postulate is an axiom and its status has changed. It is no longer considered necessarily true.

So any argument that turns on "God necessarily exists" is building on shaky foundations. At the very least it requires a thorough explanation of the nature of that necessity. Stepping outside philosophy for the moment, such an argument relies on sophisticated mental gymnastics which clever men have disputed and which cannot be verified by observation. This seems to me an inadequate basis for a religious belief which will guide and dominate your whole life.

On quantum physics

I am sorry but I disagree. Athough there are many conditions constraining the behaviour of subatomic particles there are circumstances when they come into existence (and go out of existence) at time t ( as opposed to t+1) for no apparent reason. Physicists work with this and keep their jobs. As I said, it may turn out one day that there is a cause, but it is a logically consistent world that these events happen for no reason. They just happen. You are concerned that an infinite number of electrons pop into existence simultaneously. But, as you say, there are well recognised constraints on the behaviour of electrons. I am not a quantum physicist but I am imagine these constraints limit the number that can pop into existence simultaneously. This does not entail that the “popping” has a cause.

It is part of our nature to want to ascribe a cause to everything. That makes sense. At a human scale almost every event not only has necessary conditions for it to happen, but also something which causes it to happen at a particular time. But when we move to conditions which are beyond our comprehension such as the quantum world or the beginning of the universe (what could be more extraordinary) then our preconceptions and ways of viewing the world may, and probably do not, apply. What appear to be a priori synthetic statements which are “necessarily” true about space, time and causality are no longer certain. Surely this is one of the lessons of modern physics? Reality is far more extraordinary than we ever imagined and we should be very wary of making assumptions about what is necessarily true under all circumstances.

PS A small final point. If the cosmological argument works because it is logically necessary that God exists then really the cosmological argument is redundant. If it is logically necessary that God exists then it should be possible to demonstrate that logic independent of the cosmological argument – shouldn’t it?

Doctor Logic said...

DL,

I am a quantum physicist. In QM, things do apparently happen for no reason.

Quantum randomness happens subject to global conservation laws. Consider neutron decay. The energy and momentum of the particles after the decay matches the energy and momentum before. However, the direction and exact time of the decay are random.

Now, it's conceivable that there are hidden reasons for the decay to occur in the way that it actually does, but physicists have reason to believe that no such hidden reasons exist. This fundamental randomness (if it is real) doesn't cause any problems because it doesn't violate conservation laws. These global constraints and conservation laws are what prevent the universe from filling up with electrons or electron/anti-electron pairs.

However, not all conservation laws will exist at the boundaries of spacetime. Conservation laws are a result of symmetries. For example, it can be shown that conservation of energy is a result of the fact that the laws of physics are symmetric with respect to translations in time. That is, the laws of physics were the same yesterday (t=T-1) as today (t=T), even if the configuration of stuff in the universe is different.

But such conservation laws go out the window at the beginning of the universe. If there was a first event in our universe, conservation of energy is not required because there's no symmetry there (say, between t=+1 and t=0 and t=-1). There's a discontinuity. In that case, quantum randomness is relatively unconstrained.

To sum up... (1) there's nothing wrong with fundamental randomness in our universe as long as conservation laws and quantum decoherence preserve large scale consistency and certainty (so we don't see naked Schroedinger's cats). The randomness does not lead to problems of any kind. And (2), the rules that apply inside our universe, don't necessarily apply to the boundaries of our universe. Determinism is a law about the internals of our universe, not of the universe itself. Consequently, the claim that the universe must have a cause if it has a first event are unjustified.

Doctor Logic said...

DL,

You're right. Mathematics is an enumeration of consistent systems. If you want to avoid contradictions, then, if you start with particular axioms, you get corresponding theorems.

However, these mathematical truths are contingent upon the axioms, and the axioms are mere assumptions. The axioms of Euclidean geometry are not absolutely true. They are true if we assume them true.

I can set you two algebra problems: {x+y=4, x=3} and {x+y=4, x=2}. Neither system is any more true than the other, and yet they have different (indeed, contradictory) axioms.

You might argue that non-contradiction is something that all mathematical systems have in common. However, even that is not true. There are inconsistent mathematical systems. Consistency is necessary in order for us humans to find truths. It's not intrinsically necessary.

If some aspects of our universe are acausal or inconsistent, that's not a problem for rationality unless the acausality and inconsistency are pervasive and destroy all truths. If they destroy some truths, that's not a problem. It's not necessary that every imaginable proposition have a truth value.

Causation is not an absolute necessity. Some degree of causation is necessary to make the world intelligible. However, a complete lack of acausality is not necessary for intelligibility (as QM shows us).

Mark Frank said...

Doctor Logic (two DLs how confusing)

How nice to have someone contribute who knows what they are talking about.

Thanks

DL said...

As you say, the deductions that flow from Euclid’s axioms still hold – but the fifth postulate is an axiom and its status has changed. It is no longer considered necessarily true.

It’s not considered to be the true geometry of the physical world, right. But nobody ever came up with a logical proof that it was, so that’s fine. Assumptions, intuitions, science can all change, just not logically sound proofs. As you say, different arguments require an explanation of what kind of necessity they’re using, but that usually isn’t the hard part.

[electrons] these constraints limit the number that can pop into existence simultaneously. This does not entail that the “popping” has a cause.
Every constraint is (or entails) some sort of “cause”. The fact that we don’t know all the causes, or that some of them may be intrinsically beyond the realm of physics doesn’t mean there are no causes.


If it is logically necessary that God exists then it should be possible to demonstrate that logic independent of the cosmological argument – shouldn’t it?

Sure, who said it wasn’t? But once again, don’t confuse different types of necessity: something can be logically necessary given the premises (e.g. the universe). That doesn’t mean it’s the only possible argument, nor does the existence of other arguments make the cosmological argument wrong.

physicists have reason to believe that no such hidden reasons exist. This fundamental randomness (if it is real) doesn't cause any problems because it doesn't violate conservation laws. These global constraints and conservation laws are what prevent the universe from filling up with electrons or electron/anti-electron pairs.

Right, in other words there are certain causes at work. Again, the fact that some things do not have “hidden reasons” inside physics cannot be taken to mean there are no metaphysical reasons.


[...] (2), the rules that apply inside our universe, don't necessarily apply to the boundaries of our universe. Determinism is a law about the internals of our universe, not of the universe itself. Consequently, the claim that the universe must have a cause if it has a first event are unjustified.

You’re talking about physical causes. Remember, there are other causes besides efficient causality. Nor is a cause necessarily deterministic, those are different things.

The axioms of Euclidean geometry are not absolutely true. They are true if we assume them true.
It’s not like you turn the “truth” of axioms on or off at will; they’re definitions, they identify what it is (what sort of triangles, etc.) you’re making claims about, and it is those claims that are true or false.

Mark Frank said...

Every constraint is (or entails) some sort of “cause”. The fact that we don’t know all the causes, or that some of them may be intrinsically beyond the realm of physics doesn’t mean there are no causes.

I don’t think this follows. Newton’s laws of motion describe constraints on the movement of objects. But what is the cause of those constraints? Is there anything that causes a body to continue in motion unless a force acts on it? It may be that we discover causes, maybe we have discovered causes (I am not a physicist), but the fact that we can make sense of those laws without knowing what causes them means that it is not logically necessary to have a cause.

More generally the argument for first cause relies on the idea that “A causes B” describes a well-defined relationship. I am not convinced about this. “A causes B” is a label for a wide range of relationships and it is our desire to control events that brings us to label them all as causes. Consider the difference between these causes and effects:

Temperature of over 100 C and water boiling
Presence of sodium and spectral lines
One snooker ball hitting another into a pocket
Mass of the Sun and Neptune’s orbit

What do they have in common?

We aren’t even clear as to what needs a cause and what doesn’t. An object is moving through free space. If it slows down there should be cause. If it continues at the same speed no cause is required. But 1000 years ago, and indeed when we are children, most people feel the opposite to be true.

DL said...

OK, now I think I see where we are talking at cross-purposes: what you understand as a “cause” is not what philosophers generally mean by “cause”. It is certainly not what Aquinas meant by “cause”, say, in the proof referred to, so it’s no wonder it doesn’t seem to you to follow. A philosophical cause is anything that explains how a particular object or state is what it is, in any way. “A causes B” does express a well-defined relationship, that of cause and effect. That does not mean that we know everything about A or about B or about all the details of any relationship between them. (It may not be interesting or useful unless we do know some of those further details, but of course that doesn’t stop it being philosophically meaningful.)

As I already mentioned, modern science tends to focus on a concept of “causality” that corresponds more or less to Aristotle’s “efficient causality”, so right there 3/4 of the philosophical causes are simply being ignored. That may (or may not...!) be fine for doing physics, but just because physics ignores certain things hardly proves, or even suggests, that they aren’t there; it just means that modern physics has a particular focus, as any specialized field does.

Why an object, say, continues to move is not something that “has no cause”: the answer is “This object is continuing to move because it is in empty space, and because no external force is acting on it, and because an object in motions remain in motion”. Any time you can answer “because...” you’re referring to some kind of cause — that’s literally what the word means! The way you are talking, you are considering a cause to be only the sort of thing that the “external force” would be, and that simply is not how philosophical arguments about causality work. That’s only one kind of cause, acting in a particular kind of way. Indeed, the very reason we can “make sense of those laws without knowing what causes them” is because philosophically speaking, we do know [something about] the causes at work; there may be further causes or further details, and those causes themselves may in turn have been caused by something else, but being able to offer any sort of explanation at all simply IS to point to a philosophical cause.

I hope that starts to show you why arguments like those originally posted are so tied up in causality and so sure of its necessity. Philosophical causation is a very broad concept the very purpose of which is to cover all the possible ways in which something can be explained. Once you start looking at it that way, the attitude inevitably follows that to talk meaningfully about anything is to talk in terms of cause and effect. And since the basic classification of causes as formal, material, efficient, and final goes back to Aristotle, you will need to understand that conceptual framework to make sense of ancient, medieval, and even modern philosophy (although you also will find modern discussions that adopt the “scientific” use). It might seem a bit strange to you at first, simply because it is something we are not taught; but once you understand it, you will wonder how you ever got along without it.

Mark Frank said...

DL

You don't need to teach me about Aristotle on causality. My first degree was in Philosophy. It was a long time ago but I think I can still handle Aristotle on causality.

If you want to extend the argument to other classes of cause then you need to consider for each category why a contingent thing cannot come into existence without such a cause


We can dismiss "final" causes. Many things come into existence without final causes - unless you consider everything to have a purpose which is rather assuming the premise you want to prove.

Formal cause is an arcane concept which I personally think we have found to be meaningless over the millennia. I would be interested to hear your defence.

This leaves efficient cause, which you discussed, and material cause. Material cause is generally translated as the material from which the object is made. The whole point of the quantum example is that objects appear without any preceding matter i.e. they are not made out of anything. Certainly there is no law of logic that says everything that comes into existence has to be made out of some material. It is not necessary that there be a material cause.

There is no logical reason why there has to be any answer to the question "Why did the universe come into existence?" (however broadly you interpret "why"). All you can do is assert that it is necessary.

Doctor Logic said...

DL,

I think that Aquinas's four causes are nonsense, and I'll explain why.

First, let's think about efficient causation.

Consider Universe One, which is deterministic. There are a handful of laws that determine final states from initial states. This means that I can possibly sum up this universe on a single piece of file paper just by writing down the laws and the initial conditions. That is, there are just a handful of brute facts about this universe, and everything else is derivable from the brute facts.

Now consider Universe Two. In Universe Two, events are fundamentally random and uncaused. For universe two, every event (and its relation in spacetime relative to other events) is its own brute fact. I cannot derive what will happen next by looking at the past.

In Universe Two, I can try to express what happens in terms of initial conditions and laws. However, I will need a new law for every event. There will need to be as many laws as there are events.

However you want to categorize causes, you'll be making an error if you can't distinguish between caused events and uncaused ones. So, if you talk about, say, a free agent causing B in response to A without there being a general law guiding the agent's choice, then you make the agent's choice random. Not just random in appearance but actually random. There's no semantic difference.

So, when you say:

“A causes B” does express a well-defined relationship, that of cause and effect.

this is not true. In Universe Two, I can express the utter randomness and acausality of that universe by paraphrasing in terms of unique laws for every event, thereby giving the illusion of cause and effect where there is none.

We cannot meaningfully say "A causes B" without saying that "A always causes B" or "A statistically causes B".

In fact, if causation was not efficient, we would not know causation at all. We get the meaning of causation from efficient causation. We can't just drop efficiency from our definitions because we find new grammatically correct propositions containing the word "cause".

DL said...

If you want to extend the argument to other classes of cause then you need to consider for each category why a contingent thing cannot come into existence without such a cause

And of course there are a variety of such arguments, that appeal to different causes in different ways, or in ways that do not depend on the particular nature of any single cause. In particular, Aquinas’s Third Way alluded to originally does not specifically mention efficient causality — it’s worth noting that the “necessity” referred to does not mean “logical necessity” but simply “everlasting”, “eternal”.

We can dismiss "final" causes. Many things come into existence without final causes - unless you consider everything to have a purpose which is rather assuming the premise you want to prove.

I’ve never claimed everything has a cause (of any particular type). But some things have final causes. That’s good enough for me — and for proofs that depend on the existence of at least one final cause.

Formal cause is an arcane concept which I personally think we have found to be meaningless over the millennia.

Things have forms or shapes. Many of us find it far from meaningless. I wonder how you deal with simple shapes, let alone more abstract questions of universals.

Material cause is generally translated as the material from which the object is made. The whole point of the quantum example is that objects appear without any preceding matter i.e. they are not made out of anything.

As I don’t need to tell you, “matter” in the Aristotelian sense does not refer to some pre-existing substance used to compose some entity, but rather is the matter making it up as it exists. No electron or other particle exists without a material cause, or it would be, uh, immaterial. Of course, even “empty space” as it is conceived in modern physics would be something that Aristotle would presumably consider to require prime matter (as you also know, the modern scientific term “matter” has taken on a different meaning).

Certainly there is no law of logic that says everything that comes into existence has to be made out of some material. It is not necessary that there be a material cause.

Not for everything, only for some things, correct.

There is no logical reason why there has to be any answer to the question "Why did the universe come into existence?" (however broadly you interpret "why"). All you can do is assert that it is necessary.

Well, you’ve asserted that it isn’t necessary, without a logical reason. You have shown that possibly something exists that does not have any cause [well, not a thorough demonstration, but since we agree on that point anyway, that’s OK], but you have not shown that the universe is able to fit that bill. Of course, the whole point of cosmological arguments is to show that whatever else it may be, the universe itself differs in some way from a being that was uncaused.

DL said...

I think that Aquinas's four causes are nonsense, and I'll explain why.

Except you didn’t — you just said, effectively, that you don’t like them, but that hardly demonstrates that they’re “nonsense”.

So, if you talk about, say, a free agent causing B in response to A without there being a general law guiding the agent's choice, then you make the agent's choice random. Not just random in appearance but actually random. There's no semantic difference.

That simply does not follow. “Caused” and “deterministic” do not mean the same thing — at least not in the philosophical sense of causality, which of course is the relevant one here. If you want to define “cause” as “predictive law”, well, fine, I don’t care what you call it. Call Aristotle’s principles “phlebotomies” if it makes you feel better. The arguments then demonstrate that, given various kinds of phlebotomy, there is an Ultimate Phlebotomist.

In Universe Two, events are fundamentally random and uncaused. [...] There will need to be as many laws as there are events.

OK, so it seems as though you are describing Universe 2 by means of a Formal Cause, er I mean, a Formal Phlebotomy. (Don’t worry, I won’t tell Mark.)

In Universe Two, I can express the utter randomness and acausality of that universe by paraphrasing in terms of unique laws for every event, thereby giving the illusion of cause and effect where there is none.

Why is it an illusion? (Well, apart from the fact that you tried to define it as “uncaused”, which kinda begs the question, but we get the idea.) Does it satisfy your “predictive law” definition? Your definition didn’t say there had to be a limit on the number of “laws”, but hey, if you want to redefine “cause” yet again, go ahead. Meanwhile, Aquinas and I will concern ourselves with the more interesting question of the, uh, phlebotomies of this universe 2, which in virtue of its very unpredictibility points to phlebotomicals beyond itself.

We cannot meaningfully say "A causes B" without saying that "A always causes B" or "A statistically causes B".

Given your (re)definition of “cause”, yeah. Given Aristotle/Aquinas’s definition, no. Obviously you cannot fairly criticize an argument if you change its meaning. However useful your definitions may be for modern physics, you cannot apply them to people who did not use the words that way.

In fact, if causation was not efficient, we would not know causation at all.

Patently untrue. Oops, it’s true for “causes”[sic], untrue for phlebotomies. A material phlebotomy, for example, is apparent simply by seeing something made out of matter.

We get the meaning of causation from efficient causation. We can't just drop efficiency from our definitions because we find new grammatically correct propositions containing the word "cause".

Sigh. I did a little digging, and it turns out Aristotle did not speak English, so clearly that is not the reason. Though if you want to consider the etymology, the word “because” is older than the modern obsession with “efficient causality”, so it is indeed a good clue as to the older, broader meaning of the word. In other words, “efficiency” was never dropped from the definition of “cause”, it was added in later. Now, as should be clear by now, I have no objection to efficient causes; but if you insist on giving a new meaning to that term, then you must translate the arguments you are discussing to use some other term you will deem more suitable. As pointed out, to interpret old arguments using new definitions and then complain that they don’t work is hardly productive.

Doctor Logic said...

DL,

I think you're missing my point. I'm not begging the question by saying that Universe Two must have only uncaused events in it if there are no general laws. I'm supposing Universe Two lacks causation, and showing that your definitions of causation degenerate in that case.

To that end, consider Universe Three. In Universe Three, exactly the same stuff happens as in Universe Two, but all the events in Universe Three are caused by their prior states by way of unique laws for every event.

What's the difference between Universe Two and Universe Three? Apart from us declaring that Three is caused and Two isn't, there's no metaphysical difference. The distinction is utterly meaningless. No one can possibly have reason to distinguish the two universes.

Whatever definition you have for "cause" degenerates if caused and uncaused look identical. This isn't just a matter of some limit on our knowledge. We're not saying that Universe Three has some (forever) hidden laws behind it which render it caused where Universe Two is uncaused.

Another way of looking at this... I can always commit an act of crazy talk by taking verbs or attributes out of the context of their word game, and misapplying them. I could suppose that Universe Four is just like Universe Three, but Four is metaphysically different in that every event in Four (no matter what happens) is infused with love (of some metaphysical variety). Obviously, this will seem strange. Most events, e.g., material explosions, can't be infused with love as long as we define love from our standard word games. So, I think it's ridiculous to say that Universe Four is distinct from Universe Three. That the distinction between love-infused universes and non-love-infused universes is impossible to define tells us that use of the word love so far from its normal definition is nonsensical.

DL said...

You’re still getting hung up on your idea of “cause”. Let’s not even use the word: consider Universe 1, which has the following events: { X > Y > Z ... }, where X is the efficient cause of Y, which is the efficient cause of Z, and so on. Except we won’t call it that; just call it “effecting”. Then you can postulate Universe 2 which has { A, B, C } but there’s no “effecting” going on between A and B or anything else. However, there are other things going on in Universe 2. Consider its “layout” or “format”, that is, the plain sequence of events A, B, C. This “formatting” is something — after all, it allows us to see that U1 is different from U2, or even that U2 is different from a universe that also has A, B, C, but has effecting too. (The way I’ve written it, that universe could be “formatted” something like { A > B > C }.)

The point is that it is hardly nonsense to say that Universe { X > Y > Z } is different from Universe { A, B, C }. We don’t even need effecting to do that. Aristotle and Aquinas talk about “effecting”, but they also have much to say about “formatting” and other ways of describing things. If you can produce an (allegedly) “uneffected” entity, they will simply apply one of their other arguments. Whether “effecting” is the only thing that makes sense to apply to physics (or indeed whether it makes sense to apply it at all), is a very interesting question, but it’s one of science, or the philosophy of science; it’s not a meaningful restriction on metaphysics in general.

Doctor Logic said...

DL,

Cause, as you're describing it here, really means "cause of our classification of its structure".

For example, the formal cause of our classification of Punxatawney Phil as a member of the class of groundhogs is Phil's groundhog-like physical structure. Yet, how we would classify Phil does not cause Phil to exist. And mis-classifying Phil as an elephant doesn't make him an elephant.

The cause of us classifying U1 with other universes identical to U1 is the structure (and possibly the causal structure) of U1. That's great, but it doesn't have anything to do with cause as it is relevant to cosmological arguments. God didn't classify us into existence.

Also, you suggest that there is a metaphysical difference between {A, B, C} and {A > B > C}. However, if we are permitted to say that there might be unique physical laws for every event, then there is no longer a metaphysical difference between the two. I can just use an accounting trick (or coordinate transformation, if you like) to re-express the seemingly acausal universe as the causal one.

Laws are just a method of accounting. Imagine little universes which contain 100 events. In the lawful, casual universes, I can specify what happens in the universe with less than 100 brute facts (some initial conditions and a general law will be less than 100 facts). Little universes that lack this lawful causality require me to state all 100 brute facts.

So, what's the possible difference between two little universes, each of which features the same 100 events, each of which require 100 brute facts to describe those events?

The only thing I can imagine (and I'm not even sure if this works) is to confuse the map with the territory (i.e., confuse the universe with its description). Is there a metaphysical difference between the two sequences "four fours" and "four four four four"?

(BTW, in my little lawful universe, the laws are not uniquely expressible. Instead of expressing the universe as initial conditions with laws that predict the future, I could express it as final conditions with reverse laws that tell us the past. The thing that remains the same is the accounting - how many brute facts I need to describe the universe.)

DL said...

God didn't classify us into existence.

Now that is an interesting statement. And I’d be very interested to see your proof.

However, you seem now to be defining efficient causality in terms of forms, which is not unprecedented and has some important ramifications concerning our modern understanding of science. In any case, this distinction based on “how many rules” it takes to describe a universe doesn’t affect the original arguments (or family of arguments, which use different approaches depending on whether you want to focus on effecting, or formality, or whatever else). Now as to whether Aquinas’s Third Way ends up being a “cosomological” argument or not, perhaps it isn’t; I’m not sure myself that it qualifies based on the usual description of a “cosmological argument”. But then Aquinas never called it that, so I don’t suppose it matters.

Doctor Logic said...

DL,

Me: God didn't classify us into existence.


DL: Now that is an interesting statement. And I’d be very interested to see your proof.


The proof is found in the definition of the verb "to classify" and the definition of the verb "to create". They mean two completely different things, and I see no good-faith way of confusing them. Classifications don't create the things being classified.

To sum up, I think that the alternate forms of causation you want to invoke as necessary stem from a definition of causation which begs the question. An acausal system is indistinguishable from a caused system in your framework, so it can't act as a proof that there aren't acausal systems.

It's been a fun conversation, and you can have the last word.

DL said...

The proof is found in the definition of the verb "to classify" and the definition of the verb "to create".

You haven’t encountered the notion that God creates by his thoughts? But you can always define anything narrowly enough to exclude some particular idea. Like the problem with “causality”, which begs the question only when you try to mix different definitions, the point is to see how much of reality you can account for with the right ideas, not how much you can discount with the wrong definitions.