October 18, 2009
God as the Cause of the Universe
I wanted to thank you again for your time addressing my questions about your Kalam Cosmological Argument at the ETS last year and before your debate with Dr. Carrier earlier this year. I have two more issues surrounding your proof and would appreciate your opinion!
In the past, the objection "what caused God?" never seemed to me to be any more than a petty "gotcha!" on the part of the nonbeliever in reply to Kalam. However, reading this comment (in reply to Daniel Dennett asking this same question) in Reasonable Faith (page 114), left me with an uneasy feeling:
"Dennett rightly sees that a being which exists eternally, since it never comes into being, has no need of a cause, as do things which have an origin."
While this statement is true, it does not answer the objection at hand. Everything that begins to exist does need a cause, but to state that something that does not begin to exist does not need a cause commits the formal fallacy of denying the antecedent. I realize that your language here states that such a Being has no need of a cause, meaning that you technically have not committed this fallacy in your book, but notice that this still leaves the question unanswered as if you had assumed this to be the case!
Elsewhere, you provide an example of a bowling ball resting eternally on a bed as being the cause of an indention in the bed. Thus, the indention does not begin to exist, but it still has a cause in the logically prior sense. Along this same line, why can't the Mind that created this universe itself have a logically prior cause?
The only way to escape from this problem would be demonstrating that the Mind that caused the universe is itself necessary, or else you open the door to the possibility that the Creator is contingent, that Polytheism may be true, and thus that the Christian God may not possibly exist even if Kalam holds. The four arguments that typically follow in your case for the Christian God thus rest upon the assumption that Kalam succeeds necessarily, so relying on those further arguments to establish the necessity of the Creator you posit with Kalam would beg the question!
Additionally, appealing to the modal ontological argument would at most establish that the number of causes logically prior to the Creator of the Universe is finite, unless you can justify that the necessary Being supposedly proven by the Modal Ontological Argument must Himself be the direct cause of the Universe. But it would seem more conducive to maximal greatness to be the cause of the creator of the universe if that were at all possible in the first place! Involving the modal ontological argument in an attempt to establish necessity on the part of the Creator actually establishes that the objection I've made is not arbitrary, since a "creator of the Creator" could be the maximally great being.
For my next question, why can't the cause of the Universe be a nonpersonal cause within the nature of the Universe itself? Technically, spacetime itself is what began to exist, and not necessarily the Universe; perhaps prior to spacetime the Universe was a singularity whose internal properties caused (in the logically prior sense) spacetime itself to begin to exist. From it, a universe could unpack, sort of like the ultimate clowncar.
Quentin Smith posed such a singularity in your 2003 debate with him, but your objection conflated "singularity" in the first-state sense with "naked singularity," which is indeed not necessitated in physics nor was the case Dr. Smith posited. Additionally, you pointed out the problem of the contingency of the singularity itself, but note in this case that even if a Mind causes the singularity in the logically prior sense, the singularity and the Mind coexist at that nontemporal state prior to spacetime beginning to exist, meaning that the cause of the Universe as we know it cannot be the Christian God, for He creates ex nihilo!
Finally, it could be established that the singularity I posit is itself necessary; the alternatives, that the universe sprang from nothing even if by the will of omnipotence, seem as untenable as a married bachelor. A necessary nonspacial, nontemporal singularity that unfolds space and time by its own internal mechanism avoids the ex nihilo problem. And as Quentin Smith's model shows, a simultaneous state of causal affairs internal to this singularity is harmonious with timelessness and is sufficient to cause spacial and temporal causal separateness to begin to exist as the effect of this simulaneous first state.
I appreciate your attentiveness to my questions and I look forward to furthering my investigation into this extremely important question through your scholarly works!
These are excellent, probing questions, Darrin, which I'll do my best to answer. When I wrote The Kalam Cosmological Argument, I attempted to deduce as many of the theologically significant properties of the cause of the universe as I could. While a striking number of traditional divine attributes could be recovered by conceptual analysis of the argument's conclusion, it was clear that many important attributes could not, most noticeably the moral properties of the first cause, but also its metaphysical necessity and unicity. I found, however, and still find, the modesty of the argument's conclusion appealing. It doesn't try to prove too much, but it does justify belief in a Personal Creator of the universe.
So consider the "what caused God?" question. Recall that Dennett himself affirms that only things which have a temporal origin have causes. It follows that since the Creator of the universe has no temporal origin it has no cause. Now you're right that this conclusion doesn't follow from the premises of the kalam argument alone, but from Dennett's own additional assumption. What we can say on the basis of the kalam argument alone is that whereas the universe must have a cause, no reason has been given to think that the Creator must have a cause. Ockham's Razor, which enjoins us not to postulate causes beyond necessity, will therefore shave away any further causes. Given Ockham's Razor, we are justified in positing only such causes as are necessary to explain the effect. Therefore it would be unjustified to postulate a plurality of causes. The ball is then in the opponent's court: he has to give good reasons to think that even timelessly existing entities must have causes—an assumption which is, as Dennett discerns, highly implausible and widely rejected by metaphysicians, whose ontologies often include uncaused, eternal entities like abstract objects.
Not only so, but given the success of the philosophical arguments against an infinite regress, we know that there must be a temporally first cause, which is therefore uncaused in the sense of having no temporally prior cause. If it is caused, it could have at most a sort of sustaining cause, what you call "a logically prior cause." But once more, the argument against an actual infinite will necessitate that such a causal regress cannot be infinite and that one must therefore arrive at an absolutely uncaused first cause. While intermediate causes are not excluded by the kalam argument, their postulation is nonetheless gratuitous, and therefore it is simpler to conclude that the uncaused first cause which is proved by the argument is the immediate cause of the universe.
So I think you're mistaken that there is a problem here which needs escaping, much less that its escape requires demonstrating that the first cause is a necessary being. The kalam argument, as I have said, leaves it an open question whether the Creator is necessary or contingent in a broadly logical sense (that is, whether He exists in every possible world). Moreover, the mere possibility or even actuality of intermediate causes (what you call polytheism) is not disturbing. God could have used intermediaries (angels?) to create the world. But Ockham's Razor places the burden of proof squarely on the opponent's shoulders to prove that there are such intermediate causes. Finally, the other theistic arguments I defend don't in any way depend upon the success of the kalam argument, much less its demonstrating the necessity of the Creator. On the contrary, it is these arguments—notably the Leibnizian cosmological argument, the moral argument, and the ontological argument—which give us what the kalam argument alone could not give us, namely, the metaphysical necessity of one's explanatory ultimate. I disagree that a maximally great being must be the Creator of the creator of the universe, since omnipotence is a modal property concerning what one is able to do, and there's just no reason to think that the ability to create a creator of the universe entails actually doing so. I think you can see, Darrin, that it is the argument's opponent, not its defender, who is engaged in gratuitous metaphysical speculations.
As to your second question, "why can't the cause of the Universe be a nonpersonal cause within the nature of the Universe itself?," I'd say that, contrary to your assertion, it is not merely spacetime which began to exist, but spacetime along with any boundary points it may have. In fact, as you may know from my work on the nature of time, I'm an anti-realist when it comes to spacetime. Spacetime is, I think, just a heuristic device, a geometrical way of displaying relations of things in space and time. I reject four-dimensionalism, the view that things are extended in time as they are in space, and its attendant tenseless or static theory of time, which regards the distinction between past, present, and future as an illusion of human consciousness and temporal becoming as unreal. I therefore think that time as it plays a role in physics is at best a measure of time rather than time itself. I defend all of these assertions at length in my books The Tensed Theory of Time: A Critical Examination (2000) and The Tenseless Theory of Time: A Critical Examination (2000), both available through Springer Verlag.
Given my metaphysical commitments concerning time, I do not think that the initial cosmological singularity, if it exists at all, exists timelessly or never began to exist. It exists outside of physical time (time as defined in the General Theory of Relativity) because it is a boundary point of spacetime rather than a point in or of spacetime. Notwithstanding, it is clearly in metaphysical time, since it is evanescent, coming into and going out of being. Accordingly, it requires a cause for its origination.
Note that if God co-exists timelessly with the singularity, as you suggest, and is the sustaining cause of the singularity, that does nothing to undermine the doctrine that creation has no material cause. On the contrary, on such a view God is the cause of all material reality, just as He would be the cause of any abstract objects which He timelessly sustains in being. Still I agree that a biblical view is that the actual world contains a state of affairs that consists of God existing alone without any co-existent, if dependent, timeless entities.
Finally, your remarks on the necessity of the initial singularity lead me to think that you haven't got quite right the notion of metaphysical necessity. For even if the singularity exists atemporally and non-spatially, as you imagine, that does nothing to show that it exists in all possible worlds. This same confusion seemed to underlie your earlier assumption that the kalam argument aspires to prove the necessity of the uncaused first cause. In any case, I've already explained why I don't think that the initial cosmological singularity, if it exists, exists atemporally and non-spatially. Finally, Darrin, I think you're all too quick in your assertion that the proposition that the universe has an efficient cause but lacks a material cause is logically impossible. Unlike the case of the married bachelor, the concept of a universe with an efficient but no material cause is not obviously incoherent. If you've got a proof that it is, I know a number of journals that would be ready to publish it!
"And you shall seek Me and you shall find Me, if you seek for Me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29.13).