#182

Is the Cause of the Universe an Uncaused, Personal Creator of the Universe, who sans the Universe Is Beginningless, Changeless, Immaterial, Timeless, Spaceless, and Enormously Powerful?

Dear Doctor Craig,

Your scholarly research in natural theology has been a tremendous help to me in my spiritual explorations. I am no longer an atheist but now a humbled agnostic thanks to the impact you and other philosophers have generated. Nonetheless, I still have some trouble accepting your conclusion of the Kalam Cosmological Argument. The first two premises and the conclusion really are not that troublesome for me, but I have difficulty accepting the fourth premise, which you state explicitly in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology as:

4. If the universe has a cause, then an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful.

I don't think you can conceptually deduce any of these properties from premise 3 for several reasons, which I will enumerate for convenience. (Yes, the counterarguments are long, regrettably. But since you receive a huge volume of mail, I figured that I might as well send you all of my qualms about the KCA in one Godzilla question rather than a series, since you probably wouldn't be able to address them all as separate questions.)

1. If the ultimate conclusion of the KCA passes through, then we've got the existence of an unembodied mind on our hands. However, as many of your atheist critics have pointed out, this seems to be incoherent! Now, I can probably guess that you would respond by saying that there is nothing explicitly incoherent about a timeless and spaceless mind and thrust the burden of proof onto me to show that it is. This reply, though, fails for two reasons. First, even if I can't show that an unembodied mind is logically or metaphysically impossible, that does not mean it exists. One could say the same thing for timeless, spaceless, immaterial turtles who hold the earth up and cause earthquakes  such a concept is not explicitly incoherent, but you wouldn't believe in such a thing because of that! But second, I think there is evidence that an unembodied mind is impossible. Every example of a mind we've ever seen is spatio-temporal and constrained to a body, so on inductive grounds alone, we are justified in rejecting the existence of an unembodied mind. Why posit something that literally goes against all of our prior experience? Also, we can understand minds only in temporal and spatial terms; loving, deciding, acting, and creating are all spatio-temporal phenomena, so a timeless, spaceless mind could not possibly have created the universe. To show otherwise, you would have to develop a model in which personal traits could be extended to timeless and spaceless minds, which would then place the onus of proof squarely upon your shoulders.

2. You then state that the cause of the universe must be timeless and spaceless or otherwise you would have the existence of space and time before the existence of space and time, which is a contradiction. But this move makes a number of assumptions. How do you know that our local universe is the only spatio-temporal region in existence? How do you know that there could not have been other regions of space-time outside of the universe? You would need to answer these to prove this point. But even worse, you imply throughout your article that your arguments against an actual infinity only apply to differentiated time; it is still possible that the cause of the universe is temporal in an undifferentiated sense, meaning that all of your other subarguments for the personhood of the cause would fail, since they presuppose that the cause of the universe is timeless.

3. You say that the cause of the universe must be changeless, but there is a slight problem with this. When God created the universe, a timeless being, a change occurred from a timeless, spaceless state of affairs to a spatio-temporal state of affairs, which shows that timelessness does not imply changelessness.

4. You then appeal to Occam's Razor to show that there must only be one cause of the universe. But by means of example, consider the following:

1. I have exactly one child.
2. I have exactly two children.

If you were not aware of the child demographics in the U.S., you would not be justified in accepting either of these claims since they both have the same scope (most people do in fact have 2 children). Now consider:

1. I have exactly one child.
2'. I have more than one child.

Here, the scope of [2'] is larger than [1] because there are more cases in which [2'] is true than [1]. But if we apply the same reasoning the cause of the universe, we would then find there should be multiple causes rather than one, since it is more probable that the universe could be created by two, three, or four persons rather than just one. This shows that simplicity is only truth-guiding in very particular cases.

5. Next, you use a dilemma to help show that the cause of the universe must be personal. You say that the only timeless and spaceless entities known are abstract objects and minds, and since abstract objects are causally effete, the cause of the universe must be a mind. But there are several issues I have with that jump. First of all, you give a false dilemma. As you rightly state in your podcast on the Euthyphro Dilemma, the major premise of a true dilemma is the disjunction of a proposition and its negation. The abstract object-mind dilemma you present certainly does not fit that description. Next, I think it is possible that abstract objects have causal powers. For example, the second law of thermodynamics and the law of the excluded middle are abstract objects, yet they cause the universe to increase in entropy and bar propositions from being both true and false. As Pruss points out in his Blackwell article:

"A radical response to this is to question the dogma that propositions and numbers are causally inefficacious. Why should they be? Plato's Form of the Good looks much like one of the abstracta, but we see it in the middle dialogues as explanatorily efficacious, with the Republic analogizing its role to that of the sun in producing life. It might seem like a category mistake to talk of a proposition or a number as causing anything, but why should it be? Admittedly, propositions and numbers are often taken not to be spatio-temporal. But whence the notion that to be a cause one must be spatio-temporal? If we agree with Newton against Leibniz that action at a distance is at least a metaphysical possibility, although present physics may not support it as an actuality, the pressure to see spatiality or even spatio-temporal as such as essential to causality is apt to dissipate--the restriction requiring spatio-temporal relatedness between causal relata is just as unwarranted as the restriction requiring physical contact.

Admittedly, a Humean account of causation on which causation is nothing but constant conjunction only works for things in time, since the Humean distinguishes the cause from the effect by temporal priority. But unless we are dogmatically beholden to this Humean account, to an extent that makes us dogmatically a priori deny the existence of deities and other non-spatio-temporal causally efficacious beings, this should not worry us.

Moreover, there is actually some reason to suppose that propositions and numbers enter into causal relations. The primary problem in the epistemology of mathematics is of how we can get to know something like a number given that a number cannot be a cause of any sensation or belief in us. It is plausible that our belief that some item x exists can only constitute knowledge if either x itself has a causal role in our formation of this belief or if some cause of x has such a causal role. The former case occurs when we know from the smoke that there was a fire, and the latter when we know from the sound of a match struck that there will be a fire. But if something does not enter into any causal relations, then it seems that our belief about it is in no way affected by it or by anything connected with it, and hence our belief, if it coincides with the reality, does so only coincidentally, and hence not as knowledge. Of course, there are attempts to solve the conundrum on the books. But the puzzle gives us some reason to rethink the dogma that numbers can neither cause or be caused."

Also, even if the cause of the universe could coherently be a mind (even though minds need bodies and time to act), this does not show that the cause is personal. It could be the case that the mind that created the universe is impersonal, much like a brain-dead individual, or lacking libertarian free will, much like a machine. If this were so, then even showing the cause of the universe was a mind would not show that it was God.

6. Finally, your use of the Islamic principle of determination, which states that only a libertarian agent (or particularizer) willing the creation of the universe from eternity can explain why the universe began to exist rather than not exist, to prove that the cause of the universe is personal is flawed. First and foremost, we parsimoniously should accept by Occam's Razor the initial big bang singularity as the cause of the universe rather than extending the causal chain further to God. Now, you cannot appeal to the principle of determination to refute the singularity's being the ultimate cause of the universe because it does not operate as a mechanical set of necessary and sufficient conditions. Rather, it is, to quote Greg Scorzo, "a lawless and indeterministic point which can potentially emit any configuration of particles at any time with equal likelihood." To be fair, though, you reject the existence of the singularity, saying in your book with Quentin Smith that it is ontologically equivalent to nothing and that "an object that has no spatial dimensions and no temporal duration hardly seems to qualify as a physical object at all, but is rather a mathematical conceptualization" (199). However, this really is unconvincing to me. First of all, just because something is a mathematical conception does not mean it is non-existent; as I am sure you know, many philosophers have argued that abstract objects do exist, even though they are non-spatial and non-temporal. Additionally, God too is timeless and spaceless, yet you don't label God as a conceptual formalism. But even more damaging is that this anti-realist position contradicts your other arguments for the beginning of the universe. This is because in big bang cosmology, the initial singularity is an ontological consequence of the thermodynamic expansion of the universe, meaning if you take an anti-realist position with the singularity, then you should throw out your argument from the second law of thermodynamics for premise 2 of the KCA with it.

Next, you use the principle of determination to explain why the universe began to exist 13 billion years ago rather earlier or later, or even not at all. This, though, suffers from several problems. To begin, this presupposes a Newtonian absolutist view of time, in which time existed infinitely, even before the universe. According to this view, when God wills the universe into existence from eternity, "eternity" is defined as "infinite time." Now, you ask in your original book in 1979, "if the big bang occurred in a super dense pellet existing from eternity, then why did the big bang occur only 15 billion years ago? Why did the pellet of matter wait for all eternity to explode?" (117). However, if we take, as you do, a relational view of time and consequently designate "eternity" to be synonymous with "timelessness," then this question doesn't make sense because the universe could not have exploded "earlier" or "waited" since it would have existed in a timeless state of affairs. It only makes sense under a Newtonian view of time, which your philosophical and scientific arguments for premise 2 of the KCA refute. Moreover, your analysis of eternity undermines the case for God as the cause of the universe, for the atemporal singularity also can be an eternal cause which generates a temporal effect. And since you say that because God is eternal, he requires no cause, one could use Occam's Razor and apply it to the singularity, exempting it from having a cause as well. So to uphold your philosophical defense of premise two as well as your commitment to orthodox theism and the final conclusion of the KCA, you unintentionally equivocate between relational and Newtonian views of eternity.

But even if we let all this pass, a personal creator is not the only way to explain the universe's beginning to exist from eternity. After all, an indeterministic, impersonal cause could do the trick or it could be something else entirely that no one else has thought of yet. To deductively show that a libertarian agent caused the universe to exist, one would have to exhaust all other possible options, which I think cannot be done. And this point is critical because if you can't do that, then you don't have an overriding deductive argument with which to overwhelm the inductive arguments I mentioned against an unembodied mind.

So in sum, I think the KCA fails, ironically, not because of its scientific or philosophical premises that you have put the most effort into defending, but its theological premise, which you devote only about 5 pages to defending in the Blackwell Companion. Now, don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't want to believe in God  on the contrary, I really wish God that existed. But until these objections, which are in my mind unanswerable, are adequately addressed, I just cannot bring myself to accept the KCA, let alone full-blown theism. So, Doctor Craig, if you have any insights to answer these, I would be more than happy to listen. Like I said, I hold you in high regard and would be grateful if you could consider these unfortunately lengthy and objections.

Thank you for your time,

Cyrus

United States

Wow, Cyrus, that is quite a mouthful! While a few of these objections strike me as misconceived, many of them raise substantive questions which merit a response. In order for me to get through them all, my responses are going to have to be very terse.

It’s important to take these objections in a different order than you present them, since my arguments build upon one another. For example, one of my arguments for the cause’s being personal is its timelessness and immateriality, so one must consider those properties before one looks at the arguments for the personhood of the cause. So we need to consider the objections in the proper logical order.

But before we do, let’s note what you do not dispute: that there is a cause of the beginning of the universe and that this cause is itself uncaused, beginningless, and enormously powerful. That much we agree on.

So, first, is this first uncaused cause changeless? The answer is “Yes,” if my arguments against the possibility of an infinite regress of events are sound. Since you don’t dispute those arguments, we can agree that there is an absolutely first event. Since a change is an event, the cause of the first event must therefore be changeless.

To this you object:

3. When God created the universe, a change occurred from a timeless state of affairs to a spatio-temporal state of affairs, which shows that timelessness does not imply changelessness.

I agree that God changed in creating the universe. But that only proves that He’s not immutable. Don’t confuse changelessness with immutability. A timeless being must be changeless, but that doesn’t entail it is immutable (incapable of change). You’re confusing a de facto property with a modal property. God can be changeless but mutable sans the universe.

So now we know that the cause of the universe is changeless sans the universe. A couple of important properties follow. First, its immateriality. Anything material is constantly changing, at least on the molecular and atomic levels. So we’re dealing with an immaterial being here. Second, its timelessness. On a relational view of time, time does not exist in the utter absence of events. So a changeless state must be a timeless state. Even on a non-relational view of time, time could at best be an undifferentiated time in which literally nothing happened; no change occurs. Third, its spacelessness. Anything that exists in space must be temporal, as it undergoes at least extrinsic change in relation to the things around it. So our cause must transcend space and time, at least sans the universe.

This immediately disqualifies your objection:

2. The cause could have existed in other regions of space-time outside of the universe.

For they are not characterized by changelessness, immateriality, timelessness, and spacelessness. Moreover, this speculation was already undermined by the arguments against an infinite regress of events (including in other regions of spacetime) and rendered improbable in light of our discussion of multiverse scenarios.

So we’ve got an uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful cause of the universe. Already, there’s nothing like this in a naturalistic worldview, but it fits right in with classical theism. But there’s more! Consider now whether this cause is personal. I give three arguments for the personhood of the first cause.

First, the argument, inspired by the Islamic Principle of Determination, that only a free agent could explain the origin of a temporal effect with a beginning from a changeless, timeless cause. (See the exposition of the argument in either the Blackwell Companion, pp. 193-4 or in Reasonable Faith [Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2008], pp. 153-4.)

You object:

6. We parsimoniously should accept by Occam's Razor the initial big bang singularity as the cause of the universe rather than extending the causal chain further to God.

This rejoinder is futile because if the initial cosmological singularity is a physical state of affairs, as you think, then it is the first state of the universe (its initial boundary point) and, hence, began to exist a finite time ago. It cannot have come into being out of nothing, as you agree. So there must be a transcendent cause of the first state of the universe. Here my second argument, borrowed from Swinburne, for the personhood of the first cause becomes relevant. As I explain,

there are two types of causal explanation: scientific explanations in terms of laws and initial conditions and personal explanations in terms of agents and their volitions. . . . Now a first state of the universe cannot have a scientific explanation, since there is nothing before it, and therefore it cannot be accounted for in terms of laws operating on initial conditions. It can only be accounted for in terms of an agent and his volitions, a personal explanation (Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, pp. 192-3).

Ockham’s Razor has nothing to do with it. The question is whether everything that begins to exist has a cause.

On the other hand, of course, if the singularity is just a mathematical idealization, then it does not exist and, hence, cannot be the cause of anything. Your response that mathematical objects are viewed by some philosophers as real objects evinces a misunderstanding about the nature of idealizations in science. Idealizations, like a point at infinity at which two parallel lines meet, are taken to be non-existent; that’s the very point of calling them idealizations. They’re useful fictions.

As for the Second Law of Thermodynamics, what it requires is the finitude of the past, not that the singularity was a physical state. I think you’re confusing Penrose’s defense of what he calls the Weyl Curvature Hypothesis with the validity of the Second Law. Plenty of cosmologists accept the validity of the Second Law without accepting Penrose’s claim that the initial singularity explains the Second Law.

You say that I “use the principle of determination to explain why the universe began to exist 13 billion years ago rather earlier or later.” This surprised me, since I thought my position has always been that that question is meaningless, since I hold to a relational view of time. In the passage you cite, the point was to prove precisely that the big bang did not occur in a super dense pellet existing from eternity! Time (and space) came into being with the big bang, and so it’s meaningless to ask why it didn’t happen earlier. Thus, everything you say about Newtonian time prior to creation is not at all representative of my view.

Finally, your appeal to “an indeterministic, impersonal cause or something else entirely that no one else has thought of yet” simply has no merit as an alternative explanation because we don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. If the cause of the origin of the universe is not a personal, indeterministic cause, then it has to be an impersonal, indeterministic cause, that is also uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful. But what is that? What you’ve offered is not an alternative explanation but just empty words.

Note that if this sort of reasoning were allowed to undercut a proffered explanation, science would be paralyzed, for when confronted with any explanation one could always appeal to some unknown “something” as the real cause. I’m sure you would agree that would be crazy.

So I think this argument is a very powerful reason to think that the uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful cause of the universe is also a free agent.

More recently, my work on abstract objects convinced me that there is a much quicker and more direct argument in support of the personhood of the first cause of the universe. I came to realize that the description “uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful” is, except for the last property, a description that also characterizes abstract objects like numbers. Moreover, I’m not aware of anything other than a mind or an abstract object that philosophers have considered to possess the properties of being uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, and spaceless. Since abstract objects are essentially causally effete, however, it follows that the cause of the universe must be a mind.

You response is

1. An unembodied mind is incoherent.

Really? Why do you think so? What is your argument? The ball is now in your court.

You need to appreciate that (1) is not so much an objection to the kalam argument as a positive argument for atheism. Since according to classical theism God is an unembodied mind, if (1) is true, God cannot exist. The atheistic argument is, in effect,

(i) God, if He exists, is an unembodied mind.
(ii) An unembodied mind is incoherent.
(iii) Therefore, God does not exist.

It’s up to the atheist to give some argument in support of his premiss (ii). To simply assume that an unembodied mind is incoherent would be question-begging.

You have two responses to this challenge: “First, even if I can't show that an unembodied mind is logically or metaphysically impossible, that does not mean it exists.” Of course not, Cyrus! Who ever thought that the failure to show that something is incoherent is a positive argument that it does exist? Not I! Instead I’ve given an argument, which, if sound, proves that there exists an uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful cause of the universe. The only thing that fits that description is an unembodied mind. Now it’s up to you to show that that’s incoherent if you think so.

Second, you say, “I think there is evidence that an unembodied mind is impossible.” Ah, now we’re getting somewhere! So what’s your evidence? “Every example of a mind we've ever seen is spatio-temporal and constrained to a body, so on inductive grounds alone, we are justified in rejecting the existence of an unembodied mind.” This is very weak, Cyrus! You’re supposed to give a reason that an unembodied mind is incoherent and therefore impossible. Your evidence doesn’t do anything to show that. Indeed, if you’re a dualist who thinks that human beings are composed of mind and body, then the mind is a substance distinct from, even if conjoined with the body, and the question of even human survival after death of the body becomes a live issue, not to speak of whether there may be minds that are never conjoined to bodies. What evidence is there that minds are not immaterial substances that can exist apart from bodies?

You ask, “Why posit something that literally goes against all of our prior experience?” Well, for the three reasons I’ve given for why the cause of the universe is plausibly personal. In effect, I’ve given three arguments for the existence of at least one unembodied mind. Now it’s your turn to say why that cannot be the case.

Finally, you say, “we can understand minds only in temporal and spatial terms; loving, deciding, acting, and creating are all spatio-temporal phenomena, so a timeless, spaceless mind could not possibly have created the universe.” Now here at last we have an argument for the incoherence of my conclusion. Problem is: I’ve already refuted it. See the relevant chapters in Time and Eternity (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2008), pp. 77-86 or in God, Time, and Eternity (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2001, pp. 43-55, on whether the notion of a timeless person is coherent.

(I wonder if part of the problem here is that when I assert that the cause of the universe is either a mind or an abstract object, non-philosophers think that I am asserting the actual existence of such things. No, no, I’m only asserting that these are the known candidates for something that could fit the description. That I’m not assuming that such things actually exist is evident from the fact that I am strongly inclined to think that abstract objects do not, in fact, exist. But I include them as a candidate because they would largely fit the description.)

That brings us to objection

5. The cause of the universe could be an abstract object.

Concerning your point about dilemmas, my argument is logically valid, even if the alternatives are not contradictories: A or B; not B; therefore, A. You contest the second premiss, maintaining that abstract objects perhaps can stand in causal relations.

Cyrus, you need to appreciate how desperate this objection is. It is virtually universally acknowledged among metaphysicians that causal impotence is characteristic of and even definitive for abstract objects. If this is the line you take, then your desperation to refute the argument at any cost will become evident to all.

You state, “the second law of thermodynamics and the law of the excluded middle are abstract objects, yet they cause the universe to increase in entropy and bar propositions from being both true and false.” Cyrus, please! The Second Law itself doesn’t cause anything; it’s the physical reality described by the Second Law that has causal effects. The logical relations between propositions, like implication, contradiction, and so on, are not causal relations. The Law of Excluded Middle doesn’t stand in a causal relation to propositions to prevent them from somehow taking contradictory truth values.

As for the quotation from Alexander Pruss, I’ll repeat what I said about Alex in Question of the Week 109: Alex is a very free thinker who delights in throwing arguments against the wall and seeing if they stick. In this case, the argument doesn’t stick. Plato’s Forms are very different from what contemporary theorists mean by abstract objects. One of the problems that bedevils Plato’s view is the famous “third man” argument of explaining how the Forms even could be related, as he claimed, to concrete, physical objects. Furthermore, it should be clear by now that I agree with Pruss that non-spatio-temporality does not imply acausality. The problem with abstract objects is not just that they are beyond space and time, but that they are not agents and therefore literally can’t do anything. They have no powers or ability to act. As for the epistemological argument, ironically, this is widely considered to be the most powerful argument against the reality of abstract objects! (See my Creation out of Nothing [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004], p. 171.) Nobody thinks that this proves that abstract objects are causally related to us; rather this is taken to prove that they don’t exist!

Now I agree with you that this argument alone gives us only a mind which created the universe, not a self-conscious mind or person. But this is already far beyond anything atheism or naturalism could contemplate. When supplemented by my other arguments, it is part of a powerful cumulative case for the personhood of the first cause of the universe.

Finally, we have objection

4. The argument doesn’t prove that monotheism is true.

I concede the point. I’ve never claimed that the argument proves that there is exactly one Personal Creator of the universe. But as you note, Ockham’s Razor enjoins that we not multiply causes beyond necessity. We are warranted in postulating only such causes as are necessary to explain the effect. All that is required in this case is one Personal Creator. To postulate more would be unwarranted.

As for your illustration about the children, I have to confess that I don’t understand you. To say that (2′) is more probable than (1) requires some background information against which the probability is assessed. For example, if you are native Chinese, then given China’s one-child policy, (1) is more probable than (2′). Similarly, when you say that it’s more probable that the universe have many Personal Creators rather than exactly one, I can only wonder what background information would justify such a strange conclusion.

If I were asked to justify monotheism, I would do so by appeal to other evidence, such as the ontological argument and Jesus of Nazareth’s endorsement of Jewish monotheism.

Again, in discussing such matters we have left atheism far behind. When I see you pressing these last objections, Cyrus, I’m puzzled because you seem more interested in finding an escape from the argument than in finding the truth. You can always find an escape from any argument, if you’re willing to pay a high enough price. But you should look into your own heart and ask yourself, “Why am I so intent on avoiding the conclusion of this argument at any cost? What is driving me to such an end?” I hope that your mind is really as open as you claim.