Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Minding God

Many cosmological arguments, though not all, argue that the universe began to exist; and since everything that began to exist was caused by something else, the universe was caused by something else. With Big Bang cosmology this point has received empirical confirmation: according to the Big Bang, the universe -- that is, matter, energy, space, and time -- began to exist. Thus, something that exists independently of matter, energy, space, and time brought them into existence.

One objection to such arguments is that, even if the Big Bang has a cause, there's no reason to think this cause is God, much less the God of the Bible. I have to admit, I've never felt the force of this objection. I mean, is there any other issue where if you don't prove everything about it with a single argument, you prove nothing about it? The Big Bang only proves that there is an immaterial, spaceless (hence omnipresent and transcendent), timeless, and unimaginably powerful cause of the universe, and the response is, "Yeah, so?" Really? Of course the Big Bang doesn't prove that the cause of the universe is the ground of morality, of course it doesn't prove that Jesus rose from the dead, etc. But has anyone ever claimed it does? Why can't it function as part of a cumulative case argument?

What this objection is really focusing on, I think, is whether the cause of the universe is a mind -- or at least, as C. S. Lewis puts it, "more like a mind than it is like anything else we know". A cause that was not a mind would be mechanistic, since a mechanistic cause is one which produces its effect automatically. That is, if the cause is present, the necessary and sufficient conditions for the effect to take place are met; and since the necessary and sufficient conditions for the effect to take place are met, the effect takes place.

But since the scientific evidence proves that we are dealing with the beginning of time itself, the cause of the universe must be timeless. So is it possible to have a timeless mechanistic cause that produces a temporal effect (in this case, the universe)? It is difficult to see how this would be possible. A timeless mechanistic cause would produce its effect timelessly, since the necessary and sufficient conditions for its effect's occurrence are timelessly present. But in the case under discussion, the effect (the universe) is not timelessly present, and yet must have a timeless cause, since time is part of the effect. Therefore, the cause of the universe cannot be mechanistic or automatic; it must be non-mechanistic. It must be an entity with the capacity of choosing to create the universe as a finite, temporal effect. And the ability to choose is an inherently mental act. Therefore, the entity responsible for creating the universe must be a mind, a personal agent with free will. As William Lane Craig puts it in The Kalām Cosmological Argument, "For while a mechanically operating set of necessary and sufficient conditions would either produce the effect from eternity or not at all, a personal being may freely choose to create at any time wholly apart from any distinguishing conditions of one moment from another. For it is the very function of will to distinguish like from like."

So it seems that cosmological arguments based on Big Bang cosmology prove, among other things, that the cause of the universe is an incredibly powerful Mind. This obviously matches up with the Judeo-Christian concept of God. One could still object that the Judeo-Christian God has other traits that these cosmological arguments don't prove, but I'm afraid I'm too overawed by what they do prove to think this objection amounts to much.

(cross-posted at Agent Intellect)

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14 comments:

Tim O'Neill said...

So is it possible to have a timeless mechanistic cause that produces a temporal effect (in this case, the universe)? It is difficult to see how this would be possible. A timeless mechanistic cause would produce its effect timelessly, since the necessary and sufficient conditions for its effect's occurrence are timelessly present. But in the case under discussion, the effect (the universe) is not timelessly present, and yet must have a timeless cause, since time is part of the effect. Therefore, the cause of the universe cannot be mechanistic or automatic; it must be non-mechanistic. It must be an entity with the capacity of choosing to create the universe as a finite, temporal effect.

The author seems to have a strangely authoritative knowledge of the nature and characteristics of "timeless mechanistic causes". I'd be keen for him to explain how he knows that all possible "timeless mechanistic causes" would necessarily "produce its effect timelessly".

That seems quite an assumption. In fact, it seems a fiddle designed purely to allow an acrobatic leap to his a priori conclusion.

Anonymous said...

Why do you assume that god doesn't have a creator?

Why do you assume that the universe has to have a creator?

You're also wrong. The universe didn't begin to exist; time began to exist. The universe already existed as a singularity.

Recusant said...

Anonymous

The 'universe' or 'time', in terms of creation you are talking about the same thing: in both cases timelessness ceases.

Ignorance said...

I think assuming that a timeless mechanistic cause would produce its effect timelessly is not that outrageous at all, since in order not to do so it would either have to be a function of something else (and hence not wholly independent) or intentional (but I think a mechanistic intentional entity is a contradictio in terminis, but I guess some would contest that). If we look at the first option, we could wonder of what parameter could it be a function? Time is ruled out and so are any variables dependent on time, but more alarmingly, wouldn't this be merely be opening the door for another infinite regress?

Anonymous, the assumption is not so much that the universe has a creator, but a cause. Even if the universe exists necessarily as a singularity, it merits asking what caused it to be temporal (or at least caused its contents to be temporal).

Jim S. said...

Tim, I didn't assume that a timeless mechanistic cause would produce its effect timelessly, I argued it. Perhaps the argument is flawed, but that's not the same thing as saying that I just assumed it.

Anonymous: If something else caused God, then God would be dependent on or derivative of something else, in which case he wouldn't be God as classically defined. The reason I gave for thinking the universe did have a cause is the Big Bang, but there are other arguments.

Matko said...

Jim, you didn't mention the Kalām's main argument for a personal cause - The Principle of Determination, which states that when there are two qualitatively identical states of affairs that are mutually exclusive, obtainment of the one over the other is due to a willful choice of a personal agent; therefore, the cause of the universe exhibits one property that only God has.

The KCA also establishes the biblical ex nihilo doctrine, according to which God created the universe without using a preexisting substance.

TheOFloinn said...

Interestingly, the classical cosmological arguments did not assume that the world had a beginning in time. Aquinas believed that it did, but having no philosophical proof of it, did not assume it in the arguments from motion and from the order of efficient causes.

In these arguments, God is not assumed to be "uncaused." It is shown deductively that there must be an uncaused cause -- an unmoved mover, a necessary existant -- and then deduces the various divine attributes from that. To this, we give the name God. To ask what "caused" the uncaused cause makes no more sense than to ask what illuminates light.

Assumptions about singularities are speculative. One hears from some physicists that such a thing is physically impossible. Beside, a singularity is a mathematical abstraction; it has no physical/material existence. The existence of anything physical ipso facto causes time [and space], at least per Einstein. If nothing physical exists, there is no time and space.

There is also a confusion between transformation (of, say, a singularity into a space-time manifold) and creation (the combining of an essence with an act of existence). In particular, creation is not supposed a one-time event that happened long ago, but something that is happening right now and at every moment.

Stephen Harris said...

I TRULY think, that if one ACTUALLY understood both what TIME and TRANSCENDENCE ACTUALLY are, there would be no reason to argue or even a question of God's creative role in the universe.

The problem is that whenever someone argues that God "has performed" any kind of "action" "before the universe" or "before time" they are committing a contradictio in terminis. IT LITERALLY DOESN'T MEAN ANYTHING TO SAY THOSE THINGS.

God is literally BEYOND time, not in the "oh you see, God doesn't need time to act" sort of way because YES HE DEFINITELY DOES NEED TIME. It means nothing to say that something has "happened" without time -it means literally NOTHING. Whenever someone is saying that "before time God did this or that" they are just moving the timeline back; moving the beginning of time back to where God began to act! Time and space didn't exist "before" the Big Bang, as the Big Bang is the marked BEGINNING of those substances.

Stephen Harris said...

For example, let's analyze the following statements:

"A timeless mechanistic cause would produce its effect timelessly, since the necessary and sufficient conditions for its effect's occurrence are timelessly present."

We are talking about a "no-time-state-of-being" (which cannot exist in the same way that we use the word "exist" when talking about the universe) that somehow "produces its effect timelessly," which is logically incoherent. Somehow, something has "acted," meaning performed soemthing in time, when "time didnt' exist." This doesn't mean anything.

"Therefore, the cause of the universe cannot be mechanistic or automatic; it must be non-mechanistic. It must be an entity with the capacity of choosing to create the universe as a finite, temporal effect. And the ability to choose is an inherently mental act. Therefore, the entity responsible for creating the universe must be a mind, a personal agent with free will."

Stephen Harris said...

While I agree that the creative agent responsible for the existence of the universe is a mind (that mind being God), We cannot have an argument with premises and conclusions that are intrinsically logically incoherent. Modus Ponens is a basic, logically valid argument, in fact one that is ALWAYS valid, which the author above aludes to when afterwards speaking to Craig's Kalam argument; the problem is that when speaking of the mechanics of time itself, we are talking about something that is not only illogical, but trying to impose a logical framework upon something which literally cannot be "imposed" upon, because there "was no time."

The Kalam Cosmological Argument:

1.(1) Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence.
2.(2) The universe has a beginning of its existence.
Therefore:

1.(3) The universe has a cause of its existence.
2.(4) If the universe has a cause of its existence then that cause is God.
Therefore:

1.(5) God exists.

The problem is really not the Kalam argument itself, it is taking one of its minor premises (P4), and then trying to say that God somehow "acted before" the existence of the universe. THAT is the problem.

Stephen Harris said...

"For while a mechanically operating set of necessary and sufficient conditions would either produce the effect from eternity or not at all, a personal being may freely choose to create at any time wholly apart from any distinguishing conditions of one moment from another. For it is the very function of will to distinguish like from like."
-William Lane Craig

When Craig says, "while a mechanically operating set of necessary and sufficient conditions would either produce the effect from eternity or not at all," this is implicitly logically problematic (for those convinced that the universe didn't have a cause, because then we would still have the problem of matter being created form nothing) because it STILL supposes a "pre-existing set of necessary and sufficient conditions." What? We are talking about "before the beginning of time here." Following this Craig said, "a personal being may freely choose to create at any time wholly apart from any distinguishing conditions of one moment from another. For it is the very function of will to distinguish like from like." The problem with this is that when we say that something or someone has "chosen something" or "made a choice" we are invoking time itself in order for such a statement to be logically coherent, otherwise the statement is meaningless. Finally when Craig has said, "of one moment from another" we have the same problem; time "doesn't exist before the universe."

Stephen Harris said...

Just to make myself clear about Craig, he is a brilliant philosopher, and I praise him for trying to make a stab at this problem, but it is (I would argue) almost impossible to talk about because we are invoking grammatical tenses associated with time when we think, speak, construct statements or even arguements. It's very hard to do that when we are attempting to invoke a "timeless state of affairs" (does that statement even mean anything?).

Finally, the author's final conclusion about what the Kalam argument does prove, I agree that it must be a mind, otherwise we would just have the problem of an eternally "existing set of necessary conditions outside of time" and therefore the problem of infinite regression, which wouldn't be possible anyways because to regress is to be a function of time, which is not present, therefore the creative force must "have been" a mind. This, I think, is simultaneously the biggest problem and the biggest solution to the cosmological arguments, because once one understands the FULL implications that time and transcendence have in regards to creation, one can then make logical conclusions about such matters without implicit contradiction.

Stephen Harris said...

I suppose that I should also add that I'm pretty sure that the author knows everything that I just said already, but that I just needed to get that out. It's so frustrtating talking about cosmological arguments because they are very simple in their form, but the actual logical mechanics and implications that are consequences of these arguments are what makes them difficult. Maybe this is what Criag was talking about when he said that the Kalam is "deceptively simple."

Matko said...

The problem is really not the Kalam argument itself, it is taking one of its minor premises (P4), and then trying to say that God somehow "acted before" the existence of the universe. THAT is the problem.

God did act before the existence of the universe, only not chronologically prior to the universe but ontologically prior. Human language muddles this with tense, but it's possible to explicate this to a point.