One of these causes is not like the others: Getting behind the personal incredulity of ‘skeptics’

Posted on 02/24/12 58 Comments
Why is it, I wondered, that the minute you point out that agent casuation is a perfectly familiar concept (it provides a fine explanation of the sentence you’re reading, for example) and then add that it is thus in principle a concept worth considering as an explanation of the universe’s existence, some people make the leap to leprechauns? As I lamented: “I was merely pointing out that the concept of an agent cause is not a strange, foreign or otherwise unusual concept.”

Walter offered the following reply: “To be fair I would say that the concept of a completely disembodied agent that is capable of creating matter/energy ex nihilo merely by the power of its mind is a little foreign to our every day life experience.”

I see many things that are problematic about Walter’s response. Let me note three of them.

First, when you are aiming to offer an explanation for effects that you do not usually seek to explain, it is not surprising that the cause will be in certain respects different as well. Here are some varied examples.

Quantum phenomena. As davidstarlingm observes, “quantum teleportation is a little foreign to our everyday experience, too.” Needless to say the quantum world is full of all sorts of strange effects attributed to even stranger causes.

Serial murder. Murder is a tragic aspect of society. But most of them are the result of perpetragors who are recognized as having a conscience. However, when murders over time begin to conform to a recognizable pattern, a new kind of explanation is called for, a psychopathic serial killer.

Migration. Every year monarch butterflies migrate from Canada to Mexico, and nobody has a clue how they do it. Whatever sensory abilities they have that guide them on this extraordinary trip are certainly out of the ordinary.

And with that we turn to an effect rarely discussed in our day to day lives: why does the universe exist? Is it any surprise that the cause to explain the effect of the universe’s coming to exist and the state of affairs of the universe’s existing will, in certain respects, be different from other causes of more commonly discussed effects?

Second, even if the proposed cause is inevitably different in certain respects from other more familiar causes, there is also more familiarity than Walter is recognizing. To begin with, there is the fact that agent causation is, as already observed, a familiar explanation for a broad range of events and states of affairs. But we can go further. Non-physical agent causes bringing about novel effects in matter is also very familiar. To take one example, consider the placebo effect. (To take a much lauded example, it has been reported recently that most anti-depressants work as placebos for most people.) In a placebo, the belief (a non-physical entity with semantic content) has a real physical effect on material reality. In other words, an agent’s mental belief brings about physical changes in their body. So there is actually a high degree of continuity between our familiarity with agent cause generally and agent cause in the case of the universe. And it is only an unfamiliar cause to the extent where the effect (the universe coming to exist; the universe’s existing) is one for which we do not typically seek an explanation.

Finally I come to my third point. If Walter’s statement is to have any force it will be because I have posited an explanation stranger than competing explanations. So what are the competing explanations for the universe’s existence? The two candidates, shorn of the dressiness, are an infinite series regress of event causes and an uncaused event.

Sorry? 

To be fair, I would say that the concept of an infinite series regress of event causes and an uncaused event are a little foreign to our every day life experience.

This calls to mind my dirty pool water illustration which appears in “Naturalism and the ole’ swimmin’ hole“:

Picture yourself taking your kids to the community pool with your favorite yellow inner tube when your friend retorts: “Community pool? That’s disgusting! Do you know what they have in that water? Crap and pee and barf, all floating around in particles too small to see.”

Taken aback at this rather bold affront, you ask your friend: “So where are you taking your kids?”

Your friend smiles. “The old swimming hole” he says over his shoulder as he and the kids walk away.

The old swimming hole?! How hypocritical is that? Here this guy is obsessively concerned about every nasty particle in the community pool but he never bats an eye that he’s swimming in the bodily waste of uncountable numbers of forest creatures (and a few kids besides) and all of it untreated by even a single shot of chlorine.

To sum up, I don’t place much stock in Walter’s response. Agent causes affecting material reality are well known to us. The heightened incredulity that some people have toward this type of causal explanation of the universe’s existence over-against the alternatives is, so far as I can see, completely unjustified. Such incredulity is nothing more than a commentary on one’s personal psychology.

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  • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

    “What are the competing explanations for the universe’s existence? The two candidates, shorn of the dressiness, are an infinite series regress of event causes and an uncaused event.”

    Can you explain how an agent cause of all contingent existence is not an uncaused event?

    • randal

      I am not sure whether you are asking about an agent or the effect produced by the agent. Either way, the question seems to evince a confusion.
      An agent is a substance (i.e. a concrete particular) not an event so an agent cannot be an event (uncaused or otherwise) by definition. However, an effect produced by an agent (e.g. the universe’s coming to exist) cannot be an uncaused event because it was caused by the agent. Again, that is true by definition.

      Perhaps you can clarify what you’re asking because I have a feeling I’m not getting it.

      • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

        Well, I suppose that it could be argued that the existence of an agent does not qualify as an event, but I would be inclined to consider that semantic posturing. Broadly defined, an “event” is a change in the state of a particular system; an uncaused event is therefore a subset of all uncaused possible states.

        The existence of a non-contingent agent represents an uncaused state of affairs, thus placing it in roughly the same category as an uncaused change in the state of affairs.

        So I guess I’m really just asking you to explain the importance of the distinction between an uncaused event (e.g. the genesis of a universe) and an uncaused state (e.g. the existence of a non-contingent agent). Are uncaused states any more normal than uncaused events?

  • Walter

    http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/wes/wes2craig1.pdf

    Must the Universe Have a Personal Cause
    by Wes Morriston

    Randal, you might enjoy reading this.

    • randal

      I have enjoyed Morriston’s work. It is directed at Craig’s kalam cosmological argument. But keep in mind that the present conversation deals with the question of whether agent causation is prima facie implausible or otherwise problematic as a possible explanation of the universe’s origin. I’m arguing that it isn’t. Having settled that we can go the next step to look at various debates about various cosmological arguments (like Craig’s) as well as other arguments (like the argument from cosmic fine-tuning) to consider the evidence for an agent cause of the universe.

  • Walter

    So what are the competing explanations for the universe’s existence? The two candidates, shorn of the dressiness, are an infinite series regress of event causes and an uncaused event.

    How is an uncaused event any less strange than an uncaused and non-physical supermind capable of thinking universes into existence?

  • Walter

    The previous comment should have read “How is an uncaused event any stranger than…”

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    We’ve been over this before. As I’ve already said:

    Frankly, given how much of what we’ve found about the universe has turned out to be counterintuitive, my money’s on the explanation being something nobody’s thought of yet.

    And:

    When dealing with areas of cosmology far outside our experience… it’s enough to show that we only have hunches and expectations. However firm those expectations are, we don’t have evidence to back them up. You can say, “I favor this particular hypothesis.” I can say, “That’s nice. Let me know when you test it.”

    • randal

      “my money’s on the explanation being something nobody’s thought of yet.”

      There are only two basic types of cause Ray, event and agent. You’ve exhausted your options right there.

      • Beetle

        I am not sure I believe that there even has to be a cause of the universe. Does math have a cause? If it is okay for you to be comfortable with the idea of Yahweh as being uncaused, why is not okay for me to be confortable with the idea of the big bang being uncaused?

        Note that this not what physicist argue. I am pretty sure that “‘nothing’ is unstable” has been brought up on this blog before. The transition nothing-to-something is a natural one, not requiring any external agent.

        • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

          “If it is okay for you to be comfortable with the idea of Yahweh as being uncaused, why is [it] not okay for me to be comfortable with the idea of the big bang being uncaused?”

          Ostensibly because an uncaused event is different than an uncaused agent. We intuitively determine that all events must necessarily have causes, but there is nothing intuitively self-contradictory about a state of affairs (i.e. the existence of an agent) being uncaused.

          This is easily illustrated in many ways, but I’ll choose one.

          Take the common axiom that 2+2=4. Now, there are many possible ways of explaining why 2+2=4. However, no one ever asks, “What caused 2+2 to equal 4?” We readily accept that certain propositions, or states of affairs, can be true without requiring a cause.

          On the other hand, let’s say that you hear a loud noise, like a gunshot or a car backfiring. You immediately ask, “What caused that noise?” Unlike the axiom that 2+2=4, you intuit that a noise is an event, and events (unlike states of affairs) require causes.

          The proposition that a particular agent exists represents a state of affairs, not an event. Therefore, it does not immediately require a cause.

          “Note that this not what physicist argue. I am pretty sure that ‘”nothing” is unstable’ has been brought up on this blog before.”

          Now, I only have one degree in physics, so I can’t style myself an expert on this. However, I would make the observation that the framework in which “nothing” is unstable requires the presence of the physical properties of spacetime. And one of the consequences of the second law of thermodynamics is that spacetime is always a great deal more unstable than “nothing” is….so it still requires a beginning, which still constitutes an event, which still requires a cause.

          • Walter

            I think that appeals to intuition are useless in this discussion. Claiming that an omnipotent and omniscient deity is simply an uncaused “state of affairs” is every bit as counterintuitive as believing that an event happened without a cause. What is interesting is that you have brought up the weirdness of quantum mechanics. If the universe behaves counter-intuitively at the quantum level, then why is it such a stretch to believe that the beginning of the universe may also be something that is equally bizarre? As Randal has stated

            Is it any surprise that the cause to explain the effect of the universe’s coming to exist and the state of affairs of the universe’s existing will, in certain respects, be different from other causes of more commonly discussed effects?

            • randal

              An agent isn’t a state of affairs. An agent’s existing is a state of affairs.

              I take it we all recognize that an event in which everything comes to exist from nothing uncaused is maximally implausible.

              There is nothing implausible with agents that exist contingently (since we know many). What is so implausible about an agent existing necessarily? And how can you suggest with a straight face that an agent existing necessarily is as counterintuitive as everything coming to exist uncaused from nothing?

              • Walter

                What is so implausible about an agent existing necessarily? And how can you suggest with a straight face that an agent existing necessarily is as counterintuitive as everything coming to exist uncaused from nothing?

                I am going to tell you with a very straight face that from where I am sitting an uncaused agent defies intuition just as much as an uncaused event. I find both equally implausible because I have no experience of uncaused events or necessary agents.

                • randal

                  Are you saying that your intuitions on what possibly or plausibly exists are rooted solely in what you’ve directly experienced?

                • randal

                  Let me be more specific. When you say that it is counterintuitive that there could be a necessarily existent agent because you lack experience of such an agent, you are rooting your modal intuitions in empiricism. But modal intuitions don’t work like that. You don’t have an intuition that a square circle is impossible because you’ve never experienced one.

                  • Walter

                    Your own belief that an event cannot happen without a cause is based upon your experience.

            • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

              “Claiming that an omnipotent and omniscient deity is simply an uncaused ‘state of affairs’ is every bit as counterintuitive as believing that an event happened without a cause.”

              Perhaps, although it would likely be a point of disagreement in some circles. Regardless, that is not the question at hand. It doesn’t matter whether the uncaused existence of a ultimate agent cause is counterintuitive.

              What matters is the observation that events are a subset of possible states of affairs. An event changes the state of affairs; it requires both the state preceding the event and the state following the event. An event, then, is twice as complicated a state of affairs as one in which there is no event.

              The “ultimate question” of why there is something rather than nothing is premature. The first question is why there was nothing rather than something. The second question is why nothing became something. If we hold to the “uncaused event” explanation, then we must both explain the event and the state of affairs preceding it.

              We may differ over the criteria of which states of affairs require a cause, but having an uncaused state of affairs and an uncaused event is clearly more counterintuitive then merely having a single uncaused state of affairs.

              • Walter

                We may differ over the criteria of which states of affairs require a cause, but having an uncaused state of affairs and an uncaused event is clearly more counterintuitive then merely having a single uncaused state of affairs.

                For me an uncaused agent is every bit as counterintuitive as an uncaused event or infinite regress. Period. Full stop. Pick your poison.

                Did you happen to read through either of the links that I posted?

                • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

                  I’ve read through a lot of the links that have been posted here; not sure whether I got to yours or not.

                  I think we’re still talking past one another. Here’s the question….which is more unlikely: an uncaused state of affairs, or an uncaused state of affairs followed by an uncaused event? The former has only a single point of noncausality; the latter has two points of noncausality.

                  My point is that if we posit an uncaused event, we have already accepted that the state of affairs preceding that event was also uncaused. It’s illogical to say that two instances of causal violation are more counterintuitive than only one such instance. If our goal is to maintain the integrity of causality, then surely we ought to select the explanation with the fewest causal violations. 

                  • Walter

                    which is more unlikely: an uncaused state of affairs, or an uncaused state of affairs followed by an uncaused event? The former has only a single point of noncausality; the latter has two points of noncausality.

                    I am not following this. If God is the uncaused state of affairs then what follows (i.e. creation) is a caused event.

                    I think you should read the paper written by Wes Morriston that I linked to earlier. It may help to clarify where I am coming from.

                    • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

                      Yes, I did read Morriston. I found it very interesting.

                      You’re absolutely right: if the existence of God is an uncaused state of affairs, then what follows is a caused event, not an uncaused one. So there is only one potential violation of causality: the uncaused state of affairs.

                      If, on the other hand, we posit an uncaused event as the ultimate cause, then we have two potential violations of causality: (1) the state of affairs preceding the event and (2) the event itself.

                      It should be obvious that any violation of causality in the former case (an uncaused state of affairs) is doubly included in the latter case (an uncaused state of affairs followed by an uncaused event). Now, either case may be entirely possible. However, you cannot criticize the former without doubly condemning the latter by the same basis.

                    • randal

                      The state of affairs of a being’s existing necessarily isn’t a violation of causality since any law of causality only deals with contingent events or states of affairs which require an explanation.

                    • Walter

                      If, on the other hand, we posit an uncaused event as the ultimate cause, then we have two potential violations of causality: (1) the state of affairs preceding the event and (2) the event itself.

                      If time itself began with the big bang then how can there be an uncaused state of affairs that existed *prior* to the event itself?

                    • randal

                      Two ways.

                      One, measurable time begins with the big bang. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a meta-time, Newton’s absolute now, which could have existed prior to the big bang. There is absolutely no conceptual problem with a meta-time that transcends the measurable space-time in which the universe was created.

                      Two, if time begins with space-time then the prior cause is metaphysically prior but not temporally prior. There’s also no problem with that.

                    • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

                      I use “prior” in a somewhat strained sense. Obviously, the nature of time is called into question by a singularity.

                      Morriston spent a great many words fleshing out the various advantages and disadvantages of the kalam cosmological argument’s approach to time and causality. It was enough to make my head spin (and, not to be boastful, but that takes a lot of doing). He did, however, point out a lot of the inherent difficulties in this kind of an argument.

                      I’m doing my best to avoid that particular pitfall. Terms like “prior” and “was” and “before” are difficult to use neutrally. However, I don’t think my point depends on any particular treatment of the time-singularity problem.

                      The point is that nothingness — no time, no space, no matter — still represents a state of affairs distinct from the event which caused nothing to become something. Perhaps you can’t say that these two states of affairs (the nothingness and the event) are different in time, but they are absolutely different in essence. Thus we have two uncaused states of affairs rather than only one.

                    • Walter

                      Causes and Beginnings in the Kalam Argument by Wes Morriston

                      Defenders of the kalam cosmological argument claim that everything that
                      begins to exist must have a cause. But what if there were no time prior to
                      the beginning of the universe? Would the beginning, universe still have to
                      have a cause? In his reply to an earlier paper of mine, William Lane Craig
                      defends an affirmative answer. Every beginning, he believes — even the
                      very first event in the history of time — must have a cause. It makes no dif-
                      ference, he says, whether an event is embedded within time or whether it
                      coincides with the beginning of time — in either case a cause is necessary. In
                      the present paper, I clarify and defend my case for taking the opposite
                      view. I take a close look at the most important lines of argument in Craig’s
                      rejoinder, and conclude that his position is supported neither by a trustwor-
                      thy a priori intuition nor by a sound empirical generalization.

                      http://tinyurl.com/7jctcor

                      I am going to leave this conversation with another brilliant paper by written by Wes.

                    • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

                      Yes, that is the paper that I read.

                      I don’t want to drag this out uselessly, but I want to make one point: I am not asserting that the nature of the universe necessarily requires an uncaused agent cause. I’m not interested in proving that God “must” exist, only that he does.

                      And so Morriston’s work, while excellent, doesn’t really apply to this. I’m not trying to prove the necessity of the God proposition, as the kalam cosmological argument does; I’m just questioning the assertion that an uncaused agent cause is just as counterintuitive as an uncaused event. 

                      If an uncaused agent is ridiculous, than an uncaused event is twice as ridiculous. That’s all.

                    • Walter

                      If you understood Morriston’s arguments then you would know that appeals to intuition are simply misguided when discussing first-cause arguments. BTW, Morriston is a theist in case anyone did not know.

                    • randal

                      Morriston hasn’t established this at all, and his arguments have not been received with anything like the universal acclaim that would follow if he had. He is part of an ongoing conversation, is limited to discussing one in a family of arguments, and has done nothing to overturn the fundamental intuition that everything that begins to exist has a cause. A universe that begins to exist with time requires a logically prior cause, and a universe that begins to exist in time (as could be the case) also requires a temporally prior cause.

                    • Walter

                      He is part of an ongoing conversation, is limited to discussing one in a family of arguments, and has done nothing to overturn the fundamental intuition that everything that begins to exist has a cause

                      He has shown that our intuitions can be unreliable as a guide when discussing a first cause that is synonymous with a first moment in time. What you and Bill Craig before you are doing is appealing to our shared human intuitions about how cause and effect operate at this point within time and within an already established natural order. The “rules” may be different now than they were during the Planck epoch.

        • randal

          Like many philosophers I believe that math deals with abstract objects. (I’m actually a conceptualist about mathematical objects but don’t worry about that.) On a realist form of universalism, no, abstract objects aren’t caused to exist. They exist necessarily. But the universe isn’t an abstract object.

          An agent cause is not an event. There is no problem conceptually with the concept of a necessarily existent agent, but there are huge conceptual problems with an uncaused event. Ex nihilo nihil fit. (It never ceases to amaze me how folks like yourself have this great skepticism about certain ideas like a disembodied necessarily existent agent, but without a blink you’ll toss out one of the most well established principles humans have ever encountered!)

          Anyway, keep in mind that this conversation was initially about the legitimacy in principle of agent causal explanations for the universe’s origin. I’m glad that you’re not trying to argue in principle against appeal to agent causes. That’s definitely progress.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    In a placebo, the belief (a non-physical entity with semantic content) has a real physical effect on material reality. In other words, an agent’s mental belief brings about physical changes in their body.

    Or, one pattern/process of the brain affects other patterns/processes in the brain and body.

    • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

      Yes, you can argue that the material state of the brain is that which affects/effects the material change in the body. However, the state of the brain is characterized by the storage of information, a nonphysical entity. Therefore is the conveyance of the nonphysical information to the brain which prompts the material change.

      You may object that the requisite information is contained in physically written words (“take once daily”) or in physical sounds (“this will make you feel better”). But the information is not the medium; the information is a nonphysical entity carried by the medium. The same medium carrying different information would not produce the same effect. And so the example remains accurate: nonphysical entities are capable of acting as causes for events in the physical world.

    • randal

      Omigoodness, you’re an epiphenomenalist? You officially lose the right to call anybody else’s position crazy.

      • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

        Randal, there are other possibilities. If materialism is true, it’s entirely possible that beliefs are patterns/processes rather than ‘non-physical’.

        • randal

          If materialism is true beliefs have to be something completely different from what they appear to be. And if idealism is true matter has to be something completely different from what it appears to be. But why think materialism is true?

          Thoughts have semantic content. Patterns of neurons firing don’t have semantic content. They’re not the same thing.

          Welcome to the world of the mystical skeptic.

          • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

            Funny how it seems to come down to the question of whether consciousness is an illusion.

            Is it possible to conceive an entity (perhaps an artificial intelligence for the sake of argument) which is capable of observation, assessment, basic logic, and dynamic communication, but lacks the self-awareness that we associate with consciousness?

            • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

              Is it possible to conceive an entity (perhaps an artificial intelligence for the sake of argument) which is capable of observation, assessment, basic logic, and dynamic communication, but lacks the self-awareness that we associate with consciousness?

              An interesting meditation on this idea is Peter Watt’s novel “Blindsight”, available for free here.

              I don’t agree will all of it, mind you, but it at least tackles the subject in a thought-provoking way.

            • randal

              When we talk about consciousness we’re talking about more than being self-aware (i.e. self-consciousness). We’re talking about that irreducible dimension of qualitative experience, the kind of stuff Thomas Nagel flagged by asking “what is it like to be a bat?”

  • http://www.retheology.net Jared

    Reading through this past discussion, I wonder if there could be an etymological distinction to make.

    The whole discussion could be summed up:
    Atheists [throughout this dialogue] have argued ‘I lack belief in any god’ ; Mormons, however, believe in god(s) … therefore, they cannot be atheists.

    What if we added a third category? It seems to me what we’re really discussing is the notion of theism proper; that is, ontological theism. And thusly, the discussion is operating around one word with two definitions (homynyms) Maybe it’s splitting hairs, but what if we distinguish those who lack belief in any God as atheists, and mormons/polytheists/pagans as aTheists? Does that fix anything? Or only muddy the waters more …

    • Walter

      Mormons certainly don’t consider themselves to be atheists and I think it is obfuscatory to classify them as such. The fact that their concept of God does not accord with western philosophy is quite true, but in my mind they are still theists. They still worship a God.

      Maybe we need a new category for True Theism vs. common, lesser theism that is philosophically uninformed? Instead of accusing your heretic neighbor of not being a “True Christian®”, we can now accuse him or her of being “No True Theist”!

      • randal

        I know many people who call themselves “atheists” and yet they don’t believe the proposition “God does not exist”. Instead, they say they are “without” belief in God.

        It is surprisingly common to have people mistakenly misrepresent the character of their own belief. Richard Dawkins is another great example. He denies that evil and good exists but he is an embarassingly prophetic moralist. He clearly doesn’t understand something very basic about his own beliefs. Why is it a surprise to you that Mormons are in the same camp?

        • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

          He denies that evil and good exists

          Page number or hyperlink. Now.

          • randal

            What’s with the italicized Now? Dawkins has been very outspoken on his views ever since The Selfish Gene. For example:

            “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” River Out of Eden, 133.

            I recommend you read the whole passage extending from pages 132 to 133 to get the real force of Dawkins’ views.

            Go on, read it. Now!

            • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

              That ‘good and evil’ don’t apply to the universe at large isn’t the same thing as ‘good and evil’ not existing at all… any more than the universe being indifferent means that humans must be indifferent.

      • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

        Mormons are in the class of people who believe that the ultimate cause of the universe is either infinite regression or an uncaused event. This distinguishes them from theists, who believe that the ultimate cause of all contingent existence is an uncaused agent. While it may make practical sense to classify people by their day-to-day activities, like whether they worship something beyond themselves, it makes better philosophical sense to classify people by their beliefs about the ultimate cause (and ultimate purpose) of the universe.

        • Walter

          You and Randal are free to lable them whatever you wish, but I don’t expect that I will be joining you in labeling them as atheists.

  • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

    In response to the really long discussion between myself, Walter, and Randal….

    “Appeals to intuition are simply misguided when discussing first-cause arguments.”

    Actually, I’m not making appeals to intuition. I’m actually responding to this particular statement that you made earlier:

    I am going to tell you with a very straight face that from where I am sitting an uncaused agent defies intuition just as much as an uncaused event.

    For the purposes of this particular discussion, I’m not particularly concerned about who has what criteria for declaring something counterintuitive. I’m only questioning how that quoted statement can possibly be true.

    An uncaused event requires an uncaused metaphysically prior state of affairs followed by the uncaused event. An uncaused agent requires only an uncaused state of affairs. So if you’re worried about “uncaused stuff” violating causality, then an uncaused event has twice as many potential (not actual, Randal) violations of causality.

    So if uncaused states of affairs are counterintuitive, then an uncaused event is twice as counterintuitive as an uncaused agent. That’s the point.

    “The state of affairs of a being’s existing necessarily isn’t a violation of causality since any law of causality only deals with contingent events or states of affairs which require an explanation.”

    I agree. I don’t think the eternal preexistence of God is a violation of causality.

    But someone cannot object to an uncaused agent on the basis that it violates causality when they prefer to appeal to an uncaused event which has twice as many violations of causality.

    • Walter

      I don’t think the eternal preexistence of God is a violation of causality.

      I don’t think you can escape causality violations simply because you define God as a necessary being.

      For many of us it is just as counterintuitive to believe that a mind possessing omniscient intellect and volition “just happens” to exist as a brute fact as it to believe that the universe itself exists as an unexplainable brute fact. It is my suspicion that many religious philosophers are really beginning with special revelation as their foundational axiom and working backwards from there.

      • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

        “For many of us it is just as counterintuitive to believe that a mind possessing omniscient intellect and  volition ‘just happens’ to exist as a brute fact as it to believe that the universe itself exists as an unexplainable brute fact.”

        I accept that you find it counterintuitive for an uncaused agent to “just exist”. Unlike Craig, I’m not trying to tell you that it shouldn’t be counterintuitive, or that there’s something wrong with you because it is.

        What I am trying to do (with apparently limited success) is illustrate that an uncaused agent cause is necessarily less causally problematic than an uncaused event cause. Thus, you can’t reject the former as being “too counterintuitive” without accepting that the latter is even less likely. 

        • Walter

          David, right here is where you keep losing me:

          An uncaused event requires an uncaused metaphysically prior state of affairs followed by the uncaused event

          Bearing in mind that I am about twenty years past my school days and that I don’t work in an academic field, I will admit to being a little out of the loop on the latest theories on cosmogeny. From what I have read in popular articles written for the layman, time itself began at the big bang. It simply does not register with me that a “state of affairs” could exist temporally prior to any hypothetical event which might have triggered the big bang. To ask what happened before the big bang would be akin to asking what is north of the North Pole. It seems that you and Randal are positing that the universe “popped out” of a hypothetical meta-space or meta-verse that transcends our universe, and this hypothetical meta-verse may even have its own meta-time that differs from our own (thus allowing for a state of affairs temporally prior to the big bang). Positing a metaphysical place where universes pop out of may be appealing to our intuitions, but it can also seen to be as an ad hoc hypothesis. The same charge is often leveled at “secular” scientists when they posit a multiverse as a means of explaining away apparent fine-tuning. I see it as possible that the universe did not “pop out” from anywhere else, so there would not be a state of affairs that preceded a causeless event. It could be argued that the universe in its current form has a beginning but there was never a time or place where it did not exist. And if the initial condition of our universe was that of existing in a state of quantum indeterminacy, then I am not even sure that questions of causality have any meaning at all. Our physical laws and the concept of time itself seem to break down at that level.

          Full disclosure: I am a deist and not an atheist, but I still have to side with Morriston in claiming that our intuitions aren’t reliable guides when dealing with questions of first cause, and William Craig’s arguments are appeals to human intuition in this matter.

          • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

            Okay, thanks for explaining where you’re getting hung up. I’ll try to straighten my argument out as best I can.

            We can, as Randal has suggested, posit a metatime outside the measurable time of our universe. Of course, that is ad hoc….no more ad hoc than the opposite assertion, but still ad hoc. Obviously, we want to examine the options at the most basic level, and so ad hoc determinations ought to be avoided at all costs.

            But even if we do away with temporal priority, I think that we still have the same problem. Correct me if I’m wrong here, but essential to the nature of an event is the concept of change. You cannot have an event without something changing; you cannot have anything changing without having an event. Am I correct?

            Even if we ad-hoc-dismiss the notion of temporal causality, an event still requires a change from one state of affairs into another. That is why an uncaused event is necessarily more complex than a single uncaused state of affairs. This still holds true even if the first state of affairs is timeless nothingness; an event still represents a change between two states.

            So is intuition an exhaustive guide in this matter? Certainly not. We can’t feel this out purely on this basis of intuition. But I think that the logical approach I’ve outlined here reveals the limitations of intuition: that though we may consider an uncaused agent to be just as counterintuitive (or more) than an uncaused event, an event is still more complex.

            • Walter

              I will admit that agent causation does appeal to my basic intuition, even despite my intuitive discomfort on trying to account for the existence of an uncaused agent as a brute fact. The main point that I take away Morriston’s paper is that we need to be careful when relying too heavily on intuitions based in our reality that we experience intratime and within an already established natural order.

              My intuition is unreliable to prepare me for what happens inside the event horizon of a black hole. My intuition is also unreliable in preparing me for what happens at the quantum level of reality, so it isn’t much of a stretch to believe that my intuitions are not up to the task of guiding me through the genesis of all space and time.