Cosmological Criticism: Part 1

This is part of the sequence on Cosmological Argument.

The first premise of William Lane Craig's Kalam Cosmological argument is
Whatever begins to exist has a cause

There are other versions of this premise. It can also be said like this: "Every thing that begins to exist has a cause".

1. Fallacy of Equivocation: Craig says this premise is justified through "common sense", "everyday experience" and which is "intuitively obvious". But we don't see anything begin to exist "ex nihilo". We see things begin to exist "ex materia". In other words, things change one form to another. Comparing the begining of Universe's existence ex nihilo (presumably) with begining of things' existence ex materia is a fallacy of equivocation.

2. Begging the question: The premise implies two sets of things. Things that begin to exist (BE) and things that don't begin to exist i.e. eternal (NBE). If god is the only object allowed in NBE then the premise becomes "Every thing except god has a begining & cause of its existence". If the conclusion of the argument is "Universe has an eternal, uncaused cause" then presupposing god as the only necessary candidate makes the argument question begging. In order to avoid begging the question, theist must produce one or more real or hypothetical candidates other than god for NBE. For example: pre-big bang universe, quantum mechanical field, branes, aliens etc and then logically exclude them.

3. Causal Determinism is correct: The premise assumes causal determinism is absolutely correct in all aspects of (classical, relativistic, quantum) physics. If theists assume, the exact (non-probabilistic) cause for when and why a single unstable nucleus becomes stable (radioactive decay) will be eventually verified through empirical scientific observation, then what prevents atheists to assume science will eventually find the exact naturalistic cause of the origin of Universe?

The premise could also be worded like this "Every finite and contingent or dependent thing have a cause". This is a modal version of the premise which says, All contingent thing have a cause or explanation of their existence.

4. Causality and Time: If time is finite and contingent then it has a cause of its existence. But causality doesn't apply in any way when there is no time.

5. Quantum Mechanics: Vacuum fluctuation i.e. formation of particle anti-particle pair in a quantum mechanical field is a quantum phenomenon which is finite and (if) contingent, has no cause. The phenomenon has been observed in Casimir effect. Although Bell's inequalities show local hidden variables don't exist, under Bohmian mechanics (causal deterministic interpretation of quantum mechanics) non-local hidden variable (which requires faster than light interaction) still is an unproved hypothesis at best.

6. Problem of Induction: Even though causality applies to the known world, it does not apply to the Universe at large. The premise of causality has been arrived at via a posteriori inductive reasoning which is dependent on experience. Hume argued causal relations are not a true deductive a priori.

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10 Responses to this post

    Anonymous said...

    Excellent and concise, very useful thanks

    Adam said...

    Your critique of the argument falls a little flat. There is some truth to a few of your criticisms, but I'm afraid they fall short of really disarming the KCA.

    1) The Fallacy of Equivocation -- This type of fallacy is committed when the conclusion uses a term to mean something different from the premises. But in this case, "begins to exist" has the same meaning throughout, and the difference between things that begin to exist "ex nihilo" and things that begin "ex materia" is irrelevant... both categories are included in the set of things that "begin to exist" though I think it's safe to say here that "ex nihilo" is the primary focus of the argument.

    2) Begging the Question -- This type of fallacy requires that conclusion needs to be assumed for the argument to work. But that is not true here. Neither of the 2 premises in the argument require a God to exist for the premises to be true, or for the argument to be valid. Exempting eternal objects from causal origins is not God clause... it is merely rational. If the premise had said, "Everything that exists has a cause" it would have to be false... because anything that existed eternally could not have a cause and thus falsify the argument.

    3) Causal Determinism Is Correct -- You say that this premise assumes causal determinism in all aspects of physics. There are two problems with your claim... (1) Physics itself is deterministic. Of course, quantum physics is probabilistic, but even then we are finding patterns that govern what particles will do... their actions are DETERMINED by probabilities, which are in turn affected or CAUSED by other quantum events. (2) This premise is not particularly concerned with physics as much as it is with metaphysics. You said yourself that the premise is talking about things that begin to exist "ex nihilo"... which is not a scientifically explicable event... it is a metaphysical one.

    Adam said...

    4)Causality and Time -- Causality is not necessarily sequential in nature. There are effects that can be considered to be simultaneous with their causes. For example, if a ball is suspended above the floor because it is hanging by a chain from the ceiling. At each moment, the effect the continued suspension of the ball is caused by the chain, and is simultaneous with the chain's causal power to suspend the ball. And in the case of the beginning of the universe, time itself is one of the effects, and so in temporal terms the cause would be considered simultaneous to the first moment of time.

    5)Quantum Mechanics -- Vacuum fluctuations have no ascertainable cause. But they are a product of the material universe, and may have very well have natural laws that govern them. Once again, the idea that something can begin to exist "ex nihilo" is not a scientifically explicable event. And the quantum vacuum is not "nothing" in the philosophical sense of the word. It has spacial dimension, and it has energy... both of which are properties that cannot be held by "nothing."

    6)Problem of Induction -- It is rather arbitrary to say that mo material object can come into existence uncaused out of nothing, but then to say that the entire collection of material objects in existence could have come into existence uncaused out of nothing. That is what the universe is. It is the collection of all matter, energy, space, and time. None of those individual things can begin from nothing... none of units that comprise each one can begin from nothing... so how is it that the entire collection put together is exempt from the rule that applies to the whole of its parts?

    If I find a bolt on the ground, I am going to assume that bolt didn't just pop into existence uncaused from nothing. And if it's a pile of bolts, I would assume the same cause of each bolt would also be true of the whole pile.

    Science and common sense tells us that new matter cannot be created from nothing. So how is it that ALL matter is exempt from that rule? Far from being a fallacy, I think that it leads to a logical absurdity to say that the cause of the parts is not identical to the cause of the whole.

    Skeptic Mind said...

    Hi Adam! Thanks for taking time to write a criticism of my criticism of the cosmological argument which will give me the opportunity to clear things a bit. I sometimes feel that perhaps in an effort to minimize length, I made my article too short to understand properly. After reading your comment, I feel that you rely too much on classic intuition rather than reality. Let me clarify. You said,

    "1) The Fallacy of Equivocation -- This type of fallacy is committed when the conclusion uses a term to mean something different from the premises. But in this case, "begins to exist" has the same meaning throughout, and the difference between things that begin to exist "ex nihilo" and things that begin"ex materia" is irrelevant... both categories are included in the set of things that "begin to exist" though I think it's safe to say here that "ex nihilo" is the primary focus of the argument."

    The distinction between "ex nihilo" and "ex materia" is quite important when we are talking about begining. You can not use the word "begin" for both cases in exactly the same way.

    For example: when I say a wooden table has begun to exist, it merely means I am pointing at the (begining of) the new arrangement of a piece of wood. The wooden material of the table already existed inside a tree before gaining a new look (which we now call table). This is a false begining. Similarly all the material in the universe simply rearrange themselves into various forms. We just label those new arrangements as begining of a, b, c, d etc. It's not a true begining. They already existed. On the other hand universe as a whole did not exist in a different form prior to its present form. If you hold the position that god made universe from nothing (creation ex nihilo) then comparing this with creation ex materia is indeed a false comparison. A false equivocation.

    This is why, If you use the word "begin" to mean creation ex materia then you can not use the same word to mean creation ex-nihilo and vice versa.

    2) Begging the question.

    Here's a elaborate explanation from where I took this argument.

    Does Kalam beg the question? http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/dan_barker/kalamity.html

    You wrote,

    "3) Causal Determinism Is Correct -- You say that this premise assumes causal determinism in all aspects of physics. There are two problems with your claim... (1) Physics itself is deterministic. Of course, quantum physics is probabilistic, but even then we are finding patterns that govern what particles will do... their actions are DETERMINED by probabilities, which are in turn affected or CAUSED by other quantum events."

    I think you completely misunderstood my argument here. I don't claim anything that begins to exist has a cause, the KCA do. If you say that probabilistic determination is enough then you're saying there are no hidden variables for causal determinism and effectively refuting your own premise. Btw, probabilistic determination is enough to predict quantum behaviour but it doesn't say what actually causes those. I gave the example of radioactive decay of a particular nucleus any given time. Please read this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Determinism#Quantum_world

    If you reject the concept of hidden variables and Bohmian interpretation of quantum mechanics (an interpretation WLC adheres to) then what are you arguing against?!


    "(2) This premise is not particularly concerned with physics as much as it is with metaphysics. You said yourself that the premise is talking about things that begin to exist "ex nihilo"... which is not a scientifically explicable event... it is a metaphysical one."

    I'm sorry I didn't get what you're trying to say here. Pls clarify. If the premise of a categorical syllogism doesn't match with observed reality than its just garbage in, garbage out.

    2 b continued...

    Skeptic Mind said...

    Adam you wrote,

    "4) Causality and Time -- Causality is not necessarily sequential in nature. There are effects that can be considered to be simultaneous with their causes..."

    They could be considered, but only in classical intuitive physics. Any example of suspension/join/impression is not actually an example of simultaneous causality because of sub atomic particle/wave motion and fundamentat forces (which are carried by virtual particles).

    You wrote,

    "5) Quantum Mechanics -- Vacuum fluctuations have no ascertainable cause."

    This is exactly what I argued about. I addressed the causality, not the ex-nihilo origin of these particles.

    "But they are a product of the material universe, and may have very well have natural laws that govern them."

    Of course, uncertainty principle governs them. But what about the cause of their existence in a quantum vacuum?

    "Once again, the idea that something can begin to exist "ex nihilo" is not a scientifically explicable event. And the quantum vacuum is not "nothing" in the philosophical sense of the word. It has spacial dimension, and it has energy... both of which are properties that cannot be held by "nothing.""

    Although I didn't argue about this in my article, I'll reply.... I agree with the idea or philosophical concept that [nothing] can not have the property of "existence". Therefore there is always something. Virtual particles are not solid point like objects. They are disturbances in a particular vacuum quantum field due to Heisnberg's Uncertainty Principle or due to other charged ripples in the field (real particles). In case of vacuum, the space itself could be a foaming sea of virtual particles appearing and disappearing under planck time. Therefore there is always something and no existence of nothing. I know this is an oversimplification of quantum world but you get the idea.

    I don't necessarily say Universe must come from nothing. It's actually the theists who say Universe was created from nothing by God. I say, universe could be originated from nothing or something or it may be eternal. I only exclude god as a causal factor, nothing else.

    Skeptic Mind said...

    Adam you wrote,

    "6)Problem of Induction -- It is rather arbitrary to say that mo material object can come into existence uncaused out of nothing, but then to say that the entire collection of material objects in existence could have come into existence uncaused out of nothing. That is what the universe is. It is the collection of all matter, energy, space, and time. None of those individual things can begin from nothing... none of units that comprise each one can begin from nothing... so how is it that the entire collection put together is exempt from the rule that applies to the whole of its parts?"

    When we argue about universe's origin we always focus on the earlier quantum state, not the way you see Universe today. How exactly the Universe came about is still a mystery. How fundamental forces originated? How space and time originated? All are yet to be solved. But there are several hypothesis proposed by cosmologists.

    "If I find a bolt on the ground, I am going to assume that bolt didn't just pop into existence uncaused from nothing. And if it's a pile of bolts, I would assume the same cause of each bolt would also be true of the whole pile."

    A bolt is a pretty big object. Suppose that you were a tiny little person of planck length with an ability to observe extremely quick movements, then you'd see particles-antiparticles poping into existence and annihlating each other. In a single proton, quraks are glued with gluons -- virtuals particles responsible for conveying strong nuclear force. They constantly pop into existence randomly anywhere inside that proton.

    "Science and common sense tells us that new matter cannot be created from nothing. So how is it that ALL matter is exempt from that rule? Far from being a fallacy, I think that it leads to a logical absurdity to say that the cause of the parts is not identical to the cause of the whole."

    Universe in its fundamental state apparently is chaotic. We only observe the classical version of Universe with our naked eye. Our intuition thus have been built accordingly. Over the course of 500 years we quickly realised how different classical, relativistic and quantum worlds are!

    Adam said...

    Great responses, Skeptic Mind.

    I need to take a look at some of the links you provided. But I wanted to clarify one part of my critique that you said you didn't understand...

    ------------------------

    "(2) This premise is not particularly concerned with physics as much as it is with metaphysics. You said yourself that the premise is talking about things that begin to exist "ex nihilo"... which is not a scientifically explicable event... it is a metaphysical one."

    I'm sorry I didn't get what you're trying to say here. Pls clarify. If the premise of a categorical syllogism doesn't match with observed reality than its just garbage in, garbage out..."

    ----------------------

    All I was saying here is that something which comes to exist "ex nihilo" cannot be observed scientifically. Hypothetically speaking, even if you could know ahead of time when and where something would begin to exist "ex nihilo", no amount of scientific analysis or instruments could help us understand this event in scientific terms.

    This is because a truly "ex nihilo" creation would have to have either no cause at all, or else the cause would have to lie outside all physical reality and physical laws... including quantum physics. Thus there could be no possible scientific explanation beyond saying "it wasn't there, and then it was."

    In other words, just because an object seems to appear uncaused, that does not mean it is ACTUALLY uncaused. We might have no way to explain an object's cause of existence but that does not mean that it truly lacks a cause.

    In this way, virtual quantum particles represent a case of APPARENT uncaused being, but we could never verify scientifically that something ACTUALLY exists without cause.

    Thus the question of things beginning to exist "ex nihilo" will always remain beyond the scope of scientific inquiry, verification or falsification... it is a question that can only be addressed through metaphysical or philosophical analysis.

    So to conclude, an effect can have a physically explicable cause, a quantum cause, or else it is "ex nihilo" which is beyond any science. This first premise simply asserts that "ex nihilo" effects must also have causes, though such causes cannot be physical or natural. Such effects could never be identified in observable reality, they are a logical possibility that simply evades all detection.

    Skeptic Mind said...

    Adam, your last 2 lines of reasoning are quite interesting. You wrote,

    "This first premise simply asserts that"ex nihilo" effects must also have causes, though such causes cannot be physical or natural. Such effects could never be identified inobservable reality, they are a logical possibility that simply evades all detection."

    This indeed has a profound implication on the way we acquire knowledge and beliefs. You can by definition, present such arguments and derive conclusions as purely a metaphyical exercise, but whether or not the premises you use represent reality, whether or not we could be epistemically confident of the certainty of those statements is the main important thing to ask here. If you "simply assert" things to derive your desired conclusion using the tool called logical method, then THAT is garbage in, garbage out.

    Just as you said ex-nihilo creation has (i'd say "as of yet") no falsifiability, similarly "hard determinism" also don't have any. We simply assert causal determinism in the fundamental level of every event. Make no mistake, That's an useful a priori assumption to do scientific investigations of the natural phenomena but it's just that, an assumption which is not a description of reality. Allow me to rephrase what I already implied in my article -- if theists make assumption that only a supernatural cause exists for the existence of nature which science will never be able to find out, then what prevents atheists to make the assumption that no supernatural cause exists for the existence of nature? You see, the assumption could go both ways.

    The distinction between natural and supernatural isn't clear because theists don't have any definitions of what exactly supernatural is beside some vague, ambiguous appeal to mysticism. Which is by definition, hidden from any scientific investigation and thus lack falsifiability. Echoing your own words,

    "no amount of scientific analysis or instruments could help us understand this event in scientific terms"

    Yep. :)

    Adam said...

    I like where this is going. Very interesting.

    You said,

    "...if theists make assumption that only a supernatural cause exists for the existence of nature which science will never be able to find out, then what prevents atheists to make the assumption that no supernatural cause exists for the existence of nature?"

    That is the crux of the issue, right? If both assumptions can fit equally well with the reality we observe, then there is no reason to adopt either one over the other.

    So is there a reason why a supernatural cause fits our reality better than the notion of causeless existence?... I think there is.

    Here's my take:

    The one great advantage to the idea of a supernatural cause (particularly a personal cause) is the fact that it is possible for such a cause to discriminate about how often it works and what it produces.

    What I mean is this: If things simply come into being without any cause, why should that have ceased with the beginning of the universe? Why don't things continue to pop into existence uncaused? And why aren't there all kinds of things that pop into existence? Why is it that "nothing" only produces universes?

    Under a model of reality in which things pop into existence uncaused (We'll call it the Causeless Model), there is no discernible reason that such a phenomena should cease to operate with the beginning of time... or any reason that it should be so selective about what is produced... because "nothing" can have no properties with which to control such outcomes.

    But under a model of reality with a personal, supernatural cause (i.e. The Supernatural Model), such a cause would have the full ability to produce effects at will... producing effects only when it wants to and only of the type that it desires. Under this model we would not expect to see random chaotic spontaneously existing objects.... but that is exactly what we would expect if there is no metaphysical cause for existence.

    And since "ex nihilo" existence would be completely unexplainable by science, a reality in which things are able to suddenly exist without cause should also be a reality that is filled with things that science cannot make sense of.

    The fact that science works for nearly everything is evidence that almost nothing comes into existence uncaused... which is contrary to what we should expect to see from the Causeless Model.

    Anonymous said...

    The phenomenon of existence is the source of cause and effect, not the result of it.
    www.theory-of-reciprocity.com
    THoR

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