In my last blog post, entitled “Addressing Scott Clifton’s Response to the Kalam Argument”, I presented what I felt were problematic issues with Scott’s response to William Lane Craig on the first premise of the Kalam Cosmological Argument. However, after submitting the blog post I realized that there were a couple things I misunderstood about what exactly Scott was arguing. After speaking with Scott privately, I felt like we clarified much of where I went wrong in my response. My fellow Tuesday Afternooners also felt compelled to persuade me of my errors in the comment section of my blog post; however there was ironically just as much confusion as to what I was arguing. Because of this, I want to take a few moments to clarify some things and move forward into a specific set of issues that Scott and I feel are more central to our disagreement.
The goal of the initial portion of my last blog post was to show that even on an ex materia view of causality, things still begin to exist. I used the example of a cell phone being produced and I did so under the assumption that Scott’s belief was that things do not begin to exist on an ex materia view of causality and instead, matter is simply rearranged. However, Scott conveyed to me that this is not his view. He actually does believe that things begin to exist on an ex materia view of causality and so I was essentially arguing about something he already agreed with. Before I discuss what Scott and I agreed should be the main topics of disagreement between us, I want to better explain what my goal was in my last blog post. I was attempting to undercut Scott’s position by pointing to flaws like his conflating of physics with metaphysics, the contradictory nature of taking the phrase “things which don’t exist” literally, and what I felt was too large of an investment in induction. Essentially, my aim was to undercut his conclusion by showing that there were problems with how he got there. That was all. My goal was not to provide an overarching rebuttal of his view, but rather to simply cast doubt on it.
I would now like to discuss two pivotal issues concerning causality. The first is to ponder the question “what is a cause?” and then apply that explanation to God when we speak of God “causing” the universe to begin to exist ex nihilo. What I would like to do is see if there’s coherence there. I want to offer a description of what it means to say God caused the universe to begin to exist. There are many ways we can talk about this and before I offer a somewhat mediocre conception, I want to say that this is all somewhat tentative for me. What I’m about to offer, I’m fairly tentative about so if it ends up being the case that what I offer here fails in some way, I take it as my responsibility to go back to the drawing board and try again. I leave it all up to you to decide if that needs to be the case.
In thinking about this issue, I found myself wanting to travel one of two roads. A part of me felt that what I needed to do was offer an extremely nuanced, airbrushed conception of what it is to be a cause of something; something similar to an Aristotelian model, where layers of definition are laid out and exhausted. In trying to do this, I realized very quickly that I’m no Aristotle! So instead, what I would like to do is offer a more flatfooted proposal of what it means for God to cause the universe to begin to exist. What I mean when I say “God caused the universe to begin existing” is something like “God actualized his will for there to be a universe” (given the universe to mean the sum total of all space-time). God in this case would be the affector, God’s will would be the affected, and the universe would be the effect. So God affects his will in such a way that it becomes actualized and that actualization produces the universe as the effect. Going back to Aristotle, God in this case would be the efficient cause, God’s will is the material cause (because remember a material cause does not have to literally be matter, it just has to be the factor or constituent that creates the whole). So the efficient cause is God, the material cause is God’s will and the result is the universe. This is just a rough idea. I know this is going to be heavily critiqued; I welcome it and hope that I can work with this conception in a way that is satisfying. If it doesn’t cut it, I’ll start over and see if I can bring to the table something that does.
The second topic that Scott and I agreed to build a conversation on concerns two conflicting models of causality. Namely, the notions of “beginning to exist uncaused” and “beginning to exist ex nihilo”. The first premise of the Kalam Cosmological Argument is generally supported by highlighting the absurdity of something beginning to exist uncaused and in its place is the idea of something coming into existence and being caused to do so, albeit from nothing (or ex nihilo). Now Scott believes that “begins to exist uncaused” is less problematic, more parsimonious and less ad hoc than “begins to exist ex nihilo”. I disagree. Something beginning to exist uncaused is not in my view illogical or incoherent per se but I do think it’s absurd. It’s absurd because a necessary component for something beginning to exist, a metaphysical requirement insofar as I can intuit, (whether it be via ex materia or ex nihilo means) is in fact a cause. At least some form of a cause. Without it, one can’t even ask what the initiating circumstances look like for a thing to come into existence on this view because there are no initiating circumstances. There are no causal antecedents of any form. I fail to see how acausal beginnings could ever be less problematic than ex nihilo causality because at least with ex nihilo causality you still have something there doing the causing. You still have the igniting of a causal chain of events from which we can discuss a possible break in the chain as a liability. We still have something that begins a causal chain.
What ex nihilo causality potentially lacks is a material component, something affected to bring about an effect (I say potentially because I just put forth a model of ex nihilo causality that consists of a material cause). So with “begins to exist ex nihilo”, you still have a cause; you just lack perhaps a material constituent that is being affected. But with “begins to exist uncaused” you lack not only a material constituent that plays a causal part in the production of an effect, but you lack any antecedent that does any work at all. You lack all causal potentiality so on this view you lack not only what is lacking on an ex nihilo model of causation but you lack further things, like the very idea of any antecedent conditions. So the criticism lodged at the proponent of ex nihilo causality is equally applicable to the proponent of the acausal model, except much worse. .
I look forward to Scott’s response.