God and the argument from external cause

Douglas Benscoter formulated the argument that way

“1. Whatever is changing has an external cause. (Premise)

2. The universe as a whole is changing. (Premise)

3. Therefore, the universe as a whole has an external cause. (Premise)

The argument is logically valid, so what about the truth of its premises?

I defend premise (1) with two distinct arguments – one deductive and one inductive.  First, whatever is changing exhibits actuality (its current existence and state of being) and potentiality (what the thing could be).  Now, no potentiality can actualize itself.  Otherwise, the thing would be self-caused, and exist and not-exist simultaneously in order to cause its own actualization.  This is a contradiction.

Secondly, an acorn, for example, cannot continue becoming an oak tree unless there are external causes, such as water, sunlight and soil.  If at any point these external causes are removed, then the acorn will cease its change, whither and die. 

But why does the cause have to be external?  Quantum fluctuations have at the very least material causes, which are internal within the quantum vacuum.  The problem with this objection is that the fundamental forces of nature – gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak atomic forces – all exist as external causes of the allegedly externally uncaused changes.  Premise (1), therefore, is correct.

As for premise (2), the most common objection is that the premise commits a composition fallacy.  Just because every part of a mountain is small doesn’t mean the mountain as a whole is small.  However, there are just as many instances in which the whole is like its parts.  If every part of a mountain is made of rock, then the mountain as a whole must be made of rock.  Moreover, the mountain as a whole is externally caused by the forces of nature and various geological processes.  Now, if every part of the universe is changing, then the universe as a whole must be changing.  Hence, premise (2) does not commit a composition fallacy and is also correct.

Given the truth of (1) and (2), it necessarily follows that the universe has an external cause.  Since the universe is the sum total of all physical space, time, matter and energy, the external cause of the universe must be timeless, changeless (for time is a measurement of change) and immaterial, in addition to being very powerful in order to externally cause the change of something as vast as the universe.

Whether you want to call this external cause “God” or not is inconsequential.  The argument, if sound, is certainly a defeater of Naturalism.  Call it the universe’s First Cause if you’d like.”

I would not go as far as saying that this argument (if successful) defeats naturalism for one could envisage an infinity of universes causing each other.

But if you reject the argument altogether, which premise seems to be flawed?


Advertisements

31 thoughts on “God and the argument from external cause

  1. “I would not go as far as saying that this argument (if successful) defeats naturalism for one could envisage an infinity of universes causing each other.”

    That’s why I prefer the argument from contingency. For an infinite number of contingent things is still itself contingent, and therefore requires something necessary to ground it.

  2. “Call it the universe’s First Cause if you’d like.”

    if your argument is true, then, how did this First Cause come about?

    • What does that matter? That it might be caused doesn’t deny it’s logically deduced existence.

      Of course this argument would work better if you ditch the lousy modern philosophy with it’s anti-realism mishigoss and return to the classics. Dump Descartes & bring back Aristotle.

      Change is fundamentally potency being reduced to act by something already actual. You can have an infinite accidental chain of causality without a
      formal beginning but in a top down causality you could not. Similar to how you can explain the motion of a Caboose by it being pulled by a box car in front of it but you could not explain that motion with an infinite chain of unpowered box cars. You need a first cause at some point that is Pure Act without any potency.

      See here for details.
      http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/03/oderberg-on-first-way.html

      • @ BenYachov

        “That it might be caused doesn’t deny it’s logically deduced existence.”

        well, if it is logically deduced.

        i wrote: “if your [Steven Jake’s] argument is true…”

        anyhoo, if it might be caused, then:

        “Now, no potentiality can actualize itself. Otherwise, the thing would be self-caused, and exist and not-exist simultaneously in order to cause its own actualization. This is a contradiction.”

    • I don’t think the first cause “came about”. For if it came about, then it was at some time not existing and then “came about”. This would mean that it was caused to exist by something else and was, therefore, not the first cause.

      • What do you mean by ‘account’?

        How about you construct an argument along the OP’s lines arguing for it needing an explanation for its existence. Should be interesting to read.

      • @ crude

        “What do you mean by ‘account’?”

        if the First Cause is outside the universe–whatever that means–how do we account for whatever a First Cause is supposed to be–if it is supposed to be?

        is the First Cause a being? a thing? a none-thing? am i able to ask what this First Cause is–if it is, that is?

        “How about you construct an argument along the OP’s lines arguing for it needing an explanation for its existence. Should be interesting to read.”

        i’m not claiming that the OP’s “it” needs an explanation. i’m asking what is this “it”–if it is an it?

      • if the First Cause is outside the universe–whatever that means–how do we account for whatever a First Cause is supposed to be–if it is supposed to be?

        Well, we can continue with our logical and philosophical arguments to attempt to glean that. As it stands: we know it’s something outside of the universe, which would apparently also entail it being timeless, changeless, etc. (Contra lothar, I don’t think ‘an infinity of universes’ would work here.)

      • @ Crude

        “Well, we can continue with our logical and philosophical arguments to attempt to glean that.”

        sounds like a plan.

        “As it stands: we know it’s something outside of the universe…”

        do we know this?

        i wrote: “if the First Cause is outside the universe…”

    • “how do we account for the First cause?”

      The first cause accounts for itself. See, the first cause cannot be contingent, otherwise it would require the explanation for its existence to be outside itself, which would mean it relied on something else for its existence, and therefore wouldn’t be the first cause–which we just deduced that it was. Therefore it must be necessary, since it is not contingent, and being necessary it is impossible for it not to exist. Moreover, a necessary being, by the principle of sufficient reason, contains within itself the reason for its existence.

      • @ Steven Jake

        “I just explained how.”

        ok. well, perhaps i’m slow to grok your explanation.

        so let me rephrase perhaps please. is your first cause, which accounts for itself, a thing?

        is it a thing?

        can i ask such a question as “is it a thing?” about your first cause?

        “…for its existence to be…”

        your first cause has existence? if so, what is this existence?

        how does your first cause be?

    • Not exactly sure what you exactly mean by thing. Perhaps you can elaborate.

      “what is this existence? ”

      Well existence is the act of existing, that is, of being actual. Now since the first cause is necessary, then there must be no distinction between its essence (what it is) and its existence (that it is), because if there was such a distinction then the first cause wouldn’t account for its own existence, and therefore something else would account for it and thus it would then become contingent. So the first cause’s essence must be identical to its existence, and therefore it is the very essence of the first cause to exist.

    • A thing’s essence is comprised of the properties that are necessary to making said thing what it is. That is to say, a thing’s essence is comprised of those properties that a thing cannot cease to possess without thereby ceasing to exist itself. For example, it is of the essence of a ball to be round, for if it were to lose roundness it would thereby cease to be a ball. It is not of the essence of a ball to be red, for if it were to lose the property of redness it would not cease to be a ball.

      Now, all things that we observe have a distinction between their essence and existence. But, as I explained in my last comment, the first cause must not contain such a distinction. Its essence must be identical to its existence. Thus, the essence of the first cause is to exist; and therefore it contains the explanation of its existence within itself.

  3. Whatever is changing has an external cause. (Premise)

    This is problematic on many levels…. The two main problems IMO:
    1. How do you know that everything that changes has an *external* cause? What is the external cause of the Casimir effect or radioactive decay for example? (I´m not saying there is none, I´m saying that I doubt that this premise is more than a mere assertion).
    2. This assumes that our colloquial understanding of “change” and “causality” applies universally, but it most certainly does not. Under certain physical conditions, a cause does not need to precede an effect (look up how causality would work inside a black hole for example). And, more importantly, how causality would work at all for a system where time does not exist is completely unknown (also, what does “change” even mean in such a situation? We only understand the word “change” for situations where time DOES exist).

    • “1. Whatever is changing has an external cause. (Premise)”. This is not just problematic. It is simply not true. 2nd law of thermodynamics. In a close system, entropy increases. Entropy is changing, and it is a closed system. There is no external cause. So the entire argument is useless.

      • 1. How do you know that everything that changes has an *external* cause? What is the external cause of the Casimir effect or radioactive decay for example? (I´m not saying there is none, I´m saying that I doubt that this premise is more than a mere assertion).

        You’re mistaking our lack of knowledge of what the external cause is for particular things with the claim that there is no external cause.

        2. This assumes that our colloquial understanding of “change” and “causality” applies universally, but it most certainly does not.

        No, it simply assumes that logic holds universally.

        I think if someone is going to lodge these sorts of objections, if they were at all sincere, it would lead to more skepticism about scientific extrapolation than they’d normally care to admit.

        This is not just problematic. It is simply not true. 2nd law of thermodynamics. In a close system, entropy increases. Entropy is changing, and it is a closed system.

        Scientific law talk puts aside metaphysical points like what’s being discussed. For one thing, whether the universe is open or closed in the sense you’re talking about isn’t amenable to scientific demonstration regardless – it’s an open question. (Entropy can/will increase in an open system as well, if the force outside of the system doesn’t intervene – even if for a moment.)

      • You’re mistaking our lack of knowledge of what the external cause is for particular things with the claim that there is no external cause.

        A “lack of knowledge” is a lack of knowledge. You can´t just say that everything has an external cause because you´d like that to be true – it might well be true, but if you want to use that as a premise in an argument, you would have to *demonstrate* that it is true.

        No, it simply assumes that logic holds universally.

        Nope, it is an extrapolation from how “change” and “causality” work in everyday situations to every conceivable situation. And this extrapolation doesn´t work – our colloquial understanding of “causality” is wrong in certain situations and “change” becomes even more problematic given that the term is not even defined for a system where time doesn´t exist.

        I think if someone is going to lodge these sorts of objections, if they were at all sincere, it would lead to more skepticism about scientific extrapolation than they’d normally care to admit.

        😀 It´s not “skepticism” in the sense that we doubt whether our everyday understanding of “causality” and “change” applies universally, in the former case we *know* that it doesn´t, and in the latter we know that it cannot, not even in principle.

      • A “lack of knowledge” is a lack of knowledge. You can´t just say that everything has an external cause because you´d like that to be true

        I’m not. But on the flipside, you don’t get to arbitrarily decide ‘Well maybe this doesn’t have an external cause because magic’ or ‘Maybe this doesn’t have one because we don’t know it yet so far all we know it doesn’t.

        Nope, it is an extrapolation from how “change” and “causality” work in everyday situations to every conceivable situation. And this extrapolation doesn´t work – our colloquial understanding of “causality” is wrong in certain situations

        Nope, the extrapolation works just fine in the relevant senses. Your reply here is basically, ‘Sure, there’s no logical problem with what you’re saying, and it’s backed up by scores of observation and reason otherwise – but just this once, maybe it’s magic!’

        It´s not “skepticism” in the sense that we doubt whether our everyday understanding of “causality” and “change”

        Like I said – what’s being argued here is a pretty straightforward, mundane bit of logical and metaphysical reasoning based on sound principles. The best reply you’ve had so far is ‘But we don’t have rapt empirical knowledge of all causes!’ – which ain’t much.

        If you want to endorse the ‘But Maybe Magic ™!’ reply to the reasoning, feel free. I’m just going to point it out, and further ask you to be consistent in the reasoning.

      • I’m not. But on the flipside, you don’t get to arbitrarily decide ‘Well maybe this doesn’t have an external cause because magic’ or ‘Maybe this doesn’t have one because we don’t know it yet so far all we know it doesn’t.

        Erm… So I can say “we don´t know if everything has an external cause”, but I cannot say “maybe everything does have an external cause, maybe not”? Are you sure you have thought that through?

        Nope, the extrapolation works just fine in the relevant senses. Your reply here is basically, ‘Sure, there’s no logical problem with what you’re saying, and it’s backed up by scores of observation and reason otherwise – but just this once, maybe it’s magic!’

        I thought you are the one who is suggesting that the solution is your invisible magic friend, but anyway – please enumerate the observations you have that you have made outside this spacetime and / or for systems where time does not exist (yet, to the degree the word “yet” makes sense), since you allegedly have “scores of observation” in “the relevant sense” (hint: you have exactly zero observations in “the relevant sense”).

        Like I said – what’s being argued here is a pretty straightforward, mundane bit of logical and metaphysical reasoning based on sound principles.

        If “sound principles” = “mere assertions” and “logical and metaphysical reasoning” = “useless armchair philosophy”, then I agree.

        If you want to endorse the ‘But Maybe Magic ™!’ reply to the reasoning, feel free. I’m just going to point it out, and further ask you to be consistent in the reasoning.

        Yawn, don´t project your ignorance on me. Just because you think that the only possible alternatives are either a) that your preconceived ideas about how the world works are universally true under every conceivable situation or b) “Magic ™!”, doesn´t mean that I have to subscribe to such a breathtakingly ignorant position (hint: your preconceived ideas about causality don´t work at all for black holes for example, and the reason for that is not “Magic ™!”).

  4. I think all three premises are problematic. But ultimately I suspect we can’t infer or deduce from facts based upon a material universe to something outside that universe. We just don’t know if the same facts, laws, events, apply. It’s like a goldfish inferring everything outside his bowl must also be filled with water.

    • We just don’t know if the same facts, laws, events, apply. It’s like a goldfish inferring everything outside his bowl must also be filled with water.

      Can we infer or deduce facts about things outside of our visible universe? Outside of our universe?

    • No, that’s just the goldfish coming to the incorrect conclusion. The smart goldfish will only use things he knows to be true to extrapolate about the outside world. So saying “everything outside of the bowl is water” would be out, but saying, “Visible things seem to be moving in the outside world” would be entirely correct.

  5. Nope, the extrapolation works just fine in the relevant senses. Your reply here is basically, ‘Sure, there’s no logical problem with what you’re saying, and it’s backed up by scores of observation and reason otherwise – but just this once, maybe it’s magic!’

    Which is its own problem once we go about trying to figure out what exactly being “magic” entails.

  6. “I would not go as far as saying that this argument (if successful) defeats naturalism for one could envisage an infinity of universes causing each other.”

    Call this ensemble of changing universe the ‘multiverse’. Is the multiverse, as a whole, changing? If so, you’ve only pushed the problem back. If not, it seems odd that the parts of the multiverse change while the multiverse as a whole is unchanging for precisely the same reasons the original argument says that (2) is not subject to the fallacy of composition. One escape might be to deny that there is any reality to the group-concept of ‘the multiverse’. Of course, that introduces a general problem of mereological nihilism. You’d have to give reasons for why universes or the multiverse cannot be individuated as a whole while other collections of things can. Things get ad hoc very quickly, Of course, some people are willing to pay any price to avoid the conclusions of certain arguments.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s