Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sketch of an Argument that Matter Is a Metaphysically Necessary Being if Anything Is

Here's an argument I'm toying with. It's really rough at this stage, and it would take a good bit of work to flesh out the full reasoning, but the basic idea is that, prima facie, new stuff can only come from old stuff[1] -- ex nihilo creation of new stuff seems not to be in the cards. But if so, then given the existence of matter, it must've either always been here, or else it must've been made from other stuff (which in turn must've either always been here or must've been made from other stuff, which in turn...). So it seems there must've always been matter (or the stuff of which matter's composed, or the stuff of which matter's composed is composed, or the stuff of which...).

Now the next step is the biggest "if" -- it's the reason why I qualified "matter is metaphysically necessary" with "if anything is". The basic idea is that if there is some temporally first, eternal, uncaused stuff (as opposed to a beginningless series of new stuff coming from prior stuff), and if what's temporally first, eternal, and uncaused doesn't vary from world to world, then matter (or the stuff of which matter is ultimately composed) is metaphysically necessary.

Now my own view is that it's epistemically possible that what's temporally first, eternal, and uncaused (if indeed anything satisfies or can satisfy that description) can vary from world to world. If such an epistemic possibility is also a metaphysical possibility, then matter (or whatever matter is ultimately composed) is, at best, factually necessary, which is another reason why I say "if anything is".

In any case, that's an impressionistic sketch of the line of argument I'm toying with. Thoughts? (I should say that at this stage I'm looking for "big picture" questions and comments, and not those aimed at minor details.)

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[1] I tend to think such a causal/explanatory principle is at least on an an evidential par with those appealed to in cosmological arguments. 

5 comments:

A Counter Apologist said...

This is something I am very sympathetic to and I sketched something along these lines out over here: http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/2013/02/big-questions-01-something-rather-than.html

Effectively I think the argument works on philosophical grounds - everything we ever experience in terms of causation always has a material cause, including cases that seem to only have material but not efficient causes (quantum virtual particles, radioactive decay, etc). Compound that with the first law of thermodynamics and we have very good scientific grounds to assume that if something material exists, then something material must have always existed.

It's an argument against creation ex-nihilo, which contradicts Christian theology specifically (and that's almost always a good time), and I really like making this point any time the Kalam or other cosmological arguments comes up because it allows us to point out that of the two sides (theism vs. atheism) only the theist is left insisting that "something can come from nothing" where as the atheist is perfectly comfortable with the idea that something material has always existed.

Your caveat of "if something is said to be necessary at all" is great BTW. I'm shamelessly going to steal it when discussing things like this in the future. :)

Jason Thibodeau said...

I don't know that this is all that helpful but this is precisely Schopenhauer's view. And it has always struck me as a very reasonable argument.

Here is another way of presenting it: If nothing comes from nothing, then even God could not create matter out of nothing. Either God created matter out of some other pre-existing stuff or else matter always existed.

One small concern: Suppose matter came from some other pre-existing stuff. Does that idea even make sense? Why not call that stuff 'matter.' In what ways would it have to be different in order to not be matter?

In any event, I like the argument and think that it deserves development.

Daniel Stenning said...

You guys need to check out Max Tegmarks new book:

The Mathematical Universe.

Andrei said...

I think this will turn into an interesting argument. I wish I had something helpful to say about it, but instead I just want to ask a question for clarification: What do you mean when you say matter may or may not vary from world to world?

Are you referring to the possibility that matter has different properties in different worlds?

exapologist said...

Thanks for your helpful comments, all!

CE: You bet: steal away!

Jason: Thanks for the reminder that Schopenhauer gave an argument along these lines. I'll be sure to add a footnote about that (with a nod to you for the reference, of course!).

Daniel: Great book. He makes an interesting case for the sort of multiverse I have in mind. It would of course be great if I could push the case for the metaphysical possibility of such a multiverse, but I'll be happy to settle for its epistemic possibility for my purposes.

Andrei: Thanks for pushing me to clarify further about this. By "what's temporally first.... doesn't vary from world to world", I mean, "whatever occupies the role of being temporally first, eternal, and uncaused doesn't vary from world to world". In other words, if matter happens to occupy the role of being temporally first, eternal, and uncaused in this world, then it occupies that role in every possible world. As I say, I think this claim is controversial, although many who accept Leibnizian cosmological arguments (i.e., those who accept some strong(ish) version of PSR), tend to accept this conditional. And here I'm playfully (although somewhat cryptically) exploiting this intuition accepted by such theists to push for the ironic conclusion that it seems to entail (along with the other premises in the argument) that matter, and not God, is metaphysically necessary.

Best,
EA