Friday, June 27, 2014

The Kalam Cosmological Argument + the Principle of Material Causality = Panentheism

Consider the following set of propositions, which I’ll call A:

Set A:
1. There is a temporal beginning to all physical reality.
2. If there is a temporal beginning to all physical reality, then there is an ontic beginning[1] to all physical reality.
3. If there is an ontic beginning to all physical reality, then there is an ontic beginning to all concrete reality besides God.
4. Whatever has an ontic beginning has an efficient cause.
5. Whatever has an ontic beginning has a material cause.
6. If there is an ontic beginning to all concrete reality besides God, then it cannot have a material cause.

Set A is inconsistent. Which proposition should go? Craig thinks it’s (5). But why think that? Craig admits that both (4) and (5) are extremely well-supported, but reasons that rejecting (5) is better than rejecting both. Perhaps that's right. But of course that’s not the only option. Given the extremely strong grounds for both causal principles[2], it seems that the most reasonable option is to reject neither (4) nor (5), and to reject one of the other propositions instead, if one of them is at least slightly less well-grounded as they are.[3]

Well, are any of the other propositions less well-grounded than (4) and (5)? I think it's clear that the answer is 'yes'. My own view is that each of the earlier propositions (1)-(3) is much less well-supported than (4) and (5), and so rejecting one or more of them is much more reasonable than rejecting (5). 

But let’s grant Craig all of them.  Here I’d like to raise another option, one that (surprisingly) has not been seriously considered in the literature, viz., rejecting (6). According to this option, the universe is made from the stuff of God’s own being. In other words, a more reasonable option, given the evidence for both causal principles (and also granting, at least arguendo, the truth of (1)-(3)), is panentheism. Of course, that clashes with the theistic, and specifically, Christian, commitments of Craig. But that’s neither here nor there in the current context. For Craig is offering the argument not just to theists, but also to non-theists, as adequate epistemic grounds for something close enough to theism to rule out these other alternatives. And we've just seen that from within this context, at least, the argument does not succeed.

To sum up, in the best case, Craig’s kalam cosmological argument should push a rational non-theist to panentheism, not to theism.

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[1] A case of an entity that has a temporal, but not an ontic, beginning would be one in which it exists in a timeless mode of existence "prior" to its temporal mode of existence.
[2] Actually, it seems to me that (4) has less going for it than (5), given the plausibility of various interpretations of quantum mechanics that entail the falsity of (4). Therefore, it seems to me that if one were to reject one of the causal principles, it should be (4), not (5).
[3] Wes Morriston makes this sort of point in "Must the Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause? A Critical Examination of the Kalam Cosmological Argument", Faith & Philosophy 17:2 (2000); "Causes and Beginnings in the Kalam Cosmological Argument: Reply to Craig", Faith & Philosophy 19:2 (2002). In the relevant passages, he focuses on the option of rejecting (3). I focus on another option below.

3 comments:

Angra Mainyu said...

Hi EA,

I agree that (1), (2) and (3) are not well supported (personally, I would say that (1) is not at all supported, given the lack of a theory that can deal with QM and gravity, and more importantly given that philosophical arguments against an infinite past fail in my view).

I'm not sure how you construe “ontic beginning” in this context, though, but I'm thinking maybe denying (5) would not be not enough for Craig, for the following reason:

On Craig's account, wouldn't concrete reality – not only concrete reality apart from God – have an ontic beginning in God?

If that's the case (but I may have misinterpreted “ontic beginning”), then it seems that all of concrete reality would be an example of something with an ontic beginning but no cause, unless God were considered a cause of all of concrete reality included himself – which I think would be a decisive problem, if not in general, at least in the context of the KCA.

P. S: I'm assuming for the sake of the argument “physical” (or “material”, in Craig's argument) is precise enough for the context of the KCA. Else, the KCA fails because of that.

exapologist said...

Hi Angra,
Thanks for pushing me to clarify. A case of an entity that has a temporal, but not an ontic, beginning would be one in which it exists in a timeless mode of existence "prior" to its temporal mode of existence. I'm not sure this makes sense; I'm just following along with Craig's assumption that such a thing is possible. If it's not, then of course Craig's argument is in trouble, as it requires that God has a temporal beginning without an ontic beginning.

Best,
EA

Angra Mainyu said...

Thanks for the clarification, EA.

Then granting the premises as you mention, your alternative appears no less plausible to me than rejecting (5).

It seems to me there is another worry for both theistic alternatives:

If a universe – or any object - with a temporal state not temporally preceded by any other temporal state has a temporal beginning, wouldn't an object with an ontic state not ontically preceded by any other ontic states have an ontic beginning?

If the answer is affirmative, it seems to me that the options are either infinite ontic regress, or something that has an ontic beginning, but has no cause whatsoever – which would entail that both 4. and 5. are false.

Of course, one may define “ontic beginning” in a way that is not symmetric with temporal beginning in the relevant respect, preventing that result.

However, that's a matter of terminology, and in any event, it seems to me either there is infinite ontic regress, or there is some first ontic state without any cause whatsoever.

But if a first ontic state without any cause whatsoever is possible (in concrete things), why wouldn't a first temporal state without any cause whatsoever be possible?

The latter does not seem intuitively any more weird than the former to me to me – in fact, non-temporal ontic (concrete) states seem weirder, even without counting any issues related to the idea of a timeless person who then changes.

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