Sunday, November 22, 2015

Craig On Causal Candidates for the Origin of the Universe

(Very rough draft)

Leaving aside formal and final causes, there appear to be four possible scenarios for the origin of our universe:

(i) Both an efficient cause and a material cause
(ii) An efficient cause without a material cause
(iii) A material cause without an efficient cause
(iv) Neither an efficient nor a material cause

Now William Lane Craig thinks (iv) is prima facie implausible, and so the position of last resort. However, it should be noted that even Craig grants that (iv) is unobjectionable if the universe is a 4-dimensional block of some sort. But the worry is that many scientists and philosophers think that ours is such a universe.  Many will therefore part company with Craig at this early stage of his argument. However, let's waive this objection for the moment, and grant, arguendo, that Craig is right. Now Craig  ultimately wants to argue that (ii) is the most probable candidate scenario for the origin of the universe. What about the other options?

One might think that, prima facie, (i) is the most natural to assume as a starting point. Indeed, Craig seems to agree. However, Craig has argued that (ii) is the most plausible, on the grounds that our best scientific models indicate that there was an absolute beginning to the expansion of all physical reality, including the multiverse, if such there be. Craig thinks this is supported by the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem.

At this point, one might quite reasonably object that a beginning to the expansion of the universe (or multiverse) doesn't entail a beginning to the existence of the universe (or multiverse). For the universe could've existed in a quiescent state. However, Craig has argued that such a purely naturalistic quiescent universe can be ruled out on the grounds that it would be in an state of absolute rest, from which no event could arise (barring supernatural intervention). However, Wes Morriston has argued persuasively that a similar worry arises for the hypothesis of the creation of the universe by a God who is quiescent prior to the creation of the universe. If so, then neither the theistic hypothesis nor the quiescent naturalistic universe hypothesis has an epistemic advantage over the other. Therefore, (iii) seems to be at least on an epistemic par with (ii).

To add to this debate, I'd push the point further and argue that if (ii) and (iii) really were the two most plausible candidates, (iii) has an epistemic advantage over (ii), on the grounds that we have strong a priori and a posteriori reasons for thinking that a version of the principle of material causality (PMC) is true, and thus that creation ex nihilo is metaphysically impossible. Indeed, it looks as though PMC provides roughly equal grounds for preferring just about any of the other candidates over (ii). However, given the prima facie oddity of a universe arising from an absolutely quiescent state, candidate (i) (i.e., matter/energy, or its ultimate constituents, are eternal, and thus that our universe arose from prior materials) and candidate (iv) (in particular, an eternal 4d block universe) appear to have an epistemic advantage over both (ii) and (iii).

2 comments:

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

At this point, one might quite reasonably object that a beginning to the expansion of the universe (or multiverse) doesn't entail a beginning to the existence of the universe (or multiverse). For the universe could've existed in a quiescent state. However, Craig has argued that such a purely naturalistic quiescent universe can be ruled out on the grounds that it would be in an state of absolute rest, from which no event could arise (barring supernatural intervention). However, Wes Morriston has argued persuasively that a similar worry arises for the hypothesis of the creation of the universe by a God who is quiescent prior to the creation of the universe. If so, then neither the theistic hypothesis nor the quiescent naturalistic universe hypothesis has an epistemic advantage over the other. Therefore, (iii) seems to be at least on an epistemic par with (ii).

I agree with this. But I'm still bothered by both (ii) and (iii). Both options still have the oddity of the universe arising from either a natural or supernatural quiescent state. It almost seems preferable to go with option (i) and have an infinite regress if one rejects, as I do, the arguments against the existence of an actual infinite.

Angra Mainyu said...

Hi EA,

Just a brief comment, and a question:

1. There is a further worry about iii. If space, or time, spacetime, etc., had a material cause M, wouldn't M also be part (or a state, etc.; I don't mean for this to have a mereological commitment) of the universe, in the sense of "universe" that is used by Craig?
If this is so, then it seems to me iii. can be ruled out on conceptual grounds.
Or maybe Craig's usage of "universe" is just not precise enough to be properly used in the context in which he intends to use it. I don't know.

2. Do you have any reference where Craig grants that (iv) is unobjectionable if the universe is a 4-dimensional block of some sort?
My impression is that he grants that this avoids the intuition that everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence, but the argument from contingency still works.

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