Notes on Morriston’s “Must the Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause?”

Most of the criticisms of Craig's kalam argument critique one of the two main premises of Stage 1 of the argument, i.e., they aim to undercut the premise that the universe had a beginning, or that whatever begins to exist has a(n efficient) cause. However, much less attention is focused on Stage 2 of the argument, i.e., that the cause of the beginning of the universe is a person. But in Morriston's important paper, "Must the Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause?", (Faith & Philosophy 17:2 (2000), pp. 149-169), Morriston masterfully dismantles Stage 2 of the kalam argument.  Below is an outline of Part Two of the paper.

1. Setup: Reconstructing Craig’s argument for a personal cause: (i.e., his argument for Stage 2 of the kalam cosmological argument).
1. The universe hasn’t always existed.
2. The cause of the universe must be eternal (otherwise it, too, would have a beginning and would thus require a cause).
3. The cause of the universe must be either a personal agent or a non-personal sufficient condition (“mechanical cause”).
4. If “a causal condition sufficient for the production” of the universe exists from eternity, then the universe has always existed.
5. So the cause of the universe is not a non-personal sufficient condition.
6. The cause of the universe must therefore be a person.
2. First Problem: It’s doubtful that Craig can consistently endorse (3).
2.1When responding to the quantum indeterminacy objection to the causal premise of the kalam argument, Craig glosses it in a way that it only requires one or more necessary conditions for any coming to be.
2.2 But if so, then to be consistent, Craig must allow the possibility of a non- personal cause existing from eternity as a merely necessary condition for the coming to be of the universe.
2.3 And if that’s right, then Craig must allow for more than the two candidates for the cause of the universe listed in (3).

3. Second Problem: Given (4), it’s not clear that positing a personal cause will help Craig avoid concluding that the universe must be as eternal as its cause.
3.1 By (4), that can only be done if there is no eternal state of the divine agent that is sufficient for causing the universe.
3.2 Craig tries to avoid this implication with his eternal sitting man analogy: It’s possible that an eternal man sits in a chair from eternity past, and then decides or wills to freely stand up.
3.3. Problem: The analogy breaks down when applied to God:
3.3.1 He’s supposed to be omniscient, and thus knows from eternity what he will do. 
3.3.2 Prima facie, such knowledge includes his intention/will re: what he will do. 
3.3.3 But on standard views of an omnipotent will, God’s willing is sufficient to produces its effect
3.3.4 So by (4), the universe should likewise be eternal.
3.4 Craig’s reply: the intending/undertaking distinction: God’s “eternal decision”/intention to create a universe with a beginning is eternal, but his undertaking to bring it about is not.
3.5 Problem: This just pushes the problem back a step
3.5.1 Surely God’s deciding/intending is causally sufficient to create the universe. 
3.5.2 So by Craig’s hypothesis that his intention to create is eternal, the universe should likewise be eternal.
3.6 One might think there is an easy way out here: 
3.6.1 Craig says, not that God eternally decided to create a universe, but that he eternally decided to create a universe with a beginning. 
3.6.2 But no universe with a beginning is eternal. 
3.6.3 Problem solved.
3.7 Reply: Craig can't consistently take this route
3.7.1 Such a claim, when combined with other claims Craig is committed to, jointly entail a contradiction: 
1. alpha has a beginning.
2. God’s willing-to-create-alpha is eternal.
3. God’s willing-to-create-alpha is causally sufficient for the existence of alpha.
4. If a cause is eternal and sufficient for the existence of something, then that thing is also eternal (from (4) of the argument above).
5. If a thing is eternal then that thing doesn’t have a beginning.
6. Therefore, alpha both does and doesn’t have a beginning.
3.7.2 Something has to give, but the only ones which it is plausible to give up are the ones Craig needs for stages 1 and 2 of his kalam argument, viz., (1) and (4).
3.7.2.1 Craig needs (1) for stage 1 of the kalam argument
3.7.2.2 (2) seems to follow from God’s eternality and omniscience.
3.7.2.3 No one with standard views about God’s omnipotence will want to deny (3)
3.7.2.4 (4) might be resisted by saying that while God’s eternally willing alpha makes the statement, “There is a world with a beginning” eternally true, it doesn’t make the world eternal. But this isn’t a move that would help Craig here. 
3.7.2.4.1 For there seems no principled basis for denying this distinction for a non-personal eternal sufficient condition for the beginning of the universe. 
3.7.2.4.2 And if that’s right, then such a reply would undercut stage 2 of his kalam argument.
3.7.2.3 (5) is analytic (N.B. Is it? What about a 4d block universe?).

4. What went wrong in Craig’s reasoning? Morriston’s diagnosis:
4.1 Craig is switching back and forth between two conceptions of eternity: (i) beginningless and endless duration, and (ii) timelessness/atemporality.
4.2 He needs conception (ii) to make sense of God’s existence and willing being causally, but not temporally prior to the existence of the universe.
4.3 But he also needs conception (i):
4.3.1 He needs it to make plausible the idea that God could eternally will a universe with a beginning.
4.3.2 He also needs it to explain why a non-personal cause couldn’t have produced a universe with a beginning, as the effect would be as eternal as the cause.
4.4 But when you pin him down to either conception of eternity, the epistemic advantage of personal causes over non-personal causes disappears:
4.4.1 Re: (i) If large temporal gaps between the (eternal) will of a personal cause and its effect is possible, why can’t the same be true of a non-personal cause? It’s not at all clear that action at a temporal distance is any more mysterious than action at a spatial distance. (Cf. his earlier discussion of quantum indeterminacy and eternal necessary (but not sufficient) causal conditions comes in.)
4.4.2 Re: (ii) There can be no temporal gap between the timeless cause and the effect with a personal cause, any more than there can with a non-personal cause. 
4.4.2.1  Craig’s freezing temperature/frozen water analogy breaks down at just this point. 
4.4.2.2 For an atemporal non-personal cause has no temporal duration at all, and thus would not be freezing “for all eternity” (having no duration at all). 
4.5 Craig therefore has no argument against the possibility of a timeless non-personal cause.
4.6 Craig might reply that non-personal causes can’t be atemporal, but:
4.6.1 No argument has been given for that. 
4.6.2 In any case, the same sorts of grounds arise for the hypothesis of an atemporal personal cause
4.6.2.1 both are hard to make intelligible.
4.6.2.2 both are contrary to all experience.
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4 comments:

Joe Hinman said...

I would like something explained. I think perhaps others would like this explained as well. You say:

"First Problem: It’s doubtful that Craig can consistently endorse (3).
2.1When responding to the quantum indeterminacy objection to the causal premise of the kalam argument, Craig glosses it in a way that it only requires one or more necessary conditions for any coming to be.
2.2 But if so, then to be consistent, Craig must allow the possibility of a non- personal cause existing from eternity as a merely necessary condition for the coming to be of the universe.
2.3 And if that’s right, then Craig must allow for more than the two candidates for the cause of the universe listed in (3)."

That may be true, but it seems p3 is basically saying either the origin has to be personal or impersonal. There is no third option of which we are aware. Perhaps Craig must allow the possibility of an eternal impersonal origin. Yet there is no example in nature of anything not contingent that is impersonal. What is really established by this point?

exapologist said...

Hi Joe,

The idea is that Craig sets up a dichotomy between libertarian personal causes and mechanical non-personal causes, where the latter are such that the presence of the relevant conditions are jointly sufficient for the effect to obtain. The third option between the two is a non-personal cause that is only a necessary, but not sufficient condition for its effect. An example might be an indeterministic non-personal cause.

About your other point: Wes' point is stated in section 4.6.2 in the notes, viz., the same points apply to a timeless, bodiless personal cause (hard to make intelligible, and we have no experience of one).

Best,
EA

Angra Mainyu said...

Hi EA,

Nice post. I mostly agree with Morriston. Regarding 3.7.2.3, that'a a good point. I would say that Morriston's argument can be modified so that it does not need analyticity. For example, one variant would be:

3.7.2.3.': (5) is also needed for Craig's argument. The reason is that the argument uses "eternal" (in his second premise) as equivalent to "existing from eternity" (in the fourth premise). Else, the argument is invalid.

Now, it might be argued that that's Morriston's reconstruction of Craig's KCA. I doubt it, but just in case, here's another variant:

3.7.2.3.'': (5) is necessarily true if time is tensed, and Craig needs tensed time for this defense.

I think 3.7.2.3.'' is very probable.

Angra Mainyu said...

I see that in your next post you already pointed out that Craig needs (or at least thinks he needs) tensed time for his argument. Sorry, I hadn't read that post yet when I wrote my reply above, else I would have only suggested 3.7.2.3.' as another potential modification to Morriston's reply.

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