Friday, July 27, 2012

Properties of the First Cause: Part 2

(Continued from Part 1)

In the book Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology William Lane Craig and James D. Sinclair attempt to defend the claim that the cause of the universe "is plausibly taken to be personal." They give three reasons for this, the second of which is the following:
"Second, the personhood of the First Cause is already powerfully suggested by the properties which have been deduced by means of our conceptual analysis. For there appear to be only two candidates which can be described as immaterial, beginningless, uncaused, timeless, and spaceless beings: either abstract objects or an unembodied mind. Abstract objects such as numbers, sets, propositions, and properties are very typically construed by philosophers who include such things in their ontology as being precisely the sort of entities which exist necessarily, timelessly, and spacelessly. Similarly, philosophers who hold to the possibility of disembodied mind would describe such mental substances as immaterial and spaceless, and there seems no reason to think that a Cosmic Mind might not also be beginningless and uncaused. No other candidates which could be suitably described as immaterial, beginningless, uncaused, timeless, and spaceless beings come to mind. Nor has anyone else, to our knowledge, suggested any other such candidates."
I can appreciate the authors' line of reasoning here, as it seems logical to look for a potential cause among the things that have the characteristics deduced thus far, but I see some problems with it. First of all, I think abstract objects exist due to the universe. They are made possible because of the properties of space, time, energy, matter, etc. So, if there was no universe abstract objects wouldn't exist. Therefore, I don't think an abstract object is a good choice for the cause of the universe. However, Craig and Sinclair don't think it is either, so while we seem to disagree on the nature of abstract objects, we agree that they are not good candidates for the cause of the universe.  Secondly, the existence of disembodied minds seems to be related to the mind-body problem, and as previously mentioned, I've heard there's a growing scientific consensus against the dualist viewpoint, i.e. the mind is separate from the brain and exists independently of the brain. Therefore, I don't think disembodied minds exist. (I don't have any supporting sources to cite at the moment, but neither did Craig or Sinclair cite sources supporting the existence of disembodied minds.) However, the cause of the universe came from without or "outside" the universe. So, although I do not think disembodied minds exist within this universe, do I think disembodied minds exist "outside" the universe? I have no idea. We would need evidence for that, but what would evidence for something outside the universe look like? How would evidence within this universe point to something outside of this universe? I don't know of any evidence for anything whatsoever existing outside of the universe, let alone a disembodied mind, except for the unknown cause of the universe that I have granted in this discussion.

That brings me to another point against a disembodied mind as cause of the universe. If one is going to propose a cause that comes from outside of the universe, then Occam's Razor seems to nearly eliminate the plausibility of a disembodied mind due to the extreme complexity of minds and the lack of justification for the proposal.  In my opinion, to propose a disembodied mind is to introduce a huge amount of theoretical complexity far beyond necessity, and to be unable to think of any other possible causes does not justify it. Therefore, I do not think a disembodied mind is a good hypothesis.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Properties of the First Cause

In the book Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology William Lane Craig and James D. Sinclair present and defend the Kalam Cosmological Argument.
1.0. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2.0. The universe began to exist.
3.0. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
In this post, I will grant that there was a first cause of the universe.

The authors attempt to defend the claim that the cause of the universe "is plausibly taken to be personal."  They give three reasons for this, the first of which is the following.
First, as Richard Swinburne (1991, pp. 32–48) points out, there are two types of causal explanation: scientific explanations in terms of laws and initial conditions and personal explanations in terms of agents and their volitions. For example, in answer to the question, “Why is the kettle boiling?” we might be told, “The heat of the flame is being conducted via the copper bottom of the kettle to the water, increasing the kinetic energy of the water molecules, such that they vibrate so violently that they break the surface tension of the water and are thrown off in the form of steam.” Or alternatively, we might be told, “I put it on to make a cup of tea. Would you like some?” The first provides a scientific explanation, the second a personal explanation. Each is a perfectly legitimate form of explanation; indeed, in certain contexts it would be wholly inappropriate to give one rather than the other. Now a first state of the universe cannot have a scientific explanation, since there is nothing before it, and therefore, it cannot be accounted for in terms of laws operating on initial conditions. It can only be accounted for in terms of an agent and his volitions, a personal explanation.
I'm not convinced that these two types of causal explanations are actually different.  Rather, both seem to be scientific.  To wit, the personal decision to have a cup of tea is caused by one's desires, and one's desires are caused by our brain chemistry, genetics, environmental forces, etc.  These latter causes are all caused, in turn, by evolutionary forces, the sun, etc.  So, our desires can be traced back to scientific causes; they are caused by the materials in and around us.

The first cause, however, (if I grant that it originated from outside the universe) is not necessarily a scientific cause.  Originating outside of the universe, it originated outside the realm of cause-effect relationships, the laws of physics, and virtually everything we know about science.  So, all effects can be traced back to a first cause that isn't necessarily scientific.  This does not mean, however, that the cause is personal.

The idea of a personal cause as opposed to a scientific cause seems to be related to questions of free will and the mind-body problem.  If the case for free will is weak, then the case for personal causes is weak.  Likewise, if our physical brains cause our minds (rather than our minds existing separately and non-materially) then the case for personal causes is weaker still.  I don't have any sources at the moment, but I've heard there's a growing scientific and philosophical consensus against the existence of (contra-causal) free will, as well as support for the materialist, i.e. monist (as opposed to dualist), approach to the mind-body problem. While searching for evidence of free will, I found some quotes from a famous Jewish physicist:

Albert Einstein:  I do not believe in free will. Schopenhauer's words: 'Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wills,' accompany me in all situations throughout my life and reconcile me with the actions of others, even if they are rather painful to me. This awareness of the lack of free will keeps me from taking myself and my fellow men too seriously as acting and deciding individuals, and from losing my temper.”  From "My Credo

And: "I agree with your remark about loving your enemy as far as actions are concerned. But for me the cognitive basis is the trust in an unrestricted causality. 'I cannot hate him, because he must do what he does.' That means for me more Spinoza than the prophets." From a letter to Michele Besso quoted here.

And: "Human beings, in their thinking, feeling and acting are not free agents but are as causally bound as the stars in their motion."  From his address to the Spinoza Society in 1932.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Uncaused Causes

If a cause came from outside of this universe, then it came from outside the realm of cause-effect relationships. So, the cause can be said to be uncaused. Because it is outside this realm, it doesn't necessarily need a cause itself. To say otherwise would be to impose the rules of this system onto something outside of it. This would apply to all hypothetical causes from outside this universe. Therefore, an uncaused cause does not necessarily have to be God.

William Lane Craig has said that this hypothetical uncaused-cause would have to be timeless, changeless, immaterial, eternal, and personal.

It seems to me, however, that one could not necessarily ascribe to this uncaused-cause ANY characteristics  found within this universe because the cause is from without the universe. All of the characteristics we know are of things within the universe.  So, I don't think Craig is justified in calling it "personal".  To do so is to impose a characteristic found within this universe upon something without this universe.

Interesting to note is how this reasoning would also apply to describing other universes. I wonder how scientists have gotten around this problem in their theories of a multiverse.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Cosmological Musings

Everything is the effect of a cause.  (This is the basis for scientific determinism.)  Following the chain of causes and effects back into the distant past leads us to the big bang.  What caused the big bang?

The big bang, to my understanding, is the beginning of the space-time continuum.  Causes and effects operate in this time-space continuum. Did the relationship between cause and effect hold true outside of or before the beginning of the space-time continuum? 

Most examples of different causes that come to my mind are material; a part of the space-time continuum.  But what caused the space-time continuum?  Before the space-time continuum existed, did any causes exist?

Maybe some "thing" from outside the space-time continuum caused it. 

Is such a hypothesis necessary?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Expanding Earth

A friend of mine said he's not sure the earth is the same size as it was millions of years ago, and this is perhaps one reason the biblical flood was global.

I looked into this idea a little bit, and found it to be the topic of this strange discussion with Neal Adams (starts at the 25 minute mark) on SGU.  I also found the idea on Wikipedia.  And, I found this website with positive arguments for an expanding earth.