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.

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