The Kalam & Uncaused Beginnings

A recent comment said the following: ““Everything that has a beginning has a cause” is an assumption, exactly as “everything in existence is finite.” Both are generalizations taken from what we know about reality and applied to what we don’t know.” The thrust of the critique was that we cannot know every single instance of things beginning, therefore we cannot know whether or not things can arise without a cause.

I am reminded of David Hume, who, in his attempt to cast doubt on the existence of God, tried to question the knowability of all causation. Hume said,”The existence, therefore, of any being can only be proved by arguments from its cause or its effect; and these arguments are founded entirely on experience.  If we reason a priori, anything may appear able to produce anything. The falling of a pebble may, for aught we know, extinguish the sun; or the wish of a man control the planets in their orbits.” (Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding, 164).  In another place he said, “The supposition that the future resembles the past, is not founded on arguments of any kind, but is derived entirely from habit.”

Hume was so intent on not allowing a divine foot in the door that he would question whether we can know any cause and effect, going so far as to doubt whether we can know anything for sure based on cause and effect. But even Hume, the king of the skeptics, said, “I never asserted so absurd a proposition as to say that something should arise without a cause.” Hume would question conclusions based on cause and effect, but not the concept of cause and effect. Hume’s system ended in complete skepticism, a system that is ultimately not livable. Hume once said, “When we leave our closet, and engage in the common affairs of life, its conclusions seem to vanish, like the phantoms of the night on the appearance of the morning; and it is difficult for us to retain even that conviction, which we had attained with difficulty.” In other words, we ultimately have to put our little game back in the closet and return to regular life, where we know we cannot doubt such things as cause and effect, or we would not get through an hour of our life.

To the critique that says it is possible for things to arise without a cause, William Craig asserts “We do not require arguments against the possibility of solipsism or for the existence of other minds, for the truth concerning these matters is obvious and any argument in this regard would be based on premisses less obvious than the conclusion. In the same way, the premiss ex nihilo nihil fit is so obvious that even Hume accepted it without argument, regarding its denial as an instance of unlivable Pyrrhonic scepticism.

Consider, nonetheless, Jonathan Edwards’s argument on behalf of the causal principle: if something can come into being uncaused out of nothing, then it is inexplicable why anything and everything does not do so. . .  [There is no] constraint placed on things’ springing uncaused out of nothingness into being. After all, there is nothing there to be constrained. So does it not strike one as peculiar that it is only the universe which comes magically into being out of nothing rather than all sorts of other things as well?”

It seems to me rather interesting that someone would go as far as to propose that an object would arise uncaused out of nothing, a proposition which undermines all of knowledge, rather than deal with the question of whether an infinite Being was the cause of all that is finite.

NOTE: A couple of Q&A’s from Craig on this are here and here.

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About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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7 Responses to The Kalam & Uncaused Beginnings

  1. dwwork says:

    Great post, I also had a comment on my blog that things can be uncaused.

  2. Grundy says:

    You didn’t address the point of my original comment. There is no precedent for an eternal being just the same as there is no precedent for an uncaused effect.

  3. humblesmith says:

    What you appear to be trying to say is that we have no reason to conclude the existence of either an uncaused beginning, nor an eternal being, and that both of these are equally assumed. I maintain this argument is invalid because of several reasons. First, denying that all effects need a cause is more than a problem of induction (i.e., not being able to observe every effect that ever arose), but rather a fundamental principle of both logic and metaphysics: Things cannot be prior to when they be, and coming to be requires an act from something that is already actual. As the post states, and you have not addressed, is that this concept is such a fundamental concept that no one I am aware has attempted to deny it. It is so basic that the burden of proof is clearly on the skeptic. Second, if you are claiming something along the lines of ‘the conclusion of Kalam is an uncaused effect, and we have no precedent for this, therefore it is invalid’ then you are making an a priori denial of an a posteriori sylogism, a conclusion that is invalid, or at least the burden of proof lies again with the skeptic, one which cannot be made with a simple denial. Third, you seem to be attacking the conclusion of kalam (that an uncaused cause exists) as if it were an assumption, which it is not. Rather, it is a conclusion. The only possible “assumption” in kalam is the first premise, that everything with a beginning needs a cause, and as I said, denial of this is so basic that the burden of proof is on the skeptic. I believe I also stated that I deny this is an assumption, but rather a first principle of logic and metaphysics. Denials of first principles are always self-refuting.

    If, on the other hand, you are saying that it it is equally an assumption that “everything in existence is finite” and “everything that has a beginning has a cause” (which is what you said in your 12/19 comment on the earlier post), then the same answer I gave before still applies. Further, “everything in existence is finite” is an undemonstrated assumption that the conclusion of the kalam disproves. I hope you are not trying to use an undemonstrated assumption of one to disprove the conclusion of another. Also, “everything in existence is finite” suffers from the problem of induction, which “everything that has a beginning has a cause” does not, for the reasons I gave earlier (metaphysics and first principles).

    Further, the conclusion of kalam is a counter-example to the premise “everything in existence is finite” disproving it, while it is logically invalid to say that the assumed premise (“everything in existence is finite”) disproves the conclusion of another (“an uncaused cause exists”). This last point alone destroys this line of reasoning.

    Still further, none of this touches at all the vertical cosmological argument, which is different than kalam, and is not impacted by the same logic. You can see it here: http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2010/11/02/vertical-cosmological-argument/

    I will admit that it’s possible I’ve misunderstood your points, for the ideas seem to not be demonstrated or explained. If so, I apologize. But this isn’t going anywhere, so we’ll stop here.

  4. Grundy says:

    Why is classical logic unquestionable exactly? Experience has shown it to hold up, but experience also shows that nothing is eternal. I just don’t see the distinction.

    I assume you accept the Big Bang (otherwise I don’t see why you’d be using the Kalam) which says time and space began at once. If the Big Bang is the effect, and causes according to logic must preceed effects, when does the cause happen? You are believing that something must happen chonologically before time itself. Where’s the logic there? And if you claim that things can happen before time via magic or the divine or something, then you can’t explain why an infinite regress of causes isn’t possible.

    Also, the Big Bang has the universe starting as a singularity which is a scale subject to quantum mechanics which is shown to be counter intuitive and, in some cases, violating classical logic. My own lack of understanding on how this happens makes me skeptical, but the repeated observable results of quantum mechanics make me much more comforatable accepting a violation of causality (in this case an effect causing itself) than an eternal, omni-intellegence. Call me crazy. :-)

    • humblesmith says:

      Well, whether or not logic is illogical is beyond the scope of this post, but I strongly suspect we’d be going round in circles trying to prove such a thing. As to God and time, I’ve touched on it very briefly in one post, but not enough. The usual way people explain time is in what they call A-time and B-time, but I hold the answer to be different than either. Stay tuned and I’ll get to this sooner or later.

      As to quantum stuff, however it works, it seems to only work on the subatomic level, and drawing conclusions from it appears tenuous at best. I’m reminded of the story of those who claimed that since Einstein’s General Relativity is true, then everything is relative. This is not the case.

      But I’ve written about quantum answers before:
      http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2011/08/22/atheist-of-the-gaps-theory/

      http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2012/06/27/nothing-quantum-fluctuations-and-the-cheshire-cat/

      You appear to be a genuine fellow, and I pray your questions get answered. Peace.

      • Grundy says:

        Thanks, I’ll check back for your time explaination. Yes, the quantum stuff only works on the subatomic level, but according to the Big Bang Theory the first instance of what we now know is the universe was at this level at subject to quantum mechanics.

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