Thursday, 5 March 2015

Cosmological Argument(s) for the existence of a First Cause/Necessary being: project outline

So I've been ruminating on different forms of cosmological arguments for quite a while. I think I've hit upon a more or less definitive approach to how to make and present the argument convincingly. The outline is given below.

1. Defend a causal principle that says things like "everything that can have a cause does have a cause" or "every fact calls for an explanation". This is what I will not talk about in this post. I believe Alex Pruss' Principle of Sufficient Reason: A Reassessment is basically the end-all-be-all work on the topic.

2. The intuitive thing to do at this point is to somehow apply the causal principle to the cosmos to derive the existence of a first cause or necessary being. How do we do that? Well, that would depend on how we choose to characterize the universe.

2.1. If we can prove an actual infinite is impossible- that's what the Kalam arguer does- then the existence of an uncaused first case immediately follows.

2.2. If, however, we grant that an actual infinite is possible and for all we know the universe is a chain of infinitely many things, then there are multiple routes that can be taken.

At this point, we need to stop and decide what type of cosmological argument we want to run. Do we want to establish the existence of a Necessary Being or a First Cause? As Emanuel Rutten demonstrates in his thesis on the topic, a necessary being- understood as something that exists in all possible worlds- doesn't necessarily imply that it is be uncaused. If that is true, then an argument that aims to establish the existence of a First Cause would be more relevant to theism than a contingency argument, I'd think. After all, something being the uncaused cause- something that is completely independent on anything else for its existence- is an extremely crucial theistic premise, at least more crucial than the premise of something's being impossible to not have existed. Now while I think we should run an argument based on the caused nature of things, let's just run both arguments simultaneously for now. I'll explain the reason in a later section.

2.2.1. If we refrain from characterizing the universe as one entity, then the route we might want to take is that of Paul Herrick, and argue that while an actual infinite may be possible- we cannot believe in the causal principle or the PSR arrived at in 1 and still hold to an infinite universe.

2.2.2. If we characterize the universe as one entity, there are two ways of going about it. If, follow Richard Gale and Alexander Pruss, we characterize the universe as a conjunction of all (contingent/caused, depending on the argument you adopt) facts/objects, then we have to demonstrate that this leads to something of a vicious circularity, as Alex Pruss does in his PSR:A Reassessment. Also see last post in the blog. If, following James van Cleve and William Wainwright among others, we characterize the universe as the proposition "there are contingent/caused things" and say that this proposition requires explanation just as much as the proposition "there are zebras", then we need to demonstrate that the intuition in the second proposition applies to the first proposition. To do that, we need to demonstrate what is it about a set of things that makes it call out for an explanation as a class. Emanuel Rutten, following Kathrin Koslicki, suggests that it is the fact that the set of things constitute a natural kind. What we would then have to do is establish solid criteria for a set of objects being a natural kind, and then demonstrate the cosmos qualifies. This is exactly what Rutten does in his thesis. I plan to review his entire argument in a later post, in sha Allah.*

Now let's pause for a moment and take stock. What has happened here is we characterized the universe in different ways, and demonstrated that no matter how we characterize it, we end up with a First Cause. The First Cause is pretty much unavoidable. And this underlines the cumulative strength of the argument. Due to the changing nature of metaphysics, it may be the case that at least some of the characterizations leading to a First Cause would be challenged. The non-existence of an actual infinity has come under a lot of fire recently. What is much more improbable is that all of these branches leading to a First Cause would be challenged. So not only does this formulation serve to underline the strength of a cosmological argument based on the cumulative strength of a number of different strands of evidences, but it also significantly undercuts the objection that we cannot rely on metaphysics to get to the existence of God because it's always changing. First off, that characterization is unfair because while some aspects of metaphysics are indeed subject to change, others aspects are so widely agreed upon that there's little chance they would change. Secondly, what are odds that all of these different lines of reasoning leading to the First Cause would be disproved, even on a changing metaphysics?

3. At this point, we'd need to address some objections against the existence of a Necessary Being/First Cause. The objections either state that such things are impossible- which is a difficult burden of proof I doubt anyone would want to carry- or that they are so counterintuitive that it violates some explanatory virtue(s).

3.1. What we would need to do first is to demonstrate that the necessary being/first cause isn't as counterintuitive as people think. Popular strategies include appealing to abstracta which are arguably necessary and even more arguably causally efficacious, and appealing to the plausibility (not validity) of ontological argument(s). If the project succeeds, we'll be armed with some increased prior probability of the First Cause/Necessary Being hypothesis.

3.2. We would now need to delve into discussions of what makes a good explanation, and when the reduction of the explanatory virtue(s) (simplicity, say) would not amount to much because it would be offset by the explanatory power of the hypothesis.

4. Finally, the gap problem. We've arrived at a First Cause, in that the effects of all other causes are ontologically posterior to this Cause's effect, and its firstness entails that it is uncaused and depends on nothing else for its existence. This is indeed an important premise of theism. However, we want to see if we can derive other theism-friendly attributes of this First Cause. The obvious choice for this is personhood. How do we prove that the First Cause is a person? One strategy (used by Alex Pruss) is to deploy the explanatory trilemma argument- an explanation can either be conceptual, scientific or personal. The First Cause causing the rest of reality is clearly not a conceptual explanation, neither is it a scientific one because laws can never be necessary. Now there are two gaps in the argument's reasoning- one, there might be some fundamental law that is indeed necessary, and two, the First Cause (and hence its action) may not be necessary, in which case it may be a nomological/scientific explanation. Enter the argument from contingency. I mentioned just after section 2.1 that the First Cause argument is more theism-relevant than the contingency argument. In spite of that, I suggested we should run both. This is where the contingency argument becomes relevant: we can prove, using the argument, that the first cause is necessary. If the set of contingent objects need an explanation, as the contingency argument proves, then that explanation would require a necessary being. If that necessary being is not the first cause, then the first cause must be necessary and causally prior to it because a contingent object cannot cause a necessary object. This proves the First Cause must be necessary. As such, its action must not involve a law because laws can never be necessary. Hence, the First Cause is personal.

So there you have it: the existence of a Necessary, personal Uncaused Cause that is ontologically prior to, independent of, and responsible for, the existence of all other reality. Et hoc decimus Deum, as they say.

To my mind, this outline has three advantages:

a) It highlights the cumulative strength of all the different first cause arguments (Kalam-causality-contingency),

b) The outline resists the changing nature of the discipline of metaphysics,

c) The outline aims at reaching a conclusion that is relevant to theism.


*This strategy relies on demonstrating that the cosmos having sufficient properties in common. To do that, Rutten characterizes the cosmos as consisting of metaphysical simples. This requires the premises of atomism and composition-as-identity. This project works so far as we're dealing with natural objects, because it's plausible to think, given where science is going right now, that all natural reality is composed of fields or quarks or strings or what have you. But it's much less plausible if we are not nominalists and believe in the existence of abstracta (but see this). It's also less plausible if we consider supernatural things like souls or angels. It's much less plausible to think that the stuff of the natural universe is very similar to the stuff of the supernatural reality. As such, I think his project would work only when we confine our attention to the natural cosmos. If we do this, we might not be able to prove the existence of a first cause (because that first cause may be supernaturally caused by something else), but we'll still arrive at a supernatural something being responsible for the existence of the natural world. That's pretty relevant to theism too, I'd say.

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