Monday, February 10, 2014

Apologetic Tuesday: Re-visiting the Kalam

I wanted to write on the kalam cosmological argument, mostly because it’s been a while since I have done so. I have written about various objections to the kalam here, I supported the causal principle of the kalam here, and I have dealt with the worst response to the kalam here. So why write more? I wanted to tackle the issue of the First Cause.

A somewhat common response to the KCA is to insist that the First Cause does not have to be personal, or is incoherent, or something else. The traditional response is to explain that, of course, that’s not an objection to the KCA. The premises still stand, and they still entail the conclusion. As a reminder, they are:

1.     Whatever begins to exist had a cause.
2.     The universe began to exist.
3.     The universe had a cause.

So, skeptics are still left with the idea of a First Cause. Now why do I say it is the first cause? This is because of the nature of the argument(s) supporting premise 2. It argues for an absolute beginning to time, at the creation of the universe (or multiverse, for those of you who insist on one—it won’t matter for this purpose). If there were other, prior causes, then those, by definition, would terminate in a first cause (since for each cause that has a cause prior to it, it does not possess the property of being the first cause, by definition), then that would be the First Cause.

Now why do I say there is only one First Cause? How do I know it’s not several, working in cohort? To be clear, I don’t have Cartesian certainty from this argument that there would be only one First Cause, as opposed to a set of First Causes. However, there’s this excellent feature in abductive reasoning (inference to the best explanation) called simplicity (going back even far before modern science to William of Ockham). The idea is not to multiply explanans (the things which do the explaining) if all things are equal. Since one First Cause works just as well as a plurality of First Causes, then only one explanans is needed (and hence, only one is justified).

One final question: how do we know the First Cause is personal? Well, let’s take a look at the categories that might work. First, we might say that it is physical/material. That won’t work, because the explanandum (the thing to be explained) just is physical matter. It would be incoherent to claim that matter caused itself, because then it would need to exist in order to bring itself into existence. It would bring about a state of affairs of matter both existing and not existing, which is logically incoherent. Next up, we could try to say that the cause is something Platonic (or something very much like it); it would be some impersonal form or something. This won’t work either. This is because whatever the First Cause is, it is necessary. If it is impersonal, it is not going to possess the kind of rational or voluntaristic faculties needed (that only persons of some sort would have). So what is left? Abstract objects? No, since these have, in their very definition, no causal powers. It seems only some kind of person can fit the bill of the First Cause.

Notice it won’t do to protest that maybe one day we will come across a category not yet known, and it will divest us of the need to posit a personal explanation. This seems desperate. Not only that, but it is appealing to ignorance to avoid a reasonable belief (indeed, what appears to be the only reasonable belief). Usually these same people retreat to claiming this doesn’t get us God, but my response is: then why so insistent on the First Cause not being a person? The skeptic has typically realized, of course, that whatever this personal First Cause is, he is very plausibly a lot more like a deity than not; in any case, he is a lot more like a deity than any atheist is comfortable.

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