Monday, October 20, 2014

Quantum Events as an Objection to the Causal Premise

An advantage of blog posts is that we can focus on particular points within philosophy, theology, or apologetics. One of these things can be the kalam cosmological argument, as popularized by William Lane Craig. A very common formulation of his first premise is, “Whatever begins to exist had a cause.” One of the most common rebutting defeaters to that premise is to say, “But quantum events don’t have causes!” Craig usually has, as part of his response, “The virtual particles come from the quantum vacuum, and the quantum vacuum is a sea of energy, and not ‘nothing’.” I think many people are confused at this response, and don’t understand why it’s relevant. It’s my burden in this post to show why it is relevant, and why it means the skeptic’s objection here is the actual irrelevancy.

First, we have to explain what the first premise is actually claiming, and what it is not. This is crucial to a full understanding of the kalam. The “causal premise” claims that if something begins to exist, then it had a cause for its beginning to exist. It does not claim that “Whatever events occur had a cause,” or something like that. Why is this important?

Because the objection is that quantum events do not have causes for those events occurring. Now some of us will see right away the issue: the skeptic is responding to things beginning to exist in terms of events occurring; it’s a category mistake. What the skeptic would need is to be able to say that the virtual particles come into existence and do so from no cause, or from nothing whatsoever. However, the entire point of the quantum vacuum that produces these virtual particles is that it’s just not “nothing,” it is a sea of energy, which is in fact “something.”

So we can see here it’s through the connecting of the dots we do when we understand both Craig’s causal premise and the objection’s claim that we understand the objection is actually irrelevant. Moreover, and incidental to this critique, is the na├»ve philosophy of science often demonstrated in this objection. The objection assumes an indeterministic interpretation of the empirical data, when the data is actually equivalent with a variety of interpretations—some of which are indeterministic, and some of which are deterministic, and it’s not the data that can tell us which one is right. For all we know, the apparent indeterminacy is merely epistemological—that is, it merely appears to us as though these events have no causes. But beyond this, the whole point is that even if it turns out the events have absolutely no causes, it won’t follow the virtual particles have no causes for their beginning to exist; that cause will be the sea of energy of the quantum vacuum; the particles do come from somewhere.

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