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Why I think that the concept of causal creatio ex nihilo is logically impossible


Fanghur
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So, lately I've been spending quite a bit of time on William Lane Craig's Facebook page, and he is always espousing the idea of the universe being caused to come into existence ex nihilo, which is here defined as coming into existence with an efficient cause but no material cause. Now, to me this simply seems incoherent, because I cannot for the life of me think of a single coherent way in which this could logically occur. When we say that, for example, a carpenter causes a table to come into existence, we don't mean that the carpenter literally causally influenced the non-existent table such as to make it come into existence, what we mean is that the carpenter causally influenced pre-existing non-table material in such a way to cause them to become the table. Something which does not exist clearly has no potential to be influenced by a cause.

 

Causality (at least at the post-quantum level) necessarily involves at least three things: 1) the efficient cause, that which causally influences (2) the material cause, which is that which is causally influenced, and the interaction between the efficient and material causes produces (3) the effect. And the material cause doesn't necessarily have to be 'material' in the sense of being made of matter; it could be anything. For example, Christians claim that God is composed of some kind of immaterial substance that they call 'spirit' (the adjective 'spiritual' in this case means "Made of or consisting of spirit". Whatever spirit is supposed to be, it is not made of matter as we know it, and yet it is still perfectly coherent to say that something causally affected 'spirit' to produce an effect.

 

So what in the world does it even mean to say that God caused the universe to come into existence ex nihilo? It would mean that God didn't causally affect anything (including itself, since it is at least logically coherent to say that a god could be the efficient AND material cause of the universe), and the lack of causal interaction with anything resulted in the effect which is the universe coming into existence. Now look, as a metaphysical naturalist I don't believe that there are any supernatural deities, but I can say with confidence that even if there were such a thing, that entity would be be capable of performing actions that are logically impossible, as even the most ardent apologists will concede. Of course we also have the meaningless notion of time itself being CAUSED to begin existing, which since causality is itself a necessarily temporal phenomenon is itself logically incoherent.

 

Thoughts?

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Now look, as a metaphysical naturalist I don't believe that there are any supernatural deities, but I can say with confidence that even if there were such a thing, that entity would be be capable of performing actions that are logically impossible, as even the most ardent apologists will concede.

Like creating a square circle?

 

The problem with religion is, it's not based on logic. To me, it feels like a trap when someone tries to argue their (religious) case with logic. There's simply no way to do it. The argument you point out (creation ex nihilo) is a good example of that.

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I used to find this problematic as well, except the concept also seems to have found its way into theoretical physics as well. Consider Alexander Vilenkin's models of quantum tunneling from "nothing". If it is possible from the standpoint of physics, then certainly it is possible from the standpoint of God.

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I used to find this problematic as well, except the concept also seems to have found its way into theoretical physics as well. Consider Alexander Vilenkin's models of quantum tunneling from "nothing". If it is possible from the standpoint of physics, then certainly it is possible from the standpoint of God.

What physicists mean when they use the term 'nothing' is not the same thing that philosophers mean when they use the term 'nothing', they're typically referring to some kind of quantum vacuum state. But even setting that aside, it would still have a material cause in that case, namely the quantum vacuum energy, though it might lack an efficient cause, which is really what people tend to mean when they talk about the 'cause' of something.

 

Causality as we know it seems to simply not apply at the quantum level. What I am talking about is the concept of something CAUSING something else to come into existence with no material cause (i.e. to somehow bring about the effect that is something coming into existence, despite not exerting any sort of causal influence on anything whatsoever, including the 'cause' itself. And I have yet to find a single coherent explanation for how such a thing is even coherent; it's essentially like saying that God hit a home run without a ball.

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I'm not sure what logic has to do with the idea of cause, maybe you should elaborate.

 

Secondly, while one might question if there is meaning in the concept you mention, it doesn't follow that since one one can't think of how something might happen, it can't happen.

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Using the extremely limited intellectual prowess of an ephemeral species to explore the inadequately understood aspects of a universe that has received only cursory study and presuming that laws which apply to the here and now also applied in the the there and qwrtach and forming an absolute conclusion appears to be an exercise in futility.

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Okay, just to clarify, what I meant to say is that I am confident that even if a deity did exist, it WOULD NOT be capable of performing logically impossible actions. The autocorrect messed up.

I disagree. Even in the quantum world, some of our middle world logic gets twisted. Since God is an ill-defined placeholder, I can define it as "that which defies logic". Ta-Da!

 

I agree with you that comparing the creation of matter, energy and time at the quantum level to the making of a table is pointless

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I'm not sure what logic has to do with the idea of cause, maybe you should elaborate.

 

Secondly, while one might question if there is meaning in the concept you mention, it doesn't follow that since one one can't think of how something might happen, it can't happen.

If a proposition is logically self-contradictory, then it is by definition logically impossible. And saying that God causally produced an effect X, despite not carrying out any causal interactions on anything whatsoever (an affectless effect) IS self-contradictory, since effects are by definition the result of something being affected.

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If a proposition is logically self-contradictory, then it is by definition logically impossible. And saying that God causally produced an effect X, despite not carrying out any causal interactions on anything whatsoever (an affectless effect) IS self-contradictory, since effects are by definition the result of something being affected.

 

So basically your beef is that he used the word cause in a way that you feel doesn't work.

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So basically your beef is that he used the word cause in a way that you feel doesn't work.

 

No, my beef is that what he is saying cannot in any logically intelligible way be the case, anymore than hitting a home run without a ball could be the case.

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No, my beef is that what he is saying cannot in any logically intelligible way be the case, anymore than hitting a home run without a ball could be the case.

 

The concept of cause is induced, what we know about cause is from our experience of cause. I doubt you have any experience of what God or a spirit or whatever Craig is alluding to, so how can you say what such a thing can or can't cause and what does any of it have to do with logic?

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The concept of cause is induced, what we know about cause is from our experience of cause. I doubt you have any experience of what God or a spirit or whatever Craig is alluding to, so how can you say what such a thing can or can't cause and what does any of it have to do with logic?

Craig is pulling magic out of his a$$, but he wants to be taken seriously. He is using our everday experienced cause as justification, so it should either remain within those confines or he should admit he has no foundation. As you stated, we have no experience with a God or spirit, so why try to justify the idea with anything in the natural world that we can experience?

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Craig is pulling magic out of his a$$, but he wants to be taken seriously. He is using our everday experienced cause as justification, so it should either remain within those confines or he should admit he has no foundation. As you stated, we have no experience with a God or spirit, so why try to justify the idea with anything in the natural world that we can experience?

 

A religious person is most likely going to have a deity as a first cause, I don't see anything controversial about something like that, if you're not religious then obviously you're not going to give such an idea any value.

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Of course if you assume a God, you may think it helps start your car, heal your sickness and create a universe. If that is what it takes for someone to feel better, that's one thing, but if they are arguing with scientists and telling them IT MUST BE REQUIRED, that's different.

 

Just be honest about why they are inserting God. It isn't because of observed evidence or logic.

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