Ok, it’s more like a causal principle war, but I couldn’t pass up the title.
This post will be a follow-up of to my last post, where I will reply to Loke’s latest reply on the youtube channel Intellectual Conservatism. I will reply to some, but not all, of the issues raised in the video and also Loke’s written comments. I would recommend watching the youtube video before reading this, and maybe even switching between watching the video and reading my replies at the given timestamp.
Is Loke doing an internal critique?
At 6:16 Loke says that if Oppy’s theory entails a contradiction then it cannot be true, and this is what he shows with his Modus Tollens argument. In my previous comments section, Malpass asked Loke if he’s doing an internal critique, since, presumably, nothing interesting follows from the fact that Oppy’s theory contradicts Loke’s theory. Loke says yes, but it seems to me this is isn’t true. First, Oppy thinks the tu quoque to the MT argument is good, so it seems he thinks some premise of it must be false. Is Loke saying that Oppy accepts every premise in a valid argument but rejects the conclusion? This is not an interesting point, but Loke keeps bringing this up.
Loke’s statement of the problem
Here is how Loke states the problem from the comments in my previous blog:
We know of things/events/states which begin to exist e.g. my house, increasing in strength of electric field, stars, Big Bang. We know that whatever begins to exist could begin to exist (actuality imply metaphysical possibility=broadly logical possibility). So on Oppy’s view what is the relevant difference that explains why the initial state of reality (ISOR) begins uncaused but not others? As I explained in the debate, S is required. But S can only do the job of explaining why ISOR begins uncaused when ISOR has already begun uncaused. In that case, S is superfluous in accounting for why the actual initial state BEGUN rather than other broadly logically possible alternatives, because S comes too late, so to speak, in the order of explanation—the initial state already BEGUN to exists!
So Loke asks for a special property that metaphysically grounds why ISOR began to exist uncaused rather than other metaphysically possible alternatives. On an Aristotelian or branching theory of modality, all possible worlds share a necessary initial segment (in the context of the debate Oppy is granting a finite past). This means that any conceivable initial state other than ISOR is impossible, since there is only one possibility, namely, ISOR. Why ISOR rather than B? Because ISOR is necessary and B is impossible.
Here’s how this Aristotelian theory of modality works. Suppose the world is indeterministic and that a radioactive atom can decay at t1 or t2. This is to say that there are (at least) two possible ways the world can branch off to. These possibilities are grounded in the indeterministic causal powers of the radioactive atom. So the possibility of any later state of the world will depend on the prior state and its causal powers, just like how the atom’s decaying at t1 depended on the prior existence of the atom and its causal powers. We can think about how this goes until we go back in time to the first moment of time. Since the first moment of time has nothing causally before it (or so I say), there aren’t different ways initial state of reality could have gone; it’s necessary. There is no further fact for why ISOR is necessary, and it seems to me the same would have to be said for Loke’s view on why the Trinity is necessary rather than the Quadrinity. Here Loke would most likely reference his MT argument and say other things would begin to exist uncaused, but it seems to me that we should reject the metaphysical principles/premises that lead to this result, especially given that the tu quoque still seems fatal to me.
In explaining why ISOR began to exist uncaused rather than B, am I using the special property of necessity, or am I using a metaphysical principle? If I am using a special property, it doesn’t seem to me to be too late. I’m more inclined to say I’m using a metaphysical principle rather than a special property. Why think this metaphysical principle (or view on modality) is true? Here’s how Oppy argues for the Aristotelian view of modality in The Puzzle of Existence:
My favourite theory of modality has the evident advantage of theoretical frugality. On the one hand, if there are objective chances, then any theory of modality is surely committed to the possibility of the outcomes that lie in the relevant objective chance distributions. On the other hand, it is not clear that we have good reason to commit ourselves to any possibilities beyond those that are required by whatever objective chances there might be; at the very least, any expansion of the range of possibilities clearly requires some kind of justification.
So, as I understand it, he’s saying that contingent possibilities are explained by indeterministic causal powers. If you want to expand the range of contingent possibilities beyond those from indeterministic causal powers, this would require some justification.
The Too Close objection
At 9:45 Suan talks about the objection that if he wants to persuade his interlocutor he needs to appeal to common grounds and not use premises too close to the conclusion being rejected. I raised an objection like this in my comments section. Here’s how it goes. Recall that Loke uses his Modus Tollens argument to show that if we reject his causal premise—whatever begins to exist has a cause—then we get the bad result that other things would also begin to exist uncaused. Then, according to the tu quoque, Loke has the same problem because other timeless things would also exist uncaused. To defend against the tu quoque, Loke gives the symmetry-breaker of God being beginningless or initially timeless. One problem is that he uses a premise that’s very similar to the causal premise that’s being rejected; he’s saying something along the lines of “whatever begins to exist needs a special property … but timeless things don’t.” Why would anyone that rejects the causal premise accept this symmetry-breaker for the tu quoque? This symmetry-breaker is dialectically impotent given how close it is to the causal premise being rejected. Call this the Too Close objection.
Loke replies to the Too Close objection in two ways: (1) he thinks he does appeal to a common ground, and (2) what really matters is not common ground but whether his grounds correspond to reality. Concerning (1), to be clear, my Too Close objection is not that there’s no common ground; rather, it was directed at the use of timelessness in order to say that God doesn’t need a special property.
In my first post, I said we should use metaphysical principles rather than special properties, but Loke objected that abstract objects don’t make anything the case. He raised this objection numerous times in comments, so it should be addressed.
At 43:19 Loke responds to a tu quoque from Malpass: Doesn’t Loke also use abstract metaphysical principles like the causal principle? Loke replies:
I do refer to abstract principle ‘everything that begins to exist has a cause’, but this principle is just the consequence of my view that what makes things happen are concrete entities and their properties, which implies that without concrete causes doing the work nothing would begin to exist. That’s why uncaused events do not happen.
In Loke’s replies to me he also thought I was appealing to Platonic objects, but this is not the case. My metaphysical principles can have the same metaphysical status as his. Compare these two principles:
Loke: Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
Oppy: Whatever is not the first cause has a cause.
I see no reason why the latter has to be Platonic, if the former needn’t be. Loke says the causal principle “is just the consequence of [his] view that what makes things happen are concrete entities and their properties.” It seems you could equally justify that Oppy’s principle is just the consequence of his view that what makes things happen are concrete entities and their properties, which implies that without concrete causes doing the work there wouldn’t be non-initial events. That’s why uncaused non-initial events don’t happen. After all, on the Aristotelian view of modality, modal truths are grounded in causal powers. Call this the Me Too objection (or me quoque?).
Two forms of the Modus Tollens
At 47:20 Loke talks about two forms of his MT argument. According to the first form, if Oppy’s ISOR began to exist uncaused then later events would also begin to exist uncaused. According to the second form, if Oppy’s ISOR began to exist uncaused then other initial events would have begun to exist uncaused. Either one is sufficient to debunk Oppy’s theory.
At 54:00 Loke says that Oppy’s view on modality is only relevant to the second form of the MT—the one about the initial state. This is because Oppy claims that the initial state is necessary, and there cannot be other possible spacetime block beginning to exist alongside ours. On the other hand, the first form of the MT concerns later events, which are actual events like the increase of the strength of an electric field. Loke’s reasoning seems to be that we know that it’s possible that electric fields increase in strength, because they actually happen; being actual entails that it’s possible, but not vice versa. And since there no relevant difference between these possible events and the Oppy’s ISOR, where beginning to exist uncaused is concerned, these later events would begin to exist uncaused.
It’s possible I’m not understanding the problem. Oppy’s view on modality seems relevant to both forms of the MT. The reason it’s relevant to the first form—concerning later events—is that what’s possible for these later events will be set by the indeterministic causal powers of the previous event. This is why an increase in the strength of an electric field doesn’t begin to exist uncaused. All later events are indeterministically caused on this theory of modality. There isn’t any later branch that isn’t set by a cause. (Note, the point here only concerns the relevance of Oppy’s theory of modality to the first form.)
At 56:42 Loke talks about the second form of the MT—the one concerning the initial state. Loke says Oppy’s theory of modality is relevant to the second form, but it fails for two reasons. First, he says, Oppy’s theory of modality may be ok if the initial state is an immaterial, beginningless first cause, but it doesn’t work if initial state is a first cause which is a physical entity with beginning. He thinks this because physical things with beginnings can be arranged differently; for example, the tables and chairs in his room can be arranged differently, and, likewise, atoms can be arranged differently. So the thought is that it is problematic to think that the physical things of Oppy’s ISOR couldn’t be arranged differently, and hence be contingent. An immaterial, timeless first cause, on the other hand, doesn’t have this rearrangement problem.
It seems to me Oppy can simply deny this based on his preferred theory of modality. On that view, the possibility of some arrangement now doesn’t entail that it is possible as the ISOR. For example, while it’s possible that a rabbit begins to exist now, but that doesn’t mean that a rabbit is possible as the initial segment. What’s possible at any non-initial moment of time will depend on the previous state and its causal powers. It would take a long while in the evolution of the universe for rabbits to be possible. Contrary to what Loke says, we don’t know that the ISOR could be arranged differently through “science and observation.” We can observe physical things being rearranged at a specific time by its being caused, but the first cause is not something that can be caused to be rearranged in virtue of being first. The possible arrangements of later objects will depend on the previous state of the universe and its indeterministic causal powers. What Loke seems to be using here is a principle about modality. Maybe the principle is: Whatever can be rearranged is contingent. Oppy is free to reject this principle. Recall that Oppy favors his view based on theoretical frugality stating:
[I]t is not clear that we have good reason to commit ourselves to any possibilities beyond those that are required by whatever objective chances there might be; at the very least, any expansion of the range of possibilities clearly requires some kind of justification.
Loke is positing a contingent possibility that goes beyond those that come from causal powers.
Loke’s tu quoque symmetry-breaker of rearrangement
Recall that Loke thinks that Oppy’s branching theory of modality is ok for immaterial things but not for physical things, and this is because he has a symmetry-breaker, namely, we have no evidence that timeless immaterial things can be arranged differently, whereas we do for physical things. (I don’t think ‘arrangement’ or ‘rearrangement’ is the best word since that implies space, and presumably immaterial things, in this context, are non-spatial.) Loke thinks this symmetry-breaker dissolves the tu quoque. According to the tu quoque, if we follow Loke’s reasoning, then other timeless entities—like the Quadrinity—would exist. But, Loke says (I think), since we have no evidence that timeless immaterial things can be arranged differently, we have no evidence that they are contingent. Furthermore, Loke denies that conceivability entails metaphysical possibility. If he did accept it, I think his MT argument would easily fall to the tu quoque, since a Quadrinity is equally as conceivable as a Trinity. Now it’s going to take more work to run the tu quoque.
Loke says that we don’t know whether a Quadrinity is metaphysically possible. To support this, he says:
to prevent a quadrinity from existing uncaused beginninglessly in an initially changeless and timeless state, the preventing conditions can be part of the initially changeless and timeless state which makes such a state incompatible with a Quadrinity existing.
So the idea seems to be that, for all we know, the First Cause, in its timeless state, could have some preventing condition that prevents other timeless things, like the Quadrinity, from existing. To be clear, not only must it prevent the Quadrinity, but any other timeless thing. (I suspect he thinks this preventing condition is causal.) Given this epistemic possibility, Loke says the burden of proof is now on those that raise the tu quoque to “rule out” this epistemic possibility.
I don’t think that I have to rule it out. Isn’t it enough that a premise be more plausible than its denial, as Craig often says? So the question is: Is it more plausible than its denial that this timeless entity has this preventing condition? My initial thought is to wonder why Oppy’s ISOR can’t also have the preventing conditions be part of it such that it makes the alternatives incompatible with it; the epistemic possibility applies to Oppy’s ISOR just as well (another me quoque). In reply, Loke says we need to distinguish between states and events. For events the preventing conditions must be prior to it, but for timeless states, the preventing conditions can be part of it. I find it mysterious why this is so. Why is the distinction between events and states relevant? Causal priority can apply to the timeless state as well. Ask modified theistic activists who think God causes the timeless Platonic horde. And what special causal powers or properties can timeless things have that temporal things can’t? Loke merely offers the epistemic possibility of some preventing condition without specifying what that could be. Maybe Loke doesn’t know either what it could be. Maybe it’s simply a primitive power to prevent other things from existing. I see no reason why timeless entities have the advantage here.
Loke’s tu quoque symmetry-breaker of beginninglessness
At 1:16:28 they take about the beginninglessness symmetry-breaker. Recall the original tu quoque that Loke’s reasoning behind his MT would lead to other timeless entities existing. These special properties come “too late” to metaphysically ground why one thing begins to exist rather than another, and, according to the tu quoque, this applies to God’s timeless existence as well. Loke offers the property of beginninglessness as a symmetry-breaker for why God doesn’t need a special property. He replies:
It should be noted that I am NOT claiming that anything that exists requires a special property to explain why it exists. Such a principle is obviously false. E.g. my existence does not require a special property to explain why I exist. Rather, my existence is explained by my already-existing parents who brought me into existence and I am not required to have a special property S. …
God is supposed to have always already existed at all earlier durations and in the initial timeless state (which is what is meant by beginningless), hence no already-existing preexisting causes are required and He is not required to have a special property S. In this case, His beginninglessness is not a special property that explains why He exists; rather His beginninglessness is merely a way of describing His always-already existence, which also imply that no causes are required i.e. He would be uncaused. Hence, God exist uncaused doesn’t need to be explained by S.
It might asked whether ‘beginningless’ itself is a special property S. in reply, there are two distinct senses of explanation which needs to be clarified (1) a statement or account that makes something clear (OED). (2) to provide a metaphysical grounding for. In the case of ISOR begins uncaused, I was arguing that there needs to be a special property S that not only makes something clear but also provides a metaphysical grounding for why ISOR begins uncaused but B begins caused (but there cannot be such an S). In the case of God existing beginninglessly, God’s beginninglessness merely makes clear why is it the case that no cause or special property is needed (it doesn’t provide any metaphysical grounding which S is supposed to provide). In particular, by explicating the meaning of beginninglessness, we can see why it implies that God would be uncaused (assuming that God and ISOR are both unsustained). Thus, ‘beginningless’ itself is not a special property S.
In his book, Loke writes:
Proponents of the Kalam would argue that God being uncaused can be explained by God being beginningless (see Chap. 6), in which case being beginningless is a non-causal explanation and a property that is possessed by God when God already exists. (2017, p. 148)
In the book he says beginninglessness is a non-causal explanation for God being uncaused even though it is a property that God has when he already exists. In his above reply he clarified that he’s using the OED definition of “a statement or account that makes something clear,” and not a metaphysical grounding explanation. God’s being beginningless OED-explains why no special property is needed, and this implies that God is uncaused. To make it consistent with his book, the ‘implies’ must also be an OED-explanation, so God’s being beginningless also OED-explains why God is uncaused. We have two OED-explanations here: one for why no special property is needed and one for why God is uncaused. I take an OED-explanation to describe any kind of explanation since the point of any explanation is to make things clear. There are many kinds of explanations—grounding, causal, personal, mathematical etc.—and they all fit the OED explanation. I wonder what kind of explanation Loke is using to explain God’s existing uncaused, because it’s only fair that Oppy can use the same kind. Loke has already stated that it’s not a grounding explanation, and there can’t be a causal explanation to the first cause, so maybe he’s using metaphysical principles.
This part of the dialectic is a little bit of a tangent though, because OED-explaining why God exists uncaused by being beginningless is not relevant the tu quoque. We want to know why God exists uncaused rather than all the other metaphysically possible timeless beings. This is parallel to the challenge Loke gave to Oppy. Being timeless could also explain why a Quadrinity exists uncaused, and if there is no special property that the Trinity has, then—by the tu quoque—the Quadrinity would also exist uncaused. Since I already went over Loke’s objection to the Quadrinity objection, I’ll move on.
Edit 12/28: It occurred to me I missed a point about the Quadrinity. Loke says the burden of proof is on those raising the tu quoque to prove that the Quadrinity is metaphysically possible. In one sense this is easy, and in another sense this is hard. In his book (chapter 5) he talks about both the logical and metaphysical possibility of an entity/state of affairs. In his first debate with Oppy on Capturing Christianity, he also referred to the various logical possibilities of the universe. If he is going to use logical possibilities to run the MT on Oppy, then it’s fair to use logical possibilities to run the tu quoque back on him. By logical possibilities, he says he means the things that do no violate the laws of logic. In this sense, it’s easy to run the tu quoque since the Quadrinity or timeless ghosts don’t violate the laws of logic. It is after this first video where I ran the tu quoque. Things get tougher with a shift to metaphysical possibility, for one’s modal epistemology is important here. (It seems we’ve shifted to metaphysical possibility, and talk of logical and factual necessity has disappeared.) On one view, some suitably quaified version of conceivability entails possibility. This is one of the easier ways that would show that the Quadrinity is metaphysically possible, since the Quadrinity seems equally conceivable as the Trinity. But Loke says, “what’s conceivable is not always possible,” so it seems he rejects this principle. If we’re running Loke’s more austere modal epistemology (though he hasn’t specified it in detail), I suspect it’s going to be hard to prove the Quadrinity’s metaphysical possibility. Summing up: the tu quoque is easy if we’re using logical possibility, or conceivability, and hard if we’re using some austere form of modal epistemology. At the same time, the more austere one’s modal epistemology is, the harder it is to show that there are more possibilities than Oppy’s ISOR, which undermine the original MT.
This ends my reply to the video, but I want to conclude by raising two more points: another me quoque objection, and possible ramifications for theistic arguments.
Another me quoque objection
In the original debate, Loke says that the First Cause must be initially changeless. I can’t make sense of Craig’s hybrid view of God and time. On this view, God is timeless sans creation and temporal since creation. Supposing the view makes sense, why can’t the naturalist use it too? In the debate, Oppy pointed out that “nothing changes at a point.” So consider the first moment of time at t=0. Isn’t that initially changeless? (Isn’t every instant of time changeless?) Change happens when a substance gains or loses a property, and this takes duration. Is there any change at t=0? No. So, contrary to what was originally stated, the initial state of the universe isn’t at t=0 but timeless, since it’s initially changeless. We can now say that the universe is timeless sans change, and temporal since change such that it is not susceptible to Loke’s causal principle.
Possible ramifications for theistic arguments
I think there are some theists that will want to reject the reasoning behind Loke’s Modus Tollens argument. Perhaps you’re a theist that thinks God has the special property of perfection that metaphysically grounds why he exists rather than some other beginningless being. Perhaps you’re modified theistic activists like Davis and Gould that think that God creates the Platonic horde of abstract objects. If God is uncaused, what special property does God have that Platonic objects don’t? Since there can be no special property due to the “too late” objection, these Platonic objects would be uncaused, contrary to modified theistic activists.