Another response to Andrew Loke on the Kalam

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.

Abstract Objects

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.

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Graham Oppy vs Andrew Loke on the Kalam: my critique of Loke’s argument

Recently Oppy and Loke had a debate on the Kalam. In this post I want to point out some flaws in Loke’s argument. One difference between Loke’s Kalam and Craig’s is that Loke has what he calls the Modus Tollens argument. Here’s how Loke states the argument at 50:17:

  1. If our universe begins to exist uncaused, other things would also begin to exist uncaused. Why? Because, firstly, there will be no cause that makes it the case that only the universe rather than other things begin to exist uncaused. Secondly, whatever properties that differentiate the universe and other things will be had by these things only when they had already begun. Thirdly, the circumstances is compatible with other things beginning to exist. So, given 1, 2, and 3, this implies there will be no difference between our universe and other things and other events where beginning to exist uncaused is concerned. So if there is no relevant difference what this means is that other things would also begin to exist uncaused.
  2. It is not the case that those other things begin to exist uncaused.
  3. It is not the case that our universe began to exist uncaused.

Loke’s idea is that if Oppy rejects the causal premise of the Kalam—whatever begins to exist has a cause—then “those other things would also begin to exist uncaused.” Since Oppy doesn’t think the non-initial things begin to exist uncaused, he accepts Loke’s 2), and this means he denies Loke’s 1).

This implications of rejecting the causal premise goes at least back to Craig, as he writes:

If things really could come into being uncaused out of nothing, then it becomes inexplicable why just anything or everything does not come into existence uncaused from nothing. Why do bicycles and Beethoven and root beer not pop into being from nothing? Why is it only universes that can come into being from nothing? (Craig and Sinclair 2009, p. 186)

Craig formalizes the argument like so:

  1. If it is possible for something to come into being without a cause at a first moment of time, then it is possible for things to come into being without a cause at later moments of time.
  2. It is not possible for things to come into being without a cause at later moments of time.
  3. Therefore, it is not possible for something to come into being without a cause at a first moment of time (Craig 2010).

But Loke wants to make a bolder claim than Craig. He changes Craig’s 1) to:

  1. If the initial state of reality began to exist uncaused, then certain states of affairs would begin to exist uncaused at later moments of time.

So while Craig is saying if we reject the causal premise of the Kalam, then it is possible for things to pop into existence at later times, Loke is saying that it’s guaranteed that things to pop into existence at later times. Loke’s reasoning, as he states in 1), is that if there’s no relevant difference between Oppy’s actual initial state and other logically possible initiate states, then if the former pops into being then the latter will too. (Presumably the space of other logically possible states is actually infinite, so the universe just got real crowded!)

The way out for Oppy, Loke says, is to posit some special property S that the actual initial state has that other logically possible initial states don’t have that metaphysically grounds (Loke 2017, p. 146) why the actual initiate state occured rather than the alternatives. (‘Metaphysical grounding’ is often used liberally and can mean a lot of different things, but in this context it has to be some kind of non-causal explanation. It can’t be a causal explanation since we’re talking about the First Cause, and it’s analytic that there’s no cause prior to the first cause.) But before you answer what the special property S is, there’s a problem, says Loke. In order for the initial state to have S, it would already have to exist. In that case, S is superfluous in accounting for why the actual initiate state occurred rather than other logically possible alternatives, because S comes too late, so to speak, in the order of explanation—the initial state already exists! To sum up, Loke originally asked for a special property S that would explain why the actual initiate state occurred rather than the alternatives, but then it turns out that it doesn’t matter a lick what S is, since S arrives too late for it to do any explaining. Loke’s conclusion: it’s impossible to explain why the actual initial state occurred rather than alternatives, if we reject his causal premise. Furthermore, given that there’s no special property explaining the relevant difference between the actual initial state and other logically possible states, the universe just got really crowded with things guaranteed to pop into existence. That’s how Loke sees it anyway. I don’t buy this reasoning, but let’s continue.

So the problem is that Oppy can’t explain why one initial state occurred uncaused rather than an alternative one. It’s natural to wonder how we could explain God’s existing uncaused without falling into similar problems. After all, whatever special property S that we use to explain why God is uncaused will already have to be had by God, so that S should be similarly superfluous. Loke is aware of this worry, so how does Loke reply?

The requirement for explaining ‘why something begins to exist uncaused’ is different from the requirement for explaining ‘why something is uncaused’. In the case of … [God] … ‘beginningless’ is a property that can do the explanatory job for why God exists uncaused … (2017, p. 148-9).

So Loke makes a distinction between a) beginning to exist uncaused and b) being uncaused. In the case of the latter, it’s ok to use the special property of being beginningless. I can’t make sense of this. How is the difference between a) and b) relevant to the problem? It’s still the case that God would already have to exist to have that special property. This same reasoning was used to block Oppy’s reply but Loke doesn’t apply it to himself. This seems like special pleading.

One might object that that this is merely a tu quoque on my part; I’ve only said the same problem applies to Loke too without showing where his argument goes wrong. That’s true, but my tu quoque is useful because if the same problem afflicts Loke’s view, then that gives us no reason to favor his view over Oppy’s. But I think I can do one better; I can show where the argument goes wrong. The problem is in having this requirement of a special property S that (in some impossible sense) exist before the thing in question. Instead of appealing to a special property that things already have (whether timelessly or temporally), we appeal to a timeless, metaphysical principle.

In fact, this seems to be just what Oppy does, and what Loke should do. Loke has his principles, including the causal premise, and Oppy has his principles: 1) everything has an explanation, 2) all non-initial things have causes. Both Loke’s and Oppy’s principles would explain why non-initial things don’t pop into existence uncaused. So Oppy says that if we compare theories, his theory is simpler and explains the same things in the universe. So he wins on simplicity: he has one less entity. This is Oppy’s strategy: comparing theories and seeing whose has the better theoretical virtues.

While this is fine, I think we can do better. I think we can do an internal critique of Loke’s view. I’ve already mentioned the special pleading, but there is one more case of potential special pleading. Recall the first premise of Loke’s Modus Tollens argument. Here’s my parody. I keep the structure of his premise while replacing a few words:

  1. If God exists uncaused, other timeless things would also exist uncaused. Why? Because, firstly, there will be no cause that makes it the case that only the God rather than other timeless things exist uncaused. Secondly, whatever properties that differentiate God and other timeless things will be had by these things only when they already exist. Thirdly, the circumstances is compatible with other timeless things existing. So, given 1, 2, and 3, this implies there will be no difference between God and other timeless things. So if there is no relevant difference what this means is that other timeless things would also exist.

So if we accept the reasoning behind Loke’s first premise and apply it to God, we get the result that all the logically possible timeless beings would exist, a seemingly actual infinity. Timeless beings could be made of ectoplasm or perhaps they’re all immaterial minds. Surely an unwelcome result.

I conclude with two points as a reminder: 1) Loke special pleads by using a special property that God can only have if he already exists, while Oppy isn’t allowed to, and 2) if we keep Loke’s reasoning behind the first premise of his Modus Tollens, then we have a similar unwelcome result with timeless beings.

Edit 12/10: It occurred to me that I should add one more of Oppy’s principles to address one of Loke’s worries. Oppy holds to a branching view of possible worlds, where all possible worlds share an initial state, and he holds this view because it is parsimonious (see his chapter in Puzzle of Existence). So when Loke asks, “Why is the initial state A rather than B?” Oppy could answer, “Because A is necessary, and it follows from my branching view on modality.”

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Some remarks on Cameron Bertuzzi’s Kalam

Recently, Cameron Bertuzzi and Rationality Rules (RR) have been having a back-and-forth youtube debate on the Kalam. So far Cameron put out an opening statement, RR responded, and Cameron responded back. I’ve only watched RR’s response though Cameron’s videos, but from what I’ve seen I think a lot of Cameron’s responses to RR are good. In this post, I want to respond to some of the points Cameron brought up in supporting his Kalam. I think it would be helpful to watch his 2nd video before reading this.

Cameron states his version of the Kalam like so:

1) There is a first cause
2) If there is first cause, then God exists
3) God exists

Cameron’s support for 1) is a Grim Reaper paradox. He references Pruss’ book, which goes through a slew of paradoxes and offers causal finitism as a unified solution to all the paradoxes. This think this argument is pretty strong and more plausible than not, so I would not contest this premise. As Cameron rightly points out, certainty isn’t required for knowledge. Instead, 2) is what I think is a bit harder to defend.

Cameron’s primary argument for 2) starts with the search for a relevant difference between the caused and uncaused. He considers properties like shape, size, color, and power and concludes that these are not relevant differences. For example, if a phone was instead the shape of an elephant then it would not be uncaused in virtue of that shape; i.e., shape is not a relevant difference. He then proposes that the relevant difference between the caused and uncaused is limits. This is to say that all limits have causes, and the uncaused things are not limited. In support of this he says, “Part of the reason why we think that rocks, branches, people, cars and mountains have causes is because they’re limited in various ways.” I don’t think this is right. The reason I think these things are caused is that I think everything except the first cause is caused and these things clearly come too late in the history of the universe to be the first cause. Being limited is not any part of my reasoning.

To further support the idea that limits are the relevant difference he says (at 21:44 of 1st video):

Some atheists will say that an eternal universe doesn’t need a cause; an eternal universe has no limit in time. It never began to exist. Removing a limit, in this case, removes the need for a causal explanation of that limit. An infinite universe doesn’t need an explanation, so say many atheists. Now, for the record, I don’t think that an eternal universe, just in virtue of being eternal, is completely unlimited. It still would seem to have limits in value, and in power, and maybe even in size and some other different areas, but the point is that a lot of atheists seem to recognize that limits are a relevant different between the caused and the uncaused.

I think this example is misleading. I suspect the reasoning of these atheists is that if the universe is past infinite then this suggests is an infinite regress of causes such that there is no need for a cause of the whole infinite regress. So I don’t think it is time’s being unlimited in itself that drives the intuition that the universe as a whole is uncaused, but rather the infinite regress of causes.

Additionally, time’s being unlimited in the past bears little resemblance to other unlimited things like unlimited goodness, unlimited mass, unlimited spiciness or unlimited hotels, since these latter unlimited things suggest neither an infinite regress of causes nor its being uncaused. The fact that ‘limited’ can be applied to the diverse list of things just mentioned makes me wonder whether we should treat it univocally across all these examples rather than equivocally. For example, I don’t think Cameron would accept that a chili pepper with unlimited spiciness or mass would suggest that its spiciness or mass is uncaused. Sometimes being unlimited calls into question the very coherence of the idea; e.g., is unlimited or infinite mass even possible? Unfortunately, Cameron never defines what it is to be limited (perhaps taking it as a semantic primitive). Concerning ordinal and cardinal numbers, Leon (2019) points out, “by the very nature of the case, everything has limits. For example, the infinite set containing all the natural numbers has limits, with an endless series of larger infinite ordinals and cardinals above them.“ Rasmussen seems to accept this and I think we can get an idea of what Ramussen means by limits when he writes:

My proposal so far, then, is that a maximal foundation would have no fundamental feature along a continuum of potentially (i.e., conceivably) surpassed magnitudes.I should also clarify that maximal features are not the same as infinite magnitudes. I agree with Leon that even infinite magnitudes are conceivably surpassed. The fundamental features, then, would be nonquantitative features, like being independent, being foundational, having supreme power, and so on. (Note: having supreme power is not a quantity of power, but a quality or kind of power; or, if we want to call it a “quantity,” it a special, unsurpassable quantity (Rasmussen & Leon, 2019, p. 140-141).)

By ‘nonquantitative’ I think Rasmussen is referring to qualitative features, but not just any qualitative features (like spiciness) but the perfections. So, unless one thinks there are examples of unlimited things that imply being uncaused that are not perfections (I think time doesn’t work), I suggest that we get rid of ‘limits’ and simply use ‘perfections’. If this is right, then his proposed relevant difference between the caused and the uncaused are the perfections. Now the supporting principle changes from “whatever is limited has a cause” to the more straightforward “whatever is not perfect has a cause.” Perhaps Cameron would disagree with dropping limits for perfections. The issue here would be clearer if ‘limit’ was defined or given an analysis, since it is crucial to the argument.

For my part I don’t think perfections (or limits) are a relevant difference. I don’t think there are any relevant differences. Here’s an inductive way it could be argued that there are no relevant differences:

There is no relevant difference from being the 4th cause and the 3rd cause.
There is no relevant difference from being the 3rd cause and the 2nd cause.
In general, there is no relevant difference from being the nth cause and the (n-1)th cause.
Therefore, there is no relevant difference from being the 2nd cause and the (uncaused) 1st cause.

I think this inductive argument has a little bit of force, but the main reason I don’t think perfection (or limits) is a relevant differences is that I don’t see it as doing any explaining. That is, I don’t feel an explanatory itch is scratched when perfection (or limits) is posited as a relevant difference. Perfection is supposed to explain why it is uncaused, but it seems to me the direction of explanation goes the other way: its being uncaused explains why it’s perfect (along with the other perfect-making properties). Being uncaused is a perfect-making property; being uncaused makes it perfect.

There’s one additional problem specifically for Trinitarians (though this isn’t my reason for being skeptical of perfection as a relevant difference). The question arises as to whether God being 3 persons is a limit; after all, 3 lbs., or 3 sides, or 3 meters count as a limit. One potential answer Cameron talks about (following Swinburne and Rasmussen) is that 3 persons are required for cooperative love. Cooperative love is when two people can cooperate in loving another, such as when two parents cooperate to love their child. Cooperative love adds extra value to the world that you can’t have with only 2 persons. So if 3 persons are perfect in virtue of cooperative love, then it’s actually not a limit. But why not more than 3 persons? Cameron suggests Ockham’s razor. I think this reply doesn’t work, because it seems clear to me that if even if there isn’t a new category of love when you have 4 persons, you still have more value in the world with 4 people loving. You don’t Ockham’s razor off more value. So the perfect being should be an actual infinity of persons, yet there is no highest infinite cardinality, meaning a perfect being is impossible. The same problem occurs if actual infinites are impossible, since there is no highest finite number.

But I think this talk of love might actually be the wrong path. Rasmussen makes the following point in a different context:

I must make clear why the value of a being could differ from the value of its life. To illustrate the distinction, imagine a world that contains exactly one sentient being who experiences nothing but intense suffering for its entire life. This life is tragic. This world is tragic. Yet, notice that the being itself is not thereby tragic. In fact, part of why suffering is bad is that it harms someone who has something good inside—i.e., some value. In this case, the value of the being is immeasurably greater than the value of its life experience.

In view of the distinction at hand, we can see that beings could have more value than their world. It follows that it is theoretically possible that, while a supreme foundation has the highest value, the value of the world does not (and cannot). (Rasmussen & Leon, 2019, p. 264.)

Here Rasmussen makes the plausible distinction between the value of the being and the value of the world. What’s important in the context of Cameron’s Kalam is the value of the being: the perfect being from which everything flows. So I think even if the experience of cooperative love adds to the value of the world, it does not add to the value of the being. It seems to me that 4 persons are more valuable than 3, 5 is more valuable than 4, and so on. So I think the Trinitarian is not off the hook.

There is an additional problem for anyone holding to something like Swinburne’s view, because on that view The Son and The Spirit are caused to exist. Even if it can be shown that 3 is perfect, that perfection would be caused by something limited (i.e., 1 person, the Father). Swinburne writes:

The Father is the Father because he has the essential property of not being caused to exist by anything else …. The Son is the Son because he has the essential property of being caused to exist by an uncaused divine person acting alone. The Spirit is the Spirit because he is caused to exist by an uncaused divine person in cooperation with a divine person who is caused to exist by the uncaused divine person acting alone. (Swinburne 2010, p. 32)

So we have a limit that is uncaused, and a perfection that is caused. This would be a counterexample to limits being the relevant difference. I think the problem here isn’t fatal, since one can deny that The Son and the Spirit are caused.

Cameron makes an additional argument based on recent work by Byerly (2019):

Here’s one additional reason to think that the first cause is also morally perfect. The best explanation why the first cause is unlimited, uncaused, omnipotent, and has the power to be omniscient, is that it’s perfect. These characteristic, these attributes, are what philosophers call perfections. I take it as pretty obvious that if the first cause were perfect, then it would have these perfections, after all it has all perfections, so obviously it would have these perfections. But what about an imperfect being? Couldn’t an imperfect being still have these particular perfections? I mean, yea, that’s possible. It’s possible that an imperfect thing just happens to have these particular perfections, it’s also possible that a billion tiny aliens put the bowl in my sink. A possible explanation is not necessarily the best explanation. The best explanation why the first cause has these perfections is that it has all perfections. And, so, if the first cause has all perfections, then it obviously has the perfection of being morally perfect.

I have a lot to say about Byerly’s paper, but I will hold off on posting it. I think it misses an obvious and trivial solution for naturalists. For now I want to say that Cameron missed a crucial word in explaining the argument. Byerly is trying to use universal generalizations to explain observations of their instances, and not the instances themselves. For example, that all ravens are black explains why I observe a particular raven to be black. So, instead of saying “the best explanation why the first cause has these perfections is that it has all the perfections,” he should say “the best explanation why we find that the first cause has these perfections is that it has all the perfections.” This difference makes all the difference in the world.

To see the difference, consider a modification of an example from Eddington (1939). You use a net to catch fish from a lake and observe that all the fish are longer than 10 inches long. You then notice that there are holes in the net such that any fish smaller than 10 inches would escape. Suppose you are further informed that half the fish in the lake are smaller than 10 inches, while half are greater. We can ask two questions: (1) Why are these fish longer than 10 inches? And (2) Why did I observe that the fish are longer than 10 inches? An answer to the first question would appeal to internal features of the fish such as its genetics, age, and so on, while an answer to the second question would (at least) appeal to the holes in the net. Byerly’s question is analogous to this latter one, but it is a bit more precise. Byerly wants to know about the internal feature of the being itself that accounts for why we find the property in question.

References

Byerly, T. Ryan. “From a necessary being to a perfect being.” Analysis 79.1 (2019): 10-17.

Rasmussen, Joshua, and Felipe Leon. Is God the Best Explanation of Things?. Springer International Publishing, 2019.

Swinburne, Richard. Was Jesus God?. OUP Oxford, 2010.

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Why isn’t Atheism the default position according to William Lane Craig?

I found this interesting passage by Craig in A Debate on God and Morality, which is about a debate that Craig had with Wielenberg:

Platonism is a metaphysical view which is so extravagant that it makes theism—which itself involves hefty metaphysical commitments!—look modest by comparison …. Given this strange bifurcation of reality into these two causally unconnected domains, it would be much more credible to suppose that one of the categories is empty. But concrete objects are indisputably real and well-understood, in contrast to abstract objects. So, van Inwagen maintains, the presumption should be that abstract objects do not exist. Nominalism of some sort is thus the default position. (Craig, 2020)

This got me thinking: Shouldn’t atheism be the default position or presumption for the same reason? After all, Craig does acknowledge that theism “involves hefty metaphysical commitment.” It’s just that it’s modest in comparison to Platonism. Yet elsewhere Craig writes:

Certain atheists in the mid-twentieth century were promoting the so-called “presumption of atheism.” At face value, this would appear to be the claim that in the absence of evidence for the existence of God, we should presume that God does not exist. Atheism is a sort of default position, and the theist bears a special burden of proof with regard to his belief that God exists.

So understood, such an alleged presumption is clearly mistaken.  For the assertion that “There is no God” is just as much a claim to knowledge as is the assertion that “There is a God.”  Therefore, the former assertion requires justification just as the latter does.  It is the agnostic who makes no knowledge claim at all with respect to God’s existence.  He confesses that he doesn’t know whether there is a God or whether there is no God.[i]

and:

[T]here is a huge difference between an atheist and an agnostic. The agnostic makes no knowledge claim at all. But the atheist is making a knowledge claim. He is saying God does not exist. That is a knowledge claim that requires an argument or justification in the same way that the claim God does exist. [ii]

Two points. First, Craig makes a point that the atheist appears to be using some kind of faulty absence of evidence reasoning. I’ll grant that, as it’s not important for my point. My question is: Why can’t the atheist reason just as Craig reasoned with respect to Platonism? That is, the theist is making a “hefty” metaphysical claim that is far different from the other things we think exist, so the default position is that God does not exist.

Second, Craig says that the atheist and theist are making knowledge claims so it requires an argument or justification. This suggests to me that he thinks agnosticism is the default position, and that it doesn’t require argument or justification. If I’m reading this right, then it seems Craig should think agnosticism is the default position with respect to abstract objects.

References

Craig, William Lane, and Erik J. Wielenberg. A Debate on God and Morality: What is the Best Account of Objective Moral Values and Duties?. Routledge, 2020.


[i] https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/question-answer/definition-of-atheism/

[ii] https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-3/doctrine-of-god-part-13/excursus-on-natural-theology-part-28/

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William Lane Craig’s moral argument and the speed of light

There’s this fairly well-known moral argument for God that’s popularly defended by William Lane Craig. In this short post, I want to present what I think is a novel rebuttal. Let’s look at Craig’s moral argument:

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist
  3. Therefore, God exists.

I want to focus on the first premise: If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist. Now let’s suppose God doesn’t exist, but a demigod does. Demigod is a necessary being, has the same moral virtues that God has, is equally omniscient, and is very powerful, yet he is not quite omnipotent. For example, let’s suppose demigod is not omnipotent because he cannot make things go faster than the speed of light. I think there are two main conceptions of the philosopher’s God: (1) the greatest conceivable being, or (2) an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect and necessary being. Demigod seems to not satisfy either of these conceptions. So, Craig has to say that if God did not exist, and demigod did exist, then objective moral values and duties would not exist.

This seems to be an odd consequence of Craig’s 1st premise. God and demigod are very much alike, save for the fact that demigod can’t make things go faster than the speed of light. How can this difference be a difference-maker when it comes to objective moral values and duties? What do facts about making things travel faster than the speed of light have to do with objective moral values and duties? Since demigod can’t make things go faster than the speed of light I don’t have an obligation to save the drowning baby? The only relevance power might have is the need to hold people morally accountable in terms of heaven and hell, yet demigod has sufficient power for that.

The goal here is to point out that Craig is making a fairly bold claim in this deductive argument. He’s not merely saying that God would better explain or ground morality than demigod or other views would; he’s saying that only God could do that, and it’s far from obvious why demigod can’t do just as well in grounding morality.

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