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Re: The Cosmological Argument for God.

Hi Smith. I quote my first conclusions in chapter 10 of The Logic of Causation: "One of the principal questions we posed, you will recall, was whether the cause of the cause of something is itself a cause of that thing or not, and if it is, to whether it is so to the same degree or a lesser degree. This issue of causal (or effectual) chains is what the investigation of causal syllogism is all about. What our dispassionate research has shown is that it is absurd to expect ordinary reasoning, unaided by such patient formal reflections, to arrive at accurate results. The answer to the question about chains is resounding and crucial: the cause of a cause is not necessarily itself a cause, and if it is a cause it need not be one to the same degree. Once the scientific impact of this is understood, the importance of such research becomes evident."

The Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR), though it applies to most material things, is not thought to be valid any longer (by modern physics) in the subatomic domain and maybe in relation to the Big Bang, for a start. But even apart from that, it concerns causation, but does not apply to volition, since this would imply no freedom for the will. When we will something, we may have a "reason" in the sense of a motive or purpose, i.e. in the sense of being influenced by various thoughts, but we are not determined in the strict sense of causation. Moreover, it is reasonable to assume that we are capable of sheer whim, without any motive or purpose or influential thoughts. You'd have to read what I wrote on these topics to follow the arguments. In any case, the PSR cannot be taken as more than a heuristic principle, a rule of thumb.

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Re: The Cosmological Argument for God.

Hi Avi,

Regarding Quantum Physics, I assume you're referring to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. As I understand it, that principle concerns the predictability (regarding the position and momentum) of subatomic particles. But to infer from this uncertainty that the behaviour of particles is uncaused seems to me unwarranted; the mere fact that we can't predict something doesn't mean it has no cause.

Given our otherwise uniform experience of cause and effect, isn't it more likely that a cause exists which we have yet to detect than that there is no cause? It just seems so inconceivable to me that PSR could be violated that I'm sure taking this position would involve a contradiction, but at the moment I can't articulate it. I'll have to think about it a bit more.

Re: The Cosmological Argument for God.

I would agree with you that uncertainty is about knowledge not about fact, perhaps, but I am not a physicist. The fact is that some or most physicists would opt for the Copenhagen interpretation. As a logician/philosopher I have to keep an open mind.

The fact is, as I show in The Logic of Causation, the idea of a law of causation (that everything must have a deterministic cause) has NO formal basis - it is an assumption, a generalization. And the fact is, to repeat, that if there was such a law in truth there would be no volition. Note that I make a distinction between human volition and natural spontaneity.

I assure you there is no contradiction in denying PSR is universal. If you are really interested in the issue, as I was, then read The Logic of Causation and read Volition and Allied Causal Concepts.

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Re: The Cosmological Argument for God.

I'm currently reading "Future Logic", but "The Logic of Causation" is next on my reading list. :-)

Regarding the Cosmological Argument, a key distinction is made between so-called "essentially" ordered causal series and "accidentally" ordered series. An example of the former would be a cup sitting on a table; the cup remaining 1 metre above the floor depends on the presence of the table here and now - remove the table and the cup falls to the floor.

An example of the latter causal series would be a father begetting a son. The son existing does not depend on the continued existence of the father; even if the father dies the son continues to exist.

God, according to the argument, must exist in order to avoid an infinite regress of essential causes (which are causes in "hierachical" sense, rather than in a temporal sense). So the argument for God is really about what keeps things in existence here and now, rather than a God who may have created the universe in the distant past, but may or may not have a hand in it now.

But some have objected that there are really no such things as "essential" causal chains. Because of the law of inertia every causal chain is accidental. There is no need for any God to "keep things in existence", because "no change" doesn't require a changer, they say. So every causal chain is a temporal one which stretches back to the big-bang and prior to it (which is a mystery).

It seems to me that the objection fails, and that the distinction between these kinds of causal chains is a real and significant one. But I'd be interested in your opinion on this.

Re: The Cosmological Argument for God.

Interesting. Let's put this in if-then terms.

Essential: if table present (C), cup on it can remain suspended (E); if table removed (not-C), cup falls (not-E). In this case, C is a necessary cause of E (but not complete, since the cup can be taken away from the table). And in truth, C is not even necessary to E, since the cup could be kept suspended by other means; strictly-speaking it is contingent, then.

Accidental: If father (C) begets son, then son (E) comes into existence; if father dies, son does not necessarily die too. Here, the theses in the two propositions are not identical, i.e. the second one is not about father not-begetting son but about father disappearing after begetting son. So, the two propositions are not really about one and the same causal relation. If we ignore this, and assume we can come up with a better example, we might say that father is a partial cause of son (mother and other factors being involved too); and there is no logical reason to expect the departure of father to completely cause the son to depart.

So, what I am saying is: this kind of discourse is based on approximate and inaccurate understanding of causal relations. The examples you have given me, at least, are inadequate.

I would say the substance is inadequate too. Why? If we have a precise idea of causal relations, as given in The Logic of Causation and in Volition and Allied Causal Concepts, we see that the issues are more complex than depicted.

It is conceivable that God is (by His will) the complete and necessary cause of the first event in the material world (say the initial lump of matter and the Big Bang of it), and thence in a deterministic world all subsequent events follow necessarily. That would be "essential" causal concatenation, I guess.

But this is not the idea of Creation (at least, as imagined by Judaism, and I assume Christianity). The idea is that God (by will) created material bodies and souls, the former being subject to determinism (perhaps with exceptional natural spontaneities at the quantum level) and the latter being partly subject to determinism and partly autonomous (i.e. having freedom of will). In that case, there is no assertion of causal concatenation in the former sense. Power is given to humans (and maybe higher animals, and maybe subatomic particles) to behave in unforced ways. This is not "essential", but not "accidental" either (at least, not for humans).

Smith, one thing that I have avoided saying (so as to keep the conversation short) from the start is that my sentence "a cause of a cause of something is not necessarily a cause of that thing" is not as directly related to the issue of PSR, as you seem to think. This sentence is applicable even within PSR. This is clearly proved in the Logic of Cauzsation.

As regards Future Logic. You do well to study it, because it really contains the basis of all my subsequent work, on Inductive logic and on Causal logic. So, wise move. My books are long, but rich in new material. I personally enjoy reading long books by authors I respect for their careful treatment of details. You should send me your e-mail at so I send you updates occasionally.

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Re: The Cosmological Argument for God.

Hi Avi,

So, the two propositions are not really about one and the same causal relation.

That's right, they're not. But the if-then counterfactual way of expressing the causes doesn't make a distinction between "essential" and "accidental". Maybe a better example of the two kinds of causes would be the following:

Suppose I go to a concert. The presence of the music depends on the orchestra generating it there and then - if the orchestra stops playing, then I no longer hear the music (essential cause).

On the other hand, I may have a CD of the concert, in which case I can sit at home and listen to it. The presence of the music no longer depends on the orchestra; whether they are playing or not I can still hear the music (accidental cause). But the orchestra is still the "cause" of the music, because if it had not existed, nor would the CD.

Another essential cause is the generator which causes the lights in my house to stay on; stop the generator and the lights go out.

It is conceivable that God is (by His will) the complete and necessary cause of the first event in the material world (say the initial lump of matter and the Big Bang of it), and thence in a deterministic world all subsequent events follow necessarily. That would be "essential" causal concatenation, I guess.

No, that would be an accidental cause because God in that case only started the ball rolling, as it were. God as essential cause (which is what the cosmological argument is arguing for) is the current SUSTAINER and GENERATOR of the world, in the way that the orchestra generates and sustains the music at the concert. God as merely accidental cause would be like listening to the CD; creator, yes, but not necessarily sustainer of existents.

Re: The Cosmological Argument for God.

Hi Smith.

I would recommend you read the first three chapters (or at least chapter two) of The Logic of Causation, so you have a clear idea of the exact definitions of the determinations of causation. This would save both you and me much time:

Briefly put: take you concert/CD example. This specific orchestra's specific performance only plays once. If they stop playing today, you do not hear them. They might play another day, however. Or another orchestra might play the same piece. Or there might be a CD, or another. All these factors have to be clarified. What are you referring to specifically? Is it this orchestra, this day, this piece of music, this performance of it? When you pinpoint just what you refer to, then you can discuss causal issues.

It seems from what you said that by "essential cause" you mean "necessary cause", i.e. a sine qua non. C is a necessary cause of E, if and only if "if not C, then not E" is true (plus other conditions, see above link). If this is not quite true, i.e. if the absence of C (precisely pinpointed, to repeat) in certain circumstances does not imply the absence of E, then what you have at best is a "contingent cause". Perhaps the latter is what you mean by "accidental cause".

As regards God. The idea of God as generating and sustaining the world every moment is found in Judaism and in Islam, and I assume also in Christian doctrines. Many issues arise in this regard.

The Aristotelian idea of the First Cause (or Prime Mover or Unmoved Mover) seems to suggest that God created the rest of the world, apparently in the way of an efficient cause or final cause; this idea was apparently the basis of Thomist views on the subject. The Occasionalism of Al Ghazali considers God as constantly willing all events in the universe; when effect follows cause it is not mechanical but because God willed it. Spinoza has God causing the universe in a purely mechanical manner, apparently. The traditional Jewish idea of creation is, as I said before, an initial act of will by God, followed by a mechanical unfolding for inanimate matter and a certain amount of personal responsibility (freewill) for humans. In the latter case, God is involved daily only insofar as He does not choose to stop the universe, and insofar as He may choose to make miracles (i.e. special events outside the normal course of events).

Where does your comment stand? You seem closest to the Muslim idea (al Ghazali). In reply, I would say that the Jewish idea, as above described, would seem the most credible to me. God got the ball rolling; inanimate nature rolls on; human (and animal) nature has some degree of freedom, due to being endowed, like God, with powers of Will; God could stop the whole thing anytime, and has the power to intervene anytime if he so wishes (which He rarely does, at least not a a public manner). This view comprises aspects of all the other views, but not taking any of them to extremes.

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