Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Personhood of a Necessary Being

In one of his latest Reasonable Faith podcasts, "A Rabbi Looks at the Kalam Argument," William Lane Craig explains that he accepts the Aristotelian-Thomistic proof for the existence of a first cause in the order of efficient or sustaining causes.  At the end of the podcast, he enunciates an argument one of his students came up with for the personhood of the first cause, which has necessary existence.

1. The necessary being N is either personal or impersonal. (Definition)

2. If N is impersonal, then it cannot cause any contingent effects. (Premise)

3. N does cause contingent effects. (Premise)

4. Therefore, N must be personal. (From 1 - 3)

Craig explains that N cannot cause contingent effects if impersonal, in confirmation of (2), because an impersonal cause would be mechanical.  Such a cause could therefore only produce necessary effects, in violation of (3).  It's interesting to note that this argument very much resembles Craig's argument for a personal creator in his defense of the kalam cosmological argument.  The advantage here is that the connection between N and personhood is not dependent upon the universe's having had a beginning, unlike the kalam argument.


  1. Craig's use of 'mechanical' here is actually question-begging. His definition of mechnaical is 'only able to produce necessary effects', so basically the argument comes down to, "if a cause can only porduce necessary effects, it can only produce necssary effects"
    But if we define a mechanical cause as " a non-personal cause that is able to produce contingent effects", the problem completely vanishes.
    After all, (quantum) mechanical causes produce contingent effects all the time, so I think this is one of the weakest arguments Carig has ever made.


  2. Walter, I think you misunderstand Craig's argument. By "mechanical," he's not defining it as producing necessary effects. Rather, what he means is that all of the effects' sufficient conditions are already present with their cause. This results in a mechanical necessary being only producing necessary effects.

    Quantum vacuums are not mechanical if they are indeterministic. Besides, quantum vacuums exist contingently.

  3. Well, unless you believe quantum vacuums are personal they defeat Craig's argument.
    And whether quantum vaccums are contingent or not is beside the question. because what Craig actually asserts is that all non-personal causes have the sufficient conditions for their efects present within them , which does not seem to be true for quantum causes. Hence his argument fails.

  4. There may be indeterminacy for material causes, assuming determinant interpretations of QM, such as that of David Bohm, are incorrect. However, we're talking about efficient causation here, which is of an entirely different breed.

  5. As long as it isn't proven otherwise, we are assuming that there are deteriministic causes and indetministic causes. And this apllies to both impersonal and personal causes. So, if we accept that there is some sort of necessary cause, it can be either dereministic and indeterministic and that has nothing whatsoever to do with said cause being personal or impersonal.
    So, Craig's claim is completely baseless.

  6. Can you give me an example of an indeterministic impersonal efficient cause?

  7. A quantum vacuum is an indeterministic impersonal efficient cause of quantum fluctuations.
    And there is also Brod, which is an indeterministic being that has all the alleged qualities of God, except that it is impersonal.
    The first one can be demonstrated to exist, the second one cannot be demonstarted to existn but then again, neither can God.

  8. A quantum vacuum is a material cause, not an efficient cause. "Brod" is simply a contrived concept.

  9. OK, let's accept for the sake of the argument that the quantum vaccuum is a material cause and not an efficient cause.
    Then I have two simple questions for you:
    What 'material' does the QV consist of?
    and in case you have an answer to that (and then you can collect the Nobel Prize, because so far nobdoy has been able to answer that question) the second question arises: what then is the efficient cause of quantum fluctuations? And again, please don't take this as an insult, if you can anser that question, you will recieve the Nobel Prize for the second time.
    I'll tell you what most people who know something about quantum mechanics have to say about this. A quantum vacuum either is the efficient cause for Qf's or QF's do not have an efficient cause.
    Now somehow I don't think you'll like either of those options, and neither will W.L.Craig, for that matter, although he'll probably opt for the first one, because it at least leaves some hope for the Kalam Argument. The second one is lethal to it, and, I might add, to 90% of your own arguments.

  10. Just one comment of the fact that Brod is a contrived concept, of course it is. But the question is: why wouldn't I be allowed to contrive a concept when in the past thousands (or rather tens of thousands) of different God concepts were contrived, each fitting some particular need?
    If you make as bold a claim as 'N must be personal', then if you cannot prove that some concept is impossible, merely asserting tha it is contrived does not save your skin.

  11. First of all, the deities of antiquity were not contrived. The ancients came up with the most reasonable conclusions they could muster. "Brod" is simply made up, and nothing more. Secondly, the fact that you cannot come up with any non-contrived counter-example only illustrates that alternatives to the personality of N are nothing more than a last resort to avoid theism.

    Now, onto your questions: the quantum vacuum is composed of the material energy by which fluctuations arise. This is common knowledge, and hardly worthy of a Nobel Prize. Secondly, I don't need to provide an efficient cause of any quantum vacuum. They exist contingently, so I'd say they only exist because of N's efficient causality.

    Craig has already made his views clear about this. If quantum fluctuations are indeterminate, then their only cause if the material cause of the quantum vacuum. The vacuum itself has an efficient cause, which is ultimately traced back to God. By the way, I'm not aware of anyone, physicists included who claim that quantum fluctuations have an efficient cause unless that cause is mechanical. If that's the case, then it only proves my point about N being a personal agent.

  12. The ancients came up with the most reasonable conclusions they could muster and they came up with personal deities because they could not concieve of impersonal indterministic causes. Nowadays I can conceive of such causes, and as long as you or anyone else cannot show they are impossible, they are an alternative to a personal deity, especially since they are a far less complex hypothesis.

    Secondly, the quantum vacuum is not composed of the material energy bu which fluctuations arise. The vacuum itself is not composed of anything, that's why it is called a vacuum.

    And I didn't ask you to provide an efficient cause for any quantum vacuum, I asked you to provide a SC for vacuum fluctuations, other than the quantum vacuum itself. You can't do that, so your assertion that a quantum vacuum is not an efficient cause is unsupported. Hence, i did provide you with an example of an impersonal indeterministic efficient cause.

    Whether the vacuum has some other efficient cause or not is completely beside the question. Since there is no reason (other than a last resort to save theism, that is) to think that efficient causes must by deterministic, whatever was the EC of this vacuum could just as well be impersonal than personal. And the fact that neither Craig nor you, nor Craig's student, nor the Rabbi who was so impressed with the KCA cannot conceive of such cause does not mean everybody else has to go for the only conclusion those peopkle can muster.

  13. No offense, Walter, but you've made quite a few mistakes in your reply above. First of all, a quantum vacuum is not nothing; it is composed of a rich field of fluctuating energy. As Christopher Ray points out, "it is a mistake to think of any physical vacuum as some absolutely empty void" (Time, Space and Philosophy, p. 205). The vacuum is most certainly the material cause of quantum fluctuations.

    Next, the point isn't that the ancients contrived their deities, but that you are in order to avoid a theistic conclusion. Just give me an example of an impersonal indeterministic efficient cause and you will have done your job. Is God more complex than an impersonal efficient cause? Who cares? Human beings are also more complex than impersonal efficient causes, but nobody here is doubting their existence.

    What's an SC?

    By the way, the Rabbi actually rejects the kalam argument, but accepts the argument from motion.

    Anyway, let's try limiting the scope of the debate to what is on the macro and cosmic levels. Impersonal causes larger than the quantum level are almost always (I say "almost" out of modesty) mechanical causes. N is not only the efficient cause of QM, but is also the efficient of everything else. An impersonal indeterministic efficient cause isn't looking so good.

  14. Who the heck is Christopher Ray? Some guy claiming that the quantum vacuum is a rich field of fluctuation energy, IOW a guy who does not distinguish between the cause (the vacuum) and the effect ( the fluctuating energy) IOW someone who clearly does not knwo what he is talking about, because the rich field of fluctuationg energy is actually the effect of the QV. So, not offense, but you are actually the one who has made this mistake.

    As to your second point, I gave you one, and the fact that a guy named Christopher Ray does not understand this in no way disproves my argument, which isn't about an "absolutely empty void" anyway. Nowhere have I claimed such thing. That's your second mistake (still no offense, though).

    Next the point is that if I contrived my 'deity', you, as well as the ancients also contrived your deity because your (and the ancient's) concept of a deity is based on the inability to conceive an impersonal indeterministic effcient cause, which is understandable for 'ancients' living in a time when quantum indeterminancy was completely unknown, while mine is based on a bit more modern knowoledge. But that's the only diffrence. Of course that does not mean mine is correct and yours is wrong, but it most certainly means mine is not 'contrived' any more or any less than yours. And, as I am sure you are aware of, if we have the choice between two otherwise equal hypotheses (which I'll accept for the sake of the argument), we should accept the one that entails the fewest assumptions, and in yhat respect, mine wins by more than a sea mile.

    So, the only real mistake I made is using SC instead of EC (efficient cause).

    As for the good Rabbi, I have no idea what exactly he accepts or rejects, but if he accepts the AfM, his rejection of the KCA seems faitrly consistent, so, my aopologies to this Rabbi.

    Now your last paragraphs makes no sense at all, because nowhere have I claimed anything about impersonal causes larger than the quantum level. I have no idea what larger or smaller than the quantum level would mean in metaphysical terms anyway, but the fact that you say 'almost' is not out of modesty, but because you simply have no way to prove your point, and neither has Craig. Unfortunately, he is not so modest

  15. No physicist claims that a quantum vacuum is literally empty, as you so confidently assert. The fluctuations are made of the energy contained within the vacuum, and that's a fact. Who's Christopher Ray? Show some respect, Walter. You won't find a single physicist who disagrees. If you don't like Christopher Ray for the arbitrary reason that you don't like what he has to say, then take a look at the works of Alexander Vilenkin, Paul Davies, David Lindley, or just a physics textbook.

    As for my second point, you didn't provide a (good) example. You merely assert that QM involves efficient causation, which is false. The energy contained within the vacuum is the material cause. We know this because that's the "stuff" the fluctuations are made of.

    I don't where to begin in explaining that I didn't contrive of any deity. You made up Brod out of thin air, with no precursor, and you're unable to come up with an example of an impersonal indeterministic efficient cause, so you just define one into existence. That's not how philosophy works.

    My last paragraph makes perfect sense. You might want to re-read it and ask yourself why there's virtually no indeterminism on the macro and cosmic levels apart from persons.

  16. Anyway, I realize my latest reply may have come across a bit harsh, and for that I apologize. The points I make, however, are still intact.

  17. Feel free to have the last word on this, Walter. I'm trying to limit the amount of time I spend on the internet so I can focus on my academic publications. Just do me a favor and keep it civil. :)

  18. Nothing harsh at all, Doug, just plainly wrong.
    You do not seem to understand what I am saying and yiour are constantly attacking srawmen here. For starters, I have never claimed that the quantump vacuum is literary empty, all I say, and every physicist will agree with this, is that the vacuum itself contains no material at all, but that does not mean it is empty. It is just so that there is nothing really tangible in the vacuum and that one should not conflate, as you seem to be doing, the vacuum with its effects.
    Now all that is actually quite irrelevant since even if the vacuum consist of some sort of material, virtually every physicist agrees that the effects of the vacuum are, to put it modestly, not entirely deterministic. So, I did provide a good example.
    And the last paragraph you refer to does not make sense as we are not talking about micro or macro levels, we are talking about metaphysical levels, but I'll explain that in another reply.
    I should also add that whether persons are indeterministioc or not is one of the most controversial subjects in the philosophy of mind. So, to claim that persons are indeterministic is, to say the least, a bit premature.

  19. Now, just to summrize my position and just to get rid of all potential misunderstndings here, for the sake of this discussion I accept that the ul-timate cause of physical reality is a necessary being, and I even accept that this being is non-material (whatever that may mean).
    So, we have this being, or entity if you prefer, N.
    Now, unless we think that the universe and everything around us is also necessary , this N must at least operate in a not completely deterministic way. I think we both agree on this, and so does Craig.
    Now your claim is that the only way for N to be indeterministic is if it is personal, while I make the much more modest claim that, since we obserev phenomena even in the physical world that are not completely deterministic, your claim is not justified. It ay be so that N is personal and can be called God, but it may also b so that N is not personal and we could call it "Brod" or something else.
    Let's remember that both your and my claim entails that there are indeterministic processes operating on the metaphysical level. the only difference is that your claim is much bolder than mine. Mine merely entails a little bit of instability, while yours entails a massive amount of assumptions. You are free to pick one, of course, but Ockham would prefer mine.

    BTW, good luck with your academic publications.