Quentin Smith has presented us with a wide–ranging and very erudite argument to the effect that it's logically impossible for the universe to have a divine originating cause. In the end, however, I must confess myself to be unmoved by the argument. Well, why is this? Smith's argument goes like this:
(1) If the claim that God caused the Big Bang cannot be analyzed in terms of extant definitions of causality, then God cannot have caused the Big Bang.
(2) The claim that God caused the Big Bang cannot be analyzed in terms of extant definitions of causality.
(3) Therefore, God cannot have caused the Big Bang.
Is this a sound and persuasive argument? Well, I think not.
Consider premise (1) If the claim that God caused the Big Bang cannot be analyzed in terms of extant definitions of causality, then God cannot have caused the Big Bang. I see no reason to think that this premise is true. In general, arguments to the effect that some intuitively intelligible notion can't be analyzed in terms of certain philosophical theories should make us suspect the adequacy of those theories rather than reject the common sense notion. The idea that God caused the universe is intuitively intelligible. A cause is, loosely speaking, something which produces something else and in terms of which the thing that is produced can be explained. This notion certainly applies to God's causing the universe. If God's causing the universe cannot be analyzed in terms of current philosophical definitions of causality, then so much the worse for those theories! This only shows that the definitions need to be revised. Indeed, the standard procedure in terms of which proposed definitions of causality are assessed is typically to propose some counter–examples in terms of intuitively plausible cases of causation and then show how the definition fails to accommodate these new cases. In the same way, if God's causing the universe cannot be accommodated by current philosophical definitions of causality, then that plausibly constitutes a counter–example to the definition, which shows that it's inadequate as a general metaphysical analysis of the causal relation, however adequate it might be for scientific purposes. Moreover, there's no reason to believe that we have arrived at the final and correct analysis of causation. In fact, as I'll point out in a minute, there's good reason to believe quite the opposite. The point that I'm making , I think, is especially plausible when you recall that the philosophers who drafted the definitions quoted by Quentin were exclusively concerned with natural causes, even physical causes. They weren’t even considering such recondite examples as divine causation of the origin of the universe. It's hardly surprising, therefore, that their theories should fail to capture this notion. So I see no reason to think premise (1) is true and good reasons for thinking that it is false.
Now what about premise (2), The claim that God caused the Big Bang cannot be analyzed in terms of extant definitions of causality? As it stands, premise (2) is clearly false, and Quentin himself, in effect, admits that it is false. For in his discussion of the analysis of causation in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions, he does not deny that God's willing the universe or the Big Bang is a case that satisfies the definitions proposed. On the contrary, he explicitly states that it does satisfy the proposed definitions. Rather he attacks the adequacy of the definitions themselves. Now that puts an entirely different light on the matter! What Smith is really defending is
(2) The claim that God caused the Big Bang cannot be analyzed in terms of any adequate extant definitions of causality.
But premise (2) is extremely problematic, for it is, I think, generally acknowledged that there is no adequate extant definition of causality to date. The very proliferation of different definitions which were only partially surveyed by Quentin in his talk testifies to the uncertainty and the dissatisfaction which exists in the philosophical community today with proposed analyses of the causal relation. Thus the expression in (2) "adequate definitions of causality" may well be a non–referring expression, so that (2) cannot be true.
But let's assume that the definitions surveyed by Smith are adequate. The fact is that God's causing the universe does satisfy at least some of these definitions, so that (2) is false. Take David Lewis' analysis of causation, for example: According to Lewis, c causes e if and only if c and e are both events, and both occur, and if c had not occurred e would not have occurred. Now God's willing the Big Bang clearly satisfies this definition. God's willing and a Big Bang are both events which occur, and if God's willing had not occurred, the Big Bang would not have occurred. No problem! But, Quentin rejoins, if the Big Bang had not occurred, God's willing would not have occurred. So is the Big Bang the cause of God's willing? Well, obviously not; but what this calls into question is the adequacy of Lewis' analysis, not whether divine causation satisfies it. Lewis remedies the problem by stipulating that if e had not occurred, c would still have occurred, a remedy that won't work for divine causation. Actually, Lewis' remedy won't work for many natural causes either, since in some cases the counterfactual, "if e had not occurred, c would not have occurred" is true. So what Lewis' definition provides is not a definition of "c causes e," but rather it is a definition of "c and e are causally related," and it fails to specify the direction of causation. But here the theist, you see, faces no problem because it is metaphysically impossible for God's willing to have an external cause. There is no possible world in which the Big Bang causes God's willing or God's volition. Therefore, given Lewis' definition of "c and e are causally related" and the impossibility of the Big Bang causing God's willing, it follows that God's willing causes the Big Bang, and thus divine causation satisfies Lewis' definition of causality.
Or, again, if we hold with Isaac Newton, Richard Swinburne, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and others that God exists prior to the Big Bang in a metaphysical time, then there's no objection to adopting an analysis of causality which involves the component of temporal priority of cause to effect. God would be temporarily prior to the Big Bang. So it seems to me that the premise (2) fares no better than premise (1). Both premise (1) and premise (2) are false, and therefore the argument against divine causation of the universe is unsound.
[ Previous | Table of Contents | Next]