William Lane Craig’s “Reflections on ‘Uncaused Beginnings'”–A Review

by Max Andrews

Review of William Lane Craig’s “Reflections on ‘Uncaused Beginnings,’” Faith and Philosophy 27 (2010):  72-78.

In William Lane Craig’s reflections on Graham Oppy’s recent critiques of the cosmological argument[1], particularly kalam, Craig finds his arguments to lack serious considerations of a temporal order of causation and that the metaphysical theorizing of modality and causation are ambiguous and lack rigor.  Oppy’s argument is based on what an “initial state” of the universe is and its essential properties.  His initial state is ambiguous but Craig explicates Oppy later in his critique.

Oppy’s argument is not really against a temporal state as he defines it.  Craig clarifies Oppy’s argument and focuses on Oppy’s real concern; the temporality of the initial state and its cause if such a cause existed.  The proponent of kalam agrees with Thomas and is more than willing to concede the point that there can be an actual infinite of in fieri causes but it is impossible to have an infinite in esse causes.  Just as if one were to pull the last boxcar to the front of the train to make a circle, it would not initiate any causality.  The kalam proponent finds himself affirming that it is impossible for any existing thing, whether occupying an initial state of reality or a later state of reality, to come into being without a cause.  Craig’s counterargument is predicated on objective temporal becoming, an A-theory of time.  The whole concept of kalam requires that time be objectively tensed as opposed to an atemporal reality and where all temporal becoming is illusory, a mere side effect of human consciousness.  Oppy’s argument is metaphysically consistent with a tenseless theory, but he cannot explicate an infinite series of in fieri causes with objective temporal becoming. Craig reformulates Oppy’s argument along tensed lines[2]:

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.

Oppy argues that the contingent things that feature in the initial state of reality are the only kinds of things that can have no cause.  Only some sort of fundamental entity as described by a theory of everything or some quantum gravitational model.  Only those entities can come into existence only at a first moment of time and those things which come into being at later times could not come into being at a first moment of time.  The driving force behind the argument is the intuition that there is nothing about temporal moments as such that could make their location relevant to whether something can spring into being at that point without a cause of any sort.

Oppy constructs a metaphysic suggesting that all possible worlds have the same initial state.  This modality is incredibly constrained to the necessity of such an initial state of affairs.  Evidentially, the spin, charge, flavor, and color of a particle are descriptive and not prescriptive.  Popular quantum fluctuation models of the universe’s coming into being necessitate a vacuum of instability and to answer the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” the response is that nothing is unstable or impossible.  The question, then, is what necessitates the vacuum?  If all possible worlds necessarily have the same initial states of affairs then physics must follow this metaphysic.  The initial state of affairs has certain essential properties that later contingent things do not possess.  So Oppy follows suit and recognizes that currently existing entities must have a cause to their coming into existence in time because these entities do not have a

Oppy’s metaphysic is too ad hoc and Craig appropriately critiques Oppy’s metaphysic by questioning why the entities have odd essential properties, which are nothing but arbitrary predications masked as qualities [of the physical world].  Oppy’s argument that the universe’s essential components comprising the initial conditions are essentially uncaused fails to be consistent because it is arbitrary.  Why would things not pop into [or out of] existence at this moment in time?  It seems highly problematic, even falsifiable, given thermodynamics.[3]

Oppy certainly poses an interesting challenge for kalam proponents by introducing a metaphysic of modality.  The problem for Oppy is to provide a stronger foundation for why certain particles have an essential property that begins to exist in time without any previous cause.  The metaphysic is too ad hoc and arbitrary.  The physics needed to follow his metaphysic is problematic as well since the physics are currently viewed as a temporal contingency.[4]

[1] See his Philosophical Perspectives on Infinity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), ix, as well as his Arguing about Gods (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 148-53.

[2] The kalam proponent would reject Oppy’s initial first premise:  If it is possible for reality to have a contingent initial state under the causal relation, then it is possible for other (non-overlapping) parts of reality to have no cause.

[3] Oppy could attempt to circumvent the problem of thermodynamics (matter cannot be created or destroyed) by stating that it is merely a property of the initial essential conditions and is irrelevant and we should not expect to find things popping in and out of being.  This only pushes the problem back a step because though thermodynamics may potentially constrain spontaneous creation post-the-essential-becoming of the initial state of affairs, the initial state of affairs themselves have no limitation or constraint on what begins to exist.  What is to differentiate essential particles from non-essential particles and its respective causation [or lack of causation]?

 [4] This view would be descriptive of the standard model as well as any other oscillating model or multiverse given the truth of the Borde-Vilenkin-Guth theorem, which suggests that any inflationary universe/multiverse must have an absolute beginning.  This stands at odds with an essential/necessary particle that stands in no initial causal relationship.


One Comment to “William Lane Craig’s “Reflections on ‘Uncaused Beginnings'”–A Review”

  1. Hey Max, this is the message I sent you on facebook that must have gotten lost somewhere. So it might just be easier to post it here. Hope all is well my brother!

    One of the reasons I contacted you was because Randy told me that you are very knowledgeable when it comes to cosmology and astrophysics. I am taking a beginning physics class myself that is basically an intro into thermodynamics, but I feel most of the cosmology I know is from Dr. Craig and his resources that I’ve read over the last 3 years. Because of this, I feel I have a “cheap”, for lack of a better word, knowledge of cosmology. I don’t have formal training to guide me and so I kind of piece together bits and pieces of seemingly reliable information to be able to understand the beginning of the universe and debate it with a good amount of skeptics.

    I was wondering if you have more formal training with cosmology and astrophysics? Even if not, it’s obvious that you know a lot. I was wondering if you could unload some information on me so I could learn more. For example, when talking about the Big Bang, a lot of skeptics tend to favor the line, “So what if the universe began to exist. That doesn’t mean it is the beginning of all of space, time, matter and energy. Such claim is just a blind, unsupported assertion.”

    Now I have about 20+ quotes from professionals which I can use to support my case, but I want more then having to rely on that; Essentially arguing from authority. For example, GTR is the accurate description of gravity in the universe at velocities that are at or near the speed of light. But GTR obviously breaks down at Planck time due to the unknown physical description of the universe at that point being unable to combine quantum mechanics and GTR. However, that doesn’t mean GTR is useless. It still accurately describes the universe down to that point. So would it be correct to say that if we could use thermodynamics and the BVG theorem to show that the Universe began to exist, could we use the GTR to show, that since space and time are now spacetime, (via GTR) if the Universe began to exist, so did spacetime? How could someone claim that the beginning of the universe (and I mean universe with a big “U”) was not the beginning of spacetime?

    If you have any other thoughts on this I would greatly appreciate it. How would you show, via cosmology and astrophysics, that the beginning of the Universe is the beginning of space and time.

    Now I know you are a multiverse theorist, but I’m sure you are aware that even the multiverse doesn’t escape a cosmic beginning. So I’m confident this question is still relevant in that respect! [:D]

    Thanks Max!

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