Common Objections to Kalam: Part 4: Causal Conundrum
I’m on a roll this week – I have yet another Common Objection to Kalam. And, this might be tiring by now, our criticism today comes from – you guessed it – Adolf Grünbaum. Now, this objection isn’t as common as the others, but it is no less interspersed throughout the endless grid that is the internet (to think of a Tron reference). Unlike my previous responses, this will not be so short, and not so simple as it were. I will draw almost entirely from the criticisms of Adolf Grünbaum and the responses by William Lane Craig.
To begin, it must be noted that it is generally thought that time (read: change) began to exist with the coming to be of the universe. If this is the case, then there is no time prior to the beginning of the universe, and thus to ask what was prior to the beginning of universe (and indeed time) is like asking what is north of the north pole. The objection to the Kalam Cosmological Argument put forth by Grünbaum is that the cause of the universe must be either prior to the universe or after the universe. It cannot be after, for backward causation is metaphysically impossible, and it cannot be before, for there was no before the universe. Therefore, the search for an external cause is a pseudo-problem. As Grünbaum writes, “the hypothesis that t=0 simply had no temporal predecessor obviates the misguided quest for the elusive cause.”
While Grünbaum’s criticism is thankfully taken, it certainly appears to present quite the difficulty for the proponent of the Kalam. However, it seems to me that Grünbaum presents for us a false dilemma. In William Lane Craig’s paper “Prof. Grünbaum on Creation,” he gives three possible responses to Grünbaum’s seemingly divisive conclusion. I shall summarize these responses below while drawing from other papers Craig has written on the topic.
(1) One response, perhaps the best response, might be that while the cause was not temporally prior to the universe’s beginning, it was however causally prior. In the case of the beginning to exist of the universe, the cause could not be temporally prior, for A could not be earlier than B – since there was no before B. It might then be said that the cause of the universe’s coming to be was simultaneous with its coming to be. Better put: A and B were contemporaneous. Simultaneous causation isn’t wholly obscure or incoherent; in fact, some have argued that all temporal causal relations involve simultaneity between cause and effect. Moreover, the question of causal priority would still make sense in this context. To see why, Kant provides a good example: a heavy iron ball’s sitting on a cushion is the cause of the depression of the cushion, and this is so even if the iron ball has been resting on the cushion from eternity past. The defender of this response needn’t offer a thorough defense of simultaneous causation, rather she need only show its conceivability.
It could be objected that in the case of simultaneous causation one cannot discern cause from effect, but this objection doesn’t seem to hold. One can discern cause and effect in scenarios of simultaneous causality by understanding the natures of the cause and effect. In the case of the heavy iron ball, the weight of the iron ball has causal priority to the depression of the cushion. Similarly, Craig writes, “Now in the case of the hypothesis of theological creationism, we have, as I noted, a logically airtight means of distinguishing cause from effect, namely, it is metaphysically impossible for God to be caused by the world, since if God exists, His nature is such that He exists necessarily, whereas the world’s existence is metaphysically contingent (as is evident from its beginning to exist). That entails that there is no possible world in which God is caused by the Big Bang singularity. Hence, it is easy for the theist to explain in what sense God is causally prior to the universe or the Big Bang: God and the universe are causally related, and if the universe were not to exist, God would nevertheless exist, whereas there is no possible world in which the universe exists without God.”
(2) The second response is that the cause of the universe could be conceived to exist in a sort of metaphysical time of infinite duration, and so it would be temporally prior to the universe. Such a view would contradict the contention that time began to exist with the beginning of the universe, however, that need not compel the defender of this view to abandon her position. The idea of God as existing in metaphysical absolute time has been held by a number of great theologians throughout history. Isaac Newton was rather famous for holding to this view, in fact, his physics of absolute time and space followed from his contention that absolute time and space flow necessarily from God’s nature.
Nonetheless, this view would seem to fall prey to arguments against an infinite past. However, it might be contended that metaphysical time, as prior to the big bang singularity, began to exist as a series of mental events in God’s mind; for instance, Craig writes, “suppose that God led up to creation by counting, “1, 2, 3, . . ., fiat lux!” In that case the series of mental events alone is sufficient to establish a temporal succession prior to the commencement of physical time at t = 0. There would be a sort of metaphysical time based on the succession of contents of consciousness in God’s mind prior to the inception of physical time.”
And so while the initial position of infinite metaphysical past time will probably not do, given the truth of the impossibility of infinite past time, the revision that metaphysical time began before the singularity seems to avoid the criticisms of Grünbaum.
(3) The last response is that God may be conceived to exist timelessly and to cause the universe to begin tenselessly. Such a position enjoys considerable support from a number of proponents throughout history. While this position may be said to be truly mysterious, and perhaps inconceivable on an A-theory of time, that is a point for further debate and analysis. It is however certainly coherent in a B-theoretic context: the entirety of spacetime would exist tenselessly, and God would exist apart from it; God could be said to produce the universe tenselessly.
In conclusion, Grünbaum’s criticism against seeking an external cause of the beginning of the universe does not stand, for the Theist has a number of options she might take in response.
1. Grünbaum, A.:, ‘Creation as a Pseudo-Explanation’ In Current Physical Cosmology,’ Erkenntnis 35, 233-254.
2. Ibid., p. 239.
3. Dummett, A.E. and Flew, A. . “Can an Effect Precede its Cause?” In Belief and Will, pp. 27-62. Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 28. London: Harrison & Sons.
Mackie, J.L. . “The Direction of Causation.” Philosophical Review 75, pp. 441-466.
Suchting, W.A. [1968-69]. “Professor Mackie on the Direction of Causation.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 29, pp. 289-291.
4. Craig, William L. “Reasonable Faith: Question 27 – Is God the Father Causally Prior to the Son.” Reasonable Faith:. Web. 22 Dec. 2010. <http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5867&printer_friendly=1>.
5. Craig, William Lane.  “A Response to Grünbaum on Creation and Big Bang Cosmology.” Philosophia Naturalis 31: 237-249.
6. Newton, I.: 1966, Sir Isaac Newton’s ‘Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy’ and his ‘System of the World,’ trans. Andrew Motte, revised with an Introduction by Florian Cajori, Los Angeles, University of California Press.
7. Craig, William Lane.  “The Origin and Creation of the Universe: a Reply to Adolf Grünbaum.” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 43: 233-240.
8. Craig, William Lane.  “Prof. Grünbaum on Creation.” Erkenntnis 40: 325-341.
9. See al-Ghazali, Aquinas, Stump and Kretzmann, Helm, Yates, and Leftow.
10. Craig, William Lane.  “Prof. Grünbaum on Creation.” Erkenntnis 40: 325-341.
11. Ibid., 325-341.