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Can Something Actually Cause Itself to Exist?

StephenHawking

"There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible." - Summa Theologiae I.2.3

"If, then, something were its own cause of being, it would be understood to be before it had being – which is impossible…" - Summa Contra Gentiles I.22.6
 
 
Was Aquinas mistaken? Could something be its own cause? Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow seem to think so. In their recent book The Grand Design, they tell us that “we create [the universe’s] history by our observation, rather than history creating us” and that since we are part of the universe, it follows that “the universe… create[d] itself from nothing.”

I examine their position (and the many things that are wrong with it) in my review of the book for National Review. What is of interest for present purposes is their suggestion that future events can bring about past ones. Could this be a way of making plausible “the dreaded causa sui” (as I seem to recall John Searle once referring to the idea in a lecture)? That is to say, might a thing A possibly cause itself as long as it does so indirectly, by causing some other thing B to exist or occur in the past which in turn causes A?

To be sure, Hawking and Mlodinow provide only the murkiest account of how their self-causation scenario is supposed to work, and do not even acknowledge, much less attempt to answer, the obvious objections one might raise against it. But one can imagine ways in which such a scenario might be developed. Suppose for the sake of argument that the doctrine of temporal parts is true. And suppose we consider various examples from science fiction of one temporal part or stage of an individual playing a role in bringing about earlier parts or stages of the same individual.

In his 1941 short story “By His Bootstraps,” Robert Heinlein presents a tightly worked out scenario in which his protagonist Bob Wilson is manipulated by time-traveling future versions of himself into carrying out actions that put him into a series of situations in which he has to manipulate his past self in just the way he remembers having been manipulated. That is to say, temporal stage Z of Wilson causes temporal stage A of Wilson to initiate a transition through various intermediate Wilson stages which eventually loop back around to Z. In the 1952 E.C. Comics story “Why Papa Left Home” (from Weird Science #11), a time-traveling scientist stranded several decades in the past settles down to marry (and later impregnate) a girl who reminds him of the single mother who raised him, only to discover, after his abrupt and unexpected return to the present and to his horror, that she actually was his mother and that he is his own father. Doubling down on this Oedipal theme in what is probably the mother of all time travel paradoxes, Heinlein’s ingenious 1959 short story “–All You Zombies –” features a sex-changing time-traveler (“Jane”) who turns out to be his own father and his own mother. (Don’t ask, just read it.)

Now, if we think of each of these characters as a series of discrete temporal parts – again labeled A through Z for simplicity’s sake – then we might say that each part has a kind of independent existence. A, B, C, D, and on through Z are like the wires making up a cable, in which each wire can be individuated without reference to the others even though they also all make up the whole. The difference would be that while the wires are arranged spatially so as to make up the cable, the stages in question are arranged temporally so as to make up a person. And what we have in the science-fiction scenarios in question is just the unusual sort of case wherein some of the stages loop back on the others, just as some of the wires in a cable might loop back and be wound around the others.

Mind you, I do not in fact think any of this is right. I do not accept the doctrine of temporal parts, and I do not think that such time travel scenarios really are possible even in principle given a sound metaphysics. But as I say, we’re just granting all this for the sake of argument. And if we do, it might seem that we are describing a kind of self-causation.

In fact we are not, at least not in the sense of “self-causation” that Aquinas is ruling out as impossible in principle. For notice that in order to make sense of the scenarios in question, we have had to treat each of the stages of the persons involved as distinct, independent existences. For instance, in “– All You Zombies –” it is, strictly speaking, not that Jane causes herself/himself to exist so much as that the later stages of Jane cause earlier stages of Jane to exist. And since each stage is distinct from the others, we don’t really have a case of self-causation in the strict sense. For none of the stages causes itself – each is caused by other stages. The situation is analogous to the “self-motion” of animals, which Aristotle and Aquinas point out is not really inconsistent with their principle that whatever is moved is moved by another, since such “self-motion” really involves one part of an animal moving another part.

We might also compare these scenarios to the kinds of causal series ordered per accidens that Aquinas is happy to allow might in principle regress to infinity. The stock example is a father who begets a son who in turn begets another. Each has a causal power to beget further sons that is independent of the continued activity or inactivity of any previous begetter. Contrast a causal series ordered per se, the stock example of which is a hand moving a stone with a stick. Here the stick’s power to move the stone derives from the hand, and would disappear if the hand were to stop moving. In the strictest sense, it is not the stick which moves the stone, but the hand which moves it, by means of the stick. By contrast, if Al begets Bob and Bob begets Chuck, it is Bob who begets Chuck, and in no sense Al who does it. The reason the latter, per accidens sort of causal series might in principle regress to infinity, then, is that the activity of any member does not of necessity trace to the activity of an earlier member which uses it as an instrument. But things are different with a per se casual series, in which no member other than the first could operate at all were the first not working through it. (I had reason to say more about the difference between these sorts of causal series, and about what is meant by “first” in the expression “first cause,” in this recent post.)

Aquinas allows for the sake of argument that the universe might have had no beginning, given that the series of causes extending backward in time is ordered per accidens. When he argues for God as first cause of the world, then, he does not mean “first” in a temporal sense. His argument is rather that the universe could exist here and now, and at any particular moment, only if God is conserving it in existence, for anything less than that which is Pure Act or Being Itself could not in his view persist for an instant unless it were caused to do so by that which is Pure Act or Being Itself, to which it is related in a per se rather than per accidens way. In particular, anything which is in any way a compound of act and potency (as all compounds of form and matter are, and, more generally, as all compounds of existence and essence are) must be continually actualized by that which need not itself be actualized insofar as it is “already” Pure Actuality. (See my book Aquinas for the details.)

Now every temporal part of the characters in our hypothetical science-fiction examples is relevantly like the particular moments in the history of the universe. Even if the universe had no beginning but regressed back in time to infinity, it would still have to be sustained in being at any particular moment by God. It could not at any particular moment be causing itself. And even if the temporal parts of the characters in question looped around back on themselves, they would still at any particular moment have to be sustained in being by God. They too could not at any particular moment be causing themselves. In short, the theoretical possibility of a circular temporal series would be as irrelevant to Aquinas’s point as the theoretical possibility of an infinite temporal series is. When Aquinas denies that anything can cause itself given the absurdity of a cause preceding itself, what he is most concerned to deny is, not that a cause can be prior to itself temporally (though he would deny that too), but that it can be prior to itself ontologically, that it could be more fundamental than itself in the order of what exists at any given moment, as it would have to be if it were sustaining itself in being. (And again, in any event no cause strictly exists prior to itself even temporally in the scenarios we’ve been describing; for each temporal part of the characters in question is caused by a distinct temporal part, not by itself.)

Hence, even if the universe were (as it is not) as Robert Heinlein or Stephen Hawking describes it, it would require at any particular instant a cause distinct from it in order for it to exist at that instant. (The same would be true if we consider the universe as a single four-dimensional object. It would still be a composite of form and matter and essence and existence, and thus of act and potency, and could therefore not in principle exist were it not caused by that which is not composite in any of these ways but just is Pure Act and Being Itself.) When we carefully unpack what the scenarios would have to involve, we can see that they do not entail any sort of causa sui, nor anything that could in principle exist apart from a divine first cause.
 
 
NOTE: Dr. Feser's contributions at Strange Notions were originally posted on his blog, including this article, and therefore lose some of their context when reprinted here. Dr. Feser explains why that matters.
 
 
(Image credit: MoviePilot.com)

Dr. Edward Feser

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Dr. Edward Feser is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California. He has been a Visiting Assistant Professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and a Visiting Scholar at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. He holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of California at Santa Barbara, a master’s degree in religion from the Claremont Graduate School, and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religious studies from the California State University at Fullerton. He is author of numerous books including The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism (St. Augustines Press, 2010); Aquinas (Oneworld, 2009); and Philosophy of Mind (Oneworld, 2007). Follow Dr. Feser on his blog and his website, EdwardFeser.com.

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  • No dispute here that Hawking has not enlightened anyone as to the ultimate origins of everything.

    My criticism of Dr Feser is his mixing of temporal and a-temporal language.

    If we are discussing a reality in which time is meaningless or does not exist, it is equally meaningless to speak of causes. There is a reason he cannot avoid using temporal language, such as "ontologically prior". If prior here doesn't mean "before" in some kind of temporal sense, then what does it mean?

    If there was no before and after, how can we say there was causation? If we are not using causation in to temporal sense then how are we using it? If we don't know what we mean by cause, how can we use this causation in this kind of argument?

    • "If we are discussing a reality in which time is meaningless or does not exist, it is equally meaningless to speak of causes."

      This is not true. Causality does not have to be time-dependent, as Dr. Feser explained in his article. For example, suppose you have a glass sitting on a table. The table is causing the glass to stand up whether time moves forward or stops completely. This is an example of the per se casual series that Dr. Feser described (as is the hand-stick-stone example he gave.) In either case, the cause is both ontologically prior and temporally simultaneous to the effect.

      Thus we have examples of causes and effects which are neutral with respect to time.

      "There is a reason he cannot avoid using temporal language, such as "ontologically prior". If prior here doesn't mean "before" in some kind of temporal sense, then what does it mean?""

      "Ontologically prior" is not temporal language, as explained above. Ontology refers to the realm of being, not the temporal occurrence of an event. In philosophy, the word "prior" doesn't always refer to temporal precedence. It often means "above" or "more fundamental" or "more grounded."

      Your question about what "prior" means is a good one, but Dr. Feser hints at the answer in the second to last paragraph:

      "When Aquinas denies that anything can cause itself given the absurdity of a cause preceding itself, what he is most concerned to deny is, not that a cause can be prior to itself temporally (though he would deny that too), but that it can be prior to itself ontologically, that it could be more fundamental than itself in the order of what exists at any given moment, as it would have to be if it were sustaining itself in being."

      For instance, we might say that the members of a set are prior to the set itself; the existence of the set is grounded in its members. So the grounding entities are prior to—or more fundamental than—the grounded entities.

      "If there was no before and after, how can we say there was causation? If we are not using causation in to temporal sense then how are we using it?"

      This is essentially restating your initial objection, which I've answered above.

      "If we don't know what we mean by cause, how can we use this causation in this kind of argument?"

      Who are you including in "we"? Dr. Feser certainly knows what he means by "cause", as do I and, I assume, most of the readers here. A cause is simply that which is responsible for an effect. Causal relationships need not be temporally distinct.

      • I may be wrong about the usage of the term prior. Point taken. I think something has just clicked for me in terms of how I see this argument. Thanks.

        Yes, this makes sense oif the insistance of an immaterial reality and hylomorphism as well. I will think about this.

      • Phil Rimmer

        I think a glass standing upon a table is a poor example of a physics cause and effect. It is an anthropocentric idea of cause and effect and is a quite spurious set of identifications of what is a cause and what an effect that reveal nothing about the physics of the situation. Both gravity and electronic repulsion or the Pauli Exclusion principle are equally "causes" of the glass sitting there.

        The "causal" nature of the table is a human construct reflecting a human intention for it (which intention preceded the glass placement just there). There is no single cause in any physics sense in a static balancing of forces. A photon, though, may be said to cause an ionisation of an atom, the inbound energy causing an electronic wobble that eventually (!) if the wobble is large enough, allows the escape of an electron.

      • William Davis

        If you throw a ball in the air and stop time, it will just stay there, no causation required...like taking a picture.

      • OverlappingMagisteria

        I'm not sure I understand what you mean when you say that the "table is causing the glass to stand up whether time moves forward or stops completely."

        Yo say that a glass is caused to stand up is to say that it is prevented from moving downward (falling). But what does it mean to move? I means that something changes position with respect to time. It we take time out of the equation, then it does not really make sense to say whether something is moving. Motion does not make sense without time, and therefore preventing motion becomes irrelevant.

        • Chad Eberhart

          Brandon, do you mind responding to this?

        • Atchong Hilario

          I disagree with the definition that motion means a change in position with respect to time. In a case of a body acted upon by a conservative force, the position of the body through time may not change (zero work). This, however, does not imply that there is no motion because at that instance the velocity of the body may be non-zero. Motion can be also described free of time by using conjugate variables such as position and momentum.

          I believe that (macroscopically) what Brandon meant on his comment on the glass sitting on a table is that the table causes the glass to have a zero acceleration with respect to the perceived vertical direction.

      • To say the table is causing the glass to not fall or stand up, requires a temporal element. It is only by the glass and the table interacting in a certain way over time that we say there is this cause and effect. Consider taking all time away from the situation. Is the glass sitting on the table? Or being repelled? Do they just happen to be next to each other? We need some time to pass so they establish the cause and effect.

        In other words, without time, verbs don't work. You can't be sitting, standing, preventing in an infinitely small amount of time.

        Not to mention that this example also requires space, which is absent in the state of affairs. The only reasonable position is that absent space and time we have no intuitions or understanding of something like causation or anything, which is why the Big Bang singularity is a wall for science.

        What you and Feser are doing is applying your intuitions about cause and effect and other things to a reality that is literally entirely speculative. You can't do that. All you can do is speculate and there is no reason to speculate one way or the other.

        • Perhaps a simpler way to think of it is in terms of causation. A cause is prior to its effect simply by virtue of being a cause. If A cause B, which causes C, B is prior to C, and A causally prior to B.

          Whether A is prior to B temporally is a distinct question. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but the notion of causal priority doesn't depend on temporal priority.

          • Phil Rimmer

            The issue of temporal priority is resolved by removing the cause of an otherwise steady state condition.

          • What does the notion of causal priority depend upon then? Generally, I would say we identify something as a cause of something else because we observe a correlation temporally, when billiard ball 2 hits 3 with momentum, three moves. Through repeated observation we speak of 2's motion and friction causing 3's movement.

            This would be material causation. Efficient causation would be the mechanism that rolled 2 in the first place.

            The table is pushing up against the glass and the earth is pulling the glass against the table. In a temporal spatial framework we might say the table is preventing the glass from being pulled further down. We might say this is the cause of the glass' relative position, but I think this might be another notion.

            I don't see why we would speak of this ontological priority as "causal". It seems we are using a word that has meaning dependent upon space and time and suggesting, maybe there could be a similar process absent space and time. I think this is poor reasoning. It is like taking the concept of flavour and saying perhaps there is another sense that is like that, but doesn't involve tongues, tasting or minds. It would be utterly unjustified.

          • "I don't see why we would speak of this ontological priority as 'causal.'"

            Because the priority has to do with causes of being, and they are ordered with respect to their place in that causal order.

            The billiard ball example doesn't really apply in this context, because Feser is talking about an efficient cause that brings a thing into being, whereas the billiard ball example only includes beings that already exist but that are modified by some other cause.

          • Indeed all of our understanding of cause, effect, and well, everything, is based on beings that already exist and are modified.

            Why would anyone think we can know or understand anything about other contexts, contexts we can't even imagine?

          • It's probably true that we directly experience only finite, mutable things. But that doesn't mean that our knowledge (or even our imagination) is limited to these kinds of things. Thomists like Feser assert that our knowledge of God is very limited and based upon what we know through experience.

          • I would say it is so limited that we cannot say anything other than very conditional and tautological statements like :if a god exists that created the universe and is different than the universe, it would be the kind of thing that can do that.

          • Well, then you're just begging the question. You might think that we can't say anything other than "very conditional and tautological statements." Monotheists hold a different view, and they've provided arguments (among other means, such as revelation or aesthetic experience) to show how.

          • I am saying that we should stop short of such tautology or conditionality. We can reasonably say we don't have a much of a clue when it comes to questions of ultimate origin. We can't say we have an explanation. I don't think it is actually clear what we are asking.

            This is, presumably, one such argument, and I think we have agreed it gets us nowhere. As for "revelation" and "aesthetic experience" I don't consider these reasonable grounds to base beliefs on, especially extraordinary beliefs on important issues.

          • You are just stating a conclusion. There's no reason in principle to limit knowledge to what we directly experience. (And, of course, you'd have to give up believe in atoms or common descent in the prehistoric era, since we can only infer these indirectly from experience.)

            You think that knowledge is limited such that no non-trivial truths can be known about things we can't directly experience. Theists argue that we can have knowledge of things that transcend physical things, and they offer specific routes to this sort of knowledge. Without engaging with these arguments, you're just stating an opinion.

          • I do think that if we are going to be reasonable about things we do need to limit ourselves based on empirical observation. Not direct empirical observation, but some form of indirect observation at least. We certainly do experience atoms and the evidence of prehistory and so on.

            I'm not sure how you are using "transcend", but I don't think we can have reasonable beliefs, much less knowledge of anything non- material.

            I am stating an opinion, but it is my opinion of these arguments. I do engage these arguments, I have a podcast devoted to this engagement.

            My criticism in is case is the suggestion that our intuitions about causation can have any meaning in a framework where time and space do not exists. I think to is fallacious. Our very concept of causation depends on this framework, there is no reason to think that it extends beyond space-time.

          • Well, a posteriori proofs of God's existence infer God's existence from objects we can experience. I'm not sure how one "indirectly observes" something, but it's certainly the case that belief in God is usually based in experience (except for certain a priori arguments).

            With respect to causation, again, we're talking about a causal relation where the effect is observed and the cause is inferred. There's no reason to say that a cause must itself be observable. And there is every reason to think that a cause that brings about the entirety of the universe including its spatio-temoral features would not itself be spatio-temporal.

          • With respect to indirect observation, you pretty much nailed it the second paragraph.

            Why do you think the universe is an effect?

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      If prior here doesn't mean "before" in some kind of temporal sense, then what does it mean?

      When we call Michelle Obama the "First Lady" of the USA, do we mean that there were never any US ladies before her?

      • Right, so what does it mean?

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          First in priority. For example, gravity depends on the existence of matter, so matter must exist before there can be gravity. But gravity must exist simultaneously with the existence of matter, given our current understanding of gravity as a distortion in the field of space-time tensors. As soon as there is mass, there is a distortion, and hence gravity. (Of course, it may propagate afterward at c from its origin.) Hence, even though mass and gravity are simultaneous, mass is first ontologically.

          • Yes, I get that this is a use of prior that is not temporal, but in terms of how fundamental they are in a given framework. But why would you consider that "causal". I understand the statement "matter is prior to gravity" but I don't understand this to entail that "matter causes gravity". I don't know what caused gravity, or if it even makes sense to think of this force as having a cause.

            And even in this example, time is definitely necessary to have this relationship between gravity and matter. So again, I cannot conceive of anything causal, even if it is this ontological fundamentality causality absent time, much less space.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I understand the statement "matter is prior to gravity" but I don't understand this to entail that "matter causes gravity".

            Well, you're right: general relativity might be ludicrously wrong. But under GR, matter does cause gravity.

            I don't know what caused gravity, or if it even makes sense to think of this force as having a cause.

            You are, right that there must be an uncaused cause, but I don't know that gravity qualifies. Gravitational fields are centered on masses. (And that includes beams of light, which exert gravitational influence. (cf. "light bending" experiment Eddington conducted to support general relativity.) I know of no gravitational field that is not generated by some mass.

            Under GR, mass causes gravity by bending the space-time manifold. This curves the geodesics of nearby bodies and that deviation from rectilinear motion is what we call gravity. Notice that this dispenses with Newton's invisible sky forces in favor of actual things: masses and manifolds, although the latter is immaterial.

            even in this example, time is definitely necessary to have this relationship between gravity and matter.

            Newton's laws of universal gravitation, which gives the relationship, contains no term corresponding to time.

            https://upload.wikimedia.org/math/2/1/3/213184592e29bda58128634ccc142a43.png

            I cannot conceive of anything causal, even if it is this ontological fundamentality causality absent time, much less space.

            Perhaps you mean you cannot imagine it. Keep in mind that causation includes, in addition to (and not "instead of") the usual metrical and controllable efficient causes, formal, final, and material causes and non-metrical efficient causes. It could be that you cannot conceive of how a formal cause can be an efficient cause, those being the sort you are familiar with. And of course it is not.

            (Consider the example of a kitten crossing the room. You can explain it in terms of leg motion, caused by muscle motion, caused by motor nerve motion, caused by motor neuron motion, and so on. But the first cause in this instance is the saucer of milk on the other side of the room. Notice that this sets the kitten in motion without itself being moved by that action. There is action, but no re-action. So it is, relative to this set of motions, an unmoved mover. But it is also a final cause, not an efficient cause.)

            Hope this helps.

  • Kraker Jak
  • In their recent book The Grand Design, they tell us that “we create [the universe’s] history by our observation, rather than history creating us” and that since we are part of the universe, it follows that “the universe… create[d] itself from nothing.”

    If the article author is pretending they meant that literally rather than poetically, then he failed to notice a blatant fallacy of composition. Should I bother continuing to read the rest of the article?

    • William Davis

      This is from the comments on the original article:

      George R. said...In their recent book The Grand Design, they tell us that “we create [the universe’s] history by our observation, rather than history creating us” and that since we are part of the universe, it follows that “the universe… create[d] itself from nothing.”

      I don't know what these guys are smoking, but it must be some good sh*t.

      December 4, 2010 at 12:37 PM

      Edward Feser said...I think it was rolled up copies of The God Delusion.

      Anything I have to say about Feser isn't going to positive...

      http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/12/dreaded-causa-sui.html

      • Haha, I like that response by him, actually. Too many self-aggrandizing philosophers can't tolerate humor.

        • William Davis

          I agree about philosophers and humor, but over time I've developed a low tolerance for Feser (probably due to excessive exposure).
          That said, we could have all kinds of fun with the smoking metaphor, with Hawking smoking God Delusion, and Feser smoking Aquinas, Aristotle, and the Bible ;)

  • David Hardy

    I will begin this post by admitting I do not have advanced training in Physics. However, I will say that the human perspective is limited in terms of both time and space. We have only a relatively short period where humans have been observing existence relative to what we know of how long the universe has existed, and likewise our senses are unable to directly perceive the more fundamental levels of matter. Even with modern scientific methods and tools, we continue to find more basic blocks to existence, and continue to struggle to extrapolate further back in time. This limited view makes any position on the most fundamental nature of the universe uncertain.

    In terms of causation, when we say things come into being, this often indicates that the fundamental building blocks of matter have come together in complex enough forms to be observed. Likewise, when we say that things end, this often indicates the complex forms have broken down into simpler levels. It seems possible, although not certain, that the smallest, most fundamental blocks that make up being may neither come into being nor cease to be, but instead only organize in different ways. In such a case, being sustained or caused may be an element only applicable to the forms these basic blocks make, rather than qualities that could be appropriately attributed to them.

    On a related note, this concept does not seem so different from that of God in this context. God would have the similar aspect of neither needing to be sustained nor caused, and giving rise to that which is sustained and caused. In this regard, we could agree that it is possible that these qualities do exist in what sustains the universe. Where we differ is in whether we believe this sustaining force is certain in its nature and attributes.

  • Ugh, I read ahead a bit further and...

    Even if the universe had no beginning but regressed back in time to infinity, it would still have to be sustained in being at any particular moment by God. It could not at any particular moment be causing itself.

    ... we're treated to another extraordinarily blatant fallacy, this time an equivocation. How did he leap from "sustained" to "causing", and then back and forth again in the subsequent sentences? (I mean ignoring the problem that he didn't present any reason in the first place as to why the universe would need sustaining.)

    • joey_in_NC

      ... we're subjected to another extraordinarily blatant fallacy, this
      time an equivocation. How did he leap from "sustained" to "causing", and
      then back and forth again in the subsequent sentences?

      I don't see what your big gripe is about this "equivocation". Feser distinguishes between per accidens causes and per se causes, with the word "sustaining" referring to the latter.

      • OK, upon a second reading I'll grant that that's presumably what he meant. In that case it's only an equivocation literally and rhetorically, but it's valid in its intended meaning.

        My gripe about fallacies is that they're train wrecks in arguments. We can't honestly ride the train to the destination.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          No, per se causation is when the causal powers of B depend on the ongoing action of A on B. Toppling dominoes are not per se because after domino A strikes domino B, the power of domino B to strike C does not depend on A's continued existence. OTOH, when Sharon Kam plays Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A, the clarinet (the reed, etc.) depends for its power to play the concerto on the sustaining cause of Sharon Kam. If she stops playing, the clarinet cannot produce the music. IOW, in a per se series all the causes are instrumental causes and so there must be a cause that is ontologically prior.

          • No, per se causation is when the causal powers of B depend on the ongoing action of A on B.

            OK. In that case, there don't appear to be any physical examples of per se causation. Instead, per se causation is something that only appears in higher levels of description, e.g. a social description involving a clarinetist playing a concerto over an extended time, but referred to as a single gestalt, versus a physical description involving a series of local airflow and vibration events.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Your comment reminds me of something John Lukacs once said of Tolstoy's locomotive. Tolstoy had given a well-known description of the steam boiler and other actions that "explained" the motion of the locomotive. Lukacs commented that Tolstoy had forgotten the engineer.

            The airflow in the clarinet ceases one Sharon Kam stops blowing. That is, the air is instrumental in making the music and has not the power of doing so unless a primary cause causes it to have that power.

            If you don't like the clarinet example, try the classical example of a hand pushing a stick pushing a rock. The stick has no power to push rocks unless a primary cause is using it to do the pushing. (Change the stick to a baseball bat or a golf club if you like.)

          • The airflow in the clarinet ceases one Sharon Kam stops blowing.

            Hm? No it doesn't. There's no instantaneous causation involved in objects pushing each other. That's why I wrote that this sort of example makes no physical sense, but is just a higher-level description. You're taking a collection of events extended across time and considering them as a subjective whole. That's fine. I don't object to "noticing the engineer," so to speak. But that's a social-level description. It's just not what's going on at the physical level.

            The fact that the pressure waves are too fast for Medievals to have known about and incorporated into their philosophizing doesn't give moderns an excuse to ignore the physical reality.

            The same applies to the hand-stick-rock example. If the force from the hand stops, the force from the stick stops a short time later as the pressure wave propagates along its length, and the rock is stopped another short time later by friction.

            (In another comment on this page I asked about the puzzling choice of declaring the hand a primary cause.)

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            There's no instantaneous causation involved in objects pushing each other.

            Who said it was "instantaneous"? Whitehead wrote in The Principle of Relativity that no events in physical world were "instantaneous." They always take place over an interval of time. The use of infinitesimals is a computational convenience, like using a normal approximation to the binomial distribution.

            That's a social-level description. It's just not what's going on at the physical level.

            Reductionism leads to all sorts of funny-bunny. Your POV, iiuc, is just a physical-level description. It's just not what's going on at the holistic level.

            The fact that the pressure waves are too fast for Medievals to known about and incorporated into their philosophizing doesn't give moderns an excuse to ignore the physical reality.

            What has this got to do with it? These are not theories in physics, but propositions in metaphysics. As such they are prior to physics. That is, the physics must assume causation, motion, time, etc. in order to "do business." Just as Euclidean geometry assumes its postulates. Metaphysics considers what must be true prior to doing any sort of physics. That there is some lapse of time before the motion begins or ends does not change the nature of the causal agent or obviate the fact that the subsequent causes are instrumental. If you were listening to Sharon Kam from farther away, you might well hear the music after she has stopped playing.

            The same applies to the hand-stick-rock example. If the force from the hand stops, the force from the stick stops a short time later as the pressure wave propagates along its length, and the rock is stopped another short time later by friction.

            Posterior motion was well-known to the medievals. This was called the problem of first and last moments. Buridan's example of the millstone which keeps rolling after the crown gear is disengaged is one such.

            The motion imparted by an impetus is permanent unless degraded by a contrary impetus. That is, the actualization of a potential is whatever changes its prior state; and physical bodies will resist this change (inertia="laziness"). "Change" is closer in meaning to Aristotle's "kinesis" than is the Modern usage of "motion." As such, kinesis is something more akin to an acceleration than to a velocity. Hence, the cause of the inertial motion is whatever set it in motion in the first place even if in, say, a vacuum it might continue indefinitely.

          • Family birthdays make for slow response times online. :-)

            There's no instantaneous causation involved in objects pushing each other.

            Who said it was "instantaneous"?

            (I write in paragraphs, not soundbite sentences. You'll find the reason for that sentence in its surrounding sentences. Specifically, I didn't attribute that to you; rather, you'll find the explicit attribution, which that sentence describes, a mere two sentences later in its paragraph. OK, enough on interpretive charity. See below regarding content.)

            That's a social-level description. It's just not what's going on at the physical level.

            Reductionism leads to all sorts of funny-bunny. Your POV, iiuc, is just a physical-level description. It's just not what's going on at the holistic level.

            You're incorrect regarding my POV. I don't (currently, pending a good reason otherwise) accept any human models of reality as being identical to reality or isomorphic with it. For me, human models of reality are like maps of a territory - we make observations of the territory and draw our maps accordingly. For different purposes, maps at different scales, or of different features, are useful. So I accept descriptions at many levels, not only the physical level. But I do think that, when precision is called for, it's a genuinely irrational mistake to use a less precise map when we have a more precise map available.

            Discussing features supposed to apply to all of reality, like causal chains, is a paradigmatic example where precision is of utmost importance given the mix of outlandish things and intuitive-but-incorrect things that pre-20th century philosophers used to say about causation. Unfamiliarity with the temporal quirks that occur at quantum and relativistic scales inevitably leads people to rely on the human-scale assumptions built into their neural network by their life experience, and these assumptions, while an excellent map for finding one's way in mundane life, are utterly misguiding regarding the wider world. The exquisitely tested theories of physics are by far the most precise maps we have of the territory - the least ambiguous, most accurate, best justified models of the real world that we possess.

            That need for precision is why I reduced the putative examples of per se causation to physical-level descriptions. To use social-level descriptions here instead is to lose critical precision.

            What has this got to do with it? These are not theories in physics, but propositions in metaphysics. As such they are prior to physics.

            Halfway to the contrary, propositions in metaphysics may be either prior or post or anywhere in between compared to physics or anything else. There is no unique set of metaphysical propositions one might make, as there are always alternative ways to divide up ideas. So we have many metaphysical systems to choose from.

            Insofar as metaphysical systems resemble a formal system, they might be internally coherent. Whether as a formal system they also resemble parts of reality is a separate matter that can only be decided by comparing them to observed reality. And insofar as they don't resemble a formal system or aren't internally coherent, they're irrelevant no matter how much parts of them might resemble reality as they can be used to call the same claims true and false: they can provide no guidance. In short, metaphysical systems are no different in character from other maps: like other maps they vary in how accurately and precisely they describe real things, and in how usefully the lines are drawn.

            That is, the physics must assume causation, motion, time, etc. in order to "do business."

            This claim is falsified by special and general relativity, which lead us to redefine space and time, and by quantum mechanics, which similarly lead us to redefine causation. (Or we could equally say that, rather than "redefining" the old metaphysics, we merely relegated them to special cases, and developed newer, more general, more precise metaphysical claims as our new standards.)

            Just as Euclidean geometry assumes its postulates. Metaphysics considers what must be true prior to doing any sort of physics.

            To that extent they are formal systems and are not known to usefully apply to our world until they are tested and found to fit.

            That there is some lapse of time before the motion begins or ends does not change the nature of the causal agent or obviate the fact that the subsequent causes are instrumental.

            That is a mistaken confusion caused by mixing models. A physical description is from one map and an Aristotelian description is from another, and navigating by both simultaneously only gets us confused.

            The key is this: physics is the most precise, most accurate model of reality that we have that we know applies to the world. For this reason, though it cannot guide us everywhere, wherever it guides us differently than any other map, it guides us better than any other map. And physics has no instrumental causes, and thus no per se causes.

            All the above here is the reason I wrote what I did in my previous comment, here reiterated with more detail regarding the background reasons.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I write in paragraphs, not soundbite sentences.

            Congratulations. It's always a pleasure to come across such self-accolades. I, too, have been known to write in paragraphs, although it is customary when citing to repeat only a "key quote," which the reader may refer to the original, longer comment. These things grow like goat barbecue, so I try not to make excerpts any longer than they need to be.

            Unfamiliarity with the temporal quirks that occur at quantum and relativistic scales inevitably leads people to rely on the human-scale assumptions

            Those quirks are consequences of the human models of their territories. They do not obligate reality to go along with the gag. In particular, the belief that causation does not apply at the quantum level is a consequence of a prior assumption that a) causation is a time relationship and b) that it is always precisely predictable. But that sort of predictability is often simply a human-scale assumption. A may cause B without being predictable as to time and place, just as Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation does not tell us which apple will fall and when.

            metaphysics may be either prior or post or anywhere in between compared to physics or anything else. There is no unique set of metaphysical propositions one might make, as there are always alternative ways to divide up ideas.

            But then you are not talking about metaphysics, but using the word to refer to something else. For example, in a discussion of "home security" one may insist that it refers also to the way a five-sided slab of whitened rubber is fastened to the ground. But this is an equivocation on both "home" and "security." Metaphysics was invented by the Greeks as one of three broad domains of knowledge: Physics (which deals with the abstracted properties of physical bodies), Mathematics (which deals with the abstracted properties of ideal bodies), and Metaphysics (which deals with being as such). There is currently a confounding between Physics and Mathematics, with many folks confusing the behavior of the mathematical model with the behavior of the physical body.

            That is, the physics must assume causation, motion, time, etc. in order to "do business."
            This claim is falsified by special and general relativity, which lead us to redefine space and time, and by quantum mechanics, which similarly lead us to redefine causation.

            Actually, the idea that space and time are posterior to matter, as in general relativity, is closer to Aristotle than to Newton. As Einstein said, space and time are intrusions of metaphysics into physics. I know of nothing in quantum mechanics that "redefines" causation. (What is the new definition?) Most folks who have claimed this have instead pointed to predictability rather than causation.

            And physics has no instrumental causes, and thus no per se causes.

            Modern physics deals almost entirely with instrumental causation. Suppose I put a pot of water on the stove to make some tea. A physicist then runs into my kitchen and begins measuring temperatures of the coil and the water, the vapor pressure, thermal conductivity of the kettle, and all what have you. When he is done, he thoroughly understands what makes the water boil. He knows the water, the fire, the air, and even, regarding the kettle, the earth. The one thing he does not know from all his measurements is that I wanted to make a cup of tea.

            My desire for the tea - decaffeinated, as it happens - is the primary cause. The heat, the water, the metal of the kettle comprise collectively the secondary causes, a.k.a. instrumental causes.

            When asked about the possibility of a Tea Maker, the physicist honestly replies, "Sire, I have no need of that hypothesis." And indeed, he does not. For in the physics of boiling water, the desire to drink tea is not an efficient cause, and so is methodologically irrelevant to the physics.

          • Ah, that's the YOS everyone speaks of. Always quick to snide insult and slow to engagement with nonfiction. Please ignore my comments on SN and let someone who measures their words respond in your stead.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            What is the snide insult?

            Does this mean you will not address the comments on quantum mechanics and relativity, which had to do with your earlier riff on the "outlandish things and intuitive-but-incorrect things that
            pre-20th century philosophers used to say about causation" and the "human-scale assumptions built
            into their neural network by their life experience."

    • Something can be a cause of something by sustaining it, in the general philosophical usage of the word cause. That's not an equivocation, and Feser is not using these terms in any way other than their common, accepted usage in philosophical discourse.

      • Yes, I'll grant now that that's how Feser intended the word. It would have been helpful if he'd indicated his special definition since the article was written for a popular audience.

        • It's not at all a special definition. Something that sustains something in existence is a cause of its continued existence.

          • You can't have it both ways: it's either a specialized philosophical usage or a popular usage, not both simultaneously.

          • Something can certainly be both a cause in the philosophical sense and a popular sense. The notion of efficient cause is mostly an elaboration of how we commonly use the word cause. This is not a complex issue.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Imagine an eternal foot planted in the eternal sand. The foot has always been there. Beneath the foot is the eternal footprint. The foot is not prior to the footprint in time; but it is prior to the footprint ontologically. That is, the foot causes the footprint to be. The footprint does not cause the foot to be. So that even if the universe were to regress infinitely back in time, the foot is still the sustaining cause of the footprint.

      • Imagine an eternal foot planted in the eternal sand.

        Uh... are you just messing with me?

      • George

        "The footprint does not cause the foot to be."

        Why rule that out? Why should the weirdness stop after you grant the eternal foot and eternal sand?

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          "The footprint does not cause the foot to be."
          Why rule that out?

          Because not everything imaginable is actually possible. The confusion of the imagination with the intellect is a Late Modern curse.

          • George

            I hope you remember that.

  • Michael Murray

    That image would appear to have been messed with. No idea if they are approved changes but they look a little weird. This one

    http://www.msnbc.com/sites/msnbc/files/WillFemiaD455896A-93CD-C9F8-4405-1331BDB9ADE7.jpg

    seems to have not been altered. I am told the additions relate to wrestling. Not wrestling with the secrets of the universe but wrestling with sweaty fellow male primates I think.

    • neil_pogi

      hawking choose to be an atheist because he is suffering from rare disease, lou gehrig's disease.

      • William Davis

        I thought rare diseases brought people to God...

        • neil_pogi

          atheists just hate trials, temptations and poverty. they just like living without any diseases and hardships...that's why they chose not to believe in God's existence

          • neil_pogi

            ...and yet they believe in some sort of a 'creator'.....the aliens! (who doesn't require any morals)

          • William Davis

            So...why exactly do you think Hawking chose to be an atheist because of his disease. Don't you realize you just contradicted yourself or is your thinking that flawed?

          • neil_pogi

            i have already said: 'why not interview him'?

          • William Davis

            hawking choose to be an atheist because he is suffering from rare disease, lou gehrig's disease

            So when you made this original statement, you were lying right? Exodus 20

            16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

          • neil_pogi

            i already ask you to interview him. quoting scriptures makes no sense. are you a liar? do you think it's a sin? if you think it's a sin, then present your case

          • neil_pogi

            why contradict with my statement?
            i'm afflicted with anxiety disorders.. sometimes i think God is unfair, or sometimes i think He doesn't really exists. and i thought that it's not only me who suffers that mental illness, there are thousands of them too.

          • Doug Shaver

            they just like living without any diseases and hardships

            According to Christians, that's what heaven will be like. By your logic, we'd all be Christians.

          • neil_pogi

            the rewards for christians and others who believe in God is everlasting life. this will happen when the judgment will come after the 2nd coming.

          • Doug Shaver

            My point was, if our beliefs actually were dictated solely by what we like (as you suggested they are), we would all believe we were going to heaven.

          • neil_pogi

            since God has endowed humans with 'free will', humans are given choices: good or evil

            since Adam chose sin, God has punished him,even though God has given him warnings.

            God cursed the ground (thorns and thistles); man's age is shortened to at least 120 years (before 900 years+); mutations happen (atheists must thank God He allowed mutations to happen) (but mutations always make organisms harmful), predators and preys (this is evidence that the design for predators result of organisms' having sharp teeth, eyes that are able to see even in dark environment, sharp claws, predators have eyes in front (to see in 3D and judge distance), while prey tends to have eyes on the side of the head (to spot predators).

          • Doug Shaver

            None of that has any relevance to my point.

          • neil_pogi

            then what is your point?

          • Doug Shaver

            I already told you the point. If you didn't get it then, you won't get it just because I repeat myself.

        • neil_pogi

          actually, Hawking should thank God that He still lengthen his life to at least 70 years.. that's rare for sick people with lou gehrig's disease

          • Doug Shaver

            Hawking should thank God that He still lengthen his life to at least 70 years.

            If I were in that situation, I would be thanking my physicians.

          • neil_pogi

            the physicians have already numbered his days, only a miracle save him

          • Doug Shaver

            the physicians have already numbered his days

            You say so.

          • neil_pogi

            what do the physicians did to him?
            medical literatures said lou gehrig's disease's mortality, after diagnosis, is very high.. what happened to him is to be classified as miracle in action

      • George

        Say something constructive, please.

      • Michael Murray

        How do you know this ?

        • neil_pogi

          why not interview him?

          it's his revelation years ago

          • Michael Murray

            Evidence ?

          • neil_pogi

            you have a 'google' search engine

          • Michael Murray

            And I used it. I found a quote like this

            "Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation. What I meant by 'we would know the mind of God' is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn't. I'm an atheist."

            Nothing about choosing to be an atheist because he had motor neurone disease.

          • neil_pogi

            Stephen Hawking never said he believes in science or that he put his faith in science.

            i will believe him if he was there 'watching the creation of the universe'..

          • Michael Murray

            Don't move the goalposts we are talking about your claim that

            choose to be an atheist because he is suffering from rare disease,

            You still haven't backed that up with evidence. If you can't back it up I would suggest you do the right thing and delete the comment.

          • neil_pogi

            why not interview him?
            why so concern if he has lou gehrig's disease?

          • Michael Murray

            Sorry not replying to any other questions. Just waiting for you to provide evidence.

          • neil_pogi

            i already have

          • Michael Murray

            No you haven't.

            This conversation is finished.,

          • neil_pogi

            therefore, there is no need for me to delete it

          • neil_pogi

            you said that 'evolution' is a fact. just google search.. but i didn't find it as a fact.

          • neil_pogi

            "He is a known atheist, from the time I first met him in the 1970s when he was able to communicate by saying ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’" --Prof. Jacob Bekenstein

            so in my opinion, he became an ardent atheist AFTER he was diagnosed to have lou gehrig's disease

          • Michael Murray

            Talking to yourself now ? Bad sign you know.

            You are moving goalposts again. You said

            choose to be an atheist because he is suffering from rare disease,

            Back it up or delete it.

          • neil_pogi

            because the question is NOT about: did you became an atheist because of your present illness?

            that's why i need your atheists' organization to have appointment with him and ask him a question like this: did you become an atheist because of your present illness? for years, nobody have try or attempt to ask this question to him because they are so afraid of his answer

      • Mike

        imagine if his mom had known about the disease and had decided to off him in the womb!

        • Sqrat

          Imagine if his mom had become a nun.

          • Mike

            off off off with his head...he'd be dead he'd be dead...eek..gruesome business. :(

          • neil_pogi

            nobody knows what a person would be afflicted with disease. you're not thinking rationally

          • Mike

            wait until we find the gay gene...it's not going to be pretty.

          • neil_pogi

            diseases such as 'gay' gene are results of harmful mutations
            fruit flies experiments have shown that mutations,etc have always result in harming organisms. fruit flies have been observed with extra limb growing out of its head, extra wings that serve no 'flying' purposes, etc

    • William Davis

      I noticed that too, but the additions didn't quite seem mocking so I wasn't sure what to think.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      @michaelkmurray:disqus what are you talking about?

      • Michael Murray

        There are extra words on the blackboard in the image that goes with the main article. Like Funkasaurus. All the words in that particular pseudo chalk font have been added later. I've posted the original image with my comment.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Thank you. I didn't notice that stuff on the photo. It is weird.

    • neil_pogi

      do you expect sufferers from lou gehrig's disease would not look like that? you seemed so symphatetic

      • Michael Murray

        As I explained to Kevin below the blackboard behind him has been altered. Compare it to the picture I posted.

        • neil_pogi

          so what? are you pissed off?

          • Michael Murray

            How can I be pissed off ? I'm an atheist and I have no absolute standard of pissed offness.

          • neil_pogi

            yes you are

  • neil_pogi

    a, what? a nothing can create a something? that's not science.. that's science fiction! i thought hawking is the very intelligent scientist. he is just a science fiction writer.

  • Peter

    "Hence, even if the universe were (as it is not) as Robert Heinlein or Stephen Hawking describes it, it would require at any particular instant a cause distinct from it in order for it to exist at that instant........ When we carefully unpack what the scenarios would have to involve, we can see that they do not entail any sort of causa sui, nor anything that could in principle exist apart from a divine first cause."

    I'm not sure if this argument for a divine first cause is strong enough to convince sceptics who see the increasingly revealed laws of physics as sufficient explanations in their own right of why things exist at any instant.

    A stronger argument, surely, for a divine cause, would be to point to the low entropy conditions of the early universe. Such a precise low entropy configuration, for which there is no natural explanation, has led not only to our existence as a conscious species, but to the potential existence of countless sentient species throughout the cosmos.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      sceptics who see the increasingly revealed laws of physics as sufficient
      explanations in their own right of why things exist at any instant.

      Sure, and the clarinet explains the existence of the concerto.

      I'm not sure what sort of causal powers a "law" has, unless one subscribes to neo-Pythagorean number woo-woo. Most laws these days simply describe the regularities in what happens. The actual causal agents are "things" not "laws."

      • Peter

        I don't know. The laws which determine reality at every moment are emergent properties of the conditions of the early universe. If divine causation is to be found, it is to be found in the authorship of these conditions, not in the repeated enactment of each law.

        The point I am trying to make is that a progressively deeper understanding of the laws of nature militates against the notion that each event needs a prime mover, which makes it increasingly difficult, and not easier, to convince sceptics of such.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          The laws which determine reality at every moment

          See, I would have said the reality determines the laws.

          ]The laws] are emergent properties of the conditions of the early universe.

          Late Moderns seem to use "emergent properties" as a scientificalistic substitute for "then a miracle happens." They're really examples of formal causation, but Late Moderns don't believe in formal causes. But note that you have to already have an early universe in order for properties to "emerge" from it. E.g., you can't have gravity unless you have matter.

          If divine causation is to be found, it is to be found in the authorship of these conditions, not in the repeated enactment of each law.

          True dat, but we ought not think of divine causation as just another example of physical causation.

          a progressively deeper understanding of the laws of nature militates against the notion that each event needs
          a prime mover

          What's an "event"? The original notion dealt with things, not events. But in any case, the physics assumes things like "cause" and "motion" in order to do business in the first place; and no science can prove its own axioms.

          which makes it increasingly difficult, and not easier,

          to convince sceptics of such.

          Well, you cannot use reason to convince a man from a position he reached by emotional commitment.

  • Kraker Jak

    ..

  • Phil Rimmer

    "Even if the universe had no beginning but regressed back in time to infinity, it would still have to be sustained in being at any particular moment by God. It could not at any particular moment be causing itself."

    An electromagnetic wave sustains itself in an endless complementary process of energy transfer from magnetic field to electric field. The energy drop in one generates the energy increase in the other. In vacuo this has worked for 13.798bn years minus ten seconds, so far.

    What's God's part in this?

    • neil_pogi

      then tell me who or what is the 'prime mover'?
      what initiates the energy?
      where did this 'electromagnetic wave' come from?
      we all know that energy is neither created nor destroyed..

      • Phil Rimmer

        My response was to question the need for sustaining not for causation.

        As for energy and mass etc. The universe may be net zero but little local perturbations are known to be possible. There are currently 5 different cosmological theories being considered. I believe I sent you a link of a documentary about them. For myself I can't tell you which is closest to the truth.

        • neil_pogi

          when we say zero, it's zero! no more, no less! quarks, bosons, etc are considered as 'something'
          therefore the universe has a beginning in one point in time. the big bang should have a 'big banger' from 'outside' source

          • Phil Rimmer

            We have no experience to guide us about what is common sense for these tiny and super-large scales of existence invoked in cosmologies. Many of the theories I linked you to (but presumably not explored) contend many universes (uncoupled either by space or time) may exist or may have existed.

            We do, though, know already, existence lies in part beyond the metre sized common sense with which we are familiar. Non-locality, entanglement, spooky action at a distance, despite Einstein's protestations, are verifiable facts. The vacuum is better envisaged as a quantum foam of particle pairs that pop into existence then self annihilate again. Net nothing is net nothing over time. At any instant at some specific location there is something.

            This isn't necessarily an explanation of something specific to your question (though some believe there is an association), it is just to let you understand that your feelings of what is common sense may not be a useful guide at these extremities.

          • neil_pogi

            are you not reading my post above? nothing is nothing, vacuum, bosons, fields, quarks, etc are not nothing, they are something. if you believe that a nothing can produce a something, then provide me evidence, and not merely a talk or a claim

            multiverse is not proven, multiverse was only invented years ago in response to the fine tuning of the universe.

          • Phil Rimmer

            Are you not reading mine? I have already commented on the poor value of your personal incredulity applied to such wildly unfamiliar territory. Our current (incredible) theories of non locality etc. yield the greatest success in predicting experimental outcomes. Evidence trumps such incredulity.

          • neil_pogi

            evidence? where?

          • Phil Rimmer
          • neil_pogi

            quantum is a 'something' or you might believe that it just 'popped' out of 'nothingness'. just common sense

          • neil_pogi

            you talked too much! just present concrete evidence that a 'nothing' would produce a 'something'..

    • Peter

      God's part, in my opinion, is in creating the precise conditions of the early universe from which electromagnetic fields, as well as all other self-perpetuating phenomena, have naturally emerged.

      • Phil Rimmer

        I wish you would propose this to neil. I disagree because a mind is not called for, but at least that leaves you open to the big beautiful Universe that scientists can make laws for....

        • Peter

          I too would have been sceptical about whether a supreme mind was responsible for creating the conditions of the early universe if, for example, we were the only life in the cosmos and had become so through some absolute freak of nature in an otherwise hostile universe.

          However, judging from the progressive discoveries of suitable exoplanets, it appears that the universe is configured from the outset for the widespread creation of life. This, to me, indicates purpose and, therefore, the presence of a supreme mind.

          • Phil Rimmer

            The fine tuning idea is not so precise as once thought. Three of the main constants for stellar synthesis have a full 25% range available in their solution spaces and the new work of Andreas Wagner has brought the solution space for successful genetic mutations and non damaging mutations in the case of multifunction genes up a million fold.

            Planets are an inevitable consequence of star formation the new thinking is.

            The same argument of therefore God may be placed with a new understanding of the increased likelihood of life, but the dirigisme will have to be ditched.

          • Peter

            If planets are an inevitable consequence of star formation, that is one step nearer to ascertaining the inevitability of life, including sentient life.

            A cosmos where sentient life is inevitable - where consciousness and self understanding are predetermined - would appear to have more sense of purpose than one where they are not.

          • Phil Rimmer

            This is my point in saying "therefore God", but with that (and the other increased solution spaces) comes a much less detailed specification of the outcome. This is a God even less distinguishable from physics.

  • LT

    Within the framework of time as we perceive it, if something could be its own cause that means it could cause itself infinitely backwards in time, implying a universe infinitely old. If that's the case, wouldn't the entire contents of the universe have by now wound up in complete randomness or with complete order (singularity)? After all, it would have had forever to do so...

  • I do not think that such time travel scenarios really are possible even in principle given a sound metaphysics

    Hey, that's almost a prediction. What sort of time travel would have to be observed for Feser to agree his metaphysical theory was falsified?

  • Doug Shaver

    Was Aquinas mistaken? . . . . Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow seem to think so.

    If we're going to reduce this debate to duelling authorities, my money is on the authorities who have built their case on everything humanity has learned since Aquinas's lifetime about what makes the universe tick.

  • Contrast a causal series ordered per se, the stock example of which is a hand moving a stone with a stick. Here the stick’s power to move the stone derives from the hand, and would disappear if the hand were to stop moving. In the strictest sense, it is not the stick which moves the stone, but the hand which moves it, by means of the stick.

    Why does the "strictest" sense stop at the hand, rather than following the causal chain further back to the arm muscles, nervous system, sensory inputs, past history of the person whose hand it is, her ancestors, the local light cone, the early rapid expansion of the universe as we know it, possibly further?

    Is it just that the hand is the earliest stage which was known to Medievals?

  • Mike

    Hawking has an interesting personal past too...he left his wife for one of his assistants after his wife bore him several kids and took care of him...then he turned around and did the same thing to the assistant!

    he's a wild man!

    BTW maybe he's really a wheel of samsara eastern religion devote...seems there are many similarities btw fashionable atheism and Buddhism lite.

  • neil_pogi

    since Hawking and Krauss are chief apologetics of atheists on the origins of the universe, i quoted Krauss: 'The amazing thing is that every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust. - what happens to other billions of stars that already have exploded? did they become aliens or boov?

    • neil_pogi

      i wonder how Krauss closely examined the star dust.

      did he personally observe star dust evolving into living things (e.g. human)?

      how i wish Krauss answer my questions

      • Doug Shaver

        So, we're not justified in believing something happened unless we personally saw it happen. Is that your position? That is my question, and I wish you would answer it.

        • neil_pogi

          nope. i only want to know if a 'nothing' produces a 'something'.. is that hard to be experimented?

          i'm beginning to think, or i conclude that both krauss and hawking don't understand what really is a 'nothing'.. i thought they are the most brilliant astronomers and scientists in the whole universe.

          • Doug Shaver

            That is my question, and I wish you would answer it.

            nope.

            OK. So you agree, then, that we can be justified in believing that something happened even though we did not see it happen?

          • neil_pogi

            there are things, like life, that happened in the distant past, that nobody has observed it, and yet we conclude that only a pre-existing life did it. we have scientific evidence that 'life only comes from pre-existing life'..

            we know that a car has intelligent designer even though nobody has observed it, because nature alone can't accomplish this task, it needs a 'prime mover', a 'conscious entity'

            but planet-building, just like secular astronomers would claim, that several lumps of debris, with the help of gravity, formed the planets - but this claim can't be verified thru observations and experiment, therefore, it remains a claim..

            secular scientists have said that life started from a single cell, and thru time, it evolved. this claim is not verified and tested. there are hundreds of questions that needs to be answered squarely and scientifically. what triggers it to develop? why it has to exists? these even 2 questions are not answered by scientists themselves. what are the chances that this LUCA will survive in the first day or weeks of its life? we all know that micro organisms are the smallest forms of life and they never evolved, ever! anyway, uniformitarianism (the present is the key to the past) is always false because of that. micro organisms found embedded in fossils '4.5 billlion years ago' are still the same as '4.5 billion years later'

            good observations, good experimentations, will always result in good science.

          • Doug Shaver

            yet we conclude that only a pre-existing life did it.

            No, we don't conclude that. You do. I don't.

            secular astronomers would claim, that several lumps of debris, with the help of gravity, formed the planets - but this claim can't be verified thru observations and experiment,

            Which part can't be verified? The existence of debris, or the existence of gravity?

            secular scientists have said that life started from a single cell

            No, they don't say that.

          • neil_pogi

            lots of denials

          • Doug Shaver

            In response to lots of unsupported, unevidenced assertions, nothing more is required.

          • neil_pogi

            if you feel that Hawking's theory that the universe just 'pop' out of a 'nothing', you denied it, and say that 'atheists are not organised'

            but when you feel that wickramasenghe's theory of panspermia is ok, you say that atheist like him is very brilliant..

            how convenient. how cherry-picking!

  • neil_pogi

    why i said Hawking chose to be an atheist, and like other atheists, because he's suffering from lou gehrig's disease

    since a disease is 'evil' therefore, they conclude that God doesn't exists..
    (earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, volcanic eruptions, flood, famine are all 'evils')

    that's why they choose to be atheists because 'evil' exists..

    simple explanation.

  • neil_pogi

    hawkings and krauss believed that the universe created itself out of 'nothing' ...

    they question the 'immaterial' Christian God because they can't see the 'immaterial'... they can't feel the 'immaterial' they can't experiment the 'immaterial'...

    and yet they marvelously believed that a 'nothing' has a creative power to create, like the universe.

    but i can't see the 'nothing'... i can't feel the 'nothing' ... and i can't experiment the 'nothing'..

    Psalm 14: The Fool Says in his Heart, 'There is No God'

    • Doug Shaver

      Psalm 14: The Fool Says in his Heart, 'There is No God'

      So says whoever wrote Psalm 14. Why should I take his word for it?

      • neil_pogi

        and why you take it seriously if it has no effect on you? i just quote Psalm!

        • Doug Shaver

          why you take it seriously if it has no effect on you?

          I don't. But since you quoted it, I figured that you think I should take it seriously. I was explaining why I don't.

          • neil_pogi

            nope. the message of Psalm is unmistakably true, that's why it hits you very seriously

          • Doug Shaver

            it hits you very seriously

            In your fantasies.

          • neil_pogi

            it digs deeper in your throat!

  • ajazz shake

    To belief so is intellectual rape..
    Anything that was non-existing cannot cause itself to exist because,
    A non-existing thing has no properties, therefore neither can it act not it can be acted upon.
    https://goo.gl/aP5raa

  • Garrson Daulton

    .... I think Jesus would like Oreos, and i came here after watching Bill and Ted's excellent adventure, mostly to see what other idea's there are about history creating itself. Here's hoping people won't want to be angry and quote hi range theoretical stuff at me for something simple. Be excellent to each other!