Does the Cosmological Argument Really Point to God?

We have been looking at Wes Morriston’s critique of the Kalam Cosmological Argument.  In the first two parts (Part 1 and Part 2) we looked at Morriston’s challenges to the first premise of the argument, everything that begins to exist has a cause.  Morriston also makes the claim that the argument does not point to a personal creator.  This week we’ll look at his challenges and see how the Cosmological argument stands up.

Must the First Cause be Personal?

light-bulb-984551_640You may remember that one of Dr. William Lane Craig’s arguments for the personhood of the First Cause is based on the fact that conditions can’t change over time before time existed.  If the sufficient conditions were met before time existed then they would have been met timelessly (they wouldn’t develop over time).  Now impersonal causes bring about their effects whenever the sufficient conditions are met.  Think of a light bulb that generates light whenever electricity is passed through its filament.  If the electricity had always been passing through the filament, then the light would always have been generated by the bulb.  When we look at the universe, if the initial conditions for the First Cause were the sufficient conditions, they would have always been the sufficient conditions.  So if the First Cause were impersonal, like our light bulb, and the sufficient conditions existed timelessly then we’d expect the universe to have existed timelessly as well.   In other words, if the First Cause is impersonal then we should encounter an eternal universe.  Since we don’t encounter an eternal universe, it follows that the First Cause is not impersonal.

Morriston uses quantum mechanics to counter this point.  In quantum mechanics the field exists and yet the quantum particles come about later.  In other words, the sufficient conditions are met but do not immediately bring about their effect even though the cause (the quantum field) is impersonal.  “So the alternatives – either an eternally sufficient condition or an eternal personal agent – are not (according to Craig’s own position) the only logical possibilities.” [1]  It seems that quantum mechanics provides a powerful counter-example to Craig’s assertion that every impersonal cause will bring about its effect whenever the sufficient conditions are met.

Even apart from quantum mechanics, it seems that a personal first cause has the same problem as an impersonal one, according to Morriston.  If God is eternal and timeless, then his intention to bring about the universe is eternal and timeless as well.  This implies that an eternal God with an eternal decision to create the universe should bring about an eternally existing universe, for “God’s eternal decision to create a universe must surely be causally sufficient for the existence of the world.” [2]  One might push back that God first wills to bring about the universe and then the universe comes about, but this is to treat the timeless state as though it were in time.  Morriston explains, “There can be no temporal gap between the time at which it does the willing and the time at which the thing willed actually happens.  In this respect a timeless personal cause is no different from a non-personal cause.” [3]  So if Craig has correctly identified a problem for non-personal causes, then he has the same problem for personal causes.

nick-de-partee-97063-unsplashIt is questionable whether Craig’s whole exercise is helpful, asserts Morriston.  After all, Criag presumes that we should have expected an impersonal first cause to have created the universe earlier than it did.  Craig’s point is that the universe we experience should not be so young, that its beginning should have been pushed farther back (infinitely farther back) into eternity.  This does not take seriously the timeless state prior to the creation of the universe.  There was no earlier time at which the universe could have been created.  “From the point of view of eternity, there [is] no time at which [the universe] does not yet exist.  Consequently, there is no time at which [the first cause] has failed to produce [the universe], and no time at which [the first cause] would already have produced [the universe].” [4]  So at any time that we should look at the First Cause, we will also see the universe.  At any time that we look at the light bulb, we see its light.

Where does Morriston go wrong?

Challenge from Quantum Mechanics

Morriston takes a gap in time between the cause and the effect in quantum mechanics to be similar to a separation between the sufficient conditions and the first cause’s effect in an eternal timeless state.  It is not controversial to say that the quantum field is causing the quantum particles, but if there were no duration of time then the particles could not come to be over time.  The particles would either exist timelessly or not at all.  Morriston’s analogy fails for this reason, it does not show that impersonal causes can selectively bring about their effects without the duration of time.  Remember that Craig’s point is that a timeless First Cause in a timeless set of sufficient conditions cannot selectively bring about its effect.  Even if Morriston is correct about quantum mechanics, all that it would show is that it is possible that there is a gap of time in between causes and their effects.  Since we are referring to a state of affairs in which there is no time at all, it is difficult to see how his analogy is relevant.

An eternal God with the eternal decision to create should bring about an eternal universe

Morriston’s point seems to rely on the denial of free will.  He seems to take for granted that one’s state of being (that of having an intention) flows logically and necessarily into our actions.  You don’t decide to act, but rather your state of being causes your action.  The only thing that passes from indecision to decision is not the free act of will but rather the change in your state of being (in the intentions you have).  So God’s creating the universe flows directly and automatically from God’s state of being, and God’s eternal state of being includes the intention to create the universe.  So God’s eternal state of intention should result in an eternal universe.  It seems, however, that Morriston has an enormous burden of proof for this point to go through.  He must show that if God does exist that his actions are determined not by his will but by his state of being.  Otherwise God’s act of creating can be independent of his having the intention to create.  His intention to create must be activated by his act of creation.

franck-v-647073-unsplashIt seems obvious that our actions rely on our will to act and not our intentions alone.  Consider the room you are in now as you are reading this.  Certainly you intend to leave the room (you won’t be staying there forever), but you aren’t leaving it right now.  It isn’t enough that you intend to leave the room eventually, you must also take action in leaving the room.  Otherwise you would begin leaving the room as soon as you enter it.  Your intention of leaving the room has to be activated by your free action of leaving the room.  So it seems more obvious that our actions are determined by our free will than that they are determined mechanically by our states of being.  If that is true, then Morriston’s challenge can’t go through.  God’s intention to create the universe is not enough to bring about the universe, God must also exercise his free will to act in creating the universe.

There can be no temporal gap between the time at which God does the willing and the time at which the thing willed actually happens.

All that is necessary for the difference to be real is for there to be a difference between the will or intention of a personal agent and the action of that agent.  In the case of God’s creating the universe, he existed eternally with the intention to create the universe and time came into existence with his action to create the universe.  So his intention was in an eternal state and his action was in a temporal state (the first moment).  As Craig explains, “It is insufficient to account for the origin of the universe by citing simply God, His timeless intention to create a world with a beginning, and His power to produce such a result.  There must be an exercise of His causal power in order for the universe to be created.” [5]  So there really is a “temporal gap” of sorts between God’s intention and his will to act.  The intention existed timelessly and his action is temporal (the first moment of time).

Finally, Morriston’s point about there being no time at which the first cause has not brought about the universe misses the point.  If the first cause were impersonal, then there would be no state of affairs in which the first cause exists without the universe.  In other words, the universe would exist in the same state of affairs as the first cause.  We can infer logically, however, that the first cause must have been timeless prior to the creation of the universe and that the universe has been in time since its creation.  Thus while there is no time at which the first cause has not brought about the universe, there is a state of affairs in which the first cause exists without the universe.  Morriston’s point fails here, too, because he does not account for the eternal state of affairs sans the universe.

It seems that Morriston’s challenges against the personhood of the First Cause are not more persuasive than the arguments for it.  It is for that reason that the Kalam Cosmological Argument remains a good reason to believe that God exists.

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[1] Wes Morriston, “Must The Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause?: A Critical Examination of the Kalam Cosmological Argument” Faith and Philosophy 17:2 April 2000, pg 165.

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid, pg 167.

[4] ibid.

[5] William Lane Craig, “Must the Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause?: A Rejoinder” accessed 5/27/2018.

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