I received a question recently regarding an argument against the Kalam Cosmological Argument by Stephen Cahn. According to the respondent, Cahn holds that if someone believes in Libertarian Free Will then they should reject the Kalam cosmological argument.
My response is below:
I haven’t read Cahn’s essay, so I’ll just trust that you have represented his argument. Cahn seems to make a few mistakes here. The premises that you listed are:
- No action is free if it must occur
- In the case of every event that occurs, antecedent conditions, known or unknown, ensure the event’s occurrence.
- Therefore, no action is free.
Now on the face of it, premise 1 and premise 2 are talking about different things. Premise 1 refers to actions and premise 2 refers to the occurrence of events. Imagine that you tossed a stone and the stone fell to the ground. Now the event that occurred is that the stone fell to the ground, and it did so following the laws of physics. That fact simply doesn’t have any relationship to your free act of tossing the stone. His argument can be represented as follows.
- (x)(□Ax → ¬Fx) – For any x, if it is an action that necessarily occurs then it is not free.
- (x)(Ex → Dx) – For any x, if it is an event that occurs, then there are determining antecedent factors.
- (x)(Ax → ¬Fx) – Therefore, for any x, if it is an action it is not free.
Let’s assume, however, that Cahn really meant the “action’s outcome” in premise 2 rather than “event’s occurrence” and in premise 1 he really means that the action is not free “if it is determined by antecedent conditions” when he says “must occur”. We would then represent his argument as follows:
- (x)(Dx → ¬Fx) – For any x, if it is an action determined by antecedent conditions then it is not free.
- (x)(Ax → Dx) – For any x, if it is an action that occurs then it is determined by antecedent conditions.
- (x)(Ax → ¬Fx) – For any x, if it is an action that occurs then it is not free. (HS, 1, 2)
At least now all of the premises seem to be talking about the same thing and the conclusion would follow as a hypothetical syllogism, but why should we believe premise 2? Perhaps he gives a robust argument in his essay, but I can’t see why we would believe premise 2 unless we already believed the conclusion. If that is the case then his argument merely begs the question against free will.
Now Cahn might say that he is in fact talking about the occurrence of events, but in that case he again is presuming in premise 2 that events cannot occur by free will. He is saying that they are determined only by antecedent conditions and excluding that they may occur by one’s free act.
So it just doesn’t seem like Cahn has brought a persuasive argument against affirming both libertarian free will and the Kalam.
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