Posted by: dacalu | 10 October 2012

Causation and God

The question of causation bears on many medieval arguments for the existence of God.  I’ve dealt with the philosophical/theological exploration of this topic elsewhere.  Here, I simply want to point out the natural philosophy implications in light of my last post.

I noted the seemingly inescapable dichotomy

∞… or {X}

Last time, I addressed this abstractly.  Now let me ask the comprehensive question of the physical universe.  Where did it come from.  If we label physical causes P(1)…P(n), then we can write our last dichotomy as a pair of alternate explanations of the physical universe.

∞… >> P(n) >> P(n+1) >> P(n+2) >> …


{Ω} >> P(0) >> P(1) >> … >> P(n) >> P(n+1) >> …

If you don’t allow infinite regress, this leaves you a single options.  Aristotle as well as many theologians (notably, Thomas Aquinas and Anselm) considered this to be a sufficient proof for the existence of {Ω} an “uncaused cause” or “unmoved mover” which does not obey the normal physical rules.  The theologians equated this {Ω} with God for two reasons.  First, they did so as an appeal to ignorance.  Both {Ω} and God were beyond comprehension – surpassed the physical universe and the bonds of human reason.  They equated limitless with limitless.  Recall from last time that infinity was poorly defined prior to the 19th century.  It seemed reasonable to lump infinite things together into one transcendent thing.  Second, they saw a parallel between an uncaused cause and a creator, as described in the Bible.  With the rise of Neoplatonism among Christians in Late Antiquity, the idea of an impassive radiant first cause became identified with the Creator of Heaven and Earth.  In this worldview, “creation” came to mean “emmanation” in the philosophical sense (as opposed to shaping the chaos, a more common Hebrew interpretation of Genesis).  This {Ω} argument informs a great deal of modern Christian apologetics.

I personally subscribe to the argument for {Ω}, though I must add a caveat.  The equation of {Ω} and the personal God of Hebrew, Christian, or Islamic scripture rests on a belief in God as the one who creates out of nothingness (ex nihilo).  Neither reason nor scripture provides this vital link; only Neoplatonism.  I see it as consistent with, but not necessary, based on Genesis and the Gospel of John.  I also find it a parsimonious explanation of the universe.

That said, a note is necessary regarding the alternative.  If you do not believe in any {Ω}, you are left with the infinite regress of physical causes.

∞… >> P(n) >> P(n+1) >> P(n+2) >> …
That, in itself, should be considered a profound metaphysical commitment.  It requires an (ontological) belief in an infinite number of physical entities.  Note that invoking the Big Bang in no way resolves this problem.  You have

∞… >> Big Bang >> P(n) >> P(n+1) >> P(n+2) >> …

which begs the question, what event caused the big bang (a la multiverse).

You could (a la Stephen Hawking) state that the universe is a closed causal system, with causation spontaneously arising from nothingness, but that simply resurrects the uncaused cause problem.

{Big Bang >> P(n) >> P(n+1) >> P(n+2) >> …}

We’re stuck with brackets again; the Hawking solution replaces {Ω} with {Big Bang >> …}.  If you are a materialist (like Hawking), this reduces “God” to the universe.  If you are a spiritualist (like Teilhard de Chardin) it promotes the universe to “God.”  In neither case have you proven a metaphysical claim about reality.  Rather you’ve subscribed to a metaphysics that matches your predisposition.




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