foliumnondefluet: (Default)
[personal profile] foliumnondefluet
I keep coming across versions of the kalaam cosmological argument lately, and while there are a lot of good refutations around, most of them focus on the "cosmological" nature of the argument. I haven't seen any that address the causal basis directly.

For those who might not remember, the most common formulation (as used by both Christian and Muslim apologists) is like this:

1) Everything that has a beginning must have a cause
2) The universe has a beginning
3) Therefore; the universe has a cause
4) Therefore; Jehovah/Jesus/Allah/Flying Spaghetti monster

Most refutations focus on the following points:
- the current space/time continuum began at the big bang, but we don't know if "everything that is" had a beginning.
- quantum stuff can appear out of "nothing"
- 4 totally doesn't follow from 3

I would instead like to look at point 1 in more detail, which has nothing to do with cosmology per se.

Unlike what many philosophers seem to think, causality is not a law of nature or even a scientific theory. Real science doesn't say things like "gravity is the cause of falling apples", but rather things like a=Gm/r².

Cause-and-effect is rather a framework we use to conceptualize the world, much like "things" and "events" which are more or less arbitrary constructs our minds use to make sense of the world. Like any conceptual frameworks, it has its limitations - infinite regress being the most obvious one. What the kalaam argument tries to do is to base claims about reality on playing with the limitations of the causal conceptual model. It's a bit like insisting that, because "it rains" there really exists some entity engaged in the activity of raining, rather than allowing the "it" to be just a spook created by rules of English grammar.

We may also note that "Every thing that has a beginning must have a cause" is not the most straightforward formulation of causality. The weaselly wording is deliberate, because in step 4 the arguer wants to claim that Jesus/Allah/FSM has no beginning and therefore the argument doesn't apply to them.

But that this is not at all how normal people reason causally can be seen by simple examples like:
- Everything that has a beginning must have a cause
- Your cancer had a beginning
- Therefore; your cancer had a cause
- Therefore; smoking exists

Even a rephrasing as minor as "every event must have a cause" can be seen to throw a major wrench into the argument - because then they need to explain what caused the FSM to decide to create the universe at that specific point without being able to hide behind "but the FSM always existed". That's before we even bring in the other Aristotelian causes. If the universe is an Aristotelian "thing" then it must have:
- a material cause: it must be made of something, like a chair is made of wood.
- a formal cause: there must exist an ideal universe in the world of Platonic Ideas.
- an efficient cause: something fashioned the universe, like the carpenter fashioned the chair.
- a final cause: the universe is made for some purpose.
But "everything there is" can't be a thing in that sense, because then its causes wouldn't be. Now what?

So in short, I think the kalaam can be refuted without bringing cosmology into it, by observing that:
1. Causality is a model to organize our observations of reality (I'm wet because it rains). There is no basis to assume that the model constrains reality in the way the argument presupposes.
2. Even granting that presupposition, the argument depends crucially on obscurity through weasel words.


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