Are uncaused events metaphysically impossible?

“Yes, after all…
  • Our intuition says so

      Our natural human intuition testifies to the metaphysical impossibility of an events occurring uncaused.1, 2 This is relevant because our natural human intuitions rationally ought to be given benefit of the doubt.

      1. William Lane Craig: “This [metaphysical intuition that 'from nothing, nothing comes'] has been one of the most universally held metaphysical principles in the history of philosophy since Parmenides… any argument for the principle is apt to be less obvious than the principle itself.” [“The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe,” in Truth: A Journal of Modern Thought 3 (1991): 85-96.] [Note: By “nothing,” Craig means here the philosophers/absolute definition of nothing (i.e. “what rocks dream of”); not empty space.]
        Kai Nielsen (Philosophy professor at Calgary): “…suppose you hear a loud bang … and you ask me, ‘What made that bang?’ and I reply, ‘Nothing, it just happened. You would not accept that - in fact you would find my reply quite unintelligible” [Reason and Practice (Harper & Row, 1971), 48.] (Cited by Craig)
      2. Some attempt to qualify this. For example, in references to Craig's version of the causal principle, Wes Morriston (Philosophy prof. at Colorado Boulder) suggests the intuition concerns only “intratemporal” entities (i.e. those embedded in time), and_ _not time itself (“Must the beginning of the Universe have a clause?” Faith and Philosophy 17(2) (2000): 156ff); i.e. perhaps the most precise content of the intution is only about entities within the Universe. By way of response, however, there are two points to be made here:
        • On the standard Kimian analysis of events, all events are embedded in time, since events just are the exemplification of properties by an object at a time or temporal interval.
        • As Craig notices, Morrison's claim is demonstrably false. Craig cites the perpetually desperate attempts in cosmology to avert the need for a beginning of time.

        “Although Borde and Vilenkin [overturned Linde's own attempt to avert a beginning], they did not conclude that the question of the origin of the universe was therefore a pseudoproblem; rather they wrote, 'The fact that inflationary spacetimes are past incomplete forces one to address the question of what, if anything, came before.' The fact is that a whole series of cosmological models have been proposed over the last halfcentury specifically to avoid the absolute beginning predicted by the Standard Model. Both philosophers and physicists have been deeply disturbed at the prospect of a beginning of time and an absolute origination of the universe and so have felt constrained to posit the existence of causally prior entities like quantum vacuum states, inflationary domains, imaginary time regimes, and even timelike causal loops.” [“Must the Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause?: A Rejoinder”, Faith and Philosophy 19, no. 1 (2002): 96]

  • Our uniform experience says so

      In our uniform and repeated experience, all events so far are caused to occur.1 This is relevant because extrapolative inference (inductive reasoning) is a legitimate way here to accumulate evidence for the causal principle.

      But, so what? Couldn't it simply be that such an inference “overgeneralizes”?2 [See response]3

      1. In fact, it is argued that if one rejects the causal principle, then one is at a loss to explain why anything and everything does not just pop into existence uncaused. I actually think a skepticism of the causal principle is self-stultifying. The skeptic of the causal principle, after all, would presumably lack his reason to believe that his skepticism is caused, much less in a reliable warrant-inducing way. Notably, this challenge to the skepticism would apply even if one wants to say that the causal principle applies only inside the Universe (as some critics do). After all, “you” as an unembodied mental state could exist outside of time/space/matter, and could just have your uncaused set of beliefs. Note: Any evolutionary/experience-based arguments against dualism at this point would have to presume the skepticism is false, which would be question-begging.
      2. For example, couldn't it be that all events so far in our experience are caused to occur, simply because either (a) all event-state inside the Universe, or embedded in time, have a cause? (b) because for any event x, if x is preceded by an interval of time at which x does not occur.
      3. By way of response, however, one should not arbitrarily limit the scope (increasing complexity) without reason. Otherwise, one runs into unacceptable skepticism. For example, why think events in the future will have causes? Our observations so far are equally consistent with the less general principle that “all events in the universe prior to now” have a cause. Suddenly, justification is lost for the belief that future space-time events will have a cause. Similarly, consider the less general principle, “all events in space-time which you [insert your name] are aware of have a cause.” Suddenly, you have no justication for thinking events you become aware of, even past-events, have a cause. To avoid such skepticisms, do not increase complexity without reason.
  • “No, after all…
  • Some quantum events occur uncaused

      Quantum mechanical events furnish counter-examples to the causal principle.1

      But wait, these events are caused, it is just that they are caused indeterminstically.2 They certainly do not come from nothing/non-being (virtual particles are no exception).3

      1. Notably, it might be said that quantum-tunnellings, and beta-particle emissions (radioactive decay) occur without cause.
        Edward Tryon: “…quantum electrodynamics reveals that an electron, positron, and photon occasionally emerge spontaneously in a perfect vacuum. When this happens, the three particles exist for a brief time, and then annihilate each other, leaving no trace behind.… The spontaneous, temporary emergence of particles from a vacuum is called a vacuum fluctuation, and is utterly commonplace in quantum field theory.” [“Is the Universe a Vacuum Fluctuation?” Nature 246, (14 December, 1973): 396-397.]
      2. Robert Koons: “According to the [standard] Copenhagen version of quantum mechanics, every transition of a system has causal antecedents: the preceding quantum wave state, in the case of Schrodinger evolution, or the preceding quantum wave state plus the observation, in the case of wave packet collapse.” [Realism Regained (Oxford, 2000), 114.] It is also frequently pointed out that there are other interpretations of quantum mechanics (e.g. the de Broglie–Bohm theory) which are not deterministic.
      3. If virtual particles exist, they are law governed, borrowing energy (per E=mc2), and depending on space and time.
        Martin Rees (Cosmologist/Astrophysicist; professor at Cambridge; President of Royal Society): “Cosmologists sometimes claim that the universe can arise ‘from nothing’. But they should watch their language, especially when addressing philosophers. We’ve realized ever since Einstein that empty space can have a structure such that it can be warped and distorted. Even if shrunk down to a ‘point’, it is latent with particles and forces – still a far richer construct than the philosopher’s ‘nothing’. Theorists may, some day, be able to write down fundamental equations governing physical reality. But physics can never explain what ‘breathes fire’ into the equations, and actualized them into a real cosmos. The fundamental question of ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ remains the province of philosophers.” [Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe (Basic Books: 2000), 145.]
        Bernulf Kanitscheider: “The violent macrostructure of the vacuum has been used in attempts to explain the origin of the universe as a long-lived vacuum fluctuation. But some authors have connected with this legitimate speculations [sic] farreaching metaphysical claims, or at most they couched their mathematics in a highly misleading language, when they maintained ‘the creation of the universe out of nothing.’… From a philosophical point of view it is essential to note that the foregoing is far from being a spontaneous generation of everything from naught, but the origin of that embryonic bubble is really a causal process leading from a primordial substratum with a rich physical structure to a materialized substratum of vacuum.” [“Does Physical Cosmology Transcend the Limits of Naturalistic Reasoning?” in Studies on Mario Bunge's “Treatise,” eds. Weingartner and Doen (Rodopi, 1990), 344.] (Cited by Craig and Paul Copan)
        Alexander Vilenkin: “The concept of a universe materializing out of nothing boggles the mind … yet the state of 'nothing' cannot be identified with absolute nothingness. The tunneling is described by the laws of quantum mechanics, and thus ‘nothing’ should be subjected to these laws. The laws must have existed, even though there was no universe.… A quantum fluctuation of the vacuum assumes that there was a vacuum of some pre-existing space. And we now know that the ‘vacuum’ is very different from ‘nothing’. Vacuum, or empty space, has energy and tension, it can bend a warp, so it is unquestionably something. As Alan Guth wrote, ‘In this context, a proposal that the universe was created from empty space is no more fundamental than a proposal that the universe was spawned by a piece of rubber. It might be true, but one would still want to ask where the piece of rubber came from.’” [Many Worlds in One (Hill and Wang, 2006), 185.]
        John Barrow: “In a quantum system, the notion of a vacuum is a little different from our usual conception of such a state. It is not simply ‘nothing at all’. Rather, it is what is left when everything that can be removed from the system has been removed: it is the state of lowest energy.” [New Theories of Everything (Oxford, 2007), 2008.] (cited by Craig)
  • Uncaused events are not contradictory

      There is no discernable logical inconsistency associated with the possible instantiation of an actual infinity.1

      But wait, a state-of-affairs need not be logically impossible (free of formal contradictions) to be metaphysically impossible.2

      1. Graham Oppy: “If the proponent of the kalam cosmological argument wishes to deny that it is possible for something to begin to exist uncaused, then s/he needs to provide some argument which shows that there is a logical inconsistency in this claim.” [“Craig, Mackie, and the Kalam Cosmological Argument,” Religious Studies 27 (1991): 195.]
      2. There are two reasons to accept this:
        • It's denial is self-defeating. Consider the proposition that the color purple weighs three pounds. This proposition may not yield a formal logical contradiction, but it is nevertheless impossible. It is worth nothing that some beliefs are rightly basic belief; they do not require evidence or demonstration.
        William Lane Craig: “We do not require arguments against the possibility of solipsism or for the existence of other minds, for the truth concerning these matters is obvious and any argument in this regard would be based on premisses less obvious than the conclusion. In the same way, the premiss ex nihilo nihil fit is so obvious that even Hume accepted it without argument,…” [“Graham Oppy on the Kalam Cosmological Argument” Sophia 32 (1993): 1-11.]
        For other beliefs, it is sufficient to argue by reductio, showing that it would entail the possibility of absurd (but not necessarily contradictory) scenarios which are clearly impossible.
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