|Rationality Rules vs. Craig’s Causal Premise|
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Stephen Woodford has a YouTube channel called Rationality Rules and he posted a video titled Creation and Causation (a Reply to Dr. Craig) responding to justifications of William Lane Craig’s premise 1’ “If the universe began to exist, then the universe has cause of its beginning,” which Craig contrasts from the less modest claim premise 1 “Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its beginning” (which Craig has had different wordings for, e.g. “Everything that begins to exist has a cause”). In this article I’ll go through Woodford’s replies.
Craig’s First Justification, Part 1: Coming into Being from Nothing
Before getting to the first justification I’ll explain some philosophical terms. A material cause is the stuff something is made out of, and an efficient cause is that which produces an effect. For example, when an artist creates a wooden sculpture, the wood is the material cause and the artist is the efficient cause.
Craig’s first justification is that “Something cannot come into being from nothing.” At 3:22 to 3:24 Woodford says that “to say that something has come into being is to say that something has begun to exist, that it’s been created” and later says the first sentence (“If the universe began to exist, then it has a cause”) is about causation, and the second (“Something cannot come from nothing’”) is about creation. But it’s really about both. For Craig, a premise like “Everything that begins to exist has a cause” includes both material and efficient causation. You can see that in this Reasonable Faith webpage but you can also see it in the very Kalam Cosmological Argument video Woodford clips from (1:08:11 to 1:08:29):
Now in the first premise, the premise doesn’t stipulate what kind of cause there has to be for what begins to exist. It’s just saying that something can’t come into existence without some sort of a cause—a material cause, an efficient cause, whatever.So to say that the universe began to exist without a cause means beginning to exist with no efficient cause and no material cause, i.e. coming into being from nothing.
Woodford doesn’t seem to understand this, and he goes on an inadvertent tangent about quantum mechanics (which he doesn’t correctly understand) and classical causation that doesn’t really go anywhere relevant in addressing Craig’s actual claim.
In talking about quantum superposition Woodford says “we see atoms both excited and not excited at the same time (which calls into question the law of noncontradiction)” which is misleading at best. There’s quantum mechanics, which has loads of math that is very good at making successful empirical predictions, and there are various empirically indistinguishable interpretations of quantum mechanics which put forth ideas about the underlying reality behind the math. I’ll spare you the mathematical details of eigenvalues and such (I recommend David Z. Albert’s excellent Quantum Mechanics and Experience for a gentle introduction to that sort of thing) instead giving a rough general idea behind the math. In some cases we have a mathematical structure representing the state of an object (e.g. an electron) and another mathematical structure called an operator that acts on the state to tell us what measurement we’d see for a given property (e.g. if the electron would be “spin up” when measured along a particular axis) if we did a particular measurement.
In some cases, quantum mechanics will tell us “If you do that measurement, you’ll definitely get this result.” But in some cases, the state is in a superposition such that it can’t give us a definite answer as to what our measurement will be when combined with the operator, and quantum mechanics instead gives us the probabilities of the measurement results. So what’s really going on here behind the superposition math? One idea is that the object (e.g. electron) in question doesn’t have a definite property value for the property being measured until it’s actually measured. An even crazier idea, which Woodford presents here, is that the object both has the property and doesn’t have the property at the same time. However, that sort of contradiction is nowhere in the math of quantum mechanics. Mathematics can represent contradictions, and there are absolutely no contradictions in the math of quantum mechanics. The idea that a self-contradiction is present behind the math is an interpretation of quantum mechanics, and it is not a very plausible one.
Superposition confusion aside, Woodford kind of contradicts himself in this video at around 5:04 to 5:29, because he says quantum mechanics “hasn’t been shown to violate the law of conservation of energy. Every atom is accounted for; everything, so far as we know, is created from already existing material” (the conservation of energy isn’t exactly true since photon energy can be lost as space expands, but let’s ignore that for the nonce) yet he says we have billions of things “coming into being” without a “classical cause and perhaps even without a cause at all.” No, not without a cause at all, because he just conceded that all those things coming into being came from pre-existing material which means all those things had material causes.
At 5:29 to 5:40 Woodford concludes with:
Thus creation and causation are not two sides of the same coin, and it’s a mistake to treat them as such. This isn’t a distraction. It’s a refutation.It’s a distraction because it doesn’t refute any position Craig actually put forth in the clip Woodford showed. Quantum mechanics doesn’t do anything to show that things can come into being with no efficient cause and no material cause. Nor did anything Woodford say about quantum mechanics (as flawed as it was) show that causation and creation (coming into being) aren’t closely related. Nor did Craig claim they were closely related, at least not explicitly.
But surely Craig at least implied creation and causation were closely related when used he “Something cannot come into being from nothing” to justify premise 1’? Yes, but specifics matter; the specific relation here is one of justification, viz. “Something cannot come into being from nothing” justifying “If the universe began to exist, then it has a cause.” If the universe began to exist without a cause (efficient or material) then it came into being from nothing, and if something cannot come into being (creation) from nothing, then premise 1’ is true, and causation and creation are intimately related in that sense. Perhaps there is a sense in which creation and causation are not closely related, but they are closely related in the sense of justifying premise 1’ and nothing Woodford said about quantum mechanics etc. addressed this relation. Woodford offered a lot of distraction but no real refutation of Craig’s actual claim here.
Woodford could perhaps be forgiven for not realizing that Craig left it open whether the cause in 1’ is efficient or material (despite what Craig clearly said in the video Woodford quoted from), but even if it were an efficient cause Woodford’s reply still wouldn’t work. Suppose that by “cause” Craig only meant “efficient cause.” Would “Something cannot come from nothing” fail to justify “If the universe began to exist, then it has a cause”? No. In this context the “universe” includes all of contiguous physical spacetime, so if the universe began to exist at time t it couldn’t have a material cause because a material cause would be pre-existing material at some time t* < t, in which case the universe (which includes all of contiguous physical spacetime) existed at time t*, contradicting the claim the universe began to exist at t. So if the universe began to exist it could not have a material cause, and if it began to exist without an efficient cause also, then it began to exist without a material cause and without an efficient cause, i.e. it came into being from nothing. So “Something cannot come from nothing” still relevantly justifies premise 1’.
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