The gap problem

In the previous two posts (here and here) we looked at a Gödelian ontological argument from Alexander Pruss, which we’ll use a bit in this post.

The gap problem

Right, so what is the gap problem? Simply put, solving the gap problem involves bridging the gap between (i) the first cause or necessary being that we arrive at in cosmological arguments and (ii) the God of classical theism. Different philosophers have approached this problem in different ways and here I hope to survey and briefly discuss some of those. I haven’t read nearly enough to give any sort of comprehensive list, but this is a start.

Now, there are two things we need to keep clear. First, there are many properties of the God classical theism, and for each of these properties we can come up with different arguments. For example, in section 5 of his Blackwell Companion article on Leibnizian Cosmological Arguments, Alexander Pruss briefly deals with agency, goodness, simplicity, and oneness. Or, in his paper “From a Necessary Being to God”, Joshua Rasmussen argues for properties such as volition, infinite power, infinite knowledge, and infinite goodness. In this blog pos, we will concern ourselves only with the personhood of the first cause/necessary being. Second, in each case the arguments we mention will depend on what being we’re talking about. For example, the first cause that we arrive at with the Kalam argument does not have to be necessary or the explanation of every contingent fact. This limits what we can deduce about it. In each of the cases, I will make clear exactly what being I’m working with. Ok, so let’s get started.

Using the ontological argument #1

Assume we’ve arrived at the existence of a necessary being. In our previous posts in this series, we pointed out that both necessity and omniscience are positive properties. Thus, using essentiality of contingency or S5, it follows that there exists a necessary being who could have been omniscient. Now, we could assume that there are two necessary beings, but there’s no reason to think that these aren’t the same being and explanatory tools like Occam’s Razor suggest we should conflate them until we have some reason to think them distinct. So, it’s plausible then, that our necessary being could have been omniscient. But only persons can know things. Thus, this necessary being is probably personal.[1]

Using the ontological argument #2

Consider another way to use the ontological argument, which ends up building a quasi-ontological argument from an explanatory principle of a cosmological argument. For this we need the EPSR or a stronger explanatory principle:

EPSR. Everything has an explanation for its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.

Now, we can use this to avoid commitment to the idea that necessity is a positive property. Again, clearly omniscience is a positive property. So is being the creator of everything else (itself, strictly weaker than aseity). So, in some possible world there is a being N who is the creator of everything else and omniscient. But, by the EPSR this being must be necessary. Then, by S5 or essentiality of contingency, this being exists and is necessary and personal. If we used Brouwer, we’d get a being who exists, is personal and could have been the creator of everything. Of course, if we take “being the creator of everything” as a strongly positive property then Brouwer will also give us a personal necessary being.

Explaining the BCCF

Imagine now we’ve arrived at our necessary being via one of the following equivalent explanatory principles[2, 3]:

PSR. Every contingent fact has an explanation.

WPSR. Every contingent fact could have had an explanation.

POE. If only one putative explanation can be given of a phenomenon, then that putative explanation is correct.

Now, we call the conjunction of all contingent facts the Big Contingent Conjunctive Fact (BCCF) of a possible world. When these principles get applied to the BCCF of the actual world, we arrive at a necessary being and a necessary fact involving the causal activity of that being[ which explains the BCCF[4]. Is this being personal? Well, since we have a necessary fact explaining a contingent fact, the explanation must be non-entailing, and non-entailing explanations are either statistical or libertarian. But statistical explanations seem inherently contingent, for there doesn’t seem to be any reason why the relevant probability couldn’t have been something like 0.00000000000000000001 more or less than it actually is. Thus, the explanation in this case must be libertarian, which means that the necessary being is an agent with free will (in the libertarian sense), and therefore personal.

Principle of determination

In his various writings, William Lane Craig has defended three reasons for thinking the first cause that we arrive at from the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA) is personal[5]. I’ve recently come to appreciate two of them which we’ll look at now. First there’s the argument from determination which starts with a peculiarity: assuming we have a first cause which is beginningless and changeless sans the universe (which is the conclusion from the KCA) it is rather puzzling that we find ourselves in an ever-changing universe. If the conditions for the effect had been met from eternity, then why is the effect not co-eternal with the cause? That is, why is the effect not changeless too? The puzzle is really about how the first event came about; about how change was effected from a changeless state.

Now, I’m going to phrase the actual argument differently to how Craig does, but it captures the same ideas he discusses:

  1. There was a first event, caused by a changeless and beginningless being. (KCA)
  2. The first event was either the effect of state-state causation, event-event causation, or agent-event causation. (Premise)
  3. It was not the effect of state-state causation or event-event causation. (Premise)
  4. Therefore, it was the effect of agent-event causation.

From (4) the first cause is an agent, and therefore personal. (1) comes from the KCA, so we won’t concern ourselves with that here. (2) is a list of possible ways causation can happen, and it seems to me to be comprehensive. Someone might suggest something like “state-event” causation, but I don’t think any coherent interpretation of this can be given that doesn’t eventually collapse into state-state or event-event causation. We can see (3) is true by seeing why each of its conjuncts are true. First, we’re considering the first event, and so it clearly can’t be the effect of state-state causation. Second, we considering the first event, and so there just are no prior events, be it logically, causally, or temporally.

Best candidate for explanation

The second reason Craig gives goes as follows: the first cause must be immaterial and timeless sans the universe. The only things we know that are both of these are unembodied minds and abstract objects. But abstract objects are by their very nature causally effete. Therefore, the first cause is probably a mind. This is a clear-cut case of inference to the best explanation, and for a long time I thought one could easily get around this by saying that an impersonal, [non-deterministic,] immaterial, and timeless being was the cause. But this is not an equally good explanation, because this doesn’t actually give us a candidate that does the explaining. All it does it list a bunch of properties. Now, if all we knew was that the cause was personal or impersonal and had no potential candidates for either of these, then I think such a move would be alright. But once one of the sides gives a concrete candidate that fits a set of properties, then if the other side can’t give a putative candidate, its position becomes explanatorily weaker since it gratuitously postulates unknown entities and if it can’t give any reason for not accepting the candidate from the first side, then its position also becomes ad hoc. Consider an analogous scenario: Alice and Bob find prehistoric tools, and Alice suggests that there was some sort tribe that made them. Bob, however says they weren’t made. Alice asks if Bob knows of anything that could explain the tools? Bob can’t give a candidate, but says it must’ve been some impersonal tool-forming process that occurred. Clearly Bob’s suggestion is explanatorily deficient, for he neither knows of any such process nor does he have any good reason for rejecting Alice’s explanation. Alice on the other hand, didn’t just say it was some personal tool-forming process: she gave a candidate. Now, inference to the best explanation isn’t conclusive and is usually tentative, but it lies at the foundation of scientific enquiry[6] and does contribute to a cumulative case for the personhood of the first cause. We shouldn’t let an unwelcome conclusion stand in the way our own consistency.

Moral arguments

If we don’t consider the cosmological argument in isolation, we can use the other theistic arguments to give us reason for thinking the first cause/necessary being is personal. We could, for example, launch the moral argument. This argument arrives at a personal being and it seems that the creator (ie. first cause) is a non-arbitrary candidate for this being who imparts duties to us. Not much more needs to be said about this.

Design arguments

We could also look to fine-tuning and complexity arguments. For example, in their paper “A New Cosmological Argument”, Pruss and Gale point out that “The actual world’s universe displays a wondrous complexity due to its law-like unity and simplicity, fine tuning of natural constants, and natural purpose and beauty” which suggests that the cause is intelligent and therefore personal. Now this is interesting to me, because I personally think the combination of the many-worlds hypothesis and the weak anthropic principle, while disgustingly gratuitous and usually driven by unchecked biases, is a sufficient to block the theistic conclusion of the existence a cosmic designer. But here we are not using the fine-tuning as an argument for the existence of the first cause/designer. We have already come to the conclusion that the universe has a cause, and are noting that the fine-tuning of the universe is best explained by this cause being intelligent. If the detractor is going to suggest an an infinity of universes to escape merely the move to personhood, they’re going need a good reason. Otherwise this suggestion’s ad hocness and lack of simplicity will count significantly against it, making the personal alternative a better explanation. I like how Robert Koons addressed this issue in his paper “A New Look at the Cosmological Argument” (note that he uses “cosmos” to refer to the many-worlds ensemble):

A standard non-theistic response to the data underlying the anthropic principle is to suggest that there may be an infinity of parallel universes, representing every possible permutation of possible physical laws and initial Big Bang conditions. Only an infinitesimally fraction of these permit the development of life and consciousness, but it is not surprising that we inhabit one of these vanishingly rare universes, since otherwise we would not be here to observe it….

This objection brings out the importance of considering evidence for design in the context of the cosmological argument. Without the cosmological argument, we would be forced to the conclusion John Leslie reaches, namely, that there are two equally good possible explanations of the anthropic data: a cosmic designer, and observer selection in a world of infinitely many, uncaused universes. However, once we know that the cosmos (including our universe) has a cause, the second hypothesis is excluded. It is still possible that the First Cause caused a junky cosmos, and that the evidence for intelligent design is illusory, but in the absence of positive evidence for these other universes, the reasonable inference to draw from the only universe we can observe is that the First Cause encompasses the existence of an intelligent designer.

There is another serious drawback to the junky cosmos hypothesis: if employed globally, it has the consequence that any form of induction is demonstrably unreliable. If we embrace the junky cosmos hypothesis to explain away every appearance of orderedness in the universe, then we should assume that the simplicity and regularity of natural law is also an artifact of observer selection. Universes would be posited to exist with every possible set of natural laws, however complex or inductively ill-behaved.

Now take any well-established scientific generalization. Among the universes that agree with all of our observations up to this point in time, the number that go on to break this generalization is far greater than the number that continue to respect it. The objective probability that every generalization we have observed extends no farther than our observations is infinitely close to one. Thus, relying on induction in such a universe is demonstrably futile.

In short, the junky cosmos hypothesis is both the most flagrant possible violation of Occam’s razor and a death sentence to all other uses of that principle. This hypothesis postulates an infinity of entities for which there is absolutely no positive evidence, simply in order to avoid the necessity of explaining the anthropic coincidences we have observed. This is the height of metaphysical irresponsibility, far worse than the most extravagant speculations of medieval angelology. Moreover, it undermines all subsequent appeals to simplicity or economy of explanation. If the junky cosmos hypothesis is true, it is demonstrable that the simplest hypothesis of astronomy or biology is no more likely to be true of our universe than the most complicated, Rube-Goldberg constructions. We would have absolutely no reason, for instance, to believe that the Copernican hypothesis is more likely to be true than a fantastically complex version of Ptolemy’s system, elaborated as far as necessary to save the astronomical phenomena.

Conclusions

I’ve summarised a bunch of different reasons for thinking the first cause/necessary being we get at the end of cosmological arguments is personal. Taken them by themselves, perhaps only a few are conclusive, but taken together I think they form a good cumulative case for the conclusion we want, and I see no reason for thinking the being should be impersonal. There are certainly more out there (I haven’t considered Joshua Rasmussen’s paper that I mentioned earlier, or arguments from the regularity of natural laws, and I didn’t mention epistemological arguments for a designer) but hopefully I’ve given you an idea of some ways personhood might be argued for. I’ll be sure to list new arguments as I come across them.

Notes

  1. If we get more specific and take omniscience to be a strongly positive property, then we have a necessary being who is probably omniscient too.
  2. Clearly PSR entails POE and WPSR. The other directions are argued for in Pruss’ book titled, The Principle of Sufficient Reason: A Reassessment.
  3. We could call the POE the “Sherlock Holmes principle”, for as the famous adage goes, “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”.
  4. It involves the casual activity of this being because the BCCF includes positive existential facts, and these are plausibly only possibly explained causally. The being must be necessary for it cannot explain its own existence (unless, of course, its self-explanatory. But self-explanatory beings are necessary anyway, so that caveat is without relevance).
  5. See his book Reasonable Faith 3rd Edition, pp. 152-154, his essay in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology with James Sinclair, or even these Q&As from his website: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-the-cause-of-the-universe-an-uncaused-personal-creator-of-the-universe and  http://www.reasonablefaith.org/must-the-cause-of-the-universe-be-personal-redux.
  6. Modern physics and and evolutionary biology, arguably two pillars of modern science, both make extensive use of inference to the best explanation.

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