Twenty Arguments for God – Two – The Argument from Efficient Causality

This post is one of a serious that picks apart the arguments for god that can be found at the link below. This post addresses number 2:

If you don’t want to click over there to read it, the full argument goes like this:

2. The Argument from Efficient Causality

We notice that some things cause other things to be (to begin to be, to continue to be, or both). For example, a man playing the piano is causing the music that we hear. If he stops, so does the music.
Now ask yourself: Are all things caused to exist by other things right now? Suppose they are. That is, suppose there is no Uncaused Being, no God. Then nothing could exist right now. For remember, on the no-God hypothesis, all things need a present cause outside of themselves in order to exist. So right now, all things, including all those things which are causing things to be, need a cause. They can give being only so long as they are given being. Everything that exists, therefore, on this hypothesis, stands in need of being caused to exist.
But caused by what? Beyond everything that is, there can only be nothing. But that is absurd: all of reality dependent—but dependent on nothing! The hypothesis that all being is caused, that there is no Uncaused Being, is absurd. So there must be something uncaused, something on which all things that need an efficient cause of being are dependent.
Existence is like a gift given from cause to effect. If there is no one who has the gift, the gift cannot be passed down the chain of receivers, however long or short the chain may be. If everyone has to borrow a certain book, but no one actually has it, then no one will ever get it. If there is no God who has existence by his own eternal nature, then the gift of existence cannot be passed down the chain of creatures and we can never get it. But we do get it; we exist. Therefore there must exist a God: an Uncaused Being who does not have to receive existence like us—and like every other link in the chain of receivers.
Question 1: Why do we need an uncaused cause? Why could there not simply be an endless series of things mutually keeping each other in being?
Reply: This is an attractive hypothesis. Think of a single drunk. He could probably not stand up alone. But a group of drunks, all of them mutually supporting each other, might stand. They might even make their way along the street. But notice: Given so many drunks, and given the steady ground beneath them, we can understand how their stumblings might cancel each other out, and how the group of them could remain (relatively) upright. We could not understand their remaining upright if the ground did not support them—if, for example, they were all suspended several feet above it. And of course, if there were no actual drunks, there would be nothing to understand.
This brings us to our argument. Things have got to exist in order to be mutually dependent; they cannot depend upon each other for their entire being, for then they would have to be, simultaneously, cause and effect of each other. A causes B, B causes C, and C causes A. That is absurd. The argument is trying to show why a world of caused causes can be given—or can be there—at all. And it simply points out: If this thing can exist only because something else is giving it existence, then there must exist something whose being is not a gift. Otherwise everything would need at the same time to be given being, but nothing (in addition to “everything”) could exist to give it. And that means nothing would actually be.
Question 2: Why not have an endless series of caused causes stretching backward into the past? Then everything would be made actual and would actually be—even though their causes might no longer exist.
Reply: First, if the kalam argument (argument 6) is right, there could not exist an endless series of causes stretching backward into the past. But suppose that such a series could exist. The argument is not concerned about the past, and would work whether the past is finite or infinite. It is concerned with what exists right now.
Even as you read this, you are dependent on other things; you could not, right now, exist without them. Suppose there are seven such things. If these seven things did not exist, neither would you. Now suppose that all seven of them depend for their existence right now on still other things. Without these, the seven you now depend on would not exist—and neither would you. Imagine that the entire universe consists of you and the seven sustaining you. If there is nothing besides that universe of changing, dependent things, then the universe—and you as part of it—could not be. For everything that is would right now need to be given being but there would be nothing capable of giving it. And yet you are and it is. So there must in that case exist something besides the universe of dependent things—something not dependent as they are.
And if it must exist in that case, it must exist in this one. In our world there are surely more than seven things that need, right now, to be given being. But that need is not diminished by there being more than seven. As we imagine more and more of them—even an infinite number, if that were possible—we are simply expanding the set of beings that stand in need. And this need—for being, for existence—cannot be met from within the imagined set. But obviously it has been met, since contingent beings exist. Therefore there is a source of being on which our material universe right now depends.

I hope I’m not the only person who read that and thought ‘This is just a rephrasing of no1 with the focus on existing rather than changing.’. I can see this series getting tedious and boring very quickly. Especially now that I know that no6 (Kalam) is coming and this seemed like a basic version of that.

This argument makes sense on a superficial level, in that things don’t suddenly pop into existence before our eyes. Stuff is generally created from other stuff. Offspring come from parents and the chain never loops back to the start. The argument extrapolates from that to the point that everything within the universe must ultimately be caused by the universe at the start of the chain and therefore the universe has a cause that must be outside the universe. The logic makes sense at face value, but philosophy runs into difficulty when it addresses these questions. This is because the physicists who have spent time working on the very problem of how the universe came into existence say that the laws of physics break down when we rewind to a point very soon after the universe came into being. We currently have no way of explaining beyond that point, but it is being worked on. The argument presented above ignores the hard facts of science and jumps to it’s conclusion with no method of demonstrating its workings. One of the biggest issues with trying to find a cause to the universe is that matter and time are intrinsically related, how we experience time is related to the matter around us (and our velocity with respect to the speed of light, but that’s not relevant to this specific item so I’ll not mention it again in this post). This means that time, as we know and experience it, started at the point that the universe started, which means that it is possible to have a universe that has existed since the dawn of time. It also means that trying to find something that caused the universe, and therefore existed before time began, is pretty much an impossible task. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give it a go and thankfully scientists are giving it a go, bit by bit we’re gathering new information to try and make some sense of this conundrum. As such, the suggestion that there is a cause of the universe is somewhat presumptuous, especially when there is no current way of confirming that. The premise of the argument works within the confines of our known universe; stuff comes from other stuff, we know this because we can scientifically explain the parent ‘stuff’. Unfortunately, like the laws of physics, this argument falls apart when you get to that critical point close to the big bang. The argument tries to resolve that challenge by claiming there must be a god but posits no way to of detecting that god, we should just accept that it must exist.

We have in this item, the same mistakes and presuppositions as in item one, that there must exist the Christian god who created everything. The argument is worded simplistically and skips over the challenges of reality and ignores what is known to science in a desperate bit to make the desired god be the only available conclusion.


17 thoughts on “Twenty Arguments for God – Two – The Argument from Efficient Causality

  1. This proof states the obvious:

    Everything just didn’t happen all by itself.

    Atheism is the belief that everything just happened all itself.

    Atheists accept this belief without reservation, evidence or argument.

    Notice that people who believe in God present very reasoned arguments whereas atheists do not.

  2. It’s not a proof, it’s an argument and the statement that there must be a god isn’t at all obvious.

    Your sweeping statements on atheists and atheism are not true. You appear to have confused atheism with naturalism.

    I agree that the argument for god that is commented on in this post is reasoned, the problem is that the conclusion that the argument has presupposed is unevidenced. The most reasonably presented argument can’t make an untrue conclusion true. This is why Christians rely so heavily on arguments to support their god hypothesis, they can’t provide any evidence so they have nothing else to provide.

  3. limey,

    The conclusion to these proofs, that God exists is not presupposed at all.

    The proofs use “inference” which is the bread and butter of sciences like cosmology.

    These “arguments” are proofs precisely because they arrive at their conclusions using inference, which is a form of systematic thinking.

    • How is that even relevant? You’re just going to resort to your usual turtling and ignore the legitimate point that’s already been made against your extremely poor analysis.

    • Limey,

      There are clearly some big holes in your education.

      As a beginning philosophy student, I studied Aristotle who was the one who came up with many of these proofs in the first place.

      Aristotle was a master of systematic thinking and thus a role model for people who wish to learn how to think rationally.

      Whereas you simply read something and swallow it hook, line and sinker or reject it outright, Aristotle taught how we might think things through in a trustworthy way in order to determine truth or falsehood.

      • I have asked you a question so as to gain an understanding of your position and your claims.

        You respond by insulting my intelligence and education and accuse me of either accepting without question or rejecting outright. Both of which are untrue given that I have asked a question with the explicit purpose of gaining a better understanding of your argument and position.

        Yet the one thing you have not done is help me to gain that understanding my answering the question asked.

          • If you can’t understand that wishful thinking assertions are not proofs, then I am not surprised that you refuse to answer my question based on one of your own assertions.

  4. I’m not going to waste my time by going back through your completely vapid and childish analysis yet again because you continually make the same mistakes. You continually demonstrate that you either do not care about truth or cannot comprehend basic logic. I hope it’s the second because willful ignorance is not ignorance. If you are incapable of listening to reason then I’m wasting my time and if you willfully close your mind…well until I can find something new to say in response to your pathetic attempts to deconstruct theistic arguments then my main purpose in responding to you is defeated: to try to prevent other foolish people from being persuaded by your foolishness.

    I will say this: the thomistic reasoning of all the 5 ways is very similar. They all seem to be basically the same argument dealt with in a similar way and they all basically work on the (basically self evidentcing truth) that an actual infinite is impossible.

    You cannot respond to philosophy with scientism…

    “We have in this item, the same mistakes and presuppositions as in item one, that there must exist the Christian god who created everything. The argument is worded simplistically and skips over the challenges of reality and ignores what is known to science in a desperate bit to make the desired god be the only available conclusion.”

    The thing that’s so sad about this statement is that this is exactly what YOU have done. You made all the same mistakes. You disagreed with the conclusion while granting the premises…I mean it’s idiotic, how do you not see that means the conclusion is true? I don’t mean how do you then not accept the conclusion, I mean how do you not understand that granting the premises of an argument means you have granted the conclusion? It would be more honest to say “I disagree with the conclusion but not the premises so I think there must be a mistake in the form somewhere, or maybe one of the premises is wrong.” I know you don’t believe me but I’ve really tried to help you better understand your mistakes but it just seems like scientism has crippled your ability to think critically and logically. You are an anti theist, not an atheist. You don’t want there to be a god. Try to show some growth in your next post.

  5. I know you disagree with my disagreement of the presupposed concluded god. That disagreement does not make you right and it does not grant you permission to be so condescending and insulting. I’ve tolerated that enough now, if SoM can be polite in his responses, then so can you.

    “You cannot respond to philosophy with scientism…”

    if the ideas of philosophy can not be confirmed by test then they do not deserve to be accepted without challenge.

    • Limey,

      Testing doesn’t have to be of the scientific variety.

      Experience that is passed on from one generation to the next is how learning takes place commonly.

      That’s why schools were set up.

      Modern science is a late comer to the learning parade.

    • Limey,

      The scholastic method, developed during the Middle Ages, depends upon rock solid source material.

      That would probably be the case with knowing whether or not your grandfather was born in a room overlooking the Taj Mahal.

      If your grandmother was the source of the story most likely it is true.

      • My grandfather was a generally reliable person, but that doesn’t make him infallible. Why would you accept a story like that as true when it is actually possible to test it for accuracy?

        He did actually tell me that story and I believed it for years. When I did get around to checking his birth records, I found it to be untrue.

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