During a radio debate I had with an atheist recently, I pointed out that the universe had a beginning and thus needs a cause. He responded by claiming that since there was no space or time prior to the creation event we shouldn’t appeal to the law of causality to claim that the creation event was caused.
Dr. Lawrence Krauss cites a slightly different objection. When Dr. Krauss says that every physical thing requires a physical cause, he is talking about what Aristotle called “material” causality—namely, what the cause is made of. But the objection my radio opponent made deals with what Aristotle called “efficient” causality. An efficient cause is what most people think of when they think of a cause. It is the primary source of the effect: an author writes a book, a spider builds a web, a quarterback throws a pass. They are efficient causes.
Atheists who make this claim are saying that there is no efficient cause of the universe because it didn’t take place in space or time. Let’s look at that argument in a syllogism.
- The law of causality only applies to physical things in space-time.
- The creation of the universe did not occur in space-time (it was the creation of space-time).
- Therefore the law of causality does not apply to the creation of the universe.
This argument doesn’t work because the first premise is false. Notice that there is no physical relationship between the premises and the conclusion of the argument above (or any argument). Also notice that the premises are not objects in space-time. Yet, there is a causal relationship between the premises and the conclusion. In other words, true premises cause valid conclusions.
If this atheist argument were sound, then no argument could be sound. Why? Because if the law of causality only applied to physical things, then no argument would work because premises and conclusions are not physical things. For any argument to work—including arguments against God—the law of causality must apply to the immaterial realm because the components of arguments are immaterial.
In other words, logic itself wouldn’t work if the first premise were true. But since logic works, the law of causality applies metaphysically not just physically. In fact, to deny causality beyond space and time would be to deny logic, which would be self-defeating and would negate our ability to argue anything.
You can also see why it is self-defeating to deny the law of causality by simply asking anyone who doubts it, “What caused you to come to that conclusion?” Or more precisely, “What reasons do you have for your position?”
If the person cites scientific experiments or observations as the source for his evidence, then point out that experiments and observations presuppose cause and effect. You couldn’t make those observations or draw any conclusions without the law of causality.[i] Likewise, any process of reasoning he uses would also use the very law of causality he would be denying. In other words, it’s self-defeating rationally and scientifically to conclude that effects do not need causes. That’s because any denial of the law of causality uses the law of causality.
[i] Some atheists will appeal to the quantum level to question the law of causality. But just because we can’t predict cause and effect among subatomic particles, doesn’t mean that there is no cause and effect. That could be a matter of unpredictability rather than uncausality. In other words, the limits of our knowledge of the quantum level might be the issue. Moreover, any conclusion the atheist makes about the quantum level would use the very the law of causality he is questioning. That’s because his observations of the quantum level and his reasoning about it use the law of causality! While it is possible that causality does not apply at the quantum level, given the fact that the law seems universal everywhere else and the scientist uses it in all of his conclusions, why would anyone conclude it’s more plausible to believe that causality does not apply at the quantum level? Could it be because it helps one avoid God?
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