Objection to Premise 1 of the Kalam: Doesn’t Quantum Mechanics Violate the Causal Principle?

It depends on what you mean by causality. A philosophically-informed physicist would say Quantum Mechanics (QM) doesn’t do away with causality:

“In fact, QFT[Quantum Field Theory] is constructed in such a way to explicitly preserve causality. Any QFT textbook devotes 10 pages of chapter 1 to explain why the square root of the Klein gordon equation does not make a good wave equation for a QFT – it cannot preserve causality.”

In physics, we speak of things happening based on mathematical laws. For example, two electrons are repulsed by the electromagnetic force and we can compute their path of motion. There seems to be a clear causal connection because the math is fully deterministic. In QM, the only difference is that the math is probabilistic rather than exact. No one is even sure that QM is indeterministic – Bohm’s interpretation might be right. Even if QM is non-deterministic, is it appropriate to say that things are happening without causes? We can use the Schrödinger/Dirac equation to make quite accurate probabilistic computations concerning the evolution of a system. We may not know when a particular radioactive atom will decay but we can use statistically large sets of atoms to accurately perform radiometric dating.

To be sure, there is a lot of controversy over how to interpret causation in QM (e.g., does the observer play a role?) but I don’t think QM really does away with the causal principle in the sense relied upon by the Kalam. The Kalam relies only on there being underlying reasons for things coming into being. If something happens in a manner that can be probabilistically predicted (as is always the case in QM), then it’s not a case of something being created without a cause from absolutely nothing. Things originating without causes could not be predicted even probabilistically!

Here is philosopher/Physicist David Albert on how Quantum Mechanics doesn’t explain the origin of the Universe from absolutely nothing: “The fact that some arrangements of fields happen to correspond to the existence of particles and some don’t is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that some of the possible arrangements of my fingers happen to correspond to the existence of a fist and some don’t. And the fact that particles can pop in and out of existence, over time, as those fields rearrange themselves, is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that fists can pop in and out of existence, over time, as my fingers rearrange themselves. And none of these poppings — if you look at them aright — amount to anything even remotely in the neighborhood of a creation from nothing.”

The Borde-Vilenkin-Guth theorem that I referenced in the previous blog indicates that spacetime cannot be extended into the infinite past. QM operates within spacetime so if spacetime is not eternal it is unreasonable to claim that quantum processes have been eternally in operation. Some physicists do speak of highly speculative theories of creating a universe out of the quantum vacuum but the quantum vacuum is not nothing – it’s just the lowest energy state of spacetime. It’s weird to think about spacetime not existing but such is the implication of BVG and the earlier Hawking-Penrose singularity theorems. This Scientific American article might be helpful in explaining how the Big Bang is not just describing expansion into “some imagined preexisting void.” The Big Bang is not dealing with expansion into preexisting space but the expansion of space.

For more details on the problems when some scientists speak about the Universe being created from absolutely nothing I highly recommend this blog by cosmologist Luke Barnes.

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14 replies
  1. John Moore says:

    Wow, thanks for this in-depth reply. It sounds really complicated, and I doubt that even the greatest physicists really understand clearly. Can we at least agree that causality at the quantum scale is different from causality at the human scale? For me, causality is like one billiard ball hitting another, and the results seem consistent every time. In the quantum world, causality is apparently probabilistic, so the results only happen occasionally. That’s different.

    Christian apologists say quantum fluctuations don’t really appear from nothing, because the quantum vacuum isn’t really nothing. OK, but now the question is whether the quantum vacuum appeared from nothing. At this point, my human intuitions are overwhelmed, and I have to throw up my hands and just say “I don’t know!”

    See, I’m not saying premise 1 is wrong. I’m just saying that our human intuitions give us no reason to assume it’s right.

    Reply
    • Allen Hainline says:

      > Can we at least agree that causality at the quantum scale is different from causality at the human scale?
      A more accurate way to say this is that all physical causality occurs at the quantum scale because everything in physics is quantized.

      However, for the same reasons that physicists can ignore quantum effects at macroscopic scales, we can be skeptical that our entire universe was created out of the quantum vacuum. Here is Dr. Hugh Ross summarizing how unwarranted is the extrapolation from particles temporarily fluctuating in and out of the quantum vacuum to our entire universe fluctuating into existence:
      “for a system as massive as the observable universe [to fluctuate into existence], the time for it to arise from nothingness (the space-time fabric) and revert back to nothingness (the space-time fabric) must be less than 10-102 seconds (101 zeroes between the decimal point and 1). This episode is a bit briefer than the 14-billion-year age of the universe!”
      There are some scientists who argue for quantum creation of the universe despite these long odds.
      Vilenkin admits these models face incredible improbability: “The most likely thing to pop out of nothing[the quantum vacuum] is a tiny Planck-sized universe, which would not tunnel, but would instantly recollapse and disappear. Tunneling to a larger size has a small probability and therefore requires a large number of trials. It appears to be consistent only with the Everett interpretation.” The Everett (aka Many Worlds) interpretation of quantum mechanics is one of a dozen or so interpretations consistent with the physics but entails that every quantum event happens in some new branch of a parallel universe. One should be aware of all that one is being asked to believe in these speculative proposals.

      > now the question is whether the quantum vacuum appeared from nothing
      Another great question John! This is really the key issue in whether or not a quantum creation of the universe would be a defeater for the Kalam. Even if our entire universe fluctuated into existence from the quantum vacuum this would not be a defeater for the Kalam unless one could also show that the quantum vacuum is eternal. If spacetime had a beginning, as currently known physics indicates, then so did the quantum vacuum and thus a transcendent spaceless, timeless cause of the Universe would still be required. But if the quantum vacuum itself could emerge from absolutely nothing then the materialist/naturalist would have a path to creating a universe without a god. So I’ll address this question exclusively in an upcoming blog – probably late tomorrow as I’m tied up in the interim.

      Reply
  2. Matt N. says:

    Great article and keep them coming.
    QM refuting causality almost looks like a reverse God of the Gaps argument but injecting the word random instead. From what I understand, QM is the least understood constituent of an elusive “Theory of Everything.” QM, like evolution I could argue, is far from being fully realized and it shouldn’t be implied that its processes are random because we cannot predict its behavior. A (potentially bad) example is if a group of scientists asked me to write down 100 “random” numbers on paper, my numbers might objectively appear and be deemed random because only I, the causer, knows what causes them to be selected. Subjectively, the numbers are not random at all. They are caused by me and I can predict 100% of the numbers are going to be written down.
    Also, In my opinion, to propose a cogent argument for something from nothing, an elastic and evolved definition of nothing must be used.

    Reply
  3. Robert says:

    Logicians and philosophy professors often use the Kalam argument as an example of the logical fallacy called Special Pleading. If God could have always existed so could have matter and energy..The Kalam also shows us that Bible believers can NEVER recognize even the most obvous logical fallacies.

    Reply
    • Allen Hainline says:

      The Kalam advocate assumes that anything that has always existed would not need a cause and then proceeds to argue on scientific and philosophical grounds that matter and energy have not always existed. The Kalam advocate is not guilty of special pleading because she is not exempting God from anything being claimed in the argument. You imply that there is nothing to explain if matter and energy always existed – how then would you have grounds for questioning whether or not God could have always existed without yourself being guilty of special pleading? There is no double standard by the theist here – we argue simply that anything that begins to exist must have a cause. This applies to matter, energy, God, etc.

      Can you point me to some references supporting your claim that “professors often use the Kalam argument as an example of the logical fallacy called Special Pleading”? I haven’t encountered that in the philosophical literature I’ve read but have heard it only at the popular level on the Internet and usually then it is applied to a strawman misrepresentation of the Kalam.

      Reply
      • moose says:

        allen-i don’t know if there is a god, and neither do you. if there is a god, i don’t know anything about that god and neither do you.

        if you think you know anything about that god–where do you get that so called “knowlefge” from???an ancient holy book authored by ancient cavemen. a book with stories of a talking snake, a talking donkey, demon pigs, the sun standing still for a day, the 7 headed monster, etc, etc–on and on. and of course all the atrocities committed or commanded by “god”. and of course the (kind and loving) god who sends us to hell—“where the worm never dies and the fire is never quenched” if we don’t believe all this amazing b.s.

        thank “god” i left the church

        Reply
        • Louie says:

          True, we cannot prove or disprove it for a fact (not yet anyway). But what do you believe then? There is a God or there is not, either way is full of “hocus-pocus”. So, you step back, look at the world around you, sift through what can be proven vs. what cannot and choose as you see fit.

          Reply
          • moose says:

            louie–some of us choose to be honest and admit that there are some things that are just unkown, and may never be known. religion on the other hand is not satisfied with not knowing, so they go on telling amazing stories

  4. Allen Hainline says:

    Many people who I have known who eventually became Christians were those who rejected unsubstantiated claims that nothing could be known about whether or not God existed and who dared to examine the evidence. None of us claim that we have proof that God exists or that Christianity exists in any kind of mathematically rigorous sense. In my search for truth I’ve found that the weight of evidence for these truths vastly outweighs reasons for skepticism. We’re quite fine admitting we don’t know everything or that we’ll never know everything. However, the more I’ve learned about science, logic, philosophy, history, and archaeology etc. the more reasons and evidence I’ve found that the core claims of Christianity are true.

    Reply
  5. Terry L says:

    >>We’re quite fine admitting we don’t know everything or that we’ll never know everything.

    Good point, Allen!

    It should also be pointed out that any true scientist would have to make the same claim. If one is going to reject Christianity because Christians can’t fully explain the Trinity, then one should also reject science because it cannot fully explain the dual-nature of light, or any number of the examples given above.

    Reply
  6. Robert says:

    “we argue simply that anything that begins to exist must have a cause. This applies to matter, energy, God, etc.”

    > You have not proved and you will NEVER prove the universe had a beginning. What thought did God have before he thought to create the universe? And what thought came before that and which thought preceded that? You see, even with all your slippery argumentation you cannot save your God from infinite regress. Your God cannot save you and you can’t save it. Do ever ask yourself why scientists reject the Kalam argument? Or why logicians and and philosophers laugh at it? It’s special pleading and that isn’t ever going to change. Science will never accept any supernatural explanations for anything. None of your fatally flawed arguments will ever change that. Ever.

    Reply
  7. Robert says:

    “In my search for truth I’ve found that the weight of evidence for these truths vastly outweighs reasons for skepticism. ”

    > Oh please! Somebody scared your completely out of your mind by taunting you with hell. You caved. That’s what really happened. Just admit it. Christianity only appeals to the base emotion of cowardice.

    Reply
  8. Robert says:

    “In my search for truth I’ve found that the weight of evidence for these truths vastly outweighs reasons for skepticism. ”

    > This is Christian dogma: Some things are above being questioned and to do so is sinful. No lie is easier to see through than that one. Unless you’re a Christian.

    Reply
    • Angela Longo says:

      Without a cause does not imply from “nothing” as the writer states….it means without another ’causer’ other than the observer….?

      Reply

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