On the Cosmological Argument, Part 3
Causes and Contexts
Putting aside the issue of atemporal eternalism, at least for the moment and certainly for the sake of simplicity of expression, there is the matter pertaining to the Cosmological Argument regarding whether, despite there being a beginning as already discussed, any things come to be without being caused (or, to put it somewhat more atemporally this one time, whether things come into sequence without being in some way linked to anything which is sequentially prior).
In the paper, “A Big Bang Cosmological Argument for God's Nonexistence”6, Quentin Smith reports that “quantum mechanics has shown that many particles (virtual particles) begin to exist without being caused to do so.” Mark Vuletic, on the other hand, has described7 virtual particles as deriving “from uncertainties in energy”.
For the purposes of this discussion, it does not matter at all whether Smith's rendition regarding virtual particles as uncaused is in any sense correct.
After all, there is an entirely separate, more generally philosophical issue which pertains to the same matter of whether there is ever anything which comes to be without being caused, and that philosophical issue has to do with what is most commonly discussed in terms of whether there is such a thing as human “free will” (that discussion is actually more appropriately conducted in terms of the nature of “choice” as distinguished from “will”, but that distinction will not be taken up in this series).
A point of contention regarding this free will pertains to whether the claim that there is human free will amounts to a claim for breaks in a reality presumed to be (or commonly described as being) a wholly, uninterrupted causal, virtually mechanical sequence. If the human will manifests without having been wholly caused, then that manifestation would indicate the coming to be of something that is not caused, where “caused” is understood as indicating being entirely caused or wholly (pre)determined.
Of course, those who deny that human choice is wholly (pre)determined need not - and do not - deny that other things affect choice. In effect, other things are factors relevant to choice, and this is to say that, regardless of whether or not a choice is uncaused inasmuch as it is a break in an otherwise utterly causal or (pre)determined sequence, a choice is a thing which occurs within a context.
Likewise, whether or not the virtual particles referred to by Smith are uncaused, they, too, occur within a context.
From this it follows that, in terms of the Cosmological Argument, the uncaused first thing need not be the only uncaused thing in order for the argument to be successful. However, this uncaused first thing would differ from other uncaused things in that the first thing is in no way dependent on a context other than itself.
Accordingly, if it were the case that causes are nothing other than concepts, if causes are nothing other than mind-dependent things, if causes are mere products of minds used to describe the links between or the sequence of presumably mind-independent things, then what the Cosmological Argument points to instead of a first cause can be said to be a first context, a beginning context.
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on the Cosmological Argument8 summarizes a position apparently held by theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking, which is relevant to the Cosmological Argument. That Stanford article notes that according to Hawking, “the finite universe has no space-time boundaries and hence lacks singularity and a beginning”.
On the face of it, this statement would seem to stand in direct and utter opposition to the Cosmological Argument notion that there is a beginning – what has to this point been put forth in terms of the beginning as a first context.
Then again, that statement would also seem to indicate that Hawking was denying that singularity which is so much a part of modern scientific cosmology, but he is, in fact, doing no such thing. Hawking's position as represented in the Stanford article is heavily dependent on distinctions between “imaginary time” and “real time”9 as well as on semantic distinctions such as explicated by Quentin Smith:
In other words, where the universe is space-time, the singularity is not part of that space-time; therefore, the singularity is not part of the space-time universe. Hence, this is one sense in which the universe “lacks singularity”.
Of course, being apart from the universe, the singularity as “source of the universe” is perfectly in keeping with the Cosmological Argument, even if that source is in some sense not the beginning of the universe.
How can a source not be a beginning?
One way in which it might be arguable that this source is not a beginning is by defining “beginning” so that it only has reference to space-time (where space-time entails the universe and all physical laws that are ever operative therein or descriptive thereof).
Since the singularity is not part of space-time, and since the laws operative within or descriptive of space-time are apparently absent from or inapplicable to the singularity, the singularity cannot be referred to as being within or as being part of space-time. Hence, the source which is the singularity is not a space-time beginning.
But, again, even with acceptance of this sense of “beginning”, the first context which is the ultimate focus of the Cosmological Argument remains in place as something other than the space-time universe itself.
In addition, this first context is a beginning context for all other in sequence contexts so long as the other contexts and the things in those contexts are at all dependent upon that first context. And, since
which is to say that
it is quite clear that there is nothing about the Hawking position (at least as encapsulated by Hawking-Penrose) which contradicts – or is even slightly incompatible with - the first context as put forth by the Cosmological Argument.
But, what about the case of Hawking's “imaginary time” with which there “are no singularities”? Does that dispense with the first context as put forth by the Cosmological Argument?
The first thing to note is that, according to Hawking, with the “'no boundary' proposal” the
Since, again according to Hawking13, there is no end-point which is or leads to the start of the sequence, there is at least a beginning (in the sense of a start) to the universe.
However, inasmuch as a beginning is a coming to be, what would then seem most pertinent to the Cosmological Argument is whether there has to be a First Context which is other than the (beginning of the) universe. This issue will be taken up with a consideration of the Hartle-Hawking theory.
Part 4 of 'On the Cosmological Argument' discusses more about 'The Cosmology of Stephen Hawking'
6 Smith, Quentin, “A Big Bang Cosmological Argument for God's Nonexistence”, Faith and Philosophy, April 1992, Volume 9, No. 2, pp. 217-237; also available at http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/quentin_smith/bigbang.html .
9 The discussion here need not delve into Hawking's own distinctions between “imaginary time” and “real time” according to which it is only in reference to “imaginary time” that “there are no singularities or boundaries”. There is no need for this discussion because, as the subsequent discussion in this part indicates, even with the “no boundary” proposal, there actually is a beginning to the space-time universe.
10 Smith, Quentin, “The Uncaused Beginning of the Universe”, Philosophy of Science (1988), Vol. 55, No. 1, pp. 39-57; also available at http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/quentin_smith/uncaused.html
11 Smith, Quentin, “Atheism, Theism, and Big Bang Cosmology”, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, March 1991, Volume 69, No. 1, pp. 48-66; also available at http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/quentin_smith/cosmology.html
12 Hawking, Stephen, 1996, A Brief History of Time, New York: Bantam Books, pp. 142-143.
13 Ibid., p. 154.