Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Estranged Notions: Why Must the First Cause Still Be With Us Today?

Today's post:

Why Must the First Cause Still Be With Us Today?

Round two from Augros' supposed questioner. This time, though, the question being asked is fundamentally flawed.

Every single claimed example of a ‘per-se’ causal series I've ever seen has made one or both of these two errors:

  1. Treating two physical events separated in space as though they were simultaneous: the hand pushes the staff which pushes the stone, but the staff pushes the stone not because the hand pushes it now, but because it was pushing it 0.25 milliseconds agoestimated for 1m wooden staff, varies by material.
  2. Moving from one meta-level to another: the brain generates nerve impulses in the motor nerves which cause the arm muscles to contract which moves the paintbrush held in the hand (lower-level description), versus “my will causes me to continue to paint” (higher-level description). Different maps of the same territory do not stand in a causal relationship either to each other or to the territory itself.

Number 2 above is especially common because we often, in ordinary language, talk about causal relationships that are at levels of abstraction far removed from the physical: e.g. “the budget deficit was caused by the government's spending policy”. (Reducing such a statement to physics is rather less useful than trying to model the flight of an airplane by mapping individual quarks.) But "caused" in such statements is describing a complex process in highly simplified form, often with substantial uncertainties about what is being described, so is useless for metaphysical speculation; if you can't show a per-se causal series strictly at the level of physics, then there is no support for a ‘first cause’.

(You might construct a physical causal series which ends after one step at “the wavefunction of the universe continues to evolve unitarily”, i.e. “the universe continues to exist”. The argument that the universe wouldn't continue to exist if God did not exist is a separate one, and there is no rational reason to accept it.)