Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Terminology Tuesday: Causation

Causation: The fundamental kind of relation expressed by such terms as produce, originate, and bring about. The items related (cause and effect) may be persons, objects, states of affairs or events. Aristotle recognized four types of causality: efficient, final, formal and material. David Hume famously tried to analyze causality as a constant conjunction between different types of events. Philosophers such as Thomas Reid have argued for a fundamental type of causation known as "agent causality," in which persons (not merely events occurring in persons) bring about effects. Important philosophical disputes in this area include debates about determinism (Are all events causally determined, or do persons sometimes possess free will?) and about the principle of sufficient reason, which in some forms holds that all events (at least of a certain type) or all contingent substances must have a cause. This principle plays a key role in cosmological, or first cause, arguments for God's existence.1

1. C.Stephen Evans, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), p. 22.


Davitor said...

The only way to stop the mind from the chain of causation from running backward ad infinitum is to know that the "I am" is infinite. The "I am" is before and beyond the universe or time and space and please do not mistake this "I am" with a perceiving human entity or a self conciseness brain.

Ex N1hilo said...

I guess one of the problems I have with the cosmological argument--certain forms of it anyway, such as the "Prime Mover" of Aristotle--is that it assumes a chain of material causation all the way back to the beginning of the universe. Hidden in this view is an implicit denial of the miraculous. As Bible-believing Christians, we must deny that all events result from a chain of material causes and effects. There are things that are caused directly by God. The Prime Mover view is not consistent with this fact.

Ex N1hilo said...


I have disagreed with your comments often in the past, but I think this one is a pretty insightful comment.


Marc said...

Ex N1hilo:

I take it that by "material cause," you mean something like "physical cause." If so, it doesn't seem to me that certain cosmological arguments require a "chain of material causation all the way back to the beginning of the universe." What many of these arguments require, I think, is a first productive cause, not that every event since the beginning of the universe must have an antecedent material cause. So it appears that these arguments are consistent with their being events (posterior to creation) which lack a material cause. Indeed, Christians theists who are substance dualists hold that the immaterial mind has causal powers, and they don't typically view themselves as being prohibited from affirming various cosmological arguments because of their philosophy of mind.

-- Marc

Ex N1hilo said...


Perhaps I misapprehend it, but it is my understanding that Aristotle's version of the Cosmological Argument does posit a string of causality; every movement an effect preceded by a cause; every cause itself an effect preceded in time by its own cause. And that there must be a mover, in the distant past, who got the first movement going; this mover being itself (It’s not necessarily a personal being.) unmoved.

There are better formulations of the CA, in my opinion, although they suffer from their own flaws. And all formulations of the CA share one particular flaw: They rely on an appeal to a past that has never been observed and cannot be repeated.

This is not to say that we do not know if there was Someone who got the universe started. We do know it, because that Someone was there and has told us so.


Marc said...


You might be right about Aristotle's particular formulation of the cosmological argument. I'm regrettably not familiar enough with the details of his formulation to know whether he postulates (or requires) an unbroken sequence of physical causes and effects.

It might've been unintentional, but in your expression of Aristotle's view, you didn't make reference to physical causes. Perhaps that was supposed to be implicit. In any event, I'm guessing Aristotle did have in mind something like an unbroken sequences of causes (simpliciter) and effects. And even if he held that his cosmological argument presupposes or requires an unbroken sequence of physical causes, it doesn't seem to me that a successful formulation of the argument is committed to invoking physical causes in this fashion.

You suggested that all cosmological arguments suffer from one specific flaw: "They rely on an appeal to a past that has never been observed and cannot be repeated." Assuming this is true of all cosmological arguments, it's unclear why this should be regarded as a flaw, let alone an insurmountable flaw. Can you elaborate on the problems, in this case, which accompany unobservability and unrepeatability? You don't think we can arrive at defensible CA-style conclusions based on philosophical considerations and make CA-style inferences based on certain features of the universe we're able to observe?

-- Marc

Davitor said...

Thanks Sam, just as I tell my atheist friends that "nothing" cannot exist without their being a cause for "nothing", and my theist friends that "something" can exist without "nothing" to cause it to be, it is in this dance that subatomic particles play.

Like the imagination can be bound by "nothing" and exist only because of "something" it is in this trilogy that one's Being exist and may I dare say "God".
I believe that this was what Yeshua said in Aramaic to Peter but got lost in translation about the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

I believe he meant that when you bind "your imagination" on earthly things then imagination is limited to earthly things. But when you imagination is free "loose" on earth so shall it be bound by nothing on earth. With this imagination we have the whole universe to play in.

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