Infinite Regress (again?)

Yesterday we covered the first item of McCabe’s logical sequence. (Infinte regress is incoherent.) For the most part, science doesn’t have anything definitive to say about what ’caused’ the universe, but they do have a pretty reasonable grasp about what generally happened starting a fraction of a second or so after the Big Bang. Most theologians betray their lack of understanding of time by leaving it intact like some kind of absolute reference grid and perceive the Big Bang as simply something that happened at time ‘t’ where if you look before ‘t’ all you find is nothingness and God who brought about everything at this momentis occassion of creation. Although McCabe certainly doesn’t fall into this trap, as suggested by his next three steps:

2. Past time had a beginning
3. Temporality is neither permanent nor eternal
4. Temporality is caused

he does slip up in #3 since causation itself is hopelessly bound to the flow of time. If there is nothing before t=0, it doesn’t make much sense to say something caused time because this would essentially be saying something at t=0-x led to the spinning of the temporal domain. Simply by holding this point, the claim that time had a beginning is contradicted. Now one is certainly free to take Kierkegaard’s approach and simply hold that nothing can be said about such things since we don’t even have a way of conceptualizing it (i.e. “the god which can be named is not God.”) but it is pure folly to extrapolate something like McCabe’s final point

5.  The ultimate cause of temporality is an eternal, personal entity.

Consider McCabe’s justification for this:

If the cause were inherently temporal rather than eternal, temporality would be a necessary precondition for its existence. It, however, as the ultimate cause of temporality, is a necessary precondition for temporality. If each were a necessary precondition of the other, we would have an infinite regress of necessary preconditions in a circular fashion, which is logically incoherent. Thus, the First Cause is eternal.

One really doesn’t have much business pointing and screaming about incoherence when rattling off something of this nature. Count the number of times he uses the word “precondition.” We should all know by now that ‘pre-‘ implies “previous to; before” thus one can’t carry such baggage into a domain that escapes time itself (or, once again, you have contradicted the notion of time’s beginning.)

“Shit, I really gotta get moving on this creation of time thing.”

To close his argument, McCabe gets really greedy and wants to spin the necessity of a personal God into this 5 step argument for the First Cause. He states:

Being the ultimate First Cause, it was not forced by a prior cause to cause, rather, it caused on its own. If it caused necessarily (simply because it is), then the results would be co-eternal with it, and they aren’t (see item 3 above). Therefore it caused volitionally, or optionally, making it volitional or willful and thus personal.

Again, of course, the notion of volition is temporal concept to begin with. It makes no sense to posit an entity that makes choices (which necessarily involves temporal elements, knowns, assumptions, inputs, decision, action) and call that entity personal and then note that this entity is permanent and timeless. And even if one did allow for a first cause, it certainly would not necessarily follow that such a cause was willful and personal. This claim is completely arbitrary.

We will continue looking at the next section of McCabe’s comments next week.


2 Comments to “Infinite Regress (again?)”

  1. Timothy McCabe 10 December 2011 at 4:53 pm #

    “We should all know by now that ‘pre-’ implies ‘previous to; before’ thus one can’t carry such baggage into a domain that escapes time”

    Actually, the causal relationship is not a temporal relationship. Often both relationships exist, and often both have the same arrangement, but in some circumstances this is not the case. For example:

    Event 1: I moved away from the Philippines.
    Event 2: Marcos fell from power.

    (2) occurred after (1), but not because of (1). We see a temporal relationship exists, but no causal relationship exists. Here is another example:

    Event 1: A chair is present beneath me.
    Event 2: I am held above the floor.

    (2) and (1) are simultaneous, but (1) is a precondition of (2). We see a temporal relationship of equivalency, but a causal relationship of non-equivalency.

    The necessary conclusion from these two examples is that the causal relationship and the temporal relationship are not interchangeable.

    God bless.

  2. Jon K 12 December 2011 at 9:20 am #

    Again, the requirement of a precondition prevents you from escaping the time domain. The cause of an equivalence in forces between gravity and a chair has the effect of keeping me motionless. Pointing out the obvious condition that this equivalence in forces is simultaneous to my state of motionlessness does not make this causal relationship timeless. Simply pointing out that related conditions can be simultaneous does not make sense of some personal, decision-making entity outside of the temporal domain.

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