Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Sofas and uncaused events

Consider three worlds where a sofa rises and in each of which Alice and Bob have the same lifting powers, and nothing beyond Alice and Bob influences the sofa’s rise.

  • w1: the sofa is lifted by Alice and Bob, with neither of them sufficiently power to lift the sofa on their own

  • w2: the sofa rises without Alice or Bob exerting their lifting abilities

  • w3: the sofa rises with Alice exerting her lifting abilities.

If we think w1 and w2 are both possible, we should think that w3 is also possible. It would be too weird if eliminating both Alice and Bob’s exertions were compatible with the sofa rising, but somehow keeping Alice’s exertions precluded the sofa from rising.

But in w3, Alice can’t be the cause of the sofa’s rising. But she seems to have the same influence on it as in w1. So it seems she is a merely partial cause of the sofa’s rising.

However, Alice can’t be a merely partial cause of the sofa’s rising without being a part of a full cause of the sofa rising. But nothing else influences the sofa’s rise. So, there is no full cause, and yet Alice can’t be a merely partial cause.

Thus, w3 is impossible. But if w1 and w2 are possible, so is w3. So, w2 is impossible. So, uncaused events are impossible.


Walter Van den Acker said...


If w2 is possible, then Alice can't be the cause of the sofa's rising. She is not a partial cause because, just like in w2, in w3 the sofa rises uncaused.
The fact that Alice exerts her lifting abilities does not contribute to the sofa's rising. It just happens simultaneously with the sofa's uncaused rising.

Apologetics Squared said...

I think the advocate of uncaused events would say that in w_2, the forces that would have been produced by Alice and Bob simply acted on the sofa without having been produced by Alice and Bob. Thus, they would construe w_3 as Alice producing a force which acts on the sofa, and an accompanying force which would have been produced by Bob acts on the sofa, without actually having been produced by Bob.

Alexander R Pruss said...


But that requires a realism about forces. And I can then run the same thought experiment with Alice and Bob replaced by their generated forces.

Unknown said...

Alex, is God's existing an event?

Alexander R Pruss said...


I don't think so. I think events need to be in time.

Unknown said...

Alex, I wonder why I posted as "Unknown" when I meant to use my name instead.

Maybe any event needs to be in time, and I know that God is timeless. But I always wonder there will be time in heaven after Christ resurrects our bodies. I would think that we need to be something like earthly this there if the blessed will walk and talk there.

You Friend,
Bill McEnaney

Philip Rand said...


Revelation 1:17 answers your question.

Philip Rand said...


It is bad hermeneutics to not refer to a NT verse without OT support:

See: Job 19:25-27

Interestingly, the Book of Job was the first Book recorded. An example of the formal system of the Bible can be observed with the Rev 1:17 where Christ refers to Himself as the first and last, i.e. first Book (Job) and last Book (Revelation) recorded.

Alexander R Pruss said...


Nice to see you here!

I think the resurrection of the body makes a lot less sense if there is no time in heaven or hell. And it's hard to imagine what a body like ours would be like if timeless. Would it have a timelessly frozen wavefunction?

Unknown said...

Hey, Alex,

It's good to see you here. too, my genius friend. Thank you.

I agree with you. But a theologian friend of mine seemed to think heaven is timeless. If it were timeless,though, how could we walk, talk, reason, or do anything else there the implies change? So I suggest my friend Elonore Stump's fine, very readable book "The God of the Bible and the God of the God of the Philosophers," where she shows that the biblical God is the classical theist's one. Shr argues brilliantly that although God is timeless, he still can interact with people. Her book is the only one I've read that convinces me that I have some thoroughly imperfect idea of what the Church means when she teaches that God is simple.

If I knew how to write as clearly as you and Eleonore do, I's be very proud of myself and more important, always grateful to God for that gift. I can hardly wait to read your book about thecessity and the one about paradox.

Unknown said...

Since we're talking about time and change, Alex, do you think Dr. William Lane Craig's theistic personalism implies atheism when he says sans creation, God was timeless and that God is now inside time? Clearly, he believes that God can non-Cambridge change.

I promise not to debate the nature of the incarnation when that would overheat my brain enough to light my hair. :)

Alexander R Pruss said...

It's not atheism, just heretical theism. :-)

Unknown said...

Craig's theistic personalism is heretical, I think. Since Craig says that God entered time, he implies that God went from being possibly inside time to actually being there. If St. Thomas Aquinas is right about possibility, actuality and causes, Craig's theistic personalism implies that God needs a cause. What if his cause needs an cause who needs a cause, etc.? In his book "The Existence of God," Swinburne argues that God exists contingently. So let me remind everyone of a point you defended here at your blog site. Uncaused events are impossible. To me, what Craig and Swinburne believe suggests that their contingent gods are fictional objects. They believe that God exists and that their descriptions signify Him. But I'm describing their theological theories, not whether those theories refer to God.

You grinned when you wrote the post I'm answering now. But I'm serious.

Alexander R Pruss said...

1. Can't Craig say that God is the cause of God's entry into time? It would still run the danger of denying the thesis that God has no potentiality, and if so would be clash with divine simplicity.

2. I suppose one could defend the entry-into-time view if one held that it's a merely Cambridge change, much as as we think it's merely a Cambridge change when God comes to exist in space (due to omnipresence) when he creates space. I think you're probably right that Craig thinks it's a Cambridge change.

3. Swinburne understands "contingent" in a different way from most contemporary metaphysicians. He understands necessity as something very close to formal logical necessity. (I think his view is untenable for Goedelian reasons, but that's a different worry.) In his sense of the word "contingent", I think it's not that problematic to say that God is contingent.

Unknown said...

Alex, since Craig rejects divine simplicity, I think he does run into the trouble you point out in 1. If God can go from potency to act, he needs someone or something to make that happen. But then the God of Craig's theistic personalusm wouldn't be the first cause. If he wouldn't be the first cause, he wouldn't be the biblical God. In fact, a vicious infinite regresses of causes would imply atheism because it would imply that there's no first one. Or if Craig's theory doesn't imply atheism, ir still implies that his theistic personalist god isn't the biblical God. Plantinga may have a similar problem because he's another theistic personalist who also rejects divine simplicity.

Years ago, when I emailed with Fr. Brian Davies, he told me that Swinburne's God is too human-like for Swinburne's epistemic probability to support his theism. I don't see any good reason to agree with Swinburne, Craig, or Plantinga. But again, I'm thinking about theistic personalism and ignoring whether it refers to God when they believe it. For me, it's hard to believe that the Islamic God is the biblical one. But if there's only one God, he's the only one for Islamic theism to be about if there is a God.

Swinburne may need to answer another criticism, too. Now that he's Greek Orthodox, his theistic personalism conflicts with his new religion.