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Philosophy/First Mover Arguement


Hi Steven! I'm a young rookie philosopher attempting to understand a point made in a debate between William Lane Craig (Christian Philosopher) and Richard Wolpert (atheistic biologist). In the debate, Craig is attempting to posit the existence of God essentially through Aquinas's first mover argument. As someone who studies metaphysics, I'm sure you are well aware of the argument so let's just cut to the chase. At one point during the debate, Craig tries to posit that this unmoved, first mover is not merely an impersonal object that would create the universe, but rather that it is personal. His reasoning behind this is: "How else could a timeless cause give rise to a temporal effect like the universe? If the cause were an impersonal set of necessary conditions, then the cause could never exist without its effect. If the cause were permanently present, then the effect would be permanent present as well. The only way for the cause to be timeless and the effect to begin in time, is for the cause to be a personal agent who freely chooses to create an event in time without any antecedent determining conditions. Thus we are brought to a transcendent cause of the universe, but to it's personal creator." I'm a bit lost with what he is trying to say here. Could you try to explain this in simpler terms. I'll leave a link to the debate if you would like to take a look at it, and this particular section starts at around 15:30. Thanks a lot and God Bless!!!

Sorry took so long for me to respond.  Hadn't had a chance to watch the video till this weekend and I wanted to give you a response that was based upon the argument exactly as presented.

Seems like there are a load of presumptions that Craig makes that are questionable.  I say this because a proof is only a proof, i.e., and argument that provides genuine knowledge, when each of its premises is known true.  If a single premise isn't known true, then the conclusion cannot be known true.  At best you have a valid argument where the conclusion is implied by the premise set but not necessarily true.  Plenty of valid arguments have false premises and false conclusions and none proves anything.

The argument from causation presumes that there must be a transcendent cause for the universe, i.e., outside space and time, since an imminent cause would itself be subject to another cause, and so on...with no first cause but an infinite series of cause/effect.

The problem is that this first assumption is itself questionable.  Once you posit a transcendent cause, you've immediately presumed your conclusion.  You wind up with a valid argument but not a proof since a transcendent cause is what requires proof.

There are also fundamental difficulties with a transcendent cause outside of space and time having the ability to have an effect or bring about anything physical (within space and time).  Once you presume two very different kinds of substance, material and immaterial, explaining their interaction in physical terms becomes very difficult.

With respect to the un-caused caused being personal, Craig states that physical and personal are  contradictory opposites.  (The only immaterial objects he recognizes are numbers and intelligent mind).  Since abstract objects, in his own words, can't cause anything, there must be a personal object that causes material things to exist.  He gives the "personal being" the quality of freedom to choose, i.e., to be exempt from causality, thereby allowing it to itself be uncaused.

This is an interesting addition to the simple presumption made in the first variety of the argument of causality but it still doesn't avoid the problem of explaining how an immaterial uncaused free being can have any effect on a material object.  (An old problem Descartes faced when he argued that there are two fundamental substances...thinking and material substance.

The bottom line is that both varieties of argument that Craig makes are valid but fall short of proof since they presume or introduce the concept of an unmoved mover in their premises in order to deduce an unmoved mover as a conclusion.



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Steven R. Storch


Ethics, Existentialism and Phenomenology, Continental Metaphysics

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