Stealing from God: Causality, Part 1

This is my second post on Frank Turek’s book, Stealing from God and the first one on his chapter on causality. Since he covers a lot of ground in this chapter, I’ll only deal with his major points.
As we saw last time, Turek conflates atheism with materialism. He therefore claims that atheists must say everything is physical. This of course includes every cause — and from that it follows either that the cause of the physical universe is itself physical, or that the universe doesn’t have a cause.

The first one can’t be true, however, since there would in that case have to be something physical before there was anything physical. And the second can’t be either, he says, since it makes no sense for the entire universe to just appear causelessly out of nothing. The only option that makes sense is the one atheists reject, namely, that the universe has a non-physical cause.

Moreover, he continues, atheists’ rejection of non-physical causes is self-defeating. Why? Because their own arguments contain non-physical causes. In case you're wondering what the hell he's talking about (and you should be), he explains what he means with the following jaw-dropping claim:

“...there is a causal relationship between the premises and the conclusion [of an argument]. In other words, true premises result in valid conclusions.”

Yes, he actually confuses logical implication with causation. He goes on: “If the law of causality only applied to physical things, then no argument would work because premises and conclusions are not physical things. For any argument to work — including any arguments against God — the law of causality must apply to the immaterial realm because the components of arguments are immaterial.”

But let’s return to the main argument above. Has Turek succeeded in demonstrating that the universe has a non-physical cause? Of course not.

Turek maintains that there are only two options here, either that “no one created something out of nothing, which is the atheist’s view," or that "Someone created something out of nothing, which is the theist’s view.”

But to begin with, it isn’t certain that the universe had a beginning — which it would need to have in order to be created. (It is important to realize that in this context, “universe” means all of physical reality, which is why the question of a beginning is supposed to be a problem for atheism. Thus, if there is a multiverse, then that is the universe.) Furthermore, even if it did have a beginning, the “atheist’s view” isn’t that the universe was created out of nothing. It is true that some atheists believe that. But that doesn’t make it the view of atheism — nor does it make it right.

According to atheism, the universe is everything that exists, has ever existed, or ever will exist. Thus, unless self-causation is possible, the universe cannot have a cause. Nor can it come from anything else (as there isn’t anything else). The universe just is. And that’s the case whether or not it had a beginning.

Moreover, the same thing applies in the case of the theist’s worldview. The totality of existence (whether that’s just the physical universe or is God plus the physical universe) cannot have a cause. It did not come from anything.

But to say it did not come from anything is not to say that it came from nothing, if by the latter one means that it "popped into existence" from a prior state of nothingness, as Turek and many other apologists like to say. The very idea that something came from, or was created out of, nothingness is actually nonsensical, for the very simple reason that nothingness isn’t something — and therefore isn’t something from which anything can come! And note that only in the case of "coming from nothingness" does the universe come into being at all; to say that the universe did not come from anything is to say it simply exists — even if there is a first moment to that existence.

Those like Turek, who confuse the claim that the universe did not come from anything with the claim that it arose out of nothingness, are making the same mistake as the King in Through the Looking Glass, who, when Alice said she saw “nobody on the road,” replied: “I only wish I had such eyes. To be able to see Nobody! And at that distance too! Why, it's as much as I can do to see real people, by this light!”

For more on the mistake Turek is making here, see:

The Reification of Nothing and Follow-Up to Previous Post

For more on the Kalam argument, which was only briefly addressed on this post, see The Truth about God, chapter 6.