Dr. Alex Rosenberg On The Principle of Sufficient Reason

Dr. Alex Rosenberg is the R. Taylor Cole Professor of Philosophy at Duke University and head of the philosophy department. This comes from his debate with William Lane Craig, "Is Faith In God Reasonable":

--From his first statement:
Many of the arguments that Dr. Craig gave tonight and which he has given repeatedly in the past rest on the first cause argument. An argument that goes back certainly to St. Thomas Aquinas and probably to Aristotle and it rests on, of course, the principle of sufficient reason. The principle that everything that exists must have a cause. Now, the remarkable thing about this argument and the principle of sufficient reason as it is called on which it rests is that the principle is plainly false. OK? It is refuted trillions of times every second throughout the universe. It is refuted in this room and I will give you a pretty full explanation of why. Take two uranium-238 atoms that are absolutely indistinguishable. In a given moment these two indistinguishable atoms – atoms of exactly the same mass and energy state – have the following difference: one produces an alpha particle spontaneously and the other doesn’t and there is no cause whatsoever for that difference. That is what quantum mechanics tells us. Suddenly one emits an alpha particle and the other doesn’t and there is no cause whatever for that difference between them. Now, you might think that that is not a very important fact of nature but one mole – one Avogadro’s Number of uranium-238 molecules – emits three million alpha particles a second. And every helium atom on this planet is one of those alpha particles. And the smoke detectors that operate all through this auditorium to protect us from fires – those operate because of the indeterminate, unexplained, completely spontaneous appearance of an alpha particle out of a uranium atom in these systems. For Dr. Craig to insist on the arguments that rest on the claim that every event had a cause that had to have brought it into being is just bluff. It is not a principle accepted in physics. And you can’t argue from its intuitive attractiveness.
--From his third statement:
I really need to know why he is so committed to the principle of sufficient reason which underwrites a good half of the arguments from science which he advances for us. I made the point that the principle of sufficient reason is false. It is not just that it is not known to be true; it is that it is just plain out flat false and disconfirmed all over the galaxy, all over the universe, all over the multiverse, indefinitely many times in infinitesimally small units of time. I don’t understand why he insists it is just intuitively obvious – what could be more obvious that from nothing, nothing can come, that if something exists there had to be a prior entity of some sort which brought it about. We know that alpha particles come into existence for no reason at all every moment in this room. Why should we assume that the universe is any different? Why should we assume that purely quantum mechanical fluctuations, symmetry breaking, which we understand is the explanation for why there is matter in the universe and not anti-matter, why this process which produces the characteristic features of our universe and does so without their being a cause for it happening one way or the other way. Why the symmetry gets broken one way or the other couldn’t be the nature of reality as far back as we can possibly dig in cosmology.


John W. Loftus is a philosopher and counter-apologist credited with 12 critically acclaimed books, including The Case against Miracles, God and Horrendous Suffering, and Varieties of Jesus Mythicism. Please support DC by sharing our posts, or by subscribing, donating, or buying our books at Amazon. Thank you so much!