Continuing my project (begun here) of discussing and evaluating Kreeft and Tacelli’s 20 arguments for the existence of God, we come to the second one: the Argument from Efficient Causality. You can read K & T’s formulation of the argument in the Handbook of Christian Apologetics or online here.
Summary of the argument
- “We notice that some things cause other things to be (to begin to be, to continue to be, or both). For example, a man playing the piano is causing the music that we hear. If he stops, so does the music.”
- But if everything is caused to exist by something else — if everything depends for its existence on something else — the result is an infinite regress of causes, which is absurd.
- Therefore, there must be something which exists without having to receive its existence from something else. That is, there must be an Uncaused Cause.
- The Uncaused Cause could be God. That would be one way of interpreting God’s role as “Creator.”
Does anything actually “receive its existence” from something else?
I dispute the first premise. We do not notice that some things cause other things to be. Things cause other things to change, but nothing is observed to cause anything else to exist.
The one concrete example K & T give — that of a pianist causing some music to exist — is a case in point. “Music” is not an independent thing that exists; it is a pattern of vibrations in the air. It cannot be said to exist the way, say, a photon exists. When a pianist plays music, no new entity comes into existence in the universe; rather, existing entities are rearranged into a different pattern. This is change, not creation. The same goes for any other example you care to think of of something “receiving its existence” from something else. If I build a house, I don’t cause anything to exist in the strict sense; I merely change the arrangement of things that already exist.
The commonsense notion of “cause” has to do only with the causation of change. Of all the millions of examples of cause and effect we observe (and I will take it as a given that we do observe many such examples, despite the very legitimate questions raised by Hume), not one of them involves something causing something else to exist in the strict sense — that is, creatio ex nihilo. The assumption that existence itself requires a cause is just that: an assumption, an unjustified extension of the concept of cause-and-effect into a domain in which we have no reason to think it appropriate. And, as this very argument shows, it is an assumption which leads to absurdities.