Monday, May 13, 2024

The Inadequacy of "Self-Cause": Why an Intelligent First Cause Remains the Best Explanation

The idea that the universe and its exquisite fine-tuning is the product of "self-organization" or "self-cause" is a woefully inadequate and logically incoherent attempt to explain away what is more reasonably attributed to the intentional activity of a transcendent intelligent Creator. As philosopher William Lane Craig argues, "The most plausible answer to the question of why something exists rather than nothing is that there is a necessarily existent being, God, who is the ground of being for everything else that exists." (Craig, 2008, p. 182)

The concept of "self-organization" posits that the staggeringly complex and finely-calibrated cosmos arose through mindless, unguided processes - that the unimaginably precise initial conditions and physical constants required for a life-permitting universe all fell into place by sheer chance or some inscrutable naturalistic mechanism. But as philosopher and mathematician William Dembski notes, "The amount of specified complexity in even the simplest life-forms is staggering. The probability of their occurrence by chance is unfathomably small. Attributing such specified complexity to blind natural causes is akin to attributing the integrated circuit to the blind heat of a kiln. It strains reason." (Dembski, 2004, p. 151)

In our uniform and repeated experience, specified complexity and informational richness invariably originate from minds, not mindless processes. As former atheist philosopher Antony Flew observes, "The only satisfactory explanation for the origin of such 'end-directed, self-replicating' life as we see on earth is an infinitely intelligent Mind." (Flew & Varghese, 2007, p. 132) To suggest that the functional complexity and apparent design of biological systems and the cosmos as a whole is the product of unguided natural processes is as absurd as suggesting that the informational content of software wrote itself, or that the faces on Mount Rushmore are the result of mere wind and erosion. It flouts the principle of abductive reasoning, which compels us to infer to the best explanation given our background knowledge. As philosopher Richard Swinburne contends, "The hypothesis of theism is a simple hypothesis which leads us to expect these observable phenomena, when no other simple hypothesis will do so." (Swinburne, 2004, p. 68) 

Moreover, "self-cause" scenarios run aground on inescapable logical and metaphysical absurdities. They inevitably involve the universe somehow "causing itself" or "arising from nothing" - but this is patent nonsense. As Aristotle recognized, "Nothing can come from nothing, and nothing can become actual except it is potentially so." (Aristotle, Physics, 1.8) Being cannot spontaneously arise from non-being. Every contingent effect requires a sufficient non-contingent cause. As philosopher Alexander Pruss argues, "The Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) and the causal principle. . . provide strong reasons to suppose that there is an ultimate cause of contingent things and that this cause. . . is a necessary being." (Pruss, 2009)

An eternal, uncaused, immaterial, unimaginably powerful and intelligent Mind - in short, God - is a far more plausible and logically coherent explanation for the origin and fine-tuning of the cosmos than naturalistic appeals to "self-cause." As philosopher Robin Collins concludes, "Given the fine-tuning evidence, the many-worlds hypothesis is at least no better as a theory for explaining the fine-tuning than the design hypothesis, and arguably is worse. . .[T]he inference to design is in this case the best explanation." (Collins, 2009, p. 274)

Those who deny this and attribute everything to "self-cause" are really just engaging in a thinly-veiled attempt to evade the obvious conclusion to which the evidence points - that our universe is the product of a transcendent and intentional Creator. They accuse theists of a "God of the gaps" approach while conveniently ignoring their own "self-cause of the gaps" explanatory failure. 

Abductive logic and the principle of inferring to the best explanation compel the conclusion that an intelligent First Cause is the most plausible and causally adequate explanation for the origin and fine-tuning of the cosmos. To quote Cambridge astrophysicist Sir Fred Hoyle, himself no theist, "A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics. . . and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature." (Hoyle, 1982, p. 12) The cosmos bears the unmistakable imprint of intentional design by a Supreme Intelligence. Naturalistic appeals to unguided "self-organization" simply fail to adequately account for its astounding sophistication and specificity. 

In conclusion, the concept of "self-cause" is nothing more than an ad hoc "X of the gaps" attempt to deny what the evidence clearly indicates - that our universe is the product of an intentional and intelligent First Cause. Pushing the explanatory question back a step by appealing to an inscrutable "self-organizing" process is a glaring explanatory failure that runs aground on logical absurdities and violates the principle of abductive reasoning. A transcendent and superintelligent Creator remains the best and most causally adequate explanation for the origin and fine-tuning of the cosmos.


- Aristotle. (4th c. BC) Physics.  

- Collins, R. (2009). The teleological argument. In W. L. Craig & J. P. Moreland (Eds.), The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (pp. 202-281). Wiley-Blackwell.  

- Craig, W. L. (2008). Reasonable Faith. 3rd ed. Crossway.

- Dembski, W. (2004). The Design Revolution. InterVarsity Press.

- Flew, A. & Varghese, R. A. (2007). There Is a God. HarperOne.

- Hoyle, F. (1982). The Universe: Past and Present Reflections. Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics. Vol. 20, pp. 1-35.

- Pruss, A. (2009). The Leibnizian Cosmological Argument. In W. L. Craig & J. P. Moreland (Eds.), The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (pp. 24-100). Wiley-Blackwell.

- Swinburne, R. (2004). The Existence of God. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press.

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