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Law of Causality

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
March 9, 2023 12:01 am

Law of Causality

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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March 9, 2023 12:01 am

The laws of cause and effect prove that there must be a self-existent origin, an uncaused cause of all that exists. Today, R.C. Sproul explains that only the God of Scripture can fill that role.

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Renewing Your Mind
R.C. Sproul

God, as Aristotle rightly understood, is an uncaused cause, and you don't have to provide a cause for an eternal being. And when we define the character of God, we say that God is a self-existing, eternal being who is independent, underived, not contingent, but He's eternal. He is not caused because He is not an effect.

Only things that are made are effects. The psalmist tells us that the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork. As Christians, as we look out and see this world around us, we know for there to be a creation, there must be a Creator. Hi, I'm Nathan W. Bingham, and thank you for joining us today for Renewing Your Mind. Although it's obvious to us as Christians, as we look around and see creation, to know that there is a Creator, the apostle Paul tells us that they suppress this truth in unrighteousness. So, how do we have conversations with unbelievers? Well, today, as Dr. R.C. Sproul continues his series, Defending Your Faith, he's going to help us do just that, and not just defend our faith, but to defend it reasonably and logically.

Here's Dr. Sproul. Today, we're going to continue our study of apologetics, and what we're in the middle of at this point is examining four principles of knowledge that are crucial for any sound defense of Christianity, principles that are constantly under attack by those who deny the existence of God. And so far, we've isolated four of those, what I call, non-negotiable principles that are necessary to human knowledge, number one, and also principles that are assumed by all people and also assumed on the pages of sacred Scripture.

And the four that we've isolated, I remind you, are the necessity of the law of non-contradiction, second, the law of causality, third, the basic reliability of sense perception, and fourth, the analogical use of language. And already, we've looked at the law of non-contradiction, and you recall I said that people certainly can deny the law of non-contradiction and its validity, and people do that, and they do it frequently. But what I pointed out was that all denials of the law of non-contradiction are forced and temporary, because it's impossible to live, to even survive for 24 hours, if you consistently deny the validity of the law of non-contradiction. You can't drive your car to an intersection, see a big Mack truck coming down the highway, and say to yourself, self, there's a truck there and not there at the same time and in the same relationship.

There, though you may with your lips deny the validity of the law of non-contradiction, you apply pressure on the brake because you know you can't survive in that contradictory world. Well, let's move on now today to the second principle, which is the principle of causality. And the principle of causality is one that was used in a formidable way throughout the history of Western theoretical thought to argue for the existence of God by reasoning from the appearance of this world back to an adequate or sufficient cause that would explain this world or this universe. And so, thinkers in the Middle Ages and down even beyond that reasoned from a causal base back to God as the first cause. In fact, we go all the way back to Aristotle, who argued that God is the first cause because things require a cause. Now, however, since the Enlightenment, since the 18th century, considerable skepticism has emerged against the law of cause and effect or the law of causality.

If, for example, you've read Bertrand Russell's little booklet, Why I Am Not a Christian, he gives his own personal testimony of his pilgrimage with respect to theism. He said, as a boy growing up, he was deeply impressed by the argument for the existence of God that was based upon the need for a first cause, based upon the law of causality. And so, as a young boy, he embraced the idea of the existence of God until he read an essay written by the philosopher John Stuart Mill, who raised this basic objection against causal thinking. Mill said it this way, if everything requires a cause, then manifestly God would require a cause. And whoever caused God would require a cause, so that you can't reason back to God on the basis of the principle that everything must have a cause. Now, when Bertrand Russell read that essay at age 17, he said it was an epiphany for him, and he realized that the law of cause and effect would not lead you to the conclusion of a first cause, but would lead you on an endless regress that would get you in the final analysis, not to God, but nowhere. And so, he therefore denied the utility of arguing for the existence of God on the basis of the law of cause and effect. Now, let me just respond to that very briefly and very simply, that here's one of those classic examples where Homer nods. John Stuart Mill was unarguably a brilliant philosopher, very well trained in logic and skilled in analytical thought and cognition, who made a fundamental foundational error in his thinking with respect to causality.

The primary error was an error in definition. He assumed that the definition of the law of causality is simply everything must have a cause. Now, if that indeed were the classical law of causality, then his criticism of causal reasoning back to a first cause would be valid.

Let me put it in simple terms. I heard the story of two little boys that were having a discussion, and the first little boy said to the second little boy, where did the trees come from? And his friend said, God made the trees. And then he said, well, where did the flowers come from? And his friend said, God made the flowers.

And his friend said, well, where did you come from? And he said, God made me. And then his buddy said, well, who made God?

And his partner said, God made Himself. Now, I remember also my mother telling me that when I was about three years old, I asked our minister who made God. And my minister was super impressed by that and told my mother, you know, you have a child prodigy on your hands here, and this boy is going to grow up to be a theologian or a philosopher or something like that. And my mother was fond of telling me that when I was pursuing a career in theology. She said, I always knew you were going to do that because the minister told us that when you were three years old. And I said, Mom, let me tell you something.

She said, what? I said, every three-year-old kid asks that question. Where does God come from?

I mean, that's as normal a question as any child can ever ask, and it doesn't show any particular insight on my part at three years old or at ten years old. I said, however, we somehow stop and say, boy, that little kid is profound when he says, who made God? And he said, God made Himself.

No, no, no, no. Even God can't make Himself. And the point is we don't have to have an antecedent cause for God. God, as Aristotle rightly understood, is an uncaused cause, and you don't have to provide a cause for an eternal being, as we will see in the course of this study.

But just now, by way of shorthand, let me just say that the error is in the definition. The law of causality has never said that everything has to have a cause. Rather, the law of causality stated properly says every effect must have an antecedent cause. Every effect must have an antecedent cause.

Now, had John Stuart Mill been working with that definition of causality, he would never have gotten himself into the mess he did and never would have led Burch and Russell astray into that morass of confusion, which, by the way, that principle that Burch and Russell, as brilliant as he was, adopted at age 17, he maintained till the day he died. That error continued in his thinking, because the definition of the law of causality, again, is not that everything must have an effect, because if everything had to have a cause, God indeed would have to have a cause. But the law simply says every effect must have a cause. And if we could find something that is not an effect, that is something that has the power of being within itself and is from eternity, obviously that being would not be an effect. And when we define the character of God, we say that God is a self-existing, eternal being who is independent, underived, not contingent, but He's eternal. He is not caused, because He is not an effect.

Only things that are made are effects. Now, if we look at this definition, we see, and I get just a little bit technical here, that this definition, every effect must have a cause, is a statement that we say is formally true. Not formerly, but formale. You know, that is to say it is a formal truth. Now, what is a formal truth? A formal truth is a truth, and I'm trying to make this easier, and I'm going to make it more abstract. A formal truth is a truth that is analytically true.

Whoops, I'm trying to simplify, and I'm making it worse, right? If it's formally true, it's analytically true. What that means is that it's true by definition.

And if you analyze this statement, every effect must have a cause, just by analyzing the words and their relationship in the statement, you will see that the statement not only is true, but by definition has to be true. An analytical statement would be one like this, a bachelor is an unmarried man. Now, in an analytical statement like that, a bachelor is an unmarried man. You have the subject, which is the word bachelor, and then you say something about the bachelor to describe him. You predicate something about the bachelor, and what you say is the bachelor is an unmarried man.

But what do you find out about the bachelor in the phrase unmarried man that you didn't already know with the word bachelor? See, in an analytical statement there's no new information given in the predicate from what's already there in the subject. If I tell you, let me say, a triangle has three sides. Is that true or not? Of course it's true. It has to be true because a triangle by definition has three sides, just like a bachelor by definition is an unmarried man. Now, not all unmarried men are bachelors. Some are widowers, right?

But all bachelors are unmarried men. So, what we say that something is formally true or analytically true, another way of saying is it's logically true, it's true by definition. Now, again, let's look more carefully at the definition. If we say every effect, and just stop right there, and we introduce the word effect. What is an effect? How would you define an effect? What is an effect?

Something that happened or something that will happen, that's true, but something that has been made, something that has been produced, right? Or to use the language something that has been caused. See, an effect by definition is something that has been caused by something else. Now, what is a cause? What is a cause? What does a cause do? It brings some kind of result, and what do we call that result? An effect.

That's right. You can't have a cause that doesn't cause anything. What a cause causes is an effect. So, you can't have a cause without an effect, and anything that is identified as an effect by definition must have a cause. So that in a very real sense, this statement, every effect must have a cause, is just simply a mental extension of the law of non-contradiction, because something cannot be an effect and not be an effect at the same time in the same relationship. Something cannot be a cause.

You can't have a cause without an effect, and you can't have an effect without a cause, otherwise you have a contradiction. Now, the most primary answer we give to reality, if I say, why is this carpet here in this room? The simplest answer I can say is, because.

That's not going to satisfy you. You're going to want to push me a little bit further, and you're going to say, because why? Well, I'm going to say, well, because the director of this studio wanted to construct a set that would have the look of a study or a den, and so he went out and got this old carpeting, and he put it on the floor here as part of the set. So now I'm giving you more of the complex reasons behind the presence of this carpet that is now underneath my feet.

Okay? Now, my director didn't cause the carpet. If I said what caused the carpet, then I would have to go back to the manufacturer and all of that sort of thing. But we understand the use of that language at a very elementary way. One of the first things a parent learns how to say to a child when the child asks a question is, because. That's the answer. In other words, we're saying that flower has a cause.

That tree has a cause. Something has produced it. Because we also understand that something cannot come out of nothing.

Now, again, I'm going to ask you to put your thinking caps on, because I'm going to do some close work with your minds here. When I say this is a formal principle, we're saying that it doesn't teach us anything directly about reality. It doesn't tell us that there are causes out there in the real world. It doesn't tell us that there are effects out there in the real world. Maybe everything in the world is eternal and uncaused.

I don't believe that that's the case, but I'm saying hypothetically we're sitting here in this room, and I'm saying there's all kinds of things outside of this room. There are cars and trucks and planes and bees and trees and all the rest, and I can say this to you for sure, that if any or all of those things that I've just listed, trucks and trees and cars and all of that, are effects, then we know for sure that they have what? Causes. Now, maybe they are not effects, but the principle is, the logical principle is, if something is an effect, it must have what? It must have a cause.

So that if you can establish that something is indeed an effect, then you have established that it must have some kind of antecedent cause. Several years ago when we produced our book on classical apologetics, and it was reviewed by scholars around about the country, one scholar who was a philosopher made one criticism, one substantive criticism of the argument set forth in that book. And he was criticizing me, and he said, I'll never forget it, he said, the problem with Sproul. Now, I'm not going to give you people the opportunity to fill in the blank there.

What he said was, he was referring just to this book, not to my whole life, but he was saying that the problem with Sproul in this book is that Sproul will not allow for an uncaused effect. That was his criticism. Now, my basic rule of thumb is, is that when if I receive one of my books criticized in a review, I never bother to get engaged in a debate or discussion with the reviewer.

I just, you know, that's their job is to review it, and whatever they say, that's fine. I'm not going to argue with them. But this one I couldn't pass up. So, I wrote to the philosopher a nice letter, and I said, you indicated in your review that the one problem that you had with my book was that I wouldn't allow for an uncaused effect. And I said, mea culpa, you're right. I won't allow for an uncaused effect. But I thought that my obstinate refusal to not allow for uncaused effects was a virtue, not a vice. Now, I would be happy to allow for an uncaused effect if you would take the trouble to write to me one example anywhere in the universe of an uncaused effect. And of course, I'm still waiting for his response because I know and he knows upon a moment's reflection that you can't possibly have an uncaused effect because an effect by definition is something that has an antecedent cause. But that's only one of the reasons why an avalanche of doubt has been leveled against traditional causal thinking. The other reason, which we will explore in our next session, is the critical analysis of causality that was launched by the British empirical philosopher David Hume. David Hume's watershed critique of causality has led many thinkers after him to believe that David Hume demolished causality altogether. And in our next session, I'm going to examine that analysis of Hume and the assumption that goes with it that he in his critical fashion demolished the whole arguments and the whole law of causality, which I hope prove to you that he did not at all.

But again, let me just recapitulate, the denials of the law of causality are frequently found in those who argue against classical theories, who want to avoid the enormous power of causal thought that drives people to give a sufficient time sighing that there would be a real disaster. digital study guide so that you can take your study of apologetics even deeper or perhaps use it in a group setting or with your family. So you can make your donation today by visiting or by calling us at 800 435 4343. That web address again is As you have conversations with friends or co-workers and questions about the Christian faith come up and you're not sure how to answer then I want to encourage you to visit Ligonier's YouTube channel because we have a growing library there of short clips with helpful answers from Dr. Sproul and our teaching fellows so that you know how to respond.

So simply search for Ligonier Ministries in the YouTube app and subscribe to the channel and turn on notifications so that you'll be alerted when we release a new video or have a new live stream and you can find all of that by searching for Ligonier Ministries on YouTube. Well here's a preview of what you'll hear tomorrow from Dr. Sproul. My senses cannot give me a comprehensive view of reality but the only link I have from the interior chamber of my mind, my thinking to the external world is through my senses. My body is the bridge from my mind to the world. That's why it's axiomatic in modern science and in biblical studies to operate with the assumption that our basic equipment that we have, the faculties of knowing that God has given us, are at least reliable enough for us to act upon. Again when I see the light turn red, I can speculate that maybe a demon caused it or it's a malfunction and that's possibility, but I trust it enough to put my foot on the brink. you
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-09 03:45:22 / 2023-03-09 03:53:42 / 8

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