Round 3: Egnor vs Papineau: The Big Bang Has No Natural Beginning

Michael Egnor begins this portion of the discussion by asking What caused the Big Bang? What causes the singularities at the core of black holes? (Yesterday, we published materialist philosopher David Papineau’s reply to neurosurgeon Michael Egnor. For Egnor’s opening statement, go here.

Starts, roughly, at 21:30 min:

David Papineau: I don’t think it’s a coherent question. It’s like asking what causes the number five. I mean, you’re misapplying the notion of cause to the beginning of the material universe. … I’m not following. I said all physical effects have a physical cause, and you’re going to give me a counterexample of a physical effect that doesn’t have a physical cause, so what would that be?

Note: The Big Bang, according to NASA, is a generally accepted theory that the universe began as “just a single point,”which essentially means that it originated from nothing. Again, according to NASA, “… every large galaxy contains a supermassive black hole at its center,” which is a “zone” where ordinary rules of physics do not apply. It’s called a “black hole” because it cannot actually be seen (all light is sucked in) but it can be detected by the behavior of nearby stars.

Michael Egnor: What a black hole does to the space around it is a physical effect. What’s the cause of the black hole that leads to the change in the space around it? I’m saying that modern science…

David Papineau: No, look, let’s go slowly. If you think there are some physical effects, some physical events that don’t have a cause, then they’re not effects, and there won’t be a counterexample to the claim that all physical effects have a physical cause. Now, putting it like that, it sounds tautologous, because I’m saying that the thesis is only about physical effects, and so when you have something that’s a physical effect…

Michael Egnor: I didn’t say that. No, I didn’t say that not all effects have causes.

David Papineau: Please let me make the point. The point of the causal closure thesis is not to say that every effect has a cause. That’s not the point. The point is that every physical effect has a physical cause, and not…

Note: Causal closure: “is the idea that everything that happens in the world is caused by physical objects in the world. Everything that has a cause has a physical cause, according to Jaegwon Kim (1934–2019). Belief in this kind of causality is deeply held by many philosophers and scientists. Many say it is the basis for all thought and knowledge of the external world. Even indeterministic quantum events, which are only statistically caused, are physical events. Causal closure is a requirement for “physicalist” views in the philosophy of mind.” (The Information Philosopher) Also: Dr. Papineau is a “physicalist.” On that view, “the mind is a purely physical construct, and will eventually be explained entirely by physical theory, as it continues to evolve.” (Philosophy basics) He is considered to be one of the best defenders of naturalism (nature is all there is), often called “materialism.”

David Papineau: What I’m saying is that every physical effect has a physical cause, and not a mental cause, or a vital force cause, or a supernatural…

Michael Egnor: What was the physical cause of the Big Bang? …

David Papineau: None, because that’s… Look, okay, the Big Bang doesn’t have a cause, right? I say that’s not a counterexample…

Michael Egnor: No, I think it has a cause. I very much think it has a cause.

David Papineau: I think it doesn’t have a cause, but I don’t take that to be a counterexample to my causal closure thesis. Now, do you follow what I’m saying there or not? Sorry, I …

Michael Egnor: I follow what you’re saying, but it strikes me as a case of special pleading. You’ve been arguing for this neat universe, where every physical effect has a physical cause, and I’ve shown you that the entire universe itself, which is a physical effect, did not have a physical cause, because the singularity of the Big Bang isn’t a physical thing.

David Papineau: Let’s try once more. If you say it doesn’t have a cause, I’ll say it’s not an effect, and therefore not a counterexample to my thesis.

Michael Egnor: We both agree. Every effect has a cause. I’m saying that there are physical effects that don’t have physical causes. The Big Bang is one.

David Papineau: I think you need to listen to what I’m saying, but let’s try it differently. I think you’re using effect synonymously with event, right? I am not claiming that every physical event has a physical cause, because I think the Big Bang doesn’t have a cause. I think there’s some physical events that don’t have physical causes.

Michael Egnor: I don’t agree with you. I think every event has a cause …

David Papineau: I think we’re getting sidetracked here. Let’s look at the more interesting issue.

It will not surprise many readers to learn that the more interesting issue revolves around … the human mind. Stay tuned!


You may also wish to read the earlier portions of the debate:

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor takes on philosopher David Papineau Round 1. In the debate, Egnor begins by offering three fundamental reasons why the mind is not the brain. Neuroscience caused Egnor to honestly doubt Papineau’s materialist perspective that the mind is simply what the brain does.

Round 2: Philosopher Papineau replies to neurosurgeon Egnor. Dr. Papineau is considered to be one of the best defenders of naturalism (nature is all there is), often called “materialism.” Papineau: Mental processes, including conscious processes, are one in the same as physical processes. I’m curious about how Michael Egnor would answer it.

Also: Philosopher: Consciousness Is Not a Problem. Dualism Is! He says that consciousness is just “brain processes that feel like something” Physicalist David Papineau argues that consciousness “seems mysterious not because of any hidden essence, but only because we think about it in a special way.” In short, it’s all in our heads. But wait, say others, the hard problem of consciousness is not so easily dismissed.

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