It seems many philosophers and scientists alike accept the idea of causal closure. This page states,

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.

Now, if this were true, it would mean God cannot exist, because He would be metaphysical. Most theists accept that God created the world, which would be a non-physical cause for a physical concept. How do theists reply to this, given that strong arguments exist for the idea of causal closure (at least, that's what I've seen)?

  • 1
    That's easy. Not only are there no good arguments, there are no arguments for it at all, nor is there any evidence to support it. They simply treat it as an axiom to be assumed.
    – user3017
    Dec 5, 2016 at 1:27
  • @PédeLeão So why does it say it is held deeply by many philosophers and scientists? Are they all wrong?
    – APCoding
    Dec 5, 2016 at 2:43
  • @PédeLeão Also, it seems the SEP page on physicalism and naturalism provide some arguments for casual closure
    – APCoding
    Dec 5, 2016 at 2:51
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    Kant was perhaps first to realize in the context of mathemaitcal physics that causal closure, or even physical determinism, is compatible with a transcendent God. The idea can be traced back even further to medieval cosmological argument: while unbreakable causal chains exclude God intervening in them they do not exclude God producing them in their entirety, from timeless eternity. The price for this is relegating the physical world with its causal closure to a veil of appearances, and making "things in themselves" unknowable. "I had to limit reason to make room for faith", Kant wrote.
    – Conifold
    Dec 5, 2016 at 23:42
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    This is the essence of Kant's transcendental idealism, books upon books were written to explain it :)
    – Conifold
    Dec 12, 2016 at 1:59

2 Answers 2


Most theists I've read (Aquinas being one best example), reject the notion of infinite regression in causality, and note that no material object is its own cause. This implies there is a non-material (metaphysical) initial cause, which is called "God".

Many theists would also point to miraculous occurrences as contrary evidence to this stated idea of "causal closure". One may disagree with them (it sounds like you do!), but if you ask how theists think about this, they point to things like events in the life of Jesus, Moses, or Muhammad (or more recently, well-documented miraculous healings taking place in post-revolution Lourdes, France).

To be honest, from some of the names in the linked article, it seems like there might be question-begging in this principle: if one takes a materialist notion of reality, to say "physical events have to have physical causes" because there's no proof that anything contrary has ever happened pre-supposes the evidence I mentioned is wrong (which one must suppose to be wrong because physical events have to have physical causes...).

  • So causal closure has no absolute evidence, just the world as we know it seems to point to that conclusion?
    – APCoding
    Dec 12, 2016 at 1:23
  • The argument most theists use: based on the evidence from the world as we know it, no material thing is it's own cause. More debatably, theists couple this with the idea that an infinite series of causes doesn't make sense (we don't really experience this one way or the other in "just the world as we know it"). The conclusion "there is a thing that is its own cause that is not material" follows from these two. Dec 12, 2016 at 1:47
  • Ah OK. What about the idea of a "brute fact": a fact that simply is, without any reason or cause?
    – APCoding
    Dec 12, 2016 at 5:03
  • @JamesKingsbery Is there a physical cause for an electron hitting a particular position on a screen when going through a double slit experiment? I suspect such events would be "uncaused", but if so doesn't this randomness imply that there is no causal closure to physics? Feb 13, 2018 at 19:04

To repeat the question raised in the OP:

Now, if this were true, it would mean God cannot exist, because He would be metaphysical. Most theists accept that God created the world, which would be a non-physical cause for a physical concept. How do theists reply to this, given that strong arguments exist for the idea of causal closure (at least, that's what I've seen)?

According to Alvin Plantinga in Where the Conflict Really Lies (WTCRL), some theologians (he mentions in particular Rudolph Bultmann, John Macquarrie and Langdon Gilkey (WTCRL, pp 69-75)) accept the causal closure of physics to such an extent that they deny the existence of miracles although they maintain that God still created and sustains the universe. He calls this "hands-off theology" (WTCRL, page 72):

According to Bultmann, a divinely caused miracle or any other special divine action would constitute God's "interfering" in the world; and that, he says, can't happen. Bultmann's idea, shared by the others I mentioned and many others, is what we might call "hand-off theology": God creates the world and upholds it, but for the rest can't or at least doesn't act in it; he steps aside and lets it evolve according to the laws he has set for it.

This is not Plantinga's view.

He approaches the causal closure of physics by noting that even Newton "didn't accept hands-off theology" (WTCRL, page 77). Underlying causal closure is that it applies only to isolated and closed systems: "In classical physics, the great conservation laws are stated for closed and isolated systems." (WTCRL, page 78):

These principles, therefore, apply to isolated or closed systems. If so, however, there is nothing in them to prevent God from changing the velocity or direction of a particle. If he did so, obviously, energy would not be conserved in the system in question; but equally obviously, that system would not be closed, in which case the principle of conservation of energy would not apply to it. Indeed, there is nothing here to prevent God from miraculously parting the Red Sea, or changing water into wine, or bringing someone back to life, or, for that matter, creating ex nihilo a full-grown horse in the middle of Times Square.

What this shows is that the causal closure of physics is not adequate to get the conclusions of hands-off theology. One also needs determinism. (WTCRL, page 85)

What, exactly, must be added to the Newtonian picture to get the Laplacean picture? Determinism plus the causal close of the physical universe. Although this addition is not at all implied by the physics (as I said, it's a philosophical or theological assumption), it was and is widely accepted, and indeed so widely accepted that it is often completely overlooked in contexts where it is crucial.

However, this old determinism on which hands-off theology rests breaks down with the indeterminism introduced by quantum physics. At this point Plantinga dismisses hands-off theology (WTCRL, page 96):

Rudolph Bultmann, Langdon Gilkey, John Macquarrie, and their friends rejected divine intervention in the name of an eighteenth-century picture of science; many contemporary writers on religion and science also reject divine intervention--not, now, by appealing to out-moded science, but for other more obscure reasons.

To return to the original question, although some theologians based on Laplacean determinism and the causal closure of physics maintained a hands-off theology where God does not interfere even they did not assume that God did not exist because of this. With quantum physics one can today dismiss their hands-off theology as out-moded-science theology.


Plantinga, A. (2011). Where the conflict really lies: Science, religion, and naturalism. OUP USA.

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