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I am sure there must have been several philosophers in history who have investigated this question. However finding any specific and good research on that topic is not easy.

In our everyday life, most of us implicitly assume every event having a cause even if we do not or cannot know what the cause is. However, it seems there is no plausible case against events that have no cause at all. Or is there?

Can an event without a cause take place?

  • Is God a good example of an event without cause? – Asphir Dom Sep 10 '13 at 16:30
  • You're happy to have God as an example but not quantum mechanics? – Kenshin Sep 10 '13 at 16:35
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    I don't think God is an event. We have to distinguish events from objects / substances. – Dante Alighieri Sep 10 '13 at 19:15
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    @AsphirDom - You appear to be using a different interpretation of an event as in philosophy it denotes something that is relatively short in duration. I agree that every object exists in some sense but considering existence to be an event is a bit of a strech. Rather, existence is a process - a sequence of events. However regarding your initial proposal, please do expand your idea into an answer, it would be interesting to read why you assert that existence or genesis of god is without a cause. – Saul Sep 11 '13 at 13:16
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    Is this different from "Is it possible for something to have no cause?"? Appears to be a duplicate... – stoicfury Sep 13 '13 at 7:08
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Hume showed that empirical reality can have no cause & effect. All that can be shown is that events happen together or do not. Now, of course this means that science is not possible.

This prompted Kant to rescue science by rescuing causality. He did this by bringing in consciousness. We structure experience so that it takes place in space & time, and hence we impose causality.

In Islamic Mu'tazilite theology Allah is causeless, since he is outside of time & space - so causality makes no sense. But then He is not an event.

There are events in nature that are fundamentally random so have no precisely determined cause. For example an atom of radium decays at random.

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Yes. In quantum mechanics, a photon may be in a superposition of horizontal and vertical polarization. Now if this photon is directed towards a filter that allows only vertical light to pass through, does the photon pass through or is the photon reflected?

The answer is the photon has a 50% chance of passing through and a 50% chance of being reflected. If the photon passes through, you may say, there must have been a cause for the photon to go through. However, it has been proven that there are no hidden variables that determine whether the photon passes through or not, but rather it is a completely random choice.

Therefore some events happen without a cause.

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If a thing is eternal or infinite then sure then it would make sense for it to not have a cause. How would a thing that is supposed to have existed forever have a cause?

If the thing in question has a beginning (finite in other words)like the universe for instance then claiming it has no cause opens up an entirely new can of worms but to the question of whether a thing can have no cause my answer would be yes, if it is eternal.

PS: Yes God in the west have generally been categorized as being eternal.

  • The question is about events, not things and the difference is that events are what happen to properties of things in time. The other objection I have is that I am not sure if something having a beginning means it is finite. For example, what about the set of non-negative integers? You cannot tell which non-negative integer is the final one as there is always a bigger one - that set begins with zero but yet it has no ending. How can you identify something as finite if it has no ending? – Saul Sep 11 '13 at 13:48
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This is a very simple question if we consider possibility theory with the (new) definition of an event without a cause: an event with exactly zero factors limiting or favoring its appearance.

There are no factors influencing the possibility or necessity of the event, so they remain at zero, and thus the probability of the event remains at zero as well.

This is coherent with what we seem to observe. Random things could happen constantly but they don't seem to happen. Any event with a low probability should happen sooner or later given enough time. Why don't these things happen? Because the probability is zero, at least in the macro-world.

In the quantum-world things seem to be different, but the counterintuitiveness and the paradoxical nature of quantum physics leads to think that either ontologically the world is in a way we cannot understand or epistemologically we have not been able to understand how it really is. Which in short means that either the paradoxes are real or in our minds (due to a misleading framing).

The only event that is special in this sense is the creation of the Universe. Probability works in a different way here. We cannot speak about the half-life of nothingness to become a Universe because there is no time without a Universe. We cannot really ask how long did it take for the Universe to start existing.

  • Are you sure that probability as such can be applied to events without a cause? I mean, it does not seem correct to assign a probability to an event that has lacks any factors influencing that measure. I am fine with having the probability undecidable but remaining at zero? How did it get there in the first place? – Saul Sep 12 '13 at 18:37
  • @Saul What is the probability of a unicorn falling over your head for no reason? What is the probability of a unicorn falling over your head because it's actually a plushy that a friend threw at you? Causes always add to the probability, thus, without any cause, the probability remains at zero. – Trylks Sep 12 '13 at 20:30
  • This question is neither about unicorns nor impossible events in general but about events without a cause. Or are you saying that events without a cause are in fact impossible? My objection is that it is logically inconsistent to apply concrete probabilites to an event without a cause, except undecidable, as any concrete probability arises from causes and from causes only. Does it not? – Saul Sep 13 '13 at 11:34
  • @Saul I'm not speaking about impossible events, but events without a cause, events without a cause should happen for no reason, that means they should have no reason to happen, and that's why they don't happen. – Trylks Sep 13 '13 at 12:44
  • You seem to be assuming that every event must have a reason to happen and that is exactly the assumption I am challenging here. I am interested in the argumentation behind the assertion that every event must happen for a reason. Are there any philosophical, logical or empirical arguments that can convince us it must be so and not otherwise? – Saul Sep 13 '13 at 13:25

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