It is often claimed that radioactivity, virtual particles popping in and out of existence, quantum mechanics, etc have no causes. That at the level of fundamental physics, causes and effects are nowhere to be seen. Things just do. Not because of causes, but because the natural state of affairs is to keep doing what they were doing. There is no external influence

"Nothing begins to exist. Nothing causes anything to exist or do what they do. Everything is a mere re-arrangement of pre-existing material that does what it does" for instance

Is there a philosophy of science that argues causation exists and everything has a cause and why?

  • Causality doesn't require that anything "begins to exist"--one of the major inspirations for the ancient Greek philosophy of atomism was that it avoided this problem by imagining all the objects of ordinary life as just varying arrangements of eternally-existing atoms, but many atomists were also determinists about the motions of atoms (how their relative positions changed over time), and in that sense believed in causality. In modern thought there are also philosophers like Russell who accept determinism but dispute that lawlike behavior fits traditional notions of "causality".
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 18:39
  • @hypnosifl so what's the opposite of atomism? Like things beginning to exist despite being varying arrangements of atoms
    – ActualCry
    Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 21:56
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    Any philosophy of science denying the existence of brute fact will do. Bell’s theorem of inequalities only implies issues of the classic “local causality” hidden variable theories many people hoped for such as Einstein. There’re other “global hidden variable” theories attempts… Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 22:00
  • A philosophy w/ a realist attitude to natural kinds at macro scales (as opposed to fundamental particles) has to say there is an objective truth about whether an instance of a given kind is present somewhere, so for ex. if they see living organisms as natural kinds they would have to believe in some moment when a new organism comes into existence--one such philosophy is Aristotle's hylomorphism which says "substances" are unions of form and matter, & that new substances can come into existence, see faculty.washington.edu/smcohen/320/archange.htm
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 22:11
  • 'Is the idea of a causal chain physical (or even scientific)?' philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/70930/…
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Jun 12, 2022 at 7:49

1 Answer 1


Causality (ie claiming effects have causes) is not identical to determinism (ie effects are uniquely defined by causes in one-to-one manner).

Causality can co-exist with indeterminism proper, at least in the sense that causes limit the set of possible outcomes and/or provide constraints which the possible outcomes must satisfy and provide a drive towards a set of possible outcomes. So, even though which outcome is finally realized is open, it is bound to be from this set of outcomes, circumscribed and driven by these causes.

Thus we can easily claim that effects have causes even though there might be indeterminacies involved.

Example: radioactive decay may be spontaneous, but atomic bombs do not blow up in our faces everyday. There have to be some prerequisites in place that guide spantaneous decay to create the bomb. These are the causes for the bomb, even though decay is spontaneous.

You may be interested in:

Indeterminism, causality and information: Has physics ever been deterministic?

A tradition handed down among physicists maintains that classical physics is a perfectly deterministic theory capable of predicting the future with absolute certainty, independently of any interpretations. It also tells that it was quantum mechanics that introduced fundamental indeterminacy into physics. We show that there exist alternative stories to be told in which classical mechanics, too, can be interpreted as a fundamentally indeterministic theory. On the one hand, this leaves room for the many possibilities of an open future, yet, on the other, it brings into classical physics some of the conceptual issues typical of quantum mechanics, such as the measurement problem. We discuss here some of the issues of an alternative, indeterministic classical physics and their relation to the theory of information and the notion of causality.

P.S As you may read in above attachment, indeterminism provides the context for attaching meaning to causality, which in determinism is either trivial or non-existent alltogether.

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    Indeterminacies are definitely involved. Unlike in determinism, causes in reality never determine their effects with absolute accuracy. Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 16:54
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    @PerttiRuismäki Perhaps, but we don't know that. The quantum wavefunction itself is actually completely deterministic; under the many-worlds interpretation, all randomness is an illusion.
    – causative
    Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 17:05
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    You can say what you will, but in reality there is no such thing as absolute accuracy. We live in a world of averages and approximations. Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 18:16
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    @PerttiRuismäki A distinction must be made between approximations humans have to make, due to our limitations, and the true nature of reality.
    – causative
    Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 19:30
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    The Schrödinger equation does not deal with definite values. It is only about probabilistic wavefunctions. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle makes infinite precision impossible. Commented Jun 12, 2022 at 7:29

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