What is Occasionalism?
Occassionalism is the view that reality is composed of discrete units of matter, fundamental building blocks. The same is true of time - keep dividing time into smaller units, eventually you'll reach the smallest unit of time.
Occasionalism states every single one of these fundamental units of matter is constantly created and recreated at every single one of these fundamental points of time.
All the change in the world we see is caused by God recreating reality differently from the previous moment.
What about science?
Occasionalism explains the laws of science as God's consistent action. Laws require a lawmaker - laws are imperatives of a sovereign. That sovereign is God.
God doesn't cause things to happen randomly, but consistently. Every time paper is set on fire, God makes the paper burn.
All the laws of the universe can be understood in this way, ie as what God always does.
What about miracles?
The one exception to this is miracles, which Muslim theologians define as instances where God breaks his regular actions usually to provide evidence for prophethood.
How do you prove this?
I think these are the some of strongest arguments for occasionalism:
We never actually observe causation. We only see one thing (B) always following another thing (A). When this pattern holds consistently, even when no other variables are present, we say: A "causes" B.
So using our earlier illustration, we don't see fire "causing" paper to burn; we just see paper always starts to burn when fire is brought close to it.
The British philosopher David Hume discussed this several centuries after Muslim theologians developed the doctrine of occasionalism. For him all there is in the world around us are regularities ("consistent conjunction"); there is no need to consider causes. The problem then is it fails to explain:
(a) Why there are regularities we see, rather than other regularities. Why does paper burn when fire touches it rather than say fragment, dissolve or nothing happen?
(b) Why there are any regularities at all. Why isn't reality just in perpetual random flux or completely static?
Occasionalism answers both of these problems simply and elegantly. God acts with a consistent habit, not randomly, in accordance to his chosen rules. God is the cause of the regularities.
The fact this cause is unobservable adds weight to occasionalism - we don't observe causation, so causes must be unobservable.
Logically Necessary Link
There doesn't seem to be any logically necessary relationship between alleged causes and effects. It does not follow that paper will burn if fire touches it, in the same way '4' follows from '2+2', or 'three sides' follows from 'triangle'.
This supports occasionalism in two ways:
(a) Given we can't observe causality, nor can we deduce it logically, then it would be reasonable to assume causality is not a property. This seems to evidence causality is a property of something outside the world, i.e., God.
(b) If the relationship between a cause and an effect is not logically necessary, then it is contingent.
'Necessary' = must be the case; 'contingent' = it can be the case, but doesn't have to be.
A debatable but plausible principle that many philosophers have made is that 'a contingent fact can't explain itself, and so requires another fact(s) to explain it.'
Let's apply this to a specific example: if the relationship between a cause, 'fire touching paper', and its effect 'paper burning') is contingent, then it must be explained by another fact.
Either this fact is necessary or contingent.
- If it is necessary, then we get occasionalism. God is by definition 'the necessary existent' and is the explanation for the contingent relationship between 'fire touching paper' and 'paper burning'. Maths and logic are also arguably necessary facts, but it doesn't seem we can derive fire burning paper from either. How can relationships between symbols be sufficient to give rise to fire burning paper?
- If it is contingent, a further explanation for this fact is required. If this explanation is a necessary fact, then once again, we get God - and the question is raised, why did we need this intermediary contingent fact? It seems more plausible to suppose there wasn't any intermediary contingent fact, and thus we get occasionalism.
But what if it is posited that rather than an immediate necessary fact, or a chain or one or more intermediate contingent facts terminating in a necessary fact, the explanation for the relationship is an infinite chain of contingent facts? There seem to be three flaws with this view:
(a) Infinite regresses may be impossible. There are a whole number of paradoxes associated with them.
(b) Even if they are possible, surely it's simpler and more elegant to posit one necessary fact rather than an infinite number of contingent facts. Why should we choose an infinitely long explanation for why paper burns, when a short and simple one would do?
(c) An infinite chain of contingent facts would still require an explanation: why is there an infinite chain of facts rather than no facts at all?; and why is there this specific chain rather than any one of the infinitely many other possible chains there could have been?
It therefore seems even an infinite chain of contingent facts would require a necessary fact. It makes sense to eliminate intermediaries and adopt the necessary fact.
It seems more plausible to suppose God directly caused the paper to burn than God caused it with infinitely many steps along the way.
A common principle used in every discipline is 'Ockham's razor'. This states that when two theories are otherwise equally good, you should go for the "simpler" or more "elegant" one.
There is nothing more simple and elegant than explaining all causality only in terms of the existence of matter and God.
We don't need to posit any essences, teloses, formal/material/efficient/final Aristotelian causes, dispositions, powers, Platonic forms, monads, substances, minds, wills, ontologically existing "laws of nature" rather than the regularities we call "laws", or whatever else rival theories of causality posit.
An Omnipotent and Immediate God
This argument is only relevant to theists, whereas the others establish the plausibility of occasionalism per se, and thus would provide some evidence to the atheist that God exists.
On occasionalism, there is nothing alongside God's power, no forms or essences or wills or anything else in that above list.
Nor is there anything between God and creation, it's all the direct product of His will, at every point in space, at every point in time.
In Ghazali's words,
"there is nothing in existence save God and His acts".
If, as Anselm claims,
"God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived"
then it seems God must be occasionalist. Any other conception of God would not be as powerful or immediate.
This then concludes what I beleive are the four strongest arguments for occasionalism.
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