Some time after reading the heptillionth claim that causal axioms are invalidated by Quantum Mechanics, I was suddenly struck by the fact that the claim is a refutation of a position no one believes. Take the last exchange between Drs. Oerter and Feser, where Oerter is trying to refute the causal axiom of the First Way:
[O]ver the last hundred years, physicists have discovered systems that change from one state to another without any apparent physical “trigger.” These systems are described by quantum mechanics.
The simplest such system is the hydrogen atom. It’s just an electron bound to a proton. Two particles – that’s about as simple as you can get. According to QM, the electron can occupy one of a discrete set of energy levels. The electron can be excited to a higher energy level by absorbing a photon…
When you first encounter this, you can’t quite wrap your brain around it. Surely there must be some internal mechanism, some kind of clock, that ticks along and finally “goes off,” causing the transition!
But no such mechanism has ever been found. QM has had an unexcelled record of accurate predictions, without any need for such a mechanism…
This is a nifty refutation of Einstein or David Bohm (at least so long as neither decided to raise too many questions) but it is baffling that anyone would take it as a refutation of St. Thomas or Aristotle. For that matter, it’s strange to assume that even Einstein – or even the most doctrinaire determinist like Laplace – would assume that there was a cause for absolutely everything. For example, Laplace would certainly posit causes for why Jupiter was at perihelion and for why I ate a tangerine, but he need not posit any third coordinating cause that links the two together. The mind can consider any number of events as one, and thereby make them one event, but to do so does not require that there be any connecting cause. There is an infinite amount of events that have no cause at all: just look around the room and ask yourself why the first two things you see are the way they are at the same time
I got “my son is watching a kid’s cartoon and the end table is brown”. But what is the cause of cartoon-watching-in-a-room-with-brown-tables? Who can doubt it is a contingent reality? But all contingent beings are caused by another! Therefore etc. QED.
Nonsense. There is no cause of chance events, at least not in the sense of chance spoken of here, i.e. the unum per accidens. That said, we can certainly learn some things about the accidental through laws of probability. Someone out there has doubtless figured out the probability that my end table is brown, and some TV executive has almost certainly figured out the probability that my son would be watching cartoons. We could manipulate these probabilities any number of ways, and predict the probability that they would occur in other places. Casino owners, insurance companies, weather forecasters, mortgage lenders and any number of professions deal with these accidental unities all the time even though there is no causal unity underneath the facts one is interested in. One can speak of laws of probability and even make predictions from them without positing any causal mechanism (deterministic or otherwise) that explains the realities one is speaking of. This is hardly surprising: people tend to forget that the whole reason we switched to giving accounts in terms of Laws is because we became skeptical of our ability to find causes. Seen from this angle, laws of probability might count as better examples of laws of nature.
IOW, if all “Quantum weirdness” comes to is that some events happen by chance and we can have no more than a probabilistic understanding of them, then it’s hard to see what the fuss is about. There is literally an infinite amount of things outside of the Quantum realm that happen in the same way. So Oerter wants to be amazed that there is no physical trigger to explain the emission of a photon? Big deal. There is no physical trigger that explains… (looking around) why I finished this post while my daughter’s picture of a flower hung under the clock.