Examples of Backwards Causation

We tend to believe that all causation is forwards; a cause must temporally precede its effect. But there are some delightful examples of at least possible backwards causation. Even if all they do is demonstrate the ridiculousness of backwards causation, they still merit our review.

  • Foreknowledge:
    • The Buddha knew how all future people will construe his teaching, so he spoke in such a way so that his teaching is received in the very best way, the way most productive of enlightenment.
    • At the moment of Creation, God surveyed the future, noticed which people will pray and wired the fulfillment of their prayers into His Plan. In this way, prayers do not compromise the integrity of the Plan.
  • Omens: If flocks of birds, constellations, tea dregs, the entrails of animals, and the like portend the future, this is not because the omen causes the portended future event. Rather, the future event causes the omen. This is the view of the Medieval Indian Buddhist thinker Prajnakaragupta (Eli Franco, page 403).
  • The Immaculate Conception: In 1854, Pope Pius IX established the doctrine in Ineffabilis Deus that, by virtue of Jesus’s sacrifice, the Virgin Mary was born without Original Sin. In other words, the Crucifixion caused sinlessness at the moment of a prior birth.
  • Pseudepigraphy: Various scriptural text and others were plausibly written long after they claim to have been written. For instance, the Book of Daniel presents itself as having been written in the sixth century BCE, but historical analysis suggests it was written in the second century BCE during the Maccabean revolt. But if the nameless second century BCE author so influenced Daniel of the fifth century to write, orthodoxy and history are harmonious.
  • Superluminal Particles: If any such faster-than-light “tachyons” exist, special relativity requires that they go back in time. So if tachyons exist, they can, in principle, influence the past.