Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Argument Against Any Cosmological Argument

I’m convinced that the cosmological argument is the most convincing argument for God among the least skeptical people. This is speculation on my part, but it is informed speculation. Let’s look at the argument.
  1. Everything that exists has a cause of its existence.
  2. The universe exists.
  3. The universe has a cause of its existence.
  4. If the universe has a cause of its existence, then that cause is God.
  5. God exists.
This form of the argument is laughable. The conclusion of (5) makes God subject to (1) which begs the question who or what created God? It doesn’t answer the question of First Cause thereby making it pointless. Many theists realize this and have tweaked the argument to avoid criticism...or tried to.

Kalam cosmological argument
  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
This argument takes into account the Big Bang Theory, giving weight to premise (2). (I must say that it bothers me that many theists only find the science that could support their beliefs compelling while finding the rest somehow erroneous) I could argue that (1) is an assumption, but based on experience, it seems correct. William Lane Craig throws in his two cents with a sub argument.

Argument based on the impossibility of an actual infinite:
  1. An actual infinite cannot exist.
  2. An infinite temporal regress of events is an actual infinite.
  3. Therefore, an infinite temporal regress of events cannot exist.
I imagine WLC is attempting to make the argument stronger in regards to God as First Cause, but claiming that an infinite can not exist makes God, who relies on infinities in a variety of ways, nonexistent. If God cannot exist infinitely into the past, he is not eternal and subject to the necessity of a cause according to this vary argument.

Then we have...
Thomistic cosmological argument
  1. What we observe in this universe is contingent (i.e. dependent, or conditional)
  2. A sequence of causally related contingent things cannot be infinite
  3. The sequence of causally dependent contingent things must be finite
Leibnizian cosmological argument
  1. Every existing thing has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
  2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God
  3. The universe is an existing thing.
  4. Therefore the explanation of the universe is God.
Which can be tied together to be...
  1. Every finite and contingent being has a cause.
  2. A causal loop cannot exist.
  3. A causal chain cannot be of infinite length.
  4. Therefore, a First Cause (or something that is not an effect) must exist.
If your cosmological argument of choice isn’t here, I’m not surprised. The apologist presents whichever form has help up the best under criticism, which speaks more to the quality of religious debates in their past than the quality of the argument. Ultimately they all rest on the same assumptions–that the universe needs a cause and that the cause must be God. If you define God as simply the thing that causes the universe, then I freely admit that God could exist, but most define God as an agent possessing will/intellect/personality/and the like, which is a definition unwarranted by every cosmological argument.

The arguments also suffer from a fundamental misunderstanding of the universe. The Big Bang Theory, which lends weight to the claim that the universe even had a beginning, involves space and time’s origin as well. Ask a layperson to describe the Big Bang and you’ll likely hear about an explosion in space from which all matter and energy came forth to eventually form stars, planets, etc. I would guess this misconception draws the ignorant to the First Cause arguments. The scientific consensus is that space/time exploded outward with the matter and energy that eventually formed the universe. Scientists determined this, in part, from observations of celestial bodies drifting apart, marking the predicted expansion of space. The repercussions of this accurate understanding of the Big Bang Theory means that time began at the moment of the effect (the Big Bang) leaving no time for the cause. This leaves the apologist with the task of weighing which counter-intuitive statement is more logical--that every effect must be preceded by a cause or that anything can precede the arrow of time. It’s quite the chronological conundrum...that somehow doesn’t bother theists that much.

I’m not sure “logical” is the operable word here. At the first moment of the Big Bang, and therefore time, everything that would become the universe was a singularity, or something close to it. At this size it was subject to the strangeness that is quantum mechanics. While scientists don’t yet have clear explanations for everything we observe at the quantum level, we have repeated and repeatable results that inform particle/wave duality, the uncertainty principle, super positioning and all kinds of other phenomenon that most everyone would say seems impossible if they don't see it with their own eyes and instruments. Some of these phenomenon even open possibilities that may violate causality and the arrow of time. I look forward to having my mind further blown as humanity hashes this all out.


  1. I hadn't seen all of these different forms of the Cosmological Argument before. There is a certain attractive logical simplicity to these arguments. But, like you say, there are a lot of assumptions built in, and some conundrums.

    I marvel at the logical leap that must be made with the Cosmological Argument that the god it reveals is the God of the Bible.

    I also get a kick out of the nature of the argument itself, in that a theist is trying to convince a non-theist that a perfectly loving, benevolent God exists by going all the way back to the origin of the universe as opposed to being able to cite explicit and obvious examples in our everyday lives, because those examples don't exist! :-)

  2. Awesome post Grundy. I very much like the way you described the various versions of the cosmological argument. It is also worth pointing out that I have found many theists to jump from one argument to another or pick and choose parts from each argument in the same debate. This shows me two things, first, they don't really understand the cosmological arguments and second, they really do not understand the science behind modern cosmology.

    The last thing that I want to say, is that I am glad you pointed out that argument's such as Craig's pretty much argue the idea of the Christian god out of existence, or at best, do nothing to show that Yahweh is the god in question. Even if we were to tell the theist, "ok you are right, god did it"...they are still no closer to proving their specific god.

  3. It's nonsensical to speak of "causality" occurring beyond space and time, making it some sort of "non-physical" or "supernatural" causality. Well, okay. What the hell is supernatural causality? How does it work? Why, if it's not bound by the laws of the physical universe, would it work anything like observable causality? And how do we even know it exists?

    Problem is, the argument requires supernatural causality to exist. A more accurate form would be:

    1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause to its existence, which may be either natural or supernatural

    .... which is clearly begging the question. Maybe supernatural causality does exist, but it's speculative. And you can't use speculative things in the premise of a logical proof.

  4. Great post grundy.

    There are a whole bunch of problems with cosmological arguments, but as a mathematician, the whole "infinity is impossible" part of them drives me crazy. WLC (and others) only prove that they don't understand infinity when they try to make these arguments. They will say that there can't be an infinite number of causes into the past, and the short answer is that there can be so long as there is also an infinite amount of time. Basically, the 2 infinities can cancel each other out.

    Not that being confused by infinities is a big deal, you can get to some pretty crazy stuff even if you stick to the smallest kind of infinity (just look up the hilbert hotel). But I really hate it when people try to say infinity proves their point when it absolutely does not.

  5. I've always wondered why there couldn't be infinite causes given infinite time. The cancelling out of infinities is a good way of explaining how it is possible. It's been a while since my last math class.

  6. Yes, they need to prove the supernatural exists before they can say a supernatural cause exists.

  7. Yeah, the complaints are usually along the lines of "if there are an infinite number of causes how could we ever get to the present?" The thing is, with infinite time there is no problem. When I challenge them, they usually say something that doesn't really make sense.

    The source of the problem sometimes lies in how they answer the following question: What is infinity minus infinity? The answer is anything. Depending on what you mean by each infinity, you can make the answer to this question any number, including infinity or negative infinity.

  8. Also you have to consider the possibility of the universe's origin under the B-theory of time, which states that the past, present and future are all equally real. Therefore, space-time would be like a 4 dimensional block in which the "beginning" isn't truly a beginning, it's really just an end point, much like how on a ruler, the ruler doesn't begin to exist on the 1 MM mark, that's just it's end point.