A few notes on the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God:
We start by asking ourselves: what things need a cause?
- Anything with a beginning needs a cause
- Anything that is changeable needs a cause
- Anything that is divisible into parts needs a cause (to explain how the parts came together)
- Anything that is contingent needs a cause. (Anything that could be different to how it is now or could possibly not exist)
Does the universe needs a cause? Apparently so because:
- There is strong scientific evidence that the universe has a beginning, and
- Additionally it is contingent, changeable and divisible into parts
If the cause of the universe itself has a beginning, or is changeable etc, it too will need a cause. Since an infinity of physical things is impossible, or leads to absurdities, we need a First Cause to kick things off.
Since this First Cause has no beginning, doesn’t change, is not divisible into parts and is not contingent, not only does it not need a cause – in principle it cannot have one.
Since all material things have beginnings and are contingent, the First Cause must be immaterial.
This everyone understands to be God.
Objection: A multiverse could be the First Cause
- If the multiverse has a beginning, or is composed of parts or is contingent, it itself will need a cause
Objection: The universe could just “be”, as a causeless brute fact
The difference between God and the universe in this respect is that the universe seems to need a cause whereas God does not.
This idea of a brute fact is awful, because:
- It violates all logic. When policemen stumble across a dead body, they immediately start seeking a cause. No-one ever considers the possibility there won’t be one.
- There is nothing about the “brute fact” concept that there should only be one. So why don’t we see things popping up out of nothing all the time?
- If there is only one “brute fact”, this requires that the first matter that kicked off the universe to be “special” somehow, with some kind of magical power to cause itself.
- Overall, a horrible idea: worse than magic, because at least with magic you have a magician.
Objection: We can’t use causation logic beyond the physical universe
Because it goes beyond what we can see with our senses, using metaphysical causation logic to get a First Cause is invalid.
- Why not? Feels like an excuse to avoid dealing with the logic involved.
- Does this mean that outside the universe, logic itself breaks down somehow? Truth because false, 2+2=5?
- If the argument here is that reality in itself is different to reality as it appears to us, how do we know we can trust any human ideas.
- Many scientific theories are quite bizarre to the senses and common sense. Should we discard those also?
- When this argument is used for atheism rather than agnosticism, it assumes what it’s trying to prove. It would make more sense to use this argument to argue that if God exists, He is unknowable.
Objection: A First Cause is not the same thing as the God of any specific religion
- Is is easy to get from First Cause to a God who is immaterial, omnipresent, all-powerful, etc. One day I might edit this post to show how! Some ways to do so may be obvious to you if you think about it for a bit 🙂
- I can’t speak for other religions, but Christian philosophers have always acknowledged that while the First Cause is compatible with the Christian understanding of God, it is not possible to prove Christianity using philosophy. So if you are afraid of acknowledging the validity of cosmological arguments because you don’t want to become a Christian, relax! You don’t have to.
Objection: This doesn’t prove that God exists as it does not provide empirical evidence.
- This is a logical argument, not an empirical one and it should be evaluated on that basis.
- Science is built on logic and not the other way around.
- If it can be proved logically that God must exist, than surely He must exist, even if we do not yet have empirical evidence. This is because science cannot contradict sound logic. If you think otherwise, please design a science experiment to test that true statements are false or that 2-5=-1.
Objection: Only things that can be shown by science to exist actually exist.
- This is self-defeating: The idea that only scientific things exist cannot be shown by science itself; this idea is philosophy, not science.
- Science studies the material world. Since God is immaterial, using science to argue the non-existence of God is like using a metal detector to argue that non-metallic objects don’t exist. Simply put, science is not the right tool for the job.
- If only scientific things exist, here is a short list of things that apparently don’t exist: God, mathematics, logic, morality, consciousness, truth, abstract ideas, your sense of self, meaning (as in purpose), meaning (of words), the soul, good and evil, philosophy, beauty, free will.
Objection: Since time and space both started at the Big Bang, a cause of the Big Bang would have to be before the beginning of time, which is impossible.
- A cause of the Big Bang could be outside of the time-space continuum; perhaps in another time-space continuum or outside of any time at all.
- What makes a cause a cause is not that it comes before in time, but that it does the causing. (Apologies for lame wording here!) For example, if you had a time machine and used it to punch someone 50 years in the past, you would still be causing that punch even though you are doing it from the future.
Objection: A “block universe” would remove the need of a First Cause
If you don’t know what a block universe is, go here: Eternalism (philosophy of time)
- Assuming the “block universe” is real and therefore the universe has no beginning and doesn’t change (itself a controversial point), a first cause would still be required due to the “block universe” being contingent.
Objection: Quantum physics shows that things can come into existence without a cause
- It is true that particles come from quantum fields, but what about the fields that generate the particles?
- There is no such thing as a “scientific nothing” as “nothing” simply means “not anything”. If there isn’t anything, there isn’t anything for science to study, is there?
Objection: Radioactive decay shows that things happen without a cause
- The fact that there is a scientific theory that describes radioactive decay shows that it is not entirely random. Therefore any logic regarding causation still applies.
- What a nuclide decays to is predictable – for example uranium-234 always decays to thorium-230
- While the timing of decay of a single atom cannot be predicted, we can still measure half-lives for large numbers of atoms