The twelve basic arguments for god #5: The Cosmological Argument

PREVIOUS BASIC ARGUMENT…

The cosmological argument runs like this:

The universe must have had a beginning, and the Big Bang theory even proves that it does, and if time began, only a personal being could have begun it (a natural cause would nullify the argument).

To set it up syllogistically…

1.  Whatever begins to exist has a cause
2.  The universe began to exist
3.  Therefore the universe has a cause

The above is the Kalam Cosmological Argument, and it has been run through the shredder by philosophers repeatedly.  William Lane Craig, one of the champions of Christian apologetics, loves this argument (it is through him that most Christians who advance this argument came across it).

Let’s dive in… 

Did our universe begin?

Yes, it did, at the Big Bang.  But what can we deduce from this fact?  If time and space did not begin to exist before the Big Bang, then there was no time for god to do anything and no space for him to exist and do anything in.  If there was time and space before the Big Bang, then even if we had no idea what came before the Big Bang, that doesn’t mean that god is the automatic winner.  The academically honest thing to do would be to admit ignorance until we do know.  However, we are slowly crawling our way past Planck’s Wall.

The problem is that we can’t reliably see what happens before the Big Bang at this time.  We can do just fine at T=+10^-43 (the smallest fraction of a second after the Big Bang, also called a Planck Unit.  Go here to get a decent grasp of how big a Planck Unit is), but at T=0 we’re required to do a lot of division by zero, which means physicists are kind of hosed when it comes to figuring out what happened there.  This means that going after T<0 is downright impossible given the math we presently have to work with.

However, this may be changing.  Recently with Loop Quantum Gravity, we have produced workable models that do take us back to T=0 and reveal a universe before ours that condensed and bounced back out (New Scientist; 7/7/2007, Vol. 194 Issue 2611, p16-16, 1/2p).  Another feasible explanation for what occurred before T=0 is Brane Theory (AIP Conference Proceedings; 2004, Vol. 743 Issue 1, p410-416, 7p).

All pre-Big Bang ideas are still being tested, but that’s the whole point – they can be tested.  They all predict certain ways that the early universe would behave that can be compared to observable reality.  Take multiverse theory, for instance.  Did you know that when you smash atoms together in a reactor it produces the same ratio of particles every single time?  Did you also know that we have established that the ratio of particles produced by the Big Bang is the same ratio as when we smash atoms?  This suggests that a Big Bang type of event is naturally what happens when enough matter is crushed under enough pressure (like, say, in the trillions of black holes in the universe).  Of course, since nothing can escape a black hole, these events would have to occur inward into another pocket of space-time (hence “multiverse”).  If this system is true, the universe could very well be infinitely old.

So even though our universe began, there are far more plausible explanations in terms of science than a god.

Infinite regression

This is often used to establish that our universe had a beginning without the theist realizing that it favors a naturalistic outcome.  The idea here is that if you assume that everything has a cause then you get into a regression of asking what caused x?  What caused the thing that caused x?  What caused the thing that caused the thing that caused x?  And so on and so forth.  Eventually you just get to the point where you say that this regression goes on forever, which they’ll say is impossible, or that something simply always existed.

Now if we take the second conclusion, that something always existed, why does that lead to god?  We know that the universe produces amazingly complex order all by itself with no appeal to god being necessary.  So if something always existed, why not matter and the laws of physics?  This would be even more probable since we know those things to exist already.  If we get it down to a conclusion that something always existed, either god who created matter and the laws of physics, or just matter and the laws of physics, Occam’s Razor makes god a superfluous variable and the latter explanation more probably true.

Does everything that exists have a cause?
No.

This is the very first premise of the cosmological argument and it is advanced on the idea that it is plainly perceptible through common sense.  One should note though, that it is precisely that type of reasoning that suggests the Earth is flat or that stars only exist at night.

Physical events at the subatomic level are observed to have no evident cause.  Examples include an atom at an excited energy level dropping to a lower level and emitting a photon and the decay of a radioactive nucleus.  In fact, the majority of an atom, the building blocks of matter, are a matter of virtual particles fluctuating in and out of existence without any apparent cause.  And if our current experiments with the LHC turn out the way we think they will, it will mean have even larger implications on things occurring without perceptible causation.  These type of things are the whole reason we have acquired a very firm understanding of probabilistic causes using statistical distributions of possible outcomes.

So why does science operate under cause and effect?  Because at the macro level this is how things work, even if they don’t at the quantum level.  Our inability to combine general relativity with quantum mechanics has been the main problem keeping science from marching past Planck’s wall.  Even Einstein himself tried to reconcile the two and failed.  It is as a solution to this conundrum that Loop Quantum Gravity was conceived.

Could a universe come from ‘nothing’?

Yes.

The theist often asks the pointed question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”  The easy response is, “Why is non-existence a more natural state than existence?” or “Why is there a god rather than nothing?”

Now take a moment and think about ‘nothing’.  Does it have qualities?  If nothing has qualities, doesn’t that make it a something?  Physicists therefore tend to define nothing as “as simple as you can get.”  But we know that simplicity is unstable in this universe, naturally moving towards complexity.  Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek took this through to its natural conclusion by saying, “The answer ot the ancient question ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ would then be that ‘nothing’ is unstable.”  In short, the natural state of things is to have something rather than nothing.

What’s more, in a no boundary universe, physicists have calculated the odds of something existing rather than nothing, and it is over 60% (Stenger, The Comprehensible Cosmos, supplement H.).

For a full explanation on the nature of nothing and why our universe could originate from nothing, watch this lecture by leading cosmological physicist Lawrence Krauss.

Outro

The first premise of the cosmological argument, that everything which comes into existence has a cause, is not true.  The whole argument crumbles after that.

I realize that science is counter-intuitive at times.  It’s important to understand that our newest, most exhilarating ideas are derived using the same methods that you trust to make your cell phone work or to make airplanes fly.  You likely do not understand the laws of electromagnetism operant in making your computer monitor work, but you realize that the experts do.  Yet, for the believer, they stop trusting the same experts when it comes to cosmology, often in deference to what a group of people ignorant of almost all human discovery decided to scribble down in the desert thousands of years ago.  This misappropriation of trust seems, for lack of a better word, miraculous.

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  • Rich Chappell

    Excellent article.

    I came across an interesting website that also covers this topic while I was researching arguments against the book “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist”. It’s at http://www.kellanstec.com/faithatheist.html. You may not agree with everything the guy says, and it’s five years old so perhaps out of date, but it’s a fun read if you have a couple of hours of free time. It’s done in a refreshing format.

    • tdm

      Several thoughts here to share:
      1. Very interesting and thought provoking arguments. Surely the debate points made here show the lack of evidence to support one idea/theory over another.
      2. There is compelling evidence (or rather the the lack of evidence ) for proving with a result far less than 100% accurate and truthful that regarding the orgin and the behavior or matter, time, gravity, electromagnitism, or even space (or nothing) in the now, or in the past (or anything at all, to be precise) *we just don’t know all of it*. Science has not concluded this work and it is unlikely to prove these things any time soon, or to make these knowns understandable and practical to most lessor men. It is possible, probable even, that these answers will never be known. Or said another way, when they do become known, few people will understand the result and the use of the information. And obviously religion has failed in a more serious fundamental way by ignoring to take up the task, or to even discuss them or even intelligently (rather, opposes such responsibilties for reasons, the author here has correctly identified). The latter group represents the majority of humans. The former, a very small contigent of intellects. This is a natural problem and intellectual divide that ANY future (and past) discovery and proof and evidence will only become more distinct. There really is no solution for this intellectual divide. As the current pace of discovery of more profound and difficult to understand scientific information and products accelerates, so to will the divide between that group that understands the “new code”, and those that cannot. My intuition tends to predict that over time, more people will cling to religious ideas, that will become even more “primative”, than today. It is a natural problem. Most of this problem cannot be solved with education. Most of the problem is rooted in ability..and then desire. Religion does not promote either very well. (nor do most educational centers). And even if this were different, I believe the problem would still exist and the divide would wides, simply because the new future science will belong to an exclusive class of humans, as it has throughout history. And that class is rare and extraordinary.
      3. My own theory that helps to explain why humans are drawn to religion and to oppose science or other evidenced based reasoning skills is simple:
      poverty of intelligence. (lack of opportunity and training and information: all leads to no interest in discovery or confidence in testing anything)
      real limits on human capacity (genetics or whatever you want to call it…gifts…chance even?)
      and then there is the realized bliss of accepting no real challenges, which is really a reflection of character, specifically, of courage and discipline.
      4. Now, on to the social benefits of religion/spirituality and the associated rejection of scientific methods/efforts.
      I will put forward some simple observations:
      a. it is favorable to a scientific world to have a majority of uninformed humans uncarring and skeptical. It prevents the outstanding work from being directly polluted by the unskilled ideas and effort of fools!
      b. religion and spirituality based believers are more than likely naturally immoral, anti-social, as individuals. I don’t know this, but I suspect it based on experience. These groups of people do however, adhere, for the most part, to a group think that tends toward ethical and moral behavior. And that is a good thing. I can’t really imagine what kind of society and malfunctions would occur if this majority did not believe in anything. It would be a more dangerous world, in my humble opinion (than it already is). In a way, we should be comforted to know they seek some kind of higher standards, even though it is clear, it is incomplete, and probably only a grand illusion. It could have been that (if events and the subsequent belief structures that evolved where to be very different) to witness a very dangerous and difficult world for science people to co-occupy in the same time and space. This is not a support for religion and spirituality, but just a dose of reality. While it has certainly been a very slow and painful process for science to venture far away and ahead of previous time where “heretic” ideas were commonly met with grave ends, we are witnessing a time where more tolerance is present. The future of science looks healthy, and this is a good thing. (although, admittedly, I believe this is direct result of R&S humans simply having little understanding (and interest) in the progress of science.
      c. I believe, however, that the activity of science could be perceived by a remaining R&S perspective in the future to be public enemy number one. When science continues, for example, to be exploited as a means to produce more dangerous weapons, or shifts world powers, or when personal freedoms and privacy issues are at stake and science and technology enable those crimes, many humans (and their favourite government officials, whether true or feigned) will take aim at science ..and for good reasons. There is a historical background that most humans identify with, where they regard science as evil. Most do not distinguish the science from the weapons that are engineered, using it. I suppose that is common sense at work, although technically and rationally speaking, we know the difference is vast! Science will always have that stigma to most humans. They fear it , not simply because it opposes their axiomatic dogmatic R&S viewpoint, but they fear it because it represents a threat to their lives. I don’t know how science will square that future conundrum, or it is even possible. However, In my opinion, beyond even the problem science presents to the god believer, the weapons industry and military funding sources, do not lend science as a friend of the earth. This is the general perception, and this needs to be solved. Or at the very least, a great effort to distinguish, how future science will qualify its moraly responsibility as it progresses new discoveries and inventions…and ideas.
      d. For all generations, there is a technology, cultural, and philosophical divide. This appears to rapidly prononnced within each generation. The one area of human relationship that is dependable is passing on god myths and “faith”. In a strange way, it works to keep families, children and their parents loyal to common goals and community cohesiveness. It is certainly not perfect. It is one of many ways that families and communities relate and trust each other. With ideas that support a higher sense of purpose and service to one another. I have been reading a great deal about the decline of the family unit. Single parents. Unsupervised youth. Etc. In communities that exhibit standardized belief structures with moral rules (religious based), there is clear statistics these communities do not have levels of poverty compared to other that do not share those behaviors. I am not suggesting that church going communities is the best way to model families to best results, but I do not know of a working alternative that is practical right now. It would not be possible for communities for example, to convert to some other social improvinf behavior that has the “bite and grip” than what we find in those than rever religious rules of behavior. I can’t think of a better way for those that are not going to be involved in other more sophisticated methods (and reasons) than to simply perform how they were trained and indoctrinated by their parents. Any experiment to fall away from that model, in my opinion, has given rise to the problems of disintegrating family unit (and all of the problems we witness associated with that change).
      summary: science and Religion/Spirituality are notequaly partners..never will be. each has a special place..and fits a special purpose. Science gets reminded how to avoid placing faith on ideas, without evidence and testing, by the proof of such folly of the religious. Religious get the benefits of new technology from science, but also have a real fear of the science and technology, because it represents a real threat. Science people derive freedom and liberty by accepting the unknown as unknowable and frankly stating it, just as it is. Religious become desperate and fearful at the notion, and the reality, that science describes that most part of their lives thus far, they have been wrong, both in what they believe…and the way in which they think, is seriously flawed.
      ironcically, both science and religous people are more than likely equally incorrect in both departments. As over the last five hundred years ago, compared to now, has proved false almost all science and religious facts.
      So also, will tomorrow and five hundred years from now, prove how badly we were mistaken about our best guesses.
      I’ll take science because I want to know more. I’ll take religion because having a community to depend on, no matter what, is just as important and practical than knowledge.
      I think that is how most people think about it.
      ps. I do believe in god. I don’t know why precisely. But when I pray to god, I feel peace…assurance. And when I do this in church, I see that peace and joy among my friends and family. I really can’t make it more simple than that. I binds us together..The experience (deluded or not), is definitely special and important. When I read thought provoking science and new ideas, I am also at peace. But it is a private joy. Not one, I can share with the same group, without it resulting in a pitiful argument about drawing lines.
      I can live in both worlds. I choose both.
      It makes me happy. and if god exists, which I belive god does exist, I don’t believe science offends him one bit. After all, this is a god that gave us free will…to choose. even, if that choice we make does not include a god, or makes a mistake about the concept altogether. I can’t imagine a god that allow for free will and then demand a single choice and no other. The contradiction otherwise would be ….ridiculous (a view not equally share by my family and community believers, btw..this one, I keep to myself..sort of …lol
      peace,
      tdm

  • Lisa

    Hmmm thanks for yet another very interesting post. Where do you find your inspiration for all this :| ?

  • Chase

    What a great resource!