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.
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?
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’?
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.
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.