Cosmological Arguments for God

Why the Various Cosmological Arguments for god Fail

Belief_SystemLargePerhaps the most common arguments for the existence of a god are the various cosmological and teleological arguments.  Today, I want to address the cosmological arguments.  I will get to the teleological arguments sometime in the future.  For further reading, let me suggest that you check out Grundy’s work(s) on the subject, which you can find on his blog Deity Shmeity or just click this link.  Cephus from Bitchspot also has a great article on the subject which you can read here.

There are various forms of the cosmological arguments for god.  The most basic is:

  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.
    Therefore:
  5. God exists.

Educated theists do not usually employ this version of the argument.  The reason can be found in premise 1.  If everything that exists needs a cause, then what caused god?  This leaves them scratching their heads.  After much head scratching, they will return with the Kalam Cosmological Argument.  This argument has been made popular (again) by famed apologist William Lane Craig.  It works better than the above because it accounts for the Big Bang and some fancy math on infinities.  This is ironic as it originated in the Muslim world in the 9th century.  Anyway, it reads as follows:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
  4. If the universe has a cause of its existence, then that cause is God.
  5. God exists

This is the version of the cosmological argument that is most common and the one that I would like to deal with today.  Please realize that the scope of this blog post cannot possibly cover all of the aspects of this argument.  That would require a book length treatment.  I mean simply to highlight some of the more common objections and problems with the argument.   There are a few other formulations of the cosmological argument which I do not have time to deal with here today.  They are the Leibnizian and Thomistic Cosmological Arguments.  It is worth nothing that they generally fail for the same reasons as Kalam.  This going to be a long post, for those of who you want the short “Cliff’s Note’s” version, skip to the end, where I write a brief summary.

The Kalam cosmological argument attempts to correct the problem we find in the original formulation of the argument above.  It simply adds the word “begin” to premise 1.  While no one today would disagree that our universe had a beginning, we know precious little about how that occurred.  We also know of nothing that “began to exist” without a cause.  William Lane Craig then launches into a whole series of (poor) math about infinities.  This can best be summed up in a syllogism that I am going to copy from Deity Shmeity:

  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.

We find arguments that use Herbert’s Hotel, and infinite lines, and counting backwards, and all sorts of other things that are designed simply to fool those who are not astute mathematicians.  Here is the problem, most people who get math will tell you that Craig has most of his arguments incorrect.  I am not going to get into that today because, in truth, it is irrelevant.  The entire discussion of his math is just a side-show, a distraction technique from the real issue at hand—god and vocabulary.

Craig, and others who employ this argument state that the universe cannot be infinite.  Okay, fine, let us say we grant them that (though we need not do so, again, it is irrelevant).  The natural next question to ask would be, “Wouldn’t god also need to be finite?”  This is where the theist will smile and tell you, “No”.  They will tell you that only things that “began” to exist need a cause and cannot be infinite.  God, did not “begin” to exist, therefore he needs no cause, and is in fact infinite!  You will also often hear theists point out that only “material” things need a cause or must be finite and that since god is “immaterial” he needs no cause and can be infinite.  In short, you will get all sorts of wild answers explaining why “god” is the exception to this rule.  This of course assumes a great deal of unwarranted claims to be true.  There of course is zero evidence for anyone to think that an immaterial god exists and is eternal.  A leap of faith, has been made.  Simply because we do not know what caused the Big Bang, the theist wishes to insert his specific god into that spot.  This is logically fallacious—it is an “argument from ignorance”, and in truth, the entire Kalam cosmological argument can be dismissed at this point. (Though there are many more objections, so please keep reading).  This is also where the vocabulary comes in.  One does not need to understand complex math to understand the following:  The theist just spent a great deal of time explaining why infinities cannot exist. Then, in the next breath, he/she just posited this creator/god as infinite.  It simply does not work, no matter how hard the theist tries to wiggle out of this self-created dilemma.

From the start, in premise 1 of the Kalam argument, we see that it is logically fallacious.  It, by its nature, is nothing more than a fancy argument of “special pleading”.  We have already discussed that we know precious little about the start of the universe.  We know nothing about what/when existed prior to the Big Bang.  With the Big Bang, it was not just matter that was created, but also space-time.  There is no “prior” to the universe that can be coherent to us at this point in our knowledge.  However, the theist is making an argument for exactly that—coherency prior to space-time.  They are positing a sentient being/agent existing prior to the Big Bang that is all powerful and infinite.  How in the world could they possibly know such a thing?  The answer is that they cannot, no matter how much they want to philosophize this being into existence.  As previously stated, we have almost no knowledge of things prior to the Big Bang.  We certainly do not have the knowledge of an infinite sentient agent!

This is where the special pleading comes in.  The theist is quite happy to tell us that everything that begins to exist needs a cause and that nothing can be finite—except for the premise (god) that they are trying to prove with this argument.  It is completely and utterly fallacious to make this argument, for all of the reasons pointed to above.

The Kalam argument is also guilty of the logical fallacy of False Dilemma.  It assumes that we must have a cause that is infinite, powerful, and has agency or we would not be here.  These are not the only two choices.  There are many hypotheses out there that could show us how our universe originated naturally from nothing.  Some hypotheses that propose a natural solution to our problem are Quantum Tunneling hypothesis, Black Hole hypothesis, Multiverse or Bubble hypothesis, the Oscillating Universe hypothesis, the Ekpyrotic Model, and all sorts of others dealing with quantum mechanics.  It is also important to note that we have no idea if there are all sorts of infinite “things” prior to the Big Bang.  Perhaps some of these things are not sentient at all.  Perhaps they are an “energy”, or perhaps the “nothingness” is also governed by some laws of physics that insist it must create stuff (there is a good deal of work being done on just that premise).    The fact of the matter is that the choices are not “god” or “nothing”.

This argument is also a Fallacy of Composition.  The very first premise, “everything that begins to exist has a cause” is simply not a proven statement.  Just because everything within our universe that begins to exist needs a cause, does not mean that the universe itself needs a cause.  We know nothing about “before the Big Bang”.  (In fact using the word “before” is a bit silly as time did not yet exist, but it is a useful word for this discussion).  Perhaps, the universe did not need a cause at all.  We simply do not know.  What we do know is that assuming knowledge of this sort (needing a cause) is unwarranted.  It is something that the theist is doing/philosophizing, while science is quite okay with accepting the truth—“we don’t yet know”.  (It is worth pointing out that modern cosmology has some ideas that “nothingness” would be unstable and would need to “create”, though these ideas are not yet proven).

The Kalam Cosmological argument fails the test of Occam’s razor.  We do not need to posit an incredibly complex, infinite, non-material, omnipotent, sentient agent as a creator.  We have the potential for much simpler answers.

So to sum up, the Kalam Cosmological argument fails for a few reasons.

  1. It is a Fallacy of Argument from Ignorance.  We do not know what caused the Big Bang, or what existed/did not exist prior to the Big Bang.  The theist cannot simply insert his version of a deity into that spot.  There is no evidence to warrant this.
  2. It is a Fallacy of Special Pleading.  It argues against “uncaused” beginnings and infinities, yet claims the answer to creation of our universe is an “uncaused and infinite” being who just so happens to look just like their god.  There is no evidence that this exception should be granted.
  3. It is a Fallacy of False Dilemma.  There are more options available for how the universe came to be than a) God or b) nothing.
  4. It is a Fallacy of Composition.  It assumes that because things that “begin to exist” within our universe need a cause, that the universe itself must also need a cause.  There is no reason to assume this is true as we know nothing about the state of affairs prior to the creation of our universe.
  5. It fails the test of Occam’s razor.  God is just clearly not the most simple answer to the problem of our universe’s origination.  As Grundy wrote in one of his pieces, positing “god” is just solving one mystery by creating another.
  6. Lastly, the Kalam Cosmologial argument fails, like all other arguments for the existence of god, because there is zero evidence to back it up, it assumes much, and perhaps most importantly, it posits answers to questions whose only honest answer at this point is: “we don’t yet know”.  What we do know is that the probability that a god is responsible is far less likely than any natural solution.  The various natural hypotheses to explain the creation of the universe are all based on some solid empirical evidence.  The god-hypothesis is based on absolutely nothing but certain people’s imaginations.

Thanks for reading.  I look forward to your comments.

—-John

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13 thoughts on “Cosmological Arguments for God

  1. Cephus from Redlands, CA, United States

    The problem with all of these arguments is that they fall apart entirely if you do not hold their preconceived notions about God. You demonstrated this well in your evaluation of Kalam. They had to change the argument as soon as someone pointed out that God would need a creator so they restated the claim, specifically to take out that hole in their "logic". Yet, as I showed, all of these arguments rest on a 13th century understanding of the world, they just don't stand up today, except for the ignorant and scientifically illiterate.
    My recent post Taking on the Quinque Viae

    Reply
    1. reasonbeing from Duluth, MN, United States Post author

      I agree Cephus. In large part, these arguments are designed to either a) preach to the choir or b) convert someone who is either completely ignorant of its criticisms, predisposed to the concept of the Christian god, or both. They really have little influence on educated atheists, at least in my opinion. (And to be clear, by educated, in this case, I mean educated on arguments for/against god and general apologetics). In short, much of this stuff is "hocus pocus".

      Reply
  2. hausdorff from Oak Park, MI, United States

    Great post, I think the most confusing this about Cosmological arguments is that anyone thinks they are any good. I can't count the number of times I've heard Christians give this as solid proof of God's existence. I always think "have you read it?" There are so many things wrong with it, it's mind numbing.

    BTW, last time I tried looking at this argument, I wound up writing a fairly long post about how WLC doesn't understand infinity. :)

    Reply
  3. Loren Miller from Bedford, OH, United States

    This may not directly relate to the Kalam argument, but one of my own pet peeves which I think relates to it is the issue of MECHANISM. Presuming that there is a god in the first place (and I make no such presumption, myself), it had to use some mechanism, method or technique to give rise to reality as it is. Claiming that god employed magic doesn't cut it, either:

    "One man's 'magic' is another man's engineering. 'Supernatural' is a null word."
    – Robert A. Heinlein

    Considering E=MC^2 as a means to exchange energy for matter may give ol' Yahweh the mechanism, but there remains the matter of demonstrating that he's around to use it in the first place.

    When you boil it down, I suppose I've never cared much for philosophical arguments anyway. I am a pragmatist, after all. If someone wants to posit that something such as a god exists, they can either demonstrate decisively that it exists or they can go to the end of the line. I really couldn't care less that something SHOULD exist without a means to show that it indeed DOES. The Standard Model of Particle Physics posited the concept of the Higgs Boson within a structure of logic and evidence and from that inferred the Higgs … and it may be that the Higgs has been found. The concept of god has no such baseline model to support it, and what I see from theists who assert its existence is little more than overly sophisticated hand-waving and not much by way of facts … and while I think about facts, I refer again to my main man:

    "What are the facts? Again and again and again — what are the *facts*? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what "the stars fortell," avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable "verdict of history" — what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!"
    – Robert A. Heinlein

    Reply
    1. reasonbeing from Duluth, MN, United States Post author

      Mechanism is a huge part of the problem with this argument. From what or when would this supposed deity create? The "when" is unanswerable, and the "from what" can only be answered by believing in the god in the first place—ie, he just "willed the universe into existence", which of course is pure nonsense.

      Reply
      1. Loren Miller from Bedford, OH, United States

        What really bugs me about the mechanism issue is this: science has already sorted out a considerable amount of the mechanisms which allow this reality to work. These are expressed as everything from kinematic physics, relativity theory, solid state theory and physical chemistry to the mechanisms which allow our physiology to work. We're even beginning to understand the madhouse which are the conditions in the proximity of a black hole.

        In the midst of all of that, why should the mechanics of the Big Bang be an exception? Lawrence Krauss doesn't seem to think so and says as much in his book, "A Universe From Nothing." Sadly, the theists don't want to listen to him.

        Reply
  4. Grundy from Dacula, GA, United States

    Not long ago I argued with someone about the cosmological argument, I assumed he meant the Kalam since it is the strongest in my opinion, which doesn't say much. He kept getting mad that I was straw manning him. Confused, I asked for clarification. He was using the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument without being so specific. I said how the hell couldn't I straw man you, there are more varieties of this argument then colors of the rainbow.
    My recent post Don't Assume Your God is an Asshole

    Reply
  5. northrnlite8 from Thunder Bay, ON, Canada

    great write up on this ridiculous premise! many christians listen to these bullshit artists like WLC and are awed by the huge number of big words he can use in a sentance and thus claim he wins his debates because the atheist he is debating ignores most of the bullshit he spews for the drivel it is. they question him on specific aspects of the deity he claims to serve and he rebuts with 'you have not addressed a single point i made, therefore, my god must be right because you can't dispute my logical orgasm!' or something to that effect!

    as for these philosophies and philosophical premises to the existance of a god in general, words can not make a god real! no matter how hard they try, they can't prove their god physically exists, so the continue to move him/her/it into a place of utter obscurity and complete irrelevence, and they seem to think they are proving his existance! sad, the level of delusion these seemingly intelligent humans must continue to live to promulgate such utter bullshit!

    rant done, thanks!

    Reply
  6. sight66 from Winter Park, FL, United States

    I have nothing to add. Your piece and the comments cover it well. Great job. I, too am tired of the religious eating up these arguments from ignorance.

    Reply
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