The Cosmological Argument: An Intelligible, Contemporary Version

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Statement of Intention:

The cosmological argument for the existence of God is nothing new.  In fact, atheists indicate that they are getting tired of refuting it over and over again.  But because of recent advances in science and philosophy, the cosmological argument is actually stronger than ever.

My intention here is not to simply restate the same argument that has always been made in the same way that it has always been presented, but to present it in a clear and concise, up-to-date, relevant way that internally addresses the claims that atheists make in their responses to it.

Presentation of Argument:

1) Anything that exists either a) has a cause outside of itself (and is a “contingent being,”) or b) is causeless or self-causing (and is a “necessary being.”)

*Note that the cause that resulted in a contingent being is itself a thing that exists, and thus it also must be either a contingent or a necessary being.

2) Since a contingent being exists, it must be a) the result of an infinite string of other contingent beings, or b) the direct result of a necessary being, or of a string of one or more contingent beings that ends in a necessary being.

It should be obvious once these concepts are understood that the vast majority of entities that we can identify in our world (physical objects of all sorts, people, etc.) are in fact the result of a very long line of contingent beings.

So is this very long string of contingent beings infinite, or does it end in the existence of a necessary being?  This brings us to our third premise.

3) An infinite series of causes never reaches a final product, so nothing that exists in the present can have resulted from an infinite string of contingent beings.

*Mentally note the difference between “eternal” and “infinite.”  Eternity merely indicates that something is outside of time, while infinity indicates a quantity with no bounds.  Infinity may be a useful concept in abstract mathematics, but in reality it is by definition an impossibility for us to have arrived here from an infinite string of previous causes, since one more cause would always have to be added before we could arrive at the present, and one more, and one more, etc.  In any case, it is unsatisfactory to answer the question “where do contingent beings come from” with the response “other contingent beings make them.”

4) In light of these three previous premises, since either an infinite string of contingent beings or the existence of at least one necessary being must have brought us to the present, and since an infinite string of causes can not have done so, a necessary being must exist.

Very well then.  A being which either caused itself or has no cause must exist or at least have existed in the past.

Addressing The Most Common Objection:

The common follow-up question: “then where did the first cause come from?” displays a failure to properly understand the argument.  If the argument is properly understood, it logically demonstrates that an uncaused or self-caused being must exist, it is an unavoidable conclusion that can only be escaped if one of the premises can be shown false.

Let me illustrate this concept this way: whether you are a believer, an agnostic, or an atheist, you absolutely must acknowledge that something is self-causing or uncaused.  It could be the universe.  It could be a god.  It could be a god that made a god.  But you absolutely must stop somewhere and call it the beginning.  Without a beginning for your story you can never get to the middle.

Taking the Argument Further:

To suggest that at this point I have proven that God exists would be shortsighted and naive.  I have simply proven that something is uncaused or self-caused.  So why not the universe?  After all, if the laws in the universe can explain its own behavior, why make up a God to go one step beyond the evidence when He is unnecessary to explain the nature of material reality?

The common response to those questions from a thinking believer is that the evidence for the big bang has proven that the universe had a beginning, and if it had a beginning then it had a cause and it thus must be a contingent being.  This is reasonable because in reality we observe that a thing can be a certain way in the simple case that it already was a certain way and nothing has changed it, but nothing begins or happens without something causing it to be so.

But let us humor the hypothetical atheistic standpoints that the universe caused itself suddenly at the big bang, or that an uncaused set of laws called it into existence.  The laws and constants that govern our reality, and the math behind it all, are said to be sufficient to have called the universe into existence, creating matter, time, etc. in the process.

The laws that govern the universe might possibly be capable of this act… if they were actually capable of doing any act!  But laws don’t actually govern, they simply describe.  The laws of nature do not have authority, ordering around the universe, commanding it to behave a certain way.  They simply describe for us the patterns that we have found in the universe’s behavior.

In fact, that atheists would suggest that natural laws “govern” our universe,  essentially commanding it to act a certain way and “calling” the universe into existence betrays the intuitiveness of the idea that a mind really is at work here!  Something with agency, something with the power and authority to establish such organized behavior is indeed at work, and natural laws describe this agent.

The bottom line is that acts of governing, commanding, and calling are only doable by a being with agency.  Natural laws are merely descriptive principles of observed patterns in our universe, and descriptions of recognized patterns cannot do anything, they are mere information.

Whatever the necessary being behind everything is, it has caused our universe to behave in the way that our natural laws describe.  Logic has brought us to God’s doorstep.

See a problem with my argumentation?  Point it out in the comments, I’m always looking for new clarity.

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4 thoughts on “The Cosmological Argument: An Intelligible, Contemporary Version

  1. “For a being to have a beginning does not prove that it had a cause. A being can meet the criteria for being self-caused or uncaused even if it has a starting point. Saying that the big bang “just happened” is no more silly than saying that God “just is.” Neither of those claims is in fact silly. One of them, in fact, appears to be true.”

    I’m not sure I totally understand this point, Alan. That works if you extrapolate backwards to the point that there is the original “beginning” because there was always something pre-existent present to create or out of which to self-create. But at THE beginning point of time and matter and all that jazz (although jazz wasn’t discovered until much later), how can something create or self-create without any “material,” so to speak?

    In other words, the “big bang” is an event that happened at a point in time because something banged. If there is no “material” for the big bang to create itself, and in fact there is no point in time for it to happen because there is literally no time, then how can the big bang self-cause or have an “uncaused” starting point? It is not an uncaused agent; it is a caused event.

    I agree with the idea that this doesn’t prove God, but I think it does necessitate the existence of one or more uncreated beings with the ability to create, whether God, or the oft cited “Flying Spaghetti Monster.” But from my line of thinking, though, a Flying Spaghetti Monster makes more sense than a Big Bang if Mr. Monster is an uncreated being.

    The proponents of “self-caused” origins can refute the argument all day, but until they have a reasonable refutation that is even theoretically conceivable using the laws they support, then I can’t even consider another explanation than “uncreated creator(s)” started it all. That leaves room for God as one possible answer for THE beginning point, but not for a big bang as a possible answer to THE beginning point.

    Am I understanding correctly or am I missing something?

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    • Thanks for seeking clarification. It is sometimes difficult to speak (or even think!) with clarity on such abstract matters.

      In retrospect I should probably revise my text. I don’t believe that either of the statements I listed are silly, but in light of the remainder of my argument I would have to say that claiming that the big bang “just happened” is the less substantial of the two.

      I’m striving to back up everything I say in my argument with logic, and I am not aware of any logical reason why an uncaused or self-caused being cannot have a beginning. Maybe it’s just plain counterintuitive, but at least in my limited understanding it doesn’t seem inherently illogical. Honestly, at this level of abstract thinking I’m not sure we really know what rules could apply. Saying “the big bang just happened” and saying “God just always was” are, objectively speaking, both pretty amazing and strange statements. Therefore I don’t argue to an atheist that since the universe had a beginning it necessarily follows that it isn’t a necessary being.

      I hope it is absolutely clear from the remainder of my article that I believe we can expand on the assertion that a necessary being exists to bring us to God’s doorstep.

      An atheist might try to answer your question about how the universe could create itself without any material or the existence of time by appealing to contemporary physics and indicating that the laws of nature provide for the generation of such things as matter and time. They would cite how a particle can acquire mass from non-mass by means of the Higgs field (of course they can’t really explain adequately how the Higgs field got there.) But my article further refutes such a response in my closing paragraphs which points out that the “laws” of nature are just descriptions, they can’t actually command things to happen the way God can. They are literally just information, and information alone in powerless.

      Thanks for helping me to think through this. I think there is some semantical confusion surrounding the term “self-caused,” but I definitely agree with you that uncaused causes are the only viable option when all has been said. I do not think that the big bang “just happening” is a viable solution in light of so much other evidence.

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      • Thanks for making me think. I’ve updated the post even further. I hope my logic is clearer now. I still don’t go so far as to say that it is logically impossible for the universe to be uncaused and yet have a beginning, but I do point out that it would be inconsistent with anything else that we have observed in reality for it to be this way.

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  2. It seems the confusion on my end is that you were referring to the Big Bang as an entity, when I was seeing it as an event. But it seems you were really saying is that the Universe itself could be the “non-created (or self-created) creator,” and were using the Big Bang as an example of that entity creating (possibly itself). Is that right?

    I could see that, although as you said, it would require the “Laws of Nature” to be active creative agents rather than descriptors of that which has been created. Even most atheistic cosmologist, such as Hawking, conclude that the laws did not exist at the bang, but were a result of the bang (more or less).

    Also, as far as the Higgs Field, as you said, that can explain the creation of mass, but it cannot explain the creation of the field itself or the particles to which the field gives mass. So these are in and of themselves contingent on another “necessary being.” So it still doesn’t explain how something came from nothing, as nothing cannot create itself and yet, here we are!

    It seems common for atheistic cosmologist looking for an origin story to recognize that the Universe does not exist infinitely due to scientific observations that make it clear the universe is expanding outward from a specific singularity. They then seem to dismiss God using the reasoning from the observations about the universe. “If the universe isn’t infinitely existent, then it makes no more sense to think God is infinitely existent.” The interesting thing to me is that they are basing the reasoning for dismissing God on the observations relating to an entirely different entity – the Universe. Because evidence makes it clear that the Universe is most likely finite, that does not mean the evidence shows that God is finite.

    To the contrary, the Bible makes it clear that God is a “steady state” so to speak. He is consistently described as unchanging and infinite. Science has done nothing to disprove or prove this Biblical description of God. So while we can reject the Universe as the “necessary being” based on current scientific observations leading to the conclusion that the universe is finite (because it goes back to a point where something external to it must have created it), we cannot propose any such scientific theory on God because there is not anything on which to base such claims.

    It is my opinion that an honest scientist must conclude that God could exist as a possible explanation because he has not been shown not to exist. And such a God, were he to exist, could be infinite. To say, “We cannot observe God scientifically, therefore God does not exist, and if he did exist he must fall under the laws we can observe regarding the universe,” would be biased and unscientific. An unbiased scientist would say that just because we haven’t/can’t observe something doesn’t mean it does not exist; it just means we don’t know whether or not it exist, or how it exist (and there are times when things have been theorized correctly to exist without direct observation, such as elements, but that’s another conversation). If this were the angle most cosmologist took, then I think we would see most saying, “God could be an explanation, but since we can’t determine that observationally at this point, we are going to also see if there is another, observable explanation.” If this were the approach, there would at least be some avenue for cooperation between creationist and other cosmological theorist. They could work together – or at least parallel to – rather than against. Basically, the point here is to get cosmologist to concede that God is at least an option, even if it is just one of many options.

    To me, this specific argument is not really about trying to prove God versus another theory, such as the big bang and whatever this “boundary theory” stuff is all about. To me, this is just trying to get on the same page in order to have a reasonable discussion with someone who doesn’t believe in God. That “same page” is that there could have been some agent that is an “uncreated creator,” and this agent is what created the universe, since common theory is that the universe is finite and therefore could not have created itself. (I can’t get past the logical conclusion that something cannot come from nothing.) So the discussion then becomes, what is this “uncreated creator?” at which point we can begin a totally separate discussion, but at least we are one more step down the road.

    Sorry to ramble so long. Thanks for your thoughts. As always, very interesting.

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