The One Minute Case Against the Cosmological Argument

The cosmological, or “first cause” argument, is a metaphysical argument for the existence of God.

St. Thomas Aquinas stated it as:

  1. Every finite and contingent being has a cause.
  2. Nothing finite and dependent (contingent) can cause itself.
  3. A causal chain cannot be of infinite length.
  4. Therefore, there must be a first cause.

The stylized “proof from the big bang” is:

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

Both proofs contain several problematic claims:

A causal chain cannot be of infinite length.

Infinities do not actually exist. Each specific set of entities is discrete. But the causal chain itself is not an existent. It is the set of all entities that have ever existed. That is a theoretical construct (like infinity or a singularity in mathematics) rather than a discrete set of entities that we can point to. If I walk from one side of the room to the other, my body exists in an infinite number of locations along that path during the time it takes me to do so. But it only exists in one location at any specific time.

The universe is an entity.

This is an equivocation known as the fallacy of composition. The universe can be defined as “the set containing all entities in existence.” The universe is not itself an entity, but a collection of entities. All entities in the universe may be finite, but the set of entities need not be.

There is a cause “outside the universe.”

For there to be a cause, there must be an entity doing the causation. If the universe is the set of all existing entities, that entity must be part of the universe. An entity cannot be its own cause, so it cannot have created the universe.

The universe began to exist.

The cosmological argument defines “universe” as the set of events since creation, and places the first cause “beyond” our timeline. But time is a relative measure of the rate of change between entities, not an absolute linear constant. It is a contradiction of the concept of time to speak of a “time before time.” There cannot be such thing as a “timeless” entity because time includes all causal interactions, including the initial one. It is meaningless to speak of a time before the existence of entities, because time is a property of entities itself.

The universe has always existed — but this means only that as long as the universe has existed, so has time.

The first cause is God.

Even if we accept that the universe has a cause, it does not follow that that cause is God. Why should the first cause be a complex and conscious entity conforming to a particular religion? It is more logical to conclude that the origin of the universe is the simplest one possible, since all higher-level causes derive from it. The difference between science and religious dogma is that science is falsifiable, whereas dogma is not.How could one prove that the universe created by a personal, Christian God, and not a Hindu deity, a computer hacker in another dimension, or the flying spaghetti monster?

Further reading:

15 Comments

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15 Responses to The One Minute Case Against the Cosmological Argument

  1. Jason Ross

    I see a problem here.

    “Imagine two indestructible balls in space…” Here, you might as well have said, “Imagine a Universe.” The first cause is you– you not only created the concept of “indestructible ball”, for which there is no rational support, you then quite arbitrarily created a scenario that suited your purposes. You can imagine them having simply appeared by themselves, conforming to some but not all laws of physics all you want, but the fact remains that they didn’t.

    It seems as if your diffusion of the cosmological argument stems from your having arbitrarily introduced the permissability of infinite causal chains, which I don’t think is any more reasonable than the idea of a timeless being who isn’t bound by any of the laws it has created. You either have a first cause, which is capable of having caused all other entities in the Universe and thus stakes a pretty good claim on the “god” thing, or you have an infinite Universe with an infinite number of self-spawning entities. Neither sounds very good to me.

    “Who’s holding up the world?”
    “Atlas.”
    “What’s holding him up?”
    “A turtle.”
    “What’s holding up that turtle?”
    “Another turtle…”

  2. Isn’t the impossibility of an infinite causal chain also an arbitrary claim? I don’t claim that our causal chain is infinite, just eternal. The distinction is clarified here: http://forum.objectivismonline.net/index.php?showtopic=9680

  3. Jason Ross

    I understand that you do not intend this to be a forum for debate, so I’ll try to be brief. Is it a correct reading of your argument against a “first cause” for the universe that there can be no “first cause” or “prime entity” that exists outside of the universe because “universe” is inclusive of all entities and thus all causes? If so, I see now what you are saying. We can’t tallk about “an X before time” or “an X outside the universe” because they are fallacies. We’re still left with the fact that “something” is here, and it is begging for an explanation.

    BTW, the impossibility of an infinite causal chain is reasonable, not arbitrary, because the alternative contradicts all of my previous knowledge of the universe. So, too, does the concept of a universe uncompelled. One of the writers in the thread to which you linked suggests that it’s simply a “headache-inducing” problem. I, for one, strive for better than that.

  4. Cameron S

    So, here’s a formal description of your argument:

    U = {x | x exists }
    Then, there exists some deity, g, such that g started the universe. However, since we grant that g exists, g must exist in U, and therefore cannot have ’caused’ U. Then, either g does not exist or g exists outside of U, which implies that g does not exist.

    That’s fairly sound logic.

    However, suppose this: there are an infinite number of disjoint universes, each mapping to a positive, integer number. Then, we redefine must redefine what a Universe is: A tuple that contains a set of all things in it, and some description of where it is located. Since, assumedly, any given universe is infinite in size, we’re really simply describing how to reach that universe – think of it as that universe’s address, or a map to get there. Then an arbitrary universe, Ui, is defined as Ui = ({x | x exists in Ui’s space},(Ui’s space)).

    Now, let us define a multiverse, M, such that M = { U | U is a Universe}. Then, define some function, f, such that f is a tuple that takes in a set of entities and a address in the form of a Universe’s space and returns a Universe (f:ExA->U). Then, to add a universe to M, we simply state:

    M = M (union) f({things to be included},(where to place the new universe)).

    Then, ‘God’ may be described as any being in M that can use f. However, this definition is lacking, so let us state it this way:

    M = { x | x is one of infinite places to store a universe }

    Then, M is of infinite size, and any number of universes can be created. Then, we must redefine f as follows:

    f:{x | x is something that can exist}xM->(null), where f simply places all x given to f into M. Then, a time before time for any given universe, Ui, is a time that occurs in a younger universe, Uj. Now, since we do not require that all things in existence be present in any universe, we can have a being outside of M that may apply f as many times as it sees fit. Then, we have a basis for creating universes that does not require a previous universe, and therefore a basis for intelligent design.

  5. Timothy Shaw-Zak

    Jason Ross:
    “the impossibility of an infinite causal chain is reasonable, not arbitrary, because the alternative contradicts all of my previous knowledge of the universe.”

    As a finite being with limited access to a very finite subset of a subset of phenomenon, you have enough knowledge to confirm or deny the extent of the universe is infinite.

    Yet it is perfectly acceptable to posit that not only does your (puny) mind know the extent of the *universe*, it posits an even more infinite being which is uncaused or eternal in the same sense that you denied the universe could be – and this somehow does not ‘contradict’ your infinite knowledge that the universe is finite.

    This is problematic because this God, being an aspect of the existant universe contradicts your supposed contradiction. By your own premises there is no God, QED.

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  7. Tjitze

    Jason
    ”We’re still left with the fact that “something” is here, and it is begging for an explanation.”

    Here you’re explicitly asking for a reason why ”something” exists instead of ”nothing”.
    But ”nothing” could not exist as a thing or it would be part of something, ”somethings” are the only sort of things (as opposed to the direct contradiction of ”non-things”) wich can logically exist.

  8. The universe is finite because the law of identity applies to everything that exists. The law of identity is an axiomatic metaphysical principle which applies to all entities directly and equally, of any and all levels of complexity, bypassing the problem presented by the distributive fallacies.

    It is an error to think that the universe is finite because all of the things in it are finite, that would be the fallacy of composition. This argument is wrong but the conclusion is validated by other means.

  9. Paul Emerich de Oliveira

    Why such and not something else.

    The specificity of the cosmos is evidence of its reality. Furthermore,” such a specific universe reveals its contingency by its being limited to a specific form of physical existence”.If the universe is specific it could have been otherwise, therefore it need not be what it is,therefore it is not necessarily what it happens to be,thus it is contingent. The idea of specificity in the cosmos can mean that it is determinate, or tuned to a specific purpose or that it is striking in its limitedness.Science in its current state is not able to regress far enough in establishing the begining of it all in time to its origin or regress beyond that time of its origin.Matters of the existence of God should be left in the realm of metaphysics rather than in science.Infinite regression is beyond reason.It is based on an enternal world view adopted by cultures that believed in a cyclical re-occuring never ending universe ,begining anew in conflagration after so many thousands of years. A book on this very subject can be purchased” Science & Creation” ,by Fr. Stanley L. Jaki.

    Sincerely, Paul

  10. 1. The balls had to come from somewhere. You can’t arbitrarily decide that they were always there, because then you’re assuming what you intend to prove, which is begging the question. Your scenario doesn’t work. At least in this universe, the balls came from somewhere, and bounced for the first time at some point in the past. They have not been bouncing forever.

    2. The universe is finite. This is a scientific fact which you cannot argue. It is believed that the universe is on the order of 20 Billion lightyears across, and that the total amount of electrons in the universe is 10^80. That’s not an infinite number. The set of a finite number of finite entities is finite. It’s semantics to argue whether the universe is a ‘set’ or an ‘entity.’ It is a [word] which contains everything that materially exists within a particular 3 dimensional space.

    3. “For there to be a cause, there must be an entity doing the causation. If the universe is the set of all existing entities, that entity must be part of the universe. An entity cannot be its own cause, so it cannot have created the universe.”

    Two problems. ONE: the universe is the set of all existing entities inside the 3-dimensional space in which those entities exist. Assume the Big Bang is correct for argument’s sake: everything inside the volume marked by the boundary of how far matter can have expanded since the Big Bang is considered the universe. Anything else is not the universe.
    TWO: A DEPENDENT entity cannot be its own cause. A self-existent entity can. The universe is a dependent entity, because every single one of its parts is dependent, and the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts. The universe cannot have created itself, but something with different properties from the universe could have created the universe. A self-existing entity would not have created itself, because it never began to exist. It has simply always existed, apart from any causal chain.

    4. “It is meaningless to speak of a time before the existence of entities, because time is a property of entities itself.”

    FALSE. Time is a property of entities within, and including, the universe. Entities outside, separate from, etc, the universe would not necessarily need to be constrained by time. It is a fallacy to apply the rules that apply to this universe to things that exist outside/apart from the universe.

    >>>>>The universe has always existed — but this means only that as long as the universe has existed, so has time.

    False. It would be correct to say that the universe has existed as long as time has existed. But the universe has been existing for a finite amount of time. This is a scientific fact that even atheistic astrophysicists accept. You cannot argue this.

    Since time has not been existing for an infinite period, something must have caused time to begin to exist. That thing could not be bound by time itself, since that thing created time. By definition, whatever entity creates time cannot be constrained by time.

    >>>>There cannot be such thing as a “timeless” entity because time includes all causal interactions,

    Indeed, but don’t forget that an entity not bound by time would not be caused by anything, so this meets the criteria you’ve presented. The only cause this entity is involved in is the first cause, which simultaneously institutes time. You have not objected to anything.

    >>>>>Even if we accept that the universe has a cause, it does not follow that that cause is God.

    Actually, simply by recognizing that the universe is ordered, complex, has a beginning, that time is interwoven with material being, etc, you can reach these following conclusions about whatever the causal agent of the universe MUST BE:

    “• Supernatural in nature (as He exists outside of His creation)
    • Incredibly powerful (to have created all that is known)
    • Eternal (self-existent, as He exists outside of time and space)
    • Omnipresent (He created space and is not limited by it)
    • Timeless and changeless (He created time)
    • Immaterial (because He transcends space)
    • Personal (the impersonal can’t create personality)
    • Necessary (as everything else depends on Him)
    • Infinite and singular (as you cannot have two infinites)
    • Diverse yet has unity (as nature exhibits diversity)
    • Intelligent (supremely, to create everything)
    • Purposeful (as He deliberately created everything)
    • Moral (no moral law can exist without a lawgiver)
    • Caring (or no moral laws would have been given)”

    Now use those criteria to screen out the possible candidates. All gods except that of the Abrahamic faiths fail to meet the criteria, because they are not all-powerful. It might surprise you to hear this, having grown up in Judeo-Christian culture, but YHWH is the only God that is claimed to be all powerful, all knowing, above and beyond His creation. All pantheistic gods are claimed to be part of the creation themselves, and so they therefore cannot meet the criteria of being the primary causal agent.

    The Islamic god also fails to meet the criteria, because you can derive from the facts of nature that the true God would have to be timeless, which would mean that He would be changeless with respect to time, which means that any rules, promises, etc will be consistent from the beginning of time to the end (if there was such a thing as an end). This means that if the candidate god EVER LIES, it cannot be the true God. Allah fails this test, leaving only YHWH of the Judeo-Christian faith. Determining whether or not Jesus Christ is God is easily determined by comparing the texts of the Bible and applying the grammatical-historical method to understand the Bible’s consistent message from start to finish.

    When all is said and done, the only remaining candidate for First Cause is Yahweh, the Creator God of the Bible. All others fail the test. Incidentally, Yahweh makes it clear that all the other “gods” are either man-made idols or demonic beings masquerading as angelic (‘godlike’) creatures.

    “It is more logical to conclude that the origin of the universe is the simplest one possible, since all higher-level causes derive from it. ”

    True, so therefore a monotheistic god must be the true God. All polytheistic and pantheistic religions are thus ruled out. You’re nearly all the way there!

    >>>>>How could one prove that the universe created by a personal, Christian God, and not a Hindu deity, a computer hacker in another dimension, or the flying spaghetti monster?

    http://www.gotquestions.org/correct-religion.html
    http://www.gotquestions.org/flying-spaghetti-monsterism.html

    And for a presentation of the Cosmological Argument that you won’t be able to refute, see here: http://www.proofofgod.org/index.php/arguments-fo-the-existence-of-god/the-kalam-argument

    Also see the Contingency and Moral arguments presented on that site.

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  13. Matthew

    This is a reply to EriK.
    You said “False. It would be correct to say that the universe has existed as long as time has existed. But the universe has been existing for a finite amount of time. This is a scientific fact that even atheistic astrophysicists accept. You cannot argue this. ”
    Incorrect. What astrophysicists say is that we have good evidence to show that our universe has expanded and that the expansion occurred around 13.7 billion years ago. What they don’t say is that the universe actually has a beginning. There a lot of hypothesis about what occurred before 1st planck time and they trying to see which ones work.

    You describe that your god must be the creator of the universe since he has the following properties.
    • Supernatural in nature (as He exists outside of His creation). That’s not supernatural but merely transcendental.
    • Incredibly powerful (to have created all that is known). According to you he didn’t create himself. Since you proclaim he is known then by your own logic he didn’t create all that is known. I think you want you want to
    • Eternal (self-existent, as He exists outside of time and space) Then he is not causal since causality is by it’s very nature is a thing dependant on time.
    • Omnipresent (He created space and is not limited by it)
    • Timeless and changeless (He created time) See eternal.
    • Immaterial (because He transcends space) Yet you say he is a part of space. How can you have an effect on something that you have transcended?
    • Personal (the impersonal can’t create personality). It can and the process is called evolution. Can you show me a personality not being dependent on a material existence. Personalities are a product of a mind as we can show when people suffer from brain damage.
    • Necessary (as everything else depends on Him) Why? Also if I say that everything is depends on the great HS then can you really prove me wrong. Yet this would be in direct contradiction to your own necessity.
    • Infinite and singular (as you cannot have two infinites) Course you can. You just need to define those infinites so that they are not conflict. For example you could say that you have a set of rulers that are of infinite length but not infinite width.
    • Diverse yet has unity (as nature exhibits diversity) That really doesn’t jell with your comment about your god being simple.
    • Intelligent (supremely, to create everything) See personal.
    • Purposeful (as He deliberately created everything) So what is the purpose of our existence and why would a
    • Moral (no moral law can exist without a lawgiver) How do you define that your god is moral? You appear to be defining your god to be moral based on the fact that he is moral. In essence all you are doing is saying that he is himself. If your god said that raping kids is moral then it would be moral to rape kids (Judges 21:11).

    The fact is that morality is always subjective. In your case you choose to base your morals on either the commands of your god or on his nature. In my case I define morality as that which improves overall well being. Rape worsens well being and hence immoral. Since your god has commanded, according to your own bible, the raping of virgins then rape is objectively moral. Whatever that means.
    • Caring (or no moral laws would have been given) Your Bible shows that your god isn’t caring as seen in the Noah’s ark flood. Surely if your god cared for his creation then he wouldn’t destroy it. Does he care about the staving. Epicurus said “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

    Now let look at another comment that you have made “This means that if the candidate god EVER LIES, it cannot be the true God.”. Fantastic because I can prove that your god does lie. Take these examples from your bible. 1 Kings 22:23 Now, therefore, behold, the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of these thy prophets, and the Lord hath spoken evil concerning thee. 2 Chronicles 18:22 Now therefore, behold, the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of these thy prophets.

    Other verses which show your god lies are Jeremiah 4:10, Jeremiah 20:7, Ezekiel 14:9, 2 Thessalonians 2:11

    Okay now since I have shown that your god is a liar and since you say that a candidate for the 1st cause must not be a liar are you now going admit that your god isn’t the 1st cause?

  14. Huseyn Qurbanov

    Logically complete cosmological concept. /due to lack of knowledge of the English language was not able to correct the translation Implemented by Google/
    In order to present the unlimited space originally Elementary:
    1. variety (homogeneous) сompleted – enough to postulate the presence in it of two elements with SIMPLE and COMPLEX /closed systematically manifested the essence/
    2. heterogeneous completed – enough to postulate the presence in it of one more element – the Most High and Almighty God – with open exhibited systemic nature.
    Not hard to imagine that even at the lowest possible deployment intangible components the nature of God – the Spirit of God – for the level of the original downwardly directed continuous deployment the material component of the essence of God, there is a curtailment of SIMPLE and COMPLEX /i.e.. their decay occurs due to blocking of origin upwardly directed constantly deploy components of their intangible essences/, as the maximum possible heterogeneous nature of God to the minimum possible number of cell uniformity (№1h) and God on the basis of the material components of the minimum possible №1 deploys heterogeneous to its essence as possible numerical element uniformity (№2H). The process of clotting №2H begins at a certain point in time God begins at the end of its deployment. Curtailment of the Spirit of God to the level of initial deployment again unfolds №1H – God’s potential for transformation into a №1H in №2H and №1H in №2H limitless!

    • Huseyn Qurbanov

      Cosmological concept which is complete from logical point of view

      Initial composition of boundless space from the point of view of element:

      1.It is suffucient to declare existence of two elements, SIMPLE and COMPLEX, possesing closed systemic appearance in order to imagine different (homogenous) and completed one.
      2.It is sufficient to declare existence of Lord and Almighty in other element, possesing non-closed systematic appearance in order to imagine it as different and incomplete as heterogenous (in other words: various type).

      It is not difficult to presume that simple and complex compression is happened in possible minimal widening from permanent widening level, first, inclination to descending, from material component of God from non-material component of Divine Spirit/separation happened as maximum possible diversity (1H) on essence of God on minimum possible numeric homogeneity regarding with blockage of start of non-material components, permanently widening, inclined to their increase of essence/God widens minimal possible homogeneity as maximum possible numeric diversity (2H) to His essence on the basis of 1H material components. Closing process starts only from time, known to God, starting from completion of 2 H opening process. Closing process reopens according to initial opening level of Divine Spirit 1H-1H process of God to 2H process and conversion possibilities of 2H process to 1 H process!

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