Tuesday, November 22, 2011

God as First Cause


The “first-cause” argument for God may be one of the most blatantly fallacious arguments ever devised. 

The argument, to compress it into a categorical syllogism, begins by proposing that “everything has a cause.”  It then submits that the universe itself must have a cause and concludes that this cause must be God.

The argument is ridiculous on several grounds and, in fact, is rendered untenable by its own internal reasoning.  Following the logic of the premise that everything must have a cause, God too must have a cause and the cause of God must have a cause and so on to infinity.  If God does not require a cause then the first premise, everything has a cause, is false. 

The above is the most popular form of the argument, known in philosophy as the “cosmological argument”; however, there are more sophisticated versions (to loosely use the term).    

Some have refined the first premise to state, instead of everything has a cause, that everything contingent, or everything caused, has a cause (nothing more than an observation of the trivially true).  This qualified first premise places itself beyond criticism and requires a closer analyzing of the second premise and the conclusion. 

The second premise, refined, states that the universe is contingent and must have a cause.  However, there has never been a serious argument to sustain this premise.  Bertrand Russell rhetorically asks “[j]ust because everything in the universe is contingent, must the universe itself be contingent?” 

The best argument considers time.  It is argued that were the universe to have always existed the very fact would require an infinite amount of time to have already passed and that this would be contradictory and thus impossible because an infinite amount of time would never pass (the passing of an infinite cycle of time would never, by definition, be completed). 

The problem with the argument predicated upon time has been known since at least the work on General and Special Relativity by Albert Einstein.  Einstein calculated that time itself is relative and can be warped.  The Big Bang hypothesis, proposed due to the Doppler Effect, suggests that the observable universe was produced by the explosion of a dense, hot initial state of gravitational singularity and has been offered by many a theologian as support for the cosmological argument’s second premise.  While current work on this is pure speculation, the best guesses by the most acclaimed physicists in the field point out that time is the relative fourth dimension of the universe created by the Big Bang and that time more or less dissolves the closer it gets to the gravitational singularity.  Discussion of time with regards to the origins of the universe and the Big Bang may very well be nonsensical. 

The second premise cannot currently be verified one way or the other and cannot therefore sustain conclusions.  While work is still being conducted on the nature and origins of the cosmos it is beyond rash to draw any definitive statements and arguments about it, which is why the conclusion only further exacerbates current work.  While it remains unknown why there is something rather than nothing it only confounds this question to introduce the further problem of why and how there is also God.

The conclusion now looms.  The first obvious problem with the conclusion is that a sufficient reason is not given as to why God must be the cause.  It would be as logical to argue that extra-dimensional space aliens were the first cause or that the universe is the product of the functioning of a super-computer. 

Furthermore, the argument only establishes a first-cause in the past; it does not demonstrate the continued existence of this first-cause.  The argument that everything contingent must be caused does not demonstrate that the first-cause continues to exist presently or eternally and it does not elaborate any qualities of the first-cause (such as life, consciousness and so on) which undermines the very purpose of the argument.  The argument against an eternal universe being contradictory because of the paradox of an infinite cycle of time concluding equally applies to an eternal God.      
 
The essential points about this argument are relatively elementary and the fallacies readily identifiable to anyone who takes time to consider them rationally.  This is why there are only ever illiterate charlatans who invoke the argument and never any serious philosophers, at least since St. Thomas Aquinas, and when viewing his philosophical work against the great works of philosophy, it seems to pale in comparison. 

4 comments:

Eli Biebers said...

I've heard the "God as first cause" argument before, and this is a good argument against it. It's hypocritical to say we know there must be a God because there had to be a first cause for everything without also accounting for what "caused" God in the first place.

Rudy said...

More elaborate theories of the universe do eliminate the "first cause" theory, in the form of the need for a chain of causes with a starting point in time.

They don't, however, answer "what caused the multiverse to exist at all", a version of the question "why is there anything" I suppose. Thinking of God as outside of time completely has been one standard theological view for a very long time.

Eli, since God is defined to be without cause, it is not logical to ask what caused God. It is entirely reasonable, to Hume's question "Who made God?" to answer "nobody".

This is not to say that defining God this way proves God's existence, it doesn't, but the first cause argument is not defeated as easily as you suggest.

JDHURF said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JDHURF said...

I already addressed the issues you raise in my original post Rudy:

"The second premise, refined, states that the universe is contingent and must have a cause. However, there has never been a serious argument to sustain this premise. Bertrand Russell rhetorically asks '[j]ust because everything in the universe is contingent, must the universe itself be contingent?'”

I also explained that time is but only a relative fourth dimension and itself came into being after the big bang. As I wrote in the post:

"While current work on this is pure speculation, the best guesses by the most acclaimed physicists in the field point out that time is the relative fourth dimension of the universe created by the Big Bang and that time more or less dissolves the closer it gets to the gravitational singularity. Discussion of time with regards to the origins of the universe and the Big Bang may very well be nonsensical."

You say that one could answer the question "who made god?" with the answer "nobody," but it is more than clear that there is no evidence to sustain such an answer. It is further clear that the very same answer could be given, as I mentioned in the post, to the universe itself. "Who made the universe?" "Nobody."


These things work both ways obviously.

As I also already said in my post, when one falsely and without any evidence or reason answers the question "what caused the multiverse to exist at all?" with "God," one is only further confounding the elementary question "why is there something rather than nothing?" As I said in my original post:

"While it remains unknown why there is something rather than nothing it only confounds this question to introduce the further problem of why and how there is also God."

In this unnecessary scenario we must now account not only for the universe's existence, but for God's existence as well and not only for God's existence, but God's existence in relation to the universe and the causal relationship therein.

When you admit that, departing the first premise of the cosmological argument, walking back the claim that everything has a cause, without evidence or reason suggesting that God is without cause, does not prove "God's existence." You realize that.

What you don't realize is that you are thereby acknowledging that the first premise of the argument (everything has a cause) is, in fact, refuted which means that the entire argument is refuted. With a syllogism, any refutation of any premise leads to the refutation of the entire argument. That's how this works.


I will be specific. This is so for two reasons. First, because you have done away with the first premise and, as any elementary understanding of logic will show, when the premises do not hold the conclusion falls. Put simply, if everything must have a cause, then God too must have a cause. If God does not need a cause then the first premise that says everything must have a cause is false. Secondly, the argument is meant to prove the existence of god, that is the reason for its formulation, but, as you even admit, the argument fails to do so which, by definition, means that it is "defeated."

Thank your for reading, thinking and commenting.