The argument for god I had the hardest time with

Christina here…

JT told me to blog about the “Argument for god that gave you the most trouble for the longest time.”


You’re going to laugh:

I had a really hard time with the cosmological argument. You know (from wiki):

A version of the cosmological argument could be stated as follows:

  1. Every finite and contingent being has a cause.
  2. causal loop cannot exist.
  3. A causal chain cannot be of infinite length.
  4. Therefore, a First Cause (or something that is not an effect) must exist.

According to the argument, the existence of the Universe requires an explanation, and the creation of the Universe by a First Cause, generally assumed to be God, is that explanation.

In light of the Big Bang theory, a stylized version of argument has emerged (sometimes called the Kalam cosmological argument, the following form of which was set forth by William Lane Craig[7]):

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

Of course, theists define god, in part, as a being that has always existed, and thus never “began to exist” and thus had no cause. which is obviously special pleading.

My main problem was not so much this argument but… how DID the universe begin? I provisionally accept the scientific consensus that the universe began with the big bang, and hat the big bang arose out of a singularity, and that even asking what came “before” the singularity is nonsensical because time and space did not exist when the universe was a singularity and the laws of physics don’t really apply.

Clearly though, a singularity would be a rather unstable state for a universe to be in. No wonder people like “god” – its so much simpler. Our brains aren’t meant to understand things like singularities.


This is post 21/24 by Christina for the SSA blogathon in support of the Secular Student Alliance! Go donate to them!

Learn more about Christina and follow her @ziztur.

About christinastephens
  • Andrew G.

    We’ve known for a long time that talk of “singularities” in connection with the Big Bang is wrong.

    If you try and model the Big Bang (or a black hole) without using quantum mechanics, you get a singularity – but not because singularities really exist, rather because you’re taking the theory out of conditions where it is valid and into territory where quantum mechanics can’t be ignored.

    Quantum mechanics on the other hand suggests that there are no singularities and that the question of the existence of an infinite past is once again open (theories of “eternal inflation” postulate many universes condensing, each in its own local big bang, out of a continuously inflating false vacuum).

    We don’t yet have reliable answers, because quantum mechanics and general relativity have yet to be unified in a working theory of quantum gravity. Until this happens there is always some speculation involved.

    You won’t tend to hear any of this from Christian apologists though. For them, the old (outdated since at least the 80s) model of a universe starting at a big-bang singularity is so convenient for their arguments that they ignore all the newer work contradicting it.

  • Steve

    The biggest problem with the first cause argument is that at best it gets you Deism. All you can possibly get from it is some kind of creator god. There is no way to get from there to theism, let alone any specific theology. You still have no idea about the nature of that god or his/her/its wishes. Why does he care what we eat, when we work, or who we fuck?

    • Jasper of Maine

      The biggest problem with the first cause argument is that at best it gets you Deism.

      I think it’s worse than that. At best it gets you is a “first cause”, but no attributes/information about that “first cause”.

    • Adam

      That’s the whole point. The first cause argument is only meant to argue that a god exists. It’s not meant to prove Christianity or any other religion.

      Of course, it even fails at that. The best thing you could argue for is a cause. One could not use this argument to argue the characteristics of this cause.

      • Steve

        But that’s not how most Christians use it. Even those so-called sophisticated theologians clearly imply that it’s supposed to be the Christian god. They may not think it to themselves as such, but that’s how they sell it to their followers

  • christophburschka

    There are flaws in both premises in Craig’s argument (leaving aside the conclusion where “something did it” is magically translated to “God did it”).

    1. The entire concept of causality relies on the existence of time, which we don’t even know to have existed before the universe. My knowledge of cosmology begins and ends with Sagan’s Cosmos series, but that premise seems to be quite an assumption.

    2. Actually why do they even need this one? Why make a cause conditional on something “beginning to exist”? It’s a loophole for their “God”, of course.

  • Emptyell

    It seems to me the biggest problem with the cosmological argument is the idea that everything has a cause. Cause and effect has proven to be an extraordinary model for understanding the world around us and the universe beyond but it’s still just a model (ie an observation of reality as opposed to reality itself). Just because we’ve found this to be useful doesn’t prove that the universe has a cause.

    Even if we do assume that the universe was caused how do we get to the god hypothesis. It always comes back to Presuppositionalism which is just a fancy way to say begging the question.

    The only argument for god that I can see in the cosmological argument is: There are clear and consistent patterns of order in the universe, let’s call this God. It seems a bit of a stretch to get from this to the transmutation of the sacrament.

  • Theo Lockefeer

    I did read “the big bang Never happened” from Lerner.
    It seems plausibel. Also Plasma Universe (the site gives many idea’s).
    Personally i think we should not exclude even strange idea’s.
    the big bang theorie is very creationistic developted by a belgian
    Priest (catholic).
    What if the universe always existed ?

    the equation : exist = exist

    looks more logical then :

    doesnot exist exist

    • Andrew G.

      That the big bang happened is about as certain as anything in cosmology ever is (Lerner’s crankery is comprehensively refuted by current evidence).

  • Zengaze

    The problem with debating the cosmological argument, is that it is generally people who know very little, trying to explain to people who know even less.

    I generally go down the line of “I don’t know how the universe was created, the problem you have is that you say you do.” when you the are thrown the everything requires a cause argument my favourite retort is that the big bang was caused by the fart of trans dimensional turtle, therefore I don’t see intent, it’s great to hear the religidiots squeal that you’re being stupid and not taking their argument seriously, because obviously a creator god outside time and space is more likely than a trans dimensional turtle.

    Anyway what really pisses me off is the leap from deism to theism that they make without missing a breath. You see craig doing this every time. The “there most be a creator therefore Jesus is god” argument, or the false equivance that because you admit you can’t disprove a god cause, you therefore can’t disprove that Jesus is that god cause. They continually conflate the deist debate with the theist one in a slight of hand to add weight to their own silly theism.

  • BRamsey

    The problem begins with the first step. “Every finite and contingent being[they really need a better word here to refer to matter in general as "being" implies a living being] has a cause.”

    The Universe is infinite. By definition, it exists everywhere and there is nothing outside of reality. The Universe is everything. It may be true that the universe [small "u"] is finite assuming that multiple universes exist. I hate to use the term multiverse because of the comic book connotations. But if this,, is true and there are other universes, then we need a word for a collection of universes. So Universe with a big U.

    Anyway, my point is that the Universe has to be infinite. There’s no where you can go that isn’t a part of it. That seems like infinity to me anyway.

    So if the Universe, Reality if you prefer, is not finite then it fails the definition in step 1 and so does not require a cause.

    But that’s just me.

  • Jason

    I thought that the most current understanding of the cause of the universe was that fluctuations in the quantum foam produced instabilities that resulted in the big bang, meaning there was stuff going on before our universe was here. So if the multiverse, or “Universe” was here before that, maybe it was always here and no creator is necessary because it wasn’t created. Our universe was created by “THE UNIVERSE” if that makes sense. The word singularity just means that a condition exists that we currently do not have the means to understand. A black hole is a singularity because we do not know what it is made of. Its a place where our understanding of physics breaks down.

    • Zengaze

      Yeha that’s the hypothesis krauss is running with. It’s the nothing is something debate, lol, which I think is great, the possible reality that nothing, is non existent and there always is/was something. Then you have the theo/philo wankers screaming that if it is something it isn’t the nothing they are talking about.

      • John Horstman

        Hmm, I think the fatal flaw is that none of premises 1, 2, nor 3 can be proved true. All of them rely on a particular view of causality (mono-directional, finite, and taking place in a closed system) that has been challenged by various quantum mechanics interpretations, and since any or all of the possibilities rejected by the premises can be included in an internally-consistent model of causality, there’s no cause to dismiss them outright without empirical evidence that contraindicates the possibilities.

        Also, as others point out, for a creator-god to exist, it must violate 1, if it has no cause, unless the existence of such a creator is presupposed and viewed as a tautology, in which case the argument becomes useless since it’s predicated on a premise that already asserts its conclusion; 2, if it’s self-created; or 3, if it’s not self-created but has always existed – there’s also no good reason to suppose this can’t be applied to The Universe (the framework, possibly containing other universes, that effects our universe, as distinct from our universe, the amalgamation of space-time and fundamental particles that we experience day-to day and which probably had a definite beginning). Any proposed god is also refuted by the cosmological argument, making it a rather poor argument for the existence of god (the only thing it really demonstrates is that at least one – and I suspect definitely 2 and at least one of 1 or 3 – of its premises is false).

        • John Horstman

          Whoops, accidentally replied to a comment instead of the thread – apologies.

  • Rick Wayne

    The fatal flaw in the deist argument is that they’re contending everything has to have a cause. EVERYTHING. No exceptions.

    Well, except god, because, you know…God.

    “But what’s so special about god? How come it gets to exist without a cause?”
    “He just IS special. Says so right on the label.”
    “OK, I claim the same for the universe — it’s the single thing that doesn’t need a cause. Makes just as much sense, but it’s a more parsimonus argument. You need something uncaused plus a Magical Sky Man whose existence no one can detect. I need an uncaused universe, period. We’re done here.”

  • Ronnie Kellogg

    The first premise of the first argument, “Every finite and contingent being has a cause.”, assumes that God is neither finite nor contingent. However, I see no reason to believe that God is a necessary being. If it is true, as many philosophers seem to think, that if one can imagine X being different in some way then X is contingent because that implies that X could have been another way, then all the contradictory beliefs about God’s being and nature can be taken as proof that God also needs a cause. Christians usually imagine God as three persons in one, while Muslims and Jews appear to imagine God as one person in one. Most Muslims and Jews don’t even believe that God has progeny while Christians do believe that God has a son. Some people may be inclined to imagine that God is male. Others will happily imagine God as a female. Still others may imagine God as sexless. So, on that definition of contingent, God is indeed contingent. The firs cosmological argument fails as a result.

    Dr. Craig’s argument makes use of a premise that is based on a demonstrably false principle. Anytime you hear Craig defend the first premise of his version of the cosmological argument he likes to proclaim confidently, “From nothing, nothing comes.” Dr. Richard Carrier logically proves that this “truth”, (which is often taken for granted), is actually false. Please see:

  • Chronos

    Better late than never, I suppose… and sorry in advance for the length.

    FYI, Julian Barbour’s The End of Time is a bit technical and isn’t the clearest writing style, but something like it is probably true. The short version: Schrödinger’s original wave equation in Quantum Mechanics was timeless, while the modern version with time had to be explicitly found; meanwhile, Wheeler and DeWitt working in the 1960s discovered a timeless quantum formulation of General Relativity that leaves many questions unanswered but seems much more compatible with QM than traditional 4-dimensional spacetime. If physics is timeless and the deeper theory looks like the Wheeler-DeWitt equation, then the Many Worlds interpretation of QM is physically true: every possible world happens… with the oddity that some possible worlds “happen” more “strongly” than others, and the equation tells us how “strongly” each possible world happens.

    (Sidebar: What we really mean by “probability”, i.e. the explanation and physical interpretation of the Born probabilities, is poorly understood today, even before adding Many Worlds to the mix. An idea called Mangled Worlds says that low-probability worlds are consumed by neighboring high-probability worlds and don’t independently “exist” — whatever that word means. Mangled Worlds is pretty far out there, but AFAIK it’s the only serious proposal so far that even tries to explain why the Born probabilities are the squared modulus of the wavefunction’s complex amplitude, when QM generally forbids nonlinear operations like squaring.)

    With Wheeler-DeWitt established, Barbour argues that likely worlds are related to each other, for tricky reasons. There’s a zero point in Barbour’s formulation, but it’s not the traditional Big Bang of spacetime that springs into existence from vacuum fluctuations as a sort of Uncaused Cause. Instead it represents zero entropy, a world that contains no variation, nothing “interesting”. This zero point skews the math so that likely worlds with high entropy (far from the zero point) bear strong similarities to other likely worlds with lower entropy (nearer the zero point). The evidence that science analyzes, the memories in our brains, the photons in mid-flight from Andromeda to our galaxy, etc. all exist in this moment’s world, “now”, but they are also “time capsules” that reference other worlds that are less “interesting”, an asymmetric relationship we call “past”.

    This actually ties into some recent developments in more mainstream timeful physics. Barbour’s ideas can only be true if we ditch the pseudo-Newtonian framework of GR’s absolute spacetime, and we can only ditch absolute spacetime if the total energy of the universe is zero (gravity’s potential energy counts as negative, so zero is achievable). This is exactly what Lawrence Krauss’s A Universe From Nothing lecture and book argue for, on completely unrelated cosmological grounds related to the experimentally determined geometry of space and the Inflationary Big Bang model.

    (I even have an unsubstantiated hunch that the timeless physics stuff may even interplay with the Holographic principle and the somewhat related AdS/CFT correspondence. The former says that a volume of 3D space is equivalent to the entropy/information inscribed on the 2D sphere that encloses it, and the latter basically says that an N dimensional “Anti deSitter” spacetime with local particle/field physics (i.e. pretty similar to our universe) is mathematically equivalent to an N-1 dimensional “Conformal Field Theory” space with nonlocal “holomorphic” physics. Both strike me as similar to how the Wheeler-DeWitt equation carves 4-dimensional spacetime into a single 3-dimensional “Now” plus a deterministic rule for reconstructing all other “Nows” from it. But that’s just an interested layman’s wild guess.)

    So… yeah.

    TL;DR: we only have the vaguest idea of what the universe actually is, but it’s pretty clear that the “God is the uncaused cause” argument is just the same sort of kids-in-the-sandbox philosophy that made Euclid argue that space is flat by definition: namely, it brings in “intuitively correct” unstated assumptions that are mathematically equivalent to the conclusion itself. The words “time” and “cause” are dangerous in arguments like these because we intuitively treat them as unopened black boxes, but they actually have deeper structure inside them that can invalidate our assumptions. Whatever the universe is, it’s probably a “paradox” in the Twin Paradox sense (unintuitive), but it’s certainly not a paradox in the logical sense (a contradiction). Any “Uncaused Cause” would be a logical paradox if it weren’t a mere confusion.

  • Paul

    What do we need for the existence of the Universe?

    Well, obviously we would need energy/ matter. But doesn’t science tell us that the total energy of the universe is zero? The negative gravitational energy when summed with the positive energy of matter totals to zero. No energy was required to “create” the Universe.

    We also would need a mechanism to produce this “zero energy Universe” and quantum fluctuations seems to be a very strong candidate.

    Finally, we would require a cause. Well, a cause for the production of a Universe inside of space and time but again, science tells us that our Universe was created in the absence of space and time. We cannot apply our observation of cause and effect to the “creation” of the Universe. Cause and effect would imply that the Universe was created at a particular point and moment in the framework of space and time. But there was no space or time to allow for the universe to be produced at any particular moment or particular point.

    I feel I can conclude (for the time being) that the Universe doesn’t require a cause. We have a mechanism that produces a Universe that doesn’t really exist anyway.