The Cosmological Argument

The Cosmological Argument has a number of variations but I will only deal with the one employed by William Lane Craig in his recent debate with Bill Cooke.

Here is a transcript of Craig’s version of the cosmological argument:

So, why does the universe exist instead of just nothing? Where did it come from? There must have been a cause which brought the universe into being.

We can summarise our argument thus far as follows:

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

Now, as the cause of time and space, this being must be an uncaused, timeless, spaceless, immaterial being of unfathomable power.

Moreover, it must be personal as well.

Why? Because this cause must be beyond space and time therefore it cannot be physical or material.

Now there are only two kinds of things that fit that description; either abstract objects like numbers or else an intelligent, un-bodied mind.

But abstract objects can’t cause anything and therefore it follows that the cause of the universe is a transcendent, personal mind.

The big bang is based on the observation that we can see that everything in the observable universe is moving away from everything else which would lead to the conclusion that, if you wound the clock back, things would inevitably be closer together. A lot closer together. With this hypothesis in mind many different disciplines in science attempted to see if the predictions formed by this hypothesis would turn out to be true. And so far they’ve found overwhelming evidence to support the claim.

Clever people in clever coats are able to model the initial conditions of the universe and show that specific transformations probably happened at specific times and that, to the best of our knowledge, the universe as we know it is 13.73 billion years old give or take about 130 million years. So far no one has found a way to gather any information beyond this point and so questions as to what happened before then (which might actually be a non-valid question as we established in the post on infinity) are speculative at best. No one knows.

Now let’s address Craig’s main arguments.

He uses a simple logical proposition-proposition-conclusion to show that the universe must be caused and then, on that conclusion, goes on to show that this cause-er must be God.

Logical conclusions work when the preceding propositions are sound. And it’s the propositions that cause Craig’s argument to fall short. Without sound propositions your conclusion – no matter how appealing it sounds – has no foundation.

We know that the universe does some very strange things at the scale of the very big and the very small. Quantum physics has taught us that things can be in two places at once. No one understands why or how but we can observe it time and time again. I can imagine a similar argument to Craig’s one here where one of the propositions is “1. Nothing can be in two places at once.”. This would have been a perfectly common sense argument only a few years ago but now we have to take a step back and concede that not everything in the universe conforms to the everyday properties we observe as humans.

We live in a “middle earth” where we have a fairly good grasp on how things interact with each other at our level but we lack the ability to make head or tail of what happens outside of the zone we’ve evolved to understand. At the moment, at least.

In short, the answer to Craig’s first two propositions is “we don’t know” and that appealing to common sense at the same time as positing a supernatural and outside-of-space-and-time cause seems to be a bit of a double-standard. If God is allowed to be an uncaused-cause then why not just move the peg back one step and posit that the universe is allowed to be an uncaused-cause? At least we can observe that the universe exists.

As discussed in my previous post there are lots of interesting explanations for how the universe may have possibly come about and for the properties of time (and therefore causality) but no one knows yet what really happened. And it’s quite possible that we may never know.

The rest of Craig’s arguments shouldn’t need to be discussed because his propositions have already been shown to have fallen short of establishing a need for a God as an ultimate cause but they’re quite funny so I’ll briefly cover them.

He then goes on to make some crazy leaps and hops to try to give this ultimate cause a God-like personality. “Moreover, it must be personal as well”, what? I can see what he’s trying to do here by tying forcing a false dichotomy on us of having to choose between numbers or a mind but he’s either woefully behind on his understanding of developments in neuroscience or he’s being deliberately disingenuous.

One of the last bastions of dualism is in the question of the mind. And this is kind of understandable because it certainly feels like “we” are somehow disembodied. That our essence is somehow more than can be cooked up using meat and chemicals alone. But the more we learn about the workings of the mind in humans and observe traits we thought were unique to humans in other species the more it’s looking like dualism is to neuroscience as Thor is to thunder; a shortcut and an economical way of explaining things but not to be taken seriously.

Even assuming that there must be a cause and forcing us to choose between numbers or a mind as the cause I’d have to contend that there is more compelling arguments currently for numbers (i.e. mathematics) as the driving force behind the universe than of a disembodied mind.

Craig’s goal was to show that the concept of God is not a delusion and the cosmological argument doesn’t add any weight (either for or against) here. If you are already convinced that God exists you’ll like the grand-sounding scientific words and the nice 1, 2, 3 steps but you’ll be no nearer the truth with this argument. It’s built on false propositions, gives you false choices, is inconsistent in its appeals for common sense and ignores just about all recent scientific discoveries.

If God doesn’t exist then belief in God is a delusion and if God exists then belief is not a delusion. Craig’s argument adds nothing to this question and if Cooke had bothered to engage at all neither would his. I suspect that the answer to the moot is the same as “Is the invisible pink unicorn a delusion?”. You can’t prove it either way and it’s one of a billion possible but meaningless questions.

God seems to exist only where evidence is hard to find. When a naturalistic explanation is found the next generation of believers will take the science on board and scoff at their ignorant predecessors for believing that God was explanation for lightening, conception, creation (and, now, evolution) or our minds. Perhaps one day God will need to be moved on from his current position at the start of the universe but I think it’s a pretty safe place for him in the meantime. If you are happy to live with that then good for you but stop just making stuff up and pretending it’s real. I’ll await more evidence.

(For another take on Craig’s arguments take a look at Ian’s blog).

Tags: ,

One Response to “The Cosmological Argument”

  1. Brian says:

    Full MP3 audio of this debate can be found here.

Leave a Reply