The Cosmological Argument

A commenter on another post brought up the cosmological argument, so here are my reasons for rejecting the cosmological argument. I’m going to be fairly brief, but keep in mind that I’ve read Swinburne, Craig, Aquinas, Aristotle, etc., so I know more about cosmological arguments than I will be using here.

A very simple form of the cosmological argument asserts that since everything has a cause, the universe must have a cause, but the chain of causes cannot go back forever, so there must be a first cause, which is God. The problem with this argument is that the first premise contradicts the conclusion – if everything has a cause, then there is no first cause.

A more sophisticated form of the cosmological argument says that everything that begins to exist has a cause, and the universe began to exist, so the universe has a cause. The problem here is that the universe did not begin to exist. Beginning to exist assumes that there was a time at which the thing that began to exist did not exist, and there was no time prior to the universe at which the universe did not exist, since time is defined in terms of the universe.

The theist might respond to this last point by saying that something begins to exist if there is a time such that it is not the case that prior to that time, the thing in question existed. The universe began to exist by this definition, because it is not the case that prior to the first point in time, the universe existed – after all, there was no time prior to the first point in time. The reply to that is simply that by that definition God began to exist as well, so we fall back into the infinite causal regress that the theist was trying to avoid in the first place.

Another form of the cosmological argument says that everything contingent has an explanation, and the universe is contingent, so the universe must have an explanation in something that is not contingent but necessary, and this necessary being is God. The problem here is that there is no way to explain what “contingent” means without begging the question. For example, we could say that something is contingent if it depends on something else for its existence, but then calling the universe contingent is question begging.

So, I don’t think there are any sound versions of the cosmological argument. Again, I’ve read a lot more than I’ve used here, but this should give you the basic idea of why I don’t think there are any sound versions of the argument.

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9 thoughts on “The Cosmological Argument

  1. johnsonav

    I think there are two points that I can address that might expand the discussion.

    First, with respect to “beginning to exist,” I know that Craig thinks that beginning to exist at time t should be understood something like: X begins to exist at t iff there is no time t* prior to t at which X exists, and it has never been the case that X exists timelessly. Understood that way, there is no problem saying that the universe began to exist, but that God (and whatever other timelessly existing things you might posit) did not. I think moving in roughly this direction is the strongest way to respond to your concerns about this argument.

    Moving on to the contingency-type arguments. For most of the modern contingency arguments of this type, X being contingent is the case iff X exists and it is possible that X not exist. This kind of understanding doesn’t seem to beg any questions (I’m not sure how it could). Nor does it seem question begging to suggest that the universe (or whatever you want to call the mereological or conjunctive agglomeration at issue in a particular cosmological argument) exists contingently. That’s not to say that one cannot object to the argument by proposing the universe exists necessarily. But nobody, as far as I can see, is doing anything improper by making these moves.

    Reply
    1. William Post author

      I have my doubts about whether timelessness is meaningful. It seems like an ad hoc distinction that we don’t need for any reason other than to protect the cosmological argument.

      I would want a better analysis of contingency than that. Pruss defines contingency in terms of having a cause, for example, but this clearly makes the claim that the universe or the laws of nature are contingent question begging.

      Reply
      1. johnsonav

        I have my doubts about whether timelessness is meaningful. It seems like an ad hoc distinction that we don’t need for any reason other than to protect the cosmological argument.

        That doesn’t seem right to me. Plenty of things might be thought to exist timelessly: God, abstract objects, etc. Even God’s existing timelessly is something that is debated completely outside the context of cosmological arguments. So I don’t see why you’d think it’s an ad hoc distinction.

        I would want a better analysis of contingency than that. Pruss defines contingency in terms of having a cause, for example, but this clearly makes the claim that the universe or the laws of nature are contingent question begging.

        Where does Pruss define contingency in that way? From his paper with Richard Gale, he states right up front what he takes contingency to be: “A contingent proposition (or being) is one that possibly, in the broadly conceptual or logical sense, is true (or existent) and possibly is false (or nonexistent).”

        If he says otherwise someplace else, I’m not familiar with it.

        Reply
        1. William Post author

          That doesn’t seem right to me. Plenty of things might be thought to exist timelessly: God, abstract objects, etc. Even God’s existing timelessly is something that is debated completely outside the context of cosmological arguments. So I don’t see why you’d think it’s an ad hoc distinction.

          Right, but I don’t accept the existence of abstract objects or God. As far as I can tell, there are no good independent reasons to believe in timeless entities.

          Where does Pruss define contingency in that way? From his paper with Richard Gale, he states right up front what he takes contingency to be: “A contingent proposition (or being) is one that possibly, in the broadly conceptual or logical sense, is true (or existent) and possibly is false (or nonexistent).”

          He gives a causal account of contingency in his entry in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. It’s near the end of the section where he goes through a bunch of different accounts of contingency and rejects most of them in favor of the causal account.

          Reply
          1. johnsonav

            Right, but I don’t accept the existence of abstract objects or God. As far as I can tell, there are no good independent reasons to believe in timeless entities.

            That’s fine. But I don’t see how it’s relevant. It isn’t an objection to Craig’s analysis of “beginning to exist.”

            He gives a causal account of contingency in his entry in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. It’s near the end of the section where he goes through a bunch of different accounts of contingency and rejects most of them in favor of the causal account.

            Right: That’s his account of contingency, not his definition of contingency. So there doesn’t seem to be any question begging going on.

            Reply
            1. William Post author

              That’s fine. But I don’t see how it’s relevant. It isn’t an objection to Craig’s analysis of “beginning to exist.”

              I’m not sure why you say that. If there is no independent reason to make the distinction, then the distinction is ad hoc.

              Right: That’s his account of contingency, not his definition of contingency. So there doesn’t seem to be any question begging going on.

              I think he needs an account of contingency.

              Reply
  2. dstamps2173

    Occam – you appear to depend a lot on what others have said before you. Neither did you respond to my NEW Ontological approach which dealt with what we can experience today within ourselves. Instead you went way into the past and said something couldn’t be in that time. That is a fools path because there is no way you can experience a past that can’t be experienced today. Atheist do this all the time.

    One of the deceits of the self-serving nature is to direct our attention only to those things that it desires us to believe. Therefore, new atheists usually search out atheists’ arguments for their belief in no GOD. In the same way new GOD believers usually search out GOD believers’ arguments for the existence of GOD. The latter has resulted in many gross misinterpretations of the Bible that contradict science when there are no contradictions between the Bible and science when the principles and truth actually taught are known. Fortunately, the Bible uses allegory to convey the true message. The self-serving nature is blind to that message.

    Your statement, “The problem with this argument is that the first premise contradicts the conclusion – if everything has a cause, then there is no first cause.” proves my point. We know that chains of causes exist today–i.e. the sun heats the air causing winds, the wind blows over a tree, the tree hits a barrel, the barrel rolls through a flower bed crushing flowers, etc. The statement of a First Cause automatically assumes the beginning of the chain of causes that always was and always will be. Therefore, your use of “everything” is merely an atheist’s way of twisting an idea to fit the narrative they want to promote. That is a form of blindness.

    To know truth, it is necessary to by-pass our self-interest filter. It is obvious that you have not done that.

    Reply
    1. William Post author

      I assumed your argument was basically the same as the second cosmological argument I criticized. If you don’t think they are similar, feel free to explain the important points of difference and I will address your argument specifically.

      Reply
      1. dstamps2173

        Sorry, I thought it was obvious that I only relied on what can be experienced today on which to draw conclusions about today’s Reality. Isn’t that the scientific way? Yes, a living First Cause would live in the past as well as today, but I never discussed the far past. The only past I discussed was related to the 3 planes of a living reality. In that case, the lowest plane is essentially the past when recognized by the Expression plane. When you talk about the Universe’s beginning, you can only talk about the past which you cannot experience today.

        Now, I push over a flower pot. I changed the state of the flower pot. I was the cause. Therefore, that change in the flower pot’s state was contingent on my action. I existed before, during, and after the flower pot’s change in state.

        Each person can experience what I discussed personally–even atheists. The difference between my approach and yours is obvious. You tell me where my explanation of what we experience within ourselves is incorrect.

        Reply

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