Cosmological Argument


Multiverse 2Scientists differ among themselves regarding the scientific status of multiverse theories. Some, such as George Ellis, don’t think multiverse theories are testable, and hence not scientific. Others, think multiverse models are (or could be) testable, and hence are scientific. Many Christian apologists have sided with Ellis et al and rejected the multiverse as a valid scientific theory on the grounds that it is not testable. Some, including myself, have argued that multiverse theories are not based on the evidence, but ad hoc theories invented by cosmologists to get around the theistic implications of fine-tuning in physics.

Jeff Zweerink from Reasons to Believe wrote a short article addressing the scientific nature of and foundation for multiverse theories. He argues that some multiverse models do make testable predictions (even if we are currently unable to test those predictions empirically), and thus should be “included in the realm of scientific investigation (while stopping short of taking a firm position on the demarcation question –whether multiverse theories qualify as scientific).

More importantly, he argues that at least some multiverse theories are based on other scientific findings, and not invented whole-cloth for the purpose of answering the fine-tuning problem:

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A or BIf you’re looking for an explanation of the universe, which is a collection of contingent beings, there are only two possibilities: 1) The explanation is found in a necessary being that transcends the universe; 2) There is no explanation.

Regarding 1), every physical entity is a contingent being. The “universe” simply refers to the whole collection of physical, contingent beings.  One cannot explain why the universe exists by appealing to another physical, contingent being because there can be no physical, contingent beings outside of the collection of all physical, contingent beings.  “But,” one might say, “perhaps it could be explained by a prior non-physical, contingent being.  Perhaps, but even if so, as a contingent being, that non-physical, contingent entity would also require an explanation for its existence.  To avoid an infinite regress, one must ultimately arrive at a necessary being that transcends the universe, and explains why the universe exists.

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Not scienceMany believe science has disproven God.  This is not possible, even in principle.[1]  The truth of the matter is that advances in science are providing more reasons to believe in God, not less.  While scientific discoveries cannot prove God’s existence, they can be used to support premises in arguments that have theistic conclusions/implications. For example, science has discovered that the universe began to exist.  Anything that begins to exist requires an external cause.  Since the universe encompasses all physical reality, the cause of the universe must transcend physical reality.  It cannot be a prior physical event or some natural law, because there was nothing physical prior to the first physical event, and natural laws only come into being once the natural world comes into being.  Whatever caused the universe to come into being must be transcendent, powerful, immaterial, spaceless, eternal, and personal, which is an apt description of God.

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Universe from NothingLast year theoretical physicist and atheist, Lawrence Krauss, wrote a book titled A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing. As the title suggests, Krauss wrote the book to answer the age-old question of why there is something rather than nothing. The book was heralded by many atheists as the definitive answer to theists who claim God is necessary to explain the existence of physical reality. Indeed, in the afterward Richard Dawkins claimed that Krauss’ book devastates theistic arguments based on cosmology just as Darwin’s On the Origin of Species devastated theistic arguments based on design in biology. Other reviewers, however – including scientists, philosophers, and theologians – beg to differ. Having read the book myself (not just once, but two times now), I can see why they were less than impressed with Krauss’ argument.

While my overall assessment of Krauss’ argument is not positive, truth be told, most of the book was quite enjoyable and informative.  That’s because the first 2/3 of the book is a lesson on the historical development of modern cosmology.  Krauss doesn’t make his case for why there is something rather than nothing until the last four chapters.  Unfortunately, that’s where the book falls apart.

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Reasonable Faith, the ministry of William Lane Craig, recently released a great new visual depiction of the kalam cosmological argument.

 

You can view the video above (from YouTube), as well as on the kalam cosmological argument page at Reasonable Faith.

ContingencyWhile in discussion with A. C. Grayling on the March 25 edition of the Unbelievable radio program, Peter S. Williams provided a nice, concise presentation of the cosmological argument from contingency:

Once you’ve made the distinction between things that have causes and…things that don’t have causes, if something exists it either is the kind of thing that requires something outside of itself to exist, or it’s not.  If it’s not possible for there to be an infinite regress of things that do require causes outside of themselves, and it is true that something exists which does require a cause outside itself [the universe, and everything in it]…,there can’t be an infinite regress of such causes, and therefore you have to have a termination of that regress.  [God is the best explanation for the termination of that regress.]

For those of you for whom this to be a bit too concise, let me flesh it out a bit.

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Bear in mirrorAll of the scientific evidence points to the temporal finitude of physical reality, even if physical reality extends beyond the Big Bang (see here and here).  And yet, scientists continue to come up with mathematical models that permit an eternal universe/multiverse, and atheists continue to promote them because both are under the mistaken presumption that if physical reality is eternal, then there is no need for a transcendent cause, and thus no need for God.  As David Berlinski observed, “While an eternal universe makes it meaningless to ask when the universe began to exist, since its existence is not necessary it is still meaningful to ask why it exists.”  The fact that physical reality is contingent means that even if the universe/multiverse is eternal, it still needs a cause.

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ImperviousThe kalam cosmological argument (KCA) for God’s existence can be stated as follows:

(1) Anything that begins to exist requires a cause
(2) The universe began to exist
(3) Thus, the universe requires a cause

Additional logical inferences allow us to identify this cause as God.  Whatever caused space, time, and matter to begin to exist cannot itself be spatial, temporal, or material.  Furthermore, whatever caused our orderly, life-permitting universe to come into being a finite time ago must be immensely powerful, intelligent, conscious, and hence personal.  These are apt descriptions of a being theists have long identified as God.

Both premises have been challenged on scientific grounds.  Premise one is typically challenged on the basis of quantum mechanics, while premise two is challenged by new cosmological models that seek to restore an eternal universe.  I am going to argue that neither premise of the argument can be undermined by scientific evidence, and thus the argument itself is impervious to scientific refutation.  Only philosophical arguments are capable of undermining either premise of the argument.

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New Scientist published an article last week explaining why the universe must have had a beginning.  While they end the article with speculative physics that try to place that beginning so far back into the past so as to be virtually indistinguishable from an eternity ago, a beginning to the universe remains.  And if physical reality began to exist a finite time ago, then it must have a transcendent, immaterial, eternal, spaceless cause.

Luke A. Barnes, a specialist in astro-physics and researcher at the Sydney Institute for Astronomy, University of Sydney, has an excellent quote responding to those who claim it’s possible that the universe could have come into being from nothing: 

The claim regarding a universe coming from nothing is either nonsensical or a non-explanation. If we use the dictionary definition of ‘nothing’ – not anything – then a universe coming from nothing is as impossible as a universe created by a married bachelor. Nothing is not a type of thing, and thus has no properties. If you’re talking about something from which a universe can come, then you aren’t talking about nothing. ‘Nothing’ has no charge in the same sense that the C-major scale has no charge – it doesn’t have the property at all. Alternatively, one could claim that the universe could have come from nothing by creatively redefining ‘nothing’. ‘Nothing’ must become a type of something, a something with the rather spectacular property of being able to create the entire known universe. It’s an odd thing to call `nothing’ – I wouldn’t complain if I got one for Christmas.[1]

Love it!


[1]Luke A. Barnes, “The Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Intelligent Life,” 21 December 2011; available from http://arxiv.org/abs/1112.4647; Internet; accessed 16 April 2012; page 67.

Theists often use the basic metaphysical principle that something only comes from something as evidence for God’s existence.  We reason that if the universe (something) came into being, then it must have been caused to come into being by something else – it could not have simply materialized out of nothing without a cause because out of nothing, nothing comes.  The something that brought the universe into being must itself be immaterial, spaceless, and eternal, which are some of the basic properties of a theistic being. 

I have heard a few atheists object to this argument by questioning the veracity of the basic metaphysical principle that something can only come from something on the grounds that we have never experienced nothing to know whether or not it is possible for something to come from nothing, and thus we cannot know that it’s impossible for something to come from nothing.  While we may not have any direct experience of something that comes into being from nothing, it does not mean it’s not possible.  Indeed, in the case of the universe it was not only possible, but it actually happened.

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Astrophysicist Alex Filippenko of the Universityof California, Berkeley took part in a panel discussion on June 23, 2012 at the SETICon 2 conference on the topic “Did the Big Bang Require a Divine Spark?”  Taking a page out of the playbooks of Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss, Filippenko claimed that “the Big Bang could’ve occurred as a result of just the laws of physics being there. With the laws of physics, you can get universes.”[1] If the laws of physics are responsible for churning out universes, then the ultimate question is not the origin of the universe, but the origin of the laws of physics.  Where did they come from?  Filippenko recognizes this problem, saying “The question, then, is, ‘Why are there laws of physics?’  And you could say, ‘Well, that required a divine creator, who created these laws of physics and the spark that led from the laws of physics to these universes, maybe more than one.’”[2] 

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Given my recent post on falsely assuming that God’s eternality excludes the possibility that He has a cause (and thinking premise 1 of the kalam cosmological argument proves He doesn’t have a cause), I thought it fitting to address atheists who assume that the universe, if it is eternal, is uncaused.  Some atheists reason as follows:

(1) If the universe began to exist, then it has a cause
(2) The universe did not begin to exist
(3) Therefore the universe did not have a cause

This commits the fallacy of denying the antecedent.  The form of the fallacy is as follows:

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The kalam cosmological argument (KCA) for God’s existence goes as follows: 

(1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause
(2) The universe began to exist
(3) Therefore, the universe has a cause

When we consider what kind of cause would be necessary to bring the universe into being, we arrive at an immaterial, eternal, spaceless, personal, intelligent, and powerful being – an apt description of what theists identify as God.  Atheists commonly object and theists often wonder, “Well, then who made God?”  Theists rightly point out that the argument does not claim everything has a cause, but only those things that begin to exist.  As an eternal being, God never began to exist, and thus does not need a cause.  Indeed, the question itself is nonsensical given the kind of being God is. 

We apologists must be careful, however, not to think that the 1st premise of the KCA proves God does not have a cause.  The premise only pertains to things which begin to exist.  We cannot infer anything about the causal requirements or lack thereof for eternal beings from this premise.  While the 1st premise of the KCA does not require that God have a cause, to think it proves God does not have a cause is to commit the fallacy of denying the antecedent:

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Many atheists assert that an eternal universe is explanatorily equivalent to an eternal God.  For example, Sagan once asked, “If we say that God has always been, why not save a step and conclude that the universe has always been?”[1]  And just recently, two prominent atheists made the same claim.  In his new book, A Universe from Nothing, Lawrence Krauss writes, “[T]he declaration of a First Cause still leaves open the question, ‘Who created the Creator?’ After all, what is the difference between arguing in favor of an eternally existing creator versus an eternally existing universe without one?”[2]  Victor Stenger agrees with Krauss:

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In response to various cosmological and teleological arguments for the existence of a creator God some atheists appeal to the principle of parsimony—often dubbed “Ockham’s Razor”—to argue that invoking God to explain our cosmic origins is both unnecessary and unhelpful.  Introducing a divine being to explain the origin of the universe is said to be less parsimonious than simply acknowledging that the universe popped into existence uncaused from absolutely nothing.

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Premise one of the kalam cosmological argument (KCA) states that everything which begins to exist has a cause.  It goes on to reason that since the universe began to exist, it too requires a cause.  Given the properties required of such a cause, the KCA is a powerful argument for a personal creator God.  

To avoid the conclusion of the argument many new atheist-types take exception with the causal principle embodied in premise 1.  Quantum physics, they say, has shown that there can be effects without causes.  And if quantum events do not need causes, then perhaps the universe doesn’t either.  

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During his debate with Arif Ahmed and Andrew Copson at the Cambridge Union Society, Peter S. Williams gave a lucid illustration for the argument for the existence of God based on the contingency of material reality.[1]

Imagine if I asked you to loan me a book.  You say you don’t have it, but you’ll ask your friend to loan you his, and in turn you’ll loan it to me.  When you ask your friend for the book, he says he does not have it, but he’ll ask his friend to borrow his copy, and in turn he’ll loan it to you, who will loan it to me.  If this process continues ad infinitum, I will never receive the book.  If I do receive the book it is because the process of requesting to borrow the book is not infinite, but temporally finite.  Somewhere down the chain of requests to borrow the book, someone actually had the book without having to borrow it from someone else.  

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Physicist Lawrence Krauss’ new book, A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing, purports to answer the age-old philosophical question of why there is something rather than nothing from a scientific, rather than philosophical or religious perspective.  In the book’s afterword Richard Dawkins announces that Krauss has triumphed in his quest:

Even the last remaining trump card of the theologian, “Why is there something rather than nothing?,” shrivels up before your eyes as you read these pages. If On the Origin of Species was biology’s deadliest blow to super­naturalism, we may come to see A Universe From Nothing as the equivalent from cosmology. The title means exactly what it says. And what it says is ­devastating.

Columbia professor of philosophy, David Albert, couldn’t disagree more.  In his scathing review for the New York Times, Albert points out that Krauss has not answered the question at all.

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In honor of Stephen Hawking’s 70th birthday, a meeting of the minds took place to discuss the state of cosmology.  New Scientist[1] reported on the events of the night, one of which was a talk delivered by famed cosmologist, Alexander Vilenkin, describing why physical reality must have a beginning.  But first, a little background is in order.

For a long time scientists held that the universe was eternal and unchanging.  This allowed them to avoid the God question—who or what caused the universe—because they reasoned that a beginningless universe needed no cause.[2]  They recognized that if the universe began to exist in the finite past that it begged for a cause that was outside of the time-space-continuum.  As Stephen Hawking told his well-wishers in a pre-recorded message, “A point of creation would be a place where science broke down. One would have to appeal to religion and the hand of God.”

Scientific discoveries in the early and mid-20th century, however, forced cosmologists to the uncomfortable conclusion that our universe came into being in the finite past.  The scientific consensus was that the origin of our universe constituted the origin of physical reality itself.  Before the Big Bang, literally nothing existed.  The universe came into being from nothing and nowhere.  This sounded too much like the creation ex nihilo of Genesis, however, and seemed to require the God of Genesis to make it happen.  As a result, some cosmologists were feverishly looking for ways to restore an eternal universe.

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