By Matt Lefebvre

Please read the introduction to this series before reading this article.

To read along with audio for this article, click here Cosmo-Part1

Introduction

When thinking about any argument, it can sometimes be difficult to know where to start.  Well, it is often the case that a good place to start is at the beginning, and this is precisely what the cosmological argument intends to do.  There are different forms of this argument presented by different proponents, but I will be following the argument as presented by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek in I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an AtheistAs they first explain, the term “cosmological” is derived from the Greek word for “world” or “universe” and the argument is based on the proposition that there was a beginning to the universe (p.74-75).  They go on to present the argument as follows:

  1. Everything that had a beginning had a cause.
  2. The universe had a beginning.
  3. Therefore the universe had a cause.

At this point, maybe it is not immediately obvious how this is an argument for God’s existence.  After all, it does not even mention God and seems preoccupied with stating a simple (yet logical) formulation of what happened some time way back in the past when no one would have been around to see it.  How does this have any bearing on whether God exists or not?  This is naturally what I endeavor to explain.  However, I wish to start by pointing out that, no matter how innocent this little argument may seem with regard to God’s existence, the weight of the implications of the universe having a beginning, and therefore a cause, can readily be seen by the reactions to this claim, both the friendly and the hostile.  Moreover, it is certainly of note that a good portion of the scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe that I will present has come from those hostile to the idea of a finite universe, perhaps because of the theological implications that follow as a result.  A misrepresentation of the case for God’s existence based on the beginning of the universe would be to picture a group of theists looking at Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” and asking themselves how they could come up with some evidence for the universe having a beginning as stated.  Indeed, though I think the findings of recent scientific research to be consistent with this description in Genesis, the Bible is not the basis of the cosmological argument, nor is any other religious text.  Rather, the argument rests on reasons, both philosophical and scientific, that point to the universe having come into existence at a certain time in the finite past.  In presenting this as evidence for the existence of God, I will first defend the truth of the premises, and then I will examine the conclusion, along with the full brunt of the implications that follow with it.

1. Everything that had a beginning had a cause

There is a common English expression that you might be familiar with.  It sometimes surfaces during traffic disputes or elaborate stories, and sounds something like, “He came out of nowhere.”  Standing in front of 2 cars crashed together, one driver tells the police officer, “Then this car came out of nowhere.”  Or telling the story of his latest close encounter with a wild animal, a hunter says, “Suddenly, out of nowhere, came this huge grizzly bear!”  What is interesting is that most people, upon hearing this phrase, dismiss it as figurative language and do not think that the object in question literally “came out of nowhere.”  There is a fundamental assumption that if there is going to be any particular event or object, it is preceded by a cause, of necessity.  The driver of the car neglected to check his surroundings or something obstructed his view, but the other car was certainly in the vicinity.  The hunter may have had his focus on the deer he was about to shoot or on making sure the safety on his rifle was off, but the bear was not far off the whole time.  It is just common sense to realize that if an event happens, there was something else that caused that event.  To think of it from another side, if this idea of causation were to be denied, it might be asked why we do not see things beginning to exist without a cause.  However, this is not simply left to common sense, but is actually a scientific principle.  According to Geisler and Turek, it “…is the Law of Causality, which is the fundamental principle of science.” (I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, p.75).  Science investigates causes.  If an epidemic were to break out in a certain city, a scientist might look for the source of the disease that is spreading in order to combat it.  It is unlikely that he would pronounce that there is a new strain of bacteria that has popped into existence, uncaused, out of nothing, and the only hope is that it stops doing so, or perhaps that a cure pops into existence, uncaused, out of nothing.  Even if he did, though, there would be sufficient reason to doubt that conclusion.

Dr. William Lane Craig

As philosopher William Lane Craig aptly states, “To suggest that things could just pop into being uncaused out of nothing is to quit doing serious metaphysics and to resort to magic.” (Reasonable Faith, p.111).

Ironically, I have often heard atheists claim that science is firmly on their side in this regard and theists are the ones who conjure up magical explanations.  Well, let’s allow some atheistic objections to speak for themselves and see what strikes us as reasonable.

Objections to the First Premise

Because the first premise rests on the truth of everything that had a beginning having had a cause, one tactic to refute this has been to merely find something that did not have a cause, though also having had a beginning.  One attempt at establishing this is to cite Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which describes the inability to predict the location and speed of subatomic particles at the same time.  However, as Geisler and Turek point out, this confuses causality with predictability, for our inability to predict something does not prove that there is no cause.  “In fact, quantum theorists acknowledge that we might not be able to predict the simultaneous speed and location of electrons because our very attempts at observing them are the cause of their unpredictable movements.” (I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, p.87-88).  William Lane Craig also addresses this proposed exception to causality in the subatomic realm of quantum physics, offering 3 considerations.  First, a great many physicists are exploring deterministic theories, dissatisfied with the view that these subatomic events are truly uncaused.  Second, even if indeterminism is accepted, particles do not come into being out of nothing, but rather, arise as the result of spontaneous fluctuations of energy in a subatomic vacuum, which is not “nothing”.  Third, though many might like to extrapolate the subatomic indeterminacy to the universe itself, suggesting that it might have arisen without a cause, a primordial vacuum is not “nothing” either, but “a sea of fluctuating energy endowed with a rich structure and subject to physical laws.  Such models do not therefore involve a true origination ex nihilo.” (Reasonable Faith, p.114-115).  The two italicized words at the end of that quote are Latin for “out of nothing”, but I find it amazing that so many who propose that the universe could have begun to exist uncaused out of nothing imagine “nothing” to really be some kind of “something”.  A couple examples of this are cited by Geisler and Turek.  Atheist Isaac Asimov once wrote that the “nothing” is “positive and negative energy”.  Peter Atkins, also an atheist, postulates a swirling dust of mathematical points which combine again and again, before the moment of creation when there was no time or space (I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, p.80-81).  The concepts of space, time, and matter, as well as their relationship to each other, are actually part of the evidence for the beginning of the universe, which will be presented below under the Second Premise.  Suffice it to say here, however, that if something is called a dust, whatever may be meant by that, perhaps the concept of matter is being smuggled in.  If something is swirling, it is using space.  If something is using space, being at different points at different times, it is using time.  How something like this could be before time and space, or how these mathematical points could interact with each other to somehow bring about time and space, is beyond me.  Or could I even go further and say it is beyond rational explanation?  All questionable definitions of “nothing” aside, I would prefer to support the Law of Causality and agree with the song from the Sound of Music to say that, “Nothing comes from nothing.  Nothing ever could.”

Click here to see part 2 of the article

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Comments
  1. Destin says:

    Question
    Is the ‘uncertainty principle , which discribe
    The inability to predict The location and the
    Speed Of subatomic particles at the same
    Time’ The ONLY/MAIN argument for atheist
    To refute the tha fact that ‘everything that had
    A beginning had a cause,???

    • Hey Destin,
      As I pointed out in the article, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle is just one attempt to find something beginning without a cause. There are variations in quantum physics as to how subatomic particles come into being, and thus, how the universe could have come into being out of nothing. However, most share a similar theme, in defining nothing, as I point out in this article, as really some form of something. Edward Tryon had a theory about the universe being a fluctuation in the vacuum of a larger space. Jim Hartle, Stephen Hawking, and Alexander Vilenkin suggested that the universe quantum-fluctuated into existence from nothing. Hawking also suggested that time becomes more space-like at earlier moments in the Big Bang (There Is a God, Antony Flew, p.142). The bottom line, though, is that these theories have not succeeded in showing something coming from nothing, but something coming from something else.
      As I mentioned in the article, science relies on causes and finding out what brought about effects. Desperate attempts to deny causality may find themselves more rooted in the desire to avoid theological implications of Big Bang cosmology than in attempts to further scientific understanding.
      Philosophically, some have suggested that there are no causes, but simply a matter of associations of ideas or lack of associations, or even that members in a series have no need of explanation for existence beyond the sum of the members. The famous skeptic David Hume was one of these and Antony Flew was a proponent of such Humean arguments. However, Flew found himself dissatisfied with this explanation over time, (There Is a God, p.139-140), and even Hume himself has been famously quoted as having said, “I never asserted so absurd a proposition as that something could arise without a cause.” (The Letters of David Hume, vol. 1, p.187).
      So, even though there are varying explanations, we have much evidence on our side when we assert that everything that had a beginning had a cause.
      I hope that sufficiently answers your question. Thanks for asking!

      Matt

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