Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Challenge to Atheists With the Cosmological Argument

I just realized that I have drawn the attention of a skeptic's blog, the Skeptical Eye. They seem to be your typical anarchist, against God and government. Thought I'd post the argument I used against one of them on another blog that the author was not able to refute (except to claim things can come into existence uncaused...?).

If it's true that everything that begins to exist has a cause, and the universe began to exist, the universe must have a cause. That cause cannot be material, because matter came into existence with the universe. It must be immaterial. The only things that are immaterial are abstract objects (like numbers), which are causally effete; or a personal consciousness.

So this cause necessarily has to exist separate from the universe (time and space), because those things came into existence with the universe.

Now, either we make the illogical statement that is worse than magic that says everything can come from nothing (which contradicts all logic for centuries), or the universe is eternal, which has been debunked, as Alexander Vilenkin, Professor of Physics and Director of the Institute of Cosmology at Tufts University, says:
It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning (Many Worlds in One [New York: Hill and Wang, 2006], p.176).
The only logical conclusion is the universe has a personal cause. Unless you're okay with relying on magic and not the science antitheists love so much.

I don't think logic is on the side of the antitheist.

13 comments:

Steven said...

Someone in my philosophy class pointed out that if God is the first cause of every event in the natural world, then human freewill is undermined.

Of course this was appealing to me. :)

Thoughts?

bossmanham said...

That would be true if God were "the first cause of every event in the natural world."

If God were simply the first cause of the natural world, then He may allow some events to happen apart from His causation.

Dan said...

You mean it wasn't magic? Hey! Why didn't someone tell me! Maaan. All along I thought it was magic. Well, this just puts a big, fat monkey wrench in my world view.

bossmanham said...

Yep. Sorry, Dan. No magic.

Steven said...

It seems none of them care, Brennon...

ExPatMatt said...

bossmanham,

I'll take a stab at this....

We know that the universe had a starting point (something to do with Planck time, I believe) based on extrapolating our measurements back a few billion years.

The physics at this 'time' (you can't really call it time before time began mind-you!) is theoretical at best, with no data to work on and counterintuitive, quantum fluctuations all over the place (again, there wasn't really a 'place' either!) so there is currently no scientific answer to 'what happened at the moment of the big bang?'

There's certainly no answer to 'why?' at the moment and for some reason I doubt that there ever will be.

So, we're left with philosophizing I guess, which isn't my forte at all.

It is entirely possible that the universe was brought into existence by a conscious act by something 'outside' the dimensions of time and space. This is definitely a possibility.
It is also possible that the big bang was the result of a former 'big crunch' from a collapsing previous universe.
It is also possible that the universe is part of a wider 'multi-verse'.

Many possibilities and no way to check to see which one's right.

I choose to say 'I don't know' because I think that's the only honest conclusion I can come to. I do not think that presupposing a cosmic, supernatural, trans-dimensional, omnipotent, omniscient deity is necessarily the obvious conclusion.

Discuss.

;)

bossmanham said...

The physics at this 'time' (you can't really call it time before time began mind-you!) is theoretical at best, with no data to work on and counterintuitive, quantum fluctuations all over the place (again, there wasn't really a 'place' either!) so there is currently no scientific answer to 'what happened at the moment of the big bang?'

Irrelevant.

There's certainly no answer to 'why?' at the moment and for some reason I doubt that there ever will be.

We can deduce from common sense that something had to cause the universe, because an effect must have a cause.

It is entirely possible that the universe was brought into existence by a conscious act by something 'outside' the dimensions of time and space. This is definitely a possibility.

I'm glad you say so. It is actually a probability, since before time/space began, there was absolutely nothing of our material universe. Meaning the cause has to be, as I said, a personal consciousness and timeless and, I will add here, immensely powerful.

It is also possible that the big bang was the result of a former 'big crunch' from a collapsing previous universe.

Then we run into an infinite regression problem.

It is also possible that the universe is part of a wider 'multi-verse'.

This is what Vilenkin believes, but it still begs the question, what caused the multiverse? Not to mention there is no evidence of this multiverse, it's a reaction to the finely tuned universal laws.

So, that still leaves the most reasonable explanation a personal, immaterial, timeless, and extremely powerful being.

Many possibilities and no way to check to see which one's right.

Unless said being decides to reveal itself to us.

I also think personal experience is a perfectly valid way to know that Christ has risen, and therefore God exists. That is added to all of the other arguments for God: ontological, cosmological, teleological, etc.

bossmanham said...

Thank you for commenting, by the way :)

ExPatMatt said...

Boss,

I fail to see how a brief introduction to the science is irrelevant. If we ever get to the point where we can evidentially show how and why the big bang (or big bangs) happen, then the philosophy surrounding it will be moot, no?

We can certainly assume that cause and effect apply when talking about the inception of a universe, but you can't show that this assumption is correct. Cause and effect occur in the universe but the universe itself might not be subject to its own machinations (just speculating here).

Anyway, to claim to know anything about a cause that exists outside our frame of reference seems like hubris to me and I personally think that it is more to do with your accepted theology than a logically deduced conclusion (that goes for both of us, I think)

I certainly think it's an unfounded jump to go from an assumption of cause and effect to claiming that this 'cause' has to be personal in some way. For all we know, the universe could be a by-product of some other effect. I think you're stretching the logic quite a bit to say that it's 'probable' that this personal consciousness is necessarily true.

I will certainly agree that personal experience is enough for one to know something - but it's absolutely meaningless to try and use that as a claim in a discussion with someone else, as I'm sure you agree.

As it stands, I have had no personal experience of such a personal, immaterial creator and it would be ludicrous for me to accept it on your say-so when so many other claim similar things about other creator-beings.


No worries about the comments. I just retired from another theist's blog because I couldn't stand the lack of thought he put into his 'arguments' - I like your style though and may stick around and bug you some more!

Regards,

bossmanham said...

I fail to see how a brief introduction to the science is irrelevant. If we ever get to the point where we can evidentially show how and why the big bang (or big bangs) happen, then the philosophy surrounding it will be moot, no?



No, because we're still left with the question of the catalyst of the materials that caused the event. We both agree that there was absolutely nothing. An effect demands a cause, and natural/material science shows us that matter can't pop into existence uncaused.


Cause and effect occur in the universe but the universe itself might not be subject to its own machinations (just speculating here).



You're speculating against reason. This speculation is no better than magic. We know nothing comes from nothing. You know that while you are out, a horse is not going to simply pop into existence in your living room and start defiling your carpet.
If we start accepting, however, that this has not always been true, whatever the situation is, then we have no firm reason to think that at some point you'll see a horse appear in your living room and begin to eat your curtains.


It seems like you're grasping at straws. You have no reason to believe this.
You have good reasons to believe


to claim to know anything about a cause that exists outside our frame of reference seems like hubris to me



I'm claiming this is the best explanation. You are speculating that something did pop into existence out of nothing, which I deny is a good explanation at all, and I suspect it's due to your a priori theological beliefs, which you admit.



I personally think that it is more to do with your accepted theology than a logically deduced conclusion (that goes for both of us, I think)



It's hubris to deduce that an effect needs a cause? I think it's common sense. It certainly takes less hubris to admit there is a great being who is in charge and whose directions I should follow. Whether I'm right or wrong.

But in this cosmological argument, we don't determine who God is, but simply that He must exist. The rest comes with other arguments.

I certainly think it's an unfounded jump to go from an assumption of cause and effect to claiming that this 'cause' has to be personal in some way

I didn't make a logical jump. I worked it out logically. If there was no matter, since that came into being with the advent of the universe, then the cause has to be immaterial. The only things that are immaterial are abstract objects (like numbers), which are causally effete; or a personal consciousness.

For all we know, the universe could be a by-product of some other effect

What kind of effect? We've established that it can't be material. The only other alternative is immaterial.

I think you're stretching the logic quite a bit to say that it's 'probable' that this personal consciousness is necessarily true.

It's certainly more probable, and stretches logic less than to conclude that a purely materialistic explanation can cover it, since there was nothing material to begin with.

but it's absolutely meaningless to try and use that as a claim in a discussion with someone else, as I'm sure you agree.

Yes I do agree. I can tell you of my own personal experience and that could make you consider what I'm saying, depending on my reliability, but I certainly don't think, and am not aiming, to convince anyone infallibly based on my personal experience.

I like your style though and may stick around and bug you some more!

That's fine. Just don't expect me to take it easy on you ;)

ExPatMatt said...

Boss,

I wouldn't want it any other way!

"We both agree that there was absolutely nothing".

I don't remember agreeing with that. From what we can tell, time and space 'began' at a certain point but we don't really know what that means (at least, I don't). Does that mean that space-time existed in an abstract sense? Does that mean that there was a previous universe (perhaps there was an infinite regress?!).

I don't know, is what I keep saying.

"An effect demands a cause, and natural/material science shows us that matter can't pop into existence uncaused".

Correct. But we're not talking about matter popping into the universe, we're talking about the universe popping into a space-time existence caused/uncaused and we don't know if the one follows from the other.

"The only things that are immaterial are abstract objects (like numbers), which are causally effete; or a personal consciousness".

How do you know this?


I freely admit that I have no explanation for the origin of the universe. I'm ok with that.

I see there being a number of possibilities, but I recognize that I do not have the information, nor the intelligence to draw a reasonable conclusion from these possibilities (one of which is a god).

If a god can exist, immaterially in a timeless state and then cause the inception of the universe, is it not also possible that the universe itself existed immaterially, in a timeless (probably quantum) state until the material universe was born?

Cheers,

bossmanham said...

ExPat,

Sorry for taking so long to get back to you. School has been keeping me away from the blog lately.

I don't know, is what I keep saying.

Okay, that's fine. That's a better spot than emotional denial. But, since you "just don't know" that would mean you have no real good reason not to believe, otherwise you would simply be an atheist instead of an agnostic.

I have given you at least one reason to at the very least consider the existence of God, and that is only one among the multitude of good, reasonable arguments for God. I've never really encountered any good and plausible deductive against the existence of God, and you as much admit the same. It seems like skeptics like yourself, when it comes to the existence of God, apply unreasonable conditions for belief. These conditions are not placed on anything else in your life, otherwise you wouldn't be able to function. You seem to crank up your skeptic meter instead of considering the arguments like you would other arguments.

This begs the question, how much is enough for you? It looks as if you've set your standards unreasonably high. Are you a serious seeker of knowledge, or have you closed off your mind entirely to certain things that make you uncomfortable, such as the existence of God?

bossmanham said...

I want to address a few other things now that I have a little time.

Does that mean that there was a previous universe (perhaps there was an infinite regress?!).

The concept of an actual infinite number of past events, which an infinite regress of universes would be, leads to philosophically and mathematically absurdities. It is something that cannot exist in reality.

The best way to illustrate this is with some examples. For instance if we had an actual infinite number of objects, we could take some objects from this infinite number. Say we had an infinite number of balls labeled 1, 2, 3, 4, on to infinity. Then say we take all of the even numbered balls; 2, 4, 6, and so on to infinity. So in this case:

infinity - infinity = infinity,

because there are still an infinite number of odd balls. But, if we had the same infinite number of balls and removed all the balls after 3; which would be 4, 5, 6, and so on to infinity, we would have:

infinity - infinity = 3.

This is a logical absurdity. We subtract the same values and end with a different result.

Hilbert's hotel further displays the logical absurdity an infinite regress of events is impossible.

The famous mathematician of whom the hotel problem is named after, David Hilbert, said, "The infinite is nowhere to be found in reality. It neither exists in nature nor provides a legitimate basis for rational thought. The role that remains for the infinite to play is solely that of an idea."

Correct. But we're not talking about matter popping into the universe, we're talking about the universe popping into a space-time existence caused/uncaused and we don't know if the one follows from the other.

Actually we are. The majority of scientists accept the standard model of the big bang. This model postulates that as you go back in time the universe is denser and denser until we reach a point when all distances in the universe have shrunk to zero. This is called the initial cosmological singularity. According to the standard model all matter and energy, physical space and time themselves, came into being at the initial cosmological singularity, which is a boundary point for spacetime, and without this (I don't say before because there was no time without the singularity so there actually is no before this) there was nothing; no matter and no time

How do you know this?

Because everything else is material.

is it not also possible that the universe itself existed immaterially in a timeless (probably quantum) state until the material universe was born?

No, because then we're not talking about the universe any longer. The universe is by definition space and time. This necessarily involves matter. Not to mention this argument has no scientific support (all of that is given to the standard big bang model) and ranks about a zero on the plausibility meter. I find it interesting you are willing to consider such implausible arguments.

Furthermore, since quantum physics involves matter, speaking of an immaterial quantum state is impossible.