We’ve all heard one or more variation of the following argument:
There’s no way this amazing world could have come into existence by itself. There must have been some sort of “uncaused cause” that created the universe.
Philosophers have been aware of these sorts of arguments for many centuries, and yet philosophers have, by and large, rejected these arguments. It’s easy to see why, when even just an average freethinker like me can see where these arguments fall short.
Let’s use the version known as the Kalam Cosmological Argument, popularized by theologian and professional debater William Lane Craig, Th.D.:
Premise 1: Everything that comes into existence has a cause.
Premise 2: The universe came into existence.
Conclusion: The universe must have had a cause (which must be an uncaused being – i.e. God).
The way arguments constructed in this way work is that if the premises are true, the conclusion must be true. Conversely, if one or more of the premises may or may not be true, the conclusion also may or may not be true.
If you haven’t seen this argument before, maybe take a second to see how many holes you can find in this argument. I’m not a trained philosopher, and I haven’t researched all that’s been written on this argument, but here are three simple flaws that I’ve either found or thought of:
I. Premise 1 may or may not be true
The argument is bit of a logical trick, because Premise 1 already assumes the conclusion. You’re trying to prove that the universe must have had a cause, but Premise 1 already declares that EVERYTHING – including the universe – that comes into existence has a cause. So essentially the argument amounts to “Everything that begins to exist, including the universe, has a cause, therefore the universe has a cause.”
The fact is, however, that we do not know that everything that begins to exist has a cause, because we’ve never seen a universe come into existence. Therefore we have no track record, no basis for assuming that whenever a universe comes into existence (if, in fact, the universe ever did come into existence and wasn’t always there) that it always has a cause. And so the assumption in Premise 1 that everything (including the universe) that comes into existence has a cause may or may not be true. Since we don’t know whether Premise 1 is true, we don’t know whether the conclusion is true either.
II. Premise 2 may or may not be true
The argument assumes that the universe began at the big bang and that nothing at all existed before that. While some cosmologists (scientists who study the early universe for a living) hold that view, others are not so sure. For instance, it is possible that quantum (i.e. super super tiny) fields caused the big bang and those quantum fields always existed. It’s also possible the universe has no beginning or end, similar to a sphere, as Stephen Hawking and Jim Hartle suggested (see: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/hawking/universes/html/bound.html). In fact, there are several possibilities as to what happened or did not happen before the big bang, and so no one has any idea whether the world really came into an existence at some point or instead has always existed. (See: http://www.closertotruth.com/video-profile/Did-the-Cosmos-Begin-Sean-Carroll-/1744.) And so Premise 2, that the universe came into existence, also may or may not be true. Since we don’t know whether Premise 2 is true, we don’t know whether the conclusion is true either.
III. Something has to give
If you think about it, you can make the same sort of argument in reverse:
Premise 1: Everything that comes into existence has a purely physical (matter, energy, laws of physics – i.e. can be explained without God) cause.
Premise 2: The universe came into existence.
Conclusion: The universe had a purely physical cause (i.e. with no god needed).
The fact that we can flip this argument in such a way so as to draw the exact opposite conclusion shows:
a) You can’t figure out how science works, including the origins of the universe, by constructing syllogisms (arguments with premises and a conclusion like this one).
b) As I wrote above, since we’ve never seen universes come into existence before, we have no way to know which is more likely – that it was caused by purely physical causes like everything else; or that it was the one thing caused by some sort of uncaused cause, such as a god; or that it, rather than a god, is the one thing that is the uncaused cause and somehow didn’t need anything to cause it to come into existence.
Why it doesn’t matter anyway
Finally, even if one could prove that the world was caused by some sort of uncaused being, it would be an extremely fascinating piece of knowledge, but it would have absolutely no effect on our lives. Since modern scholarship has shown that all our religious texts are man-made, we would have no idea whether that uncaused being is a god who listens to people’s prayers and watches over us, an alien from another universe who created this universe for some reason we’ll never know, a dentist who has the whole universe sitting in her fish tank in her waiting room to keep her patients entertained as they’re waiting, etc. etc., and we would have absolutely no reason for thinking one of these possibilities is more likely than the other.
These are just some thoughts that have come to me. Do you know any other problems with the First Cause-type arguments? Do you see any holes in my holes?
Thanks so much for reading and contributing to this blog this past year! HAPPY NEW YEAR!! 🙂