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The cosmological argument


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Initial post: 20 Apr 2012 12:27:50 BDT
It's come up a fair few times recently, and I'd like to see what people think.

First, a few versions of it I have found

P1 Every finite and contingent being has a cause.
P2 A causal loop cannot exist.
P3 A causal chain cannot be of infinite length.
C1 Therefore, a First Cause (or something that is not an effect) must exist.

P1Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
P2The Universe began to exist.
C1Therefore, the Universe had a cause.

P1 Everything that exists contingently has a reason for its existence.
P2 The universe exists contingently.
C1 The universe has a reason for its existence.
P3 If the universe has a reason for its existence then that reason is God.
C2 God exists.

P1 Things exist.
P2 It is possible for those things to not exist.
P3 Whatever has the possibility of non existence, yet exists, has been caused to exist.
P4 Something cannot bring itself into existence, since it must exist to bring itself into existence, which is illogical.
P5 There cannot be an infinite number of causes to bring something into existence. (An infinite regression of causes ultimately has no initial cause, which means there is no cause of existence.)
C1 Since the universe exists contingently, it must have a cause.
C2 Therefore, there must be an uncaused cause of all things.
C3 The uncaused cause must be God.

There are several problems with all of these arguments. The first is that not one of them provides a reason for assuming the "uncaused cause" is anything remotely like "god".

The second is their denial of actual infinities in history. Several arguments are made against infinite histories

The most convincing I had seen was Kant's

The conditioned can only arise when its conditions are complete.
If they are infinite they can never be complete.
∴ They cannot be infinite.

Until I spotted that premise 2 is actually the very point in question.

Whitrow uses

An actual infinite cannot be completed by successive addition.
The temporal series of past events has been completed by successive addition.
∴ The temporal series of past events cannot be an actual infinite.

But this again seems not to quite work to me. Simply because there is no point in history where the set of past events was not infinite, so the infinite nature of it was not completed by successive addition, it was finite addition to an infinite, which will always produce an infinite.

In general I find the arguments against actual infinities far from compelling, for the simple reason that they try to ground in common sense, which infity does not hold to.

Several individual forms of the argument have their own issues. The premise "whatever begins to exist has a cause" for instance is not grounded in anything, our experience of beginnings is actually an experience of transformations and where we do appear to have seen things beginning they appear entirely uncaused.

From the cosmological argument, the only conclusions we can warrant are

"there is an infinite linear causal history Or there is a cyclical causal history, or there is a finite causal history"
"In all three cases there is an uncaused thing (the whole of the infinite history in the linear and cyclical cases), therefore something must have happened uncaused."

Now, remembering that uncaused does not mean necessary, there is very little we can conclude about this uncaused thing except that whether it is the infinite history or the cause of history, it exists.

Discuss

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Apr 2012 15:12:54 BDT
richard says:
i've always thought it was an argument for god based on having first decided what would be a good argument for proof god exists. in other words decide you want to prove god must exist and form an argument for it. it just looks like an argument to convince stupid people that god exists.

was there a first uncaused cause! i have no idea but if there was i see no reason not to call it 'the first cause' or 'whoop de doo' or whatever but absolutely no reason to call it god!

funny how we can't conceive of something without something else preceding it and of needing to have a beginning yet are quite happy to try and conceive of god existing without beginning or end! can't get something from nothing yet god created the universe from nothing....... blah blah........

we have conceived something that is not subject to proof. if we were to find the cause of the universe and it turned out to be two particles coming together resulting in the singularity expanding, people would just say god made the particles come together. if the singularity had existed for a billion years before expanding into the universe but before then had been a cake, some people would say god baked the cake!

because people are defining god the definition can keep changing to suit current knowledge and thinking, god will always be over the next hill. the cosmological argument is just another hill. calling the first cause (if there is one) god is meaningless, might as well call it Bill or Fred. if' it's god it's got to be a lot more than just the first cause. or am i missing something?

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Apr 2012 16:17:55 BDT
AJ Murray says:
I think you've hit the nail on the head there. These sort of arguments only carry any weight with those who already believe their deity is real. For the rest of us they appear contrived and rather lacking in the area that links the conclusion (first cause/uncaused cause) to their deity.

If there is a single first cause responsible for starting everything there i no reason to suspect that it is sentient. In fact the more simple it is the more likely it is to be a blind force.

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Apr 2012 17:01:35 BDT
richard says:
personally i think a Victoria sponge is at least in the running which might just make Delia god!

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Apr 2012 09:03:23 BDT
I think Aquinas developed arguments about the source of all goodness and so on in later chapters, and the CA merely provides the starting point. I agree though that all it appears to show is that initial conditions were special.

Posted on 21 Apr 2012 13:14:42 BDT
moonjuice says:
if' it's god it's got to be a lot more than just the first cause. or am i missing something?

Why has 'god' got to be more than 'just' the first cause ('first cause' being whatever it is which is responsible for the manifest universe existing- not just the ignition key in some linear sequence A 'caused' B etc). Do you describe the 'first cause' as the hand turning the ignition key in the car- or the intention of the driver to walk to their car and get in? Supposedly separate events which we can argue all day about. But from another perspective the hand that turns the ignition key and the driver and their entire life and the history of the automotive industry and western industrial civilization and the evolution of humans from apes....leading up to that moment are also the 'cause'. OK its a metaphor...

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Apr 2012 13:36:34 BDT
richard says:
no, the first cause does not have to be intelligent or at least we have no reason to believe that it must be unless we believe it must be god. you are imparting it with such by 'hand on the key' imagery.

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Apr 2012 12:42:27 BDT
AJ Murray says:
If you examine Aquinas' five proofs you will find that they are only ever asserted to be God (and only his preferred brand of deity too).

The first proof is nonsense in light of scientific knowledge acquired since his time since it is concerning the movements of physical objects;

'The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality.'

Photons refute this inductive argument. Nothing puts them in motion.

The second is the CA regarding causes, efficient causes and a first cause - and since causality doesn't hold in all frames of reference it is essentially bunkum.

The third is a semantic argument concerning things which exist and which can be said to not exist - he argues that there must be a thing (God - who else?) who must have a necessary existence and creates existence for everything else. Weak. The refutation of this is simple, if this deity exists then it too requires something to create it's existence, just as with everything else.

The fourth actually contradicts the CA, because he asserts that we see gradations of good and nobility so therefore there must be an entity containing the maximal properties of these. The trouble is that he is using subjective terms as if they were objective and any being that contains the maximum of goodness, nobility etc is far from simple.

The fifth is an argument for intelligent design.. heh, nuff said.

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Apr 2012 13:11:21 BDT
AJ Murray says:
Rd,

Isn't it funny how Tom M has yet again avoided this discussion, he seems to be rather shy when it comes these sort of philosophical debates. I guess that a bunch of illiterate, ignorant would-be-atheists presents too much of a challenge to his intellect.

The arguments against infinities are rather self-refuting, because what usually happens is that the preferred deity is subsequently argued to have existed eternally and be infinite in wisdom, goodness and all manner of things.

Posted on 17 May 2012 11:56:45 BDT
Last edited by the author on 17 May 2012 11:58:56 BDT
AJ Murray says:
'5 Arguments for God'

Found this little *.pdf penned by William Craig here:
http://thegospelcoalition.org/pdf-articles/Craig_Atheism.pdf

In it he presents 5 Arguments for his God which includes two variations of the Cosmological Argument, he argues that these are airtight/ironclad arguments that logically follow on from the premises.

However it is the construction of the arguments and the defence of his premises that i found to be very revealing indeed. Let's take a closer look at the first argument:
-

"(1)The Cosmological Argument from Contingency.

1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
3. The universe exists.
4. Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence (from 1, 3).
5. Therefore, the explanation of the universe's existence is God (from 2, 4)."
-

His first premise is to divide the world of existence into two sets; those things that exist necessarily and those things that exist contingently, he writes:

"Things that exist necessarily exist by a necessity of their own nature. It's impossible for them not to exist. Many mathematicians think that numbers, sets, and other mathematical entities exist in this way. They're not caused to exist by something else; they just exist necessarily."

"By contrast, things that are caused to exist by something else don't exist necessarily. They exist contingently. They exist because something else has produced them. Familiar physical objects like people, planets, and galaxies belong in this category."

His example of mathematical entities is contentious since it can be argued that numbers, sets and mathematical entities are abstractions from the physical and thus are contingent upon there being something (the universe) before these relationships can be realised. He also gives a very superficial response to placing the universe into the former category, he writes:

"It would be arbitrary to claim that the universe is the exception to the rule. (God is not an exception to premise 1: see below at 1.4.)"

His analogy that anything within the universe is contingent, therefore the universe is contingent is itself committing the fallacy of composition, he cannot know that the universe is contingent and by declaring it as such is commiting another fallacy that of bare assertion.

He declares that his God is not an exception and that this is not arbitrary and refers us to 1.4 for his reasoning, here it is in its entirety:

"1.4. Conclusion. From these three premises it follows that God exists. Now if God exists, the explanation of God's existence lies in the necessity of his own nature, since, as even the atheist recognizes, it's impossible for God to have a cause. So if this argument is successful, it proves the existence of a necessary, uncaused, timeless, spaceless, immaterial, personal Creator of the universe. This is truly astonishing!"

So he refers to his conclusion to support one of his premises. Astonishing, no, circular reasoning, yes.

The second premise is also flawed in this variation of the argument, because it doesn't reflect the conditions set in premise 1, namely that the explanation for the universe could lie in the necessity of its own nature. Instead he has skewed the argument towards his own preconceived conclusion of his own brand of deity. It should more properly be written as:

'2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.'

So how does he support his version premise 2?

He writes;

-
"Although premise 2 might appear at first to be controversial, what's really awkward for the atheist is that premise 2 is logically equivalent to the typical atheist response to the contingency argument. (Two statements are logically equivalent if it's impossible for one to be true and the other one false. They stand or fall together.) So what does the atheist almost always say in response to the contingency argument? He typically asserts the following:

A. If atheism is true, the universe has no explanation of its existence.

Since, on atheism, the universe is the ultimate reality, it just exists as a brute fact. But that is logically equivalent to saying this:

B. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, then atheism is not true.

So you can't affirm (A) and deny (B). But (B) is virtually synonymous with premise 2! (Just compare them.) So by saying that, given atheism, the universe has no explanation, the atheist is implicitly admitting premise 2: if the universe does have an explanation, then God exists."
-

My criticism of this formulation of premise 2 is fourfold; The construction is incorrect and doesn't follow from the initial premise, 'The Atheist' is merely a strawman a fallacy invoked in order to reach his desired conclusion, the statement that if atheism is true it rules out an explanation for the existence if the universe is also false and lastly that stating the universe is contingent is merely an unsupported assertion.

Atheists accept that there may be an explanation for the universe, but as has been pointed out many times before 'goddidit' is *not* an explanation because in the end it explains nothing.

The rest of his arguments are:

(2) The Kalam Cosmological Argument Based on the Beginning of the Universe
(3) The Moral Argument Based upon Moral Values and Duties
(4) The Teleological Argument from Fine-tuning
(5) The Ontological Argument from the Possibility of God's Existence to His Actuality

I know there is already a thread discussing WLC's support of genocide, but i felt that this subject was more properly dealt with under this thread.

I invite you to discuss.

In reply to an earlier post on 17 May 2012 12:51:15 BDT
richard says:
sorry, everything about the guy, that I've come across, shouts out buffoon and i just don't understand why he has such a following! is he really considered to be a great mind of our age?

In reply to an earlier post on 17 May 2012 13:02:36 BDT
I read through the argument before reading all of your post, and while I didn't come up with all of the details that you did, I managed to see the flaws in Craig's argument. If even I can do that, Craig must really be in trouble.

In reply to an earlier post on 17 May 2012 13:16:43 BDT
AJ Murray says:
richard,

He is an intelligent person, and very proficient at debating, i say this because i have seen him debating in fluent German. But when it comes to philosophy and science he fails continually, preferring to conflate meanings in order to arrive at his desired conclusions.

As for his popularity in Christian circles. The phrase 'any port in a storm' comes to mind.

In reply to an earlier post on 17 May 2012 13:21:09 BDT
AJ Murray says:
Sam,

Craig's arguments are remakable in that the only thing holding them together is the fallacies. I read each one and the way he skims over the flaws in his own reasoning is painful. He has been corrected by others on his mistakes (especially the difference between Creatio Ex Nihilo and Creation Ex Materia)but seems to ignore these in favour of presenting a superficially plausible argument for those who are already convinced he is correct.

In reply to an earlier post on 17 May 2012 13:31:07 BDT
I admit that I haven't seen much of Craig's debating, but reading the pdf, I was amazed at the amount of hand-waving he does to dismiss some points and admit others. I don't see why anyone who's thought about them can be convinced by his arguments.
When I have the time I'll read through te rest of the document, but I'm now expecting more of the same.

Posted on 17 May 2012 13:31:41 BDT
richard says:
yes i keep hearing that he's a feared debater. he just comes across as so pompous and smug. i wondered if he was resting on his reputation of yore.

In reply to an earlier post on 17 May 2012 13:45:21 BDT
C. A. Small says:
I forget who it was, but they said he does not debate as such, he shies away from that just using a lectern to put across his view, but does not respond to proper questions or arguments.

In reply to an earlier post on 17 May 2012 14:33:36 BDT
DB says:
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In reply to an earlier post on 17 May 2012 14:35:33 BDT
C. A. Small says:
The return of the buffoon.

In reply to an earlier post on 17 May 2012 14:41:33 BDT
richard says:
the argument being?

In reply to an earlier post on 17 May 2012 14:47:25 BDT
Diane,

Try to read posts for what they are and try to actually think about something. Craig's arguments are being picked apart. No-one is suggesting that he's wrong just because of who he is.

Did you read the document from Craig? Did you work through the arguments yourself? Can you tell us why you think they're valid or invalid?

This thread is atheists engaging with Craig's arguments. Why don't you follow suit and join the debate rather than sniping from the sidelines. Try putting your money where your mouth is.

Posted on 17 May 2012 15:12:14 BDT
Tom M says:
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Posted on 17 May 2012 15:17:32 BDT
C. A. Small says:
And cue- Aristotle, Aquinas are brilliant, Hume is silly, Dawklings, Mother catholic church always correct, etc, etc ad nauseum, with Diane saying brilliant at the end.

Posted on 17 May 2012 15:52:14 BDT
Tom M says:
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In reply to an earlier post on 17 May 2012 18:59:18 BDT
Last edited by the author on 17 May 2012 19:43:00 BDT
Drew Jones says:
"1.4. Conclusion. From these three premises it follows that God exists. Now if God exists, the explanation of God's existence lies in the necessity of his own nature, since, as even the atheist recognizes, it's impossible for God to have a cause. So if this argument is successful, it proves the existence of a necessary, uncaused, timeless, spaceless, immaterial, personal Creator of the universe. This is truly astonishing!"
I've said before that Craig's power lies in talking not in logic and when it's written down like this, read at your own pace it's much more obviously exposed. This 'conclusion' when deleivered in his quick, quick, slow style does make it seem like he demonstrated the things listed but the fact is he didn't. The axioms he works with allow him to conclude that the creation event/creator is necessary and possibly uncaused. Timeless, spaceless, immaterial and personal are all add ons that are neither required, demonstrated or argued for, they are common qualities asserted for God and gods, they are assumed time, space and physical existence are imagined to be negated outside of the universe but that is far from a given or a necesscesity no matter how much you are trying to actually explain them as phenomena, you don't get to easily assume your conclusion by defining what being outside space is like as you need it to be.
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