The failure of cosmological arguments

I’ve had several theists (Christian and Islamic) try to assert that God is real through one of the many different cosmological arguments.

Cosmological arguments come in several different types.

Thomas Aquina gave 5 different types of cosmological argument.  The argument from motion, the argument from contingency, the argument from causation, the argument from degrees and the Teleological Argument.

Later William Paley put his own spin on the Teleological Argument with the idea of a “Blind Watchmaker.”

William Lane Craig created his own version of a cosmological argument with something he named the Kalām cosmological argument.  He named it this in a shout out to Islamic philosopher Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Ghazālī and al-Ghazālī’s argument that actual infinities do not exist.

You can learn about the cosmological argument through philosophy, or through theology.  Fair warning, theological arguments start with the premise of the existence of a deity, and then look for arguments to support their premise.  So you should be extremely wary of anyone with a theological agenda.

Most cosmological arguments have the same form.  If we look at the argument from causation, that form is:  1.  Effects have a cause.  2.  Everything that happens has a cause  3.  The chain of cause and effect cannot be infinite, therefore there is (eventually) an uncaused cause.

You can apply this to any of the cosmological arguments.  For example:

  • Motion – everything that moves must have a mover until you eventually reach an unmoved mover.
  • Contingency – a “contingent being” is a being that came to exist in some fashion.  A “necessary being” is a being that exists without the requirement of coming into existence.  In the argument from Contingency, each contingent being comes to exist through a previous contingent being, until you eventually reach a necessary being that didn’t need to come into existence.
  • Teleological Argument – everything that was created has a creator.  Each creator is in turn a creation of the creator before it, until you eventually reach an uncreated creator.
  • Kalām cosmological argument – here William Lane Craig skips the small stuff, and goes right into the creation of the universe.  Whatever begins to exist has a cause.  The universe began to exist – therefore the universe has a cause.  Therefore, an uncaused causer, that exists outside of the universe, exists, and this causer is a powerful being who is beyond the properties we find in the universe.

There is one cosmological argument that doesn’t quite follow in the same form – the argument from degrees.  However, the form is analogous to the forms we have seen.  The argument from degrees says:

  • There is a hierarchy of degrees that we find in everything.  In this hierarchy, we can imagine things that are great, that are greater than great, and that are the greatest possible.  If we think of a being with the maximum possible degree of greatness, it would be even greater if that being actually existed.

As you can see, it still includes the idea that the infinite is an impossibility, that a maximum good exists.

Here is how all cosmological arguments fail.
 

First, they fail logically.  Built into these arguments is that each mover, each cause, must in turn have a mover or a cause.  But a fallacy of special pleading is made for that one thing that doesn’t require a cause or a creator.

Atheists ask, “Who made God?”  We are answered by philosophers with, “Hey, that’s a pretty good question!”  Theologians, however, answer the question with, “Stop being silly!”

Philosophers understand that the argument is flawed in this manner, whereas those people who start with the premise of a deity have to tap dance their way out of this flaw.  In fact, this is exactly what William Lane Craig attempts to do with his Kalām cosmological argument, by attempting to put a deity above question.

Next these arguments may fail based on the possibly incorrect premise that the infinite is an impossibility.  The truth is that we just don’t have enough evidence to know for sure that a real infinity is impossible.  If a real infinity is possible, there may be an infinite multiverse that spawns universes like ours.  At one time, before we discovered evidence for the big bang, we wondered if our universe was cyclical – perpetually ending in a “big crunch” which restarted the big bang.  Now we can wonder if there is a cyclical mulitverse.  Or perhaps a multiverse isn’t subject to time, or to cause and effect in the way that it is familiar to us.

People like to argue against infinity using the idea that if there is an infinite time before ours, then logically how could we arrive here?  This discounts the idea of a converging infinity, or of Zeno’s paradox.  And it discounts the idea that although we (mostly) know how time works in OUR universe, we can’t actually speak for how it works (if at all) in a multiverse.

These arguments are not very useful for getting to a personal god of your favorite religion.  William Lane Craig says that the creator of the universe is an enormously powerful “personal creator”, but he lacks a good argument that this is true.

Cosmological arguments can’t rule out that the creator is non-sentient.  For example, the uncaused cause could be a cyclical multiverse that spawns universes through natural processes that we don’t currently understand.

These arguments can’t rule out that the creator died during the creation process.  Or that the creator is actually a pantheon of creators who created the universe out of their desire for deity on deity drama and their need for chess pieces in an elaborate game that they are playing.

The cosmological argument could just as easily be satisfied by time traveling humans from the future who traveled almost 14 billion years into the past and through science (or a disaster of Star Trekkan proportions) created a cosmological event that results in the big bang.  Yes, we are our own gods!

So the cosmological argument seems good at first glance, but it is full of problems and has a fallacy built into it.  Philosophers have been pointing these problems out for centuries.  And yet, I still have theists use these as a “proof”.

And when I point out these problems, the tap-dancing they do to support their arguments is amazing.  And the smug, self-superiority they display as they ignore philosophy for theology is very annoying.