Cosmological Arguments

Cosmological Arguments

Craig A. Smith (From the book, The Search)

The term cosmological comes from the Greek word for the universe: cosmos. By universe, we are really referring to everything that exists in the physical realm, from the deepest depths of the earth to the farthest galaxy and everything in between. Basically, the cosmological argument works by attempting to show that the existence of the universe can only be explained by appealing to the actions of an intelligent, personal being (who we call God).

There are actually several different versions of the cosmological argument, but they all have certain basic features in common. Here are the basic parts of any cosmological argument.

  1. 1.       Everything which exists either had a beginning or did not have a beginning.

This seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it? There really aren’t any other options. If thing X exists, then thing X has either always existed or it began to exist at some point. Logically, there’s no middle ground between these two options. If a thing has always existed, then it can’t have ever begun to exist. If a thing began to exist at some point, then it can’t have always existed. These two options are mutually exclusive.

This is because of a principle known as the Law of Non-Contradiction which states that a proposition (truth-claim) cannot be both true and false at the same time and in the same way. If it is true that thing X had a beginning, then it is false that thing X has always existed. Conversely, if it is true that thing X has always existed, then it is false that thing X had a beginning.

This point is essentially irrefutable. No reasonable person can disagree with it.

2. The universe had a beginning.

This is the point at which some people will disagree. Everyone agrees that the universe either had a beginning or didn’t have a beginning, but they may not be so quick to accept that the universe had a beginning. Atheists in particular will often claim that the universe, or at least the multiverse1, had no beginning. Actually, they pretty much have to claim this because otherwise you have to accept the existence of God. See, you can’t get away with saying that the universe just spontaneously came from nothing, because “nothing” can’t produce “something.” So, if there’s something here now, there has to have always been something or else we’d still have…right, nothing. Of course, this something could just be the universe itself, but if the universe has a beginning, then it hasn’t always been around, which means that it can’t be the something. Whew!

So, what makes us think the universe had a beginning? Well, two big things:

First, we have the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that the total amount of energy in the universe that is available for work is decreasing.

This is the principle of entropy. You may have heard it expressed this way: in a closed system, disorder increases while order decreases. This is why lawnmowers don’t assemble themselves from piles of junk in the yard but why lawnmowers will become piles of junk if left alone long enough. This principle is true of the whole universe. The amount of energy that can be used to fuel stars and chemical reactions is gradually becoming diffused throughout the universe, rather than remaining concentrated in particular areas. If uninterrupted, this will eventually lead to what scientists call the heat-death of the universe.

So what? Well, if this is true – and every experiment and observation so far indicates that it is – then the universe cannot be infinitely old. If it was, then we wouldn’t have pockets of concentrated energy in the form of stars and all the stuff that orbit them. Think of it like this: say there’s 1000 units of “universe energy” and it’s being used up at a rate of 1 unit every 1 billion years. At that rate, the universe will run out of usable energy in 1000 billion years, otherwise known as 1 trillion years. But if the universe were infinitely old, then we would have passed that 1 trillion year mark literally an infinite number of times already, so the universe would already be burned out.

The energy in the universe is in the process of diffusing, but it isn’t completely diffused yet. This means that the Second Law of Thermodynamics hasn’t been operating for an infinitely long period of time. And, if it hasn’t been operating for an infinite period of time, then the only other possibility is that it has been operating for a finite period of time which, by definition, means that it has a beginning.

The second line of evidence that supports the idea that the universe has a beginning involves the fact that all our measurements tell us that the universe is expanding. Where it’s expanding from and when this expansion started isn’t important right now. What is important is that all the evidence is that it started expanding. It must have. If the universe had no beginning, then the expansion would have had to have been going on for an infinite time period already and the universe would have to be infinitively large, which it isn’t. It may be mind-bogglingly big, but it is not infinitely big. So, there was a start to its expansion and this means that the universe itself had a beginning.

There are other lines of evidence that support the idea that the universe had a beginning as well, but that’s enough for now. Just given these two observations, which have been verified in every experiment conducted so far, claiming that the universe had no beginning requires turning a real blind eye to the facts.

  1. 2.       All things which have a beginning have a cause. So, since the universe had a beginning, the universe must have had a cause.

Okay, hold on to your gray matter for a quick second! It may be that something has always existed, but if it began to exist at some point, something had to cause it to exist. The only other possibility is that nothing produced something and this cannot happen.

Now, some people hear this and immediately want to ask, “So, what caused God?” but that’s not a necessary question. We said everything that has a beginning has a cause, but if God has no beginning, then He doesn’t need a cause. Remember, the same would be true for the universe if the universe had no beginning, but since all the evidence indicates that the universe did have a beginning, it must have had a cause.

 Some people want to argue that even if the universe did have a beginning, it might have just been caused by some other event unrelated to God. In other words, maybe there have always been universes and as each one grinds to a halt, this somehow causes a new one to pop into existence. Maybe our universe is just the current event in a long chain of events, and the chain itself does not depend on God.

Think about balls bouncing around on a pool table. Say the eight-ball goes into a pocket. What was the cause? The cause was the three-ball hitting it, but what was the cause of the three-ball moving? The cue-ball hit it. In this example, the movement of the three-ball is the cause of the eight-ball’s movement, but it is also an effect of another, earlier cause. All this is fine to a point, but we still have one question to ask: what is the ultimate cause of all the effects? In this analogy, the answer is obvious: someone deciding to hit the cue ball with a stick. Of course, you could imagine that the cue ball got hit because the person with the stick slipped on some ice…and the ice was on the floor because a waitress tripped and dropped it…and so on and so on. But, if the Second Law of Thermodynamics is true (see above), then there cannot be an infinite chain of this sort of cause and effect events. If energy is being used up, then either something happened to give the universe (or universes) their initial energy or something is putting new energy into the system on a regular basis to keep it running. Since we have no evidence that new energy is entering the universe, only the first option is a viable possibility.

Okay, here’s where it gets a little heavy. Ready?

The only way to account for an ultimate/initial/first cause in a system where the Second Law of Thermodynamics operates is by what we call an un-caused cause; that is, a cause that makes things happen but is not itself the result of any other event. So, even if our universe was only one in a long series of universes (which the scientific evidence does not support), the whole long chain of events would still have to have an ultimate, uncaused cause. 4. An un-caused cause must be the result of a willful decision, which requires a personal being.

Ultimately, first causes in closed systems are always the result of a willful decision, which just means that someone has to decide to do something. Now, there might be reasons for a particular decision, but reasons aren’t the same as causes. Jimmy might hit a baseball towards the Peterson house because he wanted to impress his friends, but that desire isn’t the same thing as a cause. No one will try to get the cost of a new window out of this “desire.” Everyone involved will recognize that Jimmy himself is the ultimate cause of the broken window.

The only way to have a truly uncaused first cause is for it to be a decision rather than a consequence. Now, decisions are only made by things that have a will, and things that have will are said to be “personal.” So, if the universe has a beginning, it must ultimately trace its existence back to a willful decision on the part of some personal being. We call that being God.

Limits of the Cosmological Arguments

Well, there you go, that’s the basics of the cosmological argument. As I said earlier, there are several versions of this very old argument, but all of them have the same basic structure.

In essence, the cosmological arguments all boil down to saying that the existence and essential nature of the universe requires an first cause that is the result of willful action by a personal being.

Now, this argument doesn’t say much about what kind of being this “God” is, only that He’s real, personal and extremely powerful. For more specific information, we have to look elsewhere. Still, cosmological arguments go a long way towards demonstrating that God exists. They’re not the easiest arguments to grasp, but they have the virtue of being very convincing once you get a handle on each of their steps.

The primary weaknesses of the cosmological arguments have to do with the difficulty of establishing the premises. That probably bears a little explaining. See, a logical argument like this has two parts: a series of premises and the conclusion drawn from these premises. If the argument is constructed properly, then the conclusion will be an unavoidable result of the premises, assuming that the premises themselves are true. For instance, take the following statement: all dogs are canines and all canines are mammals, so all dogs are mammals. Here, the statements “all dogs are canines” and “all canines are mammals” are the premises. “All dogs are mammals” is the conclusion, which absolutely has to be true, provided that the premises themselves are true. If one of the premises is false, then the conclusion no longer has any validity. For example, suppose the argument were something like this: all dogs are felines and all felines are mammals, so all dogs are mammals. In this case, the first premise isn’t true, so the whole thing falls apart.

In the case of the cosmological arguments, some of the premises are rather difficult to prove. Numbers 3 & 4, in particular, are complicated enough that some people just don’t accept them, although most scientists will tell you flat out that all the evidence supports them. But when you need lots of evidence to establish a premise which, when combined with other premises, leads to a conclusion, things can get complicated pretty quick.

1 The multiverse is a hypothetical realm of existence which contains our universe and maybe an infinite number of others. Because the evidence clearly says that our universe had a beginning, some people argue that there is an eternal multiverse that our universe exists inside of. Maybe our universe had a beginning, but the multiverse that spawned it did not…at least that’s how the argument goes.