The Great Big Arguments #3: Cosmological

This is the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God, in the form of the popular Kalam Cosmological Argument: 1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause. 2. The universe began to exist. 3. Therefore, the universe had a cause. Following on from that, the cause of the universe must have been eternal and therefore without cause. Besides being eternal, this Uncaused Cause must have been all-powerful and all-knowing, as it literally created everything else. It must be God.
Atheist Answer: 

I've answered this argument a lot on this site, but I think it deserves a summary question. My aim is make this a reference for any subsequent "origin" questions.

The Cosmological Argument or Argument from First Cause is the proper form of the common argument that the universe must have been deliberately created, and you can't get "something from nothing". It predates Christianity, as Plato and Aristotle had their own versions.

That's the first issue with the argument: it only attempts to prove the existence of a Creator. It is therefore a deist argument, so when a theist uses it to prove a specific god with no further logic it's a step too far. Keep an eye out for this.

The basic premise that everything finite requires a cause is the least controversial part, but even this isn't rock solid. Possible exceptions are found in quantum mechanics, where particles move about in a probabilistic fashion. Until observed, a particle may be anywhere in a small area, and in a sense is everywhere in the area. When you observe it, it picks one spot and stays there. This is of course a gross oversimplification, but the point is that there's no known force moving the particles around. There may actually be no cause as such, and the universe may be far more spontaneous than we think.

Even "something from nothing" is plausible according to a related theory that "nothing" is really a quantum foam from which matter may emerge. This is purely theoretical at the moment (it makes mathematical sense, but there's not much physical evidence), but it's worth remembering that science is actually considering ways like this in which matter could just pop out of "nothing". It can't be dismissed entirely.

Causality may also be irrelevant if time wasn't linear at the beginning, if it had a beginning. An effect must follow its cause, but this is meaningless if chronological order hasn't settled down yet.

The universe is widely regarded by lay people (who aren't young-earth creationists) to have begun with the Big Bang. This may seem counterintuitive - how can something be created by an explosion instead of destroyed? - but it was no ordinary explosion. All the matter and energy in the universe was compressed into a singularity, a point so small it had no volume at all. (Absurd as this sounds, it happens today with large amounts of matter in the centres of black holes.) Then it expanded outwards, and it's still expanding to this day. Once the matter was in that singularity, nothing was created or destroyed, only distrubuted.

How did the matter get in there? Was the Big Bang the true beginning, or a continuation of something else? We haven't a clue. A god is one hypothesis. Other universes, with their own separate systems of time and space, are another. The quantum foam is an outside chance. Who knows what else we haven't thought of.

I like the idea of a multiverse, an eternal group or series of universes setting each other off. It's got one up on gods because it's multiple instances of a known object. We know there's at least one universe (this one), while we don't have a single example of an established god. If you see a huge cabbage patch where the whole crop's been eaten, and you find one fat little rabbit in the corner, do you assume that Bigfoot must have done most of the damage? No, you wonder where all the other rabbits are hiding.

The theory of expansion and contraction, of many Big Bangs and Big Crunches, has fallen apart recently with the discovery that the expansion of the universe is apparently accelerating. That means it will never return to the singularity, and it is not cyclical in the way we thought. That doesn't stop it from being cyclical in other ways, for example stretching until it tears a hole and then draining out to somewhere else.

The point is that if you do accept that everything finite must have a cause, something must be eternal. Either it's the universe/multiverse, or it's a god. There are many theories, and potentially many more, which allow for an eternal universe which needs no cause. Therefore an eternal god is not the only option, and anything which says so is a poor attempted proof of its existence.

- SmartLX

Note: The argument that a god created the universe based on the universe's nature, order, awesomeness, etc. is not related to causality. It's the Argument from Design, which is next on the GBA hitlist.


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I like that - everything

I like that - everything that begins has a cause, blah blah, therefore God caused it. If they can make an exception for their God whereby he doesn't need a cause why not for the Universe? It *could* be cyclical. But noooooo the ONLY explanation MUST be God....

I think the reason people,

I think the reason people, whether religious or not, accept cyclical theories is because of powerful results showing that they are impractical. There is no viable mechanism for a "bounce", and no mechanism to reduce entropy, which led to the collapse of the Soviet models.

The main problem with believing in an eternal universe is that it goes against the scientific evidence.


Probably a typo where you say people accept cyclical theories because they're impractical.

One "bounce" model which hasn't fallen over yet is Loop Quantum Gravity. The current iteration is a Mexican idea.

For me, the simplest model is a "miss" rather than a "bounce". Since all matter apparently occupied the same point, everyday collision physics were out the window. What if the universe came together, passed through itself and kept going, inverted in three dimensions?

Entropy is an issue for cyclical models, but since energy likely can't leave the universe altogether, what's to stop it all from being recouped when the edges are dragged to the middle?

There are also eternal models which aren't cyclical in the usual sense, for example the multiverse. Universes cause other universes, not necessarily at a set time in their lifespan. Otherwise, a quantum foam produces them regularly. Individual universes might run down eventually, but if there's an infinite number of them and therefore infinite matter/energy altogether, or else more is actually being created outside the universe, who cares about entropy?

Quantum loop gravity

I particularly like quantum loop gravity, because I can see the motivation between looking at fundamental particles as different topologies. But that's just because I like maths :-) The real question is if it actually corresponds to anything the real world? At the moment it can't reproduce experiment or the standard model. So if it can't reproduce what we do know, why claim it predicts things we don't know?

For your "miss" theory, there was some things I read a while back which said you need an incredibly isotropic universe for that sort of thing to happen, and we can observe the universe and see that it isn't as uniform as we'd need. If you'd like I can see if I can find a reference for you...

Entropy isn't energy. It's a measure of disorder. Basically it's the number of bits you'd need to store the state of the system (formally it's \sum -p_i log p_i). The more disordered something is, the more bits you need. There's no reason you can't be right and entropy decrease, but it goes against everything we've ever observed.

I guess personally I'm not wedded to this argument, but I do find it absolutely amazing that you'd prefer to believe entropy reverses than to consider that God might exist. You have no evidence at all for atheism actually being true... and yet you're prepared to believe physics is wrong than to consider the case for God.


I think we'll have to wait for any kind of testable quantum gravity to find out if the loop version is right. It's still a candidate, though, so claiming there's no viable mechanism, let alone model, is premature.

The universe is isotropic to some extent. If we look far enough in any direction, we find quasars for example. So yes, I'd like a reference which says it's not isotropic enough on the cosmological scale, and also that the isotropism has remained fairly constant. I doubt that; nanoseconds after the Big Bang, for example, what could exist anywhere but white-hot atom soup?

I know what entropy is, I've written about it a lot here. I don't argue that entropy decreases in a closed system, but that transfer of energy connects systems together and essentially allows for compensation (and "transfer" of entropy") within the system. Since energy can't leave the universe, that closed system as a whole may not change in entropy at all. Cyclical systems work through balance, not magic.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought the inexorable increase of entropy was written into the Laws of Thermodynamics; that in any transfer of energy, some is essentially lost to 'background noise' (not actually destroyed, but made unrecoverable). No transfer being perfectly efficient, you inevitably get some wastage to heat, sound, vibration, whatever, increasing the entropy of the system.

You can move entropy around - decrease entropy in one place by increasing it elsewhere (all of our metabolic processes for example, working by "disordering" molecules of fuel that were originally put together by using the Sun's energy to overcome their tendency to continue being carbon dioxide and water), but within a closed system, surely either all processes would have to be 100% efficient (unlikely, maybe impossible), or there would be wastage and hence a net increase in entropy.

Misuse of thermodynamics is a hideous attempt at proving god's existence (after all, there are plenty of other arguments that fail in less obvious ways), but I thought the principle quoted (that entropy always increases in a closed system) was sound.

Entropy from a guy who knows his stuff. Cool.

It is difficult to envision a universe of perfectly efficient processes, and in all probability this is not such a universe. A self-contained eternal cyclical universe would have to do something very interesting to keep itself going, but then, perhaps it does. Here are two suggestions:

- All apparently inefficient processes are in fact parts of larger efficient processes, the other parts of which we can't yet see.
- The "unrecoverable" energy is reclaimed in the Big Crunch that precedes each Big Bang, when not just all matter but all space is boiled together and brought to a single point. In other words, it's the ultimate act of recycling.

Personally, I think that if this is an eternal cyclical universe, then it's not self-contained, but the outside help it receives comes from one or more external universes or the equivalent. Furthermore, an eternal multiverse can sustain itself indefinitely very easily if it also contains infinite matter (likely in infinite universes), which isn't too farfetched if we can consider infinite time so easily.

Unfortunately this argument

Unfortunately this argument also fails because we have observed that things that are finite don't need a cause so arguing that the Big Bang does is special pleading.

A good example of this is radioactive decay which occurs at unpredictable, random intervals.

Known causes

Have to be careful there. Just because an event has no known cause or method of prediction doesn't mean there really isn't one.